Tag Archives: ipad

On Microsoft Surface: premium hardware, declining vision

image
Microsoft’s Panos Panay shows off Surface Pro 3

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 was launched yesterday, but the roots of Microsoft’s Surface project – the company’s first own-brand PC – go back a long way. There are three big issues which it attempts to tackle:

1. The PC OEM hardware ecosystem was (and to a large extent still is) stuck in a vicious loop of a price-sensitive market driving down prices and forcing vendors to skimp on design and materials, and to pre-install unwanted third-party applications that damage user experience. Most high-end users bought Macs instead. With Surface Microsoft breaks out of the loop with premium design and zero unwanted add-ons.

2. The tablet market. Windows 8 is designed for touch, at least in its “Metro” personality. But desktop apps need a keyboard and mouse. How do you combine the two without creating a twisty monster? Surface with its fold-back, tear-off keyboard cover is an elegant solution.

3. Fixing Windows. Users of today’s PCs live on a precipice. One false click and the adware and malware invades. Live in the “Metro” environment, or use an iPad, and that is unlikely to happen. Use Windows RT (Windows on ARM) and it is even less likely, since most malware cannot install.

Surface could not have happened without Windows 8. The efforts to make it work as a tablet would make no sense.

Now we have Surface 3. How is Microsoft doing?

I have followed Surface closely since its launch in September 2012. The models I know best are the original Surface RT, the second Surface RT called Surface 2, and the original Surface Pro, which is my machine of choice when travelling. A few observations.

There is plenty that I like (otherwise I would not use it so much). It really is slim and compact, and I would hate to go back to carrying a laptop everywhere. It is well-made and fairly robust, though the hinge on the keyboard covers is a weak point where the fabric can come unglued. The kickstand is handy, and one of my favourite configurations is Surface on its kickstand plus Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, with which I can be almost as productive as with a desktop (I do miss dual displays). I can also use the Surface successfully on my lap. In cramped aircraft seats it is not great but better than a laptop.

There are also annoyances. Only one USB port is a severe limitation and seems unnecessary, since there is room along the edge. For example, you plug in an external drive, now you cannot attach your camera. Not being able to upgrade the internal SSD is annoying, though I suppose inherent to the sealed design. Performance was poor on the original Surface RT, though Surface 2 is fine.

More annoying are the bugs. Sometimes the keyboard cover stops working; detaching and re-attaching usually but not always fixes it. Sometimes the wifi plays up and you have to disable and re-enable the wifi adapter in device manager. Another problem is power management, especially on Surface Pro (I gather that Pro 2 is better). You press power and it does not resume; or worse, you put it into your bag after pressing power off (which sends it to sleep), only to find later that it is heating your bag and wasting precious battery.

The key point here is this: Microsoft intended to make an appliance-like PC that, because of the synergy between first-party hardware and software, would be easy to maintain. It did not succeed, and even Surface RT is more troublesome to maintain than an iPad or Android tablet.

Microsoft also ran into user acceptance problems with Windows RT. Personally I like RT, I think I understand what Microsoft is (or was) trying to achieve, and with Surface specifically, I love the long battery life and easier (though this imperfect) maintenance that it offers. However, the apps are lacking, and Microsoft has so far failed to establish Windows as a tablet operating system like iOS and Android. People buy Windows to run Windows apps, they make little use of the Metro side, and for the most part Surface customers are those who would otherwise have bought laptops.

Incidentally, I have seen Surface RT used with success as a fool-proof portable machine for running Office and feel it deserved to do better, but the reality is that Microsoft has not persuaded the general public of its merits.

Another issue with Surface is the price. Given most Surface customers want the keyboard cover, which is integral to the concept, the cost is more than most laptops. But was Microsoft going for the premium market, or trying to compete with mass-market tablets? In reality, Surface is too expensive for the mass-market which is why its best success has been amongst high-end Windows users.

Surface Pro 3 and the launch that wasn’t

That brings me to Surface Pro 3. The intriguing aspect of yesterday’s launch is that it was rumoured to be for a new mini-sized Surface probably running Windows RT. Why else was the invite (which someone posted on Twitter) for a “small gathering”?

image

Admittedly, it is a stretch to suppose that the Surface Mini was cancelled between the date the invitations were sent out (around four weeks ago I believe) and the date of the event. On the other hand, this is a time of change at Microsoft. The Nokia acquisition completed on  25th April, putting former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop in charge of devices. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has only been in place since February 4. While cancelling a major hardware launch at such short notice would be surprising, it is not quite impossible, and a report from Bloomberg to that effect seems plausible.

