New iPad or old?

MacLife has a good rundown of the differences between the iPad 2 and the new iPad that was introduced this week (not called iPad 3). Their bottom line?

The iPad 2 remains a really great tablet. If you don’t plan on using the cellular network, sticking instead to Wi-Fi, the iPad 3’s 4G capabilities are wasted on you. If you don’t care about shooting photos or videos with your iPad 3, its fancier camera is wasted on you. That leaves you with a better processor and a very beautiful high-res screen — for some this will be worth the upgrade, but for many, it won’t.

My main reason for wanting to upgrade from my first generation iPad to the newest version is primarily about storage. I have the same problem that the author of the article above has: with 16GB I often find myself swapping in and out apps, videos, photos, and other files, since not everything will fit at the same time. The new iPads are available with 32 or even 64GB of storage, but you can only find the iPad 2 in the 16GB size. If you’re fairly sure storage won’t be an issue for you (and for many it won’t be), you would likely be served well by an iPad 2 and an extra $100 in your pocket.

Best iPad apps for Pastors

The modern tablet computer is the perfect tool in the hands of a pastor. Gadgets like Apple’s iPad offer great flexibility in carrying out the wide range of responsibilities that come along with the ministry. Here are 10 apps that a pastor should consider installing as soon as he gets an iPad.

Dropbox. There’s a good chance you already have this installed on your computer at home and/or in the office. Dropbox allows you to seamlessly share files across platforms. Once installed on your iPad, you have access to all your sermons, Bible studies, administrative resources and more. No need to remember to sync files before you leave the office. (iTunes store)

Evernote. Similar to Dropbox in that it also synchronizes files across devices and between computers, but Evernote is much more convenient for taking quick notes and sorting them into useful categories. See my review here. (iTunes store) (my review)

Accordance. This is currently my “go to” Bible app when I’m away from my desk. Other programs may have a more extensive library of books available, but I like Accordance’s agility and speed when it comes to things like Greek or Hebrew word searches. (iTunes store)

Pastoral Care. A wonderfully handy collection of devotions, prayers and Bible readings for a multitude of ministry situations. With this app on your iPad or iPhone, you’ll never be caught unprepared to share words of comfort, no matter what the circumstance. (iTunes store)

QuickOffice Pro. Although the glass screen of a tablet is not optimized for touch typing, there are times you simply need to work with documents while away from your main computer. QuickOffice helps you get the job done whether you’re working with Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files. (But do consider purchasing a wireless keyboard for the best experience!) (iTunes store)

GoodReader. I do a lot of reading on my iPad. Not just books (for which I prefer Amazon’s Kindle app), but especially PDFs from a variety of sources. Although there are a number of PDF readers (including Dropbox, Evernote, and QuickOffice listed above), GoodReader offers many more options for managing, reading and highlighting those files. (iTunes store)

Keynote. Apple’s Keynote application is seen by many as superior to Microsoft’s PowerPoint in ease of use, flexibility and beautiful templates. This iOS version is only slightly pared down from the full computer app, but just as breath taking in design. You’ll have an impressive presentation put together and ready to show in no time, importing photos directly from your iPad or the internet. All you need to do is plug in to a projector — or hand the tablet around the room. (iTunes store)

PrayNow. Pastors know how vital it is to feed their own souls with God’s Word even as they are called to nourish the faith of others. This app will dole out just enough Scripture each day to give a busy pastor plenty to chew on for his daily devotion time. Daily prayers and Bible readings from both Testaments are linked with selections from Christian writers of the past. (iTunes store)

OmniFocus. Speaking of busy schedules, how do you keep everything organized? My tool of choice is OmniFocus which is probably the most feature-packed task manager available for the iPad but also among the most elegant. The premium price is worth it, in my opinion, for the Forecast view and built in Review function. (iTunes store)

OmniOutliner. My new favorite application, I use OmniOutliner for everything from sermon preparation to five-year ministry plans. Just be warned that there’s a bit of a learning curve before you start to realize the app’s full potential. (iTunes store)

To be sure, there are many other apps available on the iTunes store, but I have found these to be among the most useful in my ministry.

