Opinion

Finding the Right Hammer: iPads, Laptops and Lawyers

Hammers

Hammers by doug_bucci on Flickr

It has never made much sense to me to ask whether an iPad can perform laptop functions (or whether a laptop can perform iPad functions). I remember reading this bit from a month or so ago and just recently had a debate about the device with a colleague at work. My colleague maintained since a laptop could do everything an iPad could do (literally untrue, but true insofar as a lawyer’s primary uses are reading, writing, email and Internet), that the iPad was a waste.

The metaphor I use with people is that practicing law is like building a house. There are lots of things to be done and many require different tools. While you could drive all the nails in your new construction with a large framing hammer, really it is best to use the best hammer for each particular job: a framing nailer for the walls, a finishing nailer for the trim, a roofing hammer for shingles, etc.

The iPad is a specialty hammer in the toolbox that fits certain tasks far better than a laptop. The opposite is also true. Some people think it is too much hassle to carry multiple hammers or some people have practices where they can always use a framing nailer (sit at a desk for all tasks and use a desktop). For my workflow, not only is the iPad a far better fit than a laptop for lots of little tasks in my practice, it gives me more flexibility than a laptop in how and when I can perform legal services. That benefits me and my clients.

Generalizations about whether an iPad is a tool or toy for lawyers are just that: generalizations. The better question is whether there is room or need in your particular toolbox, based on your type of work, practice needs and style, for a specialty hammer.

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iPad 3.0 in 2011?

Another thoughtful post from John Gruber at Daring Fireball with his speculation about what the future holds for iPad development. John speculates, like the rest of us (and as reported by the WSJ), that late-March or early-April will bring iPad 2.0 with a processor bump, a front facing camera, more RAM and a slightly different physical configuration. He goes on to theorize that the next iPad (2.5?, Pro?, HD?) could come as soon as September 2011 and perhaps feature Retina Display type screens, the next version of iOS or other improvements. Annual revisions to the iPad would then follow on the September schedule to optimize holiday sales.

The main feature in iPad 2.0 that I’m looking for is the front facing camera and the processor improvements but I don’t think either of these things changes the basic device from a lawyer’s use perspective. I am excited to see what iOS 5 will bring and how app developers will be able to leverage the new OS with the improved power of the next generation iPad

Worth reading in its entirety.

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iPad Missing Features? A Lawyer’s View

A couple days ago we talked about how how the features of Apple’s iPad might appeal to lawyers. In this take, we consider what a lawyer might find missing from the iPad

What’s Missing?

  • User Facing Camera. I think a camera facing the user is a significant omission. A front facing camera is the tool for video conferencing, video chat and Skype. That said, news came today that the prototype that Steve Jobs demoed last week may have included an unannounced user facing camera. Further, examination of iPad parts reveal a notch in the bezel that perfectly fits an iSight camera. So, it is possible that this omission may be resolved in the production units. If not, lawyers needing video conferencing ability must continue to tote their laptops.
  • Outward Facing Camera. While some have made much about the absence of an outward facing camera (away from the user), I’m not persuaded. Holding the iPad up to use it as a camera would be awkward at best. Moreover, I suspect most users will still have their camera phone (likely an iPhone) with which they can capture photos or video and move it to the iPad for viewing or editing.
  • GPS. It appears that only the 3G models will have “true” GPS. This is a bit personally disappointing as I was considering purchasing a WiFi only model. I think many people will use the iPad to get directions the same way the iPhone is used. Better yet, with its bigger screen, it would be much easier to follow a map while the iPad rests on the passenger seat of your car (compared to a map on the iPhone screen) on the way to court, a client or opposing counsel’s office. But, as a work device for a lawyer, this is a big drawback of the WiFi only models.
  • Flash. This seems to be the big issue for folks. I’ve gone back and forth. As a multimedia reading device (e.g., The New York Times), Flash functionality is a must have. Countless news, client and product websites have Flash functionality. This doesn’t really bother me on my iPhone, when I’m typically just browsing the net or searching for something specific. In contrast, I think one reasonably expects to be able to view Flash on the larger screen especially as a work device. Steve Jobs says that Flash is buggy and is betting that HTML5 will replace Flash for that type of content. For my practice, I’d call the absence of Flash an annoyance, but I can see how it could affect other people’s practices more significantly. Note that by omitting Flash, Apple is doing us a favor in terms of battery life.
  • Multitasking. For me, this is huge. The ability to run multiple processes is critical as a work device. I typically have 6-10 programs or windows open on my desktop. It isn’t unreasonable to conceive of needing a few different applications running to use the iPad as a true working device. That said, my understanding is that this is a software issue that can be addressed in an upgrade. I’m hoping this is the case. What I absolutely don’t want to see is application developers building Frankenstein applications to try to do multiple things within one app. My guess is that this will be addressed in the next major OS upgrade.
  • USB. There is no standard USB in, which would be helpful for moving documents, photos and other information to the iPad. Of course, while docked the 30 pin connector is your conduit. Apple has already announced a camera connector (30 pin to camera) to allow downloading of photos directly to the iPad. I suspect a third party manufacturer will make a USB adapter. In the end, with products like DropBox, I don’t see the need for USB connection to move basic data and documents.

