Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stuhlman and the iPad

Apple Computers has sold close to 4 million iPads. I was very curious as to why so many people think this is a worthwhile device to purchase. When the library purchased four Apple iPads, I wanted to evaluate how they could be used in the library. I have been a computer owner since 1979 and this is the first time that I have written a hardware review.

I have never liked Apple products -- from the moment I used the Apple II to the latest machines, Apple products have one trait in common – they are proprietary and don’t follow industry standards. My first computer was a NorthStar Horizon. One major reason to purchase it was the S-100 bus. (The bus is the hardware connection to the peripheral devices such as I/O cards and memory.) I was convinced that multiple manufactures would supply parts. If NorthStar didn’t sell a card, another company would. Apple peripherals only fit Apple computers. Apple squashed any compatible machines or alternatives to their operating systems. The same is true for the iPad. The operating system is only for the Apple. They don’t allow any software (known as app[lication]s) to be loaded without first getting Apple approval and sold through their Istore.

First, I should say some nice things about the machine. It is a really “cool” and addicting device. I find myself looking at it constantly. I stayed up very late many nights using the machine to watch videos and play games. The screen colors and picture quality are great. It takes pictures and can be used for visual presentations. To the left is a picture taken in the library.

Several days in my patrols around the library I carried the iPad to see if I could be used to help people. The iPad could connect to the Internet and library catalog. It is a great mobile device that keeps a connection with a Wi-Fi signal. No one needed the help I could provide with the device. In one library the Wi-Fi signal stopped at the office door, but this is not an Apple problem.

For taking the library to a student or faculty member the iPad has potential. Some libraries are using the device for on the spot instruction. Gretchen Maxeiner in an Autocat (a listserv for catalogers) posting (Dec 16, 2011 1:28 PM) said that The Health Sciences Library System at the University of Pittsburgh provides iPads to faculty librarians. Their librarians have found a lot of uses such as demonstrating library resources and one-on-one instruction outside of the library. They can use it for personal productivity such as checking for messages, consulting and reading documents, and supporting the activities of a meeting. At professional meetings the agenda and schedule can be saved on the iPad.

I used the iPad at a meeting to take notes and to look up information on the Internet. While taking to someone I was able to research a quick answer at a meal without waiting until I got back to my office computer. Many people at the meeting had iPads and claimed to like them.

The touch screen is great for some programs and annoying for others. When checking e-mail, the screen did not always respond to checking the mail that wanted to open. Very often a mail before or after the one I wanted would open. Sometimes I needed to tap many times before the window would open. Typing a message is tedious and editing is next to impossible. Sometimes entering passwords would take a much longer time that with regular keyboard because I can’t type as fast and the Apple iPad is more prone to mistakes. I can’t touch type or use two hand techniques with the onscreen keyboard. When the web site requests checking a box or similar choice, the iPad does not always read my gesture as the one I want. Some of these limitations are solved by an external keyboard that connects via Bluetooth.

The Apple Safari web browser on Apple’s website ( claims it is fast, elegant, and innovative. It is not fast, elegant, or innovative. Apple claims one can navigate with touch and gesture. The iPad version of Safari is a limited version of the browser. Frequently I had to repeat the gesture to make it understood. Tapping twice is supposed to make the screen zoom, it does, but many times I wanted the tap to move me to another page. The double tap gesture both zooms and opens a live link. However, one can not control which action the browser will take. A cached page loads very quickly; new pages load much slower than with my desktop computers running Firefox. Firefox has many more options and control features than Safari, but is not available for the iPad. (Mac version are available.) In Firefox and Internet Explorer I can control the colors, fonts, and start page. Not in Safrari. Safari will not remember login information and not display the address information on a potential link. There is an option for Safari to autofill login names and passwords. Most of the time Safari will not close a window on the first try.

Safari does not allow the setting of a home page. I heavily use the home page button. In the library I want to return to the library home page after helping a reader. At home my home page has news and stock feeds. It is a window to other web sites that I may want to visit. The version for the PC or Mac has many more features that are comparable to Firefox and Internet Explorer. Printing is available only from compatible wireless printers.

Some of the apps are down right awesome. The AccuWeather app gives the local conditions and forecast. However, some of the links are accessed with hidden gestures. The Huffingpost app is a great way to read and retrieve their news feed. However the speed to load is not consistent. This app makes reading the articles a lot better than using Safari.

I wanted to attend a class that used WebEx for the presentation and Safari would not allow it. Since Apple refuses to allow Adobe Flash video many sites with video will not work. Some sites have workarounds for video content. ABC and NBC Television have apps that allows one to view content for their TV shows. CBS does not have an app and their program material will not display on the iPad; but the commercials are able to be seen. The viewing experience is mixed. Hulu requires one to be a premium member to use their app. The screen presentation has vivid color and a picture superior to many dedicated televisions. The built in speaker is mediocre. To get stereo one needs ear or head phones.

The headphone jack is not easily visible. I did not know one was present until someone showed it to me. It does not look like a place for jack. The other buttons are also not labeled.

Reading books on the iPad is inconsistent. When I first searched, I didn't find a Kindle app, but two commenters pointed me to the app. Reading with the Google Books apps is easy. The letters are very legible and page turning is intuitive. However, Google does not allow the user to alphabetize or organize my book collection. This is not an Apple specific comment.

