SAP and the iPad – and ELNs

We think the iPad has the potential to revolutionise Electronic Lab Notebooks, and clearly the ELN market is just one of many which will benefit from the new form factor. SAP are arguably the most “Enterprise” of any software vendor, so I was interested in their view of the iPad and other Tablets.

This interview of SAPs CIO makes interesting reading.

Oliver Bussmann told me that SAP’s chief scientist had done an analysis of computers in business, and where they will be going. In their scientist’s view, the mobile and desktop models are converging. That is, instead of rolling up to a desk every day to power up a machine, and sift through screens of information to arrive at a simple dashboard, users will come to expect a smaller device to focus on the data. This smaller form factor and more task-focused paradigm will allow you to call up information almost instantly, with laser focus on specific processes, rather than one large machine that does a dozen things. It’s an evolution of the species, if you will.

We’re seeing this ourselves, both in our internal use of the iPad and also by our ELN clients. The Tablet form factor and the very task-centric paradigm really does create a compelling additional device from which to interact with your data – and we’re pleased that PatentSafe continues to keep up with the innovations in the tablet space.

A large number of our customers have iPad trials ongoing; there are few who are refusing to entertain the iPad at all on the basis that it is a “toy”. With endorsements like this from SAP I can’t help but think they will be reconsidering!

Tablets in the Laboratory – battery life

There aren’t many Enterprise iPad users blogging publicly, no doubt out of confidentiality concerns. However Fraser Speirs is responsible for IT in a school where they have just deployed iPads throughout the school, and his blog on The iPad Project is well worth a read if you are thinking about large-scale deployment of iPads and the like.

As an example, a recent post on battery life makes some interesting points about the impact of battery life on usability. The short post is well worth a read, and he finishes with the following which I think is equally applicable to the Laboratory:

Simply put: if your device doesn’t last for 10 real-world hours of use, your device is no longer competitive in education. I can’t imagine ever going back to using 4-hour devices like laptops on a regular basis.

I can’t shake the feeling that tablets like the iPad are going to completely change the way we use IT in the labs, because they are just so compelling for the kinds of interaction you need to do in that environment. But I also feel that people haven’t really woken up to the implications… which does make it interesting!

It is small-but-crucial things like this which we are exploring in our loose group of people who are interested in the iPad in the Lab. We’re getting lots of really practical insights as well as the inevitable “How do we do this” discussion.

As an aside, any reading of the iPad developer documentation shows how much effort Apple have put into managing the battery life on their mobile devices, and you can really see the results. But that does have software implications – e.g. people who think they must have Flash to have a viable Tablet probably don’t realise they will get a device which will have a greatly reduced battery life as a result!

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!).

Royal Society of Chemistry Lab Integration, 20th May in London

I’ll be contributing to the Royal Society of Chemistry workshop on “The Challenges Facing Laboratory Systems’ Integration” on the 20th May 2010 in London. More information here.

We’ll also have a couple of iPads with us if people are interested – we think this class of device has great potential in Labs.