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Archive for the 'It’s All Geek to Me!' Category

Bye Bye QuizUp!

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Regular readers of my blog probably already know this, but I am a bit of a Sherlockian, that being a scholar of the literary character Sherlock Holmes. In my particular case I am all about the original four novels and 56 short stories (aka the “canon”) written by Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have a casual interest in the various films, TV shows and such featuring the Holmes characters, but it’s the original Canon that I am partial to.

I was pretty happy to find some months ago that the smartphone/tablet app “QuizUp” had a literary “Sherlock Holmes” category. This app is a trivia game where you play against another person in real time, answering 7 question pertaining to your topic with a 10 second time limit. The points you get for each right answer depends on the speed in which you choose the answer, each question having four choices. The Holmes category must have had about 300 questions that you cycled randomly through. I really got into playing. In fact the category just got updated with new questions the other day, and I wrote about half of them for the software company that makes the game. As of the writing of this post, I am ranked second in the world in the Sherlock Holmes topic.

Sadly, I’m never going to play the game again.

Once the topic got updated I started playing it, but found something odd. Not with the questions… the new ones were very difficult, needing an extremely detailed knowledge of the stories to get many of the answers right. I did not know some of the new ones, so obscure were the references. What was weird was I kept losing games to people who were at very low levels in the topic. These people never missed a correct answer, even though they had so few experience points, they must have only played a couple of matches at most. I’ve played over a thousand. This didn’t stop… I kept losing to people new to the game but who got perfect scores. At first I thought there must be a wave of serious Sherlockians who have just discovered the game, but these questions are so hard no way would anyone be able to answer all seven correctly, every time, having never had the questions before. Then, as the number of new players with perfect answers kept piling up, I deduced something was afoot.

I did a web search or two and sure enough, there are QuizUp cheat apps out there that allow you to jack up the number of points you get for each match and automatically enter the right answers for you. That’s what these new players are using. How sad is that? What possible entertainment value is there in a game that’s automated to cheat for you? I shouldn’t be surprised… the internet is rife with thieves and scam artists… but still, how pathetic. Sorry, just needed to vent.

Ah well, it’s a relief in a way. Now I can quit the game and not care about it. I might even be able to get more work done now!

New Pebble Steel

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

It’s All Geek to Me Dept.

345575-new-vs-old

It’s been a long time since I did one of these types of posts, but as I am a gadget junkie yesterday’s Pebble watch news was of interest.

The good news? Pebble introduced a new design, called the Pebble Steel. It’s made of… wait for it… stainless steel (regular or black matte). It also has slightly different button spacing and profile, a reconfigured charging port, is waterproof to 5 atms, significantly less border space around the face, and comes with both a matching steel band and a leather band.

The bad news? It’s $250.

I get a lot of comments on my original Kickstarter Pebble. People recognize it as “that one watch thing”, and ask me how I like it. I like it for what it is. It’s a watch that will tell me I’ve got a call, text, calendar event or notification without my having to make sure my pants aren’t buzzing. I can read the texts on my watch, see who’s calling, find out what that upcoming meeting is all about when the reminder alert happens, and in general keep my phone in my pocket in situations where it’s not appropriate to take it out. I also never miss calls or texts this way… my buzzing pants don’t always buzz enough to let me know my phone needs attention. That’s some pretty convenient stuff for a watch to do. Oh, it also tells me what time it is.

Beyond that, it doesn’t do much. It needs the phone nearby to work at all. I can’t interact with the phone except to decide to answer or reject a call. It’s not really a “smart” watch. It’s more like the Lenny to the iPhone’s George, it’s useful in that it does what it’s told to do (mostly) as long as it’s tasks are not too hard, but it’s not too bright on its own. It is what it is, and I find it useful.

The new Pebble Steel does all that as well, and nothing additionally except look a lot better on your wrist. The original Pebble is an ugly plastic lump, but it also didn’t cost me $250.

I like the look of the new Pebble Steel. I don’t like it $250 worth, but I do like it. I do wish my original Pebble was a Pebble Steel, but not enough to buy a new one.

New Wacom 13HD Cintiq

Friday, March 22nd, 2013
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I’d love to say I’m doing a review of this new Wacom Cintiq 13HD “portable” unit because I was sent one by Wacom to test drive, but they don’t return my phone calls. sooooo…. I only know what I’ve read like most of the rest of the world. However, I am a veteran of using 4 different models of the Cintiq (five if you include borrowing a pal’s original Cintiq 15sx to do a job when I was on vacation), including the 12wx which I did review hands on, so after seeing the specs of this new model I can safely make some recommendations for my fellow digital artist gadget junkies.

