Is the iPad an RVers Accessory?

Gizmos, gadgets and “must have” accessories fill the vendor halls of any RV show.  Having been burned many times by the latest solution to my perceived problems, I am skeptical of the latest and greatest whatever.   But, of course, the RV Navigator ( could not pass up the iPad, the latest device from the technology world that is ready to slice and dice all of your technology needs.  Before proceeding, let me tell you that I bought my 3 day old iPad after standing in line at the store on April 3rd for the retail price.   As the author, I am totally independent and have received nothing in exchange for this article or my opinion.  However, in addition to being a tech junkie,  I feel an obligation to test this stuff for suitability for the RVing public (or at least that’s what I tell the co-pilot). It is in that spirit that I offer my opinion. I welcome your input via the email below.

What, you don’t have any technology needs? You’re content with the simple old laptop and/or cell phone?  Believe me, I understand.  We don’t need a new device that will only complicate our lives.  But some technology developments are transformational and not just an imperceptible step forward, best left for the geeks. TV and the internet are such transformational technologies as well as cre
dit/debit cards and smart phones.  Having had my iPad for only a couple of days, I am not ready to make the same claims for it.  However it does have the potential.

What do I look for in a transformational device?  After using it for a while, I would be uncomfortable being without it.  Cell phones for RVers are transformational, and a smart cell phone takes the phone to the next level of value for our lifestyle. Our smart phones outfitted with little programs called Apps give the phone new capabilities - many not  even dreamed of by the average RVer.  How about a level (when using the jacks) or satellite finder, or cheap gas finder?  These plus about a hundred more are part of my smart cell phone’s arsenal of apps.  I have access to over 100,000 specialized tools (apps) for most any purpose from counting calories to calculating postage to checking

Ken, the RV Navigator, picking up his preordered iPad at the Store.

airline flights.

With that as an introduction, where does the iPad fit into the technology landscape for Rvers? Is it a big cell phone, small laptop, or a useless gadget that RVers can pass over?  Of course it depends on your needs and expectations.  For me, as owner of  a smart phone, laptop, and multiple other devices, the iPad is going to have to prove itself as a something truly innovative and new.  For the more typical RVer (probably you) however, it might quickly find its way into your heart.

The iPad will appeal to you if you:

  1. a very clear bright screen even in daylight

  2. large, easy to read, clearly marked in English on screen buttons

  3. an easy to use system that does not crash

  4. 4.want one device that does it all

  5. 5.want simple controls - it has only two buttons and a volume rocker switch

  6. visually operating your computer

  7. 7.don’t want or understand the usual computer connection hassles (tethering, what’s that?)

  8. 8.don’t want to worry about power issues and wires

  9. 9.want a device that makes things simpler not more complex

  10. 10. want to easily check out the technology trends.

The last point is a good example of the power of the iPad so I will spend a minute to explain.  First, few non-techies want to try new technology for its own sake.  However the buzz around some web or internet technologies sound interesting, but is too much hassle for the average user.  Yes, YouTube is cool but how do I set my computer (if I have one) to use it?  With the iPad (which does not have a mouse or other pointing device), you press the clearly marked “YouTube” app button with your finger to start watching YouTube videos.  Could it be easier?  Many RVers like Geocaching, a fun activity when visiting a new area, just get the app and press the on screen button.  How about having thousands of book available to read or listen to?

Some folks would rather listen to a book than read it, but others like the reading experience. iPad does both very well.  You’d expect the listening experience (yes, it has a built in speaker) to

Front, back & side view of the iPad.  The screen is 9.7 LED display.  The only button is at the bottom.  Screen displays typical apps.

be good, but reading on screen?  The iPad has the most “book” like reading experience that I’ve seen on a computer.  You turn pages with your finger,  hold it in your lap, see the illustrations, and it remembers your place (without a paper bookmark).  It has access to free books, current best sellers and everything in between all available via a quick button press download (after you have set up an account).  If you already have a Kindle account from Amazon, there is a Kindle app that gives the iPad access to the Kindle library.

Unlike the Kindle, which is a good example of a single purpose device, the iPad has an unlimited set of tools available and the tool set is constantly expanding.  This means that the iPad is versatile and will not go out of date.  I like devices that replace many stand alone devices. The iPad does that in spades. It can be your email center, web browser, movie/TV player (why rent or own movies when you have the iPad and a Netflix account?), large GPS, mp3 player, game player, photo editor and storage, and news gathering.  Although the depth of unique Apps available at introduction was limited,  the potential, based on iPhone app development, is unlimited. All of the iPhone apps work on the iPad, but they only display on a iPhone (or double size) portion of the screen. This of course, points up one of the biggest advantages of the iPad, the beautiful screen.  Looking at the small size (when displayed on the iPad) of the iPhone screen, makes using it a pleasure.  Whether watching videos, photos or typing a word processing document, the display is a sight for old eyes.

