Maintaining Clear Focus, Setting Priorities, Not Forgetting

Every once in a while, a tool becomes an indispensable part of everyday life. We’ve certainly experienced this phenomenon with smart phones, then tablets, email, web browsing, and for some, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking activities. During the past few months, I have retrained myself so that all notes are dated, tagged, written and stored in Evernote. And every task, every to-do, every reminder is logged in a capable, well-designed software application called OmniFocus. I no longer make random lists (well, almost never). When something needs to get done, I enter it into OmniFocus.

What I like about Evernote, I like (or will soon like) about OmniFocus. I’m busy, I jot down a note or reminder on my iPhone, and I can fetch it, adding details or changes as I wish, on my iPad, or office iMac. (The one thing that I like even more about Evernote is that I can also access everything via any web browser, but that has not been much of an issue when I use OmniFocus because I always have a OmniFocus device with me).

OmniFocus-for-iPad-sync-new-iconsSo what’s the big deal about OmniFocus? There are dozens of to-do and reminder apps, with sync, available for far less than OmniFocus. Wunderlist is free, and so is Appigo’s To Do (available in Pro edition for $19.99 per year); Things for iPad costs $19.99, and OmniFocus costs twice as much.

For me, the key to OmniFocus and its value is a view of tasks by date. Sounds like every other task management software, like every GTD (“getting things done”) app, but that assessment is not quite right. Allow me to run through a task, an illustration of how OmniFocus is used to run much of my life.

OmniFocus entry screenAlthough it is possible to make a quick task entry, the more complete entry panel is more useful. After naming the task, I select a context from my own list that includes: Awaiting Response, Call, Create, First Contact, Followup, Just Do It, On Hold, Purchase, Research, Schedule, Visit Web Site, and Write. Then, I select a project, again from my own list that includes: Art, Books, Digital Insider, Home, Music, Software, Travel, Web Site, and various, specific work-related projects. I can stop there, deciding to add a flag to any high-priority tasks, but I prefer to add a due date to every task (start dates are also an option, but I don’t work that way). There’s a nice big note field, and I use hat to capture URLs, reminders of the most recent attempted contact (left phone message on 3.13.2013; sent reminder email on 10.12.2012). I can add a photograph, .jog, .gif, .png, or record an audio message.

That’s how I compose each task. Note that there are no priority levels (three stars for most important, two for moderate importance), and no color coding for each category (Music is red, Books are purple). I used these often when Appigo’s To Do was my management system. It looked pretty, but I seemed to spend more time futzing than actually, you know, getting things done.

So, that’s half of the story. The other half us a very reasonable view called Forecast. On the iPad, along the top, there are a series of boxes, each with a date and a number of due tasks. I click on Saturday, May 4 and I see the four tasks that are due on that day. I click on Monday, May 6 and I see the list of 13 tasks I have assigned to that date. Each task is clearly identified by its context (Digital Insider, Home, Music, etc.) In addition, down at the bottom of the screen, I see a quick view of my day’s calendar (among my few criticisms: I would be happier with even a hint of what meeting was represented by each of the schedule bars). Still, in a single screen view, I can assess my entire day and make way through all that I intend to get done. I’m surprised that so few task programs also offer this calendar feature; in fact, this was the single feature that initially drew me to OmniFocus.

This is a slightly truncated version of the iPad view. I have eliminated part of the (empty) middle section to draw your attention to the task list on the top and the calendar blocks on the bottom. In real life, few of my days go by with just two tasks. (Yours too, I suspect.)

This is a slightly truncated version of the iPad view. I have eliminated part of the (empty) middle section to draw your attention to the task list on the top and the calendar blocks on the bottom. In real life, few of my days go by with just two tasks. (Yours too, I suspect.)

Apple includes a geo-location feature in its Reminders app, and OmniFocus does the same. Of course, I can survey every task by looking at a context-based organization of the tasks on one screen, or a projects-based list on another. This is sometimes useful, but I much prefer the date view (I guess I think in terms of what I want to do today, not what I want to write for Digital Insider over the next few weeks). I find myself sending tasks from Safari, but some bookmark manipulation is required to do so (common among Apple and iOS products, a silly misstep on Apple’s part; I don’t know about the Android equivalent, but someone might comment on that question).

Apple (and other users) are accustomed to seeing tasks organized not only by time but by place. In OmniFocus, this feature is especially well integrated.

Apple (and other users) are accustomed to seeing tasks organized not only by time but by place. In OmniFocus, this feature is especially well integrated.

Another useful feature, which I ought to use more often, is called Review. It allows management of categories by group (for example, I can de-activate Art for a while), or place a group of items on hold. I prefer to work at the individual task level, but I probably could save some time and operate even more efficiently by using Review.

