The iPad: Thoughts After One Month

I guess it seems somewhat fitting that I’m writing this post about my iPad usage on both the day after the iPad WiFi + 3G (more on that name later) was released and while I’m in Richmond visiting my Mom. Back on April 3 when I received my iPad (WiFi only) I was all set to do a series of videos and posts, when I got a call that my Mom had suffered a huge setback in her fight against lung cancer. In fact we all thought that was the beginning of the end of her journey. Well, it is May 1 and while she’s had a few more bad spells, she’s still with us and doing surprisingly well. Again thanks for all the good wishes and prayers. She loves hearing about them and I do share every one.

But, I’m writing a bit about how I’ve come to use the iPad since that time and also to comment on the release of the iPad WiFi + 3G. About that long name with a “+” sign in the middle of it. Turns out that while it may be cumbersome, it looks to be entirely appropriate as we’re seeing early reports that just like the iPhone, the iPad WiFi + 3G has some restraints placed on it when it comes to viewing video over the 3G network. Early reports blamed this all on AT&T but as I’ve been reading more, it seems that while AT&T is being coy about this, there may actually be some issues about broadcasting rights when it comes to apps like the ABC App that allows you to view ABC programming. It’s a muddle at the moment, but I’m sure we’ll hear more in the coming days on that issue. That said, users of YouTube are seeing video degraded or scaled down if they use the 3G option. While some report that Netflix App users are seeing the same thing, others say that app works fine. I’ve even seen reports of users saying iTunes video comes in at a lower res as well. I’m not surprised given that it only makes sense for video content providers to scale things back in order for their video to stream and in fact that’s been going on for some time on multiple platforms. The difference is you don’t notice the image difference as much on a smaller screen as you do on the larger iPad screen, which is built for viewing video.

Skype, just like on the iPhone, is WiFi only, even though Apple changed some of its restrictions to allow VOIP apps. Perhaps that will happen with the 4.0 release. The point of all that is that for the moment it looks like iPad WiFi + 3G owners will need both if they want to take full advantage of some of the video apps and Skype. I’m still waiting to see how the 3G radio affects battery life.

All of that said, it makes me feel good about my decision to purchase a WiFi only unit, coupling that with the Sprint MiFi card when I’m out and about. Especially when you consider that the MiFi signal reads as WiFi so apps that are “WiFi Only” will still work.

Speaking of out and about, I think I said this in an earlier post. The iPad is not a mobile device, it is a portable device. I can’t see myself using it when I am out and about for two reasons. First, it is just too big to carry about conveniently and use the way one would use a SmartPhone. Second, out of doors the screen is just not viewable. But then, keep in mind Apple sees this as another device between SmartPhones and notebooks. While the iPad may not fit my definition of mobile, its portability makes it an excellent device to take with you if you don’t need to get a lot of work done beyond email and some light document creation.

Have I found a place for this in my work/play/life? To be honest, I’m still not sure. There are some things I really enjoy doing on the iPad. They include watching video from a variety of sources, keeping up with email, checking news and feeds, and when I have a spare moment, playing a game or two.

Battery Life is the Key Feature
As I said early on in my usage one of the most impressive things about the iPad (at least the WiFi version) was the extraordinary battery life. That still remains true. Typically when I’m off on a trip, such as the one I am currently on to visit my mother, I have to make sure that I allow time to charge up various devices including the MiFi card, whichever computer I’m taking, the iPhone, etc.. Perhaps it speaks loudly about how much I use the iPad, but I never feel like I need to plug it in and recharge before leaving on a trip. In fact, I rarely see it dip below 30% even with strenuous usage.

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If you paid attention to another hint in the paragraph above, you’ll also notice that in addition to the iPad, I am also lugging another computer with me. I’m not willing (yet) to cut the tether to a Tablet PC or my MacBook when it comes to getting work done when I’m on the road. I have wondered if I just haven’t had the room in my brain to focus on giving it a try, but I honestly think for my needs, (spreadsheets, document creation, reports, note taking, mindmapping, signing documents, etc…) the iPad just isn’t going to cut it when I need to focus and get work done. Perhaps future apps will change my mind on that, but for the moment that’s not the case. That said, I have adjusted my workload some because of the iPad. I find that I will typically read email on the iPad (especially when I know that many of them are reply and forget) because of the excellent battery life. I will also use it to read articles, feeds, etc… that I need for my work. This saves battery life on the iPhone and also on whatever computer I’m using and that’s a plus.

