Using the iPad 2:

We've already looked at some of the many photography applications available for the Apple iPad, but there is more to being a photographer these days than just taking and manipulating pictures. The ability to move your images - online, to clients, and display them is crucial, and the same goes for writing emails and presentations. The iPad isn't a fully featured computer, but amongst the thousands of applications available for it are some remarkably powerful productivity tools.

If you're serious about using the iPad as a productivity tool, there is no excuse for not downloading the cloud-based sync utility, DropBox. DropBox is free, and gives you 2GB of online storage (you can pay for up to 100GB) which is automatically synced to any mobile or desktop device which has DropBox installed (and is using the same login). The files are stored on every device as well as remotely in the cloud, with the DropBox application constantly working to keep them in sync, so you don't actually need to be online to use them. You can also share files and photos with other people by sending them links (to files or web galleries) or by creating shared folders for other DropBox folders. The interface couldn't be easier, and an increasing number of productivity apps feature inbuilt support, which makes transferring files between your iPad and other devices incredibly easy. Another 'cloud based' applications we like is Evernote (also free), which is great for taking notes and clippings (including location data) that can be accessed from any desktop or mobile device running the Evernote application.
The DropBox app (free for 2GB) gives you access to all the files stored in your DropBox account (automatically synced across all devices running the software and your online storage). Any folders you put into the 'Photos' directory are automatically turned into web albums that can be shared (by sending a link) with others.
Speaking of file creation, one of our favorite productivity apps is QuickOffice, on which a large portion of this article was written. Quick Office ($14.99) allows you to create and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. QuickOffice boasts 100% compatibility, so documents created on a desktop version of Microsoft Office won't be corrupted or compressed if you edit them. As well as the iPad, QuickOffice is also available for the iPhone, Symbian, Android, HP webOS and Blackberry handsets.
Quickoffice is able to edit and create files in a range of Microsoft Office-compatible formats, and files can be stored either on the iPad itself, or online, using services like Google Docs or DropBox. The iPad's onscreen keyboard is remarkably usable, being almost the same size and a similar layout to a typical netbook keyboard. For extended writing, we'd recommend attaching a separate Bluetooth keyboard.
QuickOffice features built-in 'one click' support for Google Docs, DropBox and Apple's Mobile Me, as well as lesser-known options like huddle and SugarSync. The iPad's on-screen keyboard is fine for emails and short memos, but for more serious content production we'd recommend investing in a separate bluetooth keyboard. If you don't need all of QuickOffice's bells and whistles, CleanWriter is an excellent, and inexpensive alternative. CleanWriter (99¢) allows you to create simple (and universally compatible) .txt files, and - like QuickOffice - it features built-in support for DropBox. If you're really serious about document creation and formatting, Apple's own Pages ($9.99) app is worth a look too, and makes a nice change from the relative sobriety of both QuickOffice and CleanWriter. Many of the popular productivity apps are designed to overcome the intentional limitations of Apple's operating system, particularly when it come to file management and transfer (the insistance on using iTunes for everthing is a source of constant frustration for many power users). Although there are lots of clever apps designed to allow you to move files to and from the iPad, we tend to use DropBox (above) in combination with GoodReader ($4.99), a powerful file management utility that offers most of what Apple left out of the OS, including access to external fileservers (ftp, DropBox), file organization (and viewing) and the ability to choose which app you use to open specific files .
GoodReader offers an impressive suite of file management and connectivity features, overcoming many of the intentional limitations Apple imposed on the iPad's OS in the name of 'ease of use'. You can, for example, access your website (via ftp), uploading or downloading files remotely.

Getting back to photography, and if you long for the ability to organize your images, we'd recommend taking a look at Photo Manager Pro ($3.99). Although the interface is rather confusing, especially at first, Photo Manager Pro is a handy way of organizing your images into named folders, and showing them off to friends or clients on the iPad's 10in LCD screen.

iPad or Laptop?

One of the most common criticisms of the iPad is that it simply isn't as useful as a laptop computer. To an extent this is true. Side by side, the iPad is not as useful as a laptop running Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3. Of course it isn't. The latest iteration of Apple's iOS is fairly versatile but it cannot match a fully-fledged operating system like Microsoft Windows 7 or Mac OS-X. As far as the hardware is concerned, the iPad's lack of inbuilt USB and SD slots alone will be deal-breakers in the eyes of a lot of consumers, and understandably so.

