Apple’s iPad – The ultimate field research tool?

The iPad is close to appearing in hot little hands everywhere. Orders are being taken and depending on where you get your information, orders and demand are hot…or not. Whatever. It is coming soon enough.

There is no doubt that we will see some of the best iPhone app developers showing off even cooler things on the iPad but one area where it may be a sleeper hit is with mobile field scientists.

I know many field scientists who have long been searching for the holy grail of field computers (Indiana Jones included). Most solutions are either too heavy, too cumbersome, need a stylus that promptly gets lost, suffer from poor battery, have an interface only a mother could love, etc. I think the iPad will be a big hit with field scientists in particular. Here is why:

Styluses need not apply….let your fingers do the walking. The touch screen interface and the optimized apps for it such as the iWork suite will really be boon for field scientists who can just touch and go.

Power – While it remains to be seen just how long the battery will really last in the iPad, it will surely last far longer than the iPhone and may be able to get you through a day in the field before recharging in the evening.

Weight - The last thing a field scientist needs is more heavy gear. At a pound and a half, this thing will travel nicely.

Screen - The display should rock. Its bright, so it should be fairly readable in direct sunlight and it should be a dream to look at, even for long periods of time (although some are crying eyestrain compared to e-ink)

PDF and ePub documents – Scientists can sync their papers and notes from their desktops to take with them in the field. Apple announced that ePub files outside the iBookstore ecosystem can be loaded into iTunes and synced up to the iPad. This great news. And PDFs should look great on the screen especially with the handful of good PDF iphone apps out there that hopefully will be tweaked for the iPad.

Notes - The ability to take notes and hopefully annotate documents. There are a plethora of note taking apps including Apple’s which should shine well on the larger screen. It would be nice if you could also annotate pictures on the iPad.

Maps! – By gosh this will be a great application on the iPad. Perfect for geospatial work in the field. The myriad of map apps on the iPhone bodes well that we will see nice ports to the iPad and a slew of new mapping apps that can take advantage of the larger screen. I don’t know if one will be able to do this, but if its possible to take screen captures of maps and then annotate them on the iPad that would be fantastic. You can take screenshots on the iPhone. I have not tried it on the iPod Touch but you should not need a camera for this. Also, many of the map apps let you load maps locally onto your device so no connectivity needed for the far flung researcher.

Special Note for Maps – The 3G version has a GPS chip in it, so if location matters to you, make sure you get the 3G and not the Wifi only model. The Wifi model can triangulate your position with a wifi signal but it can’t track your movements and its accuracy won’t be anything like what the GPS chip will give you.

Microphone – With a built in mic, the iPad can do double duty with typed and recorded note taking possible.

Camera..Oh wait, the iPad does not have a camera… This is a bummer but I think we will see one in a later version of the device in the near future. It could be a great tool for a number of obvious reasons. In the meantime, it would great if photos from the iphone can be sent wirelessly to the iPad through Bluetooth, WiFi or cell signal. Another hope is that there may be a way to connect a higher end camera for field photography. That would be nice indeed.

Cellular plans you can live with – No annual plans, only by the month as you need it. $30 for unlimited data on ATT’s 3G network is a pretty decent deal, basically a dollar a day. Pay for a month or two during your field season and use your university or home wifi the rest of the time. While many field scientists work far from cell signals, when you are in range its nice to be able to fire up the cell signal for connectivity. Or you can just use WiFi if you got it set up around your camp. The big plus with the 3G models in my book is the GPS chip and not necessarily the cell features.

The Price – While it is not basement level netbook prices, the iPad, even the most tricked out one, is not too outrageous. As a field scientist I would only consider the 3G models so the base price is $629 for the 16 GB model. Still cheaper than a decent laptop.

A few accessories – A bluetooth keyboard or the keyboard dock might be nice for longer writing or note taking in the field at the end of the day. I would imagine that we’ll see some sort of ruggedized, waterproof or resistant case that will still give you touch screen access and devices like the AirStash can give you loads more storage space via SD cards and wifi (load your DSLR images up with this!). And there will be battery accessories that will give you extra juice in the field should you need it. Check out HyperMac batteries which I am pretty sure will work with the iPad.

And finally the apps...There are many, many navigation and geospatial apps that will really shine with a larger screen. A few come to mind, but I can see everyone from archaeologists to biologists to geographers (of course) lapping up this device for all of the above reasons and more.

So while this may have been targeted as a device you use on your couch, it may find uses very far from there as a capable mobile field device.

You can read plenty more about the iPad at Apple’s site.

Keene


3 Responses to “Apple’s iPad – The ultimate field research tool?”

  1. Alan Levine says:

    I’m seeing maybe some solar powered gadgets for field recharging? and a whole new market area for accessories (protective cases, etc). But heck yes, great potential

  2. Mike D says:

    Although there is not yet a camera onboard the iPad, there is an App called Camera A, Camera B that lets you use your iPhone’s camera and the image will appear on the iPad.

  3. Thanks for sharing this article.Good to know some good insight about ipad.

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