Article of the Week

“iPad Review” by David Pearson

FITTINGLY, THIS REVIEW was typed on an iPad while I was on vacation in Ireland, waiting for the Icelandic volcano to subside so I could fly back home. I picked up my newest toy one day before leaving on vacation and it has yet to leave my side (mostly because I was reluctant to leave it in the hotel room). It was a godsend at the airport when much of North Western Europe's airspace was closed after my family and I arrived at the Dublin airport for our flight home. A number of people borrowed it to send web-based email about their situation and we watched video of the volcano on BBC's iPad application.

The reasons for purchasing an iPad were two-fold. First, I wanted a cool new toy, and the iPad definitely qualifies. More importantly, however, I needed a new laptop. After researching the iPad and Apple's Pages, Numbers and Keynote applications, I felt that I could save a significant amount of money and weight by substituting an iPad for a laptop. Plus with a battery rated at 9 to 10 hours, I wouldn't have to worry about a dead battery.

By now, most people have been inundated with reviews of the iPad. I can confirm that the screen is gorgeous. From watching movies to reading books and newspapers, the screen is bright and clear. The weight is not bad, either, at only 1.5 pounds. If you are used to holding up law books while you read, holding an iPad will be a relief. If you have used an iPhone or iPod Touch, you are already familiar with the operating system, as it uses the same OS as Apple's other i devices.

New iPad-specific applications are rolling out at a rapid rate. While the iPad can run applications written for the iPhone/Touch, they run in a small window and do not take advantage of the much larger screen unless one touches an on-screen button labeled 2X, which pixel doubles the small screen. Quite a few companies have already written either iPad-specific versions of their earlier apps or are writing unified apps that include both versions in one application. This means that if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch and an iPad, you can download one application to run on all of the platforms instead of two separate applications (with, potentially, two separate fees).

So, from an attorney's perspective, is Apple's latest gadget likely to find a use in law offices? I think that it (or similar devices by other manufacturers) can and will play a role. While one would not want to do heavy word processing or spreadsheeting on a tablet due to lack of a real keyboard and mouse, how often do you really need the power of a laptop when visiting a client or sitting in court? Apple sells a dock-to-VGA connector so that the iPad can be connected to a monitor or projector. This connection allows you to run a Keynote presentation (and yes, Apple's Keynote can run PowerPoint slides and handle more features than PowerPoint) or project pictures, Acrobat documents, etc. Apple also sells a keyboard/iPad dock that allows you to use a full keyboard (but not a mouse) with the iPad. The iPad also support Bluetooth devices, such as wireless keyboards.

If that wasn't enough, any web-based research can be handled from the iPad, and emailing works great. The integrated mail application is good, but lacks the ability to set any rules or filtering. While the current shipping version requires WiFi, a model due for sale includes cellular 3G, which can operate on a number of carriers so you are not limited to AT&T. However, AT&T will be offering a very inexpensive, unlimited no-subscription-required plan for $29.99 per month for unlimited data, so it is likely that other carriers will be matching them. For $14.99, you can get 250MB of data. Since the plans don't require a contract, they can be purchased month to month, or as needed. This is a much better deal than cell phone users get with two-year contracts.

A number of companies of interest to attorneys have released iPad-specific apps, including Citrix and WebEx, and there are a number of apps for controlling one's PC or Mac over the internet. There are also a few billing programs. For Mac users, one of the top information managers (Daylite) has an iPhone version of its program and an iPhone version of its billing program (Billings). I have not seen any of the Windows-only companies release calendar or billing apps, but contact the company that produces your desktop applications to see if they will be releasing versions for phones and tablets.

Although Microsoft says it is taking a wait-and-see approach about releasing Office on the iPad, Apple has made available versions of its iApps, Pages, Numbers and Keynote for the iPad. While the iPad versions are much reduced versions of the desktop applications, they get the job done. Pages allows you to open and edit Word docs (including the new docx format) but will only save to .doc or PDF (as well as the native Pages). I was able to open a pleading in docx and, other than replacing a few fonts, was able to edit the text (although not the footers). When Pages opens the document, it brings up a window that informs you of any issues it has, such as having to replace fonts. I have yet to play around with Numbers, but it can supposedly import Excel. I am sure it will strip out any VBA programming, but most functions should transfer. It will only save as either a Numbers document or PDF, which can be problematic as it precludes re-opening the spreadsheet in Excel. This same file limitation exists in Keynote, in that it can import PowerPoint files but only export Keynote or PDF documents.

In the interim, while Microsoft decides whether to port Office to the iPad, one can also use Google Docs. An available internet connection or a program called Office2 HD ($7.99) is needed, which supposedly works with Google Docs, and allows creating, editing and saving Word and Excel documents. I have not tried this program so I can't comment on how well it works.

Finally, a program like Air Sharing is critical when you do not have internet access. This program lets you mount an iPhone or iPad (like a hard drive for your computer) to copy over files. The files are then available to programs on the device.

The biggest downside for regular business use is that there is no way to wirelessly print from the iPad. A few apps have been released that allow a form of wireless printing, but they require a desktop PC or Mac with their driver installed. Very few attorneys (if any) would ask a client if they can install a driver on their PC just to print a document. I would also bet that most attorneys wouldn't have a clue how to install the software or configure it. So until true wireless printing is offered, you are stuck emailing the document to the client for them to print for you. Hopefully, by the time this article is in your hands, someone will have an app for wireless printing.

Of course, there are also the "games." Life would be boring if all one did was work (unless you are an associate at a big firm, in which case you have no life, or time to even read this article... so get back to billing!). Apple made sure from day one that numerous games were available. If you check in iTunes, you can look at the top paid applications. The last time I checked, 6 of the top 20 were games, as well as almost half of the top 50. Companies are taking full advantage of the iPad's larger screen. Baseball lovers will likely want to check out At Bat 2010 for iPad. It lets the user "track the location, speed, and type of every pitch thrown in every MLB game in real-time, get detailed box scores, play-by-play, and player stats, watch in-game highlights and listen to live audio broadcasts with your choice of home or away announcers." Similar apps exist for numerous other sports, so you could set up your iPad in the office next to your computer, and have sports broadcasting on the iPad while you work!

Overall, I think the iPad will be a decent replacement for a laptop, especially if your needs for document creation and editing on the road are minimal. If nothing else, it draws a lot of attention to the user. Should wireless printing and more full-featured document editing be added, the iPad will definitely find a place in the road warrior's briefcase.  


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