Since April 6 I have attempted to live almost entirely on an iPad as my only mobile computer — I still carry my iPhone with me everywhere and did use it to do routine things like mobile email, updating Twitter, and the like. During that time I have learned quite a bit about the device and how I interact with my computing platforms. I’ll try to sum up most of what I learned although I am still coming to grips with some of my experiences. Here’s the thing, the iPad is a little difficult to sum up — it isn’t a laptop and it certainly isn’t an iPhone. It lives somewhere along the path of computing, but fits much more into the lifestyle support category than strictly in the computing space. It is both really easy and radically complex — easy in that it is simple as hell to use and complex in that where it fails it makes things so much harder. Let me try to address a little of both.
Overall if I am honest, I can do about 85% of my work from the iPad itself. If I describe my work life it gets added up like this — I do email, I go to a lot of meetings, I browse the web for information, I create information on the web, I read a ton, I design and give a lot of talks, and I create and edit a ton of documents. That pretty much makes up what I do aside from talking to people and doing day-to-day management.
It is without a doubt the best email experience I have ever dealt with. The way the built in iPad Mail app works is amazing. I deal with a ton of email and the ability to quickly filter things is a stunning UI breakthrough. Using my fingers to get rid of stuff is so much faster than using a mouse to check little boxes — speed counts when dealing with something as mind numbing as email. The faster I can get into my inbox, make sense of things, and get out the better.
The iPad is superior at meetings for several reasons … I’ve already written about how much it stays out of the way of interacting with others and after a full month I still feel that way. It is a natural in meetings unless you are taking a lot of notes and then I find it falls down a bit. I have learned to type on it very fast so it has gotten better, but the lack of google doc editing is killer. As a matter of fact this is the reason why I can’t really do all areas of my job on it — I am just too embedded in the google docs World. I have had a harder time dealing with that than when I switched away from Office for a year. Until I have a good way to edit those documents it is destined to not be a primary machine.
Consuming anything on it has been a pleasure. Browsing the web, watching TV shows and movies, and reading are all first class activities. As a matter of fact I much prefer it to my laptop for reading online. Navigating makes more sense and I can still pinch and zoom pages to get a closer look. I miss not being able to do that with my laptop. Creating text content for the web is easy and natural as well. Where things fall down is when you need to multi task — grabbing a Flickr picture to put into a blog post is a complex task that requires a good deal of thought. I can do things like that, but I have had to relearn the steps and have had to understand how the machine multi-tasks from within apps instead of switching from window to window. It isn’t bad because I think there are some things that just work better this way. The other thing I’ll mention here is that not being able to bounce from window to window has pushed me to focus a little more on doing tasks one at a time.
The iPad falls down when dealing with non-web content. Keynote works really well and I can create presentations with relative ease — something I do quite a bit of. The problem lies in the restrictive way content gets to the device. I get that Apple wants us to travel through a USB cord to iTunes, but not taking better advantage of iwork.com or even Mobile Me seems very last decade to me. They insist on making us email files or using a crazy move interface to get stuff on it … and then once it is there it is a copy, not a truly synchronized version. Why not let me use a folder on Mobile Me that I can keep a single in sync file? This is something that I hope Apple changes — copies of files being emailed around is plain old stupid. Without this limitation and the ability to edit google docs this thing would be close to perfect. Without them, you better have a computer around.
One other thing we are learning is how nice these can be as loaner machines for staff. Our IT group can manage a couple that can be simply handed to a staff member and synced from their own Mac for a trip. It isn’t without some details to deal with, but we are planning to keep a few 3G iPads ready to go for people who need Internet access while traveling — it is actually much more reasonable than buying USB cell modems for staff.
The iPad is a joy to use at home. I mean that. It is the best device for work/life balance … it is fast as hell as tasks such as email, looking something up, checking my calendar, and showing pictures. So much faster than going to get a laptop, opening it up, waiting for it to connect to wifi, and launching applications. In the time it used to take to do all that I am already back to the conversation I was having that spawned the need to look something up in the first place. I no longer need to take my laptop home and that has been a very positive change for me.
