I just got home from an almost-three week business trip to Shenzhen and Nice. I had to bring my bulky work laptop along, and so I decided to leave my MacBook Air at home and use the iPad for all of my personal stuff. I brought along the BlueTooth Keyboard and VGA-out adapter; the camera adapter kit wasn’t available when I left. So how did it work? And if I hadn’t had to lug the work laptop, could I have done it with just the iPad?
The short answer is no – certainly not with the current iPad software. Single-tasking is a real killer. I would fire up Skype on the iPad, start a voice call (and why isn’t there a camera?), and then realize that I needed to refer to an email message. The impulse to Cmd-Tab to switch to Mail was palpable. Eventually I got into the habit of using Skype on my iPhone for the voice call, leaving the iPad free to check email, PDFs, web, etc. So I was basically using two iPhone OS devices all the time. This is an expensive way of doing multitasking. And when I needed to simultaneously Skype and check email and take some notes, I had to break down and use the work laptop (still running Windows XP, of course).
The iPad certainly had some obvious advantages over a laptop. With no camera, and no USB slot, it passed scrutiny with the security people in various facilities. It was an excellent way of carrying around hundreds of PDF files in a convenient form factor, and displaying some of my presentations to a few colleagues. (But too many wound up getting mangled beyond readability.) It was excellent for note-taking and back-of-napkin sketching. And I passed the time on my long flights around the world by reading books using the Kindle iPad app and watching videos from iTunes U. (I particularly recommend the Stanford University EE380 Computer Systems Colloquium presentations.)
I found that I didn’t really use the BlueTooth keyboard very much, and I didn’t use the VGA-out at all. Like many, I had misunderstood this device, and didn’t realize that it was only supported by a handful of applications. If it supported full screen mirroring, it would be much more useful. Since I had no way of transferring pictures from my Nikon P90 to the iPad, I had to wait until I got home before I could email any photographs or upload them to MobileMe. (See Hong Kong here and the Marc Chagall museum here.) Fortunately I had an 8GB SD card, so I had plenty of space (I used about 2.3GB during the trip), but the delay was irritating.
At the end of the day, though, the most frustrating thing was the lack of a camera. The iPad ought to be the perfect video-chat device, and the lack of a camera is inexcusable. Video calls via Skype are one of the few ways of making long business trips tolerable, and I didn’t realize how much I missed them.
So the iPad remains a great portable media player, ebook reader, and casual web browser. But on my next business trip I’ll be taking my MacBook Air along….
UPDATE: Ron asks me why I use the Kindle-on-iPad app; why not just convert everything to ePub format and use the iPad’s native Reader? The answer is that I own a Kindle, and I also use the Kindle iPhone app. I like to be able to read on whichever device is handy, and have Amazon keep my reading position in sync across all of the devices. I’m also anachronistically straitlaced about licensing and copyrights: once I’ve decided to buy some content under a license, I will not violate that license. I don’t strip DRM, or rip copy-protected DVDs, or anything like that. If I’m not willing to live with the consequences, I’m not going to sign a contract.