My iPad and “killer apps” for academics, almost four years later

I was checking out some of the statistics on hits and such to this site a week or so ago, and one thing that surprised me is that the most popular “all time” post I have on the site (at least since the WordPress plugin Jetpack started keeping track of things) is not about MOOCs, academic life, teaching, cooking, etc. Rather, the most popular single post on this site is “iPad “killer apps” for Academics (maybe),” which I posted on April 10, 2010.

Of course, it’s also important to point out out that no post on this site is really all that popular. I average about 50 or so views a day, sometimes up to 100 when I post something that people find interesting. The most views this site ever received in a single day was 737, and even this most popular of posts on iPads has only received (as of this writing) “all time” 4,794 views. Sure, that’s more people than have ever attended all of the conference presentations I’ve ever given and it’s probably more “views” than any print piece of scholarship I’ve published. But these are still not exactly the kind of traffic numbers that are going to allow me to quit the day job and just blog full-time.

(Oh, and as another thought/tangent: the archives for this site goes back eleven years now. I’ve slowed down quite a bit, but damn, that’s a lot of blogging. Another sabbatical project might involve going back to read through all that and/or “mine” it a bit for text/writing I can repurpose.)

Anyway, a few years later and after I bought my first iPad, what do I think now of what I said then?

Continue reading “My iPad and “killer apps” for academics, almost four years later”

A brief “the new iPad” review

As an official iPad expert and now owner of the iPad 3 the new iPad, I thought I would offer a brief review.  Even though the iPad has existed for just over two years, I have already owned four of them. I bought the first iPad when he came out in March 2010. The following year, I bought the iPad 2 for my birthday in March 2011. That turned out to not a great idea because EMU ended up more or less permanently loaning me one because of a grant program I’m involved in.  Long story. Anyway, all at one point in time I actually have three iPads.  I mention all this because this is the main reason I have the new iPad in the first place:  I sold my first two iPads to finance the new iPad, and since I didn’t sell the one I got from EMU I still have a spare.

There are lots of good places to look on the web for various reviews of the new iPad.  Of the ones I’ve seen, I think this one at the site Macgasm makes the most sense— go check it out, including the pictures and their answers to the question “should I get a new iPad?” For me,the new iPad feels a little bit more zippy in in launching applications and the like, and the cameras are significantly better. Other than that, it mostly comes down to the so-called retina display.  It is impressive, but to be completely honest, I’m not sure it really is that much more noticeably better than the previous iPad. Maybe I haven’t use the new iPad enough, or maybe I’m just having better memories of the previous iPad, but it seems like reading on the new iPad is pretty much the same as the old iPad. Though it is better.  This side-by-side comparison pictures in that Macgasm article are pretty accurate in my experience.

The other feature with the new iPad that is interesting is the ability to dictate text.  In fact, I wrote a draft of this post by first dictating it into my iPad.  I was hoping to report that this is a great tool, potentially useful for academic types trying to take fieldnotes, for example.  Unfortunately, I think it is kind of buggy. I don’t know why, but my cell phone with Siri seems to take better dictation.  I suspect that this dictation software will get better though, and it might have to do with how I am using it too.

So, is it worth it?  If you don’t have an iPad at all, sure, absolutely, and unless you’re on a tight budget, spring for the new iPad instead of the more modestly priced iPad2.  If you have the first iPad and you’re starting to feel like you want some of the features that only came with the iPad2 and now the new iPad (a better display, cameras, iMovie, a few other apps, etc.), sure, get the new one.  Though if you are still using your original iPad do do some basic computing stuff, read, play a few rounds of Angry Birds, etc, then probably not.  And if you happen to have a couple extra iPads laying around that are easily sold, then the new one is probably worth it too.


A late start to birthmonth/link round-up

It’s been a pretty busy and confusing couple of weeks around here for me. Besides some work stuff I’m not going to go into in any detail right now (and this even showed up on twitter), I also have been kind of thrown off by Will’s winter break followed by our winter break, both of which weren’t really “breaks” because it was just work work work.  Plus I made the mistake of assigning some HTML5 projects in Writing for the World Wide Web— a mistake because I don’t really know anything about HTML5.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here and I’ve got lots of links that have been piling up, so I thought I’d blog about those a bit tonight.  So in no particular order:

8 tools to make your web site for free  Mostly graphic editing things, but pretty nice list.

