I recently took a three-week road trip across the country, visiting 13 cities in 14 states (we blasted right through Oklahoma without staying the night), meeting dozens of interesting people, and doing lots and lots of work. I know that there are questions that a lot of you would want answered about a trip like that, and I’m here now to answer what is undoubtedly the biggest outstanding question of them all: how did you use your iPad?
So yes, I bought an iPad more or less specifically for this trip. Not only was I the host for the show but I was also the production coordinator for the Red Team, meaning I had to collect and track receipts, get image releases signed and filed, keep everyone on schedule, and… I guess that was about it. It wasn’t a very hard job but it kept me busy.
Why’d I buy an iPad? I was actually confident that I could completely avoid using a standard laptop at all for the entire three weeks. I wanted to pack as lightly as possible considering how much I would be on the move, both from city to city and within each city once we arrived. I also liked the iPad’s battery life since I knew I would be spending long days shooting and wouldn’t necessarily be near electrical outlets. The form factor was a plus as well: anyone who’s tried to balance a laptop on one hand and type with the other because they have no nearby flat surface knows what I’m talking about here.
So the iPad’s form factor and battery life made it perfect, and for reference here is a short list of the basic tasks I would need my traveling computer to perform:
- track receipts
- track releases
- keep a detailed calendar
- sync with my iPhone (preferably untethered)
- basic web surfing and emailing
- video chat with family back home
Aaaand, there’s the rub. Anyone who’s even slightly interested in the iPad knows that it has no camera whatsoever. So that last bullet made it essential that I bring my netbook with me, but other than that I was all set.
Starting in the pre-trip phase, we had a production meeting with everyone to go over details. I searched long and hard in the App Store to find a good note-taking app that I could sport during this meeting, and found several good candidates. I already know about Evernote, but it along with several other apps I tried were exceptional at one thing: crashing and losing data. I was getting pissed off, this was the night before the meeting and I really wanted to start my experiment off right. I finally found and settled on an app called 3banana notes, which had an iPhone client and cloud syncing between the two. It was also free. I still wound up using pen and paper at the meeting since typing on the iPad was just too slow and 3banana didn’t allow for “jotting” or scribbling.
For the trip itself, I briefly toyed with the idea of having people sign releases right within my iPad that I could then email to myself and them later on. Adobe Ideas is a free drawing app that allows you to use any image as a background (perfect!), so I could just set an image of the release as the background, have them sign, then email a PDF of that pic to myself and voila! I actually decided against doing this as well, my reasoning being that it would work well for one or two people but beyond that would be slow and cumbersome. No need to reinvent the wheel here, I just used pen and paper.
Sometime during pre-production I started receiving a lot of documents from the production manager: full schedules, hotel information, contact lists, blah! Frankly I quit my job to avoid this kind of crap, but hey, I was earning two month’s salary in three weeks! So now I needed a way to get these documents onto my iPad in a convenient way and not just that, get the inevitable REVISED versions of the documents onto the iPad as well. I dutifully bought Numbers for iPad, which instantly gave me the ability to open the spreadsheets I needed to refer to. At the time Quickoffice and Docs To Go hadn’t yet developed native Excel-handling apps for iPad so I was stuck with Numbers.
Getting apps on and off the iPad through email was a bit cumbersome though, so I got Goodreader. That’s a fantastic app which allows you to pull docs from your email account (by entering IMAP info, and it only shows you emails with attachments), pull docs from your Dropbox account, WebDAV servers, FTP sites, just about anywhere. The killer is that you can also pull a document from, say, an email and then copy and paste it to your Dropbox account, allowing you to safely archive the email without fear of not being able to find the original file.
This workflow was the least cumbersome option working the iPad, the only other way to get docs on and off this trinket being to hook it up to iTunes and drag them on and off through there. Since I was trying to remain totally untethered as much as possible Goodreader made the most sense.
