What Good is a Stinkin’ iPad?

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My good friend SY wrote me yesterday asking basically, “what good is a stinkin’ iPad?”

Hi Mike!

How are you??
My husband and I bought an iPad for my dad, but he decided he didn’t really have use for it (i.e. he uses his laptop and his phone and can’t get Java to work on the iPad so he can’t play ba-dook on it).

So now we are deciding whether to take it back or keep it for us–How useful is it really? You can’t edit documents or talks on it can you? Is it good for taking notes at conferences? Isn’t the wireless plan expensive on it? I pretty much bring my Mac everywhere with me, but I’m not sure it’s more than an indulgent toy for us.

SYP

I wrote back.

Hi Sung Yun. I have been asked this same question many times and can answer in the affirmative that tablets are overall great for reading and looking at stuff on. For editing and taking notes, it depends on what you are used to. And for portability, tablets>laptops. Tablets in general get a lot done, and of the tablet choices that you have, the iPad is still, for now, the best tablet a lot of money can buy.

I went all in when the first iPad came out, buying not one but two iPads. It occurred to me from the start that the pain of lugging my 15 inch Macbook Pro was soon to be relieved by the magic iPad, but I was worried that I would not be able to multitask. I normally keep several desktops and multiple windows going at the same time on my laptop, and to get a similar functionality from tablets, I feel you have to have multiple tablets. I also figured two iPads were still more portable than a single Macbook Pro (2007 issue).

The first great use of the iPad was as a reader. I own several Kindles and while I love reading books on my Kindle Paper White 3G, I equally enjoy reading them on the larger screen of my iPad. The skeuomorphic iBooks with their faux page turns are fun, but the iPad Kindle App with an Amazon Prime Account is reading heaven. Toss in FreeBooks app that feature everything out of copyright, and you have a public library in portable form. Overdrive reader app lets you access your local public library -you can look up and check out eBooks from your library! If you read magazines, most magazines feature an iPad App. Harder to find magazines can be found in newsstands like Zinio, but the killer app for magazines is Next Issue which for a monthly 8 to 15 dollars features hundreds of magazines like Esquire, Time, and People. I can’t live without my New Yorker magazine, and now rather than a mess of magazines around the house, they are all in my iPad.

The next use of the iPad is as a portable widescreen TV. While iTunes lets you purchase and then download movies and TV shows from iCloud onto your Mac, AppleTV, or iOS device (iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone), the streaming app trio of Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime gives you access to thousands of current and vintage movies and television shows. Hulu Plus, a monthly subscription, gives me access to every episode of South Park, the Daily Show, Colbert Report, Community, and The New Girl. It also features the Criterion Collection of critically acclaimed but difficult to find foreign films -I am in the midst of watching Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice), an Italian post war film of lust and crime in the Italian rice paddies. Movies-Riso_AmaroNetflix has a great selection of movies and TV shows as well, and the ability to have DVD’s mailed to you. Amazon Prime’s video player also features many recently released films for streaming, and beats iTunes by letting you stream rather than download then watch rental movies. Amazon also has every Ken Burns documentary, if that is your thing.

These two features are the core of how the adults in the house use the iPad. Jen enjoys watching Downton Abbey in the bed while I read the NY Times and listen to Paloma Faith on Spotify. The NPR app, by the way, lets you listen to all the NPR that you missed during your busy day. The boys love watching their shows anywhere, anytime. The funny thing is, because we watch shows on our terms, the TV goes the whole week without being turned on except for family movie night or when dad watches sports. During baseball season, by the way, I buy an MLB season ticket to watch major league baseball games -usually as a ten minute summary of outs and hits the next morning, but often I stream the live radio broadcast just to hear John Sterling howl, “Yaaaaaaankeeeees Winnn!”

The third feature is up to you to decide if you want in the house. The iPad is a great gaming platform. While not as immersive or complicated as an XBox, Wii, or Playstation, games on the iPad are no less fun or addictive. Words with Friends pops on a larger screen. Pinball is a great stress reducer. My boys play all manner of games -most of which are free or cost 99 cents which is a lot cheaper than the average XBox game.

The utility of tablets is that eliminating the keyboard frees you to interact with the computer in a far more natural way. Drawing and music creation are two ways I put mileage on the iPad. My favorite art app, Paper, was the App Store’s App of the Year last year, and I doodle constantly. The Brushes app is used by David Hockney and other artists to create serious art. I frequently use Adobe Ideas to sketch on top of CT scans for patient consultations.