On the iPhone, I get just about everything that’s available on the iPad version. In fact, the day’s schedule does list specific events, a feature not available on iPad (yet?). How about the desktop version? Well, it’s available, but the current iOS versions are so good, OmniGroup is redesigning the desktop version to match the feature set. Apparently, the Beta testing is going quite well; from time to time, the publisher offers an update on the company’s blog. The new release will be tied to a fresh syncing approach called OmniPresence, also described in the blog.

With all of this positivity, I supposed that you should know that OmniGroup is a leading developer of Mac and iOS products, but these products are not available for Windows or Android. That’s too bad, and, I suppose the company’s executives keep wondering whether to continue to excel in the Apple world, or whether to expand so that their good work can be appreciated by users of other systems. In fact, this is the second Omni product I have written about in this blog (OmniGraffle was the first; it’s a diagramming program that I use all of the time), and I’m anxious to write about another one, OmniOutliner, another product being redesigned for desktop because the mobile version has been so warmly received.

Would I change anything about this program? Well, just a few things. First, I think I would offer flags in at least three colors, just to add a bit of additional “hey this is pretty important” highlighting (priority levels would only confuse an elegantly simple approach, so I would leave that alone). And, I wish I could see the names of my appointments on the iPad as I can on the iPhone. A means of web access would be nice, but it’s hardly essential.

Overall, based upon daily use for months, I wholeheartedly recommend OmniFocus to people who (a) tend to be very busy, and tend to manage many of their own tasks; (b) believe that good organization and clear task lists make it possible to get things done more efficiently and effectively (if you’re not a believer, there’s no point in any of this), and (c) require a more professionally-oriented system than most products in App Store provide. If you’re just working out shopping lists, OmniFocus can do the job, but so can a lot of other software. If you’re attempting to manage a business life, or a busy personal life, OmniFocus is probably a wise choice.

A Portable Speaker as Good as Your iPad

Tablets are spectacular inventions, but, as a rule, their internal loudspeakers do a poor job reproducing sound. With tiny loudspeaker drivers, often pointing in any direction except toward your ears, assisted by an amplifier never intended to seriously reproduce music, even the most appealing iPad is so uninterested in music, it contains only a single monaural loudspeaker.

Most people either enjoy the experience as-is, and don’t worry much about fidelity. Or, they use a pair of stereo headphones and enjoy the kind of audio that seems to exist inside the tablet (or phone), but won’t come out without some sort of accessory.

For months, I’ve been seeking a portable speaker for use with a tablet, or a phone, that provides the seemingly impossible combination of small size, convenient weight, sufficient amplification for listening at desk or in a bedroom, and, most important of all, clarity across the dynamic range (that is: nice clear highs, credible mid-tones and, perhaps most difficult in a tiny setup, bass is crisp and well-defined).

FoxL, basic model, front view, now apparently on sale for about $120.

FoxL, basic model, front view, now apparently on sale for about $120.

At a trade show, I found what I was looking for. It comes from a small company called soundmatters and it goes by the name of FoxL. In fact, there are several models.

The core of these devices is a hybrid loudspeaker design that soundmatters calls a “Twoofer,” which combines “tweeter” and ‘woofer.” This design allows a dynamic range that begins as low as 80Hz, or roughly what you would hear from a good tabletop stereo system, and also allows highs in the 20KHz range, which seems fairly commonplace. These speakers fit into a ruggedly constructed (mostly) metal box that is, truly, pocketable. The dimensions: 5.6 inches wide, 2.2 inches high, and 1.4 inches deep. It’s about the size of an eyeglass case. It weighs 9.5 ounces. (By comparison, the popular JAMBOX weighs 12 ounces, and, overall, it’s about 20 percent larger). Does the size matter? For a portable device, sure it does… the smaller (and lighter) the device, the more likely I will take it along in my shoulder bag.

But only if it sounds (very) good.

Right now, I’m listening to a recording by The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. The album is called Live in Swing City, and the tune is a complicated arrangement called “Chinoiserie” and it contains some very aggressive performances, lots of solos, deep notes, a barking saxophone, a sweet backup horn section, and a live audience in the background. Not an easy combination for a so-so audio system. The results are excellent–but I am careful to keep the audio level no higher than about 80% on both the iPad and the FoxL (which contains its own amplifier and volume control). The system can play louder, but bits of distortion and harshness make the listening just a bit unpleasant.

