What’s the iPad Good For? A Lot, Really!

Many people wonder how they could justify the purpose of an iPad, not only to themselves but also to others (I’m sure there’s been many-a-spouse that was upset by the half-grand their significant other dropped on an iPad). Many reviews focus on the technical aspects of Apple’s game-changing tablet, but very few discuss how someone can work the iPad into an existing workflow.

That’s where I come in.


When I first purchased my iPad I was already in possession of a MacBook Pro and an iPhone 4. I used the laptop for most tasks, while the iPhone was my mobile device, used for Instapaper and staying in touch with friends and family. Still, I found myself desiring the iPad, especially after the iPad 2 was released. I ordered one fairly close to launch day and waited the three weeks for it to come in the mail.

I used my iPad for about three months before I returned it to Apple because of light-bleed issues. While I could have kept it and ‘suffered’ through the problem, I had just laid down almost $700 on the tablet and I wasn’t going to accept any problems with it.

I’ve been iPad-less for about two weeks now, and I find myself in an interesting position. After using one for so long and then going without, it’s easier for me to describe where exactly the iPad fits into the average person’s (or, as average as we can come reading this site) life. This post is my outline of how you can expect the iPad to change how you interact with, well, pretty-well-near everything.


This one may be the most obvious, but it’s also the most important. The iPad became almost a necessity for me to get any reading done. While I can (and do) read on my iPhone, the iPad’s larger screen size was much more comfortable. It was also more personal than reading on the laptop, offering the best of both worlds.

Several apps lead to the iPad’s place as the ultimate reading tool. Chief among them were Reeder, Instapaper, iBooks, and Kindle. While the Kindle app has suffered from Apple’s store policies, the other three are all apps that alone offer the iPad a raison d’etre.

Reeder is invaluable for reading RSS feeds. I didn’t even use RSS feeds (let alone Google Reader) until I saw how beautiful Reeder was and bought the app, first for iPad and later for iPhone and Mac. This is also important for running my personal weblog, as a large part of writing something worth reading is reading.

Instapaper helped me to gain focus in a way OmniFocus never could. Since I was doing so much reading, it was hard to decide between leaving that browser window open (or article open in Reeder) in order to finish a long-form piece, or to begin writing something. Instapaper lets you have your cake and eat it too. It’s also been invaluable in sharing great writing with some of my friends that are less interested in finding quality content than I am.

iBooks (and, formerly, Kindle) absolutely changed my entire lifestyle. I recognize in this day and age that ebooks are the future, and being able to cut down on my total number of possessions (I prefer to keep it light) while also carrying around a bunch of books within such a small, sleek device was game-changing. There really is no substitute, as I can’t stand e-ink displays, especially their refresh time. Not having iBooks available on a nice, large screen has removed one of the favorite parts of my day.




The other way the iPad changed how I use my devices is with video. It was much more comfortable to hold the iPad in my hand and be able to roll over, lay, or sit in any way that I wanted than it was to have to either move the computer every five minutes or try to base my position on the TV. Several apps helped with this, including Roadshow, Netflix, and Hulu+.

Since the other two are so well-known, I want to talk about Roadshow. It’s an app that allows you to browse through or search for videos and then save them to your iPad for later viewing. This was useful because I had a Wi-Fi-only iPad, and because there are certain web videos (Merlin Mann’s talk at Webstock ‘11 being a particular favorite) that I enjoy watching more than once. Roadshow essentially offered the same ease-of-mind that Instapaper did, but for videos.


It’s important to me to keep an online presence, for multiple reasons. First because I’m a writer and having an online presence is half of being a writer these days, and second because between work and school I was only able to chat with my friends through services like Facebook. I also started using Twitter to communicate and try to find new things to watch or read.

The iPad was present without being insistent. While I’m carrying my iPhone I leave notifications on so I don’t miss anything, whereas with the iPad I had notifications (mostly) turned off. This way I could talk to someone or tweet if I wanted to, but it allowed me to feel more in control of social networks. Many people know that this is invaluable, with how big of a time-sink Facebook and Twitter have turned into for many individuals.


Maybe the area where the iPad excelled the most was acting as a second screen. Using the iPad for things like watching movies or TV shows meant that I wasn’t using the computer for those same things; an obvious point, but an important one.

Writing has become so hard lately. With distractions always just a few keystrokes away, it’s easy to get to a hard point in an article and just say ‘well, I’m going to go ahead and read a Cracked article’. Before you know it you’ve been reading through the same dozen websites, refreshing each page hoping for new content and trying to remember what it was that you were having problems with in the first place.

The iPad helped to mitigate that. When you associate the iPad with ‘play’ and the laptop with ‘work’, it makes it easier to actually work, despite distractions being just a half-second away. Many people wonder about how they can be productive with an iPad, and it almost makes me wonder: ‘why?’.

Air Display - Second Screen Magic

Air Display - Second Screen Magic

Sure, serious work can be done with an iPad. I’ve written numerous posts in PlainText or Writer (and even a few in Simplenote). How useful, then, is it to have two devices that you can get work accomplished on, when you also associate each device with catching up with friends or watching that one video where Merlin Mann cries?

Conclusion — Is the iPad Right for You?

Whether or not you’ll benefit from an iPad is up to how you intend to use it. I made an attempt to outline just some of its benefits above, but the iPad is an incredibly personal device. How you use it is largely a factor of your intentions and the applications that you choose to put on it.

Can you get writing done? Absolutely. Email’s a blast, too. There’s just one important caveat: the iPad isn’t the same as your laptop. The most important way that the iPad will change your workflow (or, for some people, your life) is by changing the way you interact with the things you do every day.