iPad

There were a few people complaining about the new iPad. Apparently it wasn’t innovative enough. That a faster processor (presumably more RAM), 4G networking (and faster 3G), quad-core graphics, Bluetooth 4, 1080p video recording and pushing 4 times the number of pixels (Retina Display at 2048×1536*) while still maintaining the battery life and the same cost is not innovation.

The iPad was revolutionary because it consisted of a screen with a border. The screen was everything. The screen was the gateway to the magical software that runs on the device. Not the Apple-supplied Springboard but apps like Pages, iPlayer, pUniverse, The Elements. The software changed the entire purpose of the device with just a tap. That was the magic and that is, in my opinion, the singular reason for the success of the iPad.

Which is why the most important part of the upgrade was the Retina Display and the quad-core graphics processor to push those millions of pixels. The singular magical feature of the iPad just got four times better. Not ten percent better, 300% better. The touch interface will be just as accurate but the pixels which make up the display will be, for nearly every instance, invisible to the naked eye.

Tim Cook made a big deal that none of their competitors managed to beat their Retina Display in the iPhone nearly two years later and none managed to beat the iPad to release with a similar class of display. As the screen is the most visible part of the device and in many ways; is the device ; it surprises me that none of the competitors have bothered to improve the most important part of the device.

Technology journalists can’t just embrace the success. They get eyeballs from presenting jeopardy so every headline is about how Apple still needs to look out for a series of unlikely competitors because one of them is bound to unseat the Cupertino giant. They wanted the iPad to debut with haptic feedback, fold out keyboards, anti-gravity repulsors and the ability to transform into a pony. They’re also seething that their puerile predictions that it would be known as an iPad 3 or iPad HD were also torpedoed. And they’ll rail in their little gilded cages about how the device will only appeal to the Apple faithful; an assertion that if true, means there are millions of new faithful followers appearing each year. In truth, they’re just angry about being wrong. And they’ll take their anger out on Apple by writing glowing reviews of third rate plastic tablets running outdated versions of second rate software. Or in touchy-feely tones about how Apple was better, you know, before Steve died.

I’ve been a long-time user of Apple equipment and software. The equipment was the only way to get to the software and the software, nomatter what you may have thought of it, was worth paying extra for. I’ve always had the choice of software and hardware over the years due to working for a couple of huge corporations but I came back to Apple every time because it was simply better. They understood what I wanted out of a computer and they still do.

People will buy the new iPad in their millions as they have in previous quarters. The new lower priced iPad 2 (£329) willow, I predict, further push Apple into places they could never have considered before.

* Putting that in perspective, Apple’s 27″ display costs twice as much as an iPad and offers 2560×1440.

BYOD: The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.

Yesterday, the Guardian published a story on iPads being useful as cookbooks and this makes me hark back to a previous blog post:

In a time where the sum total of books held in a library can fit on a device that can fit in your coat, what exactly is the function of a library as a physical place?

Never has this concept been so adequately realised than with the iPad. Meeting with Wallace High School yesterday illustrated to me not only how far we had come but also the differences in the thought process between someone who thinks they know what a school needs and someone who has experienced what a school needs. The team at Wallace are not just thinking about what is needed, they’re implementing it while the rest of us dally. I was struck by their attitude, a confident step forward with the knowledge they are doing the right thing for their charges.

I wonder what the response will be from our government. They’ve recently awarded the next generation EN(NI) [Education Network for Northern Ireland] contract to the company who had previously managed the C2K network which has drawn ire from teachers, pupils and parents for over a decade. My own personal experience with the C2K network (and managing technicians), in assisting the delivery of C2K-approved projects and assisting specialist schools with their own infrastructure was frustrating at best and deliberately obstructive at worst. We would come into a Specialist school to troubleshoot a login and network issue and find that a technician has unplugged all of the specialist computers at the switch and charged the school for the privilege. We would end up re-plugging them and not once did we charge the school for the visit because, ultimately, it wasn’t their fault. The contract was flawed, obstructive and stacked the odds heavily against the school, the pupil and against learning.

