iPad 3 months on
Been a while since I started using the iPad so thought I'd best post some progress.
If you have read the iPad versus MacBook experiment post you would know that one of the objectives of the whole experiment was to see if I could use the iPad as a replacement for my laptop. Well, in short, I did actually manage it, albeit with a few restrictions.
I will start off by saying that whilst you can use your iPad for most things, there are a few things that are much easier on a proper computer. The biggest issue with the iPad for me was simply the user interface. It's great for most things but when you want to type there is nothing like a real keyboard. This is no big issue as you can use the standard apple bluetooth keyboard which works flawlessly. However, this leads not to another issue. There is no mouse.
To me not having a mouse is generally not an issue as I tend to use the keyboard wherever possible. I'm a staunch believer that as far as efficiency is concerned it's much quicker to hit a few keys than it is to reach over and use the mouse. The only issue is, that on the iPad, the common keyboard shortcuts do not exist. There's no 'cmd-tab', no 'home', no way to easily navigate between apps. This means that the only way to navigate is to use the touchscreen, which quite frankly sucks big-time as far as efficiency is concerned. This isn't a massive issue if you do not need to frequently change between applications, for example using a word processor but is a massive PITA if you are trying to code a website. If Apple can address the keyboard shortcut issue it would be a lot more useable.
In the cloud
As the iPad has limited storage, some kind of 'Cloud' or centralised file sharing is absolutely necessary for getting the most out of it, this is especially true if you are using the iPad for business. I have been a user of iDisk for quite a while. It was working really good for document storage and allowed me to easily share docs between all of my machines.
...Enter stage left iCloud.
Apple decided to replace it's iDisc service with iCloud, this has been rolled out over the past 9 months or so, with the end of life for iDisc happening next month. I've got to say as a cloud service iCloud sucks big time. Mostly as there is no webdav or FTP access, no way to manually organise the stuff that is stored there, no way to store files other then from inside an app that supports it. This is a big fail as far as I am concerned, okay for the home user using the apple suite of products but absolutely crap for business users such as myself.
So now that iDisk is basically at its life end I needed to find a way of sharing docs between all of my machines. After looking around for a suitable cloud storage solution I decided to give GoDaddy Online Storage a try. They offered by far the cheapest solution, with a 100 gigs of storage weighing in at just under $30 per year, which is pretty much what most other hosts are charging monthly. Of course, with a price that cheap there had to be a catch: I found that the supplied sync tool was not very reliable and ended up resorting to manually synching my data using FTP. Not a massive issue, and for $30 a year not one that I am complaining about. I decide that as this was a bit of an experiment I would go with the cheap option and upgrade providers later on if I needed to.
It was actually good to reorganise my storage. Pretty much everything was stored on my laptop and backed up to a time machine. Using the iPad has forced me to move my storage online and change my workflow a little suit. Storing everything in online storage means that I can access it from any machine anywhere at any time, plus I get an extra level of redundancy as not only are my files backed up to my time machine, they are also now backed up online as well.
Basic Apps - Accessing your stuff.
To access your online storage you will need to have a suitable WebDAV / FTP client. I tried a few before I settled on using Air Sharing which had the cleanest interface and also included mail server integration which allows you to connect to your mail server and download message attachments directly to the iPad, a really handy feature. Air Sharing also allows direct access to your iPad from other devices on the network via a web based interface making it easy to quickly share files. You may also want to consider access to other services such as drop box, MobileMe or Google Docs, Air Sharing has support for a variety of providers but it's worth checking that it supports the ones that you use.
Basic Apps - Editing office files
Unless you are happy with the apple suite of office type products you will need an app that is compatible with Microsoft office. Whilst Pages is okay, it does miss out some very basic formatting which makes it more or less completely incompatible with office docs. This is okay if you simple need to be able to open and read the document, but no good if you need to modify it as it will screw the document up. Fortunately help is at hand in the form of Quickoffice which does a much better job.
Quickoffice also incorporates the ability to download docs directly from your preferred cloud service provider and also provides direct access via a web client if you are connected to the same network. Unfortunately at this time it does not allow you to add custom WebDAV clients which means that you cannot add a client if it is not in the pre-defined list, unfortunately GoDaddy is not in the list.
Overall having the ability to access files remotely and edit them will enable many to be able to use their iPad as a day to day office tool. Sure it might be a bit more clunky to use than a laptop but with the keyboard you can easily (and comfortably) use it to create and edit documents as you need. I find that being able to access my email and calendar is of greatest importance, and being able to take notes and refer back to them in meetings is the next most frequent thing that I do on a day to day basis, whilst I actually use another app for taking notes (more about that in a later post) it is easily achievable by using either the native notes application or Quickoffice.
The most important thing for me in being able to use the iPad on a day to day basis instead of the laptop was finding a suitable online storage provider so that I could easily share files between my computers and my iPad. Being a consultant, my work also allows me to be able to use the iPad for taking notes that I can then later type up when I am back in the office. In short I do not really need access to massive processing power on the road which has been a big factor in the success of using the iPad on a day to day basis.
Of course, it is no good for things like app development or PHP coding, for activities like these you will simply need to use a desktop or a laptop, but it is possible to use your iPad for making mods to sites, especially if you have got the correct apps, but more about that in another post.
After 3 months of using my iPad instead of my laptop, I can say wholeheartedly it is indeed possible. It will take a change in the way that you work, and a bit of reorganisation to your workflow, but when you are set up it is refreshing to be able to travel light and work simply. It was initially a bit hard for me to get my head around, and it wasn't until I had reorganised my complete storage to be online based that I could really take advantage of the iPad as a productivity tool.
The outcome of my three months trial is that instead of buying a new laptop I opted to buy a new iMac for my office instead.