Mobility

Rethinking the iPad: A formula to make it useful if you're already savvy on a laptop and smartphone

If you're already highly efficient with a laptop and a smartphone, a tablet can feel awkward and redundant. Here's a way to play to its strengths.
 
iPad home screen

Plenty of people can do most of what they need to do on a tablet. I'm just not one of them.

I've tried to love tablets, lots of them. I've tried every iPad since the first one was released in 2010. I've gone through too many different Android tablets to count, from Motorola Xoom to Samsung Galaxy Tab. I've tested various iterations of the Amazon Kindle Fire. I was even enthusiastic about the Microsoft Surface for about 30 minutes.

While I've found some clever things to like in all of these tablets, in the end they all got tossed in a drawer or placed on a shelf or passed to a colleague or shipped back to the vendor. Any of the ones that I held on to for longer than a few weeks eventually ended up languishing in my laptop bag. But, a few months ago I figured out a formula that has made the latest tablet I've been testing—the iPad Air—a lot more useful.

My simple formula

First, I don't need a tablet to do things I already do really well with a laptop. I'm proficient with a laptop. It works great. I use it to write and edit documents, write longer-than-one-sentence emails, dig into spreadsheets and charts, and manage social media.

I also don't need a tablet to quickly scan emails, my calendar, or social media because I already do that stuff on my smartphone.

So what does that leave? For someone that isn't using a tablet to run a special function like a Square cash register, there's one thing that the tablet does uniquely better than a laptop or a smartphone: view content. Obvious, right? The problem is that there are all kinds of tablet apps now and most of us tend to load way too many of them on our tablets. A lot of these apps end up distracting us from viewing content.

So my solution was to get rid of most of them, simplify the tablet settings, and focus on the apps that take advantage of the strengths of a tablet. In this case, I'm using the iPad as my example—since it's still by far the most widely-used tablet among business professionals—but most of these tips can be adapted to just about any tablet.

SEE: 18 great iPad apps for consuming content

1. Remove all mail, social media, and private accounts

Since I use my laptop for creating and sharing and my smartphone for scanning updates and messages, I realized I didn't need the redundancy of having Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and other private accounts loaded on my tablet. So I deleted them all.

It was liberating. The tablet quickly became something I looked forward to picking up and spending time on because I could immerse in content without being harried by messages or tempted to jump into social media or my email.

There was another great side effect of getting rid of all these accounts—it allowed me to remove the passcode from the tablet. On the iPad Air with its Smart Case, that meant it would now automatically flip on and off when I opened the cover and was ready to start using the tablet. It's a little thing, but it made the experience of using a tablet a little more simple and enjoyable.

2. Load the best content apps

Once I had deleted all of those account apps it left a lot of open space on my home screen. I decided to fill it up with all of the best apps for reading and viewing content. I dragged content apps out of folders, I re-downloaded interesting content apps that I hadn't used in a while, and I searched for new ones that take advantage of the tablet's larger multi-touch screen.

The Newsstand app on the iPad became my new best friend. With all of the clutter cleared away, I put the Newsstand icon in the anchor slot in the lower right-hand corner and naturally paid more attention to the publications I subscribe to in there.

Incumbent apps like Amazon Kindle, Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Video also became more important as I put content apps at the center of my tablet experience. If you want to see how I filled out the rest of my home screen, take a look at my list of 18 great iPad apps for consuming content.

3. Turn off all notifications

By removing mail, social media, and other private account apps I suddenly had far fewer interruptions from alerts and notifications. I liked the ability to focus on content so much that I took it a step farther and went into settings and turned off almost all notifications. This turned out to be huge, and I've never looked back. I get the important notifications on my phone, so if I want to make sure I don't miss an important message, I've still got that nearby. I wish I would have thought to do this a lot sooner.

4. Optimize battery life

One of the big benefits of turning off notifications was a boost in battery life. Again, this opened my eyes to a better overall experience and so I decided to take it a step farther. I researched tips on improving iPad battery life and then monkeyed with the settings.

Here's what I did:

  • Decreased the brightness of the display
  • Told the Wi-Fi not to ask me to join new networks
  • Turned off the "Motion" setting for backgrounds in iOS 7
  • Turned off automatic app updates
  • Turned off Bluetooth
  • Went into Background App Refresh and disabled a bunch of apps
  • Turned off Location Services

The combination of these changes more than doubled my battery life. I only need to charge the iPad Air about three times a week at this point.

