Tag Archive for 'iPad'

iPhone 4 and iPad update

I’ve been using my iPhone 4 and iPad for several months now, so I thought I would give a hard real use experience report.

iPhone 4
I love the phone. I do see the much written about antenna attenuation problem, but day to day it doesn’t affect me as much as AT&T’s network does. One of the prime times for me to use my phone is while standing in line waiting for the ferry. The worst time is during the afternoon, because there are several hundred people all packed into the ferry terminal, all trying to pull data on their iPhones. The antenna has nothing to do with this.

In every other way, the phone is fantastic. My iPhone 3G would frequently hit the red line on the battery indicator by the time I hit the afternoon ferry, and that was after I had carefully managed my use of the device during the day. With the iPhone 4, I don’t have to worry about managing the battery. That alone has made the upgrade worth it for me.

The upgraded camera has been a huge success for me. I attribute this to a single factor – startup time. I was always reluctant to pull out my iPhone 3G for use as a camera, because quite frequently I would miss the moment by the time the camera came up. I’ve been using Tap Tap’s excellent Camera+ and I like it quite a bit. Unfortunately, you can’t get it on the app store right now, because the developer inserted an easter egg that would allow you to use one of the volume buttons to trigger the shutter. Apple then pulled the app from the store. This is the first time that App Store policy has affected an app that I care about, and I’m obviously not happy about it. It seems to me that Camera+ could have a preference that controlled this feature, and that users would have to turn it on. Since the user would have turned on that feature, they would’t be confused about the takeover of the volume button. It seems simple to me. I really like Camera+’s light table feature, but I really hate the way that it starts up trying to imitate the look of a DSLR rangefinder. The other area where Camera+ could use improvement is in the processing / filters area. It has lots of options, but most of them don’t work for me. I have better luck with Chase Jarvis’ Best Camera on this front. In any case, I’m very happy with the camera as ” the camera that is always always with me”. The resolution is also very good, and I’ve been using it to photograph whiteboards into Evernote quite successfully.

iPad

I’ve been carrying my iPad on a daily basis. I’m using it enough that when I forgot it one day, it made a difference. One thing that I’ve learned is that the iPad really needs a case. I got much more relaxed about carrying mine once it was inside a case. Originally, I thought that I would wait for one of the third party cases, but all of the ones that looked like a fit for me were out of stock, so I broke down and ordered the Apple case. It does the job, but I am not crazy about the material, and I wish that it had one or two small pockets for a pen, a little bit of paper, and perhaps some business cards.

I am pretty much using the iPad as my “away from my desk device” when I am in the office. Our office spans 5 floors in a skyscraper, and I have meetings on several floors during the course of a day. The iPad’s form factor and long battery life, make it well suited as a meeting device. I have access to my e-mail and calendar, and I’m using the iPad version of OmniFocus to keep my tasks and projects in sync with my laptop. I’ve written some py-appscript code that looks at the day’s calendar in Entourage and then kicks out a series of preformatted Evernote notes so that I can pull those notes on my iPad and have notes for the various events of the day. This kind of Mac GUI to UNIX to Mac GUI scripting is something that I’ve commented on before. Thanks to multi-device application families like Evernote, I expect to be doing some more of this hacking to extend my workflow onto the iOS devices. I don’t have a huge need for sharing files between the iPad and the laptop, but Dropbox has done a great job of filling in the gap when I’ve needed to share files.

Several people have asked me about OmniFocus on the iPad, and whether or not it is worth it. I have a large number of both work and personal projects, so being able to use the extra screen real estate on the iPad definitely does help. I have come to rely on several features in OmniFocus for iPad which are not in the desktop version. There is a great UI for bumping the dates for actions by 1 day or 1 week, which I use a lot. I am also very fond of the forecast view, which lets you look at the actions for a give day, with a very quick glance at the number of actions for each day of a week. Both of these features are smart adaptations to the iPad touch interface, and are examples of iPad apps coming into a class of their own.

