Continuing Adventures of an Academic’s Use of the iPad (mini)

My previous posts on using the iPad have become some of the most popular posts on this blog. So I thought I would give you an update on my evolving use of the iPad.

My history of use of the iPad started with great skepticism, moved into curious and active experimentation, and has settled into routine usage. Now, it’s an integrated part of my work and play. I’ve even done what was once unthinkable: nearly wrote a entire manuscript on the iPad without a hardware keyboard! (read on).

With great skepticism I got the original iPad a few months after it was released in 2010. While I could see the theoretical benefits of such a lightweight device, there was not yet much software that was specialized to do any work. In terms of usage, there were probably days that I did not use the iPad. It was primarily relegated to recreational web surfing or curious novelty.

After the release of the iPad 2, however, my usage increased dramatically. The reduction in weight and size, as well as the release of high quality productivity software meant that I not only carried it along with my then-laptop (Fujitsu P1620 ultraportable tablet), I could start to envision how I might start replacing my laptop. Usage was probably split 20 (iPad)/80 (laptop) in terms of mobile computing. It also helped that it was at this time that I switched my desktop computer and laptop to Mac. This made it much more seamless to use Keynote and Pages as replacements for Powerpoint and Word. I’ve kicked Powerpoint but I can’t yet kick Word to the curb.

The iPad 3 again increased usage mainly because of the high resolution display and dramatic speed increase made everything better, especially reading PDFs.

Now, I have an iPad mini and all the software that I’ve mentioned in previous posts are still usable but the form factor has now truly made it even more my primary mobile device of choice over the laptop. The effects of an always-on, super-ultra lightweight device seems to encourage frequent use in places where even a laptop is clunky (e.g., in bed, passenger in a car). I’m currently working on a manuscript and I would estimate that I’ve written more than 50% of it on the iPad mini (using the software keyboard and Pages). Probably another 10% on the iPhone (reading what I wrote, light editing) and the rest on the desktop or laptop computer.

Keynote is an especially capable presentation app. I’ve worked on full presentations created on the iPad (but presented on a laptop). They are whisked silently through the cloud and are on my laptop/desktop waiting for me.

But there are other things that are making the iPad work especially well for me. One feature that isn’t discussed a great deal in reviews is iCloud. iCloud, in contrast to Dropbox, invisibly keeps my Keynote (class lectures, professional presentations) and Pages (manuscripts) in sync on all my devices (desktop, laptop, iPad mini, and iPhone). I still use Dropbox but iCloud is simpler model with less thinking about spatial file organization (the file is just in the app). I still use Dropbox but treat it like an archive; a folder with many levels of folders. While I treat iCloud as an active area for current work, a work space. iCloud = short term memory, dropbox = long term memory. This setup works quite well for me.

Uses will be different for different people but for me (someone who values portability above all else and is a tinkerer) the Mini is a winner (it replaced my iPad 3). I also did not set unrealistic expectations of the device which may be why I’m so surprised how much of my daily computing can be addressed with such a relatively low-powered device. The size/weight of the Mini simply overwhelms any other benefit of the larger iPads. When I travel, I am now more likely to be carrying just the iPad (with no laptop unless I know i’ll need to program or do statistical analysis). In the end, it allows me to do a small amount of things in more places than at my desk.

To conclude, my most frequently used apps lately are:

  • Keynote (lecture and presentation creation & editing)
  • Papers (reading PDFs, literature searching)
  • Pages (manuscript creation and editing)
  • Email (built-in client)
  • LogMeIn Ignition (for connecting to my desktop computer remotely)

Keynote and Papers are truly exceptional apps that have nearly the full functionality of their desktop counterparts without replicating the same interaction style (i.e., they are optimized for tablets). I actually prefer doing lit searches in the iOS version of papers than using the desktop version!

This list is short because everything else is for fun!

The Other Father of Human Factors: John E. Karlin

Paul M. Fitts is widely regarded as the father of human factors.  He gets mentioned a lot in HF texts because of his (still influential) law.  In more modern times, Donald Norman gets a lot of recognition as the author of the Design of Everyday Things (mentioned in my post below) which introduced the idea of psychology and human factors to a more mainstream audience.  However, someone who never gets mentioned (in my 12 years of education i’ve seen him mentioned once) was John E. Karlin who recently passed away.

By all accounts a modest man despite his variegated accomplishments (he had a doctorate in mathematical psychology, was trained in electrical engineering and had been a professional violinist), Mr. Karlin, who died on Jan. 28, at 94, was virtually unknown to the general public.

He is still relatively unknown to HF only because he rarely published his results; instead, he worked to solve problems in industry using the scientific method that all psychologists use.

“He was the one who introduced the notion that behavioral sciences could answer some questions about telephone design,” Ed Israelski, an engineer who worked under Mr. Karlin at Bell Labs in the 1970s, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

The NYT recently posted an obit detailing his contributions including such fundamental ones such as the telephone numeric layout (different from calculator layout):

Putting “1-2-3” on the pad’s top row instead of the bottom (the configuration used, then as now, on adding machines and calculators) was also born of Mr. Karlin’s group: they found it made for more accurate dialing.

The piece is very well written and I’m a little surprised that the author actually seems to understand HF and how it’s unique from other things (emphasis added):

It is not so much that Mr. Karlin trained midcentury Americans how to use the telephone. It is, rather, that by studying the psychological capabilities and limitations of ordinary people, he trained the telephone, then a rapidly proliferating but still fairly novel technology, to assume optimal form for use by midcentury Americans.

(NYT: great article but you hyphenated human factors in the 10th paragraph)

Go read it!

How Do You Teach Human Factors?

Reader Mark C. asked the question:

“I plan to offer a class on Human Factor’s Psychology in my school. I’ve looked around to internet for resources…there really isn’t much out there….”

How did you start teaching human factors?  If you had to teach a semester-long course, what would be your resource?  Please chime in!

My undergraduate course is a fusion of material from the required text (Introduction to Human Factors), some chapters from the Design of Everyday Things (which I don’t require to read but may take inspiration from), and Casey’s classic Set Phasers on Stun.  And plenty of examples of human factors from the web to make the material more timely.

A major component is the group project where students pick a system and conduct a human factors evaluation as an end-of-the-semester presentation.