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Friday
May012015

Review: Toshiba Encore 2 Write (Updated)

Note: I originally wrote this review on January 30, 2015 for SurfaceGeeks.net. I am taking the original review as a base and updating it a bit now that I've had the device for a few months. The original version can be read at http://surfacegeeks.net/toshiba-encore-2-write-review.html

The Problem with Windows Tablets

I’ve long felt that Windows tablets need a stylus. Touch-centric Windows Store apps are simply not robust enough to use exclusively as a platform by themselves. If they had been Windows RT would still be around. The reality is we still need to rely on some desktop apps; but unfortunately, these don’t work as well with touch alone. This issue is heightened on smaller tablets where the desktop touchpoints can be even more difficult to accurately access. Plus, many websites and Windows desktop applications use mouseover functions that simply don't work in a purely touch environment (which is also why so many websites have dedicated apps on mobile platforms).

 

It seems, however, that very few Windows tablets emphasize or even support some kind of digital or active stylus. For instance, the Dell Venue 8 Pro (which I used to own) is a very capable tablet, but the stylus seems like an afterthought. Sold separately, it took three versions for Dell to get the stylus right. And even then—in my experience—the stylus seems awkward to use with the tablet.

Many of us were hopeful that the much-rumored Microsoft Surface Mini would be the mini tablet we were hoping for. But for whatever reason (and I have my theories), Microsoft pulled it at the last minute, leaving the Surface Mini to remain the stuff of fables and legends.

In recent months, new Windows tablets of 8" or smaller seem to appear every few weeks. I could not pass up the HP Stream 7 for only $99 when I saw one in person at the local Microsoft Store popup this past December. The Stream 7 is an amazing device, but it’s difficult to use, confirming my conviction even more that a Windows tablet needs a stylus.

Enter the Encore 2 Write

When the Toshiba Encore 2 Write was announced at CES, I immediately thought that perhaps this would be the tablet I had been hoping for. There are a number of things the Encore 2 Write has going for it, but two immediate qualities stood out to me. First, this tablet comes standard with 64 GB of drive space. I’m sorry, but 32 GB on a Windows device of any kind is not enough because the operating system simply takes up too much space from the beginning. A microSD slot helps, but apps run fastest on the primary internal drive.

Second, the Encore 2 Write includes an active stylus that does not seem to be an afterthought. The stylus does not need to be ordered separately; it comes with the tablet. The stylus and the digitizer built into the screen are the first to use Wacom’s new “Active ES” pen technology (see Reuters story here.) The addition of three new apps from Toshiba for note taking indicates that this is a primary purpose for which this tablet was designed.

The Encore 2 Write actually comes in two models: the 8" version ($349), which I purchased, and a 10" model ($399) as well. Besides the screen size, there are two interesting differences between the two models. Otherwise, everything else I describe here essentially applies to both.

While both Include a 1.2MP font-facing camera, the smaller 8" tablet has a rear 8MP camera; while the larger 10" tablet only has a 5MP camera. Why the larger tablet would have the lesser camera, I have no idea. Toshiba includes an app called TruCapture, which according to their promotional copy, is designed “to capture notes from textbooks, blackboards, whiteboards and chalkboards and automatically straighten and sharpen the text for greater readability.” And, of course, I often use tablets to take quick scans of documents, so the higher the megapixel the better.

The other difference between the two tablets has to do with the larger tablet including a microHDMI port for presentations. It’s a shame that this extra output feature is missing from the smaller tablet, and you really have to pay close attention to the promo copy to realize it’s not there. Nevertheless, users of the 10" Encore 2 Write will have an easier time connecting the tablet to an HDMI-equipped projector or TV. Fortunately, for those with the smaller tablet, I have confirmed in my own use that USB to VGA adapters do work for presentations or using an external monitor.

On a related note to the above, Toshiba sells a Connect and Charge Micro-USB Cable as an accessory to both tablets, which means that it is possible to use the micro USB port for peripherals and to charge the device at the same time. Although I’ve not seen anyone test it yet, I assume that the Encore 2 Write will work with one of the Pluggable docking stations to make this device convert to a full desktop solution if someone were so inclined.

Software Included for Notes & Meetings

My Encore 2 Write is the Signature Edition from the online Microsoft Store, so it came free from some of the usually-unnecessary software that you might find if purchasing directly from Toshiba. However, three apps specific to this device remain: TruNote, TruCapture (mentioned earlier), and TruRecorder.

TruNote is what you would expect—it’s a note taking app and a good one at that. It’s very customizable and handles note taking quite well. Although it does not OCR handwritten notes, you can search for your handwritten text because it will search for similar shapes if you write a word into the search field. I’m not certain how much I would use TruNote, however, because I’m already invested in other note-taking apps such as Evernote, and to a lesser extent, OneNote. Although Evernote does not read handwritten text, the Microsoft pen input keyboard available to use with any app does, and does so quite well. In fact, I wrote a large portion of this review strictly using Evernote and the Encore 2 Write stylus. The other advantage Evernote and OneNote have is their ubiquity. I can create a note on one device and open it on any other device. Nevertheless, notes can be exported out of TruNote, so it’s possible that if I found it more capable for basic stylus input note taking, I could use it and then import my notes into another app such as Evernote.

Taking a note (pun intended) from the Surface Pro 3, the Encore 2 Write will also let you write on the screen without completely logging in first. Holding down the lower button on the stylus while touching the lockscreen will immediately launch a virtual blank sheet of paper for taking down a quick note. Once you log onto the tablet, your note will be waiting for you in TruNote.

I haven’t had a chance to fully test TruRecorder yet, but it seems like an intriguing app. The Encore 2 Write comes with two microphones, which allows TruRecorder to better distinguish among individual voices. So, if the software works as advertised, you can record a meeting and TruRecorder will break down individual voices into their own tracks that can be listened to individually at a later time. I haven’t had a chance to really test this out yet, but I often have opportunity to record  meetings, so I will try it soon.

The Hardware

In addition to the hardware specs already mentioned, both versions of the Encore 2 Write come with an Intel Atom Z3735F Processor and 2 GB of RAM. They both run Windows 8.1 with Bing. Although I’d prefer more RAM, I haven’t had any real issues yet. Of course, I won’t be editing video or running CAD software on this device either. Plus, if I had to choose between RAM and drive space, I’m actually much more appreciative of the standard 64 GB of the latter.

The Wacom technology built into the screen and the accompanying TruPen work together quite well. Supposedly, together, there are 2048 degrees of sensitivity. This will result in darker lines when pushing the pen harder against the screen, but I’m not artist enough to really test this feature out. All I can say is that the pen feels quite natural—again, much better than the stylus with my Dell Venue 8 Pro. In fact, having owned three previous Windows machines with stylus input—the original Surface Pro, the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and the Acer R7-572—I believe that I can fairly say that the Encore 2 Write has the most natural writing experience of any of the devices I’ve used.

The original Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 came with Wacom technology before switching to N-trig for the Surface Pro 3. Unlike the plastic pens that came with the first two iterations of the Surface Pro, the Encore 2 Write “TruPen” is made of metal (presumably aluminum) and uses a AAAA battery. There is a cap for the pen, and the user manual says the battery will last longer if the cap is kept on the pen when not in use. This must be the modern equivalent of the ink drying out if you leave the cap off a marker. I’m actually more concerned about losing that cap (although it attaches to the top of the stylus) or worse, bending it by grabbing it too hard to pull it off the pen.

Toshiba promises 11+ hours of battery life. I haven’t formally tested this, but I can say the battery is lasting all day with moderate to heavy use. That’s good news since I don’t care to carry cords if I don’t have to. And it’s much better than the HP Stream 7 I recently bought that has the worst battery life I’ve seen since the old NiCad days.

The Nitpicks

I have two minor quibbles with the Encore 2 Write beyond wishing the microHDMI port had been added to the 8" model.

First, I have a hunch that Toshiba may have rushed the Encore 2 Write out the door so that it could be released during CES a couple of weeks ago. I say that because there are no specific accessories made to go with this tablet. I have searched everywhere for a folio case/cover that would work with the Encore 2 Write, but they don’t (yet) exist. Toshiba will sell you a cover for the regular Encore 2, but all of the Encore 2 cases cover the pen clip slot on the bottom right side of the screen. The second microphone also gets covered up by the existing cases available.

To get around this, I ordered a third party cover for the regular Encore 2, and I cut off the right edge that would block the ability to dock the pen. The second microphone is still covered, but I can live with this for right now.

I should also note that as of this writing, it’s impossible to order a replacement stylus [update: they're now available here]. I have always bought an extra stylus or two to keep handy for when my original pen inevitably gets lost. Right now, if that were to happen, I’d simply be out of luck unless Wacom is selling their own stylus with the new “Active ES” technology.

My second quibble is extremely minor. To keep from losing the pen, which I’ve already stated I fear doing, the Encore 2 Write comes with a handy strap that’s supposed to secure the pen to the tablet. On the right side of the tablet, the same side where the TruPen can be docked, there’s a strap hook. Okay, I can understand how to attach the strap to the hook—easy enough—but I see no way to attach it to the pen. Sure, it can be looped around the pocket clip, but that’s not going to keep it from getting lost. Granted, I’m not the most mechanically-minded person out there, but I really believe this is an oversight. I contacted Toshiba’s tech support with this question, and they didn’t have a clue either. Go figure. [Update: a user on one of the forums where I posted this question demonstrated a way to connect the strap to the stylus. It works, but it's not overly secure.]

