Last summer, I was assigned an iPad for a week to use during the course of my "normal" work life to evaluate its potential for workplace implementation and to gauge some possible uses for the device in research on teaching practices and learning outcomes. As a Research Fellow, I spend a considerable amount of my time writing reports, analyzing data, and authoring manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals. My basic purpose in checking out the iPad was to explore its functionality with respect to writing. With respect to this functionality, I would give the iPad a C-/D+ for the following reasons:
- The only freely available application with which to write on the iPad is the stock Notes application that is pre-loaded on the device. While the Notes application is designed to allow users to take notes (as belied by its legal pad interface) rather than write and edit large amounts of text, I found it to be a bit awkward, if not cumbersome, to work on manuscripts. The touch computing aspect of moving the cursor to a desired field is a nice feature, but does not compensate for the ability to easily edit, move, or delete text without undesired consequences. I took the iPad to several meetings, however, where I used it as a paperless note-taking device and it worked rather splendidly.
- The touch sensitive keyboard was a bit awkward and unforgiving of typographical errors at first. However, as I got used to it (or it got used to me), typing became considerably easier, but still allowed for errors to be made that would not otherwise be made using an actual keyboard.
- Transferring notes to a computer proved not difficult, but annoying, as I had to email it to myself, then transfer and format the text into a Word document. This, of course, meant that I had to set up the iPad to recognize my email address - a one-time task, but a time consuming one, nonetheless. To be fair, the (relatively) new app - Dropbox - makes this process considerably easier.
- As I tend to be productive writing in places other than a cubicle, I used the iPad outdoors several times. In doing so, I found out that an iPad can actually overheat and automatically shut itself down to cool. It gives you a VERY brief warning that it is doing so before it shuts down. And when it did shut down, I lost about 30 minutes worth of work.
In July 2010, Alex Golub published a very frank assessment of potential for iPads in higher education on Inside Higher Ed entitled "The iPad for Academics" (http://z.umn.edu/2bt). It is a very good article that will be of use to those tasked with evaluating the potential for iPads at the University of Minnesota (and elsewhere). While I agree with most of what is written in the piece, one quote encapsulates my general assessment of the device:
When it comes to weaning professors off of traditional computers, the iPad fails. It is simply not a good device for people who do serious productive work, whether that be reading, writing, or working with multimedia.
A more recent post over at Hack Education (http://z.umn.edu/2br) suggests similarly that as a tool for consumption, the iPad is excellent (a position with which I completely agree). However, "when it comes to writing essays and creating multimedia and other technical projects, the iPad is cumbersome, if not useless."