Nineteen ways I used the iPad while traveling in AfricaLatest News Monday, September 13th, 2010
By Rev. Larry Hollon (UMC)
The iPad has been described as a tool primarily for consuming media. That may be too limiting. It’s useful for many other reasons.
While traveling in Africa, I discovered several uses that go beyond consumption. Some of the most useful apps are free. Some I bought on the app store. Because apps are being added daily, I might have chosen differently if options had been available when I made my trip.
Here’s the list and how I used the apps:
2. Note-taking using the Notes app supplied with the iPad. I also have added Pages, Apple’s word processing software re-worked for the iPad, and Docs to Go from the app store. The Notes app is sufficient for quick note-taking but does not have formatting functions for document creation.
3. Calculator XL to determine exchange rates. This is always a trial for me. I’m mathematically challenged when it come to valuing dollars to local currency.
4. Business expense record using BizExpense. Extremely useful app that can scan in, or receive from an iPhone camera, copies of receipts, which can be assimilated into an expense record and e-mailed for submission. Of course, accounting will require the real thing, but nevertheless, this is a great record of expenses.
5. Free telephone calls back home using Whistle. This app worked amazingly well when the wifi signal was strong. A weak signal renders the app much less useful. You have to listen to a 15-second ad using the free version, but it takes me that long to plug in my earphones and adjust the volume, so it doesn’t bother me. I called my wife, Sharon, on our home landline and on her cell phone from the iPad — for free.
6. Real-time text messaging in-country to another iPad and to Sharon and my daughters in the U.S. using TextNow, also free.
7. Reading the news using the Safari web browser supplied with the iPad in addition to Pulse and Flipboard. OK, children, now gather ’round. I remember the days when I would buy a Sunday NY Times to hand carry to staff in Africa who had not seen a recent newspaper or magazine in months. Given this history, I’m amazed to be able to sit in a wifi zone and read today’s news online, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.
8. Alarm clock using Alarm Clock Pro. A reminder: At this writing the iPad doesn’t multi-task, so an alarm app must be open for the alarm to work. It doesn’t run in background — yet. So, if you want to wake up on time, plug your iPad into the socket to charge up overnight and make this the last app you open before going to sleep.
9. Posting to Facebook and Twitter using the Facebook mobile app and Tweetdeck. Here’s another amazing change. (Maybe I’ve just lived so long everything new is amazing to me, but I can remember when it was nearly impossible to call from the African continent. That was when the postal service ran the telephone service and you had to schedule a call at a post office, take your turn — perhaps a day later — pay for the call, wait for the operator to place it and take your place in a booth when your name was called. Really! It was this way across Africa.) So, as we’re driving into rural Manjama village, I’m texting our arrival using the 3G connection on the iPad, notifying whomever cares in the U.S. of our whereabouts, and remembering the old days.
10. Bible reading using the Olive Tree app. I’ve put The Message, The New Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version on the iPad. The new Common English Bible wasn’t released when we were traveling, but I’ll put it on when the app is available from Cokesbury. Incidentally, I note that most mainline publishers don’t have the extensive variety Bible reader apps available from evangelical publishers.
11. E-mail using Google’s gmail, Apple’s mail and our Microsoft Exchange server at work. The iPad syncs up transparently and effortlessly with these mail apps and functions without a hitch. I’m very pleased with this seamless operation.
12. Calendar management using the calendar app that comes with the iPad. This, too, is a great tool. If you’ve wrestled with getting Entourage, Mac and Google calendars to sync, you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes they work, sometimes they duplicate entries, drop entries, and generally make you want to tear out your hair. But the calendar app on the iPad syncs easily with the exchange server at work without the hassles of duplicate entries and other glitches. I am using the iPad calendar as my primary calendar for work because it functions so flawlessly.
13. Filing addresses using the native iPad address book from Apple. As with the calendar, this app has become my primary address book because it works so flawlessly and does not fight with all the other address books I’ve got elsewhere. When they play together well, I’m satisfied.
14. Document-sharing using Dropbox. This free app is a workhorse for me. It’s a cloud-based storage location to which I can upload documents and photos and then share them with others. This avoids e-mail size limits that frequently make document sharing a problem, especially photos or video files.
15. Research using Google. While I’m overseas, I often find need for information that escapes my memory or that is pertinent to a discussion I’m engaged in. I use Google to get me up to speed. And, speaking of speed, while it wasn’t available at the time of my trip, I’ve been checking out the Google Realtime search the past few days and it’s an impressive search engine that returns immediate results from various sources in real time.
16. Saving and storing notes. I’m an inveterate note maker. I don’t mean meeting notes, I mean notes on napkins, boarding passes, receipts or any other ephemera that I have in my pocket at the time. Needless to say, these sometimes survive to the end of the day and sometimes don’t. So I’ve been using Evernote, a free online note service that is another workhorse app. I file a variety of material to Evernote and then transfer to other places as appropriate. However, Evernote syncs to my laptops, desktop and Android Smartphone in addition to the iPad. It illustrates the real value of cloud computing. I also use DevonThink database (it’s not an iPad app) for my heavy-duty filing system on my laptop, but Evernote comes in handy for reminders, thoughts, to-do lists and article links I intend to return to in the future, among other things.
17. Planning and diagramming processes using Popplet, a free app. As we discussed a communications process for Imagine No Malaria while in Sierra Leone, I mapped out my own version of the process on Popplet on the iPad as the discussion progressed in the meeting. When the discussion was concluded I shared the diagram with members of the committee via e-mail on the spot. There are other more full-featured apps like Omni-Graffle, which I use on my laptop, but it’s pricey for the iPad and for what it does. Popplet worked fine for me in our meeting.
18. Listening to audio books using the Audible.com app. I find I retain as much by listening as by reading. I read a lot, but listening to some types of information seems to cause it to stick in my consciousness and I can recall it in a way that’s not true when I read. Maybe that’s why I loved radio when I was on the air. Whatever the reason, I listened to audio books in-flight and at night when jet lag made sleep impossible. Audible’s app is not as full featured as reading apps yet. It doesn’t sync to multiple devices, it’s too easy to accidentally touch the screen and cause the reading to jump to another location and it needs an easy “return to last location” function. These limitations aside, I like listening to audio books and Audible is a good source for the most recent and the largest selection.
19. Mapping our location using Google maps and related apps. For example, iTrips includes a Google map when it prepares a selection of travel information for you. The Google map for Freetown, Sierra Leone, from iTrip identified landmarks and even showed a British Methodist church we happened upon while in downtown Freetown. It also located the United Methodist church where we worshipped and other key points of interest to us. I wouldn’t use it for a true GPS, but for these kinds of sightings, it was a useful tool.
So that’s how an iPad becomes more than a tool to watch YouTube and play games online. I’ve purchased a keyboard, which makes it even more functional for note taking in meetings, and I got a camera adaptor that allows me to download images from my camera to the iPad and send them to interested friends via Facebook, Twitter and other programs.
Others may have found different ways to use the iPad. I’d be interested in hearing from you, and hearing about your most useful apps.
Rev. Larry Hollon is general secretary of United Methodist Communications and publisher of United Methodist News Service. For more information visit www.umc.org.