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Alan Zisman Gets an iPad

- 2010.06.08 - Tip Jar

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The things I do for this column. I'm writing this just days after the Canadian release of Apple's iPad tablet computer. And just for you, dear readers, I had to get one. I only did it for you. Really.

No, I didn't line up at 5:30 a.m. that Friday. But the next day, I bought one at local Apple dealer Simply Computing. So I'm writing this based on only 36 hours of hands-on experience. Nevertheless, that's long enough for me to reach a few conclusions.

First, you won't be making an iPad your only computer. You need access to a Mac or Windows computer just to get files onto it. You can't print from it. And even though you can buy a copy of Apple's Keynote presentation software (for a very affordable $10) and get a gadget to connect it to a standard projector, the iPad's Keynote won't project your presentation.* You can show it to a couple of people clustered around the iPad screen or export it to an old-style laptop or desktop.

Similarly, Apple released a $10 version of its Pages word processor. It can import and export files in business-standard Microsoft Word .doc format, but it loses some of the formatting when it imports Word files and lacks features you may count on in a word processor. (I need word count, for instance, to write this column.)

While there are a lot of limitations to what you can do with the iPad, a lot of the criticism it's received is irrelevant. Multitasking? The only time I missed the ability to have a program running in the background while I was doing something else was when a third-party Internet radio app shut off when I opened another task. The iPod's built-in iPod app plays music in the background just fine, and third-party apps have been promised multitasking in an upcoming system upgrade. (iOS 4, which implements multitasking, is due later this month as a free upgrade.)

Lack of support for Adobe's Flash? So far, I haven't missed it.

I have missed the ability to edit online through Google Documents, however.

Yes, the glossy screen starts showing fingerprints almost immediately, at least if you view it at an angle. Viewed dead on, they're not visible. Typing on the virtual keyboard is much better than typing on an iPhone or other small touchscreen device - especially in landscape orientation, where the virtual keyboard is almost full-sized.

I bought a Bluetooth keyboard to go with my iPad, but I haven't taken it out of the box. I'm typing this column right on the screen in the Pages app - but I'll have to export it to my laptop to count the words.

Apple's App Store has played a big role in the success of the iPhone and will, I suspect, make it hard for other companies to compete with the iPad. But while most of the thousands of apps designed for the iPhone will also run on the iPad, there's a catch: On the iPad's larger screen, they either appear in a small iPhone-sized window or double-sized - fullscreen, but fuzzy. A relatively small number of apps have been released specifically for the iPad's higher-resolution screen. Those are the ones you want.

The iPad is fun to use - for Web browsing, watching videos, reading ebooks, and more. I took it to a gig where I played piano, loaded with PDFs of sheet music, replacing a fat folder full of paper music scores. I couldn't do that with a laptop or netbook.

It's probably going to be a winner. Just don't expect to use it in the same ways you're using your current computer. If you want to save, print, or project standard word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation documents, you'll find it an awkward replacement for your desktop, laptop, or netbook.

But if you get one, you'll find yourself using it in ways - and in places - where you wouldn't take your current computer. LEM

* Oops! I was mistaken, as reader Stuart Bell pointed out. Apple's VGA Connector for the iPad does indeed allow you to send a Keynote presentation to an external projector, though it doesn't mirror everything that's showing on the iPad's screen. Thanks for the correction, Stuart!

First published in Business in Vancouver, June 8 - 14, 2010, issue #1076

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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