Technology Review: The iPad (Generation 2)

 

marc-ipadAt this stage of iPhone/iPad application development, I would have a hard time recommending the iPad device for use in the GIS/RS environments. I qualify that statement by exempting application development from the critique. The iOS development environment is sufficiently robust to allow for an immense variety of quality applications. The scarcity of GIS, remote sensing, geography, earth science, mapping, anthropology, and archaeology applications of any quality creates an open door for any suitably motivated person or Enterprise to fill the void.

Generally-speaking, the iPad was suitable for creating and editing documents using Google Documents. The iPad is alleged to be Google-friendly. However, when using Google Docs to create and edit this document on the iPad, I ran across some concerns. Google Docs performed well as long as the “desktop” version was not used. The Documents “desktop” version provides access to Menu and Tool bars. When I opted for the “desktop” version, Google Docs crashed and I was unable to continue editing. I attempted this four consecutive times, each time ending in the same results.

But… There is no “tab” key. Indented text is impossible without using an Apple app, like Pages. Pages is the Apple counterpart to Microsoft Word. Formatted text must be created by manipulating page margins rather than setting tab stops. Tabbing between fields on a Web form is not possible; no tab key, therefore no tab shortcuts. On the MacWorld Forum, questions posed about the absence of a tab key were met with derision. One commenter stated tabs encouraged poor document structure, and the Writing World was moving away from indented paragraphs. Bull-shite, I say.

Other than Google Docs, no 3rd party Microsoft Office compatible apps were evaluated due to the constraints imposed by the device registration payment information requirements. Payment information details are discussed later.

Apps launch and run quickly, without much noticeable latency. I believe the solid-state nature of the device allows much faster access to apps in memory.

Web browsing was fast and easy. The iPad immediately recognizes Wifi networks and attempts to connect. Sites using Flash load but Flash content appears as an empty grey rectangle. For example, Weather.com and Intellicast.com load but the interactive weather maps do not load. Thus, if a user wanted to track a storm, the user is forced to find a non-Flash Web site. Weather.gov is such a Web site. Flash driven menus are also not accessible.

The iPad screen is bright and images are sharp. The pixel density (132ppi) and the screen resolution (1024×768) makes for crisp clear images. The touch-screen is responsive and accurate. The touch-sensitive QWERTY keyboard is small to fit on the 8”x6” screen (approximate dimension; 9.7” diagonal). A person with small hands would not have issues typing with accuracy and rapidity; larger hands will have issues.

The iPad can be tethered via 30-pin-to-USB cable to a computer for installation of Apple Apps. Apps can also be downloaded via Wifi or 3G, and apps are instantly installed. Apple iTunes is used for operating system updates and patches, app installation and updates, file management, and general device management, such as restoring the operating system, un-installing apps, or “wiping.” Wiping refers to the permanent removal of all user data and apps, performed remotely, usually in the case of theft. Apple allows for 5 computers to be registered as “designated” computers for iTune management of iOS devices. Windows-based file and folder management is non-existent on the iPad.

During the iPad Registration Process, payment information is requested. Registration information is then anchored to the registered user’s Apple ID Account. The Apple ID must then be used to access the Apple App Store. Payment details are necessary to be granted access to the App Store, even if one is only interested in “Free” apps. Payment information includes all major credit cards plus PayPal. An Enterprise credit card account could be used in lieu of an personal credit card or PayPal account.  However, doing so would allow an unscrupulous person to download a multitude of apps and shift the payment of those apps onto the Enterprise. An individual entering their own payment information would be responsible with the expenses associated with the Apple App Store. 

The use of the Apple App Store requires an Apple “App Store ID.” The Apple iStore ID, also simply called the “Apple ID,” is tied to an email address and password. Each user would create an Apple ID in order to use the Apple App Store. Each user would then be required to submit some form of payment information, VISA, MC, Discover, PayPal account, or corporate credit card.

