April 12, 2012
In a recent Switched On column about the iPad, I talked about how Apple can lavish “a level of favoritism that Google and Microsoft can never have for any given device running its licensed software.” Keeping the software consistent has been one of the hallmark’s of Apple’s iOS device appeal, but there is also something to be said about keeping the industrial design relatively consistent as Apple has done between the iPhone 4 and 4S and now between the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. I don’t expect that this will be the last form factor revision for either device although Apple has stayed very faithful to the current designs of the iMac and Mac Pro line for years.
Particularly for these mobile products, keeping a consistent form factor amplifies the advantage that Apple has versus competitors in the accessory-rich tablet and smartphone markets. Obviously, every case-maker breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the dimensions of the latest iPhone and iPad did not stray from the previous generation. But there are also a large number of keyboard clamshells, stands, mounts, clips, docks and all manner of other accessories. By preserving continuity across iDevice generations, Apple may forfeit some excitement that comes at the differentiated shape of a new thing, but it gains in preserving the consistency of the platform (in the broadest sense) with a device that hits the ground running in a ready-made accessory ecosystem, one where the hardware may even be optimized ahead of the third-party software.
Tags: Accessories, Apple, continuity, ecosystems, form factors, industrial design, iPad, iPad 2, third-generation iPad
November 28, 2011
Earlier this month at CNET, Jay Greene wrote a wonderful two-part story about how Microsoft killed the Courier project. Arguably the most fascinating paragraph describes a meeting in which Bill Gates, judging the device’s prospects, questions its champion J Allard about Courier’s e-mail capabilities:
“At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.”
The article then describes how Gates had “an allergic reaction” to the idea that the Courier would not be able to tap into Microsoft’s Exchange franchise. And while linking the death of Courier directly to its inability to handle e-mail (ironic given the product’s name), is likely an oversimplification, it is also a bit difficult to swallow that it could have even been an accessory to the murder.
Now, I somewhat sympathize with the idea that the world does not need another way to get e-mail. But to quote the Seth Meyers Weekend Update catchphrase, “Really?” From the leaked videos of Courier, e-mail did not seem like such an outlandish thing to have in the product. Surely the team could have thought of a way to “Courierize” an e-mail experience, perhaps by filtering messages relating to a specific creative project.
If Courier was killed to provide a clear path for Windows 8 tablets, then it was axed for the wrong reason, but ultimately it was probably best that it was not pursued. As engaging as Courier appeared to be, I always wondered about the size of its addressable market. We may yet get a taste of that, though, and at a much lower price than what Courier would have cost, as the Kickstarter-funded engineers behind Taposé bring their app to the iPad.
Tags: CNet, Courier, e-mail, iPad, Jay Greene, Metro, Tapose, Windows 8
June 27, 2011
Following my recent post about the evolution of the amorphous iPod brand, this week provided a great opportunity to look at another brand with a potentially foretelling malleable moniker – OnLive. The company showed off its service running on the iPad and HTC Flyer. Support will come in two phases. The first will overlay touch controls onto the games, perhaps suitable for use with your Fling or ThinkGeek Joystick-It. And while that may be the more portable option, the better game experience will happen once OnLive enables its controllers to work with tablets.
To see OnLive branch out from the PC where its content largely originates, beyond the TV where many of its games would likely be ported, and to the tablet where many of its games might not be technically feasible, clearly improves the value of the service for OnLive’s game partners. But OnLive’s other recent announcement – that it would partner with Juniper Networks to host remote PC applications – demonstrates the true versatility of the service. If OnLive has been able to remotely deliver games with good performance, the interface of the average Windows app will be child’s play. The next stop on the world conquest tour would be apps delivered via set-top boxes to TVs, which would put OnLive on a collision course with ActiveVideo.
Tags: ActiveVideo, cloud apps, iPad, OnLive, remote access, tablets, thin clients, Video Games
June 9, 2011
One sign that an ecosystem has momentum is when products from separate companies serendipitously complement each other. Such has been the case for the iPad this month. Today, on Les Paul’s birthday, Avid announced Scorch, a companion product to its Sibelius suite of music notation products for the PC. Scorch can perform such handy tasks as transposing or editing music or showing the fingering of a section on a piano keyboard.
Since the app reads and edits Sibelius files, full resolution is preserved regardless of the resolution, and Avid claims that zooming in and out is as smooth as jazz. The app also includes a sheet music store with hundreds of thousands of downloadable scores, many of them free. A few features I’d like to see would include conversion of PDFs into editable scores, and being able to simplify scores for leaning songs. (The app can already adjust tempos as a learning aid.)
The app is debuting at $4.99, but will eventually go up to $7.99. It also has a Music Stand mode that presents sheet music with minimal distractions for performances. Now, if only there were an easy way for performers with something a bit more portable than a piano to take the iPad on stage with you.
Well, what do you know? There is! Earlier this month, IK Multimedia started shipping the iKlip, which allows you to attach your iPad or iPad 2 to a microphone stand, where it can be a complement to the company’s iRig microphone. iKlip is $39.99 direct and can work with an iPad or iPad 2, although some adapters are required for the latter and could cost extra depending on when you bought it..
