iPad Mini: It’s What I Need in a Tablet

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Apple recently entered the “mini” tablet space with it’s new iPad Mini. Sharing many of the same technical specs as the iPad 2, the iPad mini is “every inch an iPad” as Phil Schiller described it. Fitting the experience of an iPad in my palms is what I’ve been after for a while. Though I love my iPad, I turn to my MacBook Air to really get work done. Notice I refer to getting “work done” as opposed to getting “things” done. To get my work done such as creating interactive content for etextbooks, app development, research on technology enhanced learning, I’m much more productive on the Air. I need the functionality that Mac OS offers, especially having content in two or more on-screen windows to work from. I can certainly get “things” done on my iPad, e.g., personal productivity, check and respond to email, web research, and of course, entertainment. For me, the iPad is a wonderful consumption device and at this point a light-duty work device. During the work day I use it for keeping track of to dos, project tracking, note taking, reading eBooks and pdfs, and scheduling. I’ve found I don’t need a full-size iPad to complete these activities. The iPad mini better fits my work flow and content consumption. It will also make my mobile office lighter and more portable. I rarely take my iPad “on the go”, it’s the MacBook Air that nearly always is in my portable office. The new iPad mini changes all of that.

I’m locked into Apple’s ecosystem by choice. Like other Apple devices, the iPad mini can access my documents in iCloud. With the release of OSX Mountain Lion and an update to the iWork suite of applications, Apple implemented their vision of working in the cloud. Rather than using an app in the cloud like Google Docs, the app is on my device. Documents produced by iCloud-compatible apps are stored locally and synced to other devices via iCloud. Moving the document handling to the app makes so much sense, though you’re not locked into iCloud for document storage. Applications offer a choice to open from iCloud or your local drive. Rather than drilling through the Finder, your document is right there in the iCloud Document library. I’m thrilled at the offline editing and automated saving that iWork does. Living in a smaller community there are times when I have no Internet access but need to get things done. Having local copies of important documents accessible whenever and where ever allows me to do my work, Internet access or not. In fact, a portion of this post was written on my plane trip to a conference using my iPad. All of my work was instantly updated after I logged back in making it available to my MacBook Air once I arrived at my hotel. I’ll be able to do the same thing on an iPad mini.

With the new iPad Mini, my tablet returns to my portable office. Combined with iCloud it lightens my load as I can dispense with my external drive. All currently active projects and files for courses are in the cloud and also available to be used offline thanks to iCloud and Dropbox. Shrinking size without losing the features that help me do my work and enjoy my leisure time, is what I’m looking for in the iPad mini.

Disclosure: I’ll be honest … the above was pitch to my wife for why I needed one … and it was under the  Christmas tree this year. I love that lady.  :-)

UW-SP offers Tablets to all Faculty/Staff

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Greg Summers has announced that all faculty and academic staff who desire will be issued a tablet “in an effort to support innovative methods of teaching and learning”. These will be supplied in addition to their office desktop.

Currently, the only tablet supported by the University’s security policies, such as being able to wipe data remotely in the case of loss or theft, is the Apple iPad. A three-year upgrade cycle similar to the faculty/staff desktop program will apply to the tablet program. In the future, Android or a Windows tablets will become available for those who prefer one of these options. The standard issue configuration will be:

  • 32 GB storage
  • WI-FI enabled
  • folio cover
  • Productivity apps such as  a remote desktop app called Jump, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote; and Acrobat reader

The cost of  upgraded storage, cellular options, etc.  will be born by the faculty/staff member’s home department.

Even in this era of tight budgets and declining state support, it’s refreshing to see bold moves by administrators to address the changing landscape of technology-enhanced teaching and learning.

* Note: iPad pictured above is not necessarily the configuration provided.

