Friday, March 23, 2012

Are We Entering the Post PC Age?

Two years ago I wrote about my iPad 1: For me the iPad is the ideal machine when away from my desktop. E-mail, news and Wikipedia via the internet are all at my fingertips. I have no time for watching films or playing games but it seems that other people can well find their fill with the iPad.

When a year ago the iPad 2 hit the market I considered the improvements on this machine marginal compared with what I already had. I decided that two mediocres cameras did not make such a difference. Anyway, it is one of my habits to skip one generation of gadgets, just as I jumped from the iPhone 3S to the 4S. This also means that I made an effort to be among the first to get the newest iPad generation. As soon as the Apple web site opened for preorders I squeezed mine in. Like thousands of other people I got my iPad delivered on Friday, March 16. For me the main reason for buying the new iPad was not its much touted retina display but rather the faster processor for some of the operations performed on my iPad 1 take quite long.

Before giving you my impressions of the new iPad I would like to demonstrate that even my first generation machine fulfills most of the functions of a notebook at least for me and that instantaneously without lengthy rebooting. My favorite applications you will find below on my home screen. They are available at the very moment when I wake up my iPad.

For managing my appointments, tasks and contacts I use Pocket Informant, the one single application with which I have suffered so much over the last years because it did not and does not easily synchronize with MS Outlook. In the meantime, the people of WebIS have included IOS calendars in Pocket Informant that are also displayed in Outlook and stay synchronized in the cloud. The next icon in the first row of applications is Mail followed by one home made icon named Wikipedia. Touching it takes me directly to my Wikipedia watch list where I can follow all changes to articles that I have either written or contributed to. On the other hand, my activity on Facebook (next item) is limited to following my son's whereabouts.

The first application in the second row is Flipboard that gorgeous newsreader. With Flipboard I follow the most important national and international news. However, the app seems to be somewhat selective so when I want to be sure not to miss anything on a particular news I switch to the slower and less shiny Pulp reader. Next come two browsers I chose from the good dozen available in the Apple store in addition to the built-in Safari (last in the first row): Dolphin HD and Mercury. I change to Dolphin whenever and for no obvious reason Safari is ill- or non-responding. Mercury is nice for it sports a right hand scroll bar making browsing of longish web sites a breeze. Last but not least, the Wikipanion app is unbeatable when looking up something for it gives the opportunity to switch easily between the German, English and French versions of Wikipedia dealing with the same topic.

Let us talk about text processing in considering the applications I placed in the third row. Forget about a Word-like treatment of texts on the iPad. Apple's Pages that may perform wonders on a Mac is useless for working on texts when your desktop runs Windows. Document files created in Pages on the iPad end up in obscure places like WebDIS, iDisk and iCloud or are accessible on your desktop only via iTunes. There is Dropbox, the best invention for the exchange of information between two machines since Microsoft's ActiveSync that kept a Pocket PC in phase with a desktop PC, almost. In Dropbox you always work on the same file stored in the cloud from any machine that has access to it. No need of synchronization!. Quickoffice connects to Dropbox and you can happily work on your MS doc- or docx-files on the iPad but beware! Not all formatting done on the PC is kept when you make changes on the iPad and send your text back into the cloud. A fully justified formatted text turns to left adjusted which I still accept but more serious is that all underlying information like imbedded links is completely lost in transfer.

While dreaming about MS Office for the iPad (rumors about it circulated two months ago) I usually only need and use simple text processor jotting down my ideas, loading them into the cloud and retrieving the text-only-files on my desktop. There are a couple of text editors available for the iPad like iAwriter, Writeroom, Textwriter, and Plain Text however my favorite is Nebulous for it opens with an additional row of freely programmable keys. Here I have direct access to the umlauts, I find keys that allow me to move around in a text and last but not least the row of keys has the sorely missed forward delete key.

The next and most expensive item on the home screen is the advanced Pons English dictionary. Although I use LEO on the web quite a lot, Pons is always available even when I am offline. PhatNotes is one of the most cherished carryovers from my Windows Mobile times. The database contains all my personal information and passwords. PhatNotes is an iPhone app optically blown up on the iPad and synchronizes information between IOS and Windows versions. In the meantime I have transferred all my non-confidential information to Evernote (see the apps bar at the bottom) that will just store anything. Evernote belongs to the ten apps everybody should have on his iPad/iPhone. The same is true for GoodReader. It lets you read among other formats pdf-files in book format and annotate, cut and paste text. Remember my hailing of Google? On GoodReader I read e.g. those scanned-in books about the Baden revolution of 1848/49 that some of the participants had written and published shortly afterwards in Switzerland.

The fourth row starts with my collection of weather apps. My favorite is Meteogram but I switch to others if its forecast does not please me. In Utilities I have collected a couple of goodies like PCalc a calculator featuring inverse Polish notation, a fast way of calculating as promoted by Hewlett-Packard in the 80s in their famous pocket calculator series. I therefore cherish an emulated nostalgic iHP41CV available for both the iPad and the iPhone. In addition I placed apps for testing WLAN speed, the TapDictionary, and TextExpander in Utilities. The last row on the home screen is completed with a self-explanatory SPORT1 app and the DB Navigator. The navigator not only allows me to plan German and European train trips but also includes local urban transport connections leading to the nearest train station.

The apps bar at the bottom starts with Musik containing most of my classical CD collection and a couple of jazz oldies and evergreens although I prefer listening to them on my iPhone. Photo contains a collection of photo apps I still have to sort out for their usefulness. I also keep a private photo collection starting with the advent of digital picture taking ordered by years. In addition, an album called nostalgia contains scanned in photo souvenirs of yesteryear. I already mentioned Evernote the database for collecting any information that you would like to keep and refer to later and synchronize with the PC. Erinnerungen (Reminders) I usually fill in on my iPhone mostly with Siri's help. The last two items that figure on the bottom bar are obvious and essential to those using Apple's IOS devices.

Now, what are for me the most important improvements of the new iPad compared with my iPad 1? Strain on my ol' blue eyes is much less when reading text on a retina display. The increase in speed is dramatic. Launching Pocket Informant from scratch takes about 3 seconds on iPad 1, on the new iPad it takes less than a second.

The other day I read an article that with the advent of the iPad we are entering the post PC age. That is not entirely true, since for all major office work, editing photos, creating web pages and doing home banking the PC will remain my main work horse. Just consider the size of the monitor screen. However, post notebook age sounds fine to me.

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