For something completely different, I switched to Peter, Paul & Mary, a trio that was always well-recorded, and whose individual voices and harmonies are both distinctive and familiar. The album is See What Tomorrow Brings and the song is “If I Were Free.” Mary is singing lead, and the nuances of her vocal are presented with appropriate warmth, if just the slightest bit lacking in punch. The guitars and the male background vocals sound clear and wonderful. The opening guitar on “Early Morning Rain” and Paul Stookey’s vocal sound ideal, and once again, the vocals are right, too.

The opening drums and other percussion on Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” grabs the listener with just the right power and clarity. The vocals sound fine. The more frenetic “Walcott” has enough bass and the right drum sound to fill a (very) small room.

“Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” by Wilco on their Woody Guthrie tribute album, Mermaid Avenue, also sounds right. The vocal is crisp and clear, and when the background vocals kick in, with the additional instrumentation, everything holds together beautifully.

Dawn Upshaw brings her operatic voice to artful arrangements of Weill, Bernstein and other 20th century heroes on her album, I Wish It So. I’m very familiar with her version of Sondheim’s “There Won’t Be Trumpets” because it was one of a half dozen songs I used to test loudspeakers and sound systems for a feature story in Stereophile, a high-end audio magazine. Once again, Upshaw’s nuance in Upshaw’s voice is about right, but again, there’s a small lack of punch.

Presence turns out to be less of an issue for Karan Casey, who brings her pretty Irish voice to the ballad “She Is Like The Sparrow” on her self-titled album, but the low string accompaniment must be played at about 70% to avoid distortion. When the sound level is monitored, and the FoxyL is placed on its soft rubberized mat (supplied), the presentation is rich and quite wonderful.

Concerned about the occasional presence of distortion, I find some songs with distinctive and abundant bass. The little speakers sounded fine on Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Has No Pride,” and when Charlie Haden plays the bass behind James Cotton’s voice and harmonica on “All Walks of Life” from their Deep in the Blues album, the level of distortion was neither obvious nor troublesome. No problem on the Emerson Quartet’s version of various Beethoven String Quartets, either. In fact, they sounded terrific.

All of my listening was done with an iPad2 connected, by a supplied cable (miniplug to miniplug) to the most basic FoxL model ($149). For fifty dollars more, you can buy a Bluetooth model (I’m not a huge fan of Bluetooth for music listening because the sound, inevitably, cuts in and out). Both will run for 12 hours on a single battery charge (charger included). An additional $30 buys a total of 20 hours of battery life and a pretty silver enclosure. You can also charge via USB. My one complaint: a poor design on the back of the device–an easel stand is made of plastic and can be difficult to open.

Visit the website to learn more about an accessory subwoofer (also quite small) that plugs into any FoxL device.

FoxL with its subwoofer.

FoxL with its subwoofer.

Digital Hollywood (in NYC)

Summit300x250Digital Hollywood is an ongoing series of media industry conferences held, mostly, in Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. Generally, the conferences focus on media, advertising, programming, consumer behavior, financing of new media, technical platforms and marketing. I have spoken at several of these conferences. This week, in Manhattan, I attended the 2013 Media Summit (their tenth anniversary, by the way). I listened to perhaps a dozen panels populated by industry insiders. And learned.

OreoI learned about the relationship between Oreo cookies and social networking. As ridiculous conversations go, this is sublime. The argument in favor of social networking for cookies goes back to the old arguments about the ultimate value of brand awareness, which remains exceedingly difficult to measure. Still, the hipster panel insisted that there is a new of thinking required here (suspend disbelief). The terminology has revolved, but the arguments echo dot.com marketing strategies circa 1999. Still, the idea of an entire brand team approving Tweets in real time at, say, the Super Bowl, is an image worth remembering. Why? Because marketing teams are no so complicated, and for large brands, so scattered among specialist agencies and specialized departments within larger agencies, with so many complicated political games, consensus has become difficult to achieve. In the brand marketing universe, there is great importance placed on 21st century marketing, doing incredibly cool stuff, and keeping/gaining clients through innovation. Ask the average person whether any of this affected their decision to buy a pack of Oreos, or to eat an Oreo, and it’s unlikely that they would make a connection between the cookie and any of these campaigns.

At another session, I learned about the industry’s high hopes for the new MPEG-DASH format.

The term KPI (Key Performance Indicators) was probably most-often-uttered. In a consumer marketing environment whose changes are both difficult to measure (too much data, too many variables), agencies and corporate marketers are trying to figure out which indicators actually matter. CPM (Cost per Thousand, a long-standing audience measure that is common currency among agencies and media) is losing favor. One might measure brand impact, but there is little agreement about how this can or should be done with any degree of standardization. Nielsen is not well respected; there was consensus that this method of sampling was silly. If I correctly recall, a comparison was drawn as follows: instead of using supermarket cash register data to measure the store’s activity, the Nielsen approach is more similar to asking one in twelve individual shoppers what they purchased.

