The iPad Revisited – a liminal device

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When nerds pack

After several months with a tablet, the iPad, and trailing different uses, I revisit where an how it fits into my daily workflow and life.

The iPad finds itself most useful to me as a second computer. I leave my laptop – my “main” computer at work and just use my iPad and iPhone at home. From time to time I borrow Chrome with sync on my wife’s laptop (getting all my settings, plugins, and such through sync), but the platform provided by my two iOS devices gives me everything I actually need at home in the evenings and weekends.

Those needs are simple: checking email, checking my calender for what meetings I have tomorrow, reading news (GReader’s mobile web), taking notes in Evernote, bookmarking in (mostly via email), Flipboard, and entering to do items in OmniFocus. I don’t print or edit pictures or movies, do much with music (which I miss a great deal), or even have a reliable way to get podcasts.

I’ve used the iPad as a travel device, and it’d doable, esp. with the Zagnut keyboard case I have (that case suffers from two things: being $100 and not having a way to “lock” the iPad in while using it, meaning the iPad easily falls out). I actually type a lot “on the road,” using the lonely time away from family and the open schedules to write in the evenings and during the day – but also, writing in near-real time during keynotes and conference sessions…drafting, at least.

I’ve stopped bringing just my iPad on trips as I did for awhile. The portability of an iPad isn’t too appealing, but the battery life (4-6 hours) looks tasty. Portability doesn’t matter too much as I have MacBook Air so size and weight isn’t much a problem as other laptops (I have a Samsung QX, for example, that would be I’ll suited for light-weight travel). And while I’d love to have my iPad with me, I leave it at home if I’m bringing my Air: it’s just a bit too much to have both.

Recently, I’ve noticed that my iPhone (3gs) is the primary device I use at home: I can go days without getting the iPad out of the drawer. Email, Kindle, OmniFocus, Evernote (I wrote the first draft of this post on the iPhone), and GReader works just fine on the phone. I miss having Flipboard though. The iPhone is really “the remote for the cloud”: if you have most of your services and files in the cloud, as I do with things most things I use, that metaphor works.

In truth, I end up spending less time “on the computer” in this laptoplass, tablet-lite mode. I still use computers all the time: there’s lots of Google TV for Netflix, for example. To some extent, I do “create” less, but that’s more my chosen laziness than the form-factors fault. And, creating is for work, where there’s plenty of time for all sorts of things like marking up blogs posts (HTML or otherwise formatted text on iOS is still terrible compared to a real computer), or video and podcast editing that require a “work-station,” not just a desktop.

The verdict: the iPad is a fun, useful device as I’m sure most modern tablets would be. Reading text off it is not only fun, but productive. Apps like Flipboard actually make you more productive, and if you wire-up all of your services to the cloud, the overall system is working well for accessing the data and services you need (see all the apps mentioned above). If you have one of those lurking, dark-plastic covered laptops, the iPad is going to be a much better travel computer and you should try it out. Similarly, if you’re carrying your laptop back and forth to work, chances are you could just leave it at work (if the software you need to use allows for it) and rely on the iPad and/or iPhone.

(Having just gotten a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at Google I/O, it’ll be interesting to¬†revisit¬†all this after using an Android-based tablet. It’ll be fun to see if my “10 things iPad rivals must do to compete with the Apple” piece holds and water.)

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