The Best 8" Tablet? 

In spite of the minor issues, the Toshiba Encore 2 Write turns out to be the exact 8" tablet I have been wanting. It seems made for the stylus instead of the stylus being an afterthought, and there is enough drive space—and more with an added microSD card—to make the tablet truly useful as a mobile computing experience. I specifically wanted the 8" size, but for only $49 more at $399, the full 10" tablet is a bargain. I highly recommend it—especially since the Surface mini continues to be a no-show!

Two Additional Thoughts

When I originally wrote this post for SurfaceGeeks, it didn't seem appropriate to discuss performance on Accordance, but I will mention it briefly here. Note that a Windows tablet allows use of the full blown desktop Accordance instead of the powerful, but less feature-rich iOS version. Unlike Logos, which is unbearable (and unusable) on any PC or tablet with an Atom processor, Accordance will run on any computer that you can buy off the shelf as well as just about any computer currently in use today. I've actually enjoyed using Accordance on the Encore 2 Write. It's handy for taking to church. They stylus is required, of course, for crossover highlighting of English and original language biblical texts as well as the minimize, maximize and close buttons in Accordance zones. I highly recommend it for this kind of use. Moreover, use of a tablet like the Encore 2 Write allows use of Accordance in portrait mode, which brings about a completely different perspective on how to use the software, especially for reading monograph titles. See the screenshot below of Accordance on the Encore 2 Write to see an example of this. 

I should also point out that when I wrote the original review, the idea of a Surface Mini was still fresh in a lot of people's minds. There was hope that perhaps this device, which was rumored to have already been in production before Microsoft cancelled it, might still show up at some point. Since that time, Microsoft has announced the Surface 3, a less-expensive and smaller Surface tablet running a full version of Windows (as opposed to the now-discontinued Windows RT) on a slightly more powerful Atom processor (Quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700). I was offered the opportunity to order a 128 GB Surface 3 with keyboard and pen for half the regular price. That was too good of a deal to pass up, but I have no justification for keeping both the Encore 2 Write and the Surface 3. Presumably, if I like the Surface 3, I will probably put the Encore 2 Write up for sale on eBay. 

Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Rebuttals? Leave them in the comments.

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.

Saturday
Jan282012

Finding the Right Image Using Accordance and Logos

The screencast below is a follow up to a previous post, "Balaam in the Flesh." Maximizing to fullscreen is recommended.

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

Tuesday
Nov222011

No Blood Drawn at 2011 SBL Bible Software Shootout

Two years ago, the debates got pretty heated in the blogosphere following the first SBL Bible Software Shootout. I even decided to remove one of my posts from This Lamp because of the bickering, primarily in the comments. Therefore, it's worth noting that this year's Bible Software Shootout was fairly tame and even considerably more collegial.

From the very beginning this second round was purposefully designed to lessen any chance of animosity among proponents of one Bible software package over another. Rather than any overtly competitive theme, this year's challenge centered around how Bible software could be used in the classroom. Titled, "Bible Software Shootout 2: The Revenge of the Teacher," the session was framed in a mostly non-competitive agenda (despite words like shootout and revenge in the title):

Software vendors will showcase their products to demonstrate how their software is used by real teachers in the classroom, in course preparation, and in assignments. The program will explore how the various packages all contribute to the learning environment.

Originally, I was planning to offer detailed description and analysis of the event, but I do not believe I could better the account detailed by Mark Hoffman at the Biblical Studies and Technological Tools website, which I strongly recommend for your reading. 

Three platforms were represented this year: Logos, Accordance, and Olive Tree's BibleReader. BibleWorks opted not to particpate, but I wish they had as I believe they would have performed well in this particular context.

Although the event was less overtly competitive, I could nonetheless offer value judgments if I wanted. However, such opinions tend to upset some people, so I'll keep them to myself (ask me privately if you're extremely curious). However, I will link to Roy Brown's 16-page handout (with screenshots) that serves as his presentation transcript for Accordance. If anyone knows of similar documents for the other presentations, let me know and I'll provide the links to those as well.

Full disclosure: I worked in the Accordance booth during SBL again this year.

Feel free to leave your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals below, but if folks get nasty this year, I'm not deleting the post; I'll only delete your comment.

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]. ;-)


 

Thursday
Aug122010

The Times, They Are A-Changin' (Are You Paying Attention?)

Do you have a friend or relative who forwards you a dozen emails a day? Who sometimes even forwards you the same thing six weeks later? If so, you may have seen this one, but what's new here is that I've added a few of my own responses.

My parents are very judicious in what they forward to me. They only send what they think I'll recently be interested in, and such is the subject of this post. Below you will find one of the various memes traveling around the internet interspersed with my comment. The meme's content is in the quotation box, and my response follows.

I tried to find the original writer of this, but it's been repeated so many times on the internet, I'm not certain as to its origin. If you know who wrote this, send me an email at RMansfield@mac.com and I'll give proper credit to the writer.

The original title on the email reads "This is very interesting...and a little sad!" I do believe that it's interesting, but not all of it is all that sad to me.

Whether these changes are good or bad depends in part on how we adapt to them.  But, ready or not, here they come!

1.  The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office.  They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term.  Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive.  Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.


I doubt the post office is going completely away, but we may see five-day or even four-day service instead of the six-day delivery we are used to. The last sentence above is very true. Most of my mail is made up of bills, advertising circulars, and magazines (to add one item). With my iPad, I've already converted a couple of my subscriptions to electronic formats. The magazines that Kathy and I both read—Time, Christianity Today, Entertainment Weekly—will remain in physical form until a way is developed for us to share electronic versions between devices.

But back to the Post Office... More than Fed Ex and UPS, which is limited in what they're allowed to deliver to your door, the real threat to the future of the Post Office has been email. They say that the written letter is dead. But it doesn't have to be. Want to really impress someone? Write a handwritten letter or thank you note, and send it in the mail.

2.  The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018.  It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks.  Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check.  This plays right into the death of the post office.  If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.


I pay as many of my bills electronically as I can. Saves postage costs (there goes the Post Office) and time. But we can't get rid of the check until all my bills take electronic payment. I can't pay my local water bill over the internet because their payment system is based on a 25-year-old DOS-based billing system! (West Shelby Water, are you reading this?)

Checks are still handy for other things, too, like when I owe my buddy $20 for some expense he covered for me. But that's only because it's more convenient to write him a check and make him go to the bank instead of going to the ATM myself. Speaking of which, we'll probably see physical cash disappear in our lifetime, too. I'm not so concerned really.

And speaking of checks, I realized not long ago that the only time I still use cursive handwriting was to sign my name and write the payment line on checks. So, I decided to quit cursive handwriting all together. I mean, what's the point? My handwriting is bad regardless, but I promise you that my print is easier to read than my cursive. I guess I'll keep cursive for my signature. But that's it.

3.  The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper.  They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition.  That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man.  As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it.  The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.


Let's be honest, the newspaper is on life support because the traditional press has not kept up with the times. People don't sell their stuff in the classifieds anymore; they use craigslist and eBay. Further, the internet delivers the news almost immediately (and with services like Twitter, it's often literally in the immediate). By the time a newspaper story is written, printed, and delivered, it's not longer news.

And I've questioned why I still subscribe to certain magazines when they often deliver the same content for free on the web before it arrives to my door. And I'm not talking about breaking news stories, I'm referring to feature articles. In this regard, they're shooting themselves in the foot.

I do believe a free press is important. It's part of who we are as a democracy. But newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals need to rethink delivery. Printing on dead trees, paying for people to drive trucks, and paying for the trucks themselves is not an efficient use of the press' income anymore. I don't subscribe to the local Shelby County newspaper, The Sentinel News, anymore, but I'd be willing to subscribe again if it came "magically" to my iPad every morning at a price less than what they charge for a print subscription. It's basically their choice of getting some money from me or no money from me. It might be less money, but they could make that up by not having to pay for printing, vehicles and delivery.

4.  The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages.  I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes.  I wanted my hard copy CD.  But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music.  The same thing will happen with books.  You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy.  And the price is less than half that of a real book.  And think of the convenience!  Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.


I completely agree with the writer. My first electronic book came in the way of the Online Bible for DOS which an acquaintance gave me on multiple 5.25" floppy disks back in 1988. Over the last couple of decades, thanks to programs like Accordance, Logos, and Wordsearch, I've accumulated electronic books in the thousands. But I still held on to my physical books, also numbering in the thousands, with many titles duplicated in both physical and electronic form.

It took Apple's iPad to convince of what I can now say with no reservation: I absolutely don't care if I never buy another book in physical form. And since Logos has an iPad app and there's one in the works for Accordance, I've been pulling the physical duplicates from my shelves and have them stacked in my front room waiting to be catalogued and sold. Some books I'll never get rid of for sentimental and in some cases, practical reasons, but I'm definitely reducing all the "stuff" in my house.

I'm not knocking physical books, and I have no agenda to change your mind. It's strictly a personal decision. But carrying thousands of books on a device as small as the iPad as opposed to using up the entire guest bedroom to hoard my own personal library is a much better choice for me.

5.  The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore.  Most people keep it simply because they're always had it.  But you are paying double charges for that extra service.  All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.


Absolutely agreed. I haven't had a landline since 2002. Why would I need it? Why do you need it?