Verizon Media Server. For more, click on the pic to go to The Verge.

Verizon Media Server. For more, click on the pic to go to The Verge.

I found conversations about large tech companies and their platform strategies to be especially interesting. Verizon’s panelist complained about their high costs of set top boxes, and told attendees about a new Verizon Media Server that would serve all sorts of client devices throughout the house. If I understand this strategy correctly, Verizon wants to charge a monthly fee for Internet and program services, for the connection between home and outside network, and for a single box in each subscriber household. Microsoft claims that half of XBox use is non-videogame, so it is now thinking in terms of program service subscriptions (not unlike Verizon), and producing its own programming (like Netflx and Amazon). Much smaller Boxee is thinking in terms of a cloud-based DVR not only for television programs, but for all types of audio-video media.

One fascinating idea: will consumers control their own data? For example, when I use E-ZPass, or when you browse Amazon or search Google, or watch a VOD or DVR file, where does this data go, where is it stored, and what permission is required for access? Maybe I want all of my data stored by, say, the American Red Cross, which may, in some wildly imaginative future, repackage and resell the donated data in accordance with personal donor’s wishes?

Another: the role of intellectual propery attorneys who must, due to the nature of their profession, remain in a 20th century approach that transforms copyrights into cash, and blocks unauthorized access or use with vigorous enforcement. I mentioned the phrase Creative Commons as part of a question, and only one person in the room of one hundred seemed to understand what was meant by the forward-thinking term. Still, the attorney panel was brilliant in their discussion of negotiation strategies:

  • Start with a phone conversation, do not rely upon emails. Establish a personal relationship based upon humor, warmth, personal connections.
  • Today, there are so many people, projects, companies – slow down, think about partners, need to educate the other side, develop an understanding of everybody’s strengths.
  • Take ego out of the equation.
  • Do not hold grudges, and do not allow yourself to assume anything resembling a victim mentality.
  • Do not make it personal.
  • In television and Internet video, the buyer’s creative team establishes deliverables based upon their own set of standards, but these people do not negotiate the deals. Instead, this work is done by a business affairs team that is closely aligned with the finance department. Be careful about allowing business affairs or finance to control the conversation. If they push too hard–as they often do because they are paid to control their company’s interests–then the creative team will not get the project they ordered, and the producer will, inevitably, be blamed. if the conversation shifts into an unacceptable zine, do not hesitate to suggest that the business affairs staff bring in the creative staff to reset expectations, and, perhaps better yet, off to do so yourself. often, the business affairs response to this awkward request will be: “no, we will deal with this internally,” and then, well, every situation is different.
  • Be very careful about “this is a deal breaker” or drawing a line in the sand.
  • No two deals are ever the same, even if the same people are involved.
  • Moving to yet another panel, I liked the term “Selective Consumption.” Roughly, it seems to mean a a presorted, highly personalized, behavior-based list of currently aailable media assets that miraculously (digitally, enabled by artificial intelligence and algorithms) anticipates each individual consumer need of the nanosecond.

Other interesting ideas and notes:

  • When designing a multi platform, transmedia approach, it’s easy to develop a visual identity on your own platforms but quite difficult to manage this level of control over third party platforms (because each has its own unique technical and design standards and its own strategic agenda).
  • The industry has made something of a mess in the consumer household where multiple boxes, screen interfaces, access codes, remote controls, and a lack of standardization now results in considerable frustration and “we’re not responsible, go talk to those people over there” interoperability problems. Not much progress in this area; in fact, things will probably get a lot worse before the industry gets ahead of the problem.
  • An interesting discussion about “who is the voice of the brand?” Is it the Chief Marketing Officer, the senior agency account person, or the twenty something with her hand on the Twitter keyboard? Plans are made months in advance and approve queues are common practice, but real time communication via social networks seems to subvert these plans. Lots of damage can be done, and so quickly! Then again, there is the urgency of timely messages about (or by) Oreo cookies.
  • About 30 percent of Verizon FiOS use is non-TV. People are shifting, rapidly, to tablets and away from TV for their PRIMARY video viewing experience. That seems significant.

iPad4: Slightly Smaller, Lighter Package

macrumors-ipad5cMacRumors published an interesting article about the new full-sized iPad, the one that will become available by September or October of this year.

The new model will be about 1 inch less wide, and about 2mm thinner than the current iPad Retina Display. It will resemble the current iPad Mini, which employs a far thinner border on the left and right sides of the screen.

And, in case you missed it, Apple introduced a new 128 GB version of the current iPad this week. It’s now available, and, I suspect, autumn will bring a 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB model, with no more 16 GB iPads after this year.

