June 17, 2010
iPad on the Road -- Part III
Right on the heels of my last European trip, the iPad accompanied me on a very different kind of journey, a five-day dive trip to the California Channel Islands. That meant eight hours on the road each way to and from Santa Barbara, and the three days on the good ship Conception, an 80-foot dive vessel.
I contemplated using the iPad as a navigation device for the road trip part of the journey, but gave up on that idea after wrestling with one of the better-known GPS/mapping apps for the iPad. I may have to devote more time learning it and giving it a chance; as is, it was a big exercise in frustration, with the app fighting me every step along the way. It seems like such a simple thing, designing a mapping app that lets you enter destinations and routes easily and intuitively. Sometimes you don't know the exact address where you're going, sometimes you simply want to take a certain route and not another, sometimes you want to modify the trip a bit. All of this seems next to impossible on GPS/mapping apps that remain among the most inflexible and stuck-in-the-past software ever, and I refuse putting up with this on my iPad.
Anyway, we did get to Santa Barbara (but not before my main, dedicated GPS, a Magellan with a 7-inch screen, had routed us through a twisty, winding up-and-down road through a national forest instead of staying on a highway), with my wife frequently commenting on the often odd and incomprehensible AT&T coverage along the way. The iPad's super-glossy display also earned some criticism, and Apple really ought to give that some thought for the next version. However, hopelessly lost in Santa Barbara's massive marina, which the Magellan GPS only showed as a large, featureless rectangle, the iPad's default Maps app sure came in handy.
We stowed our gear on the boat and found that two other parties had brought along an iPad also, and so the evening before we left port was spent comparing notes and demonstrating the iPads to the gadget-impaired. Also interesting that all three iPads were in Apple's innocuous black portfolio case. That thing is perfect for protecting the iPad both from harm and from attracting undue attention.
Once on the road, or rather on the water, the iPad's usefulness diminished a bit, it being unable to take pictures and me not yet having the SD card adapter to upload all the hundreds of pictures we took of urchins, sea stars, garibaldis, nudibranchs and endless variety of other critters down there, let alone the kelp forests and occasional shot of a shark or sea lion. The iPads, however, did see quite a bit of duty as eBooks and gaming consoles in the evenings, and much time was spent in trying to coax email to load whenever there appeared to be an AT&T signal (the Channel Islands are only 20 miles or so offshore). I wish I had taken pictures of two iPads side by side, never displaying the same signal strength, with sometimes one displaying five bars and 3G and the other 1 bar and EDGE. However, despite the apparent coverage at times, we never did manage to load email or a web page.
One thing that frustrated me again was the iPad's GPS implementation that only works in the presence of the almighty AT&T signal. It really would have been nice to know where I was on the water or around the islands, but since Apple won't let GPS do its thing without the signal, it was the outdoorsy types with their GPS handhelds that got to plot and record our course.
In the car on the way back, much time was spent catching up on email, Facebook, news and such, and the iPad Maps app again proved a great complement to the brain-dead onboard GPS. Yet, much was overshadowed by the constant search for an AT&T signal. I understand the limitation of cell coverage and all, but the claimed sorry state of AT&T coverage in Verizon's attack commercials all of a sudden looked pretty real. I truly cannot see a future where devices like the iPad live and die by a hunt for coverage.
Overall, the iPad cemented its place on my don't-leave-home-without-it list. And this time I didn't bother lugging along the big MacBook Pro. I did, however, bring my netbook because that's where my dive computer uploads its data via IR, and because the netbook has slots and ports for whatever cards and gizmos I have, and the iPad doesn't. You just can't have it all in one device, but with the iPad, you can have quite a bit.
June 07, 2010
iPad on the Road -- Part II
Back from a 3-1/2-day intercontinental trip that included a 17-hour trip to and a 22-hour trip back from Stockholm, Sweden. I checked what I'd usually consider a carry-on (the airlines don't charge for a checked bag on international routes, yet) and simply took along a shoulder bag just large enough for my MacBook Pro, camera, the usual assortment of cables and chargers, and my iPad.
I usually take the MacBook as my main machine, but this time it came along as backup to the iPad. And how did that work out for me?
Amazingly well. Of the many hours I used a computer during this whirlwind trip, it was 95% iPad and 5% Macbook, if that. The only time I really used the MacBook was while waiting for a connection at Chicago O'Hare's International Terminal where AT&T simply had no usable signal. Else, the iPad was my computer on this trip.
I had initially been asked to submit my presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint format to the conference organizers ahead of time. Unfortunately, I had already done it in Keynote, which is Apple's equivalent of PowerPoint. Keynote has an export function to PowerPoint, but the results aren't pretty. The conversion from iWork to the US$9.95 iPad version of Keynote, however, worked almost flawlessly, and so I had decided to try doing the presentation entirely on my iPad.
Just having become available in Europe a few days prior to my trip, but not yet in Sweden, the iPad was an instant conversation starter wherever I took it. One techie was concerned about the iPad's micro-SIM that he said none of the Swedish telcos uses. Most simply wondered how well it worked.