The new ICT investment will bring schools the benefits of cloud computing while ensuring students and teachers are secure online. The new Education Cloud provides the ability to scale computing resources to meet the needs of schools both today and in the future. Schools will access a range of applications and educational resources through Northgate’s My-School learning portal.

The new infrastructure will also offer greater device connectivity – allowing teachers and students to gain access to the network and resources securely via personal devices such as smart phones, IPads, tablet PCs and laptops. Broadband provision will be improved with schools being provided with up to 200Mb. This contract will see Northgate take responsibility for the Wide Area Network, Local Area Network and Telecoms.

The only issue I see here is one of control. This press release does not seem to include the concept of BYOD but rather just the issue of diversity of devices. BYOD is, to my mind, a deliberate relaxing of control in favour of access. Enabling rather than regulating. The spirit of BYOD is epitomised by Ayn Rand:

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.

If you do not open access, people will find other ways. And if you require me to add some weird software to MY device to access your network, you’re an idiot. The tide has turned. Children are bringing devices into school that are more capable than the laptop and desktop PCs installed by the preferred supplier. And is the preferred supplier going to prevent future engaged learners from accessing resources as they have for the last decade?

Teachers will work around any blockages by not using the network. Most schools in Northern Ireland retained their “legacy” networks and were glad they did. And if draconian controls are placed on devices then, surprise surprise, teachers and pupils will avoid them. They will install their own access points, install their own wiring and switches, install their own broadband links and internet filters – utterly duplicating the infrastructure we, as taxpayers, have been paying for. We’ve seen it over the art decade, I don’t expect that to change.

I also spent part of last night listening to the #niedchat Twitter meeting. What struck me was not the suitability of the iPad but the main thrust was how would we standardise on such a device when there are such inequalities in our society. The topic of iBooks Author came up and it seemed that textbooks are not an issue because most teachers already deliver most of the content in the form of worksheets they have devised themselves.

So, in the face of all of this change, and the realisation that iPad is already the present of educational ICT resources, what does a school of the future look like?

iPad growth curve: I have run out of superlatives

Lovely visualisation by Horace Dediu @asymco

It’s hard to appreciate how popular the iPad is until you see it compared to its peers. In the same time frame, the iPad has completely obliterated the amazing success of the iPod and the fantastic success of the iPhone. At this point, I have run out of superlatives.

ePubs and iBooks and whether we care about the EULA.

I took a couple of days to digest the iBooks Author news – to see what the fuss was about and form my own opinions in a timely fashion. I even took time to hoover in all of the opinion on the industry which, on the side of the creators, seems largely positive and on the side of the publishers, seems largely negative.

iBooks Author enables normal folk to create some amazing content. It enables the embedding of HTML widgets, the inclusion of presentation decks, 3D models, pictures, text – in fact – everything you’d want in a book or a magazine, and previously had to pay for an individual app. But one issue, these extra features won’t work in any competing ePub reader because they’re exclusive to iBooks.

From Nameless Horror: iBooks Author Rage

Apple claim no ownership of the product (there’s the standard “we reserve the right to reject and/or pull your book from the store” but that’s no different to any other e-store or bricks ‘n mortar outlet; you don’t have a right to be sold). Your copyright is unaffected. There is nothing whatsoever (so far as I can see) stopping you from taking the same content, assembling a different epub edition in a different program, of which there are plenty (though I’ve not found one that handles this level of designed-for-touch-device interaction and prettiness quite so easily

Obviously some folk are up in arms. Ed Bott, particularly, calls Apple “evil” and “greedy” but I’m failing to understand why he’s so incensed. Apple supports ePub formats, they continue to make the best reader of this cross-platform format on any platform.

All we’re waiting for is someone to create “ePub Author”.

So, two things.

  1. Why didn’t Apple create ePub Author? (and why are people upset about this?)
  2. Why hasn’t anyone created ePub Author? (and why are people not upset about this?)

The world hasn’t had much success in getting open standards out there. I mean, HTML is a standard and look at the mess we’ve had to endure for the last twenty years. And yes, the W3C can rail all they want about the proprietary extensions that make “iBooks” differ from “Epub” but do we have to think about why no-one has made an ePub Author app that doesn’t suck? You can get ePubs out of InDesign and out of Pages but if you want great results, you’re hand-coding the bits and pieces. And that’s not going to make anyone happy.

