Category: iPad

Google Glass: I think I’ve found the killer app

I’ve been watching the fuss around Google Glass with a bit of an air of detachment. In a world where you feel like a geek for wearing a bluetooth headset for your phone, wearable computing has got a way to go.

But the application for Google Glass I’d love is a super version of Evernote Hello – tracking the people you know.

Combine facial recognition with background information – when my boss walks into view it reminds me I need to get him to approve my holiday request. When I meet someone new (they stay in shot for more than 30 seconds) it automatically adds their photo to the “people I met today” where I can add name, contact details etc. If I haven’t seem them for a while it pops up their name and where we met and any other notes. Also tracking context “This is Fred Smith from Fubar computing. Last met at Fubar user conference in Barcelona.”

Paperless, and Apple Mac

I hinted at a bit of a technology change in my last post.  Several months on, I’ve replaced my PC technology with Apple, and I have to say I’m very pleased with the switch.  It’s been a bit more of an investment than I’d planned, largely because of finding some paid equivalents of free PC software that I’ve wanted to get, but for a lot of people, particularly those who aren’t power users, this could be done on a bit of a shoe string.

Copying the data over from the PC was painless enough – I just dropped the PC drive into a USB drive caddy and copied everything over.  About the only thing I know i lost was the iTunes Meta-data (track ratings, playlists, etc), and that was largely a conscious decision that with everything else that needed converting and moving I’d rather start from scratch.

Getting the new mac fully loaded with software was helped along with the MacHeist Bundle 4.  While I’m not going to use everything in that bundle, I’ve more than got my money’s worth.

So, what does my Mac software bundle look like?

Aperture  for photo management.  iPhoto just didn’t cut it with almost 30,000 photos to manage.  I should probably do a longer post just on this, but I now stand a chance of finding pictures I’ve taken in the past, and seeing them again. 

Google Chrome as my primary browser.  Safari is OK, but I’m used to Chrome and it plays the same everywhere.  I really should make the effort to switch to Safari, just for the integration across devices, but sometimes the comfort zone is just too comfortable. 

iTunes for music and video playback.  There are lots of other programs out there, but for integration with the other iThings, it wins hands down. 

iMovie for video editing.  I’d like to get something a bit more sophisticated, but I do so little video work it’s extravagant to buy a more expensive piece of software for now.

Handbrake for transcoding DVDs to video files to watch on the iPad

Microsoft Office – fortunately I work for a company who is eligible for Microsoft’s Home Use Program so I was able to get Office 2011 for a tiny fraction of the usual price.   I’m still tempted to drop the Apple alternatives – Keynote, Pages, Numbers on as well for comparison. 

GIMP and Acorn for photo editing.  I installed Acorn and haven’t registered it, largely because, well, I’m familiar with GIMP and I’ve not used Acorn enough to decide if it’s better or not.  It probably is, but I need to get over the initial learning curve first.   What I really want is something that will do PhotoShop-esque intelligent object selection, but I’m not prepared to pay PhotoShop money to get it. 

Scrivener.  The word processor for writers.  For putting together longer documents, and researching projects, this is an excellent way of working – far nicer than trying to do it in word.  Again, why Scrivener is different from both Evernote and Word, is probably something that deserves it’s own post.

Evernote  “Your external brain” they call it, and it’s certainly mine. Synced to all my devices, and used in conjunction with the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner, this is the core of keeping paper off my desk.  Given the amount of non-paper cluttering the desk up, I do wonder why I bothered!

MarsEdit  Blogging client.  For writing blog posts offline, and managing them online.  I have several different blogs – this one, a separate one for amateur radio, and a third for a 4×4 Club, plus other websites I’m converting to use WordPress as  their CMS.

TextWrangler – because I can’t justify paying the money for BBEdit right now, though I probably will upgrade when I get into a serious programming frenzy at some point. 

DropBox to synchronise work in progress between the two macs, and also make stuff available to the iPad when offline.  For the amount of stuff I count as work in progress.

Backblaze for off-site backup of the primary Mac.  The laptop is backed up to a portable hard drive when at home, but I don’t worry about it too much.  I’m rarely on the road for any length of time. 

Freemind I’ve not found anything better looking as a paid app, though I love iThoughtsHD on the iPad.   This is my “thinking” program. 

