Launching Mobile/Digital Now

The time has come. On Monday we will roll out our first systematic piece of the Mobile/Digital Now initiative at Stony Brook University. This is the first of two iPad planned rollouts we have in place for the start of the 2015 academic year, the next will be announced in a couple of weeks. Below is the text from the media briefing for Monday’s event …

On Monday, July 6, Stony Brook University’s Mobile/Digital Now initiative will equip 185 EOP/AIM (Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit) freshmen with iPads as they begin their four-year journey at the University’s Summer Academy. These iPads reinforce the University’s commitment to providing access to academic excellence for these freshmen. The Mobile/Digital Now initiative, led by Stony Brook Chief Information Officer, Cole Camplese, will help transform and reinvent learning environments and enhance access to anytime, anywhere learning resources.

The Mobile/Digital Now initiative is also set to expand to support Stony Brook faculty in the appropriate utilization of technology to enhance teaching; will control costs of learning materials for students through eTexts; increase access of critical courses to enhance both retention and four-year graduation rates and equip the University community with the latest mobile devices that will aid in future academic success.

The EOP/AIM Program provides educationally-related supportive services and supplemental financial assistance to those students whose educational and economic circumstances have limited their post-secondary educational opportunities. These iPads are distributed for students to use throughout their four-year undergraduate careers.

There are so many reasons to be excited about this project. The first is getting to work with colleagues from EOP/AIM to help build an even stronger program. Another lies in getting to work closely with the students themselves. As part of the project I will be personally running a steering group made up of students in the program so I can maintain a finger on the pulse of the initiative and work with them to make it stronger. Finally, working with my DoIT colleagues to make this a reality has been inspiring! In a very short period of time we have worked to deliver the iPads under mobile device management tools, increased wireless density in key areas, and built new support modalities for our audiences. Really exciting stuff.

The students will get their iPads and cases still shrink wrapped in the boxes. They will get to open them, turn them on, and have a fully functional iPad with both Stony Brook and commercial apps auto installed as well as access to additional academic content. All of these will be pushed directly to the devices as they activate them — even their University email will be auto setup. I can’t wait to see it all unfold. Below are screenshots of what they will see as their devices activate. Great work everyone!

iPad Notes and Simple Pleasures

If you know me you know I use my iPad quite a bit and have really since the device came out a couple of years ago.  I even gave my laptop up for a month to just focus on understanding how the iPad could fit into my workflow.  I have written several times about what I’ve learned, but wanted to dive into how functional it has become for me all over again in the last few days.

I have stayed away from getting a stylus as I felt like I wasn’t going to go against the intended design of the device — remember Steve hated the idea, so naturally I listened to him.  But, I’ve been watching friends and colleagues switch to working with the iPad with a stylus and felt it might be time.  What pushed me over the edge was a post by my old friend (and still my goto edutech blogger and idea man), D’Arcy Norman who wrote about his own iPad note-taking workflow … and just like I have for nearly a decade, I listened.

My biggest challenge with the iPad has been around its utility as a note taking device.  I have tried to make Evernote my home as well as the built in Notes app.  Neither really worked.  I am not going to switch to one of those keyboard cases that so many people like — I already use an 11″ MacBook Air so I don’t need a setup that looks and works almost just like that.  I am good at typing on the onscreen keyboard, but I find typing to be only a very small part of what I need to do on my iPad.  I need to be able to grab screenshots and quickly annotate them, I need to draw interface ideas, I need to draw graphs and other representations of data, and I need to make sure I can find it at a later date. From D’Arcy’s post …

I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks…

So when I read D’Arcy’s post I figured it was time to break down and try a new way of interacting with my iPad. Quite frankly, I have been floored by how well it supports a whole new level of my workflow. I bought a super cheap Pogo Sketch pen to see if I would like this approach … and while the “pen” isn’t up to my standards, it was an $11 investment into moving towards a new workflow.  I will probably quickly switch to the well liked Wacom Bamboo Stylus as I move forward.

Here is an example of how I was able to instantly take advantage of this new approach … I am teaching Disruptive Technologies graduate course again this semester with colleague Scott McDonald and we are engaged in a project that I really need to share more broadly called, “Occupy Learning.” The idea is that teams of students go to specific classrooms on campus and occupy them for a couple of weeks to document the overall affordances of the space — what kinds of practice does it support, what are the limitations, how do faculty use it, etc.  The idea is that they will produce an integrated artifact that is published on the web.  Well, yesterday the two teams shared their first efforts … they were good, but the students wanted more guidance on what the actual outcome or artifact should be.


