Tuesday, 31 August 2010

To iPad or not to iPad

For the last few weeks I've been testing an iPad. I'm particularly interested to know how useful it is in meetings, and whether it could mean I don't have to carry a laptop around.

On the plus side, I find the keyboard very easy to use to input text and surprisingly fast once you get used to it.  Pages creates documents very well which seem to export to Word without any problem. I can open word docs and pdfs, and although some complicated formatting might get lost occasionally from Word to Pages,  nothing  has caused me any problems so far.  Connectivity seems good, connecting to Eduroam or any other wireless network, and switching to 3G if no wireless available. There's some neat apps around for accessing your files from the cloud (we just need to get our filestore linked in to it). Email is great, and access through our portal to our web based systems fine, with VPN working well if you need it.

One of the things I'm really impressed with is the battery life.  Often I only need to charge it up every two or three days, and recently I used it non stop for 6 hours in a meeting, and it still had 40% battery left. That's certainly better than any laptop.

In meetings it's less obtrusive than a laptop, both in terms of noise (I sometimes wonder if people realise how noisy their keyboards are), and  it sits almost flat on the table and doesn't give the impression of a barrier between you and the rest of the attendees.

It's also always on - just like a phone, there's no booting up involved.

So - what are the downsides. Well, there's some that I hope will be fixed fairly quickly, such as the inability to open the keyboard and input text into some web forms - our own collaboration service uSpace for example, and I couldn't input my blog though the blogger web interface, had to download the app.
I'd also like to be able to annotate documents and pdfs - just like scribbling in the margin of a printed page.  There's probably an app to do that, but I haven't found it yet.

But the main issue is that it has been primarily marketed as a consumer device, owned by an individual with an individual iTunes account. Apple really haven't got their heads round it as an enterprise device, owned by an institution.  There is no real way of deploying or paying for apps on an institutional basis - when we raised this with Apple it was seriously suggested that we purchase a load of iTunes gift cards. Sharing devices also seems to be difficult, as they are synched to individual iTunes accounts.

As a consumer device it's excellent - especially the way it handles and displays images, movies, books and music  - but we could do with some of the corporate issues sorting out if they're going to take off institutionally.


Anonymous said...

In terms of deploying iPad apps I would recommend using the gift feature of iTunes. This allows as admin to have a main iTunes account. Users can then request applications. If approved you can "gift" them the app, which generates them a code which they can redeem using their own personal iTunes account.

How does that sound?


David Sweeney said...

iAnnotate does an absolutely brilliant job of storing and annotating pdfs. I'm heavily document-centric and it now runs my life. However I do have to convert everything to pdf as the annotation for word documents is poor - I've got all three office packages (and Pages) and think they are all poor. None do track changes.

Apple are developing enterprise management software, as are iAnnotate. However it will all take time.


Nick Skelton said...

In August Apple launched an iPhone/iPad app Volume Purchase Programme for educational institutions. It is however US only. I've already queried this with Apple UK who were apologetic but unable to say if or when they might deign provide it over here. You may like to try putting the full pressure of UCISA on your friendly local Apple rep :)


James Hargrave said...

I'm just doing some similar testing - blog post on the way! Another vote here for iAnnotate which works really well but as you say everything needs to be in PDF format.

Shareplus is also great if you have sharepoint even giving offline access.

My main gripe with the iPad (which otherwise I really like) is the lack of a coherent user accessible file system.

Volume app thing looks really interesting...hope we get it eventually.

mike said...

Pending a link to the Filestore I have been using Notebooks which syncs effortlessly to MobileMe. All my meetings papers go as pdfs in folders on my iDisk and appear as nested books and files in Notebooks. Being able to 'flick' between papers is actually better than flicking through a pile of paper.

I also find the iPad vastly better for reading documents than a laptop. Partly that's the portrait form factor, partly its gestures are better than a track pad.

Saves a