Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of good stories of various users ditching their laptops for most of their day-to-day task and simply taking their iPads everywhere they go. Two of the biggest names in the Technorati to do it are Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago SunTimes and Shawn Blanc. I will even admit to be living this lifestyle for the better part of the past year. There is one thing that all three of have in common that might apply to everyone else who is considering the jump.
##10 Hours is a Long Time
The biggest thing is that most folks that are ditching the notebook for the iPad have also been able to switch the way they tackle their everyday computing use. Andy Ihnatko and Shawn Blanc are both writers. As a Mobility Specialist in IT, I spend most of my time in and out of documentation, analysis and meetings that the iPad with a 10 hour battery life makes more sense than a heavy laptop with a painstakingly long boot ups sequence or a tendency to hang on sleep or hibernation. Apart from a few tasks that must be completed every month on a corporate computer (sounds like tree blood), I just don’t need to carry the laptop with me.
##There’s An App For That
In fact, many of the modern Corporate IT departments have been quite responsive to their employee’s request for better remote access solutions. It’s not uncommon to hear about IT giving their users remote desktop or VDI access to corporate tools rather than handing out more laptops with tokens. With the good quality app development nowadays, I am even starting to see more and more companies producing web apps rather deploying full systems, now if Netweaver and Websphere could pick up their game and embrace Web Standards and HTML5 rather than plodding down the proprietary line any further. Even the big CMS systems and ERP systems are not ony making their product more browser friendly but many of them are even adopting HTML and web standards for their staple IE only tools. Even Microsoft is making a big play with Sharepoint by making the MySite available to iPad Users as a corporate DropBox alternative, not to mention that 2010 is meant to be mobile-ready, its not exactly Safari ready yet but it is getting better and better all the time. There are even a slew of SysAdmins and IT Professionals that have made the iPad as much a part of their uniform as the pocket protector, taped horn rims and solar-powered calculator watch.
##The Legacy of Flash
The biggest issue of course is what do all these big companies do with the all of the Flash and Silverlight content they invested so heavily into a few year back. In many of the cases I have seen, all of this rich content dates itself really quickly or was poorly and hastily coded in the first place. What was good for the mouse like rollovers and pop ups simply do not translate to touch interfaces. In so many cases, even my old stuff, a rollover was used to explain something that could not be perceived or interpreted by the user interface. Producing high quality and succesful applications, whether they be native or web-based has become more and more complex usually involving designers, UI experts, integrators and developers. Where you could get away with a very simple design and let the developers hack and slice it up the way they wanted, in today’s world of retina display and touch interface, you really need to make your navigation simple and make sure that all interactions are intuitive. Unfortunately, this is where all traditional corporate dashboards and reporting tools fail. Rather than standardise and common words, symbols, actions, there is always a tendency to inject the corporate buzz speak, use variation of the logo or mascot to depict actions and then assume that everyone who uses the app will understand the business logic as intimately as the development team who put the app together. There is not much you can do about the business logic since most users will pick up on this with experience, but I still hold true to my old web dev mantra:
If you need an instruction manual to use a web site, the development team >has failed.
##You Just Need to Work on That Flare
Once I got my workflows in order and manage to settle into the apps that I felt truly made me more productive, there was still one thing that held me back from using the iPad to it’s fullest. As great and powerful and beautiful as the iPad is it simply is not that easy to carry around sans-étui, naked. That 10 inch slab of gorrila glass might be strong, but it also attracts a lot on unwanted attention from keys, pens and whatever else you might throw into your courier bag, of course that is nothing compared to the damage an slate tile can do it from a 4 four foot fall. When I bought the first gen iPad, I think I spent more time debating the case than I did on whether I should get the 32GB or 64GB model (16 was never an option, too many photos and music). I wanted to get the best dj speaker to be able to cheer my friends parties. In the end I settled on the original Apple case because it was so simple and practical in function, although I really liked the DodoCase, the shipping fees to the Great White North where a little to steep.
When we started testing the iPad 2, we were handed a couple of demo units without cases or even smart covers and to be quite honest this made testing very difficult, instead of merely grabbing the tablet and going, we were consistently looking around for a safe way of carrying it around. We finally got a hold of some original Zagg Folio cases with keyboard for a pilot and suddenly the use cases and business scenarios starting multiplying themselves. I started to see the iPad as a very powerful V12 engine that in itself is very cool, but if you pop it into a Corvette or Suburban XL you will have truly different experiences, and it’s very subjective to say which is the best one. If you stuff an iPad into a Otterbox, you suddenly have a very robust field computer with many sensors, a camara, sound recorder and various input methods. However placing the iPad on an inCase Origami workstation along with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard provides a writer with a mobile and lightweight place to threw down his thoughts. The number of various cases, sleeves, stands, docks and holders are almost as great as the number of devices you can either plug into the 30 pin port or the headphone jack. From Square credit readers, photo card adapters to microphones, amp jacks and remote control devices, the iPad is quickly becoming the beige box PC that we you would see stuffed under desks or in studios, restaurants, lofts and garages in the early to mid nineties. The base computing platform is the same but the application use is what makes these tablets so flexible and adaptable. The comparison has been made so many times, and probably much better than this:
The iPad is very much a slate, a sheet of paper and canvas and what you do >with it is simply up to your creativity.
We just happen to be very lucky to live in a time where sharing one’s creativity does not require unlimited resources or the invention of devices like the Gutenberg press and broadcast radio and television networks. Producing quality enjoyable content can easily be done by the likes of you and me on relatively inexpensive devices like iPads.
##So Do You?
Getting back to the original point of this post: Should we all be ditching our laptops and joining the tablet revolution? Absolutely not, just in the same way you should not be throwing out your drill-driver simply because you also own a series of Phillips, Robertson and flat-head screwdrivers that fit in your pockets. You need to equip yourself with the best set of tools, if that means a serious laptop that never really leaves your desk to which you add an iPad for your more mobile and single focussed task, then that is the tool set you require. A colleague recently mentioned that when you go to the garage, you don’t ask the guy to use a torque wrench, you ask him to change your oil. You need to start thinking of your computing needs in the same way. What do I need to do today: Produce and presentation and finish up my documentation. I am pretty sure that you never think:
I need to use this piece of clip art and the letter Q more often…
So think about the tasks you need to perform to do your job and think about whether the tools you have aid or impede your ability to complete those tasks. If you find yourself making all kinds of excuses not to lug around your laptop, then maybe you need to think about whether the iPad magically or sensibly makes those tasks easier to strike off your list. It’s taken almost a year, but I know what my answer is and I don’t know if it’s the same answer I will be giving 2 years from now, but at the price of the iPad, I am willing to give it a shot. Are you?