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Entries in iOS (9)

Monday
Mar132017

Protecting Your iPhone's Data at the US Border

Over the last couple of days, various news outlets have reported that there's been a significant increase in the request of mobile phone passwords when entering the United States, even for those who are natural-born US citizens. A few days ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation posted "Digital Privacy at the U.S. Border: Protecting the Data On Your Devices and In the Cloud" which I recommend if you're concerned about this kind of issue. 

Here are a few specific tips for iPhone users (which is what I use, so sorry, no Android tips here) for protecting your device's data at the US border or when going through Customs. 

If you're an iPhone user and do not wish to have your phone searched (I assume on grounds of principle and not because you'd have anything that would actually incriminate you for something illegal), make certain you take a few precautions at any border crossing or going through Customs. 

Assuming you've bought your iPhone in the last three years, it is already encrypted. Thank you, Apple. However, your data is only as good as your Passcode. 

1. A Passcode should be required anytime your iPhone is accessed. If yours is not set to to ask for the Passcode, go to Settings: Touch ID & Passcode: Require Passcode: Immediately.

2. Your Passcode should be a minimum of 6 characters, and last year "experts" were saying 11 characters was the ideal length (they're saying 12 or more now). Regardless of the length, it should not be something that would be easily guessed if someone knows you. If your Passcode is the year you were born, married, graduated, etc., change it now. Settings: Touch ID & Passcode: Change Passcode

3. Your iPhone has a failed Passcode "self-destruct" feature that you may not know about. After 10 incorrect Passcode tries, it will erase all data--but you have to turn on this feature. To do so, go to Settings: Touch ID & Passcode: Erase Data.

4. If you use your fingerprint to unlock your iPhone, be certain to completely turn off/shut down your device before going through Customs or a border crossing. A shutdown requires a Passcode to be entered, so you can't be forced to use your fingerprint against your will. 

Always be polite and respectful, but realize that if you do not comply with requests, you may not get your iPhone back.

Fingerprint image courtesy of Pixabay.com.

Wednesday
Apr032013

Review: Microsoft Surface RT

I switched from Windows to the Mac as my main computing platform in 1998 for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere before. Of course, I never left Windows completely behind. I’ve kept up with it over the years by running current versions first in VirtualPC and more recently in VMWare Fusion. I even spent part of last decade in a job where I administered two Windows servers and about 140 Windows client machines (all of which I managed from an eMac).

Having said that, however, I still admit that Apple’s family of devices work well for me. In our home we have iPads, MacBooks, iPhones, and an AppleTV. Everything works well together, and I have no plans on switching back to Windows.

And yet, if you don’t count the netbook I bought three years ago for the purpose of turning into a Hackintosh, the Windows Surface RT is the first new Windows machine I’ve bought in almost a decade and a half. And guess what? I like it.

For whatever reason, I was intrigued by the Surface RT since it was first announced. The tech press (of which I spend way too much time reading) has been fairly critical of the Surface RT. And yet, I discovered something very interesting a few weeks ago. I was on the website of one of the national chains selling the Surface and I looked at the customer reviews. That is, the reviews of people who are actually using these machines—not the tech writers who spent a few days with a review copy of the surface and then went back on to other equipment. I noticed in reading the customer reviews that “real life” owners of the Surface RT really seemed to like the device. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. I checked some other sites with customer reviews and found the same situation.

Around three weeks ago, Staples offered a coupon for $100 off any Windows 8 tablet or notebook computer, so I bought the low-end Surface RT. I’m referring to the one with only a measly 32 GB of storage space, almost half of which is taken up by Windows 8.

Windows 8 has been a very polarizing operating system. I hear more negative than positive, but I also realize that people who don’t like something are usually more vocal than those who do. I’d read in a number of places that Windows 8 is best experienced on touchscreen, and I can now agree that’s completely true. In fact, I understood Windows 8 better in using the Surface RT in two days than I’d understood Windows 8 using it in VMWare for five months.

Since it's been five months since the Surface RT was released, I'm glad I waited and let the rest of the Windows faithful suffer through the early rough spots—especially after listening to some of the early SurfaceGeeks podcasts. I'm a big Evernote user, and if I can have Evernote on a device, I can get a lot done. From the sound of things, the early Evernote release was not quite up to par. Of course, I assume I could have used it on the web. Nevertheless, I find that Evernote Touch on the Surface RT is quite usable.

For those who are not in the know, Microsoft, which has traditionally been primarily a software company, has released their first tablet computers with the Surface RT and the Surface Pro. There seems to be a lot of confusion between these two devices, but basically, the Surface RT can only run Windows 8 apps and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, & OneNote only), while the Surface Pro can essentially run any Windows program. Both devices look very similar, although the Surface Pro is slightly thicker. And the Surface pro costs a good bit more than the Surface RT.

The Surface RT in many ways is meant to be the “pure” Windows 8 experience because it cannot run any older Windows programs, other than Office. Many consider the version of Windows on the Surface RT (called Windows RT) to be the future of Windows. Personally, because I do not run Windows as a primary platform, I did not need the more capable Surface Pro because I have Windows 8 Professional in VMWare on my MacBook Pro. As I said, it was the Surface RT that intrigued me, and I wanted to experience Windows 8 on a touchscreen.

In spite of much outcry against Windows 8, and regardless of the debates as to whether the direction Microsoft has taken is the right one, I do believe they should be given a little credit. It’s not easy to make a big shift in computer platforms, especially when considering the massive user base that Microsoft has with Windows. Also, I believe it’s worth noting that in a technology culture that has been so heavily influenced by Apple’s iOS, Microsoft actually came up with an interface that is significantly different.

Although it's not a strictly apples to apples comparison (no pun initially intended, but there it is), I can best compare the Surface RT to my iPad experience. And, although there are a number of important differences between the Surface RT and the iPad, I do believe this is a fair comparison. The Surface RT is distinguished from the Surface Pro in that it is intended to be a lower-cost, consumer-level tablet, much like the iPad.

What the Surface RT allows me to do that I cannot do on the iPad. I teach university classes which entails a lot of paper grading. Students upload assignments to Blackboard, and I download them and grade them on my MacBook. I can't do this on my iPad for a number of reasons. Obviously, there's not a native version of MS Word for the iPad (yet). I use Word's internal commenting system to comment or correct aspects of a student's paper. None of this is really feasible with any of the applications on the iPad that will import and export Word documents. But even if it were possible, all of the iPad applications that will read Word documents change the format of the document when it is imported and change it again when it is exported. This often can affect a document's layout in regard to headers or margins, and it would not be fair or right to do this to my students' work.

Moreover, I've yet to find a browser on the iPad that lets me navigate the Blackboard website correctly. In Blackboard, students' grades are laid out on a spreadsheet-type interface that simply cannot be moved from the left to the right (for some reason unknown to me) in any browser I've tried in iOS. Yes, there is a Blackboard Mobile Learn app, but this does not allow me to do any kind of administrative work such as grades. I can interact in discussion forums with my students or create announcements, but that's about it.

However, the Surface RT lets me do all these things. The first Saturday afternoon I had my Surface RT, I sat down in a coffee shop with only my brand new tablet and the accompanying TypeCover keyboard, and I was thrilled to know that I could access all aspects of the Blackboard website. I was able to download a student's paper, save it to the Surface in a nested folder, and edit it in a real copy of Microsoft Word. I could have just as easily uploaded the graded paper back to Blackboard, but I wanted to wait and view it on my laptop to make certain everything came out all right. And when I did this later, it was fine. Since then, I’ve graded a number of papers on the Surface and have uploaded them back for the student to retrieve afterwards.

So, I'm very pleased that I can do this. It may seem like a very simple task, but this is something that takes up a good percentage of my week. I believe it will be nice to sometimes leave my 15" MacBook Pro at home and go sit in a coffee shop and grade papers for a few hours on the Surface RT--something I cannot currently do on an iPad.

The only downside to this, however, is that I can do it much faster on my laptop. This is primarily due to the fact that Word on the Surface RT has very small touch points. This makes using Word for RT a bit more difficult and certainly slower than using a laptop. I’ve since learned that by changing the size of items on the desktop to 125%, the touch points become a bit easier to target. Nevertheless, if I were behind in my grading, which is often the case, I would not be able to use the Surface.

Yes, I bought the TypeCover, so I have a trackpad, but I'm not overly impressed with it. I’m sure that a lot of this frustration comes from being used to a large glass touchpad on my MacBook that is incredibly responsive. The tiny touchpad on the TypeCover is not as responsive, and even with tracking speed turned all the way up, it doesn't move as quickly or as accurately as I'd like it to. Perhaps this will improve with use as I grow accustomed to it, but I've also noticed that sometimes the mouse pointer on the Surface RT simply disappears, and I have to restart the machine or go into mouse settings to get it back.

On a side note, occasionally my students will want to compose a paper entirely on an iPad and submit it to Blackboard. However, no Word-compatible app on the iPad that I've seen allows for a different header on the cover page than the headers on the pages that follow. A student would, however, be able to use the Surface RT for both composition and submission of a paper that meets the style guide specifications because of having a "real" version of MS Word.

