Portable Computing in 2011

As many of my clients and associates are well aware, I have been a cell phone user for almost 20 years. The first phone being a Motorola Ultra Classic. After striking out on my own over seven years ago, I embraced smart phones. It was, given the nature of my business model, that I needed access to email at the same level that I had while sitting at my desk.

The first smart-phone that I owned was a Samsung, Windows based slider phone. This device met my basic needs. After a period of time the device became unreliable and was replaced with a Palm Treo, also Windows based. During this whole time I avoided the RIM Blackberry devices, not because they aren't any good, they are, but in the SMB environment, of which I am, full Exchange Server integration requires the implementation of a Blackberry Enterprise Server. With that added requirement, it really put that device out of reach.

The Treo served me well for something on the order of four years. Once again the phone became unreliable. No complaints and it didn't owe me anything, but at this point Palm was on shaky ground. In the fall of 2009 I jumped on the Android bandwagon with the Motorola Droid. I would have considered the iPhone, but with it being bound to AT&T's network, made it an unacceptable option. The Droid has done yeoman service to my mobile computing needs and didn't see the need to supplement it. I'm even writing this blog entry on it using an app that connects to Drupal's blog API. This allows me to blog from anywhere I have data service coverage.

Two months ago I started work on a client's new web site that had to be optimised for presentation on an iPad. This forced my hand into a purchase that I didn't want to make. Now I'm not an Anti-Apple, Windows user, but I'm no fan-boy either. I live by the creed of whatever tool gets the job done. When the iPad first came out, I viewed it as an iPod Touch with a thyroid condition.

I didn't see how this device could carve out a niche in a space between a smart-phone and notebook. How wrong I was, after having the tablet for about two months, I'd be hard pressed to live without it. The iPad has become the go to device it any time I'm running out when and I'm not taking a notebook computer.

My notebook is still the primary device when I travel to the city for business, but most anytime else I just carry the tablet; like when hopping out to a meeting and I won't be gone long enough to need the full power of a notebook or taking my son to his karate and robotics classes. I even brought it with me to New York on a day I was going to see the Yankees (BTW, I ended up shoving it into my belt, under my jacket, because they consider the iPad a notebook) I use it for everything from surfing the web to writing emails to writing documentation.

An additional benefit this device has brought is that it has practically eliminated the use of other notebooks I have strategically placed around the house. These were used for casual web surfing and email correspondence. Now, rather than opening up the notebook, I grab the iPad. Now my MacBook Pro is used, almost exclusively, for photography.

There are a few places where the iPad fell short. First, once again, if you get the 3G model, you're stuck with AT&T and if you want the GPS you need to buy the 3G model (data plan activation isn't required). Second, the price points are painful for additional memory, $100 for each doubling of memory from the base 16 GB model. Third, it isn't internally upgradable in any way and there are no SD card slots. Finally there is no camera. It would have been nice if a forward facing camera was provided for video conferencing (although I am hearing that the second generation version will have one).

As I mentioned before, the activation of a data plan is optional if the 3G version is purchased. I did use the data service for a month while traveling a bit during August. I turned the service on for a month and then shut it down. During that period, I got the spotty service that I had expected from AT&T while traveling in New England and on the east end of Long Island. In the long run, I have found that most of the time I can access either a free Wi-Fi access point, or get online through my Optimum Online account which comes with free Wi-Fi access and that negated the need for a full time data plan. If the need ever arises that I need service, It can be turned back on right from the iPad.

The iPad is by no means a necessity, but I have come to see the value of a device that can be cradled in one's arm and fully manipulated with the other. This device, in my opinion, is right-sized for the tasks I have been using it for, something with the horsepower of a smart-phone and the larger display of a notebook without so much bulk. I've found the battery life to be excellent and I can go two days or more between charges.