iPads and Servicemembers

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If you've used an iPhone, it's the same. If not, you can pick up the techniques pretty quickly. The interface creates a personal connection between you and what you're doing. There's no mouse cursor; you directly manipulate what you want on the screen. This makes the whole experience kind of fun. Sometimes the whole touch interface isn't the most accurate or perfect, but I found the margin of error to be acceptable, especially when you consider what any alternative methods of navigating there could be, like a mouse or a roller ball.
All iPad models can connect to the internet through a wi-fi connection, while 3G models connect through the cell phone network for a price. The speed of the 3G reminds me of internet speeds from about ten years ago, but given the fact that I could surf the web far from any regular connection quickly made up for the lack of speed. But be warned, the 3G speeds are only useful for light web surfing and emailing. I ran into a download size limit a few times (especially trying to download certain apps) on the 3G network that forced me to seek out a wi-fi connection to finish the job.
The iPad is awesome if you're looking to just have fun. Movies look great on the screen and the speaker is loud and clear enough to enjoy video and music without earphones. Organizing and viewing photos is rather easy; Apple even provides a few add-ons that allow the iPad to interface with cameras so you can download and view photos on the iPad. A lot of photographers are apparently using this capability to QC photos on the high-resolution iPad screen instead of the small LCD screen most cameras have these days. I pulled up a few photos of the kids and they looked great. It's easy to hand the iPad off to the grandparents, "Here's the latest album of the kids at Christmas." It saves hauling around a photo album, but I can't remember the last time I hauled around a photo album anyway.
Apple's iBook, its downloadable reader, allows you to read books on the go much like the Kindle. In fact, you can get a Kindle app and access the Kindle's content as well. Reading on the screen is about the same as reading a large-print novel. There's a market of comic books too, if that's your thing, which the iPad is really built to display. Two dollars and a minute or two of downloading and you have the latest Marvel issue. If reading is a priority for you, this is a big plus for the iPad. You can literally carry hundreds of books and comic books on the iPad. The weight and space savings is incredible, and having your whole library at your fingertips all the time is a powerful feeling. On the flip side, while there are a lot of free books out there, you'll still have to pay a price for the convenience… namely the full retail price of the book. As I imagined the ability to carry dozens of books with me downrange, I also remembered the bins of free books at the United Service Organizations (USO). I guess it's an issue of priorities.
Gaming on the iPad is a new level of interactivity, though many of the games available right now don't move beyond the capabilities of the games I find on Facebook. No Xbox, Playstation or PC games here, though there are a few out there that provide more depth and capability than some of the shallow shooters that do little more that pass the time. Hopefully more will come because the potential is there. We'll have to see what the next year or two brings in this department.
One of the biggest areas I was interested in testing was the productivity capabilities of the iPad. I dreamed of the potential of writing up work documents and notes on the go or while waiting around (which is something we do a lot in the military). Apple made a version of their iWorks software for the iPad, namely Pages, Keynote and Numbers… i.e. Apple versions of Word, Powerpoint and Excel. Other note taker, database and spreadsheet apps are available as well. As a work device, the iPad functions like an electronic clipboard. The keyboard shows up whenever you need it and it allows you to type relatively fast compared to a smartphone. But it is no normal size keyboard, so those typing techniques you learned in school won't work here.
I was forced to develop a new method of typing and I found my endurance to be rather short. In the case of this review, I actually started out writing it on the iPad, but I quickly moved to finish it on a laptop because it was taking too long to type. Apple does make a dockable keyboard for the iPad. It can also connect to any bluetooth keyboard to allow ‘normal' typing on the iPad. But it would defeat the whole portability of the iPad if you have to slave it to a keyboard on a desk or table.
Where the iPad really stands out is its laptop battery life. Apple says the iPad's battery can handle ten hours of video playback, which is the biggest battery life killer of any of these devices. In my tests, I could run the iPad off and on all day without draining the battery. I wasn't running it for twelve hours straight, I did have other things to do, but I was using it pretty heavily and never ran into a dell laptop battery problem. I eventually got into the habit of charging it at night right next to my cell phone and never saw my battery indicator fall below 40%. I've never seen a laptop, even my Macs, accomplish that feat.
Where the iPad starts getting into trouble is the fact that it is not designed to be a stand-alone device. Like an iPod or iPhone, it is necessary to connect the iPad to iTunes to move content on and off the device. All music, movies, photos and data files have to pass through iTunes and there is pretty much no way around it (unless someone hacks it, but I'm not getting into that here…). This puts a cramp in trying to move a document from the iPad to a government computer, given the current restrictions on how devices are connected to government networks. If you have a wi-fi or 3G connection, that's not much of an issue: simply email the file to yourself as an attachment.
But what if you're somewhere that doesn't have a wi-fi or 3G connection, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or a ship at sea? Without those connections, the iPad loses a lot of its functionality. It can still play videos and run apps, but if you want to add something new you need to do it through your iTunes account, which requires a computer with its own storage and internet connection. So, if you already have a laptop that can play your videos, run your productivity programs and play games, why would you need an iPad?
You'll also run into conversion issues if you plan on using the iPad for work. Knowing how important Powerpoint is to the military, I thought it would be awesome to be able to create, edit and display presentations from the iPad. Keynote is a very powerful presentation program that can read and edit Powerpoint files. The downside to this is: while iPad's Keynote can open and edit a Powerpoint file, it cannot export a Powerpoint file. You'd have to export it to Keynote on a Mac and then figure out a way to get it to your presentation system. That extra step may be enough to kill the convenience… if you can't move the file off the iPad, why spend the money and effort to build it there? This is the biggest problem for all productivity apps. Again, if you can connect the iPad through a wi-fi or 3G, the advantages may out weight the disadvantages. Take away those connections and those disadvantages really become an issue.
Bottom line, the iPad is a fun device and does what it's designed to do very well. But it's not one that will really lighten your load if you're going downrange. It's not going to replace your laptop… you'll still need it to make the iPad work. And if you already have a laptop, it can perform those work functions better than the iPad, as well as play those movies and games.
Of course, the iPad was never designed to replace your laptop, so I may be asking more of the iPad than it was ever intended to deliver. My perspective came from looking at my Mac world and seeing where the iPad would fit. I guess I'm wishing Apple broadened the iPad's possibilities a little more. Maybe a few new apps can could change this, but they don't exist right now.
I'd say portability and battery(asus battery) life are the iPad's biggest advantages; but at a starting price of $500 and going up to $830, you'd have to really want those advantages to make it worth the price. If surfing the web, writing emails, watching videos and playing games are what you want and you have the money to spend, then the iPad is exactly what you want.

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