iPad as Content Creation Platform

It’s become something of a cliché that the iPad is for content consumption, leaving the business of content production to the “old-fashioned” general purpose PC. It turns out, if you leave matters to developers, they will come up with a lot of innovative ways for people to create content even with a fairly limited — in terms of processing power and memory — device like the iPad. Business Insider has a great write-up of a whole bunch of apps and uses that is worth checking out: go read it for yourself. I especially like the video for Studio Track — the video is not brilliant, but the app is.

iPad App Creation Made Easy

A number of vendors and environments are arising to support the easy creation of applications for the iOS platform. Two in particular stand out in my mind and are worth checking out:

If content creators really want not only to have a say in how their content gets distributed but also help to innovate the forms and kinds of content, we need at least to be aware of the possibilities if not get our hands, and minds and content, in the game.

OmniFocus for iPad is OUT…

OmniFocus for iPad is OUT … and I just can’t get excited. Why? Hmmm, let’s see … I’ve already spent $50 on the Mac version and $20 on the iPhone version and now I am supposed to pay another $40 for the iPad version?

To be clear, this is not entirely OmniGroup’s fault — though I haven’t really heard them protest this situation either. It’s really a function of Apple’s App Store and its inability to differentiate users. (Oh, to be fireballed and have John Gruber, who has become Apple’s pony boy in the era of the iPhone, defend Apple on this.)

First, note that I only paid $50 for OmniFocus and not the full retail price of $80. I was able to do that because the OmniGroup is kind enough to offer educational discounts. Can the App Store do that? No.

Second, one of the reasons I purchased OmniFocus over other GTD apps — some of which I think are actually easier to use — is because I was invested in the OmniGroup portfolio. I have been using OmnoOutliner and OmniGraffle from their 2.0 days, before they went “pro,” and I have enjoyed the OmniGroup’s commitment to their applications and their users. I have also enjoyed their upgrade pricing, which essentially offers users of previous versions of a product the change to buy the new one at a discount.

While one can upgrade an app in the app store, there is no way, as far as I can tell, for developers to distinguish between new users and recurring users and thus to reward the extant users for their loyalty to the product — which may not only have been simply using the app but also discussing it on their blogs or in various forums or in providing bug reports or feedback.

There is also no way for developers to distinguish between classes of users, commercial versus educational for example, on the App Store, even though Apple recognizes the difference in their own Store.

And must there, must there be a separate iPad version of OmniFocus? Without a question, from the screenshots I have seen, it is a thing of beauty — perhaps nicer than the iPhone and Mac version combined — but why can’t it be a universal iOS app? To be honest, this isn’t question of money so much as a principled orientation towards simplicity when it comes to the inventory of debris one trails behind oneself as we pass through this mortal coil. I don’t really need there to be two OmniFocus apps sitting in my iTunes library.

I don’t know if the lack of an universal version was a decision based on differences in screen size or if it was an economic decision — and here I will note that the steady increase in pricing of applications at OmniGroup is beginning to make me nervous, if not a little agitated. Times are tough. I’m glad OmniGroup seeks to pay its developers well, but I just may not be able to hang with them for much longer. My paycheck has been flat for the past five years. (And by flat, I mean flat.)

Books in the Age of the iPad

Too much ink and too many pixels has been spilled of late about the state of reading or the state of publishing or the plight of books in the IT era. Craig Mod has a simple take on the matter: good riddance to all the ink and paper spent on books that simply don’t require it. By that he means mass market books, paperbacks we buy, read, and sometimes simply recycle or give away or shelve and never think about again.[^1]

Mod would probably include more books in that category, since he argues that any book that is almost all text and really doesn’t require any kind of design is probably best read on devices like the iPad or Kindle, where the text can be manipulated by the reader to their own preferences.

Reserved for valuable ink and paper in Mod’s world of future publishing are books that are designed with, well, design in mind. Books with lots of illustrations or books that have their layout as part of how you read them — I am particularly reminded of Joshua Mowll’s books.

That is, what the tablet opens up is the chance to read print books as print books and to read text books as texts. It’s an interesting idea.

[^1]: Please note that I am still a little worried about the ability to give away books in the digital era. Even as an author, I would rather see my work passed around and read than see its use limited only to one person.

Keynote for iPad Guidelines

Apple has released guidelines for creating Keynote presentations on a Mac that will be used on an iPad. The highlights include:

  • the resolution to use (1024 x 768)
  • themes to use (e.g., only the more bland Apple-provided ones)
  • fonts to use (anything else reverts to Helvetica)
  • a limited set of master slides
  • pre-scaled images, with PNG being the preferred format

I don’t own Keynote for iPad, so I can’t make any comments on this or the other restrictions involved. I do own Pages for iPad, and I largely don’t see it utility until Apple comes up with a better way to handle file transfer from the iPad to the Mac. Like the iPhone, users do not have direct access to directories, where files are saved on the iPad is obscured from the user while using the iPad as well as when you are syncing with iTunes. Worse, Apple offers no real way to sync things via their own syncing apparatus on MobileMe. (Others have written about this insanity stupidity. If anyone is interested, let me know and I can add the links to the story here.)

iPad Second Impressions

I’m working on a fuller discussion of my use of GoodReader on the iPad that I will post soon, but as I continue to put the Apple tablet through its paces, I thought I would post notes as I go.

