Monday, February 1, 2010

Is the iPad a road warrior's dream come true?

iPad photo courtesy of Apple Inc.Air travel seems more difficult everyday. Like many business travelers, I’ve been looking for a small, lightweight, but high functioning combination electronic travel entertainment and computing device. For me, netbooks are definitely not the answer.

Last week I watched Steve Jobs introduce the Apple iPad with great anticipation. For the last several days I've analyzed how well the iPad might fulfill my needs as a business traveler. The iPad is built for travel.

It’s face is 9.56” by 7.47”, just a half inch thick and weighs no more than 1.6 pounds. It has a beautiful LED-backlit glossy Multi-Touch 9.7” 1024x768 pixels at 132 PPI screen. It comes in 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash drive models.

It has a digital compass and an assisted GPS on the WIFI-3G models.

It has models with WIFI (802.11a/b/g/n) only connectivity, and WIFI plus 3G (most GSM cellular providers only). All models have Bluetooth 2.1 technology.

Many in the US are disappointed by the iPad’s 3G capability locked into AT&T, however, I never thought Apple would make any other choice. Clearly, Apple doesn’t want to manufacture iPads with a variety of cellular technologies. The world has left Verizon’s type of CDMA behind and moved to GSM. Even Verizon’s moving to a GSM type system with their upcoming 4G, LTE, network. In addition, AT&T has announced they will be spending $18B to $19B in 2010 to upgrade their wireless and backhaul networks to handle their increasing network traffic. That major commitment to customers was not lost on Apple.

The iPad runs on an upgraded version of the iPhone Operating System. It includes all the standard iPhone programs like mail and Safari (no phone application). It has the same basic touchscreen keyboard. It runs iPhone applications and applications specifically built for it. It has a native e-book reader (iBooks) which uses the EPUB format. It plays movies, TV shows, and music like the iPhone.

All that’s great, but the iPad does have deficiencies for travelers:

• Ergonomics — the iPad can rest on a tabletop, or be held in one’s hands, which isn’t very good for typing reports or email, or trying to watch a movie in a plane or hotel room. It needs the iPad case which can double as a stand for typing or viewing.

• Keyboard — the iPad touch keyboard is larger than the iPhone's, but has no letter magnification as you type or tactile feel, so typing long e-mails and reports can be tough. There is an external keyboard available for it which uses a special dock to connect to the iPad.

• Dongles — other than its headphone adapter, the iPad has only one connector for everything else, the typical “i” device connector. If you want to connect your camera, an SD card, or a projector for a presentation, you’ll need some dongles and cables to connect them.

By the time you have the case, keyboard, dongles, cables and docks, you’ll need another case, making the small thin iPad not travel so well anymore.

• Multi-tasking — currently the iPad doesn’t do it. You can’t type a report on Pages, while listening to music via Pandora, or pull in tweets, while you surf the web. This is a major deficit for an “all-in-one” device.

Just as important to me, the iPad has a security wall between its native apps and 3rd party apps, like the iPhone. They can’t share data directly. My old Treo permitted a travel itinerary app to share its dates with its built-in calendar. Apple needs to permit that same kind of data sharing between apps.

• Flash — the iPad doesn’t support flash. That renders Safari useless for many current websites. That’s a big problem. Adobe is working on a work around, but no one knows when it will be available, or how good it will actually work.

• Camera — the iPad doesn’t have one. I wasn’t looking for a back-side camera to take photos. I think the iPad needs a front-side webcam for communications. The iPad can make Internet based calls, and a webcam would be wonderful to make them video calls.

• iWork — having an office suite available on the iPad is a big deal for business travelers. Unfortunately, InfoWorld’s Pete Babb reports that while iWork can read Microsoft Office (the world’s most used office application suite) documents it can’t save them in office format. That means if you edit your work on the iPad, you’ll have to save it in another format and convert it back later. That’s not good.

• Backlit Screen — I don’t know about you, but often while traveling, when the weather is good and the temperature mild, I’ll try to relax outside in a garden, park or beach and read. PC World’s Melissa Perenson, who’s actually used the iPad, reports its screen is dimmer than the iPhone’s. That could be a problem outside, or in brightly lighted convention hall lobby and other rooms.

There are other lessor problems or issues with the iPad. Together they will cause me to pass on the iPad at this time, but this product has huge potential. I didn’t get an iPhone until the 3GS model was available. I’ll bet I’ll be purchasing a future iPad model, even though today’s version doesn’t fulfill my needs as a business traveler.


Jon said...

Great comprehensive review of the iPad. Anyone considering the iPad should read it before they buy it so they know what they are getting.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the overview, I'll rethink the ipad now..

Ned S. Levi said...

Ben, if I can offer one piece of advice about the iPad, it's forget its "wow factor," of which it has plenty.

Decide why you want it, and how you expect it to be a worthwhile tool or entertainment device for you. Then before you buy it, try it and see if it works as you want and expect.

Then, if it meets your goals, and works as you want and expect, go for it. I use both PC and Apple devices personally for both computing and entertainment. This is way I go about making similar decisions.

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