Trial Director for iPad – Free(!) but is it worth it?

Trial Director for iPad

Trial Director for iPad

Late last year, inData released Trial Director for iPad. For free. Seriously. So, go download it now! But, if you want to actually use it for a real trial in front of a real jury, there’s some very serious limitations that you need to be aware of. Ultimately, I still think that TrialPad is the better value, even at it’s relatively gargantuan iOS app price of $90.

As a certified trainer, I got my copy earlier than the public release late last year, but I haven’t had a chance to really look at it until now. One of my co-professors of the Litigation technology class that I teach at Chicago-Kent College of Law filled me in on the fact that they are giving it away free, which I didn’t previously know.

In the past, we’ve done brief demos of TrialPad to show students that this stuff exists. But, since the students would be able to get free access to it, we are considering changing our syllabus to use Trial Director for iPad as an intro to trial presentation software, generally. But, before we could do that, I had to actually put this program through it’s paces.

Trial Director for iPad

Trial Director for iPad

When you first open Trial Director, you get a splash screen. And, if you look carefully at the hieroglyphics at the bottom of the screen, I noticed two things. (1) video clip editing or on-the-fly video impeachments (which is the killer feature missing from every other iPad trial presentation app), is not supported. (2) inData is clearly using the iPad version as a way to push laptop version sales, which is why I suspect that the shortcomings I find in this product will never really be addressed.

cases menu

cases menu

After the initial splash screen, you see more invitations to buy Trial Director, and you can also see the cases you have already created. To create a new case, hit the plus button at the bottom of the screen. For some reason, this button is buried underneath the UPGRADE NOW! link to buy Trial Director.

case creation options

case creation options

After you hit that plus sign, you get the three case creation options. I always recommend to my clients to use DropBox, as it does make things substantially easier. I recommend creating copies of all your exhibit PDFs and then upload them into a folder, naming them according to exhibit number, preferably.

your DropBox folders will appear here

your DropBox folders will appear here

After you enter your DropBox login info, you will see all the folders that you have access to. Click on the folder for your trial.

exhibits will appear in alphabetical order

exhibits will appear in alphabetical order

You should then see all the exhibits that you put into that folder on DropBox. Hit the Download button, and you will get the option to download one, some, or all of the items in this list.

select all.

select all.

When you are creating the case for the first time, I recommend hitting the Select All button. In fact, any time there are updates to your exhibit list, I recommend deleting the casefile on your iPad and recreating it fresh by Selecting All. To me, that’s cleaner and easier to manage changes.

Once it’s done downloading, you will be given the option to add the recently downloaded files to an existing case or you can create a new case file.

looks like email. and TrialPad.

looks like email. and TrialPad.

Once you’ve downloaded the files and have created the case file, you should see a familiar two-pane setup. If you’re using email on the iPad, you already understand how to navigate your exhibits. Pick an exhibit from the list on the left, and it will show up in the area on the right.

iTD07a

But the whole point of all this is to be able to show these exhibits to a jury without the jury seeing all the other junk on your iPad’s screen. You can connect to a jury monitor via VGA or AirPlay. If you’re using AirPlay, I would recommend connecting to the AppleTV before opening Trial Director for iPad. Once you’re connected, hit the TV icon in the top right corner of the screen. This is where the problems begin for this app:

a "blank screen" 90" jury monitor in the Bruce Kohen courtroom at Kent.

a “blank screen” on a 90″ jury monitor in the Bruce Kohen courtroom at Kent.

Problem 1: branding

Once you hit the TV button, the juror monitor shows what Trial Director for iPad calls a “blank” or “clear” screen. What it really shows is a big fat logo. ExhibitView for iPad does this. TrialPad does this. It drives me insane because: (a) you are showing the jury something that will never be admitted as an exhibit, which will infuriate less tech-tolerant judges, and (b) it invites jurors to conduct outside research once they leave the courtroom. Give me a blank screen that is actually blank. I will pay a premium for it (unless it is an in-app purchase, which would drive me even further insane).