Save your money for the real thing.

Don’t get me wrong, they fixed a lot of the stuff that was bad about the 12wx. For starters, they have a removable stand that will lock into several different angles for whatever works for you, rather than the horrible recessed stand on the 12wx that didn’t allow you to adjust at all. They of course boosted the specs, so you now have a larger screen but in a smaller and lighter unit, higher resolution, 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, greater brightness and larger viewing angle.

All that is great. The biggest improvement, however, is the elimination of the video control “brick”, which used a proprietary single cable that went to the Cintiq and then had three cables going to your computer’s USB port, DVI video port and AC power. The 13HD has what they call the “3 in 1″ cable that looks like it comes directly out of the cintiq, and then splits into three for USB, video via HDMI, and power. I really hated all those cables and the giant brick needed to wrangle them, so that part is attractive. There seems to be no indication anywhere on the Wacom website or in any reviews whether or not the power cable still needs a brick aka transformer, however. The need for an adapter between the HDMI output and a DVI or Mini Port input matters little, since I always needed one for my Mac since the advent of their Mini Port anyway, and they are not expensive.

All sounds good, right? It does if you need a Cintiq RIGHT NOW with some degree of portability. If you already have the 12wx, are not in any hurry for a portable option, or are looking for a non-portable studio solution (just get a real one for an extra grand), take a pass. Cintiq is still not delivering the truly portable solution that everybody is waiting for. That would be:

  • All the specs listed above
  • On a screen of a full portable computer
  • That runs on battery power

In this day of fast evolving tablet computing, it is ridiculous that Wacom still has not partnered up with a computer manufacturer and made a truly portable graphics computer. The 13HD is not it. You still need a separate computer, you still need AC power, you still have cables all over the place. For some reason Wacom is only allowing reduced versions of their technology into other devices like the Modbook Pro and Surface (less pressure sensitivity, no tilt sensitivity, fewer features). It isn’t like they don’t have the technology. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??

Supposedly Wacom is working on a “dream device” that will be a multi touch, full pressure sensitive pen, HD, etc. If it doesn’t run full versions of PhotoShop or Painter, then it’s nothing but an expensive sketchpad, but it would be ALMOST there. I’ll be watching for it, and maybe it will surprise me. This 13HD only makes me wish I could magically transform my 12wx into it for zero money, because while it’s better in many ways than the 12wx they had it is still far short of a real portable solution.

Still waiting……

Pogo Connect- A Review

Monday, January 28th, 2013

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When Apple’s iPad started the tablet computing craze, one of the Holy Grails of these light and extremely portable devices was using it as a digital drawing board ala the Wacom Cintiq. In the case of the early tablets, the problems in the way were a lack of pressure sensitivity, and that the touch screens were designed to work with fingertips, not a precise stylus. The drawing instrument “solutions” were these terrible styluses with a big, marshmallow-like pillow at the end that was not ideal for fine drawing or linework, and of course no pressure sensitivity at all. (NOTE: before I go on, please spare me any replies with examples of great pieces of art done with these clumsy tools. Great work can be created with dog-chewed sticks, mud and pieces of garbage… but inventive ways of getting around the limitations of a tool is not the same as those tools providing an ideal solution for working naturally and intuitively. Thanks- the management)

Enter the bluetooth tablet stylus, where pressure sensitivity is created through the bluetooth connection as opposed to through the screen itself. There are a few different designs for this type of drawing instrument, including one with a weird plastic disk on the end, but the Pogo Connect from Ten One Design looked to me to be the closest to a natural drawing tool, so I gave it a try. Here’s my review:

The Hardware

The Pogo Connect is necessarily fat due to the need to house a AAA battery in the barrel, but that’s the only excuse I’ll give Ten One Design for an otherwise puzzling and poor functional pen design. The barrel of the pen is some smooth aluminum or similar metal, so there is nothing to grip and is slippery. A simple, rubberized coating at the gripping point would fix this, although it would add slightly to the already fat, crayon-like feel of the pen. The Connect is short and stubby, a trait oddly shared by all styluses for a reason I cannot fathom (has no one who designs these things ever consided measuring an actual drawing/writing tool to see that most are about 5 3/4 to 6 inches long??? The Pogo Connect is almost there but an extra 1/2 inch or so would give it so much more balance.