But what laptop comes closest to replicating the iPad experience? In terms of size and bulk, the closest laptop computer to the iPad is probably the 11 inch Apple MacBook Air. In its most basic configuration the Air retails for double the price of the cheapest iPad 2, and if you add the price of 'full strength' applications like any of the Adobe Photoshop suite, the cost climbs even higher.

Not only can a photographer use the iPad as a reference tool, with the right software and hardware accessories he/she can also use it to store and manipulate images, and get them online or to a client. One thing that the iPad really isn't suitable for - at least at the moment - is serious RAW processing. You can, however, display and adjust their camera-created JPEG thumbnails: something that is potentially very useful for uploading or emailing preview images quickly from a shoot. On the plus side, the iPad can store RAW files in its Photo Library, from where you can import them into Apple Aperture or Photoshop Lightroom once you're back at a computer. Yes, a laptop is more versatile, but this doesn't make the iPad's capabilities any less useful.

The Software

'Straight out of the box', the iPad has some fairly serious limitations. The inbuilt Photo app is little more than an image viewer with some very limited photo sharing functionality, and moving files to and from the iPad without built in USB or SD slots is can be awkward. However, just like any computer, the iPad is only as useful as the software that is available for it, and where software is concerned, the iPad owner is presented with an embarrassment of riches.

Apple's App Store contains thousands of apps, and amongst the countless games and TV show/movie tie-ins, you'll find hundreds that are genuinely useful.

Ultimately, as a photographer, if you buy an iPad, you're not just investing in the device itself. You're entering a well-established ecosystem of optional software and hardware. For every one of the iPad's slightly annoying limitations, it is almost guaranteed that someone, somewhere can provide a solution. Some of those solutions, like the Camera Connection Kit are provided by Apple itself, but most take the form of apps. PhotoSync, for example, solves the problem of sending images to and from your iPad to an iPhone or your computer wirelessly. Dropbox provides online, device-independent storage for your files, and apps like Photogene provide an incredible amount of control over image manipulation, which far exceeds what the iPad's bundled applications can offer.

It is worth noting, too, that of all the applications that we tested for this article (a lot more than made it into the final piece) only one cost more than $14.99, most cost less than $10, and some were completely free. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, we would like to make it clear that promotional consideration was neither sought, nor offered for any of the hardware or software featured in this article. Everything you've read about here, the Apple iPad 2, Camera Connection Kt and all applications, were paid for out of our own pocket.

Final Word

Looking at the iPad critically, taking everything - the lack of meaningful support for conventional computer accessories, poor 'out of the box' support for moving files between the iPad and other devices, limited multi-tasking and the rest - into account, if you had to, could you use an iPad to edit, move and showcase your images? In our opinion the answer is clear: absolutely.

In some respects the iPad scores over any laptop computer. It offers incredible battery life in a tiny form factor. Most applications launch almost instantly, and despite the impressive amount of processing and graphics power 'under the hood' it doesn't get hot, so it doesn't need noisy, dust-attracting cooling fans. Even if you already own, and are perfectly happy with a laptop computer, why not turn your iPad into a second monitor? If this sounds interesting, check out AirDisplay - available in the App Store for $9.99.

Does the iPad deserve a place in your kitbag? Inevitably, the answer depends on what sort of a photographer you are, and how you like to work. If you're travelling, and want to be able to perform quick and basic image adjustments for upload to a photo gallery or to email to a client, then you might find the iPad, and some of the thousands of applications available for it, to be an invaluable travelling companion.

The title of this article poses the question whether the Apple iPad 2 is a tool, or a toy. As we've seen, the answer isn't clear-cut. Although the iPad is first and foremost a content-consumption and display device (and you won't find a better portable portfolio anywhere), we're pleased to discover that it also has the potential to be a genuinely useful productivity tool, and we're sure that a lot of photographers will be putting their names down for one in the coming weeks and months.

Of course, the iPad 2 is not alone in the tablet computer market. There are other tablets available, and other operating systems, all of which have their respective strengths and weaknesses. This article isn't intended to be an iPad review as such, even less a group test, but a lot of the conclusions that we've drawn are applicable to tablet computers as a whole. Times are changing - computing devices are getting smaller and more powerful, software is getting more efficient and ultimately this is great news for photographers. Vive La Revolution.

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