For many lawyers, the practice involves email, the web, document preparation and document review. While I’m not convinced yet of the iPad as a substitute for the work one can do on a computer (especially for document preparation), the above limitations don’t seem to be major impediments to these basic functions. If the goal was to replace a laptop or work computer, the iPad will likely fall very short. If the goal is to supplement the tools one has to give more working flexibility, then the device has potential.

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What the iPhone 4 Announcement May Mean for the iPad

Lots of great stuff about the iPhone out of Steve Jobs’ keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference this morning. Almost all of the keynote was dedicated to the new iPhone, though a few data points were shared about the iPad:

  • over two million sold in the first 59 days (that is one every 3 seconds since launch day)
  • 8,500 native iPad apps currently in the App Store (unfortunately, 8,400 of them kinda suck, IMO)
  • Those native iPad apps have been downloaded 35 million times (17 apps per iPad)
  • 5 million iBooks downloaded in first 65 days (22% share of total eBook sales)

So, a successful product by pretty much anyone’s measure. I was hoping to see some data about use in the enterprise – but I think it is still a bit early.

The balance of the keynote was mostly about the new iPhone 4 and its operating system, iOS 4. I thought I’d buzz through the key announced features and consider whether and to what extent we will see these things on the iPad.

  • FaceTime (Hardware/OS). This was Steve’s “one more thing,” and it is an new open standard protocol for video chat/phone calls. While we don’t have a front facing camera in the iPad yet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in the next version of the iPad (indeed, the frame seems ready for one). I think video conferencing would be a natural use for the iPad.
  • Cameras (hardware). This is subsumed into the prior point somewhat, but I think a front facing camera on the iPad makes sense. Note that the cameras going into iPhone 4 have a backside illuminated sensor. Without getting into a bunch of camera geekiness, suffice to say that this is more important than megapixels. I would happily take a sensor with greater light sensitivity over more megapixels anyday (you should too). Also, they didn’t shrink the size of the megapixels – which is a good thing. A bigger pixel can absorb more light. So, your 5 MP picture of your friend at the dimly lit bar will look way better than the 8 or 10 MP picture taken with a camera without these features. Yeah, the camera companies really focus on megapixels because they are easy to advertise…but just trust me on this one. I’ve never thought a rear facing camera makes sense for the iPad, but it seems easy enough to include (EDIT: after thinking about iMovie for iPad, this makes more sense now). I’ll go out on a limb and say we’ll see better versions of both cameras in the next version of the iPad. LED flash too.
  • Thinner (hardware). iPhone 4 is 24% thinner than iPhone 3. While impressive, I don’t think the iPad will get much thinner. I think the iPad’s thickness is important for its structural integrity. A thinner device might be less rigid which could lead to a somewhat flimsy feeling device. If the iPad gets thinner, it won’t be materially so.

  • iMovie (app). So, they are cramming a version of iMovie onto the iPhone. I’ve shot and edited a couple movies with my iPhone using ReelDirector. While fun, I wouldn’t make a habit of it. Just too small of an interface to work with video. By contrast, the iPad would be an ideal tableau for compiling a quick movie. Enough space to manage clips, build transitions, manage projects, etc. I think iMovie for iPad is an almost certainty. In fact, it might even arrive in advance of the next version of the iPad.
  • Retina Display (hardware). They’ve crammed a ton of pixels into the screen of the new iPhone: 326 per inch (the human eye can detect 300 ppi from 10-12 inches away). That is four times the number of pixels on the same size screen. The iPhone 4 will have 78% of the pixels as the iPad. By way of comparison, the current iPad has 132 pixels per inch. I fully expect this new display technology in the next version of the iPad. Note that a better screen means apps can display more intricate images. Those pdf files with even the smallest text will look great on screen. May also mean more precise input.
  • Better Glass (hardware). This is related to Retina Display. Lots of adjectives for this new aluminosilicate glass: 20 times stiffer than plastic, 30 times harder than plastic, more scratch resistant, more oil resistant…John Gruber says the new manufacturing process effectively fuses the screen and the glass making the display look like it is painted on the glass rather than resting under it. You’ll see this in the next iPad I suspect.
  • Gyroscope (hardware). Will make games cooler. Yeah, they’ll stick this in the iPad as well.
  • Ambient Light Sensor (hardware). I don’t think this got much mention at the keynote, but I saw it mentioned on one of Steve’s slides. An ambient light sensor would automatically scale down brightness when you are in a dark room, scale up when outside, etc. Good for power management and matching what the user expects. No reason this won’t make it to the next version of the iPad as well.