When it comes to blogging, I’m just not comfortable doing so on the iPad. While it can be done, it is more tedious (using the two platforms I use, WordPress and TypePad) at the moment. Perhaps both of those companies will improve their Apps to make this easier in the future. Sure, it can be done in a pinch, but if you ask me, blogging should feel more effortless than current solutions offer at the moment.

Another use case that I am enjoying has to do with the Camera Connector accessory. My Mom was an avid gardner, and her house is surrounded by plantings and flower beds of all kinds that bloom at various times throughout the year. Given that she resides now in a nursing home, she loves for me to take pictures of her plantings. I’ve been doing so and showing them to her on the iPad, but it required a few steps to get them transferred over. With the Camera Connector Kit it is a much easier process to just slip in the connector and the SD card and Mom can view to her heart’s content.

As for eBook reading between the iPad and the Kindle that’s still a contest in my mind. I do not carry the Kindle with me when I’m traveling, instead using only the iPad. But the Kindle remains by my bedside and I use that when I’m home for reading before sleep. There are two reasons for that. First, I have a library of books still to be read on the Kindle. I can certainly (and do) read them on the iPad. But the second reason is that the Kindle’s lighter weight feels much better to me after I’ve fallen asleep and it drops on my chest. At the moment I’m using both in different circumstances, but I can certainly see where the iPad could easily be someone’s only eBook reading device.

I said it in earlier posts about the iPad, and I’ll say it again. Until developers crank out iPad specific apps we won’t really know how successful the iPad will be in the long run. I anticipate that to begin occurring this summer, although we might see some delay in that as some developers choose to wait for the fall release of the 4.0 OS. Don’t get me wrong there are some excellent apps available now, but given that the vast majority of app developers had to wait just like you and I to get their hands on the device, I’m assuming we’ll see more and perhaps more device-tailored apps down the road.

So, in summing this post up, I’ll say this. Most of my early suspicions have been confirmed after about a month’s use of the device. In my case this is not a device capable of replacing others when I need to get work done that requires heavy lifting. The excellent battery life does offer me an opportunity to offload some of my work to the iPad and take the strain off of other devices that burn through batteries more quickly. As a “companion device” the iPad is indeed a fantastic device to enjoy entertainment and consume media. As I’ve spent quite a few nights and days sitting with my Mom as she sleeps, it has been great to have such a portable device that allows me to keep up with the world (email, feeds, Internet browsing), relax (read eBooks, watch video, listen to music/podcasts, play games), and do so for an extended period of time without having to worry about plugging the device in for a charge. As always, your mileage my vary when it comes to your specific case, and I certainly realize that my first month with the iPad has been somewhat unique as our family has been coping with my mother’s health condition. But in that circumstance the iPad has proven to be an excellent companion.

Side note regarding 3G coverage and AT&T. I’m lucky that the center where my Mom now resides has a WiFi connection that I can use. Before that became available the Sprint MiFi card worked just fine as well. But I’ve noticed in the last two weeks a change in AT&T’s coverage that is confirmed by others here at the nursing home as well. When Mom first moved here, we were able to get satisfactory coverage on the iPhone in her room and throughout the facility. During the last two weeks that coverage has degraded substantially to the point that my iPhone is essentially useless on 3G or Edge in her room. I noticed a similar change in coverage back home about 2 weeks ago as the signal strength also dropped at and around my neighborhood. That signal strength returned there, so I’m hoping that AT&T was just working on the network. The same isn’t true here as of yet. I actually called AT&T and asked them if they were working on the network and explained my observations and of course got no real answer that meant anything. (We’re not doing any work in that area that I can see.) I asked for a credit on my service on the basis that I had been receiving satisfactory coverage, but that it degraded, and that of course was met with a negative answer.

The reason I bring it up, is that I think it will be interesting to see how IPad WiFi + 3G users will fare given all that we know about AT&T’s networks. Tell me I’m crazy or out of bounds here, but I think if I paid a $130 fee for 3G capability and also tacked on the monthly fee, I’d be more than a little concerned if AT&T didn’t step things up considerably. I think there’s a fundamental difference in complaints in that scenario then there is when you are complaining about insufficient service on just a SmartPhone. Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Doug Carmichael says

    It willbe important to find the serious applications.

    I like being able to connect with my desktop. there are several apps that do it. i am using the app called jump. seems fastes.

    I liedragon. I like notes. I like to read indle and ibooks.

