The iPad -- why does it matter to hiking bloggers?

Do hikers need iPads?

(Please don’t throw anything at your screen; it won’t solve anything).

I’m sure some’ll think the End of Times has arrived when they see the first gaggle of Boy Scouts gathered around an iPad on the trail, but I suspect that’ll be at least a year or two off.

For now, you won’t want to take an iPad hiking — they’re slippery, bulky and fragile. Anything tough enough to protect them will be heavy enough to make boring old paper maps look like works of ultralight genius.

So why worry about adding one more device to your quiver of gadgets? Simple: the future of everything is mobile. Many hikers are already taking their iPhones on the trail and living to tell. Even if the iPad isn’t trail-ready today, the technology it represents is coming to the outdoors. It’s inevitable.

I go my first hint last week: I posted a list of links here, and within minutes I had a tweet from Hendrik Morkel informing me my post had a big white space over all the text when viewed on the iPad.

I fired mine up and sure enough, there was the offending blank square. It turned out my custom theme had a bug that conflicted with my Disqus commenting plugin. The Disqus knowledge base posted an easy fix and I was on my way.

At Outdoor Retailer last month, an expert trend-watcher told us that all the young people who adore their smartphones fully expect to take them along on their outdoor adventures. Like it or not (and I suspect the “nots” are in the majority around here), those who cater to the mobile generation will have a decided leg up on their competitors.

People who dwell on the iPad’s shortcomings are overlooking what it’s really good for: consuming media. It’s an excellent platform for kicking back and reading your favorite blogs. You hold it in your hand like a book or magazine; all the images show up in full color and as long you have a Wi-Fi connection, the Web-surfing experience is excellent.

Getting words into the iPad is no picnic: the keyboard is far preferable to the iPhone’s, but it’s not a great platform for touch typing. Still, there’s much it can do well.

Steve Jobs envisioned the iPad to bridge the gap between phones, where the screen is too small, and laptops, which are too bulky for a vast range of tasks.

Say you’re a DIY gear maker — you can load a bunch of instructions on your favorite gear-maker blog on your iPad and take it along to your basement or garage and have tons of data at your fingertips.

You know you don’t want a laptop in the middle of your workspace, but an iPad can be like a virtual library.

For bloggers, the main takeaway is that more people than you suspect are already viewing your blog on iPads and similar devices. If you don’t know what your blog looks like on those devices, you’re probably turning readers away.

Google analytics chart of iPad users at Two-Heel Drive

Here’s a screen grab of my Google Analytics data for Apple’s IOS for 2011. It was barely a speck at the first of the year; now it’s nearing 6 percent of my overall traffic.

In years past, mobile usage has been negligible because it’s no fun reading a blog on that teeny-tiny screen. The reader-friendly screen of the iPad is like a virtual welcome mat for mobile users.

Not so many today, but many more in days to come, I suspect.