Opinion: As it turns out the iPad (especially the new iPad) really is for me
From what would have been little more than an expensive paperweight to an indispensable device that I use every day in just a few months.
Back in 2010 I wrote an article for this site entitled "Why the iPad isn’t for me". Much has changed since then and I now have a third-generation iPad, also known as the "new iPad". Whether you’re a gamer or not I thought there might be some interest on my experiences of using one for around five months. Specifically how useful the new iPad can be for somebody with a disability such as myself and whether it’s worth getting the new iPad over the iPad 2 or even the iPad 1. But first a little background information on how I got from that other article to how I feel today.
Back in 2010 when I was researching ways to mount an iPad on an electric wheelchair I discovered a product called the "HandeHolder". I was planning on writing an article for Ricky Buchanon’s excellent website "ATMac" and I started talking to a nice gentleman named Mike Burns who is the creator of the HandeHolder. He became interested in finding a solution for me and generously offered to send me an iPad along with one of his HandeHolder and mounting system to try out. I sent him some pictures of the iPad mounted on my wheelchair using his equipment and we talked back and forth several times attempting to find some way to mount the iPad comfortably on my wheelchair. He was quite determined but we were never able to come up with a comfortable solution for me. The main issue was the iPad is just too big and unlike my iPhone got in the way no matter where I placed it. He told me to hold on to the iPad and experiment and he’d let me know if he thought of anything else. Time went by and eventually, to my surprise, he let me keep the iPad! During that experimental period i did write that article for ATMac and you can find it here.
While I managed to find it useful even then over time I found several more uses for it though I never did find a successful mounting solution for my wheelchair. But that’s another story. Being a quadriplegic you often have to stay in bed more often than the average person in order to prevent pressure sores and so forth. In my case I’m often up the entire day until around 8 PM unless I have some sort of serious medical issues to deal with. Usually when I was in bed that meant I was completely cut off from my computer and the Internet. The only exception was when I had a serious medical issue that was going to keep me in bed for a number of days. In those rare cases I would actually move my iMac into my bedroom and set it up on one of those mobile hospital tables, making it easily accessible to me while I was in there. But unplugging everything and moving into my bedroom was a major pain. Setting it up on one of those hospital tables wasn’t exactly stable either. The end result was I almost never did this unless I was going to be grounded for quite some time. I did have an iPod Touch which was eventually replaced by an iPhone 3GS, and attempted to use those in my bedroom when I was in bed, but it didn’t work out too well because the screens were too small to use very effectively with the modified mouthstick that I had put together. The iPad, however, changed everything. It’s small enough that it’s very portable and easy to set up just about anywhere but at the same time the screen is also large enough that it’s easy to interact with, even with a modified mouth stick. Using the iPad in landscape mode is sufficient for just about everything so you don’t have to worry about being able to manually rotate it to portrait orientation by yourself. So basically all you have to do is place the iPad at about a 75°–80° angle, on a flat surface that you can reach with a mouth stick. Takes less than a minute for somebody to set up for you. You can get one of the numerous cases that doubles as a stand for the iPad. This is something I actually only just discovered since I got this new iPad. The excellent case that I got is called the "ZooGue". Aside from unfolding into an excellent stand that’s simple to set up just about anywhere it also provides great protection for the device when I’m not using it. When I’m not in bed I can place the iPad, in that case, in one of several spots around my home that’s easy to access with a mouth stick or even the knuckles on my right hand. And when visiting somebody else’s home I can do the same thing there. No more watching everybody else play with their devices because now I can do it too! It’s pretty liberating to actually be able to show people stuff on my iPad without any assistance. Not to mention it’s much less frustrating trying to explain to somebody who’s unfamiliar with touchscreen devices how to navigate to something in order for me to show something to everybody.
So you might be wondering what exactly do I do on my iPad that makes it so useful to me? Quite a lot actually and the list is growing all the time!
I do a lot of reading on my iPad – not as many novels as I would like (although I do that too) – but rather news and articles from various sources. In fact I’m somewhat of a news junkie and I use twitter and RSS feeds for much of that. I also use the excellent Instapaper service in conjunction with that. All the browsers, Twitter, and RSS apps I use on all my devices have Instapaper integration so I can easily send any articles I come across to Instapaper for reading at a later time, even off-line if I choose, on any device in a clean format that strips away all the ads and other junk typically found on webpages. So typically, using the excellent Instapaper iPad app, I’ll read any articles I come across during the day on my iPhone and Mac when I’m laying down in the evening. It’s a system that works well for me.