It is also well-known that Microsoft does not intend to continue with three mobile operating systems: Windows x86, Windows on ARM, and Windows Phone. Windows Phone and Windows RT will “merge”, though merge may just mean that one will be scrapped, and that it will not be Windows Phone.

The promised arrival of a touch-friendly Microsoft Office for Windows Phone and Windows 8 further will rob Windows RT of a key distinctive feature.

This does not mean that Microsoft will not complete in the growing market for small tablets. It means, rather, that a future small tablet from Microsoft will run the Windows Phone OS – which is what some of us thought Microsoft should have done in the first place. This is a company that sometimes takes the hardest (and most expensive) possible route to its destination – see also Xbox One.

Surface Pro 3 specs: a MacBook Air compete

Surface Pro 3 is a large-size Surface Pro. It has a 12 inch 2160×1440 screen, a pen, and a redesigned keyboard cover that has an additional magnetic strip which sticks to the tablet when used laptop-style, for greater stability.

The kickstand can now be used at any angle, supposedly without slipping.

image

The weight is 800g making it lighter than a MacBook Air.

image

though note that the MacBook Air has a keyboard built in.

Battery life is quoted as “up to 9 hours”. There is still only one USB port. Full specs are here.

The Surface Pro 3 looks like a nice device. In the UK it starts at £639 for an Intel i3 device with a tiny 64GB SSD (I am running out of space with 128GB). And don’t forget the cover which will be at least £110 on top (prices include VAT).

A sensible Core i5 with 256GB SSD and a Type 2 cover will be around £1200. Not a bad buy; though personally I am not sure about the larger size.

Note that Microsoft has now abandoned the 16:9 wide-screen format which characterised the original release of Windows 8, designed to work well with two apps side by side. Surface Pro 3 has a conventional 3:2 screen ration.

Declining vision

Microsoft’s Surface project had a bold vision to reinvent Windows hardware and to usher in a new, more secure era of Windows computing, where tablet apps worked in harmony with the classic desktop.

It was bold but it failed. A combination of flawed implementation, patchy distribution, high prices, and above all, lack of success in the Windows Store ecosystem, meant that Surface remained at ground level.

What we have now is, by all accounts, an attractive high-end Windows hybrid. Not a bad thing in itself, but far short of what was originally hoped.

Microsoft is moving on, building on its investment in Active Directory, Azure cloud, and Microsoft Office, to base its business on an any-device strategy. The market has forced its hand, but it is embracing this new world and (to my mind) looks like making a success of it. It does not depend on the success of Surface, so whether or not the company ends up with a flourishing PC business is now almost incidental.

Review: Logitech K811 Bluetooth Easy-Switch keyboard for iPad, Mac and more

I travel a lot and use a tablet rather than a laptop, and have gone through numerous Bluetooth keyboards. These are a necessity for me, since the tablet I use is either an iPad, which has no USB slot for a wireless transceiver, or a Windows slate that has only one USB slot that is often occupied.

It is surprising how much can go wrong. Some of the issues I have had (NOT with this keyboard let me emphasise) are keyboards turning themselves on in your bag and performing random actions; keys physically coming off the keyboard while in your bag; and tedious reconnection attempts when the Bluetooth pairing somehow breaks.
Another annoyance is that most Bluetooth keyboards can only pair with one device, forcing you to re-pair every time you switch.

image

Not any more. Logitech’s K811 keyboard can be paired with up to three devices simultaneously. The first three function keys across the top of the keyboard select which one you want to use.

image

This keyboard is designed for iPad, iPhone or Mac, but I found it also worked fine with the Windows tablet subject to few annoyances (keys that are incorrectly marked).

Specifically, on Windows all the alphabetic keys work correctly, as do the numbers, and most of the special characters. The main issues are that backslash types # but can be found on the § key, and @ and ” are transposed. No Windows key of course, but Ctrl-Esc works. Really not too bad.