The top 10 ways to create digital magazines A nice list of resources here.  It’s kind of interesting:  about a year ago, I got involved in a mobile computing initiative here at EMU that has kinda floundered a bit.  My proposal/interest in this as to learn more about software for producing documents (books, magazines, etc.) that are intended to be read on the iPad.  A year ago, I didn’t know a whole lot about the options.  But now, besides these choices, I’m working on converting my  failed textbook project into an iPad book with iBooks Author.  I’m looking forward to investigating these software options, too.  It’s interesting what a year makes in iPad-land.

Top 10 pro tips and tools for budding web developers and designers.  A lot of “top” whatever numbers in this update.  I like this one if for no other reason one of the tips is get educated.

100 Mac Apps to Rule Them All.  Sure, you don’t need most of these, but it’s a cool list.

The QWERTY Effect:  How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words.  Nice article, really a good one for 354, Critical Digital Literacies.

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg.  Actually, this is a review of this book by a blogger at

Ebooks:  The Giant Disruption.  Nice article about the pros and not so much of eBooks.  This is another topic I can see figuring into 354 the next time I teach it, and maybe 516, too.


“Blogging month” is over; what have we learned here?

Just over a month ago, I set up academicipad as a web site/blog where I would post regularly for a month, kind of in honor of National Novel Writing Month, which also happens to be (coincidence?  I think not) National Blog Writing Month.  How’d it go?  Eh, so-so.  What did I learn?  A few things, I think:

  • For an academic-type, November is a terrible month for any sort of “here’s something a little extra for you to do every day” month kind of event.  November and April are the busiest months on the academic calendar, at least in my experience, and November is made all the more busy in my life by Thanksgiving, which is more or less a holiday of obligation for seeing extended family.  I think the only thing I might be able to attempt to do in November like this again is grow a beard, but a) I think the holiday of obligation (which also requires pictures) would cut that effort short, and b) beards are itchy.  I have a good friend who did NaNoWriMo on his own in January once, and that seems a better time for me, too.  Maybe next year– or really, the year after.
  • I had what I thought was a surprisingly difficult time writing on a regular basis in the form of blog posts about iPads.  It might have been the subject matter, because really, how much could I say about the iPad that is interesting, especially when my focus is on the academic?  I found myself just not all that motivated to get up in the morning to write about how I use the iPad to mark up readings or take notes or whatever.
  • The other thing I learned I thought was interesting was I was much more interested in getting up every morning and writing for 30 or 40 or so minutes on what might (maybe, someday) become a book in the form of my old dissertation.  I don’t know if this is because of the subject matter or what, but it seems to me that blogging is one of those things where I spend an hour (or so) writing a post and then that’s that.  They are sprints– maybe ones that can generate better and longer ideas later, but still short and quick pieces that are not meant to be sustained over a month or more.
  • On the positive side, I did manage to get academicipad off the ground with 17 posts and 11 pages about iPad (mostly academic) stuff, and it did find some traffic– 358 visits from the time I set it up, according to the WordPress “Jet Pack” plugin that follows these things.  That’s obviously not a lot– I get about that many hits here a week, usually more than that many hits every day at emutalk– but it’s something.  In fact, from an advertising point of view, it might be better because I think more of the traffic coming to academicipad is a result of some sort of search for iPad related info, whereas most of the traffic coming to this blog or emutalk is the same people over and over.
  • I did a little talk yesterday in the art department about iPads in academia, and while the talk was scheduled before I set up the blog, I was able to use that site in my talk.  So that was nice, too.
  • So we’ll see.  I think I’ll keep that site up and running and indeed iPad-centric with a few related (for example, iPhones in academia) kinds of things, and I think I’m going to try to set up some Google ads on the space to see what comes if it.  It was definitely worth the experiment for a month, though I’m also looking forward to getting back to the immediacy/electronic/digital situation project, too.

Not much about “iPads” or “Learning” at yesterday’s “Workshop”

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an event sponsored by Apple Education Seminar thing featuring Apple-sponsored speakers and employees that was called an “iPad Learning Workshop.” I’m going to emphasize the positive aspects of it over on my slowly growing academiciPad site, but frankly, I thought it was pretty awful.

