Sunday, May 06, 2012

Got an iPad! Now What?

I've got a handful of clients who are targeting their sites towards iPads, so it made sense to pick one up to use for development/testing. (Technically, I had the idea to buy one, it took Shira to actually go out and make it happen!). So now I've got a brand new, super shiny, iPad in my hands.

The hardware is gorgeous. The user experience, while disorienting compared to Android or Windows, is clearly superb. My only problem is, other than using it as a test bed, what the heck should I use it for?

My first thought was travel. It sure is lightweight. But when I travel, I have pretty specific needs: (1) image backup/storage, (2) publishing photo and text to Blogger, (3) ssh capability and (4) some local development ability (emacs+subversion+sitecopy). I also do a bit of general web surfing and entertainment (watching Hulu, for example). My bought used on Craigslist netbook seems to be far more effective at all those tasks than an iPad. It doesn't seem obvious to me how I'd even get photos from DSLR into this guy.

Then I thought, I'll hand it off to Shira. She fiddled away. Her first thoughts were to use it as an eBook reader, a Skype platform and for watching TV (think Hulu and It does in fact work as an eBook reader and for Skype, but so does her Galaxy S II - nearly just as well. And both Hulu and were a bust (at least the free versions of the sites). Oh, and she did setup the recipe app, which has some promise.

Our little guy saw the iPad, and immediately said "oh, that has games on it." I then explained this one didn't, yet. But maybe using it as an education platform is the way to go.

I'm sure there's a killer use for the iPad -- I'm just not sure what it is. Want to help me out here? What do you find works better on the iPad than any other device?


  1. Anonymous4:39 AM

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  2. Anonymous7:23 AM

    I have both a first-gen iPad and an Android tablet (yes, I buy too many toys)...

    I think for people like us ("us" here means we want to do things like write code, use ssh, etc.), it's not that easy to find a really compelling use. If you're one of those people who isn't bothered by reading on a backlit and glossy display, then they make good eBook readers. A kindle is much cheaper, but I think there's a legitimate use case for "I'm willing to pay more because it does a bunch of other stuff that, while not being vitally important for me, is still nice to have occasionally".

    Mine sits on my coffee table most of the time. It dings at me when I get an email/chat/whatever, and often it's more convenient to bang out a quick reply on it than to go to a real computer. It's also the best RSS reading experience available in my opinion. Often if I'm actually sitting at my computer, I'll still pick up the tablet to check my Google Reader feed. I'm not a big gamer, but there are a few social games I play to keep in touch with friends and family back in the US, and some of those are much nicer on the tablet than on the smaller screen of a phone. I usually take it with me when I travel, but about the only thing I really use it for in those cases is to watch movies on a plane.

    I think a lot of people can replace a laptop with a tablet quite easily, but I'm not one of them. There are tons of articles out there about how people have managed to be productive with iPads by setting up shared hosting where they can SSH into a Linux box and run vi with some degree of compromise, so clearly it can be done. However, it very much seems to me like a case of spending inordinate amounts of time and energy so that one can have a work environment nowhere near as nice as they had before. Yes, it's lighter and it wakes from sleep a bit quicker, but at what price? My laptop weighs less than three pounds, and I have a snap-on second battery that makes it last longer than an iPad too if I want to trade an extra pound or so of weight in return. Frankly the weight and thickness is less of an annoyance than dealing with a separate keyboard and the limitations of the windowing system of the tablets.

    If I were price-conscious, I'd buy a Kindle for reading and use my phone and laptop for everything else, and I don't think my life would be noticeably worse. But if you can drop $500 or so on a toy, they do make very nice toys.

  3. Anonymous8:23 AM

    I have found that the most compelling use for the iPad I inherited when my wife recently upgraded--I share the first poster's sentiments in a general way, without the misdirected, inarticulate rage--is as a really, really good PDF reader with annotation capabilities.

    But I have found that use very compelling indeed.

    I find most non-PDF formats work horribly for technical books, so when I recently started learning Haskell, I bought _Real World Haskell_ and _Learn You a Haskell for Great Good_ from O'Reilly, who let you choose from multiple DRM-free formats, so I grabbed them in PDF form.

    And then I started using GoodReader to read *and annotate* them. And then I discovered that since Haskell lives in that odd intersection of academia and real-world usage, there's a *ton* of advanced material out there available as PDFs. A frightening number of which are now loaded on my iPad.

    So I've made the transition to using the iPad more or less exclusively for reading technical material, and I find it's great for this. I still use my Nook for fiction, and my Lenovo X201 for everything else.

  4. Install SSH and remove into a virtual for working.

    GoodReader is awesome.


      This story inspired me to use my iPad more for development, and it works well.

  5. Before I got mine 12 months ago I worried whether it would actually be useful. It has taken over 80% of the tasks I previously used my home PC for.

    Things an iPad is good for:
    - calendar and task manager (OmniFocus, Things, MyLifeOrganized)
    - reading PDFs, comics (cbz/cbr files)
    - reading RSS feeds (lots of really good Google Reader clients or standalone RSS reader apps eg "Mr Reader", "Reeder", "Flipboard"
    - leisurely internet browsing
    - reading twitter if you are into that
    - For commuting, Instapaper and podcasts have been great discoveries.
    - lots of great apps for kids (I must mention the fantastic PuppetPals)
    - browsing and organising photos (apps that interact with Flickr, Picasa, etc).
    The actual camera on iPad 2 is crap, I believe it's improved on iPad 3.
    - sketching and "painting" (though inferior to specialised tablets as the
    iPad can't sense how hard you are pressing on the screen)
    - note-taking by hand with a stylus. Several very good apps here eg Notability,
    Notes Plus. Many of them will record audio from a lecture while you are taking
    notes -- you can then "rewind" to hear the audio that was recorded when you
    took a particular note.
    - turn-based games, especially asynchronous turn-based. High quality ports of
    many, many board games are available. Also perfect for roguelikes and turn-
    based strategy games. In the future I foresee tablets/iphones taking over
    the role of game consoles (Xbox etc), acting as the controller while
    streaming video to your TV.
    - If you like personal wikis, org mode, etc, there is a great app called
    Trunk Notes which you should look at.

    I agree iPads are of limited use for coding/hacking. However it can be done with an SSH app (eg iSSH) and a bluetooth keyboard. The built-in keyboard is pretty painful for writing anything lengthy. As an alternative to SSH there are some very good programmers' text editors such as Textastic.

    Vim has been ported to iPad. If only someone would port Emacs...

    I believe most major blogging platforms have ipad apps that allow you to write blog posts.

  6. Wow, thanks all for the suggestions!

    I a bunch of time reading the mobile version of Google Reader on it today, and I can see I'm going to get hooked on the larger sized screen (even though my cell phone seems adequate).

    Can't wait to try out all of the above ideas.


  7. if you cant pickup a 5 lb laptop, then you need to workout more. if you set your
    laptop to go in sleep mode, it will wake up nice and fast anytime.
    Dont see the point of any more limited device. I suppose I could try
    daisy chaining about 20 or so ipad power packs to recharge my prius battery.
    wait laptop chargers would work as well and are more plentiful, ack! :)

  8. Anonymous11:30 AM

    There's some pretty neat music making and recording software available for iOS. I cannot personally comment on any of it because I do not own an iOS device but many other people are enthusiastic about it. In the same vain: Use it instead of a big stack of sheet music if at all applicable to your situation.