Our district purchased several iPads for special ed and for our ESOL teachers. I’ve had one for a week to put it through its paces and see how it might work, and how we might design some staff development. I can see the educational benefits of iPads in the classrooms, and I’ve seen some excellent results form kids working with them. However, from a personal standpoint I’m still conflicted as to whether I really like it, and how useful it might be compared to other options. Since I already have a netbook, Kindle, and iPod Touch, the device just seems redundant. Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy one, but if I didn’t already have these things, would it be a good choice? My very first thought was that it was just an overgrown Touch.
Coming from a laptop/netbook experience, my first impression was that the shortcomings of the iPad are numerous…
- No USB connections
- No easy way to transfer files
- No real GPS functionality for maps
- NO FLASH!!
…and lots of other pesky problems that prevent it from doing what I think it should be able to do. The lack of Flash is especially bothersome, because it prevents me from using slide shows on Flickr, and even using the admin screens of this blog effectively. Aviary.com won’t work at all on it, and Google Docs is a real bother.
My colleague Shirley Smith reminded me that I shouldn’t think of this as a laptop. Perhaps it’s best to think of it as a smart peripheral, rather than a stand-alone computing device – an extension of your computer, as it were. In that sense, it is like an overgrown Touch.
That being said, there are some things I really like about the iPad. It does come in a slick little package, and the display is absolutely gorgeous. The device is very simple to use. I especially like Garage Band on the iPad. The “Smart Instruments” are loads of fun, and the virtual piano keyboard is actually easier to play than I thought it would be. The camera and related apps are quite slick, and easy to use.
We purchased several several Bluetooth keyboards to go with the iPads, along with a camera card reader and VGA out so we could use the devices with a projector.
These accessories make it almost like a laptop, but not quite. The VGA out works perfectly. The card reader only allows one-way traffic. You can only copy images from a camera or card to the unit itself, but you can’t interact with the images while they are on the card.
The keyboard is a nice addition, and is almost necessary if you’re going to be taking lots of notes or doing a lot of typing. The on-screen keyboard is fairly easy to use, and is much better than the smaller versions on my Touch and on my Android phone. However, it won’t suffice for larger projects. I’ve also found that having two separate things (keyboard + screen) can make this awkward. You can’t set it in your lap and type like you can with a netbook or laptop.
As elegant as the iPad is by itself, with all of the supporting peripherals, it becomes rather clunky. The device itself is as heavy as my Dell netbook, but isn’t nearly as versatile.
Then there is the problem of connectivity. Most of the apps I’ve found require an Internet connection. While WiFi is available in lots of places, I can’t find it everywhere. With my netbook I can tether the device to my Android phone via USB cable when wireless isn’t available. That’s not possible with the iPad, unless I pay another $30 per month to Verizon to enable the WiFi hot spot on my phone, or root the phone.
As I’ve spent more time with it and talked with other iPad users I’ve found apps to make the device more useful. One of my favorites is Flipboard, which takes feeds from Google Reader, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter and formats them in a beautiful newspaper-like page. That one app almost makes up for the other shortcomings. I went ahead and got the iPad versions of the iWorks series – Pages, Numbers, and Keynote – since I use those on my Mac and they will read MS-Office files.
Apple’s trademark phrase is “There’s an app for that,” and I’m finding it to be true. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Things that work perfectly in a browser on other devices require a specialized app in the Apple world. There are separate apps for Facebook, Twitter, IMDB, YouTube, etc., etc., etc. While these are available in the Safari browser, they just don’t work as well as the separate app.
The “appification” of the web means that content is being segmented into separate programs. To me this seems the opposite of the trend toward making everything available over the web through a browser. While many of these apps are free, many more are not. So, one is left paying for content through an app, when that content would otherwise be free through a browser.
I haven’t given up on the iPad. However, I find myself switching over to my Netbook out of frustration on a regular basis. I keep thinking that for the amount this device cost in peripherals, etc., I could have gotten a Macbook and had all that plus some.