I also like the expandability of the Surface RT with its SD card slot and USB. Both of my iPads are 64 GB and both of them are completely filled up. My next iPad purchase will be one of the 128 GB models, but I like how expandable the Surface RT is right out of the box. I bought the 32 GB model, but if I were going to use this as a main device, I'm sure I would want to get the 64 GB Surface RT and then add a 64 GB flash card to it. Currently, I have 10 GB of space left on the Surface. I don’t necessarily have to depend on it, but I had a 32 GB microSD card, and it’s been a great solution for quickly transferring files back and forth between the Surface RT and my MacBook Pr.

From what I understand, the iPad doesn’t have any kind of external expansion capabilities because Steve Jobs liked smooth edges on the sides of Apple’s devices. From an aesthetic perspective, I can understand this, but after seeing how advantageous the microSD and USB slots on the Surface RT are, I really have to think, “Come on Apple, why not?”

I often teach straight from my iPad, plugged into a projector, at the university where I teach or at church. I mainly use iWork Keynote for this, and I make heavy use of presenter notes that I can see on my screen while a class looks only at my slide from the projector. Although I still find Keynote to be a more elegant presentation tool in general over PowerPoint from an audience's perspective, I can say I was very impressed with PowerPoint's presenter screen on the Surface RT. It is much more robust than Keynote's presenter screen (on the iPad, not my Mac) with more options and the ability to see my notes much better.

What the iPad allows me to do that I cannot (yet) do on the Surface RT. I've included the word yet here because a lot of what lies below has to do with app availability or compatibility, and I assume that most of this can and will improve over time.

If you're wondering what fills up my two 64 GB iPads, it's not so much from apps, video, music or pictures, but rather from the somewhere over 6,000 books, journals, magazines, and articles that I carry with me at all times. One of the aspects I've really enjoyed about having a tablet, since my first iPad in 2010, is the ability to carry an entire library with me at any time. Most of these are academic titles, and it's been great to have such a wealth of information at my fingertips.

I often digitize my own books (when I know a title is not already available in some kind of ebook form) by scanning them, adding an OCR layer over the original page, and saving them as PDFs. I use GoodReader on the iPad for PDFs. Although its interface is a bit wonky, it has great annotation features and can handle very large files (I have some PDFs that are hundreds of pages long). On the Surface RT, I've not yet seen a PDF reader that allows for the kind of heavy annotating I often do to my documents (although I'm open to suggestions).

The Kindle app (where I have about 1,000 titles) on the Surface seems comparable to the one on iOS for my purposes. I can add highlights and notes, which is important. But I use another program on my iPad called Accordance, which is for academic study of the Bible and related subjects, especially original language work. I doubt Accordance will be on Windows RT anytime soon.

There are competitive Bible programs available in the Windows Store on the Surface, such as an app from Logos Bible software and another from OliveTree. I have plenty of titles in these apps, too, but they are very limited in what they can do on the Surface RT. I was pleased to see that Greek and Hebrew texts display correctly in Logos on the Surface, but the app itself is downright anemic compared to the iPad version. The WinRT version doesn't allow me to highlight text, make annotations, copy and paste text or even perform basic searches of the text. The OliveTree Bible app has search, but for some reason most of the titles I own in that platform do not work on the Surface, including all my Greek and Hebrew texts.

Logos for Windows RT is very limited. Note the inability to search.

Obviously, these shortcomings are not the fault of the capabilities of the Surface RT tablet, but it is indicative of a number of apps that are available on other platforms, including both iOS and Android. Ultimately, it's a real chicken or the egg issue because software developers aren't going to invest heavily into apps for WinRT unless there are users; but users won't come in large numbers if there are not apps. In fact, the CEO of Logos has essentially said that development of their app is on indefinite hold until more users come to the WinRT platform. Both Microsoft and users of the Surface RT are going to have to be patient with the platform. Although rumors continue to fly to the contrary, all of Microsoft’s public comments have stated they are going to continue to support and develop the WinRT platform. Let’s hope so. We all remember HP’s "cut and run" only seven weeks after the release of the TouchPad. I actually thought the TouchPad’s operating system, WebOS, was a very good platform (the TouchPad devices themselves seemed to be a bit cheaply made) that just needed more time to grow its user base.

And while it seems like a simple issue, there was another task I normally perform on the iPad (and have been able to do since its release in April, 2010) that I couldn’t do on the Surface. On Sundays, I teach an adult Bible study at our church to an average of about 40 people. Typically, I use Keynote on my iPad and am plugged into a projector. As people arrive, I play a photo slideshow of about 2,100 photos taken of our group at various events over the past seven years. So that it won't start with the earliest pictures, I set the slideshow to shuffle the images. And I run this from the basic Photos app that comes on every iPad.

So, Saturday night of the first weekend I had the SurfaceRT, because I wanted to teach from my Surface on Sunday morning, I had converted my Keynote file to PowerPoint, and after a little adjusting, it was ready to go on the Surface. I copied the 2100 pictures from Aperture on my MacBook Pro to a USB thumbdrive and then copied these over to the Surface. I tried to do a test run and was surprised to learn there was no shuffle mode in the Surface's photo app. I really didn't want to start with pictures from seven years ago and run them in chronological order. So, even though it was time-change Saturday night, I stayed up way too late looking in the Windows Store on my Surface for a photo app that would shuffle photos. I couldn't find one. Knowing that I could run a slideshow straight from the folder holding my pictures on the desktop, I tried that, too, but again no shuffle feature. This obviously isn't the biggest issue in the world, but if anyone here knows of an app that will do this, I'd appreciate your letting me know. [Note: I’ve since discovered a free app called “Picture Frame Slideshow” that will shuffle photos.]

And the rest... Overall, my impressions of the Surface RT are favorable. I don't expect it or need it to be a full Windows computer (which is why I didn't want the Surface Pro). I was just intrigued by RT and wanted to experience it for myself. Like others have already said, I like the build of the machine. It seems very sturdy and put together in a manner that speaks to quality.

I bought the TypeCover because it looked nicer and more capable than the TouchCover, but after reading others' impressions, I imagine the TouchCover would have been fine for me. I'm actually a very fast typist on the iPad's virtual keyboard. Although I have had a couple of keyboards for the iPad, I hardly ever use them. It sounds to me that if someone is used to a virtual keyboard (that also doesn't have any actual tactile feedback from a moving key), the TouchCover keyboard would work just fine.

And related to that, I've tried out the Surface's virtual keyboard and have found it to be just as capable as the iPad's. I seem to be able to use it as well as I use the virtual keyboard on the iPad. It may be that the TypeCover keyboard is only going to be necessary for me when I'm using the desktop Office apps.

I've also found the responsiveness of the Surface screen to be on par with my iPad. When I had my Galaxy Tab last year, I noticed that sometimes, I had to kind of get the attention of the device because it wouldn't always respond the first time I touched it--even when it was on and I had just been using it. I've had no such problem on the Surface. It seems just as responsive and fluid as the iPad so far. As I mentioned, the only aspect in this regard I'm not impressed with is the touchpad on the Surface TypeCover, especially when using Office apps. I realize that I could use a mouse, but I have no desire to lug around a mouse to use with a tablet. Having to do that seems counterintuitive for why I would want to use a tablet in the first place.

For the most part, the Surface RT is snappy and responsive. When I first got it, some of Microsoft’s own apps were very poky, especially when starting; however, they released updates to many of these a few days ago that have improved these issues considerably. My major complaint has to do with the Mail app. Although it also received improvements a few days ago, there’s no unified inbox for multiple accounts, and there’s an extraordinary long pause when switching between one email account and another.

Some have complained that neither the Surface RT nor Surface Pro work well in one’s lap because the kickstand has a tendency to collapse. I can say that while awkward, it can be done. Nevertheless, if the Surface is in my lap, I’m usually not doing serious work on it. In my lap, I find it easier to fold the keyboard behind the Surface (which disables keystrokes) or simply remove it altogether. As already noted, the virtual keyboard works just fine, and I can surf the web or provide short answers to email.

I bought my Samsung Galaxy Tab and HP TouchPad to familiarize myself with the platforms, but I eventually sold these devices because they didn’t bring anything new to the table that I didn’t already have represented in my iPad. Considering I can actually grade papers on the Surface RT, I may hold onto this device indefinitely and let it become a regular part of my workflow (at least in the weeks in which I’m not running behind). Plus, I’m interested to see how Windows RT continues to develop. Many have predicted its demise, but Microsoft is known for often playing a long game with platforms that are of greater importance to them. Consider that Windows didn’t start to gain traction until v. 3.x, and the Xbox didn’t outsell competitors until the 360 was released.

My start screen on the Surface RT

Even though I like the Surface RT, as do many other owners of them, it’s still hard to say exactly who the target customer is for this device. Certainly if someone wants a lower-priced tablet and needs a “true” version of Microsoft Office—such as a student—the Surface RT is ideal. But if Office is eventually released for iOS and Android—as current rumors suggest—the Surface RT suddenly loses much of its unique draw.

