Real Work

I might as well weigh in on my thoughts regarding the iPad. The phrase “real work” is being thrown about and Fraser Speirs has his own views. Sadly, I have to be realistic and keep my feet on the ground.

“Real”

Speirs has a very good point:

The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table’s order, designing the house and organizing the party.

I agree with this … mostly.

The Real Work also includes computationally-heavy things. There will always be a tradeoff between portability and power. “Portability” and “power” are relative terms, of course, but there is no technology that negates the need for this tradeoff and it doesn’t look like it’s coming soon.

Real work can often require flexibility, tossing files around, doing computationally-expensive things with large data sets, media, and more. These are things a light, portable computer just can’t do. Some things require a big-screen, eight-core machine with lots of RAM and ample, high-throughput storage. Even a MacBook Pro isn’t enough power to do some of these things with reasonable responsiveness.

Day-To-Day Work

That said, I can see a place for an iPad in my life. In fact, I’ve already begun thinking of investing in a “Mac Mini Server“. While I like having all of my files with me at all times (my laptop), I rarely need most of them. With a Mac Mini Server (with OS X Server 10.6), I can create my own “cloud”.

File sharing, Calendar and Address Book syncing, etc., all accessible via the Internet, could replace the MobileMe family account I have for syncing personal and shared household calendars and contacts for two phones, three home computers, and my workstation at the NIH.

I envision leaving my laptop at home unless I know I’ll need “power”. An iPad would do most everything I typically do with my laptop when I’m “out and about” or at work. Things I can do with my iPhone are more easily done with an iPad due to its larger screen. While at home, an iPad would be a much more comfortable thing to use for surfing, e-mail answering, news reading, and general dabbling. Serious work (development, lengthy e-mail catch-up sessions, writing, etc.) would be done in a designated “no-bullshit work zone”. I’ve already begun cleaning out the open loft area previously used as a very small library.

I R Sereus Kitteh – I R Workin’ Sereusly.

True Mobility

Why do I need an iPad if I have an iPhone? I don’t, really. It’s more a convenience thing. As I mentioned earlier, I can do lots of things with my iPhone, but its small form factor makes it uncomfortable. However, walking around a city with a handheld map is more attractive than doing so with a “hands-held” map (the iPad). When I go to lunch with friends, I don’t take my laptop and wouldn’t take my iPad, but I always have my iPhone with me when I leave the house.

The Breakdown

For true mobility, when a bare-minimum device is sufficient, the iPhone is more convenient (ignoring the obvious necessity of making phone calls). When I just want something small and quick for casual use in the house or “here and there”, I’d use the iPad because of its more comfortable form-factor. For “serious work”, I’d use the Macbook or the Mac Pro. All my files and important data would be kept on the Mini Server.

I think this is not only reasonable, but the way things are headed for all of us. I’ve already started adapting to it … and I think I like it.

The First Step

The first step (aside from creating a designated “Real Work” area other than my couch with a laptop) is to shed the burden of tens of gigabytes worth of files I don’t need with me constantly. This will be difficult, given how comforting it is to have everything with me all the time. The truth is I don’t really need it and if I do, I can likely access it remotely anyway.

I’ll likely be writing more on this topic. The question isn’t whether “Real Workers” can work like this. The real question is how to pull it off reasonably with the technology we’ve got today. I think we can.

At the very least, the iPad has forced me to reconsider my disinterest in iPhone development …

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