Kindle Fire vs. Apple iPad

The tablet market is starting to heat up. Amazon has introduced a new tablet called the Kindle Fire, priced at a much more affordable $199 (compared to the latest generation iPad which starts at $499). Andy Ihnatko from the Chicago Sun-Times says in his review that the “Kindle Fire is no iPad killer – but it is a killer device.” In other words, it’s a great gadget in its own right, but it has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. A pastor who is in the market for a portable device will have to determine which has the set of features (including price) that line up with his needs.

The iPad clearly shines in the number and quality of both native and third-party apps — many of which I’ve talked about on this blog. The beauty of Apple’s tablet is in its versatility and its smooth performance of a wide variety of tasks. The Kindle Fire only runs a limited number of Android apps. It clearly was made with content consumption (as opposed to content creation) in mind.

But if that’s all you’re looking for — a handy device you can use for reading books, watching videos, listening to audiobooks, etc. — you’ll probably be happy (and $300 less poor) with the Kindle Fire. Of course, if you limit your needs even further to just reading books, then save yourself an additional $120 and just buy a simple Kindle. Pastor Paul McCain has a good argument for investing in the Kindle platform if your primary interest is reading. But if you need a device that offers more (e.g., word processing, PowerPoint presentations, media creation and manipulation, data recording, etc., etc.,) then you’re going to have to start saving up for an iPad.

Check out the video below for a visual comparison of the two tablets.

Ay Ay Ay! Which i do I choose?

iPad vs. iPhone vs. iPod Touch

In my last post I spoke of one advantage to owning more than one Apple mobile device: If you purchase an app for your iPhone, it is almost guaranteed to work on your iPad and your iPod Touch as well. One download of a universal app means a copy of the same software on every iDevice you own. But clearly that’s not feasible for everyone. A pastor’s budget is a tight budget, and these days more than ever. So what if you have to choose between them? What if you like what you see in the App Store but you can’t afford more than one gadget?

The iPhone naturally has the advantage of being… well, a phone, as opposed to just a portable computer-like device. Not only does this mean (the obvious) that you can make calls from it, but as such it is likely to be that one device that you take with you everywhere you go. If you have your iPhone, you also have a camera, an agenda, an iPod, etc., etc. The newest iPhone 4S has an amazing voice command/dictation feature called Siri, but on the other hand you can still pick up an older 3GS for free. Either way, the biggest expense by far is going to be the ongoing monthly costs which of necessity include a data plan.

The iPod Touch (from $199) scores points for exacting no monthly fees. It’s perfect for the pastor that already has a phone that he likes (or has to put up with) but drools over some of the iOS apps that are available. The Touch fits perfectly in a shirt pocket, ready to be pulled out for checking your agenda, taking attendance, looking up a quick Bible passage, or reading a bit of Luther while you wait outside a hospital room. And if you have a wireless network available, you can use the Touch as a phone or even video chat thanks to apps like Skype and Facetime.

Many thought the iPad (starting at $499) would be nothing more than an oversized iPod Touch, but the extra real estate allows for increased creativity for designers and greater productivity for users. The result is a screen which feels exactly the right dimensions for individual viewing of web sites, PDF documents, videos and more. Unlike the iPod Touch, the iPad is available in wifi only or 3G versions, so you can sign up for a monthly data plan if you feel you need to have access to the internet at all times.

Each of Apple’s mobile devices has its strengths, but any one of them could prove quite useful in a pastor’s ministry (and personal life). All of them are game-changers, much like the original iPod was 10 years ago this week.

My favorite iOS universal apps

Someone asked me once, “Why would I need an iPad when I already have an iPhone? Don’t they run all of the same apps?” Precisely! That’s the advantage of owning both Apple devices — virtually all the applications that you purchase for one will work on the other. The best developers offer what are called “universal apps.” That is, a single download (and payment, if not free) gets you an app which will look custom made on both your iPhone (or iPod Touch) and your iPad. This clearly gives you the best bang for your buck, so I’m always on the lookout for universal apps.

Here are some of my favorite apps that work well on both the iPhone and the iPad. They may work differently on each of the devices, but they are well adapted for the different screen sizes and potential uses. It’s no coincidence that these are among some of my most used apps.

