So I got an ipad; now what?
May 4, 2012 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What can I do with an ipad 2? This is both a technical and personal/relationship question about getting an ipad 2...see below for explanation and question.

I am having a big milestone birthday in a few weeks. Things have not been so great on the personal life or job front for the last couple of years. I have an older sister (17 years older) with whom I have a complicated relationship. Said sister found out that I didn't have anything planned my big day and really wants to get me something fun for my birthday. She wants to get me an ipad.

What's the problem? I just broke down and bought an iphone after several years on the same cheap non-smart trakphone, because while I'm not in a tech field, I am in an area that is becoming increasingly interested in using social media to interact with patrons. I felt like I was getting further and further behind and as a middle aged woman in search of a job, I can't afford to be a luddite, nor do I want to be. The other issue is that I really need a new computer. My current laptop is going on 8 years old, so at some point in the not too distant future, I'm going to have to break down and get a new computer. I just feel that having a new iphone, ipad and laptop is a bit overkill for me. However, given my relationship with my sister and the fact that this is a really nice gesture on her part, I don't want to shut her down and say what I don't need right now is a big, expensive toy. I really need a computer.

I know that ipads can handle basic word processing, slide presentations and spreadsheets, but what are the limitations? Things that I'd like to do or at least try doing, but have been stymied due to the slowness of my home computer, include creating some sort of personal/professional tumblr or other type of website with links to items of interest in my profession and taking online classes such as those offered on udacity.. Would this be possible using an ipad? I have read this article about using the ipad (almsot) as a primary computer.

What I'm not particularly interested in are things that I know that the ipad does well, but which will end up costing me money every month (such as streaming netfilx or monthly magazine subscriptions), although I do not mind one time expenses on things like a good wireless keyboard and apps that will help me to do what I want to do and would appreciate suggestions along those lines.
posted by kaybdc to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a PC, a macbook air, an iphone and an ipad, and I use the ipad more than anything else when I'm at my house. The only time I get out my macbook any more is if I'm going to be doing some serious typing, or programming, or to work on music, or if I'm going to watch a movie on my monitor.

I used the ipad for going through the coursera classes and it worked fine streaming video and everything. The only real limitation on the ipad is no flash, but most streaming video sites either have an ipad version of the page or an app you can download, and I actually generally prefer watching stuff like iTunes on the ipad than on my macbook which doesn't handle streaming video well at all.

I much prefer the ipad for browsing the web, although sometimes I'll switch to the macbook if I need to type a long response out to someone on metafilter or in email.
posted by empath at 11:07 AM on May 4, 2012

However, given my relationship with my sister and the fact that this is a really nice gesture on her part, I don't want to shut her down and say what I don't need right now is a big, expensive toy. I really need a computer.

Btw, I don't really think the ipad is a toy, it's great for a lot of things. I use my PC exclusively for playing video games. I use my macbook for anything productive that involves a lot of typing or editing. The ipad is pretty much the default for everything else. You'll be amazed at how many ways you find to use it to make your life easier.

Desktop pcs are going away, and form factors like the ipad and iphone are the future, anyway, so I wouldn't worry about being a luddite.
posted by empath at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would it be an option to ask your sister to chip in for a new laptop, instead of buying an iPad? It sounds like you will be buying one even if you get the iPad.
posted by puritycontrol at 11:13 AM on May 4, 2012

Update: My sister just emailed and she's gotten me the ipad.

Thanks empath. My primary home computer is a PC laptop and I was hoping to replace it with a macbook air in the not too distant future. I don't want people to think that I[m a complete dinosaur! I guess i was concerned because I queried my friend who owns an iphone, macbook and an ipad and she confessed that she only used her ipad to stream netflix while she was doing the laundry or to entertain her two young children during long trips.
posted by kaybdc at 11:20 AM on May 4, 2012

I hemmed and hawed about purchasing an iPad for my mother (she's 70, will she use it or is it just a crazy gadget that will go unused?) and my brother (he's a professor and spends his time reading and writing, will he use it or is it a crazy gadget that will go unused?) . . . in each case I took the plunge, got them an iPad2 and it's unbelievable how much each of them has fallen in love with--and uses the hell out of it in different ways.

It's very clear to me that the iPad (tablets more generally but right now it's all about the iPad) is a transformative device. You can do lots of content creation on an iPad (in some cases much more intuitively than on a PC). The main thing that I don't use the iPad for is spreadsheet work, where I prefer having a trackball and pointer.
posted by donovan at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2012

For the blogs:

Tumblr at one point had an app for iPhone, but I'm not sure whether they've updated for iPad or not.

