Hendrik Morkel

author, minimalist, rōnin
Dec 1, 2011

The Mighty Apple

Since August last year I own an Apple iPad. While I fancied one from the beginning, I couldn't really justify the expense - 700€ is a lot of money for what then would have been solely a luxury item. Things changed as my trusty black MacBook, by then over four years old, decided to have hard drive, wifi and a few other problems. It was either fix the MacBook for a good amount of cash, buy a new MacBook or get an iPad. I decided to go for the iPad and make it my main working computer/ tablet/ machine.

A call to my brother in Germany - Finland didn't have iPads until December 2010 - took care of the procurment, and soon an 64 gb Wifi iPad was on its way to me. The decision to take the iPad and not fix the MacBook was a risk I was willing to take at that time, I am fairly good at writing on my iPhone and hence thought that it wouldn't be much of a problem to adapt to writing on the iPad. I opted for 64 gb of space as I truly believe that one can never have enough space, especially if you are also going to edit photos on it. You need access to a Mac or PC with iTunes on it to set it up and get updates, which I find a bit backward, but OK. Hopefully this changes in the future.

As it arrived, the search for a good set of Business Apps began. Apple themselves has Keynote, Numbers and Pages to offer, which I duly bought (8€ a App) as I use the Apps on my Mac as well and am satisfied with them. Really using I am only Keynote of those three, as I don't do too much with Spreadsheets and found a better writing App - that is iA Writer. It is excellent for writing as it has nothing to disturb you and some very useful extras - I wish Apple would include in their normal Keyboard the jump a word forward/ backward, so useful! At 4€ is is also cheaper than Pages. If you write a lot, then you will enjoy iA Writer in my opinion, as it really lets you concentrate on the flow of your thoughts, without fancy editing options. One of the core ideas of the app is that you should concentrate on writing, and make your written text look pretty in an app for that - be it InDesign or OpenOffice - once you are done. I have written several client reports, blog posts, and assignments with the App, and can thoroughly recommend it. Distraction-free writing at its best.

I used Keynote now already a few times to give lectures, and like its ease of use. You can import the Keynote presentations you have made on your Mac with ease to the iPad App, edit on the fly and giving presentations is made very easy as well - just tap the screen to go forward! All in all a very nice app if you do a lot of presentations. Prezi now also has a iPad App, though I haven't yet checked it out - I might soon, though, as more lectures at the University are coming up. I use the Apple iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter to hook it up to the Beamer, which has till now always worked.

iA Writer.

Keynote.

Another must have App when using the iPad as a Working Computer is Dropbox. I love being able to access my documents on any PC or from my phone, handy if you need to check a invoice, hoursheet or whatnot on the go. Apple's own iDisk seems to serve the same function, but I yet have to make proper use of it - Dropbox is just too handy. It allows me to work on the iPad on a file, save it, access it from another PC to maybe fix something, save it again and then send it forward via iPhone while I am commuting. Add in that the basic 2 gb account is free and you have a winner!

GoodReader is a useful tool for reading pdfs and all other kind of odd format types. I bought the Muji Notebook App as a means to write down quick notes, but am not really finding it very userfriendly - there's too much going on in it, and the controls are a bit akward. Maybe that in the future I get the Penultimate App and a Griffin Stylus Pen for Touch devices, but at the moment I either take notes in iA Writer or Notes on the iPhone (which is great for writing shopping lists and decreases the amount of paper I use!).

GoodReader is nice for reading and viewing odd data formats (or normal ones like pdf =).

Which brings us to Safari and working online with the iPad. I was editing a lot of files on GitHub with the iPad in the beginning, and it is possible to do so. This was even before Apple added a Finnish keyboard with Ä, ö and Å so always when such a letter was needed I needed to Copy and Paste it in - not easy but possible. Scrolling an online document as in GitHub or Blogger is also a exercise in patience, because of the limited window size of the online editor it is a bit complicated, but again, doable. Easy and fast is something else, however. Maybe copying the file in an offline editor would make this easier, but if you work with fickle code that holds risks.

