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Summary:

Coincidentally, Apple happened to announce the new iPad on the morning that I came home after four exhausting days at a trade show. So when I started reading about the iPad, my flight-fogged brain immediately wanted to know if the iPad could make the travel marathon I’d just endured any easier.

Coincidentally, Apple happened to announce the new iPad on the morning that I came home after four exhausting days on the road at a trade show. These road trips are hard on my technology — and also on me as I have to lug all my technology around. So when I started reading about the iPad, my flight-fogged brain immediately wanted to know if the iPad could make the travel marathon I’d just endured any easier.

I work as editor of the trade journal Scrapbook Update, and travel several times per year to attend trade shows and other events to report on them for my readers. When I’m on the road I need to be able to access email; keep up with news and do research on the web; update and maintain my site; and upload content to various platforms such as Flickr and Facebook.

I currently haul a 13” MacBook and an iPhone, along with a dSLR, a Flip camera and various peripherals with me when I travel. After closely examining the specs on the Apple iPad, I believe that I could probably function fairly effectively on the road using the iPad as a MacBook substitute. Here’s how I reached that conclusion, and why I like the idea.

Weight: One of the biggest appeals of the iPad is how lightweight it is. While the iPad weighs only 1.6 lbs, my current white 13” Macbook weighs in at 4.7 lbs. I could save 3 lbs — or a whole two-thirds — of the weight I’ve been toting around by using the iPad while traveling instead of my MacBook. True, a protective case would add some weight to the iPad, but I already use a neoprene sleeve on my MacBook now.

Battery: According to Apple, the battery life on the iPad is ten hours when it is being used on Wi-Fi. My MacBook is rated by Apple for seven hours, but in reality is good for about four. Outlets are still hard to come by, especially on aircraft, and more battery life for my mobile computing would be useful.

3G: As I wrote recently, I have been looking for a back-up system that will give me a way to bypass our local cable company to access the Internet in emergencies. I’ve been shopping around, looking at various types of tethering and access cards for my laptop, but the price seems prohibitive for the amount of use I would get from it. The iPad’s built-in 3G at a reasonable price point with no contract seems like a great backup solution.

The 3G would have another benefit as well, in saving me money on Internet access while I’m traveling. On a trip like the one I just took, I encountered Internet access fees everywhere I went: at airports, in flight, in my hotel, and at the convention center. I had to make hard decisions about when to limit my activities to what was possible to achieve on my phone and when to pay as much as $12.95 for a “day” of access to spend possibly just a few minutes doing what I needed to do. Obviously a 3G device doesn’t help at 30,000 feet, but purchasing Wi-Fi on this most recent trip for all the places I could have used 3G would have cost me $120. Those savings add up quickly, and the always-on access would make my workflow easier while traveling. No more having to make hard decisions about where and when to pay to connect, and no more having to wrestle with connecting to unfamiliar networks.

Form Factor: This particular trip I just got home from was transcontinental, involving a five-hour flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles. A trip like that provides plenty of time to work in transit, but anyone who has ever tried to open a laptop on an airplane tray table knows that is easier said than done. With the seat in front reclined, even my 13” MacBook doesn’t want to open to a comfortable viewing angle and feels claustrophobic as I try to type with your hands trapped between the keyboard and the angled screen. The iPad’s tablet form would sit flat on the tray for typing (or at a slight angle on the accessory case) or could be propped directly on my legs.

There were admittedly a few sticking points for me in the initial description of the iPad as it applied to making it my mobile computing device. Initially, the lack of a camera seemed like a deal-breaker. Then after thinking about it, I realized that when I am mobile I only use a camera for two things: taking pictures, and to make video calls. For taking pictures, I have my iPhone and my dSLR. As for the video calls, more times than not, it seems that the bandwidth in the locations I am using WiFi at won’t support a video Skype call. So having the camera or not is moot, since I don’t have the services available to utilize it very often.

Another sticking point, initially, was the seeming lack of a way to get pictures from my camera into the device, since a major activity of mine on the road is often taking pictures and uploading them to my web site. This was solved with the announcement that one of the accessories will be a Camera Connection Kit that includes two components: an SD card reader that plugs into the iPad’s dock connector; and a Camera Connector that attaches to the dock connector, designed to let users connect their camera via USB cable. Despite its camera-specific name, it appears to be simply a USB adaptor for the dock connector, not necessarily camera-specific. If that is the case, it raises questions about what else might be able to be plugged into it, such as thumb drives containing iWork files to edit or a Flip camera to upload videos to YouTube.

I currently use Lightroom and Photoshop Elements on my MacBook to deal with photos and create web site thumbnails while I travel. But I could probably live without those by dealing only with the JPG files of my photos in iPad apps (I shoot RAW+JPG when working on the road to save time processing hundreds of RAW files when I am rushed to write a story), and by using something like the online version of Photoshop to edit the pictures.

One of the reasons that I’ve stuck with a 13” MacBook is that I need my computing to be very portable. I can barely imagine hauling a 15” MacBook around an event like I attended this past week, and could never take a 17” on the road. Yet my laptop is my primary computer, and having a larger screen would be nice. Leaving a bigger laptop at home in favor of toting an iPad when I travel would let me get that larger screen without having to worry about how portable it was.

The iPad is tempting because, looking at it, I can see the day where my computing line-up consists of three devices: iPhone, iPad and 15-17″MacBook Pro. My iPhone would be always with me. My MacBook Pro would be my primary heavy computing machine, with a large screen but still portable to move around to various places in my house or to other places in town (like for coworking). Then for being ultra-mobile, such as going to trade shows, I would have my iPad to use alongside my iPhone.

