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September 1, 2010 / Jim Fenton

iPad as a Content Creation Device

Following the iPad debut a few months ago, I talked with friends who had them, played with them in the local Apple Store, and decided that while it is a nice device I didn’t have a very compelling case to get one. I formed the opinion that the iPad is all about the consumption of content created elsewhere, and while I like consuming content, I want to be challenging myself to create more and consume a bit less.

Not long before our recent trip to the Galapagos Islands, I re-examined my usual plan of carrying my laptop everywhere. I was a little concerned about carrying around all the work-related information on my laptop, and having it get lost, stolen, or damaged. Somehow we stumbled on the idea of using an iPad as a mini-laptop for the trip. Here is how we used it.


The “killer accessory” that made the iPad feasible for photos is the iPad Camera Connection Kit. With the kit, we were able to load pictures we took each day from our three cameras onto the iPad and view them at a reasonable size and have a backup copy of everything. One thing that surprised/impressed me was that it was able to seamlessly handle the raw (uncompressed) format photos from my Pentax SLR as well as the JPEG format photos from the two point-and-shoot cameras we were using.


Workaround annotation with Photogene

I also bought a copy of Photogene, a simple photo editing application I saw on the demo iPads at the Apple Store. This gave me the ability to crop and adjust lighting on photos as well as to add text (and even dialogue bubbles) to photos.

Being able to view photos and save a backup copy on my iPad were certainly nice. But what I was hoping to do was to organize photos and apply titles to them, while the events and species we saw were still fresh in my head. I could find no way to do this with the native photo application. With Photogene, I could add text (on the photo itself) to a copy of the photo, but it would have been time consuming, is not able to be indexed, and creates duplicates of the annotated photos. The Photogene FAQ explains that this is due to a restriction imposed on their application by Apple:

Sadly, the iPad operating system does not support altering the content of albums.

This makes it seem that there will be no application that would allow the organization and annotation of photos in the way I had envisioned. Unfortunately, this supports my early perception of the iPad as more of a content consumption device.


I also wanted to create a trip journal. While the iPad could probably do this with the native “Notes” application on the iPad, Apple’s word processor, Pages, seemed like it would be much more satisfactory, so we invested in a copy.

Pages is quite a satisfactory word processor for this sort of device. It was easy to compose an attractive document with embedded pictures that I could view on-screen or export to Microsoft Word. When we got a WiFi connection at the hotel at Quito, it was easy to email a copy of the journal to myself so I wouldn’t lose everything if something happened to the iPad.

The keyboard on the iPad became more natural to use with time, but this made it easy to forget that simultaneous automatic spelling correction was happening as I typed. This produced some unusual results; rather than having typos that looked obviously misspelled, it replaced the typos with other words.  My wife discovered quite a few of these when she read my blog entries prior to posting.

When we got home, it was fairly straightforward to cut and paste the text into WordPress. For whatever reason, I ended up having to do this as a two-step process on my Linux machine:  Copy the text from OpenOffice Writer into a plain text editor and then from the editor into the WordPress website. This might have been simpler if I had done it on my Mac or using different applications, but without the intermediate step it seemed to confuse the formatting on WordPress. I did have to reapply any formatting (such as italicizing the ship’s name) manually. Not a major inconvenience, however.

In-Flight Entertainment

We rented a couple of movies from iTunes before we left on the trip, just in case we didn’t like what was offered on the plane. This was of course very straightforward on the iPad; movies appear crisp and clear.  All three of us watched one of the movies in-flight using a three-way headphone splitter.  This provided plenty of volume for all of us, but two of us who had Apple earbuds with the fourth contact for the microphone and remote control had to fiddle with the splitter a bit to get the audio to sound right.  Pulling the connector out ever so slightly did the trick.

Viewing the screen wasn’t a problem for the three of us, although there were some issues with reflections off the shiny screen surface.  Closing the airplane’s window shades helped considerably.