ZAGGfolio for iPad 3 Review

I recently received a new iPad 3 equipped with a ZAGGfolio case for iPad 3. I also have a first generation iPad equipped with the bluetooth folio keyboard case  from  ThinkGeek  that I reviewed a couple of years ago. At that time, the bluetooth keyboard case was workable but not perfect. Many of the issues I had with the ThinkGeek case have been addressed in my new ZAGGfolio. The carbon fiber shell adds rigidity making it much easier to type when resting the keyboard case on your lap. The short flat closure of the ThinkGeek case was a bit uncomfortable when typing with the case resting on my lap. The ZAGGfolio has no flap closure and is thus much more comfortable.

ThinkGeek Bluetooth Keyboard Case

ZAGG Folio case for iPad 2 & 3

The unit easily paired with my iPad 3 and has not dropped the connection yet, unlike my experience with the ThinkGeek case and my iPad 1. It has one angle when inserted into the keyboard which is perfectly suited to me whether typing at my desk or with it on my lap. The iPad can be snapped out of the case and be placed into portrait mode. The keyboard is removeable and can be used by itself.

Typing was easy as I composed the first draft  in Omnifocus for iPad while sitting on my office sofa.  The keyboard felt slightly cramped for my fingers but didn’t take long to adjust to.  A nice set of function keys reside at the top of the keyboard for home, searching the iPad, pictures, on-screen keyboard, cut, copy, past, media/sound controls, and lock.

The case automatically wakes the iPad when opened and closes with a secure clip. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the clip breaks, but the material seems quite durable. It charges using the USB provided cable to plug into a desktop or an iDevice charger. Instructions indicate that it will likely only need to be charged two or three times a year, I’ll see. The case adds 19 oz and a mere .53 in in weight and thickness to the iPad (full tech specs here). It still slips easily into my STM Scout 2 iPad Shoulder bag  by itself or with my 11″ MacBook Air in a STM Scout 2 laptop shoulder bag .

I’ve been quite pleased with my experience using the ZAGGfolio. I’ll be using my iPad more and my MacBook Air less to get my work done as a result of this case. Check out the promotional video below.

The iMac I’m still waiting for

Nearly four years ago I read about an Apple iMac design concept that basically turned it into a docking station for the iPad. I’ve said it before, this would be the perfect system for so many people, especially in education. Imagine a college student being able to carry their iPad that has a fully functioning set of productivity tools, stores their textbooks, and hasWi-fi  access to the Internet. Coming back to their room to study, they simply slide the tablet into the iMac Docking station. How long until Apple acts on this design?

Mockup of Apple Tablet and Docking Station (Courtesy appletell)

Apple’s magazine subscription market place tips scale for initial mobile app development

For one publisher, Apple’s magazine subscription market place development tipped the scale when deciding on the mobile operating system to initially develop for.  Geographical published by the Royal Geographical Society recently released an app for iOS. An interesting exchange occured over their choice of operating systems to release the app for first. In a quick conversation posted to Twitter, they made clear that the Apple magazine subscription “subs market” was a “bit more developed.

I don’t care about Apple’s so-called eTextbook “walled garden”

The announcement of Apple’s new foray into the educational textbook market has garnered the usual cries of despair over their so-called walled garden. Oh my, what are schools to do? Gosh, how are we to deal with a proprietary ebook format? Guess what, I don’t care about Apple’s so called walled garden when it comes to the new textbook initiative. Some have decried the fact that adopting an an iBook textbook will lock a K-12 school into a particular format. When schools buy a textbook K-12 schools they often buy sets of textbooks from a particlar publisher so they are in a sense locked into a walled publisher garden. They will use them until the are worn and in some case terribly out of date. The fact is, the new iBook textbooks could reduce book costs, possibly keep them more up to date than print,  and in the process give students a much richer educational experience by having an iPad.

I agree with  Buster Heine from Cult of the Mac observations that Apple’s move will enable people like me to share our expertise with a potentially large audience and maybe make a few bucks at the same time. Am I concerned that it is limited to the iPad? No. Heck, my university is a Microsoft colony that basically pays lip service to us Mac users. I’m willing to create educational products that may only work on particular hardware (at this point) and might not even be used by my students. For me it’s about the creative process and desire to explore new ways to help students learn.

