Posted tagged ‘iPad’

The digital life, and nothing but?

November 4, 2011

I am writing this post from my office in my university. I am typing it into my iMac (Apple Macintosh). Sitting next to it is my iPad, which right now contains some 50 books and other materials; one of the iPad-resident books I am reading is on the future of higher education. If I look beyond my computing equipment to the wall opposite, there are two bookcases in which I have maybe 250 books (I have rather more than that at home). Are these sources of reading in competition with each other, and if they are, which one will win in the end?

The digital ones will, if you follow the perspective of Salford University’s new digital campus at the MediaCity location. The director of this venture describes his facility as follows:

‘This is a digital futures campus. It is not a place you come to read books. It is a place to do real work on real-time digital platforms. You are not messing around – you are in the real world.’

Some of this is at the heart of what we might call the knowledge world, since it extends beyond higher education. There is a school of thought in this world that just thinks digital: the school of MIT’s Media Labs, or of the new Salford venture. There are others who believe that this is all the work of devil, and that those who like digital products and processes are clearly philistines. The reality is probably somewhere in between. But the issue is more important than just a question of technology and platforms. It is about how we handle, disseminate and process knowledge. Digital technology gives us much greater choices, and I am certainly an avid user. But I don’t conclude from this that the world of books no longer has a use beyond aesthetically populating bookshelves. In the end, books are probably still the most durable source of data. I think.

Replacing paper with iPads

September 2, 2011

I have mentioned this phenomenon before, but here is another instance of a university handing students a pre-loaded Apple iPad for a degree programme. The institution in question is Rutgers University, the premier university in New Jersey; and it is handing out the iPad to students on some of its MBA courses. Given the high volume of hand-outs and other materials on such courses, the iPad reduces the use of paper very substantially (and therefore is not as big a net cost as might be imagined); and it is also a highly usable piece of learning technology.

This may be the future of higher education. The iPad (and, I imagine, other similar devices by other manufacturers) is certainly capable of being adapted to interesting learning uses, inside and outside the classroom. At any rate it seems to me that the era of the class ‘hand-out’ should be over; there is no justification any more for printing thousands of pages of course materials. The paperless university programme should soon be upon us.

You put your laptop in, you take your laptop out, and shake it all about

June 2, 2011

The ink has hardly dried on one of my recent posts about learning technology in higher education (OK, the ink doesn’t have to dry much in this business, but I like the occasional rhetorical flourish) when I read about an American professor who is banning all laptops from his classes. So what is he then, some sort of Luddite? No, not necessarily. He believes to have found that laptops during lectures (and other events, including external ones) reduce productivity and compromise student exam answers.

I cannot help thinking that it might have been better to offer instruction on how to navigate in the online world, rather than attempt to take the whole computing business out of higher education. While it may well be true that laptops with their multiple uses can distract, it would seem to me that preparing the students properly would help higher education rather more. As other devices (such as the iPad) take the place of laptops, we must be imaginative in integrating these into the fabric of learning. But trying to make the technology go away is probably not the wisest approach.

The allure and mystery of new learning technology

May 26, 2011

Way way back, in the pre-historic age (as far as technology is concerned) of the late 1980s, as a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, I managed to strike a deal with Apple Computers (as the company then was) under which staff and students were able to purchase the then brand new Macintosh laptops at a discount. I think the machine was called a Macintosh ‘Portable‘, which it was, in the sense that two sturdy men who had recently had their breakfast would have been able lift it in an ergonomic sort of way. Anyway, I digress. The thinking behind the deal was that we might be able to make some use of these computers in teaching. It never really came to that, because while some students did buy them, not enough did to make them a tool that could be widely used.

But here we are, some two-and-a-bit decades later, and certainly what Apple is offering now is very ‘portable’ indeed. Whether it is the MacBook Air, or the iPad – or indeed whether you choose some of the computers and tablets offered by other manufacturers and with other operating systems – it would be very easy to have one on every student’s desk or lap during a class. Indeed, a recent survey has shown that students have been buying iPads in a not very precisely defined expectation that, amongst other things, it will turn out to be a very valuable learning tool. But the same survey has also revealed that not too many students use them for this purpose. And so I wonder, why is this?

A possible answer is that students are adopting new technology but are not necessarily finding that their universities are doing so. Therefore the pedagogical value of the gadget is a selling point, but students are finding once they have bought the gadget that they they cannot easily use it in their degree programmes and so they just watch movies and play games instead.

