Two years ago when the late Steve Jobs announced the iPad, many people mumbled: “Looks pretty, but for what are you going to use it?” Apple fanatics across the world answered in a more or less unanimous voice: “We don’t care, but we have to have one.”
And thus began the iPad revolution. I held out for as long as I could, only getting an iPad2 in August last year, but the impact on my digital life has been nothing less than revolutionary.
From being bound to either a paper notepad or my laptop, I am now largely paper-free — although you would not say that if you looked at my desk. I take the iPad with me to meetings and my computer remains firmly anchored to whichever desk I happen to be occupying at the time.
Part of the joy of the iPad is the 3G capabilities of the tablet. Mine is the 16GB + 3G version and, quite frankly, I could not comprehend owning one without 3G. I could use a portable wi-fi device, such as the MiFi you can get from virtually every network, but it just is not the same. Grabbing the iPad when you need to know something, check an email, or check a location on Google Maps is seamless with 3G.
In the working world there are three apps I simply could not live without. First is Evernote. If you have never used Evernote, it is something no computer user should be without.
Evernote is, at its most simple, a note-taking application. It can also store images and audio recordings. Depending on the importance of the meeting I either take notes using the on-screen keyboard, or I take notes and record the meeting.
It is at this point that the benefits of Evernote become evident. In the background it uploads the note and audio to the cloud and the note is then available on both my laptop and iPhone with no additional effort on my part. No matter what happens to any of my computing devices, my notes are safe in the cloud. A group of us also use the shared note facility to plan the ZA Tech Show podcast, letting everyone add their ideas before we arrive for the show.
The second service I swear by is Dropbox. Although not an iPad-specific service, I use it to back up all my valuable documents. This means that no matter where I am, I can retrieve any document I need to work on in a few moments.
It is the working part that can be a bit tricky. Although the iPad can display almost any document, you cannot edit Word or Excel documents on the device. This is where QuickOffice comes to the party in a big way. With QuickOffice Pro you can create and edit most documents.
However, most of the bang with QuickOffice is in how you get your documents on and off your device. Instead of having to battle with iTunes, you can simply point QuickOffice at your cloud storage service of choice, including Evernote and Dropbox, which means you do not need to keep anything on the device.
Even on a 64GB iPad the space should be used for music and photos and games, not for unimportant stuff like work.
Another joy of the iPad is its utility as a casual and not-so-casual gaming platform. With access to the App Store — and there are ways of getting around the absence of games in the South African version of the App Store, such as pretending that you live in Kenya rather than here — there are literally thousands of games you can download to while away hours playing. Just a few examples of my recent favourites include Jetpack Joyride, Death Rally and the ubiquitous Angry Birds.
But some of the most amazing games on the iPad are action games. Games such as InfinityBlade II blow my mind when they show what is possible on a portable gaming platform.
However, it is an old favourite from my PC gaming days that best illustrates the power of the platform for me. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar ported the entire game to the iPad. This means a complete game that would have required a high-end PC to run 10 years ago is running on a mobile device today.
And it actually runs and loads faster than the original. You need look no further than that for evidence of how powerful the iPad is as a computing platform.
Not everyone is into gaming and one of the things I like to do is to use the iPad as an entertainment device. Not only can I listen to music and check my photographs, I also use a useful little application called AirPlay. What it does is let you play the videos you have stored on your PC over your home network on the iPad. If your network is a bit slow or the files are too big, you can get it either to convert the files as it goes along into a more efficient format, or you can convert them beforehand. This makes the iPad the ultimate device for watching videos in bed, in the kitchen or outside under the shade of a nice tree.
Another app I could not live without is TuneIn Radio. At some point the radio I owned disappeared, but then I discovered TuneIn. The app acts as a portal for streaming audio from radio stations across the globe. So if you want to listen to a hard-rock station from Denver, or are tired of not being able listen to Midrand community station Mix FM when you are on holiday, you can stream to the station of your choice rather than being subjected to Radio Karoo or something equally heinous.
Strangely, there are things the iPad is technically capable of doing, such as sharing its network connection, that are simply not enabled in the device, but as someone whose iPad is never far from his side, just the few apps I have mentioned make my life better already.
This is, of course, when I can prise the device out of the hands of my children, who love watching YouTube and playing games on it too.