Background and first impressions

by Nicolas Forsans

A week ago the first iPads reached us here in Leeds and this gave me an opportunity to have first hand exposur

e to the iPad. Being an Android devotee since the release of the first (decent) Android phone (the HTC Hero) about 4 years ago if I remember correctly I had a good understanding of how Android worked and what could be done with it.  I had

since acquired quite a few Android phones (the popular HTC Desire, its less popular little brother Desire S and more recently the one that led Apple to sue Samsung and everybody else: The white Galaxy S2). I had never thought much of iPads, mostly because of the lack of basic copy/paste and other functionalities when the first iPhones were released – functionalities that were provided de facto on Android. Then came the iPad and newer iPhones, but the way these devices are locked by Apple kind of put me off. Meanwhile the Android platform provided additional functionalities and a smoother user interface with every platform upgrade, from Android 1.5 (Cupcake?) to 3.x (Honeycomb) and the long awaiting IceCreamSandwich (4.x). From phones I moved to tablets, having tested the Motorola Xoom and Asus’s innovative Transformer – the one that comes with a detachable keyboard.

In short – I had never been tempted by iOS and the iPad.  The arrival, a week early of the School’s iPads 2 for our pilot project provided me with the perfect opportunity to get my hands on one.

The recent influx of Android tablets, the promise of cheaper prices with the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle Fire and a myriad of Asian manufacturers all going Android – all this provided us with a strong incentive to consider their suitability to a learning and teaching context, in addition to the iPad. This is what our pilot project is all about, and the thoughts of our 15 testers will be published on here over the next 6 months.

First impressions

Woww, there is no denying the product is stunning. John, one of our Pro-Deans at Leeds called it yesterday an “object of desire”. He’s not off the mark. The screen in particular is a pleasure to watch, and the on-screen keyboard is particularly good. And the device is increadibly thin and light to carry around. Too light and too easily scratched? maybe. I realised I would have to take super great care of it..!  These are the unique selling points of the iPad2. Then there are the apps, but with Android catching up with Apple in recent years the massive app catalogue may not be an element of differentiation for too long.

A quick look at Apple’s Appstore reveals a number of apps which I had used for a long time on my Android tablet so I am not in an unfamiliar territory. On thing I have noticed however: apps that I have used on Android tend to be more expensive on the iPad than they are on Android. In my opinion there is no economic justification for it. iPads have been far more popular than android tablets as a result of the late launch of the latter which, if anything, provide developers with  much bigger markets to spread fixed costs onto. This should result in lower prices on the iPad, not higher ones. The only justification I can think of is developers taking the view that Apple customers splash out more money than Android ones, given the price points used (retail prices) by Apple. If true, then I think it is a rip-off! It would be interesting to compare prices across both platforms for a sample of apps and check whether these claims hold true.

One of the first things I did after switching the device on is to customise it and add email accounts. This was a straightforward process, although what struck me is the way in which the iPad handles it in relation to Android. All settings, including app-specific settings are all together in a “Settings” section.  This took me some time to get used to – in Android, app-specific settings reside within each app, which makes more sense to me. Not a deal breaker though.

And then I was ready to go… and that’s when I started to feel disappointed at the way Apple locks the whole system. While the Android browser has loads of settings that can be user-customised (for example, to load a full version of a webpage in the browser as opposed to the default mobile version of it, to load or not external images, to take screenshots from the browser, to name a few) Apple has none, and so every single user has to use Safari in exactly the way. Gone was the ability to upload right from the browser a webpage to my Evernote account for future reference. I started to realise the flexibility provided by the way Android handles some activities and the ability for the user to customise his tablet experience is Android’s unique selling point – something I had taken for granted.  Doing some google searches revealed a number of workarounds to solve a few of these problems, some of them rather tedious to implement while others were more straightforward – details in future posts.

Finally the browser is a pleasure to use. Of course the lack of Flash support meant streaming audio and video programmes was no longer an option in Safari, something I had taken for granted on my Xoom. Media companies have found a way round: the app. Having downloaded the BBC iplayer and some other apps (iTele for french news, for example) solved the streaming problem in Safari. Happy I was, but also conscious I would have to change the way I work as clearly the iPad does not support some of the functionalities I had grown accustomed to on Android. Time will tell how quickly I can adapt to it and get back on track – as I tend to spend a long time  travelling by train each week my tablet is what enables me to turn dead time into productive one. So I will have to find workarounds…

On Tuesday I had to say good bye to my short term companion as one of our testers took it off me. Overall a very pleasant experience, so pleasant indeed I bought one on Monday night so that I could keep exploring it. Next step: download the wordpress app for the iPad and post my thoughts right from the device. Plenty more to say about my first week using the iPad, so until next time….. thanks for reading..!

Nicolas

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About nforsans
Academic at Leeds University Business School and Learning Technologist, Programme Director for the MSc International Business

4 Responses to Background and first impressions

  1. And I thought you had become an apple convert when I saw you with the iPad yesterday

  2. From a productivity point of view I regard tablets as devices which impact crucial tasks – such as text input in a negative way. This is mainly because of the lower WPM input rates compared to a physical keyboard on devices such as laptops or netbooks. This is probably the biggest reason why I steered away from one this is one area where developers should focus if they are thinking to improve adoption in educational settings.

    In terms of delivering/consuming learning content and evaluation the device offers a breakthrough which will impact education in a big way in future years.

    As always interesting stuff going on at Leeds Uni – curious to find out what insight the research will produce.

    • nforsans says:

      Hey Louis, good to see you on here, not sure how you found your way but here you are! I have found the iPads keyboard to be excellent, and since I never trained as a typist (ha!) I feel I am as good at typing on the iPad as I am on a real keyboard – which may tell you a thing or two about my typing speed!!!
      Anyway so far so good. I know of a few colleagues who have used a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad with very similar typing performance to that of a keyboard attached to a laptop…

      Thanks for following us 😉
      Nicolas

  3. stefano123 says:

    I would definitely disagree on your comment that tablets impact on crucial tasks such as text input. I have been using the iPad for just over a week now and I can safely say that the iPad is extremely responsive to fast typing, even more so than a laptop keyboard. The reasoning behind this is because the physical demand of typing on an iPad is even less than that of a laptop. I am not saying it is physically demanding to type, because it is not :). What I am trying to explain is that when you type on a laptop it involves pressing the keys for the laptop to register the input of the text. The iPad however just involves a quick tap of the key, with very little effort. Therefore when you are typing it is actually faster using the iPad. If you are going by text input in the form of letters, numbers and symbols – the iPad is much slower in terms of WPM because you have to press numerous keys to get numbers and symbols up (however there are many apps that overcome this disadvantage by providing all the symbols in an easily accessible scroll function). This is coming from an iPad skeptic by the way. I think that the iPad does lack certain ability but the text input ability is not one and this is something you should definitely put to the test to see where I am coming from.

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