David Zax

A View from David Zax

My First Month as an iPad User

What seemed a panacea has merely proved quite useful.

  • November 2, 2012

When I first got a hand-me-down iPad in September, I blogged about my first week as an iPad user, after long declaring I personally didn’t see the point of my owning a tablet (see “My First Week as an iPad User”). My usage quickly followed something like that critical buzz curve, where anticipation climaxes into enthusiasm and then settles into a backlash, before moving into a backlash-to-the-backlash phase. In a word, I was a bit confused about how to use my iPad–though I knew I liked it.

A little over a month in, I’ve discovered another curious fact about my iPad. It has allowed me to jerry-rig a few solutions to problems that I was sure would require specific, dedicated hardware. But eventually, these jerry-rigged solutions have left me disappointed or outright frustrated. Herewith, two case studies:

Problem #1: A remote control for music running on iOS.

This is a problem I had for a while. Last year, I liked to place my iPhone across the room, where I keep my speakers atop a bureau, and run the Pandora or Spotify app while I worked. To have music emerging from the same device I type on would be distracting, but I find something pleasing and non-invasive about sensing music coming from “over there,” in the corner. The only problem? Sometimes I wanted to adjust the volume, and that would require getting up to walk “over there,” an intolerable burden for modern technological man.

I thought my solution would be a piece of hardware: a remote control for my iPhone. I bought one from Amazon only to find that it didn’t do the job; in fact I needed to separately purchase a special dock for the iPhone, and the remote would operate on that. That began to seem expensive, and I finally gave up, figuring another solution might present itself.

And it has–sort of–in my iPad. My iPad is now the device I run music off of in the corner–and I began to realize that my iPhone could perhaps act as a remote for my iPad. This CNET article confirmed that that was the case, and I leapt at the opportunity, shelling out a few bucks for an app called SpotQueue.

Don’t get me wrong: I like SpotQueue, and it indeed allows me to control my music from across the room. But at the same time, it’s a tad frustrating. For whatever reason, searching for music on SpotQueue doesn’t always bring up the same results in searching through Spotify proper. If I plan ahead and put all the music I want into one of my playlists, then I’m golden. But I don’t always plan ahead. Sometimes, I begin to wonder if I want that dock and remote control after all.

In jerry-rigging a solution, I also came up with an ersatz one.

Problem #2: A need for more screen real estate.

I work from a MacBook, and the screen isn’t exactly enormous. I’ve often wondered if I should buy a huge external monitor from Apple–but those things don’t run cheap. So I dragged my feet, wondering if a solution would present itself.

You know where this is going. I learned about an app called iDisplay, which transformed my iPad into a sort of annex desktop space. It connects my MacBook and iPad over WiFi, and I can drag a document from my Macbook off the edge of the screen, depositing it on my iPad screen. I can even interact with the stuff on my iPad in a neat hybrid way–I can open a file by touching it with my finger or by dragging my disembodied cursor over to the iPad and clicking.

Again, though, I found that my jerry-rigged solution was an ersatz one–in fact, a pretty much unworkable one. The WiFi connection created a time lag in moving the cursor that simply made documents and webpages very difficult to manipulate on the iPad. Eventually, I gave up on the idea, and decided to use iDisplay rarely, if at all. Frustratingly, in this case, my attempt to use my iPad as a jerry-rigged solution has actually created problems I didn’t have before, since even when iDisplay isn’t running, or my iPad is entirely off, my cursor still behaves as though the extra screen real estate is available, disappearing from the edge of the screen. Sometimes, I save documents to the desktop only to find them disappearing into a ghostly iDisplay space; only firing up my iPad or pulling up a special window from the iDisplay application can enable me to find those documents again. (Restarting my computer or reinstalling the software may fix this problem, says iDisplay’s support team; I have yet to widely experiment with software, and may yet find it to be useful.)

So again, as with all things iPad, I find there is something of a hype cycle at work. Just as my first week with the iPad began with addiction and ended with mere affection, my first month with the iPad began with a belief that I had found a panacea to all my hardware problems, before settling into a realism that, in fact, I merely had the kind-of-cool media consumption device I always suspected the iPad would be.

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