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Tablet Computers and the iPad

Some of us now feel we have arrived at the "post PC age", where desktops, laptops and notebooks are on the way out, as tablet computers are being used more and more.  Some desktops will still be sold for a while at least, and laptops are still used in many situations, although I don't see any future at all for notebook computers. I bought a new laptop last spring, and its not even been turned on in the last month, even my desktop computer now is only on a few days a week, where it used to be on from when I got up in the morning until I went to bed. Now routinely I just reach for my iPad, and it goes most places with me.

It was January 2011 that we started seriously to look at the tablets available, and at that time the iPad, was so far ahead of the others, that it set the target for others to reach. However speculation was that the iPad2 was shortly to be released so we held back. When the iPad2 came out, either due to demand or design, they were in very short supply and so it took us a few weeks to get our first one. We experimented with this and decided that an iPad is a personal device, and we needed one each so as soon as the 3G model was available we got one of those as well.

There are other tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy models and for a short period a HP model but that is being discontinued. Tablets mostly operate under two operating systems, the iPad uses Apples own iOS operating system and most of the other tablets on the market use the Android operating system. Both of these have a sizable number of Apps, (application programs) available at low cost or for free. The discontinued HP, and Blackberry's offering operate under their own operating systems, with far fewer Apps available.

At the moment, nothing matches the Apple Ipad in terms of facilities, capability and price. Apple look like maintaining their lead with the new iPad (3rd generation).

Its likely that in two or three years time, still 80% of all tablets will be iPads, with large numbers of others coming out and falling by the wayside. As some fail, it will become far more difficult for others to enter as people start to realize that support is very limited on products that fail in the marketplace.

If you haven't yet obtained a tablet, perhaps I should give you an insight into what it can do, its capabilities and limitations. For this I will just look at the iPad2. This was an upgraded model to the first iPad, its faster, thinner, and has some additional features, most noticeably two cameras one back and one forward facing. From here I will just refer to the iPad2 as the iPad.

Historically I had a Filofax Deskfax, a large combined diary/organiser/notepad and ring binder with a leather cover.  The iPad is around an inch smaller in each height and width, and about a third of the thickness and weight. Its therefore easy to carry around, and replaces completely my fax, plus it allows immediate access to the internet, nearly everywhere. I can receive and send emails, read books on it, access maps, use it as a satnav, use a calculator, word processor or spreadsheet, organise just about anything, watch videos, TV from on-demand services, and listen to the radio and all types of music. I can use it to make video telephone calls where I can see the person I am talking to, as long as they have suitable tablet, computer or phone, I can take photographs, or video, find recipes, play games and ....... well so much more!

A few of the tasks it can do are built in, such as the cameras, internet browser, email handler, calendar, and book reader, but most other functions are achieved by just adding Apps, from the App Store, this takes, in most cases, under a minute and many are free, while others can cost from a few pence on up. Very few are over 5, and as you can add them as and when you require them, you can try out free items, and in some cases limited versions for free, before making any decisions to spend a little more. Once you have quite a few Apps on your iPad then you start to see updates coming out on your Apps, these are free, so you get enhanced versions of the Apps over time. Some Apps have in-app purchases where they offer extensions for a fee, if you are interested.

The iPad communicates with the outside world in two principle ways, through Wi-Fi, picking up your broadband hub, or any other that is open. Plus if you have the 3G version, which automatically connects to a Wi-Fi link when available, but it can also connect up over the mobile phone 3G network when a Wi-Fi network is not available or you have Wi-Fi turned off. The 3G version also has a SatNav (GPS) module so knows exactly where it is, plus gets information form Wi-Fi and though its 3G connection to enhance this.

The SatNav unit also works fine with no 3G signal or with 3G turned off. Most sat nav apps have built in maps so they don't need to access the internet to work, while most other mapping apps do need access to show the mapping.

The Wi-Fi only version knows its approximate location as long as it is in contact with a Wi-Fi network.

