iPad, serious writing, and kafka

Cam-11.jpgOk, I’ve been slow getting back to the blog for the season, but Joe’s post on the iPad winds me up a little. Sure, he likes it in general, but grudgingly.

I’m sad to report reading online websites, including newsmagazines, is less appealing. This, clearly, is a transitional problem. If you make the font large enough (that’s right, I’m old and nearly blind), you have to use the scroll bar.

Joe: There is no scroll bar on the iPad. You flick. The fact is, at least you can increase the font size, making reading (aka skimming) web pages sweet.


Imagine my surprise, then, to find I could only project from Keynote, Apple’s app for presentations. Apparently it’s also a filter, a way of erasing the Internet in terms of visibility and empowering Keynote. Ugh. And folks say Microsoft is evil?

Response in obligatory bullet list:

  • 1. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise – especially to an Early Adopter – that there would be limitations to VGA out.
  • B. It ain’t true. Loads of apps can route to the projector. You have to find them but that’s part of the exploratory spirit of the Early Adopter.
  • III. It isn’t greed, it’s early development – Ok, it’s greed, too. $10 a pop for Keynote x 2,000,001 will pay a lot of graduate tuition. There are alternatives to Keynote that work with the VGA out port – apps that do more than slides. Like concept mapping. Like plain old text. Drop a few dollars in the App Store.
  • > MS is evil. So is Google. But that’s another story.

Speaking of Keynote, an app that drives users towards the lecture, I’m with Joe all the way on Apple’s difficulty envisioning new teaching models when they address us academics. This sounds too familiar:

The lecture model! Isn’t that amazing? Apple gets some of USF’s best tech folks together and then tells them what they already know, what, as the speaker repeatedly mentioned, could be downloaded from the Internet! Jeez, just pass out 20 iPads, break us into groups and have us brainstorm! What can we learn from each other. This is new stuff. Where are we going, educationwise?

Every Apple-presented event I’ve been at for 20 years has been the same damn lecture. It might be those young Apple presenters getting their own back on faculty who lectured them for four years.

But here’s where I have to depart from Joe the most:

The iPad isn’t a writing device, it’s a reading tool, an injection system. Right now I’m logged into a wiki page and visibility is murky: If you want to do some serious writing, get your laptop.

It’s serious enough for me, Joe. Works with my wikis just fine. Maybe it’s the wiki you’re logged into, Joe. Maybe you need a more modern wiki.


I do get the sense of playfulness Joe’s hinting at. Typing with the on-screen keyboard seemed toy-like at first, and some of the apps on the scene work the real-world desktop metaphor far too hard. Notebooks on the iPad don’t need a leather-bound or a legal pad interface; and journal apps don’t need to use some awful script-like font on just as awful bogus-antique paper background. That’s just silly, and it feels silly. (To be fair, even Apple places these apps in the Lifestyle category rather than the more … er… serious Productivity category.)

In fact, it’s a lot like the early days of the Mac. Back then, in the DOS days of urine-yellow text on black screens, the Mac apps looked like toys. Serious work couldn’t be done in MacWrite or MacPaint. Whizzy-wig? Windows? Black text on white ground? That’s for… amateurs. A lifestyle choice.

But the iPad can be serious. Intimidatingly serous. When students present at finals, I usually take notes with pen and notecards, or, occasionally, at one of the desktop machines in the classroom they present in. A couple of days after I got an iPad, I used it instead. It was nice. I don’t suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome, but my handwriting has gone to hell over the past few years, so being able to take typed notes during presentations is brilliant. And I could move around the room, as I typically do, nod a lot, keep the presenters moving. But a couple of presentations in, I realized that the presenters were becoming more anxious than usual. I asked, and one student said, “That iPad thing is intimidating. It’s like you’re taking notes for Kafka.” I put the iPad down and went back to notecards. getserious.jpg

Spoiled my fun for the day – but I did use the Intimidation Factor at an administrative meeting later in the week. If taking notes on the iPad crooked in my arm, moving around the room and nodding, looks Kafkaesque, I’m going to use that kind of seriousness.

The newness of the device, the novelty of writing with it like a turbo-powered clipboard, might be the intimidating factor. This will pass. But after a while, the toy-like feeling, the novelty, slides to the background. I use a bluetooth keyboard when I’m typing extensively on the iPad, so it feels more like a laptop. But I can also get a lot of serious work done

The big issues for me: File management; it takes too much cognitive overhead to think about getting files on and off the iPad. Don’t like the tethered synching with iTunes. Single-tasking. Interface inconsistencies, as Nielsen mentions. PDF annotation is rough around the edges. Might need to switch to html when editing in WordPress, and wikis on pbworks.com are not worth editing using the iPad: too much code.

But, truth be known, I come to the iPad having learned the interface on the iPhone, so greeting the expanse of the iPad is like finally getting out of the cabin after a long winter snowed in. (Obligatory north woods cabin fever metaphor.)

4489021464_72b3fde27f_m.jpgIn mid-July, I’m presenting with Joe and Matt Barton at the WPA Conference. I’ll be using my iPad to draft my part of the presentation and will no doubt use it when we present. I expect members of the audience to take notes with their iPads, and those with 3G to backchannel with them. Sure, there will be a few taking notes with their clunky old serious laptops, and it will be a pleasure to talk with them. But I want to go to the bar with the iPad users, not the laptoppers. bar photo by jeffwilcox.