Two Months with iPad as My Computer

For the past three months I have been using a 16GB iPad as my only computer device. I’m on a minimalist kick, and it was one of the 15 things I owned. I originally loved it, but the details ruined the experiment.

Well, not the details, a giant fucking problem ruined the experiment.

I like writing, and the touch interface just wasn’t cutting it, so I purchased the bluetooth keyboard for when I wanted to write posts. It was pretty brilliant as a setup. On my last flight I was forced to check my bag, and in the rough handling the keyboard was turned on, keys were pressed, the ipad took this as incorrect password guesses and it locked.

I had all sorts of screenshots and apps to show off, those are all gone, because once your ipad gets in this mode, the only way to get it out is to restore it to the computer it was last synced with. I, not owning that computer, had no choice but to delete everything.

Delete everything.

Everything gone. All my photos from three months of traveling: gone. My notes: gone. My unpublished blog posts: gone. Maps: gone.

Luckily, I don’t trust Apple a bit and didn’t delete the pictures from the camera. Everything else is gone, which is too bad. But so it goes.

I’m looking at Rocky Mountain National Park in the distance on a flight from Denver to Portland, happily typing on my new MacBook Air. It is really what I wished the iPad was, an air with touch screen.

I started this post saying the details were what really got to me.

Looking Like a Crazy Man

When you have a bluetooth keyboard on your lap, you can’t fit the iPad. When you are on the road, the perfect table is elusive. Usually you find a couch or a single chair. With no place to put your ipad, you set it next to you, or in your bag as you type on a post looking like a crazy man that is so addicted to his computer that on vacation he brings a keyboard to type away as therapy.

App Store Approval Hell

The apps are great but there are lots of crashes. A fix to a website can be pushed within an hour but to an app could take weeks. The wordpress app was by far the worst. I can’t tell you the amount of time I have lost from app crashes. Seems like the restrictive approval process is really the bottleneck here.

Not Mobile But You Are

Forced mobile sites in Safari was the most annoying part of being on the iPad. If I went to my bank site, or united.com, I had a very streamlined site. This is great, until you need something you know is in the real site, like editing a google doc (you can’t) or seeing something in flash. The blocking of flash wasn’t a huge problem, the mobile site push was.

A few updates to apps ruined the experience for me. I loved reading the NYTimes front page and opinion, which was very easy. An update to the app put it behind a paywall and made me regret updating it.

Apps I loved and couldn’t get enough of:

  • ESPN. They have a video preview of games, as well as recaps. Amazing to be on a beach and watch a huge hit by the Oregon special teams. The app builders need a special prize for their work, one in which there is champaign and plastic covered locker rooms.
  • Words With Friends. Keeping in touch with friends on the road is best done through tis scrabble like game.
  • Real Soccer 10. Great game, perfect 10 minute break
  • Google Maps. Saved my tail more times than I thought was possible.

So ends the experiment. A success and complete failure.

iPad as a toy? Oh yeah, best product out there. iPad as a computing device. When things go wrong, they go really, really wrong.


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  • http://shawnb.tumblr.com sabernar

    Knowing you didn't have a computer to back up to, you never sync'd to the cloud? Mobile Me? Dropbox? Any one of a thousand apps that allow you to sync your notes with their website? That really sucks that you lost so much – I sincerely feel horrible for you (a similar thing happened to me once, but at a smaller scale, so I'm at least moderately familiar to the feelings).

  • http://pmerrill.com/ paulmerrill

    Now comes the hassle of selling that iPad…

  • http://twitter.com/thomasborowski Thomas Borowski

    The thing about not knowing where to put the iPad when you're using an external keyboard is probably the single biggest contributor to the iPad not being a device for getting serious work done. It really emphasizes the design of traditional notebooks, with the display and the keyboard held together by a hinge (what a brilliant concept, eh?).

    The 11-inch MacBook Air has all the portability of the iPad, but it also has a great keyboard, a full-blown OS and tons of great software. It's kind of hard to miss the touch screen on such a cool little machine.

