Wednesday, May 30, 2012


HONG KONG — Here’s a discovery I made while traversing South America first and now this “special administrative region” in the southernmost part of China: I might not need a stand-alone camera again. It can stay home along with my notebook computer.

While attaching the word “photographer” to my name is a bit audacious in the face of those who are truly talented, I do have the responsibility of providing news and photos for a locally headquartered nonprofit organization’s magazines. To be printed on dead trees, those images must be of a specific resolution quality.

Out of nine pictures to be published in the five news pages of Adventist Review’s June 14 issue, I’ll have taken at least five of them (two others are from other sources) using Apple’s iPhone 4S’ 8-megapixel camera, with two more from the 5-megapixel camera on the “new” iPad. That both of these devices could produce print-quality pictures was a rather nice surprise.

This amplifies my experience at another conference in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, a few weeks back, where many folks were using their iPads as both still and video cameras. Yes, a tablet with a 9-inch display screen is a bit unwieldy, but it’s sometimes the one camera that’s available at the moment you need one. And a lot of photography experts would agree that having a camera when needed is half the secret to capturing good, if not even great, images.

I repeat this information not to merely harp on the subject, but to lead to another conclusion: Used properly, a combination of a tablet and a smartphone can replace a bunch of other tools when one is on the road and the need to travel light is important.

Flying from Santiago, Chile, to Toronto on one leg of this jaunt, I was able to dash off a bunch of news articles for the Review, cutting and pasting from notes I had typed in earlier, something previously reserved for a notebook computer with plenty of memory. Now, an iPad with 64 gigabytes of RAM is more than sufficient.

The photos? I could process these on either the iPhone or the iPad, queue them up for email and let the magic of Wi-Fi handle the dispatch once I hit the ground. Look ma, no wires!

Joking aside, we’ve come a long way in the 15 years or so since computer industry pioneer Philippe Kahn stood up at a mobile computing conference in Pasadena, Calif., and first showed off a mobile phone onto which a small, 1-megapixel camera had been grafted. A long way indeed.

There are some limitations, of course: For the other two photos in the nine-photo set, I had to download a folder of candidates via a File Transfer Protocol, or FTP, connection. On a notebook or desktop computer, there’s software for that, one can type in the FTP address in a Web browser. On the iPad, my solution was FTP Client Pro, a $1.99 app from a firm called LessIsMore Development. It’s a simple program that’ll connect you to an FTP site, download (or upload) what you need to and unzip the files if needed.

You don’t have to have Readdle’s PDF Expert, a $9.99 app for the iPad, to read documents in Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF), but if you work with PDFs, you’ll be glad you had it. This program does a lot with a PDF, including allowing you to highlight and annotate sections, using digital “sticky notes,” and then extract annotated pages. Sending documents is a snap, and there’s a feature that summarizes your annotations (by page number) in the body of the email. Frankly, I can’t easily recall a program that does so much for so little money.

With the right combination of applications and communications, I’ve taken my “office” halfway around the globe with little functionality lost in the process. This is, I believe, as seismic a change in computing as the notebook revolution was, again, about 15 years back.

The key difference here is the concentration of available power and capability in a package small enough to be truly portable, but large enough to be useful. As both the hardware and software evolve, along with always-available communications, either Wi-Fi or cellular, the benefits for mobile workers and for distributed workforces will, I believe, multiply exponentially.

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