HD: iPads and Grad School
Posted: 15 July 2011 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]
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My review of tablets as a grad school necessity

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Posted: 15 July 2011 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m making a ruling: I’m too old to get used to a virtual keyboard. I need my tactile feedback in order to touchtype without error.

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Posted: 15 July 2011 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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OP Tipping - 15 July 2011 08:07 AM

I’m making a ruling: I’m too old to get used to a virtual keyboard. I need my tactile feedback in order to touchtype without error.

Typing is dead. Dragon rocks. “Computer, search Google for sparkle widgets.” Star Trek is now.

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Posted: 15 July 2011 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Good points overall, especially on the negatives, but there are a few things you might find useful as workarounds.

Reading critical editions of literary works. More below.
Finding the right edition of ebooks to buy. More below.

Seems more like a criticism of ebooks than the iPad per se, but since you like Google books and mentioned them as a particular problem, have you tried the Google books app?

Reliance on iTunes as PC interface. It may work better on a Mac, but iTunes for Windows is the absolute suckiest piece of software ever put out by a major firm. It’s a train wreck. More below.

You could switch to a Mac!  Honestly, iTunes is very slow even on a Mac, but it gets the job done.

Multi-tasking. Switching between apps is slow and cumbersome. Other than the basic apps (e.g., the clock/timer, music player), you can’t run apps in the background. Switching from reading a book to look something up on the web is a pain.

I don’t understand this criticism.  Double-tap the home button and tap the icon of the program you want to switch to.  You can even configure fast-switching gestures if you want to hack around a bit.  The iPad doesn’t allow apps to run forever in the background, but properly written apps do a pretty good job of imitating a running background app.

Wordprocessing. More on this below.

Agreed.  Even using a Bluetooth keyboard is painful because cursor placement is mostly finger-based. The mouse may be the most enduring legacy of the PC era.

Uploading docs to the device. It may be easier with a Mac, but it’s a pain on a PC.

Use Dropbox with GoodReader (which you mentioned) or iAnnotate (which you didn’t but should have), then come back to this point.  You’ll change your tune (without using iTunes (ha ha!)).

Sharing docs between apps. It simply can’t be done. You load documents into individual applications and there they stay. Edit a doc in your word processer and the new version is not available in your reading app.

Not entirely true.  To open an e-mailed PDF in GoodReader, tap-and-hold on the attachment icon and choose GoodReader from the Open In… list that pops up.  From GoodReader, you can open PDFs in iBooks and other PDF reading apps.

It is true that you will see a copy of the PDF in GoodReader, but that is almost always what I want.  If I want to sync changes, I run everything through Dropbox.  Not as convenient as a single file system, but it can be done.

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Posted: 15 July 2011 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This is another good one, Dave. 

It addressed some unasked questions I had and answered them well. 

Except for the reading function, I think I will continue to resist owning a tablet. 

I have an intense dislike for devices or programs that “automagically” do things for me that are unrequested and unexpected.  I almost never enable a word processor’s “autocorrect while typing” feature, for instance.  I do like the little red line and extensively use spellcheck, when I want to do so, under the conditions and parameters I choose to apply.  So, I run linux. 

I am now even more inclined to get a tablet for reading but still, the other stuffs weigh against it--but I am not in grad school.  If I were, I think I’d “think different.”

There is a possible typo here:

“...Lack of wireless syncing. Having to physically plug into your PC to sink is a pain. But there is probably a good security reason for not allowing wireless sync....”

Shouldn’t that “sink” should be another “sync”?

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Posted: 15 July 2011 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Seems more like a criticism of ebooks than the iPad per se

Yes, but it really doesn’t matter to the user. The question is how useful a tablet is to grad students. Whether the problem is with the device or the app doesn’t matter. To fix it, you would need Kindle and/or iBooks (since those are the two 800-lb gorillas in the niche) to design a format that is critical edition friendly. Then you need the publishers to use that format. But even if they started that process now, most of today’s grad students would be professors before it saw the light of day.

You could switch to a Mac!

I’ve got too many expensive Windows apps to make the switch. Yes, I know I could configure a dual-boot Mac, but if I wanted a computer that I was constantly tinkering with, I’d use Linux. And if I did switch to Mac the improvement would be marginal? No thanks. I stick with my assessment that iTunes is a piece of crap.

Double-tap the home button and tap the icon of the program you want to switch to.

Yes, and fifteen seconds later the process completes and you can work with the new app, and then take another fifteen seconds to get back to the first app. On a PC with multiple windows, it’s nearly instantaneous. And my understanding of Apple’s architecture is that app developers cannot keep anything at all resident in memory. Everything is trashed the moment you hit the home button. The only apps that can actually run in the background at all are the basic apps that come with the device, clock, music player, alarm, etc. And yes, the comparison to a full-powered PC isn’t fair and my netbook (which I don’t use anymore since getting the iPad) is even slower. This is a function of the low-powered chips, which are chosen for heat constraints and other design issues. But again, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that switching between apps is just something the iPad doesn’t do well.

Use Dropbox with GoodReader

I didn’t know this workaround was available. But the fact that it needs a third-party workaround just highlights the problem. File transfer and management is a function of the OS and should be handled by the OS. It’s a piss-poor design decision. (That may not be quite fair. There may have been some tradeoff that necessitated that decision, but it’s still an issue even if there was a good reason for doing it that way.)

Not entirely true.  To open an e-mailed PDF in GoodReader [...]

So I open my email program on my PC. Send an email to myself with the document, being sure to close the email program before it delivers the email to me because my PC email reader is set to clear my server mailbox after delivery. Then open my iPad email program and click on the attachment, picking Goodreader as the app of choice. That’s a helluva lotta work just to transfer a file onto a device. And what if I want to upload thirty PDFs to the device? I have to use iTunes, which makes me shudder.

Still with all this, I love the iPad. It’s a great device, just not a laptop replacement. With the right expectations, you can be perfectly happy with it.

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Posted: 15 July 2011 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Oh, and the problem with Google Books has nothing to do with the reader or the Google “storefront.” The problem there is that some of the PDFs from Google Books are encoded with JPG2000, which the iPad doesn’t support. It has nothing to do with the reader. Those books appear as blank pages in both Goodreader and iBooks.

And the storefront problem, at least with Amazon, is relatively easily fixed. They just need to get the metadata about the various editions straight. The storefront can display the right data; they do it for hardcopy books. They just don’t display the data for e-books, and what data they do have for e-books is often wrong.

Apple’s store is another matter. That’s just a morass of horrid storefront design. Searching to find the right book or app is damn near impossible. Fixing that would be easier than fixing the critical editions format problem, but still would take a year or two.

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Posted: 15 July 2011 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dave Wilton - 15 July 2011 10:57 AM

...Apple’s store is another matter. That’s just a morass of horrid storefront design. Searching to find the right book or app is damn near impossible. Fixing that would be easier than fixing the critical editions format problem, but still would take a year or two.

Today there is also this:

Apple hikes the prices in its App Store by 25%… but ONLY in Britain”—dailymail.co.uk, 15th July 2011
.
.

[edited to add:

But then, yesterday, there was also this that I missed until today:

Apple slashes Australian App Store prices to matches the US—pcauthority.com.au, 14 July 2011]

[ Edited: 15 July 2011 01:51 PM by sobiest ]
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