Tag Archives: Technology

Introducing the iPad Journal

As is often mentioned in the Apple-centric media that Apple does not do enough to promote the iPad. Specifically that Apple fails to tell the story of what people can do, are doing with the device. I've certainly become a bit obsessed with the iPad in the past few months. I've had one since the first day they were available to order but it took six years before it really clicked for me at which time I went from a consistent casual user to nearly full time user. In 25 years of using Apple tech I can say that this is my favorite device thus far and the one I'm most likely to be using at any given moment.

So, I'm planning an ongoing journal of sorts in which I'll share not just how I'm using the device day-to-day. I'd like to get into the tasks the device helps me tackle and the apps I find most useful in

the process. I want to tell the story of how and why the iPad has become my favorite and most used technology. Lots of others are doing the same thing and I intend to link to what they are doing as well.

For example, writer Matt Gemmell has recently gone "iPad only" and has written a fantastic series on the process. I highly recommend it. I follow Matt on Twitter as well and I really appreciate his take on things. I'll be sharing bits of what he's doing as he's got a great way of delving into specific areas and workflows that I find helpful.

Others are Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs who have been hosting the Canvas Podcast which is all about being productive on iPad. Federico is well known as an iPad advocate and is the publisher of MacStories. He writes a pretty amazing review of each year's iOS update and is one of my favorites.

Then there is Serenity Caldwell, Rene Ritchie and iMore in general. Serenity or Rene use the full range of Apple tech but both use the iPad a lot and often write about it, especially Serenity. I've come to really appreciate iMore as a site that that tends to stay positive and one which increasingly focuses on how to use Apple tech rather than share rumors.

Most recently I've really enjoyed the writings of Matt Birchler at BirchTree. He uses an iPad Air 2 as his main machine. I expect I'll likely share some of his posts as well.

There are plenty of others.

Oh iPad, not again

As has become routine when Apple announces it's quarterly financials the Apple pundits have much to say about the iPad which has seen yet another decline in numbers. Most of it mirrors what has been said the past couple of years which is to say concern that Apple is not doing enough to develop the iPad part of iOS and also that not enough is being done by Apple to promote the iPad. I agree with both.

A lot has been written this week on the topic but the two I found the most useful were by Rene Ritchie and Khoi Vinh.

Rene's post was notable in that he hit on something that has really been bugging me, that the Apple-centric media has gotten into the bad habit of mostly writing for itself and analyzing Apple only from it's very narrow perspective. The problem with that is that it results in a very distorted and, frankly, wrong analysis. The general public thinks and behaves very differently. A part of why the Applesphere has gotten the iPad story wrong is because they have forgotten that the mainstream does not obsess about this stuff. They don't obsess over the details of the operating system nor do they update their computers every year or even every other year. It's a fun device with practical uses. There are at least 16 of them being used in my extended family but they don't get updated every other year. There are original iPads still in use as well as all the other versions. They are sturdy devices that are being used for multiple years before being replaced. As Rene pointed out:

That's what Steve Jobs meant when he called iPad the future of computing. His dream, and the consistent goal of Apple over the years, from Apple II to Mac to iMac to iPad, was mainstreaming computer technology. It's also why Jobs spoke of trucks and cars. iPad wasn't a PC, it was something that the majority of people would eventually find more practical than a full-on PC.

It seems pretty clear that at least a part of the reason that iPad sales have declined is that many were purchased over the first 3-4 years and those are still being used and many will continue to be used. An iPad 4 is good enough for my sister, my parents, my granny, my aunt, my uncle and so on. They very likely don't even know what version of iPad they have or what version of iOS it is running. Until it runs out of storage space they'll keep using it.

In his post The iPad Is Not Done, Khoi Vinh, says a bit more about the iPad as it relates to those of us that do more with the iPad than non-techies. Specifically that the iPad has much more potential with the refinement of iOS. This is a group of people that have spent more time thinking about the iPad as a tool and would like to do more but have found it lacking thus far or found it lacking three years ago.