  1. Instapaper. After installing a bookmarklet in your browser, you can send any news article or blog post with a single click to your “read later” queue. Instapaper removes all the ads and unnecessary graphics, leaving just a simple page of text that you can read on the go. I use the iPhone app when I’m waiting in the doctor’s office, and the iPad app when I finally get to relax on the family room couch at night.
  2. Bible +. This is the app from Logos (formerly Libronix) which brings the Bible and hundreds of other religious texts to your fingertips. The Logos desktop program is excellent for text analysis and in-depth word studies. But it’s hard to read at length from the computer screen. When I come across a reference to a lengthier quote from Luther, I prefer to open it up in my iPad app and take it over to my favorite easy chair.
  3. Dropbox. DropBox has rescued me more than a couple times when I’ve forgotten to bring a hard copy of a certain document (say, my Sunday morning sermon or Bible class notes). Since I save almost all my working documents on my DropBox folder on my harddrive, they are automatically synced online and accessible over the internet on any iOS device with the app installed.
  4. Evernote. I put my larger documents in DropBox, but smaller notes go in Evernote. It’s perfect for the dozens of little notes that you write to yourself or lists that you keep.
  5. Netflix. Clearly this app isn’t essential for ministry purposes, but even pastors need to relax sometime. With a Netflix subscription I can watch instantly any of hundreds of movies or TV shows. I enjoy watching some of the television series that I missed during my 14+ years in Brazil. Because it’s a universal app, I can pause a movie on my iPhone and then pick it up at the same place later on my iPad.
  6. Kindle. Similarly, books that I’m reading in Amazon’s Kindle app are automatically synced so that I can pick up reading at home where I left off when the mechanic said my car was finally ready. All the books I purchase digitally from Amazon are available on every device (including Android, etc) that I own.
  7. PrayNow. I’ve mentioned this devotional app before. Because it’s a universal app, I’m much more likely to get my daily Bible reading in, even on the busiest of days.
  8. Facebook. This is another non-essential app, although some have used Facebook to great effect in their ministry. It took Facebook a year and a half to come out with a universal version (the iPad app only was made available recently), but both versions are well done.
  9. 1Password Pro. With all the many passwords we need to keep in this digital age, I’m glad to have a program that stores them all for me and seamlessly keeps them organized on all the devices that I’m likely to need them.

These universal apps rise to the top for me because they scale well or take advantage of the strengths of each iOS device.

I’ve briefly considered trading in my iPhone for an Android, but then I realized I would have to invest in a new library of apps (many of them the same ones I mentioned above). An excellent marketing move by Apple to maintain my consumer loyalty. Oh, Steve, you had me at “App Store.”

The pastor at play on an iPad

All work and no play makes Pastor Jack a dull boy. Sometimes even (or especially!) pastors need to unwind a bit, relieving some of the stress that inevitably builds up from the ministry. For that reason, I don’t have a problem talking about entertainment apps and games on a blog that claims to give justification for purchasing an iPad for serious use in the pastoral ministry. I rolled my eyes at my wife’s suggestion that the iPad was just a toy to play with, but the truth is there’s a lot of fun to be had on an iPad — when you can find some spare time.

  • Games. If you’ve played and liked Angry Birds, you might like other physics-based games like Cut the Rope or World of Goo. I’ve looked at these, but I prefer apps that emulate some of my favorite board games like Carcassonne, Catan, Scrabble, and Ticket to Ride. The iPad is also a great medium for sudoku and crossword puzzles.
  • Leisure reading. We’ve already talked about storing your pastor’s library on the iPad, but it obviously works just as well for personal reading.
  • TV/movies. Sometimes you just want to veg during your downtime and be passively entertained. Or maybe you want to set up a video to watch while you work off some of your “friar’s fat” on the treadmill at the gym. For a monthly fee, apps from Netflix and Hulu offer a never-ending stream of Hollywood fare. Or, if you prefer to watch a BluRay on your family room’s plasma TV, the IMdb (Internet Movie Database) app is perfect for finding reviews and behind-the-scenes information about celebrities you see on the screen.
  • Music and audio books. An iPod may be easier to cart around, and you sure won’t be jogging around the park with an iPad in your pants. But you can easily connect your iPad to your car speakers to listen to an audiobook or podcast while you’re driving to visits. Try the iTunes U store for university-level lectures from a wide spectrum of disciplines (including Biblical Studies & Theology).
  • Sports. This year I began managing my fantasy football team on Yahoo Sports’ dedicated iPad app. It didn’t keep my starting quarterback from injury, but I was able to make some last minute changes to my roster without having to turn on the desktop computer. For keeping tabs on all the latest scores and highlights, I recommend the free SportsTap app.
  • Hobbies and fun. One of Apple’s recent commercials for the iPad highlight the versatility of the iPad for learning. No matter what your personal interests or hobbies are, you’re sure to find apps to enrich your experience. Hiking. Cooking. Astronomy. Learning to play an instrument or a language. I haven’t looked, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a woodworking app.

