I don’t have a 3G iPad. My iPad only goes online when there’s an accessible wireless network within reach.
Earlier this month, I spent a week in the Bahamas at my father-in-law’s timeshare. WiFi there is spotty at best; it’s available only in the lobby, not in the units themselves or elsewhere around the resort. So, how does the iPad fare when it can only get online at rare intervals?
My answer: Impressively well. Obviously, I could read Kindle books and play Strategery regardless of the lacking Internet, and the iPad worked great as expected in those contexts.
I didn’t want to spend hours in the lobby while I was vacationing in a tropical paradise. Luckily, most of my favorite Internet-hungry apps work pretty well offline once they fetch the data they need.
I would head to the lobby every other day or so. Apple’s Mail app would pull down my new messages for all my accounts; NetNewsWire would update my RSS feeds; Twitterrific would pull in my timeline. That took just a couple minutes at the most. Then, I could cheerfully walk the iPad to greener or bluer pastures — say, poolside, the balcony, or a seating area just off the beach — and enjoy the Internet without being connected to it.
Mail would complain, too often, that it wasn’t connected, especially if I marked messages for deletion. Still, I could get through my inbox, and even type out replies which would get sent the next time I visited the lobby.
NetNewsWire caches the text of all the posts it pulls down, but not the images. Often that didn’t matter one iota, but sometimes it mattered numerous iotas. Posts with screenshots became useless to me. (And since NNW for iPad still lacks a “mark as unread” button, I was forced to star those stories I couldn’t quite digest properly on the iPad, or at least on the iPad whilst offline.) I did note that the app doesn’t cache the favicons for feeds either, but that wasn’t particularly important to me.
Twitterrific worked similarly. I could read all the cached tweets, though obviously links in tweets weren’t usable.
The bigger bummer, though, was that neither NetNewsWire nor Twitterrific would let me queue up “send to Instapaper” requests. Had they offered support for such a feature, I could send image-heavy or overly-length stories, interesting-seeming Twitter links, or even full posts when all the iPad had pulled down was summaries (for truncated feeds like Macworld’s). Obviously, the apps couldn’t actually complete the Instapaper-sending-process until they went back online, but if I could queue those requests, it would have made my limited-Internet experience far better.
On the whole, though, that my iPad lacked an always-on connection was at worst a minor nuisance, which I found pretty impressive.