6.  Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story.  The music industry is dying a slow death.  Not just because of illegal downloading.  It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it.  Greed and corruption is the problem.  The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destruction.  Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with.  The older established artists.  This is also true on the live concert circuit.  To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies."


I guess I stopped listening to new music sometime after I graduated from college in 1990. Occasionally, I'll hear a musician I like and pick up something new, but for the most part, music is simply not part of my day. And when it is, I'm listening to something from decades past. My tastes definitely aren't mainstream, so I can't judge the quality of current pop music. Everyone believes the next generation's tastes and talent are not as good as their own.

Like the press, the music industry is also an example of an industry not keeping up with the times. I don't encourage breaking the law, but I do believe the laws concerning music sharing should be changed to accommodate the reality of how easy it is to share music electronically. Look, I want everyone to get paid their due, but we need a different paradigm for musicians to accomplish that.

I haven't read the books mentioned above, but I did read Michael Lewis' book Next: The Future Just Happened way back in 2001. In that book, Lewis discussed the idea of bands who simply give their music away and support themselves from fan support either through donations (We'll make our next album when we've raised enough money to cover costs), concerts, and selling of merchandise. Patron funding is actually how musicians supported themselves for millennia. Of course, it eliminates the need for middlemen, i. e. the record labels.

Well... good riddance.

7.  Television.  Revenues to the networks are down dramatically.  Not just because of the economy.  People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers.  And they're playing games and doing all lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV.  Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator.  Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds.  I say good riddance to most of it It's time for  the cable companies to be put out of our misery.  Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix.


Well, I'm not in disagreement, but I feel that I still watch too much television. And when I do watch, I've recorded it on my TiVo, and I fast forward through the commercials. That's not good for the networks that depend upon advertisers' dollars, but it saves me 15 minutes of every hour-long television show.

Further, I've become mistrustful of new television shows. With the immediate ratings expectations that networks have (Fox seems to be the worst), a show will get pulled for low numbers just as it gets interesting without resolving the conflict that was the basis of the show. These days, I'd rather wait and see if a new show is successful in the long run before investing my time end emotions into it. This is the kind of approach that Netflix was made for.

I don't know what the exact solution to this is for those who make television shows, but I do know that this is clearly yet another medium that hasn't kept up with changes in technology and lifestyle.

Plus, if television were to actually go away tomorrow (which it won't), we wouldn't get bored for lack of something to do. We're entertaining ourselves to death as it is.

8.  The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future.  They may simply reside in "the cloud."  Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents.  Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be.  But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services."  That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system.  So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet.  If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud.  If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud.  And you may pay a monthly subscripti on fee to the cloud provider.

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device.  That's the good news.  But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?"  Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical?  It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.


Well, yes and no. First, the idea of a simple dumb terminal, connected to a larger network, has been around since the nineties, and technically even earlier. It's yet to be a complete reality for the majority of computer users. To me "the cloud" is great for backup and transfer, but I still prefer to keep actual copies of my files handy and easily accessible, regardless of whether or not I have a wireless connection or not.

Even at the most practical level, while WiFi access has become fairly commonplace, it's not completely ubiquitous yet. How many times have I gone to a coffee shop to do some work for a couple of hours, only to discover the wireless router is on the fritz, only after I've already ordered my coffee, pastry and had a seat? Too often. If I completely depended upon a cloud service like GoogleDocs and wanted to finish a half-written document, I'd either have to relocate or start over. No thanks. I'd rather have my files local, thank you. Oh, I know WiMAX, cellular internet service and similar technologies are supposed to be the answer. But all of them are either too expensive or not quite ready.

I moved ThisLamp to WordPress almost a year ago, a completely cloud-based website service. Yesterday, accidentally, I completely overwrote my previous post after I used a different device to attempt to compose a new post. Although I am partly to blame, this could not have happened with my previous method of blogging. Had it not been for an internet cache of the original post, it would have simply been lost. Therefore, I am seriously tempted to begin using a program like MarsEdit to compose local files that will then upload to WordPress on the internet.

One more example: a couple of weeks ago, in trying to test out the personal notes feature in Logos Bible software, a function that is primarily cloud-based, a number of the notes I created were corrupted during the synchronizing process to and from their servers to my computer That left me with the choice of either deleting them and forgetting about it or re-creating them. Now, granted, the Mac version of Logos is in beta, so I knew my risks, but beta or not, this shows the danger of not having complete control over local files as well as having good backups.

Of course, lack of backups is the real danger to the current "things" we own on our computers. The average computer user simply never backs up his or her files. How many friends have called me wanting to know what they can do to retrieve the years' worth of digital photos sitting on a dead hard drive. I even have one of those hard drives myself, although with just a few weeks' worth of un-backuped pictures, waiting for the day when I have an extra couple thousand dollars to pay a professional data retrieval company to get my pictures back.

I've learned the hard way. I backup my my main laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad multiple times a week and my primary backup is not kept in my home.

9.  Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy.  That's gone.  It's been gone for a long time anyway.  There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone.  But you can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View.  If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits.  And "They" will try to get you to buy something else.  Again and again!


Well, this is a double-edged sword, isn't it? While we might feel those cameras in public places are an invasion of our privacy, we certainly are glad for their presence if we've been robbed, assaulted, or wronged in any way. Cameras in public places come as a cost of our safety. If I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, they will never be used against me.

And while it might make me feel a bit squishy to know that Kroger is tracking my purchases when I use their discount card, I certainly like the discounts and the coupons they send me now and then based upon my shopping habits.

The real invasion of our privacy often comes at our own doing in this technological age. I finally embraced FaceBook, but I don't share my information with just anyone (including strangers, teenagers and children of friends who try to friend me). I don't post anything that a current or future employer might frown upon. I don't post anything that would shock my mother. I'm careful when installing new software to at least scan through the user agreement and not allow something to be added to the toolbar of my web browser (these little apps are often being used to track a user's movements). I don't add people to my Foursquare friends list whom I don't know because I don't want strangers tracking my movements. Yes, I sometimes rebroadcast these updates on Twitter (which is public), but I purposefully don't post all of them.

All we will have that can't be changed are Memories.


Well, yes and no, here, too, right? How often do I look at photographs from way back and wonder why I can no longer remember the names of some of those people or even wonder who they were and what I was doing in the picture? We're concerned about serious conditions such as Alzheimer's, but we continue to eat food cooked in aluminum and reheat the leftovers in plastic—neither of which are probably a good idea.

Look, things change. And it's not always clear cut as to whether it's for the good or bad. We think of our past as being a simpler time, but often we do that to the neglect of remembering how many conveniences we have now.

A service like Facebook, for instance, allows me to stay in at least minimal touch with a significant larger number of my graduating high school class than my parents could have at my age. Are those "friendships" as relevant as the relationships I have right now in my immediate community of work, neighborhood, and church? Probably not, but I'm glad I have them anyway.

When I can play Words with Friends with an old classmate I've known since the second grade, but haven't seen in two decades in person, I still prefer that connection over playing with a stranger. And I'd rather have that than no contact at all.

Yes, I run the risk of legacy file formats twenty years from now for eBooks I buy today, but I also know of people who have lost hundreds of books from fire and flood. I'm willing to take the risk on the technology and hope that with millions of us making the same choice, there will be enough momentum to ensure we can still access them years down the road.

Here's a new question for all of us to face: Can I leave my virtual properties to a family member or friend when I pass on? This will be the next question (among many) to answer in our changing and increasingly technological world.

Sunday
Apr182010

Review: Logos Bible Software for iPad v. 1.4

Series note: This post inaugurates a new series of Bible app reviews for the iPad. It's been nice to have similar programs on the iPhone and other mobile devices, but at least for me, these were always programs I used in a pinch if I didn't have access to regular computer-based Bible software. The iPad's larger screen, however, creates the potential for more serious use. My goals for these reviews is to evaluate each program on its own merits without extensive comparison to similar programs.

The release of the iPad has generated a lot of excitement for taking digital books to the "next level"—that is, a much more widespread acceptance among readers—avid or otherwise. Of course, electronic books are not anything new. Amazon's Kindle has been available for a couple of years, and going back nearly two decades, Bible-related software has offered many books in digital form. But in spite of these precedents, the digital book seems to have found a new life and publishers seem genuinely hopeful regarding the medium.

Most people know of the two major book reader apps for the iPad: Amazon's Kindle software and Apple's own iBooks. But for those who have an interest in biblical/theological works, Logos Bible Software for the iPad should definitely not be overlooked.


If you aren't already familiar, Logos offers the largest number of digital texts aimed at the religious market (pastors, academics, students and laypersons). Numbering somewhere around 10,000 texts, Logos is available on a number of platforms: Windows, Mac (in alpha form), iPhone/iPod Touch, and now the iPad. I should also mention http://library.logos.com which allows Logos customers to access a large portion of their personal library from any website, including browsers on various cellphones and mobile devices that do not yet have dedicated Logos apps.

Logos for the iPhone has been available since October, 2009. Logos for the iPad is essentially the same application, but adapted for the iPad's larger screen. Logos is able to deliver their customers' libraries of purchased resources which they have on their traditional computers straight to the iPad for no additional cost. Not all titles are available yet due to publishers' agreements and technical issues, but more are being added each week. Currently, I have 1,744 Logos titles in my copy of Logos 4 on my Mac. With Logos for the iPad, I can access any of 953 of these titles as of this writing. That's about 55% and Logos promises that number will continue to grow.

