Before the iPad came out, lots of people argued that it was just an underpowered net book that would be another Apple flop, rather like the Newton, or a marketing-only success powered by the willingness of the Apple fanbois [sic] to buy anything with the Apple logo on it. After all, wasn’t it just an oversized iPod Touch?
More than 3 million sales later, the iPad, with an associated boost to Mac sales, has propelled Apple to #3 computer manufacturer in the world. The argumentative continue to argue that it can’t replace a desktop and is reconciled to being an expensive toy for the selfish. However, in real life iPads are making their way into business.
Almost the first thing people ask me when they see my iPad in a meeting is “can it really replace paper?” 1 That’s my favourite question, because it was my main reason for buying it in the first place.
A little context. Every since I stepped into corporate life in the UK, I’ve been faced with swathes of attachments that have to be printed off before meetings. Most of the papers have no life beyond the meeting. This is not a public sector waste issue. It was exactly the same in the private sector, and it was exactly the same working for an arts organisation. It’s also the same for a host of voluntary organisations and charities I’ve been involved with. It is a facet of the wired age: the more we use our computers, the more we produce documents, and the only way we know how to use them is by printing them off.
Of course, most of us are gradually learning to read our emails on-screen, read PDFs on screen, and make as many notes as we can directly onto the computer. While we’re at our desks. Away from our desks, it’s a different matter. A laptop is fine for working on the train, and ok for working at home. But take one into a meeting, and the picture changes. Some companies have, of course, so embraced digocracy that all meeting rooms are equipped with specially designed tables to keep laptops out of sight but fully active, with good protocols for sharing data and switching from one laptop to another for the main screen. But this is unusual, and, the last time I was in such a meeting room, we mainly used paper and the person tasked with presenting struggled to get their laptop hooked up.
In a directors’ meeting, putting up a laptop is like putting up a barrier. People can’t tell whether you are looking at your documents, doing your emails, playing solitaire, or a mixture of all three. In a full Board meeting, putting up a laptop (unless you’re doing a presentation) is a gross breach of etiquette. In a one to one meeting, it’s just plain weird.
I used to use a PalmPilot — back in the days of the Palm V whose battery went on and on, and the form fitted neatly and simply into a jacket pocket. For some reason, the market dictated that Palms had to go into colour, become fatter like iPaqs, and have shorter and shorter battery life. Eventually I gave up.
The PalmPilot was great for taking notes, though it did annoy some people who assumed I was playing solitaire. But it was no good for reading documents. Just too small, and not widely compatible. For some reason the iPhone never bothered with handwriting recognition, which I’ve always felt was a missed opportunity. It’s great for reading emails and websites in corridors, and for quickly grabbing information, but if you use it in a meeting more generally people again believe you are doing email. Many boards ban mobile phones altogether. And rightly.
So, the iPad. The form is big enough to read documents. Use something like Penultimate 2, and you can write notes as you go. How good? Very good. I’ve been using the iPad for all meetings for which I’ve received electronic documents since the day it arrived. No-one has yet accused me of typing out my emails (lack of a physical keyboard a real boon for that), and, as people can see over your shoulder, they know you aren’t playing games. Unless you are of course, in which case you might as well take a Sudoku book into the meeting. But don’t expect to keep your job long in that case.
There are a few issues that seem like they might be troubling, but aren’t. And there are a couple of things that could do with resolving.
First off, battery life is really, really good. Unless you use a bluetooth keyboard, which drains it rather more quickly, the iPad really is good for ten hours. Long enough even for the most exhausting meetings. Second, glare from the screen is nowhere near the problem you might imagine. You can reposition the iPad as much as you like, and no-one really minds. If you keep moving a laptop, people ask if you’re alright.
On the down-side, Word compatibility is not 100%. The big issue is when people send you Word documents that have other documents embedded. The iPad can’t read these in Mail: it just replaces the embedded document with a file name. Not at all helpful. The result is that you have to manually save each of the files on a lap/desktop before hand and either email them to yourself or drag them across on something like Files HD. This is cumbersome and annoying. I’ve actually just had to ask the person who sends me these documents to send them as separate attachments. This isn’t really a big issue, as they are the only person I’ve ever met who does do this. But it’s nonetheless not full compatibility.
Also, if you’ve got documents in an older version of Apple’s own iWork, the iPad’s iWork won’t open them. That’s right. It happily imports Word, PowerPoint and Excel (though you can read these in Mail without importing them into anything else), but it insists you buy the up to date version of Apple’s own software if you want to read your iWork files.To me, that’s a bit cheap and un-Apple like. Never mind.
The other slight gripe is that if you shell out for the VGA adaptor, you discover that (just like the iPhone), it only displays from particular apps. YouTube, Keynote, probably a couple of others. But you can’t put up an email, a web-page, or (for example) an egg-timer. That’s a bit cheap, too.
All in all, I’ve worked out that I will save more than twice the cost of the iPad in the first year by not printing stuff out. I won’t gain all the benefit of that, as work won’t contribute to the iPad costs (and it shouldn’t). But I’ll certainly get a lot of benefit: even voluntary organisations that pay mileage would baulk at reimbursing for the cost of paper and toner.
Verdict: a Winner.