The London iPad Experience

Tools & Sites to Watch, Web/Tech / Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase

What happens when you combine a London business trip where you take your new iPad as your sole computing device with an Iceland volcanic eruption and closed European air space? The result is two weeks of intensive use of the iPad for entertainment, communication, and business productivity whether you like it or not. Such was the case for me and my iPad as we got to know each other really well over the last two weeks in my Heathrow Hilton apartment room.

What worked well:

  • Entertainment–videos, music, games, and eBooks
  • Email
  • Internet surfing & Maps
  • Size, Speed & Battery life

Entertainment: During evening in my hotel room prior to going to sleep (it was hard adjusting to the time differences during the early part of the trip) I enjoyed watching Series 5 of HBO's The Wire. I'd heard a lot about the show and having lived in Baltimore for a few years, I was looking forward to catching up. It's a good show and I probably stayed up longer than I should have watching an episode each night. The wide screen and beautiful iPad screen made for comfortable viewing while laying in bed. I read eBooks on the plane and while riding the underground subway trains (they call them tubes) to pass time and in an effort to justify all the money I've spent on electronic books. I even spent some time working on improving my chess game. The iPad was a huge improvement over using my iPhone for all of my entertainment needs. Music videos that are included with album downloads look great on the iPad and the internal speaker works fine without the need for an external set.

Email: When I had a solid Internet connection, it was easy to send and receive email quickly and efficiently. Email became an additional method of communicating with my wife between our long-distance phone calls. I probably could have used the iPad for Skype calls, but email was quick and flexible. I kept up with multiple accounts as easily as if I had been using my Macbook. The onscreen keyboard was easy to use and the small and even more portable size of the iPad made it easy to carry everywhere that I went without obviously looking like I had a laptop with me.

Internet surfing and Maps; Just like the ease of email accessibility, having my iPad along on the trip ensured that I could surf the net as necessary for both work and pleasure. If I needed directions or business operating hours, it was great to instantly turn on my iPad and quickly find what I needed online. I kept up with friends on social networks while staying current with my favorite websites and RSS reader news. Google maps and the locator feature of the iPad was invaluable in assisting me with finding my way around the streets and subway system of London. It was like having a personal tour guide and I was happy to find that a Starbucks is never far from you even when you're 7,000 miles and an ocean away from home. Connection speeds were relatively fast and wireless access points were easy to configure.

Size, Speed, & Battery Life: For casual computing and entertainment, the iPad's size, speed and battery life are hard to beat. I used it comfortably while sitting in the hotel lounge and restaurant waiting for meals and having drinks. It was easy to hold and a lot like reading a magazine or small book. Applications opened quickly and some of the device's speed made up for the lack of multi-tasking. I could easily go an entire day with internet surfing and watching movies without having the charge the battery. I didn't use the device non-stop for the day but after using it for several hours throughout the day, I was impressed with having at least 45% of the battery remaining after the end of each day. I charged the device each night to ensure that I began each day back at 100%.

What was a pain:

  • Lost Internet connections
  • Multi-tasking
  • Lack of Adobe Flash
  • Weight
  • Fingerprints
  • Screen rotation

Lost Internet connections: When I used the iPad with my MiFi device or on my home wireless network, I experienced no issues with dropped internet connections. Once I became dependent on the hotel connection (£9.95 for 24 hours), things didn't work as smoothly. I don't know if it was because the hotel's connection or something related to dynamic DHCP connections, but every few minutes I found myself having to exit the web browser so I could reset my WiFi connection and resume internet surfing. I don't know why it was so difficult to use the hotel's service. I was fine everywhere else.

Multi-tasking: The iPad is the ultimate leisure device and more than capable for casual computing. If you need to have several applications or windows open at the same time for more intense work, the iPad becomes less ideal. I'm not a hard core user who wants to try to have the iPad replace my laptop, but sometimes when I'm trying to post blog or forum entries, it helps to be able to multi-task via multiple windows. The iPad is fast and switching between applications seems to effectively mimic multi-tasking but not all programs return to the place where you left off once reopened and this was a bit frustrating on a few occasions.

Lack of Adobe Flash: Until sites that use flash for navigation and key content switch to the Apple-compatible standard, you won't be able to view affected content. A lot of popular sites use Flash and especially those that are big on using video. Many other sites are not a problem but this issue is a significant concern that will likely be addressed over a long period of time if site publishers are  savvy enough to seize an opportunity to increase readership and traffic from Apple devices like the iPad.

Weight: The iPad is relatively light at around one and a half pounds. It's far easier to carry than any laptop or netbook. However, if you've owned a smaller device like an Amazon Kindle or become comfortable searching the web or reading eBooks with your phone, the iPad will begin to feel heavy after extended use. The user experience is better than the Kindle or any phone–the screen resolution, color, interface, and overall versatility of the device is incomparable–but the device is meant to be held with two hands or propped up if used for more than a few minutes. It's by no means a deal breaker, but some will be delighted with the iPad's size and weight while others will think it's a bit heavier than they expected.

Fingerprints: The iPad picks up fingerprints easily and it's smooth and glossy screen shows them all too clearly. When the device is powered off, your swipes and touches litter the screen surface and beg to be wiped away so that you can focus on the clean lines and simplicity of the device's design. Carry a microfiber cleaning cloth with you if you don't want to be distracted by a "dirty" screen.

Screen Rotation: I wondered why the iPad had a screen rotation lock and when I began using my device, I didn't realize the lock was engaged and got frustrated about the screen not rotating as I believed it should. I guess I got to eager to start using my new tool-toy to review the features and buttons. Now that I've used the iPad for a while, I can understand why you would want to lock the screen. The rotation feature is smooth and fast. It doesn't require much movement if you're holding the device at just the right sensitive angle and horizontal plane where continued rotations from portrait to landscape can drive you crazy if you don't use the rotation lock. 
What I didn't expect:

  • Integrated Applications
  • Curious questions
  • An offer to buy

Integrated Applications: The iPad applications all work together to provide you with a seamless user experience. Videos play from web pages or within the email application and switch to YouTube when necessary for viewing related content while easily returning to the original application. Copying and pasting content between apps is fast and simple. The iWork applications are outstanding. My wife emailed me a Microsoft Word document that I opened and edited in Pages (the iPad word processing application), saved in Word format, and emailed back to her. It was surprisingly easy and just worked with no hassle whatsoever.

Curious Questions: Because the iPad is still very new and especially since it hasn't been released outside the States, there were lots of people who had questions for me as I was using it at coffee shops, restaurants, or while traveling. Most want to know if it can replace a laptop. That really depends on how use your laptop, but for most casual computer users–Internet surfing, social networking, light word processing, mutt-media entertainment–the iPad is the perfect, portable, computing companion.

An offer to buy: Since I was one of the few people overseas who had an iPad and its release date had been delayed for a period longer than anticipated, the device was a hot commodity. A gentleman from India, who had a tablet computer, asked me several questions about the iPad while I was having a few drinks. After some conversation about technology, philosophy, and politics–traveler talk over drinks in a hotel lounge–he offered an advance apology for what he hoped would not be an inappropriate question and asked if I would sell him my iPad. I politely told him no; I enjoyed the device too much. It was a social lifeline and multi-media tool that had become very important to me during my trip.

All in all, I'm extremely pleased with my iPad. It's as intuitive to use as my iPhone but immensely more suitable for videos, web browsing and personal productivity. It's easier to carry and has a longer battery life than my Macbook. When combined with my MiFi mobile hotspot, I'm never without high speed internet access and I can take my mobile computing activities anywhere at anytime.

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