It began with an Apple-employed speaker/PR/marketing wonk whose talk was stuff anyone who had heard of the iPad would have been able to figure out and that was about it.  “You can install apps!  You can check your email!  You can watch movies!”  This and she showed not one but two short videos/commercials that were essentially animated text with Apple-like piano music and a few pictures of iPads.  At some point, someone interrupted and asked what I think is a completely reasonable question: given that our students are coming to classes with laptops, what’s the point of an iPad? What is unique about the iPad? And you know what? She didn’t really have an answer to this question.

Really. Really?

This was followed by one of Apple’s teaching experts.  He had some interesting things to say, but it was all about secondary school, not the target audience for this group even if most of the people there were in the College of Education.  Most of what he had to talk about had nothing to do with iPads in particular but more about technology in secondary schools– and specifically, this guy talked about private and religious secondary school he works at in Holland, Michigan, a school which, judging from the pictures, is a completely different world from any public school in the area, not to mention EMU.

It was really striking.  I left that thing thinking a) maybe there is an audience for my month (maybe longer) web site experiment about iPads, and b) I ought to try to go into the educational technology consulting business.

But the other take-away was about universal access.  To the extent that the Apple marketer had anything interesting to say about iPads in teaching, it all assumed that students had these devices in their hands.  The guy from the private school in Holland talked about the enormous initiative at his school to get laptops into the hands of all students and staff and to even remodel/rebuild the school building to provide spaces for folks to collaborate together with those laptops.

So it seems to me that the iPad initiative that I’m a part of this year is completely backwards in that we shouldn’t be giving these things to a few select faculty, but rather, we should be finding a way to get these things into the hands of as many students as possible.  And I am reminded once again that the smartest thing that EMU could do is to push into the late 20th century and require all students to have a laptop computer that meets certain basic benchmarks in terms of processing, software, etc.

iPad and daily blogging goes so-so

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been taking the inspiration of National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month to start a new blog/web site of sorts, Academic iPad.  And I’m also doing this because a) as a part of this EMU eFellows program, and b) I’m giving a very informal talk at the end of this month about iPads and art/academia for a forum in the Art Department here.

So far, I’ve noticed three things:

  • I’m not particularly inspired about blogging daily about iPad things, I suppose because I’m not sure what else I can say about using iPads that I haven’t said or that don’t strike me as pretty obvious.  Use the iPad for reading; use it for writing; use it for everyday internet stuff (e.g., email, light web browsing, searching); use it for some notes; use it for fun.  I suppose there are “fine points” to be made about all of these things, but I’m not sure how interesting those finer points really are for anyone.
  • I have been motivated to monkey around more with my iPad(s) and try some new tricks, which I suppose is also a good thing and/or good unintended consequence of this little project.
  • Between the iPad thing, this blog, and, I pretty much blog every day anyway.  So I’m not sure it’s much of a challenge for me.

Anyway, we’ll see how it pans out.  I’m not going to be giving up on this little experiment mainly because of I still feel like I owe something to the eFellows and the Art department crowds, but I am also not assuming that this is going to turn into a regular and ongoing site after this month.

In honor of national novel writing month, a new blog (for a month or more)

I’ve been trying lately to follow my own advice to my students in English 621 by working on a project in small bits and pieces as time allows instead of doing what far too many of us do far too often, which is to think “oh, I’ll get to that when I can really spend a solid couple of days on it,” which translates to “never.”  And I’ve been making decent enough progress on revisiting my dissertation to see if I can’t re-see/re-shape it into something for now.  The basic premise of the complexities of rhetorical situation in the digital age are still true, and if nothing else, I’ve been enjoying going back to poke at something that I wrote a long time ago.

Anyway, while that “touch it every day” project is going well, I’ve decided to kind of put it on hold and/or let it compete for time with a new blogging project about iPads (and similar mobile devices) and academic work.  I’m calling it Academic iPad.

Why, you ask? Well, three reasons, basically.  First, while I have always been a bid admirer of National Novel Writing Month and the “just do it and stop over-thinking it” attitude behind that project, I really don’t have a novel in me right now, and November is anything but a “slow month” in terms of work stuff.  So I thought I’d try something a little more modest, and I figure I can write a blog entry a day for a month.

Second, to the extent that people find this blog through a particular search for something (as opposed to those who read this blog once in a while because they might know me in “real life” or through my work at EMU or in computers and writing or whatever), it tends to be about iPad stuff and usually academic iPad stuff.  I figured that perhaps that justifies a whole new space.

