Getting an iPad

It’s been about three weeks now since I started using the iPad. It’s not the first time I’ve used one of course – with friends like @SteveNagata I was guaranteed to be one of the first few people in the country to try one out (which I was).

I must admit, before I got one, i wasn’t all that excited about the iPad. Sure, there were some cool games, and it seemed like a great device to watch videos on, but ultimately it didn’t strike me as being all that useful. I don’t play games, and I don’t have much time for watching videos or reading online news. As such, i thought that if I were to get an iPad it would end up on the coffee table, as friends of mine had reported had happened to them.

That was before I changed my job. I went from being a full time employee at a publishing company, to being a freelancer working in online marketing.

No longer tied to a specific desk, my ‘office’ is now everywhere and anywhere. I work at home, in clients’ offices, in Starbucks, on trains and even at Disneyland (which is where I am right now). I’m needing to do more travelling, have more meetings, be more flexible.

Prior to getting an iPad I took my 17″ MacBook Pro with me everywhere. But getting this out in meetings or on the subway was a real pain …and sometimes quite rude too. Complete overkill.

Oh, and there was also my desire for a third, mini-monitor at home (as pictured above).

Three weeks ago I finally picked up a 64GB WIFI iPad from the Apple Store (I already had a pocket wifi dongle which gives me unlimited data, so no need for another 3G data contract).

Determined that this thing would not become a coffee table item, I then invested about 25,000 yen (£200/US$300) in some of the best iPad apps available (listed in an upcoming blog post) essentially turning it into a truly versatile mobile computer – one that could be stroked.

I also bought the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, which manages to hit the sweet spot in terms of size vs. ease of use/functionality. It’s super lightweight, compact enough to carry around with it being a pain, yet large enough to hold a full-size set of keys (that is, the layout is identical to the MacBook). It can also be paired with the iPhone 4 (or any other similarly enabled device), although as with many Bluetooth devices, pairing with more than one device is a little fiddly.

If you’re going to get the keyboard, you’ll also want some kind of stand. The regular Apple iPad case (which I also bought) not only protects, but works as a two-way stand too. Lie it down with the front cover folded back and tucked into the little flap (thus turning the cover into a triangle) and you can work with it an an angle of about 30 degrees. Turn it the other way around and balance it on the ‘spine’ of the cover and you have it near-vertical. I’m not too keen on that second option though – it’s just too unstable, and requires a completely flat surface.

Enter the Twelve South Compass for iPad. Available in Apple Stores and at many iPad accessory retailers, this is by far the best stand I’ve yet seen for the iPad (I liked it so much I bought two). At 200g, this beautiful mini tripod is one of the heaviest on the market – but that’s a feature, what with the iPad itself weighing a fair bit – you want a sturdy base. The compass design is ingenious, allowing it be folded up so it’s small enough to slip in your pocket (inside its very cute cloth case). As well as making a great easel for near-vertical use, it also has a mini-leg that flips out of the back for 30 degree use. You can use it in combination with the regular Apple iPad case, and there’s sufficient clearance at the bottom to charge the iPad via the standard USB dock connector without the cable being squished against the table top. It also comes in stylish packaging that matches the whole Apple experience.

Additionally I picked up the iPad> VGA adapter, and the was the grateful recipient of an iPad> component/USB adapter from a friend. I’ll be picking up the camera connector kit shortly.

Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself using the iPad on a daily basis. Long train journeys are now very productive, and find me editing documents, dealing with email, doing a lot of the reading that i never had time for before.

It’s freeing up my time. For example, today we’re at Tokyo DisneySea (*Twinkle* has been wanting to come here again for a long time… ok, I love it too!). It’s a trip I couldn’t have made without the iPad, as I have a video that I have to get online as soon as possible. The export process, done on my MacBook Pro at home that’s attached to a 6TB raid, takes about 8 hours – although there’s not much work on my part other than moving it to the next stage every few hours. With the iPad I’ve been able to do that remotely from this Italian style restaurant overlooking DisneySea harbour (more on remotely controlling your computer from your iPad in my next blog).

Whilst here I’ve also tied up a new advertising deal for a couple of my websites, accepted the contract, implemented the code for the ads, put them live and created/ sent the invoice.

The great thing is of course, this is just the beginning for the iPad. It still runs the older version of iOS (until next month), meaning no backgrounding of apps, no folders, no unified inbox etc. When we finally get those functions and apps are updated to make use of them, it’ll make things a lot easier – especially processes that require you to rapidly switch between multiple apps.

Complaints? I don’t think I have any. I expected and accept the limits of iOS – it would be pointless to compare this to a MacBook or other ‘computer’, as it’s not trying to be one. As a tablet device this thing is just amazing.

If all you use computers for is consuming media, playing games, simple Word processing /Excelling/ Powerpointing, emailing and web browsing, I think the iPad can function well as your solitary device (although to be honest I’d probably go for the new MacBook Air unless I was only going to be consuming media). For anything more complex than that it would have to be a secondary device – you’re not going to be using Final Cut Pro on this thing anytime soon!

