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I'm interested in buying an iPad, but I'm trying to understand what the implications are of not synchronise/docking it with a computer. I only have Linux (Ubuntu) machines these days; I have nothing running Windows or MacOS. As far as I understand, there is no official support for Linux (I am aware of libimobiledevice, but would like not to rely on it).

I'm used to my HTC Desire, which is able to synchronise most things I care about (IMAP, Google Mail, Google Calendar being three key ones) over the air, and I'd like to work this way with the iPad. When folks speak about the iPad, there seems to be a lot of talk of docking it with the computer, but I'm not clear why this would be needed/desirable. Can iPad apps typically sync over the air? I've seen reference to MobileMe, but that implies that this facility is not built in and may cost extra.

What do I lose by not docking/syncing the iPad to a computer? Can I do that - buy it and use it indefinitely without docking it? Will I lose any major functionality?


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IIRC, an iPhone HAS to be registered through iTunes... – ck01 Aug 10 '10 at 16:46
@ck01: Apple activated mine at the store right away, on their iTunes. – Chris W. Rea Aug 15 '10 at 1:55
Of note - the answers on this page are significantly outdated at this point. With iOS5 and above, using iOS devices without an computer to sync to has been improved a great deal. iCloud has introduced syncing to the cloud, and updates can be done without connecting to a computer. – dpollitt Mar 12 '12 at 19:53

If you get a 3G iPad, I think the 3G data plan has to be activated through iTunes. If you get Wi-Fi-only iPad, this isn't an issue.

Note that you can probably get by if you have a friend with a Mac or PC who will let you sync once in a while for these rare needs.

Syncing is also useful for these needs:

  • Backup
  • Transferring photos (although you can e-mail them instead)
  • Syncing calendar and contacts
  • Getting music, videos, and books from iTunes Music Store (you can d/l songs over the air, but I think the other media types have to be done through desktop)

But if you don't need those areas of functionality (and many people won't), then you won't miss syncing. Basically, if you don't expect to use Apple's built-in apps, you won't need sync.

MobileMe is really only useful if you have a Mac or PC. It makes it easy to sync calendar and contacts across multiple machines over the air. A few third-party apps use it as well, but not many.

Third-party apps typically sync over the air, because Apple's sync is not very open to third-party developers.

FWIW, since getting my iPad, the only time I turn on my MacBook is when I want to backup/sync purchases or charge my iPad. I'm not saying that the iPad is a complete substitute for a laptop, but it is definitely a useful device all by itself.

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Kristopher, thanks for your thorough reply. I think I might expect (for example) to use the inbuilt calendar app and synchronise that with Google Calendar. Are you saying that's not possible without sync via PC/Mac? – Andrew Ferrier Aug 10 '10 at 17:45
If the iPad matches the iPhone software, then you should be able to sync mail, contacts and calendar with outside sources over the air (for instance, on my iPhone, I have my contacts and my calendar synced to my Google Account). – Michael Kohne Aug 10 '10 at 23:05
I haven't tried syncing calendar or contacts with Google or with Exchange, so can't comment on whether it works or how well. – Kristopher Johnson Aug 11 '10 at 19:42
Exchange Syncing works well. Better than OS X even. I dunno about Google syncing. Google's calendar protocol has always sucked, and their Gmail/IMAP implementation is incredibly sketchy, but seems to work well enough. – peelman Aug 16 '10 at 20:22
Has this changed with iOS 5? Because I am pretty sure that iOS 5 has self-updating built in. – daviesgeek Dec 29 '11 at 16:43

Andrew, The iPad and iPhone can do all the important things you mention you can do with the HTC Desire (Gmail, Calendar, IMAP mail) in several ways:

  1. All email accounts (gmail, IMAP, exchange, POP) are all equal players in the Mail app, you just need to set them up and you can google the instructions for how to do it directly on the phone.
  2. Calendar is similar, with the exception of exchange accounts (they provide both email and calendar in one setup)
  3. You can install and update apps directly on the app

What you will miss if you don't connect to iTunes desktop application:

  1. Music and Video cannot be synced to the device for the iPod app. If you can live with purchasing iTunes Store music and videos (or youtube/, then no biggie.
  2. Photos sync using iTunes as well, but you can also theoretically use the camera sync tool to pull off your camera (or card) directly into an iPad.
  3. No backups of your device (I'd miss this feature). You can't do online backups of your iOS profile, but only with sync and only with iTunes.
  4. No SW updates. This will be noticeable when iOS 4.x for the iPad is released, which gives multitasking and folder management.

I'd say, all in all, even without a desktop, the iPad is a useful device. I got a while back and my parents have latched on to it, and they don't sync but it fills all their needs. I sync it every week or so to do backups and OS updates as necessary (last month it hasn't seen iTunes at all, and it's doing fine)

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I remember using Exchange facility on iPhone to integrate Google's calendar into iPhone's calendar, over the air. Suppose this is not possible on the iPad?

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Ah, you're right! I would expect this to be available on the iPad as well, so there would really be no need for a computer, except for 3G activation. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 11 '10 at 7:31
Google calendar has a full CalDAV server interface. iOS is a fully capable CalDAV client... = peanut butter + chocolate... – r00fus Aug 11 '10 at 22:06

Since you're an Ubuntu user and already own an Android device, you may be better suited waiting for a good Android tablet. I know there isn't anything out there right now that can compete with the iPad, but if you give it 6 months, there may be something that will fill your needs (read: wants).

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Have you considered running a virtual machine? I did that with my Zune for a while when I cut my nasty Windows habit. You could install Windows in VirtualBox and just use it to sync the iPad with iTunes or Wi-Fi Sync. . . depending on whether it's worth the hassle to you. This way you could still do your backups and get SW updates.

Also, from what I recall, there are ways to sync iDevices to Ubuntu. Rhythmbox and Amarok are ones I can think of off the top of my head.

You can also check out this article. Says 10.04 supports iDevices OOB (but you said you'd rather not depend on libimobiledevice)

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I find that Dropbox greatly increases my ability to rely solely on my iPad And iPhone for long periods without using my desktop or laptop. I can get source code, word or PowerPoint documents,and edit them all on my iPad. Then save them all back to Dropbox. No need to use iTunes synch. I cannot compile, but I can use LogMeIn to do so on a desktop when needed. It is really nice not having to pop open a laptop and worry about its battery. Of course, I don't have an Air. But. The iPad is pretty powerful by itself.

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You might have more success if you jailbreak it, in which case usage patterns Apple didn't think of (such as using it w/o iTunes, or wi-fi sync) become available.

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