A Year with the iPad

It is hard to believe the iPad has been here for a year now. As the device turns one I thought I’d write a little bit about the past year that I’ve spent with It. I had one delivered to my door on this day last year and was immediately impressed with the iPad on lots of levels. When I first got it I committed to spending a full month with it as my primary mobile computing platform to really see what it was all about. After my hands and arms recovered from relearning typing I was very impressed. That month was as much about learning about the new device as it was about learning about what it could be in the future. What I learned was that I could in effect do close to everything I needed on it if I thought hard about the workflow associated with it. Having to think really hard about doing normal tasks seemed frustrating at times, but I have to say it was worth the stretch to build a deeper appreciation and understanding of the device.

At launch it did not multitask and that was limiting to a degree, but more so in a backward looking way — I didn’t much miss it as the best apps I used built the multitasking in. That was a huge deal for me as I got to see software being rethought for the first time in a long time. That little insight is what pushed me from forcing myself to be an iPad user to actually becoming an iPad user — things are different on it and it is pointless to build comparisons to a regular computer.

So many people look at the iPad as a purely consumption device and that just isn’t the case. I use mine for all sorts of things. I am writing this post on it and would have no problem doing a whole host of other production level tasks with it. I think that comes with practice and working with apps the way the designers envisioned. Sometimes that breaks your own workflow, but this is a new platform. As an example, this weekend I built a new 60 slide Keynote deck on my iPad — a first for me. I was scheduled to be heading to Cupertino to visit with Apple this morning when I had to cancel at the last minute to be home with my wife who got sick in the night. The crazy thing was that I was going to be on the west coast from Sunday to Thursday and I was only taking the iPad. That is huge given I was on the agenda to present tomorrow … I was doing it from the iPad. I am finding that a year after it’s arrival I am now 100% comfortable with the idea that this can really be my primary mobile production and consumption device.

I won’t ramble on about the iPad, but I will share seven notable thoughts from my first year with the iPad …

Number 1. No doubt it has limitations, but the affordances far outweigh the small annoyances. I rarely take my laptop back and forth from work and I almost always reach for my iPad well in advance of the MacBook Pro. Do I still love my laptop? Yep, but it just is too limiting in my new workflow … that sounds strange even for me as I read it back … the laptop is too limiting. I can’t for example easily move between reading, writing, controlling my cable box, cuing up content on my Mac in the other room, editing wikispaces, playing games, or writing a blog post. I just can’t … so many of those apps don’t exist for my laptop in the same way they do on my iPad. At the end of the day, it may actually be more powerful for doing all sorts of things, while my laptop is more powerful for doing very specific things.

Number 2. I visit with new Department Heads at the start of each Fall semester. I did 15 visits last Fall and nine of the folks I met with had iPads. What makes that so notable is that in the previous five years I’ve done this not a single person had a single piece of technology. Yep, only a few months after the introduction over half of the academic leaders I met had already added the iPad to their workflow. I spend a huge amount of time in meetings with lots of people and I am never in a room with fewer than three or four iPads. That is staggering to me — especially for a device that is derided as consumption only.

Number 3. The pilots we’ve done in English are proving to be successful in ways we didn’t anticipate. I think that is really at the core of my own delight with the iPad — I didn’t expect to like it this much. I thought I’d use it for a month and give it to someone else. In general the undergrad and graduate students are finding the device really capable for supporting their work and have found new ways to integrate into their lives. Same can be said for several of the faculty we’ve given them to — they are finding new ways to use apps and the device to change the way they write, organize their scholarship, communicate, assess, and connect. I find that very interesting — the device becomes what they need it be.

Number 4. The iPad still invites lots of stares from people even though it is showing up all over campus. When I sit and work with it in the student union people look and people stop and ask me questions about it. Given how many of these Apple sold in the first year it is surprising that it stills inspires curiosity. My children really still can’t keep their hands off the thing … even after a year it inspires curiosity with each new app.

Number 5. Speaking of new apps, the thing that I am most surprised about is how it seems to become a new object with each new app that I consume. The new iMovie and GaragBand are perfect examples of the iPad becoming new objects via the app interface. When I edit video in iMovie on the iPad I feel like I am sitting on some sort of futuristic version of an old school Grass Valley switcher. So many of the apps I use transform the iPad into something that feels like it was built specifically for that task — browsing the web, reading feeds in Reeder, playing Angry Birds, using Evernote, and almost everything else on my first screen feels like a different device each time I launch an app.

Number 6. Finally, the thing that has continued to surprise me is how it changes and challenges the traditional model of engagement in group settings. I am no longer the techie behind the laptop. I no longer have an aluminum barrier with a glowing Apple logo on it between my eyes and the room. The iPad is not an obtrusive object between myself and the other people in the room. I find that when I ask many of my colleagues they feel the same way — both about their own participation and that of others using the device. The iPad isn’t just a different platform to me, it elicits a very different type of practice. I am more engaged and less distracted.

Number 7. I can finally use a device all day long without worrying about needing to charge the thing. My MBP is good for a good four hours, but that is far short of all day. I spent nearly the entire day working today on my iPad and it is just now sitting at 7% battery … and unlike my MBP that 7% will last me another 45 minutes easily. That means that faculty and students can actually be mobile all day and not need me to install power outlets in every seat of a classroom. That is an important shift for technology use in education.

