That Thing You’ll do With Apple’s iPad 3

If you’ve never before owned an iPad, but merely ogled other people’s iPads and wondered what all the fuss is about, here are some thoughts on what you’ll be doing with a new iPad 3.

Back before the iPad 1 went on public sale in early April of 2010, I wondered what I would do with such a device. My initial argument was that there wasn’t any user space between an iPhone, which you wear, and a notebook computer which, while portable, sometimes stays put.

The scenario I described was visiting a friend at the beach. You take your MacBook and your iPhone. You do some work at the condo. Then, you go to lunch, and take your iPhone with you. The MacBook stays put: it would be awkward in a cozy restaurant. Maybe overheat if left in the car. But Safari on the iPhone is perfect.

And that may still be your thinking. Simplify. Avoid extra expenses and devices to manage.

But was I wrong about the iPad. The iPad has fit into my life in unexpected ways that have been tremendously convenient. What I think happened to me was that, after using a notebook computer regularly since about 1999 (first generation iBook clamshell, blue), I became all too accustomed to the drawbacks of a notebook computer and just lived with them. After I started using an iPad, those drawbacks became quickly apparent.

iPad maniaThe iPad 2 (image credit: Apple)

iPad Advantages

The iPad advantage lies in speed of access, simplicity of use, and physical convenience. Here’s what I mean.

A notebook computer is often turned off. An iPad is designed to be always on. A notebook computer has to be opened, the battery checked and power supplied if necessary. If you’re being security conscious, you’ll have to log on. Then you have to navigate in the Finder to find the app you want. Quickly the screen can become cluttered with overlapping windows. You have to type a lot.

The iPad presents your key apps on a grid. You just select one and do a quick task. It sits comfortably on your lap, and if, perchance, it slips onto the carpet, no harm done. The chance of damage is much smaller than for a notebook with its hinge mechanism.

With a notebook computer, you are forced to type and point. The modern trackpads on MacBooks are great and support some gestures, but they can’t beat an iPad. It’s either like being a kid again or a starship captain. You point, swipe, pinch — and the job is done. Glee follows.

These advantages may seem small to you, but they make a huge difference. When I want to look something up on the Internet or check the weather really fast, I reach for the iPad with its nice large screen, not the iPhone with its rather small keyboard. As for notebooks, the fact is, there are many daily tasks for which a notebook computer is inconvenient overkill.

My Usage

If I’m going to spend a little time at my doctor’s office, I take the iPad. (They all have Wi-Fi in the waiting rooms now.) If I’m on vacation at a Bed & Breakfast, and not planning to write a lot, I’ll take the iPad in preference to a MacBook. I watch TV with my iPad in my lap. If I set it aside by the armrest, it’s safe and stays on for hours without needing a battery charge. It’s also a nice device to have open next to my office iMac when I want to basically “picture frame” an app that has data I need. (Never mind that my office already looks like Harold Finch’s (Person of Interest, CBS.)

The iPad is basically a book that you can carry around the house. It doesn’t have to be pampered very much. It can lay on the kitchen counter to read a recipe. It’s easy to use with Skype. It’s one page with perhaps hundreds of books. My wife uses it at work to reference O’Reilly technical books that would be a pain to carry around the office or bring home.

If find myself checking Twitter during TV commercials, if the DVR is out of buffer. (Osfoora). I never watch a movie without the IMDB app and open to that movie’s page. My wife likes to cuddle up in a recliner sometimes and catch up on past episodes of Bones. There is even some anecdotal evidence that some people prefer iPads to big screens. It’s intimate and easily controlled.

I particularly like fast and easy access to news, magazines, and weather and astronomy apps. Sky Safari is one of my favorites. The iPad is perfect for that app on a warm summer evening and a pair of binoculars. It won’t take you long to figure out that an iPad is just indispensable for activities you never would have considered a notebook computer for. It’s a liberating experience.

But my goal isn’t to tell you every app I use; that would bore you. You’ll find your own favorites. So let’s move on.

Expectations for the iPad 3

All we know about the iPad 3, expected in a few weeks, is based on rumors, industry insiders, leaks, and educated guesses. Here’s what I and most other people are thinking.

  • A 9.7-in display, as before, but awesome 2048 x 1536 pixel display.
  • Much better front and rear cameras with a rear camera at possibly 6 or 8 megapixels.
  • A quad-core processor, faster GPU (Graphics Processing Unit).
  • Possibly up to 128 GB of user storage.
  • Possibly stereo speakers.
  • Possibly 4G/LTE data with some carriers.

The better rear camera and higher resolution will appeal especially to pilots (for hires maps) and better navigational aids with sextant replacements (only as backup!) like Spyglass. Movie buffs will appreciate the sparkling, 1080p HD display and the ability to throw it over to an HDTV with AirPlay. (That may be why we’re about to see a third generation Apple TV with 1080p capability.)

A quad-core processor and faster GPU will definitely help with action games, animation and CGI. Developers are proving that a camera in a tablet can be used effectively for science, surveying, astronomy/navigation and real estate. Basically, there will come a day when we take our tablets everywhere — the notebook computer not so much. Maybe, only if we’re in that hammock writing a novel.

The iPad 3 will be your book, your newspaper, your navigator, your entertainer, your movie player, your technical reference, your email client, your photo album, your travel atlas, your weather watcher, and your gateway to your friends via Facebook and Twitter. The screen resolution, in a device that size, will take your breath away. If we get 128 GB of storage and stereo speakers, it will be TV and movie heaven.

The iPad is evolving fast. If you don’t have one now, the iPad 3 is the perfect time to jump aboard. Otherwise, you’ll risk being left behind, as perhaps your grandparents were left behind without computer savvy. Even though it’s a simple device to use, the aggregate of all the technologies that it uses and the things you must be aware of to operate it, like household Wi-Fi, GPS, location services, system updates, security, notifications and app management are best learned early and well. This iPad train is leaving the station: be on it.

Most of all, you’re just going to have a lot of fun. These days, we need that.