If you are a BT broadband customer you can also get free access to just about all other BT broadband routers in other BT customers homes and offices, around the country, and there are some in every street, although you have to be close enough to pick them up. There are also optional Wi-Fi networks that you can sign up to, if you want that charge in various ways. However only a 3G (mobile phone) connection will give you mobile internet etc.

The iPad does not have a separate keypad, mouse, trackball etc, just a screen and a few buttons. The screen is touch sensitive and a keyboard pops up on the screen when its needed. The touch sensitive screen works with electrical capacitance, not pressure so you use you fingers or special styluses made for this. As well as touching or taping you can in many apps tap with 2 or more fingers, hold a finger in a position, swipe or use other gestures giving a lot of extra controls, similar to using a trackpad, but its very easy to pick up.

The iPad has a built in compass so knows the direction its facing, knows if is level or if not how far out in all directions, and picks up movement. It has a forward facing camera (on the back) and a lower resolution second camera looking at you. The camera can be used for telecommunications, to take photos or video, it can be selectively focused, and digitally zoomed. The image size and quality is okay for digital use, but it does not replace a quality DSLR camera. With an optional extra, camera connecting kit you can take photos off most cameras, and off SD cards. My Nikon DSLR connects up, but its not a practical form of image backup for volume images, more a case of allowing a small number of images to be transferred. I then have several photo editing apps to allow me to edit, modify, enhance etc. Photos can then be sent elsewhere, via email or by other means. The iPhone can also act as a photo frame, showing changing images or a clock with photo images.

It has no hard drive, and therefore memory is limited, generally Apps are not very large as they call routines within the machines operating system. Data is kept with the App, although some Apps allow data to be sent to other Apps or elsewhere by a variety of means. Moving into what is now called 'cloud computing', data can be held on severs available over the internet if you want. I can send information I have created to my desktop computer or the other way, documents on my desktop computer to my iPad. iPads come in 3 memory sizes. I have the largest, and although I have a vast amount on my iPad including several SatNav systems, many maps, a very large number of Apps, I have so far used under half my memory. I could remove probably two thirds of what I have on there without loosing anything I use.

In practice, I now rarely use my desktop computer for many of the things I did historically, and many days now its not even turned on.  I usually start the day looking at the news, often starting with the BBC News App, then switching to the far larger Daily Mail App. This App downloads and updates its contents, and you can do this at any time so getting changing editions throughout the day. Once updated you don't need a connection to read. I have further news Apps for local papers, for papers and online news sources around the world, for other TV and similar, I tend to just follow up on these, specific stories or developments. Usually later in the day I will look at USA Today to see the American news. With so much available you have to limit what you look at as the hours of the day just run out.

When I turn my iPad on or return to its home screens, I have 5 pages of Apps, several of these are full of directories that contain collections of Apps on a theme, so I have collections on navigation, news, TV and radio, recipes, two medical collections, and 7 with different groups of games, plus loads more. You do tend to collect more than you need, for example my directory for calculators has 10 Apps in, some of these are converters and one shows a number of working abacuses. On the bottom of these home screens, there is a dock with 6 slots where you can hold the Apps you use the most for quicker reference, and I supplement these with others I want quick access to on the first page outside of directories. You can set this all up as you like, so for example I am not so interested in music, so all the music stuff is in a directory, while others who play a lot of music would want this as one of the most easy to use apps. So far I have installed over 300 apps, most but not all are still on it at this time.

I have an optional case, not supplied or made by Apple, this is made of leather and utilises the Apple magnetic lock so my iPad wakes up immediately when I open it and goes to sleep when I close it maintaining battery life. The amount of battery time depends on what you use it for, on standby its battery lasts for 100s of hours, in routine use browsing the internet on Wi-Fi around 10 hours, 130 plus hours playing music, down to about 2 to 3 hours using GPS. In the car I connect it to the cigarette lighter socket with a special optional adapter so I don't have a time limit when using it as SatNav. At home, when its not in use I have it plugged into a charger. Most days by evening time I am running it on the charger lead as the battery has run down, but it does get a lot of use.

See Also:

iPad Apps


By: Keith Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: Tablet_computers Topic: iPad Last Updated: 03/2012

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