An Initial Reaction to the iPad

Steve Jobs’ 27 January unveiling of the Apple iPad has drawn reactions running the gamut from adoration to ridicule.  Most comments in the latter category take aim at the device’s name. Other negative opinions focus on the iPad’s inability to multitask, lack of a camera, or the fact that it isn’t more like a netbook.

I for one agree with Jobs’ quip in his keynote: “The problem is, netbooks aren’t better at anything.” He goes on to show how the iPad is designed to do chosen tasks better — the chosen tasks being email, displaying photos, watching videos, playing music, browsing the web, playing games, and, yes, reading e-books. In addition, one can create Keynote presentations, spreadsheets, and word-processed documents using iPad versions of these apps, features which look quite impressive and set the iPad notably ahead of both the iPhone and arguably netbooks.

Those who have test-run the iPad testify to its clever usability and speed, courtesy of the new custom-silicon A4 chip. The iPad’s price tag is very reasonable, and its 3G data plan with AT&T is surprisingly low-priced and flexible, with no contract to sign. This alone well positions the iPad for all kinds of users — businesspeople, artists, students, academics, everyone. And since, in many parts of the developing world, 3G is the most common method of internet access, the iPad is in this respect well-positioned for new inroads into international markets.

For me, the most interesting, even revolutionary, news about the iPad was not only that e-books would now be available for purchase through Apple just as music and films have been, but also that Apple has been negotiating with textbook publishers to this end. In the UK we have had Sony e-readers and Waterstones, while the e-books scene in the States has been dominated by the Kindle and Amazon, but neither Waterstones nor Amazon has been offering very much in the way of textbooks for e-readers. We at Beyond Distance have been evaluating the use of e-readers by masters-level distance students as part of our DUCKLING project. As a part of this project, publishers Routledge made a special deal to allow us to include their textbook on the e-readers supplied to students, and we will be sharing with Routledge the results of our research. Now that Apple has taken the major step of promising textbooks on iPads, we should begin to see textbook publishers not only provide their materials for e-readers but hopefully benefit from Apple’s consistent “cool factor” with students.

Vive la revolution!

Terese Bird

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A Media Zoo for University of Leicester Postgraduates

The Beyond Distance Research Alliance Media Zoo is a place where members of staff from University of Leicester can learn about new technologies for teaching and learning and try them for themselves. Now, the University’s postgraduate students will have a Media Zoo of their own. Wednesday 25th November 2009, 2pm, sees the launch of the Graduate School Media Zoo in the Graduate School Reading Room, first floor of the University’s David Wilson Library.

This new Zoo is a joint endeavour of the University Library, the Graduate School and Beyond Distance. Daily on-site drop-in or prearranged support will be provided by my able and enthusiastic colleague Emma Kimberley who rejoices in the title of Research Forum Facilitator.

 A series of workshops will be on offer over at the Zoo, geared to help postgraduate students explore time-saving and innovative technologies for their research work. Workshop topics will include “Blogging for Research” and “Social Networking in the Research World.” Additionally, the Graduate School Media Zoo has a growing and interactive web presence, including a Facebook group and a blog, so that postgraduate students who are studying at a distance can also benefit.

The Zoo will be formally inaugurated by Dr Malcolm Read, Executive Secretary of JISC, which has funded many of Beyond Distance’s research projects, followed by a workshop on “Keeping ahead of research in your field using RSS feeds”  led by Information Librarian Sarah Whittaker.  There will also be opportunities to test-run one of several eBook readers, podcasting methods, and Second Life, in the new Zoo.

Postgraduate students are perpetually busy and hard-pressed by the demands of both research and part-time teaching. Finding the time to learn about innovations and technologies which can facilitate networking and collaboration with others in their field can be a challenge. We hope that by virtue of its accessibility in the library and its web presence, the new Graduate School Media Zoo will help meet this challenge, and will equip Leicester’s postgraduates with research tools to enable them to achieve more not only as researchers but as academics of the future.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist & Assistant Media ZooKeeper

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