I also believe the Surface RT is priced too high. I was at a Staples just the other day, and they had an Asus touchscreen notebook computer that had a full version of Windows 8, a touchscreen, and a 256 GB hard drive—all at the sale price of $459. This is $40 less than a Surface RT at full price, and the Surface comes with only a 32 GB hard drive (at the $499 level) and no keyboard.

I have no idea what the Surface RT costs Microsoft to build, but if it were priced somewhere between $299 and $349, I believe they would have a winner on their hands. They would sell more of them, which in turn would draw more developers to the platform. Or perhaps, if history repeats itself, the Surface RT v. 2 or v. 3 may eventually be the hit that Microsoft hoped it would be in its first iteration.

This blog post was written and uploaded with the Surface RT. Your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome in the comments section.

Friday
Sep092011

Thoughts on the HP TouchPad Debacle, and Why This iPad User Truly Hopes That webOS Survives

Although I’ve been an iPad user since they were first released in 2010, ultimately, I’m keen on tablets in general. And I can be pretty non-partisan about it as you may have noticed if you’ve watched either of my videos about using tablets in the classroom. I’ve not given up on regular computers yet, but if I can use my iPad for a task instead of my laptop, I generally do. And I encourage others to try out using a tablet. If the iPad’s not for you, that’s fine, and no threat to me. Yet the reality is that after a year and a half, the iPad has had no real competition from any of the various offerings out there. Some have even gone so far as to say there is no tablet market, but rather, only an iPad market. I genuinely hope that’s not true because Apple needs serious competition to continue to innovate, just as competitors need Apple for the same reason. It’s an “iron sharpens iron” thing. 

That’s one reason I was genuinely excited about Hewlett's Packard's TouchPad. I’ve played with a number of Android tablets, but they’re largely uninspiring. However, the previews of the TouchPad I’d seen earlier this year seemed somewhat promising. The interface was fairly unique—different from both iOS and Android. And multitasking even seemed more robust than that in iOS 4. I’ve hated to think of tablet computing coming down to an eventual two-horse race between iOS and Android. I would have much preferred to see the Touchpad’s webOS as the biggest competitor to iOS. At least webOS seemed to have a sense of style. Unfortunately, HP released the TouchPad way too early.

 

Why I Couldn’t Recommend the HP TouchPad

A few days after the TouchPad’s July 1 release, I stopped by the local BestBuy to check them out for myself. There was an actual HP representative in the store who quickly intercepted me as soon as I stared at the TouchPad display for more than five seconds. She placed a TouchPad directly into my hands for her demonstration. It was not one of the ones tethered to Best Buy’s security system, but rather her very own TouchPad from what she told me. And it truly was, as I noticed when we looked at the email features. 

The HP representative was very professional and she knew the TouchPad well. The device’s ultimate failure to catch on cannot be blamed on people like her. Rather, blame the device itself, or more specifically, the PTB at HP who allowed the TouchPad to be released well before it was ready for primetime. 

While the HP rep demonstrated the features of her TouchPad, I became increasingly disillusioned, shocked and even a bit appalled at what it couldn’t do. First, I was incredibly surprised that it had no video out capability. I realize that I see the world through pedagogical lenses, but part of the iPad’s genius is that it can be connected to a TV or projector and used for presentations or educational purposes. Without a video out option, that means it’s a device that could not be used by the instructor for lessons in front of a class or for a business professional to make a presentation in front of clients. 

I asked the HP rep how I could take notes on the TouchPad if I were in a meeting. She hesitated a moment and said that it really couldn’t do that yet. I was told that it came with QuickOffice, but for right now it only viewed Word documents and couldn’t create or edit them. I should point out that a version of QuickOffice that allows editing was released for the TouchPad last week, and there have also been a handful of notetaking apps that have been released along the way.

Nevertheless, I was dumbfounded. I’ve always equated HP with business use. Yet the HP TouchPad really couldn’t be used much for business at all. The TouchPad at its release was little more than a consumption device. I can only wonder who HP saw as its target audience for the TouchPad? 

Whether comparisons between the TouchPad and the iPad are fair or not, they are impossible to avoid. The TouchPad looks very similar at first glance to a first generation iPad and the TouchPad was initially priced at $499 for the 16 GB model—the same price as the 16 GB iPad. Apple has claimed that they spend years in R&D developing the iPad and that the iPhone was an afterthought that came out of that development and ended up being released first. On day one, the iPad—despite the claims of detractors that it was only a consumption device—gave users access to a choice of a number of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation apps of varying degrees of ability. I truly don’t mean this in a platform-partisan manner, but I know with certainty that Apple would have never released a device so prematurely as HP did with the TouchPad. 

 

HP’s Decision in Haste

And then, as everyone is all so well aware, the bottom fell out for any hope of the TouchPad’s success within a mere 49 days after its released. Axed quicker than a new show on the Fox network, HP surprised everyone by announcing on August 18 that they were ceasing all production of webOS hardware. In fact, they said they were getting out of computer hardware all together, although the latter has been interpreted in a number of ways in the weeks since. 

I honestly don’t know if HP panicked over the poor sales of the TouchPad, or if Best Buy’s request that HP take them back was a kind of last straw for HP’s current president, Léo Apotheker, who doesn’t seem much interested in making devices of any kind. Regardless, the TouchPad never stood much of a chance due to premature release and a price tag that was way too high.

 

The "Fire Sale"

Speaking of prices, before HP canned the TouchPad, they briefly brought it down one hundred dollars by marking it at $399. But even this was too expensive when a mere $100 dollars more could get you an iPad that was actually capable of doing more than passive activities. So over the weekend of August 20-21, HP surprised everyone a second time in the same number of days by slashing the cost of remaining stock to a mere $99. Suddenly, everyone wanted one, but there were none to be found!

I heard about the $99 price point on the afternoon of Saturday, August 20. As I’ve already suggested, I’m a bit of a tablet enthusiast, and I saw the true potential of webOS, despite HP’s poor implementation of it in the TouchPad. While I would never have paid $499 or even $399 for the device, like a lot of folks, I was definitely interested when they were down to $99. I thought it would be great fun to customize one to my accounts and emails and see what using it on a personal level was like. I made a quick check of eBay and saw that even used TouchPads were selling for much higher than $99, so I figured a the very least I could always recoup my money, and then some, if I decided I didn’t want it. Or I could use it as another physical tablet example to pass around the room if I did another seminar on instructional use with tablet computers. 

Unfortunately, by Saturday afternoon, I was really too late. I ran by a local Target and two separate Walmart stores, but all the TouchPads were long gone after the drop to $99. I didn’t even consider going to Best Buy because I assumed that they were probably the first stores to run out of stock. 

So that night, I went to HP’s website. Sure enough, they were in stock, but every time I tried to order one, their website would go down. I tried multiple times to order a 16 GB model, but every time I advanced a bit further in the process, the screen would display an error message. I finally got to a final payment screen, entered in everything required of me, and submitted my order. Another error screen on HP’s website! Had my order gone through or not?

I waited a couple of hours and thought I’d try again. By that time, a notice stated all 16 GB models were sold out. The only TouchPad left was the 32 GB model that originally sold for $599, but had been drastically reduced to $149. After checking eBay again to make certain I could cover the cost if I decided to sell it, I decided to try for the TouchPad with the greater memory. The process was similar to before. I’d make small gains in my order, only to hit another error screen. Finally, I got to the final screen and submitted, but then, no confirmation page or email—only an error screen.

At that point, I assumed that neither of my orders went through, but figured it didn’t really matter. Then on the following Tuesday, I got two confirmation emails and discovered I’d successfully ordered both a 16 GB model and a 32 GB model as well. A quick check of eBay and I was still assured, based on what the TouchPads were selling for, that I had nothing to worry about. In fact, I could sell the 32 GB model and essentially pay for both of them and not be out anything at all. 

 

HP Clearly Wasn’t Ready for a Hit

Supposedly, Léo Apotheker’s vision for HP includes making it over into a software services company for businesses. Hopefully, that doesn’t include the kind of services HP uses in-house to run it’s own ordering system. During that weekend of the $99 fire sale, HP sold more TouchPads than even existed—more than they had in inventory and more than they had coming back unsold from stores. In fact, in yet another surprising move, HP announced a few days ago that they were going back to the factory to make one last TouchPad production run to take care of the unfulfilled orders. Of course, most speculate that this last run is primarily to appease parts suppliers who were about to be stuck with a lot of custom TouchPad components. 

After HP closed sales of the $99 TouchPad in the wee hours of August 22, they put up a notice allowing customers to sign up for an email alert when more TouchPads were back in stock and orders were opened up once again. Of course, orders have yet to be opened up again. A lot of people have speculated that HP thought they were getting a number of TouchPads back from stores which they would turn around and sell. Rather, any TouchPad that came back had to immediatly be allocated to those with orders already in the system. A few days after posting the notice for email sign-ups, HP removed it. 

One of the more popular webOS enthusiast sites is precentral.net. At that site, there is a thread in the forums which will probably hit over 1800 posts within a few hours of my writing this blog entry. This thread is dedicated to a discussion among people like me who ordered their Touchpads from the HP website over the weekend of the $99 sale. In this thread order numbers are compared with posted ship dates on the HP website (very few have posted that their orders have actually shipped), examination of credit card charges and holds, tales of waiting online to speak with HP customer service only to learn nothing that isn’t in the order status on the website, and just more of the same ad infinitum. You can actually read only a handful of the posts to get the gist of all 1800 contributions. 

