One year ago I bought my first iPad. Or I should say, my first two iPads, since I also bought one for my wife – an excellent decision in retrospect, as if we had had only one in the house I’m sure that we would have often argued about who could use it next.
So I thought that the anniversary of my ownership of one would be a good time to look back and reflect on what I enjoy about it, what I have used it for, and how I expect to be using it in the future.
I lusted for an iPad almost from before Steve Jobs announced it in February 2010, and I placed an order the moment they were put on sale in Australia.
My iPad usage has changed quite a bit from the first few weeks. This reflects both my better understanding of how I could best use it, but also, very importantly because of the development of more and better apps as the year progressed.
As it happened, the iPads arrived not long before we left for a holiday driving around Victoria, and so some of my earliest use of my 3G iPad was for the Maps application, remote email access, and Internet lookups. Free wireless access at all MacDonalds was a benefit! My wife is a keen family history buff, and the iPad was often useful to be able to check facts and find addresses via the Internet. The iPad is far more lightweight and convenient to carry and use on holiday than all but the smallest netbook.
When I returned to work, I did attempt to do such things as use the iPad to take notes at meetings, trying out apps like PaperDesk and a few other notebook apps, but found these apps far from perfect for this use. Mind you, at that stage my touchscreen typing skills weren’t very good. As a fairly fast touch-typist on a normal keyboard, I at first struggled with the on-screen keyboard on the iPad. In the time since then, however, I have abandoned trying to type with all my fingers on the iPad and instead reverted back to hunting-and-pecking with two fingers on each hand. Doing this I can achieve reasonable speed and accuracy even on the smaller touch keyboard available in the iPad’s portrait mode.
One of the reasons I wanted an iPad in the first place was so I could use it as an ebook reader. I owned something like 2500 to 3000 “dead-tree” books, and having moved that huge number more times than I want to remember, I was keen to start buying books that weighed nothing!
I also felt that I was spending far too much time during the day sitting at a computer desk. Both in the office and at home I was spending hours in front of a computer, and most of what I was doing, I realized, was simply reading stuff. Emails, web pages, documents for review, and so on.
I calculated that using an iPad instead, I could cut my time at the desk down by at least 75%. And so it has proved. Today I spend the majority of my time with the iPad in reading, in considerably more comfort than I could ever do while sitting at a desk.
In the past I have talked about the difference between “desk culture” and “couch culture”, and the iPad illustrates this beautifully. In desk culture mode you are working, somewhat tense, alert but a little bit uncomfortable. You are working on stuff, solving problems, being serious. Couch culture, on the other hand, is about being relaxed, enjoying yourself, absorbing information or consuming entertainment, reflecting.
The iPad, needless to say, fits perfectly into couch culture. Steve Jobs didn’t demo the first iPad while sitting at a desk, but while relaxed in an armchair.
So, 12 months later, what do I use my iPad for?
At the start of this post is my iPad home screen. There are several following screens, with apps crammed into folders. But here on the main screen I have placed the apps I use most often.
iBooks is right there in the very first position on the first screen. In the last 12 months I have read two dozen or so novels and a couple of non-fiction books on my iPad, and have bought far too many more.
Next to it is The Age newspaper, the well-regarded broadsheet which is the daily paper of my home town Melbourne. I subscribe to the digital edition for $18 a month, good value. The app takes an interesting approach in that it simply reproduces the layout of the physical newspaper, complete with ads, but adds hyperlinks and copyable text versions of every article. Pinch and zoom work, of course. The text is completely searchable.
I love this approach – after all, the layout of a newspaper, the way it gives different emphasis to stories depending on their importance, the placement of photos, have all been developing over the last 200 years or so, to a high degree of perfection. Why lose that for a digital version?
I start the day reading The Age over breakfast. Flipboard and Zite are next; these are apps which collect together blogs, tweets and website news, each excellent in its own way, each giving me a slightly different selection of the topics I am interested in.
Zinio is a magazine app, and through it I currently subscribe to New Scientist and National Geographic. These are for more relaxed reading over the weekends. I am also trialling a subscription to The New Yorker, but that is through its own dedicated app, on a later screen.