You might consider one of the text-based blog services out there. One is called and works VERY well with iPad: You sign up for Dropbox (free), connect it up with, write posts and put them in one folder in Dropbox (there are any number of iOS text editors, some free and some not), then click a button on's site and you're published.

Some people like writing this way on the iPad better than a laptop because of the focus issue: There are no other windows to distract you, it's just the writing on screen.
posted by brentajones at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2012

Puritycontrol, I definitely thought about that long and hard, right up until I was posting the question. Indeed, I almost composed an entirely different askme describing our relationship and asking "would you ask for an apple gift card in place of an ipad2?" Suffice to say, without getting into the long back story, ultimately it seemed better to accept this gracious gift in the spirit in which it was offered and to try to make the best use of it that I can.
posted by kaybdc at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2012

Thanks empath. My primary home computer is a PC laptop and I was hoping to replace it with a macbook air in the not too distant future

You might want to think about getting a really cheap windows desktop pc. If you watch, you can get real bargains every few weeks. I bought mine for a few hundred dollars.
posted by empath at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Possibly this is obvious and that's why nobody has mentioned it but it's worth clarifying that the original iPad required a computer for initial setup and iOS updates. This is no longer the case for the iPad2 and the newest iPad.

kaybdc I would definitely suggest getting a keyboard of some sort (the Apple ones are nice but expensive, other bluetooth keyboards are cheaper). The on-screen keyboard is surprisingly good, but for me at least is not quite responsive or fast enough to use for anything longer than a brief comment/note. If it's relevant to your life, make sure to pay attention to whether the model you get has a num pad or not.

With a keyboard you should be able to use the iPad just like a laptop. File management can sometimes be annoying if you don't like the Apple way of doing things but people have created tools to help with that if you Google around.
posted by Wretch729 at 11:49 AM on May 4, 2012

I saved up and bought myself an iPad for my 40th birthday. And I love it! I work from home, and I have found that it allows me to "leave the office." Where ordinarily I would work at my computer for X hours, then spend Y more hours dinking around checking email and such, now I can finish work, shut down my computer, retire to the couch, and do all that dinking around on my iPad.

I use it for checking email, mindless surfing during commercials, playing games (both social - like Draw Something - and single-player - like Plants Vs Zombies), interacting with social media (mostly Twitter), saving and organizing recipes and notes (using Evernote), and streaming Netflix.

I also bring it with me when I visit friends and clients. I have found it tremendously useful to be able to pull it out and look something up online, show someone a picture, or whatever.

If you're concerned about your tech cred as a middle aged lady, I can assure you that it will do that quite well. Bring it to your next meeting, and use it to show a few slides relating to your topic! Even just having it with you will silently boost your tech cred among your coworkers. (Note: don't be obnoxious HERE IS MY IPAD about it. And don't use it to play games at work.)

Basically, the iPad is like a laptop computer that's easier to use, more portable, and a lot more fun. I hope you enjoy it!

If not... be careful about scratches, keep all the packaging, and you can sell it on Craigslist in a few months to help pay for your laptop. IPads hold their value really well on the secondary market.
posted by ErikaB at 12:27 PM on May 4, 2012

An iPad could potentially replace most of your computer related tasks. There are a couple mac power users podcasts that cover what can be done.
posted by andendau at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have to admit that I don't get a lot of practical use from my iPad, but a friend of mine wrote an entire academic book on one while on a research trip using Pages, so it's clearly possible to use it to write long complex documents. I think a keyboard is essential in that case, though.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:48 PM on May 4, 2012

With a wooden stand (basically two wooden bars with grooves cut in 'em) and a bluetooth keyboard, my iPad has replaced my computer for about 90% of all tasks. I game on it, I word-process on it, I blog on it, I create art on it (Sketchpad) and work on other design stuff (TouchDraw). I tried to create music on it (ThumbJam, GarageBand) but quickly discovered my limitations (not the devices's).

The keyboard (I have an Apple, but my wife has a different, just-fine Bluetooth one) is essential for me in the computer-replacement scheme, but it's the best of both worlds now: I can lie in bed and watch Netflix (which I understand you're not interested in, I'm just painting the picture here), or wander around and check up on Web sites, put it on my lap and use a stylus to draw something, or sit down with the keyboard and stand and bash the heck out of a draft of something.

I really only use my computer for large-scale graphics and audio tasks where dual screens are super-important, video where I want to see something on a "big" screen, and online chatty stuff.

