Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Working with the iPad: media consumption "yes"; productivity "no"

My schedule has included very little travel in the past few weeks, and as a result I have not been traveling with my iPad to test it out in the field. As a result, I have experienced media apps more or less in perfect conditions: with an extremely fast Internet connection, at my leisure.

As a media reader there is no doubt that the iPad is best in class. Kindle owners can talk all they want about the e-ink format, but the iPad is no slouch. Early critics -- read "non-owners" -- talked about eye fatigue and the like, but that was just talk.

But out in the field the iPad does present some challenges for those wishing to consume their media on the tablet. First there is the challenge of downloading media. Just because it is a tablet does not mean that secure, fast Internet connections will appear out of thin air. The airport is, and remains, a hit or miss situation. What might appear as a good 3G signal can just as easily be a phantom.

Because of this, good planning is essential. Yesterday, using PressReader, I downloaded the Sunday editions of the Observer and the WaPo. Since PressReader can be used offline, all was well at the airport and in the air. Unfortunately, I had failed to remember to download my Monday edition of Sporting News Today. A masochistic streak compelled me to read about the Sharks latest collapse. I suppose it is just as well that the connection prevented me from completing the download by boarding time.

While in the air my iPad caught the attention of a fellow passenger who demanded a demonstration. I opened the Vanity Fair app to show off the two versions: the landscape just-like-print version, and the portrait tablet version. But I forgot that they ads in the portrait version required a live Internet connection to view the added video content. Big fail.

As a productivity tool the iPad is challenging. For media folk, the biggest drawback is the inability to work effectively online or within content management systems. The problem is the keyboard.

It is not that typing is slow using the touchscreen keyboard -- people get used to it, and besides, speed isn't everything -- but the problem is navigation. Without a mouse, it is extremely slow and difficult to edit.

The solution is a wireless keyboard, of course. I carried around the Apple wireless keyboard -- a perfect match. But the problems for reporters, editors and bloggers extend beyond the keyboard. Picture editing on the iPad is possible, but not as efficient as on a laptop or desktop. For many media writers who simply input copy and leave the rest to others, this won't present a problem. But I like to make sure the images here are properlu sized, and often I use tables within posts.

So here is the bottom line: if you a consumer of media the iPad is without a challenger, but media is still best consumed with online. Buy the 3G version, jailbreak your iPhone, or tether your iPad to a non-AT&T phone.

If you are a member of the press: practice using the iPad before venturing out. Even with an external keyboard, the iPad can not compare to a laptop with a mouse.