The iPad, like most Apple products, is commonplace on film sets. Producers use them to watch dailies, directors use them to keep production notes, actors use them to keep themselves busy while they “hurry up and wait” and, increasingly, camera assistants are using them to slate.
Slating with an iPad is not a new idea. Capable slate apps have existed for awhile and one even made it front and center in an Apple commercial.
The smooth touchscreen interface of the devices and their slab-like shapes seem like a natural fit to digitize the clapperboard, especially considering the price gap between pro-level timecode slates and tablets, but using an iPad to slate never seemed particularly useful or pleasant – until now.
The Problems with an iPad Slate
First, let’s state the obvious: the iPad wasn’t designed explicitly to survive the chaos of a film production environment. It’s designed to survive a lot of things and the beauty of the App Store is it can be expanded to perform millions of tasks, but the ethos of the iPad is not for filmmaking.
Around a year ago, I addressed this issue when I wrote an article called Why iWouldn’t Use an iPad Slate and brought up three major points of what makes an iPad impractical to use as a true slate:
- You’re Limited by Battery.
Since the iPad has no replaceable battery, if it dies it has to be recharged. And 12 hours of heavy use can get it awfully close to dying.
- Software Glitches.
Apps crash. The iPad crashes. And software can glitch out displaying wrong timecode and other essential data.
- The Alternative Works Fine.
I didn’t see any particular advantage in using an iPad as a slate. It seemed much more practical to use a real slate than a $499 consumer electronic device.
This was among a host of many other issues: sound volume of the sticks clapping, jam syncing, camera reports, taking care of the device in harsh conditions.
Basically, while the idea of an iPad slate was neat, it never seemed to be an advantage. It didn’t make you think you needed to replace your tried and true slate with a digital one. Sure, almost all of the issues above can be resolved in some way, but it usually involves more work, equipment, or hassle.
As a camera assistant, there are a million things on your mind at any one moment to be taken care of. The simpler and less likely something is to break, the better it is.
An iPad with Sticks (Or a Slate with an iPad)
By the end of my manifesto, I was convinced that an iPad slate was impractical and unwise for serious productions. It has its place in low-budget worlds, I thought, but given the option of a real smart slate (or even a dumb slate) and an iPad, I’ll take the slate everytime.
However, I made one caveat to that choice…
The only way I would ever want to use an iPad as my primary clapperboard option would be if I could have some physical sticks attached to the side so that even if it died I had that going for me. I love the idea of using an iPad/iPhone for camera reports so they can be emailed or using the two to watch dailies, but I think that is where I would limit it.
For now, my “dumb” slate rests comfortably in the bottom of my set bag without having to be charged, booted up, or synced. It’s clap and go and I like that way.
Well, it didn’t take long for someone to do just what I asked and design a slate that is essentially an iPad with sticks attached — or rather, a slate with an iPad attached. It’s called the T-Slate and is sold by Ikan. It’s really quite wonderful and the design is pretty smart.
You can watch a video and see it in action below:
What makes the T-Slate so incredibly slick is not a killer app or case for the iPad, but its versatility in offering the option of “smartening up” your slate with any tablet, be it a Samsung, HP, Android, or Apple iDevice.
The T-Slate has a long hole cut into the top of the slateboard just underneath the pair of sticks. And though this little slit seems innocuous, it is what differentiates it from other slates and is the key to the prime functionality.
To use an iPad (or any tablet) with the slate, you get a case — non-magnetic, please, which rules out Apple’s Smart Cover – slip the cover through the hole and strap it to the backside of the slate. Voila — your iPad now rests comfortably on the front of the slate with a pair of sticks attached on top. You can clap to your heart’s desire without ever turning on the tablet.
I asked for physical sticks with an iPad and that’s what I got.
The T-Slate Without the iPad (As a Dumb Slate)
The first thing that struck me when I unboxed the T-Slate was how hefty it felt — it has some serious weight to it. Each piece of material on this slate is heavy duty. The sticks feel solid, the screws aren’t cheap, the slate itself is thick and a pleasure to write on.
There was some great craftsmanship put into this. And that’s why I love the Ikan T-Slate.
Because even if I never attach an iPad to this at all, it’s still an excellent slate on its own. The hole in the top is actually a nice handle for slating with one hand and the engraving on the front is large and very readable.
This isn’t just some half-assed slate that you slap a tablet on — it stands on its own as a proper dumb slate. The fact that you can expand its capabilities with an iPad and an app is a bonus and I expect the technology of those apps to improve in the digital age of 2012.
The T-Slate With the iPad (As a Smart Slate)
As demonstrated in the video above, you need a case for your iPad or tablet that doesn’t depend on magnets. The one I picked up was the Incase Magazine Jacket from a local Best Buy.
When strapped to the T-Slate with the Incase Jacket, the iPad was surprisingly snug. On a tail slate manuever, it didn’t move at all and I spent awhile just shaking the slate in all sorts of directions to see if I could make it fall off. Never once did it budge.
But after a few minutes of shaking, I started noticing that my arm was sore and I knew the reason why: this thing is heavy.
One major drawback of the T-Slate is that it is quite hefty, especially with an iPad attached to it. If you’re the kind of person who slates with one hand all day, you’re going to get noticeably tired from holding this thing in front of the camera for 12 hours. It will also add weight to your toolkit bag, ditty bag, or wherever you’re storing it.
And forget about shark finning this slate (where you hold the slate by splitting the sticks over your belt behind you) because its weight and the delicate nature of the iPad will make that impractical.
A final drawback is the fact that your slate won’t be as durable with an iPad strapped to the front. With the case I used, there was no way to fold it over the screen without releasing the iPad from the slate. Getting a heavy-duty screen protector for your iPad is a must if you plan on using it with the T-Slate.
Yet, I find these to be solvable and minor annoyances. In the worst case scenario, you just unstrap the iPad and carry on with your business.
It’s hard for me to comment on how the T-Slate works as a smart slate because so much of it is dependant on software. Ikan have informed me they have an App going through the approval process, but much of the functionality and purpose of adding an iPad to your slate is going to depend on the software.
MovieSlate is the go-to slate app because it allows jam syncing, generates timecode, and other features.
That’s the only reason I’d throw an iPad on the T-Slate in the first place: to utilize a powerful slating app that gives me timecode and digital camera reports. Otherwise using a dry erase marker is just as effective as using a finger on a touchscreen.
The Power of the iPad with “Clap and Go” Flexibility
And that’s the strength of the Ikan T-Slate — its versatility.
Armed with the T-Slate, you have the option of using just the iPad, just the T-Slate, or combining them to take advantage of the power of a digital device. In a moment’s notice you can completely transform what kind of slate it is by simply adding or removing an iPad.
It’s as much “clap and go” or technologically advanced as you’d like it to be.
If a client wants you to use an iPad slate, you can do so without worrying about the shortcomings of that platform. Or if your iPad battery isn’t charged (or you simply prefer a dumb slate), you can continue slating without it.
That’s the kind of tool I love to have in my kit: one that I know I can depend on in any situation.
And while you may be paying a premium for essentially a dumb slate with a hole cut in the top, it’s still a great buy. The materials are solid, the concept refined, and the experience of using it a pleasure.
So let me take the time to modify my previous statements: I wouldn’t use just an iPad slate, but I would use an iPad slate attached to the front of the Ikan T-Slate.
Disclosure: After Ikan saw my last iPad slate article, they sent me a T-Slate for free to test and give my opinion on. They never pressured me to write a post, however, and everything I say in this post is honest, sincere, and my true opinion. I don’t accept sponsored posts at this site and never will.