Thoughts and reflections on 14 months of iPadding

Sections: iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials

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Computers, for me, are primarily a writing and communication tools. When I bought my iPad 2 in June, 2011, I hoped it would be able to serve as at least a usable partial substitute for a laptop and extend the tenure of my late 2008 2.0 GHz aluminum unibody MacBook beyond my penciled-in provisional target of three years for anchor computer system upgrades.

And so it has, although not as satisfactorily as I would have prefer. I’m indeed now well into my fourth year with the middle-aged MacBook, and still have no near-term plans to replace it, which is at least partly attributable to having the iPad, and a user behavior motif that is beleaguering the PC industry these days.

My early days assessment of the iPad was fairly negative. While the iPad is great for Web surfing, music listening and so forth, and tolerable for email, things I miss most, in no particular order, are real multitasking, the ability to display multiple documents and application windows simultaneously, pointing device based text selection/manipulation ease, precision, and reliability, document level access to the file system, and easy hard-wired input/output connectivity (ie: no standard USB port and/or media card slot). Those shortcomings defeat the iPad’s potential as a satisfactory production platform, in my estimation. Aside from the slow, inefficient clumsiness and imprecision of touchscreen pointing, clicking (or “tapping”), and text selection, I find the iPad’s incapacity to display multiple open windows and to actually muiltitask its most constant irritant. There is just no way that touch-based input that can ever be as slick or efficient as a mouse, touchpad, or—my personal fave for speed and comfort—a rollerbar.

Nevertheless, I’ve gradually transitioned into using the iPad more and more for writing, at least at the drafting and preliminary editing stages, although projects almost always get shifted to a Mac for final editing, proofing, and html markup, a workflow progression that has been greatly facilitated by Dropbox synchronization. The iPad is often a more spontaneous alternative for prose composition than the formality of sitting down at the computer workstation. While it’s emphatically not a comprehensive laptop substitute answer for me, I’ve been seduced by the no-fuss instant-on and easy tote-ability, enabling me to do stuff virtually anywhere in the house, or for that matter out of it, at least where there’s Wi-FI access. I would now find it tough to give that up.

Consequently, my iPad gets a lot of use, and has without doubt cut down substantially the number of hours I spend on the MacBook every day. Emergence of the media tablet really has in many ways improved the computing experience. Instant wake-up, being able to work, browse, or play comfortably almost anywhere, and the iPad’s general liveliness have all proved addictive. But it certainly hasn’t simplified things, at least for those of us who do serious work on computers. However, I don’t think it’s made things cheaper or logistically simpler. I’ve grown to appreciate the complimentarity, and the iPad is a useful tool for doing what it does well, but when I need to get some real work done efficiently, I get back on the MacBook.

Presuming that I’ll continue to want both tablet and laptop, choreographing updates of two types of computer rather than just one promises to add another layer of complexity (as well as expense), and what I don’t want to get stuck with is having to upgrade both systems at the same time or in close succession. I figure I lucked out a bit in that the third-generation iPad didn’t induce upgrade pangs for me. I’m a bit of a Retina display curmudgeon, and would probably still opt for the holdover $399 16 GB iPad 2 rather than a new iPad were I starting from scratch today.

Speaking of which, I’m doing very well with the 16 GB capacity on my 14-month old iPad 2, confirming that I chose correctly going with the 16 GB unit, being as I still have nearly 10 GB of storage memory free after over a year of use. My iPad will almost certainly be obsolete before it’s full. Of course, I don’t have a large music collection and I’m not much for watching feature films and T.V. shows on a  9.7″ screen, so your mileage may vary.

In the end, I’ll probably hand the iPad 2 off to my wife, and replace it with possibly an iPad 4. I’m intrigued by the iPad mini concept, but probably not enough to buy one. I’m pretty satisfied with the 9.7″ display, but if my iPad usage was more mobile, a seven or eight inch display would have more appeal.

Another wild card to consider is Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface tablet PC. After 20 years pretty much exclusively on Apple products, switching to Windows would be a radical transition for me. However, based on pre-release information, the Surface would appear to address most—if not all—of my complaints about the iPad noted above, especially in its Ivy Bridge X86 powered Pro variant that will run the full Windows 8 desktop OS. Of course, that model will likely cost as much as a MacBook Air, so we’ll have to see.

Either way, tablet computing will be the dominant wave for the foreseeable future, and that’s probably a good thing, overall.

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