And third, I thought I should do something tangible for my participation in EMU’s mobile computing/eFellows initiative.  There is a longer/insider story behind this that I’m not going to go into now, but last winter, I got involved in an initiative here where faculty were supposed to be doing things to learn more about incorporating mobile devices into their work.  But other than getting an iPad from EMU (as a loaner, at least in theory), I haven’t done much of anything with all this.  So I thought if nothing else, I could create a blog/web space that could serve as a place for resources and reflections on the role of iPads (and other “mobile computing” technologies) for academics.

So we’ll see how it goes.  I make no promises that this continues beyond this month, which might also be a good thing, a blog/web site that has a definitive ending point.

A simple iPad 2 movie

I’ve been monkeying around with iMovie on my iPad 2 and this is what I put together as a sort of “proof of concept” for a simple, down ‘n dirty little movie, mostly just to see if it would work.  As I say in the movie, it does work, mostly, though iMovie for the iPad does have some significant and frustrating limitations.  The camera on the iPad itself is also pretty limited; as far as I can tell, no zoom, for example.

Still, even with the limitations, I think there’s some potential here.  It’d be interesting to put a couple of these into the hands of students to see what they do with them.

Five to Ten Minutes with an iPad2: A review

As a previously sanctioned iPad expert, I felt obligated to at least go and check out the iPad 2 in the Apple store today.  Now, if you want a long, detailed, and smart review of the new iPad 2, go read this piece at Engadget. But if you want my five to ten minute thoughts, read on.

First off, I showed up at the Apple Store in Briarwood at 10:30-ish or so and there was a line out front.  Am I going to have to stand in line to go into the fracking store?!? I thought.  Happily, no; this was for people who were planning hoping to buy one today.  More on that in a sec.

Anyway, that problem solved, I went in and started playing with a white iPad 2 (if I get one, I might go with white).  True, it’s thinner and lighter than the original iPad, but not that noticeably so, in my view.  It was noticeably faster with the new processing chip, though most of the apps I monkeyed with were the same on this as iPad 1.

From my point of view, the two big differences with this new one are GarageBand and iMovie.  I downloaded GarageBand for my current iPad just the other day, and it is a complete hoot to play with.  Now, I have no musical talent whatsoever and no real knowledge of audio recording technology.  The only thing I can do with GarageBand on my computer is record podcasts and other audio note/response recordings along those lines, and for all I know, the GarageBand for the iPad is, relative to these other tools, crap.  But it seems pretty powerful to me.

iMovie will not (apparently) work on the first generation iPads, and this might be the thing that really pushes me into the iPad 2.  It’s kind of a shame because recording video from another source and importing it to the first gen iPad seems like it would be a workable solution to me.  Anyway, frrom what I can tell, iMovie for the iPad is a lot like all of the other apps for the iPad (and this includes GarageBand, I assume):  they might be better called “lite” versions of the desktop software because they are just that, stripped-down versions.  I know more about iMovie than I do about GarageBand, and this was very clear in the few minutes I spent on it.

Oh yeah, and there are the cameras too.  Here’s 13 seconds of video I took:

The first lesson learned here is that it is perhaps best to video in landscape mode, but you get the idea. I don’t know if there is a way to zoom with this video, but I suspect there is, and I know that I could have cropped it in different ways in iMovie, either on the iPad or exported to the full version on a computer.

One other thing I learned in my 10 minutes:  those snazzy magnetic covers that are available with iPad2 don’t work with the original iPad, which is a bummer.

Will it be worth getting one?  Well, depending on how the rest of birthmonth works out, sure, I think so.  Though it might be tricky.  It turns out the store was sold out of them, and one of the guys working there told me that people were waiting there in the hopes that maybe– just maybe— there were some iPad2 in the shipment that was due to arrive any minute.  Jeez, it’s like trying to get a Wii all over again.  On the Apple web site, they’re saying 3-4 weeks for shipping.