RVers are always interested in storing, fixing, and sending their photos.  The iPad stands ready to help you with this activity. First, though, it does not have Picasa or iPhoto apps, although the photos can be imported into these on your computer.  With that said, the apps that are available will allow you to organize and edit your photo collection in very sophisticated ways (and more all the time) such as creating photo greeting cards, montages, fixing exposure and the like.  When not being used, the iPad is a very sharp looking photo frame with your pictures on display.  Photo apps will never rival Photoshop, but they will be much easier to use than Photoshop and probably more useful for the average user.

Remember, once you learn a few hand gestures (using your finger on the touch screen is called gesturing), all of the features of the iPad become available.  All apps work the same way, so once learned, they are applicable to all.  If only this were true of laptops.  So, swiping your finger across the screen changes the page, pinching the thumb and forefinger changes the size of an image and taping opens an app or web link. With only a single physical button (beside the on-off switch), the few gestures are not only intuitive, but visual and easy to remember.  They correspond to what you see on the screen and make sense.

Of course, I should mention that the obvious apps, contact manager, calendar, web browsing, email, YouTube and several more are included out of the box.  Adding apps is easy via the apps store because they are all in one place for easy retrieval.  Word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation apps are available if needed.  Additional apps can be downloaded for free or for a small fee (most are under $5) any time you have an internet connection. You never go to the store to buy a boxed app, they are available only online. There is no gray or black market in apps; they are all approved and delivered by Apple via the app store.  We could debate the merits of this approach to distribution of software, but it does insure that the apps will not cause problems and

iPad displaying a newspaper.  All articles are clickable to read in full.

makes finding them very easy.  There are no viruses so security software is not necessary.  The iPhone OS (used by the iPad) has been around for three years, so it has a track record of safe computing.

I hate to bring up gaming - it always seems so frivolous, but RVers and many others like to play a game now and then. The iPads gaming experience is a little different than what you find on the usual gaming machine.  The best games use the built in accelerometer to make things happen.  Thus you tilt or move the whole iPad to play.  None of those game controllers or small buttons are required - the whole iPad becomes part of the game.  Of course there are the usual Solitaire, Scrabble, Mahjong, poker, Monopoly, and hundreds more games.  All played on the beautiful 9.7 inch screen for up to ten hours per battery charge.

iPad as word processor.  Note the on screen keyboard.  A physical keyboard is an option.

In case you have not noticed yet, easy is what the iPad is all about.  As RVers traveling around the country, we need easy and flexible.  The connection to the internet is a crucial element of the easy equation.  There will be two models of iPad.  The currently available model is wifi only.  In my tests so far, it connects easily with little configuration other than picking the network and entering the security password if required.  The second model due out at the end of April, will be G3 cell enabled.  This does add to the price, however it makes the internet connect that much easier.  AT&T has created new pay as you go data plans (turned on and off at will with no contract commitment) ranging from $15-$30 per month.  Using 3G for internet means virtually no configuration and full time connectivity for your iPad - in the car while moving, a home, in the rig, on top of a mountain or you name it.  Now that’s what we have been waiting for, a mobile device with a big screen so we can do email on top of a mountain.

You might wonder if the iPad is standalone or if it needs a regular computer for updating.  As far as I see it now, it can be used standalone.  You can download everything needed via the internet.  It will store your pictures, upload them to Flickr (or similar website), do your email, including attachments and view all types of data without an additional computer connected.  I would say that having a computer to back up and assist the iPad is useful and more efficient, but not required.  Most mp3 players as well at the standard iPod need a computer to get data, but the iPad because connectivity is part of its DNA can used standalone.

Back home at the RV, the iPad is tested by the author.

Should you buy an iPad?  They do start at $499 so are a bit expensive, but if you are in the market for a smart phone (one that does more than conversation), are looking for ease of use with flexibility, and you have no or an old laptop, then the iPod may be for you.  A new smart phone like the iPhone if purchased without a service plan will cost over $500, so the iPad becomes more appealing.  If your eyes are weak and/or you just don’t want the hassle of learning Windows 7, the iPad is for you.  If the weight of lugging your computer around is getting you down, then iPad at 1.5 pounds, easy to transport - in a purse or small bag, is for you.  If you are a reader or listener to content be it music, movies, podcasts, books, magazines, newspapers - the iPad is for you.  If you want to impress your grandkids, the iPad is for you.

My hope in writing this article is to get you to thinking about new and more efficient ways of doing many of the common activities that we all engage in. I don’t work for Apple or get any discount on it products, I am just a contented user (at the moment).    I look forward to hearing your questions and comments at