Parallels to run Windows and Linux in a virtual machine.  There are a few applications I run under here, most of which are only installed on either the home Mac Mini or the Laptop – I don”t need them on both. 

Running under Parallels

TaxCalc – I get the upgrade every year for the pain it takes out of doing a Tax return.  

Quickbooks – looks like there’s a Mac version, but it’s not my money to upgrade with. 

Legacy – family tree software.  There’s probably a Mac alternative.  The learning curve is tough enough I’ll probably stick this one out. 

Ham Radio Deluxe and Minos for my Amateur Radio logbook.   HRD is going pay ware some time, so I’m probably going to switch to HamLoggerDX instead.   But right now, I don’t want to learn another logging program .

Various G4HFQ programs for radio handset programming, plus Kenwood’s program for the TMD72E.  I confess I haven’t tried these actually connected to a radio, but I remain impressed with Parallels ability to assign USB devices either to the host OS or guests on connection or permanently. 

Nanocom’s desktop software

And, for the hardware:

2011 Mac Mini with i7 Processor, 256Gb SSD, 750Gb Hard Drive, 16Gb RAM, two 22″ wide screen monitors, Apple USB keyboard and magic mouse.  I also have a trackpad which I find easier for some tasks, especially scrolling through documents while working on something else. 

MacBook Air, 13″ screen i7 processor,  8GB RAM, 256Gb SSD. 

Backup devices: QNAP NAS with 2x2TB RAID 1 array for backup of the Mini.  500Gb hard drive connected to the Mini to backup the Air.  None of these leave home under normal circumstances; I’ll use dropbox or a local disk for on-the-fly backup copies if needed. 

iPad – most of a year on

After I originally posted my initial impressions of the iPad, I thought it was time to come back with some long term opinions.

When I got it, I said that “the iPad would either become used almost as much as my laptop, or become a very expensive photo frame except when I’m travelling.   After the first 48 hours I think it’s going to be closer to the former.”

Well, some 9 months later I’m pleased to see my prediction was correct. It’s been an essential companion on a variety of trips from a handful of day trips into London to two weeks in the Maldives.  I hardly ever read a normal book any more.  It beats using a laptop in bed – and being able to flip between the Internet, a book, and a game as the mood takes me is great when chilling out.

I pretty much use it every single day, and have come close to flattening the battery in less than 24 hrs – yes, 10 hrs usage.

What’s bad about it?

I wish I’d got the 3G version for seamless mobile use.  I dismissed it as a luxury thinking I wouldn’t want to use it mobile very much.

The onscreen keyboard isn’t good enough to be a complete laptop replacment, and even with an external bluetooth keyboard it’s a bit limiting.

It’s only 64Gb of storage.   I need to be restrained about the number of films I keep on it.

The screen isn’t the best in bright sunlight.  You can ignore the reflections up to a point, but I’m probably going to end up with a Kindle as well.

It also suffers from the same limitations as other eBook readers: limited availability of existing titles and no (legal) way to convert your physical book collection into eBook form.   If you have a favourite book in paper that’s not available yet, you’re kind of stuck unless you can find an online copy (which can then be easily converted into EPUB format using a tool called Calibre).   I don’t mind paying for eBooks, but I do object to paying twice for the same book to get the electronic version.

On a related note it would be nice if importing video from DVDs was as quick and as seamless as importing music from a CD.


iPad again

Yet another “what do you do with your iPad” post has got me thinking about how I use mine.

It’s not really reduced use of my mobile phone. It might on some mid-length trips where it’s enough to carry the iPad but not a laptop.

I still use my iPod Nano for media rather than my phone. And I’m still figuring out how best to interface that to a 2004 model car.

It’s totally supplanted the Creative Zen Vision:W media player that replaced my original iPod. That’s going on eBay.

It’s become a new category of amusement as a eBook reader. I’m a bit late to the eBook party, but on the other hand I still think I’m here as an early adopter dealing with a fragmented marketplace and lots of competing and incompatible devices. I think I’ve largely seen the end of me buying paper books, but I want to know there’s a way out of the DRM before I really commit.

