Continuing with the iPad: Four Months In and Counting

It’s been awhile since my last update on how I’m using or not using the iPad. I did an update after one month and one after two months, but my busy schedule kept me from following that trend at three months. But now that I’m approaching four months, I think it is time for another update. As I said from the beginning when I first bought an iPad, the real story of its success (or any Tablet or Slate) is going to be all about the software. In this case of course that means Apps. I’ve added some Apps to my arsenal that make the iPad more usable in my day to day work and play flow, and a few that I’ve been using before have seen important updates. Could it be used as my go-to computer? Not yet in some instances and yes, in others, and the difference is all about the Apps. So, in this update I’ll toss in some info on some of the Apps I’m using and a few of the accessories as well.

We’ve opened two shows at Wayside Theatre since my last update, one at our theatre and another at a different venue. It has been a busy and stressful time as the openings came one week apart. I haven’t had much time at my desk during that period (or in the time following the openings) so I’ve been using the iPad (and the iPhone) to keep up to date on work for the theatre, and when I can, tech and gadget news. The iPad and Sprint MiFi card have served me well for work purposes. I’ve been able to access info when I need it and handle most of the chores that fall my way. During rehearsals for Dead Man’s Cell Phone, one of the two shows we produced, I was able to use the eBook version of the script as my rehearsal script on the iPad via the Kindle App. Although I was able to use the script in rehearsals, there obviously isn’t  way to quickly and easily mark up the script in the Kindle App. Yes, you can make notes, but when we’re in the throes of rehearsal, notes have to be taken quickly, preferably with a pen or stylus (GASP!) as things move very quickly.

My go-to apps during this period were the Kindle App and Penultimate. The Kindle App was used as I said for referring to the script. Penultimate was used as my note taking app of choice. I’ve written about Penultimate before. It’s the one Inking App that works with my style of note taking. Re-read that last sentence and make sure you grasp the concept of “my style of note taking.” Penultimate has wrist protection/palm rejection that makes taking notes a fluid process. There was a recent update to the App that improved both the wrist projection and how Digital Ink is laid down on the screen that made a good solution even better. When I take notes in rehearsal, it is a quick and dirty process. I scribble quickly. I need to not be engaged with the screen but trust that what I’m jotting down will some how be decipherable to me later. The reason for this is that I don’t want to take my eyes of the actors or the action to focus on the note. Penultimate on the iPad isn’t as good a solution as using a Tablet PC with a Wacom digitizer, but in my experiences in these two shows in proved better than good enough. All Tableteers know that wonderful feeling of Digital Ink being laid down on a screen with an active digitizer. You’re just not going to get that same fluidity on an iPad. That’s been said many times before, but I want to say that the developer’s of Penultimate have come the closest to creating a good digital Inking experience for my style of note taking that I’ve found, and I’ve tried every solution I’ve seen or heard about.

During this period the iPhone 4 was released as was iOS4 which brought Apple’s attempt at multitasking to the iPhone. We have to wait until some still unspecified time in the fall for there to be an update for the iPad that includes multitasking. (Some rumors say November.) Let me say this, given how I was using the Kindle App and Penultimate, Apple’s method of saving an App’s state would have been a huge boon on the iPad, if it works as well as it works on the iPhone 4. Given the iPad’s current one App on one screen approach, there was enough of a delay going back and forth between the Kindle App and Penultimate to be frustrating, especially when you see how it could work on a sister device with other applications. I’ve got three other shows to open before November, so let’s hope we see this on the iPad sooner rather than later.

The other key App in my arsenal is Dropbox. Dropbox allows me to move files between the devices I use with ease. In my most recent update I talked about using DataViz’s Documents to Go and Pages to work with these documents, but since that update, QuickOffice has been released for the iPad and it is now my App of choice when it comes to editing and working with documents on the iPad. We’re still not quite there when it comes to opening attachments and saving them to a folder or location you’d like, but we’re getting closer. When and if this finally occurs then it will make the iPad even more useful. But until then the combination of Dropbox and QuickOffice handle most, but not all of my chores.

