iPad As A PDF Device For Continuing Education

I wrote last year about using the Kindle DX in CPE presentations. The DX was the a device that allowed full page viewing of PDFs, which eliminated the need for me to carry around printed manuals. It also suggested that participants might eventually have devices available that would allow the elimination of printed manuals without requiring having electric outlets available for each class participant

However there were quirks with the DX. Its PDF viewing software was primitive, at best. More importantly, the slow screen refreshes meant using the Kindle to access manuals for reference, or to move about freely during a course, would be excruciatingly slow. Finally, the devices were single purpose and expensive–over $500 when factoring in a case. Thus, it’s unlikely that most CPAs would go out and acquire a Kindle DX

The iPad addresses some of these issues. And while it still won’t likely be something most CPAs have in the near future, it suggests that the day may be coming when it will be true that most CPAs will have a device that could make it practical to distribute only PDFs–and, in fact, make that mode of distribution preferable to most participants.

The iPad’s built in PDF viewer is even more primitive than that of the Kindle DX and restricted to only being able to show PDFs that exist as an attachment to emails received by the device or linked to web pages viewed in the device’s browser. But unlike the Kindle, there are a number of third party programs available.

The GoodReader program is available as an inexpensive add-on for the iPad–and it provides a user with a number of advantages over using the Kindle DX. First, unlike the DX, GoodReader allows use of the bookmarks placed in the file by Acrobat to move through the file. Second, moving around the document is lightning fast compared to attempting to move around on the Kindle–the LED backlit LCD display on the iPad simply can refresh a page in a small fraction of the time it takes an e-ink display to refresh. Finally, the display of the PDF, while by default a full page view, can be easily magnified using standard iPhone multi-touch gestures.

Note that all of that can be done by a laptop notebook as well. But most notebooks we use today cannot run on their batteries for anything close to a full day CPE session, thus necessitating access to electrical outlets for all participants–not a very practical option in most meeting room settings. Even if a state society has access to its own meeting room for most events, there would still be a significant outlay of funds needed to run wiring to each location in the room.

However the iPad has an amazingly long battery life, exceeding Apple’s rated battery life in most third party tests. That in and of itself is unusual, since most vendors give battery life estimates that are simply not attainable in any real world application. But the IPad truly can keep running through a full day CPE course, even if the user never allows the display to go dark during the day.

As well, unlike the Kindle, the iPad can be used for other things than simply reading books and manuals. While it doesn’t replace a laptop computer totally, it does function to eliminate the need to carry the laptop to many meetings and thus can be justified for more than just making life easier for the CPA’s CPE vendors.

Add to this the expectation that, like most new high-tech devices, later versions will lower the cost (though perhaps not an Apple device for that), have higher capacities, more capabilities and longer battery lives. On the price side, a number of Android based devices are expected to ship this year, from manufacturers who won’t be as resistant to downward price points as Apple can be expected to be. As that occurs, penetration into the CPA market will grow.

One thing, though, it appears we may not get (at least not anytime soon) is a Windows based device. The HP Slate that Steve Balmer was hyping at CES in January has reportedly been shelved by HP–though rumors suggest that it will be replaced by either a WebOS or Android based device. Note, though, that we’ve had Windows tablets for years and they’ve mainly proved to be frustrating as the software simply wasn’t written to deal with a tablet/touch interface–and Windows itself at best approaches tablet/touch as a patched on second class interface.

That said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Microsoft take the Windows Phone 7 Series software and develop that into a tablet interface. But there’s a hitch–the phone version of that software isn’t scheduled to ship until late this year, and we can assume adjustments to make it work on a tablet would come even later–perhaps too late for Microsoft to be a force in this market (just as it would be difficult, no matter how good, for a new desktop operating system to displace Windows today).

If nothing else the iPad is a device that those that market CPE courses should keep a close eye on, as well as dealing with the issues for distribution of content and licensing that will be involved should manual distribution go from paper to electronic.

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