Saturday, October 22, 2011

OTR: Geek Meets Tablet

As a bonafide geek when it comes to things electronic, I can think of a number of events in my life when a new technology tool changed everything for me. It seems like there has always been an intermediate step on the way to that tool. So to over-prove the point, let me walk you through some of those things...

Computer: To be honest, this started with my Brother correcting typewriter. When I went away to college, I was given a typewriter that had the ability to automagically erase the entire line that had been most recently typed. No need for Wite-Out. When I got to grad school, a computer entered my life. I was a simple Kaypro IV, but the ability to cut and paste and edit entire documents was a revelation. My first work computer was networked and had a modem. A modem at work led to a modem at home and the home modem led to AOL and then to the Internet. The Internet led to DSL and home networking. Working from home became far easier. Working at all hours became far easier.

Telecommunications: I can remember having a simple numeric pager. I recall getting a "911" page (my wife and I had a deal that if she appended "911" to a page, I needed to call home right away) on the way home one night, pulling off the highway, and searching for a pay phone. Shortly after that, a cell phone company came to the office and offered me cell phone service with a Motorola "brick" phone and a then semi-reasonable rate plan. The electronic leash became shorter, but now I could be redirected on the way home without needing to get off the highway. The cell phones got smaller and then I was handed a PageWriter 2000. I had half of a smart phone and never realized it. That led to a palm Pilot clone to keep my calendar handy and then my first Blackberry, which kept my calnder in real time and allowed me to look at email no matter where I was. What followed was a succession of smarter and more capable cell phones, culminating in my Motorola Atrix. But the Atrix wasn't quite everything and my book-reading habits suggested that the geek needed a Kindle fix, so I got one of those. I liked the form factor and the handiness. But it was limiting. But things had changed.

While the Atrix is great and my current laptop very capable, neither form factor suits me. The Atrix keeps my calendar and holds my email, gives me Internet access, and helps me navigate, but isn't something that I can work from continuously. The laptop is bulky and takes forever to boot and connect to the Internet. The Kindle was black and white, and doesn't do email or web pages well.

Enter the Tablet.

I've been debating the tablet for a while. The original  iPad was pricey and I didn't need another data plan. I'm also a PC guy and things Apple have often confused me. Besides, they were a competitor of ours just a little while ago. The Motorola Xoom was equally pricey. Nothing else really jumped at me. But then I noticed that the cool kids all had iPads. My last boss got one by virtue of being a Board member for a local hospital. She loved hers and found it incredibly useful. I noticed a steady stream of evening emails "Sent from my iPad". After the split of the cell phone company from the Day Job company, it seemed like most of the executive floor was adopting iPads. Since I'm not great at the "Dress for your next job" thing, I decided that maybe "Own technology for your next job" ought to be my monicker. I hemmed and hawed. I found a new laptop for the teenager that was about the price of an iPad. It bothered me that a full-featured computer was cheaper than this crippled tablet thing. I figured that the next go-round of tablets would be cheaper and that would be easier on the wallet. So I dithered.

Then, earlier in the week, I'm at the ARMA Conference. Each year at the Conference, the ARMA Educational Foundation has a silent auction. I generally bid on a few things and there is usually an iPod or a camera or something geeky to draw my attention. This year, geek gear was limited (although I missed a sweet 14 megapixel camera). Except for the iPad. The siren songs began. "The cool kids all have them." "You really need to understand these things." "It's useful." "You need to understand the risks." "It's cool." The voices in my head were winning. So was my bid. As time wound down, I checked my bid periodically. It was good up until "pencils down!" I won. Now what?

I picked up the new toy the next morning, making my contribution and realizing happily that the Day Job would likely match the gift to the Foundation. I headed back to the room and debated opening the box. I had some work to do and a tour scheduled for the afternoon. Playing with geek toys is time-consuming. So I waited until I got home. And then waited until I was caught up on work email. And then... revelation!

The screen is huge when it sits in your hands. Beautiful colors.  Portrait or landscape with just a slight turn. A bit heavy, but sturdy. Wi-fi hooked up nicely. Email, not so much, but I blame Microsoft's cloud. It worked eventually, and continues to work. iTunes that sound good on the built-in speaker. Instant on. An app store. Most of the familiar things from my smart phone. A weird interface at times for this Windows guy, but the teenager helped me along in exchange for a few doses of iPad heaven.

So now what? Now I will try to work with it every day. It won't fully replace the laptop, but may make me think about not hauling the laptop with me all the time. It is wi-fi only, but the Atrix has mobile hot spot capability. That will cover me when wi-fi isn't available. I need to find a good organizer and note-taking program. What I really want is the capability of a Franklin Planner.

Now the question is, is this just a geek toy, or is it a real productivity breakthrough? Is this the next phase or just a transitional step? Stay tuned.

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