Right now technology that is usable for teaching is flooding in, but universities (with some exceptions) are very slow to look radically at how they enable it for that purpose. There are groups of academics everywhere discussing new learning technology, and some really interesting ideas are emerging, but overall across universities as a whole not very much is happening. The whole field of technology-enabled learning needs to be mainstreamed to a much greater extent; it is not (or should not be) the preserve of nerds.

Forget pen, paper and textbooks: here comes the iPad

March 17, 2011

Apparently there is a school in Tennessee in the United States that is about to make ownership of an iPad compulsory for all students. The school in question decided not to renew all of its 700 computers (an amazing equipment infrastructure by our standards over here) and instead is focusing on having iPads as the computing norm. Leaving aside affordability, in terms of the future of computing this is probably a shrewd move. Desktop computers and even most laptops may soon be a thing of the past, and the new wave of tablet computers may take their place, gadgets that will combine computing with entertainment and broadcasting.

I suspect that some universities will be looking at similar measures. There are, for gadget lovers (and iPad owners) like myself, interesting times ahead.

Motherhood and Apple pie

January 18, 2011

I have mentioned previously that, in technology terms, I am an Apple man. I have two Apple Macintosh desktop computers and one laptop; I have an iPhone; I have an iPad; I have two iPods; I have an Apple TV. At times in my long life I have used PCs, and I am proficient in the use of Windows, but I am always glad to get back to my Apple stuff.

But part of the Apple culture I subscribe to was formed in days of, if not adversity, then at least underdog status. First it was the hegemony of ‘IBM-compatible’ computers (a term the younger generation will never even have heard of), then of MS-DOS (which was the dawn of Microsoft), then of Windows. While these systems controlled 90 per cent or thereabouts of personal computing, it was fun to be part of the alternative Apple culture. Or at least, it was fun until Steve Jobs left Apple and its products started to look like the faceless IBM/Microsoft competition. Those were the days that I moved over for a while to Windows, made more fun by the fact that my computers were home-made by my Faculty’s then technology officer.

But Jobs returned to Apple, the Truth was re-discovered and made more Perfect still, and everything in my house went back to Purity and Good Design. Then came the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad, and all this is even more perfect than anything before. Indeed, the iPad is probably signalling the New Age of electronic enlightenment. But something is not the same. We are not the oppressed minority, we are not the under-dogs. Apple has become the largest global technology company, it almost totally controls online music sales. It does not have the dominant market share in either smartphones or computers, but it has the recognised leading product in each. Out-manoeuvered for so long by Microsoft, Apple is now thought by some analysts to be getting ready to take over its old rival. The future is Apple.

Or is it? The question mark in the story hovers over Steve Jobs himself. Here is the man who, without a doubt, gives Apple its identity, its style, its ability to fuse technology with design and culture. And he is ill. Yesterday he announced, again, that he is taking leave from the company to deal with health issues. How dependent is the world’s Apple future on this one man? Or has he now instilled in the company a sense of design and destiny that will survive him if he were to retire?

Indeed, the question is this: is computing success the product of better technology, or is it a cultural matter? I must do a bit of research on this. On my iPad of course.

Taking the tablets

September 29, 2010

I’ve now had my iPad for over three months, and I continue to use it more and more. Most recently I have taken to propping it up at meetings and taking notes on it, since I discovered that I can actually write faster on it than on a traditional keyboard (I don’t touch type, however). Most of my reading is now done on the iPad, and quite a bit of my web browsing.I have found that as a gadget it kind of adapts to my needs and preferences in a very intuitive way. The thing works for me.

Now I see that the iPad is to get a competitor, in the form of a slightly smaller device to be known as the Blackberry Playbook. Like many people, I started my mobile computing on a Blackberry, and indeed had three of these in sequence. Then along came the iPhone, and to me at least the Blackberry suddenly looked dated and sort of boring; and I’ve been with Apple ever since. But the Blackberry has stayed in business, and remains very powerful. And now it has decided to follow Apple’s lead into the tablet market. Its sales pitch is that this is going to be the device for business – as distinct from the perceived idea that the iPad is for media and leisure. If that is the target, I do wonder about the ‘Playbook’ name, which just doesn’t conjure up seriousness. But it does look neat, and some may prefer its smaller size. It also has some features that the original iPad doesn’t have, such as a USB port.

I’ll stick with the iPad (a new model is now rumoured), but competition is always good, so I hope that Blackberry does manage to get a foothold with this device.

