I had a great time at GDC this year, with one exception: halfway through the conference, my back started really hurting. My laptop isn’t that heavy, but it’s heavy enough, and something about the way it was sitting in my backpack put more strain on my muscles than they wanted. So I decided that, the next time I went to a conference, it would be with an iPad instead of a laptop; I wasn’t expecting that to be quite so soon, but I decided on a lark to go to GLS this month.

My verdict: absolutely the right choice. Everything that I expected to work well did in fact work well; several things worked better than expected, and there was one complete surprise. And that was without my reading books on it: as I shift to electronic books, I expect its advantage to grow.

The advantages started when I was packing. Normally, whenever I’m going on a trip, I stuff my backpack full of books and electronics. This time, my backpack weighed at most half of what it normally does on a trip: lighter electronics and, even though I didn’t end up taking advantage of it, the availability of electronic books meant that I didn’t have to worry about potentially running out of reading to material. (JIT reduces queues.)

And then, when I was on the plane, I was reading a (paper) copy of The Progressive, noticed some bits that might deserve quoting, and I remembered the WordPress app’s offline mode; so I decided to draft a blog post right there. I was still getting used to the iPad keyboard, but it worked just fine; and the smaller size of the iPad compared to a laptop meant that it was easier to use in cramped airport quarters.

In fact, that was the major issue that this trip resolved for me: the iPad is a fully capable machine for writing blog posts, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote almost 6500 words of blog posts on the trip. I did bring a wireless keyboard in my suitcase, but 4000 of those words were written on the iPad’s software keyboard, and it would have been fine if I hadn’t had the physical keyboard at all. (Incidentally, the WordPress app is somewhat buggy; it’s obviously very useful for offline work, but for online work, I ended up using the regular web interface as often as not, once I learned that you can use two-finger scrolling to scroll panes in it.)

For gaming, the iPad worked great, better than the iPhone ever has for me. The Nikoli iPhone apps control rather better when blown up in size (though I still very much hope Nikoli produces iPad-native versions with larger puzzles), and Plants vs Zombies HD and Flight Control HD are both lots of fun. The platform is obviously very young, and I don’t get the impression that there are a huge number of other games on it that I would enjoy as much as those ones, but for me, the larger real estate is making a big difference, and I imagine that many game developers feel the same way.

And it also worked well as an e-mail reading machine—I checked my work e-mail periodically during the conference, and I could make it through a couple hundred e-mails pretty quickly. (I occasionally wished for an undo button there, though.) And, as I’ve already noted, it works shockingly well as an RSS reader. In both of those cases, the main lesson was: hold the iPad vertically, with only one item at a time visible, and you’ll really be able to focus.

I bought the 3G model, but I ended up not activating a 3G subscription, because both my hotel and the conference had good Wifi. Still, that’s an advantage that the iPad has over my laptop; there were times on vacation last summer that I wished I had 3G on my laptop, and it may well come in handy this summer’s vacation, too.

So: a great choice. Which, incidentally, I wasn’t the only one making: during sessions I frequently was sitting at a table with three iPad users and two or three laptop users. Maybe I was at non-representative sessions, but it felt to me like there were actually more iPads at the conference than Windows laptops, which I never would have expected.

(And, after I hit publish on this post, I will turn off this computer and spend the rest of the evening using my iPad instead. Well, actually, I’ll probably sneak in some time playing Edgy too…)

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