I really like MacRumors. They hold their sources to very high standards, and if they’re not always 100% on the money, their revelations are consistently sane, reasonable, and forward-thinking.

The Fourth Good Idea (The One That Works!)

Good idea #1 – On every iPad, Apple includes a slot for an SD card. That way, I can copy a file from my computer, insert it into the player without any fuss, and edit a document or watch a movie.

Didn’t happen.

Good idea #2 – Recognizing the error of its ways, Apple introduces a $30 accessory called the Camera Connection Kit. It includes two small white blocks, one of which allows the insertion of an SD card into an iPad. But only for transferring pictures. Forget about editing a Pages or Numbers file, or watching a movie.

Good idea #3 – Seagate introduces GoFlex, a lightweight, portable disk drive that connects, wirelessly, to any iPad. The secret is a wireless network created by the device; that’s how the connection to the iPad is made. The capacity is 500GB, a very healthy amount of space for all sorts of files. Unfortunately, Seagate’s interface technology proves difficult to use, and, at least for me, it seems to work less often than other devices. (Seagate has provided help, not once but several times. New Year’s Resolution: Since I love this idea, I will try again and get it right.) It costs less than $200.

AirstashGood idea #4 – Maxell introduces AirStash. It’s a small wireless network, and it worked the first time. There are three parts, well-integrated. The first is an app, clean and simple, just a list of files organized by file type (movies, etc.) The second in an SD card (up to 32GB). You insert the SD card into your computer, load it up with files, and plug it into the third part. That’s a device roughly the size of a large cigarette lighter. On one end: an SD card slot. On the other, well, nothing you need to make the connection (more on that in a moment). You find the AirStash network in the list of available wireless networks, make the connection, return to the app, and just watch the movie (or whatever it is you want to do). From time to time, you need to recharge the AirStash battery–that’s the third part, a USB plug that you insert into any computer or USB/AC adapter for the recharge.

My test device was loaded with several good films: I watched The King’s Speech and Inception, and both played flawlessly.

Sorry, but I can’t resist:

Good idea #5: AirStash is updated so that it can be used without shutting down the WiFi network that you usually use. Right now, that’s a flaw. I hope it will be fixed.

So, that’s the story. AirStash is a product that really works. And it’s simple enough that I was able to write an article about half as long as usual, simply because, well, this really is a simple product to use, and to explain. Whoever made this happen, good work! (And thank you for solving the problem that Apple never should have created in the first place!)

AirStash Phone

Here’s a look at the AirStash app for the iPhone. Simple, straightforward and intuitive.

A Great Idea for Great Ideas

Once upon a time, OmniGraffle software was provided free with every Apple Mac computer. That’s how I learned about it. Now, I use OmniGraffle on my iPad and the desktop. When it comes to sketching out ideas, and presenting them in a clear and colorful manner, there is no better (or easier-to-use) product.

So, what does OmniGraffle do? Well, it depends upon what you want it to do. Start with a blank sheet, or some on-screen graph paper, or set yourself up for a cloud cluster (also called a mind map), or a whiteboard, or a chalkboard. There are connected notes, so you can use it as a kind of bulletin board, Whatever works for you, you’ll find the basic template in the full Standard or Professional version for use on the Mac (a great many features are available on the iPad version, which may suffice for some users).

Choose the template, then start drawing. Easy enough to begin with a box, color it, shade it, add text, make a copy, the sorts of things that you do in PowerPoint or Keynote all the time. Here, the tools are more varied, more versatile, including a bezier tool to draw shapes as you would in Adobe Illustrator (if you don’t know how to do this, it’s worth asking someone for help, but once you understand how it works, you’ll find yourself using this tool quite often).

So, let’s say that you begin with a free-form drawing, a visual exploration, a sketch to explain an idea to yourself or to others. It begins to make some sense, so you want to change its form, maybe move into a cloud of connected ideas, or a set of related on-screen index cards, or an organizational chart with colors to indicate levels or positions. Easy to do–this software is designed for versatility, and for intuitive thinking. The results can become quite sophisticated–and yet, they are not difficult to pull together, even under the pressure of time.

Automatic layouts save time, and make everything look a lot tidier, a lot more clear. There’s quick and easy access to frequently used tools, like color palettes and the font selector. There’s a user community called Graffletopia that creates “stencils” that can be used to create, for example, a director’s plan for film, or visualizations for software programmers. Browsing through Graffletopia, the utility of OmniGraffle becomes very clear: this is a visualization tool for working professionals. It’s easy to use, versatile, and, you’ll find, quite popular among certain knowledgable groups.