The iPad 1 (Generation 2 just came out a week ago) I have can not really keep more than two pages in memory (you can open up to nine, though) so if you need to switch between a lot of pages for your work you might want to look for something else (MacBook Air 11" would be my suggestion). Two pages is the maximum that I can have open and keep loaded, if it goes over that the pages get reloaded each time which means you might lose data you have had unsafed in a window. Definitely a shortcoming, but one can learn to work with it - just minimize the windows you work with! Other than that Safari works great, and browsing the net is a lot of fun and very intuitive. Many sites seem to be already optimized for the iPad, so it is rare that I encounter websites which promt me to install Adobe Flash. All in all a great web experience is to be had with the iPad.

Open Tabs in Safari. While the Preview shows the open site, it will be reloaded it if wasn't one of the most recent ones.

Scrolling within Blogger Editor.

On to Email then, the application I use the iPad probably most for besides browsing the internet. Writing and reading Email is fantastic on the iPad, a very natural way, and efficient. As I have the Wifi iPad sending Emails from the road is not possible, but with busses and trains in Finland increasingly sporting (free!) Wifi connections 3G is less of a need. Besides, an urgent Email I can send via the iPhone. Anyhow. I use the time to commute regularly to answer emails, and they get sent once I am in range of an Wifi network. If you have a lot of Emails to answer AND commute a lot AND find your current Smartphone screen to small for efficient typing, then the iPad might be a great way for you to catch up on your Email processing needs. Other than that, it is Email =)

Email overview. See only mail for one account, or all in one mailbox.

On to some more Apps, some work related, some less. Instapaper is a fantastic App, and I it use a lot on a daily basis. In connection with Twitter and browsing the Internet I often find articles I want to read, but they're too long when I need to concentrate on something else. Enter Instapaper, a way to save the texts to the Instapaper servers and read them whenever you have more time. An absolute Must-Have app, both for business and free-time reading needs, and with 4€ not even expensive.

A few years ago I was still skeptical about Twitter. Well, that has changed since, and I am nowadays often on Twitter for chats with friends, following developments (News about anything, e.g. Japan and Libya, are a lot faster available than via normal News-portals), finding interesting information (and saving them to Instapaper) and blurbing around about my own stuff. It is indeed a great way to make connections online (and offline, I have met quite a few Twitter friends in real life). The iPad twitter App is great in that it opens linked website in-App next to the Timeline, the same goes for Conversations and checking out Profiles of other folks. For free.

I use a few Photo Apps on the iPad, most notably Photogene and Photo Share. Both work nice to edit and share photos (the latter I use to upload to Picasa, which the former sadly doesn't). Costs are 0,80€ for Photo Share and 4€ for Photogene. I am still using Picasa, hence the need for Photo Share, but I soon might make a change and settle on Flickr, so Photogene would be enough. The latter is a great editor, even if you usually work in Lightroom or Aperture you might find Photogene acceptable. To get the photos on the iPad I use the Apple Connection kit, and there mainly the SD Card Reader.

All work and no play makes Hendrik a dull boy. So I also have a few Games installed, though I play very seldom - unless there's a new Angry Birds Seasons update, which might keep me occupied for a bit =) I'm not much of a gamer anymore, so I can't really comment too much on the hot games et al. - and I got the iPad as a replacement for my MacBook to work on, after all, and not to play games!

Instapaper.

So back to some more interesting things. Like the Wifi vs 3G question many people might ask themselves if they want to buy a iPad. I went for the Wifi version, as the 3G connection in Finland is rubbish (unless you life next to an Antenna or Helsinki), so paying an extra 100€ for something of little use didn't seem smart. Besides, I still think it is good to be offline every now and then. I really see little use in a 3G iPad, because where I use it - at home, commuting, giving lectures, at client offices, at school - I am most likely in range of a Wifi network which I can use - for free. So in my opinion the 3G iPad is unnecessary and Wifi will in 99% of the cases be enough for most users.