Many of the new iOS features will work just fine on the iPad. The iPhone 4 gets them this month while the iPad has to wait until this fall. Nothing lawyer specific here, but at least the first 3 promise to be key improvements that all users will enjoy. The features getting most the ink include:

Two features will be hitting the iPad later this month in the form of improvements to the iBooks app. While small, these are actually very usable improvements for lawyers who use pdf files a lot. Those are:

  • pdf support
  • highlighting, notes and better bookmark support

While this won’t replace GoodReader for me, I may move some of my “permanent collection” (e.g., key statute chapters) into the shelves of iBooks and use GoodReader and the like for the files moving in-and-out.

Looks like a great revision of the product. Sadly, I’m not eligible for a regular price upgrade until May of 2011. For full consideration of the iPhone announcement from the iPhone perspective, be sure to check out Jeff’s post over at iPhone J.D. For those with two hours to kill, enjoy the full keynote below.

Lawyers: Is the iPad Right for You?

The Daily Kos posted today an excellent take on an issue I’ve been noodling for some time. Rather than rehash extensively, I commend it to your attention.  I like this article especially because it is from a technology user, but not someone who is a technology pundit or self proclaimed hacker. Kos concludes:

My iPad scored big as my new travel machine. I needed it for basic word processing, downloading and viewing business documents (like the PPT presentation), web, and email. It did those tasks perfectly. The lack of third-party multi-tasking was at most a mild-annoyance, as I had no problem switching between Tweetdeck and whatever other task I was working on at the time. On my laptop, I can switch between apps near instantaneously. On the iPad, it might take 4-5 seconds, and that mild annoyance will be gone with the new OS upgrade this fall.

Will this work for you? Beats the shit out of me. It depends on what your job is, whether there are apps that fill your needs, whether you’re happy or not with an on-screen keyboard, and whether you care enough about “open versus closed” systems to let Apple’s heavy-handed control over the device’s hardware and software bother you.

For me, all I care is whether a device makes my life easier. I could give a shit about whether the hackers love or hate it, or how much hype something has. The iPad filled my needs seamlessly, with only minor hassles. It was better than a laptop, allowing me to travel more efficiently.

Key takeaway here is really figuring out what you need. I think the use case Kos describes is pretty typical of most lawyers. Add that to the “family friendly” features that many people use at home (photos, music, videos, games, internet, etc.) and the iPad becomes a pretty compelling tool.

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iPad 3 Rumors Roundup

Rumors are flying fast and thick about the iPad 3, so I thought I’d throw together a quick summary along with my thoughts about what we might see.

  • Launch Date. I think the reports of an announcement for the iPad 3 on March 7 are probably accurate. That doesn’t mean the iPad will be available that day. Apple has dropped new iPads on a Friday (iPad 2 released at 5:00 p.m. Friday, March 11, 2011) and on a Saturday morning (iPad 1 released 9:00 a.m. Saturday, April 3, 2010). Based on this, I’d expect the iPad 3 as early as Friday, March 9th or Saturday, March 10th. I just hope it is released before I have to go to Chicago for ABA TechShow on March 28th.
  • Retina Display. You can count on this. Expect the same size display with 2048×1536 resolution, double that of the iPad 1 and 2. I expect the March 7 announcement will display apps that take advantage of this extra resolution, like Infinity Blade 2 and Real Racing.
  • 8 inch iPad?. No way, no how. I don’t care what you read in the Verge, I just can’t see Apple adding an 8 inch iPad to its product line up. Doesn’t fit the story of their other devices, doesn’t have a compelling use case, nothing. I do suspect that they test other size devices all the time for research reasons or just to throw off technology blogs, but this is nothing that will ever see the light of day.
  • 4G/LTE. Despite being more or less confirmed by Apple’s unofficial media outlet the Wall Street Journal, I’m skeptical. Unless the iPad 3 is as thick as my old Property Law hornbook, I don’t see how it will be able to drive the new Retina display and support a (notoriously power hungry) 4G radio while still offering the same battery life.
  • Thicker. From what I’ve read about the new Retina display, a slightly thicker form factor seems likely to accommodate the additional battery. Anyone with a form fitting may still be in luck. The predictions call for only a 1 mm increase in thickness.
  • Better Camera. You bet. In fact, a thicker device makes it easier for Apple to include a better camera. All that said, I’ve never used the rear facing camera on my iPad 2 and I only use the front facing camera to video conference or FaceTime chat. This is not terribly important to me.
  • A6 Chip. I think the faster, A6 chip is a given. What we don’t know is whether it will be quad core. Latest rumors I have read point to a dual core A6 chip with improved GPU, but no quad core. I’d think the graphics bump in the GPU is more important to driving the new display than quad core. That said, I can’t think of a time I’ve complained about the processing speed of the iPad. This is more one for the developers: apps we haven’t even seen yet. I won’t miss a quad core, but would love to see what developers can squeeze out of it.
  • Siri. I can’t think of any reason why Siri would not be included. I’d love for this to be the case as I am constantly holding the home button of my iPad expecting Siri to accept my voice commands. I’ll be glad when that muscle memory is not going in vain.
  • iPad 2 Discontinued? I don’t think so. Expect the iPad 2 to continue to be available at a lower price point, much like Apple does with prior iPhone models.
  • Will I Be Getting One? I still don’t know. If I didn’t write this blog, I’d be hard pressed to justify another new iPad. Heck, even with this blog its a bit much. But other than season tickets for the Portland Timbers, tech toys is one of the few places I splurge. I’ll probably decide after I see the announcement. If I do upgrade, it will be primarily for the Retina Display and Siri. Quad core, LTE and camera won’t really change my use case much.

