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We’ve started checking out iPads for two days now, and we’ve had volunteers trying them out for over a week.  The question coming to my mind after talking with our tester group and the few people who have already tried the iPads this week is:  what can you do with an iPad when it isn’t yours to personalize?

I’m thinking about the apps that I use a lot, though, and that might be the problem.  I use Evernote, Twitter apps, email, calendar, Todo, Reeder, Read It Later, Pandora, WordPress, the Kindle app, and a whole lot of apps dependent on a Dropbox account, which I use heavily.  All of these apps require a log in – usually a different log in – and a very personal log in.  After each patron returns an iPad, we “Erase All Content and Settings” which completely wipes out the apps, the app history, and any accounts or files that have been added to the iPad.  This, we hope, removes any personal information left behind by the patron.

We also have restrictions turned on (under Settings > General) so that the iTunes Store doesn’t appear as an app.  Yes, it would be wonderful if patrons could add their own apps (and we do hand  them a survey asking for app suggestions) but we don’t want them to log in with their own iTunes account, pay for an app, and then find that it’s not there the next time they check out an iPad.  Also, this prevents the patron’s iTunes account from showing up for the next patron in case we somehow forget or unsuccessfully wipe out the iPad between uses.

That’s the method we’ve come up with, but if anyone can think of a better or easier way, we would LOVE to hear about it.

Back to the whole short-timers problem… these iPads are going out for maybe a day at the longest.  If you had such a device for only a day, would you want to log into all your assorted online presences in order to be productive?  Would it be worth that investment in time for you?  Even if it means doing it all over again the next time you use this same device?

Perhaps I’m projecting too much.  For me personally, I do a lot of tweaking and fixing and logging in when I have to use a new computer – but I do that knowing that I’ll be using the computer for a long while and I want it to feel like “home”.  My work laptop, for example, is all spruced up the way I like it — keyboard shortcuts, clean desktop, a few favorite widgets, and, most importantly, my Dropbox files.  When faculty have purchased their own iPads and come in to the library for help setting them up, one of the first things they want to do is get their campus email and calendar on the device.  The next thing they want to know is how to get to files they need to read and edit.

But other folks might have a workflow that is completely different and does not require having access to so many personal sites or spaces.

But.

Then what are they doing?   That is what I need to know in order to make these iPads useful for the temporary user.

So far, the app suggestions we’ve had include Music Studio – a $15 app that offers 27 different instruments and a multi-track sequencer, a physics app for studying, and a better anatomy app for our nursing students.  Excellent — these are all things that can be used independently, without a personal account.  Another very useful feature for the iPad is all the amazing content available in iTunes U.  We have the iPads loaded with audiobooks, lectures, videos, and demonstrations that were all free out on iTunes U.  Patrons can access all this without logging into anything. Examples like these are helping to convince me that the iPad will be beneficial to students, even with the short time period that they get.

However. … It’s still hard for me to shake this nagging feeling that there could be So Much More.

By the way, as far as ebook readers go:

Apple’s iBooks app uses the iTunes Store account that is used with the iPad overall.  One of the restrictions we set disables in-app purchases, though, so iBooks won’t be all that useful for folks looking to add their own books.  We have included in iBooks a lot of study guides and a few pieces of classic literature as examples.

Amazon’s Kindle app uses an Amazon account and Safari for the purchases, so it doesn’t get blocked by the restriction we set.  This is great!  And yet another reason that we do the complete wipe-out between patrons.

Barnes and Noble’s Nook app functions very similar to the Kindle — users are redirected to Safari in order to make purchases, which requires their B&N account.

Stanza – the original iPhone ebook reader – is still wonderfully easy to use, even without any account at all.  By using the Gutenberg and FeedBooks catalogs, users can download all sorts of free books without logging into a thing.  In my mind, this is the best option for folks who are only using the iPad for a short time.

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