To me, the real usefulness of these things for me are potentially in teaching, especially when it comes to things like the movie project I have students do in English 328, the “media authoring” course I’m trying to get off the ground at the graduate level, and/or the kind of simple multimedia projects students do in first year writing.  Basically, for $500 for the iPad2 itself and another $100 or so worth of software and maybe some other add-ins (a microphone, for example), you’ve got a device that can take (so-so) photos, record audio (including an instrument plugged into it), and record HD video.  And with iMovie, GarageBand, and Pages, you’ve got a pretty powerful and simple multimedia platform that is damn near perfect for teaching and the enthusiastic amateur.  And it all weighs less than a pound and has a 10 hour battery life.   Whoa.

My top 10 (ish) iPad apps

At The Unofficial Apple Blog today, I read “The best iOS apps I used in 2010.” It’s a nice enough list, but as an iPad expert (by virtue of the fact that I got one the first day they came out), I thought I’d offer my own thoughts on the top 10-ish apps that I have found myself using in my iPad this year.  Not counting the obvious things like Mail, Safari, iTunes, etc.

  • iAnnotate PDF. As far as my academic-life goes, this app probably ranks positions 1 through 8. Hands-down, this is the app I use for work the most, and it is by far the app that gives my iPad its most important “unique” functionality– that is, this is something that I can’t easily do with a desktop or laptop computer.  Basically, iAnnotate allows me to take PDFs of journal articles, book chapters, or whatever else of the sort I put together for course packs for classes I teach and to annotate them as if they were paper by using a stylus or my finger to highlight, take notes, etc.  So, for example, this last fall term, where I taught classes that involved in total about 40 or so readings from books and journals, I made no photocopies and took all of my reading notes right on iAnnotate.  In my mind, if the iPad did nothing beyond what this software does, it’d be worth it.

    If you are not an academic-type, you might be reading this and thinking “big deal,” but if you are someone who teaches college and who hates dealing with all of these paper copies of articles and such, you probably understand.  I was at a function recently and showing my iPad to a colleague who also teaches at EMU and also to her husband, who is a perfectly smart person who exited academia years ago and who now has a “real job.”  He didn’t see the advantage of iAnnotate, but my colleague who taught seemed to immediately to understand the value of this software.

  • Facebook.  I know it’s not an iPad app, but I use it a lot, probably more on my iPad than on my iPhone.  I wonder when the Face people are going to come out with an iPad version….
  • Reeder for iPad. There are a bunch of different RSS Feed readers for the iPhone and the iPad, but my favorite is Reeder for two basic reasons.  First, it works well with my Google Reader RSS feeds.  Second, it’s very straight-forward and doesn’t have all the unnecessary bells and whistles of readers like the over-hyped Flipboard.
  • WeatherBug. This is a link to the “Elite” version, but the free one works fine for me.  Reliable weather information in a nice to read format.
  • Twitter. I like the iPad app for this quite a bit, actually– I think much better than for the iPhone.
  • Dropbox.  I figured I needed to put this on the list some place, but I don’t actually use this for the iPad so much as iAnnotate uses it:  that is, I upload PDFs to my Dropbox account, and iAnnotate will synch with that to download and then upload again after I annotate the PDFs.  Have I mentioned the pros of iAnnotate yet?
  • IMDB. It’s a really slick interface for the ever-popular and useful Internet Movie Database, even if IMDB has gone kind of “commercial.”
  • (Tie) Kindle and iBooks.  Since I use my iPad mostly for reading stuff, including both of these apps probably isn’t much of a surprise.  I think that the future of electronic textbooks does not mean Kindle or iBook versions of textbooks, but it rather means free-standing apps presented as books.  Still, I like reading trade and/or “fun” books with both Kindle and iBooks.  In my view, the main advantage of iBooks is it is closer to open source with the epub format, and the main advantage of the Kindle is there are probably 10 times more books available.
  • Kayak HD. I don’t use it that much, but the interface for this travel web site is just really slick and user-friendly, more fun to use than it is on a “real computer” for sure.
  • (Tie) Pages and Keynote.  As I have noted previously on this blog someplace, both of these applications ought to be followed by the phrase “lite,” as in “not nearly as good as the ‘real’ app for the computer.”  But I have done some writing and presenting with them, so I’ll include them here.

You will notice that I don’t include any games or such things here, mainly because I don’t play a lot of games.  But okay, if I were to include one or two of those, I’d have to say that Angry Birds is pretty fun, and while PS Express isn’t a game but an image editing software, it has a lot of “game-like” features.  As my friend Chris W. once said, Photoshop is the most fun application on the Mac.