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  • How to Really Make Your iPad Your Only Mobile Computing Device

    March 15th, 2011

    There’s an article this week from PCWorld.com, which I shall not link, claiming to offer some simple tweaks to let you use an iPad as your main portable personal computer. While the effort is laudable, the results are so simplistic and lacking in useful information you almost believe it was ghost written by Consumer Reports magazine.

    Based on the otherwise laudable concept, I’m going to flesh out some of the details. Mind you, there is no way I can rely on an iPad, or iPad 2, to replace my 17-inch MacBook Pro. At least not yet! But the potential is there, and with sales that are off the charts, no doubt software developers and accessory makers will continue to find ways to fill in the blanks. I also have hopes that Apple will do their part beginning in iOS 5.

    The first concern is typing. Can you handle a touchscreen and put words in your email or documents with reasonable speed and accuracy? The author of the PCWorld.com piece suggests “that the vast majority of you use the two-finger hunt and pack typing method anyway.” Based on that critical assessment of typical typing skills, it’s concluded that the iPad’s virtual keyboard is quite enough for them.

    But not for me, and not for anyone who possesses traditional touch typing skills and/or needs to write large amounts of text with decent speed. The existence of accessory keyboards is, unfortunately, ignored. You can start with Apple’s offerings, and check the growing selection from third-party accessory companies to deliver the typing performance you expect. Or use dictation software and give your wrists a rest.

    The second topic that’s also mangled is the question of email. The author assumes you have a POP account, such as the one no doubt provided by your ISP. When you get messages, they are normally removed from your server (unless there’s an option to keep them there for a given period of time), and syncing among different computing devices can be a chore. One solution posed, to waste money on a Microsoft Exchange account, may appeal to business users. But not most people.

    Another solution is to dump the Mail app entirely and rely on Webmail, such as a Gmail account. However, Webmail is usually a poor substitute for a standard email client. Since Gmail offers an IMAP option (check your user preferences), you can easily set up your Gmail account in Mail. Same for any other IMAP email service, including Apple’s own MobileMe. Since your messages are stored on the server when you pick IMAP, you can move from computer to computer, mobile or otherwise, and keep all your messages in sync.

    Another way of getting IMAP service without spending a bundle is to sign up for a cheap hosting account with such providers as Namecheap, 1&1 Internet, GoDaddy, or HostGator. For a few dollars a month, you can set up a personal site or one for a small business, and you’ll have loads of IMAP email accounts. Yes, you’ll need a vanity domain too, with your personal Web address, but that only gives your messages a special sparkle. It’s far more prestigious than aol.com or comcast.com. These companies, by the way, also offer targeted email accounts for less. One of the better offerings is the “Unlimited” package from GoDaddy, or 1&1 Instant Mail.

    Where the PCWorld.com writer sort of has it right is in handling documents and moving them from iPad to desktop computer and back again. One option, Documents To Go, is designed as a simple Microsoft Office document editor. Ignored as Apple’s own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, which are file compatible with their desktop counterparts. Or maybe syncing with a Windows PC was the main issue.

    If you can’t locate a suitable app for your iPad, such products as Citrix GoToMyPC and LogMeIn Ignition are recommended to allow you to, after a fashion, run your regular computer via remote control. But that also works against the intent of relying strictly on your iPad as much as possible. Remember, if you’re on vacation, your home or office computer has to remain on for these sharing services to function.

    Where the Apple’s iconic tablet truly falls down, though, is in file management. You can, after a fashion, access your files on your desktop computer via iTunes. You can even set up an online storage account to help you place your stuff in a central repository, and one wonders if the next MobileMe might provide a similar cloud-based file management system.

    But the goal is independence, and you can’t be independent if you are relying on a regular Mac or PC as the hub of your work experience. Then again, the PCMag.com article is not really suggesting how to run your iPad in a fashion where it doesn’t have to be regularly tethered with a desktop computer for file syncing. It’s still a second-class citizen.

    However, it’s also true that the iPad is still very much meant to be a second (or third) computing device. The OS is designed with the expectation that you will, periodically at any rate, hook it up with a Mac or a PC. Yes, you can charge it independently, but software updates, and document sharing are intended to be accomplished via a wired connection. In a sense, regardless of their other shortcomings, Android OS tablets have the advantage here, because they are designed with cloud-based storage and syncing in mind.

    But don’t forget that we’re talking here about the iPad 2 with iOS 4.3. It’s early in the game. By adding GarageBand, and a far more robust version of iMovie to the mix, Apple is clearly aware of the possibilities of using your iPad as a standalone device for content creation. The next step is device independence, meaning the iPad will be able to do its thing all by itself, without the need to periodically sync with desktop computers. Freedom isn’t here yet, but that appears inevitable.



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