Taking the tablets

August 22, 2010

Two months have passed since I acquired my Apple iPad, and so I have had a little time to explore whether this is the future of computing, or indeed of entertainment and mobile-everything. The verdict so far: I’ve been taking it everywhere, and have been using it principally as a notetaker at meetings, as a mobile internet browser and as an ebook reader, probably all three in equal measure. I occasionally (but more rarely) use it as a music device or as a viewer for video content, or as a tool for presentations (when linked to a projector). The combination of document creation and editing, and reading books, somehow makes it a perfect tool for an academic, as far as I am concerned.

So am I persuaded? Absolutely. There have been a few moments when not everything is as intuitive as I would like; for example, it took me longer than it should have to work out how to transfer documents between the iPad and my Macintosh, and indeed it somehow annoys me (not sure why) that I have to do this via iTunes. I also had to learn to switch off all wireless functions whenever I wasn’t using them, as they run down the battery much faster. But on the whole these are minor gripes. Overall, the device is doing everything for me that I wanted it to do, and as an ebook reader it is as close to perfect as I could wish for.

So what about the competition? Obviously, Apple didn’t invent the tablet concept, though it certainly has turned it from something that frankly wasn’t finding a market to something that is now visible everywhere. But there is no reason why others shouldn’t get in on the act. So far, I don’t see anything. But there are announcements. HP ha announced two different models for 2011, and LG (a company which often impresses with the visual style of its gadgets and equipment) has declared that it will shortly launch something that will be much better than the iPad – you can read a prediction here that it will fail in that perhaps rather bold ambition. Apple itself may be unveiling a new iPad or two early next year.

Competition is always good. And this user of a tablet at any rate is persuaded that the market for this kind of device is going to be big. Very big.

More and more ebook readers

August 1, 2010

The ambiguity in the title of this post is deliberate: only just over two years since the first generation of the Amazon Kindle went on sale in the United States (only), ebook devices have become more and more popular, and people who favour this particular form of reading have become more and more numerous. For those who are serious about ebooks, the choice is now between the Kindle itself (now about to go into the third generation), the Sony Reader, the iLiad, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and of course the Apple iPad (though this is more than an ebook reader). In addition, the associated ebook stores of some of these devices also offer software (‘apps’) that simulate the devices on the iPad: so for example, as an iPad owner you can download the Kindle app and then use the iPad as a Kindle, including the facility for direct downloads of Amazon Kindle ebooks.

So now the question is beginning to arise as to whether ebooks will become the standard format for reading, and what impact this will have on paper or hard copy versions. I don’t know if I am at all typical, but right now I am purchasing and reading lots of ebooks; if on reading a book I feel that I may want to read it again I buy the paper version as well. I don’t think that bookshelves will disappear; but it is possible that sales will decline for a while before becoming stable at a lower figure.

Welcoming the iPad to Ireland

July 24, 2010

Yesterday Apple’s iPad finally came to Ireland, having teased us for a while with its appearance in the United States, Britain and indeed Northern Ireland. As readers of this blog will know, I have had my own iPad now for a few weeks, purchased while I was in Belfast on business.

Well for those who didn’t make the pilgrimage to Northern Ireland or elsewhere, it’s now available in Dublin. News reports say that trade was brisk, and there were some queues of people when the shops opened, but nothing too hysterical, and there were still iPads available at the end of the day. My guess is that the excitement was slightly less intense here because many of the real fanatics had already purchased one in Belfast or Britain.

As for me, I have now had the iPad for exactly five weeks. I take it everywhere. I write notes at meetings on it, I listen to music, I consult my online calendar, I read books. In fact, I have just finished the first work of fiction read entirely on the iPad. I was already the owner of two Amazon Kindles, and I have to say that the reading experience on the iPad is much better, in the sense that it feels more book-like and handles better. And for Kindle owners, you can continue to use your iPad as a Kindle also; you can transfer your Kindle purchases to it and also buy and download new Kindle books from Amazon directly on the iPad. On addition, you have Apple’s iBookstore – and books purchased there have some slight advantages, such as genuine page numbering (which is important if you are consulting academic books).

Some reviewers have talked about the iPad’s limitations, but I have to confess I haven’t experienced that at all. Yes, Flash is missing, and if you want to print you have to transfer whatever it is to your PC or Mac first; and yes, whatever little grumble this or that reviewer had is probably correct. But for me, none of this has mattered.

So would I recommend it? Oh yes, absolutely. Just don’t try to get mine!