However, I don’t find it plausible to conclude that just because the iPad isn’t growing right now that that means it can’t grow again. For me, it’s a fallacy to think that the iPad we have today represents the peak expression of what an iPad can be. Yes, you could argue that the trend towards larger smartphones and thinner laptops has robbed the iPad of some of its distinctive qualities, but that would really only be true from a hardware perspective. There’s loads of untapped potential in iPad software.

I think this group includes people that complain about the iPad not having this or that feature when in fact it does. People that may have tried it in the past and written it off fairly quickly. These are folks that take their computing seriously but want the power of an operating system they are used to. From 2011 to 2014 iOS was far more limited on the iPad. I suspect that many from this group have not given iPad a proper re-evaluation and may not have explored all of the features introduced with iOS 9. They still see the iPad as the device that was unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2010. They've long since given their iPads to their kids to use or have lost them on a shelf somewhere. They likely use a Mac and an iPhone.

This group also includes the people who are actively using an up-to-date iOS 10 iPad and are fully aware of the features and the shortcomings. This group sees the potential Vinh wrote about. Interestingly much of this potential might be realized with just a few additions such as drag and drop between split screen windows, multiple windows of the same application in split screen, and an improved application picker in split screen mode are all features I'd like and that I've seen mentioned repeatedly by others. Of course there's more but just a handful of these features would go a long way towards making iPad "power" users happy and more productive.

For myself, I certainly expect Apple will improve iOS for iPad. Of course they will. It just takes time. I expect much of what we've been longing for will be released with iOS 11 given that 10 was largely focused on the iPhone. And because I think the iPad is such a fantastic device I do also hope that Apple does more to tell the story of what a great tool it can be. It seems likely that 2017 will see this happen as both iPad Pro models are likely going to see updates. Combine those updates with iOS 11 and I think we will also see a renewed effort from Apple to re-introduce the iPad to the public. Only Apple knows at this point.

The AirPods: Siri Everywhere!

Much has been made over the past year about Amazon's Alexa and Google's equivalent which are both available in different forms on different devices. In that process many have taken the opportunity to criticize Apple's Siri, many suggesting that Apple has fallen behind. I've written before about my fondness for Siri and the many ways I've found "her" useful over the past couple years. Perhaps the two things that the Echo has become most noted for are excellent accuracy in understanding dictation and the ever growing list of available skills. I've no first hand experience so I can't say much other than to acknowledge that yes indeed the list of "skills" is quite large and seemingly growing all the time. That said, at this moment, the Echo is also very limited in terms of availability in other countries. It's also generally mostly useful in the home.

I'll agree that my iPad and iPhone have not been perfectly accurate when I use Siri. I think I'd peg the accuracy at about 70% or a wee bit above that. It has worked well enough that I've continued to use it fairly often and have been generally happy with the results. With the new AirPods I'm seeing this greatly improved. Not only that, I am also finding that the AirPods are comfortable enough that they disappear into the background. Which is to say that while I'm aware that I have them in my ears I'm not distracted by them and so I tend to wear them far longer than any other headphone I've owned. In fact I'm leaving them in for much of the day with the exception of charging times.

I'm beginning to think of the AirPods as a persistent extension of Siri and I'd guess that Apple hopes this is the case for many who purchase the AirPods. I can certainly say that when I purchased them much of my interest was directly related to using Siri. Sure, I listen to music and podcasts daily and these are fine for both. But what I really wanted was an always present Siri that would more accurately understand my requests and do so more quickly than with my other bluetooth headphones or interaction with the phone directly. I've not been disappointed.

15 years ago I was that nerd that used "Speakable Items" on the Mac. It didn't work very well for me. But I tried. I've no doubt that more than one of my roommates at the time face palmed as they walked by my room as I alternated between patient talking and near shouting as I tried to interact with my Mac by voice. Well, here we are. It's 2017 and this is not yet the intelligent, ever present computer from Star Trek nor is it the AI found in the movie Her but the AirPods with Siri are a step in the right direction.

