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Alan Zisman on the Mac

Accessories to Make Your iPad More Useful

- 2010.06.29 - Tip Jar

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A couple of weeks ago, I gave first impressions of my new Apple iPad. In brief, while it's not a full-fledged replacement for a laptop for most business users, it's surprisingly functional and fun to use.

Buying an iPad, though, is just the first step. The next step is to trick it out with physical accessories and apps.

On release day, Apple had a set of accessories available. Among them was the C$45 iPad case, which gives your new iPad a protective cover. It also lets you stand it up for either landscape or portrait mode viewing. Add the 99¢ Night Clock app and use it as a travel clock or as a digital picture frame to display slideshows of your photos.

Like Ford's Model T, Apple's iPad case comes only in black. For more colours, consider alternatives from Kingston, Belkin, Griffin, and others.

A $35 dock also lets you stand your iPad, though only in portrait orientation, but makes it easy to charge at the same time. An audio-out jack can be connected to a sound system; I'm leaving one plugged into my home stereo. (You can also use it with an iPhone or iPod.)

In my first look iPad column, I mistakenly said that you couldn't show presentations from the iPad plugged into an external monitor or projector. Apple's $35 iPad Dock Connector to VGA adaptor lets you do just that, as well as project photos, YouTube clips and other videos. It doesn't mirror what's on the iPad screen, however, so you can't use it to demo use of the iPad itself or use it with most apps. (Thanks to reader Stuart Bell for the correction.)

When in use, the iPad screen freezes. Video or presentation action shows only through the projector. Useful, but a bit less than I would have hoped. (Most video-out adapters for the iPhone also seem to be usable with the iPad - but with the same sorts of limitations.)

On the other hand, Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit (also $35) does more than the name suggests. It consists of two small adapters, each of which plugs into the Dock connector. One lets you pop in the SD memory storage card used in most (but not all) digital cameras. When you do that, you can view the photos and videos on the card and copy them into the iPad's photo library - and later sync them with your PC or Mac.

The second adaptor has a USB port on it that lets you connect your camera with a USB cable - handy for cameras that don't use SD memory cards. In some respects, this provides the iPad with its missing USB port, and it can be used in several ways not officially supported by Apple. You can, for instance, use it to connect many USB microphones for use with an iPad recording app. Plug in an iPod or iPhone and import photos and videos. It doesn't work, however, with external hard drives or USB memory sticks, so you can't transfer documents to or from the iPad that way.

Some iPod or iPhone accessories may be usable with the iPad as well. iPhone headsets can be used with the iPad, and their built-in mics can be used to make phone calls on the iPad using Skype, TruPhone, or other apps. (Even without a headset, you can make these sorts of calls on the iPad if you don't mind speaking to a large tablet.)

iPod/iPhone chargers, however, don't provide enough power to do a good job charging the larger iPad, and Apple's older iPod Camera Connection won't work with the iPad.

I was able to plug my iPad into a Belkin car FM transmitter and beam music to the radio. Plugged into the lighter socket, the device provides enough power to run the iPad, but not enough to recharge its battery at the same time. LEM

First published in Business in Vancouver, June 29 - July 5, 2010, issue #1079

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, www.zisman.ca. If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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