Would the iPad solve your mobile computing needs?

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

  1. I wonder if the USB adapter could be used for a webcam? If it seems like it is really just adding a USB port, I don’t know why it wouldn’t.

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    1. I can’t beleive the thing doesn’t just have a USB port?

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      1. A regular USB port would probably make it too thick.

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    2. Depends on how it’s restricted by the software. Knowing Apple, it’s possible that you will only be able to transfer photos into iPhoto, not use it as a general USB port.

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      1. That is definitely one thing I wish they had been more specific about because I feel like they left us hanging on a big question about the thing’s ability.

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  2. Transferring photos was a big sticking point for me too; I was glad to see the camera connector accessory.

    I do think there would still be one problem with using an online photo-editor… there’s probably no way to save the file back to the iPad when you’re done editing. I think Apple really needs to implement at least a basic user-accessable file structure.

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    1. Do you need to save it back to the device, though? You could just store your images in the cloud.

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  3. If the battery life on your MacBook is rated by Apple for seven hours, but in reality is good for about four, count on that 10 hours on the iPad to be more like 5-6.

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    1. Oh yes, I realize that math needs to be done. But the number still comes out higher than my MacBook since the start number is higher.

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    2. jonathankit Monday, May 3, 2010

      Battery life that I’ve got is at least 10 hours regardless of activity

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  4. I am wondering if there will be a way to print from iPad. Most especially I need to print from PayPal shipping to a Dymo printer. PayPal does not currently support printing on the Mac, forcing me to print from VMWare Fusion running Windows XP. Then when I’m traveling I have to use a Windows laptop.
    I would love to get a lighter weight solution, iPad is intriguing but if it won’t print I will have to look at the HP slate.
    :-(

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  5. iPad looks like a great device, two must-haves that I can think of to make it really useful are access to my “Back To My Mac” accessible network drives. Hey – If I need to pull up a PDF or other file from my home or office computer, it sure would be nice to mount it and get the files I need. Second – printing. Sure it does email and the web and iWork documents etc. But it sure would be nice to print wirelessly to Bonjour aware printers without having to wait until I get back to the office or home to print. My two cents. A camera in the bezel would be nice for iChat video chats with the grandparents.

    As it is, if it had the printing and remote access capability, I’d be lining up. Until then, I’ll wait for an upgrade.

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    1. There is already VNC app for the iPhone that should work fine with the iPad and I am sure there will be iPad specific apps coming soon. That would take care of the remote access of your home computer…

      As for printing, I had the same question, This would be a nice feature in iWorks…

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  6. I really do not think this is a great idea. Correct me if i am wrong, but you have a big problem here. The IPad does not run flash, which i am pretty sure the online version of photoshop runs on. Until they come out with a photoshop app ( there may be one already, but it doesnt sound like adobe and Apple are getting along right now. From what i have seen, there are not plans for apple to allow flash to run on the IPad, just like it doesnt on the Iphone.

    Also, i’m going to guess that we will be hearing alot of about the IPad and people’s necks hurting in a few months. Folks will try to be putting this on a desk or in their laps ( like an airline seat) but to see the screen they will have to hunch over. There is a reason that desktop monitors have adustible heights.

    If you said you wanted a device to use while you were walking around on the show floor, I’d say this might be it. but for what you describe, i’d stay with a laptop.

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    1. Apple has already announced a case accessory that puts the iPad at an angle for use, and of course there will be plenty of other accessory makers tackling things like this as well. And I can’t be the only one looking to edit photos. There will be developers coming up with apps, either for the OS or in the cloud, to allow that. Where there is a problem there is always a company looking to make money off a solution. The ecosystem is not static. That’s what is wonderful about technology!

      And you are right, one of the reasons that the iPad does appeal is because it would be easier to use in situations like standing on the show floor where it is completely impractical to whip my current computer out.

      I’m not looking to use the iPad on release day. But I can easily see where it has the groundwork laid to be very useful for my specific personal needs in the near future.

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  7. [...] Could the iPad Be My New Travel Computing Device? [...]

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  8. I can see using the iPad with DropBox, since there’s already an app for that. Eliminates the need to store things locally, yet can be configured in the above scenario to automatically sync to the MacBook. When you get home from trips, everything that’s been created is waiting on the main system.

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  9. This article makes no sense. It tries to back it’s way into a conclusion that the ipad is worth buying as a road machine. It isn’t. An Acer 1410 or 1810tz will cost you about the same have real keyboard and will run numerous freeware, even have a camera for voip. And still only 3 lbs for all that.

    In fact if all you do it type words in a blog and use web the acer are not only better road units than the ipad, but they make your expensive 5 lb MacBook pro look like an overpriced porker.

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    1. Sam, my MacBook is my primary computer. It’s the only computer I use, and it is portable…so it gets taken with me. I didn’t buy it for the sole purpose of being my portable machine. It does everything.

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    2. I have to agree with Sam. In your case, why would you NOT grab a netbook? HP has some sick Minis for around the same price of the iPad. 1366×768 HD display, 2-3GB RAM, Atom 1.66, SSD 80GB, Windows 7, big battery, Webcam, Bluetooth. I think you can even get them with built-in Verizon broadband cards. That thing would be crazy fast and run almost anything you’d need it to.

      What draws you to the iPad? Is it the touch? iPhone OS?

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  10. I wouldn’t buy the first gen of this device. It’s not worth it yet. I wrote up a quick article on why it’s not worth it yet: http://bit.ly/c4Zrr3

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