To iPad or not to iPad – part 3

Apple iPad (wi-fi) (from apple.com)
Apple iPad (wi-fi) (from apple.com)

Well I did take the iPad and BlueTooth (BT) keypad to a short conference a couple of weeks ago and it was a disaster unlike what I envisioned in Parts 1 & 2 of this saga.  It turns out that some WiFi logins don’t work with the iPad (not sure if this is “Flash” issue or not).  In any event, the iPad was rendered WiFi-less during the whole conference which made for an unconnected experience to say the least (recall that I don’t own a 3G version).

The hotel used T-Mobile for their WiFi connection.  I must have created my account at least 3 times and tried to log-in afterward at least 5 times (persistance occasionally pays but not this time). Each time the login screen hung and I never got in.  The conference had a different WiFi supplier but it had the same problem only this time all I had to do was to sign into the service with a conference supplied SSID&password.  No such luck.  The hotel gave me two free WiFi card keys for T-Mobile but I can’t use them.

I even tried some of the tricks that are on the web to get around this problem but none worked. Nuts!

The blog post from hell

Of course, I didn’t plan to write a blog post at the conference but I had the time and the muse struck.  So I whipped out my trusty iPhone, paired the BT keypad with the iPhone, used Notes and WordPress App (WP, available free) to create a new blog post.  I power typed it into the iPhone Notes app and copied and pasted into WP’s new post window.

I was always curious how to add media to posts via the WP app but anything on the iPhone including the photo library and camera photos were accessible as new media to be added to any post.  I had used my iPhone to earlier take some pictures from the conference and easily added these to the post.  The WordPress app uses the more primitive editing window (not WYSIWYG) but that was ok as I didn’t have a lot of fancy text layout.  What’s funny is that saving on the WP app was not the same as uploading it to my blog.  And once uploaded you had to change the post status to Published to get it externally visible.

Another option would have been to use the web and update the blog post through WordPress on Safari. I  can’t recall but last time when I used Safari & WordPress there were some scrolling incompatibilities (inability to scroll down into the post – flash maybe) and there were other nuisances, so I decided to try the WP app this time.

The only problem with using the iPhone & WP app to enter the post was that it was hard to check spellings and see the whole post to edit it properly.  Only really got to see a couple of (short) lines at a time in the iPhone WP app window and the WP app preview was not all that useful.

Needless to say, the post was published with numerous typos, mis-spellings, grammatical faux pas, etc. (so what’s different Ray?).   A few readers caught the issues and DMed me on Twitter which I picked up later that night.  I tried my best to fix them but it still had problems a day later when I got to my desktop.  For some unknown reason, it became my most  popular post – go figure.

Using the iPhone at the conference

Of course the iPhone 4 worked fine for emails, twitter, facebook and other social media given its screen and soft keypad limitations during the conference.  And I was still able to take notes with the iPad I just couldn’t send them anyplace and would have liked to insert them into the post as an outline but couldn’t be done.

There is just no way to get data out of an iPad without WiFi or 3G access.  Maybe if I could take a screen shot with the iPhone and then use an OCR app to interpret it into a Notes item and then I could get the text into iPhone – but I didn’t have an OCR app at the time. Also, it smacks of a Rube Goldberg contraption.

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I would say the WP app on the iPad looks a lot better than the one on the iPhone but much of that is due to the increased screen space.  If everything was working fine I probably wouldn’t have had as many problems using iPad WP app to enter in the post.  Of course I would have had to mail the photos from the iPhone to the iPad to enter them into the post but this is standard practice with the iPad…

There’s another conference coming up (it’s conference season here in the US) and I am NOT taking the iPad. Too bad, my back hurts already just thinking about it.  I foresee either a 3G iPad or the Mac Air laptop sometime in my near future but for now on it’s lugging laptops.

Just not sure if I shouldn’t take the BT keypad to take notes on the iPhone!?

PS. Saw Rob Peglar and he had a Verizon Dongle that provided a local WiFi for his iPad and 4 other “close” friends.  Maybe that’s what I should invest in?