Hopefully I haven’t contributed to the delinquency of a minister by suggesting these time-wasting recreational apps. Now back to work!

New Amazon Kindle tablet

Earlier today Amazon announced their new Kindles. The most anticipated was the Kindle Fire, an Android-based tablet priced at $199. In addition, an even cheaper Kindle Touch ($99 for wifi-only, $149 for 3G) gives more real estate to the Kindle screen by replacing the keyboard with a multi-touch interface.

This isn’t a “tech blog” in the normal sense, and I don’t really care if the the Fire is an ‘iPad-killer’. I’ve never taken sides in the Mac vs PC or Apple vs. Android fanboy wars. Most pastors I know are simply looking for affordable tools that will assist them in their ministries. If you are looking for a tablet mostly for reading and storing your pastoral library digitally, my guess is you will be well served by purchasing one of these Kindles rather than an iPad and saving yourself $300-400. Think how many digital books that will buy!

Wi-fi only vs. 3G iPad?

Whether you’re looking at purchasing an iPad or one of its strong competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, you’ll have to decide if you want to pay extra for the 3G version. No matter if you get the 16, 32 or 64 GB capacity iPad, the wifi-only model will cost you $130 less than the same iPad with 3G internet access. Then you have to add the monthly cost of a data plan — currently either $15 or $25/mo. at AT&T, depending on if you’re a light (250 MB) or moderate (2 GB) data user. Now I’m a pastor, not an accountant, but I figure that comes to at least $310 more that you will have paid for the first year. Or $430 if you opted for the heavier data plan. That’s nearly enough for a second (non-3G) iPad!

You might think it comes down to the question: How necessary is it for me to have constant internet access? But most of us already carry around in our pockets cellphones that can access the internet whenever and wherever we like. So the question you more likely need to ask is: How necessary is it for me to have constant internet access on a larger screen? Let’s look first at what internet access (over wi-fi or 3G) gives you:

  • Document syncing. All of your files (sermon, Bible studies, notes, etc) are instantly accessible via Dropbox or some similar service. Yes, you could always sync manually before you left your office, but sometimes it’s hard to anticipate everything you might need in advance.
  • Listen to streaming music or radio. Again, you can sync music, audio books, and podcasts through iTunes ahead of time, but services like Pandora or live radio sportscasts will only work if you have an internet connection. An excellent app for recording radio stations or specific programs to stream later is Stitcher (available on iPhone and iPad).
  • Calendar syncing. Any changes you make while connected to the “cloud” will automagically show up on any other computers or devices that you want to share with.
  • Maps and other apps that use location services. Here we must note that wi-fi networks will approximate your location, but only the 3G model has true GPS capabilities.
  • Access to more Bible versions. Some Bible apps pull the text from the cloud rather than store it on your device. Some of my favorite apps like the YouVersion Bible and Glo Bible are guilty of this behavior. So does the Logos app, but at least it gives you the option of storing specific resources for offline reading.
  • Communication. With an iPad 2, you can video chat with family while away for a pastors conference or even do long-distance counseling over Skype.
  • The whole World Wide Web. Obviously all of the vast resources of the information highway are only at your fingertips if you are somehow connected. All your surfing, Googling, Facebooking, tweeting, etc., only happens when you are online.

As I mentioned above, much of this may already be available to you on the cellphone that you take everywhere with you anyway. Of course the screen is considerably smaller, but it will usually do in a pinch.

I decided that the 3G model would be poor stewardship on my part. We already have a wireless network set up at home and in my office, which is where 85% of my iPad use takes place. And don’t forget the free wi-fi spots available in many locations like coffee shops, some airports, convention centers and seminaries. Our church building doesn’t have wi-fi, which I suppose limits some of the things I could do with an iPad (like streaming worship services), but I can make do without for now. For a while I used a personal mi-fi card which worked great in all kinds of situations, but in the end it was a superfluous expense for me. After all, it’s not the worst thing to be disconnected from time to time. A pastor could do much worse than follow the example of Christ who often went “offline” by himself or with his disciples to recharge his spiritual batteries.