Final word

This formula made the iPad infinitely more useful to me as a general purpose device for consuming content. As counterintuitive as it may sound, I now use it a lot more even though I do less with it. It also made using a tablet a much more enjoyable experience, more akin to kicking back and reading a book—which is much different than the way I feel about using a laptop or a smartphone.

Again, while these tips are centered on the iPad, most of this can easily be adapted to the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire or the Microsoft Surface or many other tablets.

People use tablets in lots of different ways. How do you use a tablet in ways that plays to its strengths? I'd love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

22 comments
Web Sourcing
Web Sourcing

Hey Jason, a very interesting article. I was looking for an answer why I should buy ipad air since I already have iphone 6 plus so how can it will make the differemce ! Your expeirence has opened a new window .. Will definitely apply i.

www.websourcing.co



coco6809
coco6809

I use my iPad mini for everything.  I have all my Bible Study software and books on it,  I prepare my Sunday School lessons with it.  I use it for remote support for my employer (via VPN and RDP).  Plus many of the systems I support have apps built for that purpose and they are screen friendly.


I did have to buy a few $.99 apps for printing and RDP and word processing (although Google Apps are pretty good for free with QuickOffice).  With 64GB, I have a decade of comics books on it for pleasure reading.  I also use Newstand for tech magazines (save the trees!).  Any the texting keeps my family and I in communication anytime we want.  And there is also Skype which works great for seeing grandkids across the country while I sit in a recliner in my living room or by the fireplace.  My wife even dumped her new Windows 8 laptop with 17 inch monitor for an iPad mini.  She can read her Consumer Reports, do bill pay, perform church minutes taking, print Sunday School material, text me or the kids or friends etc. from anywhere in the house.  With Apps like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Facebook, etc. any tablet can outperform a laptop.  Add a Chromecast to your TV and watch anything on Youtube on the big screen from your iPad mini!  And with the optional ZAGG backlit keyboard, I don't need to turn on a light to type.   And the battery really does last all day.  Try lugging a laptop around the house or on the road, staying close to an outlet!   My wife found no need for a PC anymore (except for accessing a CD once a quarter).  And let's not forget to mention heat.  Set a laptop on your "lap" and feel the heat.  Plus laptops today are getting bigger and heavier (unless you have $1000 for a Surface or ultrabook).  The iPad stays nice and cool, thank you.


And if you want reference apps like weather alerts and moving radar, the tablets blows away a laptop. 


Best advantage; Your tablet is skinny.  You make it what you want with inexpensive software and accessories.  With a fat laptop you have to take what the manufacturer gives you and pay $$$$ for extra software. 

warboat
warboat

You only really need ONE app to justify a tablet: THE BROWSER

Android has the best browsers .... easily.

You can talk all you want about iPad optimised apps, but the most important app is still the BROWSER and iOS has inferior browser choices and capabilities.

Joey77532
Joey77532

This is now the second article I have read from this author and what an idiot.  He is like, "He folks, look at all of the devices I have.  I stripped my tablet down.  I am a techno guru.  Ha...Ha...Ha".  Well, if you had any cense about you, you would be trying to obtain the goal of eliminating devices and find a single device to do everything.


I have a laptop (3 of them to be exact---one from my employer, one 17" i3 8GB for my 12 yr old as well as my SharePoint 2010 Server, and one 17" i7 32BG as my personal laptop and SharePoint 2013 Server), a smartphone (issued by my employer), and a Surface RT (which I won at a SharePoint user group meeting).  I pack around way more devices than I care to.  My personal laptops are for doing client demos in environments where I can't get Internet connectivity on-site.


Now, I REALLY just want one device to do it all.  I hardly ever turn on my personal laptops because I can do almost all of my personal tasks with my Surface (and it is the most restrictive device).  So, what we all should be doing is pressuring the vendors to build a cost effective device that will allow us to perform content consumption (tablet interface is the most appropriate for this), content authoring (MS Office), audio communications (smartphones), connectivity (LAN, WiFi, and 4G+), and non-professional tasks (again, probably a tablet footprint).


In my opinion, the Surface Pro 2 is probably the closest to meeting all of these objectives today.  You still need a smartphone, but everything else is pretty much covered...except for the horsepower to run some of the server products.  But, the Surface Pro devices are still pretty pricey.  Hopefully, the vendors will wake up and smell the coffee and build us a comprehensive device that will allow us to simplify our technology footprint.

warboat
warboat

I repair laptops/tablets/phones and get the opportunity to own and use every popular device on the market. Price never an issue.

