Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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First impression of the iPad (and museum possibilities)

April 26th, 2010 by Seb Chan

Here’s something I wrote about the iPad on the flight back from Museums and the Web 2010. I promise a full conference rundown later.

I’ve just spent about 24 hours sitting in a confined airline seat playing with an iPad. I picked up one in New York on the day before flying out and here’s some thoughts on the experience.

The iPad is quite a lovely device – it is tactile and, whilst heavier than expected, it is far lighter than the only other device I’d try typing this out on – my laptop which is now “safely stowed in the overhead locker”. Not to mention if the guy in front of me decides to lean his seat back suddenly it won’t get crushed.

I managed to load the iPad up in the hotel with a small selection of iPad apps – Pages which I am using to type this, Scrabble for playing with my seat-mate, Instapaper for offline reading of webpages I’ve bookmarked to read later, and GoodReader for the PDFs of academic and business papers I end up with. It also transferred all my existing iPhone games happily.

As expected there were a few slight difficulties. It took me a little while to figure out how to load documents onto the device – loading them to Pages and GoodReader via the ‘Apps’ tab in iTunes isn’t the most logical place. And, to make sure I could catch up with some videos I had on my laptop I had to do some file conversion to MP4 format using the open source tool Miro.

On one single charge I’ve managed a full flight from New York to Sydney with moderate use and there’s 20% charge left. It wasn’t running all the time but I’ve done a bunch of typing, watched a couple of hours of video, listened to music, played some graphically intensive games on it, as well as about 10 rounds of Scrabble. I even managed to spend an hour on the painfully slow wifi at the LAX lounge.

I’m not a current consumer of ebooks but I do read a lot of long-ish form online content – 3000 word plus articles. Magazine articles, extensive blogposts, opinion pieces – and for this use Instapaper and the iPad is a killer combo. If I find something I want to read during my day I can just mark it as ‘read later’ with a bookmarklet in my laptop browser and then when my iPad connects to wifi it downloads these for me and I can read offline whilst in transit. The iPad version of Instapaper works very well and allows font and flow changes making for a good reading experience on the device.

In many ways the iPad fills an immediate need of mine to have something more portable than my laptop and bigger than my phone for reading this kind of content – I expect there are a fair few people who share a similar need. Does it replace these other devices? No, it simply offers a more convenient context and experience for reading. Is it a ‘lean back’ device – definitely. And there are plenty of times when I need to be able to ‘lean back’ and absorb/consume content before heading off to ‘make and do’ content elsewhere on another device.

There’s a stack of potential for these devices in the museum space. I’m not a fan of the individualizing nature of traditional museum guides and tour devices. I find the small screen and inherently singular experience of a museum guide delivered either on a ‘hired’ device or my own phone, severely compromised.

But here with the iPad (and whatever follows as a result of it changing the tablet marketplace), we finally have a light, portable, and easy to use device that allows museum tours to be enjoyed collectively – even as a family group. In fact, the development work needed to convert an existing iPhone-optimised web content into one that suits the iPad is relatively minimal.

Consider the options for visitors stopping by a showcase or a set of objects wanting to know more about them. They pull out the iPad that they have ‘hired/borrowed’ at the front desk, and flick through to the collection information about those objects, pull up the videos in which the makers are interviewed, and pass the device between family members to show each other. Better yet, if they so wish, all this content is still available online for reference when they get home or back to school.

Tags: 4 Comments

  • The battery life and light weight alone are features sufficient to have me consider it. Plus your mention of graphically-intensive games… games on Apple products… tell me more?

  • Francesca Ford

    Good point about the iPad maybe allowing ‘..museum tours to be enjoyed collectively’. It’ll be interesting to see if visitors do this naturally with the bigger iPad.

  • Thanks for that review. I am really looking forward to checking out the iPad when it finally comes to Australia.

  • Tony Schmidt

    Couldn’t agree more with the statements about iPad having the capacity “to be enjoyed collectively.” With the upcoming gen.2, it will be become even more relevant with a built-in camera. The possibilities are wide.

    Tony Schmidt
    Exhibit Designer