iPad Update

By lex, on May 21st, 2011

Because, having previously been informed that you had sponsored the acquisition of Apple’s latest mobile computing device, at least one of you may be curious.

The device, you may remember, came with the purchase of digital camera for the Kat’s 17th. I tell myself – and her – that it came free with that purchase, for only several hundred dollars more.

I told myself that it would be good for aerial navigation, and I’m sure it will be, once I find myself navigating out of the Sandy Eggo airspace, which I already know rather well. ForeFlight Mobile for iPad comes “free”, but the maps associated with the system are “in-app” purchases. I downloaded via WiFi an airport database for the lower 48, airport taxi diagrams and the airfield directory for Arizona, California, Nevada and Oregon. Terminal procedures, VFR charts and IFR low charts as well. I’ve flown local flights sufficient to believe that the GPS accuracy is quite good, and my aircraft symbol accurately represented on the chart and approach plates. It’ll be a pretty nifty instantiation of the “paperless cockpit” so soon as the flying hour fund is replenished. All of the mobile apps I used for flying on my iPhone are available on the iPad as well, with a thoughtful feature that allows me to zoom the native iPhone sized application view: AOPA airports, AeroWeather, Mariner Calc (a weight and balance spreadsheet) and WingX. I have not yet and do not intend to purchase a cellular data plan, so each of these applications rely on tying into a WiFi point-of-presence for updates (ForeFlight Mobile’s database is available off-line, once downloaded.)

When I bought the device, I rather pooh-poohed the notion of electronic books, but in truth I have spent far more time browsing my digital library than for any other purpose. I used to read four or five books at a time, and they were scattered hither and yon throughout the house. Whenever an idle moment came to hand I would read whatever book was closest to hand – now I have all of them. (Jorge Saramago’s “Blindness” proved a thought-provoking, if disturbing read. Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone” is a tale wonderfully told, which tells you all you’d ever want to know about the rural crank culture of the up-hill Ozarks. In comment’s to my “Walking Gus” post a week or so ago, an occasional reader pointed me to Garth Stein’s “Racing in the Rain,” a wonderful book that made me cry at the end, I’m not ashamed to say. But I had my reasons. As mentioned elsewhere, I am just beginning McRaven’s “Spec Ops.”)

The thing about a digital library is that it is always close to hand. I don’t have to go looking for that book on Robin Olds I’m reading in hardcover, nor thumb through that copy of “Airline Pilot Technical Interviews” which I really should spend more time reading. And would, if I thought it would amount to anything.

Productivity tools include Pages, a very elegant word processing application that I have yet to actually use. Penultimate allows you to free hand notes using your finger – suboptimal – or a capacitive stylus. It has not yet replaced my carry-about notebook for tasking, but it could, and may well yet. Instapaper allows you to download web content from Safari for offline viewing. Pocketcloud has allowed me to leave my laptop computer, with all of its PowerPoint briefs, word docs and pdfs at my desk and wander the wide world with just the iPad: You can VPN to your laptop and browse through your files to summon just what the conversation calls for. It’s slow, of course, operating over WiFi link, and if you allow your laptop to go to sleep the link is broken.

For moments when my laptop does fall asleep, important documents are backed up into the cloud using Google Docs. There the document can be directly viewed, but not manipulated.

The touchscreen keypad is nothing like as fast or accurate as is the tactile keypad you probably navigated to this site with, but it’s far better than the iPhone’s limited real-estate, and in landscape mode better still. It’s easier to catch up with email and browse the web than similar services on the iPhone, which I still use for that purpose when out of WiFi range. Because it’s crucially important that we all be instantly accessible by everyone, everywhere, at every waking moment.

A kind of telephony is supported using Hey Tell, which is kind of a cross between SMS texting and Skype (also loaded): If a friend or family member is also a Hey Tell user, you can speak a brief message and have him or her hear and respond with a bit of lag. BeejiveIM allows you to exchange chat messaging via Google Talk, Aim/Mobile Me, Facebook IM, Jabber, MSN or Yahoo! My work group uses Google Talk to keep in touch, so that’s the only account I use. We’re talking productivity here. All of these functionalities require network access.

The screen is large, the viewability excellent. I’ve had to shut down and reboot the device a few times when it gets hung up trying to access a WiFi hotspot. I suppose that’s due to the machine being in a constant state of suspense/activation, and wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the busy little coders at Apple are already tapping away at an OS fix. It’s a perfectly adequate social media tool, but the lack of pre-emptive multi-tasking combined with the touch screen keypad would make long form input – like this – a dreary chore. Media uploads would have to either come from the device or use the “img src=” tag, which most consider bandwidth theft.

As mentioned previously, I bought the 3G device for the GPS that’s in it, although it’s equally possible to procure a standalone Bad Elf GPS that interfaces via serial. A competitor is offering a variant that is WAAS enabled and interfaces via Bluetooth, leaving the serial port open for charging, e.g. There a few – a very few – moments when I wish I had a cellular plan or MiFi router of my own, but typically these moments come when I am in the car and really ought to be looking at the road ahead.

And at $20 per month for 1GB of data, we have to carefully consider wants vs. needs here, don’t we?

We do.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Neptunus Lex

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