    Pages is quite elegant. Learning to copy and past fast is one core new skill. That is why i like notes, it just all goes there.

    Word press blog seems fine for low formatting. i love that all the posted items are down the left hand side. Makes it easy to edit and posting is fast.

    I find for serious reading and serious writing the ipad is spectacular. For web browsing pretty good.

    Photos, try the new app that lets the iphone pictures show up in real time on the ipad, wi fi connection. awesome. called camera something..

    The lack of a file system is the most frustrating. And it has taken three weeks to integrate it, and repalce, in my complex daily work life.

  2. CLC says

    I’m so glad to hear that your mother is doing well. She looks better, sitting up and all in a chair. I wish her and all of you well and am glad that the iPad has cheered her up. That’s one good thing to chalk up in its favor.

  3. HG says

    That is great iPad uses Warner and most importantly your Mom is doing great. You might watch out, your Mom might take your iPad. :) and take your CES pass for next year. :)

  4. Brett Gilbertson says

    Thanks Warner for the in depth review. I’ve had the iPad for 2 weeks now and probably have similar experiences.

    Battery life is great, but I did manage to drain it in about 6 hours while downloading 50 or so padcasts. I’ve had the usual Wifi issues that everyone else seems to be having – shockingly poor range.

    It is my device of choice now for Podcasts, ebook reading and web browsing (like reading gottabemobile.com) – i.e. lounge room / downtime activities. It is fantastically light weight and it does have a beautiful screen that looks like candy – and it doubles as a mirror outside! (is that a feature?)

    Note taking, email, writing, reviewing, documents, spreadsheets, remote desktop, etc will remain on a windows Tablet PC, and I think that it is unlikely to change for a long time.

  5. Mike aka C-141xlr says

    Very nice review, if I had $600 or so to waist, I might get one for the reading. Once my textbooks show up I may reconsider. I really like making notes in the book while reading as I can with my TPC, so I’m not sure it’s worth the money just for reading texts.

    I have gotten use to people asking me while reading and writing on my TPC if that is an iPad. My usual response is no, you can’t write like this on an iPad. But two days ago I was reading my Kindle, and someone asked me if that was an iPad. Oh come on, not everything that looks like a tablet is an iPad.

  6. GoodThings2Life says

    Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… I always appreciate reading your reviews, Warner. Always informative and honest, and I can always count on you to give a fair assessment of a device’s worth. It certainly seems the iPad has its place, even if it’s just a companion device.

    I’m also glad to read that your mom is doing better. I’ll continue to keep your family in my prayers and thoughts. Best wishes to you all!

  7. Doctor_Roe says

    First of all, great that *Mom* is doing better! Woo Hoo! Treasure each day.

    Next, a very interesting read on 3G and an overall iPad impression. I am a devoted tablet user. x61T serves ALL my needs including dual core POWER for .Net development. That said, I am still interested in iPad from a secondary device. Would be nice to grab and go when going somewhere where I need to check email, etc. Like yesterday, I needed to go to the MVA and take care of some business. 4+ hour wait. Took my wife’s netbook and the MiFi. Worked, but a little slow.

    So, I am holding off until the xmas time when the potentially new iPads / OS come out. Wondering if that’s smart or not.

  8. tivoboy says

    Probably the wrong post for this, but one of the things about Skype and WIFI, is that the internal authorization in the current app is “wifi” or “not wifi”, and anything like 3G INCLUDING using a VPN as an example shows up to skype as “NOT WIFI” and then won’t work. I’ve recently found this in places where the skype protocol is BLOCKED and I want to work around it with a VPN. Even though I have FULL WIFI and authorized connectivity, with the VPN it is a no go. Makes it harder to use on any platform. Hopefully, SKYPE will fix this soon.

  9. Mike Cane says

    Best wishes to your Mom, first of all.

    >>>Especially when you consider that the MiFi signal reads as WiFi so apps that are “WiFi Only” will still work.

    That’s a point I never considered.

    When you use the MiFi, do you also bring along a charger? Doesn’t the battery last like just two hours or so? And if you’re on Sprint, is the OverDrive portable? Not sure if I exactly saw that, but isn’t it much larger than a MiFi?

    • Warner Crocker says

      Mike,

      I typically get between 3 and 3.5 hours on the MiFi. I do carry a charger and frequently use it plugged in. The Overdrive is indeed a bit bigger but I have not tested one so can’t compare specifically. That said I think the Overdrive isn’t too lRge to tote around.

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