Last week, I got an iPad for work. Though I’m a big fan of Apple products (as you all know), I hadn’t previously given a great deal of thought to getting an iPad. I have to say that now that I’ve got one, I’m fairly bowled over with how useful it is. This is probably ancient news for those of you have had one for years, but there are two main activities that seem easier or much more pleasant on the iPad.
Reading PDF files
In my job, I read a lot of PDF files. The journal articles I have to read to keep up with research in my field are all in PDF format (and I have to read a lot of those), but there are also administrative documents and students’ essays, reports and so on. I have never been someone who has to print out articles on paper just to read them, but equally I have never found reading from the desktop or laptop screen as comfortable as reading a book or Kindle. I love reading on the iPad. The screen is the perfect size for a PDF file of an A4 document, and being able to move the screen around easily and change the distance and orientation from your eyes seems to make a huge difference for me. Marking up and commenting on PDF files also seems much more direct, which is useful for marking students’ essays electronically.
Sketching and annotating
This is something that I have always done in a paper notebook, and may continue to do to some extent, but it is very convenient to have an endless electronic notebook in which to scribble designs for experimental apparatus, diagrams and so on, and which you can easily share with others. I got a stylus as well (the excellent but oddly named Applydea Maglus), and that makes sketching on the iPad feel very natural.
There are also many occasions when I want to draw a sketchy diagram to illustrate something in a talk or lecture. I don’t need (or want) it to look too polished, as it’s just supposed to be an illustration of a point. That’s something that’s quite hard to achieve with a vector or bitmap drawing package and without a pen and tablet input device (like a Wacom), but it’s easy with an iPad and your finger or a stylus. I’ve been using the Paper application, and love the way that it makes my scratchy drawings look much better than they are, but keeps the informality.
There are lots of other thing I love about the iPad (taking notes in meetings, reading web pages or RSS feeds), but reading PDFs and sketching are the main things I would find it hard to do without if managed to pry the iPad from my cold, dead hands.