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?


A few quotes from back then and some thoughts now:

Typing is an issue, but that’s the case with netbooks too, right?  For me, I can touch-type well enough on the iPad when it’s landscape mode, but if I’m going to type anything longer than a couple paragraphs or an email response (or this blog post), then I’m going to use a real computer.  I might break down and eventually buy a keyboard for the iPad, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of the lean simplicity of the iPad.

Still very true, and I always travel with my laptop. The only situation I find myself in where the iPad is a quasi-useful writing/working space is on airplanes. I find a laptop just a little too bulky in those small places, especially if some knucklehead in front of me is declining their seat.

First, about PDF annotation: it’s all fine and good that the Kindle (and other readers I’ve seen) can deliver trade books and best sellers, but what I need is something that can read all the PDFs I get from academic journals.

I wouldn’t want to discount the value of the Kindle reader for the iPad now though. Most of my Kindle readings are still trade books and novels and the like, but I do get an occasional academic Kindle book too. I tried to use the Kindle version of a textbook for a class I was teaching a couple years ago, and it worked out poorly because of the pagination issues. And anything that I might want to get students to read– to include in a course pack of some sort, for example– I always buy on paper.

Back in 2010, I wrote a lot about how great I thought iAnnotate was, and while I’m not quite in as strong of love like with it as I used to be, I still think it’s pretty good. My main problem with it is the developers keep updating it to add new features I so do not need. Oddly, the developers of iAnnotate somehow changed from Aji to Branchfire.

I guess the biggest disappointment in the “killer app” department has to do with the kind if interactive books that can be made with iBooks Author and the kind of sophisticated and interactive books made by Touchpress. I was particularly impressed with the interactivity of one of their early projects, The Elements and I also was pretty impressed with their interactive version of The Waste Land. And here’s a quote from back then:

In my view, these sort  of book apps have the real potential to revolutionize publishing and make things like electronic textbooks worthwhile.  The applicability with the sciences is obvious, but imagine a literary anthology that includes all sorts of multimedia or composition books that have various writing tools for writing (citation tools, for example) embedded right in them.  Seemingly every computers and writing anthology that  has come out in recent years has promised some sort of “beyond the page” experience in the form of a web site or whatever; well, now all that multimedia that we keep writing old-fashioned books about can truly be a part of the experience.

And here’s the thing: as far as I can tell, books as apps would completely eliminate the used textbook market, meaning that whole gimmick of coming out with a “new edition” every two years just to keep making money on new books could go away.  Eliminate that and the expense of production and textbooks might even become cheaper– well, might,assuming the textbook business is actually willing or able to change their business model and drop their prices for these kinds of books.

Wow, this has turned out to be wrong. I did a poster presentation about using iBooks Author at the CCCCs in Las Vegas back in 2013, and I was seriously thinking about converting my textbook to an iBook format to make it more interactive and the like. And since one of the (far too many) side projects I’m considering during my sabbatical this winter is coming up with a new edition of The Process of Research Writing that I’d actually try to sell, I might still do this.

But basically, there is not a whole lot of publishing textbooks specifically for tablet devices going on, at least as far as I can tell. I did a review recently for a textbook company that was working on an iPhone app of a textbook, and I think there are some similar other kinds of products coming out as supplements textbooks. But what I was imagining– a future where students stop buying or renting printed on paper textbooks and instead download textbooks to the tablet device of their choice– simply hasn’t happened. Part of it is both publishers and students would rather have a web site, which makes sense since a textbook app only works on that specific tablet while a textbook web site works pretty much on any device that can access the web. Part of it is the entrenched market conditions of textbooks; simply put, textbook publishers make money from books and not apps/web sites and students can sell back 0r rent textbooks and not apps/web sites. And part of it is the entrenchment of professors less than interested in changing to some new-fangled thing.

Though I think all of this is only part of it. I think it’s fair to say that the book business generally isn’t exactly booming right now, but I do find it kind of surprising that multimedia texts haven’t become more popular among readers. I suppose you could argue that’s what video games really are, multimedia story telling spaces, but it doesn’t quite seem the same thing to me.

Anyway, three and half years later, my iPad is still basically a reading device and a quasi-computer in a pinch. That’s about it. Though maybe that’s just me because that original post keeps getting hits.

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

  1. I’m using the iPad more and more, mainly because I can use office apps on it. Email correspondence with mailbox is also quite effective. Reading and annotating web articles in Evernote is also great. Get the Microsoft universal mobile keyboard. Also, the air 2 is a remarkable step up, which I think is fueling some of my increased enthusiasm.

    Complex creation tasks are still better done elsewhere.

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