Thursday, February 24, 2011

iPad as a Presbytery/General Assembly device

At last summer's General Assembly of the PCA, I carried my laptop (just like dozens, nay, hundreds of others) and used it all week for referencing and note-taking. It sure beat carrying around the paper versions of my Book of Church Order, Westminster Standards, AND the Commissioner's Handbook (many hundreds of 8.5x11 pages in a binder). I DID choose to carry my Bible in a print version-- but I think I used the version on my Mac more.

This was great, and with my latest-generation MacBook Pro, the battery life was mostly a non-factor. Still, the iPad had just come out, and it occurred to me on the way to G.A. that the iPad would make a great device for presbytery and assembly meetings. (I saw a few of them on the floor, in fact.)

So when I got an iPad, this purpose was one of the many things I had in mind for it. At the most recent meeting of Covenant Presbytery (where I am a member), I gave it a shot: I planned in advance to leave my MacBook Pro in my briefcase all day, and only use the iPad. Here are a few thoughts:

  • There's an app for that: I have a Bible app, a Reformed Confessions and Catechisms app, and even a Robert's Rules of Order app. I also have the Book of Church Order in PDF, and can easily put minutes, committee reports, dockets, and other documents in there in PDF. (I keep these in DevonThink To Go, a companion app to DevonThink, which I use multiple times every day.)
  • Lightweight: it's hard to argue that the iPad is, relatively speaking, extremely light and convenient. Certainly far better than lugging all of those in print versions.
  • All in one place: In the one device, I have all of the reference material and resources I need. That's great!
  • Fast: the iPad starts up fast, and even loads most apps pretty quickly. I didn't find I had to wait to get to the information I was looking for.

  • Navigation is tricky: when I open a PDF on my iPad using DevonThink To Go, it opens at the beginning. I have to "scroll" down-- using the flick-style, inertial scrolling so famous on Apple's iDevices-- to find my place. If I switch to another PDF then go back to the first one, or if I close the PDF-reading app and re-open it (maybe after using a different app), again I'm back to the beginning of the PDF. What I NEED is to be able to switch right back to the page I was on.
  • Notes aren't easy: I like to be able to put notes in my documents-- especially at presbytery and assembly meetings, where 90% of the information is often already provided in the docket and accompanying pages. While it is possible to make notes on the iPad (I also had the PDFs in Apple's own app, iBooks, which has better navigation and allows notes, but is much slower in loading and running), it's too tedious for doing it easily. I'm not sure I'll be able to easily transition to extensive typing/note-taking using the iPad's on-screen keyboard.
  • Multitasking: having access to great apps as I mentioned above is wonderful-- but navigating from one to another isn't. I suppose it's fine for Apple to call what they offer on the iPad "multitasking" but it certainly isn't the easily-switchable, multiple windows setup I'm used to on my Mac. I find it quite cumbersome to switch between apps, even using the "multitasking" options available.

Since my first try at presbytery, I've already found a couple of "fixes" for my problems above-- but even these aren't perfect. For example, I'm giving the PDF reader app GoodReader a try; it allows bookmarking, note-taking, has much better navigation, and re-opens PDFs to where you left off. BUT, the notes I make won't automatically sync with DevonThink on my Mac-- which means I'll need to manually add them, or not have my notes. Also, GoodReader doesn't support my notes and markers from other annotation applications (like Skim, which I regularly use on my Mac), so I have to go in and manually build markers and placeholders, even when I have them through other applications.

What would be the perfect fix, for me anyway, would be improved navigation, note-taking, and book-marking within the DevonThink To Go app. Couple that with improved app-switching and more truly "multitasking" interface, and the iPad is good to go for presbytery and G.A.!

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