Another application that I’ve been enjoying is Flipboard. Flipboard got a bunch of hype when it launched back in July, and things have died down because they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Conceptually, Flipboard is very appealing, but the actual implementation still has some problems as far as I am concerned. I can use Flipboard to read my Facebook feed, because Facebook’s timeline is just highly variable in terms of including stuff from my friends. I don’t feel that I can read Twitter via Flipboard, because it can’t keep up with the volume, so I end up missing stuff, and I hate that. Some of the provided curated content is reasonable, but not quite up to what I’d like. Flipboard is falling down because there’s not a good way for me to get the content that I want. I want Flipboard to be my daily newspaper or magazine app. But I can’t get the right content feed(s) to put into it.   

As far as the iOS goes, my usage of the iPad is making me horribly impatient for iOS 4. I would use task switching all the time. Of course, then I would be unhappy because the iPad doesn’t have enough RAM to keep my working set of applications resident. Text editing on iOS is very painful on the iPad. I’m not sure what a good solution would be here, but it definitely is a problem that I am running into on a daily basis – perhaps I need to work on my typing. There is also the issue of better syncing/sharing. My phone and iPad are personal devices, so they sync to my iTunes at home. I use both devices at work, where I have a different computer. This is definitely an area that Apple needs to improve significantly. At the moment, though, the fact that I am using my iPad hard enough to really be running into the problem means that the iPad has succeeded in legitimizing the tablet category – at least for me.

JSConf US Gear Report

JSConf was my trial run for a bunch of new equipment, so here’s a separate report on those experiences.

iPad

Conference like settings are one of the situations where I felt that I could make the best of the iPad. Apparently, I was not alone, because there were probably somewhere between 5 and 10 iPads at the event.

My flights from Seattle to JSConf included 6 hours of flying time, and hour and a half of layovers, plus the usual waiting around time in airports. During that time I read some e-mail, watched about 90 minutes of video, and read several PDF books / documents. By the time I finally ended up in my hotel room, I still had around 80% of the battery charge remaining. I used the iPad as much as possible during the first day of JSConf, and the battery finished at 49% at the end of the first day. Thus far, the battery life is beyond my expectations.

During the conference, the primary activities that I was doing were e-mail reading, web browsing, twittering, and taking notes. For the first two activities, I used the built in Mail and Safari. For Twitter, I switched back and forth between Twitterific and TweetDeck. I used Evernote as my primary note taking tool.

I started out using Twitterific, but at some point it stopped working and was giving a message about an nvalid server certificate error. Echofon on the Mac was having a similar problem. I had TweetDeck installed on the iPad as a leftover from trying it on the iPhone, so I gave it a try and it worked. On the desktop I am not a fan of Tweetdeck’s AIR based user interface, which outweighs it’s advantage of having columns. When I use Syrinx on the desktop, I just open a stack of windows and that works fine. But on the iPad, Tweetdeck’s column based model makes a lot of sense, especially if you hold the iPad in landscape mode. I was mostly happy with the experience, although Tweetdeck has some weird UI in places:

  • It’s hard to get a sense of when the various columns refresh, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to get individual columns to refresh. I’d love to be able to use Tweetie 2′s pull down to refresh gesture to do this.
  • Favoriting tweets (which is how I keep track of interesting information on a mobile device) takes over the whole screen for a moment, causing an annoying flash/blink effect.
  • In Landscape mode you can’t click links or view profiles (the latest update to TweetDeck has added support for link clicking)
  • If you select a tweet and then discover that you need the additional menus popup, then you need to select another tweet and then reselect the tweet you want to act on

I love Evernote, and I’ve written about that before. The iPad version of Evernote is fantastic, with perhaps one exception. If you try to edit a rich text note, you are put into a weird append only kind of mode. I have some Python scripts that create rich text notes from items on my calendar, so it’s annoying to go back to Evernote on the iPad and then be put into append mode. I would love to see a full rich text editing capability come to a future version of Evernote for iPad (and sure, iPhone). Other than that, it was a workhorse at JSConf.

