Why My iPad Is Not My Laptop
I have been reading a lot of talk about iPads and their growing capabilities as creative tools. Most of you reading this know of the “my ipad is my laptop now!” hype. Problem is, I come up empty handed whenever I try to figure out why there seems to be such a need to validate the ipad as a personal computer, of course its a PC! What is there to even debate or dwell on? The input device of choice doesn’t define what a computer is, and neither does the operating system, its as simple as that. A touch screen device like an iPad is a perfectly natural evolution of personal computing. The part of this whole thing that interests me, however, is the software.
I would say a good 90 percent of the debate on the iPads usefulness as a computer is coming from writers and casual users and this is where I find the debate getting a little one sided. Of course a writer would like the ipad. The tools most needed to get their work done are right there for the taking, you can hunt and gather all day long and it does make a fantastic, distraction free space to write in. I can wholeheartedly agree that the iPad is an increasingly great tool to gather ideas, write stories/articles, and stay in touch but for the time being this is where the road unfortunately ends. For many, including myself, the iPad is still not much more than a high tech note pad.
When it comes to many jobs within the professional creative community the iPad is still more or less incapable of handling any honest workload. At least as far as things stand at this point in time. There are no designers that I am aware of using it to create much outside of concepts. There are niceish vector, sketching, and image editing apps available but nothing with the horsepower or precision that it takes to complete a finished product. The same goes for web design, coding, print design, industrial design, etc. Writers can sing praises all day long about how nice it is not to use a laptop to write and how easy it is to focus with one but its still far from useful within many areas including the creative field I am closest to, photography. It seems to me that most photographers today trying to use the iPad as an honest tool are doing it for the novelty. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s still kind of a pain in the ass to manage photos. There is still no easy way to manage files outside of iCloud/Dropbox integration or the clever but usually awkward attempts at using a LAN network to transfer files back and forth. Apples weird little iTunes app file window is sadly obscure and tedious.
I’ll admit there are a few nice photo editing apps available but you still always hit the same dead end. Cloud services can only get you so far, especially when dealing with full resolution RAW files. I can not dump 8Gb of RAW images onto my iPad and expect to get any real work done on them. For most professional photographers, a couple days of shooting equals large amounts of big files which takes forever to import and export, even with access to cloud storage which is not nearly as fun when you are dealing with anything other than small files. There is an obvious bottleneck that has no current solution for a larger quantity of high resolution image files.
For instance, while traveling you would think the iPad would be a great tool for the job, small, light, an endless battery, but as a photographer who has tried this a few times I can say that it is woefully inadequate for my needs. In my times trying to use the iPad as a point in the food chain of shooting while traveling I come across the data bottleneck get lost. RAW images saved to the iPad with the camera connector feel trapped. Getting them on and off is a buggy and frustrating endeavor that takes much longer than it should. In my experience it takes multiple attempts to pull off all of my photos and laves me frustrated and nervous about loosing images.
There was one instance where I thought it would be a wonderful tool while out on a shoot at a company campus. I had appointments with individual employees within a department and between each shoot I moved the images from my 5D to the iPad so I could show them the results afterward with a bit of flare and ease. The process ended up so slow that I had to juggle between cards to make it work and later nearly loose the images to the transfer process. While conceptually it was a nice idea, it was far too unstable for me to try again as things are.
I have tried using the iPad as a photography tool more times than I care to admit, that is, until I finally gave up on the idea and now take my laptop with me whenever I know I will be shooting a lot. I would be curious to hear what others experiences are that may have tried similar things.
For such a supposedly simple to use device the iPad it sure makes it complicated to move files around. In this case, Apple is entirely responsible with their rebellious idea to avoid traditional file structures. I can not fathom why it would be so difficult to have a system level file management area that is as convenient to use as the notification system they have so diligently been working on. Something which is not so flawed and cumbersome as the hidden data that lives within each app.
iCloud’s photo stream is clever but simply mirroring your photos doesn’t really do a whole lot of good for someone like me, especially with the current limits in place. In my opinion things either need to go full cloud or stay local, and full cloud is simply not possible yet. Network data and staying connected to the net at all times is simply not affordable or widespread enough.
Then there is iPhoto on iOS, something I was looking forward to since the first iPad and its hugely lacking photo viewing app. I know people have been ragging on the interface since its release but that’s not all it fails at. iPhoto is a black hole within a hole where edited photos from your “camera roll” somehow end up in limbo within the app and you have to send edited versions back to the photo roll to do anything else with them other than making a journal. Talk about a mess. Your edited photos then end up piling up on top of duplicate versions of the unedited ones. It’s obvious they tried to do something interesting and capable but their own horrible file system keeps biting the hand that feeds it. Please, correct me if im wrong here but the whole process feels very un-Apple. Also, have you tried “beaming” photos back and forth from the iPhone to the iPad? Every time I have tried to accomplish this seemingly simple task it has taken multiple attempts to the point where I simply let myself forget that it was even possible.
As it stands, the iPad is amazing. I use it every single day for writing, browsing the news, sketching ideas, and reading though email or tech riders and I love every minute of it. It f complements my daily life and on days when I don’t need to get any real work done, I leave my laptop at home. But when it comes to honest creative work I can not help but find the iPad as little more than a sidekick. I can say with certainty though, that this is far from the last word on this. I can clearly see a future where touch screen devices such as the iPad become more and more viable for the kind of things I have discussed here today. It is still new territory being explored and I for one can not wait to see where it takes us.