The iPad is viewed by most in Enterprise IT as a “single-user device” (SUD). From an IT stand-point, I could see a number of security issues. With no “sign-on” required, IT would not be able to determine the identity of a user. The only sign-on that is really required is that required for the iTunes, for device management, and for the Apple App Store, for installing apps. Other than those two activities, the iPad is really an open device. 

An examination of the Baylor University IT policy for iPads illustrated a number of identified security concerns. iPads are purchased as needed and issued to a specific person. The iPads are configured for a “passcode,” a password required to unlock the device for use. Once unlocked, the device is open for any and all to use. The iOS provides no user-based controls for security, no permissions, or access control for user files or folders. I suspect that Enterprises will disallow general use iPads in order to accommodate IT security concerns, which themselves are predicated on law enforcement mandates.

The iPad does not have native support for Microsoft Active Directory, with the exception of Microsoft Exchange (email and calendar manager for the Enterprise.) Thus, individual user accounts do not exist. Consequently, no individual user file or folder security is possible. Again, return to the idea that the iPad is a single-user device and that somewhat explains the lack of user security.

The Apple iPad does support virtual private network (VPN.) A few 3rd-party solutions are available; more are forthcoming. For Cisco-powered networks, Cisco offers AnyConnect for the iPad/iPhone. However, Murray State no longer supports the Cisco client, preferring OpenVPN, which is not available for iOS (iPad/iPhone.) I found one app, GuizmoVPN (www.guizmovpn.com) that hawked an OpenVPN distribution via the Apple App Store, but searching the App Store arrived at zero (0) results.

In a June 3rd, 2011 telephone conversation with MSU Help Desk, I learned MSU has no plans to support VPN on the iPad. Later, the same day, MSU IT contacted me and relayed the same information.

In reviewing apps in the Apple App Store, I discovered that the presence of an app in the App Store does not equate to app quality. Many apps were found to have poor reviews. Poor reviews were given to apps that crash, apps without frequent updates, apps supported by advertisement, and apps that did not fulfill the hopes and dreams of the purchaser. Some reviewers also seemed to indicate that Apple “cleansed” (censored) reviewer comments. Apple may publicly state that only quality apps are allowed in the App Store but experience in the App Store indicates that crappy apps still find their way past the Apple App Wehrmacht.

The iPad is potentially a great e-reader platform or a platform for e-textbooks. Many apps were simply commonly available content bundled for the iPad, e.g. the CIA World Factbook, World Almanac, or Wikipedia articles. A few developers have attempted the creation of ebooks that utilize the multimedia capabilities of the iPad.

The lack of Flash support within the Safari browser could be a significant detriment for education, though. The lack of Java support could potentially impair students access to Blackboard. Blackboard does offer a Blackboard app, and Murray State must be subscriber/provider, which Murray State is not at the moment. MSU’s Blackboard Administrator is testing the iPad currently against Blackboard. At the time of this writing, I am not sure if this testing involves the Blackboard iPad App, or simply Blackboard access via Safari.

The Apple iOS operating system the base operating system for both the iPad and Phone. Any application written for iOS should work on either device. Some apps have been written specifically for the iPad or the iPhone. Apps that focus on a particular device are noted with a “plus” sign (+) in the App Store.

{This article was produced for my own personal use after using the iPad for over a month. I do not argue that the device is slick cool sexy. I do argue its current value as a teaching aid. I found many apps for children, especially in geography; lots of map quizzes, and geography trivia. I question giving a $650 piece of glass to a 9-yr old, however. Apps for Colleges & Universities are nearly non-existent.}

One thought on “Technology Review: The iPad (Generation 2)

  1. Another nice review. I agree – I was dismayed at the lack of GIS apps. Neither am I anxious to use this as a reader, when my Kindle is far lighter. I have dropped a whole mess of reference PDFs to it, though, and I've found some great $5 apps for photo editing. I think the iPad is nice little travel machine.

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