OmniGraffle is not a drawing tool, but instead, it is a tool for making (and easily revising) diagrams. I like the language from Omni’s website: “OmniGraffle knows what makes a diagram different from a drawing, and gives you the tools to create amazing diagrams quickly and easily. Lines stay connected to their shapes, unlike with illustration programs, where you would have to redraw your diagram every time you moved something.” As someone who often uses visuals to explain–and has become quite tired of the limitations of, say, Keynote or the level of sophisticated required for Adobe Illustrator–OmniGraffle feels just right to me. I find that the interface is intuitive (best if you’re already a Mac user), and that, from time to time, I need to take a moment and figure out how a tool works. That’s good–it’s just a few steps more sophisticated than my current abilities.

Most of the time, I’m sketching a diagram between meetings, capturing the basic idea. And although I can complete a pro-quality diagram on the iPad (and often do), I find myself in need of some certain advanced features, such as import/export from/to Visio (a Windows-only product). Most of the time, my diagram is on the simple side: colored boxes with type, perhaps a cloud to indicate an interesting idea. By holding my finger down, then dragging, I can group my clouds and/or boxes. Better yet, a smart selection tool allows quick selection of, for example, just the blue rectangles. I can create Adobe-style layers, then copy, or turn them on and off. Very handy, qick, and effective. Easily learned, too, in daily use, the iPad version has proven to be extremely useful, in part because it combines some of the best features found in OmniGraffle Professional (such as tables) with a sophisticated automatic diagramming tool, and a freehand tool, too.

To be clear, there are three different OmniGraffle products, each with its own unique set of benefits.

OmniGraffle for iPad costs $49.99 from the AppStore–a high-priced product that turns out to be a very good value because it does so much, so easily. OmniGraffle Standard, for Mac, costs $99.99, and OmniGraffle Professional, also for Mac, costs $199.99. Compare their features here. And, happily, you can get a free trial download for either of the Mac products (and any of the many excellent OmniGroup products). They do things the right way. It’s impressive.

Useful iPad Stuff

(This turned out to be a popular blog post, but I neglected to mention a favorite product, so I’ve revised the article. See below.)

A collection of products that I’ve been meaning to write about…

First–and this one is free–is the 150-plus page iPad Buyer’s Guide from iLounge. If any one publication is the definitive iPad guide, this must be it. It begins with a very complete guide to every iPad model on the planet–very useful for those who are considering a purchase, a skip-over for those who already own one–then digs into articles about iPad innovators, including Inkling (which makes the interactive travel guides I wrote about last week). Just about every aspect of the iPad culture is explored, including some decidedly weird comments from the doubters (I thought we were past this negative stuff, but obviously, they do not). There are pages and pages about useful accessories, top apps, lots more. What’s more, everything is presented in a punchy, fun-to-browse way. It’s available for your computer screen in one-page or two-page-spread format, or in one-page specifically for the iPad. Nice work!

Second, a surprise, at least to me. I’ve used an iPhone for years, and an iPad for a year or so. The input device is my finger, and until yesterday, that worked just fine. Just for fun, I tried an iPad stylus. I liked it. A lot. There are lots of iPad styli available–including the colorful series of Bamboo stylus products from Wacom, and the one I used, the AluPen from Just|Mobile. The AluPen is about four inches long, and feels like a fat crayon. The rubber tip makes contact with the screen’s surface with surprising accuracy. I was able to execute every iPad function more smoothly (and with no fingertip oil or friction), so the experience seemed smoother, quicker, and more precise. Consistent with current trends, stylus makers now offer two models, one with a built-in pen (the kind you use to write on paper, the kind with ink). The AluPen Pro uses Pelikan ink, which seems consistent with Just|Mobile’s higher-quality approach to their whole product line. Before you buy, be sure to explore the extensive text, pictures and video on The Verge.

Third, remote power. At January’s Consumer Electronics Show, lots of companies were showing remote power accessories for both iPhone and iPad. Once again, I was impressed by the Just|Mobile products, despite their odd name: Gum. The Gum Plus is the smaller unit, designed mostly for the iPhone (which it can charge several times without being refreshed), and, in a pinch, you can use it to charge the iPad, if not fully, then enough to keep working for a while. For the iPad, you’ll want the larger, and somewhat heavier, Gum Max, which carries enough portable power to completely recharge an iPad, and then, an iPhone. The way this works: you plug the GUM into your AC outlet, fill it with power, and then, carry it with you. When you need the power, you plug your iPhone or iPad into the portable GUM unit. Then, when time and access permit, you recharge the GUM, and, presumably, your iPhone and iPad, too. Some people will use these devices regularly. If you plan to use the Gum only sometimes, you must remember to discharge and recharge the unit for best results.