The propriety file format argument is a red herring  that doesn’t hold water in the publishing industry. If they deem it important, textbook publishers have ported their textbooks to multiple formats. Just examine the various platforms that Pearson, McGraw Hill, etc. publish their textbooks in. Unless they’ve been barred from doing so, textbooks from these publishers won’t be exclusive to Apple iBook format.

Tech pundits should really move beyond this old and tired “walled garden” arguement. It really is matter of choice. If you want open, go for it. If you want an Apple experience, adopt it. Pundits, quit trying to demonize one paradigm over the other.

iPad Keyboard Case: Tablet to “Netbook”

I find myself doing much more work on my iPad. It’s lightweight, extremely portable, and simply fun to use.  I decided to buy a keyboard case because I do extended writing with iPad these days. Though I have become adept at using the onscreen keyboard, I simply couldn’t type as fast as with a physical keyboard. I tried using an aluminum Apple bluetooth keyboard, but that was unwieldy when transporting. A keyboard case seemed to be a solution.

After spending quite a bit of time investigating, I settled on one sold by ThinkGeek. The iPad slips easily into the cover, much easier than my Apple case. It sits are a reasonable angle when used at a desk. The cover folds back so you can hold the iPad like you would without the keyboard, though it is a bit thick and prolonged use may not be comfortable. The case and iPad weighs in at 2.75 lbs. USB charger is included. The Bluetooth keyboard case also fits nicely into my  STM Scout XS iPad bag. It has a “spill proof” silicone cover over the chicklet style keys (Thankfully so as I write this while eating egg drop soup and spring rolls!) It has several specialized keys for controlling the iPad. The home key works like that on the iPad, click once to return to the home page, or double click to switch to open the multitasking bar. Though Apple has done a fine job with touch-based copy and paste, it’s nice to have the familiar keyboard shortcuts to handle these operations. Arrow keys make it easy to move through text.  Keys to control the iPod are a nice addition.


If you’re looking for the stability of a laptop, you’re looking at the wrong solution. It’s a bit unstable sitting in your lap while typing, but not terribly so.  The angle at which the screen sits is a bit to vertical for me when on my lap, but fine at a desk. And the closing flap is a bit uncomfortable when typing in your lap.  The only major downside is the awful fumes that the case is off-gassing out of the box. The smell is dissipating after 24 hours of “airing”.

Some will think it blasphemous to add a keyboard to a touch device. But for me, it’s made my writing time much more productive. The iPad easily slips out of the case to convert back to tablet form factor. Having become interested in a minimalist approach to life and work, the iPad and keyboard case  are perfect fit.

Do Students Really Prefer Print Textbooks?

Disclaimer: I am an eTextbook author and have championed the move to digital textbook publishing.

A recent survey was conducted by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) OnCampus Research division to “cut through the speculation” about “how much students are accessing e-books and on what devices.”  The mainstream media focused on the fact that three quarters of those surveyed indicated that they preferred print books. Preference for print depends on a variety of economic and usability factors. The economics of eBook/eReader is real issue in adoption, but what are the device features and user experience that affects student preference? The survey summary report leaves several unresolved issues leading to questionable interpretations of student preference.

Factors influencing reading and learning experience.

As an educator, I take into account the reading and learning experience when choosing an eBook or print book for my course. A poor reading experience is likely to result in poor learning. The reading experience entails the environmental factors influencing how the user interacts with the book and its content. The learning experience is affected by the pedagogical approach to the content.  The reading experience for digital books also depends on the device used for viewing and the format the book is rendered in. Though eBooks are accessible on small mobile devices like the iPhone, they do not necessarily provide the best eTextbook user experience.

The textbook learning experience goes beyond topical content and writing style. It includes structural elements (e.g., detailed contents, index, focus boxes, special formatting for key terms and concepts) and availability of student self-assessment features. Though print textbooks posses these features, the usability can be enhanced in a digital environment.

