By Woody Leonhard /Windows Secrets Newsletter
Full disclosure: I love my iPad2. Don’t know how I ever lived without it.
On the other hand, I have a complex, love-hate dependency on Windows. Getting the best from both? Not so easy.
A Windows user since it came on a 3.5-inch floppy, my decision to buy an iPad was something of a lark. I had no compelling need for it. But my wife wanted a little Web browser for the kitchen, and a neighbor had rave reviews about the iPad’s ability to keep his toddler occupied for hours. So I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did!
From a PC user’s perspective, its limitations can make it seem like a bad investment — at least initially. After all, its screen-based keyboard is hell for a touch-typist, it’s incompatible with many standard Windows apps such as Office and Flash, and it’s too expensive to just leave sitting on the table most of the time. The typical smartphone has more tricks than the iPad, and you can carry the phone in your pocket.
No, the typical PC user’s first impression of the iPad is that it’s cute, it does a few things well, and it’s fun for kids and the not-so-computer-savvy members of the family. However, the PC still runs rings around the iPad in a dozen different ways.
But now that you’ve got one, what do you do with it? Can you make your iPad work in your Windows-centric life? It turns out you can. I’ve found a handful of apps and a couple of tricks that might give Windows users a good return on their iPad investment.
This week I’m going to look at two key apps — one that lets you control an iPad with your PC and another that lets you control your PC with the iPad. More apps and tips to follow in coming weeks.
Controlling your iPad with PC-based iTunes
Yes, you have my permission to groan. I hate iTunes just as much as you might. Maybe more, because I’ve been struggling with iTunes — and writing about my struggles — for a decade. It still doesn’t look or act like a Windows app, and it has a nasty habit of freezing at all sorts of awkward times: in the middle of dragging a file into one of the folders, when it decides to go look on the Web for something, or when you have the temerity to use it to access the iTunes store. iTunes goes out to lunch and comes back only when it feels good and ready. In fact, in the course of writing this article, I twice had to kill instances of hung iTunes using Windows 7′s Task Manager.
Fortunately, I’ve found a couple of iTunes tricks that, when used in conjunction with an iPad, make the travails a little less infuriating.
In my July 21 Top Story, “How to download and save streaming videos,” I talk about scraping and converting online videos — located on, say, YouTube — then storing them as MP4 files, which can be played on an iPad. If you follow the instructions in that story and create MP4 files on your PC, they can easily be sent to your iPad using iTunes. Just start the iTunes app on your Windows machine, plug in the iPad, and then click Movies on the left (see Figure 1). Drag the MP4 files into the Movies folder, and they appear in your iPad — where you can play them, one by one, in the iPad Videos app. Easy.
Figure 1. Drag MP4 files into the iTunes Movies folder, and they appear in the iPad’s Videos app.
That sets things up for my top iTunes trick. For reasons known only to The Most Valuable Company on Earth, it’s impossible to string iPad Movies together in a playlist — you’re forced to play them one at a time. (Playlists don’t exist in the Videos app.) To play a series of movies the way you do music tracks, you have to get tricky.
It’s trivial to put music in an iPad playlist. Go into the iPod app. Click the plus (+) icon at the bottom left, type in a playlist name, and tap the blue + icon to the left of any songs you want to add to the list. Tap the blue Done button and you’re, uh, done.
The iPod app has all sorts of tools to help you build playlists. You can, for example, sort songs by genre, bring up album covers, and add podcasts and audio books. You can even make new playlists by stringing together old playlists. But again, you can’t make a playlist in the Video app or make a video playlist in iTunes that works on the iPad.
So here’s the trick: Using iTunes on your PC, you can trick your iPad into thinking that it has a Movie playlist (and play all the movies you want with just one click). How? You make the iPad think that your video playlists are TV Shows. I know it doesn’t make any sense. But it works.
This post is excerpted with permission from Windows Secrets.