Since the room we were using has a killer Steelcase Mediascape system in it, we can have a whole bunch of machines easily connected to a huge display at the same time. Switching from my laptop, to Scott’s laptop, to a student laptop, to my iPad is a matter of tapping the switching puck.  Well, with my new stylus I was able to show everyone in class what the artifact might look like … easily drawing and highlighting the difference between embedded media and original text.  Being able to effortlessly do that within the flow of sitting around and having a discussion was a serious “ah-ha” moment.  It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful these types of technologies can be to alter and support discourse, engagement, and workflow.

iPad Sketch


While the sketch itself isn’t much, it was an amazingly simple way to make the point in the moment in as natural a way as I could think of.  Moreover, the sketch and the simplicity in which it was produced created a framework for the right kind of conversation around the ideal way to present such dynamic content.  It also pushed us down the path of deeply considering the notions of audience (administration, faculty, students) and purpose (build awareness, help drive decisions, creation of a long term repository of outcomes) in ways that wouldn’t have emerged by trying to draw the picture in their minds with words alone. A simple example.

I have now gone full D’Arcy and started using Noteshelf for note taking and the combination of drawing directly to screen and the ability to insert any picture to annotate now gets me to where I need to be.  If I see something I want to describe I can snap a photo with the iPad and annotate it.  If I have an idea about something we are working on, I can do a quick screen capture and mark it up.  Then I can instantly push it to Evernote for longer term curation, post it to Twitter, or send the old fashioned way via email.  Really simple, but really very powerful and what a joy when our tools actually go beyond just supporting our workflow towards enhancing it.  Thanks, D’Arcy (again).

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.

The Living Room

I’ve been using an iPad since the day they came out and I have to say I really enjoy it. To be honest up until the last week I typically haven’t even been taking my laptop home at night or on weekends and find myself much happier just using the iPad for casual stuff. I can manage nearly all of my off hours work needs — mostly email and browsing. I will say that in the last week I have been needing my laptop quite a bit more as my work has recently changed … but I’ll save that for a forthcoming post.

What has surprised me is how much other stuff I do on it nearly every evening. I find myself using it as a primary entertainment source now as well — watching streaming Netflix seems to be the number one thing I do with it. And I have recently started to use it to push video content to my TV at night — I almost wonder why one would need an Apple or Google TV.

It strikes me as this may be the start of a different dynamic in the living room, one dominated not by a single TV set, but by personal devices connected to the Internet. I am beginning to wonder when we might start to lament the days when we all sat around the TV as a family. Growing up I heard how much better it was in the old days when families gathered around the radio and listend to programming together … I honestly never understood why that was any different than all of us sitting around watching TV together in the 80’s.


Image credit, cplong11

I imagine it will be similar with my own children in the coming years only they will make fun of how I talk about how great it was when we all watched TV together (even though I doubt I’d ever say that). As I use my iPad more I see people moving into personal viewing experiences in their living rooms with each family member making personal choices of what they watch individually. I know this isn’t rocket science to say this, but it just dawned on me that devices of that form factor aren’t just changing the way we work, but also the way we interact with each other.


I find myself obsessed with the notion of workflow these days. The word comes up so often in my day to day conversations that I am starting wonder about myself. I am obsessed with workflow because thinking about the steps it takes to do simple tasks can save countless amounts of time throughout the day. Several of my colleagues and I are always talking about the workflows related to things we do all the time — things like posting content online, sharing links with other people, annotating sites for later use, and on and on. Most of the workflow questions I ask myself are related to getting things done, creating and consuming content, and preserving things for later us.The iPad forces one to think more about workflow because by nature it is a single task device. I find that quite liberating, but when an App just doesn’t support the appropriate workflow it is doomed in my eyes.

The notion of supporting workflow demands a series of posts, but for now let me share a very frustrating workflow issues I face. It is a drop dead simple one … When using Reeder for the iPad you cannot add a subscription as far as I can tell. That drives me crazy. I discover new sites from the sites I am a already subscribed to and there doesn’t seem to be a way to add the discovered space with a single tap. That sucks. I can share it across every social network on the planet, but if I want to add it to my personal repository I need to leave the App.

Reeder is the best feed reader I use on any platform but without that feature I am left underwhelmed. How hard can that be?

The iPad Makes Me Better

I am now over two months into my life with my iPad and I think I have found the places it works best for me. I did use it almost non-stop for a month as a laptop replacement and found that it came close to filling that space. I say close because it didn’t manage my google docs well and it still doesn’t … that just means I use it for very different things than my laptop. I will continue to say that I actually really like that it isn’t a laptop replacement because it lets me get away from all that stuff after work and on weekends. I actually have found that the iPad makes me a better parent — that is so jacked up to write and read, but I am sticking by it.

