Two Years On The iPad – The ‘Book Mystique

Has it only been two years? When I bought my iPad 2 in June, 2011, I modestly hoped that having the tablet would extend my Mac system upgrade cycle beyond the nominal three year target I’ve pretty much averaged for 20 years. I hoped that the expenditure would be worth it, and that the tablet wouldn’t end up mostly gathering dust. I never suspected that 24 months later I would be spending about half of my computer screen time on the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen, and having difficulty imagining how I ever got along without it.

As for my computer upgrade replacement schedule, I’m now well into my fifth year on my 2.0 GHz aluminum unibody MacBook, although I’m expecting to finally pull the trigger on buying a new Mac later this year. Or not. I haven’t entirely ruled out a hard drive and RAM upgrade for the old MacBook, but I don’t think that’s the avenue I’ll probably take. Those new Haswell MacBook Airs will be pretty hard to resist, although I’ll almost certainly wait until they come with Mavericks loaded up.

One thing I’d wondered about was if the iPad might also serve as a sort of more portable, more laid back surrogate for a laptop on which I would still be able to perform most of the tasks I require of a production tool. That turned out to not really be the case. I am doing most of my Web research and a substantial proportion of composition and editing on the iPad these days, but not without a considerable degree of frustration at the machine’s shortcomings as a serious content creation platform, that causes me to cast an envious eye at tablets that support the full desktop version of Windows 8 and soon even better — Win 8.1. At least in some aspects. Microsoft’s Surface Pro and other Windows tablets don’t come close to matching the iPad’s battery life and the iOS has its advantages compared with the Windows experience as well, freedom from dealing with malware being a big one.

The things I miss most working in the iPad, in no particular order, are real multitasking — especially the ability of displaying two open windows (Either of the same application or two different ones such as a browser and text editor, pointing device based text selection/manipulation precision and reliability, document level access to the file system, and easy hard-wired input/output connectivity (ie: no standard USB port and/or media card slot). Those shortcomings significantly limit the iPad’s potential as a satisfactory production platform.

However, one iPad aspect I turned out liking better than I had expected to is the virtual keyboard. Now, I still much prefer my Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard or any of several other keyboards freestanding or in laptops, but not enough that I go to the trouble and added form factor complexity of connecting a Bluetooth ‘board to the iPad, especially since one is still stuck with using the touchscreen for cursor navigation, rest selections and such. Most of the time I get along reasonably happily with the on-screen ‘board, especially some of the alternate enhanced versions in certain text editing apps. Actually, given the choice of one or the other, I would without hesitation choose mouse driver support, even when typing on-screen, over any sort of peripheral keyboard.

Another surprise is how efficient the iOS is with storage capacity. I had been concerned that buying a 16GB iPad might turn out to be a false economy, but after two years of intensive use, only 5.41GB (41.17 percent) of the 13.84 GB actual usable storage memory on the nominal 16 GB SSD has been used, leaving 8.14 GB (58.83 percent) of the storage memory free.

I have to say, that one key elements enabling the iPad to be as useful as I’ve found it in spite of its angularities is Dropbox, without which the tablet likely would be gathering dust most of the time. In short, Dropbox allows one to synchronize or transfer work performed on the iPad to the Mac, which I find remains indispensable for most final editing and efficient proofing, uploading photos to WordPress via the Mac’s Finder directory, and the like.

Disappointing iCloud is no adequate substitute for Dropbox for me because it doesn’t support the two older Mac laptops running OS X 10.4 That I still have in service, or even the MacBook when it’s booted from its OS X 10.6 Mountain Lion partition, which it frequently is.

I’ve been reasonably happy with the iPad 2’s non-Retina 1,024 x 768 resolution display. Ultra high resolution wasn’t enough to tempt me even slightly toward the iPad 3 that was rolled out in early 2012. However the iPad 4 that followed last October was a different story, since it actually offered significantly improved performance compared with my iPad 2. If I wasn’t contemplating a laptop purchase this year, I probably would be n the hunt for an iPad upgrade, but as it stands I’ll probably try to continue with the iPad 2 into 2014. It’s probably helpful that the 1,024 x 768 resolution iPads will have a longer lease on life support from Apple and third-party developers thanks to the iPad mini’s market success.

However, I hope that success doesn’t lead to Apple compromising the power and versatility of the “full-sized” 9.7-inch iPad. While I’ve come to really like the bigger iPad, the mini doesn’t appeal to me much, what with its screen size and power compromises, and I would deduce that while some folks are attracted to the smaller iPad form factor because of its pocketability (provided you have a large pocket), handbaggability, and lighter mass for hand-holding use, a sizeable proportion of those opting form the iPad mini would be primarily drawn to its significantly lower price.

Unfortunately, rumors indicate that the fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad will be more mini-like with a slimmer form factor and “marginless” screen bezel. Hopefully that has been accomplished without harming battery life and still allowing for a speed bump with an A7 system-on-chip.

Peering farther into the future, One is inclined to wonder whether the current touchscreen tablet computer form factor will have long-term staying power, or if it’s a transitional bridge product toward something else. Microsoft insists that the latter obtains and that the future is tablet/PC hybrids. Personally, I think hybrids make a lot of sense in theory, but could in practice result in a Jack of too many trades dynamic that will render it too compromised (and/or expensive)to serve as a satisfactory surrogate for either tablet or PC. Apple certainly seems to be of the latter school of thought so far, and Microsoft isn’t exactly experiencing sizzling sales volumes with its Surface Pro or other Windows 8/8.1 hybrids like Lenovo’s pricy ThinkPad Helix

I’m definitely not ready to call it quits with my Macs, although I wouldn’t want to go back to life without a tablet either. Too soon to tell yet, and the iPad 5 may surprise me, but my best guess right now is that my next tablet will probably be a fourth-gen WiFi iPad of either 16 or 32 GB capacity, which will work with my several iPad 2 cases and peripherals, while it seems likely that upgrading to a version five unit will involve expenditure for new accessories as well. And I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that a year from now I’ll be writing a “Three Years On The iPad 2” report.

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