Just how useful is the iPad?

I held off getting an iPad for several weeks after the initial introduction – enough time to see a few in action, solicit initial reactions and get a serious case of the “gotta have one” bug. I’m now officially in the “early adopter portion of the demand curve, well ahead of where I usually exist. My iPad is a 64 gig model; I had wanted the 32 gig, but when I made it to the Apple store on May 5th, only the 64 gigs were in stock. Being too impatient to wait a few days, I asked myself “what’s an extra $100?”  I'm certain I won't regret the extra storage capacity.   I bought the wifi-only model, because I have wifi access nearly everywhere I go; in the few exceptions where wifi is missing, like the farm, I don’t really need it (I am thinking of adding wireless to the 100+ year old farmhouse though…). I also bought an Apple (Incase) cover to protect it, and I've ordered a limited first edition DODOCase simply because I think it is the coolest iPad case going.

I’ve made every effort to integrate the iPad into my daily work and play, with surprisingly good results. Not perfect, but positive enough to convince me that it will be a great tool and a great toy. Besides, as anyone with or without an iPad already knows, you're the cool kid when you enter a room with one, and I need all the help I can get.

Form Factor
I really like the form factor – the size is right for use in meetings when taking notes or looking for information – far better than having a laptop screen walling me off from the rest of my fellow meeting attendees; when I dared use my laptop in meetings, it felt like I was either hiding behind it or hiding what I was typing. The iPad moves with me – when I lean back or sit up, it is exactly where I can use it. Since it lays flat, it is similar enough to a notebook that it is unobtrusive, though not unnoticed.  It’s also well sized for catching up on news or blog reading after the kids have gone to bed in the evening. I love the tactile nature of the touch screen.  Being able to use both hands to navigate and manipulate the screen content is fantastic – although not quite the gesture based interaction I think is coming to the digital world, it feels close.  There are times when the touch screen is more sensitive than my fat fingers (and palms) are ready for, but I'm adjusting quickly. Overall, it's hands down the best touch screen experience I've ever had.

I find the screen itself a bit too shiny, particularly in bright conditions close to windows or when using it outside, such as in my “home office”. I'm learning to adjust and focus beyond the glare, but it can be distracting.  The iPad is hefty, but not too heavy for the ways I am using it – usually sitting at a table or in a chair/on a couch. Bob Sutton of Good Boss, Bad Boss fame, wrote a thoughtful review of his iPad experience. He’s somewhat less positive than I am, but he also had specific goals in mind ahead of time like reading/watching movies and he had some specific posture requirements due to recent surgery. As with any technology advancement, you have to go into it with an open mind and lots of flexibility.

The battery lasts forever, but sometimes takes quite a while to recharge, which can be a bit annoying. If that’s my trade off for long battery life, I’ll take it. I often go 2-3 days of regular use before needing to recharge. The iPad will warn you when you hit 20%, and there is still and hour or two of life left at that point. Dimming the screen extends battery life substantially.  The lowest I've taken it to is 8% and it fully recharged 2-3 hours.

Using it for Work
One of the interesting things I’ve discovered about using my iPad for work is that right now, it is a huge distraction. As soon as I open the case and touch the go button in a meeting, I get asked all sorts of questions about it – every meeting has been delayed by 5-10 minutes for the past month while it gets passed around and I get asked the obligatory questions such as “do you like it?” (yes, duh, I love it!); “what games do you like?” (no clue, I haven’t tried any yet, but I will… my kids love it for games); you’re using it for work? “Well, duh again, yes – and play” and so on. I get the gamut from iPad envy (my innovative and creative friends) to “you must be nuts” (mostly my left brained brethren). Once the attention subsides, meetings proceed and I use my iPad to take notes, check the web for information, as a distraction (keep the volume off!) if the meeting drags, and to check my calendar etc. Because of the form factor and ease of use, it is proving itself to be excellent business tool for me.

In next week's blog, I’ll review some of the apps I am both experimenting with and regularly using for work. I'll also be asking for suggestions on how you are using it, or want to use it for business.  Chris Brogan has a great overview of the work flow processes he utilizes and highlights the strengths and weaknesses he's observed in his iPad.  I agree with Chris that the iPad is “still very much a technology in search of a problem to solve“, and that's what makes it fun.  As usual, the comments on his blog are really useful, and have confirmed and expanded my own observations.

Using it for Play
This almost goes without saying.  I've been more focused on drawing value out of my iPad for work and have experimented with it for play – maybe I'm trying to hard to justify the purchase?  When I say “play”, I really mean “entertainment” – I'm not seriously into games, however I have downloaded several cool apps that underscore the iPad's playful and useful side – I'll review those in a couple of weeks, shortly after my review of business oriented apps next week.

My kids have been using it whenever they can get their hands on it, and I have learned a lot from them.  One great example – I've been using the “Settings” app to adjust the sound for videos, movies, and apps exclusively, and was thinking “this is annoying – no sound control on the iPad itself…”.  My 6 year old daughter pointed out there is a volume control on the side…I still haven't found it.  Duh! I'll have  lots to say about how they have enjoyed MY iPad in a couple of weeks.

When it comes down to it, I really didn't need much proof the iPad would be useful for work and play before I bought it – I was and am confident that I will build the proof myself, and if the past month is any indication, the proof is real and the discovery journey with it will be a great deal of fun!

Let me know what you think and what your favorites uses are so far.

I work alongside emerging companies on business formation, commercialization strategies, and capital planning. My passion is to find, support, mentor, coach, incubate, & fund start-ups engaged in innovative technology businesses.

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