UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom for a video on “What Educators Need to Know Before Buying an iPad” as well as a meetup for those interested in learning more about the iPad.
This article is intended to answer the most common questions I have received from faculty in the last year. It is not intended to promote the iPad or any other tablet. In fact, you may feel the overall tone of this article is negative.
The iPad represents a new paradigm in tablet PC design and sets a high standard which many of Apple’s competitors struggle to match. However, the iPad is not without its own shortcomings, many of which impact its usefulness for some faculty. The most important question you need to ask when considering the purchase of an iPad is: What are the most important things you want to do with it? Some faculty make effective use of the iPad, but without thoughtful consideration you may end up spending a lot of money only to discover the iPad doesn’t do what you expected.
Consider the following list of questions and answers an attempt to provide some guidance in determining whether an iPad is the right solution for you.
Q1. Can I use the iPad to manage my Blackboard course shells?
A1. Not likely.
There are several things working against the iPad when working in Blackboard. I’ll list a few of the things I’ve discovered in my experiences.
- The iPad has no file system (like your C: drive and file folders) built in. That means you cannot upload files from your iPad to Blackboard.
- The iPad doesn’t like Java. The Visual Text Editor in Blackboard is a Java application. When entering or responding to threaded discussion (or anything else requiring the use of the editor) you must disable the Visual Text editor. Not a big deal if you don’t mind losing the neat tool bar with all the nice formatting icons. But for many faculty, I suspect this would be a major frustration.
- No Flash. There are lots of ways in which Apple’s tilting at Adobe’s Flash hurts iPad users. Not being able to view many Flash-based short tutorials or online videos makes me want to pull my remaining hair out.
- If you don’t mind scaled back, limited functionality in your Blackboard course, you might not mind using an iPad with Blackboard.
- Don’t plan on multi-tasking.
Q2. Isn’t the iPad just a different kind of laptop computer?
A2. No. Nyet. Nien. Nope.
Think of the iPad as being different from a laptop the way a motor scooter is different from an automobile. In some ways each provides similar benefits, but in different ways. On the other hand, good luck to you if you plan to take yourself and a few friends on a cross-country trip on your motor scooter.
iPad = Primarily a platform for consuming information
Laptop = Primarily a platform for creating information
Obviously, there is a great deal of crossover on some functions. Still, I would not want to be required to type my dissertation on an iPad. Could I? Of course. Would it be a good idea? Probably not.
As mentioned in Q1, there is no file system on the iPad. That means you can’t organize your files. As a matter of fact, getting any files you happen to download or create off your iPad is cumbersome at best.
Q3. Can’t I just type what I want on the iPad using Microsoft Word?
A3. See A2.
Microsoft Office is not available for the iPad. There are however, third party applications you can purchase that enable you to view and edit MS Office documents. Apple, for instance, would be happy to sell you a copy of Pages (Apple’s word processor, $10) or Numbers (Apple’s spreadsheet, $10), or Keynote (Apple’s presentation software, $10), Documents to Go Premium ($16.99). Caveat emptor.
Q4. How much does an iPad cost?
A4. Depends on what ‘flavor’ you want to buy.
The iPad comes in 3 different storage capacities:
16 Gig $499
32 Gig $599
64 Gig $699
All iPads allow Internet connections via regular Wi-Fi. If you want to use your iPad anywhere outside your normal wireless environments (home or work) you should consider purchasing an iPad with 3G/4G cellular data plan. These plans are available from AT&T or Verizon Wireless, and the iPad you purchase will work only with the carrier you choose. But, be prepared for sticker shock. AT&T and Verizon 3G/4G iPads start at $629 and go up to $829. This does not include the monthly cost due to AT&T or Verizon. One bit of good news is both carriers offer data plans with no long-term contracts. However, if you exceed your monthly data limit and you will pay hefty overage fees.
Q5. How do you type on the iPad since there is no keyboard?
A5. The iPad keyboard appears on the screen.
