Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How I Would Use the iPad and Similar Tablets

Here is my problem:  I don't want to get another laptop, but I need a mobile device that will let me accomplish some specific tasks.  Tasks like writing and editing documents, surfing the web, checking and responding to email, watching videos and listening to music, and a number of other very specific tasks, and all while on the go.  I had hoped that the iPod Touch would take care of all that, but it's lacking in a couple of areas, mostly because while I like the virtual keyboard it's too small to type fast enough to keep up with my brain.  So, taking a page from Patrick Thornton's blog on how he would use the iPad, let me outline mine:

On The Go:

  • The Bus and LightRail:  I currently commute using the MAX bus to TRAX up to the University of Utah.  Using a laptop is awkward at best, because of how close the seats are.  The frustration comes from the form factor:  the clamshell may allow for a touch-type keyboard, but it doesn't allow for easy use with the seat in front of me.  The iPod Touch works well in this environment, even when I am cramped in a corner, but the screen is too small for me to do any effective typing.  Unlike many younger than I am, I am not adept at "texting", and therefore my thumbs seem to be good for only one thing:  the spacebar. 

    It's in this case that a tablet with a virtual keyboard would be ideal.  It's small enough to pull out without taking too much effort, and typing on the screen within my lap would take less space than using a clamshell screen.  At this point, since I would naturally be looking at the right angle to my lap, I could see what I was typing without having to adjust a screen to the right angle.  Also, given 3G or the eventually promised WiFi on the bus system Internet access would allow me to be productive the minute I'm able to sit down. 

  • The Car:  While I normally drive the car, and therefore never use mobile devices while driving, it would be nice to have a device with a large screen for the kids to see while driving.  Some have suggested that I get a DVD player, but I don't want to mess with DVD's, as my son with Autism tends to break them easily.  That's mostly why I opted for the Apple TV to begin with.  So while DVD's are out, I need another solution.  An iPod Touch works great for one child, but what about the other one?  Well, we could use two iPod Touches, but by that point we are pretty much spending the same amount for an iPad, which both could see.  Add a car mount to be between the front seats and an audio cable to pug into the car stereo, and the device starts to make sense.

  • Walking:  Even my little 12" Powerbook G4 is pretty heavy when I carry it around, though it's dimensions are the same (if thicker) than the iPad.  The weight starts to tell when carrying books for students, note pads for book and software ideas, etc.  In fact, I often need to switch from my message bag to a backpack just to carry the laptop, power cable, etc. with me.  The iPad would take a lot of weight away, making my daily walks easier to manage. 

  • Long Commutes:  I commute an average of 2.5 hours a day, it being about 1 hour 15 minutes (give or take) from my house to my office, and then the same back.  Long commutes mean the need for long battery life.  Here my iPod does ok, but the battery is really running low by the end of the day from all the activity I use it for, and that's with a 6 hour video time.  That's also roughly what most modern laptops get as well, though that is shortened by the boot/wake delay.  With a tablet that is always on and has at least 10 hours of battery life, I can not worry about having to charge the device at work as well as at home.  The benefits here is a device that is always on, therefore has no wait time. 

  • Flying:  Occasionally my job requires me to travel.  Flying is troublesome enough without having to lug a laptop with me.  It takes up a lot of valuable space in my carry-ons, which I can use for something else.  A flat tablet would give me the work ability I would need while flying, and the long battery life would let me watch those videos I want to see.  And even if I needed to take a laptop with me, I would prefer to use a tablet in the cramped areas of the airplane (as I inevitably get to sit with the other larger guys on the flight) with more comfort than the clamshell form factor. 

In the Office:

  • Notes:  Typing on a larger screen makes it easier to take notes than on my iPod Touch, and therefore would make it that much more useful than the iPod Touch. A laptop would be awkward to carry into a meeting, use, and set aside when not needed.  Not to mention battery life issues and the screen going blank when I don't want it to.

