Is the iPad More Than a Toy?

-by Noble Keyes, Lead Developer @ Gravity Jack
The iPad is cool no question, but can it be a useful tool?
Can it transcend that gadget niche of items that are fun but fail to provide any real usefulness (i.e. a toy)?
Until a few months ago I might have said “no” but lately I’ve found myself turning to it more and more for work (that is non-entertainment purposes).
This has nothing to do with the new iPad 2 as I’m still sporting a first-gen iPad, rather it’s a mixture of trying to be productive with it and finding some really cool software.
So here are some ways you may be able to get more out of your iPad or perhaps reasons you can use if trying to persuade your spouse into letting you get one.
Let’s be real though, if you want to be productive with the iPad it will require some effort on your part. It’s not a magical device that will make all of your troubles go away. It can be downright difficult to do some things and a joy to do others. I won’t be serving up any Apple Kool-Aid here.
For instance, typing on the iPad is a real pain compared to an actual keyboard, but it’s way better than no keyboard which is what I have right now. Yes, I’m typing this blog post with the ‘pad while riding the bus. Why would I do that? Because this is basically the only time I have to write.
And that is where the iPad is proving to be valuable. It let’s me get things done in small slices of time where I would otherwise be unproductive.
Here are some applications I’ve found useful and ways I’ve used them:
Pages – Word Processor
This is what I’m using now and it is not the first blog post I’ve written using Pages. I’ve also written a couple short stories for my daughter when she was learning to read.
I do not enjoy typing on the iPad but it gets the job done.
Sketchbook Pro – Art/Drawing
An amazingdrawing program. Couple this with a stylus and you can turn out some fantastic stuff. All of the art assets for an application I have on the app store were done with this program.
Blueprint – iPad/iPhone Application Design
I can’t say enough good things about this software. This has been used to design and work out the flow of an iPhone app I’m currently writing. Design an app by creating screens, laying out controls (buttons, tables, etc) then test you flow by wiring everything up with actions. You can even import your art assets to use as backgrounds for views/buttons.
Garage Band – Multi-track audio recording
Garage Band is probably one of the best software values around and there is no way I can do it justice here. It has made music creation fun and allowed me to experiment with different genres of music. The smart instruments are great and I’ve used them to create new songs and remixes of old songs.
Getting vocals and line level instruments in can be a pain but it’s doable. You can buy expensive cables to do this or just use a camcorder cable. I had one gathering dust so I was set. You will need a few adapters to make this work, just google it.
There are a couple issues to be aware of though.
1.    Apple has limited the power output for USB devices plugged in using their camera kit so USB microphones no longer work. Rumor has it that using a powered USB hub will allow them to work. Do your research first before going this route.
2.    The average guitar signal is not hot enough using the camcorder cable (or othercable adapter) option. I’ve opted to use a Pocket Pod to bump the signal a bit. My thought is at it can be used for guitar AND a mic. BUT once I went to put it all together I realized that I was missing an adapter so this remains untested. I think the logic is sound though. Still do your research first.
At this point Garage Band probably sounds like a toy but mark my words, I will be using it to create soundtracks for applications soon.
OnSong – Electronic Music Book
On Easter Eve this year I hosted a worship service at my house, just an informal gathering of friends and family to get together, worship with song and eat some food.
OnSong wasinstrumental (no pun intended) in this. I used it to download the chords/lyrics to songs, make a set list, and then transpose the songs with a few clicks. During the service the iPad was placed on a music stand and used as the music book. You switch songs by ‘turning’ pages. Pretty slick and saved a lot of time too.
iDraw – Vector Graphics
With the ability to import/export svg files, it’s crazy zoom level, and custom sized canvases, this is the program I reach for when creating assets on a current iPhone application. Like Sketchbook pro, iDraw also benefits from the use of a stylus.
After a bit of research I believe that if you want to create vector art on the iPad this is THE app.
Those are the heavy hitters in my app library right now.
I know, you can do all of these things with a pc/laptop. I would never suggest otherwise (remember, no Kool-Aid). Keep in mind that most of those apps are used while riding the bus to/from work or in other slices of time where I would otherwise be unproductive.
So what I would suggest, is that if you look, you might find a time or place where the iPad is useful not just fun.
For me the iPad has finally reached the point where it is more than a toy.