Apple’s iPad was released last April so this marks the first semester that faculty might consider using it in a planned way in the classroom. An activity many instructors have expressed interest in is the use of the iPad as a presentation device. After some initial testing I would suggest that this first generation of Apple technology isn’t quite ready for prime time use in the lecture hall, but read on to find out what you should to know if you want to try it for yourself.

So I have an iPad, what else do I need?

* Keynote for iPad (even if you already have Keynote for you Mac), sells for $9.99 via the App store.

* VGA Adapter for the iPad, sells for ~$30 (I purchased mine at the Campus Store.)

My first impression using the iPad as a presenter tool was tainted by some limitations I had not anticipated; the most striking one being that iPad applications have to be specifically designed to support the VGA output. This means you can not project things as basic as the iPad interface or Safari. Keynote for iPad does support the VGA output, as does the YouTube app, the Videos app, and a few other third party apps (such as Whiteboard HD.) That’s a pretty major limitation. When I use Keynote or PowerPoint for lectures I don’t like to be completely locked into my slidedeck. I want to be able to jump out of the program and show content from a website, play videos, or demonstrate a piece of software. For many users this is probably less of a deal breaker than it is for me, but it is a limitation to plan around.

Steve Jobs totes Keynote for the iPad as “the best mobile presentation tool ever” but  the limitations compared to full featured version may be frustrating to some users. The slide creation process in Keynote for the iPad seems fine, but I’m just not a huge fan of building slide decks on a touchscreen. Perhaps most notable of limitations is the requirement you have to load your presentations onto the iPad via an iTunes synch, with no capability for downloading/emailing them to the device. For faculty, using the synch itself isn’t the huge issue; it’s that your iPad is synching off one machine, so you need to plan that you’re building your slide decks on whatever machines you are synching your iPad to.

I also had mixed results with loading presentations into the iPad version of Keynote. Adjustments in fonts and loss of embedded media is expected when moving presentation files from one version to another but I was surprised that a PowerPoint presentation I built and put on the iPad seemed to have less migration issues than an actual Keynote presentation I had constructed. These issues with migration are not insurmountable, but spot-checking slides for acceptable text formatting and image fidelity may be a headache for some faculty.

The actual presenter mode in Keynote is also pretty limited. Thumbnails of past and future slides can be displayed, but only temporarily and at a size that is not useful for readability. Advancing slides is done via a simple tap, and stepping backward is done via a swipe. This works fine for standard progression but is extremely frustrating if you want to jump several slides forward or backward quickly. Perhaps the most frustrating interface element: a single tap advances your slides, but a double tap exits presentation mode (a guaranteed trip-up for those still learning the ropes of the touch-based interface.) Most of these limitations wouldn’t be horrible for a well-rehearsed presentation, but could be debilitating for any presentation that is more than a planned performance. The limitations for moving around in your presentations quickly, combined with the inability to hop over to a web browser or display other apps, can lead very scripted, on-rails presentations. This is a symptom of those “death by PowerPoint presentations” that feel so lifeless and non-interactive.

So why would you use this? The main appeal is simply the weight of the device compared to trekking about with a laptop (one instructor I tested this with has a desktop Mac and an iPad but no actual laptop). It’s undeniable that iPad owners seem to love flaunting their shiny coveted devices (see having an iPhone three years ago), but the tradeoffs you have to make to use it may be unacceptable to you. My suggestion: wait for the next hardware iteration of the iPad and a more developed version of Keynote before using this in the classroom.

Image credit: Samwebster via Flickr. Used under a CC license.

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