To iPad or not to iPad – part 2

iPad with BlueTooth Keyboard
iPad with BlueTooth Keyboard

(Length post warning – 1200+ words)

We had discussed using the iPad in a prior post and although, it was uncertain up to the last minute, I ended up taking the iPad to a conference early this month.  My uncertainty was all related to getting our monthly newsletter out.

The newsletter is mainly a text file  but it links to a number of Storage Intelligence (StorInt(tm) reports) PDFs which reside on my website.  Creating and editing these documents is done using Microsoft Word.  Oftentimes the edits to these documents involve tracked changes which aren’t handled very well by iPad’s Pages app (they’re all accepted).

In addition, these .DOC files are converted to .PDFs and uploaded to the website.  While Pages handles importing Doc files and publishing PDF files from them, I am still unclear how to upload a Pages PDF file to a website. There are many FTP apps for the iPad/iPhone but none seem able to upload a PDF file out of Pages App.

All this was going to require the use of a laptop but I finally got all the file edits in and before I left, was able to send out the newsletter.

Twitter troubles

While at the conference I noticed that there really isn’t a proper Twitter client for the iPad.  Most desktop/laptop Twitter clients allow one to see their Twitter stream while composing a Tweet.  But the free Twitter/TweetDeck/Twitteriffic Apps on the iPad all seem to want to obscure the Twitter stream(s) when one enter’s a new tweet – probably assuming one’s using the soft keypad which would obscure the stream anyway.  Nonetheless, such actions make responding to Twitter queries more difficult than necessary.

Docs debacle

As always, loading up my current working set (client information, office doc’s, PDFs, etc.) was cumbersome. I have taken to using a special email address, only used for this purpose and creating one email per client which works alright.

Working on a project with iPad Pages App worked ok, but:

  • The font/special characters changes between .Doc and Pages files seems awkward.  For example, I was using the large bullet on Pages and when I transformed this file to a DOC file, the bullet became HUGE.
  • Also the font that Pages uses defaults to something different than Microsoft Word’s defaults.
  • Watermark images didn’t seem to be as transparent when converting between Doc’s and Pages

Mostly these were nuisances that I had to deal with when importing a file from iPad to desktop or vice versa.

However, working on one project I realized I needed some metrics I normally keep in a spreadsheet on my desktop/laptop.  I ended up calling home office and walking my associate through accessing the information and telling me what I needed to know.  I also asked them to send that spreadsheet to me so that I would have it for future reference.

BlueTooth blessings/bunglings

At the conference I was blessed with a table to sit at during the keynotes (passing myself off as a blogger) which made using the BlueTooth (BT) keypad and iPad much easier.  I also used the combination on the airplane on the way home and found the combination much more flexible than a laptop.  Although it’s unclear whether this would work as well sitting on my lap in normal conference seating.

Also I really wish there was some sort of other indicators/light(s) on the BT keypad.  It only has one green led and this makes for rather limited communications.  I tried to connect it to the iPad on the plane ride out but it failed.  I thought perhaps the batteries had run down and needed to be replaced.  When I got to my destination I tried again after looking up what the BT keypad green led and it worked just fine.  FYI:

  • A flashing green led means the BT keypad is pairing with a target devicep
  • To turn the BT keypad on, push and hold the side button until the green led starts to blink.
  • To turn the BT keypad off, push and hold the side button until the green led comes on and eventually off.

For some reason this was difficult to find online but it was probably in the printed doc that came with the keyboard (filed away and never seen again).  More lights might help, like green for on/yellow for discoverable, red for (going) off.  Or maybe if I just need to use it more often. I may have tried to pair it with my iPhone which didn’t help  (can’t be sure, also unclear how to clear it’s prior pairing).

Nevertheless, it might make sense to carry some extra batteries and/or their battery charger for just these types of problems.  There were quite a few people who commented on the BT keyboard/iPad combination.  They seemed unaware that it could be used with the iPad

Spellcheck saga

The other problem I had was with the iPad’s spell checker.  It turns out there are two levels of spell checking in the iPad and they are both active within Pages.  One can be disabled at the Pages Tools=>Check Spelling and the other is under iPad settings at General=>Keyboard=>Auto-Correction.   I was able to quickly find the Pages version but it took some effort to uncover the Keyboard one.