Note that there is a PC version of the keyboard, called the K810, which seems similar but is a little cheaper. So get that if you only have PCs, but if you have a mix of devices, the Apple one is fine.

While the keyboard is probably not a good choice if you only use a non-Apple tablet, if you have a mix then it can still be useful.

image

This is a standard Mac keyboard though too small to have a separate numeric pad. The function keys default to the special functions, like dimming the backlight, and you have to press the Fn key to get the standard functions.

Physically the keyboard feels sturdy and well-made though it can flex just slightly in the middle since it has four small rubber feet. This did not cause me any problems. The keyboard is big enough for typing at speed and in comfort, and small enough that it tucks easily into most bags. It is 29cm on the longest side.

image

There are some little details that I like. The Connect button can be depressed easily with a finger, no need to find a small pointed object, though I have never pressed it accidentally. There is an on-off switch that is unlikely to slide by accident, avoiding those bag-typing problems mentioned above.

The keyboard has a built-in, non-replaceable rechargeable battery, charged via a USB cable. Battery life is said to be 20 hours of typing with the backlight on, or an impressive one year with the backlight off. You can adjust the brightness of the backlight using the function keys, though it resets when you next switch off and on, so you will probably end up with the backlight on most of the time, though it does dim automatically if you do not type for a while.

The coolest feature is a sensor that detects your hands and turns the backlight on, if the keyboard has been idle, before your hands touch the keys. A bit of a gimmick, but you can’t help admiring it.

Bluetooth switching really does work. I tried a test with an iPad and a Windows tablet. Press the key for the 1st device, and typed text appears on the iPad. Press the key for the 2nd device, and typed text appears on the Windows tablet. Reconnection seems quicker than average.

image

Overall I love the keyboard, and recommend it. I would have liked a protective bag to help prevent damage to the keys when loose in a larger bag, and suggest care with this as it is a common problem.

If you just want a keyboard for an iPad, you might be better off with one of the Logitech keyboard covers. If you have several mobile devices though, this is great, with a quality and convenience that justifies its price.

   

Contract Bridge on a tablet: Funbridge vs Bridgebase vs Bridge Baron

Bridge is an ideal game for a tablet, well suited to touch control and the kind of game you can play for a few minutes or a few hours at a time, which is excellent for travellers.

So what are the choices? Here is a quick look at some favourites.

Funbridge is available for iPhone, iPad and Android. There are also versions for Windows and Mac. The Android edition is the newest but works fine, though of all of them it is the iOS release that is the nicest to use.

image

The way Funbridge works is that you always play against a computer, though this is on the internet rather than running locally, but your scores are compared with other humans playing the same hands. I have not tried the “Two players game” so I am not sure how that works, except that the other player has to be a “friend” in the Funbridge community system. It looks like you play with your friend against two bots.

Funbridge has a lot to like. The user interface is excellent, much the best of all the tablet bridge software I have used and better than most desktop bridge software too. There is a good variety of game options, including one-off games, tournaments of 5 games each, and a series ladder you can climb from 1 club to 7 no trumps. You can select one of 6 conventions, including ACOL, SAYC (American Standard), and 5 card major at three levels from beginner to expert. I think this is a hint that to get the best from Funbridge you should use the 5 card major system.

Another nice feature of Funbridge is that you can go back and replay a hand to try a different line of play. You can also see all the other scores on any hand, and how they were bid and played.

Funbridge is not perfect though. The bidding is eccentric at times, and it can be hard to persuade your partner bot to play in no trumps rather than a suit. There is definitely an art to winning at Funbridge that is a different from what it takes to win at a real bridge table.

Since you are playing against a cloud-based server, you can only play if you have an internet connection. Not so good for most flights.

Funbridge is a pay per game service. Currently 50 deals costs £1.49 (about 3p each) or if you pay more the per-deal cost falls to under 2p. Unlimited deals for a year costs £69.99.

That said, you can get 10 games a week for free, though you only get the 10 free games if you have no paid games in your account; slightly unfair to the paying customers.

Bridgebase is available for iPad, iPhone, Android and Amazon Kindle. Bridgebase also offers a browser-based game based on Adobe Flash. Like Funbridge, you can only play with an internet connection. You can either play with human opponents, or solo with three bots.

image

Of course human opponents are more fun, though there are advantages to playing with bots. No pressure, you can think for as long as you like, and none of the issues which afflict online bridge, such as players simply disappearing when in a bad contract, or being bad tempered if you make a mistake.