Fourth, remote storage. Apple designed the iPad so that its local storage would be limited… and the cloud would provide the rest. Unfortunately, even 64GB is not enough local storage for those who rely upon the iPad as their primary portable device, and there is no such thing as a USB Flash Drive or SD Card to augment storage. I am very impressed with the idea of the Seagate’s GoFlex Satellite Drive, and as soon as it’s up and running, I will report back to you.

I reposted because I forgot my favorite new iPad accessory. It’s an eraser. But it doesn’t erase ink or pencil. It erases the ridiculous smudges that magically appear on every iPad screen. I use it often, especially on sunny days when the reflected finger grease (sorry) makes it difficult to see the screen properly. So, here’s the solid plastic 3-inch by 4-inch white plastic eraser with a specially-made black bottom…my best friend when the smudges become annoying on an otherwise beautiful day. The company is Best iProducts. The iEraser costs $14.95, and it’s proudly made in America. They can imprint company logos. It works on a bare screen, but not with a screen protector. All of which is nice to know, but what I really like is that this little eraser really works. First time, every time. Smudges gone! And it couldn’t be simpler. Small company, good product, who could ask for anything more?

 

Is the iPad Mini Coming This Fall, Not Summer? (Updated)

Key facts, or, at least, key rumors courtesy of MacRumors:

  • $250-300 retail price
  • “A 7.85-inch “iPad mini” display with a resolution of 1024×768 would carry a pixel density of 163 pixels per inch, exactly the same density as the non-Retina iPhone and iPod touch models.”
  • Competes with upcoming Windows 8 devices

No, this is not a definite product. But it is an intriguing rumor.

But today’s visit to Barnes & Noble, and yesterday’s visit to B&H Photo in Manhattan confirm one counterintuitive idea: in comparison with competitive products, the iPad is kinda big. I like it that way, but I use my iPad for business purposes. For casual use, something smaller might be just the thing.

UPDATE as of July 3, 2012:

“The new model will have a screen that’s 7 inches to 8 inches diagonally, less than the current 9.7-inch version, said the people, who asked not to be identified because Apple hasn’t made its plans public. The product, which Apple may announce by October, won’t have the high-definition screen featured on the iPad that was released in March, one of the people said.”–reported by Bloomberg, posted in MacRumors.

I Want to Watch TV on My iPad (The Plot Thickens)

Here’s the original story published on March 6, 2012:

You’re looking at an array of television antennas. These antennas are used to capture local broadcast signals that you can watch, if you pay a monthly subscription fee, on your computer, tablet, or phone. Aereo (formerly Bamboom) is the company behind the scheme, and, as you might expect, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the legal system as they argue with broadcasters regarding the rights and wrongs of live retransmission (that is, if Aereo is to survive, the broadcast networks want to see monthly cash–just like they receive from the cable operators).

Ah, the free airwaves, the ones that broadcasters use for the public good. Ah, the intellectual property that broadcasters carry over those airwaves, the IP that cable service providers pay to carry. Ah, the unresolved legal gotcha!! Any company that attempts to make those signals available via a secondary distribution scheme must pay for the right, or so say the broadcast networks.

The price for the service? $12 per month. The debut date? March 12. The place: for now, the New York metropolitan area.

For cord cutters, this may be a terrific deal. But it’s unclear whether the courts will block Aereo’s progress, as they have with ivi.tv and others who attempted to climb the walls of the castle without paying the required tribute (or, as I’m adding in my updated version of this article… others who attempted to challenge the current system of copyright and payments for distribution rights to intellectual property).

Slingbox? That’s okay. Over-the-air mobile TV? That’s not ready yet, except in a few markets on a test basis. Watch over-the-air TV? Sure. Watch via cable or satellite? As long as you’re paying for the privilege. Watch on another device? Nope, not yet. Or, maybe the answer is yes. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

_____

Here’s the update that I wrote on March 12, 2012:

From Bloomberg: Predicting a “great fight” with traditional media companies, billionaire Barry Diller said he plans to expand his new Aereo Web-based television service to 75 to 100 cities within a year, reports Bloomberg.

Diller, speaking at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, noted that efforts by Walt Disney Co. and other media companies to cite copyright violations were “absolutely predictable,” since entrenched companies always protect their turf, the story says.