Simply tap the keys appearing on the screen to type. Of course the smaller screen means a smaller keyboard. However, I have found the on-screen keyboard very usable. Shifting from alpha keys to number keys, or to symbol keys is a little different, but not problematic. It’s simply a tap on the special key to switch from alpha keys to numbers or symbols, and back. A Bluetooth wireless keyboard is available for the iPad for $69.
Q6. What kind of things does the iPad do well?
A6. There are quite a few things I love about the iPad:
- Web browsing. Aside from the ridiculous inability to play Flash-based video, the iPad provides an amazing web browsing experience.
- Gesture navigation and control. Swiping, pinching, tapping, and other gestures should be standard on all computers. They seem so intuitive, but that may just be my preference.
- Taking photos. Not everyone agrees, but I love using the iPad to take photographs. Especially the 10-inch screen makes an incredible view finder for people with older eyes.
- Taking video. Ditto the above.
- Reading (sometimes). The iPad screen is a great screen for reading. But, only if you are in an indoor, or shaded outdoor area. In a very bright setting, the iPad screen is so reflective that glare makes it impossible to read.
- It’s a lot easier to go through airport security checks with an iPad.
Q7. Are there some things about the iPad you do not like (besides no Flash)?
A7. There are a few things about the iPad that bother me:
- While the slick aluminum and glass design are beautiful, they make the iPad slippery to hold on to, and may easily slide off a chair or table. Of course, you can purchase any number of cases, in an endless variety of styles. But, there go more dollars. Baby needs new shoes. Baby needs new clothes. Baby needs…
- Drat! I need to purchase another adapter! Apple is king of adapters and accessories. Want to connect your digital camera to the iPad? That’ll be 29 bucks. Want to connect your iPad to your flat screen TV? 29 bucks.
- It should have a phone in it. If I’m going to carry this thing around, I don’t want to carry my iPhone around too. Let me carry one or the other, but don’t make me carry both. Especially since Apple products always carry a premium price.
Q8. Are there alternatives to the iPad?
There are several other brands of tablet PCs. They vary in size, and typically run Google’s Android operating system (competing with Apple’s iOS). But their pricing is very similar. Google “iPad competitors” or “tablet pc” to find more information, or go to Best Buy to play with some of the more popular models.
Q9. What if I need additional software for the iPad?
A9. Apple wins. No contest.
Apple’s App Store has more than 90,000 applications available, many of which are free. Again, caveat emptor. Plus the iTunes store is the 500 pound gorilla when it comes to online buying of videos and music. If you plan to use the iPad primarily as an e-reader, be sure to educate yourself regarding the e-book formats that the iPad can handle, and test out applications like Amazon’s Kindle app for the iPad.
Q10. Can the iPad be connected to a video projector?
Using the $29 VGA adapter, you can display the iPad screen via a video projector. Be warned however, depending on the resolution of your video projector, the iPad image may not fill the screen. This is the case when using a newer video projector capable of much higher resolution than the iPad. You also can connect to a projector wirelessly using an Apple TV box as well with a little bit of setup.
Q11. Can I print documents directly from the iPad?
A11. Not really.
Not without purchasing additional applications. While Apple touts the iPad’s ability to print wirelessly via Airprint, there are only six printer models listed on the Apple website that are compatible with Airprint. Unless you just purchased one of the printers on the list, you probably don’t have an Airprint-compatible printer. A third party application (e.g. FingerPrint) can enable your PC and iPad to work together to print to any printer defined on your PC. This is good, but it does require the use of both the iPad and Mac at the same time.
Q12. Can I copy files from my PC to the iPad and vice versa?
A12. Yes, in some ways.
With some extra effort you can copy files to and from the iPad. Third party apps and some cloud apps like DropBox or EverNote enable iPad users to move files between devices, but it generally remains a multi-step, cumbersome process.
UPDATE: On Monday, April 16, OAT will be hosting an iPad users group for those who use the tablet or are interested in learning more about it. This low-key meetup will converge in the Poling Faculty Lounge at 12:30pm. Bring your own lunch or pick something up at Ada’s Kitchen. Email us if you plan to attend. Also, check out a quick demo of the iPad from our OAT Open House, and see how it compares to other tablets like the Kindle Fire.