Christmas morning (or any first-day) help for the new iPad owner

ipad xmas

Okay. You received an iPad this morning. Now what?

Unlike when my 20 and 23 year olds were younger, I’m now the one in the family who wakes up way too early on Christmas morning. As I’m sure there are lots of people opening up a box with a new iPad this morning, I thought I’d take some time while waiting for the rest of the family to rouse to share user-to-new-user advice on using a new iPad.

As you’re likely reading this post on a computer, I’m assuming you have a Mac or PC computer that you can connect your iPad to. After you set up an iPad, you can go a long time without ever hooking your iPad to your computer. But you have to connect it to a computer to get started downloading apps — and that’s the fun part.

Special message for Christmas morning: This is the official how-to page on Apple.com. It is a very helpful page that you’ll want to bookmark and go to first, whenever you have a question. However, I’m going to suggest you hold off on some things it suggests, like setting up the iPad for getting email and synching with your calendar. This morning, you don’t want to check email or calendars — frankly, just wait until Monday to set up anything work-related. Now is the time to focus on the fun stuff.

Before you start

Here are a few things you need to understand before moving forward:

The software iTunes is how your iPad connects with your computer (either a Mac or PC): If you have an iPhone, you already know how this works. You need the latest version of iTunes on your computer. (See specific operating system version requirements below.) You can download the most recent iTunes software here. You can set up your iPad on any computer that has iTunes running on it. However, you must log into a different (your personal) iTunes account to manage your individual iPad.

iTunes is the brand of software and the brand of a store: This is one of those concepts that is so well understood by iPhone and Mac and iPod users, it goes without saying. However, because they don’t say it, it can be confusing to those who may not fit into those categories. Here’s the deal: You need an iTunes account to access all of the stuff you’ll need from Apple to set up your iPad and to download apps, even the free ones. So, when you plug in your iPad and it starts connecting with iTunes, go ahead and set up an Apple ID account. You’ll need to remember the ID/password because everytime you download a new app, you’ll be asked for it.

Minimum computer operating system requirements: For the iPad to connect with your computer, your computer must operate on one of the following operating systems: Mac OS X version 10.5.8 or later; Windows 7; Windows Vista; Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 3 or later.

How to get started:

All of the basic requirements and instructions for how to set up an iPad can be found on Apple.com at this URL: http://www.apple.com/support/ipad/.

It’s very important that you bookmark that Apple.com iPad support page because, while lots of things about the iPad will be intuitive, you’ll have some head-scratchers pretty soon. I’ll list some head-scractchers in a minute.

Once you connect your iPad to your computer, some screen prompts will take you through the set up process. Here are some recommendations for Christmas morning usage, however:

1. Don’t worry about setting up email or contacts or calendar synching until later. Have fun — you don’t need to check email anyway.

2. Don’t sync up the music, photos or video you have on your computer (or, “the media” as geeks refer to such things). In other words, don’t download lots of junk onto your iPad. After you use the iPad a while, you will be able to judge better what part of your media library should be on your iPad.

3. Do the minimum amount of setup required to start playing with stuff.

Key concepts to consider so you won’t get immediately frustrated:

1. The iPad does not work exactly like your computer. It works like a large format smart phone. You won’t be able to drag things back and forth from your computer like you imagine — remember: iTunes is the way to load apps onto the iPad. (However, in the next day or so, you’ll discover there are easier ways than using iTunes to move individual files (for example, a PDF document) from your computer to the iPad — the apps and web-applications/services like the one I use called Dropbox.)

2. There are three types of apps that can be used on an iPad:

iPad only (or iPad HD) native apps: These are apps designed specifically for the iPad. They download content from the web onto your iPad and you can use the app, even if you are not connected to the internet.

add to home screen

Create a home screen icon
from any web page

Web apps: These are websites or web-based applications that have been designed or “optimized” to display nicely on an iPad. You use the iPad’s web browser (Safari) to access these web apps (there are other browsers, but that’s for a later day). There are some great web apps, but the one that will most likely amaze you first is Google Maps (it amazes me on any platform). You will likely have several such web pages that you’ll use a lot so you may want to add an icon to your home screen that will allow you to go straight from the home screen to the web app, without launching the Safari browser first. Anytime you are on one of your go-to web apps (or just a favorite website), click on the “curved arrow” button (see diagram) and then click on “add to home screen.” Downside of a web app: It won’t work if you are not online.

iPhone apps: Any iPhone app will work on an iPad. However, a native iPhone app will be displayed small. You’ll hate these apps and will only use the Facebook one, as Facebook doesn’t have an HD app yet, for some strange reason.

First day, early wave of apps to try out:

There are 300,000 apps, but there may as well be 3 gazillion — or just the dozen, or so, you’ll use the most. In every list of recommended apps I’ve ever seen, I find many I’ve never heard of. So, these are just some that I have — everyone has their own list like this.

First wave downloads:

Kindle app: So much better than Apple’s own iBook app. Also, if you own a Kindle, you can download the same files to the Kindle app (Amazon allows you to sync an ebook to 5 devices — including others in your family who may want to read the same book.)

Adobe Ideas: There are lots of awesome drawing and painting apps, but this is a nice one to play with.

Scrabble: They’re having a 99¢ special and it’s a game you already know how to play.

Twitter: If you are a Twitter user, the app is better than the computer web-browser version of Twitter.

New York Times App: Currently, it’s free for registered users. Unlike other newspaper and magazine apps, the New York Times app actually offers a nice and easy user-experience.

NPR NewsNPR Music apps: By far, the most impressive apps from a giant media organization. (The iPhone apps are also.)

Angry Birds: Hey, it’s Christmas. Waste some time playing the incredibly addictive and best-selling gaming app.

Flipboard: It will give you a sense of the potential of how the iPad will change the way you read web-delivered content one day. It works best if you have a Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook or Flickr account you can hook it into, however, you’ll enjoy it without those. (Flipboard’s how-to tips and FAQ.)

Pandora: One of the reasons you won’t need to download all your music to the iPad. This is one of many music related apps you’ll end up downloading.

I have several other apps I depend on and enjoy daily, but I’ll save those for later: (Okay, Instapaper and Evernote are the next I’d suggest.)

You’ll also discover an endless array of apps related to your hobbies and passions (especially if something like “cooking” or “eating” is among them.)

Most important thing: If you run into a problem, there’s probably a simple solution. Don’t get too frustrated.

Merry Christmas.

Ready for the Next Step?

This is merely the first tiny step in enjoying your iPad. Next, you’ll want to download, setup and organize your new device. Here are some great “next” links from the book, iPad the Missing Manual.