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My iPad and me

01 Oct 2010

Confession time: I’m not really a techie. I don’t do computer games, I have thousands of emails cluttering up my inbox, I can’t ‘sync’ my phone, and I lose my temper with Word every time I use it. Predictably, I don’t have an iPhone or a BlackBerry, I can’t even assist my wife with getting iTunes on her iPod, and I think Twitter is for Twits.

So it takes a lot to get me interested in a gadget. And when it comes to PDA s, from the Newton to the eMate (remember those?) to the Palms to the BlackBerry, never has a concept promised so much and yet, in my opinion, delivered so little. Until the iPad.

Providing you are breathing, you have heard of the iPad from Apple and will realise that the reviewers of it inevitably fall into hyperbolic love or vitriolic hatred. I’m a lover, but not for the usual reasons. Yes, it is a fantastically cool piece of design and I have one, but that’s not enough to make me part with the equivalent of several notebooks when I already have a perfectly good MacBook Pro.

So what do I love about the iPad?

Firstly, the format is big enough to be useful. The onscreen keyboard is big enough for male fingers, the optional dock keyboard is full size and the highres screen means I can get away with not having to fumble for my glasses. The big screen is especially important for us as software developers because it means we can get enough information on the screen to support logical, intuitive workflows, which is ‘very difficult’ with the smaller smartphones. We see this issue in a lot of the apps that were originally developed for the iPhone and then quickly migrated to the iPad; they have lots of menus and you are forever jumping around the application to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. Frustration City!

Sure, the iPad is too big to stick in your pocket, but so what? It is still lighter and smaller than any laptop or netbook and delivers vastly more utility than a smartphone. A decade or so ago we all used to carry around compendiums with our pads and diaries and calculators and stuff. My iPad has a very nice modern version of those jackets and is still lighter, smaller and more useful than any other portable device.

Secondly, the touchscreen interface behaviours are not just extremely sophisticated, but they permit people to use the software in new and different ways. As developers, this is exciting stuff and adds a new dimension to the way we deliver interfaces. Think Minority Report and remember the way Tom Cruise’s character played with information on a transparent screen; that’s where this is heading.

Thirdly, it is not just a toy. Sure, you can’t get Office on it yet. But there are plenty of other word processors, spreadsheets, etc. plus email and a web browser, and that means access to all the various cloud computing options for your standard business tools. Add the aforementioned dock and you have the world’s smallest, trendiest, most portable desktop computer; ideal for offices where presentation is important and people have impromptu meetings and things.

Fourthly, the dock. Laptop docks are yesterday’s news. So why did nobody ever think of giving a PDA a dock? This is brilliant. You can sit at your desk and use it like a lightweight desktop, and then you can pick it up and walk straight into a meeting. No mucking about with unplugging cables and closing lids. It’s light, quick and 100% efficient.

Last but not least, FileMaker has released a thin client for the iPad and iPhone called FileMaker Go. It means that developers like us can build you an office solution and then give you secure access to your data from anywhere that you can get a wi-fi or 3G connection. The possibilities are endless: imagine a waitress instantly transmitting orders to the kitchen, a sales manager checking on stock levels while he is with the client, or a business owner checking on KPIs from the bach.

We can finally deliver usable, customised portable business solutions at a price that SME s can afford. And that makes the iPad what every other PDA always should have been.

Matthew Roscoe is a director of Foundation Business Software, a software development house specialising in custom business, web and mobile solutions for Mac and PC.

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