I have now figured how to slot the iPad into my overall workflow and every single day I discover a new App that seems to make me really happy. They aren’t really making me more productive, but I have to say I really don’t care. The iPad is filling a different space for me than one built around productivity (and I like that). I leave my laptop at work all week, only bringing it home on the weekends (and that is really for those “just in case” moments if all hell breaks free). I use the iPad to do everything during the week while at home — email is killer, the web is amazing, playing casual games is a joy, reading books from iBooks and Amazon is perfect, and just not having the opportunity to do it all is such a treat.

And let me say it again that it gets better each day. Why? Because the App Store lets me find stuff that actually helps me do things better. I hate to say it but Reeder is the best google reader client I have ever used — even better than actually just using google reader! I say that “I hate to say it” because I have now purchased three of them … I bought it tonight after my friend and colleague, Brad Kozlek mentioned it in a post. The iPad invites me in, but pushes me out of the world of work on weekends. And that makes me a better person — I am convinced of that.

A Month with an iPad

Since April 6 I have attempted to live almost entirely on an iPad as my only mobile computer — I still carry my iPhone with me everywhere and did use it to do routine things like mobile email, updating Twitter, and the like. During that time I have learned quite a bit about the device and how I interact with my computing platforms. I’ll try to sum up most of what I learned although I am still coming to grips with some of my experiences. Here’s the thing, the iPad is a little difficult to sum up — it isn’t a laptop and it certainly isn’t an iPhone. It lives somewhere along the path of computing, but fits much more into the lifestyle support category than strictly in the computing space. It is both really easy and radically complex — easy in that it is simple as hell to use and complex in that where it fails it makes things so much harder. Let me try to address a little of both.


Overall if I am honest, I can do about 85% of my work from the iPad itself. If I describe my work life it gets added up like this — I do email, I go to a lot of meetings, I browse the web for information, I create information on the web, I read a ton, I design and give a lot of talks, and I create and edit a ton of documents. That pretty much makes up what I do aside from talking to people and doing day-to-day management.

It is without a doubt the best email experience I have ever dealt with. The way the built in iPad Mail app works is amazing. I deal with a ton of email and the ability to quickly filter things is a stunning UI breakthrough. Using my fingers to get rid of stuff is so much faster than using a mouse to check little boxes — speed counts when dealing with something as mind numbing as email. The faster I can get into my inbox, make sense of things, and get out the better.

The iPad is superior at meetings for several reasons … I’ve already written about how much it stays out of the way of interacting with others and after a full month I still feel that way. It is a natural in meetings unless you are taking a lot of notes and then I find it falls down a bit. I have learned to type on it very fast so it has gotten better, but the lack of google doc editing is killer. As a matter of fact this is the reason why I can’t really do all areas of my job on it — I am just too embedded in the google docs World. I have had a harder time dealing with that than when I switched away from Office for a year. Until I have a good way to edit those documents it is destined to not be a primary machine.

Consuming anything on it has been a pleasure. Browsing the web, watching TV shows and movies, and reading are all first class activities. As a matter of fact I much prefer it to my laptop for reading online. Navigating makes more sense and I can still pinch and zoom pages to get a closer look. I miss not being able to do that with my laptop. Creating text content for the web is easy and natural as well. Where things fall down is when you need to multi task — grabbing a Flickr picture to put into a blog post is a complex task that requires a good deal of thought. I can do things like that, but I have had to relearn the steps and have had to understand how the machine multi-tasks from within apps instead of switching from window to window. It isn’t bad because I think there are some things that just work better this way. The other thing I’ll mention here is that not being able to bounce from window to window has pushed me to focus a little more on doing tasks one at a time.

The iPad falls down when dealing with non-web content. Keynote works really well and I can create presentations with relative ease — something I do quite a bit of. The problem lies in the restrictive way content gets to the device. I get that Apple wants us to travel through a USB cord to iTunes, but not taking better advantage of or even Mobile Me seems very last decade to me. They insist on making us email files or using a crazy move interface to get stuff on it … and then once it is there it is a copy, not a truly synchronized version. Why not let me use a folder on Mobile Me that I can keep a single in sync file? This is something that I hope Apple changes — copies of files being emailed around is plain old stupid. Without this limitation and the ability to edit google docs this thing would be close to perfect. Without them, you better have a computer around.

One other thing we are learning is how nice these can be as loaner machines for staff. Our IT group can manage a couple that can be simply handed to a staff member and synced from their own Mac for a trip. It isn’t without some details to deal with, but we are planning to keep a few 3G iPads ready to go for people who need Internet access while traveling — it is actually much more reasonable than buying USB cell modems for staff.


The iPad is a joy to use at home. I mean that. It is the best device for work/life balance … it is fast as hell as tasks such as email, looking something up, checking my calendar, and showing pictures. So much faster than going to get a laptop, opening it up, waiting for it to connect to wifi, and launching applications. In the time it used to take to do all that I am already back to the conversation I was having that spawned the need to look something up in the first place. I no longer need to take my laptop home and that has been a very positive change for me.