  • http://twitter.com/rmp135 Ryan

    It's a bummer that you lost your data but I do have a couple of points of contention I wish to bring up. There's a commonly held belief that if you don't have a backup of your data (on the cloud or otherwise) that data simply isn't important. Like sabernar said, there's many ways you could have done that. Second off, the iPad clearly isn't meant to be a full time PC replacement but an in between 'I just need to check this real quick' device. A cool experiment to see how far you could go, but you must have seen this coming from a mile away and to not have any safety nets was a huge oversight on your part. Thirdly, the bluetooth keyboard isn't meant to go everywhere with you, it's an accessory on a commonly used desk or writing surface (coffee table for example), Apple chose not to cater specifically for writers but for the general user as a whole and an on screen keyboard does that just fine. Lastly, when your computer goes tits up and you get locked out. Well, you lose everything and you can do little but shake an angry fist and restore from a backup. I agree that the keyboard switching the iPad on and incorrectly entering a passcode is a bad design choice but like I said, that keyboard is not meant to be connected 24/7 anyway.

    Sorry if I went on a little too long, just a few things that caught my attention.

  • tekgrrl

    If you had turned Bluetooth off when you weren't using it, this wouldn't have happened. And your battery life would last a lot longer anyway. I've had issues with my MBP “stealing” my connection from my iPad, so I started to make a habit of only turning on Bluetooth when it's time to use it.

    Pretty cool thing you're doing though — sucks to have to do a restore to get it back.

  • http://twitter.com/andreestaonline andré carvalho

    this is the worst article on iPad i've read so far. i want to know why he put the keyboard turned on inside a bag, it is really the work of a genius! the problem he gets, was his only fault. and i believe that everybody knows that the iPad was not meant to be a replacement for a latpot.

  • Jimgoings

    Did I read this right? If you had turned off the keyboard or disabled bluetooth, the experiment would have been successful?

    Regarding the keyboard issue: did you try the iPad dock? It's a keyboard with an ipod dock attached. Works great on my desk for taking quick notes when I don't want to type on the screen. Also – no batteries and no bluetooth to worry about.

    Also, as someone else already pointed out, dropbox should have been used. Dropbox+Goodreader = reading and syncing heaven. Notes could have been done with Evernote (again syncing to the cloud).

    Primary cause of failure: ignorance of the user. Any chance you'll learn from this and try again?

  • andrewhyde

    It was turned off, got accidentally turned on in transit.

  • andrewhyde

    Keyboard was turned off. Got turned on somehow in transit.

    If that didn't happen, there would have been a mixed review. Quite a nice device, the few flaws glare though.

  • andrewhyde

    I synced most things, but there is a lot you can't, like pinpoints on maps. I think I ended up losing 3 posts and a few photos.

  • andrewhyde

    Sold quite quickly!

  • andrewhyde

    Loving my air so far.

    But when you say that I can't figure out how to communicate 'air' and not 'error'

  • andrewhyde

    Never fun to lose data.

  • Jimgoings

    I see. The dock would have been a great thing then. :) Basically the same thing as the keyboard you were using, only with a little connector on it for the iPad (which doubles as a stand). That way you only have to hold the keyboard and not both.

    You are correct about the annoyance of sites that force the mobile version of their sites on you. Some have an option to use the full version, but the ones that don't drive me crazy on the iPad.

  • tekgrrl

    If the keyboard gets turned on, no big deal. It's the Bluetooth that I'm referring to turning off. Keep Bluetooth setting on your iPad/Mac off until needed and problem solved.

    I transport my BT keyboard daily in my pack and just little bumps can switch it on fairly easily, even in a sleeve case. By making sure the devices themselves (the iPad/Mac/etc) always have bluetooth off except when in use, it doesn't kill the battery as badly.

    Enjoy your new Mac though. I enjoyed reading your blog. :)

  • andrewhyde

    Oh I see now. That makes sense. Should have done that.

    Thanks for commenting / reading!

  • http://www.kadavy.net/ kadavy

    So tragic that you lost all of that stuff, but I guess the new Airs came out right on time.

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  • http://www.taylordavidson.com/writing/ Taylor Davidson

    I loved the idea of embracing simplicity after you showed me the setup, but after hearing some of the little quirks I wondered how long the test would last. Bummed you had to lose all that data, though.

  • Solardrift

    I just switched on my ipad and am shocked to see that one of my notes is gone…

    Not jsut any note though…

    I had been writing on this one for the past few months as a journal. Months of ideas, musing, and journaling GONE! For no apparent reason!

    I am gutted! And there seems to be no way of restoring 'lost' notes. I know 100% that I didn't delete it. So all Ipad users please beware and back up often!

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