My tablet of choice at the moment?

Samsung Galaxy Note 8!

size

s-pen

multiview (so I can open 2 apps and transcribe s-pen scatches into calenders and contacts etc)

infrared remote so I don't have to find my TV remotes and can control TVs in waiting rooms!

SD card slot for LARGE media files

AND, something very underestimated, dedicated home/menu/back buttons - onscreen buttons like on nexus 7 and transformers are more tedious when they dissapear. Thank you Samsung for sticking with dedicated buttons in the name of function over form.

ckmliving
ckmliving

@Joey77532  Your comments would have been great if you had only left off the first paragraph. I appreciated your relevant comments. You have a different opinion, which obviously is perfectly fine. That doesn't, however, make anyone with a different opinion an idiot. Courtesy is always appropriate. Rudeness rarely, if ever, is.

The Daleks
The Daleks

My iPad Air crashes constantly -- more often than my iPad 3 did. Steve Sinofsky overstuffed this thing with eye candy, and the measly 1 gb of RAM isn't nearly enough to handle it. That's not just an opinion: the crash log is full of low memory errors. This device is a major fail.

jdcnservices
jdcnservices

I'm not convinced.  If it works for you, great, but reading the article only validated what I thought when I saw the title.  That is, at least in this case, using a tablet is a solution looking for a problem to solve.


Personally, if I were to go to using a tablet, then it would probably replace my smartphone.  I would obviously want one of those mini-tablets that aren't too bulky to hold up to your ear (but those simple headsets would be in my pocket for the occasions where the call drags on).  It gives the best of both worlds, but I'd still have my laptop for the stuff that just requires a keyboard to beat on and a larger screen.

lance_peterson
lance_peterson

I'm with Collinspm's wife. Been using both Appple and PC products since '84. I took until the iPad 2 came out before I was finally willing to try a mobile device because I new learing to be productive on one would be challenging. I gave it a couple weeks and, to my surprise, found productivity at least 755% my laptop levels possible. Been doing the iPad for all my Church, Scout, and Citizen Corp volunteer work. Do not now own a home laptop. Still use my work laptop since many systems are not yet mobile friendly. The greatest struggle was not having the feel of true buttons on my on-screen keyboard and the fact that the latest update of the Keynote, Pages, and Numbers (while significantly improved) no loads as slowly and MS products.The other office based apps are generally no problem to use and my iPad has less crashing issues still so prevelent on my work MS systems when multitasking. Tablets are here to stay and prodctivity help is improving. We can put in the effort to adapt and go along for the rideand or let our kids pass us by. Personally, I'm not letting my staff (or my kids) get ahead of me on something that is not going away.

bstory
bstory

I have tried to go completely mobile with the iPad for two long years now....even giving up my paper planner (which I am now back using as it is the only way to get things done with focus).  I purchased the Surface Pro 2 a few months ago and it has completely changed my world.  Now all i need is my Surface and iPhone....I only use my ipad for Unrealbook app for church songs...I don't even open my laptop.  I am truly free with only two small devices!  I agree with Paul.....BUT....you have given me hope for an iPad collecting dust during the week.

paul
paul

My solution for the same problem. Dump the iPad and get a Surface 2. I've worked with computers for 20 years and this is the best machine by a zillion miles. Don't have to think / worry about Office docs and any work / personal apps. Have all photos and music synched to Onedrive. The COLD boot time is miles faster than an iPad / iPhone and I can even easily swap files with anyone through a USB drive. I use it as a tablet for personal mode and add the excellent clip keyboard and arc mouse for road warrior mode. Projection works nicely through the MS VGA adapter and the docking station is excellent.


I loved my iPad, I loved my laptop, now I truly have both in one device with no compromises.


Happy days !

midlantic
midlantic

@paul Exactly what I thought when reading the article, "what the...?" Get a Surface Pro!

MrShankley
MrShankley

I am not an iOS fan at all, but my wife, who is a complete technophobe, is.  I recently bought her the iPad Mini with SIM and a bluetooth Logitech keyboard.  She travels a lot and is constantly doing email, reports, etc for work.  She pretty much uses the iPad exclusively for all her work, social media, etc while out and about, meetings etc.  The only time she uses her iPhone now is for phone calls and texts (might as well have a dumb phone).  Jason I usually do agree with what you write and for a lot of people these points seem fair but for someone who actually bought an iPad for mobile work, getting the external keyboard makes perfect sense so there are some of your points I can't agree with.

sbarman
sbarman

Based on his past writing, I think Jason Hiner's problem is that he has a lack of motivation to change his processes even if the processes would be more beneficial. It is clear that his mind is made up, don't confuse him with facts, thus trying to convince him otherwise is an exercise in futility.