But it’s even more amazing to see the frustration among those who ordered TouchPads who haven’t gotten them yet. Remember that before August 20, when the price was dropped to $99, no one wanted a TouchPad. Then, when the price was right, every one wanted one. 

And then to make this particular group of backordered TouchPad seekers even more agitated, on Thursday of last week, a marketing rep at HP announced via Twitter that all those with backorders would be receiving an email within 48 hours updating them as to the status of their order. The email simply explained the fact that those who had not received their orders yet (and it seems the majority had not) would get them within six to eight weeks after the additional and final production run. 

The email promised to arrive within 48 hours was not sent to every person with a backordered TouchPad all at once. It is true that a few of those with orders placed got the email within the promised 48 hours. However, at the end of business day last Friday, the emails suddenly stopped being sent out even though many customers had not received them yet. This led to many in this remaining group panicking (based on the posts at precentral.net) that their orders were perhaps cancelled because they didn’t get this promised email within the promised 48 hours. In hindsight, it seems pretty clear that someone in customer service at HP, who was in charge of sending out the rest of the emails, must have simply taken his or her three-day Labor Day holiday, saving the remaining emails to go out until after a return to work on Tuesday. However, the emails did not, in fact, resume on Tuesday, but rather on Wednesday; and finally it now seems as if everyone has been contacted who was supposed to be. 

What’s clear from all this disorganization, lack of customer service and even professionalism on HP’s part as well as an ordering system that allowed for more orders than existing product is that HP was simply not prepared for a “hit” product. Remember that people stood in line for Apple’s iPad, even when the first generation had not been in anyone’s hand before its release. With the release of the iPad and iPad 2, there have not only been long lines, but initial shortages in stores and delays when ordering online. But at least you could place an order online and immediately be given a reasonable notice of ship time. 

What if the TouchPad had been a hit at the beginning? Could HP have handled it? The $99 fire sale clearly demonstrates that HP would not have known how to handle any kind of significant demand if the product had been a hotly sought out object of desire. 

 

Is there a Future for webOS?

I hope so. HP wants to license the OS, but so far it has no publicly-announced suitors. Despite all the chaos from HP, an unexpected result and silver lining from all this nonsense can be found in the fact that now the TouchPad is the second most popular tablet computer, bested only by the iPad itself. Most of the other tablets out there have only sold in the tens of thousands from all known estimates. But once all TouchPads are sold, there will probably be a million or so TouchPads out there, which is certainly not a user base that should be ignored. 

Android tablets seem to be a dime a dozen. But I really believe that an enterprising company could license webOS for their own tablet, and if any significant attention is paid to the device, and if lessons are learned from HP’s many blunders, a company would have an opportunity to differentiate itself from all the Android offerings. 

Honestly, I hope this happens. webOS seems to be a really good mobile OS with a lot of potential. It was initially developed by Palm and then Palm was bought by HP. The latter company seems to have squandered their prize, but that’s not to say that another company couldn’t do something better. 

Of course, that won’t happen immediately; such things take time. 2011 truly will be the year of the iPad 2 as Steve Jobs promised. But perhaps in 2012 or 2013, webOS will resurrect in a new and better incarnation from a company other than HP. Otherwise, I’m afraid that all we’re left with is Android as a competitor to iOS, and somehow I can’t see Android’s iron doing all that much to sharpen Apple’s mobile operating system.

I've yet to receive either of the TouchPads I have on order. Six to eight weeks means sometime before the end of October. That's okay. I've not wasted time calling HP to check on my order, and I don't obsess on the forums, althogh I have posted a few times, once even mentioning that "patience is a virtue." That little proverb didn't prove popular for HP when they were developing the TouchPad, nor when they prematurely discontinued it. My advice hasn't been followed by many of those posting on precentral.net either. And yet patience nearly always rewards those who practice it; thus it's too bad that our instant "I want it now" culture has little patience for waiting.

If I do end up with a TouchPad or two, I'll be certain to give my own review of it, although by that time, such a review may only be a curiosity and little more. When the TouchPad was first released, I couldn't recommend it, but if you can obtain one at $99, I think it's a great value as long as you understand the future of the platform is iffy as of this writing. But who knows? Maybe there's a future for webOS still. I'll definitely be disappointed if there's not.

Your questions, thoughts, comments, and rebuttals are welcome in the comment section below. 

Wednesday
Jun152011

The Empty Book Bag, Version 2.x

Some of you may remember that I presented a session at IWU's "No Educator Left Behind" conference last year on the use of the iPad in the classroom. This year, I expanded that topic to include a discussion of eReaders. My new session was titled "The Empty Book Bag, Version 2.0: Digital Instruction Using Tablet & eReader Technologies."

Below is a video of this year's session, which I presented on June 3, at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana Wesleyan Univeristy. If you have an hour to kill, enjoy!

 

As always, your thoughts, comments, questions, or rebuttals are welcome in the comments.

Friday
Jun102011

More Thoughts and Questions on iCloud

We now know there will be an option in iOS 5 to purchase more space in iCloud above our free 5 GB allotment. However, there's no indication yet as to how accessible space will be. What if I want to post a video to iCloud and password protect it for only my family to see (something I can do now with MobileMe Gallery). Will that be possible? Could I purchase extra space and move significant portions of files and folders from the current Documents folder on my MacBook Pro to space on my iCloud—something that I can do right now with the MobileMe iDisk? We don't know the answers to these questions yet or the original questions I asked on Tuesday.

Perhaps I simply want iCloud to be more than Apple wants it to be, and I'll need to look elsewhere for other, less integrative solutions.But that makes me go back to a more fundamental question: Is iCloud just about syncing content? So, it will sync calendar, contacts, email, and Safari bookmarks like MobileMe currently does. It will let me access any song I've ever bought from iTunes (already implemented this week) as well as songs that it can match or I can upload for an extra yearly fee. But do I really gain all that much from that over what I already have now?

Why stop there? I notice that while iTunes on my iPad and iPhone show listings for songs I've purchased and can now be downloaded as needed, why can I not also download movies and television shows I've bought through iTunes? Some have suggested that video is not included because of bandwidth—that AT&T and Verizon don't want heavy video downloads on these devices over their networks. And yet I can buy videos on them now and download them, assuming they're under 20 MB, and when they aren't, I have to use WiFi. Again, why can't I keep my video in iCloud, too?

And put entertainment aside for a moment. Do you know what would be really helpful to me? I would find it extremely advantageous if I could sync my entire documents folder to iCloud. Imagine being able to use any mobile device, to sit down at any computer—Mac or Windows—and have access to all your stuff. Why can't I simply keep everything there?

I currently have two hard drives in my MacBook Pro, after removing the optical drive (which I rarely need) and replacing it with a second hard drive using a Data Doubler kit from OWC. There are 142 GB of files in my Documents folder and 298 GB in my itunes folder alone. Why can't I just upload ALL of this to iCloud?

I don't plan to buy a new Mac this year, but one day when I do upgrade, do you know what Mac I'd really like to get? I'd love to get an 11" MacBook Air and use it as my only Mac. I'm totally mesmerized by its small size. The diminutive screen is not an issue. Already, whether I'm at my desk in my office or at my desk at home, I plug my 15" MBP into an external monitor. I've been doing this for a couple of years now. Yes, I sometimes use my Mac by itself, but I really don't need a 15" laptop screen anymore. I could get by just fine with an Air...

Except for one thing: hard drive space. There simply aren't flash memory cards for the MacBook Air—from Apple or third parties—large enough for the data I carry around on a regular basis. Therefore, Apple's iCloud isn't offering me a whole lot of new solutions based on what we've seen so far. It's still going to sync my PIM-type data, and while the easy access to purchased music on any device is nice, that wasn't really a pressing issue for me. I've been given a solution to something that wasn't an immediate problem.

But who knows? Maybe the iCloud will also work like an iDisk. Maybe I'll be able to access it directly just like any other drive mounted on my desktop. Since I'm already used to paying $100 a year for MobileMe, maybe I could pay the same amount for 200 or 300 gigabytes of space and upload everything. This would offer a solution to a real problem and let me upgrade to a computer with a much smaller hard drive requirement next time.

What about you? Does iCloud solve your problems or does it not go far enough? As always, your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.

Tuesday
Jun072011

In the Transition to iCloud, Questions Remain for MobileMe Users

Late last year, Steve Martin appeared on Leo Laporte’s The Tech Guy radio show and referred to a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in software development. At about the 22 minute mark, Steve says this:

“I want to tell you my term for when you’re very happy with a piece of software, and then they ‘improve’ it, and then it’s no longer functional, and they’ve taken out your favorite parts. I call those deprovements.

Well, I fear that in the transition from MobileMe to iCloud, some of us are about to receive a deprovement.

According to the MobileMe preference settings on my MacBook Pro, I’ve been a member since January 5, 2000—the very first day it was offered. Of course, it wasn’t called MobileMe back then. Way back in 2000, it was called iTools, and it came free in OS 9. Then in 2002, the name was changed to .Mac (pronounced dot-Mac). And of course, 2008 saw the catastrophe of the transition to MobileMe.