For heavy users who are often on the go (like me) the iPad is a godsend (Jobssend). Combined with the power of the best productivity apps on the market (e.g. Evernote – see my upcoming post on apps) it’s a tremendously powerful tool that can make you more productive, whilst simultaneously giving you more freedom in terms of how, when and where you work.

Also, and far more important than any of the above, it’s damn sexy.

I love my iPad.

After one week out, MacBook goes back in for surgery

I don’t really know what I do to my MacBook to cause it so much damage. It’s already had 2 new displays, a new keyboard, new bottom case, new dvd drive, a new hard drive and a new fan – the last repair having been completed last week.

Tonight the DVD drive that was replaced last spring packed up (just as I was about to install iLife09, grrrr!), so tomorrow lunchtime it’s off to Apple once again to drop it off.

At least I’m getting the most out of my extended warranty…

[Update]

I made a mad dash to the Apple Store (Shibuya) at lunchtime, and was assured that the drive would be replaced by 7pm – which it was. iLife09 now installing 🙂

Yet another iPhone post

(if you’re not interested in it or Apple customer service, look away).

Two nights ago my iPhone suddenly had an emergency breakdown. Somehow the OS became corrupted, and the only way to fix it was to connect it to my mac and let iTunes try its best counselling skills.

The only problem was, iTunes couldn’t connect with it – just kept on asking me to enter the phone’s passcode …which I couldn’t do as the phone wouldn’t let me do anything except make emergency calls. Catch 22.

(For google reference, the error message read:

“iTunes could not connect to the iPhone “*” because it is locked with a passcode. You must enter your passcode on the iPhone before it can be used with iTunes”

This all happened when I was actually in the Apple Store on unrelated business (looking at new macbooks!), but they were so busy I had no chance of seeing the Geniuses (they’re the people who fix stuff), and the sales staff didn’t know what to do. I made an appointment for the following night, and using their in-store wifi started scouring the Apple forums.

Eventually I found out how to force the iPhone into recovery mode (connect to computer, open iTunes, press both buttons until Apple logo appears, then only release the top button, hole the bottom one until iTunes recognises it as being in recovery mode and restores it to factory settings). However, after it rebooted it just came up with another error, “The iPhone “*” cannot be used with iTunes because the information required for activation could not be obtained from the iPhone”. There was nothing I could do but wait until the following night’s appointment.

This being Japan, I was kind of expecting it to take a long time to sort out. Everything here seems to involve endless form-filling – you even have to provide a notarised copy of your birth certificate in order to buy a loaf of bread. (OK, slight exaggeration, maybe.) One problem I saw was the fact that the phone is registered to *Twinkle*, and she was unable to come to the store.

What happened then really surprised me. The chap listened to my story, quickly tested the SIM card in another iPhone (it was fine) …and then reached into the drawer behind him, pulled out a brand new iPhone and handed it to me.

“Is that OK?” he asked.

“Erm, yes!” I said, with a big grin on my face.

“Oh, if you could just sign this receipt to say that Apple will pay that’ll be it”.

And that was it.

Having left the store, it was simply a case of plugging the new phone into my Macbook and leaving it for 30 mins as it restored all my settings (and 15GB of emails, contacts, photos music and apps), resulting in a brand new phone that was identical in content & settings to my old one.

Now THAT is what customer service of the future should be like. It was even accompanied by the happiest music one could hope to hear, wafting up the stairs from the live concert on the ground floor.

Of course, there are reasons why this all happened so quickly and without any fuss. For a start, they were incredibly busy, and the guy was desperate to get through the queue. For a second thing, they already had all my details to hand, as when I made my appointment I’d logged in with my Apple ID.

Still, I thought it was all bloomin marvellous, Yet another excuse to give my money to Apple.

Using an iPhone in Japan – where it falls down

If you’re not interested in the iPhone, don’t bother read this – just click here instead.

I got my iPhone 3G about four hours after arriving in Japan. Being gadget boy, I’d wanted it since launch day, but it would have been a bit daft to get it on a two year contract in the UK. Also, they don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t justify getting one just because I wanted one.

But here I am starting a new life in Japan, and in need of a phone.

Buying the iPhone in Japan

The initial rush seems to have subsided, although stocks are still limited: we called our local Softbank store (having first phoned the Apple store in vain), and checked availability. They had 1 available, 16GB black.

The sign up process is pretty lengthy. You have to read through a few pages of Apple’s terms and conditions, then donate a kidney. It can be difficult for foreigners to get them as there’s a credit check, and a two year contract (they don’t want you skipping the country before paying all the monthly instalments). We decided that *Twinkle* would buy mine – far simpler 🙂 If you don’t have someone willing to buy one for you, credit card is the way to go.

The plans cost anything between about 5000 yen and 9000 yen a month, + phone calls: this pays for the device itself and the data plan. I don’t like making phone calls (especially not at 20 yen a minute, which I discovered after a total of 3 hours on the phone) so that’s fine for me, I’m just in it for the data. Calls to other Softbank / Vodafone users are free at certain times.

