Apple iPad, Day 16: Setting Up My iPad Workstation
By Tony Bradley, PCWorld
30 Days With the iPad: Day 16
The size, weight, battery life, and other attributes of the iPad 2 make it a solid choice for computing on the go, but most of the time I am just sitting at my desk. Today I am going to explore how to set the iPad up at my desk to connect with a monitor and keyboard for everyday use.
Even though my PC is a rather smallish notebook–a Dell XPS M1330–it spends the vast majority of its time pretending to be a desktop. It sits tucked under my desk with three things connected to it: a power cord, an HDMI cable, and a USB hub. That USB hub further connects to the wireless mouse and keyboard, speakers, webcam, scanner, external storage drive(s), and other such things.
The goal of my exercise today, then, is to try and recreate some similar set up using the iPad in place of my netbook. Some of my devices–like my keyboard, or maybe even my USB headset–might be able to work using the iPad camera kit, but most of the peripherals I use with my notebook will not work with the iPad 2 so I will need to find equivalents or workarounds.
I appreciate the Logitech Keyboard Case that I got for the iPad 2. It works just fine as a protective cover for the glass front of the iPad 2 while in transit, and gives me the option of using a physical keyboard for more typing intensive tasks on the go. That said, it is a tiny netbook-style keyboard, and not one that I would choose to do the lion’s share of my work if I am sitting here at my desk. Nor would I prefer to do all of my work on the iPad’s 9-inch display when I have a 23-inch monitor sitting in front of me.
First, I got the Apple Digital AV Adapter. It connects to the iPad’s 30-pin dock connector, and provides a pass-through 30-pin dock connector so you can still connect the iPad to power, as well as an HDMI port. I connected the HDMI cable from my monitor, and voila! The display on my iPad 2 is now mirrored to my monitor.
There are two issues I have with this setup, though. First, I needed to lock the orientation of the iPad to landscape to keep it from rotating the display. Second, I have a wide monitor, and even in landscape the input from the iPad did not fill the screen. I had black bars on either side of the display.
Next I got a full-size Bluetooth keyboard to use. As I mentioned above, it is theoretically possible to hack together a solution using the iPad camera connection kit that might let me use my current keyboard. However, my keyboard is actually wireless and uses a USB transceiver. I’m not sure how well the iPad can daisy chain devices (30-pin connector to digital AV adapter to camera connection kit to USB keyboard), plus doing so would take away my ability to leave the iPad connected to power while in use.
For sound, I had four options. I could just let the sound play from the iPad itself. I can let the sound play over the built-in monitor speakers through the HDMI cable. I can connect my desktop speakers to the audio jack on the iPad. Or, I can connect to my Bluetooth speaker. I chose the Bluetooth–it has better sound quality than the iPad or my monitor, and it is less cumbersome than having to deal with another wire connecting to the iPad.
As I said earlier, my notebook is tucked away out of sight when I use it in this configuration. However, the iOS interface calls for a slightly different solution. Monitor and keyboard aside, I still have to actually tap the apps on the iPad to open them up and navigate between apps.
Instead of hiding the iPad under my desk, I set it up to the right of my keyboard as a sort of pseudo Magic Trackpad. I can view the display on the monitor, but use the iPad itself to open apps, pinch, zoom, etc.
Thanks to my efforts on Day 14, I can print wirelessly from the iPad to my Epson Artisan 710 printer. I can also place photos or documents on the Artisan 710 and scan them wirelessly to my iPad. Not too shabby.
Let’s recap. My iPad is sitting on my desk acting as a sort of “desktop”/ trackpad. It is plugged in to power so I don’t have to even care about battery life. I have a full-size monitor, and a full-size keyboard so I can work more efficiently. I have decent speakers to listen to music or video clips. I have a printer and a scanner.
As we covered on Day 15 when delving into working with files, I have my Box.net account that covers my file storage needs. I have to also mention Files Connect, though. A reader commented on Day 15 to clue me in to this app, and it is awesome.
Files Connect lets me connect to my 1TB Iomega drive that is connected to my wireless router. I can also see all of the PCs on my network and access any shared drives on those, and it connects with Facebook, Google Docs, Box.net, and other sources so it is like a one-stop-shopping file access and management solution for the iPad. I am still exploring all it can do, but so far I am more than a little impressed.
It cost me $39 for the Apple Digital AV Adapter, $69 for the Apple wireless keyboard, and $7.99 for the Files Connect app, but in the end I have a setup that provides essentially the same functionality I am used to with my notebook. The multitasking between apps is still rough, though, and I really miss being able to put more than one application on the screen side by side.
If I need a webcam for a video conference or something, I guess I would have to just pick up the iPad and use the front-facing camera. When I am ready to take my show on the road, though, I just disconnect the 30-pin connector, put the iPad 2 into the Logitech Keyboard Case, and I am out the door.