iPad – tool or toy?

If you frequent online forums related to Apple products, you will often see the argument that the iPad is just a ‘toy’ for consumption. As someone who has hugely benefitted from incorporating an iPad into my academic work flow, I want to outline some of the reasons why I disagree with that statement:

The iPad is brilliant for getting rid of those huge stacks of printed journal articles that are lying around your desk and shelves. Going digital with my research library has been a great choice. I can now find an article when I need it, without having to wade through stacks of paper to find the annotations and notes I made last time I looked at them.

With the iPad, I carry my entire research library with me at all times. With the exception of my books that are not available online, that is. But anything else is always with me, and if I’m sitting on the tram for a while or waiting for a doctor’s appointment that is getting delayed, I can just get my iPad out and start reading.

Reading articles is more comfortable on an iPad than a notebook. This, of course, is a subjective claim. For me, however, the form factor (I can hold the iPad in my hands  or lap much like a book), the retina screen (which gives a very crisp rendition of pdfs, much more so than my macbook air), and the ability to use a stylus (or just my finger) to highlight passages or take notes are all things that make reading on the iPad more pleasant.

The iPad is great for note taking. There are lots of high quality note taking apps for iPad, and I use many of them for research group meetings, seminars or conferences. To take full advantage of this, you need an external keyboard. What makes the iPad trump my mac book air for this purpose, is the combination of stylus input, long battery life, and (on my version of the iPad) 3G access. I can easily add hand written notes or sketches when I’m making notes with the use of a stylus. If I’m away on a full day conference, I never have to worry about running out of battery (my iPad lasts a full day and longer), and I never have to worry about internet access.

Your iPad can sync with writing apps such as Scrivener and Pages. This means that when you have a good idea for how to develop that one paragraph you were struggling with, you can add that via your iPad if you’re not close to your main computer, or you can simply use your iPad to write part of your article or your thesis.

There are lots of iPad apps designed to support research, as well as more general apps that can benefit an academic. Examples include pdf annotation apps (such as iAnnotate, PDF Expert or GoodReader), apps belonging to journal publishers (such as Taylor & Francis, Springer and Wiley), apps for reference management (such as Mendeley, Papers or Sente), or apps that support brainstorming, outlining or note taking.

For tips on how to maximise your iPad for academic use, check out the blog academiPad.

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7 Responses to iPad – tool or toy?

  1. mlfables says:

    I find my iPad is both. A tool and a toy. 🙂

    I use it a lot for many of the iTunes University courses (especially the Open University).

    Yet still, the iPad has some great games on it (the touch screen makes it perfect for the driving game apps that I enjoy).

  2. macademise says:

    Oh, I agree – I particularly like my backgammon app and 123D Sculpt 😀 So yes, milk and honey!

  3. I use my iPad for work and play too – it’s a great tool 🙂

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