[Humanist] 24.251 iPad in the field

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Aug 11 22:51:28 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 251.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "Lisa L. Spangenberg"                                     (23)
                <medievalist at digitalmedievalist.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?

  [2]   From:    Jockers Matthew <mjockers at stanford.edu>                   (47)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?

  [3]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (68)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?

  [4]   From:    John Laudun <jlaudun at mac.com>                             (29)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?

  [5]   From:    jeremy hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu>                            (7)
        Subject: ipads in the field

        Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:15:45 -0700
        From: "Lisa L. Spangenberg" <medievalist at digitalmedievalist.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?
        In-Reply-To: <20100810200919.A167C6DA63 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Aug 10, 2010, at 1:09 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>        Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2010 06:05:12 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: iPad in the field?
> Does anyone here have experience or knowledge with the use of computers 
> in fieldwork of any sort, not necessarily archaeological or 
> anthropological, not necessarily non-urban, who can comment on the iPad 
> as a tool for such work? One obvious appeal of this device is its 
> physical simplicity, which suggests that it would be far more useful 
> than a laptop, which one has to open up and, as a result of the hinged 
> design, is awkward if not vulnerable to damage.

I haven't used it "in the field," but having just completed a book about the iPad, and taken it with me to various places, I note that while you can type on it with the digital keyboard surprisingly well, it isn't an ideal way to do data entry. 

I can see it being used with a UI that was designed to minimize the need to keyboard data. 

I can also see its ability to record audio being useful.

There are some early apps that do text transciption from audio (dragondictate) for the iPad but it's not trainable, and depends on access to a reliable network to do the evaluation of the audio in order to transcribe. 

Also, a couple of earlier efforts at deciphering script, but those are not terribly reliable. 

I am seeing it used to display manuals for, say., copier repair with diagrams and procedures. 


Lisa L. Spangenberg  The iPad Project Book
PeachPit Press, September 2010

        Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 13:59:51 -0700
        From: Jockers Matthew <mjockers at stanford.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?
        In-Reply-To: <20100810200919.A167C6DA63 at woodward.joyent.us>

My colleage Claudia Engel wrote up her experience here:

Matthew Jockers
Stanford University

        Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2010 11:12:50 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?
        In-Reply-To: <20100810200919.A167C6DA63 at woodward.joyent.us>

Willard --

I'm a fairly new iPad owner so appreciate your question.

I think that the answer depends upon the type of fieldwork that the
iPad owner is doing and the type of apps needed for this work.  From
what I've read, the Excel equivalent (Numbers) is a remarkably good
spreadsheet app, some say the best that they've ever used, but the
translation from programs to apps involves something of a learning
curve because you do not have a mouse, you touch the screen, and the
keyboard takes up about 30% of the screen and is not fixed -- the
keyboard is dynamic, changing with the app used and having multiple
keyboards at work even in a single app.

I am still unused to the Word equivalent (Pages), for example, and
have a hard time manipulating it for tasks such as modifying tables in
Word documents (for example, in my syllabi).  It would take me about
three times as long to create a syllabus from scratch using Pages on
an iPad than it would using Word on a laptop or desktop computer.

Apple does have a very nice, sleek bluetooth keyboard and another
keyboard that physically mounts the iPad that I think would overcome
many of these difficulties, however.  I own the bluetooth keyboard and
like using it.  I would really like to get back with you on this
question after a training session or two and about a year of practice.

However, I can give some general feedback right now -- so far as just
being a device that you can pick up and use easily in pretty well any
given environment, the iPad is great.  I think that, with the right
kind of cover (particularly the standard black one that Apple came out
with when the iPad was first released), even slightly wet environments
could be handled by the iPad.  I give mine to my kids (6 year old boy
and 3 year old girl) to play with all of the time.  The only issues
I've faced are monitoring iPad content, and then getting it back from
them at all.

When I'm sitting around the house and want to check email or read a
document, it is much easier to pick up the iPad than it is to use my
laptop.  When I attend meetings, I take notes on my iPad, and can
check my calendar there, etc.  However, I am writing this email on a
laptop, and I would much rather write a longer email like this on any
laptop than on my iPad.