Want to know more? Here’s a bunch of links:

The tech explanation:

http://www.techspot.com/news/47467-aereo-offers-tv-over-internet-with-antennas-engineered-to-comply-with-law.html

The consumer angle:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorothypomerantz/2012/02/29/how-much-are-you-willing-to-pay-to-cut-the-cord/

The business story:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204059804577229451364593094.html?mod=wsj_share_tweet#printMode

The investment story:

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2012/02/14/iac-l20-million-aereo-barry-diller-vc.html?s=print

_____

Here’s the update as of July 17, 2012

Again from Bloomberg (July 13, 2012): “A U.S. district judge this week allowed Aereo to continue operating while television networks pursue a copyright lawsuit against the company. Aereo captures broadcast signals with small antennas and streams them to devices such as Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPad, without paying for the programming.” As a result of the ruling, Diller is now planning a nationwide rollout.

As I pondered what all of this might mean, I read an essay on TV NewsCheck’s website, written by television executive Lee Spieckerman. I contacted him, and we spoke for a while about the ruling and its implications. In short, he believes that Judge Nathan bungled the decision:

“We see loopy rulings from Federal judges all the time, and I think this fits into that category… She misread the governing law!”

Spieckerman’s argument is based in part upon law and in part upon common industry practice. His legal argument tracks back to a 1993 law which requires operators of paid television systems to secure the necessary rights from local broadcasters. The concept is called “retransmission consent” and that ruling has proven to be something of a windfall for local broadcasters as a result of the fees paid by cable operators in exchange for this consent. According to  Spieckerman, these fees are now worth about $2 billion to the commercial broadcast network, plus an additional several billion dollars to local stations. This, plus the additional revenues from political advertising resulting from the Citizens United decision, provide the advertising base necessary for local television news to survive. (Seems to me, we should all understand the economics and consequences of this new approach to journalism funding–a worthwhile topic for a future article). Back to his other argument: “there is no tradition in this country for renting antennas–nobody rents antennas!”

Digging deeper with Mr. Spieckerman, and the real argument emerges. This is all about copyright infringement, and protection of distribution rights associated with intellectual property. Judge Nathan’s ruling begins to disrupt a system by which cable operators compensate owners of cable networks and local stations. ESPN receives $4.69 per cable subscriber–do the math and that’s about $50 per year per subscriber multiplied by 100 million subscribers, and that’s $5 billion per year in subscription fees. Spieckerman believes local broadcast station fees to be 20-50 cents, but acknowledges that these deals are confidential. (Consider that Comcast, Time Warner, and other cable operators charge consumers charge those 100 million subscribers over $1,000 per year–1o0 million x $100 = $100,0o0,000,000, or $100 billion, also good raw material for another Digital Insider article.)

Of course, the local station operators are anxious to negotiate with Diller’s Aereo. And Diller is anxious to go with the Judge’s ruling because it requires no fees. For now, according to Bloomberg,

We’re going to really start marketing… Within a year and a half, certainly by ’13, we’ll be in most major markets.”

To which Mr. Spieckerman counters:

Who is going to be next? This is a pandora’s box, and when you start circumventing and tearing down the few elements there are in the industry and inviting the destruction of an important industry. If I have any intellectual property that I want to distribute, I do not want anybody able to steal my material.”

A Go-Everywhere iPad/Android Keyboard

Competing against nothing is not easy. Every iPad and every Android tablet comes with an on-screen keyboard that costs nothing and weighs nothing. In fact, I am using one right now. It’s fine for short documents with no formatting, but I prefer a proper keyboard for longer writing sessions.

I use the Apple wireless keyboard that came with my iMac (I use a wired keyboard on my desk, so this one was a spare. I invested in a durable slipcase from www.sfbags.comfor $29. and I carry an extra pair of AA batteries, just in case the Bluetooth eats too much power. Mostly, it works as well as any Bluetooth device. It’s a bit taller than the iPad, but then, it is a full-sized computer keyboard. Weight of keyboard, case and two sets of batteries: one pound. I do not carry it everywhere.

The new ZAGGKeys FLEX is about 3/4 as long as the Apple keyboard, so the keys are closer together. It weighs about 3/4 of a pound, but it is much more compact. Power is provided via USB, not AA cells. Special buttons on the keyboard are used for undo, cut, paste, and search. The keyboard easily switches from Apple to Android mode. One button pairs the keyboard to either device.

The niftiest part is the stand that doubles as the case. It’s lightweight and very stable–more firm that Apple’s magnetic iPad cover.

The keyboard is a little clunky and a little noisy–convenient but Apple’s keyboard is both elegant and silent.

Cost: Apple wireless keyboard ($69) + SF bags slipcase ($29) + a year’s batteries = $100.

Cost: ZAGGKeys FLEX: about $80.

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, there were dozens of iPad accessory-makers on the show floor. I like ZAGG–they seem to come up with clever solutions. Here, they’ve got a good idea, but $20 and a quarter pound are not enough to overcome the significant quality advantage of the Apple / SF Bags solution.

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