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.
Posted by conradb212 at June 17, 2010 08:35 AM