A little over a year and a half ago, my children bought me an iPad for my sixtieth birthday. I was very surprised, extremely delighted and totally clueless what to do with it. This was very early on in the tablet revolution and iPads weren’t even available in South Africa. Now, after knowing the device inside and out, people are asking me whether they should buy one. So, in response to a question from a dear friend of mine, here is my answer.
When I got my iPad, I had a grand total of 4 devices: desktop (Windows, home), laptop (Windows, work), a not very smart Nokia phone and my new iPad. Between then and now, I got rid of the desktop and thanks to my wife, my Nokia was replaced with an iPhone 4 (thanks, Renée!). Of the three devices, my iPad is definitely my favorite one and the one I use the most. It has fundamentally changed the way I think about computing and the way I use electronic devices. I love the touchscreen and the clever ways well-designed apps use it. Despite this, if I were forced to give up one of the three devices, I would have to choose the iPad. This points out that the answer to the question is not as easy as it seems: the tablet revolution still has a way to go before it can completely replace other devices.
What does an iPhone do that an iPad doesn’t?
1. It fits in your pocket. Not much anyone can do about this.
2. It places telephone calls, although this is a silly restriction that I’m sure Apple will do away with sometime. For example, the iPad is already my favorite device for skyping.
As for the rest, the iPhone does pretty much everything that an iPad does, albeit often akwardly due to screen size limitations. In some corners, it’s often argued that an iPad is just a large iPhone. True(ish), but the screen real estate is crucial for comfort in a wide variety of applications. If you’re always on the go and never work at a desk, then maybe the iPhone will suffice. But for pleasurable, productive and creative work, get an iPad.
Now what does a laptop (or desktop, for that matter) do that an iPad doesn’t?
1. It has a real keyboard. This is a matter of contention. Very few reject the iPad offhand because of the lack of a keyboard, some buy a physical keyboard to go with the iPad, but most of us just get used to typing on the screen. I find it easy enough and have written long articles on it without a problem and without degradation of typing speed (which is slow anyway, in my case). Productivity experts estimate that a fast touch-typist will type at about half the speed on an iPad. For the rest of us, the degradation is much smaller.
2. It has a file system. This is a real problem with iOS, the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads, that at some point in time will be addressed by Apple. It is already being addressed by other innovative companies both on the iPad and in the cloud. Via an automatic background sync I don’t notice, I can view any file (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, foto’s, videos, etc.) on my laptop or my iPad as long as I am connected to the Internet.
3. It does MS Office well. There are plenty of workarounds and half-solutions for the iPad but nothing that really works the way it could. Microsoft dropped the ball but several venture-backed companies are feverishly working on this. Expect to be able to work on Office documents comfortably by the end of 2012.
What’s the bottom line? The iPad is in the majority of cases the preferred device for more than half of the computing work I do. Working with touchscreens is satisfying and intuitive and well-designed apps make photography, reading, movies, music, writing, note taking more pleasurable than on any other device. Some limitations can’t be addressed, particularly size, so my iPhone/iPad combination is probably here to stay. But the next device to go will probably be the notebook. Maybe not this year, but the tablet will continue to disrupt the computing landscape in 2012.
If you have decided to take the plunge, three questions arise:
1. Which model? Don’t get an iPad 1 (my model), the iPad 2 (Renée’s model) is a significant improvement on several fronts (speed, clarity, cameras, smart cover). I’m pretty sure that Apple will soon announce the iPad 3, but for now, I can’t really imagine what essential improvements that will have over the iPad 2. You may want to wait, but the iPad 2 is an awesome machine.
2. SIM or no SIM? We both have the SIM version but don’t use it, because tethering via our iPhones is (fairly) user friendly and cheaper. I guess this depends on your situation. If you are behind a corporate proxy/firewall, you may want to consider the 3G model.
3. How much memory? We both have the largest memory money can buy but don’t use it. Most of our data is in the cloud. If you need to keep large amounts of photos, music, etc. locally on your iPad then you may want to reconsider.
So the bottom line is: You can do without an iPad but it’s no fun. If time is no object, wait for the iPad 3 announcement. If money is no object, get the largest iPad available with a SIM. In all other cases, get a16GB iPad with a DropBox or SugarSync (my personal preference) account. If you have a couple of extra bucks, get the 3G model, but it’s not strictly essential if your iPhone is always nearby.
And don’t underestimate the learning curve. The time spent is worth it, but there is more than just a monetary investment to be made.