On Tuesday, I discussed our use of an archaeological iPad app in fieldwork in Cyprus. Today I will discuss our use of iPads in the field more generally.
First, Glare. The major problem we encountered was the incredible glare from the sun. If we had thought ahead, we could have remedied this from the start by purchasing an anti-glare screen shield. But alas, we did not, and we could only view screens with the brightness cranked all the way up. Even that required squinting in the intense Mediterranean sun.
My solution initially with my own iPad was to sit in one of the rental cars and take notes in the shade, but that was not practical for the students recording notes next to their trenches. Lesson learned on this one.
Dust. This was not the problem we thought it might be. We brought along protective jackets to keep the dust out of the iPads designed for field use. We encouraged students to keep iPads in their jackets at most times, and if possible, all times. Some students simply entered the data through these covers.
Others took the covers off when they were using them.
Battery. Given the intensity of the sun and the need to crank up brightness to see the screens, we expected battery life would be a problem especially on those days when we were in the field from 7 AM to 6 PM. Not once, however, did we totally exhaust an iPad battery. Setting the Auto-Lock to 5 minutes helped keep the iPad batteries charged and lasting longer.
Camera. We sometimes used the iPads for taking photographs. We instructed students to take photos of the bottom of every Stratigraphic Unit upon completion, but some trenches did this more consistently than others. These photos would act as a backup to the digital photos we took with point-and-shoot cameras. For one trench, the iPad’s camera unfortunately failed to function at all.
The camera was not linked to the PKapp, but Sam Fee tells me that it may be possible for future version of the app to do so. That would be valuable, especially if the resolution of the iPad camera improves. The quality of the photos (5 megapixels) was not nearly as good as the point-and-shoot hand-held cameras we were using to record photographs.
Compare the two following contexts. The first photo in each comparison was shot with the iPad, the second with a 10 megapixel camera.
And SU 5309
The 10 megapixel provides enough extra detail to make it a significant improvement on the iPad. We could not use the iPad camera for serious fieldwork at its current resolution.
On the other hand, the iPad camera was great for capturing and modifying photos of people in action, and was especially useful for sharing via social media sites like Facebook
Recording. In Tuesday’s post, we discussed the use of PKapp for recording stratigraphic contexts. As the area director, I also kept an “Area Notebook” to describe my impressions of the “big picture” across the site. This notebook acted as a running log of the simultaneous work of all four trenches. In the past, we recorded these general notes in an old school field notebook. My problem was always writing legibly in such small notebooks — I have such terrible handwriting.
This year I recorded comparable notes using the iPad. Besides glare, my main problem with using the iPad for recording was simply getting used to the keyboard. Initially, I used a table with an external keyboard, but this required establishing a bluetooth connection every time I wanted to use it, and the setup was no good for roaming from trench to trench.
Eventually I got used to the internal screen keyboard, and I could use it with one hand, or could type with both hands by the end of our season.
At the beginning of the season, I used the simple Notes app that comes with the iPad, which I would email to myself and append to a master notebook file in MS Word (on my laptop). By the end of the season, though, I realized how much potential there was for using more sophisticated apps. How I would have liked to use an app like Dragon Dictation for turning voice into text, but this required an internet connection, and our iPads were not 3G capable.
By the last week, I was experimenting with Evernote and wish I had used this from the beginning since it allowed me to make audio recordings and include photos inside each log. The next time I teach this course, in fact, I will have students take their personal iPads into the field and use an app like Evernote to record a running notebook on what they are finding. These will complement the master field notebook for each trench.
In the end, our experience with iPads in the field was very positive. We used the devices in a sophisticated way to collect data via an app designed for the project (PKapp). And we used the devices in very simple ways to record notes and take photos. What strikes me about the use of the iPad in archaeological fieldwork is its potential. Given this explosion of apps, I can only imagine that mobile technology will be one of the main ways that archaeologists complete their work.
In my final post tomorrow, I will conclude the use of iPads in the Cyprus class.