Apologia pro iPad sua

(“Are you sure that ‘iPad’ is feminine?” Err …. Now you mention it, no. But let’s not fuss about that, eh?)

Ok, I really didn’t intend to buy an iPad. Let alone buy one on the first day of availability in the UK. Honest. But there they were in the Apple store as I was passing, the early queues had subsided, and I got a chance to play with one undisturbed for three quarters of an hour … So I fell, and here I am.

A wild extravagance? Well, not that wild. I’m always a bit surprised, in fact, by the rather stingy attitude towards techie expenditure of some academic colleagues. We often spend five, six, seven hours a day on a computer; why settle for anything but the best available for what we need to do? After all, these things have, relatively speaking, become amazingly cheap. Discount a new bit of kit over three years, and then work out the number of decent coffees a week the same expenditure will buy … even your fanciest laptop comes out as one espresso (not even a doppio) a day. Surely worth splashing out if it makes a coffee’s worth of difference!

And the iPad does make a difference, for less then three coffees a week. Take all the on-the-sofa uses you make of a laptop (idle and not so idle surfing, reading the news, catching up on BBC iPlayer, answering emails, etc. etc.): the iPad is just much nicer to use for all those, and it works as an iPod at the same time. But I don’t need to tell you that, as you’ve seen the reviews.

But here’s a big additional selling point for academics that’s worth highlighting here; it simply transforms the business of reading papers and books (whether PDFs or proper e-publications), much more than I was expecting.

Like a lot of readers here, no doubt, I’ve a heap of downloaded philosophy and logic papers (organized on a Mac using the terrific Papers), and I’ve quite a few books in PDF form too. But even with a beautiful Mac screen, the experience of reading on a laptop somehow isn’t that engaging, as you gaze over the keyboard across the desk (or indeed, across your lap): I still prefer to read the physical paper copies, given the chance. But it is all a lot more upclose and personal with the iPad, as you sit back in your favourite chair and hold the iPad propped on a knee or in the crook of your arm just as you would a hardback. The screen is just fantastic; you can orientate it as you want; the navigation by touching the screen is as natural as turning the pages of a physical book. It beats reading on a laptop or a fixed screen hands down. Oh, and you can sync your Mac with Papers on the iPad.

But this doesn’t really begin to convey the quality of the difference. Lots of early reviewers said, roughly, you just have to experience the iPad to “get it”, and I was very ready to scoff. However, they are right about that; though — I’d claim — the point applies particularly to the iPad as a device for reading papers and books. For in that role it is amazing, and I’m just delighted with it. Try it.

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11 Responses to Apologia pro iPad sua

  1. Lewis says:

    Know what you mean! I cracked a few apple jokes and went to the store just to look, so I felt like I had looked at the options before ordering a kindle dx to read papers on. I am typing this comment from my iPad right now.

    It is as good as a dx for papers ( unless outside with glare), but can do so much more (like browse rss feeds in bed without a laptop providing unnecessary summer warmth).

  2. Rowsety Moid says:

    How does one type on an ipad?

    (I am guessing that a little keyboard-like picture or overlay appears.)

    • Peter Smith says:

      No – a big keyboard appears … Works very well. You wouldn’t want to write a long novel on it, but dashing off a quick email or a comment like this is fine.

  3. Kirk says:

    With you all the way- brilliant piece of kit.

  4. Tikitu says:

    I’d be interested to hear how you’re finding it for intensive reading (say, an hour or so undisturbed). I’ve got an “e-ink” reader (the iLiad by iRex, iHateTheName) and found it marvellous in that respect. Am now wondering how much of that is genuinely down to the display tech and how much is just that you can hold it comfortably… (E-ink handles glare better, but let’s be realistic: direct sun on the screen probably means we’re not *really* working anyway. But I still wonder how my eyes are going to hold up to a glowing screen over an intensive study session.)

    (Here via somone I read who reads you… but I see you’re responsible for LaTeX for Logicians: thank you! I wish I had known about this when I hacked together a ‘fitch-style’ proof package without knowing what to google for… but since then I’ve definitely profited from your industry.)

    • Peter Smith says:

      I’ve now used it a lot for reading, including for a five hour plus stretch on a long haul flight. No problems at all, zero strain. You can of course adjust the brightness, but I let the iPad adjust itself to the ambient light and it works just fine!

      • Tikitu says:

        Thanks, good to hear. I fear I may have to join the bandwagon, one of these days… (Are there already pdf annotation apps? I use(d) my reader quite a lot for proofreading and reviewing, it’s nowhere near a paper substitute but I can imagine the iPad might be closer?)

  5. Yesterday I made a post on the PhilTeX blog about reading PDFs on portables, which you may find interesting.

    http://www.charlietanksley.net/philtex/reading-pdfs-on-portables/

    I didn’t focus much on the iPad in particular, because the iPad does fairly well with PDFs even without much help, and also, I’m not much of a fan of the iPad in other respects, so I don’t like to promote it, even indirectly.

    (The complete lack of openness and user control, the utter commerciality of the App store… emblematic of Apple’s business practices lately. I have to say, Peter, if I may, that I’m rather disappointed with how Pro-Apple you are. Haven’t you been paying attention to their efforts to undermine royalty free implementations of HTML5, in favor of their own commercial interests? Their censorship? Their general backstabby attitude towards the open source community, from which they take much and contribute little? Really shameful stuff.)

    Of course, the iPad is not the first tablet of its kind, and it won’t be the last. Personally I’m holding out for something that runs linux, actually has USB and/or card plug in, and allows me to install my own software.

    • Peter Smith says:

      I’m not sure I’m especially pro-Apple, though “shameful” seems overstating the case (a commercial company acts in their commercial interests — what a surprise!). I’m just pro the beautiful design and usability of Macs (and iPods and iPads too).

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