I’ve also mentioned SimpleNote before. For quick notes (not Ink) SimpleNote is a great little App that lets you type in some simple notes. It’s great for lists. With an update, it now allows you to sync up with the same app on your iPhone and this is also a plus. In these last two rehearsal periods I would use SimpleNote to create a simple note on the iPad, and then later refer to it on the iPhone. I’ve been asked before why I don’t use Evernote for these kind of note taking tasks. I use Evernote quite a bit, primarily as a repository for things I want to hang onto. I could, and have, used it for simple quick note taking, but I find that I prefer the simplicity of SimpleNote for that. I do use Evernote for voice notes quite a bit, and I also use it as a repository for notebooks created in Penultimate. After we’ve opened a show and I want to archive my notes on that show, I’ll email the notebook from Penultimate to Evernote. It is stored as a PDF and there for me if I need to go back and refer to it later. I also use Evernote as a repository for all the research I gather on a project.

These are Apps I’ve mentioned in earlier updates, (with the exception of QuickOffice). What’s great about each of them is that the developers are continue to update their products and each update brings improvement that I’ve found useful. Apple has its hands full with a number of issues certainly, and some of those are related to the App Store, but what seems like a constant stream of updates is something that I look forward to both as a geek and as someone who finds the iPad to be more and more useful in my workflow.

On to some other apps that aren’t as crucial t my workflow, but are crucial to my continued use of the iPad.

Instapaper. I’m a voracious reader of content. Instapaper is a great way for me to save articles to read later, especially longer ones. Sure, many of these can be saved in other applications (like Google Reader) but since I find myself at times not able or willing to go on line with the iPad (I have the WiFi only version), I’ll be able to read content I’ve saved in Instapaper while off line. I love this App, and unfortunately I have a lot of reading to catch up on.

My Feed Reader of Choice For the Moment, Reeder, also lets me easily save articles to Instapaper. I am liking Reeder more and more the more I use it. Google still hasn’t made any changes to its Mobile feed reading app and so I’ve tried many different apps for reading my feeds. Reeder is the fastest one I’ve found at pulling my fees in and syncing up with Google Reader, and I also really like the graphical representation of the feeds that have unread items to view. For some reason I don’t feel as guilty about not checking in with a feed if I’m in a busy period on Reeder the some way I do with Google’s Reader. I find Reeder’s app easier on my eyes, easier to delete, mark as read, star, etc… items, and also more relaxing to use.

Pocket Informant HD. This is a relatively new release and a welcome one. Pocket Informant has been a go-to App for many a mobile warrior on quite a few platforms. It is now available for the iPad and the iPhone, and as I’m testing it out, it could replace my use of other calendar and task apps, of which I’ve tried many. The App syncs with Google Calendar, which allows me to bring my calendar data in, and also with Toodledo for Tasks. Toodledo has a free service and there is a paid version as well. Other syncing options are also available but these are the ones that work for me. The layout of information is nice and very clear and I’m so far pleased with what Pocket Informant has to offer on the iDevice platforms.

Flipboard. This is a very new, and somewhat controversial App that got tons of hype last week. In my view, the promise of the App justifies the hype, but it isn’t quite there yet. Essentially FlipBoard lets you view your Twitter and Facebook feeds in a magazine like format. You can also add Twitter lists from your own account or others that you follow. I enjoy the UI and the experience quite a bit, but I think they’ve got backend issues to resolve as some things don’t seem to update as quickly as the experience the App offers seems to suggest they should. Part of the controversy is that FlipBoarddoesn’t use RSS to pull in its data. Instead it is scraping the data from websites. There is a debate brewing around the Interwebs about that, so who knows how that will turn out.

Osforra HD has perhaps the weirdest name of any of the many Twitter clients. I happen to like it quite a bit on the iPad. It allows me to view what I need to, when I need to, is relatively fast at updating my Twitter feeds, and the developers seem to be advancing the app with updates in a timely fashion. I’ve tried many a Twitter client, and they all leave something to be desired, which of course leaves room for innovation and competition. Osfoora HD seems to fill my checklist at the moment quite nicely.

