How the iPad is changing the way I travel already

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a gadget freak. I love new tech toys, especially ones that can make my life better and enhance my travel experiences. That’s why I was very intrigued when Apple announced the iPad a few months back. Not only did it look like it had the potential to replace my netbook as a lightweight travel computer, but it could also double as an e-book reader, allowing me to leave books at home, lightening my load even further.

Of course, there were questions and doubts about the new device. The virtual keyboard seemed like it could be a challenge to use and the included Safari web browser doesn’t support Flash, a common element on websites across the Internet. Some critics, unimpressed with what was shown at the unveiling, even said it was just a “big iPhone”. But as the days rolled by, and we got closer to the iPad launch, it became clear that the tablet computer had a few tricks up its sleeve, and that new, compelling apps clearly demonstrated how it would separate itself from its smaller sibling.

I’ve had the iPad for a little over a week, having picked one up at launch, and as I prepared to leave the country on a two week long trip, it dawned on me just how quickly the device had become ingrained in my life and how much I was looking forward to traveling with it.
As predicted, the iPad is indeed a worthy replacement for a netbook computer. The virtual keyboard is surprisingly easy to use and I found that after a day or two of practice, I could be quite productive on the iPad, especially with the platform specific version of the iWork suite, which includes a full featured word processor called Pages. Throw in an e-mail client that rivals something you’d find on a desktop, not to mention a fast and responsive web browser, and you’ll have no problem handling work while on the go.

Usually when I pack for a long trip, I squeeze a couple of books and an mp3 player into my backpack before catching the flight. But with the iPad, I can simply grab a few e-books from the new iBook store and load all of my music onto the device, cutting down on weight and clutter in my pack. And just in case the inflight movies turn out to be something that wouldn’t even go straight-to-video, I can add a few movies from the iTunes store too. My carry on bag now has a full fledged media center inside of it and if the flight also happens to have WiFi, which is quite common these days, your entertainment options extend even further.

The iPad isn’t just good for keeping you occupied while en route to your destination however. The built in Maps app is great for finding your way around once you’re there, and having travel guide books pre-loaded on the gadget opens up a host of possibilities too. And once Apple ships its iPad Camera Kit, due at the end of the month, you’ll be able to load your photos at the end of the day, giving you an opportunity to share them on the nice big screen, while simultaneously making a back-up of your travel photos too.

All of this functionality comes in a sleek, well designed package with a multitouch interface that is fun, intuitive, and down right addicting to use. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the iPad is its battery life. Having all of this functionality at your fingertips is great, but if it can’t even stay powered up for a coast-to-coast flight, then it’s not really all that useful. Fortunately, Apple hasn’t scrimped on the battery, and it is possible to get 12+ hours of up time on the device. More than enough for most flights.

The iPad is one of those devices that you have to play with to understand. It is an amazing device that does a lot of things very well, and much like its iconic older brother, the iPod, it could have a huge impact on the way that we travel. I suspect in a few years time, the iPad will be an incredibly popular traveling companion for nearly everyone.