Class Notes and Games

April 7, 2010

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The iPad will play YouTube videos (bright, beautiful and the bizarre). The iPad will play ABC videos (FlashForward, anyone?). The iPad will play games (great games; see below). The iPad will read the news (NPR and USA Today like you’ve never seen [or heard!] them before). The iPad will even show you the pages of a book (iBooks or iPad Kindle). After all that, the iPad still won’t do a very good job for notetaking.

I’m not saying it’s impossible or anything, but I am saying that a device that looks as good as the iPad should be able to take notes with more complexity. I got the hang of the keyboard today and made fewer mistakes, partially because I made good use of the plastic stand included with the iPad Travel Kit Plus. I also had the Pages app (iPad word possessing from Apple @ $9.99) added today. Pages made some improvements for editing, but cursor positioning can still be problematic. What surprised me most about Pages was the lackluster feature set: Yes, there are 15 very nice document templates and you can do some basic editing (bold, italic text) and insert tables or images, but you cannot change the font or do nested bullet points (critical for good digital notetaking).

Google Docs isn’t an option. The iPad interface allows you to view documents but not to edit them. Emailing class notes to yourself might be an option, but the NCSU Google Mail interface is limited to basic text with no formatting.

A very interesting app called Evernote allows you to save images, notes (still just basic text), and recordings relative to location. This seems like it would be really neat for the intrepid traveler, but it doesn’t do much for the needs of an average student. A number of for-pay note taking apps exist – some of these may be more useful for in-class notetaking.

Enough work. The iPad is a legitimate gaming platform (almost literally). So far, I have played a breakout game, a zombie defense game, a two-player pong clone, a music reflex game, and a ball-maze game. I won’t go into too much detail about how I am wasting my time, but I will say this: the graphics are smooth, the accelerometer and multitouch are both used well in a variety of games, and the games themselves are simple, fun, and addicting. Think twice about letting someone “have a look” at the games on your iPad if you have a class within the next twenty minutes – you might not get it back in time.

After a day or so with the device, I have had no trouble using it for personal entertainment but I am still struggling to find the iPad’s academic utility.