Steve Jobs was quoted as comparing today’s computers (both Macs and PCs) to trucks – powerful devices capable of doing anything you need them to do – and the iPads as cars, smaller, less intimidating, easier to handle, not as versatile but more suitable for most people’s needs. How accurate is this comparison? Could the iPad be used as your sole computer today? This is what we’ve attempted to find out – by spending a week with only an iPad for work and for play.
The iPad is a phenomenon: it’s been on sale for less than a year but people are already buying more of them than Macs. The fact that it’s meant to be a companion to your main computer is highlighted by the necessity to sync it to iTunes when you first switch it on. However, once this action has been performed, you don’t have to connect it again. You wouldn’t be able to back it up, but aside from that, an iPad need never see another computer again.
So, if you were to use an iPad as your sole computing device, what would you need it to do? Everyone’s requirements are different, but by and large, there should be a way for you to write and print letters, send and receive emails, browse the web, create and manage a blog, load, adjust and share photos, edit home movies, make music and play games.
If the iPad could achieve all of the above with a degree of success, the days of large, bulky personal computers would really be numbered. Let’s look at each in turn.
Note to self
You can use an iPad for basic note taking thanks to the Notes application, but you can also purchase the three programs that comprise the iWork suite straight from the App Store for £5.99 each. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re getting the same functionality as their Mac counterparts: there are many features missing from each piece of software.
This app can work as a basic word processor, but your options are very limited
The most glaring are a limited number of fonts with no possibility of adding more, word count limitations (you can see how many words a documents has, but you can’t select a particular section and check how many are contained within it), and no image editing capabilities.
But you can create word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations with the greatest of ease, all by dragging objects around the screen with your fingers. If your needs are simple and all you want to do is write a letter or design a simple newsletter, you should have no trouble adapting.
There is, however, one major drawback which highlights the fact that Apple doesn’t yet consider these programs as capable of dealing with rigorous usage: there is no way to organise your documents within the application – which is the only place you can view and access them in the first place. You can’t organise them into folders, there isn’t even a search field to help you locate a document quickly. Instead, you have to swipe from document to document until you find the one you want. If you end up with more than 20 files, this system becomes incredibly frustrating.
The best thing about these apps, though, is the fact that there is no need to save anything you do: the iPad takes care of that for you so you can focus on writing, editing and designing.
With the release of the new version of the iPad’s operating system – iOS 4.2 – you can now print directly from that device without ever having to send a file to a traditional computer, as you had to until now. This is a major step forward, but it’s currently limited: the only way you can do this is with a handful of HP printers which support the new ePrint protocol.
If you have one of those, AirPrint will immediately detect it on your network and you’ll be able to print with just a few taps. The process is effortless and quite fantastic. The cheapest ePrint printer costs less than £100, which may not be ideal if you’re not in the market for a new printer, but this situation isn’t too far removed from the original iMac and its new, little-known, USB ports. Finding a compatible printer back then was a challenge too, but things have changed somewhat since those times.
With AirPrint, you can connect to a compatible printer via WiFi
A spot of browsing
So printing and general office duties are covered, as long as there isn’t too much to do. But what about emailing and web browsing?
The iPad excels at those especially, once again, with the release of iOS 4.2 and the introduction of a universal inbox. This is most useful if you’re working with multiple email addresses. You can see all your new messages from one location, rather than having to continuously select a different account each time a new email arrives. It also shares one of the best features from the iPhone and iPod touch: even with the screen switched off and the device asleep, it will download new messages for you which is quite a timesaver. On a traditional computer, you’d have to wake it up, wait for it to connect to your network then check your server for new messages. With the iPad, as soon as you unlock it, you’ll know instantly how many new emails have arrived.
As for browsing the web, it’s inconvenient that the iPad’s version of Safari limits you to nine pages open at any one time. Thankfully, other browsers can be purchased from the App Store. One of these, Switch (£2.99, www.switchapp.net), is very interesting: you can set up accounts within it to break down your work by subject matter, or to have a different account, hence a different set of nine pages, for each member of your family. You can even password-protect these accounts if you wish, turning the iPad from a casual browsing device into a dedicated research tool.
Switch lets you set up accounts so you can have more than nine pages open
There are, however, some inconveniences, the biggest of which is the lack of a search tool to quickly look for specific words within a web page. This omission can be extremely frustrating at times, especially when there isn’t another computer nearby.
Blogging is a different matter. WordPress is available for the iPad as a free application, and as long as you’ve set up your site on a traditional computer, you can update and amend it from the iPad with ease – most of the time. It has its quirks but at least it’s working, which is not something that can be said for iWeb, since Apple hasn’t created a program that would connect you to your iWeb sites from any of its iOS devices.