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My ridiculously convenient iPad set-up


What happens when an object in motion meets an immovable object? Let me put that another way. Instead of "object in motion," think: "girl skiing." Instead of "immovable object," think "tree." The outcome? A big old "OUCH!", a number of broken bones, and quite a bit of time to be spent at the hospital.

Enter geek mom and an iPad. Speaking from (recent) experience, if you're going to get caught up at a hospital for hours and hours on end, with limited access to your home and office, you're not going to do much better than to bring along a few toys like the ones I have with me today.

Let me back up a moment. This morning, my laptop died. I'll get around to fixing it but when you're running to the hospital to make sure that you're there at the time you promised, and you were up until 2 the night before, and the laptop is dead, it's time to consider going commando with an iPad. Sure, you'll feel exposed and helpless. The comfort of a normal desktop unit cannot be matched by an iPad's apparently limited abilities.

Yet, I totally lucked out today. Between my iPad, wireless Apple Bluetooth keyboard, and a few other strategic goodies, I am actually able to get a little work done today between medical and Xbox consults. (The hospital has a built in Xbox gaming system. Guess who ends up doing IT support for the daughter and running back and forth to the volunteer library to pick out game titles?)

So what are the components of my ridiculously amazing setup? They are:

  • Hospital Wi-Fi -- The hospital offers a really solid wireless internet service. Can't build my iPad experience without it -- at least at the moment. Ask me again when the 3G iPad is released, but even then I expect that the whole 3G picture won't be quite as fast and sturdy as my current Internet feed.
  • My brand new 16 GB iPad -- This iPad is simply awesome. I just love it. Right shape, right feel. Okay, a slightly larger screen with less bezel would be even better, but I'm still in first days love. Give me a little time to get over it...
  • My new Apple Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard. A few batteries and this baby just screams. I'm not crazy about a few of the design choices on Apple's part, specifically the location of the function key to the left of the bottom control key, and I would have swapped the function key defaults, F1 instead of dimmer, with a shift to access the dimmer function instead of the opposite way around. Despite those quirks, this keyboard is incredibly comfortable to use, especially as it sits on my lap.
  • My $6.99 Staples study stand -- I wrote about this a week or two ago on TUAW when I was looking for inexpensive iPad accessories and goodness, and had this one accessory delivered. It works perfectly with the actual iPad (as well as my cardboard mockup that I used while shopping). It does portrait, it does landscape, it folds up, it's fabulous. And yes, you can fit the charging connector in, pointing down, and still use the stand without hitting the desk below it. The stand is pure win.
  • My $20 Walmart portable table. I picked up my folding table as a hackintosh accessory a year or so ago. It's a really light weight table that folds down to a size that easily fits into one of my larger backpacks (a standard school kid sized backpack). The table , with its slide-to-enlarge type easily fits my iPad and its stand, a can of soda, my iPhone, and a few extra odds and ends. (In the picture, the slide is about 50% open, so I could easily get another 6 inches more of room up there as needed. The iPad screen is pretty wee and I'm getting on in years (you kids! get off my grass!) so I have the table pulled around to the side of the "parent chair" for better viewing.
Together these items -- Wi-Fi + iPad + keyboard + stand + table -- are working flawlessly to provide the platform I need to check in with AIM, write up a post or two in Safari, and otherwise get on with work. But there's one part of the equation that goes beyond the physical equipment, that has really helped me get through this morning, and that is LogMeIn's iPad client.

Available on App Store for just under $30, the LogMeIn Ignition (also read Steve Sande's first look post today) client allowed me to virtually "go home" to my office -- get back to my Mac, as it were... It has provided me with a live feed to my normal office computer screen this morning, and that has been invaluable. LogMeIn, which I was introduced to over the weekend, provides a way to remotely access your system (I have it running on my OS X mini) from any web browser around the world. You set the level of privacy and passwords you want to use, to ensure that casual strangers cannot access your computer. At the same time, LogMeIn works around any issues regarding fixed IP addresses (I don't have one) and firewalls (I do, however have those).

