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Traveling with the iPad

We drove to Virginia last week. Of course I brought my iPad to keep in touch with customers. I don't just mean email; I used ssh several times. That was fine over 3G but if I had needed RDP, Webex or VNC, I think I would have had to wait for a good wireless connection.

I made some use of the Beat The Traffic app, though the only backups we ran into were at the George Washington Bridge and again at the Delaware, neither of which were worth avoiding. Once we were near our hotel, I used the GasBook app to find good gasoline prices.

As my wife drives (she has back problems and finds the drivers seat more comfortable), I had plenty of pad-time, using almost 100MB of 3G data going down and another 80MB coming back. Most of that was from accessing maps - every access to Beat The Traffic ate up at least 2MB. Checking email and trivial browsing uses very little.

One page I did read while on the road was this Apple iPad: The five biggest annoyances. Although I can certainly agree that there is plenty of room for improvement, I found myself laughing at some of the complaints.

The impractical screen

Within a few minutes of use, the iPad's glass display gets fingerprints all over it and the screen is hideous to look it. Combine that with the fact that the glossy display has a wicked glare problem that makes it difficult to use outdoors and in office buildings with overhead florescent lights

Actually, under most lighting conditions, it's hard to see fingerprints. You usually need to tilt the screen just right to see any. More important is that the much mentioned difficulties in sunlight are actual minor. Our trip down was on a bright, sunny day and sunlight poured onto me quite often, but I never had any real problem reading the screen. Yes, at times I could see my own reflection behind whatever was on the screen, and there is more reflection if the screen background is dark, but at worst I had to turn up the brightness and tilt the screen slightly one way or another to read. That hardly qualifies as "difficult".

At no time did I ever turn the brightness above 50%. I am sure there must be conditions where it would become hard or even nearly impossible to read, but I think most of what is written about glare and sun is politically inspired bunk.

After arriving, we had lunch with our daughter at an outdoor cafe. That was in sunlight also, but we passed around the iPad to show pictures, used it to get directions to a nearby park and looked up several curiosity questions that came up in conversation. The supposed uselessness of the iPad while outdoors is a myth. Oh, yes, fingerprints are more noticeable in daylight. That's why I carry a little microfiber cloth, which wipes off every print very quickly and easily.

By the way, these things are still new and scarce enough to attract attention in public. Necks were craning at other tables as we passed this around.

It's awkward to hold

I have yet to experience that. I won't insist that could never be true, but it hasn't been yet. One thing I noted on our trip down: unlike my Macbook Pro, an iPad doesn't burn your lap.

Of course it is much lighter than a laptop, too. I have noted before that I had trouble finding a book that weighs less than the iPad. Books can sometimes become awkward, especially when they are thick and heavy, but the lighter they are, the less likely that is; an iPad is a very light book.

But you don't type on a book, do you? I'll certainly concede that if you insist upon being a two fingered typist, you could fairly use the word "awkward". I'm a two or three finger hunt and *redacted*, so using the onscreen keyboard with one hand seems natural to me, but maybe some folks just can't adjust. I may not be imaginative enough, but I'm not sure there is any solution to this. Some users will always find this unsatisfactory. For me, it is not an issue.

Right now I am lying in bed waiting for my wife to wake up. I have the iPad propped up with a pillow and am typing this sentence with my left hand. Most of what is above was done with my right hand while facing the other way. I don't find any of this to be awkward - it definitely would be awkward to use my laptop here; perhaps very awkward.

I just don't get the complaints - it may be clumsier than a phone, but it is usually better than a computer!

This is related to the "Docking in portrait mode" complaint. The main reason to dock is to use a physical keyboard. Real typists will feel the need for that more often, but even I sometimes link up a Bluetooth keyboard. If I am going to be sitting, the real keyboard makes sense and I can certainly agree that using the Apple Docking Station might not make sense. So don't use it! Buy something else that does meet your needs - it's an accessory, dammit!

The PC umbilical cord

To do everything you need to do on the iPad, you still need to connect it regularly to a PC or a Mac. You have to connect in order to sync up your latest podcasts and media files. You need to sync to get OS updates. You need to sync in order to get your latest business documents on the iPad.

This isn't entirely accurate and I really don't see it as a real complaint anyway. There are apps that answer these needs in most situations. I'd agree that over the air sync would be better; my bet is that will come.

And of course it did.

Lack of Adobe Flash

I usually haven't missed Flash. However, we wanted to look up the menu at a restaurant we were considering and could not because it was done in Flash. We had to revert to twentieth century technology and call them. Yes, that is a bit annoying, but I agree with Steve: Flash is a crappy thing that should never be used on websites anyway. Who knows how this will all shake out; Apple may be forced into Flash or websites en masse could stop using it. Only time will tell. If the Android devices do well and support Flash, Apple may have to eat crow. Regardless, the lack of Flash is not a constant annoyance. It comes up, but for me, not often.


Overall, an iPad is a great traveling companion. A laptop would have been much more difficult to use in the car, would not have had the battery life, and would have been heavier to lug along when we walked. Of course an iPhone or similar device gives some of the same advantages, but the larger screen of the iPad has advantages, particularly so when accessing my clients remotely.

Of course no device is perfect. If I weren't so cheap, I'd have an iPad, an iPhone, an Android Incredible and probably a few netbooks in the suitcase. No doubt I'd still have complaints somewhere. However, having the iPad with me definitely made for the best car trip I have ever had.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Tue May 25 01:56:53 2010: 8632   sk43999


In order to connect to my office machine while on the road I rely on a cocktail-mix of utilities:

kerberos kinit - to obtain a ticket
openssh, a version with gssapi compiled in
vnc client

I run ssh in the background with port-forwarding enabled, then run vncviewer in the foreground and use the ssh tunnel to connect to the server on the office machine.

Complicated, but keeps the security gods happy.

The cocktail mix runs great on my netbook (an old ASUS eee PC, 2.5 lbs) and even on my Nokia tablet (0.5 lbs). The latter required that I download the SDK and cross-compile the programs for ARM, but it actually worked the first time.

Could I get the above running on an iPad? Including running ssh as a background process?

Tue May 25 11:00:17 2010: 8634   TonyLawrence



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