At many conferences, there are multiple WiFi networks, and you have to switch among them as you go from room to room. This was the case at JSConf. On the iPad, this meant a trip to the Settings app in order to select a new network. It would be great if the iPad would switch among multiple known networks based on signal strength. I can think of some reasons why you might not want to do this, but in my situation, it would have been really convenient.

All in all I had a pretty good experience with the iPad as my primary device. I can definitely see it as my primary conference machine, as well as my “in a meeting” machine. iPhone OS 4.0′s “multitasking” will reduce the annoyance associated with waiting for apps to restart on switching.

MacBook Pro

At work they issued me a unibody MacBook Pro 15″. These are supposed to have much better battery life than their pre-unibody forbears. As far as I can see this is true. I imagine that the recently refreshed models are even better on this count. The only other thing that I noticed was that the power adapter gets pretty hot while recharging the machine.   

GF1

Like many photographers, I’ve been looking for a small, high quality, camera that I could carry with me almost all the time. I have my cell phone at all times, and in a pinch, a cell phone picture is better than nothing. But a cell phone camera, regardless of megapixels lacks the controls that I’ve grown used to when making pictures. I’ve started carrying a Panasonic GF1 with the 20mm lens. The wide aperture prime suits the style that I like to shoot in, and the Micro 4/3 sensor gives pretty decent looking pictures. The GF1 produces 12 megapixel RAW files, which in principle is the same as my D3. Of course, there’s a vast difference in quality of those pixels, but thus far I am pretty happy. It has all the controls that I was looking for, as well as a hot shoe for Strobist shenanigans. It’s going to take me a while to master the controls, but I’m in no hurry. It did seem odd to be setting around with the tiny GF1 while the DSLR toting strobists were doing the photos of JSConf. I’ll be doing most of my Dailyshoot assignments with the GF1 — I’m looking forward to drawing material from downtown Seattle. Here are a few of the shots so far:

Dailyshoot 152

Dailyshoot 153

Dailyshoot 155

Bose QuietComfort 15

I am pretty sensitive to noise. Between commuting on the ferry every day, working in a building with thin walls, and spending time on airplanes, I decided that I needed help in coping with all the noise. Ever since the Bose noise canceling headsets came out, I’ve been interested in them for cutting the noise and helping me concentrate. I’ve started carrying a set of the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones. These do a great job of cutting out noise. Most kinds of background noise gets cut out, but you can still hear human voices, albeit at a reduced volume. A little bit of music takes care of that quite easily. Like many people who reviewed these headphones, I do experience the sensation of pressure while wearing them, but these headphones are much more wearable than the earplug style Etymotic headphones that they are replacing. The only other drawback that I’ve found is that they don’t appear to built super well, so I am taking care to carry them in the semi hard case that they came in, which makes them a little less convenient.   

I think that I am well equipped to survive commuting and office life.

iPad = Newton 3.0

On Saturday (iPad day), I had a brief twitter exchange with someone comparing the iPad to Newton 2.0. Of course, this was inaccurate, because the Newton Operating System actually reached version 2.1. But in spirit, at least to me, this was correct.