My wife and kids love to use it for all sorts of things. The App Store may piss a lot of people off, but to easily discover kids apps and games it is killer. Before this I would have never purchased Dr. Seuss books or Scrabble … I honestly wouldn’t even know where to go to buy that software. Yes the apps cost money, but that is what I would expect. My three year old can use with such ease it is mind bending. My wife wants to use it to play Scrabble and surf the web. My daughter wants to use it to read books. And I just want to be able to use it.

Exploring the iPad

This leads me to another observation and that is it really needs to have some sort of user account environment. I trust handing it to anyone in my family, but I do get a bit nervous demoing the iPad with other people. When I pass it around a room it is fully logged in and that means my email, Evernote, and other apps are ripe for browsing. The thing is that people, when they touch the iPad, want to use it. It would be nice if I could have a guest account on it that would allow me to hand it around a room without worrying about it.

Consuming media is a first rate experience. I’ve gotten back into video and audio podcasts so I always have fresh content on the device. The screen is beautiful and all of the media capabilities are really nice to work with. When you combine that with the battery life, you have a device that you nearly never worry about charging. It is truly the first device I can take with me for the day and not worry about it running out of juice — ever. I can actually go multiple days without plugging it in.


I already mentioned that I am not as upset about the App Store model as some people, so I’ll just share some of the Apps that I actually use. I thought I would use the iWork suite more, but have only really extensively used Keynote. I’ve done a few documents with Pages and it works well, but getting files on and off of the iPad doesn’t support that kind of work in my opinion. Below are the Apps that I use the most … beyond those, I live mostly in Safari and use my browser to access news, social networks, and stuff that on my iPhone I use apps for. At any rate, here are the top Apps for me:

  • Safari is very fast and I’ve found I like browsing on it more than I do on my Mac.
  • I’ve already sung Mail’s praises, so I’ll leave it at that.
  • GoodReader is a must for managing access to files across cloud based storage environments. It takes the place of the Dropbox app and the iDisk app.
  • YouTube, the built in iPod/Video app, and Netflix app are simple genius for consuming content. The YouTube interface is easier to use than the website.
  • 1Password is a must and there are easy ways to integrate it with Safari.
  • NetNewsWire is a strong RSS reader, but what makes it so well designed is the Instapaper, Twitter, and Email integration. It allows for strong multi-tasking from within the same application.
  • Evernote has become my full on outboard brain and the syncing with my Mac is killer.
  • Twitterific is my Twitter client of choice and I do use Twitter quite a bit on the iPad.
Evernote for iPad


Again, it seems like the iPad is a very capable machine that does support a vast amount of tasks that one must do to keep it going at work. It is a joy to use at home and I can still easily keep up with things I need to do in the evenings and on weekends. Until google docs cannot be created and edited (either in the browser or in some sort of app) I cannot use it full time. It hasn’t pushed me to retire my laptop to the corner, but one thing it has pushed me to do is switch from a 15″ machine to a smaller 13″. The small form factor of the iPad is unreal and it made my MBP look like a tank.

The other thing that I believe needs more work is Apple’s model for keeping files in iWork synced. Passing around versions is something that is simply crippling. I can see myself traveling with just an iPad, but I’ll have to be very thoughtful of what I will need before I go. One thing I have started to do more of is take advantage of my iDisk and Dropbox storage spaces so the contents are always available via GoodReader. If Apple gets serious about cloud services I can see this thing supporting upwards of 95% of the work I need to get done while traveling.

The machine needs a way to lock people out of certain apps so it can be passed around a room. I doubt they’ll add accounts, but perhaps a way to authenticate apps on an individual basis? I am really interested to see how students respond to the device and if it can actually be used to support their workflow. I think you actually have to spend quite a bit of time with one to start to understand how it can be used in partnership with your desktop machine. I have made changes to the ways I do things based on what I have learned and most of it has been positive. Will I continue to use the iPad as my only mobile device? No, but I will continue to use it heavily.

My Big iPad Complaint

The big thing that is keeping me from really using the ipad to it's fullest is the lack of google doc editing in Safari. I figured by now there would be an app that would allow for an elegant solution, but either that hasn't yet happened or I just don't know about it. With all that said, I was just running through tweets using Twitterific when I saw a tweet that linked to an open google doc. I was curious so I clicked it and Twitterific opened it in within its own browser. To my absolute shock, it remained editable. I couldn't invoke the onscreen keyboard, but was able to change formatting and see comments happening in real time … So much more than can be done in mobile safari. It gives me hope and makes me wonder if I had my keyboard connected would it allow me to edit the document? When I can live edit google docs the iPad will be a much more viable solution for me.