Yes, I know the trend-setting ship has sailed on this topic — and been back to port and out to sea again a couple of times. I’m impulsive by nature (thanks Mom) and susceptible to tech trends (thanks Dad), but it wasn’t just the price tag that prevented me from leaping headlong into the waiting arms of Tablet Jesus. Perhaps it’s my looming trajectory towards age 30 or my four years of cohabitation with a cynical pessimist, but I really wanted to be sure I’d make thorough and multifarious use of the iPad before I got one.
I was mostly sure when I went to Future Shop last Friday, armed with a walletful of gift cards I’d hoarded over the past few years from an uncle who has equal enthusiasm for tech trends, and confronted a lineup of approximately zero people to purchase the new iPad. (Apparently, the only real advantage to living in a backwater town that also happens to be a capital city is that no one is waiting in line to swipe new Apple products off the shelves.) The Dartmouth Crossing Future Shop was almost deserted, like, uh… usual, and in 7 minutes I came away with the following items:
1 iPad 16G wifi, white
1 leather SmartCover, navy blue
1 Targus stainless-steel rubber-tipped stylus
Perhaps I hadn’t paid adequate attention to reviews of the iPad over the years, or perhaps nothing I read adequately explained how significant of a paradigm shift to computing the device really is. It’s not a “media consumption device,” as some critics have insisted; instead, I found the iPad to be on one hand, an indispensable supplement to my current style of working, and on the other, a crash course on the future of computing.
First of all I’d like to say that the iPad CAN replace a computer — if your main activities don’t stray far beyond word processing, minor image editing and internet browsing. App versions of Pages, Keynote and Numbers (Apple’s adequate responses to Word, PowerPoint and Excel) can do everything from word processing to charts and presentations to simple but lovely page layouts. Photoshop Express lets you edit photographs and web browsing and social media management are givens on the iPad.
I make heavy use of graphic design, web design and intensive page layout programs, so it isn’t feasible for me to do without a regular computer. But it does mean that I don’t have to trade off power for mobility anymore. My MacBook, after being in almost constant use for at least 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for four years, will soon be on its way to the big Apple store in the sky. (Sidenote: I remember learning in church years ago that, according to the specifications listed in the Book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem will look like a large, shiny, translucent cube — which would make this structure a subtley brilliant co-opting of religious iconography, n’est pas?) So now I will be able to replace my MacBook with a cheaper and more powerful desktop, and use the iPad for my mobile needs.
What I’ve learned over the past week in terms of supplementing my work process with the iPad has been transformative. If you’re considering whether a tablet like the iPad will work for you, maybe my next five points will help you make a decision.
1. My spine is thanking me. For the past two years, I’ve carried my MacBook back and forth to work with me. I work at Dalhousie, where the only thing older than the software is the hardware. The computer in my office screamed in agony and begged to be euthanized whenever I did something as simple as try to open Outlook (though, to be fair, I did the same thing the first time I used Outlook). So I depended on my own system to perform the wide variety of tasks I’m responsible for — from graphic and web design to administration and project management.
But then came the Great Bus Strike of the Winter of 2012, and on the half-hour walk each way, my 5-pound laptop colluded with my computer cord, full-size Moleskine agenda, wallet, snacks, hand lotion, extra clothes, last week’s mail and assorted garbage to turn my backpack into a 15 lb sack of back problems. My 1.44 lb. iPad cut down on about 8 pounds (including agenda, file folders of project materials and old mail, which I now photograph and store digitally if I think I’ll need it) and my back has been in considerably less agony these days.
2. I’m keeping track of my 8 kajillion projects. In addition to my part-time day job, I have between five and ten freelance design projects running at any one time. I simply do not own enough shelves to store all the paper generated from these projects were I to print everything out. My organization system has heretofore been loosely based on “piles of paper in the bag I used when I met with that client” — the info for one guy’s website inhabited a leather shoulder satchel, the stuff for one group’s poster lived at the bottom of my backpack.
But my iPad has become both my project manager and my filing system extraordinaire. I use iCloud and GoDocs (for Google Docs) to sync my documents and spreadsheets, Dropbox to store and transfer larger files, WorkTimer to record my time on each project and PDF Expert to bill clients with form-fillable invoice and receipt templates I made. iScope, a tool I discovered just a few days ago, has already become essential for planning and tracking my various projects: for each project, I can set out tasks with start and end dates, assign a person responsible for each task, and add notes and attach documents and images. And for any loose print documents that are still lying around, I trap their souls in the iPad’s 5 megapixel camera and store them for posterity.
3. I feel like I have a digital butler. Dealing with the four different email accounts I check hourly, schedules littered with obligations and events, an RSS feed with 7849 unread items and a brain that flits between them like a crack-addled butterfly, I have come to appreciate the unified (and polite) approach that the iPad takes to prod me in the right direction. Friendly noises remind me of my appointments, signal that I have email or an IM or a video call, and warn me of upcoming due dates.