Nonetheless, while pounding in conference notes, I often employ vendor acronyms.  Oftentimes the spell checker/auto-corrector would transform these acronyms to something completely different.  Of course my typing is not perfect, so my other issue is that I miss-type words, which after auto-correction had little relation to what I was trying to type.

I realize that this is an attribute of soft keypad corrections, probably coming from the iPhone where often people mis-type due to the size of the keys.  However, when using the iPad and especially when using the BT keypad it would be nice if auto-correction was turned off, by default.

Other iPad incredulity

I was surprised to see some analysts with both an iPad and a laptop (and probably an iPhone/Blackberry).  Personally, I can’t see why anyone would want both other than for more screen space.  But I was a bit jealous when I had to change Apps to tweet something or check email/websites while inputing notes in real time.

Also, I was afraid depending on hotel/conference WIFI would place me at a disadvantage to other analysts/bloggers.  Ultimately, I found that for my use of internet (mostly for Twitter and email) during conferences, WIFI was adequate and I always had my iPhone if it didn’t work.

After 2hrs+ of keynotes and another 2hrs+ of presentations, I was running low on iPad power.  So, I started to power the iPad off between notes and tweets.  Funny thing, all I had to do to power on the screen was to start typing on the BT keypad – cool.  As I recall, it occasionally missed the first key stroke or so but worked fine after that.  Following lunch about an hour later, I pulled out my power cord extension and plugged it into the table outlet and kept it on for the rest of the day.  Thankfully, I remembered to bring the extension cord (that came with the laptop charger).

Well that’s about it, I have another short conference next week and will probably try again to bring the iPad but that pesky monthly newsletter is due out again…

To iPad or not to iPad?

iPad (from wikipedia.org)
iPad (from wikipedia.org)

I am going to a big conference next week, 2 full days out of the office. In times of yore, I would haul my trusty Macbook along and lugging it with me on both days as I move from pavilion to briefing hall, from lunch back to pavilion and from beer hall to bed.

A couple of months ago, I tried using an iPad for a different conference. I purchased an Apple Bluetooth (BT) keyboard and carried it with the iPad for most of the show.  With the BT keypad, power input was just as fast as on the laptop and even faster as I didn’t need to boot anything up.

The other nice thing about the BT keyboard with the iPad is you have fine cursor controls (arrow keys) which can be used to position input pointer.  I did find having to take my hand off the keyboard and touch the screen for some clicking action disconcerting and there were some iPad applications that didn’t handle the arrow keys appropriately but other than that, it worked great for power input, answering emails, and web searches.

The internal, soft iPad keyboard worked ok but wasn’t nearly as fast and didn’t support Dvorak.  Also the soft keyboard in portrait mode only provides 6 lines of pages text which makes power input with feedback more difficult.  In any case, I would use it to rip off quick emails, tweets, and other short stuff which worked well enough. I still took notes on paper (probably to old now to take notes on the iPad/laptop).  Having the keyboard available with a moments delay, made it easy to decide to take it out to use it when I had the time or leave it in the backpack when I didn’t.

Another positive note was that the iPad took up very little desk space.  Most briefing halls nowadays have these smallish retractable desk tops that can barely hold a legal pad let alone a laptop.  The iPad fit these postage stamp desktops just fine.

Not sure how to quantify the weight advantage of the iPad+BT Keyboard vs. Macbook without weighing them but it is significant.  Given all the junk I carry along with the laptop vs. the iPad+BT keyboard, the iPad/BT keyboard wins hands down.  It’s almost like I am not carrying a computer at all.

Problems with using the iPad

There are a couple of web applications (e.g., Wordress visual editor) that seem dependent on flash to work properly, which made using the iPad to create blog posts problematic.  Also, scrolling in WordPress post editor seems to be a flash application as well which made dealing with any long post edits problematic at best.  Wordpress has an iPhone/iPad application which is just as good as the non-visual editor in web-based WordPress which comes in handy at these times.

Now in all honesty, I haven’t tried these in a while and these may not be flash issues as much as iPad issues. Nonetheless, I will guarantee that you will run into some websites that you use in your daily activities that use flash and won’t work.  With the iPad you just will need to forego these websites and find alternatives.