Choosing the right physical and in the case of a eBook, digital format is nearly as important as the content itself. The reading and learning experience of eBooks can be affected by their format. eBooks appropriate for college study exist over a spectrum of possibilities. At one end are trade eBooks such as a novel used in a literature course, which may be a pdf file or a slightly more feature-rich (e.g., highlighting, embedded note taking), but a still limited ePub. At the other end is a fully interactive eTexbook built on a propriety publisher interface or application with embedded assessments, access to glossaries, note taking, content sharing, etc.  Kindle books are an example of the former while eBooks created for the Kno or as an app for the iPad is an example of the latter.

Survey results:  eBook and Device Preference

According to the NACS report over 600 students participated in the survey, with the “typical respondent” being an upper class female college student between 18 to 24 years old. Of those surveyed, only 13% had bought an eBook within the last three months. Of those who had bought an eBook, two-thirds bought an electronic / digital textbook for a course and one third specifically for leisure reading.  Nearly three quarters indicated that if given choice, “print textbooks would be their top option.” If only 13% had purchased an eBook in the last three months, this means that 87% had not, and possibly never had the opportunity to own one.

Students were asked about their ebook reading experience compared to a print book. Though the survey indicates the type of device used to read their eBook, e.g., desktop, Netbook, smartphone, tablet, it does not indicate if all respondents had access to the same technology for comparison. The survey reported that “one-third” (the report’s underlining emphasis) of the respondents who had read an eBook felt the experience was somewhat to much better than a print book, 25% were neutral and 29% not as good as a print book.  So, for those who have bought an eBook, only 29% (my emphasis) felt it wasn’t as good an experience as a print book. More importantly, combining those that preferred e-books with those with neutral opinions, nearly 60% would have no problem using them for a course. Of those that preferred print, over half indicated that they “simply preferred print”. As noted above, only 13% had bought and eBook (of what format we don’t know). How would one know if they preferred print if they never had used one? One must draw the conclusion that for those who have had experience with both digital and print, e-books meet or exceed their needs when compared to print books.

There is no presentation of book preference by device use,e.g. those who preferred print over digital if using an iPhone, tablet eReader, or desktop. This information might be useful as the eBook reading experience is likely affected by device features, e.g.,  form factor, mobility, screen size, weight, availability of color. If the only exposure to an eBook has been on a black and white Kindle screen, how could they compare that to an interactive textbook created as an app for the iPad or the very least, one delivered as a full-color, media enabled ePub.

Survey results: Concerns about eBooks

The headline that came out of the report was the if the choice was entirely up to them, 74% would prefer print. The survey reported that cost was the top factor that keeps students considering a digital textbook over print, but the report provided to me does not indicate the percentage. There is no doubt that the price of books, whether print or digital, is an issue for cash-strapped students. Interestingly the report states that  “Additional factors that respondents believe are major issues when considering digital is the inability to sell back the book …” However earlier in the report only 7% of those who prefer print indicated that this was an issue with not preferring digital. But if cost was not an issue, would the response be the same?

Of those who preferred print, over half did so because the simply “preferred print to digital”. Why is it that some simply like a printed book, is it the feel, the portability, device requirement? Several respondents were concerned about not being able to highlight text, embed notes on  page, or lose annotations if the e-Book was erased (which by the way, is equivalent to losing a print book). I have to wonder if all the respondents have at least seen an ePub formatted textbook. Most eBooks, especially textbooks from major publishers like Pearson, McGraw Hill, John Wiley have these features. Would those surveyed answer the same way if they had previous experience with an eTextbook with these features?

Interpreting Preference

To understand student preference for one textbook format over another, more effective comparisons and survey questions need to be asked. For instance, what was the satisfaction level of reading on a tablet versus print, or reading on a laptop versus reading on a tablet. What device did those who didn’t like the experience of reading a digital textbook use? What kind of eBook format was bought? Which eBook file formats did students have experience with? A better understanding of preference for print versus digital may be uncovered if survey respondents had the opportunity to compare a static printed textbook to a dynamic, multimedia enriched textbook.  It might be helpful to break out survey preference data by book type, textbook or trade book. Trade eBooks used in a literature course may not require the same digital features that a science textbook does.