My quick list of things that turned my iPad into a productivity machine:

- Keyboard. Must-have.
- Dropbox. Free for both your computer and the iPad. Resolves all paranoia issues about having long, complex documents that I've made on the 'Pad: I e-mail things to myself from Pages, and then put them back in Dropbox from the main computer. Some apps support Dropbox natively, too. I don't trust Apple so much that I don't want everything I value backed up to the cloud.
- Stylus. Really only good for drawing-type stuff, but also looks super impressive in a meeting. :)
- Pages. A bit expensive for an iOS word processor, but works out of the gate and does a good job.
- Numbers. Again, kinda pricey for an iOS spreadsheet, but we run our household finances out of it: a simple spreadsheet with a weekly budget for a lot of items and another sheet for daily per-category spending. My wife and I sit down for two minutes every day and update any purchases we made. It's made a huge difference in our spending and saving habits.
- Wunderlist. Free, cross-platform, a bit dumbed-down for hardcore Getting-Things-Done types, but perfectly fine for my limited needs. Again, the ability to go from iPad to regular computer to work computer is key here.
- I don't blog regularly any more, and had my issues with the WordPress app, but apparently it's a lot better now. I did appreciate how it let me basically work directly on content creation inside my blog without a lot of app-to-app cutting and pasting.
- Keepass X on my main box, with Keepass Lite in the iPad. A free password manager: I store my Keepass file in Dropbox, so I can access and update it from either platform.

I'm not a "gadget guy," either. The last "newfangled" technology I really go into was MiniDisc, and we all know how that turned out. The iPad is the only piece of high-tech whangdoolery that I've ever bought that I would say, without reservation, has made my life better.

Invest some time in figuring out what it can do for you, and it will reward you tenfold.
posted by Shepherd at 1:09 PM on May 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think the iPad is totally workable as a replacement or a laptop for a lot of people. The things you describe wanting to do sound like things you can do on an iPad.

Matt Gemmell (an iOS usability guy) recently posted a great blog post about his favorite iPad productivity apps. Andy Ihnatko and Patrick Rhone also write a good bit about using their iPads more like computers than just consumption devices. You can probably find a lot of good suggestions and inspiration about what's possible on the iPad through them.
posted by duien at 2:15 PM on May 4, 2012

Thanks everyone! Dulen and Shepard, those links in particular are just the information that I needed to feel confident that I'll be able to use the ipad as something more than a nifty device to stream video or browse the internet (not that I won't be using it for that as well).

I knew from the start that I'd need a separate keyboard to get the most out of the ipad. Does anyone have a specific recommendation? I was thinking of getting the zaggfolio case with keyboard that was reference in the post that I linked to in my question.
posted by kaybdc at 7:13 PM on May 4, 2012

Obviously I'm biased, but the thing I like about the wooden "stand" I have is that it allows me to use the iPad in both the horizontal and vertical position on the stand, and a *lot* of iPhone apps force the iPad to be used vertically.

It's essentially just two wooden bars, about 1"x2"x8", with grooves that match the contour of the iPad (about 1/2" deep) cut about one inch from the front of the bars on the "thin" side. The length of the bars cantilevers (if that's the right word) the iPad, which leans back in the groove at about a five-degree angle.

I went a little overboard and had somebody on Etsy stitch me up a leather case with pouches to hold the pad, "stand," and keyboard, as well as a pouch for a moleskine and pens/styluses.

That's a lot of text to say that when you're considering all this, bear in mind that about 20% of the apps you use may require the iPad to be vertical, and it's nice to have a solution that lets you do both horizontal and vertical on demand.

As regards keyboards, the Apple one has served me well, but I haven't really tried any others. NewEgg and other sites have so many reviews that I think you can trust their ratings to steer you more or less right.
posted by Shepherd at 6:36 AM on May 5, 2012

Thanks Shepard,. I had no idea that a lot of apps require the ipad to be vertical.
posted by kaybdc at 9:56 AM on May 5, 2012

I have an iPhone, an iPad 2, and a Macbook Pro. I use all three of them nearly every day, and for very different things. The iPad is wonderful for consumption, and not so great for production. Use it to surf, check e-mail and type a quick response, watch movies, read books, anything where you're consuming information. Use your PC or laptop for producing information.

I also use my iPad at work for doing inventory; I remote desktop to my Mac running our POS software. There are all kinds of neat things you'll find for your iPad to do.
posted by xedrik at 11:32 PM on May 6, 2012

I use my iPad all day everyday. The only day I haven't used it since I got it on launch day in 2011 was Christmas. I hardly ever use my MacBook.

I don't have a single app that I use in portrait mode.
posted by phritosan at 4:11 PM on May 7, 2012

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