Freeing a man from his cell phone.
My friend Mitchell hates his cell phone. He isn't some backwoods dwelling luddite, either. He just appreciates face-to-face interaction and hates having an electronic tether. Mitch was a Marine for quite a few years and now has the financial security to spend a few years (or forever) bumming around the world. He plans to do this via sites like CouchSurfing and Workaway.
A few weeks ago, Mitch came to me and asked my advice on a good mobile device to wander with. He wanted something he could use to browse the Internet, watch YouTube or Hulu on occasion, and stay entertained on a plane with. I recommended a 16 GB WiFi iPad 2. He ordered it and, two days ago, FedEx dropped it off at his door.
Activation Required Some Explanation. I found out his iPad had arrived more than a day later. Mitch wasn't an iTunes user, and he spent most of the first day trying to figure out how to activate his tablet. (My bad there.) He figured it out though, and had his iPad 2 in working order by the time he brought it to my house.
I recognize the iPad isn't a perfectly independent device. But Mitchell is a light enough user that a few gigs of music and a handful of apps will set him for quite a while. The long battery life means he won't have to remember to charge it as often, and the tablet form-factor will make for comfortable WiFi browsing in cafes across the world.
The App Store Polices Make Total Sense Now: I've had- and still have- my issues with Apple's strict submission guidelines. But I now understand exactly why they succeed- and why they provide an objectively superior experience for many users than the App Market ever can.
Mitchell's first question to me involved apps. He wanted to know which ones were safe to download- was there anything he needed to watch out for. If Mitchell had purchased an Android tablet I'd have had a laundry list of warnings for him. But there isn't much to worry about on the App Store. I told him to scan the user comments if he didn't recognize a developer, but that apps for the iPad were pretty risk-free.
Of primary interest was the Wikipanion App which I described as "like the Hitchhiker's Guide". Wikipanion can queue pages for offline reading. So, before a day of sight-seeing, Mitch could cache the Wikipedia entries for every stop on his trip.
A Hard Case is Necessary: Mitchell's current phone ends up in the bottom of jeeps and dropped off staircases with alarming frequency. A naked iPad 2 was enough to survive a hike up the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala, but it wouldn't survive a month with Mitchell. Let alone a couple of years. So I told him to order an Otterbox iPad 2 case.
I'm currently reviewing one- and my experience with the Otterbox Playbook case was enough to convince me it was the right product for Mitch. He'll be able to keep his iPad- screen and body- protected from impact or drop at all times. Which means he can afford to toss it into bags and in the backs of cars without worry of breakage. His iPad is now a tank.
Offline Capabilities: Mitchell isn't the Internet's biggest fan. He loves using it to keep in touch with friends across the world...but not for hours at a time. WiFi is common enough around the world that he'll be able to get on when he needs to, and the iPad is a robust enough content platform that he'll have plenty to do when he's away from civilization. Between Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks, there are thousands of free public domain books available for download.
"This thing means I don't have to carry a phone anymore." An iPad 2 with Skype is a far less expensive way to stay in touch than an international cell phone. There are a number of text-messaging apps and IM clients and, always, Gmail. An iPad is the only tool Mitchell needs to keep in touch around the world. A phone is a tether, but the iPad gives him total control and every option he needs.
I've never seen Mitch excited about a gadget before, but the iPad 2 had him electrified. It was simple, it was robust and it meant he could decide exactly when he wanted to be reachable. $499 to wander far and wide isn't a bad deal.