Until I had the AirPods I'd been hoping for a stationary device like the Echo but no longer. Assuming I have the AirPods in my ear and my iPhone within 60 feet I can, in all likelihood, make a request of Siri that will be successfully answered. In many ways this feels like the best of both worlds: the Echo/Google Home living room device and the mobile Siri model of Apple. When I'm at home I have the freedom to roam with or without the iPhone and still have Siri. When I get out for a walk or errands in town I take the iPhone and continue to have Siri.

Siri is far from perfect and there is much room for improvement mainly in that I'd like an expansion of what "she" can do for me. I don't doubt that Apple is working on this and that we will see a constant expansion of the things that the OS and third party apps can do. The AirPods and Siri feel like the future. Like the iPhone and iPad, they are the tech of science fiction being born into the present.

iPad Preferred

A few weeks ago Federico Viticci wrote a very nice article about his transition to the iPad as his primary computer: A Computer for Everything: One Year of iPad Pro – MacStories

"There's no doubt in mind now: the iPad Pro is the best computer I've ever owned not only because it's powerful, but because iOS apps unlock a different kind of productivity on the big screen. More than any other iPad before, the iPad Pro is the strongest argument in favor of iOS for as a primary computing platform."

"My first year with the iPad Pro has been a success. By embracing new ways to work and manage my time, I was able to optimize my workflow on a computer that can transform into a laptop, a book, a videogame console, and a focused writing machine. I've had fun working on the iPad Pro, but, more importantly, I've accomplished more thanks to the power of modern iOS apps. What I do on the iPad Pro today can't be done on a Mac."

Serenity Caldwell has also been using the iPad as a primary computer – mostly.

The potential of the iPad platform remains huge, but Apple has made great strides in realizing some of that potential, giving its users more control over the last twelve months. Thanks to third-party apps like Workflow, I've been able to recreate — and in some cases, better — daily work tasks.

There are more and more people doing this and along with the trend there is growing concern in the Mac-using community that the Mac might be on the way out. Maybe in the distant future. Maybe not. But if so I don't see it happening anytime soon. Jason Snell has a great video about the Mac as truck, tablet as car comparison that Jobs used several years back.

At this point in time it is a given that the iOS ecosystem will only become more powerful in terms of hardware and software. From iOS to new iPads to other as yet unreleased iOS devices, we don't know where this road will lead, but we can plainly see that the platform is increasingly capable of handling a greater variety of tasks and is often capable of things the Mac is not capable of. And with the recently introduced "Pro" branding it seems Apple intends for the iPad to become more people's primary computer. With iOS 10 many iPad fans were a bit disappointed with the lack of iPad specific features. If Apple truly intends the iPad to take a more prominent role they'll have to do better.

I've greatly enjoyed my increased time on the iPad in the past year and there's no doubt that it is now my preferred device. There's something about holding this impossibly thin and light pad of glass and metal that just feels right. It feels like the future. Maybe I've watched too much Star Trek? In any case, I suspect with each year more of my work will be iPad based and less will be on the Mac. It's safe to say that the Mac is now a secondary machine but truthfully, I'm still happy to have it around. I'm beginning to think of macOS the way I used to think of Mac OS 9, the "Classic" Mac OS. Not that the old system was ever as stable or as enjoyable to use as OS X but it held a special place (and still does) in my memory of Mac experience. OS X/macOS has been an incredible workhorse for 15 years and I've made my living using it. I've enjoyed every version beginning with the public beta all the way through to today.

Innovation is often in the details

I recently decided to switch from AT&T to Sprint because I can get a good bit more data. It was this decision which led me into a nearby Sprint store which led to the store employee asking me about my use of the iPhone. He uses Android. My take on it is, eh, whatever. I don't care what platform other people use. Use what floats your boat. iOS, Android, hand-made paper, stone tablet, whatever. In any case, as we chatted he suggested that Apple's not been very innovative in recent years. It's something I've heard recently… or rather, read recently. Plenty of times. Mostly I just shrug and giggle. There are more important things to worry about (climate change being the top of my list). That said, I am also a geek, so I do have a few thoughts not just on Apple devices and innovation but also on the ease with which we form opinions often without little knowledge or understanding of a situation or technology.