I also watch a lot of video on my iPad. With apps like Netflix, Crackle, and HBO Go there’s an endless amount of content available. It’s pretty mind blowing! And you can watch video on those particular apps anywhere you have an Internet connection. I also have extensively used an app called "Air Video" in conjunction with the EyeTV HD DVR and software I use on my iMac. EyeTV HD is a hardware device that hooks up to your Mac and cable box. With it’s included software it allows you to record anything on your cable box onto your Mac. It also allows you to watch live TV on your Mac in a resizable window. Anything I record is dumped into a specific folder which Air Video can see and then I can stream it to the Air Video app on my iPad from wherever I am. So basically anything I record is available to me no matter where I am as long as I have Internet connection. I’ll use this to watch recordings in my bedroom while I’m going through my morning routine of getting ready and getting up and so forth. Since the iPad can be positioned just about anywhere I don’t have to worry about whether I can see the TV or not. It’s truly awesome!
Since I’ve got this new iPad I’ve also done a fair amount of writing on it (including most of this article). The big reason for that is the presence of Siri dictation being built-in. This feature is only available on the new iPad and it’s made a huge difference for me. There are third-party solutions available, like the excellent Dragon Dictation app, but they don’t have the advantage of having systemwide integration like Siri dictation does. There’s a dedicated microphone button on the iPad keyboard that allows you to dictate basically anywhere you can bring the keyboard up. You don’t have to copy and paste dictated text from another app, like with Dragon Dictation. It works great and it’s very accurate. So I use it just about anywhere, even for trivial things like doing searches for apps in the App Store. This feature alone has made getting the new iPad, over the iPad 2 for example, worth it all by itself! And now that Mountain Lion has the same dictation feature built into it I have this option on both my iPad and Mac. Next year I’ll also have it on my iPhone as well (when my contract with AT&T is up and I can upgrade to a new iPhone). In addition to that the new iPad will also have full Siri functionality in about two months when IOS 6 is released. I should add that there’s a number of writing apps for the iPad that allows you to sync anything you’re writing to the cloud (either iCloud or Dropbox) so you can access them on your Mac (or PC as well I suppose). two of them are Plaintext and IA Writer.
And finally the iPad is, of course, great for playing games. Other than word games, like Words with Friends, and puzzle–orientated games I don’t do a lot of gaming on my iPad but it can be excellent gaming device for disabled people. Certain games are just easier to play on an iPad, even if using a mouth stick. Telltale’s The Walking Dead is a good example of this. In my review I talked about how surprisingly difficult this game was to play for me on my Mac. It’s a very good game, and I still was able to play it, but it’s physically challenging to do so. The iPad version uses tapping and swiping, instead of a complicated mouse and keyboard combination, to accomplish pretty much the same thing. I think we’re going to see more situations like this as more developers develop their games for both the Mac and iPad. When you throw in Apple’s wonderful "Assistive Touch" system that’s been around since the introduction of IOS 5 it becomes even less likely that you won’t be able to play certain types of games. I should also add that the beautiful "Retina" display on the new iPad is also quite a bit easier on the eyes. If you don’t notice the difference at first you will after using it for awhile and then seeing an older iPad’s display.
Now there’s a bunch of other smaller things I do on my iPad, like shopping and creating music for example, but the above are the main things I use it for quite extensively. I should note that the iPad version of GarageBand is incredible and a must-have if you have even the slightest interest in creating music. While the Mac version is excellent as well the iPad version has brought me closer to actually playing a real instrument than I ever thought I could be. There’s just certain things that can be done on a touchscreen device that can’t be done on a traditional computer and GarageBand is proof of that.
So as you can see my opinion on the worth of an iPad for someone physically disabled like myself has changed dramatically since that other article was written. It’s just a wonderfully versatile device that has so many uses for just about anybody no matter who they are or what their physical or mental capabilities are. And while I’d wholeheartedly recommend any generation of iPads I must put an extra emphasis on the new iPad. The addition of Siri dictation (and soon the full Siri experience) is huge and makes this already incredibly useful device even more so.