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Article: The iPad Workflow

by on January 10, 2011

It seems like everyone got an iPad as a gift this holiday season. Sure, it is a big-ticket item, and arguably a toy for most, especially those who have a full-blown computer and a smartphone, but they’re just so “cool” (at least that’s the consensus). Walk into any electronics retailer that carries them, and you’ll see people crowded around the display, waiting for their turn to play. Almost a year after it was first introduced, and about 9 months since it shipped, the iPad is still gaining momentum. However, stepping back (and using one for the past two weeks), I’m starting to wonder where it fits in.

Just to preface, this is not an “iPad is a waste and pointless” article, and this article could have happened months ago. Due to the time when I acquired it, I thought it was a great time to analyze where things stand. While the second-generation iPad rumors say we should be getting it within the next couple of months, along with a Verizon iPhone, the current-generation model still has a lot of life left in it, especially with the maturation of apps and accessories.

I’ve found that I’m using it more than my computer and that’s a bit scary. Although my 15″ MacBook Pro is plenty capable and certainly portable, there’s a lot about it that the iPad bests, including the battery life, “lounge-ability”, and convenience. For most of my day-to-day tasks, such as web browsing, email, IMs, Twitter, and even basic document editing, the iPad is pretty good—better than I thought. Critics will argue that the iPad is not as capable as a netbook, especially since it runs a smartphone OS and relies on Apple’s App Store. However, that is an advantage.

Take What You Need

My Mac can do everything I need it to do. There’s plenty of room for storage, lots of screen real-estate, and it’s fast. The iPad forces me to take just what I need—all my music and media, and content consumption tools. It’s a lightweight, convenient device that is not a necessity, but certainly feels handy now that I’ve started using it.

App-licable Concerns

My only complaints are that so many developers haven’t embraced it yet, or have decided on the “HD” gimmick for apps. Every national news outlet should have an iPad app, not just CNN or newspapers. Although you can visit full-blown web sites, apps that pull the content in a specific way that the creators intended it just feel better on the iPad. I still am struggling with the idea of buying my games over again simply for things optimized for a larger display, but no new controls (people are finding this again on the Mac App Store). Finally, I’m wondering why iPhone apps are still blocky on the display, rather than utilizing the 960×640 resolution found on the iPhone 4. Running Retina Display-compatible apps at their proper resolution would look rather nice.

I’d love to see more developers embrace AirPlay, too. Right now, I can connect a cable to my TV to play videos on certain proprietary video apps, but cannot use AirPlay on my Apple TV. It’s 2011—shouldn’t we be as wireless as we can?

One other gripe is that the iPad’s display feels so spread out compared to the iPhone. Although crowded, my iPhone’s display feels more organized. On the iPad, I either have too many apps floating around that should be put in folders, or too few.

Finding a Place

That being said, using the iPad for all the “basic” tasks has left my MacBook Pro sleeping through most of the week. Is this a good thing? It depends on who you ask—some will say that this is the natural progression. For many, the iPad is a good enough communications device (this is what I find when I’m doing basic tasks that I could do on my iPhone), but for those who still need to do more heavy-duty tasks or need mouse/trackpad-based precision, you’ll still be reaching for a full-blown computer.

The iPad does pretty well as a presentation machine (especially since you avoid embarrassing issues like other applications causing trouble or finding a power source), can print some things (except all the lovely AirPrint stipulations), and is surprisingly well as a content-creation device (so long as you’re not expecting to do too much). I recommend Evernote, Dropbox, and Apple’s iWork apps. The one area the iPad beats a laptop and a desktop in tandem is that it always syncs with your computer.

If anything, this has semi-early-adopter-syndrome written all over it, but for the amount of iPads sold, there should be an established use. Right now, I see it as the fun, small two-seater sports car paired with my big SUV MacBook. It seems that others have seen a similar dynamic. It’s not quite a computer as we are used to, but everyone who describes it tends to jump on the ‘tablet computer’ nomenclature. Technically, they’re right, and once we start embracing that, the iPad will continue to grow. Right now, it’s much like the early laptops—a great companion for some sort of full-blown computer, but eventually, it could be the more popular product.

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