IT Help Desk: Apple’s iPad

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By Mike Elliott

In the coming week, the Apple iPad will finally ship. I can just see it now: the early-adopter faction of the technically elite among us will soon be seen walking through Kroger checking off their grocery list with a swipe of their finger on what will appear to most folks as an over-sized iPhone. I won’t be among them—I’ll just gawk—but I’m very excited about the iPad mainly because of the momentum I believe it will generate in the industry to push the envelope of mobile computing as we know it.

If you haven’t heard of the iPad, don’t feel too bad. To the consumer, it’s been mostly a load of marketing up to this point. Similar devices unveiled in recent history have largely either failed or been niche market products. The exception to this may be the eReader devices such as the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Touch or the Barnes and Noble Nook (see Clover Carroll’s article in the September 2009 issue of the Crozet Gazette on eReaders.)

Over the next year or two, I believe we’ll see an explosion of new products in the “personal journal” category that will begin to blend the advancements in display and touchscreen technologies with the utility (and cultural acceptance) of the netbook in such a way that we’ll be more likely to gawk at someone still using a pencil and paper to work through their grocery list after Christmas of 2011.

But this whole category didn’t start with the Apple iPad or the Kindle. Although it was only 25 short years ago, one of the first personal digital assistants (or PDAs) I owned might now be associated with a freebie you’d get when applying for a credit card. I remember just how amazed I was that I could connect the Sharp Corporation’s calculator-like device to my DOS-based computer and transfer my database of contacts to it over a serial cable. That was high-tech stuff! A number of years later Palm introduced the world to a viable touchscreen PDA that largely legitimized the category with advanced handwriting recognition and computer synchronization as a central feature. I was in love.

I’ve been lucky enough to play with, um… I mean “work with,” just about every type of device in this category, including the now ubiquitous smart phone. My first cell-phone was an amazingly svelte (at the time anyway—it was more like a half-brick than a full brick) Motorola Micro TAC Elite with a built-in answering machine. Since then, I’ve worked my way through a bunch of others, and a recent mishap with my BlackBerry Storm 2 phone at approximately 60 mph, followed by intense compression applications—okay, it flew off the roof of my car and was run over by the two cars behind me—led me to the Google Android-based phone I use now. I like it a whole lot!

For some time though, I’ve been secretly craving an Apple iPhone—and especially after helping my sons set up their Apple iTouch “music players.” These excellent devices that closely resemble the iPhone, but without the phone, are really more akin to a fully capable miniature touchscreen computer, a small version of what we’ll see in the iPad. From those devices alone, it’s easy to see that Apple absolutely knows how to make great products that are incredibly intuitive to use! But I’m not willing to deal with the sub-par signal presently available from the iPhone’s wireless carrier in the areas I’d be using it.

But back to the “personal journal.” I see these as a natural device that feels less like a half-baked notebook computer (which I find netbooks tend to resemble) that will fill the gap between full-fledged notebook PCs and the small smart phones. The primary use for most of those systems is interacting with the web in one form or another, and that can now be accomplished adequately on a middle-of-the-road smart phone.

Alternatives to the iPad will be interesting and will fill other needs, possibly in education and medical fields. And because of the progress made recently, the likes of the paper-based Day-Timer and Franklin planners will almost certainly become relics of the past. For a view of what the iPad offers, take a look at one of the many videos and then have a look at what Microsoft is working on to counter the iPad with their Courier device (but apparently nowhere near ready to release), here.

Again, I’ll pass on the first generation iPad since I’m unwilling to deal with the shortcomings of the initial product (lack of Flash player support, no camera, minimal connectivity/expansion, limited multitasking). But my guess is these things won’t be a big deal for some, because the primary target customers are people who already have a camera and music player in their iPhones, which they’ll use as a complimentary device for listening to music while strolling the isles selecting their toilet paper brand based on web-based research done on the spot via their iPad as they switch back and forth between grocery list and web browser. Naturally! But even more so, I think I’ll wait for Apple to release their 2nd and 3rd generation iPads to compete with the other big players—all of whom will now be pulled into the fray by the iPad. In the meantime, I’ll be content to jump back and forth between my smart phone and my larger than normal laptop (I love its 1920×1080 LCD monitor).

I’ll bet I get that warm and fuzzy feeling sooner than later when the right device comes out. That same feeling I had after using the Palm Pilot for the first time. How I miss that little beauty (and the 5 models after the original that I happily adopted). But I’ve got to get back to downloading some more cool apps for my Android phone. I like where this relationship is going!

Until next time, send feedback, suggestions and your favorite tools and tips to mike [at] InformationUpgrade.com.