Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Type-casting the iPad

Like most folks interested in new media technologies, we got us an iPad as soon as they came out. And it’s great for some things – such as sitting on the sofa and doing some online shopping, reading blogs, etc. You’ve heard all this before. Great for passive consumption.

I was surprised at DH2010 how many people were toting iPads around as their work machines, though. And I am surprised at the increasing number of people who bring them to meetings at work. Why? Because the iPad is not a machine to do academic work on if you can actually type.

One of the best things I did when I started my PhD and had some time on my hands was spend 30 mins a day for a few months learning to touchtype (thanks, past-semi-bored-self!). Although the quick brown fox jumps over the rusty fence was tedious, it means I can motor through emails and student assessments and drafts of articles now. (I never mastered touch typing numerical, or complex punctuation, but hey, that doesn’t slow me down much). But it also means I could never seriously use the iPad as a work machine: the layout of the keyboard reduces everyone to two-fingered dad-typing. I cant use trusty keyboard shortcuts to make processes that little bit quicker. My productivity – on email, in taking notes, in creating documents – is massively reduced. Back to the normal keyboard and normal laptop it is.

As a result, when more and more colleagues turn up to meetings with their shiny new iPad toy, I’m not sitting there impressed and cooing. I’m thinking – ahaa, thats why it takes you so long to answer emails.

Youth of today: learn to touchtype! (But, as the old advice goes, don’t tell anyone that you can, you don’t want to be treated like a secretary...) And don’t think that shiny and new and touch screen means increased productivity - well, not where emails and documents and reports are concerned, anyway.

4 comments:

justin tonra said...

Really pleased to read this post - I also noticed the numbers of iPads at the conference, and pretty much came to many of the same conclusions that you have here. I really quailed at the prospect of doing most-of-what-I-usually-do-at-work on a machine like the iPad, but wondered whether I was missing something or being fuddy-duddy.
I read this article a while back, but it's centred on the iPad as a device for reading and note-taking, rather than more heavy-duty typing - would have been nice to see the author allude to this further limitation.
Also - 'rusty fence'? Whatever happened to the lazy dog?

Melissa said...

where I'm from, all the lazy dogs had been sold for food. there were only rusty fences left :)

Seriously, I think for people who can type and use keyboard shotcuts, and are working on text, that the iPad just cannot be a realistic work environment. Its a great thing, but not for academic work.

candace said...

I don't have one, but I saw someone pull out their wireless keyboard to do heavy-duty typing, then put it back in their bag when they were done. How common (or useful) is that?

Brett said...

Yes, I have a shiny iPad. I completely agree that for serious composing/editing, a real computer is the way to go. But for conferences, I've found that an iPad (w/my external bluetooth keyboard) is a terrific machine. Why? Two reasons, mainly: 1) While others at the conference are scrambling to find a nearby electrical outlet, my iPad is humming along. If I showed up at DH in the morning with a full charge, it lasted the full day. 2) I also like how light the machine is for travel (and yet has a larger and easier to read screen than, say, many netbooks). Plus, in the US at least, iPads don't need to come out of your bag at the airport x-ray machine.

Also wanted to completely agree with you on touch typing. On reflection, typing may have been the most valuable class I took in high school.