Sunday, September 2, 2012

Product Hits & Misses: Keeping the iPad Audible (and safe)

Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
Can you hear me now?
- Verizon wireless commercial

When we look back at the summer of 2012, I think we may remember it as the summer of the toilet training -- and of the iPad.

I threatened way back when to do a bunch of product reviews around Joy's iPad equipment and apps.  I naively figured that I'd work my way down Joy's list of apps and tell you all about them.  But at the pace I'm blogging versus the pace we're adding apps -- yeah.  It's not going to happen quite like that.  What I decided to do instead was to create a separate page that will represent a running list of her apps, with notes (see the new tab at the top of the blog!)  As well as being a good way to share, I figure it will be a good record for me, too.    I'm also resurrecting my "Product Hits & Misses" category, one I haven't used in quite a while.  The old ones are chock-full of useful information though, even across several years' time.

On to the product reviews!

Back when Joy's speech therapist was evaluating iPad technology with Joy, but before I'd had any chance to explore the iPad myself, she noted a concern about the iPad's volume levels.  She wanted Joy to be able to use the iPad to speak above a noisy classroom if necessary -- and indeed, the iPad's speakers are not among its most highly-praised features.  So she recommended that we look into external speakers.

When we did so, we found that most external speakers connected to the iPad via cords, which absolutely wasn't going to mesh with our active, tough-on-equipment young lady.  There was one product, though, that combined external speakers with a tough-looking case, complete with carrying handle: the iAdapter 2 from AMDi.  It's a pricey product, at $265.  The reviews looked good, though, and for what we were trying to do it was about the only reasonable option. So we pitched it, together with the iPad and ProLoQuo2Go and a couple other apps, for funding via Wisconsin's Medicaid waiver for children's long term support.  And we got the whole shebang.

The iAdpater encases the iPad in a 2-part assembly that fastens together with nine screws.  The speakers sit behind the iPad.  The case has openings for the front and back cameras and the iPad recharging plug, while the the opening for the Home button has a removable sliding cover.  (Joy figured out how to slide it open and get to the Home button pretty quickly.)  The case covers the iPad's volume controls, offering instead a 3-position volume switch, Hi/Lo/Off.  The case offers its own Sleep button that sits atop the iPad's Sleep button; the iPad's rotation-lock / mute switch is not accessible without unscrewing the case.

For the most part, we were pleased with the iAdapter sound quality.  We found that we seldom wanted to turn the iPad's internal volume higher than about three-quarters; Joy generally prefers the iAdapter volume switch set to "Hi."  We did run into at least one situation where an app wouldn't play well with the iAdapter -- in the Whizzit 1-2-3 counting app, some of the spoken instructions were inaudibly soft, while the rest of the directions and sounds were fine.  When the iPad was removed from the iAdapter, the problem disappeared.

Of my two other concerns with the iAdapter, one is an issue that affects all users, and the other is more specific to Joy.

The universal issue has to do with the fact that the iAdapter itself needs charging, separately from the iPad.  It comes with a cord and a wall-plug adapter for the purpose, which is great.  However, there's no indicator to let the user know how far the battery has run down, or how close the iAdapter is to being recharged.  We've never run it all the way out, so I don't know what would happen.  Does the iAdapter just go silent, and would the cause be obvious?   Meanwhile, we learned that we couldn't charge both the iAdapter and the iPad in a single standard 2-socket wall outlet: the wall-plugs are too big to both fit simultaneously.  You'll need either a powerstrip or two wall outlets close together.

The other issue is more Joy-specific though it applies to other kids like her:  girlfriend is tough on equipment. When Joy gets frustrated, stuff goes flying.  The iPad in its iAdapter case has gone flying down the stairs a couple of times, along with various lesser flings, since we got it at the beginning of the year.  Soon we began to hear little rattles within the case.  When I opened it up, I discovered that the inside of the case isn't as tough-looking as the outside.  The iPad is essentially held in place by slender plastic tabs, and several of these tabs had begun cracking off.  After several flinging incidents, the tabs had crumbled enough that the iAdapter case began to rub the wrong way against the volume control, causing the volume to suddenly mute at inopportune moments -- a development that Joy did not appreciate.

The tech support fellow I corresponded with at AMDi was extremely helpful.  He answered e-mail promptly, did a fine job of diagnosing the volume issue, and set things up so that we could send the iAdapter in for free repairs even though technically the flinging damage was not covered by warranty (and if it happens again, we're on our own.)  He also filled me in on the design principle behind the relatively-fragile internal support tabs.  Apparently they function like crumple-zones on a car, designed to absorb impact at their own cost in order to protect the cargo.  Of course you'd rather have your car-body crumple in an accident rather than your own body!  Turns out that both with iAdapters and with cars, the safety/protection features are secondary functions, and the crumple-zone protection is a one-shot affair.

Before I packed up our iAdapter to send in for repairs, we needed something to keep Joy's iPad usable and safe in the interim.  After a bit of surfing around, I settled on the SuperShell from M-Edge ($34.99).
There are several similar products out there, apparently.  The SuperShell is made of the same kind of material as Crocs footwear. It doesn't have any amplification qualities, though it does have a little cut-out for the iPad's speaker.  There are also cut-outs for the cameras and the charger plug.  The volume control and sleep button are accessed via partial cut-outs; the rotation lock/mute button is covered.  To install the SuperShell, just stretch it around the iPad and it springs tight.

What really sold us on the SuperShell (besides the awesome hot-pink color option) was this video, wherein the interviewer flings a SuperShell-clad iPad into walls and the floor of an exhibit hall:

The SuperShell really does work just the way it does in the video.  Joy has tested it, repeatedly.  It bounces.

The one criticism we have so far is that the cutout for the charger plug doesn't really let you get the plug in and out, so you have to pull the SuperShell off that side of the iPad to do the plugging in. But that's easy to do.

After the SuperShell arrived and we sent off the iAdapter for repairs, we learned something interesting.  The iPad on its own was actually PLENTY loud.  I'm not sure what the concern was in the first place.  We actually find ourselves repeatedly diving for Joy's iPad to turn the darn volume DOWN (she has become adept at adjusting it loud-where-she-likes-it.)

And the SuperShell is so cute, and we feel confident that the shell itself is not going to break when flung...

We actually never did re-install the iAdapter.  We probably ought to find another good home for it.

1 comment:

Barbara @therextras said...

"the whole shebang"

Love that phrase! Apt for describing your wonderful blog, JM.

Why not hold onto the Audible a little longer - for the original reason - to see if it might be useful in a classroom setting?