The tip is the best part. Ten One Design smartly made it magnetic, so it is easy to pop off and replace if needed. Supposedly there are going to be “upgrade tips” available someday but right now it’s one size fits all. It’s still the same, goofy, marshmallow-like blob as other styluses, but this one seems denser so there is a little more substance to it. However it is nothing like the end of a pencil, brush or pen, so the drawing experience still leaves a lot to be desired. On the plus side, this tip seems to have a more rubbery feel to it, giving it a little drag on the ultra-slick surface of the iPad, which is preferable to plastic on glass.

Finally, If I could give a worse grade than an “F-” on the placement of the side button of the pen, I would. It’s placed EXACTLY where your thumb and center finger grip the pen. Unless you hold the pen precisely right, and don’t let it rotate at all in your hand, you will press that button inadvertently all the time. Many drawing programs use this as an “undo” shortcut… you can imagine the frustration.

The Software

The Pogo Connect uses Bluetooth 4.0, which is a new, low-powered flavor that should allow the pen to operate for a long time on it’s AAA battery (which is a nice feature, BTW. Great to be able to swap out a fresh battery in a second or two as opposed to having to charge the pen when it’s out of juice). The bad part about using Bluetooth 4.0 is that the iPad 1 and 2 aren’t compatible, so only the 3 and 4, and the new Mini, will work natively. Supposedly you can use a “bridging” program via an iPhone 4s or 5 to make it work with earlier iPad models, but if the reviews of using such are any indication it is not a very viable option. I have the iPad 3, so no problem.

The Pogo Connect does not pair directly with the iPad using the Bluetooth preference feature, but pairs either directly through compatible drawing programs or via a specific pairing app from Ten One Design. Pairing was easy and quick with the three drawing programs I tested the Connect with: Sketchbook Pro, Procreate and Adobe PhotoShop Touch. All recognized the Connect and (supposedly) started using the pressure sensitivity either right away without any fuss or configuration, or with a little set up like selecting it as a pressure sensitive stylus, and in Photoshop’s case selecting opacity or line width as the variable.

A promising feature that the Pogo Connect is supposed to have going for it is palm-rejection technology. This would address another serious deficiency about drawing on the iPad. Because the iPad responds to touch, any contact with the side or palm of your hand will mess up your drawing. In order to use one of these weird marshmallow styluses, you have to make sure ONLY the tip touches the screen. I don’t know about you, but my hand is always in contact with the paper surface when I draw. Causing a drawing program to ignore input from anything out the pen tip would be a major step in making the drawing experience more natural. Supposedly some programs can use this palm-rejection feature to allow you to rest your hand on the screen as you draw. More on this in a minute.

Does it Work?

The short answer is yes, kind of.

Does it actually have pressure sensitivity, in the way that it can create thick and thin lines, or control opacity of a brush? Yes. It definitely can. Does it do so in the manner in which even the earliest of Wacom tablets could, simulating a natural drawing experience? No, the Connect falls short of this, but not really through fault of itsown. It’s mostly the iPad’s problem.

Of the three programs I tried, I think Sketchbook Pro worked the best with simulating a real drawing experience. In fairness, I did not spend a lot of time learning these programs in detail. I approached them with the expectation I should be able to open them, connect the Pogo, start a blank canvas, select a tool and start sketching. None of them passed that test, but of the three Sketchbook Pro came closest. It still took some experimentation and putzing about to get things to start working, But I was able to get a pressure-sensitive drawing going in about 20 minutes or so.

How did it work? Not great but functional. There was pressure sensitive response, but not of an elegant or precise nature. For starters, there is no almost-zero pressure. You have to apply some pressure to get a response. Just moving the tip across the screen gives you no line at all. That makes for the necessity of a heavy-handed way of drawing, which is not a very natural feel. Ten One Design claims the Connect has “hundreds” of level of pressure-sensitivity. I’m not sure why they can’t be more specific but it felt to me like far less than the old 256 levels the original Wacoms had, and with no light touch possible it seemed like all or nothing. Some of this is probably program-specific. PhotoShop seemed the best at the thick and thin variation response with a simple brush tool, but otherwise was very limited as to the types of brushes and drawing media. Procreate has what I thought was a steep learning curve, and I never really got its inking lines to work very well, but the pencil was ok. Sketchbook Pro had the better and more intuitive tools and palettes, and the pressure sensitivity worked as well there as any of the others, although not all the tools seems to respond to the stylus’s pressure features. One thing Procreate (an unfortunate name, probably meant to be clever but any humor seems misplaced) is supposed to have is that palm rejection feature I mentioned earlier. Not to put too blunt a point on it, but this does not work. At all. Not even a little bit.

