One Year Later, the iPad Is Still My Favorite Computer

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Harry McCracken /

You keep saying “iPad.” Can we assume that you’ve upgraded from the iPad 2 to the new iPad?

Yes, but only recently. After reviewing the new model when it was released, I waited a while, then picked up a black one with 64GB of storage and Verizon LTE. I’m happy with it — in part for the super-high-resolution Retina display, but even more so for the LTE wireless broadband, which, at its best, feels zippier than my cable modem at home. And being able to use the iPad as a wireless hotspot for other devices, at no additional cost, is a significant plus.

The new iPad is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor, but I’ve never noticed any difference as I’ve toted it around town. I have found, however, that the battery life feels a tad shorter than that of the iPad 2. That’s an unscientific impression, and your experience could vary. And even if it is slightly briefer, it’s still better than what I’d get from any laptop I was likely to carry.

Are you still using the ZaggFolio keyboard?

Not at the moment. I keep hopping back and forth between it, Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover and Logitech’s Solar Keyboard Folio. I like them all a lot, but don’t find any of them to be perfect.

Brydge iPad keyboard


Right now, the Solar Folio is my daily driver: I like the fact that it never needs recharging, and it’s relatively thin while still protecting the iPad on both sides. (The Zagg makes for a chunkier rig.) The Solar Folio’s only major downside other than the price ($129.99) is the unaccountably illegible reddish color which Logitech chose for the Fn-key functions on the keycaps.

Then there’s Brydge, the Kickstarter project which does its darndest to turn an iPad into a mini-MacBook. I backed it on Kickstarter in May and have been impatiently waiting for mine ever since.

Is it tough to jump back and forth between the keyboard and the touchscreen?

I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t give it much thought. I definitely don’t pine for a mouse or trackpad.

The lack of unfettered access to the file system must just kill you.

Hey, that isn’t a question. Anyhow, I’ve found it more of an occasional nuisance than a headache. Between iCloud, the clipboard, file attachments, the Camera Roll and the “Open in” feature, I can get the documents and other stuff I want in and out of the apps I use. But I do wish there was a way to pull files off a thumb drive: When someone gives one to me, which happens quite often, it’s barely more useful than a floppy disk.

Well, the lack of full-blown multitasking can’t be good. Can it?

It hasn’t proven to be a serious problem. I can tap my way from app to app as quickly as I can move between programs on a garden-variety computer. But there are a few cases in which more multitasking capabilities would be welcome: It would be nice if more types of apps had more freedom to download and upload in the background, for example.

Why won’t you admit that you can only use the iPad for real work because you’re a writer?

I didn’t expect this self-interview to get so combative. But if you’re so sure that the iPad can’t be used for other creative expression, you might want to take it up with people like Cynthia Wick and Glen Mulcahy.

How do you print?

Doxie Go scanner


I don’t! I have an aging HP OfficeJet printer which doesn’t support Apple’s AirPrint technology or HP’s ePrint. The next time I buy a new printer, I’ll get one which makes it easy to print from an iPad. But I’m trying to think of instances in which I wanted to print and couldn’t, and no examples are coming to mind.

Speaking of peripherals, I use a nifty portable scanner called Doxie Go to scan paper “into” my iPad. More specifically, Doxie can send paper documents directly to Evernote — no computer involved — which means that they’re instantly available in Evernote on the iPad.

What could Apple do to make your life easier?

Let’s see. I wish that Safari’s “Add to Home Screen” feature, which lets you create an icon for a web page so you can launch it with one tap, was a full-blown Single-Site Browser option akin to Fluid for OS X, so you could treat web apps more like native apps. (Instead, it sends you to a tab within Safari.)

I’d also like a more cohesive way to deal with all my apps and all their settings and files as one giant lump of bits. It should be possible to back up everything with one tap, and restore it with one tap. But as far as I can tell, you can’t do that — either with iTunes or iCloud. Every time I set up a new iPad, I fumble my way through the process.

As long as I’m asking for things: I’d love more space. If there was a 128GB iPad, or even a 256GB model, I’d probably buy it. I want everything with me all the time — photos, music, movies, PDFs and a whole lot more. More and more, my iPad is replacing not only my PC, but also my library and my TV.

Anything else you need?

Gmail, which I depend upon as much as any single productivity tool I use, isn’t a terribly satisfying experience on the iPad:

  • Apple’s Mail app is fine, except it doesn’t give you seamless and reliable access to all the mail on the server.
  • Google’s own Gmail app is a major disappointment — it supports only one account and doesn’t deal well with messages with links in them.
  • The browser-based version of Gmail is great, but I’d rather use a self-contained app.
  • There are various third-party Gmail solutions, but all the ones I’ve tried have technical glitches, usability problems or both.

Basically, I’d be thrilled if there was anything as good as the Gmail app for Android. Maybe the creators of Sparrow, who are now part of the Gmail team, will make it happen.

So will you switch to Microsoft’s Surface once it’s available on October 26?

Like everyone else who cares about this stuff, I’m intrigued by Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet. With its keyboard cover and general emphasis on productivity, it seems to be aimed at people like me. However, its most obvious theoretical selling point — the fact that it includes more-or-length-full-strength Microsoft Office — isn’t inherently exciting to me; I can use CloudOn or OnLive to use Office on an iPad right now, and do so only sporadically. As with any other new hardware platform, I think Surface will ultimately thrive or flop based on the overall quality of its apps, so I’m rooting for Windows 8 to be a hit.

How about Asus’s Transformer Infinity tablet, which provides a detachable keyboard?

It too looks interesting. But the selection of Android tablet apps remains skimpy, and the Transformer’s battery life falls short of the iPad. And it isn’t available with embedded broadband. I’m glad it exists; I’m not sure why I’d choose it over the iPad.

Any final thoughts for people who aren’t convinced what you’re doing makes sense?

Sure — I’ve stopped caring! We live in a remarkable era for users of computing devices. You can choose to use a hulking desktop PC with two or three humongous monitors as your primary computer. You can use an iMac or one of its Windows knockoffs. You can use a big laptop or a dinky one or something in between. Or you can use an iPad, as I’ve been doing for a year.  Or something else, like a Chromebook. Or some combination of two or more of the above.

If  you find that confounding or irritating — something to be explained away rather than welcomed — I’m not offended. But I do feel sorry for you.

MORE: Ask Techland: iPad with a Keyboard or MacBook Air for an Adult Student?

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