Tips for Using the iPad as a Laptop Replacement While Attending Conferences

I have had several days using the iPad as my main device (yes, I temporarily ditched my laptop) at the ISTE 2010 education/technology conference and discovered several crucial tips to make it usable as a computer replacement as well as some challenges to consider.

Why bother replacing a laptop? Two huge issues: weight and battery life. It is significantly lighter than a laptop, and slightly lighter than a netbook. At the end of the day my shoulder and my back thank me profusely! Also, I did not appreciate till now how much of a relief it is not having to hunt for an outlet at a crowded conference sometime during the day. I started using my iPad about 8:15am using wi-fi and bluetooth every hour of the day (yes, I even skipped lunch) until 4:30pm. I did have the screen brightness turned down, but I still had 53% battery life left. My laptop battery would have been done about 11:00am!

So what is the key ingredient for successful use at a conference? A keyboard is a must. Using the on-screen keyboard requires you to take your eyes of the presenter screen and look at the iPad screen while you type–very taxing. I use the extremely portable (foldable) Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard that we bought for my son’s Palm a few years ago; it pairs with iPad just fine.

If you have old Palms stored away in your school, you may want to see if there are any bluetooth keyboards in storage with them. Another option is to use Apple’s bluetooth keyboard, 2007 and 2009 models, which also work great.

Another crucial accessory is a case that tilts the screen. I opted for an alternative to the Apple case because 1) it tilts at a higher angle, 2) it’s leather and 3) it is half the price. It fits almost perfectly with the keyboard.

One challenge with the iPad may be consistent wi-fi in areas where these is a weak signal. There were times when laptops next to me were connecting when my iPad would not. Most of the time it works just fine.


Internet browsers are crucial for conference work. While Safari is adequate, I recommend also including Perfect Browser. It has many key features but the two I find important for conferences is 1) tabbed browsing and 2) it can emulate other desktop browsers. This is essential when you browse some web sites that detect iPad Safari and automatically force you to their mobile pages with very limited features–without choice on your part (Twitter or Hootsuite are examples). This feature in Perfect Browser “fools” the website into thinking you browser is a desktop browser.

Managing websites referenced in presentations can be achieved via Java “bookmarklets” for social bookmarking (Delicious, Diigo), temporary viewing (ReadItLater), or delayed Twitter posting (Hootsuite)–absolutely essential at conferences. Read my previous blogs on how to install these on your iPad browsers: iPad Tools for Info Junkies–Part 1 and Part 2

Twitter clients are a must, especially with backchannel comments. Two I recommend: Osfoora and TweetDeck. Osfoora has the best single column format and features while TweetDeck has multiple column viewing. Both allow searches for viewing conference hash tags, e.g. #iste10, and Osfoora allows you to “follow” new people you find within the search column.

You may want to post to a blog while working on the iPad, and this is by far the weakest link. Two apps include WordPress and Blogpress (works with WordPress, Blogger, and a handful of other blogs). While both work well with straight text, anything beyond that with these programs is a pain. For example, inserting website links in your text requires old-school html code–unacceptable. These apps will be important if you are offline while typeing a blog, but you may be better off using Perfect Browser connecting directly to the blog website if you have a good Internet connection.

If you have other tips or ideas, pleas post them below in the comments section.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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  1. Great tip on the alternative browser. I like the option to go to a mobile device rendition on my iPhone, but for the iPad I usually want the desktop version of the site.

  2. I downloaded Perfect Browser and it doesn’t work for me. Four times I tried to do tabbed browsing and four times it crashed. I restarted the iPad, I deleted the app and redownloaded it–nothing helped. You’ve got to be suspicious when they keep giving you hints on how to deal with the bugs.

  3. I like Posterous as my iPad blogging tool: it’ll handle all kinds of rich media or links and you submit as email. It will autopost to other blogging platforms if you prefer WordPress or Blogger or Twitte or dozens of others. PicPosterous is great for photos from the iPhone too.

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