The iPad seems to have intrinsic potential for academics and researchers, like myself. This page describes some of my opinions and recommendations about the iPad in such a capacity. I've been asked by numerous people who are buying the iPad, "what applications do you use?" So, I made this page.
-Jason Corso
Last Updated: 23 May 2010

Why I Love the iPad.

The iPad sates my technolust. Its big screen makes it suitable for reading papers, which I spend an awful lot of time doing.

It's much faster than I expected.

Even without 3G, I find I am using it everywhere.

10 hours rocks.

Although the iPad is not the laptop- or desktop-replacement that some tout it to be, it fills a void I did not know existed. I guess we can continue to rely on Apple to tell us what we need.

Why I Hate the iPad.

The iPad is twenty steps forward and twenty steps backward. The data from one app is not availale in other apps. This is the real kicker. I almost did not buy my iPad for this reason. Now I have to personally waste time to sync pdf's from one app (e.g., Goodreader) to another app (e.g., iAnnotate) through my PC.

I don't think Apple or many of the app designers have even begun to unleash to potential of the iPad. Basic enabled things are absent. For example, the other day, I was browsing a webpage in the Safari app and I wanted to "annotate" the webpage with some freehand markings. I wanted to cross out items in a list and add some simple hand (finger) written text. No way, not possible. At least not with the apps I have. I tried the route of copying the url and downloading the webpage into Goodreader, which worked, but Goodreader does not let you annotate things (although I hear it will in the future).

The holding/typing/lap-resting just does not work. One needs a stylus, external keyboard or Dragon dictation for real content creation.

VGA out does not work for the system; only for certain apps.

No direct way of trialing an app before buying is bad. The option I've seen on one un-named site to "go to the Apple store and try it out" is funny. These are not cars, folks, these are software.

No way to customize the keyboard is a limit.

Does the mail app actually work for anyone?

Comments on Using the iPad as a Professor

Note, I only comment on apps that I have tried. I could have missed the best one in a particular category. Note, I have not attempted to use the iPad for actually teaching yet. I don't see how it is too relevant unless all of the students have one, but I probably will use it to write out lecture notes next Fall.

Reading and Annotating PDFs

The iPad excels here. No more printing, marking up and losing. Since getting my iPad, I have not printed a single paper. I drop them into a folder on my desktop, sync that up with iAnnotate and go.

The Good. My current solution to paper reading is a mix of GoodReader and iAnnotate. As a computer scientist, GoodReader is clearly the most full featured. For example, I rsync'd my entire papers directory to it via the webdav mount in the first try. iAnnotate beats it because you can mark up the pdf in freehand. I love that. (The iAnnotate authors could do some curve smoothing to make it look better, but that's not a great big deal.)

The Bad. I have tried Papers, but its bells and whistles don't add any real features. I think it's basically a waste of money. You can't even annotate on the documents and it cost 2.5x as much as iAnnotate.

The Wish. What I want to see if a BibDesk program that I can sync to my desktop BibDesk, that has integrated freehand editing as well as text editing, and gives me some way of dropping a pdf from the web into it (while in Safari).

Taking Notes

The iPad opens some doors here, but leaves much to be desired. Typing on the keyboard is a non-option for real notes and the hand-written apps have a long way to go before any one could be a complete solution.

Stylus recommended. I use the Pogo stylus.

The Good. My current solution is a mix of NoteTakerHD and Penultimate. NoteTakerHD presents an interesting approach to writing on the iPad. It helps to overcome the "resolution" issue, but I have not yet grown too used to it. I use it for writing longer documents such as research thoughts, notes while reading, journal entries. Penultimate is your basic notebook, but it has the most natural feel to it of all of the handwriting apps. And, whereas most of the apps don't let me rest my wrist on the iPad while writing (resulting in handwriting that looks like it was written by a third-grader), Penultimate lets me (as of today!) and it does so nicely. Inability to change the pen-tip size and sensibly organize my notes is limiting.

A surprise to me is Dragon Dictate, which works quite well. I have not begun to use this often yet, but I can see its potential. And it is much more accurate than I expected.

The Bad. Everything else. Seriously, everything else. (Well, I have not tried the WritePad app yet, which may be a good solution). I have tried Notes, Sundry Notes, WhiteNote, smartNote and FastFinga, and I want my money back.

The Wish. I want an app that lets me write freehand, maintains the notebook visual in freehand but does OCR in the backround, lets me search, syncs to desktop apps, and lets me intuitively organize my notes into groups.


This is the only one where I'd say the problem is solved. I use Things, and it rocks.


The following is a list of other apps I rely on for work or otherwise.

Next steps...

I want to try the OmniGraffle app. I rely heavily on OmniGraffle in my paper and proposal writing. But, I am apprehensive because I did not see discussion of a way to transfer files to and from the computer in the documentation. (I.e., take an graffle doc form my laptop and transfer it to the iPad and continue working.)