Text by Keene Haywood; Photograph by Jonathan Forsythe
Concrete canyon dwellers have been toting around the iPad for a few months now. Falling comfortably between a laptop and your smartphone, the device has shown us there is a middle ground that works for our computing needs—especially our digital content consumption needs. However, walk away from the urban jungle into greener pastures and the iPad shines in a number of ways for those who still need some digital time. So if you are adventuring far afield and are considering an iPad here are some ways it can excel for field use.
1) Maps. I you need one reason to get an iPad, it's for
maps. Better than squinting at a smart phone screen and better than
trying to deal with a laptop. There are a number of good iPad ready
apps that can store maps for offline use. TopoMaps is especially good.
HikeGPS is another one. Do a little
exploring in the Navigation section of the iTunes App Store and see what
you find. Should you be so lucky as to have an internet connection,
Google Maps and the Google Earth app, now iPad friendly, are excellent.
Special Note for Maps – The 3G version of the iPad has a GPS chip in
it, so if location matters to you, make sure you get the 3G and not the
Wi-Fi only model. The Wi-Fi model can triangulate your position with a Wi-Fi signal but it can’t track your movements and its accuracy won’t be
anything like what the GPS chip will give you.
2) Power. That nice light but solid feel of the iPad is all battery that you are cradling. There are two inside and they give you lots of hours of power. It's easy to get six to eight hours–or even ten or more–if you are just occasionally using it. This alone is worth the price of admission for time away from your nearest power outlet.
3) Weight. The last thing a backcountry traveler needs is more heavy gear. At a pound and a half, the iPad travels nicely.
4) PDF and ePub documents. One can sync digital guide books and notes from his or her desktop computers to take with them in the field on your iPad. Apple’s free iBooks supports the open ePub file format and now has native PDF support. In addition, there are a plethora of good document handling apps out there. GoodReader, ReaddleDocs, AirSharing and Office2HD are several to consider. If you really need to annotate a PDF, say of a map, then iAnnotate is a great app to have on your pad.
5) Notes. As with documents, there are also good note taking apps available for the iPad, so you can keep tabs on your trip. SimpleNote, EverNote, and the unique Penultimate are worth a look.
6) Microphone – With a built in mic, the iPad can do double duty with typed and recorded note taking possible. For that impossible downpour or thunderstorm, you can now record the fun. Voice Memos and Live Recorder are two inexpensive audio recording apps to consider.
7) Camera. Oh wait, the iPad does not have a camera… But Apple’s Camera Connection Kit makes it easy to connect a camera via USB cable or SD card to load up images. This might not be such a necessity in the field, but a nice bonus should you need it. Also, you can use your iPhone USB cable and sync up images off of it when you connect to the iPad with the USB adapter from the kit.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
8) Cellular data plans you can live with. No annual plans, only by the month as you need it. This is great for travelers who really don’t need a two year commitment and lots of monthly 3G use. Keep in mind that you will need an iPad 3G to take advantage of this. And of course a cell signal for those on the edges of civilization.
9) Simplicity. In the field, you really don’t have time for things breaking. The iPad has no moving parts. No clamshell hinge, no mouse pad, very few ports to get mucked up. Its technology stripped down to its essence. And one less thing to worry about. Just try not to drop it….
10) Media – If you must, the iPad excels at media playback. Load up music (keep it down in the field please) and a movie (or two or three), some e-books with the iBooks, Kindle, Stanza or Barnes and Noble Reader apps and you can wait out a storm or two and be no worse or the wear.
A few words about the display….
While the iPad display is great – bright and high resolution, its one downfall is in direct, bright sunlight where it gets washed out. Not so great for the desert trekker in you. But if you duck into the shade of a tree or tent, you should be able to see it. Also if you are wearing polarized sunglasses, you will have to remove them as the iPad screen negates the polarization, and you won’t see much. It might be worth getting a plastic cover for the screen that will cut down on glare and dusty fingertips. Incipio makes a good one. There are a few others out there that a Google search will yield. They all are about the same. Just throw a little shade over the display, pull off the sunglasses and you should be able to see the display without too much of a problem. And, of course, at night the display is great or or for the spelunker types. No problem there.