The User Experience

After playing with my iPad for a bit, I feel that it has captured some of the things that I envisioned in an ideal Newton experience. The form factor is right – we had had slate sized Newton prototypes that were never produced. The MessagePad 2000/2100, which you can see next to my iPad, was both too small and too large. The split between the iPhone and iPad form factors is closer to the right set of tradeoffs, at least for me. The achievements in hardware are impressive. The A4 powering the iPad can trace its lineage to the StrongARM powering the MessagePad 2xxx’s, and the ARM 6xx’s that powered the original Newton. The iPad is very responsive, much more so than my iPhone 3G or the MessagePad. That makes a huge contribution to the overall experience when you use the device. Performance is part of the user experience. Going back to the iPhone after using the iPad is a very frustrating experience. I hope that Apple will be announcing an A4 powered iPhone on Thursday. A4 and the rest of the hardware design have pushed iPad’s battery life over a key threshold. The 10-12 hour lifetimes being reported mean that the iPad should easily be able to run all day on a single battery charge. It also means that I can use the device all day without worrying about whether the battery is going to die on me. In contrast, if I am using wireless data on my iPhone, human power management is part of the user experience. Internet access is also part of the user experience. The iPad is significantly less valuable without a network connection – the Newton barely had any connectivity.

The Hardware

As happy as I am with the performance and the battery life, there are some aspects of the hardware that could be improved. The iPad screen has a glossy finish, a featured shared by my new work MacBook Pro and LED Cinema Display. Much as I love the way that photographs and colors render on these displays, the reflections and glare are problems that I haven’t been able to get over. I would have preferred a matte screen. The iPad casing is a machined single block of aluminum, again, like the MacBook Pro. I have no problems walking around carrying the MacBook Pro (at last with the display closed). When carrying the iPad in the halls in the office, I have this feeling that it might just slip out of my hand. The MessagePad 2000 series had a special rubberized paint (which was expensive) which made it easy to grip. It also had a fold over plastic cover for the screen. This version of the iPad really needs some kind of case to overcome these two issues.

The iPad has an issue when charging from non “high-power” USB ports. When attached to one of these ports, the iPad will only charge when it is asleep. If you charge your iPad overnight, this shouldn’t be a big issue, but it would have been nice to find this out from the Apple documentation rather than one of the Mac news sites.

The Software/Apps

The iPad software is largely like the iPhone software with some additional interface elements to deal with the larger screen. On the surface this just doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. The combination of the large screen and the performance, along with those new elements yields a much better experience. This is obvious if you run the iPhone only version of an application and then try the iPad version. In every case where I did this, I much preferred the iPad version. It is true that iPhone applications run just fine on the iPad, and that you can use pixel doubling to make them fill the full screen. But compared to a native iPad version, apps running in compatibility mode are a joke. This puts the truth to the idea that there is a new form factor in between the smart phone and the desktop/laptop. I know that in any place where I have WiFi, I will reach for the iPad instead of my iPhone. Going back to doing things on the iPhone after using the iPad seems like a kind of torture.

I wish that there were more iPad applications out there. Many of the ones that I use regularly have not been updated yet. Some of the applications that I like at the moment:

  • Evernote – this is my go-to note taker on the Mac, mostly because of the syncing to iPhone. The iPad version really takes advantage of the new form factor, and I’m looking forward to being able to use the iPad as a real replacement for a paper notebook.
  • Instapaper – I love Instapaper, and I’d definitely prefer to read my Instapaper articles on the iPad’s larger screen. My need for it has gone down a little bit because I signed up for Boingo in order to use WiFi on the ferry to work, so I have connectivity in many more of the situations when I would have used Instapaper
  • Goodreader – This is a big one. The e-reader that I want can show me my Manning MEAP editions, the research papers from the ACM Digital Library, and MIT PhD dissertations from 1978. That means it has to do PDF. Unfortunately, the iPad doesn’t come with a PDF reader built in, which seems nuts to me. Goodreader was only a dollar and seems to have more features that an iPad of Preview might, but still.
  • AccuWeather Cirrus – This is a flashy weather display program. It looks cool. And I love the little clock based UI for the hourly forecast. Yes, it’s eye candy.
  • MindNode – MindNode Pro on the Mac is my program of choice for Mind Mapping, and the iPad is great form factor for mindmapping, especially that stage where you are trying to organize jumbled up thoughts
  • Adobe Ideas – This is a cool little visual sketchbook application – I’m sure it will be good for doodling and quick napkin type sketches. For the heavy duty diagramming, I’m probably going to end up at OminGraffle.
  • The Elements – This is an “interactive” book rendition of the paper book “The Elements” which is about the periodic table. Thus far, this is the best example of what books could become on a device like the iPad. That said, I think that we are just at the beginning of what will be possible – we’re going to see a lot of exploration and experimentation in this area over the next several years, I am sure.