My wife and kids love to use it for all sorts of things. The App Store may piss a lot of people off, but to easily discover kids apps and games it is killer. Before this I would have never purchased Dr. Seuss books or Scrabble … I honestly wouldn’t even know where to go to buy that software. Yes the apps cost money, but that is what I would expect. My three year old can use with such ease it is mind bending. My wife wants to use it to play Scrabble and surf the web. My daughter wants to use it to read books. And I just want to be able to use it.
This leads me to another observation and that is it really needs to have some sort of user account environment. I trust handing it to anyone in my family, but I do get a bit nervous demoing the iPad with other people. When I pass it around a room it is fully logged in and that means my email, Evernote, and other apps are ripe for browsing. The thing is that people, when they touch the iPad, want to use it. It would be nice if I could have a guest account on it that would allow me to hand it around a room without worrying about it.
Consuming media is a first rate experience. I’ve gotten back into video and audio podcasts so I always have fresh content on the device. The screen is beautiful and all of the media capabilities are really nice to work with. When you combine that with the battery life, you have a device that you nearly never worry about charging. It is truly the first device I can take with me for the day and not worry about it running out of juice — ever. I can actually go multiple days without plugging it in.
I already mentioned that I am not as upset about the App Store model as some people, so I’ll just share some of the Apps that I actually use. I thought I would use the iWork suite more, but have only really extensively used Keynote. I’ve done a few documents with Pages and it works well, but getting files on and off of the iPad doesn’t support that kind of work in my opinion. Below are the Apps that I use the most … beyond those, I live mostly in Safari and use my browser to access news, social networks, and stuff that on my iPhone I use apps for. At any rate, here are the top Apps for me:
- Safari is very fast and I’ve found I like browsing on it more than I do on my Mac.
- I’ve already sung Mail’s praises, so I’ll leave it at that.
- GoodReader is a must for managing access to files across cloud based storage environments. It takes the place of the Dropbox app and the iDisk app.
- YouTube, the built in iPod/Video app, and Netflix app are simple genius for consuming content. The YouTube interface is easier to use than the website.
- 1Password is a must and there are easy ways to integrate it with Safari.
- NetNewsWire is a strong RSS reader, but what makes it so well designed is the Instapaper, Twitter, and Email integration. It allows for strong multi-tasking from within the same application.
- Evernote has become my full on outboard brain and the syncing with my Mac is killer.
- Twitterific is my Twitter client of choice and I do use Twitter quite a bit on the iPad.
Again, it seems like the iPad is a very capable machine that does support a vast amount of tasks that one must do to keep it going at work. It is a joy to use at home and I can still easily keep up with things I need to do in the evenings and on weekends. Until google docs cannot be created and edited (either in the browser or in some sort of app) I cannot use it full time. It hasn’t pushed me to retire my laptop to the corner, but one thing it has pushed me to do is switch from a 15″ machine to a smaller 13″. The small form factor of the iPad is unreal and it made my MBP look like a tank.
The other thing that I believe needs more work is Apple’s model for keeping files in iWork synced. Passing around versions is something that is simply crippling. I can see myself traveling with just an iPad, but I’ll have to be very thoughtful of what I will need before I go. One thing I have started to do more of is take advantage of my iDisk and Dropbox storage spaces so the contents are always available via GoodReader. If Apple gets serious about cloud services I can see this thing supporting upwards of 95% of the work I need to get done while traveling.
The machine needs a way to lock people out of certain apps so it can be passed around a room. I doubt they’ll add accounts, but perhaps a way to authenticate apps on an individual basis? I am really interested to see how students respond to the device and if it can actually be used to support their workflow. I think you actually have to spend quite a bit of time with one to start to understand how it can be used in partnership with your desktop machine. I have made changes to the ways I do things based on what I have learned and most of it has been positive. Will I continue to use the iPad as my only mobile device? No, but I will continue to use it heavily.