I'll say up front that while I use many of these titles for reference, I would never consider reading most of those books from beginning to end  on my Mac. The screen resolution is too low for extended reading without hurting my eyes, and, frankly, it's difficult to curl up with a laptop on the couch. Generally, I've always used them for reference until now.

The iPad is a different story. It's higher resolution screen and compact size makes it ideal for reading for long periods of time. Access to so many titles really excites me and makes Logos for the iPad my primary general reader for electronic books.

When Logos for the iPhone originally released, some criticized it for not allowing offline reading, requiring access to the internet for any use. A later update fixed this allowing titles to be downloaded to one's device on a title-by-title basis. The same functionality holds true for Logos for the iPad. I can keep some titles on my iPad, and download others as I need them. And really, this is the best way. On my Mac, titles automatically download, but I wouldn't want to fill up the limited space on my iPad with some titles that I might not need (or at least ever get to).

Although I can download any of my books that I choose for offline reading, Logos for the iPad often needs a connection to the internet for some things such as search which can cause problems at times. In fact, it can get downright frustrating receiving messages over and over that a particular feature needs an internet connection to work.

Overall, the application integrates fairly well with Logos 4 in that many settings which are applied in the Windows and Mac version translate to the iPad version in including Collections (user-created groups of titles), Favorites (preferred resources), and eventually user notes and highlighting.

As already mentioned, some titles are not yet available. The first significant "missing" title I came across was the Nestle-Aland 27th edition Greek New Testament. In Logos 4 for the Mac, I can type "NA27" in the Library window and this particular Greek New Testament appears. On the iPad app, though, when I typed "NA27," the Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform appeared--which is decidedly NOT the Nestle-Aland text. I asked about this on Logos' forums and a helpful user pointed me to a title, The Swanson Greek New Testament Morphology which is a UBS text (identical to the NA27) but with different Greek morphological tagging. So this will work for a Greek NT text until the true NA27 is available.

Results when I searched for the Nestle-Aland 27th edition Greek New Testament. This is DECIDEDLY NOT the NA27!

I've also read on the forums some users' frustration with the fact that the NIV doesn't seem to be available yet on the iPad version of Logos. No doubt there are legal and contractual issues involved here, but it remains that not only is the NIV the most popular translation in the English-speaking world, but it is also available on other mobile platforms already. Oddly, if you type in "NIV" on the Library page, Logos pulls up Young's Literal Translation, I suppose because the NIV is referenced in the YLT's description page.

Compared to the Kindle iPad app and Apple's iBooks, Logos for the iPad is like an eReader on steroids, and I'll go into some of these details in a moment. However, I was surprised to discover that Logos does not have a functionality as basic as cut and paste. In fact, one of the first things I tried to do with my iPad once I had it set up two weeks ago was to copy and paste original language biblical texts (Greek & Hebrew) into the iWork Pages app. I was a bit surprised to discover that I couldn't select and copy text from Logos. This is more acceptable on the iPhone because I'm not going to do "real" work on a device that small. But with a fairly feature rich word processor like Pages on the iPad, there will be times that I will use my iPad for heavier use. In fact, I'm currently typing this review in Pages on the iPad using the keyboard dock for later transfer to WordPress.

As of this writing, Logos has not supplied any kind of user guide, instructions or tutorial videos specific to the iPad version, although to be fair, it's only a little over two weeks old. But there isn't even a whole lot of information on how to use the iPhone version either, even though it's been out over five months. The best source of information on using the iPhone and iPad versions of Logos is still the nine-minute overview video on the iPhone app's page at the Logos site. The user can apply applications gleaned from the iPhone version, most of which comes from the Logos blog and forums as well as one's own intuition. However, the interface is not always intuitive.

The Home screen for Logos on the iPad is not that different from the iPhone version with selections for reading the Bible through in a year, daily devotional titles (which seemingly cannot be changed), and Logos news (although somewhat limited). On the iPhone version, this fills the screen, but on the iPad, it doesn't seem to be a good use of screen space. I wonder if eventually, Logos for the iPad will mimic the newspaper look and feel of the homepage on the Windows and Mac versions. There's certainly enough screen space for this.

The Home ScreenOn the home screen, in addition to the content already mentioned, the user finds both a search box and a verse chooser at the top of the screen. A scripture reference can be entered into the search box which leads to a screen in one's preferred Bible (selected from the computer versions). The verse chooser achieves the same end results so these two methods for arriving at a scripture passage seem a bit redundant. This might not be the case if one could enter subjects or words into the search box, but when I tried to do this, I received an error message stating there was no biblical book by that name.

I also noticed that when arriving at a passage in the Bible, text was running off the side of the screen. According to comments in the user forums by Logos employees, this is a known bug that will be fixed in an upcoming release. In the meantime, the user can rectify the problem by turning the screen one ninety degree angle at a time until the text is displayed properly or possibly by changing the font size in settings.

An early bug in the first release of Logos for the iPad: text sometimes runs off the screenMoving along the icons at the bottom of the Home screen, the next is for the Library. Immediately upon selecting the library, the user is presented with a list of purchased titles. These are in order of title, and I could not determine any way to sort them by author. However, I could search for any known title in a search box at the top of the screen which recognized, title, author, accepted abbreviations, and evidently keywords found in the description of the work.

Some of the 953 titles available to me on the Library screenAttempting to simply peruse my titles proved to be a bit of a challenge. Each title presents the user with a thumbnail of the cover of the book, the title and author. If a title is one in which the user has chosen for offline reading, a little icon of an airplane overlays the thumbnail. The problem is that the program only lists 25 titles at a time. As I scrolled down the list, I encountered a short pause at the end of every 25 titles while the next 25 loaded. Thus, if you have an extensive library of titles, true browsing is not overly practical as it would take a very long time at the very least. This is a shame because I regularly come across titles in my Logos library which I didn't realize I had. Sometimes, I simply might want to "browse the shelves" and pick out something new (to me) to read. I don't see why an entire list of my books could not be downloaded into the program and then left for me to go through at any time. Why I should have to reload a list of titles every time I use the program? I would also like to see an option for listing the books in a more narrow height, perhaps with no thumbnail of the book or at least a smaller one.

A second tab on the top of the library window allows the user to see recently viewed titles. This is helpful because often I will often return to the same books again and again.

A blue arrow can be found to the right of every title. Tapping on this arrow brings up an information window about the book. The information is sometimes surprisingly detailed and aids the user in finding the right resource for the need of the moment. This is also the window in which a user can select a title to remain available when not connected to the internet.

The third icon brings up the Search screen. Here is where I could really stand to have a few more instructions that would at least alert me to the possibilities available on this screen. Under the basic search, one can enter any word or phrase which will yield a multitude of results. If quotation marks are put around a group of words, Logos searches for that exact phrase. I was pleased to see that many of the search options listed on the Logos wiki page worked just as expected in the iPad edition. I didn't try every single option, but I can say that every one I tried worked exactly as I would have expected.

The Search screen includes a list of previous searches. Note my attempts to create a direct Greek language search using "g:" as utilized by the desktop software. This didn't work on the iPad.I would have preferred that search results have a bit more detail. A search for "love" in my entire library resulted in hits that were listed in what was obviously subtitles of topics such as "Chapter 8," "The Chapter of Love," and "Homily X." I could select any of the hits to see the context of the result, but it would be very helpful to identify the full title of the resource so that I could eliminate sources that I didn't imagine would be helpful.

Instead of searching through the entire library, one can select from designated collections, Bibles, and recently viewed books. It doesn't look like it would be easy to quickly adjust this list of sources if one needed to search through a different title or group than what was listed.

If choosing a Bible search, one can search through "Top Bibles" (chosen on the Windows or Mac version) or recently viewed biblical titles.

The Search screen also lists recent searches which is helpful if one needs to revisit a previous search. Oddly, it even lists incorrect searches such as my many failed attempts to search directly for a Greek word in a Greek NT, a solution for which I've not received after putting it on the user forums days ago.

Sadly, search only works if the iPad is connected to wi-fi. Evidently all searches are actually being done on Logos' servers. Although wi-fi is nearly ubiquitous these days, this isn't always the case. Last Sunday, I was trying to show the capabilities of Logos for the iPad to the education minister at our church. No one could remember the password to the church's wi-fi and I couldn't perform the search. Of course, that was just for a demonstration. Imagine if I'd really needed it! For those who are holding out for a 3G version of the iPad, I suppose this won't be as much of an issue.

The "Read" icon leads you to a screen that lets you do just that—read your books. From what I can tell, it will always automatically open to the last book you've been reading, even to the same spot that you were last in. The text fills up the entire screen and page-to-page navigation is handled by tapping the right or left of the screen according to which way you want to go in the book.

The Hebrew Bible shown taking advantage of the full screen in the Reading viewSome Bibles have hyperlinked cross references and textual notes that can be revealed by tapping the link:



Tapping in the middle of the screen on non-hyperlinked text brings up an interface with search options at the top and a list of recently read books on a sideways scroller at the bottom. When using the search window at the top of the screen, only scripture references can be entered, not words, although I think it would be useful to be able to search for words and phrases within the text I'm reading without having to switch to the Search screen. When reading a non-biblical title, this still remains true. You can't search for a topic directly in the title you have on the screen. It will only take scripture references. I thought at first that this might search for these scripture references in the the book I was reading, but instead, it leaves the current title and switches to my default Bible text.

