On the road with the iPad: Can you leave the laptop home?

Apple's iPad is put to the test on a five-day business trip

iPad

I didn't do it because I'm adventurous. I did it because I'm a cheapskate.

I got laid off in December, which left me self-employed without a laptop computer. I have an iMac that's my main machine. It's a nice computer, but it doesn't exactly fit in the space underneath an airline seat. I know I'm going to have to get a laptop eventually (and I want to stick with the Mac platform), but I want to put off the expense as long as I can.

I got an iPad when they went on sale in early April, a few weeks before I left on a five-day business trip. On the iPad, I can do 90% of the computing tasks I need to do. I can use the Web, check e-mail, use Twitter and Facebook, and, most important, write. Theoretically, I should be able to use it as my only computer for a short time.

As an experiment, I decided to see if I could use the iPad as a notebook replacement. Not forever -- just while traveling. I know the device isn't intended to replace a full-blown laptop, but that's what experimentation is all about, right?

Now my business trip has come and gone, and I've learned a lot about the iPad's strengths and weaknesses.

[Related: 12 iPad tips and tricks and The 8 best iPad apps -- so far]

Weaknesses

While the idea of using my iPad on my business trip was exciting, it didn't take me long to hit some stumbling blocks.

Document incompatibility

My client asked me to put together a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting I'd be attending on the trip. In theory, that should have been no problem: Keynote on the iPad, a presentation application, works with PowerPoint slide shows, and I should have been able to connect the iPad to a projector using the $29 iPad VGA adapter and give my presentation.

That's the theory. In practice, it didn't work out. My client sent me a PowerPoint deck to use as a template, asking me to design my presentation using the colors, fonts and formats that were in that deck. But the template proved to be incompatible with the iPad. It used the Dingbats font for some graphics, but the iPad doesn't support that font. To preserve the formatting, I had to create the presentation using Keynote on my iMac and then borrow a laptop while at my destination to give the presentation.

I found out about the PowerPoint problem one business day before my trip started. So the iPad experiment was a failure before it began. Before I even got on the plane, I knew I'd have to use a laptop some of the time.

Internet incompatibility

The client company and I used Google Wave as a backchannel discussion tool during our all-day meetings. That was fun, and productive too. But Wave doesn't run on the iPad; it requires Chrome, Firefox or desktop Safari. So I had to use my borrowed laptop to participate in the Wave.

I found the iPad's lack of Flash support to be a problem. This is ironic, because it hadn't been a problem for me before the trip. Sure, the lack of Flash support prevents me from playing a lot of online games and watching many online videos, but there are plenty of other games and videos that are iPad-compatible. If I can't watch the video of the cat falling off the pool table, I'll watch the video of the cat falling off the coffee table.

However, the lack of Flash support was a problem for me on this trip, because I needed to post a blog that used Flash, specifically this one, which contains a Flash-based embedded MP3 player. I needed to check to be sure the MP3 player worked after I published the blog. To do that, I had to go down to my hotel business center and pay $3 for five minutes to check the blog on one of the hotel's PCs. And, frustratingly, when I got back to my home office the following week, I discovered the Flash on that blog still didn't work.

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