Friday, November 05, 2010

iPad for the News Junkies

Ok, Ok I admit I’m a new Junkie. More accurately I’m an information junkie. No day is complete without scanning the web and more specifically a few dozen websites and news sources I track to get the info I want.

Now to keep track of this I’ve transitioned to RSS and more specifically to Google Reader, to keep track of and to scan multiple sources as efficiently as possible a couple of years. As it is Web based it stays in sync across multiple platforms so I can easily jump from my PC to my Smartphone to my iPad and back again, while always being in sync.

Now the thing is that while I like the full version on the PC and love the mobile iPhone version (in fact my preferred version) the mobile version does not work that well on the larger screen of the iPad. So one of the first things I went looking for on the iPad App store was for RSS readers that could sync with Google Reader.

The First one I found was Reeder. It is definitely the most visually appealing and the most responsive in terms of navigation. Added to the multiple ways in which you can interact with the content, ranging from the Reader basics such as Starring, sharing, etc to more advanced features like in app email to share articles or saving the article to services like Instapaper, ReaditLater, Delicious and Pinbard as well as posting to Twitter.

It syncs with Google and downloads the headers so that you can scan and process the items, even offline. However the Sync is also the issue that causes the most problems and at times is the most frustrating part of the experience. It appears that of you have a lot of unread items, Reeder is unable to sync up unread items and as such the count is not displayed correctly leading to situations when you think you have seen all the unread items, but a large section has just not been synced to the device.

So while I do use Reeader regularly I’ve gone out and tried some alternative RSS readers that also sync with Google Reader. One that was being mentioned a lot was River Of News, So I went and downloaded it. The Look and interface is pretty similar to the full Google reader interface on the PC with touches of the iPad Mail interface so you can pretty easily jump right in.

Still while the interface is nice, it just doesn’t have the Visual flare and flexibility of Reeder so that still remains my go to RSS reader.

I did try out another RSS Reader, Feeddler RSS Reader Pro and I actually paid for the pro version as the options looked well worth it. The interface is similar to standard Google reader. One interface element however drives me up the wall is that the item don’t show the article summary or text just below it  which means that I need to tap the item name to read the summary and then tap again if i want to go to the article on the web. I’ve found no way to change this so this app sits mostly unused.

This takes care of the feeds, but there are times that you just need to read a newspaper, especially as many papers don’t have RSs feeds and even then many that do don’t put all the articles on the web.

Now I travel a lot, and try to keep up with news from a number of countries and regions. As such having access to English language newspapers is usually a luxury, with the International Herald Tribune the only one that is usually available. While I like the Trib, I cant rely on it for as my only source, so I do try to get a hold of other papers when ever I can.

Now a short while ago, someone clued me in to the existence of PressDisplay and their PressReader App. PressDisplay is a service that provides access to thousands of publications from around the world in multiple languages. It provides a complete replice of the newspaper, Ad’s and all to provide a very real newspaper like experience.

Now while the service is great and can be accessed via a web browser or native apps for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Pc and Mac with an Android client in the works it is not free.

With a basic subscription starting at $10 for a daily subscription to a single paper to $30 a month for unlimited access to all papers. While that does steep, and did cause me to put it aside when i first saw it, thinking about it further led me to consider that a justifiable expense. I usually pay $1 daily for the IHT anyway so for the same amount I can have that as well as a few hundred more papers. So for the last few days I’ve been skimming 15-20 papers a day reacquainting with some my old favourite papers and columnist.

So combining these two sources with the podcasts i follow I’m able to sustain my information addiction. So As i’ve mentioned in my previous posts, the iPad is turning out to be pretty good Media consumption device.

I’ll post about the apps I use for Document and Ebook reading in another post in this series in a few days.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

IPad Redux - A few more thoughts on the iPad a few weeks in

My previous post on the iPad was made a few weeks after the initial announcement and well before any actual hardware was out. Now both versions of the iPad , the wifi only version as well as the 3G version are out and developers have had a chance to put out some good, possibly great apps.

