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Using An Ipod For Field Research: Data Input

Updated on January 12, 2011

I probably held out longer than any other person when it came to the ipod craze.  Yes for years I had seen people carrying them around with the little white headphones as I held out waiting for an improved product.  Don't get me wrong, I found the ipod very slick, unrivaled, and entertaining...but that's just it.  An ipod was built for entertainment.  I have a very modest entertainment budget and couldn't justify the price just so I could listen to music.  As time has gone on the name of the game has changed.  Ipods are abandoning the click wheel for touch screen, music is becoming secondary for ipods with the advent of the most popular word of 2010: apps.  So this summer I bought an Ipod Touch.  But this time, it wasn't for entertainment.  I bought this baby for field research.

Old School

The object of field research is data.  When you're in the field your primary concern is making sure you collect as much data as you possibly can.  When you come out of the field you can then spend the time compiling and making discoveries based on you new found data.

In the old days this presented an equipment nightmare.  On top of your personal gear such as food, clothing, shelter etc. that was screaming for priority in your pack you needed the equipment to do your work.  This meant notebooks of paper, plenty of pens and pencils, camera and its accessories such as case, tripod, lenses, film, batteries; video camera with all its accessories such as a hard case to protect its fragile delicate state, audio equipment and microphones and was a nightmare.

To solve the problem its Ipod to the rescue.

New School

The new Ipod Touch has taken this logistical nightmare and made the process unbelievably simple.  One device for everything.  Let me tell you how the Ipod Touch is changing the game.


You don't need pen and paper anymore.  Ipod makes it easy with database apps to input anything you want into a database that can keep everything organized for you without all the paper that will probably get destroyed anyway.  I wrote a hub about great apps to use for a database.  Let the Ipod replace paper.

An objection may be that it takes longer to type using the keypad on the screen.  I agree, that takes forever even when you get used to it.  But no problem.  The new Ipod Touch is equipped with bluetooth capability.  Under settings you can choose to turn it on or off.  Apple now sells a bluetooth wireless keyboard that can hook up with your Ipod touch, making data input as easy as typing on any computer.  They were really smart with they way they designed it to run on AA Batteries (I challenge you to find AAA in the mountains of Uganda) so they are easy to get your hands on.  Also the keyboard was designed with power saving technology.  Basically it only uses power when you type.  The second you are not typing, it isn't using power.  Two batteries will most likely last your entire expedition.  If you're scared, bring a spare pair.  All this at just $69 bucks doesn't brake the bank either.


The new Ipod Touch is equipped with a voice recorder.  This was a very good edition.  This powerful little mic is great for most things you would need to record.  And since it fits in your pocket you can whip it out as soon as you hear the call of that golden breasted lesser macaw that you've been tracking.

For those who need a voice recorder for language learning you may complain that it isn't high quality enough for the language data you want.  No problem, if you really don't find the microphone on the touch to be sufficient (which in my opinion its top notch) then Apple has external mics that plug right into your Ipod Touch.  Problem solved.


The greatest addition on the new Ipod Touch is the advent of video capability.  And this isn't just any old video camera.  This bad boy shoots video in crystal clear HD.  For the price, size, and quality of the video there is no comparison.  Take a ton of videos and Ipod will store them right there on your device.

Take it up a notch further and get the iMovie app from the Itunes store.  This a movie editor that is simple to use for any novice.  In a few minutes you will have compile all your videos together and be able to present your findings to the committee that gave you your grant in no time.


This is where some may feel like they have me.  Some will argue that Ipod Touch is not an all in one device because the camera is sub-standard.  Let me clarify the issue.  A camera can either be made for taking great video, or to take great pictures.  Although video cameras can take pictures, and cameras can take videos, it just isn't really possible to have a device that hits a home run for both.  Admittedly the Ipod camera when taking pictures is pretty bad and reminiscent of early 2.0 megapixel cameras.  In engineering it for HD video, they sacrificed on picture quality.  You won't be enlarging these prints anytime soon.

But, that being said, the pictures may be pixelated, and they don't pop off the page.  But ask any photographer, the best camera is the one you have.  The fact that you can take pictures with this small device is fantastic.  You are already using it for documents, audio, already have it with you.  Might as well use it for pictures too.  They will work for most things you are researching.


Whether you are an anthropologist in sub-sahara africa, or an ornithologist in Suluwesi, the Ipod can change the way you do research.


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