The iPad and the Numismatist – First Impressions
By Tim Shuck
Unless you’ve been on a trek to a remote section of the planet you’ve likely seen the announcement of Apple’s most recent product, the iPad. Much larger than an iPod or other portable phone/ data device but slightly smaller than a typical laptop computer or netbook, the iPad is a computer tablet.
Tablets of course are not a new concept, but Apple has blended power, portability, and elegance into the design of this device. As an advocate of digital data access, I followed the pre-launch announcements and wondered if this might be a computer useful for numismatics.
So, when my son, an IT professional, told me he had preordered an iPad and asked if I wanted to go with him to the Apple Store to pick it up on the first day of sales, I readily agreed. The nearest Apple Store is a 45-minute drive from home; which was followed by a 45-minute wait in line at the mall. There were two lines actually, one for those who had reserved an iPad and the other for those who were willing to gamble that there would still be iPads in stock when their turn came at the head of the line.
Not that the wait wasn’t without it’s comforts. The good folks at Apple (or maybe I should say the clever marketing staff at Apple) provided coffee, water, scones, and muffins to those waiting in line. Most of us don’t like lines, but there was a festive sense of camaraderie among those waiting, and the crowd was as diverse as you could find – young, old, male, female, internationals, even a couple of folk in wheelchairs.
Also present was a TV crew, recording and interviewing the strange fanatics, er, I mean the technologically astute, who came out early in the morning in their pursuit of the latest in consumer technology. When my son and I reached the head of the line, we were ushered into the store by the friendly Apple staff, and just a few minutes later were on our way home with an iPad safely tucked inside the distinctive Apple backpack/ bag.
But what was it like to use an iPad? My initial reactions were two: wow, what a bright, easy-to-read, and fast screen; and it’s smaller than I expected, though surprisingly hefty. I won’t review the specs, easily obtained online at apple.com, but in general appearance it strangely reminded me of the writing slates often shown in school-house scenes of a century or more ago – about the same size and people tend to hold it the same way. Of course the iPad is a much more sophisticated design, but the juxtaposition of imagery was surprisingly strong in my mind.
Is the iPad just a gadget, or is it a working computer? Early reviews have been generally good, but as with any new device some are less than enthused. Those familiar with the iPod or iPhone will find an immediate and intuitive grasp of the functionality of the iPad. The large amount of screen real estate (9.7 inches) makes web surfing and email review very easy, and many new apps designed or reconfigured to take advantage of the iPad’s features are already available. I won’t review those apps either other than to say that, as one who appreciates maps, the National Geographic World Atlas is absolutely stunning.
My primary interests were how usable the iPad might be for reading documents, particularly those concerned with numismatics. I prefer digital documents when portability is an issue. Why carry notebooks, catalogs, file folders, etc. if you can have the same data in digital format? The answer of course is that not all the documents I want are available digitally, nor is software for digital access always the most user-friendly. For the latter reason I’m also a big fan of the PDF file format, so I did a test to see how easy it would be to read documents on the iPad.
I’m happy to say that the results were incredible: pages clearly displayed and easily read, whether from scans or files, and simple protocols for page turning. My samples included a few scanned pages of Q. David Bowers A Guide Book of United States Commemorative Coins, a book approximately 4″ x 6″; a Word file of a fantasy coin collection in letter-size format, with full-color images; and a Word file of my current numismatic book list, also letter size. All were printed or converted to PDF files using Adobe Acrobat Professional.
These examples could be considered representative of 1) a reference book needed when on the road, 2) a high resolution file of my coin collection available to review when evaluating purchases at the next coin show, and 3) a list of the coin books I own, to make sure I don’t buy a book I already have (yes, I’ve done that; my buying is way ahead of my reading).
There are many other potential numismatic uses (I’m thinking of PCGS’s Photograde Online on the iPad), but as a quick ‘first look’ test my samples were sufficient. Those who criticize the iPad have done so primarily because of its shortcomings as a data entry device, and to a degree those criticisms are valid. For premade documents however the process of adding those files to the iPad is fairly seamless. There is a digital keyboard for data entry, which I used to draft the first paragraphs of this article, but for someone not experienced in texting on a cell phone it was an awkward two-finger effort for me.
But, on the whole the iPad is a remarkable data access device and reader and, I think, will prove useful enough to spawn imitators and to result in widespread adoption for both general and niche audiences. I also think that the uses for this device are just being realized; and I haven’t even mentioned photo and video capabilities. My primary computer is a desktop, but I’ve used laptops extensively in the past. The best summary I can give for the iPad is this: if I needed a portable computer for my work in the near future, the iPad would likely be my choice.
About the Author
Tim Shuck is a life-long Midwestern resident, and started collecting coins after finding an Indian Head cent on the ground at his childhood farm home. Additional encouragement came from looking through a collection of well-worn late 19th and early 20th century coins kept by his grandfather in an old leather coin purse. Current collecting interests include U.S. types from the Civil War era through the early 1930's, and Colonial and Early American coins.
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