  • Presentations:  Using a laptop for presentations becomes tedious, because it requires a lot of hookups and cables, a place to set it, and I become tethered to be within reach.  A tablet with a display cable that was long enough (or could be extended) to allow me to wander about with the presentation in my hands would make that much easier, even if all my slides were just in a PDF format.  I could simply swipe through each of them if needed.  Creating or editing presentations isn't that important, though it would be nice.  I have really wanted to have a version of PowerPoint or Keynote on the iPod Touch for a long time, if only just as a viewer.  Having it available for real makes it that much better.

At Home:

  • On the Couch:  Right now having a laptop is not a good option for me while sitting at my couch with the kids running around, trying to get something accomplished.  You see, both my kids like to grab the screen and pull it down their way (opposite me) to see what I'm doing.  Almost immediately it means having to quickly stop their action, which gets in the way of what I'm trying to accomplish.  It can also potentially damage the screen (though to date I've been lucky with my PowerBook).  A tablet would make working from the couch with the kids much easier, as they can see what I'm doing immediately without having to move a screen or pull the thing out of my hands. 

  •  Reading:  I am a prolific reader.  I love to read, and use my iPod Touch extensively for reading in both Stanza and the Kindle app.  I don't use a laptop because it's awkward to read from while sitting or lounging on the couch or bed.  A tablet of some sort would be ideal in this situation, where the clamshell form factor just isn't.  It also would beat out the smaller tablets because of real estate.

  • Special Needs Interaction:  My son is autistic, and as such has very special needs.  Part of that is his need to find a way to focus his mind in order to calm down.  Currently the iPod Touch works for that, though it's very small and doesn't have much real estate for him to work.  I would never let him use a clamshell device because he would inevitably break the screen because it moves.  With a single tablet device with little to no moving parts all the concerns about his breaking is has been reduced.  He's very careful about placing large things like books down, and so wouldn't throw the iPad.  There are also several apps that are targeted directly to children and adults with Autism, making the iPhone OS an excellent choice for me.  Is anyone aware of Autism apps for Android?  I would like to know.

So what about the complaints against the iPad?

  • No Flash:  I hate Flash, though not because of the platform, just for what it's used.  Flash to me means annoying ads that fly in front of text I'm trying to read for the news.  I don't play Flash games, and I don't use Hulu (I found it very unfriendly to use).  When we use YouTube as a family (such as viewing rollercoaster rides for our son), we use the Apple TV primarily.  Why do I like to avoid Flash?  Because it gets in the way.  Sure, other technologies will probably come along that the iPad supports that will get in the way to, but right now it's Flash that is my big complaint.  If there is a Flash only website, I tend to avoid it like I would lima beans.

    Some may say I'm missing out on the richness of the Web by avoiding Flash, but I would counter by saying they are missing out of my patronage by forcing me to use an intrusive program that defeats the purpose of visiting the site in the first place.  It would be like forcing me to install Adware just to use an operating system.  I would quickly find another operating system.

  • No Camera:  I've never once used video conferencing, even when I had cameras.  Text typing tends to be faster, and I don't have to be dressed up or shave my face to use it.  Audio chat is fine too.  That, and I don't see video chat on a Tablet being very useful, because it would be hard to use the tablet still while talking.  Nope, for video chat, a clamshell format would be ideal.  And if I really want to video chat, it would be from my office on my iMac. 

  • No Multitasking:  This isn't strictly true, as the iPod Touch already multitasks, in that I can get email, have a webpage load, play a song with iTunes, and still play a game.  It is more accurate to say that multitasking all apps is not available, and generally, I don't need to.  The only types of apps I would like to have multitask for me is a telephony app like a VoIP app, a voice chat app, or a text chat app.  Other than that, I don't use it a lot, and have learned to do without with these all running at the same time.  As I use one tool at a time, and don't use it much in the background until I come back to it, I don't really see the need for "multitasking".  How do you multitask with your mobile devices?  Let me know, because it would be interesting to see how people use multitasking on mobile devices.