Tapping the middle of the Reading window brings up options and a navigational interfaceFor biblical texts, a verse chooser is also present in addition to the search window. Like on the home screen, this still feels a bit redundant, but perhaps it would be helpful if one weren't familiar with all books in a particular tradition's canon. For reading books, there is a Contents button that allows quick switching to chapters in the book.

In an original language text, I found that I could tap and hold a word and a popup would appear giving parsing information and a Strong's number. If using one of Logos' reverse interlinear texts, original language information is displayed for the English word. In either popup two buttons are available for a search on the selected word or a Bible Word Study, the latter of which is a section of the Logos app I'll cover in a moment.



Performing a word search from a text does not result in what I would expect. I was sent to the search screen, but because my last search was in "Top Bibles," my Greek search delivered no results. I could switch to a Greek New Testament, but why couldn't the program do this on its own in the first place? I would not expect a search for a Greek word to be found in an English text! Further, when searching for a Greek word in an actual Greek text, I could only get the Logos app to display hits of the original inflected form from the text I was reading.

I would prefer for the program to search for the root form resulting in every inflected instance. I absolutely could not figure out how to to make the search work in this manner no matter how much I tried. Nor could I figure out how to run a search in Greek or Hebrew straight from the search window itself (see my failed results in the search window screenshot earlier in this post). I had no choice but to start from an original language text and run a search from the selected word.  And then results were only built around the inflected form from which the search started. It seems that a good bit of work needs to be done in original language searches to make these kinds of searches of any benefit.

Further, I knew of no way to search for specific parts of speech in original language texts. This functionality may exist, but I couldn't find instructions for it anywhere.

When reading a biblical text, swiping my finger up created a popup allowing the following options: Passage Guide, Text Comparison, Search for Citations, Add to Favorites, and Share. In a non-biblical text, the popup offers Search for Citations, Add to Favorites, and Share. If selecting "Share," options are given for updating Twitter, Facebook or sending an email with a message such as this one: "I'm reading http://ref.ly/Ge2.10 with Logos iPhone Bible app." The reference was Gen 2:10 in the BHS (selected totally at random). As you can see, the text has not been updated yet to reflect the app's transfer to the iPad.

Swiping up on a biblical text results in the popup on the left. On other books, the popup on the right

Borrowing from the iPad's other eReader apps, I would offer two suggestions for Logos for the iPad. First, Apple's iBooks app offers the ability to turn down the screen brightness from inside the app. Granted, this can be done by leaving the Logos app and going to Preferences, but it's a convenient feature to be able to do so from within the reader itself. Second, I've found in the Kindle app that changing my page background to a light tan color with brown text (one of the Kindle presets on the iPad) makes for much easier reading on long stretches. Both of these are features that one app offers and the other doesn't, but adding them both to the Logos iPad app would be a great idea and make for easier reading.


The Passage Guide icon brings up the iPad equivalent of the Passage Guide in Logos 4. It doesn't do everything that the Windows and Mac versions do, but it does a lot. Evidently, though some of the features aren't quite fully in place. I'll illustrate with an example from Ex 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments).

Passage Guide on the iPadI entered the reference into the Passage Guide and Logos for the iPad delivered a number of places where I could go for further study.

First, a number of my commentaries were listed. Clicking on a title takes me to that commentary and to the section on Exodus 20. Going back to the Passage Guide brings me back to where I was before, but it seems like the app is having to run the search again.

Underneath commentaries, a list of cross references displays with links allowing me to go to that passage in the Bible.

Following cross references are sections for Parallel Passages and Literary Typing. Unfortunately both of these categories are grayed out leading me to believe they are simply not implemented yet in the iPad version of Logos. I say that because content is available when running a Passage Guide search in the regular version of Logos 4. There are actually quite a few parallel passages for Ex 20, and I would expect to at least see Deut 5 listed. The regular version of Logos 4 also lists literary types for Ex 20 which the iPad version completely leaves out.

Categories for Biblical People, Places, and Things—a major feature of Logos 4—is missing in the iPad's implementation of the Passage Guide search. The Music category from Logos 4 is missing, but I could see sheet music thumbnails along with thumbnail images of pictures and graphical images in the Media Resources section. Unfortunately, in its current implementation, these images are useless because they cannot be enlarged, let alone copied and pasted into an app such as Pages or Keynote for the iPad.

The Topics section of the Passage Guide lists appropriate subjects from the biblical text as they are found in Nave's Topical Bible. Clicking on any subject creates a link to treatment in Nave's.

The final section of the Passage Guide is "Interesting Words." While not implementing a pretty word cloud as in Logos 4, a list of key words in the passage is provided, giving emphasis through larger text to words that occur more frequently. Tapping on any of these words creates a verse list with the keyword highlighted.

The Bible Word Study screen allows for both English and original language basic word studies, but information is too limited to be of great use. I could not figure out how to run a study on a Greek or Hebrew word unless I created from the reading pane. The Bible Word Study function makes use of circle graphs. Tapping on a section moves it out of the circle and verses related to that word appear underneath. Examining an original language word also provides links to lexicons. I feel it would be helpful to provide lexical information on this screen itself without having to switch to that source.




Bible Word Study on the iPad

The final primary section of the Logos iPad app is for Text Comparison. This demonstrates how different one translation is from another, also offering a percentage of difference. Differences in words are highlighted between the versions, and red-colored round superscript symbols are next to some of the words, but there's nothing to tell me what these symbols mean. Clicking on any part of the divergent verses merely takes me to the main reader screen showing the verse in its context. I'm not exactly certain how translations are chosen as the ESV shows up in my list and it's not in my priority list in the Logos 4 software. I could not figure out how to display differences between original language texts such as some of the various Greek New Testaments offered in my Logos resources, but this would certainly be interesting.

Text Compare

Selecting the "More" icon leads to Settings and an About screen. Settings is fairly limited allowing only an adjustment in basic font size. There's no way to change the font or the font color or the page background. Also, although I have red lettering turned off in the regular Logos 4 program on my Mac, these settings don't transfer to the iPad app. I think that red text on a backlit screen is not a great idea on any level if one plans to read for any long period of time.



Settings are fairly limited in Logos for the iPad

The settings screen also allows the user to add logins for FaceBook and Twitter for the options to share what is being studied.

The Logos iPad app is a good start, but it still needs some significant work. The strategy at Logos over the past few months has been to release software not quite feature complete and allow their customers to use it as its being developed. That's a perfectly valid strategy if the customer is willing to do this. Many would agree, for instance that having a limited iPad app right now is better than no iPad app at all. But some will certainly be frustrated by issues such as no copy and paste and a lack of access to personal notes or even the ability to create them on the iPad at all.

Right now, in my opinion, the greatest advantage of having Logos on the iPad is the ability to carry hundreds, even thousands of titles on a very portable device for reading anywhere. I have no doubt that version 2 of this program will look much different than this initial release. As the program improves, no doubt its usefulness as a serious Bible study tool—especially for integration with other programs—will increase, too. And an online user guide and/or in-depth video tutorials wouldn't hurt either :-)

This review was written entirely on the iPad with final editing on my MacBook Pro.

Monday
Apr052010

Two Days with the iPad: 41 Reflections, Discoveries, Critiques & Tips



No, I'm not going to write a formal review of the iPad. There are a thousand of those out there, and I doubt I could add anything relevant. After having spent the last couple of days with the device, though, I've discovered a number of interesting things in my poking around that I thought I'd share. These aren't in any particular order, but I'll try to keep similar items together.


  1. Yes, as everyone else says, the iPad is heavier than what one first expects. While some have criticized this aspect, I like it. The iPad feels solid.

  2. Those who still criticize the iPad for not having a widescreen display don't get it. It would be so awkward goofy to hold it and turn sideways if it were widescreen. Watching movies would benefit from a widescreen, but few other things. This is more akin to holding a book. I don't want a widescreen book.

  3. While the screen seems just the right size at the moment, I don't know if other sizes might be appreciated, too. A full 8.5 x 11" screen might be nice to use. I've heard rumors that Apple may offer different sized screens in the future.

  4. Immediately upon turning the iPad on for the first time, you will have to connect it to a computer to set it up. This is not an independent machine at all. While I think the iPad would be great for taking notes in a classroom setting, the university that announced a few days ago that all incoming freshman would get an iPad instead of a MacBook need to rethink that strategy. The students will have to have a computer, too. This situation may change in a few years, but right now, the iPad is not an independent platform.

  5. Those who criticize the iPad for not replacing a computer, don't understand it. The iPad is clearly intended to be a secondary machine. Of course, it's also criticized over this. "Why do I need another device to carry around?" That's not getting it either. I still remember the first time I saw an entire computer dedicated for use as a cash register. I thought that this was a waste as this computer could do so much more. An entire computer wasn't needed to simply function as a cash register in my opinion. Regardless of whether you agree with that (or even if I still agree with that), the reality is that often I take my MacBook Pro into situations in which a much lesser device would better suffice. I'm not getting rid of my MacBook Pro. I still need it for "heavy lifting," but there are many contexts in which all I need is something like the iPad. I am thinking of those times such as going to a faculty meeting or a deacons meeting at church in which I basically need to take a few notes and have access to my calendar. Yesterday, I took my iPad to church and taught our Bible study using Keynote for the iPad. It was a nice change of pace to not have to lug my entire laptop bag.