The other change is a bit more complex. At the start of this year I had a desktop and a netbook as my personal computers. The desktop died and got replaced with a laptop. The netbook was intended as a travel computer, and that role has been largely supplanted by the iPad. I’ve not sold it yet for one simple reason – I’ve done so little travelling that I’ve not had chance to confirm the iPad as the replacement. But the iPad has definitely taken over the “consumption” role of the laptop. When I want to sit back and read – be it forums, blogs, RSS feeds or books, the iPad is the tool of choice. And with a Bluetooth keyboard, it’s also a creation tool. But not a serious one. Because there’s no way to paste the link I copied inline into this post. So it will remain a drafting, tool, a place to make notes and write blog entries from a comfy chair. It certainly won’t replace the laptop. The jury’s still out on the netbook, but probably that’s out too.

The game changing features of the iPad are the fact that it’s “instant on”, it’s a “like a book” way to read books and the internet, and that it turns the web into something you can pass around like a book.

These sound like subtle changes – and from a technological viewpoint they are. But from a usability viewpoint they are game changing.

The iPad is indeed a third device. More portable than a laptop, more useful than a smartphone, and more cool than even an iPhone 4.

It’s also interesting that Mary Foley who writes the All About Microsoft blog also categorises the iPad as a “consumption” device. It’s something for reading, for watching, for sharing.

iPad plus Bluetooth Keyboard

Well, it’s taken me about 10 seconds to confirm what I expected – with the bluetooth keyboard, the Ipad makes a perfectly acceptable laptop substitute. OK, I can’t actually use it for Real Work (TM), but for the odd spot of blogging, email or updating Facebook it’s hugely more useful having the keyboard as a actual real thing with moving keys.

I’m writing this sat on the sofa with the iPad in it’s case and the keyboard below it, both on my lap. It’s a position that will probably give any so-called expert in ergonomics palpitations, but since my spine is properly supported and I’m comfortable I don’t care. This isn’t working, this is slouching and writing for fun!

48 hrs with an iPad

I commented on Friday  that the iPad would either become used almost as much as my laptop, or become a very expensive photo frame except when I’m travelling.   After the first 48 hours I think it’s going to be closer to the former.

For casual web surfing it’s a definite win, and when discussing something I wanted for my birthday it was nice to just put it on the table and look at together – it seems somehow less intrusive than sharing a PC screen.  Without a Bluetooth keyboard it’s a consumption device – it’s a TV not a Camcorder.  I wanted to send an email with three sentences in it, and I put the iPad down, when into the next room to get my laptop, and booted Windows to send them email because typing on screen is so painfully slow. I find the same with my phone – if you get an email reply from me from the phone it means there isn’t a real keyboard in reach.  And it’ll be terse.

I’ve got my entire music collection – 16 gigs – plus a handful of movies converted for playing on there, and I’ll convert some more as time goes on to get a reasonable collection before the next long trip.  Using CloneDVDMobile creates excellent results but does take time to do all the transcoding – about 2x the time needed to watch the video.

Installed Free Apps so far:

  • Evernote.  – I already have this on all my PCs, and my phone, so it was an obvious move to install it here.
  • Bloomberg.  – I’m not an avid stock/news watcher but this does present information in a useful format.
  • Amazon Kindle – More on eBooks below
  • Apple’s iBooks – More on eBooks below.
  • Epicurious – interesting recipe site, but haven’t seen their
  • GoSkyWatch – Free Planetarium app.  Great for skywatching as I always forget to take my sky maps on holiday.
  • WordPress – will probably use this once I get a keyboard!
  • The Weather Channel – free weather app – almost obligatory to have one of them.
  • AeroGuitar Free – demo of “Guitar Hero” type game.  Not that impressed – the whole point of guitar hero is mucking about with friends, not sitting alone!
  • Dictionary – again, almost obligatory.
  • Plane Flight HD Free – demo of plane tracking app.  Probably not used enough to buy the app when I get hit the websites that provide this information for free.
  • Adobe Ideas – not played with this yet, but seems interesting
  • Urbanspoon – restaurant search – have it on the phone as well and seems useful
  • IMDb – because I can.
  • Periodic Table – the £7.99 paid app is gorgeous but I’m not paying that much for “pretty”.
  • BBCiPlayer
  • eBay- Curious, but why do I need an app when the website works fine?
  • Google Earth – This has always struck me as “why do I need an app for that”, but it’s fun to play with.

Any other recommendations?

Paid Apps

  • FlightControl HD (£2.99)  Most used app so far.
  • Weather HD (£0.59)  This really should have been a free app.  Weather and pretty pictures.  Waste of 59p.
  • Real Racing HD (£5.99)  This’ll keep me amused on travel sometime.