After much trial and tribulation, I did the following drawing on my iPad, using the Pogo Connect and Sketchbook Pro. In honor of my vacation to Hawai’i, the subject is the late, great Hawaiian singer Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole:

iz

A big “meh” in my opinion. That took me about 30 minutes, and most of that time I spent fixing lines that zigged when I wanted them to zag. By the end I was getting frustrated and gave up. No doubt being more familiar with the program and having a lot more practice with the Connect would make the results better and quicker to achieve, but this just demonstrates that the Pogo Connect isn’t something you just pick up and start using like a natural media drawing utensil.

The Verdict

As much as I wanted the Pogo Connect to be the tool every artist was looking for to make the iPad into a real drawing device, it just has too many shortcomings. I think it’s a valiant try, and it’s the best solution I’ve seen to date for the iPad, but the limitations of the platform are its ultimate downfall. The bottom line is the iPad, in being built only for touch input by the human fingers, is just not designed with the artist in mind. Apple really missed the boat on that one, creating a device only for touch input and leaving the digital artist out of the equation. The necessity of the marshmallow-tipped pen and clumsy nature of that tips interaction with the screen precludes any really natural and elegant drawing solution. I think this left a big opening for hardware like the Samsung Slate and Galaxy tablets, or the new Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, to fulfill these needs for the serious digital artist. Apple still has time to create an iPad “Pro” or  “A.E.” (Artist’s Edition), that includes stylus input for a real drawing experience using a pen that is like a real pen, and not a stick with a pillow on the end. They’d better hurry up, though. I for one am thinking seriously about dumping my iPad and getting a Series 7 Slate.

My final recommendation on the Pogo Connect? If you have an iPad 3 or 4, feel the undeniable urge to draw on it no matter what the limitations and shortcomings of it may be, and have $80 burning a hole in your pocket, then the Pogo Connect is your best bet. Otherwise, stick with paper and pencil.

The New Apple TV- A Review

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

We digress from our constant blather about caricature, cartooning and illustration to talk about one of our other favorite subjects… gadgets!

This year for Christmas The Lovely Anna got me the new Apple TV, Apple’s new incarnation of it’s “hobby” entertainment server for your living room. We have owned one of the original Apple TVs for a while now, and use it for The Animated Elizabeth‘s TV room where it works great for her demanding video needs associated with her autism.

The new Apple TV is a big departure from the old model on many levels, but first here’s a little history of the Apple TV:

The original Apple TV model was about the size of a Mac Mini computer, and had it’s own hard drive as well as built in wifi . It worked as a modified iPod for your TV… using wifi it would sync with your iTunes library (according to your choices for what would sync and what would not) on your computer just like an iPod, but it would also stream content from iTunes that was not saved locally. Thus, you had some content that you could watch even if your computer was not awake and/or iTunes was not open, but other content was not available unless you had your source computer on and iTunes open. This made the ATV a gateway to get your iTunes content from your computer to your TV, but it was hardly convenient. You could not seek out and rent or buy content FROM the ATV… that had to be done from your computer and then you could sit down in front of your TV and enjoy it from your couch.

Eventually Apple changed the software of the ATV to allow for all that streaming and syncing plus the added benefit of being able to access the iTunes store directly from the ATV, allowing your to purchase or rent content without needing to go to your computer. Later, they added the ability to access resources like NetFlix, YouTube, ect. for more viewing options.

Last year Apple took a much different approach with a new version of the Apple TV. Gone is the hard drive, and the unit itself became significantly smaller… it’s a little smaller than a slim paperback book. It’s output connections are as simple as it gets… one HDMI out (it also allows for optical audio out, so you can use the HDMI output as video only), an Ethernet port in case you want to use a hardwire solution to your internet connection as opposed to using the built in WiFi, and a USB port which so far is used for nothing. Like the previous ATV, you cannot use the unit with a TV that does not support HDMI video… no composite or component video outputs.

