April 25, 2010

Quick test: Blogging on the iPad

Inspired by a recent post on jkOnTheRun.com, I thought I'd try to compose and publish a post—complete with an image and a little rich HTML formatting—entirely from the iPad, using my MiFi for 3G as I might normally do in the field. My tools: Evernote for composing (it's free, saves its state when it quits, and syncs with desktops and the Web), and (as recommended by jkOnTheRun) LogMeIn Ignition, a $30 desktop remote app for iPhone and iPad (expensive, yes, but far more stable and easy to use than other, cheaper desktop remote apps that I've tried). The strategy (again, as suggested by the jkOnTheRun article): Compose on the iPad, paste the plain text into the Blogger.com interface via mobile Safari, then perform some (very minor) photo editing and apply finishing touches remotely on my MacBook Pro.

Why would I want to do this, you ask, when the process would be so much easier on my MacBook? Partially because I'm just curious to see if I can, but also to find out whether I could, in a pinch, put up a polished post with the iPad if I had to—say, if Apple HQ were to be attacked by a giant octopus while I'm on vacation in South Beach, with just the iPad at my disposal. (At a press event or a trade show, of course, I'd bring along my MacBook Air instead.)

All set? Then here we go...

Update: Well, the post itself looks just like I wanted it to, image and all, but the process was slow and fairly painstaking—definitely not something I'd want to do on a regular basis. The trickiest part was, of course, remoting in to my MacBook; as stable as LogMeIn is, the screen refresh rate over 3G is so slow that you must be very patient, waiting for five seconds or more for mouse clicks to register, windows to slide into place, and so on. Also, I can't find a way to remotely select more than a single word on a page; there's no obvious way to click and drag on a passage of text, or click and then Shift-click, and that's a problem when trying to add formatting in the Blogger interface. In the end, I found it was easier to add formatting with simple HTML tags while composing locally on the iPad.

That leaves dealing with images as the only compelling reason to remote in to the MacBook for blogging—and that worked reasonably well. The image I used here is a screenshot I snapped on the iPad; I then e-mailed it to myself, remoted in to the MacBook, pulled up the attachment in Mail, saved it to my Downloads directory, imported it into Photo, rotated it, shrunk it, exported it to the desktop, and then imported it into my post over Blogger's Web interface ... a workable, but multi-step process (not to mention the fact that the substantial bandwidth required for LogMeIn was murder on the MiFi's already so-so battery life).

The verdict: Blogging on the iPad with the help of a remote desktop app is certainly possible, but not recommended. A dedicated iPad blogging app (like the one for WordPress) would be the obvious solution; there is a $3 iPad app called BlogPress that works with Blogger that I'll probably try next, although it's been getting decidedly mixed reviews. Stay tuned.

April 24, 2010

My first month (well, almost) with the iPad

Well, I'll say this much—I ain't sending it back for a refund. About three weeks into my experience with the iPad, I've started to figure out where it fits in my digital life, and like many flashy new products that have come out of Cupertino over the years (like, you know, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone), the iPad is filling a need a didn't even know i had.

Now, I have the Web (well, almost all of it—the lack of Flash support is still annoying at times) at my beck and call, sitting right on my coffee table ... or in bed, or wherever the iPad happens to be sitting. Portable video is much bigger and sharper than ever before, and if I need to tap out a quick e-mail or even a blog post, yes, it's possible (albeit clunkier than on a full-sized laptop). Gaming on the go is no longer merely a postage stamp-sized experience, with some iPad games (Mirror's Edge, Zen Bound, The Pinball HD) rivaling the graphics and gameplay you'd find on a console. And the real game changer, as it turns out, is the iPad's stellar battery life—a solid 10 hours or so, meaning you can use the thing all day without bothering to plug it in.