For note taking, there are innumerable apps for taking freehand notes and the better ones allow you to record the presenter’s audio synced to your notes. My favorite second brain app is Evernote which lets me data dump important files, notes, and ideas for access across all my gadgets. If you type fast, you probably aren’t going to change note taking tasks but I have to mention that it’s less intrusive to write notes on iPad than click clack away on a keyboard.

This brings me to the last part -work. I composed this blog entry on an iPad using the Logitech Slim Keyboard Case, which I recently reviewed. It turns the iPad into basically what the Microsoft Surface wants to be, a post-laptop work device. While Office for iOS isn’t out in the wild yet and probably never will be, there are many options for writing and editing. Pages is a good word processor, but Word is more universal and more importantly has collaborative editing and version control that is superior to anything on iOS. That said, Pages is unmatched in its ability to layout documents. That’s how I use it -after composing the content in a simple text processor like iA Writer, I open up and prettify it in Pages and save it as a Word file for sending out.

For presentations, Keynote is how I make all my presentations. I can make them on the fly during and after cases to present complex operations to patients and their families. You can export into Powerpoint or PDF, but equally powerful is the ability to present directly off your iPad, either via a cable or wirelessly to an AppleTV (an unpromoted feature). The usual way I create presentations is I upload all the pictures and graphics to a Dropbox folder and then compose the presentation on my iPad after taking intraop photos with my iPod Touch or iPhone. I’ve uploaded a sample presentation SFA-POP-Tibioperoneal Trunk EndoRE that I created right after a case for explaining what I did for a patient’s family.

The wireless plan is pricey if you’re not needing it, but I find it indispensable because my iPad 3 with Verizon 4G has a hotspot function which will allow me to tether other devices like a Macbook Pro or iPod Touch at high speeds. The typical use scenario is on long car trips where the iPad is the hotspot for streaming video to the boy’s tablets and I listen to This American Life episodes (every episode ever is available on their app). In a pinch, the iPad can act as a ridiculously large phone via the Line 2 app, which gives me a phone number (in Manhattan no less) for non-work use.

Now here is the last tip -I suggest you trade in your iPad for an iPad Mini with Verizon Wireless. The big screen is great, but impossible to carry around the hospital in a white coat. The 8 inch size fits perfectly. I’m holding out for the retina display iPad Mini which hopefully is next. For now, my Android Tablets fulfill this in the pocket function, and match the iPad largely feature for feature except for speed (they are older single processor devices) and ease of use. I think if you are adventuresome, the Nexus 7 is probably hits the sweetspot of price (about 200 bucks) and size (fits white coat pocket), but for cheaper, you don’t get the cellular wireless or nifty form factor, and you have to geek out on Android.

Hope that helps.

Mike

Printstagram Flipbook Calendar BOOM

Just received from Printstagram, this Flipbook calendar features 356 square pictures I took last year and can now keep. It comes with a handy box to preserve your calendar sheets. One of the problems with digital media is its impermanence, but this desire to archive is a kind of narcissism. I should be okay when these pictures disappear into the ether like memories but there is a selfish corner of my kind that wants to keep these in a box.

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The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4 Trumps the Microsoft Surface

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After sitting on the fence about purchasing a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook, I finally decided to pass on those items (no Retina display!) and equipped my current iPad 3 with a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case. I had handed over my Macbook Air 2010 over to my son for school use (and Minecraft play), and was in need of some keyboarded mobile input device. This category used to be all about laptops and netbooks, but this past month Microsoft Surface was released and I did the due diligence of checking it out and rejecting it despite the fact I could have expensed it.

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Finding a Microsoft Surface to try out is a bit like trying to find authentic takeout Thai food or a Porsche dealership -it’s only available in a handful of places in the US. In the Cleveland area, it means going to the Microsoft kiosk at the Beechwood Mall next to the kiosks selling iPhone covers and fluffy slippers. I thought it was a bust because someone had messed up the Surfaces which were all rebooting. More recently, I got to try the Surface at the local Best Buy. Microsoft in their marketing wisdom decided to widen the release of the Surface in the few weeks before Christmas.

Despite the bad marketing, I was impressed by the beauty and speed of the Surface. The keyboard cover was nice and far more responsive than expected. Unfortunately, without the tactile feedback of keypresses it was only a little bit better than a virtual keyboard. I grew weary of it in the first few lines of typing.