Since you have no local storage of media anymore, everything is streamed by the ATV to your TV/entertainment system. There is no syncing. You simply connect it to your home network and use the “Home Sharing” iTunes feature to access any content on any of the computers on your home network. “Home Sharing” is a simple sharing format where each computer with iTunes installed is able to choose any or all of their content to be “shared” over their network. There is no one iTunes master computer using this model… each computer that opts to be a part of home sharing through their iTunes program has whatever content they choose to share available for streaming to the ATV. The computers need to be awake and iTunes must be open for this to work, however.

More conveniently, you can quite easily browse the iTunes store right from your ATV to rent movies and TV shows for instant enjoyment. If they are available in HD (the 720p version, anyway) then you get them in HD. Most movies rent for $4.99 in HD or $2.99 if in SD, but a few “specials” are available for $1.99 or even $.99 and there are some films that get “previewed” via the iTunes store before they hit the theaters and rent for $10.99. You can rent TV episodes for $.99.

There is also an “Internet” menu where you can log in to your Netflix account and watch hundreds of movies instantly at no extra cost to your Netflix membership. This is an amazing deal… it’s almost unlimited how many films are available to watch instantly through your Netflix subscription. YouTube, Flickr and MobleMe content is also available through this menu if you want to watch that kind of thing.

The quality and speed of the downloaded content through iTunes is very good. HD shows look sharp and clearly “HD” quality with no noticeable artifacts or pixelation. It only takes a minute or so after you start the rental for the content to become available to play, and I have not witnessed a single moment when the show I am watching “freezes” because the buffering/download of the media cannot keep up with the running video. I have noticed some of the Netflix movies experience freezes and some pixelation at times, so that technology isn’t quite up to par with the native iTunes content… but it’s not bad and without paying extra to watch Netflix movies instantly on your living room TV a little pause now and then seems a fair trade off.

You cannot “buy” films or TV shows permanently via the Apple TV, as there is no hard drive to keep them on. You can still do so via your computer and then watch it from your Apple TV via Home Sharing. I’ve got mixed feelings about that. I’d like it if you could buy a movie you want permanently via the ATV and either always have access to watch it through iTunes or have it download to your computer’s hard drive for permanent storage, but it’s not a deal breaker. I still don’t like buying digital media and prefer physical discs for movies I want to keep.

The one thing I don’t like about this arrangement is the short time they give you to enjoy the movie you rent. Once you’ve rented it you get 30 days to start it. Once you start it, you only get 24 hours to watch it if it’s a movie, and 48 if it’s a TV show. If you don’t get to then end of it within that time, you are SOL. It expires and is deleted from your menu. I think that’s a little too short a time. It would be better is they could figure out how to make the program available to watch as often as you want for the first 24 hours, but it does not expire if you have not finished it after that period of time. Once you watch it through to the end, then it expires permanently. Maybe they can have a 36 hour expiration whether you’ve watched all the way to the end or not, just to prevent people from stopping it during the end credits and keeping it active forever. Usually I do watch a movie all the way through at home, but when I am traveling I often am forced to stop if my flight is landing and can;t start watching it again until I am traveling back home… and by that time the 24 hours have passed. The same rental model applies to movies you download for your portable device as the ATV.

Overall, though, I think Apple is on to something with the new Apple TV. It’s easy to use, has reasonably priced access to a gigantic library of content, allows even cheaper access to Netflix account content and is reasonably priced at $99. I’ve been enjoying it since Christmas.

The iPad and Comics

Friday, August 13th, 2010


The future?….

Here’s a link to an recent CNN article on how the iPad is boosting the appeal of digital comics.

I absolutely agree that the iPad and it’s descendants will be the new format for publishing, including comics and magazines. I can see a virtual news stand in the future full of individual issues and subscriptions for magazines, comics, comic books and newspapers… delivered without user effort to your mobile tablet device in a format that is easy and natural to browse, read and enjoy. However I don’t see the iPad being that device, but some other piece of hardware that doesn’t force the Draconian limitations on the content providers that Apple does. Unless Steve Jobs and Apple wise up and start playing along with publishers to develop a real business model for digital publishing, the iPad will be the next Betamax player or Macintosh… a superior piece of technology squashed by the concept of free enterprise.