So there you have it. What features are you most looking forward to?

Enterprise Adoption of iPad: What about Lawyers

The Unofficial Apple Weblog writes today about a Forrester report (subscription required) authored by Ted Schadler about the impact of the iPad in the enterprise market. While not discussing lawyers or law firms specifically, I considered how Schadler’s findings might apply to law firms.

  • iPads Are Replacing Laptops. This is fairly unsurprising. Most computer users have a limited list of computing needs, many of which are handled more than adequately by the iPad. When coupled with the added benefits of the iPad (instant on, light weight, long battery, lower cost compared to many laptops, etc.), the replacement phenomenon isn’t surprising. I haven’t seen more than anecdotal evidence of laptop replacement among the lawyer set which is surprising considering the typical short list of lawyer computing needs: reading, writing, email, calendar, contacts, internet. All of these are handled well by the iPad. However, lawyers often deal with lots of files. File management on the iPad is much different than on a PC and does require some extra effort.
  • iPads Are Replacing Paper. Again, no real surprise here. The iPad is great way to replace all kinds of materials that would otherwise be printed. In the legal field, I don’t see this attitude among lawyers in large numbers. I know many of my colleagues feel they can only edit or review a document in its printed form. Also, my quick survey reveals few legal treatises available in eReader editions (though ample law school and bar exam study materials are available for the iPad). Perhaps the willingness to abandon paper is an attitude that will grow with the next generation of legal professionals (assuming they can get law jobs).
  • iPads Are Creating New Efficiencies. The example in the Forrester report is of the ability of sales personnel to use the device to customize a customer’s order on the showroom floor. There are certainly some legal specific apps and some apps published by law firms, though I don’t see these as yielding huge efficiencies for lawyers (though nice tools, to be sure). Two areas where I do think the iPad offers lawyers huge opportunities for efficiencies is in document review/annotation, particularly of PDF files, and access to legal information (cases, statutes, treatises). As to PDF document review, Both GoodReader (iTunes link) and iAnnotate (iTunes link) offer very good PDF review and annotation tools though they aren’t specifically designed for high volume document review. The iPad offers a way for lawyers to easily bring what otherwise would fill boxes of documents and review those easily. Similarly, with an iPad a lawyer can have volumes worth of books easily accessible at the touch of a button – whether stored locally (though as noted above, this hasn’t appeared yet) or accessible via the Internet. I haven’t yet seen the first story of extensive and comprehensive document review being conducted on iPads, though I am sure the time is coming.

Schadler notes that the absence of a native Microsoft Office suite of apps may slow adoption in enterprise. As applied to lawyers, I think this is unquestionably the case. I know that the posts on this blog about Microsoft Word compatibility issues get far and away the most hits, comments and emails.

Word compatibility was a top question I received in a recent presentation to a group of lawyers and CPAs. This surprised me at least as to this particular group of lawyers as I know that all of them use their assistants to finalize and format everything in Word. In actuality, all they really need is a way to get text down on paper (screen) and their assistants handle the rest. Even with this reality, a native Word app is seen as a must by these users (I realize that lawyers that practice without assistants may not be similarly situated).

Any barriers that you see to further penetration of the iPad in the legal market? What type of app or resource could make the iPad as ubiquitous as the yellow pad?