In my original post on the iPad, I was inspired by the UI interactions that I saw in iWork. Of the three programs in the suite, I’ve only downloaded Keynote. I am still impressed by the UI, but I am not impressed by the compatibility restrictions. When I imported my presentations from 2009, Keynote reported a number of problems. Some of the fonts that I used were not present on the iPad, but more importantly, Keynote stripped out all my speaker notes. I hope that Apple will be adding speaker note support in a future update. On the font side, it seems like it ought to be possible to package the needed fonts as part of the Keynote presentation itself. I’m less hopeful that this will happen since there is probably some legal restriction on the ability to “distribute” fonts in this way. Keynote and iWork also showcase an area which I am unhappy about, which is integration with the filesystem on the Mac (or PC, if you must). It is very annoying to have to use iTunes to manage the files that are going in and out of iWork. It’s even more annoying when you consider something like Dropbox. I’d really like to see Apple improve this part of the experience. At the moment it feels like a copy of the Newton Connection Kit, and unforunately, that’s not a compliment.

Many applications developers still haven’t finished their iPad versions. Here’s are some of the applications that I am still waiting for:

  • Either Tweetie or Echofon. I am using Twitterific at the moment, and it’s good, but on the iPhone, both Tweetie and Echofon are better. As in worth paying for better.
  • Dropbox
  • Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp
  • Tripit
  • Meebo
  • Airsharing
  • Darkslide
  • Google Earth
  • Almost the entire Omni Group’s product line. Ok well really OmniOutliner and OmniFocus

The Omni apps are particularly important to me because they will be ports / companions of their desktop versions, which should make the iPad more usable for me in a work setting.

Open Issues

There are some other issues with the iPad which are getting a lot of discussion.

First there is the issue of freedom or openness, depending on where you come from. This has been beaten to death already. I would certainly prefer a more open ecosystem on the iPad, and I don’t think that there is an enormous amount that would need to change in order to satisfy me. After a few days of playing with a production iPad, I am convinced that this is an important device, and that the iPad is the first entrant in a mass market tablet space. I also believe that it is likely to be the most innovative because of Apple’s ability to integrate the hardware and software. There is plenty of room in the space for other players, and I believe that in the end Apple will need to make some concessions if they want to be the high volume player in the space.

The next issue is the “multitasking” issue. I remember the MacOS when there was no multitasking, then cooperative multitasking, and finally in OS X, true preemptive multitasking. At the end of the day, I want to be able to switch between multiple applications without them losing their context. I do use a few applications that could benefit from running in the background all the time, but that’s not a huge number. I would happily trade a hour of the iPad’s 10-12 hour battery life to get this capability. I am sure that the Apple team knows how to implement both the low level functionality needed as well as a good end user interface for this functionality. Multitasking is just a matter of time. It’s inevitable. Maybe it’s even tomorrow.

For those in the ebook side of the world, there’s a different sort of issue. I’ve heard several people pontificating about the difficulty and cost of creating / producing interactive books. As far as I can tell, the toolchain for this is non-existent. It looks to me that iLife includes many of the applications that someone might need in order to produce an interactive or multimedia book. Conventional wisdom used to be that it took a big movie studio to produce a decent movie. The advent of consumer HD cameras and the broadening availability of powerful computers and production is changing that. Expect the same thing to happen to interactive books.

It’s the beginning

I look at the iPad and I see the beginning of something. Even though it appears polished, I think that we have a lot more to learn about the form factor, size appropriate UI’s, the more intimate experience that tablets create, and other attributes of the platform. I for one, am looking forward to learning the lessons.