What I really like about both these products is that they really show off the advantages of the iPad form factor. The iPad’s sleek profile makes it almost perfect for use on a piano, for example (although a larger screen would be helpful for scores).
Tags: composers, engrabers, engraving, iKlip, iPad, musicians, notation, performaing, sheet music, Sibelius
April 27, 2011
Most of the reviews of the BlackBerry PlayBook remind me a lot of the first reviews of Motorola Xoom. “It’s no iPad.” Yes, we know, and so do RIM and Motorola and Google. You don’t need to turn on either device to know there would be a significant app and feature gap deficiency versus Apple’s pioneering slate that has since had a year to mature. Yes, the PlayBook lacks e-mail and calendaring for the moment. Oh, by the way, the Xoom and PlayBook both multitask out of the box. Did the first iPad? No, buyers had to wait half a year for that feature.
But the PlayBook is far more significant for RIM than the Xoom was for Google. Honeycomb is a major new release of Android, no doubt. But while the user experience of Android had room to improve (and still does), it didn’t have nearly as far to go to become a satisfying user experience as the BlackBerry OS does. That’s more on the scale of the leap that Microsoft took from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.
And, based on that burden, it seems that RIM has nailed the basics, taking some of the UI concepts in BlackBerry 6 and making refining them while adding the visual thumbnails from webOS. The user experience of the BlackBerry Tablet OS (OK, still some refining left to do on the naming) is as slick, simple, responsive and engaging as anything on the market. Bezel gestures strike me as far more intuitive than webOS’s gesture bar. And despite RIM’s decision to go with the BlackBerry Bridge option before developing native PIM apps, the OS itself is more feature-complete than, say, the first version of Windows Phone 7.
I’m not sure how well it will all translate to handsets, but it is exactly what the BlackBerry needs to stem the tide of its user exodus. If RIM can execute on that fusion, it is back in the game.
RIM’s also done a solid job with the PlayBook hardware. I prefer the vertical orientation of the iPad and Galaxy Tab, and (of course) Nook. The PlayBook, though – and most of the bigger Android tablets — seem to be going for a horizontal orientation by default. Of course, this is more of a curiosity than anything else. Yes, the on button is a little hard to press, but even with the paucity of apps, RIM has the best 7” tablet on the market right now.
Tags: 7", BlackBerry Playbook, iPad, media talets, QNX, RIM, slate, slates, tablet, tablets, User Experience, webOS
December 12, 2010
Since the iPad was released, there’s been much excitement about add-on keyboards using either Bluetooth or its dock connector. (So far, only Apple’s Keyboard Dock has taken the latter approach, and it’s not a particularly travel-friendly item.) The iPad helped inspire me to write an ode to to the old Stowaway keyboard originally developed by ThinkOutside.
So far, variations of most keyboard-case combos have met with pretty poor reviews due to the mushiness and membrane-like quality of the keyboard. The ZAGGmate, though, offers individual keys. They would also be mushy enough to earn the ire of any reviewer if they were on a notebook, but they’re an improvement over most of what’s out there as well as, of course, the existing screen-based keyboard . While I’ve seen some people sail along on its smooth surface, I find myself making at least as many errors as I do on the iPhone’s keyboard. Perhaps that is due to less frequent use.
The ZAGGmate allows the iPad can be stored inside its aluminum housing to protect the screen. However, this leaves the back of the device unprotected. ZAGG, of course, will be happy to sell you an Invisible Shield to fix that problem, but you can also throw the combination in a standard 8” netbook slipcase for further protection. The makers of the ClamCase have updated their site to note that its product will be shipping soon. At least until then, though, the ZAGGmate is a great companion for the iPad, which I have taken to use at conferences due to its long battery life and variety of note-taking applications.
Tags: Bluetooth, ClamCase, input, Invisible Shield, iPad, keyboard, protection, zagg, ZAGGmate
November 28, 2010
Right before the Thanksgiving break, Acer was in town to talk touch. Android slates of various sizes and a 10” Windows tablet with keyboard dock were announced along with a 10” Windows tablet that will be accompanied by a keyboad dock.
But the signature product was Iconia, a dual-screen 14” Windows notebook that follows in the footsteps of such dual-screen devices as the Kno tablet and the Toshiba Libretto W105 that I got to try for a bit earlier this year. As with the Libretto W, I found typing on the Iconia’s lower display to be surprisingly comfortable. Of course, I didn’t get to type anything of great length on it, but even from my initial trial, I’d likely rather use its keyboard than the iPad’s keyboard for even a few hundred word. in fact, I didn’t make a single typing error. The one caveat was that I needed to take a moment to orient my fingers on the lower screen, but from there it was smooth sailing, as I imagine it would be for most touch-typists.
There’s still much that isn’t known about the Iconia, such as what its battery life will be or how much it will cost. Going with a 14” main display puts it in the heart of screen size volumes, but I still think that the limited nature of a display-based keyboard lends itself better to a smaller screen size — not as small as the Libretto W105, but something closer to a mainstream netbook.
