Monday, November 8, 2010

The iPad is?

So is the new iPad an essential academic tool? Is it something really cool and useful? Is it just a lot of hype and not a lot of substance?

These are all questions I was wondering a few months ago as the iPad was just getting released. There were jokes about the name, there were skeptics talking about what it didn't do. But there was also the history of apple devices, like the iPhone and iTouch, that said these things will sell like hot cakes! I wondered if in the ITRC and the ETS generally if we would start getting questions from faculty and students about "how do I do this on the iPad?" or "can the iPad do that for me?"

Consequently, I decided that we better buy a couple of iPads and start playing with them as fall semester approached so we could be ready for the questions. Well guess what? The questions haven't come. And as I checked with IT about how many iPads had been registered as wireless devices on campus, the anecdotal answer was, not very many.......

However, I attended a conference (Western Cooperative for Educational Technology (WCET)), I also talked to some ISU folks that went to Educause, and I visited with some colleagues at BSU and in each case, the iPads are apparently very popular and "everywhere".

So who knows what the story is at ISU. Perhaps like many things, we are later adopters. Or maybe they will never catch on at ISU or be a "high demand" wireless tool. Nonetheless, I want to use this post to report on some of the things I'm finding out about the iPad as I use it and try to adopt it into my work routine.

Two observations: First, it is not a laptop. The iPad is a data consumer at its best. Data generation is not its strong suit. Second, I've come up with an analogy to describe to people that ask me about it - and they inevitably do. Having had grandparents that always had a large print edition of the Reader's Digest sitting around their home, I decided that the iPad was like that. I've used the iPhone for more than a year and like a lot of the features and benefits of it. However, it is small. I've never enjoyed going to a web site on it. It just didn't show enough to be as useful as I wanted it to be. But the iPad, with its 1024X768 display solves that problem. It is great to surf the web on and it is great for watching video on. So I liken it to a large print Readers Digest. That may not be a hip endorsement that will make the under 25 crowd want to have one. But it is a nice endorsement for those of us over 40.

So what works and what doesn't?

Fist thing, I bought a cover for it to carry it around. I didn't like the Apple cover so I bought another case that folds and makes it easier to use in a landscape mode. The link isn't to the exact case I bought, but looks like about the same thing and the cost is about the same. I did buy my case through Amazon. I wanted a case for my own piece of mind, as well as convenience. As you handle it, drop it, set it, bump it, etc., I felt like I need some kind of protective cover on it. Besides the ability to lay it landscape.

Second, I mentioned previously that it isn't designed to be a data generator. However, that is exactly what I wanted to do it more often than not. I wanted to take notes on it in meetings. I wanted to generate "to do" list items. I wanted to check off that some thing was done. I wanted to start a Christmas list for all my kids. You get the idea. I wanted to use it more like a laptop and not just a data consumer. So I set out to see what I could figure out. First, I got a keyboard. The first one I bought was the "iPad keyboard dock" from Apple. It was not what I wanted. First thing I did was set my iPad in it and then try to move the dock. The iPad became unbalanced and started to tip and broke the docking interface. Additionally, the iPad keyboard dock also forced you to use the iPad in a "portrait" mode, versus the landscape mode which is my favorite mode. So after trying to use this and also getting the case I wanted for it, I decided to try a different keyboard. I went with the Apple wireless keyboard and have for the most part been very happy with it. It is small and light. It connects easily, via bluetooth, with the iPad. And it is very comfortable to use. And, it works great with the case I recommended previously. In fact, the only problem I've had with it is that if I don't turn it off or disable the bluetooth on the iPad it will sometimes get bumped and start the iPad while it is in my backpack or brief case unintentionally. I've had this happen a few times. I'll be loading, unloading, or just carrying it around and all of a sudden a movie is playing on my iPad. It has raised a few eyebrows and been good for a few laughs. But other than that one problem, I've been very happy with the keyboard.

So I finally have a cover and a keyboard that I like. Now lets talk "aps".

You can buy the Apple big three for the iPad - Keynote, Numbers, and Pages. But to move things on and off it, you have to work through iTunes. I didn't like that scenario. However, I did like the idea of being able to run presentations from it. And, I figured that might be one of the bigger uses for faculty on it, so I did buy Keynote so I could play with that feature. It was very cool and easy to make presentations. The iPad version is kind of a "lite" version of Keynote. But I found it to be very capable and useful. Since I didn't buy the Pages product, I was always looking for somewhere to take notes. I used the notebook feature on the iPad a lot initially. But you can't get those off the iPad. So that limited it usefulness. I experimented with a number of "aps" and read a number of articles and talked with other iPad users. They all had good information, but I wasn't finding exactly what I wanted. Finally, I read an article about an "ap" called Evernote. It is a cloud based tool that allows you to easily generate notes, to-do lists, web clips, etc. in a convenient location. The best part for me was that there is also a laptop and desktop version so I can access any of the notes from either my iPad, laptop, or desktop machine. That is important for me because I'm on several different computers on a daily basis. The Evernote tool solved my "data input" dilemma and provided me with a very neat tool. This has definitely been the single most useful "ap" I've found for the iPad.

Because I don't want this post to become any longer than it already has, I want to summarize all the "aps" I use on the iPad. Besides keynote, web browsing, video watching, and Evernote, I use the Google ap to find things, the Flixster ap to see what movies are playing, the Netflix ap to watch video on, the Wall Street Journal ap to keep up on news, the Wikihood ap to find new and interesting things where ever I go, the ap to have a dictionary wherever I go, the weather channel ap to keep up on the weather, and Tripit to keep track of my airline, hotel, and car rental reservations. All of these "aps" are useful and helpful. There are so many "aps" that it is hard to keep up on them. I think blog posts like this one or other articles about what people are using is helpful to find the best and most productive aps out there. If you have any questions about any of the "aps" I've mentioned here, please feel free to contact me.

Overall, I like the iPad. I think it is useful and convenient. I will continue to use mine. In fact, I might get rid of my iPhone and just get a regular cell phone next time around because my iPad is a more useful tool for all the other things I'm trying to do on my iPhone. I think faculty, students, and administrators can find the iPad to be a useful tool. But! you have to know what it can and can't do. I hear people say, "well I can see I would still need my laptop so what is the point". That very well may be the case for some. But for others that want a data consumption device (email, websites, etc.) and need little data generation from their device, this could be a much easier tool to use that your laptop or your iPhone.

Hope this helps!