Drawing on the iPad?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010
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I know I promised an artcentric review of the iPad a long time ago, but I haven’t had the opportunity to test out very many drawing and painting applications on it so far… I’m also wating deleivery of one of those silly marshmallow tipped “stylus’s”.

I did run across this intriguing video recently, showing that someone is working on one of the two biggest limitations to drawing on the iPad… the lack of pressure sensitivity. At first I thought the case the iPad on the video is in might be the source of the pressure sensitivity, but from reading the brief description at tenonedesign.com it seems to be a pure software solution. The pressure sensitivity would be something any drawing app could incorporate into their programs.

Don’t get too excited. According to the developer the software uses a “private function call” to work and Apple of course refuses to allow developers to use private APIs, so right now this functional software is not allowed on the iPad.

Oh, and in case you are curious, the other major limitation to drawing on the iPad: the lack of a precise stylus.

The Mobile MAD Blog

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

If you’ve happened to visit this blog in the last few days on an iPhone, Android or other mobile device you (hopefully) will have noticed a different look on your hand-held surfing machine courtesy of a great plug-in called WPtouch.

The MAD Blog uses the excellent WordPress blog software, and this plug in automatically formats the blog with a quick loading and easy to use mobile theme when it detects the visitor is using an Apple iPod Touch, iPhone, Goodle Android, Palm Pre or other touch- based mobiles. There are configurable options but it works great right after loading and activation. It cuts down on load times, sacrificing the eye candy for a streamlined interface. Miss the colors and other stuff? A switch at the bottom of the page let’s you go back to the “full site”, and it will even remember your choice until you switch it back to the mobile version.

Several other WordPress blogs I frequent use this great plug-in, including Alan Gardner‘s Daily Cartoonist.

So, enjoy the simplified mobile version of The MAD Blog if you are surfing on-the-go!

Excelsior! for the iPad

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The iPad has been out for all of two days and already we are seeing apps that demonstrate not only how much more this device is than the “bigger iPod Touch” naysayers are dismissing it as, but exactly the kind of content delivery that it and it’s eventual ancestors are going to revolutionize the publication industry with.

Take the new Marvel Comics app. It’s a free app that is used as a gateway to the buying of single issues or a series from Marvel. They have both an iPhone version and an iPad version. Comparing the screenshots of two you can instantly see how the larger screen and form factor of the iPad changes the entire experience of reading a comic on a portable device. Flip the page with your finger, see the entire page on a vertical screen, zoom in for a closer look, browse the entire comic via a thumbnail gallery… all on a screen the same size as a real comic book. Wow. You can preview before you buy an issue, buy single issues or an entire series. You can also buy back issues. The app also syncs with your marvel.com account to back up all your purchased comics, so if your computer goes belly up or you get a new one you can access your entire library with your replacement device. Personally I think $1.99 per issue is a little pricey for a single issue. 99 cents seems more in line to me, but the market will work itself out with pricing.

I cannot imagine any publication not getting on board distributing and selling it’s content via a free proprietary app like this. The logical next step is to have subscribed content delivered via “push”, which would download your issue of MAD or People Weekly or your local daily newspaper right to your device while you are sleeping so it’s waiting for you when you are eating breakfast at the kitchen table, riding the train to work, taking a coffee break, etc with no need to have an active wifi connection or pay to use the 3G network. That kind of convenience, portability and the form factor/interface will get people to part with some money as they understand the difference between this and having to sit in front of your computer or laptop somewhere with a wifi connection and use it’s clunky web-based interface. No doubt publishers will quickly offer only limited content for free on it’s websites as well.

Hopefully DC will follow suit here and create a similar delivery system for it’s comics and maybe MAD.

Apple’s New iPad… Gamechanger?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Just in case you have been frozen solid and living under a rock- yesterday the eagerly awaited Apple branded tablet device, the iPad, finally was unveiled… to a lot of fanfare and a fair share of catcalls. It has been anticipated as a bold new step for the way people use technology in their daily lives.

Will it live up to the hype?

I think it has a chance to, but right now there is just not enough software written to take advantage of the hardware. Personally I think once there is a wide selection of software out there that is native to the iPad (right now it only has a handful of apps that are designed to work with it’s larger screen… it will run iPhone apps they look tiny at native size and clunky at increased size) the device will start realizing its potential. Right now it’s little more than a better portable way to surf the internet, watch movies or read books than the iPhone or other smartphones. That’s not to say it won’t eventually be the revolution it was anticipated as being, but it’s in its infancy right now.

