It wasn't that long ago I was praising the iPad for being a wonderful travel computer. It still is—until it isn't.
The qualities that make the iPad so great on the road still apply: long-winded battery life; lightweight form factor that doesn't have to be removed for security scans at American airports; a very capable web browser, especially when complemented by selections from the App Store.
But when unexpected problems arise, the iPad doesn't give many ways to route around them toward a solution.
I don't know if it's God's way of telling me I need to buy a MacBook Air, but I've gotten myself into a bind here in China.
First off, I'm sick. I've clearly picked up some traveler's cruft somewhere. I'm weak. My stomach is upset. Leaving the hotel room—even just to try to eat some breakfast in the hotel restaurant—is taxing.
Plus I've got about 40 images from my DSLR that I need to get formatted into something to post on Gizmodo. A simple gallery would do. It's pretty much Computerizing 101 sort of stuff.
But an unfortunate confluence of problems has made the iPad the wrong appliance for the job.
I can't simply upload the images from the iPad to Gawker's content management system—no filesystem on the iPad for a web page to plug into. I can't email the images from the Photos app to myself, as for some reason it wants to attach the RAW files to the email instead of a converted JPG file; the subsequent 25MB+ email crashes the Photo app before they're sent through if I wanted to send them to someone else.
In fairness, I am running iOS 4.2 Beta 3, which could account for the bug in Photos. A couple of the images have converted as expected, which makes my thwarted success all that more tantalizing.
Dropbox doesn't work for some reason. It could be the Chinese firewall, although I've had issues with the data-side of other apps with web sites that aren't restricted. Hard to say.
Worst of all, I can't try to use any other apps to get the photos online because the App Store refuses to accept any of my account verification, despite entering in every credit card I've got. I can understand not letting me download apps that are restricted in China—I'm on Chinese internet, after all—but for some reason the App Store won't let me download anything at all, not even free apps.
Right now the only option I can see is to view each photo in the Photo app, then take a screenshot of it, then crop and rotate each one, then upload those. It would probably work, although the images would only be as high-resolution as the iPad's screen. Failing all else, that's what I'll do, but I'm not really looking forward to it.
Maybe all the errors—even the App Store failure— can be attributed to the beta version of iOS I'm running. I guess some other foreigner in China can test it next month when the final version of 4.2 is out.
But it's a pretty frustrating feeling to know that your data is inside the device you're using but because of its closed system troubleshooting options are limited. It's a little like being sick at Disneyland and getting stuck at the top of Space Mountain. Suddenly the veneer of blinking lights stops looking like the future and starts feeling like being trapped in a tiny car in the dark inside a warehouse.
I still really like the iPad for travel. I suspect even if I buy an Air—even the tiny version—I'll still bring the iPad along for books, video, etc. I mean, hell, I already own it. Might as well.
But the gild is ever so slightly off the lily. And instead of being impressed with how capable the iPad can be compared to a traditional computer, today I'm missing traveling with a machine that gives me more flexibility when my expected path dead ends.