The Bridgebase user interface is OK though feels clunky compared to the smoothness of Funbridge. As in Funbridge, you can compare your score with other human players even if you play against bots. You cannot replay games, but you can undo your play which means you can easily cheat against the bots if you feel so inclined. Against humans your opponents have to approve an undo, which they will be reluctant to do other then in cases of genuine mis-taps.

The biggest problem with Bridgebase is the standard of the bots, which is much weaker than Funbridge. The play can be quite bizarre at times, sometimes excellent, sometimes daft.

A weak feature is that if your computer partner wins the auction, it also plays the contract, sometimes badly. I do not see the point of this. You may find yourself playing “hideous hog” style (Victor Mollo’s character who always tried to play the contract) as it is painful reaching a good contract but watching the bot throw it away.

Bridgebase is free to play, though there are subscription options online to get some extra features.

Bridge Baron is available for Android, iPad, iPhone, Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. It is inexpensive (£13.99 currently on the App Store) but you have to pay separately for each platform. Unlike the other two games, Bridge Baron runs entirely on your device, which is good if you are offline, but means you do not compare your score against other humans. You can set the standard from novice to advanced.

Bridge Baron plays well enough to be fun, though well short of the best computer players. You can replay games at will. You can compare your score against the Baron’s score, review the bidding and play, and undo your play at will. You can also ask for a hint from the Baron.

The Bridge Baron user interface is basic, a little worse than Bridgebase (though faster) and much worse than Funbridge. I do not know why the card icons are so small; it is like playing on a huge table.

image

Still, good fun and good value.

Conclusion

All three of these games have something to commend them. Funbridge for the best user interface and a standard good enough to be enjoyable despite a few eccentricities. Bridgebase for the option to play with real people, and for free play with bots. Bridge Baron for playing offline.

On the other hand, Bridgebase is spoilt by the poor play of its bots. Bridge Baron is dull because you cannot compare your score with other humans. Funbridge is the one I choose if I have some deals available, but can get expensive if you play a lot, and you will get annoyed with your computer partner from time to time.

There is nothing on a tablet that comes close to Jack Bridge for standard of play.

Finally, note there is no bridge app for Windows RT. So if you are a bridge addict with a Surface RT, you are out of luck.

RØDE Mic: High quality recording with iPhone or iPad

Interested in high resolution recording with an iOS device? It may be worth checking out the RØDE iXY which for $199 gets you a pair of cardiod capsule microphones which attach to the docking port on your iPad or iPhone (note that you will be holding your device upside down though it hardly matters).

image

Using the associated app you can record at 24-bit/96Khz – good enough to allow some further processing while retaining high quality.

Suggested uses are recording concerts, broadcasting, or attaching to a camera for video with superior sound (though it might be easier to use a conventional external microphone).

Currently I travel with a separate device for recording so something like this is interesting. On the other hand, the recorder I use is small and light, the batteries last for days, and I can plug in any external microphone or use the one built-in. Still, an advantage of the RØDE iXY approach is that you get to use a lovely colour app for recording, and have one less device to keep charged up on the road.

The one thing missing from Windows 8 tablets announced so far: simplicity

This week at IFA in Berlin PC manufacturers have been showing off their shiny new Windows 8 tablets. Vendors are competing for who has the cleverest way of combining touch-screen, tablet, trackpad and keyboard into a single portable device. Here is the HP Envy:

image

or take a look at this PC Pro preview of the Toshiba Satellite U920T:

Ratchets stretch up and down the panel’s rear, with a central puck keeping the action light and smooth, and the screen flips up and back with a fluid action.

Sony has a Surf Slider, Dell XPS Duo slots into a keyboard dock.

I do understand the reason for all these gimmicks. Sometimes you want a tablet, sometimes you want a laptop, and the idea is to combine them into a hybrid device, just as Windows 8 itself lets you flip between Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and Desktop.

