The iPad Predicament

Like the rest of the technologically-inclined population, I have been watching the emergence of the iPad with fascination. I remember when Microsoft introduced a tablet-based PC, over 10 years ago, and either we weren’t ready for it or Bill Gates wasn’t cool enough to sell it. Steve Jobs is cool enough to sell a new computing experience and I have no doubt that his coolness quotient is responsible for some of the product’s success. Jobs’ involvement with the iPad is what makes my experience with it all the more curious.

One of the more interesting aspects of this product is that its application in modern-day society is based largely on our imagination. I have seen servers use it to take orders at restaurants and insurance adjusters collect data in the field. Just last week, while touring hotels for possible venues for the Presentation Summit, the sales manager whipped out her iPad to show me photos of sleeping rooms. Naturally curious about how well it might serve as a presentation device, I purchased one.

It is certainly sexy, like all of the products that come from Apple. And it enjoys the panache of a product that just seems to work organically and naturally. But the real test would be how well it could project my slides and how well it would allow me to function in front of a room full of people.

Microsoft does not yet offer a PowerPoint version for the iPad, but Keynote does and it costs only $10. Keynote claims to be able to open PowerPoint files, and indeed, my version 2010 files opened with little backtalk. Except for getting them there — without a USB port, file transfer to an iPad involves a mysterious journey through iTunes. Of course, Apple is happy to sell you on a MobileMe account, but I wasn’t going there. I was okay with the $10 for Keynote, but I wasn’t about to invest in a service to compensate for Apple’s refusal to embrace standard USB connectivity.

Keynote does not translate motion paths or simultaneous animations well, and my embedded objects that require the Windows OLE engine were rendered inert. But these were relatively easy fixes, and in short order, I was displaying slides that were indistinguishable from the originals.

Next task: connect it to the projector. How? Where? A device that offers no USB connection is surely to be devoid of VGA connectors. The main power and docking port is the sole conduit to the outside world (except for WiFi) and Apple was happy to sell me a VGA adapter for $29. I didn’t mind paying the $500 for the unit itself, but this $29 purchase continues to rankle me.

Still, the connector did its job and before long, Keynote was happily sharing slides with my projector. Interestingly, the unit only pumps video out to the projector when actually running a slide show. If you drop out of show mode, the external display goes blank. This means that I cannot conduct software demos and tutorials and at first that disappointed me. But I have come to terms with the fact that the iPad is not intended to replace a computer. The question is whether it can handle the basic tasks within a profession. For instance, I will not try to create a presentation on the iPad; it is enough that I be able to show one. That seems like the appropriate litmus test.

And so far so good. I had moved my slides over to it and successfully connected it to the projector. Now how about the actual delivery? I whipped out my trusty wireless remote…you know, the simple $45 gadget whose receiver connects to the USB port…crap. How about my Bluetooth remote…crap, no BT support on the iPad.

I began to search the App Store and quickly uncovered many apps with the word Remote in it, including this:

“Control iTunes, Apple TV, and other apps using your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad over your WiFi network.” I verified that it supports Keynote and I do own a Touch, so I cobbled together the $0.99 to purchase this program known simply as Remote. I would need to make sure that I have a WiFi connection and that both devices are connected to it, but that should be no problem.

Here’s where the happy ending to this story should go, but not today. Remote will allow you to advance slides on Keynote running on a Mac and you can do it from either your Touch or from an iPad. However, it will not allow you to use your Touch to advance slides from Keynote running on an iPad. This is complicated, I know, and at first I was certain that I was just being outsmarted by these little apps and small devices. So I turned to the network of Apple support forums and confirmed that there is no way to drive Keynote for the iPad remotely. An amusing battle took place on these forums:

“I want to advance slides on my iPad.”

“Just touch the screen once.”

“I need to be able to do it remotely.”

“You’re asking for too much. It’s not a computer.”

“That is not asking for too much.”

“Apple had to draw the line somewhere.”

“How do I work the slides if I can’t advance them.”

“Just place the iPad on the podium.”

I got so close — I transferred all of my slides, converted them successfully, and got all the way to the actual projection of my slides through the projector, which you would have thought to be the biggest obstacle of all. And now when it comes time to actually deliver the presentation, I am required to stand behind a podium? I have spent the last five years advocating against the use of podiums (podia?). This little gadget was about to turn me into a hypocrite.

Here is where the irony becomes almost too much to bear. Can you imagine if Steve Jobs were tasked with presenting from his iPad? The master of modern-day presentation, having to stand behind a podium??

Apple’s decision to not include a USB port with the first generation iPad has effectively prevented me from using it in my profession. That saddens me, because I had high hopes for it. And of all people, you would have thought that one of the most celebrated public speakers of our era would have made sure that his latest product would have supported his craft.

Until the iPad provides more connectivity, I will have no choice but to view it as a curiosity first and a legitimate business tool second.

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