Monday, April 23, 2012

My iPad Demands...aka Getting Started

I hadn't planned on getting a tablet, since between my laptop, phone and Kindle I can pretty much do anything I need while at home or on the go. However, since we have a lot of teachers beginning to use them in the classroom at our school, I wanted to be able to support them, as I do with other technologies. Many of the teachers are using iPads, so I wanted to start there. I also tested a Samsung Galaxy Tab. I'll compare the difference between the two in an upcoming post.

The first thing I needed to do, before exploring educational apps, was to "break in" the iPad. In other words, I wanted to know if it could do the things I wanted to do with it. I don't assume it will be a replacement for a laptop, but I do expect it to do the things I'm used to doing on my phone, at the very least.

My "must-have" areas are: Google calendar syncing, browser functionality and photo sharing among all of my devices.

1. Calendar - I use Google Calendar because I can access it anywhere and I have an Android phone, so I have seamless syncing. Anytime I use my calendar on my phone or any computer, it updates instantly across all devices, because it's in the cloud. The calendar built into iPad doesn't sync with Google.  Of course it doesn't - Google and Apple do not share stuff. **Update, you can sync your Google calendar to the default calendar on the iPad.*(see below)  So I knew I would need an app for that. There were many available in the app store. So I picked one, CalenMob, and it was a good choice. I need to pay for the upgraded version to remove ads, but so far the free version looks good and syncs quite nicely. I had bad memories of the old days when my Blackberry didn't always sync nicely with Microsoft Outlook. So, I was pleased to see that my calendar "must-have" can be checked off the list.
*You set it up through the email configuration by selecting Gmail. (it's pretty, but the colors aren't as bright, and it doesn't sync well 100% of the time) Try it out, and if you don't like it, you still have CalenMob or other Gmail calendar syncing apps to choose from.
**Updated 8/3/12. After spending a lot of time with several different calendars, I like Readdle the best, with CalenMob a close second. Readdle costs a few dollars, but it's worth it to me. CalenMob is free.
**Update 6/15/13 After a few months, I went back to the native iOS Calendar. It seemed to sync fine, and I like the design.
**Update 8/31/13 I thought the native calendar synced with my Google Calendar fine. However, I wasn't looking closely enough. I have several calendars synced up, and for whatever reason, certain ones just refuse to sync. The settings appear to be exactly the same as the others, so there is no apparent reasons why. I've spent too many hours researching why, and frankly, I've given up. Back to Readdle. That leather look of the native calendar is tired and out-dated anyway.

2. Browser functionality - I'm a demanding browser user. I use many extensions on my browser on my laptop, and I figured that if I was really going to use this iPad, then I needed a browser that could handle my demands. Mostly, I need to be able to share things. I'm continually adding items to Diigo, Evernote and Twitter. Plus, I use the Last Pass extension for password keeping. (I do not enter passwords, that's way too tedious). This was going to be a challenge, since no browser on a tablet allows for extensions, so....what would I do? Well, I do love a challenge!

I experimented with several different browsers. I had some success with the Diigo Browser. In fact, I love that browser. It lets you share to several different sites and it has a fabulous highlighting screen capture function. But it didn't work with Last Pass in any meaningful way.

Safari with the bookmarklets on the bookmark bar.
Another browser I liked was iCab. It will let you share to a ton of different sites, by far the most I've seen in any mobile browser. It has its own built in password keeper, so if you don't use Last Pass, then this would work. You can password protect your password locker.

I highly recommend both of those browsers. But for me, I ended up back at the beginning and just using Safari, the built in browser. However, this was only after I figured out how to sync it with a browser on my laptop, so that I could add bookmarklets to the bookmark bar. Safari has a built in "share to Twitter," so I only needed to add bookmarklets for Evernote, Diigo and Last Pass. Bingo! I'm in business. #2 "must-have" off the list!

3. Photo Sharing - I wanted a way where I could take a picture and have that picture be available to me from all my devices or any Internet connected computer. In other words, I wanted it to be available in the cloud, but private, of course. I know that's a tall order, but hey, that's what I wanted.

After checking out several apps, I came back to an app I've been using all along, Google+. If you have the Google+ app on your phone, you can turn on the option to "instant upload" your pictures as you take them. They won't be posted anywhere publicly. They are simply added to a private folder called "photos from your phone." There isn't a Google+ iPad app, but there is an iPhone app and it works fine on the iPad. I installed it and turned on the function to upload photos. It works! Let me be clear - there's no syncing on your part - these photos automatically upload to Google+ without you doing anything. They are even sorted by the day you took them. That's the coolest thing I've found so far. The ability to have all the picture I take with various devices all in one place (without a lot of headaches) is GREAT!!

By the way, your photos are also uploaded to Picasa Web Albums, since Google owns Picasa. If you wish, you can sync your desktop version of Picasa Web Albums and truly have all of your photos in one place. I haven't done that because I have no interest in having all of my years of photos being online somewhere. I just don't need to access them all online. **Update: When you have Picasa on your home computer, it makes downloading an entire album easy from Picasa Web Albums with just one click.

I'm just barely scratching the surface here, so I hope to do a few more posts about other ways I'm using the iPad. I was happy to see that it has passed all my tests so far.

The next post will be a compilation of iPad classroom resources I've found useful.

Please share any tips you've found regarding browsers or photo sharing apps on the iPad.