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The personal site of Jamie Knight, an autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Topics: Autism Development

The iPad is not enough

A couple of weeks ago I sold my much loved MacBook Air to my partner for their university studies. Before replacing it I wanted to try using the iPad as my only personal computer.

What this meant was I would try to use just the iPad for things I normally do across a combination of devices (iPad, MacBook, iMac). 

The short story is I found that while just using the iPad is possible, it’s quite limited in places and right now and its not an option to replace my Mac.

Too many devices.

I wrote a while back about owning 4 devices, this is a trend which I have seen growing larger. People seem to own more devices these days, specifically I see many people in my social circle having both laptops and tablets.

With the MacBook moving on to a new home I took the opportunity to reduce the number of devices. The iPad seemed the Device to consolidate with, it has most of the tools I need and it was my most up to date device.

With this in mind, the MacBook went on its way. 

75% of the feature list.

The iPad allows me to do most of what I need to do. It has great tools for writing, reading and working on my website. It is possible to do the vast majority of the things I need to do on the iPad. If I was (for some reason) restricted to a single device it would be a very hard choice between the iPad or a MacBook. In reality I don’t have to make that decision and have kept with ‘both’.

You see, while the iPad does 75% of what I need to do it only really works well for activities which are very focused. Right now, writing this little article it’s pretty good, I’m sat on the sofa tapping away in byword. I am focused on this one activity and nothing else is going on.

Competitive focus.

That’s the real crux of the matter for me, once other things start going on and I need to multitask the iPad becomes quite frustrating. For example, I normally have MSN open in the background on my laptop, I can leave both the chat windows and my writing on the screen and seamlessly switch between the activities. On the iPad this is not possible, I need to swap my whole computing focus between the two competing apps. Switching from byword to MSN when a notification comes through is quite slow, staring at the IM window for 3-5 seconds before the message appears is quite frustrating it breaks my flow.  

I can certainly see the argument for focused appliance computing where the one thing you have now is the only thing in focus. I can see this working great for some (my parents for sure) but for my normal method of working its not a very productive workflow.

The reality for me is that sitting with only IM open is not how I use my time, switching between apps at speed is not fast enough and this leads to frustration.

Many devices is fine. I suppose.

I don’t like the idea of owning (and looking after!) so many devices. The sale of the MacBook Air was not expected. However after trying the iPad out as my personal computer I have resigned myself to needing something more traditional. I have replaced my older air with a newer model but I do feel somewhat frustrated for what could have been.

I suppose the real limitation right now is in software more than hardware, I could get a case for the iPad which copies the laptop form factor. This would resolve some of the physical discomfort of using the iPad for long periods. However this would not solve the lack of a smooth workflow.  While switching between apps on the iPad is fast, it’s not fast enough. Perhaps in future updates true multitasking will enable the sort of responsiveness I am accustomed too. 

As much as I like Apple, the limitations are imposed due to the software. Other companies such as Microsoft have taken a different approach. While much of their bluster has serious problems, the idea of using an OS with proper multitasking is appealing.

The future.

I am excited about what future options may be out there. Whether the future comes from Apple or Microsoft I’m not sure, but it does feel like where we are now is not the destination. 

Perhaps in a few years time I will be looking again at the technology landscape and will then be able to go to a single device.

Published: 23 June 2012 | Categories: , Permalink

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