At the same time though, there is a risk that these vendors are not learning from the past. Two things in particular:

  • The failure of Microsoft’s first Tablet PC. Most models had twist screens and keyboards and styluses. The styluses were prone to getting lost, the twist screens and keyboards were expensive, and tablets became premium-priced devices that were inconvenient to use. Faced with the choice between Tablet PCs and cheaper, simpler laptops, most customers chose laptops.
  • The success of Apple’s iPad. A keyboard is an optional extra, but most manage without it. The screen has a single button, there are a couple of switches and a volume control on the side, it has a dock connector, and that is it. Nor is it premium-priced, at least, not in the context of Apple’s range.

Looking at the effort Microsoft has put into the touch-friendly Modern UI it is obvious that Microsoft has made provision for tablet-only users. Start screen, big icons, easy install and removal of apps, most of the frequently used settings available without going to the Desktop. It is also obvious that Microsoft intends Windows to go further in this direction. Office 2013 just has OneNote MX in the Modern UI, but more is coming.

Where then are the devices that focus on the simplicity of a single slate, with a wireless keyboard on offer if needed, priced to compete sensibly with Apple and Android tablets?

Maybe there will be some of these; but the messaging coming out of IFA is all wrong and I predict that once again many customers will opt for “just a laptop” once again and for the same reasons as before.

This of course will do nothing to disrupt the tablet/iPad market.

One other thing. The IFA unveilings make Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface look better than ever. This does have an optional keyboard, but it is built into a touch cover, and from what I can tell Microsoft has successfully avoided rachets and gears.

If Surface succeeds and flipping hybrids fail, you can be sure there will be a ton of Surface-a-likes at the 2013 IFA.

Tablets, laptops, smartphones: which form factors will win?

There have been several thoughtful pieces recently on device form factors and what you can and cannot easily do with tablets versus laptops versus smartphones.

Richard Gaywood says the iPad (it’s an Apple site) is “heavily skewed towards, but not entirely about, consumption” rather than creation. His observation is based partly on app statistics, partly on the lack of a keyboard (if you add a Bluetooth keyboard, he argues, an iPad becomes as bulky as a laptop), and partly on weak multitasking and the lack of an accessible file system.

Tim Bray currently carries a laptop, a small tablet (a Nexus 7 I guess) and a phone. He does not seem to be considering abandoning the laptop, but suggests that he might be able to manage without a phone:

I spent several months back in 2010-11 carrying around the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, which may have only been Gingerbread, but included a first-rate phone, and my handset rarely left my pocket.

John Gruber writes at unusual length about why Apple might or might not do a smaller iPad.

On the eve of the Windows 8 launch this is an interesting discussion. Windows 8 will renew the debate: is a tablet all I need, at least when travelling? And where will Google’s 7” Nexus fit in? I foresee this selling well simply because it is great value, but will it be packed in the flight case alongside a laptop and a phone, or left at home, or could it even replace laptops and bigger tablets?

We in the the great unknown; but I will make a few predictions.

First, laptops and indeed desktop applications (that is, not apps) are in permanent decline. That does not mean they will disappear soon, just that they will be used less and less.

The implication is that tablets will be used for content creation as well as consumption, and for work as well as for play. Will developers and designers still want huge multi-display setups? Yes, of course; but most people will get most of their work done with tablets.

Second, that unadorned tablets will win over complicated solutions like laptops with twisty screens (the old Tablet PC concept), styluses, transformers, and the like. My guess is that we will see lots of clever and expensive Windows 8 x86 devices that will only achieve niche sales. The ones that succeed will be the slates, and the traditional laptops.

Third, there may be merit in the keyboard case concept, particularly when the keyboard is very thin, as in Microsoft’s Surface with Touch Cover. On the other hand, keyboard cases that make tablets into laptops, like one I tried for the iPad, also tend to give tablets the same disadvantages as laptops: clam shell design, difficult to use without a desk, and so on. I have found that I prefer a loose keyboard in my bag. It does not take much space, and does not get in the way when not needed.

What about mid-sized devices like the Nexus? I am not convinced. They are too small for all your work, and too big to be phones. The large-size Smartphones like Samsung’s 5.2-inch Galaxy Note sort-of work: they sell to people who do not mind having a large phone. But most of us will end up with two devices in constant use, a phone and a tablet. In the office or study, add a large screen and keyboard to taste.

