Some brief thoughts on the iPad and ELN

So I’ve said a lot in other forums about the iPad and ELNs and thought I should briefly jot something down here. So here’s the high level of why I think the iPad is interesting for Lab Informatics generally and Electronic Lab Notebooks in particular.

Aside from all the really interesting philosophy stuff which might give insight into the design decisions Apple have made, my interest in the iPad and ELN is as follows:

  • Finally we have a practical device which allows access to “The Cloud” in a magazine form factor.
  • They’ve sold 1m in the first 28 days, with supply restricted to the US. There are no credible alternatives announced. This is Apple’s segment to lose at the moment. If you want The Web in your hand, Apple is the place.
  • Because it is in consumer space, pricing and volume are almost commodity-like.

It might not currently be positioned as an enterprise device, but the above make it viable to evaluate. Turning to the ELN:

  • It has a proper web browser on it – no compromises (except for the lack of Flash – but HTML5 is here). The keyboard is ok ish and you can always use an external one – but it isn’t intended for content creation, really – this is a consumption and annotation device.
  • It is relatively cheap so accidents won’t break your heart. But it is sturdy enough for kids… it isn’t an executive toy.
  • Apple’s control-freak side mean this can be one of the most secure devices around.
  • You can use it in a plastic bag, with gloves etc.
  • Which makes me wonder – is this a hint of what we need to take the ELN to the science?

It isn’t perfect, but for my money it has earned a decent evaluation. It doesn’t replace the laptop, the desktop, etc. – but it does fill a gap which opens new possibilities. This is version 1 and I wouldn’t go out and buy them for everyone in my lab just yet, but I’d buy a couple and use those to understand the impact.

My conclusions so far are:

  • If you get one and take it home, be prepared to get one for your significant other. It is the only way to maintain harmony. Having said that, I rarely get to use mine when my children are awake, and I don’t know how to solve that yet (I am not getting them their own!).
  • This is a content consumption device, with the ability to annotate and make small contributions. It won’t replace your computer as the place you write.
  • Applications – web or otherwise – need to be re-visited in the light of the iPads characteristics. Straight ports won’t work.
  • The ecosystem is still settling down, you can tell that people have written apps not having seen the UI metaphors everyone else use. I suspect it will take at least 6 months for things to settle out.
  • This really is very interesting. I suspect it could be as profound as the the introduction of the Mac.

This post is interesting as an insight into what Apple are probably doing with the iPad. This is more about changing our entire relationship with computers than merely the choices they’ve made for this one device.

If you haven’t seen it, I covered some more about this on the morning before the possible iPad release in my Chairman’s remarks at the SMI ELN Conference (this was just before the iPad announcement – apologies to my dinner companions who had to suffer my addiction to Twitter that evening!).