First, I should note that I am in fact composing this on the iPad and that typing on it, while in landscape mode, is far easier than I would have imagined. I can actually imagine doing some serious work like this. It’s a little difficult to get the iPad proposed just right in your lap, but once you’ve achieved some ergonomic compromise, you can type pretty well. (Note that I am not a touch typist and so I may be more open to alternative keyboards than better typists are. I know that my typing follows no best practice ever devised.)

Second, the iPad needs a case. Either the Apple case or something like the MarWare EcoFolio case. If you are using this thing around the house especially, it just doesn’t feel quite right to lay it down unprotected — this will make more sense to those readers with children and/or pets. The smooth aluminum back feels too “slidy” and the glass top just a hair too nice and fragile not to have something to flip over it when not in use. Something that stays attached is going to be better precisely because the iPad is so easy to use that you find yourself moving about with it, and chances are you’re going to put it down in a different place than where you started … And where did you leave that slip case.

I bought an inexpensive Kensington slip case to use while waiting for something better to come available — it was $5.99 on Amazon — but using a slip case on the iPad is not the same as using one on a laptop. The primary problem is that the controls of the iPad remain exposed while you are putting the slip case on, and while the unit is inside, and so you can too easily turn it on.

## Surfing Mobile Safari

Web browsing in mobile Safari on the iPad is as amazing an experience as many observers commented. There really is something quite … Er, magical? … to touching a link with your finger tip rather than clicking it with a mouse. And all the other features of the multi-touch user experience really come to life on this size screen/UI.

Given this, this lovely touch interface, it boggles the mind that *Show Top Sites* is not a built-in part of the Mobile Safari interface. There’s room in the toolbar.

The second question mark for Mobile Safari is the lack of *Find* functionality. Again, there’s room in the toolbar.

More observations as they come.

iPad First Impressions

So, yes, everything “they” say is true about the iPad: you really have to hold one in your hands to feel “the amazingness.” I had ordered a 16GB WiFi model from the Apple Store, but while the shipping date said “5 to 7 days” the estimated arrival date was more like three weeks. While running errands yesterday, I decided to stop by at Best Buy to see if they had anything. Nothing. Nothing except for a 64GB “open box” model the salesman discovered when he went to check on inventory. Hmmm. The top end model for only $629? Why not?


I had to confine myself only to gazing at the thing for the rest of the day while I was at work, since getting any kind of wireless connection on our campus is rather difficult and because I still had my iTunes library at home on our NAS. But once I got it home and synced some media onto and downloaded a few apps, it was time to try the thing out.

And here’s the truly surprising thing, the thing that makes the “amazingness” of this thing: my wife wants one. She doesn’t love technology the way I do. She knows she depends on it, but its functionings and possibilities do not fascinate her. But she immediately got the possibilities of holding a piece of glass in your hands and interacting immediately with UI elements on it.

The thing that really got her is GoodReader, an app so good it’s worth a post of its own. That’s coming tomorrow.

The Future of Books

This iPad app version of _Alice in Wonderland_ is not everything one could hope — it appears to involve only a limited amount, and kind, if interaction — but it’s a clear start, and it begins to reveal just what even a small amount of imagination unbound from the conventions of what books have been can do.

*Please note*: I love books. Love, love, love them. I love the way they feel, and I love the way they work. I am working on a book of my own right now. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t hope that the new tablets won’t open up a world of possibilities for content creators. That’s where I hope all this is taking us: that we can fit the medium to the message, and not the other way around, as has been the case with a fairly limited set of media that were largely controlled by a limited number of organizations.

A Darkside to the iPad

There is an unfortunate trend emerging in the digital age that I have not seen anyone really address: the traditional role of the retailer as a middle agent with some sway over pricing of products appears to be eroding when it comes to digital media. In both the case of MP3s with Apple and ebooks with Amazon, the early successful entrants were able to dictate terms to the content industry. In both cases, 99-cent downloads and 9.99 ebooks allowed the two retailers to build a market. Of course, they also took advantage of the fact that in selling media content at such prices they were also able to sell hardware which increased their ability to capture consumers to their platform. (Sigh. Everybody wants to be a platform these days. Ten years ago, it was portals. Now it’s platforms.)

The content industries largely went along because no one else was really focusing on the big picture of building an economically-viable market and the much larger threat was that with no viable marketplace, everything would go through the black market.

