iPad – initial thoughts from ALT-C 2010

So having spent three days at the ALT-C learning technology conference my first considered thought is that the iPad is a nice device, but it’s not a useful, must have tool … at least not yet.

My main reasons for getting one to trial, based on product features and ignoring the hype, include:

  • the screen size: would it be a practical way of reading ebooks
  • speed and battery life: would it make it a better web browsing tool than a smart phone
  • touch capabilities: could it replace my tablet PC as a presentation/annotation device.

Taking these points in reverse order, I downloaded some whiteboard apps and bought a stylus and video adapter to enable me to present and annotate slides on the fly, only to find the apps wouldn’t drive an external display. And while I had the opportunity to use the iPad in my presentation, in the end the use of a USB remote control/clicker for those custom animations meant I stuck to the default presenter PC.   As an aside, I was interested to hear another presenter had to “jail break” their iPad in order to mirror the iPad screen to show it’s ebook capabilities. So while iPad appears to support vanilla Keynote presentations well, if you want something different such as annotate slides on the fly, then your options are limited. You could try an online presentation option such as slideshare or other slidecating sites but Apples lack of support for Flash on it’s mobile (iOS) platform means that route is blocked at the moment too.

So if I can’t annotate slides on the fly, what about using the touch capability to sketch notes from presentations (such as Ronna Sharpe’s digital literacy framework). The DAGI stylus (which seems more precise and fits my hand better than the Pogo one) is fine, but the multi-touch capability means resting a hand on the screen causes problems. The result is that I will need to change my writing style so as not lean on the screen, or invest in a glove! I have yet to acquire a PDF annotation app (though there are plenty in the app store, such as iAnnotate) but I imagine the same issues will arise.

So having mentioned ebooks and PDFs in passing, what about the iPad as an ebook reader? I have yet to try all the functionality of the different apps available but on face value they all seem to be much of a muchness offering different font sizes, searchability, page turning, bookmarks etc. The key issues lie outside any differences in software. At one end is the comfort factor in holding the iPad and reading the screen and from my short experience this seems fine, although I have only got through the first 10 of the 3030 screens in my free copy of Dorian Grey.  Instead, more work related content has dominated (e.g. Best practices in virtual worlds teaching, or other JISC reports) and these are easy to read on screen. At the other end of the spectrum, the issue is about access to and management of content. And here, as an academic at an institution where content is provided through publisher portals in the form of PDFs or webpages, the advantage of specific content provided by Amazon or Apple or Google is a moot point. So does the iPad offer a new, compelling electronic reading experience? Not £400 worth in my experience.

So what about the iPad as a web browsing device? Yes, the big screen makes browsing much easier than on a small screen smart phone. Yes, the high quality screen and audio makes watching video a pleasure. And yes, the battery is good enough for a whole days activity. But with all this, there are still minor niggles. So many providers, from JISC to mass media such as the BBC to the Guardian, provide video but it’s often Flash video which is inaccessible on the iPad. And as for being part of the web2.0 user generated content revolution, too many sites (with or without dedicated “app” support) have features that just don’t work on the iPad, whether it’s file uploads to get a profile picture on to Crowdvine (the social platform for the altc conference), Javascript bookmarklets to share resources via Delicious, or even trying to add tags to WordPress blog posts.

So all in all across three key tasks of presenting, reading and consuming web content the iPad fails to shine.  While glossy purpose produced content designed for iPad can be great (as Wired and Vanity Fair have shown) the rest of the web has yet to catch up.  The big caveat to all these criticisms is the depth of personal knowledge, or the lack of it. But for a company with Apple’s reputation for usable design, and to this reasonably tech savvy user, the steepness of the learning curve and limitations on use seem too great. Maybe I should have bought that netbook instead.


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One Response to “iPad – initial thoughts from ALT-C 2010”

  1. guy75 Says:

    update to note taking: I have now downloaded Penultimate for note taking as it has a “wrist protection” or “palm rejection” feature to stop you smudging your notes with the heel of your hand. more on this later.

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