Final thoughts

The survey provides a nice snap shot of current purchase and use of eBook and eReaders by students. Discerning student preference for print over digital books from this particular survey is problematic in my opinion. To adequately address preference, survey respondents need access to a variety of eTextbook formats and devices to compare. A simple analogy is a “taste test” where all make side-by-side comparison to decide on preference.  Unless this is done, it’s “speculation” to draw conclusions about student preference from surveys like this.

References for this post:

Electronic Book and e-Reader Device Report. National Association of College Stores October, 2010. https://www.nacs.org/research/industrystatistics/oncampusresearchbriefs.aspx Last visited 11/24/2010

When is a tablet not a “tablet”: a critique of the 7″ slate/tablet

Apple iPad (Source Flickr)

At its debut, the iPad was much derided for its name, though I found it entirely appropriate. When I think of a pad of paper what comes to mind is an 8.5 X 11 inch yellow legal pad. Legal pads accompanied me to many a class while in school and meetings as a professor.  My legal pads worked well for taking notes, creating drafts of term papers and articles for publication before laptops were widely available.  I didn’t even consider using a 4″X 5″ notepad for anything important. I welcomed the chance to have a portable computer that could substitute for paper tablets.  But the laptop, even though quite portable, still cramped my style. I desired a device that was light weight, comfortable to take notes with in meetings, AND lets med do serious writing  ….. enter the iPad tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab (Image Courtesy samsungmobile.com)

What I need in a mobile work device is a size that is comfortable to write with, powerful enough to handle word processing, easy connectivity to cloud computing resources, and loaded productivity apps for getting my work done. My 13″ MacBook has served me well, but the lighter and smaller 10″ iPad serves as a much better mobile work device. The iPad accompanies me to most meetings and serves as my classroom presentation device. The word processing capabilities easily handle my needs when drafting an article. Combined with its communication and media capabilities, it has practically replaced my laptop. The iPad has undoubtedly brought the tablet computer to the masses and we’re finally seeing competitors entering the market.  Apple’s competitors are now scrambling to create a device that functions as well as the iPad. The Samsung “Galaxy” is one such device that has garnered several good reviews, and a few not so stellar ones.  The major differentiation, beyond the OS, is size and cameras.  The Samsung “Galaxy” is being hailed as the first true competitor to the iPad.

But are seven inch “tablets” like the Galaxy a real competitor to larger tablets like the iPad?

To be a “competitor” means that it can adequately meet my needs as well as my  iPad does. First and foremost a 7″ screen size kills the Galaxy as a competitor to the iPad as a work-oriented device. The 7″ screen of the Galaxy has only 45% of the screen real estate of an iPad. Reviews have noted how cramped the keyboard is and awkward typing feels on it. I cannot see how such a device could hold up to a student trying to take notes during an hour-long lecture. Writing drafts of articles or term papers would be tedious at best. So, for a “tablet” as I have described earlier, it fails. Various reviews give it high marks as a portable media and communications device. Yes, one can do email, play music, and watch videos. Reviewers suggest that it serves nicely as an eReader. But these reviews tend to be related to reading trade books. It questionable how practical a device of this size is for interactive textbooks.

Seven inch tablets fall short as a tool for getting the work of a student or a professor done.  Seven inch tablets are like 4′” x  5″ paper notepads compared to legal pads. They are to a 10″ tablet  as a netbook is to a laptop, they minimally serve your needs, but not in a very productive way.  When is a tablet not a tablet? When it’s seven inch slate.   Do you need one? I don’t.

Edit Google Docs on the iPad

Not being able to edit Google Docs on the iPad has been a source of frustration for many an iPad user, including myself when I first bought the device. That complaint can now be put to rest as Google has brought the ability to edit Google Doc to iOS (and Android) devices. I wasn’t concerned with editing Google Docs on my iPhone, but not having access on my iPad was a pain. However, while I was waiting for Google to implement this feature, I began the process of migrating my cloud-based document storage over to iDisk. Like Google Docs, I have access to my documents wherever I have a network connection. In addition, I can edit my documents using a much better, in my opinion, application …. iWork Pages. For me, Google’s move may be a bit too late, but perhaps not for you.


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