Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

iPad On The Road

May 2010

By Mike Gould

Photo by Joe Kurnik at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
Photo by Joe Kurnik at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Like 300,000 of my fellow Americans, I bought an iPad last week. I think it is just great, as it does just what I want it to do: enable me to surf the web and check my email in my living room while I have my morning coffee. And do the same at day's end in lieu of reading my dear departed newspaper.

The iPad is designed primarily for the consumption of content: reading, watching movies, listening to music, and surfing the web. But you can use it as a word processor, and that is what I am going to test on the road.

I am writing this on my iPad while on a trip to Washington DC. While waiting in the airport I am downloading Pages, the Apple iPad word processing app from the App store. Off course, this being in an airport, this transaction costs $$. Detroit Metro uses a little moneymaker called Boingo to extract what it can from road warriors who need Internet access.

The good news is that you can now buy an hour of access for $1.99 instead of having to shell out a truly extortionate fee for a daily or weekly pass. As with everything else in this ecosystem, there's an app for this as well; you are directed to the app store where there is a free jobbie that gets you the software mojo needed to Boingotize yourself. Once tricked out and signed in, you can then attach to the Metro WiFi system, if you can find a signal.

And there's the rub, or one of the rubs the new Apple flatscreen masseur provides: spotty WiFi performance. Once my iPad found a signal, I got a lousy one bar of Internet goodness. I started downloading Pages and things slowed to a crawl. After five minutes of mostly nothing happening, I went looking for a stronger signal. I wandered up and down the corridor between the gates until I found sufficient bar-age, and was able to complete my download. My hotter hotspot faded out as my download finished, another symptom of wireless problems that others are seeing.

Back to our travels. I am sardined into a window seat directly above the wing, trying to type with my elbows tucked in to avoid jabbing my wife Salli. The keyboard takes some getting used to, but is not bad. I feel more constrained by my tiny seat than the smallish keyboard. I can use all my fingers on the virtual keyboard, though the lack of tactile feedback is a little off-putting. No 150 words per minute on this puppy.

We have arrived in DC and are in the lobby of our hotel waiting for our room to be ready (at 5:00, harrumph). Salli has paid her ransom to the hotel's IT bankers and is watching Tiger Woods work out with his woods on ESPN with her laptop, and I'm iTapping away, iPad set up on a fancy granite table in front of a comfy sofa. Families are coming and going, and there is the usual hotel hubbub in the background. Not the ideal situation, as I prefer the peace and quiet of my office in the basement of Mondo Manor, but I can cope.

I'm heading off to the Smithsonian this morning, typing this in the Metro while waiting for the Blue Line/ Franconia train in the L'Enfant Plaza station - no WiFi, no surprise. With the 'pad perched on my lap, it's a lot more comfortable than the plane. But, then again, so is everything. I have the pad in a laptop bag, which is way too big for it, but works OK. Big marketing opportunity here for luggage manufacturers.

I'm sitting in the cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and have finally found a WiFi hotspot. I was disappointed that the Natural History Museum, where I started my tour, was without public Internet access (that I could find - they might have had it in the bigger cafeteria downstairs but not in the Fossil Cafe where I ate my over-priced sandwich and salad.) But I have four big bars of signalness now and am finally able to check my email. And pay for that tripod head on eBay.

Now I'm visiting the Air and Space museum, at the McDonalds food court, alas. There is no WiFi, but lots of screaming kids with happy meals and freeze-dried astronaut ice cream. Overall, I am a bit miffed by the general lack of Internet at the Smithsonian; their website claims they have it, but is vague about where. And most of their employees are totally ignorant about the issue.

Dinner time, and I'm at the Bistrot Du Coin, meeting up with my sister Patti who happens to be in town from Phoenix. She is very impressed with the slideshow capability of the iPad, but I am disappointed that I can't get online with it, even though I have four bars worth of mojo from their public access point.

I am visiting the headquarters of National Public Radio this morning, seeing the studio where "All Things Considered" is produced and broadcast. Not surprisingly, I have a great connection and am able to download the brand-new NPR iPad app, which gets me access to all their shows whenever I am online.

I am back at my hotel, tapping away on this piece, with Padrick (as I have just now named my flat little buddy) happily clicking away in response to my text entry. I think I am done, but I don't have word count built into Pages, and don't feel like manually counting everything.

All things considered, as we say in Washington, I'm pretty happy with Pages on Padrick. I could do a faster, better job with Word on Mondo MacBook, but at a cost of three times the weight and with increased awkwardness due to the larger footprint in tight quarters. Padrick seems to fit on my lap just fine and the virtual keyboard feels better now that I've run it through its paces.

I wouldn't want to write a book with this setup, but could if I had to (probably using an external wireless keyboard.) But for short travelogues such as this, the 'Pad is rad.

MonodoDyne <M> The Sound of One Hand Clicking...
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