Of course, you have to meet it halfway and actually put your appointments in the calendar — the iPad won’t slap you across the face in the morning, pick out matching socks or drive you to the bus stop. But if you’re more hare-brained than regimented, the iPad is intuitive enough to lead you through the baby steps toward becoming a person who actually picks out her clothes the day before.
4. I get to use my hands. For those of you who never grew out of the phase where you just wanted to touch everything you saw with your grubby little man-paws, not monkeying around with a mouse or a trackpad simply feels like the way things are meant to be. (For those of you who, for some reason, don’t like the idea of a touch screen, choose a stylus and then read about the phase you’re stuck in.) But whether finger or stylus, I’m now able to achieve illustrative effects that have been unachieveable for me without a Wacom tablet. Though I’m primarily a “digital” designer, I rely on hand drawing in almost every project. Hand drawn type and image have character, something that can’t be replicated with vector drawing or even well preserved with Illustrator’s Live Trace function.
My old process for incorporating hand drawn elements into my work had five laborious steps:
i. Draw image.
ii. Set up craptastic but evidently indestructible 3-in-1 Lexmark printer.
iii. Scan image to computer.
iv. Open image in Photoshop, increase contrast for black and white drawing, remove white background and clean up eraser marks.
v. Export in appropriate format to Illustrator, Live Trace if necessary.
Now I use an app called Adobe Ideas, which actually uses layers as if you were drawing in Photoshop. I use a stylus to draw on a new page or on top of an imported image. When I’m done, it exports the artwork to me as a pdf image with a transparent background, ready to use in any program. Furthermore, with an app called AirDisplay (which I haven’t used yet but will purchase as soon as they update it for the new iPad), you can actually use the iPad as a secondary screen — meaning you can integrate touch function and hand drawing right into your computer programs, or maximize a tiny MacBook screen by keeping your pallets on the iPad.
5. I feel like I’m in looking into the future. I’ve written before about the iPad and PADD, the Personal Access Display Device used most notably by Captain Picard in Star Trek: TNG. But the similarities between the device I own now and the one I made out of cardboard and dreamed of having as a child doesn’t stop at form and function. Star Trek’s PADD tapped into the Enterprise’s central computer and gave the user access to its databases and to his or her personal logs and subspace messages, stored centrally in the ship’s computer mainframe. This is exactly the direction that the future of computing is heading.
Once upon a time, in the 1990s, people had home computers and stored or exchanged information by loading it onto floppy disks. Through a modem, they accessed a worldwide database of connected servers called the internet, but online sharing of information was limited to a few kb sent in an email or uploaded onto a GeoCities page.
Fast forward to 2012: the storing of digital information has become exponentially cheaper (a standard model iMac now comes with 2621 times more storage space than the first Macintosh that my parents bought in 1984, and costs 3 times less), and most people take advantage of free online storage space. I have literally hundreds of documents, images and video stored in the ether, in my Gmail, Google Docs, DropBox, WordPress, Youtube, and iCloud. The iPad, with its limited 16G of storage, is not designed to be limiting but to be freeing: there is no longer any need to overload a hard drive with data. Upload your documents, the tiny files they are, to Google Docs or iCloud. Keep your pictures in Flickr, your videos on Youtube or Vimeo. Put the files you use most in DropBox. Stream music and video, don’t store them. The iPad is your mobile window into the cloud.
And relax, Everyone Over 40: nobody is going to steal your identity if your half-finished detective novel is in your password-secured Google Docs account. Internet predators will not care if your secret recipe for stuffed peppers is synced in Evernote across your phone and your computer. You probably shouldn’t keep your credit card information and your social insurance number in your Gmail, but the worst thing that could possibly happen to you in terms of internet security breaches is that someone hacks your stupidly easy password (note: your password should not be your name) and sends your friends penis enlargement spam. Seriously, what possibly gain could anyone get from “hacking” your Cloud-stored documents? The photos of your cat are not a gateway to your liquidateable assets, and unless you make your living telling American women what they can and cannot do with their uteruses, the forces of internet vigilantism will indubitably pass you by.
Yeah, so anyway, I’m gonna end with a caveat lest the Cynical Pessimist accuse me of taking bribes from Apple under the table (I totally would). Do NOT get an iPad if you are less than prepared to relearn the way you use computers. It is an adventure ride full of challenges and breakthroughs that will ultimately encourage your creativity and make your life easier, but it is not for the faint of heart or… okay, I’ll say it: Old people, the iPad is not the same as a computer or a phone. It is a different thing. You will need to learn how to use it. Follow this simple rule for life: when you encounter problems, put forth your question to the Google, and it shall be answered.
I’ll post later about things that I really don’t like about the iPad when I have enough collected. (First on my burn list: the WordPress app. It is eight fruity varieties of suck. And it will be hearing from my acid tongue.)