  6. For both Kathy and me, the first sync was excruciatingly long. We both opted to include our photos in iPhoto on the iPad. I have over 10,000 pictures, and she has over 6,000. iTunes has to "optimize" the photos for the iPad just as it does for the iPhone. Then, it still has to copy them. This took about two hours for each of us.

  7. When connected to WiFi, the iPad continues to receive mail—even beeps—just like the iPhone when turned off (or technically in sleep mode). That may seem like an obvious feature, but my computer doesn't do that. What's really weird is having my Mac running with my iPad and iPhone in the same room. Three beeps for every one email!

  8. Like I've always done with computers and my iPhone, I turned up the brightness to full capacity. I soon found this hurting my eyes. Really, all the average person will need is the brightness set to the middle position in preferences. Really.

  9. The interface animations are extremely fluid. Pick one up and slide from the first screen to the second. You'll see what I mean.

  10. Speaking of interface, I'm very impressed with the aesthetic detail of some of the iPad apps. I can't remember such attention to visual interface details on standard computers since...well...ever. To me applications like Contacts and Calendar look gorgeous. Not all agree. Paul Thurrott wrote yesterday, "Contacts is ridiculous. Apple needs to get over its desire to ape real world interfaces. That does not work." To each his own. I think it looks great. It has an old school charm, even down to the stitching in the center of the address book. Perhaps, this is why Paul prefers Windows :-)

  11. I love reading and respond to email on the iPad. It's not just a great interface, but also a very handy and comfortable form factor. However, I dislike not having a junk mail filter. I could easily see myself using the iPad for email more than my Mac, but I don't like the junk mail that gets through.

  12. Biggest complaint against Mail app on the iPad: no integrated inbox—not even an option for this. I thought Steve promised this a couple of weeks ago in an email? Hopefully that's coming.

  13. The virtual keyboards work great. In landscape mode, the keys are the size of a regular keyboard. In portrait mode, I'd equate my typing to that on some of the smaller netbooks I've tried. I've actually got the external keyboard dock on order and it should arrive this week. But I've found that I'm actually pretty fast in landscape mode. It's easily the size of a regular keyboard sans the numeric keypad. However, I keep trying to hit an apostrophe and end up hitting the return key. Actually, one really doesn't have to enter apostrophes at all as the interface will simply add them to common contractions and even some possessives. Like the iPhone, the apostrophe key is on a second keyboard layer. Yet the exclamation mark and question mark are included on the regular comma and period keys, respectively, by using the shift key. I understand having two separate keyboard layers (really three) on the iPhone, but with the larger keys on the iPad, I believe many of them could serve for two separate characters like most keyboards. That means adding an actual number row above the character rows.

  14. The iPad offers four different slide show modes: Cube, Dissolve, Ripple, Wipe and Origami. The last is easiest the most fascinating and fun to watch. Unfortunately, when I connected the iPad to a projector yesterday to show a shuffled rotation of over 1300 photos in our Bible Study group, I could only choose from the Dissolve transition. Clearly, that's the least interesting. I don't know why it would be limited to just this one.

  15. My biggest gripe about the iPad is the lack of an accessible file system. Each application has to hold its own files and you cannot create folders. Why would this be an issue? Well, for instance, I'd like to see if I could use the iPad in the classroom. For any given course I teach, I have multiple files: syllabus, gradebook, Keynote presentations, etc. It's convenient to keep them in one folder or a grouped nest of folders. The iPad simply doesn't work that way. Each file has to be transferred to its own program.

  16. One would think that the above issue could be overcome by placing folders in my MobileMe iDisk. And while the MobileMe iDisk can be accessed on the iPad via its iPhone app, I can't simply tap on a Keynote file and have it open in Keynote on the iPad. I have to transfer a Keynote file either through iTunes on my computer or email it. Why the iWork apps don't have access to my iDisk built in is beyond me.

  17. PDF documents create an interesting issue. Yes, if someone emails me a PDF file, I can view it in the Mail app, but there's no way for me to group a batch of separate PDF files. To me there ought to be some kind of application built in just for reading emails. Fortunately, I found an excellent app for 99¢ called GoodReader. It will connect to a MobileMe disk, email account, network server, Dropbox, Google Docs and more to retrieve documents and group them in the application. It works well and has a very intuitive interface.

  18. I spent quite a bit of time in the three iWork apps: Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Here's what's interesting. The iPad apps are not actually sharing a common file format with their counterparts on the Mac. It doesn't matter whether you have a Pages file or a MS Word file, both have to be imported to Pages on the iPad and then exported back out. I guess in the final analysis, it doesn't really matter, but I do find it very interesting.

  19. If you have iWork '08 or earlier, you're out of luck. iWork on the iPad won't read your files. You have to have iWork '09.

  20. Some things about the iWork apps are not intuitive at all. There's no menu system because the interface has been completely rethought for touch. But this can cause problems. How do you rename a file? How do you perform a "Save as" for a file. I had to go online for these answers. You have to rename a file in the "My Documents" section of your app by tapping on it. I don't think I could have figured that out on my own. If you want to do a "Save as," do it before you edit the file by choosing to duplicate the file.

  21. Interface conventions are not always consistent across the board, but some are. Double-tapping a word in programs like Safari, iBooks, and the iWork apps selects the word. The iWork apps allow you to triple-tap a word to select the entire paragraph, but this doesn't work in any of the other apps. You might want to do this in the other apps to copy text.

  22. Neither text nor graphics can be copied out of the iBooks app or the Kindle app.

  23. I bought the initial April 12, 2010 issue of Time Magazine released for the iPad. I like the interface in which each article can be read on one screen with vertical swipes while swiping horizontally to move to the next article. However, Time is extremely overpriced at $4.99 an issue. Last week, I updated our print subscription to Time for the entire year for $20. That's about 40¢ an issue. There's no way I'd choose digital over print at those prices.

  24. I'm astonished at the fact that Pages does not allow footnotes. Really. Or even endnotes. In fact, if you import in a document with footnotes or endnotes, it removes them—completely strips them out! There's an alert upon conversion to this regard, but frankly it's startling to me. I cannot even write a thank-you note without footnotes! I've seen text conversions between word processors on the computer in which footnotes might be converted to endnotes, but strip them out completely? If Apple wants the iPad to receive heavy use from students, let alone academics, Pages will have to include the ability to add footnotes. Either that, or another company has a chance to come along and create a much more robust word processor for the iPad.

  25. I've already noted that the iWork apps on the iPad are not truly sharing the same file format. That also means that like the footnotes that are stripped out, other things can be stripped out as well. First page headers and footers get deleted. An alert is offered if a particular font is not available. Keynote will accept some video formats in a presentation but not others. I'm not certain yet which ones work and which ones don't. As soon as you import a file, an alert is offered to tell you what will be missing. Needless to say, you need to fully check any imported files before rushing out the door to a context in which you'll need them.

  26. Some apps like the iWork and iBooks app do not reset when closed. I was initially worried about this based upon my experience with the iPhone in which many apps have to completely "restart." In iBooks, the page opens right where you left off. If you are working on a document in Pages, you can go read your email and then come back to pick up right where you left off.

  27. The most egregious missing feature in iWork for the iPad for me is presenter notes in Keynote. And it doesn't make sense because when connected to a projector, the iPad creates the equivalent of an extended desktop. It's not a plain mirror of what's on the iPad. So why not have a presenter's screen with notes like on the Mac version of Keynote? I haven't printed out notes in at least three years and to do so seems like such a step backwards and the antithesis of what the iPad is supposed to represent. I hope that a future revision will remedy a lack of presenter notes. .

  28. I've actually managed to completely crash the iPad once. I imported a particularly media-heavy Keynote file that I used on Sunday a few weeks ago, only to watch as Keynote crashed during the import process. Then the entire iPad rebooted. There's no warning if an app crashes; the iPad just goes out to the desktop. And if the iPad itself crashes, it simply reboots on its own.

  29. I was particularly interested to see how Pages (and Keynote) would handle biblical original languages texts. Since there is a Logos app on the iPad (no Accordance app yet and Olive Tree's iPad-specific BibleReader app has not made it to to the app store as of this writing), I thought I'd try copying text from the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible. After struggling a while to copy text, I realized that the Logos app doesn't allow for copying. A comment on their website forums says it's coming in a future revision. So, on my Mac I copied unicode texts of Genesis 1:1 from both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Septuagint from Accordance into a Pages file and imported it into Pages on the iPad. Both texts showed up great, and the Hebrew text even read from right to left correctly except for bere’shit at the beginning of the Hebrew text. I could change the font size, but I could not edit text. I couldn't even place a cursor in the middle of the Hebrew text, and while I could do that in the Greek text, neither would allow me to edit in Hebrew or Greek. I have no idea how to switch to a unicode keyboard in the application for this level of editing.

  30. There is an updated WordPress app for the iPad. It's somewhat better than the iPhone version, but really with the larger screen, I don't know why one wouldn't want to simply use the WordPress admin site in Safari. I'll have to try this later and get back to you.

  31. iWork apps come with 43 fonts. From what I can tell, they're not system-wide for other apps to use, but I could be wrong.

  32. Pages and the other iWork apps don't convert straight quotation marks to "curly" quotation marks. A lack of such is so 1991. You can achieve them manually, however, by holding down the quotation mark key and selecting the symbol you want (do you have any idea how difficult it was to get that screenshot?).