  • No Physical Keyboard:  This is true, though quite honestly I consider it a plus in my book.  I would much rather use an onscreen tablet than a clamshell while out and about, because it doesn't require as much space to use.  Why is that?  Because with a clamshell on your lap, you need to either lean back to see what is going on, or rotate the screen back (almost doubling the flat area of the laptop) to see what you are doing.  Nope, this is definitely a benefit of the Tablet.

  • Closed System:  While I'm all for Open Source, and have taught and worked with Linux as an Operating System, for a tablet device to work well I think it needs to have a controlled environment.  Otherwise you start running into battery issues, performance issues, and all sorts of headaches.  I honestly think this is why Google has Android and their app store:  It keeps the apps somewhat controlled, and therefore controls the user environment.  For small computing devices, I see this as a huge benefit, and so the iPhone OS isn't a barrier for me, it's a blessing.

  • Not A Full OS:  Why do you need a full OS for a tablet anyway?  Most are slow enough on more beefy hardware like a laptop, let alone a device built for less power consumption.  I've heard this argument before, and I can't for the life of me see the benefit of a full OS on a tablet vs. a specialized OS for the tablet.  All I can think of is software.  But why would you want to run a full fledged desktop program on a tablet?  Most desktop programs are designed for a mouse and keyboard input setup, which doesn't port over easily to a touchscreen (another reason Flash would be a beast on a tablet).  While you won't find a replacement for Photoshop or Dreamweaver for the iPhone, I wouldn't be surprised if similar apps start to show their heads now that the iPad allows them far more real estate to work with. 

  • AT&T As The Partner:  Simple:  Don't use them.  The 3G version is open, though there isn't another carrier in the US that will support it, and with a MiFi-type device from any other carrier, you have the same benefits as the 3G version, but on the WiFi only version.  While this could be a valid complaint for the iPhone itself, I don't see it as a problem on the iPad. 

  • There's No Phone:  VoIP with a headset aside, did you really think you were going to put something this big against your face?  Really?  The iPad and tablets don't replace smartphones, and they are not meant to. 

  • No USB/SD Card Slots:  This I can see as a legitimate complaint, though the more the device has to power another device connected to it, the more it will deplete the battery.  While it would be nice to have an SD card slot for additional storage or as a way to quickly upload video/photos from a camera, there are adapters out there for SD and USB connections for cameras that upload into their iPhoto app.  And, just between you and me, I have yet to fill my iPod Touch 16 GB and use it all. 

  • The Name/It's Made By Apple/It's Overpriced:  The name argument is just, well, stupid.  Does it really matter that much to you?  Really?  Well, you can get the Adam if you want, or Nook, or Kindle, or Pete.  Heck, you can call it Pete, or iPete, or RePete.  I don't consider that a real complaint.  Don't want people looking at the name?  Get a skin for your RePete, or better yet, make one.  It shouldn't be that hard, I would imagine.

    As for it being made by Apple and you for some reason hate them because of their marketing success, personal bias, or resentment of how they treat Windows as a platform; well, there are lots of other tablets coming to market, each with their pros and cons.  Some with Windows 7, some with Android, and eventually some with the Chrome OS if rumors are true.  If you don't like a product, you can get one elsewhere.  It's not going to hurt my feelings, and it shouldn't hurt yours if I prefer an Apple product or experience.  As long as it does what you need it to do, isn't that really the point? 

    Pricing for the iPad is actually pretty standard with most retail outlets.  T-Shirts tend to be marked up 56% or so, as are most other products from the cost of the company to produce them.  That's because they have to pay wages, marketing, distribution, and research.  But if you want something cheaper, I'm sure other companies will cut into their profit margins to accommodate. 

So, that is my list.  Honestly, I see the iPad and other similar tablets taking the place of most netbook functionality because of the new form factor.  I don't see them replacing laptops, netbooks, or desktops completely, as those who don't want to have a desktop computer would probably prefer a laptop for their work (like students in a dorm).  But I don't think that having a laptop, a desktop, and a tablet will be a necessity.  The tablet would make one or the other unnecessary (at least for me), and which depends on your needs.

So tell me what you think.

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