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.

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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