  33. I would not want to do a lot of data entry in Numbers using the virtual keyboard. I updated our monthly budget for April using Numbers on the iPad based on last month's budget file. Although Numbers is smart enough to change the keyboard based upon what kind of data fill you're in, a spreadsheet is just a bit awkward. It would definitely be better with an external keyboard—one that had both a tab key and a numeric keypad, to boot.

  34. There are too many steps to change fonts and font sizes in Pages. I recognize the power of predetermined styles, but that doesn't mean I don't want to occasionally make minor changes to a selection of text that I don't need to create a style for. Right now, simply to change the font of a word (without using a predetermined style), here are the steps: (1) selection your text, (2) select the inspector, (3) scroll down past all the styles, (4) tap "Text Options," (5) tap "Font," (6) scroll through the fonts, and (7) tap the font you want. This should be easier.

  35. Ironically, iWork Pages on the iPad autosaves in spite of the fact that its Mac equivalent does not.

  36. As I mentioned,  took my iPad with me to church yesterday. It was a nice change of pace to simply carry my Bible and and the iPad in its case. It really looked and felt like I was carrying two books with me. This is again why I say that the form factor on the iPad is just right. So why did I need to carry a Bible if I have Bible apps on the iPad? I needed it because I planned to teach from Keynote on the iPad, so I needed a separate Bible. This is really not a big deal as I usually have my Bible, MacBook Pro and my laptop bag. I felt much lighter yesterday!

  37. While sitting in church as our pastor gave his message, I decided to use my iPad instead of my printed Bible to follow along. Lately they've been turning the lights too low during the message to actually see a Bible anyway. Although my pastor was teaching from the NLT, I decided to use Crossway's dedicated ESV iPad app. It opened to Genesis, and it took me a moment to figure out how to get to John 21 which was the text of the day. After I figured it out, I was delighted to see what a nice app for the iPad that the Crossway ESV app is. Certainly, it doesn't have all the frills of a larger suite of software like the offerings from Logos or Olive Tree, but it doesn't have the distractions either. At one point, I accidentally double-tapped some of the text only to see a window pop up showing the single verse, cross references, and a place to add my own notes. As an added bonus, text can be copied out of the ESV iPad app and pasted into other apps such as iWork Pages. I was very impressed by this app as having more depth and features that I originally realized. I know that some of you reading this are heavy ESV users, and I think that you would probably want to check out this app if you have an iPad.

  38. Also, toward the end of my pastor's message, I had an idea for an extra slide in my Keynote presentation which I was going to use in our Bible study that was to follow the service. It was so easy with my iPad already opened to simply add a new slide and the text I needed. Previously, opening my entire MacBook Pro would have seemed just a bit too conspicuous.

  39. Speaking of my Keynote presentation, I created the entire file with nine slides on the iPad. While it's very nice to be able to do that, and especially nice to do quick updates unnoticed, I imagine I will normally want to create them on my Mac. Like my mention of spreadsheets above, I believe that some things are still going to be easier and faster to do on a regular computer as opposed to a touch interface.

  40. On Saturday, when I tried logging into the Logos app (you have to log in to access the books that you own in the desktop software), I was initially confused by the process. There was a place for my user name and password and two buttons: one that read "Skip" and one that read "Sign Up." Well, I didn't want to do either. But I went ahead and entered my information and checked "Sign Up." That took me to a screen to create an account which is not what I wanted to do. After going back to the first login screen, I noted that the virtual keyboard had a "Go" button instead of the normal "Return." I've discovered that the iPad will often change types of keyboards based on what type of task the screen requires. So this time, I hit the Go button and—voila!—I was logged in. Although I tend to use Accordance primarily and Logos secondarily on my Mac, I can see very real potential for reading some of my Logos books from beginning to end on the iPad because of both the book-like form factor and the higher resolution screen that will be easier on the eyes. Although I have thousands of books on my Mac, I use them more for reference than straight reading because I find it difficult to read for long periods of time on the computer.

  41. Speaking of reading books, I tried out both the iBooks app and the Kindle iPad app. The Kindle app downloaded my four previously acquired Kindle books with no difficulty. Both are very straight forward, although the iBooks app has animated page turning. I don't know if this will get annoying or ignored in reading, say, a 300 page book. There should probably be a preference to keep the animation from occurring. Regardless, it seems to impress those to whom I've shown my iPad.

All in all, despite having some "version 1" gotchas, I'm very pleased with my iPad. Again, it's not made to replace anything, but can be a very nice secondary alternative. It has that "curl up on the couch" feel that a laptop or even a netbook does not have. I plan to carry it with me instead of my laptop to those places that don't require the extra computing power that a laptop or desktop computer offers. The iPad is my way to go "lite" and realistically, this may be for half or more of my normal computing needs.

When I bought my MacBook Pro in 2008, I purposefully spent extra money and bought a high end model that could be upgraded and would last me for a while. I even said at the time that this was my main computer and I wouldn't replace it for at least five years. I still plan to hold to that time frame, but in 2013 when I go to buy a new Mac, maybe I won't need a laptop after all. Maybe I can go to a less expensive iMac desktop Mac, knowing that the iPad of 2013 may very well be all I need for portable purposes.

Wednesday
Mar312010

Is It Time to Sell My (Dead-Tree Format) Books?

I realized something in the last few days. As I've acquired digital copies of books in software like Accordance, WORDsearch, and Logos, I rarely pick up hard copy equivalents anymore if I have them on the shelf.

As these programs transition to devices such as the iPad, their functionality as replacement engines for physical books increases. Even a product like Olive Tree's Bible Reader—the clear superior product of its type on the iPhone—stands to take on whole new significance on the iPad.

Kathy and I have an entire room in our house that holds a personal library of somewhere over 2500 volumes. But I've got at least that many books on the MacBook Pro from which I'm writing this right now. Probably more. And my MacBook Pro weighs a lot less and takes up much less space!

My neglect of the physical wasn't always this way. I used to use Accordance to find an article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary and then I'd oven pull the book off the shelf to read it—especially if it was a longer article. But I just don't do that anymore. It's simply more convenient to read it in Accordance.

And as I look around, I've got a lot of significant duplication: the already mentioned six volume Anchor (Yale) Bible Dictionary, the 10 volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Colin Brown's four volume New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Willem VanGemeren's five volume New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 50 or so volumes of the Word Biblical Commentary as well as hundreds of other commentaries, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, scores of individual references such as BDAG and HALOT, hundreds of theological journals (yes, I even have duplicates of these) and so much more.

I don't know for certain, but I bet that I could eliminate at least a third of my physical library that duplicates electronic texts I have, allowing us perhaps to throw a pullout futon bed in there and create a guest room!

Of course, having fought (and mostly lost) the battle with being a bit of a bibliophile, such parting is no easy task. I like my (physical) books! I like the look of a room with multiple floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I can fool guests into thinking I'm much smarter than I actually am. And although I increasingly find digital books more useful, I often still more easily "bond" with physical books. True bibliophiles will understand. But maybe this is just emotional sentimentality.

The key factor in my decision rests in the fact that, as I've already mentioned, I've found I simply don't use the physical copies once I have electronic duplicates. And to hold on to things I don't use or need makes me a hoarder and a glutton of things.

There's always the risk that in 20 years, I might not be able to access my books if they are in an abandoned digital format. Physical books generally outlive the original owner. But I'm going to bet against such pessimism. There's comfort in numbers, and the fact that vast numbers of the population are moving to digital books makes me feel somewhat safe that they'll still be around in the future.

In the meantime, even selling the books at a significant discount, I think I can make a pretty decent amount of money on them. I imagine I'll probably list most of the books on Amazon, although I might sell a few combined sets like the NIDNTT & NIDOTTE on eBay. Because of shipping, Craig's List would be a good place for my entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Generally, encyclopedias don't have a great resale value, so I may have to see what kind of "best offer" I can get. Regardless, I'm not using them, and they take up a lot of space.

What about you? Have you sold large quantities of physical books because you had them duplicated on your computer? How did you sell them? What worked best? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday
Jan282010

Reflections upon Electronic Books & Why in Spite of the iPad, I Probably Still Want a Kindle

First, let me say that with Accordance, Logos & Wordsearch all installed on my MacBook Pro, I literally carry with me thousands of books everyday. Thus, you can't say that I haven't embraced electronic texts. I've done that probably more than a lot of people.

And yet, I still have a soft spot for a good old fashioned, physical book. I can curl up on the couch with a good book, but not so easily with my laptop. I always joke that you can't read an electronic book in the bathtub--or at least you shouldn't (however, it's probably been over a decade since I read a book in a bathtub anyway). I still like to use a physical Bible when teaching or preaching in front of others. For that matter, I still enjoy the exercise of writing actual notes in the margins of my Bible as part of my preparation--even though I often do the same thing electronically in Accordance (certainly much more than I use to). There's something that I get experientially from physical books that I don't yet get from technology. But keep in mind that having said that, I still own thousands of electronic books--so I'm not being a Luddite here.

Regardless, I believe that while physical books will never completely go away, the electronic book is going to be an increasing presence. Supposedly, Amazon sold more books for its Kindle over the holidays than physical books for the first time ever. If true, I'm not surprised. And the new iPad may be an example of what Apple often does best--taking an already existing technology and moving it into the mainstream.

I was never interested in an electronic e-reader beyond my own MacBook Pro until about 3 or 4 months ago when I held a Kindle in my hand. Before that, I had rejected the Kindle as yet another gadget that probably most of us didn’t need. As already mentioned, I carry thousands of books, mostly biblical reference works, on my laptop, so why would a Kindle be necessary anyway?

