Opinion

Computing while commuting

Guy Whitcroft

Guy Whitcroft tells us how a light-weight iPad can replace a notebook, making commuting and general meetings more productive

Sometime back during a discussion on LinkedIn, I posed a question whether an Apple iPad would give me meaningful productivity while I was on the road. I subsequently purchased one and am now an avid user of it finding it extremely useful. Subsequently, I am happy to share my experiences with others.

First some background information to put this in context. I moved from Dubai to England late last summer and am now living near Reading in the main infotech area of the country. However, I travel to London two to three times most weeks, and have many meetings within a two hour driving radius.

Although I have an excellent notebook, three to four hours of battery life is not sufficient for a day’s work, which means taking along power supply, cables, all in a bag. All of this gets cumbersome and heavy.

The iPad sounded like an ideal device as the screen is big enough to work with and offers around ten hours of battery life in a normal work environment. However, I was not clear how effectively it would co-exist with my Windows, Office and Outlook environment on my PC as I wanted to be able to work along with my documents, email, while on the move – but without the weight and size of a notebook bag, or the hassle of finding recharging points.

If this sounds like you, read on…

Taking advice from several people, I decided to go for the WiFi version of the iPad rather than the 3G one for reasons specific to the UK. One of the mobile telecos offers a package which includes a 3G MiFi device that sits in a pocket. You can connect up to five devices to this through WiFi with 15GB of data a month for just £18.99.

It seemed silly to pay an extra £100 for 3G on the iPad that I would not need nor probably use. However, memory is important – you can never have too much of it in my view – so I opted for the full 64GB version.

Watching other people with iPads, I decided on a few must-have accessories – a screen protector, a capacitive stylus and a leather case with built-in Bluetooth keyboard. The ones I chose after some research were the LuvMac iPad Leather case with integrated Bluetooth keyboard, and the BoxWave capacitive iPad Stylus.

The LuvMac case with keyboard is great. It not only protects the iPad but gives me a built-in keyboard for very little weight. It gives about 100 hours of use out of a charge, so I normally only charge it once a week. Although the Bluetooth link seems to drop every now and then – perhaps it goes into sleep mode a little too quickly – or maybe I just think too slowly – it comes back again with a few key presses. So it’s certainly not a problem and much more convenient and faster than the on-screen keyboard.

The stylus is completely trouble-free. It would be nice if one had a smaller radius point for selection, but I think that’s an iPad design issue since it’s made for a finger rather than a pen.

But the area that concerned me most was the software environment. Fortunately iPad applications are fairly inexpensive, so if you make a mistake and get the wrong solution it’s not a huge problem.

After a few experiments, the applications I use most: Dropbox, Documents To Go Premium, zipThat and – to access my home office PC – Wyse PocketCloud Pro.

I have also found a great business modelling solution – called Business Model. I am still experimenting with a few other applications like Mindmapping and around general notes and drawing, but haven’t yet settled on anything. I also have a Kindle reader and use iBooks, too, for e-books. Of course, there are links to news services, Twitter and other feeds.

Setting everything up for my home-office environment was extremely easy and the RDP links to my home office PC from within the house are very fast. Getting past my router at home and my AV system was a little more challenging but that’s also working well now and I can access my PC when on the road.

I do this infrequently due to the speed over a 3G link, coupled with the rather slow upload speed on my home Internet service. To get around this I try to keep my files synced through Dropbox and access them that way, and I point the Docs2Go app at the Dropbox folder. Word and Excel files work well with Docs2Go, although Powerpoint is less successful – unless your slides are simple and have no background pictures.

Email on the iPad is not great but it’s workable. I would prefer a more powerful mail client than the default Apple one, but haven’t yet found one. Any ideas are welcome!  Similarly, the contacts part of the Apple email system is very basic, so I only use it for email and not as I would on my PC.

Finally, the iPad has definitely paid for itself in just a couple of months. I use it on all my trips to London – the two hours on the train are now truly productive. I also find myself using it for meetings and events, and take notes with the keyboard instead of on paper, which means I immediately have them searchable and preserved so I can find them easily. I would be happy to hear from anyone about their own experiences.

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Guy Whitcroft leads a group of non executive directors helping SMEs take their business to the next level, and working with owners on their business strategy and risk. He has been working for the last thirty years in the infotech industry across all channels and has handled many markets from the MENAT region. A frequent guest speaker and mentor for workshops, Guy now resides in UK and can be contacted on gwhitcroft@gmail.com.

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