You are given a Softbank (IMAP) email address. Personally, I like to use my own domain email address (…[at]tamegoeswild.com) so I’ve configured Google Apps to forward a copy of incoming mobile mail to Softbank (who then send an alert to the phone), and manually set the outgoing server to Gmail SMTP.

Once you have the device, be prepared to fall in love. As Steve would say, it is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, really, it is the most beautiful piece of technology I have ever had the privilege to take care of. And the best thing of all? It Just Works. It’s incredibly easy to use – I’ve not yet had to refer to the manual. It’s simple enough for even a four-year-old to understand – yesterday my little nephew was able to figure out how to switch between applications in a couple of minutes.

If you are an existing Mac user setting up your phone couldn’t be simpler – just plug it in. iTunes will sync all your contacts, email accounts, calendars, to do lists, photos, music, videos, just like that. It may be a little more complex for Windows users but they should be used to frustration anyway.

In the past I’ve always found it a pain to put data on mobile phones, and was also afraid that if I lost the phone, I’d lose my data. Here, all the data is safely stored on your computer / in the cloud, then synched to your iPhone either over the Internet or when you plug it in.

Applications

I won’t go through all my apps because I’d be here all day. Just to mention one of my Japanese favourites – Ekitan: the entire national train timetable, live updates on delays, a cache so you can refer to searches when there’s no signal, history of previous searches (for repeat journeys). And all with a lovely user-freindly interface. Yes, other phones can do this too – but not whilst oozing sex appeal.

Other favourite apps are Safari, Google maps, Twitterrific, Air Sharing, Koi Pond (the fish eat your finger), the classic iPint (beer on tap – a good party trick), midomi (sing to your iPhone or let it listen to a song being played in a bar etc and it will tell you what the song is, with a link to buy it), NetNewsWire (RSS feeds), MyDelicious, Cro-mag, Facebook, Evernote.

The GPS really is very handy. I use it to find places in Tokyo – watch myself on the screen as a little blue dot walking down the road. Also, my to-do list uses it so that I can tell my iPhone to put tasks in order of their distance from me (write to bank = 0m, buy eggs = 0.5km, buy ink = 4km, get post office book from *Twinkle*s parents’ house = 32km). This is handy when one has a very long to-do list! (and is very nerdy).

The web browser, Safari, is fantastic. Unlike most phones in Japan you’re not restricted to made-for-mobile sites, with this you can view any website online (er, provided they’re not flash-based!). I’ve used this countless times over the past week when on the move. There’s so much information out there – it’s great to be able to access it when I need it and not have to wait until I get home.

I also like the fact that it has decent built-in speakers – I use it to listen to audiobooks just before I go to bed.

Where the iPhone falls down in Japan

Rather than just go on about how good the iPhone is (there’s plenty of sites dedicated to doing so already), I thought I’d point out some features – or lack of features – that are specific to Japan.

  • My biggest gripe comes as the result of the iPhone being designed for a country that uses SMS, not email, for texting. Japan does use SMS, but it will only work with people who are on the same carrier as you. Here, email is dominant. Apple have tried to address this by having Softbank send an alert when you get new mail, but this is only a message on the screen – no vibrate and no sound. I hope they rectify this soon.
  • The mail program doesn’t support eMoji, those little pictures people love to put in their texts. They just get scrambled. If the picture is core to the meaning of the message this can be a problem – you can read the message in Safari at the touch of a button, but it’s a bit of a drag. 
  • The packages are way too expensive.
  • Visual voicemail doesn’t come as standard. I think it’s another 300 yen a month.
  • Battery life. Ok, so that’s not limited to Japan, but it is still the iPhone’s biggest ‘issue’.
  • The camera is probably the most pants camera to have been mass-marketed this year. Emergency use only.

It’s early days though, with it only having been launched here last month. What a lot of users are doing is using it as a secondary device – with all my family here on AU (not Softbank) I’ll probably go that way myself.

At least the 3G network is reliable – it really is super fast. You rarely find yourself waiting excessively for it to load. I also love the fact that it has Wifi – at home (or at friends’ houses, or where’s there’s public wifi) it automatically switches from 3G to the wireless broadband connection, thus not costing a penny in data transfer.

he introduction of ‘Genius’ with the latest version of iTunes is very welcome, and over the past couple of days I’ve been delighted to find some ‘new’ music that I never knew I had. Great stuff.

I find it really exciting to be able to use these new devices, and also to think where they might go in the future. I won’t be buying any more gadgets for a long time – perhaps next year I’ll get a Nikon DSLR with video function and in-built GPS (in the D700 line).

Incidentally, a good side-effect of my having an iPhone is that I spend a lot less time in front of my Mac. Being able to deal with emails on the road when I have a spare few minutes here and there means I don’t come home to a pile of stuff to wade through, and consequently don’t get distracted by browsing the internet – so the iPhone is pretty good for our relationship too! 

Anyway, it’s just flashed up a reminder that I need to go to the toilet. According to the GPS system, the loo is located about 4 metres south-west of this cushion, and I have a date to be there by 12.34pm. Best be off.