How I’m using my new iPad from theGSF

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook then you know that I was the recent recipient of a brand new iPad 2 from the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation (theGSF). I’ve been experimenting with the new opportunities and possibilities it creates and I’m ready to talk about all the iPad goodness I’ve discovered.

First of all, a big thanks to theGSF for what they’re doing with Project Mariposa. People with SMA and disabilities in general benefit greatly from all the advances in technology in the past few decades. Computers made it possible for people with disabilities to work and play in ways that would have been impossible before them. theGSF knows the value of new technologies to people with disabilities and began Project Mariposa with the goal of giving away 50 iPads to individuals affected by SMA. I believe this is going to do a lot of good for a lot of people.

Now, on to the findings of my iPad experiment. I’m going to start by talking about the two ways I’ve come up with for handling the iPad. Then I’ll discuss a few of the primary uses for the iPad that have emerged so far and highlight the apps that have been the most helpful.

My elbow propped up and my hand, with a glove on, sitting on an the iPad. My index finger is exposed where I cut the tip of the glove off.

Typing with iA Writer in portrait orientation

I can laugh about it now but I was a bit worried whether or not I’d be able to use the iPad without having someone touch the screen for me every time I wanted to do something. My early research indicated that the most feasible solution was to use a Bluetooth mouse. To do that, I would have to go against my gut and Jailbreak it. I was hesitant about it, but in the name of access, I decided to proceed. Now, let me warn you. Jailbreaking your iOS device can be great if you need the extra functionality of third-party apps that aren’t available on the App Store. But it also has drawbacks. For starters, it voids the warranty. It also means that you can’t upgrade your device’s software until the hackers behind the various jailbreaks crack the new updates from Apple.

But because I was just too weak to access all areas of the large touchscreen, I decided to take the plunge. After a surprisingly painless setup, I was up and running with with a Bluetooth mouse, courtesy of the BTstack Mouse app (via Cydia). I was able to prop up the iPad and use apps like Safari, Twitter, and Facebook fairly effectively by pointing and clicking with a mouse. But that wasn’t enough. I could do that at my computer. No, the iPad should be used to inspire creativity. To work and play in ways that a typical computer can’t facilitate. And let’s face it: iPads are meant to be touched.

So I took a glove for which the match had long been missing and cut out the index finger and thumb. With the glove on, I was able to slide my hand over the iPad’s capacitive touchscreen without inadvertently activating it and use the exposed finger and thumb to tap and swipe. But with my SMA, I didn’t have the range of motion necessary to reach enough of the screen. That’s when I remembered a product I purchased several years back. It was called Ergo Rest. It was a product that had not lived up to its potential for me, but suddenly seemed perfect for my current need.

Ergo Rest has an armrest atop two swivelling arms that ar attached to each other. My elbow is resting on the arm rest and my hand, with glove, sits on top of the iPad.

Ergo Rest being used with iPad

The Ergo Rest attaches to the table and supports the arm on a pad atop a swiveling arm. This removes the friction of moving one’s arm across the table. The weight of my arm actually begins to work for me instead of against me because I can can use my own momentum to sling my arm around. The Ergo Rest even gives me enough power to slide the iPad around as needed, effectively giving me access to the entire area of the iPad’s display. With a technique for using the iPad figured out, I was out to discover the amazing things I was sure I could do with iPad.

A lightly colored, simple barn with a path leading toward the viewer and a small tree in the yard.

A barn I drew using Paper by FiftyThree

One of the things I have lost the strength to do that I miss is the ability to write and draw. On paper with a pen. You know, the old-fashioned way. As it happens, the perfect app was released just after I received my iPad. Called Paper by FiftyThree, this app simulates writing and drawing in notebooks with surprisingly beautiful effectiveness. It has a minimal interface and a handful of utensils from a writing pen and drawing pen to a sketching pencil and watercolor brush. The entire premise of the app is to spend time with your ideas. It works perfectly to that end. I can sketch out website layouts, ideas for projects, and doodle for fun. Paper has been a huge hit with me. And I’m not the only one. Paper has shot up the charts on the App Store. The app is free and comes with the drawing pen and the ability to create multiple notebooks. The other four utensils can be bought as in-app purchases for $1.99 each.

Another thing I had been hoping to do on the iPad was write and not be tied to my computer as I am much of the day. I’ve been a fan of iA Writer on the Mac for some time and iA Writer for iPad has been a joy to use. In fact, this blog post was written using iA Writer on my iPad. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and it doesn’t need them. Writer is to your words what Paper is to your ideas. It’s sole purpose is to help you focus on writing—and that’s all. As an accessibility benefit, it adds a few oft-used punctuation symbols (such as that hyphen and these parentheses) to a toolbar just above the keyboard. It keeps you from having to pull up the extra keyboard screens as often, saving you keystrokes. At the time of this writing, iA Writer for iOS (same app works on iPhone and iPad) is on sale for $0.99. That’s an absolute steal as you’ll be getting one the most popular writing apps on the App Store.

Sketching and writing are two big uses for my iPad, but I’ve also been exploring another. Reading. One of the great things about the iPad is that it can transform into your own personalized magazine. Reading on the iPad is a relaxing activity for me. I can, again this is important, get away from my computer desk and enjoy catching up on articles I’ve saved. My preferred app/service for this is Instapaper. Instapaper lets you save articles for later reading and, when you’re ready, presents them in a beautiful perfect-for-reading format. The service itself is free, though you can get a few more features by subscribing for $1.00 a month. The Instapaper app syncs with the web version and costs $4.99 for a universal app that works on both iPhone and iPad.

I’m thinking about reading a novel on the iPad and seeing how that works (suggestions? The Hunger Games?). The interface is beautiful but I haven’t tried reading for long periods of time.

Now we turn to gaming. My favorite so far has been Angry Birds Space HD. Here’s a demonstration of my mad skills:

I’ve also been playing the space-based and fast-paced real time strategy game, Galcon, that has been my addiction on iPhone for quite some time. There is also a controller called Joypad available for iPhone which you can connect to your computer to play video games. Joypad’s website lists a dozen or more iPad games that support it. So you could prop up the iPad and play these games with the Joypad controller on your iPhone or iPod Touch, though I haven’t tried it yet. If you want a game that requires little physical effort but that is fast-paced and thrilling, I’d recommend Canabalt. It only requires that you be able to tap anywhere on the screen. Along those same lines, if you can only reach a small portion of the screen, try The Last Rocket. It’s a get-to-the-exit game in beautiful retro 8-bit graphics that requires only tapping and swiping, which can be performed anywhere on the screen.

This wraps up the main things I’m currently using the iPad to accomplish. Other notable apps include the built-in Mail app, Facebook, Twitterific for Twitter, WriteRoom for notes (works with Dropbox were I sync wth Notational Velocity on Mac), Day One for journaling, and WordPress for updating my blog.

If you have any techniques, tips, or must-have apps, let me know in the comments.