The iPad as your only computer

Recently, I attended Tech Ed – Microsoft’s major technical education event for IT professionals. I attended as a member of the media at Microsoft’s expense (just laying out the appropriate disclaimers before I start). I was away for four days on the conference, having left home on a Tuesday and returning on Friday afternoon. For the first time, I travelled with the iPad as my only computing device – no notebook, no cheating by using one of the many machines that are around for attendees – just the iPad.
The Kit
In order to use the iPad as a primary computer for the best part of a week, I needed a few accessories. I was going to take a stand but decided to pack light and took a PADACs Executive Leather Case. This offers great protection in my satchel (a Crumpler “The Quarfie”) and doubles up as a stand. That props it up so I can either use the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard I brought or the on-screen keyboard comfortably.
Fortunately, Microsoft provided WiFi access to conference delegates so Internet connectivity was easy – a big consideration as I only have a WiFi iPad and not a 3G model. In the hotel however, it was a little trickier as in-room access is only via an Ethernet cable. For that, I used the Huawei E5830 I picked up on eBay so that I have ready access to Internet.
Obviously, the iPad’s battery was never going to make it through four days so I have the charger with me. I used the same charger for my iPhone so that made my travel load even lighter – one brick to charge them all!
Reality Check
So, can the iPad make it as a primary computing device? In a nutshell – yes but not forever.
Data entry in the conference sessions and during interviews was easy. The iPad’s instant on capability meant that I was up and running way before most of the other folks using netbooks or sub-notebooks.
Plenty of people have already written about the iPad’s hardware so I’m going to mention one app that I’m road testing (there a full review in Australian Macworld) is Office 2 HD. This is yet another productivity suite for the iPad. At this stage it only support word processing and spreadsheets and I’ve only worked with the word processor as that’s a key application for me.
The big attraction of Office2 HD is that it plays nicely with DropBox. That means I can open and save documents to my DropBox account so I don’t have to worry about backing my work up while traveling.
For the writers out there, Office2 HD includes all the usual formatting options like bold, underline, italics, bullets, numbering and text alignment. It also includes a word count – a must for journalists.
The biggest issue with the iPad as a notebook or netbook replacement is the lack of USB connectivity for transferring content to and from a memory stick. For a journalist, this is critical as many press kits are distributed this way.
Camera Shy
I know this has been addressed by just about every iPad critic on the planet – and some of the fans. But the lack of a front-facing camera is a real problem. It’s almost a certainty that iPad 2 will have a camera now that FaceTime is part of the Apple landscape. But for now, not having a camera is a show-stopper for me. Being able to video-conference home and colleagues when traveling is important – particularly on longer trips.
One More Thing
It’s funny how experience is the only way to really find a serious deficiency with a device. I’ve started a contract job as the IT manager of a school. Like most other businesses, my employer uses Microsoft Exchange – a platform I’m warming to after 15 years or so of working with Lotus Notes.
I use GMail as my main email service and I access that via Google’s support for the ActiveSync/Exchange protocols (I know it’s more complex than that but you know what I mean). On my iPad I can access several email accounts so I can keep in touch with all my clients easily.
So, there you have it. One man’s experience of using the iPad as his one and only computer. Lots of wins and some losses but the iPad is good enough – for a limited time.
Do you have an iPad? What apps are essential for you? Let me know through the comments.

Comments (2)

  1. John Chidgey

    Short and sweet article Anthony – resonates my position with the iPad. My biggest issues with using the iPad as my only computer come back to key software not being present. As a developer I’m stuck with a laptop to develop in XCode. Other limitations such as the lack of flash (whilst this is becoming less of an issue as more developers turn to HTML5 or native apps) still make a laptop the better option. For that choice the new MacBook Airs are my choice given their instant on (well, instant wake-up), integrated keyboards and their flexibility. They still lose out on the battery performance though and are slightly larger and slightly heavier but not by much.

    • Thanks John. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. One of the things that has really changed my feelings about the iPad recently is the 11-inch MacBook Air. I can actually do everything I need to with that device. However, the ipad is great for reading and some lighter duties. It seems that iPad 2 will have a camera. If that happens, the iPad gains some ground again.
      We live in interesting times.

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