Overall throughout the trip the iPad was exactly what I needed, no more and no less. Once my toddler tired of seeing Daddy on a computer screen I didn’t even ever end up needing my netbook for anything except the occasional hotel that couldn’t get their shit together and offer working wifi. For the most part I was actually able to get by totally on my iPhone alone, since I had entered our entire schedule as well as all important contacts into Google Calendar and Contacts, and had them both syncing with my iPhone and iPad. This meant that the only time I needed the iPad at all was really at the end of each day when I entered in receipts and release info. My iPad became a glorified data-entry device that I could probably have done without as well, although doing emails and web-browsing on the tiny iPhone screen gets quite old after a while, and the battery almost died on at least half of the days we were on the road.
The iPad though did have its brilliant moments throughout the trip, little things that only the iPad could have done in exactly the way it was done.
One thing the iPad did very well in pre-production was function as a ghetto teleprompter. We had a late-night shoot that went in to the wee hours of the next day and I had to learn dozens of paragraphs of new dialogue, one paragraph at a time. Not hard at all for me, but had I tried to totally memorize each before shooting it would have taken forever. I just had Yuri email me the copy, I put it in Pages, blew up the text size and went full-screen, then we rigged it up to a c-stand by the camera and had ourselves a simple teleprompter.
There was also a moment in Vegas where an ad-agency rep wanted to see the next few days of scheduling. I whipped out the iPad, locked it in landscape orientation, and showed the weekly view on the calendar. We just stood around and pointed and gestured at it for a few moments while planning the next few days’ worth of production, and it was much faster and easier than using a laptop to try and do something similar. Less of a production in and of itself, it was just very natural and fluid. Yes Steve Jobs, it was magical.
It was also very easy in Numbers to select portions of the expense spreadsheet and get quick totals on different categories of spending. This didn’t require any formulas or tinkering with the grid: just go to full screen, select the range of data you want with a drag of your finger, and it pops up a box showing you the total as well as the averages. Very slick and handy towards the end when we wanted to get a quick idea of how the budget was faring.
There are of course things the iPad doesn’t do very well at all. Some people know about a few already (no ports, no way to get documents on and off except via email or iTunes, no Flash), but there were a few unexpected things that came up on the trip that kind of surprised me:
- I keep my personal checkbook register as a spreadsheet (I’ve always done it this way, very simply and portable). It’s a basic, albeit long, document. It’s over 500 rows but I would expect this little magical device wouldn’t have any problem with that, right? Wrong, it practically chokes when opening the damn thing and only gets worse as I add transactions to it. I like the form-based entry available in Numbers which is why I moved my register into there, but now that Quickoffice has a native Excel app I may just go back to that. This brings me to my next point…
- Numbers only current export option is via, wait for it, PDF and Numbers file formats. Wow, fuck you Apple. I mean, I knew this going in but I think I kinda figured they would sort this out already within a few months. At this point I think they’re locked into having no XLS export option from Numbers on iPad (Numbers on Mac allows you to export to Excel), so if you plan on using Numbers for iPad just make sure you also have iWork for Mac or have a Facebook friend who can convert it for you (thanks again Jeff!).
- The lack of Flash had a surprising side-effect: I couldn’t access my online banking without firing up my laptop. You need Flash to be able to enter the security code that is texted to you, so that you can authorize a new device to access your online banking. Your only other option is to temporarily turn off the security code feature (by calling Bank of America… ON THE PHONE?!), add the device, then turn it back on again. Wow.
- The lack of multi-tasking was a known issue going in, but created some awkward technology setups along the way. I would frequently have multiple documents open that needed to be compared so I would, I shit you not, have my iPad, iPhone, and laptop all open at the same time so that I could effectively get work done. I think I even had a pad of paper out to take quick notes as well. To be fair to myself this was probably at a hotel with shit wifi so I had my netbook tapped into the ethernet cord while my working documents were on the iPad.
I think that about wraps up the iPad real-world recap. It was overall a fun trip, and with the iPhone 4 (and its sexy Facetime app) coming out in a few days I know that for the next trip I won’t be bringing the netbook at all. All in all I’m glad I got the iPad, it did for the most part make my work easier even though it required a little data-manipulation on the back-end to get the spreadsheet information out.
P.S.: I wrote this entire post on an iPad, except for this post-script oddly enough. I do however have the keyboard dock accessory, I’m not a masochist.
And now for your moment of Zen: