Monday, March 21, 2011

iPad Testing Going Very Well

If you have been reading my blogs through the years, you know that I consider it to be our top priority to reduce waste, run computers as efficiently as possible, and save the taxpayers as much money as possible. The steps that we are taking into the area of tablet computing is not being done because it's a "toy"; it's being done because we have some inefficiencies in regard to using printers. The culture started in the 1980s and just has gotten worse each year. Each software package that we buy that is supposed to be "paperless" seems to create more print jobs than ever.

So the iPad is being reviewed in a manner to allow for more of a paperless office. One idea being kicked around is looking at only deploying them from the cost savings of reduced departmental print jobs. Reduce first, then get the device, and then maintain the reduced printing. The dollars spent on consumables for printing could easily pay for devices in the first year, and then each year thereafter would provide cost savings. The worst part of this process will be mind share, habit and desire. People WANT to hold paper, people LOVE paper. They very often have no concern about how much it costs, and how much support is absorbed by IT.

So the perspective that I am testing is not using it for a "computer", but to use it to replace the binders that are being carried to meetings. I want them to feel like they are using paper. I want the documents to be easy to find and easy to edit. I don't want them to get a full GNOME desktop and then have to click and navigate to find their documents. I also want shared documents to be available for the meeting, and easily absorbed into the users folders as a personal copy and then easily editable.

The other big issue for me is that I don't want any documents stored on the local device. Moving documents back and forth is 10+ year old design. Users tend to make islands of data, and documents are always lost. Users having to go back to their desk and dock and then copy files will not succeed, file management is always the part that they struggle with the most.

We purchased a stylus for testing from Amazon, the iPad thinks it's a finger on the glass. This allows for fewer smudges, and also allows you to write notes and highlight. It works great!

So these ideas that have been in my head are finally being tested, and feedback of the design has been very positive. It's fast, easy and removes any "techie" steps from their work flow.

On the new/beta GNOME server is a folder right on their Desktop that houses what are considered "Mobile Documents". These are documents that they wish to have available on the iPad. It's simply a staging area. It also holds documents that are created on the iPad; easily located and then moved into project folders at a later time. In the shot below, clicking on the icon displays these staged documents. All of the MIME bars that launch when they double-click on files allows them to easily add to this folder as well:

For this initial test, I'm using VNC. This replicates the functionality exactly, and we will do a full review of products when we are closer to deployment. Hopefully the NX upgrade product will be available at that time. In the meantime, for one dollar we purchased the "Remoter" application and found it to be excellent. It's got a nice interface, allows for a paste of the local clipboard (more on that later) and allows Linux applications to run very similarly to how they would if they were on the local iPad. In the shot below, the iPad is turned on and the icons appear.

Once the remoter software is touched, a nice interface comes up and shows you your available connections. I have created a Landscape connection (which gives them a full GNOME desktop), and then a Portrait connection (which gives them this document editing mode).

Selecting this option gives you good old GDM, identical functionality to the users thin clients. Note the translucent buttons that hover over the screen. These give you the ability to define how to react to your finger and touching the glass and work great! For instance, you can select to make your fingers simulate the mouse wheel. This allows you to scroll up and down through the document by sliding your fingers on the glass. You can also simulate left mouse or right mouse clicks. When you go into full screen mode, these buttons are hidden. You can go back and forth between this mode and full screen mode by touching three fingers on the glass. Very clean.

The UI appears after authentication and only shows them what they need for document processing on the tablet. The documents they have placed into $HOME/MobileDocuments appear as thumbnails on the bottom. The most recent document is always on the far left side. Touching the document once gives you the file name and file type. Touching it a second time opens it. Note the floating buttons provided by Remoter that allow you to exit fullscreen mode and bring up a keyboard. (( no UI nazis please, just testing ideas right now! :) ))

In the case of PDF files, the Xournal application is invoked and placed into full screen mode. You can beautifully see the entire page and write notes over the top and highlight. These are saved as another layer in the PDF document. Response time on the pen over VNC is fluid and very usable. Pepp cooked a nice patch for us that allows PDFs opened to default back into PDF format, no more XOJs to contend with.

When the user returns to their full desktop and GNOME session, all of these edits are in the folder and instantly available for filing. In the shot below, the document that I edited on the iPad is the same on the desktop. It never left the server; simple and elegant.

Some users have also requested a way to use Dragon Naturally Speaking. This application is free for the iPad and seems to work fairly well. In the workflow being tested, the user speaks into the software and once they are done place the "note" into the local clipboard. In the shot below I have created a simple document by speaking and am doing a copy:

I can then double-tap the HOME button on the iPad and flip back to my Linux session and use the Paste button of the Remoter application and the text is pasted into any software running on the server (including inability to spell Linux) :) . Once saved, this document is available from their MobileDocuments folder.

The coming weeks will be interesting and exciting. Hopefully some cost savings and better ideas will fall out of these designs.


jospoortvliet said...

I wonder - have you thought about writing some UI stuff in eg QML or so? The use cases you present are fairly simple - you could probably write far better, fully customized 'apps' in a shorter time... I can imagine writing UI in a javascript like language might not be your first choice but the stuff presented in Notmarts blog seems to fit perfectly for your usecase. Not sure if it's mature enough of course, and being Qt/KDE tech you might dislike it no matter what :D

oliver said...

Wow, I envy your users... Having a nicely integrated tablet instead of paper documents would rock my world!