2 week iPad challenge
On the 22nd August the unthinkable happened my MacBook Air’s (MBA) battery failed, turning my £1500 laptop into an expensive paperweight
My laptop is my world, I use it constantly for work and leisure and as a vocal evangelist for remote working I certainly understand the need to have the right tools, to enable me to work where ever and when ever I need to; To say I was a little put out is an understatement.
Thankfully the laptop was still under warranty, so the cost of repair wasn’t a worry, but the lack of a working machine was. I had visions of having to spend another £1500 just to keep me working for the 10 days it would take to repair. As my friends who received text messages from me will tell you I wasn’t relishing that prospect.
Then I hit upon an idea, why not run an experiment. I have an iPad Air and for the sake of £80(ish) I could buy a keyboard and use it as my primary work machine. So that is exactly what I did.
I wrote some time ago in ‘How are tablets used?’ that until the iPad grows up and goes to work, it’s nothing but a glorified leisure device. However, with the avaliablily of good enterprise apps like: MS Office, Google Docs the possibility for using the iPad as a laptop replacement is fast becoming a reality.
Before you email me, I know I’ve been able to use the online apps for a longtime but working exclusivly in the browser is a hack, and relies on a permanent internet connection due to the way safari marshals its connections. In my mind working in the browser was the iPad getting a paper round, it’s work but not really.
So my mind was made up, from the 26th August 2014 until my MBA was repaired I’d work exclusively on my iPad.
I expected the following to be a problem:
- Battery life
- Internet connection
- lack of mouse support
I was concerned that the iPad Air couldn’t manage the demands of being used 8 hours a day.
I have a WiFi only iPad, I chose this because I use a 4g dongle to access the internet. Now that I was using an iPad I would have to make sure that I charge my dongle at night, rather than keeping it plugged in to my MBA.
I was concerned that the dongle wouldn’t last the day making it at the very least difficult for me to access the internet for work, and at worse making it impossible for me to work at all.
lack of mouse support
There are somethings, such as wireframe production, which is made much easier (for me) with the use of a mouse. It’s all about how easy it is to finely manipulating objects, adjusting alignment etc. in the past when i’ve used to my iPad to create wireframes i gave up in frustration.
I’m convinced MSFT have the right strategy for tablets by allowing mouse and pen input; Despite what Steve Jobs said about value of fingers as ‘pointers’.
For people of my generation who have grown up using a keyboard and mouse, it’s just too clunky to use your fingers to adjust boxes in wireframes. If nothing else your fingers obscure the object you’re trying to maniplate. Tbh. this could have been made easier if Apple allowed decent (i.e. Non capacitive) styluses to be paired with the device, but alas no, So now all we have are thick ended capacitive stylised which are just as frustrating as using your fingers.
Conclusions after week 1
Battery life (or power) is a problem, but not in the way I expected. The iPad Air performed admirably. I had two days of use out of it without recharging, so no complaints there. However, the biggest problem for me was the lack of charging options for my other devices.
I hadn’t really give it much thought but I charging my iPhone and Dongle via the USB on my laptop, the iPad obviously doesn’t have any USB ports so can’t perform that job for me. This meant that for the first week I had to carry several USB plugs with me, which I used to charge my phone and dongle. This revealed a second problem, standard USB cables are no good for charging devices from a socket if you’re actually going to need to use the thing charging. Obviosuly, there are never enough plugs near to where you’re working, meaning my phone was quite a distance from where I was working requiring me to leap out of my seat if the phone rung.
To resolve this problem I’d need to buy an external power pack (in Mobile working toolkit – Hardware I had idenifited this problem, but hadn’t got round to buying one yet).
Due to the lack of charging options for my dongle and a shit battery life, consistent internet connectivity was a problem. I think that if I were to continue to work on the iPad exclusively it would make sense to have bought the 3G+WiFi model.
