I decided to do a little experiment earlier this week. I spent the day in Boston so instead of taking my laptop I decided to take only my iPad. I had no plans to write code that day but I had a number of other things I needed to do. Specifically write a new blog post, work on a book outline, and review and edits some documents. All the tasks can be accomplished on an iPad but what I wanted to know is how easy is it and how productive can I be.
Long story short, the experience was not good. I definitely wasn’t as productive as I am with a laptop. The problem isn’t with the device. The iPad is truly awesome and I believe it represents the future. The problem was inconsistencies with the various apps I used combined with the lack of features and or weird behaviors.
The experiment started on the commuter rail into Boston. The MBTA provides free wifi to riders, which was a plus for me. My iPad is wifi only, not the 3G model. With the free wifi access I was able to check my email, sync Instapaper, and post a tweet or two. The experiment was off to a great start.
The train ride into Boston was about 30 minutes so I decided to write a blog post about setting up a private centralized git server. If you follow this blog then you already know the posting isn’t here. This is when the problems started.
I used the Wordpress app to write the blog post. The app does an okay job but it ain’t MarsEdit. For starters there is no easy way to create links. Making matters worse, I wasn’t able to paste in a URL from the clipboard. I ended up wasting a lot of time trying to get a link in the blog post but that was only the start of the problems.
I needed to switch to other apps as I wrote the post. Switching apps could be a bit easier on the iPad but I was multitasking, something some folks like to say is not supported. In switching between apps I discovered that the Wordpress app doesn’t always save my data. In some cases the app could tell I had exited before saving and would tell me it had to recover the data next time I launched the app. The warning message is not necessary. Just return me to the edit screen, thank you very much.
In other cases something much worse happened. My data was lost…forever! The worse case happened after I had type three paragraphs only to have it lost. It was at this point I decided to give up on writing up the blog post and moved on to another task.
I decided to work on an outline using Pages. As far as an editor goes, Pages is great and it doesn’t have any of the short comings founding the Wordpress app. But Pages is far from perfect too.
The document I needed to edit was stored on Dropbox. The Dropbox app is awesome. I was able to go to my document and open it in Pages. Here’s where I noticed the first problem. While I’m able to open a document stored on Dropbox in Pages there is no way to save the document back to Dropbox. Once the document was in Pages it stayed in Pages until I emailed it, posted it to iWork.com, or exported it for file sharing, which mind you requires a computer. So I was able to edit my document but I could not update Dropbox with the latest version. (Just to be clear, this is not a problem with Dropbox. The problem is with Pages.)
Another problem I encountered while working in Pages is access the toolbar for styling content in my document. My iPad is typically in landscape mode when I type but the toolbar is only accessible in portrait mode. This means I was continually rotating my iPad as I tried editing the document. This is a huge productivity killer for me and very annoying.
I also ran into another problem which is more behavioral than a problem with the device or apps. As I type my brain wants to Command+s to save as I go. Saving often has been hard wired into my head for most of my life. On the iPad in apps like Pages documents are autosaved. There is no need to Command+s but this doesn’t stop my brain, or fingers for the matter, from trying to type the key combination. So what happens? I end up with lots of / characters randomly scattered throughout my document.
This brings up another issue. Apps on the iPad behave differently. For example the Wordpress app uses an edit screen with a Save button at the top. As I painfully learned the app does not autosave so I must touch the Save button, which I find myself doing often. Pages on the other hand autosaves. There is no explicit save action. This means my behaviors when using Pages must be different when compared to using the Wordpress app. It becomes annoying that different behaviors at required for different apps and this can hurt productivity.
Overall the experiment was useful. It opened my eyes up to the challenges we third party developers have when trying to create really useful apps. I also learned that while I can do many tasks on my iPad I’m still not as productive as I am on my laptop. I don’t fault the device for this. It’s the apps that are to blame. Inconsistent app behavior and lack of sharing data between apps impact productivity. But the good news is, this is only the beginning. The experience is only going to get better. Apps are going to get better. And it is only a matter of time before my iPad replaces my laptop for most of my daily activities.