Making the iPad “Buy” Decision [for Business]

Last January when the announcement of the iPad was a few days away, I told my wife, “I really need to have one!” And, like most practical wives who love their husbands but find themselves in situations where it somehow becomes their responsibility to say “OK,” she replied, “Why?”. My reply was an incredulous, “Well… I don’t know yet, but don’t worry, Steve is going to tell me next week!”

Yeah, that didn’t go over too well. However, after an unexpected but fortuitously well-timed stroke of good fortune, I was able to purchase one last May and have been absolutely delighted ever since. The iPad stands out at presenting almost any kind of media in a very visually appealing and naturally interactive manner. Of course you can read books, watch movies and surf the web on a smartphone or laptop, but the experience absolutely pales in comparison to that on the iPad.

Still, shelling out significant cash for a new device when I already own an iPhone 3GS and a MacBook Pro did give me pause. I worried that since the iPad is not as mobile as a phone and not as functional as a laptop, once the novelty wore off, would it just sit on a shelf full of promises but rarely be used? I didn’t want that. I could tell that an iPad is not a good replacement for a smartphone or laptop, so it had to complement these tools and improve my effectiveness in situations where they are limited.

That was my dilemma. To resolve it, I looked carefully at how I spent my time and tried to determine where the iPad had anything unique to offer. In particular I wanted to find a way I could use it at work. Surprisingly it was fairly obvious – business meetings!

I attend a lot of meetings and find it very annoying and rude when someone clicks away at a laptop or squints into a phone display. An open laptop forms an almost physical barrier between the user and everyone else in the room and staring at small screens or tiny text demands enough attention that any laptop/phone user has effectively exited the meeting.

I usually take a paper notebook into meetings and keep off my phone to not be tempted. There is a downside, however, because a paper notebook doesn’t give me access to the information on my laptop and it can’t get to the web to look things up. I also have to feign attention when the meeting gets boring – unlike the laptop users who pretend to look busy but are actually checking e-mail or surfing the web.

The iPad fits into this situation perfectly! I could enter notes onto the iPad via a notebook app like WhiteNote as well as use the WiFi network to access information needed for the meeting. With VNC apps like iTeleport: Jaadu VNC for iPhone / iPad, I could even look at files and get at whatever I wished from my laptop on my desk via a simple remote connection.

So… after finally justifying the purchase, I had to decide was which one to get. Determining how much storage (16, 32 or 64 GB) and whether to get 3G was difficult when I hadn’t used an iPad before.

Some things I considered were how often WiFi is likely to be available and what I planned to put on the device. For example, since WiFi is present at both my home and at work plus I already own a smartphone for connectivity on the road, I thought I might never use 3G. Likewise, I could load lots of music and audiobooks on an iPad, but why? An iPhone or iPod is much more portable. However, if I ever decided to carry around a lot of movies and photographs, the iPad would be great for displaying such media and I’d need the space.

Then again, if I subscribed to Flicker, Pandora, NetFlix, Hulu plus, and other services, I could always access or stream my pictures, music, movies and TV without using any storage (as long as I had a WiFi connection).

In the end I couldn’t decide and just bought the most iPad I could afford. I also chose 3G – not because I knew I would use it, but because I thought if I ever did need it, I wanted the option.

Once I decided on my iPad model, the next decision was the case. I knew that no matter how careful I tried to be, it would get bumped and maybe even dropped or knocked off a table so I wanted to protect my investment. There are so many options, however, that this decision was more difficult for me than choosing the iPad model! Several styles are available:

  • padded sleeves
  • hard & soft shell cases
  • book-like cases
  • carrying bags & slings

Each of these styles have their plusses and minuses so I was forced to read a lot of reviews. Sleeves and bags were out because they require the iPad to be removed before they can be used and some of the other cases I learned covered up controls or connectors, so they were out too. I settled on a Dodocase, because I wanted a case that would both protect the iPad plus be unobtrusive. Fear of theft is something all iPad owners must contend with and this case, while expertly designed and functional, just looks like a simple Moleskin notebook.

Since the wait on the handmade Dodocase was long, I also bought a clear plastic snap-on protective case from Handheld Items. I found a coupon code for it on Dealmac so it cost less than $20 including shipping.

As far as buying other accessories, I decided to wait and I’d recommend others do the same. I wanted to live with my iPad for a few weeks and learn how to use it the way it was intended. I was determined to only purchase a keyboard, dock or other accessory when I really knew I needed it… and I’m still not feeling the need. Is it working out how I expected? You bet!

It did take some effort before I felt comfortable entering notes on the iPad, but it’s quite convenient to have in a meeting. I find it very easy to keep up with meeting conversations because the iPad’s touch interface and large text don’t demand much attention. There’s also something engaging and collaborative about passing an iPad around to check/show information in a meeting – much more so than having people crowd around a laptop.

Is that all? Well I now use it to search the web or send e-mail instead of doing it all on my laptop (which is sometimes convenient like while watching a webinar). I use Twitter and RSS as part of my work and far prefer the iPad user interfaces of Osfoora HD and Reeder over similar laptop applications to keep me up to date wherever I am. Business travel with the iPad is great too. Its really long battery life, stored books and movies, internet connectivity and note taking ability is often all I need on a trip.

Best of all, with my iPad, I can lean back, relax and it doesn’t feel so much like work!

Ray Gans works as a Community Manager for an open source software vendor in the SF Bay Area and loves apps, wine & cheese and boardgames. He bought his first Mac in 1984 and has been one of the Apple faithful ever since. You can catch him on the TMA forums as Aeaea.

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