Photo Transfer. I use this App quite a bit. I take a lot of pictures with the iPhone. This App makes it a simple process of transferring those photos to the iPad via WiFi. Simple, straightforward and it works.

Games. I don’t play games much. I just don’t have the time to. But there are few that have found a home on my iPad for those moments when I need either a few minutes of diversion or I just want to blow something up. Fieldrunners is a classic tower defense game and I have it on both my iPhone and iPad. I’ve always been a big Risk fan. I spent many a summer night working at an outdoor drama playing double board risk with colleagues in my youth. I’ve tried every Risk clone there is on multiple platforms. Anyone remember the name of the Risk-like game that ran on the GEOS operating system for the Commodore 64? I loved that game but can’t remember the name of it. Well, Electronic Arts has released an iPhone version of Risk that looks pretty good using the pixel doubling on the iPad. It looks good and plays well, but it is a bit too cluttered with all the bells and whistles it offers for my tastes. A Risk Clone, Lux DLX2 offers a similar Risk-like experience and I find I like it more as it feels less cluttered. Strategery is also a Risk-like game that I like quite a bit. I’m also a big Mahjong fan, and at the moment Mahjong HD occupies some space on the iPad.

Weather HD is a unique way of looking at your typical weather forecast. It offers some high res video of your current weather conditions as well as a quick at a glance look at the forecast. It is more of a novelty than anything else, but I find myself using it with some frequency. I guess I like moving pictures.

Shakespeare Pro. (pictured at the top of this post.) Yeah, I’m a theatre guy. Being able to have The Complete Works of William Shakespeare on my iPad is kind of a requirement, but it is also a joy. There are many ways to have the Bard’s plays available digitally on your iPad. Heck, I think there are Apps of each play available. I also have them in the Kindle App, but I really like the Shakesepeare Pro App from Readdle. It contains all the plays, all the sonnets, and some lovely graphics. There are less expensive options from the same developer, but I like this app very much.

I’ve checked out a few iPad accessories and for the moment I’ve got a few top choices when it comes to cases, stands, and the like. I’ve tried out several iPad cases, but the Macally Case and Book Stand is the one I always come back to. It doesn’t add real bulk to the device and thus is easy to tote and also use on a stand. Or it can be used as a stand itself for both typing and viewing, and I think the reason I like it the most is that the microfiber on the inside cover always seems to clean off most of the fingerprints and smudges on my screen between iPad uses. Unfortunately, that same microfiber finish on the exterior attracts far too much dirt and grime. That’s probably why I keep looking at different cases. Case manufacturers should take a hint and include microfiber finishes on the entire of their cases.

I have also really become enamored of the Compass stand I blogged about a short time ago. I stumbled on this in the Apple Store before it had gotten much publicity. I really like how the Compass stand works and is so easily tote-able.

I know these seem to still be in short supply, but the iPad Camera Kit is a must have accessory if you use a camera that stores pictures on an SD card. I use it all the time when I snapping pictures with my digital camera. This has become a great accessory to have when I visit my mother who is ailing. She loves to see pictures on the iPad, and I take quite a few to show her on each visit.

The PogoSketch stylus is, at the moment, my stylus of choice. It works well with Inking in Penultimate, but I’d still prefer more control over the conductive tip. I’ve ordered a couple of new styli that should be arriving soon, so hopefully I’ll find one that I like better.

Summing it all up.
I continue to really enjoy the iPad as both a consumption device, and increasingly a work tool. The Apps I’m using have a utility that works for me, and seem to have constant attention from the developers. I’ve said all along that Apps are going to make the iPad (and any Tablet platform) more than just a cool gadget. Increasingly, I think that it isn’t just the Apps, but the ones that are constantly moving forward though updates that will ultimately define the iPad. I find that in the ensuing months since my last update how I’m using the iPad isn’t much different, but the updated Apps are making what I currently do easier, and consequently making me more productive. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen as many new Apps as we have. Oh, sure there’s volume, but with volume comes a lot of crap. But, I would have thought that by midsummer we’d have seen a wider array of iPad apps that push the envelope than we have seen so far.

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