My MobileMe settings on my MacBook Pro

I realize that MobileMe (or any of its predecessors) has received plenty of criticism and has often been the joke of the tech world—plenty of which was justified, but not all. In fact for heavy users of MobileMe, of which I would include myself, MobileMe has been a very good all-in-one solution for a number of services. Outside of slower-than-I-would-prefer iDisk transfers, the 2008 fiasco has been the only real downside in my experience, and that was temporary. Rather than having a half-dozen services, all with separate logins and passwords, I had this one service that did everything I needed and had connections from a number of software applications developed by both Apple and third parties.

I use MobileMe as my primary email service. In fact, I have a number of MobileMe email addresses including RMansfield@mac.com (or me.comeither one works). Other aliases, such as thislamp, cast.iron, and GoSP, all forward to my primary account and cost me nothing above the $99 yearly fee I've paid since the service transitioned from iTools to .Mac.

MobileMe has been a great way for me to sync email, contacts, calendars, and internet booksmarks among my iPhone, iPad, Mac, and for that matter, any computer I need access to—Mac or Windows. From what I understand, in Apple’s transition to the new service iCloud (which will now be free instead of the $99 cost of MobileMe), the above features are safe. They will transition over to iCloud. Yesterday, Apple sent MobileMe members an email which reads—

Dear MobileMe member,

We'd like to share some exciting news with you about iCloud — Apple’s upcoming cloud service, which stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to your devices. iCloud integrates seamlessly with your apps, so everything happens automatically. Available this fall, iCloud is free for iOS 5 and OS X Lion users.

What does this mean for you as a MobileMe member?

When you sign up for iCloud, you'll be able to keep your MobileMe email address and move your mail, contacts, calendars, and bookmarks to the new service.

Your MobileMe subscription will be automatically extended through June 30, 2012, at no additional charge. After that date, MobileMe will no longer be available.

When iCloud becomes available this fall, we will provide more details and instructions on how to make the move. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about iCloud.
 

Sincerely,

The MobileMe Team


So, from the above message from Apple, I understand that my email (even the old .Mac addresses), address book, calendar, and bookmarks will still sync. But there are other features of MobileMe that aren’t mentioned here which have a number of users similar to myself scratching our heads to wonder what the future holds.

Webhosting. Two of my websites reside on MobileMe. The first of these is my original This Lamp website, which still resides at a mac.com address. The other is a site for my local homeowners association.

I’ve stated that I want to gradually move all of the posts on the original This Lamp website over to the new site where you’re reading this. Part of my concern for the move has been that the .Mac domain will eventually go away and the site would simply be gone unless I moved it elsewhere. But even if I moved it somewhere else, there are thousands of internal links that would be broken as well as incoming links from other websites.

And although I do not use iWeb, there are tens of thousands of users who publish iWeb websites directly to MobileMe. There are plenty of reasons to pick at iWeb or hosting a site on MobileMe, but the fact remains that it has been a very convenient way for many Mac users to quickly publish a website. After June 30, 2012, what happens to all of these websites? What happens to my non-iWeb websites which reside on MobileMe? I had planned to gradually move my posts to the new site over the next three years. It looks like I may only have a year to do so now.

iDisk. All those above-mentioned websites reside on what is called the iDisk, a virtual drive in the cloud that can be directly accessed from any computer or iOS device. Think Dropbox, but the iDisk has been around longer. Like Dropbox, I can even make certain files public or password protect them for specific users to download.

I use my iDisk nearly every day. I use it the same way lots of folks use flash drives. I often create a Keynote presentation on my Mac and then transfer it to my iPad via iDisk. The other night, my wife Kathy, who is currently on the personnel team at church, had over 100 resumes to sort through because our church is looking for a new youth minister. We converted all of them from their original format (mostly MS Word) to Adobe PDF, dropped them in a folder on her iDisk, and then imported them into GoodReader on her iPad. This was an easy solution in spite of a slower file transfer than I’d prefer. Regardless, it worked and we knew it would work before we began.

Besides iWeb, a lot of other programs use iDisk including Quicken Essentials which has a backup feature specifically for use with iDisk. I use this twice a month to create a separate backup from my regular full-system backup. I realize that I could simply copy the file elsewhere, but the convenience of the service lies in the fact that it’s built into the Mac version of Quicken.

As you can see in the first graphic of this post, I have 17 GB of content in my iDisk. That includes websites, photos, videos, backups, transferred files, password-protected files for specific individuals to download, files linked to other websites (hosted both on MobileMe and off MobileMe—including individual files and videos linked from this site) and who knows what else. The issue is not simply moving it to another service. I do have a free Dropbox account, and I know I could pony up some cash and get more space. But in addition to the hassle of moving to another service, if iDisk goes away, I’m going to end up with hundreds  of broken links and loss of the simple internal functionality that I have now.

The new iCloud service doesn’t offer 20 GB of space; users only get 5 GB. If this were simply a name change as has been done in the past, and I got to keep my iDisk, none of this would matter. Perhaps Apple will allow users to purchase more space, but they haven’t made this clear. In fact, there’s not even a hint, as of this writing, that a user will be able to purchase more space.

MobileMe Gallery. Also residing on the iDisk is all the content I have in my MobileMe gallery. That includes thousands of photos and quite a few videos. There are lots of both that I share primarily with family that I don’t care to share on this site or on my Facebook page.

Yes, there’s Flicker and yes, there’s YouTube. But MobileMe Gallery has been a one-stop shop for both photos and video.  Moreover, YouTube limits the length of my videos to about 15 or so minutes. I’ve posted videos to the MobileMe Gallery that are well over an hour in length. I can set options in iMovie that allow my videos to be downloaded from MobileMe Gallery in a variety of sizes and formats.

There are direct publishing features in iPhoto, Aperture and iMovie (and scores of third party software) to MobileMe Gallery. Is Apple really going to remove functionality from these apps and kill this service?  The new photo streaming function in iCloud only keeps the last 1,000 pictures a person has shot. It’s no substitute for MobileMe Gallery, which is where I often keep much older pictures for completely other purposes. I don’t know of any comparable service to the MobileMe Gallery on the market. If you do, please let me know. I may be looking.

So now we wait. According to Apple’s communiqué above, more details about the transition will be made available when OS X Lion and iOS 5 are released. It would be helpful, though, if we knew the status of these other features now, so we could determine whether we need to begin making transitions to other services or if we're okay to sit still.

The fact that I’m a “charter” member of iTools/.Mac/MobileMe means nothing to Apple, and I understand that. They are a company designed to make money, and Steve Jobs has never been one for nostalgia or sentiment. Fine. But when a person finds services such as these that simply work, with connections from lots of other programs, creating a unified system and experience, one is inclined to invest plenty of time and resources to those services and that system. One expects it to be around for the long haul, regardless of name changes. It would therefore seem that 11 years of investment count for something.

I’m not asking Apple to give me anything for free, in spite of the new iCloud services, which will be free. Instead, I’d ask that I could continue with the same functionality I have now, and I’d be willing to pay for the privilege. I’m certain I’m not alone. Overnight, literally thousands of posts have been added to Apple’s MobileMe support forums. Hopefully, this will prod the PTB at Apple to give us more details about the MobileMe to iCloud transition now instead of later.

As always, your thoughts, comments, questions and rebuttals are welcome in the comments section below.

 
Tuesday
May312011

Significant Updates to iWork for iOS: A Quick Look

Not only did Apple release "universal"  versions of their iWork Suite (Pages, Keynote & Numbers) today making them available for the smaller screens of the iPhone and the iPod Touch, the releases also included a few significant updates from previous versions on the iPad.

Here's a quick overview in pictures (click on images for a larger view).

In the "I don't know why it wasn't there in the first place" department, files in the individual apps can be sorted into folders. This works the same way that application folders are created on all iOS devices: drag one file on top of another and a folder is created that can be given any name.

 

Files & folders in Keynote for the iPad


Files & folders in Pages for the iPad

A folder's content in Keynote in Keynote for the iPad

Exporting and printing is now handled internally in a document rather than in the file browser as before:


Print/Export features now accessed from within the file (Keynote on the iPad)

No doubt many who teach with Keynote will be thrilled that the Keynote Remote on the iPhone can be used to control slides. The Keynote remote even gives access to presentation notes for complete classroom wandering! The two devices connect over WiFi.


Enable remote from within Keynote on the iPad (cropped image from Keynote on the iPad)


Control Keynote slides with an iPhone or iPod Touch. Presentation notes included! (iPhone screenshot) 

While the new iPad features of iWork are the most exciting to me, no doubt many will find the new iPhone/iPod Touch versions of these apps to be the really big news.

While I couldn't imagine doing serious editing of a Keynote slideshow on my iPhone, I have to admit it offers some new possibilities worth pondering. It was just a little over a year ago that we neded a full-blown laptop to use presentation graphics software. The iPad last year scaled those hardware requirements considerably. But can you imagine now—walking into a classroom and simply pulling an iPhone and an adapter out of your pocket as the only hardware needed for a presentation (assuming the projector is already in the room)?