An interesting part of the history here is that Apple was historically a hardware company that had taken on retail as a way to sell hardware. What began as a simple MP3 store has now expanded into a business that has only one peer: Amazon.com. Amazon started as a retail company that, despairing of anyone offering decent hardware for the ebook revolution that was inevitable (everyone had been talking about it for a decade), found itself needing to build hardware. I don’t think Amazon really cares that much about the hardware in terms of its overall revenues or profit but what it does care about is the lock-in the hardware achieves, enabling Amazon to offer DRMed EPUB files.

This play, of course, came right out of Apple’s playbook.

As the game, as it were, unfolded, Apple and Amazon thwarted each other. Amazon’s entry into the music download business gave the entertainment industry the chance it wanted to re-negotiate terms with Apple and the same events ensued, albeit with the tables turned, in the weeks leading up to and following the introduction of the iPad.

In both cases, what happened was not a return to the long established vendor-retailer convention whereby a vendor sells a product for a given price to the retailer and the retailer is free to set their own price, determining their own profits based on how much they markup an item and how many units they hope to sell. E.g., a book publisher determines that the price of a given book to any and all book stores will be $6 and then Bookstore A is free to sell the book at $8 in hopes of selling a lot and Bookstore B can choose to sell the book for $12 in hopes of attracting a smaller, but more discerning and committed clientele. Margin and volume.

The new era seems to be all about the so-called **agency model** wherein retailers are simply agents for content producers who determine the ultimate price of the product to the consumer. All the retailer does is negotiate the percentage of that price they get to put into their pocket.

This is an absurd position to put yourself in if your are a retailer, and I can only imagine that if you are Apple, you don’t care because you are mostly focused on selling hardware. If you’re Amazon, you care, but you are forced into this new situation because of Apple. If you are Amazon, and if you are a consumer, then you can only hope that things will eventually return to normal. (If you are Amazon, then you have to realize that you are being served a dish of crow for being such a jerk in the first place.)

If authors, and other content producers, think this new model is going to guarantee them a larger share of the profits, because there is going to be more profit, then I can only say that we can hope but history reveals that this is rarely the case.

Mostly I worry that this will lead to a stagnation in the market place at precisely the moment that we could use more experimentation. The idea that content producers engage the marketplace directly is a folly that they contrive out of greed but publishers and film and music producers have revealed that they really aren’t the place where innovation happens. If this new infrastructure put artists directly in contact with audiences, I might find it more interesting, but middle men remain, and there is no other set of middle men now to keep them in check.

iPad Application Design

This is the first of what may very well be quite a few notes, as re-blogs, about iPad application design. I think humanist and content creators of all stripes need to be paying close attention to this.

In this case, Matt Gemmell has [some initial thoughts](http://mattgemmell.com/2010/03/05/ipad-application-design) that are worth a quick read.

The Future Experience of Media

The iPhone, and now the iPad, are establishing that there is a place, even with the consumer utility device market, for general computing devices. In particular, [Game Developer Research](http://www.gamedevresearch.com/) has just its report on the current state of game development. The 100-page document is available on their site and is covered in the the current issue of [Game Developer](http://www.gdmag.com/) magazine. Some of the trends revealed in the report include that the economic downturn has more developers working in smaller companies (less than 50 employees) and an increased focus on the mobile device market:

> Of these mobile developers, nearly three quarters of that group are targeting iPhone and iPod touch development, a number more than twice the reported support for traditional handhelds like Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

This only confirms our own household’s decision to retire our daughter’s Leapster that we had paired with my old iPod Video for road trips and mobile entertainment. Both were handily replaced by an iPad Touch that not only has the games and the videos of the previous two devices but also flash card activities, wikipedia, and other applications. General computing, baby, general computing.

iPhone/iPad App Development

For those interested in iPhone/iPad development and looking for other development environments than that provided by Apple, here is an interesting item: [Ansca Mobile](http://www.anscamobile.com/) has released [Corona](http://www.anscamobile.com/corona/):

> Corona is built from the ground up to enable designers, web developers and engineers to quickly develop and distribute highly optimized native iPhone applications.

You can download a trial version of the SDK or you can get a full version with a one year subscription to their Corona Developer Program.

Some More Initial Thoughts on the iPad

First, the LED screen will not be there for long. Color e-ink with decent (enough) frame rates for watching video is on its way — or at least so I am told. Apple knows that this thing isn’t perfect, but I suspect they also saw that the technology in this category was lagging behind market interest and demand. iPad 1.0 is a placeholder in some ways.

Second, if I was 20 years younger, I would stop what I am doing now and immediately immerse myself in everything it took to develop native apps for this and the other devices that are going to copy it. This is the computing device that most people have wanted for a very long time. For better or worse, most folks are consumers, not producers. The IT revolution — Tim Berners-Lee core concept — was a blurring of that distinction. We have seen a lot of movement in that direction, and there are certainly a lot more people producing content than there was twenty years ago, but I think we are also seeing a flattening of the growth curve and a kind of stabilizing of who is going to do what for the time being. The iPad addresses that flattened curve very, very well.