Then we have the usual suspects such as Contacts and Calendar.
Oz Weather is a wonderful app which ties into my local Bureau of Meteorology site to display forecasts, current conditions and animated rain radar. This also gets used daily.
I’m trialling Daily Notes (alias All My Days) as a journaling program, and for taking meeting notes. Not sure yet if I will keep it, but probably.
MSecure is a “password wallet” program, which I would be lost without as I have so many different user names and passwords in play at any one time. I also use it to store software registration keys. Needless to say I have used a very long master pass phrase for it! I love the way it syncs with versions on my desktop and phone.
ToDo and Due are pretty self-explanatory – task list and reminder/alarm program. I tend to use Due more on my phone though, and it might soon lose its premium position on my iPad home screen.
IM+ is an instant messaging aggregator, and I use it to keep an ear out for Google Talk messages from my colleagues. You do need to keep opening it every so often, though, so it stays resident listening for new messages. But it has proved useful several times, and again it is something which helps free me from the desk.
Then we come to Blogsy, which I am using right now to write this blog post. I realized that I had made some kind of transition when I decided a week or so ago that I would rather sit down on the couch to use Blogsy to write a post than do it at the computer desk. Love it, though there is certainly room for improvement, particularly in positioning images.
PCalc is the best calculator app I have yet found, used probably more on my phone than here, but still useful to have readily available.
Paprika is a recipe program, which I actually do use fairly often – I cook most of the meals in our house. It has a great method for incorporating recipes from web sites, though because of the way it treats ingredients as plain text it’s rather weak when it comes to making up grocery lists. Nevertheless it’s the best I’ve found for entering my own recipes. I’m old enough to remember when the earliest personal computers (I’m thinking 1979 Tandy TRS-80 here!) were marketed to homes as great devices to have in the kitchen with all of your recipes handy. I can’t imagine that anyone at all ever used them for that. But the iPad actually makes the concept practical – for one thing, it’s easy to wipe the screen clean of cooking splatter!
Westpac is my bank. Though this is still only an iPhone app, it is an extremely convenient way to check my balance, transfer money or pay bills. It is so focused that it is far more pleasant to use for this than their full web site.
The Melways mApp [sic!] is another delight. Melbournians are very attached to this street directory, and a huge percentage of cars in this city would carry a copy. But the physical directory is a big slab of paper, not something to be carried around with you on foot. But now we have the digital edition, which is brilliant. It’s great when out and about because all of the maps are stored locally, and so they are instantly available, unlike Google Maps. Melways maps are also easier to read than Google maps and are packed with useful local information. The app of course uses GPS to place you exactly on the map. I wouldn’t be without this.
Navigon is a turn-by-turn GPS navigator. Again I use the phone version (listening to the voice instructions only) more than I use the iPad version, but with a passenger holding the iPad, this version is really useful when travelling because of the higher resolution display.
And last up on this first screen is Wikipanion, which I use a lot to look things up when reading.
Mail, Photos, Safari, iPod, Settings and Apple Remote get pride of place in the dock at the bottom so they are always to hand. All of these get a lot of use, particularly Mail and Safari. Remote gets used to drive my Apple TV, another device I love.
On subsequent screens I do have a lot of other apps, but apart from games they get used far less often. I have the iWorks suite, but in truth have only used Pages and Numbers a handful of times, and Keynote not at all, though I can see its usefulness. I have used TouchDraw several times to draw diagrams which I would use Visio for on a desktop computer. It keeps getting better and better, to the point where I’m wondering if I need Visio at all. It’s astonishing to be able to compare a $9 iPad app with a $450 desktop program!
I don’t watch a lot of video on my iPad, but do occasionally watch TED talks or iTunesU lectures. When we are going on holiday I do appreciate being able to load it up with TV episodes and movies just in case we are bored; but in practice this rarely happens.
There are a bunch of other reading apps:
And too many games, though I don’t actually play them very often:
So that’s a pretty good survey of how I’m using my iPad. Outside of office hours, it is rarely out of my hands, or at least, rarely out of reach.
For me, I would now consider the iPad all but indispensible. If I lost it, and could afford it, I would replace it immediately.