Review: Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad, Windows

In the iPad era there is increasing demand for wireless keyboards that will transform your tablet into a productive writing machine. I have tried a number of such gadgets recently, including a bargain-price iPad keyboard case and an expensive Samsung keyboard to go with the Slate I have been using for Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Both keyboards work, but with so many annoyances that I rarely use them. The keyboard case works well enough, if you can cope with squishy keys and a tiny power switch, but adds so much weight and bulk to the iPad that it becomes like a laptop, and in doing so loses much of its appeal. The Samsung keyboard on the other hand has a quality feel but lacks a proper power switch, and I found the only way to prevent it powering up when in your bag is to remove the batteries, which is a nuisance. Further, there is some kind of design fault with the keys which can get stuck down; they pop back easily enough, but after a few times something snaps and I now have a key that slopes slightly.

Enter the Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard, primarily designed for the iPad but which works find with the Slate and no doubt numerous other devices, and which is priced competitively considering it has hard keys and is rechargeable.

image

I found several things to like.

First, it has a real on/off switch on the back, something I value having experienced problems with Samsung’s soft power key.

Second, it is small, and will fit in the the top inside pocket of a man’s jacket or tucked into a flap in almost any bag or case. The longest side of the keypad is around 1.5cm less than the length of the iPad itself.

Third, it seems robust and the keys are pleasantly responsive.

image

Getting started was simple enough. Charge it using the supplied USB connector, and pair with the iPad or other device by depressing the recessed pairing key, scanning for new devices, and typing the code given.

I find I can get a good speed on this device, though it is a little cramped especially if you do true touch typing using all your fingers. Still, this is mainly a matter of practice and it is a big step up, for me, from the soft keyboard on an iPad or tablet. Another reason to prefer a physical keyboard is that you get twice as much screen space to view your document.

The keypad also works fine with my Windows 8 Slate, though it has Mac-style keys so no Windows key. Of course you can use Ctrl-Esc for this. There is a Print Screen key though, so from my point of view all the important keys are covered. There is no right Shift key.

One small disappointment: although it has a mini USB socket for charging, this keypad is wireless only. It will not work as a USB keyboard even if you use a full USB cable, rather than the charge-only cable supplied. A shame, because there are circumstances when a USB keyboard is useful, such as for changing BIOS settings on a Windows tablet.

The keypad also works with some Android devices. However I was unable to pair it with an HTC Desire smartphone, and I have seen reports of similar issues with other Android mobile devices. If the device prompts for a number to type on the keyboard, you are in business. If it suggests typing a generic code such as 0000 on the device, it does not work, though there may be a workaround of which I am not aware.

Another limitation: you can only pair the keypad with one device at a time.

Nevertheless, I like this keypad better than the Samsung keyboard which cost much more. Recommended.

 

Apple iBooks Author aims at school textbook market, but beware the lock-in

Apple claims to “Reinvent Textbooks” with the introduction of iBooks 2 for iPad, along with an accompanying free authoring tool for the Mac.

iBooks Author is already in the Mac App Store and I had a quick look. It is template based, so the first thing you do is to make your choice.

image

I picked Contemporary, whereupon the authoring screen opened and I started to make some edits. If you divide Desktop Publishing (DTP) tools into those that are more oriented towards longer books, and those more oriented towards shorter but more graphically rich titles, then iBooks Author is in the former category. You can write the text in Pages or Word, and then import to iBooks Author. You can also add images, charts, tables, hyperlinks, and a variety of widgets including HTML, Keynote presentations, 3D models and more. The format of some of the widgets seems to be Dashcode, as used by the Dashboard in Mac OS X; certainly that is the case for the HTML widget.

image

I got a bit stuck on one point. I did not want the astronomy images in the template, but was not ready with an alternative. However I could not delete the image placeholder. It seems that the templates are somewhat restrictive.

Once your work is ready you can preview it. This is interesting. In order to preview, you attach an iPad, open iBooks on the iPad, and then select it in iBooks Author. A nice touch: the book appears on the iPad marked Proof.

image

There is also an animation as the book opens. In the grab below, you can spot the busy icon: this is because the smart cover disappears automatically so you have to grab it on the fly.

image

What about publishing? You can export your work in one of three formats: iBooks, PDF, or plain text.

image

Apple emphasises the licensing agreement right there in the Export dialog. You can only sell your book through the Apple iBookstore. Note also that the book is only for iPad. You cannot read it on a Mac, let alone on an Amazon Kindle, unless you choose PDF and make it available for free.