A few days after I got the iPad, I broke down and bought Apple's iPad case as well; it's thin and a little ugly, but it's light and comes with a flap that props the tablet up at a good typing angle. Combined with my small vinyl sling bag and my Novatel MiFi from Sprint, the iPad is making for an awesome on-the-go companion; basically, I get all-day Web access, gaming, movies, communication, and even a little light productivity on something bigger than a 3.5-inch iPhone screen.

And yes ... some light productivity is indeed possible. An iPad app called Office2 offers both Word and Excel editing, along with Google Docs acces (viewing and editing), and I've also latched onto Evernote (the free version) for writing and desktop syncing. (Evernote also does a nice job of saving its state when it quits, perfect for jumping in and out of Safari for referencing a Web page.) There's also IM+ for instant messaging, and while there's still no Tweetie for iPad (or whatever Twitter ends up calling it), Twitterific works in a pinch. Finally, typing on the iPad's on-screen keyboard isn't nearly as awful as I initially feared; in fact, I'm typing on it right now, at a pretty reasonable clip. (I should point out, however, that I had to finish the formatting on my MacBook Pro; the composing window on Blogger.com doesn't work that well on the iPad, or at least not yet.)

The iPad was also great during my recent two-day stint in bed with the flu; it was my constant companion, serving up streaming movies via Netflix, plenty of Web browsing, a TV show or two, and e-mail—and again, the key was that I could use it all day without coming even close to needing a charge.

What's still missing? Some key apps, such as a better Twitter client, Docs to Go (Office2 is a little wonky), a real Facebook client, a decent blogging client (there's one out for WordPress, but not Blogger) and a faster RSS reader (NewsRack is reasonably slick, but updating the feeds can be a lengthy process; I'm holding out for Reeder). Multitasking will also be a huge plus once it arrives in the fall. A front-facing camera would, of course, be aces for video chat. And I'm still waiting for the big publishing houses to get their acts together and really wow us with a magazine formatted expressly for the iPad (with a reasonable subscription plan to match).

All that said, I'm far happier with the iPad than I ever imagined I'd be; like I said, there's no chance that I'd give it up now. And just wait until app developers really start taking advantage of the iPad's bigger screen and horsepower.

April 04, 2010

My new iPad: Still puzzling, but it's growing on me

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting (years of rumors and two months since the initial unveiling, capped by a late-afternoon UPS delivery), I finally have an iPad in my hot little hands...but I'm still not sure what to make of it.

Yes, purely on its own, the iPad is a thing of beauty. The 9.7-inch display is gorgeous, especially when watching HD videos. Web browsing is a joy, and talk about fast. But the iPad itself feels a bit heavy, and it's awkward to hold; I keep trying different ways to grip it, but haven't quite hit upon the right combination yet. It's not a laptop replacement—after all, there's no desktop, file directory, or third-party multitasking, and typing is still much faster on a physical keyboard—but at the same time, it's not as portable as my iPhone, and I'm frustrated that many of my favorite apps (Reeder, Tweetie, Facebook) haven't gotten the iPad treatment yet. (Yes, you can still run them in windowed mode, but what's the point of that?)

So, yes...using the iPad is a bit like settling into a new house, exciting and frustrating at the same time. Despite the frustration, though, I do keep getting the occassional flashes of "My God, this is brilliant" while using it. The Web does seem more touchable, closer, almost like I'm dipping my hands in it. I can really read with this thing. Watching movies on the vivid iPad screen is a revelation. It'll make an amazing travelling companion, and it's nice having it sitting on the coffee table, asleep but ready at a moment's notice. And once app developers really get started with the iPad...well, I really can't wait to see what they have in store.

Is the iPad necessary? Don't know yet. Is it an extravagance, as many (very angry) commenters are complaining? Well, sure, but so are 42-inch HDTVs; that doesn't mean you'll go to hell for wanting one. Is the iPad for everybody? Of course not (and hey, if you think it's utterly stupid and a waste of money, please, don't buy it). But despite my skepticism when it was first announced, the iPad—puzzling though it is, in terms of finding a place for it in one's digital life—is growing on me. (And yes, I wrote this post on the iPad.)