Ready to Join the Apple iPad Party

Despite the topics of this column, in real life I’m actually not an early adopter of technology. You won’t ever find me camped outside the Apple store, waiting three days to plunk down $1,500 for the latest laptop. I’m not the guy in those online forums looking for ways to jailbreak my new smartphone.

I prefer to sit back and relax, study the product reviews, let users iron out all the snags and glitches, and then buy the gadget. Remember, it’s cool to be fashionably late.

In the case of the iPad, I waited almost two years to start the party. (Yes, it’s been that long since this tablet first hit the market.)

There are two reasons why I held out. The first is habit. I’m used to the tactile keyboard on my laptop and never felt the urge to try something different. The second is practicality. The iPad doesn’t support word processing programs. It doesn’t have a keyboard, either.

Because of this, I’ve always viewed my iPad as an entertainment device, not a work computer. And if it couldn’t replace or equal the work functionality of my laptop, then it made little sense for me to carry a third device for such a limited purpose.

All things change over time. In two years, Apple and all the nerds who love Apple have developed awesome new tools and accessories—and a better iPad work experience. We all benefit from this kind of open-source, after-market product development, because true fans of a product often have better ideas than the folks who invent it.

But I digress. I did some digging over the holidays, and I was able to find software and hardware that can transform your iPad into a legitimate working computer. Almost.

Hardware – The Keyboard

If you’re serious about working on your iPad, the first thing you’ll need is a good keyboard. There are two models worth checking out, depending on how much functionality you want.

Logitech makes a good, ultrathin, full QWERTY keyboard. It connects easily through Bluetooth, serves as a decent (but not strong) case, and can also become a stand for the iPad. It’s priced at about $80 on Amazon.

There are a few minor drawbacks. First, the magnet that anchors the tablet is rather weak, which means it can easily break free of the base while sitting on your lap. Also, the base doesn’t charge the iPad like some other models.

Another popular model is the ClamCase, which also has a full QWERTY keyboard. True to its name, the ClamCase is a much tougher than the Logitech case. It wraps around the entire iPad. It also has a charge function, which can add battery life to your iPad.

The big drawback is the keyboard. Many users complain that the keys get stuck or fall out. Others lament the tight finger spacing. Also, the ClamCase is expensive—$175. Based on scathing online reviews, I recommend trying the ClamCase before you buy one.

Software – The Programs

The next thing you’ll need for your iPad is a way to actually create and make documents. Believe it or not, Microsoft still hasn’t released its ubiquitous Office software for iPad. This means you can’t use Word, Outlook, PowerPoint or Excel. Aren’t corporate politics fun?

The good news is, the web is ablaze with rumors that Microsoft might release Office for iPad in 2013. But until that glorious day arrives, there are several programs that can help.

For starters, there’s KeynoteApple’s awesome rival to PowerPoint. Most pros think Keynote is a far superior product, and what makes Keynote really cool is that it will read a PowerPoint file and convert it right over to Keynote format. Best of all, the iPad Keynote software only costs $10.

There are also numerous document-viewing programs on the market that will let you do things like add notes and comments to your Office documents. Check out apps called GoodReader or ReaddleDocs. Both are well worth the $5 price.

This column was typed on my iPad. Please forgive the typos, random misspellings and other gibberish.

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