So at the one year mark I must say I am impressed. Is the iPad the best of what will become? Probably not, but if one continues to ignore the form factor and the affordances then I think you may be missing the point. Make whatever argument you want — it is closed, it is just a big iPhone, it is only a consumption device … it doesn’t really matter, in lots of ways it is the future. It might not be a bad idea to spend some time unpacking some of what makes it interesting for yourself.

14 thoughts on “A Year with the iPad

  1. Congrats on expressing the iPad experience so very well. I’ve found exactly the same experience over the last year, perhaps even more so as I gave up my MBP within a week of getting the iPad. I recall sitting in a Starbucks learning to use Keynote and Numbers, chuckling with delight at how beautifully they had done the mobile versions, and having people come up to me and ask why I was so darn happy.

    At first it was an experiment to see if I could force the change, just as you described. My staff were taking bets on how long I would last without the laptop. The longest was three weeks. A year later, they have long since paid each other on the wagers. I’m keenly awaiting delivery of my iPad2, though I’ll be very surprised if it changes much. The form factor and the capability of the apps is indeed key and that wont change much.

  2. Robin, great story. I have to say, the iPad 2 has surprised me in very positive ways. Things are faster where I didn’t think they needed to be, but haven proven useful. The change in size is significant and the smart cover makes the device more useful for me. The camera is lousy, but being able to FaceTime with my children is actually a welcome change.

  3. I love my iPad and feel confident enough to leave the laptop at home when I go to teach at two different campuses. My only complaint is that I can’t have two apps on-screen at the same time. I like to read and sometimes take notes on a separate app, like Notes. I haven’t found a good workaround outside often and paper yet!

    • Yeah, autocorrect … that is one area that I still get frustrated. Funny, since starting to use my iPad as much as I do I have gone back to my trusty mole skin for lots of note taking. Something about taking notes that way still just works for me.

  4. Excellent writeup.
    Here are my biggest issues.
    Can’t run two programs side by side. I want my son to look at the problem and do the work on the scratch pad.
    Lack of flash means ton’s of educational sites are out of reach.

  5. I didn’t truly “get” the iPad initially. I used one for 3 weeks last spring and it was OK but I couldn’t picture it in a production way for what I do. it was interesting and cool but I couldn’t feel the fever that all you iPad first adopters experienced. While you were all swooning, I was thinking, “yeah, it’s kinda cool” Then, my wife got me an iPod Touch for my birthday. After a solid month of really getting into using my iPod Touch, I rather suddenly “got” the iPad. It’s usability and function made SO much more sense to me now after my iPod experience. I could see why the loyal Apple product users were digging it so much; it’s was as if the killer platform for all they have been doing for so long was upon them. And now, just 2 years after returning from a 16 year hiatus from Apple products, I’m getting it too.

    I still can’t type nearly as effectively on just the iPad (I can’t cramp my meathook hands and jacked-up thumbs in a way to replicate real keypad typing). That is probably my biggest obstacle with it. But from my perspective, I’m really seeing it’s impact. From the pilots and interactions here at Penn State all the way to my children using them in grade school. The fact that their school district has piloted iPads in the class with K-3 kids, assessed the results and have decided to supply each student with shows the educational value from kindergarten all the way up through the stuff we do in higher ed. The thing is literally everywhere and now I finally “get” it.

  6. Cole: This is an awesome blog post! Here’s a modest response. And probably an idiosyncratic one! I can do a lot on my iPad, but there are two things keeping it from becoming my only device. Both relate to research writing.

    First, I’m invested in a bunch of programs for which there are no app equivalents. An example is TAMS Analyzer (open source and available via Apple download). It’s a program that helps with coding and analysis of qualitative research. I have hundreds of pages of coded data sets in TAMS. Maybe there’s an equivalent for the iPad, but I can’t find one. And if there is, I’d have to be able to transfer those legacy docs in a way that retains my coding schemes and notes. This is more important to me than any particular device.

    Second, when I do research writing, it’s common for me to have multiple programs open at once: TAMS, a word-processing program, PSU library databases, a browser running Zotero, and more. And I have more than one window open for each program: With TAMS alone it’s common for me to have 2-3 windows open at once. You can multitask on the iPad, but it’s something like serial multitasking: I can only have a single program in my attention space. I need something more like parallel multitasking, where I can have 6-8 windows (or more) in my attention space. This is why I use a huge monitor: I need to see spatial relationships across a range of information types. I need to be able to contrast, juxtapose, compare, synthesize, etc. I can’t do this well in cognitive terms if the objects I’m working with come to me in relatively discrete ways.

    So that’s my view, at least right now! I hope I can extend my iPad work deeper into my research writing. That would be awesome.

    • Good question … honestly the best apps are two of the built in ones — Safari and Mail. I spend almost all my time in these two apps. I would also add Reeder, 1Password, Evernote, Twitter, and the built in Notes app. Most of what I do is on the web, so Safari is really where I spend most of my time.

    • Chris, it is great to hear from you! I hope things are ok where you are. Send me a note sometime so we can catch up. I am guessing my “year with the iPad” pales in comparison to your past year. Stay safe, my friend!

      • Thanks, Cole!

        I will update you on a personal note, soon. But first, I must get this out before it leaves me…

        Someone saw my iPad today and said, literally, “I don’t get it.”

        I replied, “on the count of five, take out your laptop and start playing me a song on the Organ, send a tweet, filter a photo and send it to your wife, video conference with one click, and edit your resume for when you get out of the Army…”

        Their response….stunned silence.

        And there we have it.

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