In the office I am a heavy TweetDeck user.  For some reason this application doesn’t work that well for the iPad. I have the latest version and all but find using Twitterific or the official Twitter App a better solution on the iPad.

I purchased the WiFi version of the iPad and iPad’s do not come with Ethernet plug-ins.   Now most conference centers these days have WiFi, but it may not always work that well.  Also some hotels only have WiFi in certain locations and not in the hotel rooms.  All this makes having internet access somewhat sporadic. But you can always buy the 3G version if you want to and I always have my iphone for internet access in a pinch (assuming ATT has adequate conference center/hotel coverage).

I was told that the iPad power converter and connection would also charge up my 3G iPhone but this turned out not to work.  Luckily, I brought along the power converter for the 3G iPhone by mistake and the cable connection between the power converter and iPad worked just fine for the iPhone.  Also the cable from the power adaptor to iPad is somewhat short, so bring the extension cord in order to be able to work with the iPad while its charging.

I ended up purchasing the Apple case for the iPad. I wanted to be able to have it upright portrait or landscape while I was typing on the keyboard, have it slant upward while using the soft keypad and otherwise lie flat. The Apple iPad case does all this without problem.

Microsoft Office documents

Word documents get converted into Pages documents pretty easily but you lose all change tracking, some of the formatting, and other esoteric stuff.  It’s probably ok for internal documents but I find putting together a final document using Pages still a problem. But  I must say I am a novice here.  Also converting Pages documents back into Word seems easy enough.

I have spent even less time with Numbers and Keynote but they seem adequate for minor stuffconvert .XLS and .PPT files to Numbers and Keynote files (but not back to .XLS and .PPT) and if I used them more probably ok for much more sophisticated work.  There are other applications that seem to provide better iPhone support for Microsoft Office editing but I have yet to try them on either the iPad or iPhone.  Also, beware that converting Numbers documents to Excel and Keynote to PowerPoint require Mac desktop versions of these programs.

Document availability is somewhat problematic.  I met one person who emailed work documents to themselves to solve this problem.  Email works ok as long as they don’t scroll out of iPad (iPad keeps the latest 200 emails max for any account which includes spam).  For this purpose, I used a not-so-well-known email address and emailed my current work documents to that account.  iTunes supports a way to copy files to and from the Mac or iPad which seems painless enough but the email interface worked just as well for me and I didn’t have to synch up to have the files transferred.

Beware of changing headers and footers in Pages and trying to alter them in Word once you get it back to the office.  It never worked for me.  I had to copy the text of the document to another fresh Word file and work the header/footers in that.

iPad security

Mac based passwords, logins, and security characteristics are a bit difficult and time-consumming to transfer to the iPad.  You can manually load them in for any websites and applications you need but there is no way to transfer a whole keychain from Mac to iPad.  As such, if you neglect to transfer security credentials for an important website to iPad your out of luck.  Now there are some apps that profess to being able to transfer and maintain keychains on the iPhone or the iPad but I haven’t tried them yet.

Other iPad security aspects are even more problematic.  The iPad can be setup to require entry of a 4 numeric character string to access it.  Another setting will erase the contents of the iPad after 10 failed logins attempts. And MobileMe probably supports some way to erase an iPad that’s out of your hands (it does this for iPhones so I would think the same service would be available for the iPad but I haven’t looked into it).

But despite all that, I don’t feel the iPad is as secure as the Macbook. For one thing, I encrypt the data on the Macbook and the system password can be alphanumeric and considerably longer than 4 characters.  In any case the harddrive can be removed from the Macbook but without the passkey, the data on the drive would be useless.  In contrast the SSD-Flash memory on the iPad could be pulled out and analyzed without any trouble whatsoever and with proper understanding of IOS storage formatting be read in the clear.

Also the fact that its smaller and lighter it could easily be forgotten and left behind making it more lose-able.  And it’s certainly more prone to being stolen because it’s smaller and lighter.

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At this point I will probably  use the iPad for the upcoming VMworld conference just to see if it works as well the 2nd time as it did the first.  It’s only two full days, what can go wrong?