I’ve read a lot of angry reactions from people who seem disappointed that this gizmo won’t do everything but tie their shoes for them. I think they are missing the point. It’s not supposed to be able to do anything radically more than what your laptop or iPhone already does… what it’s meant to do is those same things but in a way that addresses the limitations of the laptop and the smartphone, and do them better. It’s the form factor that is the selling point. I don’t think people really understand how much this “giant iPod touch” is going to make the Touch and the iPhone look like toys in comparison. The potential that programmers have in this large of a multitouch surface is huge… Apple’s handful of native apps only scratch that surface and yet they look fantastic. By the time Apple releases an updated iPad in a year or so, it will be a completely different animal thanks to the software that developers are no doubt slobbering to start creating and marketing.

The multitouch technology is one of the most intriguing parts of the iPad. In the iPhone and iPod Touch, the tiny bit of real estate makes the technology little more than a novelty by comparison, yet it was hailed as groundbreaking. Imagine being able to drag things around a real screen, access pop up menus, use fingers from both hands to combine and shift objects and make choices. It’ll be like the computer interface from Minority Report. People have been using computer mice for so long they’ve forgotten what it is like to use their hands and fingers for tasks in front of their eyes, instead of separated from them. When some of the native programs start popping up there will be a few eyes opened. Apple’s next step will be an iMac without a mouse using a multitouch monitor.

Regarding the functionality, I think there is a market for something in between a laptop and a smartphone. Let’s face it, using an iPhone or Blackberry to surf the web is an exercise in exasperation… the screen is just too small for it to be easy or enjoyable. Can it be done? Sure, but it’s a major hassle. I’ve been frustrated many times attempting to use my iPhone to order some supplies or such on a website for one of my caricature concessions, trying to switch back and forth from the text field entry boxes back to the entry page. Almost impossible. I’ve had order pages time out on me before I can get to the end of the process. Likewise forget about reading books on the iPhone. Too small a screen. Laptops are plenty big… in fact too big. A laptop is great if you have the room to open it up and use it, full sized keyboard and all. That’s hard to do on a bus or train, at the lunch counter, while you are on a coffee break- even with a “netbook”. Laptops are heavy, clunky in their clamshell design and just not that easy to whip out anytime. Few have built in cellular connectivity, either. They are built to be transportable computers, not instantly accessible anywhere machines. Battery life is only a few hours. They are not truly portable in the way a smartphone is.

The form factor on the iPad is the major appeal, rather than the clamshell/keyboard design of a laptop. Here is a device with a screen big enough to be able to comfortably read a real web page, use a web 2.0 site, read an eBook (and the iBook app looks truly awesome… it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen from the iPad so far), read and respond to an e-mail with a decent sized keyboard, watch a movie that won’t give you a headache from squinting, allow you to really view and edit photos while you are on your vacation, store, read and edit documents from work… all while you are sitting on the bench at the park or on an airplane (even if the jackass in front of you reclines all the way back from takeoff to touchdown). The iPad is lighter than a typical hardcover book, and about the size of a magazine. Not pocket sized, but a far cry from a laptop that needs a shoulder bag to lug about. It’s got (supposedly) 10 hours of battery life, so a day’s worth of use is not a problem.

If you are expecting it to be a portable replacement for your desktop, you are going to be disappointed. If you want it to fit into your front pocket, you will also be disappointed. That’s not the point and never was. This device and it’s eventual decedents will someday be what we get our news, magazines, entertainment and productivity from. Someday everyone will have some form of this kind of portable multitouch device, and we’ll have subscriptions to all the content we want delivered to us invisibly, ready for our consumption when we are. Eventually they will be powerful enough to replace our desktops, but that is years away.

So, do I want the iPad? Yep, absolutley. I will likely get one at some point. I was considering getting a Kindle for eBooks and for just a bit more I can get the iPad which does books even better and so much more besides. This device will let me bring all the videos, books, music, documents, photos, access to current news, communication and information I could possibly ever want or need with me in a 7.5″ x 9.5″ 1.5 lb package. That is pretty handy.

Is it perfect? Hardly. No camera? Only 64 GB max? No flash capability with the browser? Only Apple sanctioned software? No pressure sensitive/stylus drawing (that’s just for us artists)? It has some growing to do, but as software for it matures and expands, and as future hardware improvements are realized, this kind of device really is the future.

 

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