It gets worse. The Metro interface seems like a tacked on after thought. Launching Office apps caused the screen to jump back into the old Windows desktop screen which doesn’t work all that well with touch, but it keeps lurking in the background waiting to show its big fat corporate OS face whenever it gets the chance. Instead of the Start menu, you jump back into Metro, but how or when you did so was mysterious. I am sure that with use, I would be able to figure out how to turn off the Metro or stay out of the classic Windows desktop. As a casual shopper seeing Windows 8 for the first time, there is mystery involved, and that is not good.

I get why Microsoft put out the Surface RT. What Microsoft is battling is the constraints imposed by the demands of the consumer and corporate markets. It has designed Surface RT to the perceived needs of the consumer market. It is making the bet that Office is 90% of what people want on their computers. This is true of laptops and desktops, but not so much for tablets and smartphones.

For 90 percent of my work, content creation means translating ideas into text. Who really needs Word to record text? For example, I’m wrote this piece over a week at various intervals on my iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and MacBook Pro using Ia Writer, a text processing app that stores the file in the cloud. I never have to press SAVE because there is no such button. When I am ready to make a formatted document, I can do so in any number of apps like Word, Pages, or Google Docs. The fact is, I am using Word less and less because it is unavailable on iOS devices and smartphones, and I think Microsoft is uncomfortable with this trend.

Surface is basically recapitulating the most useful configuration for a tablet that you can also do work on -something that the iPad has had since launch which is variations on the keyboard case. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover greatly enhances the iPad as a productivity tool. It latches on like the original magnetic cover and when in laptop mode will prop the tablet with magnets in landscape orientation. The keyboard works perfectly and has many enhancements for iOS oriented shortcuts.

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When closed, it looks like a MacBook Air, being clad in aluminum all around, but of course it is thicker. It does offer laptop functionality with a 10 inch Retina display. The keyboard charges via a mini-USB port, and claims a 6 month battery life with two hours of use. It has been seamless and tenacious in gaining and holding a bluetooth link, something that is not always possible with other keyboards. I have been typing on it, and I like it. I can type at full speed. My only gripe is the half height number row which also has a truncated delete key. I still rip off the cover to use it as a tablet and find that the keyboard is on and prevents me from using the virtual keyboard -just remember to turn off the keyboard when not in use.

The Surface is a beautiful product but is an evolutionary dead end because its OS, Windows RT, has no past and an arguably a shaky future. Despite creating a product that integrates Office, and makes it basically the only compelling reason to buy a Surface, it does so by making you work in Office in a way that is no different from the 10 pound laptop that IT will give you for business trips. The moment Microsoft releases rumored Office for iOS with full implementation of touch interface, it will have killed any argument for Windows RT. We will see Office for iOS in the App Store one day, but we will have to see Surface die the same way as RIM’s Playbook -in about 8 months before we get to buy it for $129 for the Student and Home Edition.

Mourn

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Why invoke God in the senseless mass murder in Connecticut? Why invoke the Creator in past wars, genocides, and future massacres. According to some commentators, after all, He was making a cosmic point about prayer in school with syncopated head taps, kind of like a pathologically vindictive mall cop who decides not to intervene in a crime in the parking lot  because he was just fired from his job.

An anthropomorphic deity had no role in Newtown. A human did this. It is our nature, as much as a birds fly and fish swim. Humans kill other humans like tigers have spots. I think it is because of our higher faculties that we do this. It is well known that certain groups of chimpanzee engage in territorial winner take all warfare where the losers are driven away or eaten, but not all groups behave this way. This seems to be a learned behavior, passed on through the generations. Rather than instinct, we have culture, and this is our programming. And the solution is clear -unless we choose to reprogram ourselves, to enlighten ourselves, we are trapped in a cycle of wanting, dominating, taking, killing, and revenge. 

That is what I pray for. 

RIP RIM

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The day has arrived when I get to swap out my Blackberry 9930 for an iPhone 5. I had given up using the Blackberry as anything but a text/phone device because getting on the Internet was tricky at best. The 9930 is a device conceived by a committee of people who don’t understand how people use technology. I used my iPod Touch as a daily communicator and Internet surfer over the BB 9930. Fact is I had high hopes over its beautiful screen and okay keyboard but these could not overwhelm sheer misery in the browser, email (yes email) and paucity of apps to get things done. Goodbye.