Showing exhibits

Showing exhibits

The logo does go away, however, when you hit the Show button. There are a total of three buttons near the TV icon: Show, Pause, and Clear. Show puts whatever is in the main viewing area of your iPad onto the juror monitor. Pause lets you keep an exhibit up for the jury while you search for your next exhibit. And Clear removes the exhibit and replaces it with the TrialDirector logo (sigh). If you want further details on how these features work, they work identically to TrialPad. Click on this link for a prior, detailed explanation on how to use TrialPad.

Exhibits come up quickly and look very good in TrialDirector for iPad. The problem, however, is that most documents, regardless of how big your juror monitor, are going to be too small if you’re viewing the entire document all at once. So, you’ll need to zoom. But this leads me into my next problem:

you can't use the entire width of a wide screen monitor.

you can’t use the entire width of a wide screen monitor.

Problem 2: There is no way to change the 4:3 orientation.

The problem with zooming in on anything in TrialDirector for iPad is that, if you are connected to a wide screen TV, you cannot use the entire width of that TV. TrialDirector defaults to a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is fine for most federal court houses, as everything there is usually set to the lowest common denominator of 4:3 or 1024×768 pixels. But, if you are going to use this in a deposition, that is likely going to be in a lawyer’s conference room with a 1080p display. In that scenario, or in the situation where the courtroom monitors are wide screen, you are going to get a smaller image with letterboxing on the sides.

TrialPad lets you use the entire screen

TrialPad lets you use the entire screen

In contrast, TrialPad lets you change your output resolution. That way, you can tailor your iPad’s display output to whatever room you’re in and whatever equipment is there. Now, given that TrialDirector for iPad is a free product, I would have been willing to overlook this shortcoming. Except, the icon for publishing exhibits to the jury is a wide screen monitor. Somewhere between the designers and the coders, there is a disconnect.

quick and dirty highlighting only

quick and dirty highlighting only

Problem 3: there’s no “real” highlighting

TrialDirector for iPad has a lot of annotation tools, which I have mixed feelings about. As an experienced user, I like more annotation tools. But as someone who teaches law students, paralegals, and lawyers how to use this stuff, I think the fewer the better.

Once you’ve got an exhibit on the screen, pinch to zoom works well. But the next problem arises when you try and highlight something. To highlight, hit the yellow box icon at the bottom of the screen. With that selected, use your finger to click and drag to get a rectangle. When you release your finger, that area will be highlighted covered with a yellow, semi-transparent box. It kind of looks like a highlight, but it isn’t. In our class, we teach our students how to do this in PowerPoint. And we tell them to only use it when you don’t have the time to make a real highlight.

TrialPad and real highlighting

TrialPad and real highlighting

TrialPad, on the other hand, has the exact same tool which works the exact same way. The only difference is that you get a real highlight, not a yellow box that somewhat obscures that which you’re actually trying to look at.

the intended area of interest

the intended area of interest

Problem 4: callouts are terrible

I am a firm believer in pinch and zoom when you are on an iDevice. So, I don’t really understand why ExhibitView, TrialPad, and TrialDirector for iPad all have a callout button. These tools are really useful when on a laptop, but only because laptops don’t do pinch and zoom very well. But regardless of whether I like it or not, I think that, if you’re going to include a feature, it should at least work, even if it’s not useful.

To create a callout in TrialDirector for iPad, you hit the callout button, which is the last of the icons in the toolbar at the bottom. You drag and trace out a rectangle to determine the area you want to focus in on. And when you release, you should get a zoom-in on the area you’ve selected.

not sure what's happening here. i think this tool is broken.

not sure what’s happening here. i think this tool is broken.

But the problem is, when you release, I get a zoomed-in area that is to wide to view. This particular call-out is unusually unusable. Not sure if this is broken or unfinished or what, TrialDirector for iPad.

callouts not working on my juror monitor, either

callouts not working on my juror monitor, either

The problem with the broken or malfunctioning callout tool is then exacerbated when you show it to a jury. If this app could take advantage of the fact that this monitor is widescreen, I think the fact that it looks wonky on the iPad would be fine. But, since the screen output is limited to 4:3, I can neither use all the real estate of the monitor, nor can I properly display the callout that I wanted.

the only editing option is to delete

the only editing option is to delete

Problem 5: can’t edit file names

The last two problems I am going to discuss may be the most irksome to users novice users. Problem #5 is that I haven’t been able to figure out how to edit file names. The only option I can find is to delete the exhibit.