But I ran into this guy—a pastor of a church—at a Starbucks, and we struck up a conversation about the Kindle. He had one and told me that it made buying books so easy and was so portable, he’d read well over 50 books last year. That’s much more than I read.

What really got me was the screen on the Kindle. Yes, I have thousands of books on my laptop, but I essentially use them all as reference. I never read one from beginning to end because my laptop screen is too hard on my eyes after extended periods of time. Not so with the Kindle from what I saw in my brief enounter. The Kindle had a screen that was very relaxing to the eyes. I really could see myself actually reading whole books on this thing.

Since the Kindle reads PDF files, I could also see myself converting some of my books on my laptop to PDF format and carrying them with me on a Kindle. In fact, I imagine that would be my main use for a Kindle. I definitely wanted one after I saw one first hand. But I'll come back to that.

There are other ramifications for the electronic texts and readers. Yesterday, the New York Times was given prominent treatment during the iPad announcement. The New York Times has already been experimenting with newspaper subscriptions that only show up on the Kindle. You wake up in the morning, turn on your Kindle and the NY Times is already downloaded on it. They are actually pushing a lot of subscribers to go this route because it removes the cost of delivery and actually is cheaper in the long run (even factoring in the cost of the device) for subscribers. Not to mention saving the wasteful cost of printing something on paper everyday. Electronic delivery could very well save the newspaper industry if they could get enough people to subscribe. And of course a device like Apple's iPad offers the benefit of multimedia that the Kindle doesn't currently offer. Suddenly even we muggles now have moving pictures in our newspapers.

Think also about textbooks. When I was in college, I kept a few of the books that were in my major area of study—I still have some of them—but like most students, I didn’t keep the majority of my books. I sold them back. What if the price of textbooks could be significantly decreased—perhaps even cut in half—by allowing them to be downloaded to a Kindle or an iPad or other similar device? The publishers should like the idea because it eliminates the reselling of textbooks which brings in no money back to them. Students would like it because electronic books should be much cheaper. I could even see a scenario in which a student registers for her classes and by the time she gets back to her dorm room, all of her textbooks for the quarter were already downloaded to her Kindle or iPad. I could imagine a similar situation in high schools, too. There's an incredible amount of potential for electronic texts in education

For me electronic texts on my personal computer have been a boon. I really appreciate not having to carry a stack of books with me to work on a project. I use the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary as a prime example of the benefits of an electronic edition. I've got both the physical set of the AYBD and a copy in Accordance. The physical set is six thick volumes. The electronic set is simply virtual. Further, the physical set does not have an index. You might wonder why an index would be needed with a dictionary, but you'd be surprised. Without an index, I have to search for a subject second guessing the way the editors would have arranged it. Plus, sometimes an subject is covered in more than one article. The physical set makes further treatment difficult to find, but an electronic copy that is searchable makes it much easier. Also, note in the graphic on the right that in the Accordance version of the AYBD, I can search specifically for certain fields. Besides the benefit of searching for the content of the dictionary, I can also zero in specifically on the way the dictionary treats biblical references, or search for all articles written by a certain author and more.

A concern I often hear in regard to electronic texts is whether or not they will be accessible twenty years from now. Think about it--I have a copy of Huckleberry Finn that was printed in the first half of the 20th century. It was given to me by my great aunt. As long as I take care of it, I should still be able to read it when I'm an old man. But how do I know that I will still be able to read an electronic text in 30 years that I've invested in now? That's a legitimate question, but one that the eventual creation of standard formats will answer.

I'm not worried about my investments in my biblical software. This is a field that is essentially all these companies do, and they've been doing it for quite some time. In a worse case scenario, if Company X were to get into financial trouble, I would think it would be worth another company's effort to acquire them and their customer base. Although certain variations of this scenario would be more frightening than others, I'm not worried about my current investment in this area.

For electronic texts seen in devices like the Kindle or iPad, however, it's important that standards can emerge. In an earlier experiment with electronic texts a few years ago, Amazon sold PDF versions of certain books. These texts had digital rights management built in to keep a purchaser from copying it willy nilly for his friends. I bought one of these PDF versions and have it to this day on my laptop. Unfortunately, I cannot open it. It was tied to the computer on which I purchased it. Amazon can't help me because they no longer sell the book. This is the kind of nightmare scenario that one fears if a significant investment is made into electronic texts. My decades old copy of Huck Finn on my shelf simply isn't affected by that kind of problem.

There's the other issue of ownership. Electronic books are virtual, made up of bytes of information on a storage device of some kind. Last year, Amazon made quite a stink when after discovering they'd sold electronic copies of George Orwell's 1984 for which they didn't have permission, they simply yanked them from Kindle owners who had bought the book via the Kindle's wireless connection. Not surprisingly, a store credit was not satisfactory to their customers. You know, if I buy an accidentally unauthorized printing of 1984, the manager of Barnes & Noble can't come into my home and take it off my bookshelf. Due to the outcry, Amazon has promised not to do this again, but the very idea that they could, is still a bit unnerving.

Yesterday, as you know unless you were hiding in a cave, Steve Jobs formally introduced the iPad. The worst kept secret in the computer industry, this "portable media device" promises to be something more than an iPhone/iPod Touch, but less than a full laptop computer. It's been called a "Kindle killer," but I hope this isn't so. I hope there's still room for both devices, but I also hope that the price of the Kindle comes down a bit in case I decide to eventually get one.

If you read the tech press at all, there's a surprising number of people disappointed with the new iPad. Paul Thurrott, for instance, has already written two posts about his disappointment with the iPad (see here and here). In his first post, he writes, "The thing I don't get here is... So far, nothing new. This has all been done before elsewhere. I'm astonished this isn't nicer looking or more interesting." But as much as I respect Paul, I think he misses the point. Yes, the iPad is less powerful than even a netbook, but for many people the iPad will be all the computer they need.

I know of no certain figures, but I would guess that there are a large percentage of computer users who do little more than read email, surf the web, and occasionally use a word processor. They don't need everything a full-fledged computer offers (whether laptop, desktop or even netbook). And while netbooks are nice (I even have an Acer Aspire One D250), they have many compromises that make them difficult to use as a main computer. But for the folks who don't need a full computer, the iPad may be ideal.

For education especially, the iPad will be beneficial. Not only do I imagine a scenario as I described above where one device could hold all of a student's textbooks, but with word processing capabilities as demonstrated yesterday with iWork Pages, it becomes a complete device for many users. And if you don't like iWork, don't worry. There will be plenty of other word processors available within a couple of years. If the iPad is successful--and I think it will be--I wouldn't even be surprised to see Microsoft release a version of Office for it. And I wonder what Google Docs would be like on the iPad right now?

The iPad will also be a very good option for people who need a smaller, less-capable, secondary computer. That's why I bought my Acer netbook to begin with. There are times when I don't need to take a full computer with me. Church is a good example. I teach on Sunday mornings from Keynote, but I wanted something less than my 15" MacBook Pro to carry with me. I had dreams of buying a netbook and making it into a Hackintosh and running Keynote from it. But that hasn't worked as well as I wanted and I'm back to using my MacBook Pro. So, of course, I'm very intrigued by the fact that the iPad has its own version of Keynote. I could also picture myself sitting in a church service taking notes on an iPad, something that I simply feel too conspicuous doing on a regular laptop.

There are also many times when I wished that my iPhone had a keyboard of its own. On an occasional weekend getaway, I don't necessarily want to take a whole computer, but I would like to keep up with email. The iPad would be perfect for this kind of use.

However, I want to see how Keynote really works on an iPad before I'd ever commit to one. When I teach with Keynote, I make extensive use of my notes in Keynote which show up on the presenter's screen but not on the projector. I have my doubts that the iPad will make use of extended desktops--at least in its initial version.

[Side note: Having read rumors that the iPad would have it's own version of the iWork suite, I was secretly hoping that Apple would release a Windows version of iWork. You might laugh, but that's not without precident since Apple's previous office suite, Claris/AppleWorks had a Windows version. This would have solved a main problem with the use of the Netbook. Currently I have Windows 7 installed on it for lack of a better solution, and a Windows version of Keynote would allow me to use it on Sunday mornings again.]

Thus, I really do think that in spite of the naysayers, the iPad is a significant offering. Yes, there have been tablet computers and e-readers and all the rest. But they've never been mainstream. The iPad may be the just right mix of everything that many people will realize that they don't need something more powerful. But time will tell.

I also hope that the iPad is not a "Kindle killer." I hope that there is room for both devices. Many people may just need a Kindle for reading without all the features of the iPad. Regardless, I think Amazon will be fine either way. They already have a Kindle reader for the iPhone which will presumably run just fine on the iPad. Even if they were to eventually quit manufacturing the Kindle device, Amazon could still sell books for their reader that would work on the iPad.

If Apple is successful with the iPad, I may want one eventually, but not the first generation. I had the first generation iPhone, but this time I think I'll sit back and let some of the rest of you work out the first generation bugs. The second generation iPhone was much better than the initial iPhone, and I imagine it will be the same for the iPad.

In the meantime, I'd still like to convert a number of my electronic texts to PDFs and read them on a Kindle. I have a hunch that four hours of straight reading on a Kindle is easier on the eyes than what it would be on an iPad. So, I'll be watching to see if the prices come down. Or if you want to yours, maybe you can make me an offer I can't refuse.