Here is the agreement in more detail:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

I exported the book in iBooks format and took a quick look at the contents in an editor.

image

On a quick look, it seems to have a lot in common with a standard epub, but is nevertheless a proprietary Apple format.

Finally, a few observations. I have no doubt that eBook usage will grow rapidly in education as elsewhere, and the iPad is a delightful device on which to read them, though expensive.

I do have nagging concerns though. In typical Apple style, this is an only-Apple solution for authors or publishers who need to charge for their work. Does it really make sense for schools and colleges to recommend and use textbooks that can only be read on Apple devices? Of course publishers can repurpose the same underlying content for other formats, though they will have to be careful how they use iBooks Author to avoid falling foul of the licensing clause quoted above.

Is there no way to reinvent textbooks without an Apple tax and locking knowledge into proprietary formats?

An Apple iPad Christmas

The Apple iPad had a stunning Christmas – at least, it did in my part of the world.

A key factor was that EA Games decided to offer a range of classic board games adapted as iPad apps for 69p ($0.90)  each. So for less than the cost of a takeaway pizza I downloaded Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Risk.

imageimage

The games are not perfect – Scrabble accepts all sorts of odd words and US spellings, for example – but they are official licensed versions, nicely implemented, and a lot of nostalgic fun, which is the idea after all.

imageimage

Trivial Pursuit supports in-game purchases for extra questions, so that could work out more expensive eventually, but nobody could complain about the value.

It is not quite the full board game experience, with wine spilt on the pieces, junior tipping over the board in disgust, and game abandoned early because it is time to visit grandma, but the changes are mostly for the better.

One thought: this is another example of how well a tablet substitutes for physical things. A book, a board game, a photo album: the iPad is a better replacement than a PC or laptop, easily passed round, long battery life, no flapping screen, and a more natural user interface.

I am not sure what are the economics of selling games at 69p, but no doubt EA has drawn the graphs. Currently EA 69p games occupy four of the “Top Paid iPad Apps” category slots in the UK store.

Of course I am interested in the big picture. Looking at user reviews of Android equivalents like Monopoly I get the impression that there are more bugs, partly because EA has a dedicated iPad verson for these games whereas the Android versions are universal across multiple screen sizes, and partly because there are more OS versions and hardware differences to accommodate.

What about other tablets or new entrants to the market like Windows 8 in 2012? Prising users away from their Apple devices will not be easy, though I still think Microsoft has chances if it plays to its strengths in business applications.

Running Windows on an Apple iPad

I love the convenience of the iPad but there are times when I miss Windows apps. It is not just for work; there is nothing on the iPad to rival Jack Bridge, for example.

The solution is to run Windows on the iPad via remote desktop.

image

Most versions of Windows have remote desktop built-in, though you do need to install a client on the iPad. I have tried several and settled for the moment on Mocha RDP. If you tap the up arrow at bottom right, you get a toolbar which controls the on-screen keyboard, extra keys useful for Windows, and a menu with options including a macro of pre-defined keystrokes. It even works with my cheap iPad keyboard.

The downside of this approach is that Windows needs to be running somewhere on your network. However Mocha RDP supports wake on lan, so you can turn it on remotely; note that this normally needs to be activated in the PC BIOS.

In my case I already run a Hyper-V server, a free download. I have installed Windows 7 on a VM (virtual machine), so it is always available.

The iPad also supports VPN (Virtual Private Network), so given a decent broadband connection I could connect to Windows while out and about. Alternatively there are systems like LogMeIn which do not require a VPN, though you have to install the LogMeIn agent on the target PC.

The general approach makes a lot of sense to me. Technically it is a hybrid thin/thick client approach. An iPad or other tablet is smart and has its own local apps and storage, but does not attempt to provide the full capabilities of a PC or Mac. When you need that, you can log into a remote desktop.

It is another example of how the mobile revolution is making us rethink how we do computing. The thin client concept is nothing new, but it is only now that it is becoming compelling for users as well as administrators, giving them the convenience of a tablet as well as access to rich applications like Microsoft Office.

Microsoft no doubt has its own plans for combining tablets with desktop-as-a-service. I would guess that it involves Windows 8 on ARM; but it will take some effort to tempt users away from their iPads.