For accessing the library databases, Ebsco has an app for mobile devices, but the screen display is more appropriate for the smaller screen of an iPod. The results are hard to read because of the size. The size can be doubled but the clarity is diminished. Reading the article on the regular search page is easier and more legible, but not as clear as Google books. Proquest does not have an app.

In summary, the iPad has limited usefulness in library or other business environment. It has limited flexibility and features. The gestures on the touch screen are inconsistent and sometime the response is not what I intended. It lacks standard ports and many features are not intuitive. It is not a replacement for a full computer. However, if one finds useful applications its use can be addicting. It is a convenient device to check email, search the Web, watch movies, play games, read and do short demos.


sharon said...

"Apple products have one trait in common – they are proprietary and don’t follow industry standards."

Yes! Thank you.

Jacquie said...

One "work around" for the lack of home page option...You can save your home page to the home screen. then, when you are on Safari, you can simply double tap the home button and you can open your home screen.

Do you have IOS 5? The newest version of safari allows for multiple tabs, which is very helpful. I have no idea if there is a hidden way to set any of the tabs to go automatically to a specific webpage every time. I will explore a little. I've found lots of things by trial and error. Such as the ability to type an apostrophe without switching to the numeric keyboard by simply pressing and holding the comma key.

Jacquie said...

I just noticed your comment re Kindle. There IS a Kindle app. It is called Kindle cloud reader. There is also Nook and Kobo. Also and Overdrive app for borrowing ebooks from libraries who subscribe to the Overdrive service.

Daniel D. Stuhlman said...


In a well designed system, which people said is one of Apple's strong points, there should be no need for convoluted "work arounds." In a flexible system each user should have the option to make the environment optimal for their computing tasks and personal tastes. That is why some programs have multiple ways to perform the same task.

Safari does allow multiple tabs, but that is not the same as switching programs in Windows with the alt-tab keys.

When I searched the apps store for "Kindle" I had no hits. Please tell us how you found the app.


Jacquie said...

When I search the app store it comes up,with Kindle AMZN Mobile LLC. And if you go to the following website, you will be able to download Kindle Cloud Reader.

I definitely agree about the proprietariness of Apple. The lack of Adobe Flash really aggravates me. However, after a year, first with iPad and then iPad2 I have to say I would not be without it. Although my next will likely be an android to avoid the annoying aspects of Apple. I found it addicting at first, but found the lack of full functionality to be annoyong. Then I had an insight. It is truly NOT a desktop or laptop computer and I should not compare it to either. Just as we would not expect our phones to do everything. It is a different beast altogether. I find it's biggest advantage is that it is a social machine. It is easier to share between people than using a smartphone given the screen sizes. The biggest thing I've found at home? Where I used to go and check my mail and other comouter tasks in my office, my husband would be either watching tv or in his office. Now we just sit in our living room and do our reading and email checks in the same room...sharing what we read. Much more like "days of olde!". :-)

E.D.K. said...

Re: Kindle app
Only moments ago, I searched for the Kindle app in the App Store on my iPad. It is the first app in the search results.

Many of your complaints seem to be related to specific apps rather than the iPad itself. Since Apple is not responsible for the creation of apps, merely the hosting of the software, it seems your complaint ought to lie with the app creators.

Re: EBSCO app
This app is actually an iPod/iPhone app that can be used on the iPad. This is indicated when then app is downloaded.

Daniel D. Stuhlman said...

I changed the article to reflect that a Kindle app does exist.

To E.D.K -- Apple is responsible for all the apps. They approve all of them before they can appear in the Apps Store and there is no other way to get software. The response of the touch screen is hardware and is problematic with all the apps.

Concerning the Ebsco app, I did mention that it is better for the iPod than the iPad.

WiFilibrarian said...

Interesting review. Interesting you found you didn't get much use out of it trying to help patrons. Did they recognise you as a librarian in the stacks? You mentioned you had trouble joining a webex meeting, try the Webex app. It works okay.

To get the most use out of the device you need the right apps, and often plenty of them that may only do one thing, but generally do it pretty well.

Daniel D. Stuhlman said...

To WiFilibrarian: Thank you for your comments.

I did not even know there was a Web-Ex to search for. The meeting was supposed to start at 12N and I had no time to to even know that I needed a special app. Neither WebEx nor the people running the meeting informed me.

Everyone knows I'm a librarian because I dress differently than any students or faculty. I always wear a tie that is book or computer related. I also greet people and ask if they need help.
My evidence is anecdotal, not a scientific study.

There are other concerns with the device that I didn't even mention. For example if one is viewing the iPad and you want to change position in your chair you may move the iPad to get a better view. The iPad may turn or flip the picture against your wishes.

J Allen said...

Interesting points. You mentioned the lack of being able to switch apps - try double clicking the home button. Or, in ios5, using 4 fingers to scroll to the previous app. Also, Jacquie's suggestion about the shortcut on the home screen - I don't see that as a "work around." I see that as being able to immediately go to the website of your choosing, not a work around. You could also add those sites to your bookmarks in Safari. And you can lock your screen orientation in a couple of ways. One would be to double click the home button to bring up multi tasking (as mentioned earlier for switching apps) then scrolling from
left to right along the multi tasking bar. There is arrowed circle that has a lock in it.
It's not a computer. It's an iPad. Don't let your past Apple biases cloud your thinking of this great tool.
By the way, accessed your link from an email and made my comment all on my iPad :)