In the over two decades I worked at Rocketdyne I never had anything near “state-of-the-art” technology available to me. This isn’t surprising. After all, most – if not all – large companies have security issues they must deal with, and by the time they’ve fully tested any hardware or software they’re going to roll out to the enterprise and then support, quite a bit of time necessarily has passed. In a world that changes as rapidly as tech, that pretty much ensures nobody will be using the latest thing.
So, thanks to one of those occasional confluences of events we sometimes refer to as serendipity, after leaving Rocketdyne and as I was getting ready to travel to the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, MA, I decided to give myself a 63rd birthday present and purchase an iPad. I resolved to take it with me to the conference instead of a laptop, convinced the experience would be worth whatever inconvenience it created. More about that in a moment.
Although I went to the Apple store with the intention of purchasing the 16 gig, wi-fi model, I discovered they didn’t have any. While I was talking to the guy from whom I had purchased our two iMacs, he went to the back of the store to check on availability and discovered someone had canceled their purchase of the 64 gig, 3G model. Well . . . it was my birthday after all and, with very little hesitation, I decided to pull the trigger and spend the extra few hundred dollars. I’m glad I did, especially for the 3G model. I also just got in under the wire for AT&T’s $29.99 per month unlimited plan. Unless they’ve changed (and I’ve not seen it either way) that plan is no longer available for new users.
My plan for the conference was to take my iPad and my Bluetooth keyboard with me. I had already tested and confirmed it worked fine (though I didn’t have a stand for the iPad yet). I was hoping to be able to both live tweet from the sessions, and to blog here as I took some time to reflect. Unfortunately, halfway to the airport I realized I had left the keyboard at home. Now I was constrained to use the built-in, virtual, touchscreen keyboard. The challenges were increasing dramatically. So . . . here’s what I learned so far.
From my perspective, although manageable, the keyboard kind of sucks. It is very sensitive which, for many purposes, is just fine. However, for typing it is what I can only describe as unforgiving. If I don’t hold my hands somewhat rigidly over the keyboard, I am very likely to barely touch a key that isn’t the one I want to touch. For a touch typist this is very annoying. After all, it’s the ability to touch a keyboard that makes it possible to type without looking. Interestingly (and not a little ironically), the graphical representation of the keyboard shows the little nipples on the F and J keys! What’s that all about? They serve no purpose I can discern. Not only can’t you feel them, you can’t touch those keys without invoking them . . . so what’s the point?
The keyboard is also (if I’ve measured and calculated correctly – no guarantee here) approximately 20% smaller than my iMac’s keyboard, measuring from left to right on one set of keys. I’m not even bothering to measure other portions of the several keyboards available, depending on what you’re doing, as the scale is fairly consistent throughout. Let me just say the keyboards need some work, in my opinion. For instance, to get to the hashtag (all important when tweeting from something like a conference and, yes, I know many apps provide the ability to insert hashtags, but you still have to initiate their use) requires two keystrokes just for it to appear, then another to actually use it. This is but one of the combinations I find somewhat cumbersome. I find this unacceptable and I’m hopeful Apple will be able to provide a more useful set of keyboards once they realize how this works. Then again, maybe my experience is not mainstream enough and they just won’t care.
OK, enough of the difficulties. Overall, I had a great experience with my iPad. I used it everywhere; that’s where the 3G capability proved invaluable, even if it is AT&T. (For the record, my wireless experience – which spans well over ten years – is entirely with Verizon, dating back to when it was AirTouch here in California. Although my experience with AT&T is less than a month old, I can read!)
Two examples: On the first day of the conference I was pretty unclear on the best way to get there from my hotel, which was about six miles away in Chelsea. I was able to take the hotel shuttle to the airport, but from there I had to take the Silver Line bus to within walking distance of the Westin Boston Waterfront, my final destination. I got off at the wrong station and was unsure of the best way to get to the hotel. I invoked the maps and charted a pedestrian course to the hotel, holding the iPad flat in front of me and just following the directions it gave me. Worked like a charm.
The second example is more fun and, since the hotel wi-fi wasn’t available, the 3G capability was invaluable. I needed to participate in a telecon and GoToMeeting with two colleagues in Philadelphia and a potential client in Austin. I went in to M. J. O’Connor’s (an Irish pub in Boston – imagine that!) where the hostesses were kind enough to allow me to sit in a closed area that was reasonably quiet. I called into the telecon and, because I have a Bluetooth earpiece, I was able to lay my BlackBerry down and use it to provide a bit of an angle for the iPad, on which I had logged into the meeting space. As I was sitting there, for a moment I thought back to my childhood of dial telephones, party lines, and tiny black and white television screens in gigantic consoles. I was living the future I once visited in my imagination! I could have done virtually the same with a laptop, but the angle of the iPad made me feel as though I was peering through a kind of wormhole into this amazingly clear and colorful, collaborative space. It was magical.
That’s some of my experience over the last few days. Next up, some of my thoughts about Enterprise 2.0 and the conference, as well as some personal experiences and impressions.