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Ups and downs of the iPad

So I got an iPad. Again. I had the iPad 1 not too long after it came out and started to explore the technical possibilities of paperless paper-reading, commenting and synchronizing. With Dropbox, which is really one of the best “cloud” services around, this worked pretty well. However, the iPad 1 was heavy and slow and so scrolling through papers was not a very enjoyable task and after a while you simply wanted to have a rest for your arms.

This has changed with the iPad 3. It is fast, it is only slightly lighter, but the great display makes you want to hold it maybe a little longer. So for paper reading (with GoodReader) and synchronizing (still with Dropbox) this is really great. Also watching movies or reading newspapers (the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Munich has a really good app for their newspaper) is fun, although the glossy screen limits the use of the iPad to really dark locations.

Right now, I am at a conference and I thought I try using the iPad as a conference notepad. Tomorrow I will switch back to my MacBook Air that I also brought with me. Writing on the iPad is just too error-prone. I tried it digitally by using the built-in keyboard in its various variants (fullsize, split, movable), but it is just not the same if you don’t have feedback from the keys that you press. This is not just an aesthetic difference, but I think it is the main reason why the texts I write on the iPad sometimes look like they’ve been written by a monkey. When I write on a real keyboard I don’t have to use the backspace key very often and can type much faster than on the iPad. I think the reason for this is mainly that my fingers’ positions get re-adjusted (unconsciously) to the correct position of the keys after each letter whereas this feedback is missing for the electronic keyboard of the iPad. For this reason it is also nearly impossible to type on the iPad and not look at the screen (like I often do to follow a conference talk) because you would probably write so many typos that it would be hard to recognize what you’ve written. The built-in auto-correct function also doesn’t really help in this respect as it over-corrects at least in an astronomy setting where it cannot know about most abbreviations and names. It corrected a slightly mis-spelled “unobscured” (as in unobscured quasar) into “uninsured” (which is even slightly funny) and of course it dressed up a blazar into a blazer. Nevertheless it helps a bit to correct some mis-spellings if you follow closely what you write to notice any wrong corrections.

Apart from that I also find it hard to navigate in the text using my fingers: When I just want to move the cursor to the beginning of the line it always selects the first word and I have to point again with my finger to deselect the text.

I also tried with an iPad pen (a cheap, but highly rated one) for hand-written notes, although I believe that notes should be digital so that they can be searched. But irrespective of hand-written notes being “analog”, it is also not very convenient or fast to write them.

And last but not least, the support for international characters is missing if you’re not an English-only writer. While it helps that you can input ä, ö, ü, ß in a fast way by just sliding over the letters a, o, u, s, respectively, it is annoying that you cannot choose your keyboard layout independent of the auto-correct language. For an English text, I of course want to have the English auto-correction dictionary, but I don’t want to give up my German keyboard layout for that since I am used to it.

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