I'd also imagine that if someone wanted to fieldwork of any kind and
could benefit from internet access, the WiFi+3G model would be a good
option.  I have a WiFi only model.  AT&T's coverage is still spotty
despite their claims of increased coverage area, and there are rumors
that Verizon might be carrying the iPhone soon, so getting 3G access
for your iPad on Verizon may become possible in a year or so.

The iPad renders graphics better than any machine I've ever owned and
has some decent image editing apps.

Goodreader is an excellent all-around file-reading app that has many
functions built in, including .pdf reading.  I have not yet seen a
book or .pdf reader for the iPad that allows users to annotate their
texts.  That is a serious shortcoming -- it is something the iPad
cannot do that the Kindle can.  Not having Flash capability is a bit
annoying too -- I can't log in to the free network at a McDonald's,
for example, because the "accept the terms of this agreement" button
is Flash, I think.  Panera is fine.  But you see what I have to do.  A
3G model owner wouldn't have this problem, but then would be paying
$25 a month for this benefit.


        Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2010 14:12:57 -0500
        From: John Laudun <jlaudun at mac.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.247 iPad in the field?
        In-Reply-To: <20100810200919.A167C6DA63 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

While I sometimes make comments on this list at the edge of what I know/grasp, this is surely not one of them. Ethnographic field research is at the core of what I do and is the basis for all my published work. That said, the range of activities that can fall under "fieldwork" within the humanities is fairly broad. 

In general, however, I think most people who do fieldwork think of it as a very productive set of activities: making notes, taking photographs, making diagrams and measured drawings, making audio and/or video recordings. 

The iPad does not really excel at any of these tasks. I have one and find it useful for reviewing texts and images, but not necessarily for producing them -- and I say this having used Apple's bluetooth keyboard with the iPad to do some writing this summer. This does align with the larger technorati's assessment that the iPad is designed for consumption and not production, but it could also easily be a function of the software not yet being there. E.g., one could imagine that with Filemaker's new iPad version of its eponymous software that there might be some much greater functionality given to the iPad.

To be sure, one can write on the thing. And you can even import photographs and movies onto it. But my photographic workflow is already tied to Adobe's Lightroom software, which is much more powerful and I can't imagine downloading 100 12MB images onto an iPad, which is a typical number for a single day's work. While I can imagine typing up a day's worth of notes, perhaps, on the iPad, the software available -- and the way things are saved on the device isn't very comforting to someone as phobic about data loss as I am. I keep my notes either in a text file on my MobileMe account, or in a Scrivener or DevonThink file on DropBox. Both DropBox and MobileMe pretty much sync to the cloud as I work. There may be an iPad app that has this functionality, but I don't know about it -- anyone on the list? I work in pretty rough and tumble environments for my current project: metal fabrication shops, rice fields, farm equipment sheds, the Atchafalaya Basin. I have to be willing to lose an electronic device to the elements at any given moment. I am loathe to lose my data however. An SD card can be pulled out of a soaking wet camera or audio recorder. Backed up data can be pulled back from the cloud. 

All that said, there is another use for the iPad besides data production and that is review of data in the field: I have begun taking the iPad into the field to show things to individuals with whom I work. It makes it much easier to carry a large number of photographs with contents in need of identifying or maps which you can zoom into and out of so that people can describe the landscape for you. For this, the iPad is terrific. Plus, it's pure "whiz bang" dimension immediately helps to break down any initial awkwardness: especially when I pull it out of my bag and immediately hand it over to someone. (The gift of trust is never to be underestimated in the fieldwork enterprise.)


john laudun

John Laudun
Department of English
University of Louisiana – Lafayette
Lafayette, LA 70504-4691
laudun at louisiana.edu

        Date: Tue, 10 Aug 2010 16:17:16 -0400
        From: jeremy hunsinger <jhuns at vt.edu>
        Subject: ipads in the field
        In-Reply-To: <20100810200919.A167C6DA63 at woodward.joyent.us>

this was a debate on air-l last month, you might want to look at those archives.

Jeremy Hunsinger
Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
Virginia Tech


Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.
-George Iles

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