I had a chance to get some hands on time with an iPad the other day. Like everyone else, I thought it was really cool at first. I mean, imagine the possibilities. But, then as reality sat in, I could only actually imagine two possibilities (games and reading), neither of which justifies a $100 device, let alone a $500 one.
Now, I am sure that for certain people, the iPad or a touch-pad tablet computer of some sort might eventually be very useful. However, for right now, all I see is a really expensive technology gizmo whose “big ideas” are all really just gimmicks when you get right down to it. The iPad may be great for techie types who surf the Internet during meetings, but for a freelance writing business, the value is very limited.
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iPad Size Makes It Useless
The problem is not with the snazzy iPad interface, nor with the applications offered. The problem is also not with the features the iPad has or the functionality that the iPad lacks. (And, yes, Adobe Flash is a big, fat, piece of junk that causes crashes, battery drain, and overheating.) These things seem to be mostly up to task for a device of this kind.
The main problem that sinks the iPad as a usable writer’s tool is its size. This seems counterintuitive. After all, one of the big selling points of the iPad is its small size and light weight. The iPad is much lighter than most laptops and smaller than most of them too. It is also thinner than a netbook.
So, what is the problem with the iPad’s size?
After you get past the gee-whiz factor, the reality of the world is that when it comes to size, there are really only a handful of meaningful differences. These size categories are the ones that determine how any device, electronic gadget or otherwise, is used in your day-to-day life. Some things are not portable at all while other things can be carried with you everywhere (your car keys). In between are various levels of portability such as:
- Fits in the trunk of a car.
- Can be carried in suitcase.
- Can be carried in backpack.
- Can be carried in briefcase or messenger bag.
- Can be carried in fanny pack.
- Can be carried in purse.
- Can be carried in pocket.
When Size Matters
The easiest way to see these size distinctions is to think of the tradeoffs between organizers or planners and their size. For example, you can get a big, 8 1/2 by 11, Franklin Covey organizer with pouches, pockets, planning sheets and calendars for just about any scenario you can imagine. The problem is that it will be bulky, heavy, and large. That means that it will sit on your desk all of the time. Maybe you will put it in your briefcase or work bag at the end of the day and take it home with you, but that is it. There is no way you will be lugging that thing around when you go to happy hour or a writing conference.
If you sit at a desk all day, then this type of planner maybe makes sense. However, if you do a lot of traveling or if you have client meetings all over the city, or if you don’t have a desk job, this planner is worthless to you, no matter how great and feature packed it is.
On the other end of the spectrum would be little, note card-sized calendars that fit in your pocket or purse. The great thing about these is that they are small enough to take everywhere with you. That means that you will never be somewhere and get an important meeting setup or critical phone number without your planner right there to write it down in.
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The downside, of course, is that with it being so small you have to leave out a bunch of important items you could really use sometimes. Unlike the giant planner, there is no room for a business card holder, or even for a pocket to hold your parking pass or identification card. If you need to have lots of different things with you when you are in business mode, then this planner is worthless to you no matter how compact, lightweight, and portable.
There are any number of other sizes of planners and organizers in between. They tend to fall into approximately standard sizes, however. This is partly due to being sized to match up with readily available paper sizes. It is also because there is a point where the size differentiations just don’t matter any more.
For example, can you really write that much more information in a 6″ x 8″ planner than you can in a 5″ x 7″ planner?
More importantly, there is no real reason to distinguish between the two sizes. Neither one will fit in your pocket or purse, and neither one will allow you to carry “everything.” So, in most respects, these planners are the same size.
The Only Sizes That Matter
Which brings us back to the failure of the iPad as anything more than a fun little gadget, and, more importantly, to what makes the iPad suck for writers.
In the world of the work from home freelance writer, there are different functions and events that take place. This is roughly true for all professional writers, regardless of whether they work eight hours at a desk in an office or whether they work 24/7 from the road.
As a writer the differences revolve, not surprisingly, around writing. When it comes to writing there are just three scenarios that matter.
- Full Setup Physical Location – Your home office desk or a desk or table at a client site all fall into this category. This is a place where you will be doing enough work, often enough, that you take the time to place and setup your equipment and then leave it there. This involves a desktop computer or docking station with a full-size keyboard and full-size monitor.
- Temporary Planned Location – Starbucks, Stella’s on Pearl Street, coffee shops, libraries, cafes, and on-site locations for a short period of time. These are the bread and butter locations for the freelance writer. A table, a fun, sunny, open atmosphere, or an empty desk or table in an office building. The thing about these locations is that they are temporary. Desktop computers, 24″ monitors, wiring, and the like are out. On the other hand, there is going to be an electrical outlet and a desk or table to type on. You might be there for 20 minutes, or it might be six hours. Either way, this is a certain kind of portability. I like to call this bag-level portability. While these work locations may be temporary, they are not a surprise. On the contrary, I PLAN to be at these locations for a set amount of time and I pack a message bag to carry with me according to how long and what I plan to be working on.
- Unplanned Locations – Inspiration can strike at any time. Jotting down a note of an idea for something to write about, a quote that you want to use later, or even doing some actual writing, requires the writer to be prepared at all times. To be useful, any device used in this scenario has to be so portable that you can (and do) carry it with you at all times. This is the opposite of the above where you plan on when to have equipment with you. For these highly portable devices, you plan when to NOT have them with you. (Leave your cell phone at home, dear.)
By now, you can probably see where the iPad falls short for someone like me. It is too big to be a carry with me at all times device. The iPad is a bag-level portable device. That is, you are not going to carry an iPad with you unless you have some sort of bag or portfolio that you are carrying around with it inside.
There is nothing wrong with that, but it begs the question,
“If you are carrying around a bag or purse that would fit an iPad, wouldn’t it also fit a netbook?”
And, if you can be carrying a netbook, wouldn’t you rather have something that has a keyboard that you can touch-type on? Over at Cult of Mac (nice name) they mention that you can use an Apple Bluetooth aluminum chiclet keyboard that you already have sitting on your desk. Unfortunately, that is exactly the point. Do you really need an iPad for your desk?
You can also get a special keyboard for the iPad, but by the time you add that size and weight (and cost), you are well into netbook and laptop territory, and for the same money you can get something that won’t constrain your ability to work on a wide variety of projects.
What we really need is something that still fits in a pocket (I mean actually fits, I’m looking at you Sony.) and yet is bigger and faster to type on than a standard smart phone. The iPhone is one of those devices, so that makes a lot more sense. Maybe I will look at one of those or its competitors when the time comes, but for now, the little scribble pad and touch screen keyboard on my three-year old HTC Touch handles the anytime anyplace requirements.