Adventures in the Walled Garden: Notes on My New iPad

I have a confession:  I’m a command line guy.  A lot of my early success in the IT field grew out of parlaying my Linux hobby in college into jobs supporting, and later administering, UNIX-type systems.  And even in today’s shiny, graphical, BYOD world, I’m far more liable to type Ctrl+Esc w i n w o r d [Enter] to launch Microsoft Word than I am to find and double-click on the blue “W” icon.  But one of the things about working in IT — especially in a support role — is that one must either keep up with fashion or quickly become a dinosaur.

So here I am, late to the party, with a shiny new iPad.

I’ve been using it a lot in the last couple of weeks.  My new iPad and I are right at that tipping point in a new relationship where one could either fall in love or decide to just be friends.  (Why do we use human relationship metaphors so often when speaking of our devices?  Good paper topic for a determinist.)  At least, my iPad use is less than rote, and I do not (yet?) consider it to be an integral part of my person — a good time to note a few observations while I can still be rational about it.

My Observations About My iPad

The iPad is a beautiful object.  It’s smaller than my legal pad carrier and weighs about as much.  And not to sound creepy, but its deeply glossy surface seems to invite touch, as if it were some kind of fetish object — or perhaps, rather a flat, dark worry stone.  And the touch interface is highly responsive in a way that makes my aging Android phone seem clunky.

While its physicality is close to perfect, though, I find myself occasionally irritated by the way it functions (imagine — something comely yet flaky coming out of California!).  The chief of which is that every application works as if it has a Web browser built into it.  For example, on my Android phone, if I click on a link from LinkedIn in an email, it opens in the LinkedIn app, where I can interact with my account.  On the iPad, though, the motif is one of opening the LinkedIn website in a session that sort of blooms to the right of the email client (which moves out of the way to the ether on the left).  The problem is, while I’m logged in to LinkedIn (or Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever) in the app, in this Web instance I have no credentials.  As an IT guy, I am in the habit of using passwords that are longer than your arm and are very complicated to type on the soft keyboard.

The Keyboard Leaves Something to Be Desired

Speaking of the keyboard: it’s bad enough that the dash is on the hidden second tier of keys, but the apostrophe?!?  I had hoped for a moment that the autocorrect would magically know what I mean when I type something like “don,t”, but no.  D-O-N-[number/symbol key]-,-[number/symbol key]-T hardly seems worth it.  “Do not” it is.  Maybe I cursed myself when I mentioned determinism above — as there’s an example of technology changing my writing style.  I wish very much I could exchange the apostrophe for the exclamation point on the first-tier keyboard.  Maybe it’s designed for YouTube comments; “your an idiot!!!!!” can be typed on the home keyboard without changing views.

On the other hand, it’s amazing how well the soft keyboard works when you’re not typing in passwords that contain letters, numbers, and special characters like we’re supposed to.  I wouldn’t want to compose anything much longer than an email because of its constraints, but the fact that one can type at all on a flat, smooth surface is a bit of a wonder.

As a reader, though, the iPad is great — especially when documents I’m assigned in class are too long to print.  For whatever reason, I can’t abide reading on a computer screen at a computer desk, but sitting back with the iPad seems more natural and less distracting.

In the grand scheme, I’m still an iPad newbie, I know.   (I imagine some of you reading this and rolling your eyes—this article is soooo 2010!) But even crusty old Unix guys can branch out a bit.  Which reminds me, I keep meaning to go find myself a terminal emulator app.

About John Drummond

John Drummond is the Academic Technology Manager at the College of William & Mary. Originally from Mathews County, VA, John graduated from James Madison University with a BA in English in 1996 and an MS in Technical and Scientific Communication in 2002, and is currently studying for an Ed.D. in Higher Education at the W&M School of Education. He has been with W&M since 2007. In addition to working in IT, John has taught occasionally at W&M and previously at Tidewater Community College, and in other roles has been an author, a musician, a Perl programmer, a UNIX systems engineer, and a network manager. He resides in Toano with his wife Andrea and daughter Rebekah.


  1. Yes! Your complaints are identical to mine, wrt the keyboard & passwords. There are terminal emulators for the iPad: is supposed to be one of the best. Now, for a real 9pin RS232 adapter. . .

    (Thanks for those tips Gene.)

  2. Gene Roche says:

    Hope you’ll share the link to the terminal emulator; if I had one of those my iPad would be perfect. While I’m waiting, though, there are a couple of things that I’ve tried that have made my iPad more useful. One was a stylus (don’t croak when you see the prices of these things–I got mine as a Christmas present) and an app called NoteShelf. I find myself using the handwriting feature more than I ever thought. The other is the dictation feature. It’s no help with the passwords you IT guys use, but it handles contractions much better than the soft key board and actually spells at least as well as I do.