I've not used a new iPhone 7 but from what I've seen and read, it is a solid technological upgrade with a nearly identical shell. So, to deal with the shell first, I'm an adult and I just don't see the need for a change every year or other year or even every three years. Change for change's sake does not interest me much. Frankly I think that speaks to a kind of immaturity, a kind of insecurity. It demonstrates a surface level desire for the new rather than a deeper, thoughtful appreciation and respect for the work that goes into something artfully designed. It's an expression of a society that is never happy with what it has, never satisfied, always greedy for the next new thing whether it is an improvement or not.

But beyond the I agree with the sentiment that I'm seeing around which is that the iPhone design has become iconic. Ben Bajarin's latest, The Benchmark iPhone 7 Plus is just one example of such sentiment.

Excellent, beautiful design, should stand the test of time. A well designed device should last awhile not need replacing every year or other year. That speaks to a throw away culture, plastic forks and paper plates. I've got a 2012 Mac Mini that I will use until it no longer functions. It is has, to my eyes, a simple and beautiful design. It sits quietly on a shelf of my standing desk and does what I need it to do. My iPad Air 2 is the same story except that it resides near me, be it on the futon or at the library or wherever. Same for the iPhone.

In my eyes the outer shell of the current iPhone is close to perfect. They changed up the design enough to make it water proof and that's a fantastic new feature even if it still looks the same (new color options notwithstanding). Internally they've built an entirely new camera system, processors, taptic engine and more. There's nothing about this iPhone that is the same. These are the changes that matter the most in terms of what the iPhone can be in terms of a functional, useful tool. The only way to look at this current device or the evolution of this device and come away with the idea that it demonstrates a lack of innovation is to look at it with your eyes closed. Such a statement demonstrates a shallowness of perception and a lack of effort of in observation. From the cameras to the processors to a host of other components, the iPhone is an excellent example of thoughtful iteration of design and it's in the details of the evolution that one will find the innovation.

I'd say that's it's not just the iPhone or iPad which demonstrate such innovation but equally important is the evolution of iOS as well. Again, it is a iterative process. Some years the "innovation" is more user facing, other years it is foundational. But it is there. Innovation is not just shiny new device categories. In the case of the iPad Pro and Pencil it can certainly be said that the Pencil, as an accessory, is innovative in the details of the implementation. By all accounts there's never been a stylus like it before and that's because of the details of the software and hardware engineering of both Pencil and iPad.

In the case of iOS and the Apple ecosystem I'd suggest that one innovation that adds to the delight and usefulness of the hardware is the communication between devices. Whether it is the hand off between device clipboards that is a new feature in 2016 or the handoff off app tasks that came on board in iOS 8 or the upcoming handoff that will allow the new AirPods to seamlessly move from device to device as the user moves from device to device. I can easily imagine starting a podcast on my Mac Mini. Half way through the dog goes to the door to let me know he needs a walk so I pickup my iPhone and see the handoff icon for the podcast app in the corner. I push the icon up and after unlocking the phone with my thumb the audio seamlessly switches to the iPhone and continues playing through the AirPods as I move from one device to the next. That is the kind of software/hardware innovation that Apple excels at and it makes for a delightful user experience.

Everyone has an opinion as they are easy to have, but few of us are ever aware of the details. Whether it is the details of the engineering of Apple's latest release or the detail of a probe sent into the solar system by NASA, engineering is all about the details. It's probably safe to say that while most of us are generally unaware of those details we are very good at enjoying the experience that they provide. We are good at taking for granted the innovation and the science involved in the technology that surrounds us. All of this to say that it's easy to sound silly when we express opinions often based on little to no understanding of the details of the technology and process.