So back to my personal situation, I was quiet sceptical about the utility of the iPad , at least the first generation model for myself as what was being offered looked half baked and quiet restricted. However I was quiet pleasantly surprised to get a 3G iPad as a gift a few weeks ago and set out to see where the hype ended and reality set in. I'll preface my comments with the note that while I've had it for a few weeks I've not been able to spend a lot of time using it due to work commitments .

My first impression was that it's smaller then I'd mentally thought but at the same time was heavier then expected. The screen is incredibly glossy and bright and has unbelievable good viewing angles which was a very pleasant surprise. The glossy screen while a fingerprint magnet is still much better then the screen on my iPhone 3G courtesy of apples new oleophobic coating.

Still fingerprints do show, especially when the light hits the screen at certain angles, so much so that a microfiber cloth has become my constant companion in my bag, as I seem to be cleaning the screen constantly. But that's going to be a problem with any touch screen device so take it with a grain of salt.

An issue that has been under much debate in a lot of places including one of my favourite forums, Mobileread is how the ips screen fares for reading for long periods of time both indoors and out in the sun. Well, my own usage has shown that at least personally I do find the backlit screen a little more fatiguing then the eInk screen on my pocket pro, at least for longer reading sessions. As such my long form reading, at least for now has and will continue on a dedicated reading device. Part of the reason for that is also the weight. My reader is a lot lighter, allowing me to read one handedly, something which I can not do for longer periods of time on the iPad.

However this does not mean that I don't find the iPad useful for a lot of stuff. Let me Go with each of my use cases in no particular order and how the iPad has fared

One of the main uses I envisioned for the iPad for for sharing videos with other people, and in that the iPad has fared remarkably well. One of the first things I did on getting the iPad was to load on a few videos and then showed them off to my family. Everybody I showed it off to were surprised at how good it looked, and were pretty much gripped. One of the most telling reactions was from my 90 year old grandmother who is usually completely uninterested in tech gadgets. One the iPad was in her lap, she was gripped and greatly enjoyed the watching experience, more so then how we usually show videos to her, on a large screen projector. Something of the personal viewing experience just clicked with her. I saw similar reactions again and again, so I have to say that apple really hit the nail on the head with this functionality.

The second use I envisioned was sharing photos, and here again, apple has succeeded to a great extent, everybody really enjoyed looking at photos, quickie zooming in a and out and going through tons of photos quiet quickly Here again it was the tech uninclined who really got into the experience, so all I can say is Score to apple. The wide viewing angle has been really helpful here as its often four to five around the iPad looking at photos and commenting on and remembering events.

The other main usage I envisioned for the iPad was as a portable workhorse. I'm often out in the field and I wanted to be able to leave my laptop behind if possible and use the iPad to do the few things that i usually need to do when out and about, namely read and respond to emails, search for some information and take notes at meetings. So far the result has been a bit mixed so lets look at each use in turn.

Email has been a mixed bag. While the device is great for reading mails and especially for reviewing attachments (something that is a pain on my smart phone) responding is bit more of a pain. I'm not that comfortable with the onscreen keyboard, and using it when you don't have a flat surface to brace the iPad is a exercise in futility at times. Still it does work more or less. Web browsing on the other had works very well, almost on par with my laptop for most things which is handy when you want to run a quick search for something or follow a link. while I do wish that i were able to do proper tabbed browsing, its not that big a deal.

I usually take meeting notes in Evernote as I like the ability to sync them up to the cloud and have them available on all my devices. while the onscreen keyboard is not ideal, in most meetings I'm sitting at a table so I can use the ipad in landscape mode and it works reasonably well. the Evernote app is really good and works well.

The main issue I run into is not with doing any one of the task but the inability to easily switch between them. The lack of multitasking means that I have to close down and launch another app every time i want to switch gears which can be a major hassle. Fortunately With 4.2 and Multitasking just a few weeks away hopefully a most of these issues will be addressed.

Back to usage I've done some reading on the iPad and as mentioned earlier I've found that it does become fatiguing after a while. However I've discovered that one thing I've really come to enjoy on it is reading comic books. The large colour screen coupled with the speed means that comic reading is a real pleasure. I've a large collection of self created Comic files in both PDF and CBZ/CBR formats and I've been have a great time reading them again. So that's another point on the positive side.