I would venture to say that I am more technical than Hiner. I've been a coder, developer, hacker, and someone who has even hacked kernels. Nowadays I work in infosec doing risk assessments, writing policies, while doing side writing in a completely different industry and maintain three websites. My main computer when I am not home is an iPad. I can live quite well on my iPad without too many problems. Yes, there are things I cannot do on the iPad, but when I'm out and about, I am not doing those things anyway. I am not manipulating images when I am out and about. I am not managing websites when I'm out and about. Sure, I will do some management from my iPad, but while out and about I don't have the time to deal with that. So why do I need to carry a heavier laptop?


It's not a matter of being "comfortable." Saying your comfortable is saying your mind is made up and you don't want to be confused with fact. I can see the forest from the trees. Too bad an alleged professional writer can't do so. 

chris_c_knowles
chris_c_knowles

I bought the Yoga 2 Pro, its a great solution with its different modes, but the one I use the least is the tablet mode.  The article has good suggestions that help provide focus.  Thanks

don
don

I took the opposite strategy. I use my laptop primarily for content creation. I use my tablet for Facebook, Twitter, browsing, email, reading, and watching videos.


For me, it's not what I'm doing that determines the best device, its where I'm doing it. When traveling on business, it's so much easier to take out my tablet (which has 4G) to check my email while sitting at the gate waiting to board an airplane. When I go to meetings in a conference room, I bring my tablet instead of lugging my laptop. I use my tablet to watch videos during flights.  My tablet sits on my nightstand. If I want to do a quick check of email, social media, or look something up on the web, it's right there and easy to use.


I know you can do many of these things on a smartphone. It's just much nicer on a tablet.


Most people with three devices will end up mostly using two of them. For the author it was his smartphone and laptop. For me it was my laptop and tablet. It was the smartphone that I used less because of the small screen and small on-screen keyboard. My smartphone is my last choice and I only use it if the other two devices are not readily available.

pj47tech
pj47tech

Interesting article, as you've taken a minimalist approach to using a tablet - or perhaps a more targeted one. I believe Apple's philosophy leaned toward content consumption for the mobile devices using iOS.

Once I bought an iPad, I went the opposite direction - use the tablet for everything I had used my laptop for previously. The laptop is only used for programs or operations I cannot do with the tablet. So my laptop is used some 75% less than before.

I do turn off more notifications on the tablet as mentioned here. I let my iPhone handle those. I think fewer distractions on the tablet is a good concept, and glad the article pointed it out.

The best part of any device is when it's flexible enough to meet the needs of many users.

Soonerjeff
Soonerjeff

I, too, have an iPad sitting around not being used for the same reasons as the author.  This article has given me some new perspective.  I'm going to give his suggestions a try and maybe I can love my iPad again.  Thanks, Jason Hiner.

Jason Shepard
Jason Shepard

I utilize mine in the most efficient, eco-friendly way possible: I didn't buy one.

Saud Hassan Kazia
Saud Hassan Kazia

Tablets and smart phones are just an extension to a laptop or desktop. I was without my computer for a week and it was as if an atm or leg was missing. Mobile devices are very limited. Also title should say tablets not ipads

DavidSte
DavidSte

I'm curious how you can safely take the password lock off an Android device as you're required to sign in to get your apps.  Maybe use a disposable gmail account with no personal data associated with it?

ePractical
ePractical

Wow, not what I expected from the title.


I have been researching the numbers historically and looking toward 2017 on Tablets and it appears all believe that Apple will continue to lose market share until they reach around 17% in 2017. This makes sense if they continue to ignore the greatest “re-think” of the Tablet – that is - greatly improving getting things into the iPads (without an added keyboard).


Samsung is on the right track with their Note line and especially the Pen capability and other non-touch manipulation. I really hope they continue to enhance the recognition capabilities. You have to look at Apples patents to see they might finally be getting a clue about this, and quietly are working on a Tablet focused squarely on Productivity. Next,  great voice recognition for private use, is needed. The mobile toys like Siri now are nothing but amusement and very occasional usefulness.

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