Let me start by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.
I have never bought anything from Apple before although I do have an iPhone 4 courtesy of my current employer. I’ve had an iPhone (since it was a 3GS) for about three years and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was the best phone I had ever used, yet I still continued to resist buying an iPad. When the latest generation was due for release in March it was actually Jo, my wife who suggested we got one.
I reviewed what the upgrade brought with it and when I saw a colleague’s arrive at work and we compared it side by side with some HD video and a like for like comparison of a technical PDF, it was the clarity in particular of the latter test that convinced me that I wanted one of these. The fact that both Jo and my five year old daughter Mia could get a lot of use of out it too made the decision a no-brainer. Mia is at that age where the educational value of an iPad alone would justify it’s purchase in my opinion and the ‘always on’ appeal means that Jo can check her emails, browse the web, check a film\actor on IMDB or find out how her team are doing (Manchester United – don’t ask!) within seconds rather than having to boot her laptop up.
This post isn’t a review of the iPad as such. There are already a countless number of those available to help sway you in your decision. In fact, swaying your decision is not the purpose of this post at all. I’ve had my iPad (‘ours’ I can hear two voices cry) for just over a week now and thought it time I gave a summary report of my experience to date, from the perspective of a network engineer who is always happy to find ways of maximising his time. With that in mind, I have broken this down in to the different areas arranged by application type, that offer me real value and functionality.
I have a Facebook account. It’s been disabled on more than one occasion and I only use it now to keep up to date with a handful of people who I unfortunately rarely get a chance to catch up with anymore. I also have a Google+ account and use that even less. The only social media site I regularly use is Twitter (and even that is dwindling recently) and I have found the Hootsuite app on the iPad makes the experience much more efficient with it’s multiple configurable columns. Adding a separate column or more to keep track of some useful hashtags is a breeze and I like that I can see what the people I follow think is important enough to retweet in one place.
Online content consolidation
I am currently playing with a couple of different apps that do similar things. Zite and Flipboard will go to a number of different online sources and, based on what you tell them are your interests, create a digital magazine. Although Flipboard is the more slick looking of the two, I like the fact that with Zite (and perhaps I am just missing the similar functionality in Flipboard), you can tell the app which articles, authors, sources and article tags you like so as it learns from your input, you should in theory get even more relevant content every time you use it. All I have to do is open it up, read and give a couple of clicks for feedback.
For me, a tablet platform is ideal for two main areas of productivity and the iPad has a couple of apps which excel at both. Toodledo is, as the name might suggest, a to do list app which allows me to quickly enter tasks, give a breakdown of more information, set priorities, deadlines and reminders. iThoughtsHD is a mind mapping tool and it’s a bloody good one too. Within minutes of having installed it, I had created a couple of maps outlining my certification path over the next few years and a broad list of networking projects I have awaiting me at work. Using these two apps together, I can create multiple 10,000ft views of areas that need my attention (be it at work or at home) and then break those areas down in to tasks with detail and time targets. A very powerful combination.
Again, a couple of useful apps here. I have an Amazon Kindle device and having an app on the iPad that I can view all my Kindle purchases on is very useful. Even more so was picking a PDF app that had more to it than just as a reader. In the end, I opted for GoodReader which has two features that sold me. Firstly, the ability to easily sync with iTunes and arrange my PDFs in folders and secondly some very nice annotation capabilities – useful for techie publications with diagrams that I always like adding detail to.
I’ll admit that I was a little dismayed at the relatively low number of real techie apps on the iPad and by that I mean ones that are more complete toolboxes. Sure, there are lots of apps that do this or that or let you buy extra functionality ‘in app’ but many of those don’t even manage to carry themselves that well. I bought Prompt, an SSH client, for my iPhone quite a while back and because it is a universal app, that means it is designed for both iPhone and iPad and therefore was free for me to download on to the iPad, which was a relief as I originally paid 69p for it and it has gone up to £5.99 since then. I considered getting iSSH but some reviews of the latest version turned me off it. I finally managed to find one of those toolbox type apps with built in ping, traceroute, whois, etc. functionality which doesn’t have hidden costs and has some nice extras. It is called IT Tools.
Of course, it’s not all work and the iPad has plently of functionality to let me chill out. Firstly, there are a host of games that can easily cost you hours of your time. For me, I went for some standard classics that include card games, chess and draughts, sudoku and of course Angry Birds! I also went for Real Racing 2 HD, which has been updated for the new iPad’s Retina display and looks gorgeous. I also have a few cracking sports apps that let me keep up to date with results and my team’s news (Manchester City of course!) in the most efficient way. I also opted for Garageband as I recently bought the dongle that allows me to connect my electric guitar so, despite being a failed musician, I can still take a shot at the dream!
Others worth mentioning
Twitter came to my rescue again when I asked about a good flash card app. It was Bob McCouch that suggested Mental Case and it quickly became evident that it would be a tool I will use throughout my career to not only help me on my certification path but to have to hand when my memory otherwise fails me. I’ve also downloaded FeeddlerRSS but haven’t had time to set it up yet. I have also bought Blogsy, which as you may have guessed is a blogging app. I should really have posted this particular review using it, but I’m still not up to speed with it yet, but it looks very capable indeed. Maybe the next post to put it to the test.
For me, the iPad is all about making the most of my time, even when that’s time wasting! I can have access to all my ideas and projects, my tasks for the next day, week and year. I can vacuum the Internet in seconds for information that is relevant. I can have all my reading materials at my finger tips. I can keep up to date with the things that matter to me, without having to sift through 90% of crap first. Now that I have a decent case to protect it, I can take it to work and use it in ways that my laptop can’t really compete with. That’s really where it’s value is for me. It’s not a laptop replacement but the hardware, interface and software filters out of lot of bloated nonsense that I have just grown accustomed to on the laptop: a minute to boot up, another to log on thanks to the daily group policy gang bang, sluggish applications that offer 90% functionality that I’ll likely never use or even learn exists for crying out loud.
It’s also pretty good at producing content, but perhaps not always on a par with a desktop\laptop equivalent. Photo editing, video editing, music creation and blogging tools are all very capable for the most part. Put all of this power in to something you can throw in a much smaller bag than the one you use for your laptop, that you can have sat next to you and accessible at the push of a button, with software that is almost always a fraction of the cost of your main workstation software and I’m already starting to ask myself how I got by for so long without it.
Let me finish by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.
Although, that may very well change…
Till the next time…