One thing I'll note is that I've been running the iPad with a 3G SIM card in it so the constant on connective has made it very useful. If i were on wifi alone it does reduce its usefulness to me as I'm more like to use just the iPad when I'm out instead of a laptop and with limited availability of Wifi it becomes a much less mobile device.

So over all, the experience has been good but a bit mixed. As a Consumption device, I'm finding the iPad a great device, with it becoming my primary media playback device over the last few weeks. Media creation or anything more then a light workload leads me back to my laptop as I find the lack of multitasking very grating. The battery life however has been a great boon, with it running all day without me having to worry about the battery status. The availability of a lot of specialised Ipad apps has been a boon, and I'll look at them in another post. So in the end, I'll have say that I'm pretty happy with my iPad.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Apple iPad, A few thoughts

Well, After a lot of rumours and a lot of Speculation, Apple's taken the covers off their newest Device, the iPad. Its a Slate with a touchscreen Interface running a modified version of the iPhone OS. As such those people who were guessing that it would be a big ipod touch Were quiet close.

As the device will go on sale in little under a month, most of discussion on its Pros and Con's is still pretty academic. Still, after looking at all the commentary that's floating on the web, its possible to look at possible usage scenarios and extrapolate from there.

From the outset it looks like Apple set out to do two things. Firstly to extend the iPhone OS to another Platform Beyond the iPhone and iPod Touch. The Advantage for Apple and consumers lays in the fact that the iPad will be able to run most of the Apps already in in the App store, providing potential customers with Millions of Apps right out of the Door as well as allowing existing iPhone and iPod touch users to get a better return on the money they've already invested in Apps. That can be a very important point as you can ask any Computer or smart phone user who's chosen or had to change platforms, rendering their investment worthless.

Secondly, Apple's set out to create the ultimate media consumption device, allowing you to Listen to music, Watch Movies, Read, Surf the Web, Play Games and a lot more on a reasonably large screen which is still very portable so people can take it with them when they go out or Travel. The larger screen should hopefully be better for longer sessions as, for most people trying to watch video or read on a smaller screen for long periods of time is not comfortable nor convenient. While the 4:3 ratio is not the best for movie watching, its a good compromise in a multifunctional display, especially as it look like Apple wanted to maintain Screen symmetry with the iPhone to allow Apps to scale well.

As such while they showed off Apps like iWork, Keynote etc which would allow people to work on and create on the device, that subset of users is probably going to be a minority, with most users preferring to use a computer for serious work sessions while just reviewing, presenting or doing minor edits on the device itself.

That brings us to another point about the iPad. Many people were hoping that it would serve as a laptop / computer replacement and while it will do, it will only be to a limited extent. Users are going to need to have a full computer or at least regular access to one as the iPad is going to operate like a iPod Touch / iPhone requiring you to use a computer to Load media onto the device as well as to do updates. As Such, its looking more and more like an additional companion Device, perhaps the Coffee Table or Kitchen Computer (Or more likely the Bathroom Computer).

Still the device is not perfect. The lack of multitasking for non Apple Apps is an issue, especially on a more powerful, bigger screened device. Still, while Power users will probably find the lack much more frustrating, even casual users are going to run into the issue at times, especially if they think its a complete computer or net book replacement.

The Lack of a Camera, especially a forwarding facing camera is much more glaring, at least in my opinion. I use video conferencing via Skype pretty much everyday, for multiple reasons ranging form keeping in touch with family, getting work done and even helping to troubleshoot computer issues by allowing me to see their screens and talking them through the steps.

While I can do most of my work on the iPhone (though restricted by screen size) and should be able to do so on the iPad the inability to do this wold make it difficult to use the iPad as a light weight travel computer when I know I'm not going to need the full capability of my laptop. Also If the camera were there I could see it as in ideal way to get less computer literate members of my online and video chatting with us and each other. Still there is always hope for the second generation :-).

