Friday, June 03, 2011

myLife with iPad

I bought an iPad 2 awhile ago. I am still working on figuring out why. Don't get me wrong, I had several reasons for buying it:

  • I travel a lot while working. Before the iPad, I always had 4-6 books with me. I wanted to reduce the weight of my luggage, and bring more books. I read a lot, but I also want to bring my favorite reference books with me wherever I go.
  • I want to use my time effectively, for example by reading email while on the go. I can do that on my phone, but I wanted a bit more convenience.
  • My next book will be published as an eBook. I want to understand, I mean really grok, eBooks. I want to take full advantage of the medium.
  • I was, and still am, curious. I wanted to know more about what an iPad is good for.
Here is what I have found so far. I do read a lot of email, and browse the web, with my iPad, but I'll skip writing about that. Instead, I will focus on the other things that has made my working life easier the past few weeks.
I've bought quite a few books the past few weeks. Mostly new ones, but I am also adding some books I already own as paper books to my eBook reference library.
First of all, I do use the iPad for reading, a lot. Reading a book on the iPad works surprisingly well. However, the reading experience varies depending on which eBook reader you use. So far, my favorite readers are Apple's iBook and the Amazon's Kindle.

There are two things about reading eBooks on the iPad that I do not like.

The first is that because iPad apps own the data they use, books are not shared between readers. If I buy a book from Amazon, I have to use the Kindle reader, whether I like it or not. Yes, there are workarounds, but there should not have to be. Which reader to use should be my choice, regardless of from where I downloaded the book.

The second thing is that it is impossible to organize the books I buy. In my bookshelf books are organized according to topic, but the eBook readers I have do not allow me to do that. For example, with the Kindle reader, I can organize books alphabetically by author or title, or by most recently read, but that is it. I cannot group my strategy books together, nor separate my management books from the children's books I buy for my son.

Apparently, Amazon expects me to buy only a few books from them. Unless they come up with a more convenient way for me to organize the books, they will be right. And of course, as I mentioned, grouping my books depending on where I bought them is absolutely ridiculous. Apple has got to fix it. Preferably very soon.

Here is one important thing I learned about eBooks: Pictures are fairly low resolution bitmaps. Some of the illustrations in my business books are more or less unreadable. This is disappointing. Still, it is a good thing to know. It is something I will need to work around in my next book. (Tempo! does not have that particular problem. The eBook version is in PDF format. It works pretty well if you read it in iBook. Slight drawback though: The book is available in Swedish only.) 

So far, the advantages of eBooks outweigh the disadvantages.

I should mention a special kind of eBook though: Some eBooks, like Al Gore's Our Choice, come in the form of apps. Our Choice is beautiful: There are interactive animations, video, folding images... However, book-apps carry a significant penalty: It is large. I doubt I will ever have very many books like this one. Glad I bought Our Choice though.

When I read a particularly interesting book, I like to take notes. On the iPad, I have found that iThoughtsHD, a mindmapping program, works very well for this. Part of the reason I like iThoughtsHD is that it can import and export files in a variety of formats, including FreeMind and FreePlane, my favorite mindmapping programs on my computer.

Speaking of compatibility, DropBox has proven invaluable for transferring files between the iPad and my computer. iThoughtsHD can send files to DropBox, and so can many other apps. Unfortunately, because the iPad lacks a proper file system, there are plenty of programs that cannot save files to DropBox. Select your apps with care.

It is worth noting that you can get similar functionality by using other services. For example, many apps support Apple's MobileMe.

It is worth noting that I use services like DropBox and MobileMe for my personal files only. My clients generally don't allow them for security reasons. (No, this does not imply that these services have poor security, just that they have not been formally cleared for use by my clients.) If you use your iPad for work, you should consider what security restrictions may be in effect before using any cloud services.

 I draw a lot of diagrams, and my favorite program for doing that on the Mac is OmniGraffle. There is a version of OmniGraffle for the iPad, and I tried it out as soon as I could. The iPad version is good, but I do prefer drawing on the Mac. The diagram above was drawn on my Mac and exported to the iPad via iTunes.
The key to drawing on the iPad is keeping it simple. Fortunately, that is generally pretty good advice. The picture above shows a simple Venn diagram. Now, all I need to do is to write a couple of books that fit the intersecting area. Oh, well, maybe I should finish some of my other writing projects first...

Is the iPad any good for presentations? Depends on what you want to do. I bought Keynote for iPad, but I will probably stick to developing presentations on my Mac. However, in some situations, like when making short presentations for one or two people, Keynote on the iPad may come in handy.

When you travel a lot, keeping in touch with the people close to you becomes incredibly important. Skype is a sanity saver. Strangely, there is no iPad version of the Skype app. Fortunately, the iPhone version works very well on the iPad.

Of course I have Skype on my computer, but using Skype on the iPad is a lot more convenient. I'd really like to have a version designed for the iPad though.

In the evenings, I like to relax with a TED talk or two. The TED application can download TED talks so I can view them offline. Viewing a TED talk make traveling by train or plane a lot more fun than it would otherwise be.

I have tried a couple of different RSS readers on the iPad. At the moment, I prefer Byline. Byline downloads articles from Google Reader, so I need a Reader account to use it.
Sometimes, I just want to relax and have a laugh. The Swedish television player SVT Play has several episodes of Shaun the Sheep available. One of my evening projects over the next few weeks is watching them all.
My son Tim drew this picture of Stitch (the alien from the movie Lilo and Stitch) using Glow Paint
My son likes Glow Paint a simple drawing application. He is 5 years old, and learned to use the iPad in less than a minute. Granted, he already knew how to use my iPhone, but learning that didn't take long either. You know how you always throw away or just misplace your children's drawings? Well, when my son draws on the iPad, the drawing is never lost. years from now, provided that he is still interested in drawing, he and I will be able to follow how his style has developed over the years.

That is myLife with the iPad. What's yourLife like?