I’ll probably – possibly – add the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps – Word, Excel and Powerpoint equivalents – once I have a BT keyboard which I have hinted will make a nice birthday present (and will be buying myself the day after if I don’t get it!)

On eBooks

I’ve got a whole bunch of reference PDFs downloaded, as well as the beginnings of a collection of Free eBooks.   These all open fine in the built in iBook application.  But since Amazon are promising a Kindle App for Android, and their whispersync technology means I can go to a book I started reading on the ipad, and carry on on the PC or the phone, that sounded a better deal.  Oh, and their eBooks are cheaper too.

Reading in the sun

Probably my biggest unknown was how well it would work in bright sunlight.  I intend to have it with me on vacation later in the year as my primary source of “entertainment”, and want to be able to watch videos and read books in the sun.  Watching video’s isn’t so good, but the “mostly white” screen of the book reader does an excellent job of hiding reflections off the screen, and after a while you start to focus on the screen, not the reflections, so it’s prefectly usable. If money really were no object, I’d probably get an eBook reader as well – which would also eliminate my minor concern about this being something of a single point of failure in amusing myself when travelling.

Essential Accessories I’d have bought at the time

Well, if I didn’t have a birthday in a few weeks and hence the opportunity to drop hints about presents.

1) Spare USB charger.  Nominally so I can leave one in my “travel” bag and one at home, but I’ll probably take both when travelling since I can (with the right leads) charge my phone and MiFi router off the USB port as well.

2) Case.  And the only reason I didn’t order this at the time was the quoted 3-4 week delivery.

3) Camera interface so I can download photos taken during the day to the iPad.  I really like the idea of being able to sit in the bar and look over the day’s photos.

3G or Mifi

One of the purchasing decisions for the iPad was whether to go with the built-in 3G connectivity or stick with the WiFi option.

Since I already have two laptops (work and home) which benefit from being able to access the Internet from anywhere, it seemed like a 3G/WiFi router was a better option than the built in 3G.  I don’t want to pay for separate contracts for the lapdog, iPad, and SWMBO’s lapdog. So the fact they can all share one SIM is good.

The downside is that if it’s being used to partner the iPad it’s another device that needs to be charged up.

Time to get that Gel Cell powered USB port working!!

After a few hours with the iPad

My intention in purchasing the iPad was largely as a media consumption device.  Something to use to surf teh Interwebs while at home, watch videos on a plane, read books on a beach, and then come home and stuff full again for the next trip.

  • Reading eBooks is great even in the sun.  After a while your eyes learn to focus on the screen not the reflections, and then it’s even better
  • Transcoding DVDs to a format I can watch is painfully slow.  Advance planning needed to get the existing DVD collection (or at leat the interesting part thereof) converted ready for the next prolonged trip.

The true test will be in a month’s time.  Am I carrying it everywhere, or has it become an expensive Photo frame I take on international trips?

Time will tell.

OK, I’ve given in to the fruity goodness

I’ve given in.

After my first iPod was replaced under warranty 4 times in 2 years, and died again just out of warranty, I went on a bit of an anti-apple phase.  Which was exacerbated when I realised I couldn’t play any of the music I’d bought for the iPod on any other player.  Since then I have an iPod nano for portable music, which I’ve been rather more impressed with.

I deliberately didn’t get an iPhone – at the time I was happy with my WM6 phone.   Then corporate policies forced me down the Blackberry route, and while it’s an excellent tool it’s not a fun personal gadget so I got my own phone, and after looking seriously at the iPhone ended up with a HTC Desire.

But after looking at several eBook readers I came to the conclusion that it was going to be another device – and battery charger – to add to the netbook,  media player, and mobile phone that I take on any kind of trip.  Then I figured the iPad would do all of these things, so I’ve ordered one.  I’ll be selling the Netbook and Creative media player once it arrives – sometime the week after next as it seems Apple deem fir to take my order three days ago and ship it in 10 days time.

Not the best first impression in this day of instant gratification.  I expect same day ship from Internet companies these days.

Edit: they’ve improved the delivery date and allegedly it’s on a UPS truck somewhere near here.  I shall resist the temptation to keep refreshing the tracking page every 30 seconds.  Not so shabby after all.