Which brings us to the one short coming I immediately realized after working on the iPad: The lack of keyboard shortcuts. I use a Laptop since nearly five years, and am so used to navigating via keyboard and trackpad, that the inability to use shortcuts like cmd + tabs to switch between apps and copy & paste is a bit of a shortcoming for me. Apple did a great job on switching quickly between Apps and also copy & paste works fine, but coming from a physical keyboard where shortcuts are the main way for me to navigate and operate (cmd + s, cmd + f, cmd + h, et al.) it still is something that I miss on the iPad - even after over six months of usage. So if you are a hardcore keyboard shortcut user, be prepared to adapt or get a wireless Apple keyboard which connects via Bluetooth to the iPad and allows you make again use of those lovely keyboard shortcuts!

Quick switching between recently used apps - click the Home Button twice to get this bar and choose.

The battery life of ten hours which Apple is promoting is close to reality. I can use the iPad roughly for a few days if use is limited to reading Email, Twitter and browsing the Internet during breakfast and lunch, or a whole day if working non-stop with it. Battery life is indeed excellent, no complains, thumbs up to Apple. The only worry is that what happens if the battery life starts to decrease (Planned Obsolescence?), am I forced/ able to buy (expensively) a new battery for my iPad, a new iPad or does it fall under the warranty? We shall see, and I will report on this matter when the time comes.

Keeping it save was a concern from the beginning. As I am using it for business, something more professional was needed, and soon I found the Griffin Elan Passport Case, which looked the deal and was also very useful. There's a whole wide world of cases to be had, but I am very happy with the Elan. It can be propped up as a stand to watch a series, holds a few documents and cards, and if needed I can remove the iPad very quickly and effortless thanks to two elastic corners which keep it otherwise secure in place.

Additionally I have a Seal Line e-Case for it, for the occasion that I would take the iPad on the trail with me. As I am writing two books on hiking and trekking in Finland, having the iPad with me outdoors makes taking notes digitally a lot easier. The Seal Line case ensure that it stays safe from water and moisture, and even light bumps. Recommended if you take it outdoors!

iPad & Griffin Elan Passport Case iPad & Griffin Elan Passport Case The Griffin Elan Passport case.

Which brings us to the conclusion. Is the iPad able to completely replace a Laptop or Desktop? I'd say you should look at your needs. Are you going to be very mobile, using the iPad predominantly for researching online, writing, giving presentations, answering and composing Emails, and you can life without a physical keyboard? Then in my opinion the iPad is more than capable of being your one and only digital device besides a phone. I used it for three months as my main machine to write reports, edit in GitHub, translate text, and do all my surfing/ blogging/ email shenanigans. Of course there are shortcomings - it is not as fast as a MacBook Air, you can't have limitless Tabs in Safari open, no Keyboard shortcuts, you are limited to Apps which Apple approves in their App Store - but if you can live with these (and one can, let me assure you!) then nothing should hold you back on getting an iPad for working. It is a fantastic device which allows you to work pretty much everywhere - on the bus, plane, train, car, trail, hotel or the beach, for a pretty long time without needing to look for a energy outlet. Its compactness, lightness paired with its long battery life make it a great device for working anywhere.

To be honest, though, I need to tell you that I got a MacBook Air earlier this year, after I got the old MacBook fixed late last autumn. While I type pretty fast on the iPad, I am faster on a physical keyboard, and my computing needs (Video Editing!) needed a Laptop. Nowadays I use the iPad besides my MBA for reading/ answering Email, browsing the internet, and distraction free writing in iA Writer when on the go and at home. I still use it as the main device when holding lectures at Universities, and take it to meetings for plotting down notes - it looks professional and smart, and allows me to have my notes in the form and where I need them: Digital, at my fingertips.

Get Yours!

16 GB iPad
Griffin Elan Passport

This article was written in part on the iPad and MacBook Air, while photos and links were added via the MBA.