Today’s post is a great example of how Twitter has changed (and vastly improved) my information gathering about technology projects. I recently put out a call for information about how museums are handling the various tasks associated with tablets—everything from where you store them securely to how you charge them and synch the content on all of them at the same time. I was also interested in reviews of iPad cases that incorporate a mechanism (e.g., strap or handle) for one-handed operation and for showing the screen to others (e.g., a small group of students in a gallery). I slapped up a Google Doc with my specific questions and asked folks to respond and include their initials.
— dana allen-greil (@danamuses) June 6, 2013
Within a day or so, I received fantastically useful information from: Museum Computer Network (Eric Longo), National Museum of Australia (Cath Styles), Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust (Tina Shah), Brooklyn Museum (Rachel Ropeik), Smithsonian Institution (Nancy Proctor, Katie Velazco, Laurie Stapp). The Cleveland Museum of Art (Jane Alexander) also responded to my email request—thank you!
Below is a brief summary of what I learned about the various products available to museums for managing a fleet of iPads. You can find the original Google Doc here with all of the raw material. Once again, I’m in love with the #musetech community and how open and generous you all are. Thanks for sharing, supporting, and generally being amazing people.
With the recent news about Google Play for Education, I was curious if anyone is exploring the use of Android tablets for learning in museums. However, everyone who responded to my request is using either an iPad or an iPad mini as their tablet of choice. Furthermore, no one seems to be convinced away from Apple products just yet, especially for use by the public, because their devices are so familiar to our audiences. I’ll be keeping an eye on this situation as the cost of non-Apple tablets continues to decrease and as their usage by the general public becomes more widespread. With this in mind, you’ll note that all of the discussion below focuses on the iPad, in general, and the iPad with Retina (AKA iPad 4) in particular.
Tablets: Things to Consider
Assuming that you have already carefully considered the need and potential of tablets for your museum (and weighed these against the resources and opportunity costs required to manage them), here are a few additional questions to consider before you buy:
- Who will be using the tablets? Will you be handing them out to visitors? Or will they be used exclusively by volunteers and staff? If the latter, you might have more options available that don’t require serious ruggedizing or locking down functionality.
- Do you need cellular or will wifi access suffice? The cost for a wifi plus cellular device is significantly higher ($499 vs. 629 for a 16GB model). In addition, you’ll need to pay the carrier for monthly service. These costs will add up quickly if you’re managing a fleet of 10 or more devices.
- How much storage do you need? Again, the cost differential can be quite high ($499 for 16GB vs. $799 for 128GB). Will you be storing a lot of images, audio, and video on the device? Do you need to download a lot of apps? Or can you use a tablet-optimized website or purpose-built app to access content that doesn’t need to be stored on the device? (In my case, user won’t have access to wifi in many of the museum spaces, so local storage size is important.)
- Black or white? It may seem silly, but just like what kind of napkins to use at your wedding, someone needs to make a decision. Consider that many cases and other accessories are only available in black. (By the way, I chose fuchsia napkins. They looked lovely. Eight years later and I still remember how agonizing that decision was and how unnecessarily so.)
- Do you need the latest and greatest? Is it important for you to have an iPad 4 or will an iPad 2 or 3 serve your needs? Consider that many accessories have not yet caught up to the latest model and may only be available for older versions. Also consider the cost difference. On the other hand, are you future-proofing by planning to keep the devices you buy now for several years? If so, the latest model may be the only one fully supported a few years from now.
Charging, Synching, and Storing
Most museums will have a few important requirements: a secure place to store your fleet of iPads (and possibly a laptop for synching content as well), a way to easily charge all of them at once, a way to easily synch content on all of the devices at once, and either a place that has wifi/cellular access or a solution that is easy to move (e.g., on wheels). There are many solutions that do some of these things well (e.g., charging but not synching, storing but not charging) but chances are you want to go for the simplest, all-in-one solution. Here are a few options on the market:
The Apple iPad Learning Lab – $6,299 (Includes Bretford PowerSync cart and 10 iPad 2 16GB)
An all-in-one solution (store, charge, synch) on wheels which includes storage for up to 30 iPads and space to store a MacBook. 10 iPad 2 with 16GB storage are included. Cases are not included. The Bretford PowerSync cart is also available on its own (without tablets) for $2,599.
Bretford PowerSync Tray – $999.95
This tray charges, syncs, stores and secures up to 10 iPad devices. Cases and devices not included.
The Griffin Multidock – $699
Holds up to 10 iPads for charging and synching. It comes with a locking bar for security (lock must be purchased separately). Accommodates several case types (up to .866” H x 8.07” W x 8.96” D). Includes a space on top for laptop when synching but not a secure place to store the laptop.
InSync Transport Charge & Sync Case (For All iPad Generations) – $1925
Parasync offers a few all-in-one options but some require that you use a Parasync case (cannot hold a naked iPad). This option is a case and charging dock on wheels which holds 16 iPads, a laptop (for synching content), and can be used with a wider variety of cases.
The Parasync case ($24.99) includes a removeable shoulder strap but no options for a handstrap.
DS-NETSAFE-IPCS Security Cabinet for iPad – $1833
This product charges and syncs up to 16 iPads. It is not on wheels.
The cases you choose should be the best fit for how your user will be using the device in your specific context. For my project, they will be handled by staff only and will need to be easily held up for others (e.g., a small group of students) to see. I am looking for a case that:
- Will protect the device if dropped (but doesn’t have to be as rugged as a case for protecting the device from being stepped on or bashed into something by a toddler)
- Integrates a hand strap for holding the device up for others to see. This might mean the ability to swivel and/or simply comfort when being held in different positions (e.g., landscape vs. portrait).
- Allows for one-hand operation of the device. (See: hand strap)
- Is available for an iPad 4 (many are only available for earlier models)
- Ideally, would not have to be removed for charging. (Though this seems to be a tall order given my other requirements.)
Given these parameters, there are a couple of options available:
Handles all the way around for easy holding. Comes in multiple colors (including black). $39.99. Would have to be removed for charging/synching.
Discount on cases if purchased with dock. Possibly might not need to be removed for charging. Comes in one color only.
US+U – Swivel ProFolio
Acts as a full cover and, when opened, the handstrap can swivel 360 degrees. Would most likely need to be removed for charging/synching. Comes in one color only.
Studio Proper – Wallee Case and Hand Strap
Wallee Case – $39.99 plus Hand Strap – $19.99
Rubberized case with removeable handstrap
- Setting up an Apple ID: Remember that you need a credit card associated with an Apple ID even if you only intend to download free apps.
- Laptop: Do you have a laptop with iTunes loaded up that can be used for synching the iPads? Or might it be easier to purchase one for this purpose and store it with the iPads?
- Other: Depending on your specific context, there are certainly other questions you’ll need to answer. For example, should you purchase Apple Care? If you’re distributing devices to the public, you’ll need to consider what the checkout process looks like (e.g., Do you take a drivers license? Is it okay for volunteers to do this?). If you’re using iPads at your information desks, you might want to think about whether or not to tether them so they don’t “walk” away.
Again, I want to thank those of you who contributed your experience and opinions in figuring out the best solution(s) available to museums. Are there other considerations I’m missing?