Still over all it looks like an interesting Product, though how much of a market there is for it still leaves to be seen.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CES 2010 Thoughts

Well, another year, another CES. For those who don't know CES is the Consumer electronic Show, the biggest electronic trad show in the US, and one of the biggest in the world. Most Major electronic companies display there, showcasing bith concepsts for the future as well as products slated for release later in the year. For a gadget geek, its one of the biggest events of the years, showing whats hot this year.

While I've never been there in person, I've always eagerly followed the coverage to see whats new, whats hot and what's not. Thanks to technology, there were a surfeit of options available to follow the show, ranging from the very technical to the dead simple, to meet everyones tastes. The best coverage was obviously from the Web properties such as TWIT, CNET,Engadget, Buttorscotch, etc and unfortunately the worst was probably from the Majors . I have to say compared to what the web guys were doing, the coverage by the TV and print media was incredibly bad, with poor overall coverage, lack of research and more attention paid to the snappy headline then the actual content or trends. If alternatives had not been available, I'll probably have been very frustrated.

Speaking of the Web coverage, The guys at CNET and TWIT did an incredible job, broadcast live video online from the show itself, alson with the Podcasts so that we could watch the show as it unfolded, getiing people's opinions as the show went on and how it changed. While both CNET and TWIT broadcast from a stage, the TWIT guys went further, sending a mobile broadcast rig around the floor, streaming live video over EVDO of what was happening, giving us a taste of what its like to be there. On a side note its incrediable to see how technology has changed the field. Trying to do something similar a few years ago would have required millions of dollers, compared to the few thousand it cost them this time.

Now, of the show itself, from the coverage its seems pretty obvious that the big story this year was 3D TV's with Most of the major manufacturers showing of potential or future products. From the looks of it, Manufacturers want something new to get people to upgrade as HDTV penetration has grown to such a large degree. I'm withholding judgement as I've not enjoyed 3D in cinemas so far and feel that anything that requires you to wear special glasses, etc is not going to be as successful.

The other big story was a lot of manufacturers releasing Tablets or slates, to beat Apple's announcement. The tablets ranged in size and shape and ran a variety of Operating systems. Some were running Windows while other were running Android. Others were running custom variants of Linux. In my personal opinion while they were interesting, the key point is going to be price and usability if they want to be successful and beat Apple's iPad. Tablets have been around for nearly a decade, but have not been that successful for a number of reasons ranging from Price, usability, availability and power. If they want to make this category a success they are going to have to have to learn from past mistakes.

More then the standalone slates, the product I found most interesting was the Hybrid Notebook that Lenovo Introduced, the U1. It comprises of a Full featured Portable Windows 7 Notebook, with a Screen that slips off which is a Multitouch Tablet running a Custom Linux variant. They way they've designed it, The browsers on both stay in sync allowing you to continue working on either so that depending on the time and place you can use just the tablet or the full notebook. With a battery life of 8-10 Hours in notebook mode and 5-6 hours in Tablet mode, its looking like a good product. The announced Price which is supposed to be under $999 does make it a compelling product more so if they are able to get the price point even lower. I'll be looking out for its release in Q2 or Q3 later this year.

Another interesting them this year was the plethora of eBook Readers that were on display this year. Withe a wide range of manufactures showing of their own products, its shows how eBook's have become much more mainstream. While there were some interesting announcements like that of the Que, The high price and limited options for it are going to make adoption an uphill task. More interesting was a product from a new company called the enTourage eDGe, a dual screen eBook Reader / Slate. Its an Android Powered dual screen Machine with One screen an eInk display the other a LCD touchscreen. From the looks of it its shows a lot of potential, especially in a academic setting as you have the eInk for ease of reading with the Touchscreen available for making notes, Browsing the web ad doing a lot more. With Products shipping in a couple of months, this is a company I'm going to be keeping my eye on .

Overall the Show wile good, did not appear to have anything too revolutionary, which was expected with the way the global economy has been the past year. Still, as a gadget geek, seeing preview's of whats coming out over the next year is always interesting. Still the overall fee this year was of waiting, especially with a lot of manufacturers releasing Products before of after the show, making the show a bit of an afterthought. The biggest shadow over the show was probably Apples upcoming announcement, and I'll be sharing my thoughts on the announcement in another Post.

So Adios for now.