I’m enjoying my first week with the iPad. I’ll have more for you later on the specific niches it’s filling in my digital life, but first, what am I working with, exactly? What do I plan to do with the iPad and what apps have I bought already?
1) Apps for Reading Books
Downloaded iBooks and it’s my favourite so far. I love the two-page spread and find it easier to hold the iPad that way. But I do find it more comfortable to read for long stretches on the Kindle—it’s not as heavy as the Kindle, has better contrast and the page background isn’t quite so blazingly white. I’ll probably load a few short story collections onto it for reading during breaks at work.
Another reading app called Bookshelf has found a place on my home screen. It has a creamy-coloured page background which is comfortable to read on, but its killer feature is that you can use your wifi to download books from websites—including the file syncing website Dropbox. I have my whole Calibre library on Dropbox and it was so neat to be able to just go wirelessly in and pull out anything I wanted. Downside: no two-page spread option, and no PDF support.
2) Apps for Reading Other Content
Downloaded the free apps Zinio and Cloudreaders for reading magazines and comic books. This is, in my opinion, the true form of optimal iPad reading—not novels. I used to love magazines, but always had to restrain myself because I never had the space to keep them. Now, I don’t have to. Zinio can be my saviour.
Zinio is a magazine reader. You can view free content, and buy individual issues or entire subscriptions at the on-line store. You can download the magazines to any machine that is served by their software—phones, desktop, wherever—or you can read on-line. Prices for subscriptions are about on par with print subscriptions, and if you already have a print subscription to one of their titles, you can convert it over.
The proprietary format at Zinio (a mucked around with PDF, according to what little technical info I could find) gave me pause. But even in the print days, I seldom saved a whole magazine forever. It’s more ephemeral than a book and priced accordingly. The magazine I ultimately chose as a subscription to treat myself was a cooking magazine. I’ll read it straight through, use the screenshot function on the iPad to clip the recipes I want, and then probably delete it and never think of it again.
As for comics, I briefly experimented with the branded ones (Marvel, Star Trek etc.) and deleted them. They were all so similar in interface and operation that I really didn’t see why they all needed their own app. Why not unite on a common storefront where customers can get everything they need? I did keep the freebie CloudReaders, a very basic viewer app which handles the main comic book formats plus PDF. I am not going into this with a storied past of comic book use, but they do look quite nice on the iPad and I am open to exploring this genre more than I have.
3) Apps for Reading Your Own Content
The big player in this category is Evernote: make your notes, stash them into whatever notebooks you want to group and organize, then sync. I tried it, loved it, loved the whole concept of it—and then went out, out of wifi range, and couldn’t see any of it. Fail! I work in education and both my summer and school year jobs are locked up tight regarding use of non-school devices on the network. There are tons of situations where I might have the iPad with me but not have a live connection. An ability to download for off-line viewing is essential. I understand this is available as a paid upgrade, but a premium subscription is not in my budget right now.
I found a compromise in an app called Memo Connect. It is a gorgeously done app that lets you view your Google Docs off-line. I keep most of my day-to-day files—schedules, class list, project notes etc.—in Google Docs already so I can access them from home and school without needing to worry about transferring on and off a zip drive. So this was an easy transition for me. It took some fiddling to get the settings just right so that I truly could have off-line access, but now that I have everything working, I am very satisfied. Ability to edit on the go is apparently coming in a future version.
4) Apps Which Disappointed Me
Keynote was another fail. At least two Apple Store people assured me I could attach a song to a Powerpoint file and I have yet to figure out how that works. My main use of Powerpoint is to display song lyrics when I am teaching a song, so this deficiency made the app a total waste for me. I also had trouble bringing up the music controls while within the app, as I could on my iPod Touch by double-tapping the home button. So I am not sure I could make this teaching technique work for me on the iPad just yet.
Bento was terrible too. It’s supposed to let you organize notes and information, but I could not figure out how to change any of the fields on the pre-fab templates, and when I tinkered with the non-deleteable Address Book app, it deleted all my contacts. I had not realized it had plugged into that area, nor had I requested it to, and it was some work to restore everything to how it should have been.
My other big reading-related disappointment was the low quality of display for iPhone-sized apps. Some of them (the games mostly) looked wonderful. But my favourite book app (Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything app, which is the gold standard for how a book app should be done) looked awful and there is no high-res version.
Coming soon: A walk-through of the Zinio app, and more about using the iPad as a teaching tool