Now, in my usual workflow, this isn’t a problem. I create cases directly from DropBox, so I just need to make sure that the exhibits are named how I want them in DropBox. But this kind of discipline is unusual for many of my clients and/or my students. Plus, people will often hope to add really long descriptions to the exhibit names, which you can’t do without going back to DropBox first, renaming it there, and then redownloading it into your TrialDirector for iPad. (On the plus side, with the way TrialDirector is limited in terms of renaming, I will never have to explain to a client why a change they made on their iPad does not automatically push back to their DropBox account).

bookmarks the whole document

bookmarks the whole document

Problem 6: bookmarks are useless

The most substantial problem I have is that bookmarking just doesn’t make sense. Now, the idea of the bookmarks is that you will want to have your key docs specifically handy in the courtroom. To add a bookmark, you hit the icon in the top left of the main viewing area. Then, it will get added to the bookmarks tab (which you can reach by hitting the last of the four icons in the bottom of the exhibit list on the left hand side. (please follow the link for a more detailed explanation on how bookmarking can work)

The problem with how this has been executed, however, is that you don’t have the option to bookmark just one page of the document. In TrialPad, in contrast, you can pick. This is nice for cases where you have exhibits that are voluminous, such as if you’re looking at medical records. You might want to have just pages 451, 38, 901, and 715 bookmarked for a given cross examination. In TrialPad, you can do that. In TrialDirector for iPad, all you can do is bookmark the entire exhibit, which means you’ll spend a lot of time scrolling to get between the pages. As far as I know, there is no way to key in the page that you want, either. 

I think the reason why TrialDirector does this is because, when you bookmark a document, you are really just creating a link to that document (which you cannot rename, by the way). In contrast, TrialPad creates a screenshot of the page you want bookmarked. So, in TrialPad, you can rename that page, mark it up, or do whatever you want: the original will not change.

That’s not to say that I think TrialPad’s bookmarking is perfect either. In my medical records example, in TrialPad, I would be able to bookmark page 451, but if I wanted to get to page 452, I would have to go back to the main exhibit and scroll.

Conclusion:

TrialDirector for iPad does a great job at doing what I think it was intended to do: (1) provide an introduction to how trial presentation software works and (2) push people to buy Trial Director for their laptops. I think that it will ultimately be useful in our class, as we use it as a way to introduce students to non-linear presentations. And, it will also be useful for attorneys and paralegals out there who have been dying to try this stuff for the iPad but don’t want to pay for the privilege of a test drive.

I laud TrialDirector for giving this away for free. It suspect that it will drive a lot of prospective clients to me and my business as a trial consultant, and it will substantially increase the name recognition for inData’s flagship product.

But you get what you pay for. Would I use TrialDirector for iPad in a courtroom? No. It needs output monitor screen resolution options, the bookmarking feature needs work, the highlighting feature needs to mature, and they need to remove that logo on the “Clear” screen. And this is unfortunate, because I was really looking forward to TrialDirector for iPad when it first came out.

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3 comments on “Trial Director for iPad – Free(!) but is it worth it?

  1. When is free not really free? When you have to buy something for $695 first!

    From TrialDirector’s own press release:
    “TrialDirector for iPad is free. inData provides free telephone support to help get you up and running. If you don’t currently use TrialDirector 6, which is required, pricing starts at $695.”

    Thanks for the observations about TrialPad, and I think you know how to not have the text appear in the presentation background from our last communication.

    Also, TrialPad is available at a 50% discount to educational institutions through Apple’s education program: http://www.apple.com/education/volume-purchase-program/

    • That is how I read the press release, too. However, go to iTunes, search for Trial Director. Download the app for free.

      I don’t know if the free-ness is inadvertent, but why else would there be two splash screens for the app that ask you to “upgrade now” if the only way you could get the app is if you already bought laptop Trial Director?

  2. I suppose you can’t get their “free” support unless you pay $695.

    When you compare TrialPad for iPad and TrialDirector for iPad I think you really get what you pay for. And $90 is still less than one foamboard enlargement!

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