of iPads and tablets
March 18, 2010 at 1:40 PM
With pre-orders of the Apple iPad climbing towards one million units (in-store reservations vs. online pre-orders make it difficult to know how many have been bought for certain, but let's just go with "a lot") and the pending introduction of another tablet-like devices such as the JooJooPad, it seems that the technology merits another look as a tool for students.
This clearly isn't about whether an iPad will make for a good book reading or movie watching device or not. That's entirely up to each person's personal tastes (the guy that sat next to me on the plane watching lost on his iPod Nano would probably love the 7" iPad screen. I would not). And in fact watching media is one of the major points of the iPad in the first place. But it's not surprising that if you're going to drop several hundred dollars on something, you're going to want to know if you can use it for your everyday stuff, too. And if you're a law student, then taking notes and working with digital assets (uh...files) is part of every day.
So first, we have basically three types of devices, two of which are remarkably being introduced right now. It's actually pretty revolutionary times when it comes to mobile computing beyond a laptop.
The JooJooPad, as linked above, is one of a few slates that are all web-based. The web is the operating system (essentially - for those that wish to pick nits, yes, there is a version of Linux on there, but the thing needs something just to make it run) This means that it's really, really about media (YouTube, Hulu, Netflix streaming), and that any kind of productivity work you're doing requires some kind of web-based application. Google Docs (which is free but I am personally waiting for improvements) or Zoho Office (which isn't free, but is pretty cool and seems well done from my own trials) are your main options if you want to do any actual writing, etc. In this case, the device - the JooJooPad - is just an interface for your data and applications that reside elsewhere. You could say that your computer is just a hardware interface for Windows or OS X, too, I suppose, but there is a distinction there that I think is important. The applications, your data, your settings, everything - it's online, it's your choice, and the slate just helps you connect to it via a useful piece of hardware.
The iPad is the next step up. It has its own operating system and the applications that run on it are running on that operating system. In this case, it's a modified form of OS X that is somewhere in between the iPhone OS and full-blown OS X that you'd find on a laptop (though rumors are that by the time it's released the iPhone OS 4.0 will essentially be the iPhone/iPad unified OS). But it's still not really a productivity tool. You could have Word on there and use the virtual keyboard to take notes, but that's not what it's really designed for. It's still designed to be a way to interact with media. Maybe scroll around the web. If you wanted to use it for "real" work, then I'd be you'd find yourself with a usb keyboard and some kind of docking station pretty darn fast. The "multi-touch" finger-based navigation is great, but there isn't any writing capability and no handwriting recognition.
The last and "oldest" option is the tablet PC. These are mostly found as "convertibles." They look like regular laptops, with full keyboards, but you can rotate the screen around, whip out a stylus, and start jotting notes down by hand. Slate tablets - no keyboards, just a screen - are harder to come by that aren't designed for military or medical use. These are full-blown computers. The stylus is just an additional input device, and some special features are added. But otherwise it's a computer on which you can write by hand.
I recently got a slate tablet PC, running Windows Vista. The handwriting recognition is quite impressive, and Microsoft OneNote is a blast to use. But even with a full featured computer, I find that I do my work on my main laptop, put my notes up on the cloud, then sync that up with the tablet. I then use the tablet to take notes when in meetings. So even with a Tablet PC I still need something else, something extra.
So...is the iPad going to make a difference for law students? Probably not, to be honest. But this is an interesting time for mobile computing. If you end up with an iPad or venture out and get a JooJooPad or are already using a Tablet PC, reach out and let us know what you think.