What do you actually do with an iPad?

The question was tabled recently – what do you actually do with an iPad? A lot of people like the idea of them, but when it comes to actually using one, they have a hard time articulating what they might use it for.

It’s a question of perspective. The genius of the iPad is not so much what it does, but how it lets you work. And I think until you have adopted a certain way of working, an iPad won’t necessarily make sense to you beyond a neat thing to access the internet with. The following is a list of things you can do with the way you work – understanding what you can do with an iPad will naturally follow.

  • Get yourself in the cloud. Dropbox, iDisk, GoogleDocs, whatever. If you don’t currently use cloud-based services, an iPad either won’t make a lot of sense to you, or will be a giant pain for you to use. Cloud services mean your stuff is always where you want it, when you want it. Get used to working this way. Your home computer will thank you, too (as will any computer you ever have to use anywhere).
  • Get yourself connected. The iPad makes it so easy to use social media there’s really no reason to keep putting it off. Twitter, for instance, is beautiful on the iPad. Twitter + Instapaper is a configuration not optional for any researcher. If you’re feeling brave, Flipboard is an extremely elegant and powerful way to mine social media for professional learning.
  • Get thee to an RSS aggregator. Trawling RSS feeds over lunch is a terribly efficient way to research and stay connected, and there are a veritable cornucopia of iPad apps that sync with popular readers.
  • Get used to working electronically. If you refuse to read documents on-screen and routinely mark or take notes by hand, the iPad will do nothing but frustrate you. Quell the instinct to hit ‘print’ and get your head around an electronic document workflow before you buy. Even without an iPad, it’s an easy way to make a very significant step towards reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Get used to using your fingers to do things. Unplug your portable laptop mouse and use your trackpad. If you worship at the altar of the mouse or stylus, you’re in for a frustrating ride.
  • Mix business and pleasure. If you’re the kind of person who never allows anything recreational near your work computer, you’ll be missing half the story on an iPad.
  • Repeat to yourself 1000 times, I do not need a file manager. If you go in expecting one, you will very quickly lose it and fling the iPad across the room in frustration. If you routinely use the ‘Open recent’ function in applications rather than opening a file from your file manager, you’ve already won half the battle.

Once you’ve conquered the above and bought an iPad, the very first thing you should do with it is either hand it to the nearest child, or sit next to an old lady on a plane/train/bus with it. These people will very immediately, and very naturally, without realising, show you just how powerful it can be. The next thing you should do with it is sit down and poke every possible thing on it. And finally, before doing anything, ask yourself ‘I wonder if I could do this on the iPad instead’. Chances are, you can.

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