Tags: Acer, dual-screens, Iconia, iPad, keyboards, new form factors, QWERTY, Toshiba Libretto W105, touch screens, Windows
October 20, 2010
In previewing some of the features of the next Mac OS, code-named Lion, today, Steve Jobs decried the idea of using a touch screen on a notebook. Apple’s CEO cited the ergonomic burden of having to constantly reach forward to touch a vertically oriented screen and said that the proper orientation for a touch surface is a horizontal surface. Hence, Apple is expanding the multitouch gestures invoked from input peripherals such ad the MacBooks’ trackpad, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.
However, the iPad is not generally used in a horizontal orientation — just check any of the Apple Pad billboards. There is a bit more to the story than just orientation. First, despite the iPadian nods to touch manipulation Apple is planning in Lion, desktop operating systems simply are not designed around the same kind of large on-screen UI elements and design that characterize the iPad experience.
This becomes obvious on a touchscreen Windows system long before arm fatigue sets in. (If you don’t have a touchscreen Windows system but do have a Winsows PC and an iPad, you can test this by using the Splashtop Remote Desktop app or any number of screen sharing alternatives.) Apple could, as many PC makers have, tweak the controls, but then the apps would still be a UI generation behind stuck in the traditional paradigm a on Windows
Second, the iPad is far more of a passive consumption device than a Mac.I’m not sure how many touch gestures the average iPad user makes versus mouse movements for a Mac user, but I would guess that the latter number is generally much higher. So even if. Apple were to create a Mac slate and tweak the UI elements, using such a computer would not be the smooth, gentle experience of an iPad.
Tags: Apple, iPad, Lion, Mac OS X, touch, user interface
September 12, 2010
Long before the launch of the iPad or the introduction of the smartbook concept, a client asked me what I thought about the idea of netbooks that didn’t run Windows. Versions of the ASUS Eee and HP Mini had been available with Linux distributions, but were ultimately cancelled in the face of consumers’ overwhelming preference for Windows on those devices. If it walks like a mouse being used on Windows, consumers expect to use it with a mouse being used with Windows. Now, SlashGear notes that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says that the iPad has delivered the concept of “always-on, all–day devices” that smartbooks had originally promised.
I read that comment as potential validation, but SlashGear frames it as a concession. If Jacobs has indeed taken up the white flag from Shantanu Narayen, It’s oddly timed given the barrage of ARM-powered Android tablets that are in the works. Archos, for example, just announced a whole family of Internet tablets (if you can call a device with a 3.2” screen a tablet as they do) and Samsung has announced the highest-profile iPad competitor to date in the Galaxy Tab (more on that name later).
So perhaps the term smartbook, like netbook, implies a keyboard – something that wasn’t the case in concept videos shown early on by Qualcomm. The Lenovo Skylight (pictured) was shelved, but promised to return one day running Android. Challenges abound. Not only is Android is not optimized for larger screens, but it needs a staple of applications to fill in the gaps with Windows (something Linux actually had for productivity in OpenOffice). Furthermore, channel, task and usage scenario overlap with Windows becomes more pronounced.
Over time, though, consumers may be more accepting of a keyboard-equipped smartbook. As the SlashGear post notes, HP and Toshiba have dabbled in the market. The paradox is that consumers need more successful non-Windows tablets like the iPad to understand such a device with a keyboard. Apple probably won’t produce one, but has opened the door to accessory makers to create an equivalent, and others will. The key for these vendors is to show consumers that even keyboard-enabled smartbooks are not neutered netbooks, but supersized smartphones.
Samsung appears to recognize that in using the “Galaxy” brand across its smartphones and the Tab, but it is both a new brand and one that has been subdued (at least in the U.S.) under the monikers that various carriers have given it. In any case, consumers have of course accepted physical keyboards on smartphones (with at least one successful clamshell feature phone that may be Android-bound).
Tags: Apple, Archos, ClamCase, Internet tablets, iPad, keyboards, netbooks, Qualcomm, SlashGear, smartbooks, tablets, touch, Windows
May 13, 2010
Apple’s rolled out a new commercial for the iPad that begins by asking the question “What is iPad?” While the device may be positioned between a PC and a smartphone, the new ad is nothing like the lighthearted “Get a Mac” campaign or the task-focused iPhone ads. That’s not much of a surprise, though, as the iPad is more of a new category as opposed to the well-established PC and handset markets that Apple revolutionized.
The visuals and usage scenario depictions are effective; the narrator’s voice is more gruff and the music is harder-driving. The copy never directly answers the question of what the iPad is, but instead starts out with a number of its attributes. including the kinds of media it supports. Among those are “more books than you could read in a lifetime" which sounds like a challenging statement. (You never hear cable companies hear that they offer more shows than you could watch “in a lifetime” and they even carry a network called Lifetime). All in all, it extends the iPad’s original messaging around form and function while downplaying any definitions. This should play well to those who would appreciate the device, but doesn’t do much to push the fence-sitters. I expect we will see advertising more aimed at that that next wave as the iPad app library grows and diversifies from iPhone app offerings.
Tags: Apple, benefits, iPad, marketing, TV ommercial, what is iPad