It worked wondrously well. The one thing that always kept my iPhone from being a true computer substitute (apart from its tiny screen) was that Safari on the iPhone simply isn't a full substitute for a web browser. Sure, it works, but there's just too much scrolling, too many sites that serve up special smartphone versions whether you want them or not, and so on. None of that applies to the iPad. It's simply browsing.
I did note, however, that I missed multitasking. We've all become so used to having numerous windows open, copying snippets and information back and forth, that not having it feels unnatural. It's no real big deal to open and close apps on the iPad, but it definitely interrupts workflow.
There are also little things that can trip you. The brand-new Elite Hotel Marina Tower in Stockholm, for example, had one of those infuriating WiFi sign-up systems business hotels across the globe are using to squeeze a few more dollars from their guests. A wonderful venue for conferences and just simply enjoying Stockholm in every other way, the hotel really blew it with WiFi, handing out Chinese fortune cookie-size snippets of paper with a loooong login and a loooong password good for 3 hours of free WiFi. The login and password both consisted of numerals and upper and lower case alphas, and entering those on the iPad was no fun. Further, the vexing system then brought up a little window with a count-down and log-out, which didn't work on the iPad. So I could not stop the counter when I was done browsing and my precious three hours were gone next time I tried to log on. So I had to buy more WiFi access, at an exorbitant price and was, again, presented with a loooong login and a loooong password which, unable to copy back and forth on the iPad, I jotted down on a piece of paper.
Well, I must have copied something wrong, as there was no access. When I went back to the signup page, the login and password had disappeared, replaced by a message saying I'd get an email with the info. Well, duh... how can I get my email when I first need WiFi?
So I went down to the reception at midnight to ask for another Chinese fortune cookie with three more hours of precious free WiFi access in a business hotel. The desk clerk was entirely unsympathetic to my predicament, practically bristling at my suggestion that WiFi should be free and included instead of making guests jump through hoops.
Anyway, then came the moment of truth. Would the iPad turn out to be able to handle a full presentation on standard projector equipment? The answer was yes.
All I had to do was start Keynote on the iPad, plug it into the projector's VGA cable with the iPad dock-to-VGA adapter and, bingo, the presentation showed up on the big projection screen. The iPad version doesn't have the playback options of the full Mac OS version of Keynote, so I did only see the slide number but not the slides themselves on the iPad. Moving between slides was by simple flick of the finger, and all worked just fine. At times a bit of stage fright made my hands moist, which the iPad's capacitive screen did not like, but I still managed with a firmer touch.
Overall, the iPad was just so much handier than using a big computer like the MacBook. In its highly recommended black portfolio case, the iPad is super-easy to carry and use wherever you are. Its instant on and off beats every conventional computer's sleep and standby and hibernate modes by a mile, and then there's that long lasting battery life!
The iPad's battery life on the road is just phenomenal. I simply never had to worry. I read a book on the iPad virtually the entire 9-hour flight from Stockholm back to Chicago, and still ended the flight with around 40% of battery. I did find that charging while using the iPad is slow going, though. And the glossy, reflective surface of the screen can be a drag. It's also a fingerprint and smudge magnet. Sure, they wipe off very easily, but in bright light the smudges are hugely noticeable and downright embarrassing.
So would I trust the iPad as my sole means of computing on the road? Probably. The iPad can do stuff no notebook can. For now, it was still comforting to have the MacBook as a backup, but next time I may not take it with. I mean, having a big seven pound backup for a sleek 1.5-pound tablet just doesn't make sense.
Else, iPad was a perfect travel companion.
June 01, 2010
iPad on the Road -- Part I
Well, I am at Chicago O'Hare, waiting for my flight to Stockholm, Sweden, where I'll be giving a presentation on trends and concepts in mobile computing. The plan is that I'll woo the audience by whipping out my iPad and do a long Keynote presentation on it. It should work, in theory. Best Buy ad the requisite iPad dock-to-VGA converter in stock, and the iPad version of my Keynote presentation looks almost identical to the original. The only issues I noticed are that my 3D graphics where converted into 2D, and the iPad version cannot pick a small part of a larger QuickTime file, so I had to crop that file.
For now, I am not off to a good start. During my four hour layover at Chicago O'Hare's International Terminal, I was not able to get the iPad to communicate at all. Not via 3G where AT&T shamefully had no usable signal. A weak 2-bar winked in and out, and I wasn't even able to get email. Or even notify AT&T of this egregious situation; their own notification app couldn't connect either. Okay, there's always the WiFi fallback. Or is there. I do have a Boingo account, but, sadly, Boingo wants you to log in via it own downloaded application, which, of course, is not available for the iPad. So now I am on Plan C: my MacBook. Honestly, right now I am a bit torqued. I mean, what good is wondrous technology like the iPad when I need to shlep along a big old MacBook anyway, just in case?