Last spring, while preparing the team to use iPads in the field, one of the features I was really excited about was the ability to take audio notes with the built-in microphone. When discussing which app to use for notebooks, one of the contenders was Notability. It had a quirky interface but it was (and still is, as far as I know) the only app that acted like a word processor with drawing and recording tools. It didn’t require a text box to enter text, and it didn’t require endless arranging and rearranging of elements while in use. But it was the voice recorder that I liked most of all. Since some people have a hard time getting used to the on-screen keyboard, I thought that they would jump at the chance to get their thoughts down while in the trench looking at what they wanted to describe and then transcribe and clean it up for the final notebook entry. But I was wrong, they didn’t want to use it at all. It was the best unused feature of the iPads that summer. In the end we went with Pages, simply because it was a word-processor and if there is anything grad students understand, it is a word processor.

After the summer, when we started talking about how we used the iPads, one of the most common comments was “if only it had a camera.” And a camera would have been nice, but only for general information or research shots. You can’t publish images from cell phone cameras. They just aren’t that good yet. And I don’t like to have two levels of photography, one for research and one for publication, that is too much work (it is hard enough getting people to write captions for the pictures they take with the excavation cameras) and before you know it you forgot to take the ‘good’ photos of a wall before you started dismantling it.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted a camera on the iPad. But I wanted it for video recording, not still shots. Each Friday at the end of the day we have a trench tour for the entire team. It is there that we get to see what everyone else has been doing, and there that we get to see how the features uncovered in one trench might interact with features excavated in other trenches. I want to record that. We could have been doing this with a movie camera, sure, but I want the team members to get used to doing it themselves so that they see the potential of short explanatory movies that might convey much more than stills and drawings.

So now that the iPad2 has been introduced with a video camera (cameras are also included in all of the other tablets shipping this spring and summer) I want to know: will the camera be the best unused feature of the new season?

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