The iPad Laptop

I’ve always used the iPad with an external keyboard and with the Pro I’ve been using Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I love the feel and sound of the keys though have been wishing for media keys and the other special function keys such as brightness, volume etc. Oh, and a back light which may not be possible with a fabric covered keyboard. The beauty of the iPad and one of my reasons for switching to it as a primary machine is that it can be a tablet when I want or a laptop when I want.

That said, as much as I’ve enjoyed using the Smart Keyboard I’ve got to admit I’ve been longing for Apple to make a keyboard like the Brydge. Others have written about the Brydge which is often described as very similar to an Apple laptop keyboard. Most recently Jason Snell wrote an excellent piece on Why Apple’s next laptop should run iOS. He’d previously written a review of the Brydge and mentions it again:

The problem with the iPad Pro is that it’s literally not a laptop: You can’t comfortably set it in your lap and get work done. (Yes, you can kind of balance the Smart Keyboard on your lap, but it’s not the same as using a laptop—in terms of stability or adjustability.) This year I’ve been using my iPad Pro with the Brydge keyboard, a Bluetooth keyboard with two clamps that turn the iPad Pro into something that looks an awful lot like a laptop—albeit one with no trackpad.

Seeing his mention of it and the accompanying photo sent me off to have another look. The only reason I’d previously held off were the many reports of hit and miss quality. Lots of folks report getting units that had to be replaced, often more than once. Yikes. By chance I happened to look around Thanksgiving and they were running a Black Friday sale so I finally bought it and have been using it for about a week.

The Brydge arrived in perfect condition. It is, as reported by many, very similar to typing on the keyboard of a current generation MacBook Air or the previous generation of MacBook Pro. Which is to say, it’s excellent. It is very nearly the perfect iPad keyboard. I can slide the iPad into the hinge connectors easily but not too easily. They grip it well so it feels secure. I really only have two complaints.

The top, outer edge of this keyboard is very sharp. It almost feels like a knife blade. Second, the iPad rests deep enough in the hinges that the bottom edge of the screen is just level with the back of the keyboard which means using my fingers to pull-up to activate the dock and multitasking of iOS 11 is very difficult and often results in misses. Very frustrating. If I put the iPad into the hinge brackets but don’t push it all the way down it still sits above the back of the unit and activating the dock is easy. If it just sat 1-2 millimeters higher, access to the dock and multitasking would be much better.

I added a tiny bit of rubber with sticky backing into the bottom of each hinge to lift the iPad up just a wee bit. Not only does it make activating the dock/multitasking much easier it has the additional benefit that when closed the iPad sticks out just that little bit over the keyboard front of the keyboard. By design it is flush with the keyboard and while that looks great aesthetically when closed it makes lifting the iPad up difficult. If the iPad overhangs just a millimeter or two it is easier to lift and open for use.

If the design were tweaked these are issues that could be fixed without too much difficulty and they really should be.

Back to Jason Snell who posted a follow-up article on the idea of an iOS laptop, this time addressing the critiques of his initial article. In the follow-up, The case against building an iOS laptop—and why it might happen anyway, he writes:

I use my iPad with external keyboards all the time. Sometimes it’s clipped into a keyboard case, so it’s shaped exactly like a laptop. Sometimes it’s on a table with a Smart Keyboard attached. Other times, it’s in a stand on a table with a USB keyboard attached via Apple’s USB 3-Lightning adapter…

If I were doing something that didn’t require typing, something that involved intense tapping and swiping on my iPad, the Zombie Arms experience would start to come to the fore. On the iPad, that’s when I would disconnect the keyboard and hold the tablet more naturally. (That’s why I think an iOS laptop would ideally be a convertible laptop, so you could fold back the keyboard entirely when it isn’t needed.)

I’ve been using mine like this too. My only disagreement is that I think the current iPad is the iPad Jason is describing. I don’t think Apple needs to do much aside from build a proper keyboard. Just tweak the current Brydge a bit and give it the usual Apple fit and finish. Perhaps fix the orientation of the Apple logo on the back of the iPad to reflect a primary horizontal orientation. If Apple could create a hinge with the Smart Connector and a magnetic lock-in we would have the tablet/laptop combination.

As is I think the Brydge does this right now though it is bluetooth based whereas an Apple solution would use the Smart Connector. I’ve only had a week with the Brydge but this combination feels nearly perfect. It’s a laptop when I want a laptop, a tablet when I want a tablet. The effort required to switch form factors is simply to lift the iPad from the hinges or to place in back in them.

What’s a computer

In one of Apple’s latest iPad ads we see a student exploring the city and making great use of an iPad in various locations. It’s a fantastic example of the many ways an iPad can be used. I think this is my favorite iPad ad to date. It’s a tool for exploring and creating. Good stuff.

Apple Watch Series 3

I never write reviews. There are plenty of folks doing that sort of thing. But I often post a few brief thoughts on new purchases.

I’ve not been a watch wearer in many years. And with the iPhone felt even less of a need to have one. I don’t need a watch given that I always have the phone with me. Since it’s release the Apple Watch has been only a slight interest for me, primarily in terms of it’s health application. But with Apple Music and AirPods the interest grew. The prospect of being able to get out for walks and still enjoy music and track steps without the phone was appealing.

I finally decided to give it a go with the Apple Watch Series 3 and I’ve not been disappointed.

I bought it with LTE but haven’t used the LTE much. I’m on Sprint and the signal here is a bit weak and so often times the watch doesn’t have an LTE signal. Not a big problem. I usually have the phone with me anyway. I do a lot of walking and outside work around the cabin and the watch continues to work as fitness tracker and for the Apple Music with our without a cell signal or nearby phone.

As a fitness tracker the watch is great. I’d expected that having the rings would be an additional motivator and that’s true. I didn’t have a problem getting in 10,000 steps on a regular basis but I knew that that was not the complete picture. The rings also provide a nice tracker of intensity, particularly the green ring. Turns out I can get all the steps and fill the red ring but not fill the green because 30 minutes of exercise requires a certain intensity, a higher level of exertion. So, now I don’t just get my steps I also make sure to quicken my pace for some of my walks. I’ve also learned that cutting grass with my electric push mower burns a lot more calories than I realized due to increased intensity.

Nice.

Music on the watch with the AirPods is excellent and honestly, LTE is not required. The watch easily syncs music when plugged in and attached to Wifi. By default it syncs Apple playlists such as New Music, Favorites, and Chill as well as any recent/often listened to music. I can also add any playlist I want. The result is that I have yet to need streaming when playing from the watch. The watch also works as a great remote if I happen to be playing music from the iPhone.

I’m not using many apps aside from Music and the fitness related apps. I’ve got Carrot Weather which is nice and I’ve found Messages pretty useful.

Last is Siri which probably could have come first. I use Siri a lot. Many times a day and Siri on the Watch is fantastic! Very fast and accurate. Possibly better than any other Apple device. A very pleasant surprise. I’ve now got Siri on my wrist, my phone and two always on iPads. Whether I’m scheduling an event, fast forwarding a podcast, creating a reminder or turning off the lights it is rare that I do not get the response I want.

As I wrote above, I’ve not been a watch wearer in a long time. But I am a Star Trek nerd and honestly, when I saw this LTE equipped watch in the keynote a couple months ago my brain just sort of tweaked. From the iPhone to iPad, we’ve had several years of amazing technology that seems like it belongs to the future. This watch is another part of that ecosystem, even smaller and less obtrusive than it’s larger siblings.

I think  wearing a tiny computer on my wrist is a habit I’ll be getting used to.

Catching Up

Wow. It’s been on my mind that I’d not posted to either of my blogs recently. September 29th since my last here. Jeesh.

A few things I’d like to address in upcoming posts. A few thoughts on recent Apple tech purchases, namely the Series 3 watch and the iPhone X. Oh, and I finally took a chance on the Brydge keyboard for the 12.9” iPad. Thus all three have proven to be excellent choices though it’s still early. More soon.

AppleTV Discoverability

I’m a big fan of AppleTV & Apple Music. I use them both daily. Yesterday I discovered an artist while out on a walk while listening to one of Apple’s suggested playlists: “Zone In”. I played a couple tunes by the artist on the iPhone. Today I opened Music on the AppleTV and there, in recently listened songs were a couple by that artist. I played one then wanted to play more music by the artist. But as far as I can tell, there’s no way to jump to that artist. Searching via “Find more songs by this artist” does not work. There’s no button to push.

No_artist

No option to view the artist! The first song, when selected, showed the album cover art and the “… More” button. I looked there and no go. The options were Delete, Play Next, Play Later, Create Station”. Same thing for another of his albums. Hmmm.

While looking at that screen it occurred to me to try Siri on the remote. So, I pressed the Siri button and asked for more music by this artist. Nope, that function does not work in that way. Interesting because I can, from that screen in Music use the Siri button and, for example, get a list movies staring Clive Owen. TV queries also work. But ask for more music from the currently displayed artist does not. Grrrrrrrr.

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Ah, What’s this?

I eventually found it but I think this is one of those features that is not very easily discovered. Turns out I had added both of these to my library while using my iPhone. When I did eventually discover (see image above) a way to look at the artist by clicking the album art on the now playing screen then clicking the … then clicking “Go to Artist” I was able to access his other albums. I clicked one of those albums and the screen for that album was very different from the others.

Artist

This screen included a button for “Go to Artist” below the cover art. The difference was that I had not previously added this to my library. At least, this is one difference that I noticed. Maybe there are other variables such as, did I mark the song “Loved”? I’m not certain what the rules are that will change the options presented on different screens.

I tend to think of myself as someone pretty capable of navigating these sorts of things but this took me awhile. That said, I’ve not used Music as much on the TV as I have on the iPhone/iPad. Maybe it is a question of spending more time using this particular app but that’s the point. There is a certain level of discoverability expected. The more a user has to work at this sort of thing the more frustrating it becomes and sometimes they just give up.

Seems to me that there are some improvements to be made here.

September 20, 2017

A quick test, & I’m really digging the drag & drop from apps to Pages! Also, Pages’ use of the Files app is very well done 🤓 iOS 11 👍🏽

Importing images via drag and drop in iOS 11

After using the iOS 11 beta on my iPad Air 2 for a month I decided to go ahead and update my Pro with the release of the Gold Master released by Apple on the 12th. Wow. So nice on the big screen!

As I was browsing Apple News I came across this Verge article on the best of Cassini’s images. I wondered, could I drag an image from the article directly into the Photos app to import? I assumed not. Well, I was wrong. It seems like drag and drop is everywhere in this version of iOS. Nifty!

Machine Learning’s contribution to Siri’s voice

The Siri team has a great post about the evolution of Siri’s speech synthesis on the Apple Machine Learning Journal:

Siri is a personal assistant that communicates using speech synthesis. Starting in iOS 10 and continuing with new features in iOS 11, we base Siri voices on deep learning. The resulting voices are more natural, smoother, and allow Siri’s personality to shine through. This article presents more details about the deep learning based technology behind Siri’s voice.

Just scroll down to the bottom and listen to the progression between iOS 9, 10, and 11. It’s really impressive.

I’m surprised more beta users have not said more about this over the duration of the public betas. Until this post by Apple I’ve not seen it mentioned even once. Personally I will say that I consider it a fantastic improvement and thought it was one of the highlights of the WWDC Keynote. When I installed the public beta on my iPad the second first thing I did was invoke Siri so I could hear her new voice. So much better!

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

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Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

How-to iPad with iOS 11

Last week Apple released a series of six iPad and iOS 11 How-To videos. I’ve also discovered, what may or may not be a new section of their website, How to do even more with iPad Pro and iOS 11 which not only has the new videos but also four sections for learning about the iPad:

I don’t spend a lot of time browsing Apple’s website unless I explicitly need information. Browsing around just now, via the above links, I’m impressed. This would be a great place for any iPad user to explore and bookmark. I’m particularly impressed with the iPad Apple Support page.

It’s good to see Apple promoting the device and the new features of iOS 11. I’ve thought for awhile now that Apple was doing too little to promote the features of the iPad and anecdotally this bears out in my observations of usage by the people around me. Very few of them are aware of what iOS and the iPad are capable of. While they get a lot of use out of their iPads it’s mostly a casual use. As has been repeated over and over, the iPad as a casual consumption device. For many that I have observed (my extended family all have them) that is indeed true. That said, it is also true that it is their main computing device. But it’s mostly for messaging, browsing the web, Facebook, email and games. Most of these folks are retired though so it makes sense.

There are plenty of kids in my family that are now in Junior High, High School and college. Most of them in fact. Will they be using iPads as their primary computing devices? With iOS 10 and now 11, they certainly could be. The hardware of the iPad is more than capable. And now with iOS 11, even more so. I’ve been out of the college world for 24 years but I know much of it remains the same. From what I’ve seen the iPad is not only well suited to that job it may well be the perfect device for it. The same goes for many other areas.

After browsing the above pages I doubled back to the Main Apple page and then visited the iPad main section. I wasn’t all that surprised that while the content is, of course, about selling iPads it is heavily weighted towards educating the reader about what the iPad can do. I’ve long thought that Apple needed to do more to demonstrate to the public what the strengths of iOS and the iPad form factor are but I’m beginning to realize that the website does this very well. The stores and staff also do this very well. In-store programs such as Apple Today are exactly what’s needed.

The only area that might still need improvement is television spots. The current ads are great in that they offer up an easy to grasp lesson. I’d like to see more of them in this style. A lot more. Just a simple lesson in using one part of the iPad. Currently the spots just end with large text, “iPad Pro” and I know this is very un-Apple like but I wish they’d include something along the lines of “Learn more at apple.com/ipad/howto”. They’ve developed a very helpful, educational website, why not do more to direct users to it? I don’t have access to broadcast television so I have no idea how often Apple airs ads. It would be great if they’d buy a lot of time each fall to educate users about the new features of iOS.