iPad Review - Ingenious Novelty or Practical Tool?

November 1, 2010

I've spent the past few months using an iPad for things like e-mail, Web browsing, viewing photos, writing/note taking, CME activities, file sharing, and last but definitely not least, reading e-books. I hope that you will find my observations useful.

The iPad is the sexiest thing around, especially if size matters; it is seven times the size of the iPhone. Attractive as it may be, is it right for you?

I've spent the past few months using an iPad for things like e-mail, Web browsing, viewing photos, writing/note taking, CME activities, file sharing, and last but definitely not least, reading e-books. I hope that you will find my observations useful.

For me, hardly a day goes by without the need to print something. I quickly discovered that printing is simply not part of Apple's concept - so they didn't provide for it. There are some apps that supposedly allow printing (under limited circumstances) but they are quirky, hard to configure, and generally unreliable. (Translation: Are you a network technician? And were you prescient enough to have bought the right printer?) In practice, I’ve found it easier to transfer anything I need to print to some other computer where I can finish the job. This is a real bummer. The “instant on” nature of the iPad would make it an ideal way to quickly print a restaurant coupon, CME certificate, boarding pass, etc. Perhaps a future version will correct this deficiency.

E-mail on the iPad works pretty well, except I've found that many attachments, including forwarded e-mails are not readable. Also, I like to organize my e-mail into folders. I've got about 350 of them. Unfortunately there is no way to create a new folder on your e-mail server from the iPad. Some folders are inexplicably invisible. It's one more thing I have to remember to do later elsewhere.

Web browsing is reasonably functional, except as you may have heard, there is no Flash player. Most of the CME sites (and many others) depend on Flash. If you really need to view a site that uses Flash, it becomes one more thing to remember to do later. The browser on the iPad does not offer to remember user names or passwords for Web sites. Storing passwords on a device that is easily lost is probably not a good idea, but I am getting a bit tired of typing my user name over and over for sites I visit regularly. If a web link takes you to a PDF file, it will display fine but there is no way to save it from Safari. There are other apps that will do this (more later) but you have to copy the URL, start the other app and re-enter the URL and to wait for the download again. You will also discover that the “print” links on many Web pages (that are useful for viewing a page with fewer ads and buttons) don't work; presumably Apple ignores them as part of the anti-printing agenda.

When it comes to viewing photos, videos and playing music, the iPad is a big iPod. If you like the way the iPod works for photos and music you will like the iPad. If you find managing the transfer of content into the device difficult and non-intuitive you will not feel any different about the iPad.

Daniel Essin, MA, MD, FAAP, FCCP, is a regular contributor to the Practice Notes Blog. He has been a programmer since 1967 and earned his MD in 1974. He has worked at the Los Angeles County and USC Medical Center where he developed a number of internal systems, chaired the Medical Records Committee, and served as the director of medical informatics. His main research interests are electronic medical records, systems architecture, software engineering, database theory and inferential methods of achieving security and confidentiality in healthcare systems.