While the experience was good, I find the Apple movie licensing model to be over-restrictive. When a movie is rented, it expires either 30 days from the date of rental, or 24 hours from when viewing starts, whichever happens first.  I don’t understand what problem they’re solving with the 30-day restriction.  You would think that allowing people to rent movies for longer periods would drive both more rentals by encouraging rentals on speculation.  It might even possibly drive the sale of larger devices to hold all that content (these movies aren’t small, especially on an iPad or other mobile device).

Dealing with Contingencies

Just in case, I wanted to have basic connectivity to my office and to my home server. I bought a copy of iSSH for that purpose. I used it a bit, and it’s not a great terminal but it gets the job done.  I suspect if I had used it more, I would have figured out how to use it more effectively.  One thing that it does that I haven’t seen elsewhere is to make the keyboard translucent, so that it’s possible to see the entire screen even though part of it is covered by the keyboard.  A novel concept, and it worked surprisingly well although it would have been better if I had translucent fingers!


The iPad met our needs well while on the trip, with the exception of the bit of disappointment on organizing and annotating photos.  I have no regrets about bringing the iPad instead of a Mac laptop on the trip; it was lighter, easier to manage, and there was less to lose.

I didn’t say much about email.  With the exception of mailing the journal to myself, I used my iPhone for email, and my wife used her iPod Touch.  These are devices that we have already set up for email, and we didn’t want to spend too much of our trip doing email anyway.

If anyone has suggestions on how to solve the photo organization problem, I’d be happy to hear them!


Leave a Comment
  1. steph / Sep 1 2010 2:25 pm

    So’s you know, the licensing terms are not dictated by Apple. We had the same terms (and sometimes even tighter!) dictated to us by the studios (and other providers).

  2. Jim Fenton / Sep 1 2010 2:36 pm

    I wasn’t intending to point a finger exclusively at Apple. Presumably the studios have an incentive to drive more rentals as well, and I think that they should consider whether the 30-day limit is helping or hindering this.

    Still, Apple did negotiate these terms with the content providers so they have some part in their creation. I think they’re worth re-examining because the marketplace is changing.

  3. steph / Sep 1 2010 2:43 pm

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest you were pointing at Apple exclusively. After having spent several years at a company having to deal with the studios (and other high-end providers) that seemed bent on driving content aggregators into the ground financially, I feel a need to offer Apple a little defense. Most of the contracts (after *much* negotiation and re-negotiation) were rather draconian, both in terms of DRM and the price we had to pay for the *right* to rent a title (even if we never rented it) along with the price per rental-event.

  4. Barry Leiba / Sep 1 2010 6:51 pm

    What I still wonder, here, is this:
    6 months or so ago, I got a mini-notebook for half the price of an iPad. It runs Windows 7, it has a nice screen, it has a full keyboard, it has proper USB ports. It is not “cool”, no, not by any means. It’s about the size of an iPad when it’s closed, but it opens larger and it’s heavier. But it doesn’t have my work stuff on it, it runs all the standard apps, including Picasa, and so on. Its battery lasts at least 8 hours on a charge.

    Apart from the “cool” factor, is there any real reason to prefer an iPad?

    • Jim Fenton / Sep 2 2010 10:11 am

      I sort of regret using the phrase “using an iPad as a mini-laptop” in the post above, because they’re fundamentally different types of devices. I should have said “using an iPad instead of a laptop”.

      Your reference to the “‘cool’ factor” is either a reference to the clean design of the iPad (which I think is a valid reason to pay more for something) or to a fashion statement it makes. It doesn’t make much of a fashion statement for me, because it’s usually stashed in my backpack if it’s not at home. I’m willing to pay more for a product that is well (cleanly) designed and is well suited to my intended use, for example a piece of furniture or a kitchen implement. That reasoning applies to a device like an iPad as well.

      Here are a couple of the things I preferred about the iPad relative to a mini-notebook:

      – On an airplane, especially when the person in front of you reclines their seat, it’s nice not to have the keyboard (which you’re not using while watching a movie) sticking out. The simple black frame around the screen area distracts less from the content of the movie.

      – The iPad is quite a bit thinner and lighter than the typical mini-notebook. This was a factor in deciding not to bring my laptop because we were tightly constrained on weight, especially for the flight to Galápagos.

      But as this post points out, there were limitations to the iPad as well.

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