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Hello iPad, Goodbye Laptop: Part 2

Do you know anyone who doesn’t use the Internet or have an email address? I don’t, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that these folks exist. But for anyone wishing to live, work, or play in this day and age? For many (including this writer), another must-have technology involves scheduling. Having a solid calendar that keeps your day-to-day schedule and offers reminders at a glance of important appointments, birthdays, due dates, and more is priceless. But how do these services compare when used on the iPad versus other devices? Author and professional blogger (and iPad owner) James Kelly gives you the answer.
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Let’s assume for a minute that you’ve purchased an iPad (like me) or are considering a purchase and wish to maximize its use–for work, for personal, or for both. I have no firm statistics to reference, so I’m going to make one up right now:

    97.4 percent of U.S.-based computer users check email and browse the Internet.

A made-up number, but I’d be willing to bet the percentage is even higher. Let’s think about it for a moment–do you know anyone who doesn’t use the Internet or have an email address? I don’t, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that these folks exist. But for anyone wanting to live, work, or play in this day and age, email and Internet are almost as important as having a phone number… maybe even more important. It’s hard for me to imagine getting through a day without opening a web browser for something: posting a blog item, checking the weather, getting a price on some software, or reading the latest news headline.

And just like Internet access, email has replaced the phone as my primary mode of communication. (Debates about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing are beyond the scope of this article.) I send text messages, and I do pick up a phone a few times during my day, but email is so easy to use! I’ll agree that email can be a bit impersonal and that there are blunder risks associated with the tool (ever send a message to the wrong John or replied to all when you only wanted to reply to the original sender?), but all in all, email is reliable and ubiquitous – we can check it on our computers, on our phone, and yes, on our iPads.

For many (including this writer), another must-have technology involves scheduling. Having a solid calendar that keeps your day-to-day schedule and offers reminders at a glance of important appointments, birthdays, due dates, and more? Priceless. Not everyone uses a calendar, but for those of us who do, we can’t live without it.

So, let’s now talk about Internet browsing and email and calendar/scheduling on the iPad–three basic services that any respectable technology device should be able to offer. These days we can access these services on our mobile phones, home and work computers, and our laptops. So it should come as no surprise that Apple has chosen to include these services as built-in apps for the iPad. But how do these services compare when used on the iPad versus other devices? Let’s take a quick look.

Internet Browsing

The Safari web browser comes standard with the iPad. It’s a no-frills application, designed for fast loading of web pages. It supports bookmarks, built-in Google search, and text/photo selection using the touchscreen. All in all, it is a very simple browser (see Figure 1),

Figure 1 Safari web browser, vertical display

As with most iPad apps, rotating the iPad will allow a viewed website to contract or expand to fill the screen. For now, I view all websites in a vertical manner (see Figure 1) as opposed to a horizontal manner seen in Figure 2 (with a web page having more horizontal space for display). This is due to the docking keyboard I use. With a web page displayed vertically, the text can be a bit small. I’m sometimes forced to use gestures to increase the font size of the screen, but it’s not that big of a deal.

Figure 2 Safari web browser, horizontal display

Instead of clicking a link, I simply touch the link on the screen. Often the link is very tiny and close to other links, making finger selection a bit iffy; again, simply expanding the size of the image on the screen (using the ”unpinch” gesture) is all it takes to enlarge a link or button enough for me to properly click on it.

Drawbacks? Of course, but as I stated in Part 1 of this series, using the iPad is often about making concessions. Here are a few that I’ve learned to live (or live without):

  • Flash. This seems to be the big one right now. Any website that has Flash advertising, animation, or program controls simply won’t work. That is, until Apple changes its mind and allows Flash to be run on the iPad (don’t hold your breath). I’ve found very few Flash-based websites that I absolutely require, and those that I do are typically online games I like.
  • Printing. That’s right–if I find a page I like, I can’t print it. But we’ll talk about this issue and possible workarounds later in this article series. (And Apple has promised WiFi print support in the next OS version for iPad coming in November 2010.)
  • Tab page support. Most of us who have used other web browsers (such as Internet Explorer or Firefox) are used to having the ability to view multiple web pages at a single glance using tabs. The iPad Safari app doesn’t support this; instead, you must use the page selection button (see Figure 3) to view all the web pages you have open and then click the one you want to view. Not 100 percent annoying, but not my favorite feature of Safari, either.
  • Figure 3 Safari multiple web page view

  • No plug-ins. As a dedicated Firefox user, I really miss my plug-ins–special bits of code that add extra functionality to a web browser such as the ability to display weather along the bottom of the screen, forward a link to a friend from within a web page, or access a built-in dictionary while on a specific web page. For me, this isn’t a drawback as much as a concession I’m willing to make for being able to use my 3.5 pound iPad/keyboard combo versus lugging around 15 pounds of laptop, charger, and miscellaneous (see Part 1).

You may find the Safari web browser limiting in other ways. But until iPad 2.0 or a competing product comes out that supports a different browser, I’m afraid that you’re stuck with Safari.

Okay… that’s not completely true. We are dealing with a device that supports apps, remember? That said, a slew of web browser apps are available from the Apple App Store that are just waiting to replace Safari, most of them running between $0.99 and $5. The one that’s getting the most attention right now is Atomic Web Browser (FullScreen), but I’m happy with Safari right now, so I’ve yet to invest the small pittance to give it a try. (But I’d love to hear from readers who do!)

So, let me summarize the discussion of Internet browsing by saying the iPad provides a web browser that’s exactly that–a browser. No frills, no special features, and no extra charge. It loads pages fast, and if I find I need to print a page, I simply copy the URL (or selected text from the page) and email it to myself for later printing.

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