Like the Pogoplug service that I reviewed a year or so ago on TUAW, LogMeIn takes care of the fine detail work. All you have to do is use it. Software and access are both free, unless you choose to upgrade to a package that offers file sharing, printing, and other features that offer more tangible access to your data in addition to simple desktop control.

One big problem though. It works great on laptops and computers, but the iPhone doesn't support its Web client due to Mobile Safari's limitations. That's why the iPad Ignition application is a can't-live-without feature. Even laptop-free, I was able to use that iPad app to call home, see and manipulate my screen, and otherwise perform emergency tasks as needed throughout the morning. Like all iPad applications, the LogMeIn Ignition app shows that it was developed in a simulator and not on a real system. It's missing a built-in help key (you are reminded about system features each time you launch, but those are hard to keep in your head for a new user) and its GUI feels slightly clunky. There's nothing that can't improve with a little bit of field testing and user feedback though.

Things I loved about the Ignition app include the way you can zoom into an area, and then pop out to a full screen view and then back into the previous zoom. Nicely done. Once I got the hang of the mouse, it wasn't too hard to use although I wish LogMeIn would offer an option to offset the cursor from your fingertip by, say, 20 pixels in each direction, so you could at least *see* the cursor when your finger was onscreen. It's not a deal killer, but made navigation a bit difficult.

It also took me a while to realize that Ignition required an on-screen keyboard to appear even when I was using the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. That was a little counterintuitive. In addition, I was unable to get the command modifiers to work for me -- no closing windows with Command-W, for example. I could type and use the mouse, but shortcuts just didn't happen for me.

The screen update speeds were simply amazing. I could actually see certain progress bars, well, progress. I expected much more in the way of hesitations and was delighted to find that although they existed and were quite real, that they were not nearly as bad as I feared. The LogMeIn service was really responsive. Typing in particular could go at my full speed, and it felt as if I were typing into a local computer, not one miles and miles away.

You really cannot compare an iPad to an iPhone. Nobody ever expects anyone to get real work done over an iPhone. Yes, we can and do occasionally get work done as needed on a short, emergency, sporadic basis occasionally but the iPhone really isn't built for hour after hour use to perform real computing tasks like writing documents.

The iPad is better compared to a netbook. This post was written entirely on an iPad. Do I get all the same features I get on a netbook, especially multitasking? Obviously not. Each time I had to hop out of Safari, I had to save my work and remember to reload it to continue working. That's a big pain, and one that I would never have to deal with on a netbook. At the same time, would I have been as comfortable writing this post on a netbook? I doubt it. The Apple Keyboard is a better typing experience, while the screen offers a comparable one. I can't imagine doing this level of work on a typical net book (I own two) and having the comfort that I did today.

At the same time, let me be very clear: I did have to carry along more stuff. Although the study stand isn't big when folded up, fitting easily into my day-to-day backpack, the collapsed Walmart table is about 50% larger than the size of my netbook. WIth the iPad, getting work done comfortably means dragging along more stuff. It's not a huge amount of stuff. It's not an insufferable amount of stuff. But it definitely is more stuff. Obviously, if I were going to Starbucks, I wouldn't have needed the table (the biggest part of my take along items today), but at the same time I would have had to carry the keyboard, the iPad, and the stand. So the complexity of take-along grows.

In addition, you've got to take power concerns into account. That's a pain with netbooks, and its' the same pain with the iPad: find an outlet, carry along a way to plug into power. Fortunately, the iPad power is pretty darn amazing. I've been going now for a few hours on this thing, and I'm still at 69% capacity. By this point, my netbook would usually be at the point where it would start complaining. Admittedly, I'm getting nowhere near the performance that colleagues like David Pogue achieved in their reviews -- on the other hand, I am pushing this system pretty hard today with all the Internet use and the LogMeIn sessions. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, he made it clear that it would compete head to head with netbooks. So does it? In this writer's opinion, it's doing pretty darn well.

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