To solve the problem I connected to the ‘open’ work wifi and everything worked a treat. In fact I didn’t notice any of the internet restrictions or slow downs that I usually get on my laptop (which is why I always prefer to use my own internet at work) I imagine that’s because I was accessing internet services through apps which i assume manage their connection to the internet better than using the browers on my laptop. This was especially true when using the Google ‘docs’ and Basecamp apps, on a laptop you’re still working in the browser, on the iPad there are dedicated apps which make for a much more resilient user experience.
(Notice how I used working in the browser as sign that the iPad wasn’t ready for work, but i use Google Docs and Basecamp on my Laptop in the browser.. I wish Google and 37 Signals would release OSX apps for these too… It’s still a hack on the laptop and tablet)
Lack of decent stylus input
As you’ll read in the successes section I carried my iPad and ultrathin keyboard everywhere with me, which made me wish I could use my iPad as a complete note taking system.
I like to scribble notes by hand when I’m thinking, so the addition of a fine, non-capacative stylus, would be ideal but alas unachievable which meant I needed to carry my iPad and notepad and pen.
(You may wonder why I make the distinction between capacative and non-capacitive styluses?
Once I tested ‘pen’ input with Microsoft OneNote on a Samsung Series 7 slate, which is non-capacitive, and the iPad, which is capacative. The slate only had ‘ink’ where I worte but the iPad had smudges everywhere the heel of my hand touched the screen as well as where I wrote. Requiring me to do work to remove the ‘smudges’ – I would be just as annoyed if I had a leaky pen on my notepad too.
note If anyone can recommend a stylus or app which is equitable to what MSFT have achieved with the surface and Samsung tablets please let me know.)
Using a monitor
There were multiple times I wanted to shown my screen on a monitor, this isn’t possible out of the box and requires one of the following solutions:
- An app with a helper app installed on a computer attached to the monitor.
- Apple TV attached to the monitor so I could use AirPlay to share my screen.
- Firewire to VGA/DVI adaptor
Okay so this isn’t a problem with using the iPad per say, but I highlight it here as a consideration for anyone else who want to work exclusively on an iPad.
To solve this I’m torn between getting an Adaptor, or a ‘work’ AppleTv. The AppleTv is excessive of course but I push video and screen share all the time at home, and love the AirPlay feature (to give you an idea I NEVER use the Netflix app on my AppleTv, I always push from my phone or iPad, the same is true for BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and so on) plus it will free me up from having cables connected to my iPad.
On the other hand the adaptor cost less and will achieve the same outcome, so I’ll probably opt for that and be done with it.
lack of mouse support
The first day was hell, switching between using the keyboard and pawing at the screen was frustrating, but as soon as I become accustomed to the change in input mechanism it wasn’t a bad experience at all.
That said, during the first week I hadn’t had cause to create any wireframes or do anything that requires fine motor skills, so I’m still reserving judgment on this.
I’m impressed. I used a Logitech ultrathin keyboard on my old iPad so knew what to expect but the Logitech ultrathin keyboard for the iPad Air is a delight to use.
It folds down nicely, and is extremely light even in when carrying the iPad + Keyboard.
Also, the function keys are well selected. With the press of a button I can access my open apps to make app switching easy, or to load up spotlight. This makes a lot of difference in day to day use and am thankful to Logitech and/or apple for the nice bluetooth keyboard integration.
I was expecting this to be annoying, and at first it was but when my fingers got used to hitting the correct function key it was easy and intuitive. Not as easy as hitting cmd+tab (or alt+tab) but after a day or so, i didn’t even notice the difference.
All I can say is, i didn’t notice the display size at all, no head aches or anything after work. So i’d say that was pretty successful.
Wrapping it up
Work wise I had no issues at all using the iPad exclusivly in the first week. I’m almost prepared to eat my words, but instead will make it look like i’m always right ;)
The recent creation of enterprise apps such as the Google Docs apps and Microsoft office has made it possible to use and iPad as a laptop replacement. Where your primary job function is to create and update documents you shouldn’t have any problems at all using an iPad.