Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The truth about using your iPad as a (business) laptop replacement

I'm going to assume that you're at least moderately like me.

That you do the majority of your business computing on a PC. That the list of things you need to do includes email and web, Microsoft Office documents, PDFs and that you need to manage your diary and be able to present at meetings.

I'm also going to assume that, like me, you would like the technology you use to work with a minimum of fuss and fit into the way you currently work. That you don't want to have to re-write your working practices for the sake of one item of technology.

As you may have spotted from my past blog post, I'm now using an iPad. What I'm trying out is replacing the netbook (an Acerbic Aspire One D150, running Windows 7 Ultimate) that I use when I'm out of the office for meetings and presentations with this iPad to see if it can be a contender.

The fact that I'm writing this post on it is a positive sign, but isn't the whole story. There are a few truths about the iPad, it's app security and data management model and the Apple walled garden that have a significant impact.

Let me explain.

An iPad, for all the similarities is not like a desktop or laptop computer. This difference is inherent in the underlying way that it handles data. Your desktop computer provides a unified filesystem which underlays the applications that you use. You save files there, from any application that you use, and any other application can see them (even if it can't open them). Built into this filing system is the ability to handle a variety of types of media such as local and network drives, cdroms, sd cards.

The data storage on your iPad or iPhone doesn't follow that model, but exists in secure silos with limited capability to uniformly connect with other data resources on the device itself, let alone external data sources.

The upshot of this is, that you need to engage the facility of one or more online data storage and transfer services to get the files that you need to work with on or off your iPad.

QuickOffice HD is a good example of an app that is built to work within these constraints. It is an app able to create, view and modify Microsoft Office documents. Built into the app is the ability to connect to online file transfer services ( I'm using Drop Box ) as a vector for transferring your work to and from your iPad.

Not perfect, but a reliable and workable solution, but one where you need to change your working practices to enable you to complete tasks that would normally have a simpler solution.

For example: I'm going to a meeting, so I want to take my credentials PowerPoint and some other documents with me.

PC centric solution - I connect to the share holding the documents I want, copy them to a location of my choosing on my laptop and know that I can choose which application I will use to display the files later on. I could even just put them on a USB stick and use them direct from that storage device.

iPad centric solution - I plan which apps I want to be able to use to work with or display the files that I'm taking, I upload the files to the online transfer service that is compatible with the app(s) I choose. From within those apps, I then download the files to that local storage accessible by that app. It is only in a few circumstances that apps can share data, so if you want the same file available in two apps, yes, you may have to download it twice.

But let me balance this a little: it's a bit of a hassle, but it does work, and whilst not a suitable replacement for the computer you do your 3D animation work on and iPad can offer a different solution for general business tasks and can provide a novel platform for presentations.

And you should also note that I've chosen to write this on my iPad rather than anything else.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad