August 16, 2017

Ben LoveJoy over at 9to5Mac has written a very good summary of the app subscription hooha that has popped up over the past week, largely as a result of the subscription model being adopted by the folks that make Ulysses. Here’s his conclusion which I agree with.

I can’t help feeling that the whole subscription model is at some point going to implode. Some people will simply refuse to get on board at all – like those who say they are done with Ulysses – while others will eventually reach breaking point. One or two low-cost subscription apps, well, ok, maybe. But what happens when it’s ten? Twenty? At some point, people are going to say enough is enough.

iPad Journal Video Editing

Back around 2002 I spent a bit of time editing video using a couple of G4 Macs with Final Cut Pro. A series of experimental shorts as well as a full length documentary. Previous to that I’d also used iMovie and since then I’ve mostly used iMovie on Macs and then in the iPad and even the iPhone.

First, the experience of editing on a G4 Mac with iMovie was magical. I’d never done such a thing before. But it was also a process that involved external hard drives and various cables. My Mac’s internal drive did not have the capacity to handle larger projects so those had to be offloaded to external drives in the range of 40 to 80GB. Importing meant attaching a digital camcorder with FireWire and importing the data as the camcorder played the footage. Which meant a lot of time working with a camcorder attached to the computer. Once footage was imported then it was a matter of working with the clips. Arranging them on the timeline, splitting, trimming, etc.

Then there was the rendering. Oh, yes that. Adding transitions, adding captions or titles, could require a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the Mac and the work being done. Then at the end of the project there was the rendering out to a final product. It might be digital or it might be back out to tape. This often took hours for larger projects. Even our top of the line G4 Power Mac could take hours. When I worked on my G4 PowerBook it took even longer. It was the sort of thing you didn’t have to do often but when you did it was best left to do overnight. Come back in the morning and hope there were no errors. Also, as I recall, we didn’t use them much while rendering. All the memory and processor power was consumed by the task at hand. For some context, these Macs. As I recall it had something like a 867 MHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. I’m pretty sure we upgraded to a gig of RAM. The internal hard drive was, I think, 60 GB hence the need to use externals. That set-up was $2500 not counting the external drives that were roughly $200 as I recall. Plus the cost of FCP.

So, in 2002, that was our “Pro” machine that we used to get our work done. Video editing with Final Cut, effects with Adobe After Affects, Photoshop for photos, etc. Out of a small office our little digital arts co-op with 3 desktop Macs and several laptops produced several films that were shown at several film festivals. At least a couple of those filmmakers are still at it today. I was mostly in it for the fun and for the learning. Filmmaking has never been a passion so much as just something I like to tinker with.

Jump forward to 2017. Over the past couple of years I’ve edited several for-fun projects in iMovie on the Mac, iPad Air 2, iPhones, and and now the most recent iPad Pro. Of course the Mac handles it all very well, but I want to focus on iOS devices. The iPhone 6s and iPad also have no problems running iMovie though with the 64 GB storage I had to be careful with stored video. But in terms of processor and memory, iMovie ran very well. Importing is instant if you’re using video recorded on the device. AirDropping clips from an iPhone takes seconds to minutes depending on the size of the clips. Then just import from the Photos library, so, again, it’s instant. Of course, there is no rendering of transitions or captions anymore. Just place them in the timeline and it is instant. Same thing for color filter affects. It’s instant. Editing timeline is a matter of splitting clips, changing length of clips, etc. It’s all pretty basic but it is the essentials and is all instant. Multiple layers of video are not possible. In summary, it’s simple but incredibly fast and smooth. The only time I’ve ever had to wait is in the export process which applies to both Mac and iOS devices. But this isn’t something that takes long and while I’m doing it I can open up apps in slideover (iMovie doesn’t do split screen) and carry on with no lag at all.

This brings me to LumaFusion. Every couple of years I do a little family oriented documentary. In the recent past they have usually been focused on older family members such as grandparents. I wanted to record some of their stories so we would could enjoy them into the future and pass them on to great grandkids. As my parents get older I thought it was about time to get started on their videos and also I have aunts and uncles that I would like to do videos for. So, I decided to splurge on LumaFusion and I’m really glad I did.

I’ve got two active projects going at the moment. About two hours worth of editing time. Enough to begin to form an opinion which is this: LumaFusion is a fantastic tool for anyone that wants or needs to do video editing on an iPad. It’s far more powerful than iMovie. I’ve not used Final Cut Pro since around 2005 so I can’t say how similar it is compared to the current version but I can say that it reminds me of what it was like to use FCP and I’ve heard others say the same. Essentially, it is the closest thing we currently have to FCP on an iPad. It offers up to three layers/tracks of audio and video which was the most obvious feature I considered. Of course, it is far more powerful than iMovie and there are many other features that could be discussed but that’s all on the website. I won’t repeat it here. I will just say that the app is exactly what i was hoping for and works as advertised. 9To5Mac had a great review.

Until Apple offers up FCP for iOS this is the app to use for more advanced video editing. The two projects I’ll be working on over the next couple of months are likely to each be in the 60 to 90 minute range so I expect to have a much better idea of the strengths and limitations of LumaFusion when I’ve gotten to the other side. Based on the time I’ve already spent with it I do feel comfortable in my expectation that this app, combined with the iPad Pro, will serve as a very powerful video editing combination. By comparison to the “pro” Power Mac, my current iPad cost less than half and is portable in a way that that desktop could never be. Furthermore, my iPad actually contains a video camera that is far better than the one I used back then. Or, if preferred, I can use the slightly better camera found in my iPhone 7Plus. My point is that what we call “pro” is always relative. What “professionals” might use at different times for different tasks will vary.

I’m really looking forward to giving this a whirl and will, no doubt, report back on the experience!

Back to Byword

Getting Byword set-up again for blogging. Haven’t used this app in over a year and I think I’ll settle back in just fine. As comfortable as I was with Ulysses, the interface between the two is not all that different.

So long Ulysses

Well. Darn it. Count me among those that enjoy Ulysses but will not subscribe. I’ve used it for a year and it’s a great app. The best feature, in my scenario, is posting to WordPress. I’m happy to pay well for apps like Ulysses and pay for updates as needed. But I’m not willing to pay for a subscription. I can’t afford to subscribe to every app I use. If it is essential for what I do, maybe. But even then I’m not happy about it. But for a text editor? No. There are too many other options. The one feature of easier blog posting is not enough to keep me around.

I may continue to use the current version till it no longer works but I’ll likely look into other options and probably begin the transition to something else. I suspect it will feel strange to invest further documents into an app that no longer has a long-term future on my devices. In fact, it only took me the time to write those two sentences to decide that I would begin phasing out my use of Ulysses this very moment. The problem is that every document in Ulysses is held in a monolithic database. Compare that to an app like Byword or Editorial, both of which store documents as individual text documents in their app folder on iCloud or Dropbox, respectively. 

So, as of this moment, I’m giving up the benefits I found in using Ulysses and switching. I’ll revisit both Byword and Editorial for now. Also, there have been quite a few updates to the official WordPress app. I’ll give that another look for the actual mechanics of blog posting. 

A final brief but blunt note about app subscriptions: NO. Your app is not a magazine or a music or video service. It’s an app.  It is a thing that I want to own, not a service I want to rent. There’s a time and a place for subscriptions but apps is not one of them. At least, not for me. Let me pay a fair price for an app. Offer paid updates as needed. But I want to own it. I don’t want to be locked into paying for it again and again. Not for a dollar or $2 or $5. 

Sigh.

What the iPad Pro is capable of

The Matter of High-End iPad Growth

Nigel Warren (via Michael Tsai):

The iPad’s average selling price can be seen as an indication of whether the iPad has the potential to continue evolving into a more capable tool. If sales of the Pro line are weak, it’s a sign that Apple hasn’t succeeded in creating useful functionality that takes advantage of improved hardware. And if users don’t need improved hardware, Apple’s business model can’t justify continued iPad software development long term.

Nick Heer at Pixel Envy chimes in:

It has been remarkable over the past several years to watch the iPad’s skyrocketing performance potential, but it has been infuriating to see a lack of comparable software improvements. iOS 11 will help turn that corner, but I feel a lot of work remains to make the power of the iPad feel like it’s being put to use.

Yes, iOS 11 and then apps like Affinity Photo and soon, Affinity Designer. Also, the excellent multi-track video editing app, LumaFusion Pro. These apps are exactly the kinds of apps that push the hardware of the iPad Pro. There are, of course, other “pro” apps such as Panic’s Coda and Transmit that are used for professional purposes but which do not push the hardware in the same way. The point is though that these apps exist. Now. If anything, it might be said that what is increasingly needed is for Apple to really push the marketing of the iPad. All of them.

Regardless, I don’t think I’d call the state of iOS or available apps “infuriating”. There are things in our world for which that kind of emotion is warranted but it isn’t this.

Revisiting Space Exploration with Affinity Photo for iPad

In June of 2015 Affinity Designer for Mac caused a splash when it was released. I’d never heard of it but was anxious to try something that might allow me to replace Illustrator. I spent a couple weeks with the trial and decided pretty quickly that I would be purchasing it. During that time I created a series of space-themed posters and shared them is a couple of blog posts: post one and post two.

Of course, Designer is primarily for creating vector-based art. But just as Affinity Photo on Mac is very capable of doing vector work so too is the iPad version. I thought it would be fun to revisit with a new space exploration themed image again using a Carl Sagan Quote.

The quote in its entirety:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” – Carl Sagan

iPad Journal: Transitioning from InDesign to Pages

Anytime I’ve written about my transition to iPad for more of my work I always note that one of the few reasons I have for returning to the Mac for client work is InDesign. While the company that makes Affinity Photo also has a publishing app in the works that is intended to replace InDesign it is likely a ways off for the Mac and even further away for the iPad. But there is hope to be found in Apple’s Pages app and with a recent update to the app I’ve been giving more thought to how I might transition more of my InDesign work in that direction. Can Pages handle it?

Yes. Yes it can. Sometimes.

On the Mac side of things I’ve been using InDesign and Pages since they were released. In that time I’ve used InDesign for the projects where I felt Pages was lacking in some way. For example, I’ve worked with two different community newspapers and newspaper layout isn’t something I would ever do with Pages. Actually, I believe I did one issue using Pages and it worked out okay but I felt more comfortable with InDesign for that kind of work. Also, any project in which a client wants more than a printable pdf, specifically when they want an InDesign file well, obviously, that’s the app I use. I’d say my use of each app was about 50/50. Though I generally used InDesign for larger more complicated documents I found Pages worked very well for flyers, posters and smaller newsletters as well as Annual Reports. In 2014 I helped a friend publish her first book and that was done with Pages and turned out very well.

For years both of those apps matured until 2010 when the iPad was introduced by Apple. They also introduced a version for the iPad and then a couple years later rebuilt Pages on both its platforms, Mac and iOS, to be much closer in compatibility. It was a step forward for the iOS version but a big step backward for the Mac version which lost many features. In my own workflow I resorted to keeping the older version of Pages around as it still worked fine though it was no longer being updated. Users howled and Apple responded by gradually re-adding many of those features but it has taken time. It took a few years but the result is that we now have Pages on Mac and iPad which is near feature parity and which has been re-built into something much closer (in features) to the original Mac version of Pages. In many ways it is much improved as it has new features such as real-time collaboration and a web version that works on Windows via iCloud.

What’s still lacking in the iOS version of Pages? Sadly, there are a few important things. Creating and editing styles is not an option. I can apply a style but I cannot edit a pre-existing style. To do that I have to be on a Mac. If I’ve created a document and decide to change the page orientation after the fact I’ll need a Mac. If I want to create a document using a custom page size or change a document to a custom page size I’ll need a Mac. These are some pretty basic and foundational features and should not be missing from the iOS version. This is especially true give than Apple markets their “Pro” iPads as computers powerful enough to replace traditional computers. That said, Apple is consistently updating the app with new and important features. For example, the most recent update released in the summer of 2017, reintroduced a feature which had been removed in the above mentioned redesign of the app: linked text boxes. This is a feature that is an absolute necessity for many multi-page documents.

Where is Pages for iOS lacking in comparison to InDesign. For starters, the above mentioned ability to create and edit styles. InDesign has many advanced typography features lacking in Pages. Just one example: You can’t change the character spacing (though this does work on the Mac version of Pages). There’s no work space (usually called a pasteboard) around a Pages document for temporarily placing things while working. Want to reorder pages by their thumbnails? Nope The header or footer of a Pages document are the only places you can add page numbers and it’s all or nothing. Not much in the way of customization. If I’m doing a cover page or a table of contents I don’t want those pages to have a header with a page number. For small documents, say, a 6 page newsletter, it’s not a huge burden do create my own headers with page numbers added manually. Most of the documents I do are less than 10 pages but it’s worth mentioning the limitation.

Even with these limitations Pages on the the large 12.9″ screen of the iPad Pro is very powerful and a pleasure to use. It has a few features that do not exist on InDesign. For example, charts which are almost always a part of any annual report. I can do a table in InDesign but it’s far easier to do in Pages. Of course, adding objects and flowing text around them is something InDesign does but Pages does it so fluidly. Also, the styling options for objects in Pages, while a bit more limited also seem more powerful and are easier to apply. Perhaps the best way of summarizing the difference is that working with Pages means fewer features by comparison to InDesign but what it does do, Pages does very well and with little friction. A last point: when I consider the features I need for a newsletter or annual report job, Pages almost always has what I need.

So, to summarize, InDesign is, without a doubt, a far more powerful application than Apple’s Pages. It is a truly “Pro” application… for the Mac. It is not available for the iPad. But if my end product is to be a newsletter or annual report, either of these apps will allow me to produce a visually attractive, well designed document. Were I to set out to create a similar design using each app, for the sake of comparison, it is very likely that they would, in most cases, be indistinguishable from one another. Put another way, were I to send you 10 pdfs of the usual sort of newsletter or annual report that I’ve produced and ask you to determine which of the two apps was used, you would probably not be able to.

Pages is obviously not the most powerful or the best page layout tool for designing multi-page documents on the Mac. But on the iPad, as far as I am aware, it is the best option and it’s one which I’ve used many times with great results. I’ll keep InDesign around for the projects that require it but going forward if I can do a job on Pages I will.

July 13, 2017

Noticing that iCloud Drive does not update as quickly as DropBox. Problem on both Mac & iOS.

iPad Journal: Multi-touch on the iPad 12.9″

I’ve been using the larger iPad for nearly a month now and continue to consider it the best Apple device I’ve ever used. For casual browsing of the web via Safari, Reeder and Twitter it is essentially the same experience as with the iPad Air 2, just bigger. I probably use split screen more for that. But that’s not why I wanted the larger iPad. I wanted it for work and as a work device it is everything I hoped it would be. And that’s with iOS 10. I expect it to get even better with iOS 11. Managing client websites with Coda while split screening with apps such as Mail, Messages or Safari is a much easier task with the added screen space. Using the recently released Affinity Photo for designing several client postcards and posters has also been a much nicer process with the larger screen. It will be better when they add split screen to it as I often need text and images from other apps while working.

Something which was unexpected: I’ve noticed is that there are times that I’m now actively using more than one touch point at a time. Put another way, I am now using two hands, two fingers on screen at the same time, to do certain tasks. In part I think this came about as a result of the bigger screen. But it was also a result of thinking about the coming changes with iOS 11 as a multi-touch operating system. The idea of using two hands and multiple fingers wasn’t something I’d really thought about before when using the smaller iPad Air 2. But between learning about iOS 11 and multi-touch features and having the larger screen iPad I think something in my brain clicked. Along with this is a more general use of two hands. I may not be actively touching the screen with both hands at the same time but I’m finding now that I am much more likely to have both hands up at the screen, coordinating actions back and forth. Which brings me to Dan Counsell’s recent post to his blog, Minimal Path, Apple should release bigger iPads:

If Apple wants the iPad to start making serious inroads into the pro market, and I believe they do, then they are going to need to release even bigger iPads. That may sound crazy, but hear me out.

For starters, I’d like to see an iPad around the 15-inch mark, akin to the MacBook Pro. Hell, maybe even 17 to 20-inch versions. If you spend a large amount of time working at a desk you don’t need a system to be super portable, you just need more screen real estate and more power.

I agree completely. Personally, I’m very happy with my current set-up of Mac-Mini for desktop and iPad Pro for mobile. I’ll need to keep the Mac for InDesign and as a media server for Plex. But I can definitely see the usefulness of a large, 23 to 27″ desktop iPad. I’ve been hoping Apple would make such a beast since Microsoft unveiled the Surface Studio. Would be fantastic for video editing with a new version of Final Cut Pro for iOS1 as well as design work with Affinity Photo and the upcoming Affinity Designer and hopefully, one day, an Affinity Layout app. An “iPad Studio” would be the perfect device to showcase working with the multi-touch capabilities coming with iOS 11. Until then I’ll happily continue using my iPad Pro.

  1. Or the recently updated LumaFusion video editor. I just started using this today and as many have already said, it is as close as we currently have to Final Cut Pro for the iPad.

July 6, 2017

9to5Mac has an excellent post about benefits of using Apple’s Smart Keyboard with iPad Pro.

In short, when you want a laptop experience it takes only a second to dock the iPad. When you want a tablet just undock it. When on the move you have a very thin, lightweight Smart Cover!