Wednesday, June 9, 2010 Can You Work From an iPad?

I’m writing this from a coffeeshop in northern Massachusetts. The nature of my business is such that I can workshift from pretty much anywhere, most of the time, so before we talk about working from an iPad, we have to discount the fact that my job is heavily Internet based. That said, I wanted to explore what it felt like to work from an iPad instead of my laptop.
My Work Processes

Broken down, the things I do in my day look like this:

* Email correspondence.
* Writing (proposals, books, blog posts).
* Speech Prep (Keynote)
* Other Communication (Google Wave, Twitter, LinkedIn).
* Scheduling (Google Calendar)
* Reading/researching (Google Reader, Search).
* Planning (Evernote, Mindnode)
* Media Making (here’s where the iPad falls down).

Broken down to the simple activities, my day looks lame. Luckily, I soothe myself by saying that it’s all in the “brain work.” But try this yourself: write down what exactly you DO in a given day. It looks weird on paper.
How the iPad Executes These Processes

Here’s what I think of how the iPad handles all my efforts:

* Email – the mail app works just fine. I don’t have to integrate mine to Outlook. I’m not sure how that works, but for me, Google boy, things work just great with my iPad. It’s a little slower than browser-based, because I’m adept at the keyboard commands, but I think it’s okay.
* Writing – I’m using Pages (around ten bucks US) and it works well on the iPad. I very much enjoy the feeling of pages on the iPad, especially because I bought the external docking keyboard. I also have the Bluetooth keyboard, but the dock has a piece that stands the iPad up. A big plus with using Pages on the iPad is that I’m forced to single-task. This means that I work much harder and much more focused between breaks to communicate.
* Speech Prep – Don’t get me started. The integration between the Mac app Keynote to the iPad app Keynote is so frustrating. If I use a non-native font, my presentation is ruined. If I don’t have the Internet, I often run into an error message. I have to sync through the iTunes app. Overall, it’s really frustrating to use the iPad for speeches. Creating one? Forget it. It’s teeth-pulling.
* Other Communication – Google Wave is a bit of a wash on iPad for me, so far. I can’t start new Waves, and can’t really interact the way I want. Twitter works okay. I’m using Twitterific instead of the multi-pane apps, mostly because I think the screen real estate isn’t good for them. Even though I’m limited to a single pane with Twitterific, I’m okay with it. LinkedIn works so-so via the website. Not worse. Just very mouse-clicky, so I find myself touching the screen a lot.
* Scheduling – I use Google Calendar for this, and it works just fine on the iPad. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I don’t integrate the native calendar, but that looks nice, too.
* Reading / Researching – On my laptop, I’m a Google Reader kind of guy, so I’m really happy with the NewsRack application for iPad. So far, that’s been reasonably helpful in keeping up to speed. What it doesn’t do easily is emulate my efforts to share content out (or rather, it’s not nearly as easy as using Google Reader directly and hitting Shift S when I find things I like). Researching is mostly browser-based, but I did also get the Wolfram Alpha app, and I find it pretty darned cool for searching.
* Planning – The Evernote application is a godsend. I use it on my phone, my iPad, my laptop – everywhere. I mind map quite a lot. The MindNode app works really well for me. Now, another gripe: if I make a mind map on my laptop and send it over to the iPad, it’s a whole pain in the butt. (Thus, getting me into DropBox,, AirSharing, and many other tools I didn’t need to know about until the iPad.)
* Media Making – There is none. I can’t upload video. I can evidently podcast, but I haven’t actually tried the app yet. I can’t edit anything. So, for my media making part of the job, I still need a laptop. But then, you might not be in the media business, so it might not matter.

Was it Worth It?

I think the iPad is still very much a technology in search of a problem to solve. People are calling it the ultimate “couchtop.” Did we need that? I don’t know. It reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where you’d see Picard and Riker noodling over a bit of data before throwing all the rules out the window to go down and try and reason with some new alien bad guys (Kirk would’ve skipped two steps and punched the aliens without using the future iPad or trying to reason with the aliens). But I digress.

I think the iPad serves me well as a way to focus on writing. I think it’s a great way to “check status” on certain things. It will never replace my laptop at its current configuration. I find myself slowing down when I walk by Apple stores, thinking about the Macbook Air, but that’s adding a 13″ laptop to my 15″ Macbook Pro, and that just doesn’t make sense, either.

But, will these devices be a huge game-changer overall? I say yes. That’s reason enough for me to keep working on my iPad, and noodling with thoughts about the future. I’m already seeing some possible ways this tech would serve consumers better (in store shopping assistant, anyone?) and also business types (especially when we can just Tom-Cruise-Minority-Report drag data from our iPhone onto our iPad and back with a hand gesture).

What’s your take? Did you buy one? Are you using it for work? Are you sitting this one out?

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