Six reasons to buy an iPad

By Christopher Breen, Macworld |  Mobile & Wireless, ipad

Like many of you, I have an Aunt Vilma. And this Aunt Vilma has the kind of question that's on the minds of other like-minded Aunts around the world. Specifically:

Dear Topher,

Why should I buy an iPad?

Love,

A.V.

It remains a question that's difficult to answer in a tidy list of bullet points. And it is because it's been my experience that you don't truly understand how useful an iPad will be to you until you live with one. That said, I can provide some observations regarding my use as well how others around me use theirs.

Portability: For many, the main attraction is that you can carry an iPad with you wherever you go. In my case, this means that if I want to check email or my Twitter feed, or look something up on the Internet, I needn't traipse downstairs to where my Mac lives. I can do it all from the comfort of my kitchen, couch, or conservatory. I know you're a great cook so I'd imagine an iPad-housed book of recipes at your side would be a boon.

In my home we routinely take advantage of the iPad's go-anywhere nature by using it as the "go look it up" resource, much as our ancestors used bound encyclopedias. When a topic comes up during dinner that we'd like to know more about, it's the work of a moment to grab the iPad and settle the bet over whether Brown Recluse spiders are found in California (or, more particularly, in our bathroom).

The downside of having a portable and powerful device like this is that there's the temptation to constantly bang away on the thing. Making a special trip to the "computer room" is often enough to keep you from checking Facebook or Instagram every few minutes. With that barrier gone, it requires some discipline to put down your iPad while you participate in the real world.

Access: The iPad's portability is enhanced by its ability to connect to the Internet in a couple of ways. All iPads work with Wi-Fi but if you pay the extra dough required for the cellular model (which is $130 over the Wi-Fi price), you can get an iPad that works just about anywhere, much like your mobile phone. Yes, you have to pungle up a fee each month for this access, but it means that your iPad can almost always be in touch with the outside world. This can be very helpful when you're travelling or when you need to perform lightish digital duties away from home or the office (and a Wi-Fi network isn't available).

Ease of use: With iOS Apple has undertaken an effort to redefine what it means to interact with computing devices. While some computer veterans feel that an iPad's interface is dumbed down, not everyone wants the kind of power and flexibility that a more open operating system allows. They want a device that lets them easily perform the tasks that interest them. And the iPad does this admirably, and in a way that doesn't require you to spend hours wading through help files. Once you master the idea of tapping on the items you wish to interact with and learn how to swipe from place to place, you're well on your way.

And then there's troubleshooting. I know that we've had more than one long-distance session where I've "fixed" your Mac and broadband connection. Much as I love you, if you get an iPad I think we'll speak less frequently. iPads pretty much "just work." If something goes wrong, you can force-quit the misbehaving app or, if you like, restart the iPad altogether.

Workspace: Although people try to use their smart phones as their primary computing device, it's routinely undertaken as an "I wonder if I can really do this" stunt. Regardless of how powerful the phone may be, its small screen is an impediment to getting tasks done.

If you're accustomed to working on your phone you'll be thrilled with the amount of additional elbow room the iPad provides. You may not be able to type as quickly as you can on your computer keyboard, but I guarantee you'll get things done a heck of lot faster than you will with your two thumbs on a phone's virtual keyboard.

That said, most people find it easier to work on a computer. Yes, you can use a Bluetooth keyboard with an iPad to try to replicate the computer experience, but without the aid of a pointing device you'll find yourself tapping on the screen pretty frequently as you perform one task or another. This slows most people down.

Location: The iPad's ability to detect its location is more helpful than you might imagine. This allows you to obtain information in context to your surroundings. The obvious example is mapping nearby shopping and services and using something like Yelp to learn more about a store or restaurant before paying a visit. But it can also help you learn what movies are playing nearby, how the local weather is shaping up, what that bright light in the night sky is, and whether now is or isn't a good time to venture onto the nearby highway.

Apps: This may be the greatest advantages of all. If you're a longtime Mac user you know that there was a time when Mac software pickings were pretty slim. The iPad has no such problem. The last time I checked there were over 375,000 apps designed for the iPad. Obviously, not all of them are great--or even good. But even if only one percent of them are worth your time (and far more than that are), that's still 3,750 solid apps. And with those apps you can read books, create works of music and art, launch a journal or blog, organize your life, entertain and inform your kids and grandkids, capture and edit movies and pictures, make and receive free video calls, enjoy your favorite music and movies, spend an unhealthy amount of time with Twitter and Facebook, fling birds at pigs, and cast your eyes over these very words.

And why shouldn't you buy an iPad? Because everyone else is doing it. Some people are perfectly content purposely confining their computing to the Mac or PC in the back bedroom. Real people, real events, real life are more important to them than their virtual counterparts. If the benefits I've outlined sound like they'll enhance that real life, however, you might give it a go.

If you'd prefer to not hear stories of my family affairs and instead ask a question of your own, drop a line to mac911@macworld.com.

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