Please Sir, How Much for the Donkey?

I had a rare experience Friday night. A friend and I sat huddled around my iPad. She’s considering buying a new computer, and I’m lobbying hard for her to scrap the computer and get an iPad.

“Apple doesn’t sell the original iPads anymore, but you can get a used one for $300 on CraigsList,” I told her as we passed it back and forth, searching the web and CraigsCrawler.

Unfortunately, the iPad version of CraigsCrawler is still in design, so we had to settle for the iPhone version. We quickly found a few possible candidates right here in Tampa, all less than $400.

“I don’t think I want to worry about where it came from. I want to know it won’t just break two weeks after I buy it,” she said, projecting a little from her decade of being forever frustrated with Windows. “How much does a new one cost? Only $500? Ok, but what about the keyboard? It doesn’t have one, and I do a lot of writing. That’s basically all I do on the computer.”

First, we looked up keyboards and found a full-size plug-in keyboard, available from Apple directly.

“Great!” she said, “but wait… I can’t use Microsoft Word on it, can I? I need that to write. And where do I put the flash drive? I need that to transfer the files.”

In an attempt to answer these concerns, I opened Dropbox to show her an example of cloud-based document storage. She seemed impressed that we could share files easily.

“But what about editing? Can you write something from scratch and upload it?” she asked.

At this point, I paused, thinking she had a point. I had drafted emails and blog entries on my iPad using the mail app, WordPress app, and browser, but I had never done any more serious document editing than that. I was still on a long burn about the need for a keyboard, so I decided to download a dictation app to really hammer home the pure delight of the iPad experience. I picked the Dragon app, as I have had much success with their software in the past. My goal was to draft something somewhat meaningful, with big words and the like, forcing the app to show its true potential.

“Here. Play. Say something meaningful to it,” I said, handing her the iPad and encouraging her to take it seriously.

We played for a few minutes, passing it back and forth, saying more and more complex things and comparing the results. It seemed to have a hard time filtering out other voices in the room, such as when she and I both spoke concurrently, but otherwise it was amazingly accurate. I was so impressed, that I was inspired to take the test to the next level.

“Por favor señor, cuanto cuesta el burro?” I said, with as clear a Spanish accent as I could muster.

My friend burst out laughing just after I finished, as she speaks Spanish better than I do, and it’s a pretty funny sentence after a few beers, especially if you’re not expecting it. The Dragon app tried to translate the sentence as if the sounds I spoke were in English, and the resulting sentence sounded a bit like what I had said, but clearly it was not correct.

I thought it might be linked to the device internationalization settings, so I quit the app, went into settings, and set the locale to American Spanish. The device refreshed itself, and I loaded the Dragon app.

“This is never going to work. Scratch that. If this works, I will be really fucking impressed,” I said and repeated the experiment, just as before.

Sure enough, that exact sentence appeared on screen in Spanish, complete with appropriate accent marks, but without punctuation. It was spot on, 100% correct. My friend and I sat in awe of the power of this device and its incredible ability to not only understand words we spoke aloud clearly, but to do so in multiple languages with just a simple change to system settings.

I’ve reveled in that amazement for the entire weekend. Along the way, I’m improving my Spanish vocabulary, since many of the apps I use regularly on the iPad are localized for Spanish and have translated labels and button titles. It’s a fun way to learn a few words and a reminder of the cultural significance of a device with this capability.

In the end, we didn’t really find an answer to the “how do I share things I create on the device?” question, at least when it comes to Dropbox. I suspect if it isn’t possible today to upload files created or edited on the iPad, it will be possible soon. The Dragon app, on the other hand, has an easy way to email dictated documents or to share them via twitter or facebook. I did get an answer for my challenge question, though.

“Who cares how much the donkey costs? You have an iPad!”

One thought on “Please Sir, How Much for the Donkey?

  1. A number of quality apps (MindNode, Photoforge2, etc) can upload their documents directly to Dropbox. Some that can’t can at least hand their documents off to Dropbox.app, which can then handle it. Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers) can upload to Dropbox if you’re willing to pay for DropDAV, which provides a WebDAV interface to Dropbox.

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