iPad en route

Apple’s iPad finally graced us with its UK presence in late May and seemingly quite normal people scrambled to acquire a slice of the ‘magic.’ Contention sparkled as aspirant Harry Potters extolled its virtues and rampaged through the Appstore downloading everything from egg timers to eBooks while the Dementors lurched forward to suck the life out of their new found joy.

Following a series of untimely and catastrophic laptop meltdowns I decided to give the paranormal a whirl and put an iPad through its business paces. I’m a big fan of the iPhone in a corporate context (although I’m still a BlackBerry user by personal choice), and I was eager to see if I could up the operational ante with its bigger and more powerful cousin.

Rather than just dabbling with it for entertainment’s sake I took the conscious decision to make the iPad my primary portable device for a full month and dived bravely into the choppy waters of early adoption. There’s the first and hopefully the last obviously purple hyperbole because its a iPad, not a wild-swim up the Zambezi. I did, however, choose to use it during a period when I would be particularly mobile and in need of a reliable computing resource in a client facing mode. An important distinction, as my audience to be wasn’t a fairly forgiving internal user base but what for me, personally, was a commercially sensitive, external forum.

Its not my intention to lambast you with yet another subjective App review but rather outline the basics of my utilisation and general experience. I began by assessing my primary requirements

  • Simple and reliable portability and connectivity
  • Responsive email from multiple accounts, POP3, IMAP and Exchange
  • Calendar
  • Spreadsheets for fairly basic consultancy outlines, quotations and very top level project shaping together with a smidgin of CRM
  • Presentation creation and output – 15 to 20 slides max (top limit before brain death)
  • File access and exchange
  • Word processing for 5 to 10 page briefing confirmations and summaries
  • Browser, YouTube and research capabilities
  • Access to and use of LinkedIn, Twitter, Posterous and FaceBook
  • Note taking and ‘back of the fag packet’ sketching
  • Limited budget (times are still tight, dammit)

My road-warrior toolkit consisted of a 3G iPad, VGA adapter/connector and a simple stand for more ad hoc presentations. I also trialled a Bluetooth keyboard but didn’t travel with it very much

For Apps I used the standard onboard set plus the iWorks trio together with Dropbox, EverNote, Penultimate, GoToMeeting, Instapaper, Osfoora, Pulse and MobileMe for iDisk, etc. I also downloaded and made extensive use of train timetabling and route mapping software for the Underground, Overground and Eurostar.

Overall, the iPad just worked, barring a few small glitches which were usually my own lack of skill and practice plus an element of 3G patchiness and speed. I did get some font mapping issues between PowerPoint on XP, Keynote on the Mac and Keynote on the iPad but, hey, ….easily rectified if a little time consuming at first.

GoToMeeting worked well over wireless and allowed me to attend 3 meetings online … Swiss, UK and US … where objectives were agreed and document amendments marked up.

I built and gave a total of 6 presentations and a number of informal sessions which also made use of YouTube (TEDTalks etc). 3G was awful on one memorable occasion although mostly it was reasonably OK and that may be more carrier specific. Far better than no 3G, though.

Research on the move was superb and I was able to profile, build and present a far more vivid and timely content set, both during and between meetings, than I had believed possible …. therein lies the genius for me.

I produced numerous documents and read many more. I cut and pasted like an ambidextrous demon and generated vast quantities of email from 4 separate accounts. I used email as a backbone for some content swapping but found DropBox to be a gem on that front too. A unified inbox would be a boon, though.

I’m still getting to grips with some calendar integration issues (was expecting far worse) but had reasonable and acceptable success. I’m hoping some of the MobileMe upgrades will assist with that in the short term.

Lack of multitasking was no big deal as it helped focus on the job and in any case I wasn’t flitting between Apps as I might do in a personal sense.

I didn’t attempt to interface to any massive corporate systems but worked at the lowest common denominator to provide my audience with what they needed, when they needed it, and in a punctual and useful way. The on screen keyboard was fine … the ergonomics of the device work for me and the battery life was excellent. Notes were easily taken and even my scribbles made some sense, to me anyway.

Could I use the iPad all the time as my primary mobile device, is it a worthwhile and useable business enhancement and would it be suitable for non technical users in a front facing business sense…? Yes, yes and yes …. and supporting it in a business environment is the same as for the iPhone. If you can do one then you can do the other with the same degree of faith and trust (criminals within the Walled Garden notwithstanding) and by way of the same toolsets.

It is at heart a very simple tool and I think that’s the magic … it’s what YOU make of it. For me, very personally, it was my personal brand in my hand and it allowed me to demonstrate that to my clients in their own environment, and in a manner they could assimilate and respond to.

Final point, you don’t have to be a Druid to cast an iPad spell but the application of a little lower reptilian cunning and sleight of hand with these early product iterations wont go amiss.

I’m going to keep on using it … for, as the inimitable Mr Guevara once said,

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”