Keynote on the iPhone: Create a presentation natively or import a PowerPoint or Keynote file created elsewhere.

Creating a new document in Pages for the iPhone

The same templates available in the iPad version are also available in the iPhone version of Pages.

 

Typing in Pages on the iPhone

 

Editing text in Pages on the iPhone


Insert a chart: all the same features available on the iPad version are available in the iPhone/Ipod Touch versions.

 

Again, I'm not totally psyched about the smaller versions of these apps as I doubt I will use them that much (although I may experiment with using Keynote from my iPhone), but simply giving some file management features as well as allowing remote control of presentations really begins to bring the experience up to par with using an actual laptop.


And yes, I know I've offered no screenshots for Numbers, but the same principles above (with the exception of the Keynote remote) apply to that app, too.

Tuesday
Mar152011

iPad 2: Not Another Review—Just Some Observations

Some may see it as predictable, but honestly, as early as Friday morning last week, the day of the iPad 2's release, I was denying that I was upgrading from the first gen iPad. And I meant it. But then my circumstances changed about mid-day, and thanks to a very generous gift, I was able to procure the iPad 2 from the Apple Store in Louisville, Kentucky.

This is not a review of the iPad 2. Those are a dime a dozen at this point. Rather, here are a number of mostly disconnected observations based on my experience over the last four or so days.

Black's Always Cool, But White's the New Black.
I don't know if I was fully decided about which color to get—black or white—until I got in the store, but I was leaning toward white. As I assume most of you know, the original iPad came with only a black bezel around the screen. Now consumers get a choice, albeit limited to only one more choice. In the end, I chose white. It wasn't a nailbiter choice, mind you. I just thought I'd like to have a slightly different experience.

It's interesting that since last Friday afternoon, if you walk into just about any Apple Store, you will primarily see white iPads everywhere. Even the employees are carrying the white models.

I had initially one concern about getting a white iPad: it might show dirt more easily. I wasn't alone in this fear since a friend of mine voiced the same thing, and I heard people interviewed on various tech podcasts say this, too. My hunch is that this concern is especially relevant if you ever owned a white plastic iBook or MacBook. After a few weeks, the white plastic, especially on the palm rest, frankly looked gross. You could clean it, but good luck getting it back to the original pristine white.

The iPad's different though because regardless of whether you get white or back, the plastic is under glass. It's not going to absorb the grime from your hands regardless of how much you refuse to wash them.

And an added benefit? Fingerprints show up less against the white than on the black.

If You Use It to Teach, the iPad 2 Is a Significant Upgrade.
The phrase being thrown around in a lot of reviews is that the iPad 2 is an "evolutionary and not revolutionary upgrade." And this is true (and probably by design). However, there was one major new feature that will benefit anyone who teaches with an iPad: the ability to fully mirror the screen.

With the original iPad, video out was implemented on an app-by-app basis. So presentation programs like Keynote for the iPad could send slide images to a projector if connected with the iPad VGA adapter, but most programs could not.

The ability to throw anything on the screen is pretty exciting. This means that if I'm teaching a New Testament class in Keynote, and I want to switch over to a Bible software application such as BibleReader or Accordance, I can switch to these and perform live instruction from these apps. Every teacher with an iPad and a related educational app has no doubt been frustrated about not having the ability to mirror every screen. Now all that has changed. In fact, this past weekend at church, when I switched between programs, one fellow who's seen me use Keynote on the iPad dozens of times, asked "What's that?" when he saw my desktop of icon folders.

Of course, the first gen iPad has always had this ability as evidenced by Apple's own internal use of this feature during presentations as well as a fairly popular app for this that works with jailbroken iPads. Sadly, Apple has not allowed first generation iPads to have this feature even though they are certainly capable of it.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, Mirroring Works with the VGA Adapter.
Part of the announcement of iOS mirroring, mentioned above, included a new adapter for connecting the iPad via HDMI to an HD television or an HD projector. This led to a question as to whether video mirroring worked with the original VGA connector released with the first gen iPad. In fact, I waited in line with a buddy of mine who was buying his first iPad. The Apple Store sales rep actually told him that mirroring would only work with the HDMI connector. I told her that this did not square with what Apple's own website states: "Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately)" (emphasis added; see the iPad Tech Specs page under "TV and Video").

I had already confirmed that the first gen iPad would not mirror with the 4.3 update, but one of the first things I wanted to test was the ability to mirror an iPad 2 with merely the VGA adapter. Using the VGA adapter, I have successfully mirrored the iPad 2 with both my television and an Epson projector. It works great. My main use of the iPad for this is with data projectors, but none that I have access to at the moment use HDMI. So, the VGA adapter works great.

Contrary to What You May Have Heard, the Keyboard Dock Works with the iPad 2.
Recently, I read somewhere that only about a quarter or less of iPad owners use an external keyboard. That's probably a testament to how well the on-screen keyboard works, but I occasionally find myself in situations in which I want to use a regular keyboard with my iPad.


I bought Apple's keyboard dock at the same time I bought my original iPad last year. I liked that it provided a very stable stand for the iPad while typing and that it also had an iPad specific row of function keys. However, I didn't like that it's odd shape made it difficult to fit in a bag or that the iPad could only be used with it in portrait mode. I do a LOT of Keynote work on the iPad, and Keynote will only run in landscape mode. That means using the keyboard dock with the iPad can give you a sore neck really fast. For what it's worth, I have tried the iPad with one of Apple's Bluetooth keyboard and that is probably what I'd recommend that most folks use who want a physical keyboard with their iPad, even though there aren't iPad specific function keys. Incidentally, if you use one of Apple's new "Smart Covers," the iPad is quite stable in upright mode to use with a Bluetooth keyboard.

FYI: stability is an issue in these contexts, because even when using an external keyboard, you still have to use the touch interface of the iPad's screen. You want it to be stable so that it doesn't fall over every time you touch it.

Regardless, the new iPad 2 rests in the original keyboard dock just fine despite its slightly different dimensions. In fact, I used the two together for a faculty observation I was performing last night, and I noticed no difference from the performance with the original iPad. Having said that, though, I still may eventually go with a Bluetooth keyboard myself. It would certainly be easier to carry the two together.

About Those "Smart" Covers.
Apple likes to refer to the iPad as "magical." While that may be a bit of silly hyperbole, the new Smart Covers are the closest thing I've seen yet to anything that might be called magic. It was really somewhat amazing when I first attempted to place the cover on the iPad 2. There seemed to be a bit of AI in play as the cover didn't even wait for me to line it up, but immediately grabbed onto the iPad and was lined up perfectly. The ease of placing the cover on the iPad 2 is quite a contrast from putting Amazon's Kindle cover on their eReader. The first time I tried that, I nearly broke one of the hooks, not understanding how it was supposed to be attached.

This automatic "physical syncing" between the Smart Cover and the iPad 2 is achieved through magnets--31 total between the cover and the iPad 2 according to folks who have taken both apart. Somehow this feels dangerous. I remember when we were told to keep magnets away from our computers!

As amazing as these covers are, somehow my new iPad seems a bit naked. The screen is protected, which is a good thing, but the aluminum backside is bound to get scuffed and scratched after a while. There are numerous companies that provide protective films for screens, and now we might need something similar for the back of the iPad. Or at the very least, all those companies that make iPad cases can breath a sigh of relief because I imagine some iPad owners will opt for a bit more protection.

I actually liked Apple's original folio case with one exception. With the case on, it wouldn't fit in the keyboard dock (which, again, evidently only I liked). So, as some of you remember, I "modified" mine with scissors, but Kathy said it looked unprofessional because I can't cut straight. I also liked how the iPad looked and felt in the folio case when I could carry it into a meeting as if it were a very thin Daytimer.

Besides the gee whiz aspect to the Smart Covers, I have to wonder why Apple went this route. I can only imagine it might be because they got tired of seeing the iPad covered up (or more likely, their logo covered up) whenever an iPad was used in real world situations or on television. With the increasing number of new tablets appearing on the market this year, and inevitably appearing in media and in the workplace, Apple probably wants to make certain that their iPad is distinguishable from the rest of all the forthcoming tablet noise.

Get a Grip.
I wonder if whether longterm, I'll want to put the iPad 2 in a more traditional case. The way it folds to prop itself up, either vertically or at an angle for typing, works great. But Sunday, when I was trying for the first time to use my new iPad with Keynote, connected to a projector, the iPad wouldn't stay at the top of the podium I was using. This was never a problem with the original, black folio case. I could turn the cover back, slip it into its notch to put it at an angle, and it would hold its place, even on a slanted podium. With nothing on the back of the iPad 2, there's nothing to grip the underlying surface. I wanted it to stay at the top of the podium, but it insisted on sliding to the bottom.

With the Smart Cover folded into a triangle, I've found that I also could hold the iPad in one hand, in portrait mode, providing I kept my thumb over the bezel. These magnets are strong, but the cover can still come off quite easily and the entire iPad should never be left hanging from the cover. In fact, I've already dropped mine this way, but fortunately, it landed on my living room couch. But how many of us dropped our first gen iPads and were thankful we had them in a full case? I predict with Smart Covers alone, we're going to see a lot more broken iPads this year.

