The Right Accessories Expand Flexibility of iPads and Tablet PCs

Depending upon your perspective, the idea of the tablet computer dates back to the late 1990s when they first started making the rounds at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, or back to the mid-1960s, and the flat panel computers that the astronauts were holding in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, but largely shot two years earlier. Ultimately though, it took until 2010 for the year we made contact with Steve Jobs’ iPad to produce a commercially viable product. But once the iPad hit store shelves, the floodgates were opened, and it was soon joined by a variety of competitors, including the Android Galaxy Tab, and other tablet devices.

As a vehicle for consuming media, the iPad and its derivatives function quite well as self-contained units — just had headphones. But for creating media, sometimes an accessory or two is useful to ease the process.

Microsoft’s Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 is a full-sized wireless keyboard that can be a godsend for those looking to write quickly and cleanly on a tablet. I’m not entirely crazy about the slight bend in the keyboard, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the more radically curved ergonomic keyboards I’ve seen over the years. I was able to quickly adapt my “high speed hunt ‘n’ peck” style to the Microsoft Keyboard pretty easily; my recent Thanksgiving trip highlights were largely written via this keyboard in a hotel room, airport departure lounge and on the plane, and my Samsung Galaxy Tab, then polished in Word before publishing.

The Mobile Keyboard also comes with a separate numeric keyboard, which I don’t think I’ve ever used, but for those who need to do lots of numeric input, it’s there.

If you’ve got the space for a separate keyboard, why not a separate mouse as well? Microsoft’s Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 is, as its Shatner Turbo 2000-esque name implies, just that, a  handy Bluetooth mouse, which can double duty as a mouse for any Bluetooth-equipped tablet and laptop as well. It’s comfortable, fits in the hand nicely, and like the Microsoft Bluetooth keyboard can further open up a tablet computer. Unlike the keyboard, it also comes with a convenient black nylon protective cover with a Velcro flap, to protect when tossed into a laptop bag for travel.

Both of these devices mate with a tablet very easily. In the case of my Samsung Galaxy Tab, I simply went into settings, and paired the mouse and keyboard with the Galaxy. The Microsoft products have buttons on their underside which activate the units, and send out the code for the tablet to recognize them. Following the instructions that come with the Microsoft products made it a surprisingly easy job.

The 21st Century Music Cloud meets the 20th Century Car Tape Deck

Of course, the primary role of the tablet for many people is to consume media, not produce it. And in a sense, a tablet is capable of near-infinite music storage. 30 years ago, musician-producer Brian Eno wrote that recorded music “makes repeatable what was otherwise transient and ephemeral. Music, until about 1900, was an event that was perceived in a particular situation, and that disappeared when it was finished.” But in contrast:

As soon as you record something, you make it available for any situation that has a record player. You take it out of the ambience and locale in which it was made, and it can be transposed into any situation. This morning I was listening to a Thai lady singing; I can hear the sound of the St. Sophia Church in Belgrade or Max’s Kansas City in my own apartment, and I can listen with a fair degree of conviction about what these sounds mean. As Marshall McLuhan said, it makes all music all present. So not only is the whole history of our music with us now, in some sense, on record, but the whole global musical culture is also available.

Cloud computing goes that several times better. As we noted last month, a tablet or smart phone equipped with Amazon’s MP3 cloud player allows anyone to effectively carry around his entire music collection – which in my late father’s case would have been the equivalent of an entire basement’s worth of records. (Those big black analog CDs with the scratches and pops. Wait, what’s a CD, you ask…?) But getting the sound into your car can sometimes be a challenge. Particularly if you’ve got an older car with a cassette deck that you’d rather not replace. For example, Nina and I purchased our 1985 Mercedes 500SEL last year from the proverbial little old lady in Pasadena San Jose. It was in extremely good shape, with low mileage for a quarter-century old car, and still had the original Blaupunkt AM/FM cassette deck. I had toyed with the idea of replacing the Blaupunkt with a Sirius-XM-equipped radio, but for under twenty bucks, I eventually decided to go with Monster Cable’s iCarPlay Cassette Adapter 800. For less than a couple of sawbucks, it’s an easy way to get the sound of the 21st century into a car built during the height of the Reagan years.

The Monster iCarPlay Cassette Adapter has an output cable terminating in a 1/8th-inch miniplug, making it compatible with just about any tablet, smart phone, iPod or other portable device with a miniplug output. The iCarPlay has a flip-open lid at the top of the “cassette,” which allows the cable to moved to several positions, depending upon if you insert tapes into your car’s cassette player straight in or sideways. However, moving the cable to a new position can take a few minutes, and is particularly “fun” to do in the car at night. If you own more than one car with a cassette deck with a different tape loading style, for under twenty bucks, you might want to buy a second unit and keep it ready to go, rather than fumbling with the output cable’s position each time you want to plug in some music.

Incidentally, I would recommend someone riding shotgun to switch the tracks on your tablet or smart phone while you’re behind the steering wheel. Either that or an install an iDrive on your steering wheel. It makes it much easier to switch tracks and perform other functions on your tablet while you’re driving….

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