I wouldn't recommend anyone use an iPad regularly without some kind of protection for it. I believe there are going to be better ways to protect the iPad 2 (none of the first gen covers fit the iPad 2, incidentally) than the Smart Covers, but at the very least you need to have something on your iPad.

Professionalism Comes with a Price.
It's nice to see Apple bringing some visual variety back to its products. In some ways, I miss the colorful days of the fruit-flavored iMacs and original iBooks. Most Apple products in recent years have been black, silver, and sometimes white. Last year's iPad folio cover from Apple only came in black, although third parties supplied a wide variety of colors and designs. Nevertheless, Apple's return to colors, even in this small way, is a welcome change.

The new covers come in either polyurethane or leather. The difference in price is significant—$39 for plastic and $69 for animal hide. I would have been fine with a polyurethane cover, having given up on any need for "real" leather a long time ago, if it were not for one thing. What was not immediately clear to me (and probably a lot of others) is that only the neon/pastel colors are polyurethane, while the darker colors—what I consider to be a better fit for most "professional" contexts—come only in the leather. I would have been more than willing—no, preferred—to buy a lower priced polyurethane cover, but I didn't want ANY of the polyurethane colors. In the end, I opted for the dark blue leather. As already described, there are pros and cons to these covers, but they are pretty amazing for what they are. However, when you hold it by itself in your hand and realize that you just paid $70 for it, well...that's a bit hard to take.

How Much Faster Is It?
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2, he said it was up to twice as fast as the first iPad. It has a faster dual core processor as well as twice as much RAM (although Apple never wants to talk about the RAM in its iOS devices). As everyone has said, the first gen iPad was no slouch, so how distinguishable is the second one? Well, I have no idea; the first iPad was fast enough and in most apps, the difference is imperceptible. However, I do see a real difference in a couple of apps.

First, I see a difference in some Keynote transitions. I'm not one to use too many distracting transitions between slides anyway. A plain dissolve is usually fine with me. However, I do like the "Anagram" transition in Keynote which, when advancing from one slide to another, will use a few letters on the first slide to create the word on the second slide (here's a brief YouTube video of it in action). I like Anagram because it's subtle, but also because I feel it can visually link the concepts in one slide to the next.

On the original iPad, sometimes the Anagram transition would stall a bit. I'd be ready to go to the next slide, but I could tell that Keynote was processing a number of algorithms to get the transition to work. Often I would go through a presentation ahead of time, and if an Anagram transition took too long, I'd simply use a simple dissolve. Sunday, I noticed that none of my transitions were slowed down. The Anagram transition worked without a hitch, no doubt benefitted by the extra RAM and faster processor.

Second, I keep quite a few PDF files on my iPad in GoodReader. Some of them are quite large, hundreds of pages long. I use GoodReader, not because I liked its interface best (I really don't), but rather because it's been more robust than a lot of the other readers, crashing less often than other apps when viewing extremely large documents.

But as good as GoodReader is, I could still crash it on the the larger files, especially if I moved through pages too quickly. With the new iPad, while I don't imagine that the extra memory and faster processor make a program like GoodReader completely crash proof, I have noticed that larger files are much more stable, and I'm seeing fewer crashes.

About Those Cameras...
The biggest criticism the iPad 2 has received relates to the lesser quality of the iPad 2's cameras, although from what I understand, the front facing camera is the same quality as the front facing camera in the iPhone 4. It's the rear camera that receives the bulk of criticism as really lacking in quality. Believe it or not, that rear camera is LESS than one megapixel!

Now every once in a while, for sake of full disclosure, I do remind readers that I own a small amount of Apple stock. However, I have no desire to defend Apple on the quality of the camera, as I would like to have better ones, too. However, I do try to understand Apple's reasoning in issues like this—beyond the mere suggestion most often offered that crummy cameras were offered now, so the better cameras can be a feature of the iPad 3. I'm certain each iteration of the iPad will continue to get better cameras, but why not offer something better right at the beginning?

I can't fully answer that question, but here's my theory. I think that for right now, although the lack of a camera on the first gen iPad was lamented even before it was released, Apple's main goal for cameras on the iPad 2 is to help further solidify FaceTime. Whether this will be successful in the long run, I have no idea. I have FaceTime on my iPhone 4, my Mac and now my iPad, but I think I've only used it a couple of times. I have no doubt that there is a Windows version of FaceTime in the works, too. I really believe Apple is trying to make Facetime as much of a standard as Skype.

And for FaceTime, these cameras are perfectly fine. Of course, I have no doubt that many will use the iPad for photos and recording video, and while I don't believe it's going to be the best tool for that job, Ken Rockwell is surely correct when he says that the best camera is the one you have with you. Fortunately, I usually have my iPhone 4 with me, which is an undecidedly better camera, although not as nice as my Canon Digital Rebel (which I don't often have with me).

If Apple didn't intend for people to shoot video, why would they release iMovie for the iPad? Well, if they didn't, someone else would release a similar product. More on iMovie on the iPad in a bit.

Economics 101.
Another criticism of the iPad 2 is that there is no drop in price from last year's iPad. We're accustomed to seeing technology gradually come down over time. And it's no secret that the cost for production of a product goes down after a time, although I guess the iPad 2 would at least partly count as a different production run.

Again, I'm not wanting to defend Apple here so much as simply understand their motives, and in this case, I think I do. Again, I'm no different than any other customer in that I'd like to pay less for an iPad, too. However, from Apple's perspective, keeping prices the same for right now is good business sense.

Why should Apple drop its prices? You drop your prices in order to be competitive. And here's the key: at this moment, Apple has no competition in this market. I have no doubt that eventually, the tablet field is going to get very crowded. When there's some real competition for the iPad, Apple will decide to drop the price of its device. This will competitively undercut the competition who will still be under the obligation of a higher cost of production to keep their products at a higher cost just to recoup their investment. This is Economics 101, really.

I have no idea if it's true, but I remember when the iPad was first released, reading that some Apple insiders were surprised when the bottom tier iPad was announced at $499 instead of $399. In the big picture, $499 surprised everyone a little bit because Apple rarely sells anything for under $500. A lot of early predicters were expecting the iPad to be higher. But knowing that it costs less than $300 to make, evidently many inside Apple were supposedly told that the iPad would start at $399. And then, according to the rumor, Steve Jobs/Apple changed his/its mind.

And again, why not? Economics 101 again: prices are set by what the market will bear. If customers hadn't gone gangbusters over the iPad, I have no doubt it would have been dropped down to $399 for the starting level within six months. But people kept buying it at the prices set and no competition emerged during 2010, so prices remain the same today.

Competition from other companies will be good for consumers because it will bring iPad prices down as well as prices for competing tablets. Further, competition will result in a better iPad 3, 4, 5, etc. and that will cause better results from the competition as well.

And the Rest...
Here are a few more minor observations:


  • iMovie: My upgrade to iMovie on the iPad was free because I had bought the earlier version released for the iPhone. I tried using it one time on the iPhone a while back and gave up. The iPhone's screen is simply too small for editing video. It was difficult simply based on the impracticality of it. However, iMovie on the iPad is quite handy and pretty easy to use. I doubt I'd ever do much video recording with the iPad, but I did transfer over about four minutes of video I'd recorded on my iPhone. Editing on the iPad was easy and even enjoyable. The themes save a lot of time. There are a number of ways to share the final product, but oddly the MobileMe gallery is missing.

  • GarageBand: Okay, if you've never been into GarageBand on your Mac, don't let  that stop you from taking a look at the iPad version. It's the touchscreen that makes the difference because you can actually play instruments. Even I, with zero musical ability, can fake my way through it with the so-called "Smart Instruments." In fact, I found that doing some basic strumming on the guitar to be quite relaxing, even though I'd have no desire to do so on a real guitar. GarageBand works on all iPads, even last year's, so for $5 give it a try. See a demo video here.

  • Elbow Room: I realize that my use of  an iPad is probably not typical, but with the original iPad, I had run out of room in recent months with the 32 GB version I'd bought last year. I regularly had to move files on and off the iPad based on what I needed for the week, often having to put them back on if I need them again the next week. So, this time, I got the full 64 GB iPad. I'm very pleased. In fact, it was a bit thrilling to be able to download my entire Accordance library over the weekend to my new iPad. I've been using Accordance on the Mac since 1998 and over the years, I've built up quite a digital library. Before, I had to be very selective as to what titles I carried on the iPad. With this larger iPad, I can load everything and not worry about it.


So, those are a few observations. I agree with most who say that if you already have an iPad, the iPad 2 is not a "must have" upgrade. In fact, my wife, Kathy, says that while she wouldn't mind having a new one, doesn't feel any rush to get one. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to have mine, especially in light of the ability to mirror screen and the upgrade to the 64 GB model. Feel free to ask question or add your own in the comments.

I've said before that I'm excited about tablet computers in general and the potential they bring. Some are going to prefer the Xoom, or the Playbook, or the Galaxy Tab, and that's fine. These devices, while not currently replacing everything a computer can do, certainly give us greater freedom and mobility when we can use them instead of a computer. Yes, there will always be the next big version of each of them coming down the pike, but if you don't have one yet, I encourage you not to wait, but instead, jump in and enjoy the party.

Wednesday
Sep292010

Highlights from the 2010 Accordance Users Conference



I know that while my posts have been infrequent lately, the most recent entries have primarily related to Accordance in one way or another. I promise that I will add a bit more diversity back to This Lamp very soon. I have a long lists of topics to write about, including a number of long-promised reviews.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a service center getting an oil change and the tires rotated on my wife's PT Cruiser. We put about 2200 miles on it last week driving from Simpsonville, Kentucky, to Mesquite, Texas, with a couple of brief stops in Louisiana to visit family—and then back! The main purpose of this trip was for me to attend the first-ever Accordance Users Conference, which met from September 24-25.

The Accordance Users Conference was designed to be distinct from the normal training seminar (of which I've led three or four myself in the past). While attendees could certainly learn to use Accordance better as in a training seminar, the Users Conference was chance to see a variety of specialized presentations on numerous topics. The timing of the conference also coincided with the release of Accordance version 9, and the upcoming iOS version of Accordance which was publicly demonstrated for the first time.

Two scheduled speakers were unable to attend. Martin Abegg had a family emergency, and Joe Weaks was ill. Abegg had been scheduled to deliver an address on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Roy Brown, the creator of Accordance and president of Oak Tree Software, filled in for him adapting a presentation he had previously presented on the subject in Israel.

Is Accordance for Academics Only?
Most of the time, attendees had a choice between "heavy" and "light" sessions—or technical and non-technical or requiring biblical languages and not requiring biblical languages.

I tended to gravitate to the so-called "heavy" sessions, but I have to admit that this was partly because I was also in the back grading papers and there was more room for this in the larger room. One supposedly "lighter" session I did attend was David Lang's "Sermon Prep Workshop." It was not that I thought Greg Ward couldn't teach me anything new in his concurrent "Original Languages Workshop," but I was more intrigued to see what David would present.

Here's why: often I hear a bit of faulty wisdom out there saying that Accordance is better for academics while Logos is better for pastors. The truth is neither of these assertions is valid. Logos can be used for academic biblical study and pastors can use Accordance for sermon prep. And people do both with each platform every day.

David, admitting he doesn't preach sermons every week, chose to create a conversation with people in the session—most of whom were pastors—regarding how they use Accordance in their preparation. Lots of good ideas were shared. This led me to an idea for a similar session that perhaps the organizers could implement for next year's conference.

I know from the Accordance training sessions I've led as well as from the Accordance forums that many pastors use Accordance intensively in their sermon preparation. I believe it would be a great idea to bring in a pastor for next year's conference who is both an experienced Accordance user as well as a seasoned preacher to demonstrate his actual sermon preparation workflow to attendees interested in the subject. Something like "Using Accordance for Sermon Preparation: 7 Basic Steps" or something similar might be helpful for those who preach regularly.

Daniel Wallace and the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts
On the evening of the first day of the conference, Daniel Wallace gave us a presentation relating to his work with The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Wallace and his team have been traveling the globe making high resolution photos of priceless, ancient manuscripts before they are lost to history due to age and deterioration. Using high res photography and, in some cases, ultraviolet imagery, the team has been able to create better images and see text more clearly than ever before. The detail in the images Wallace showed us was truly remarkable. And the high res photographs are going to be invaluable for text criticism over the old microfilms that were the only resources some scholars have had to work with. Moreover, in the process of photographing known manuscripts, the CSNTM team has discovered over 70 previously uncatalogued New Testament manuscripts in the last 8 years.

As an aside, this work is fairly expensive. The cost to preserve one page of a unique, handwritten page of the New Testament is $4. The average cost of one NT manuscript is $2200. The CSNTM is a worthy cause for your donations regardless of your theological leanings or background.

In conjunction with Dr. Wallace's presentation, Roy Brown announced that there is currently in the works a project to bring many of the high resolution images taken by CSNTM to Accordance, much as has already been done with the Dead Sea Scrolls Images module. I got a sneak peak at the Sinaiticus images that will be made available. Between that and other tools already available such as the digitized Codex Sinaiticus modulealready available, Accordance users are increasingly able to do their very own textual criticism beyond the resources text critics had available a century ago.

A History Lesson
At the beginning of the second day of the conference, David Lang presented attendees with "A Brief History of Accordance." This was a fascinating session for anyone such as myself who enjoys history of technology, but it was also interesting to hear the history of Accordance development from much of the early "wild west days" which led up to the sophisticated features we have in v. 9 today. I've been using Accordance since version 3.5 (I think) in 1998, but I didn't know all of the background stories.

David is a master presenter who knows Accordance and its history, perhaps only second to Roy Brown himself, but sadly, the brief history was simply too brief. Thirty minutes turned out to be too short of time for this subject, especially with audience comments and question. For next year, I recommend giving this subject a full hour, perhaps titled "A Not So Brief History of Accordance"—and with more screenshots from the early versions, too!

It's a Mobile World
Much of Saturday's emphasis centered on Bible software in the mobile space. Scott Knapp, Oak Tree's primary iOS developer, gave the first ever public demo of Accordance for iOS. Participants were given a look at an early beta and feedback was invited. When the final product is released this Fall, it will be a universal app (meaning it will be optimized for both the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad).

As an unexpected bonus, Scott announced that all attendees at the Accordance Users Conference would become part of the beta program. And before you ask (because others began asking immediately after I mentioned this on Twitter last Saturday), no, being at the conference in spirit doesn't count. :-)

Accordance was not the only Bible software with a presence at the conference. Drew Haninger, CEO of OliveTree Bible Software, joined us for a panel discussion I chaired on "The Impact and Future of Mobile Bible Software." This was a "big picture" discussion on the history and current state of mobile Bible software as well as projections for what the future might hold. Although our discussion focused primarily on Apple's iOS, we also referred to Android and Kindle, among others, a number of times, too.

From left to right: Drew Haninger (OliveTree), Scott Knapp (Accordance), Mark Allison (Accordance), Rick Mansfield (Me)

Olive Tree's Drew Haninger shows us the "first" mobile Bible.

The panel discussion on mobile Bible technology was very enjoyable to participate in. Certainly, this is where the focus of my technology interests currently lie. In fact, I originally considered showing up at the conference with only my iPad in hand, but the fact that I needed to grade papers (which I cannot currently do on the iPad) and with the release of Accordance v. 9, I lugged my MacBook Pro along, too. Nevertheless, I suggested to Drew that we ought to consider a mobile Bible technology podcast because there is certainly lots still to discuss.


Also, for those of you who know what I'm talking about, Drew showed me a very quick look at "Project Glacier." I'd like to tell you more, but I'd have to kill you afterwards. But just be patient—it looks awesome.


Syntax Rules!
Admittedly, Accordance was not the first Bible software program to the table with syntax tagging, as many will acknowledge the extremely interpretive nature of assigning syntax to words and phrases in a biblical text. Nevertheless, since users kept asking for it, Oak Tree recently made available the beginnings of its syntax modules for both the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible with the promise (specifically made at the conference) of more to come. To see screenshots of Accordance syntax in action, see my previous post.


Robert Holmstedt delivered a paper, "Understanding and Using the New Syntax Searching Capabilities in Accordance 9" which offered a detailed look at both the philosophy behind Accordance's approach to syntax as well as practical and even very specific searches that can be performed. A copy of the paper can be downloaded from Holmstedt's public dropbox folder (if that link becomes broken in the future, let me know).


Wrap-Up
Besides the mobile technology panel, I also participated in the final session, "Ask the Accordance Experts," which was supposed to help round out any remaining "how to" questions regarding Accordance. I was very flattered to be the only non-company (although I have done contract work for Oak Tree in the past) member of the panel. Unfortunately, almost immediately the discussion became a forum for some attendees to voice suggestions (or complaints) about various elements in the user interface. While the Oak Tree employees surely appreciated the suggestions, this was not the actual intended focus of the session, and as one idea spurred another, we never fully got back on track. Thus, I had little to offer in this session. Perhaps next year, a separate session could be offered—perhaps on day one—for suggestions and feature requests. These are certainly important, but I imagine a number of users could have better benefitted from the final session if it had proceeded as originally intended.


The Accordance Users Conference seemed from my perspective—as someone who is both a user and a "sometimes" insider—to be a great success. The sessions were diverse and targeted every skill level. An untold number of fascinating conversations took place both during and in between sessions. It was great to meet many folks in person whom I'd only corresponded with online before.


I hope that this becomes an annual, or at least a regular event. When the next one is announced, I strongly encourage you to make plans to be there. It was truly an experience that cannot be simulated by the internet or even at one of the Accordance training conferences (as these are different in purpose) held throughout the year.


One more thing: A number of people have asked me if the sessions were recorded. I don't know the answer to that, but if I find out, I'll post information here.


Update: David Lang has written "Reflections on the Users' Conference" which you should read, too. Although note that he adds a possessive apostrophe to Users which I don't for the same reason I don't add an apostrophe to Mens Room Boys Choir [edit: better example]. ;-)