The big issue for some seems to be the EULA which demands a level of control over the output of the software. That is, they give you a tool for free to create great iBooks, which you can give away for free or sell for less the $15 on the store they’ll set up for you. This not only undercuts a shedload of publishers but also sets a precedent for the pricing. If $15 is the top price, eBooks just got a hell of a lot more affordable. That’s gotta be good for the market and, if Apple is only taking 30% of cover, it’s a lot better for the author as well. Speaking from experience here.

Some folk have compared this to, say, Microsoft demanding control of the output of Microsoft Word which would be a valid comparison if Apple had a monopoly share of the operating systems, a monopoly share of the word processing market, charged several hundred quid for iBooks Author and pushed the iBooks format as a standard across all devices, platforms and organisations. Which, of course, it doesn’t. On any level.

Some people pointed out that Apple has a monopoly share of the tablet market. Which, again, I’d have to say they don’t. They just have a large share of the profits and a pretty good share of shipments. But there were 87-odd tablets announced at CES in 2011 and I’m sure that some of them are selling, somewhere to someone.

Some folk are determined to blame Apple for breaking their expectations that the company would release an amazing ePub editor. Not only that – but that would allow folk to build sparkly ePubs on a Mac using a free tool, glittering with Apple Awesome Sauce and sell them for any price on Android. In any sane version of the world, this does not work. Apple has no interest in promoting Android – they’re much more likely to promote Windows Phone 7 than Android, truth be told. And they’ve no interest in promoting you and your product unless it coincides with their own aims: making the Mac, the iPad and the iPhone the world leaders in great products.

You want to make great ePubs and sell them anywhere? Apple still provides probably the best ePub reader on any platform, for free, to about 300 million customers on iOS. Customers who don’t mind paying for content. And you can deploy on Android and wherever else has an ePub reader. It’s a standard so there must be millions of them. All you have to do is hand-roll the ePubs yourself. Stop stop whinging and get stuck in.

But for the average punter? iBooks just works. And the iBooks available through iBooks Author (though there doesn’t seem to be a solution for iPhone) will be fine considering the number of iPads out there. As a consumer of eBook formats, iBooks delivers – as does Kindle. I don’t recall the outcry when Kindle didn’t support the ePub standard?

iOS4.3.3 to break neat location recording feature

IPodNN:

Apple’s promised short-term iOS security update is known as iOS 4.3.3, and should arrive in two weeks or less, a source with the company says. The person notes that as expected, it should reduce the size of the location cache, and prevent the file from being backed up to iTunes. The cache should be deleted entirely when Location Services are off.

So we only have a few weeks for someone to make an app to start recording and making time-sensitive maps of our locations.

Location: it’s a feature, not a bug

Apple came under fire this week as it was revealed (by a research paper dating back to 2010) that a file is created and maintained on the iOS system which contains location data for every time you have queried location services. For me, as you can see from previous posts), it presented a way to map my movements. No big deal as you can also see, I publish my movements live on Latitude.

At no point is it true (at the moment) that this location data is sent anywhere. It is stored on your phone so if you lose your phone to a wily thief who cares where you drink coffee more than he or she cares about your contacts database, browser history, cookies and access to your email, then you may be in trouble. But it’s not stopped quite a few journalists from making the accusation that Apple knows where you’ve been and is obviously using this to beef up iAds or something even more sinister!

It turns out that Android does the same – the difference being that they only store the last 50 entries. This is entirely sensible and highlights an error in the way Apple was handling this data. It’s not clear whether this data is transmitted to Google (and with their recent history, it would not surprise me) but we should probably wait until it’s confirmed. A sceptic might suggest that Google only stores the last 50 entries on device because it uploads them to their secret Texan datacentre constantly anyway but I’ll not accuse here.

The bottom line is that Google is handling the caching of the data correctly and Apple is not. But it makes me really want desktop and mobile apps for visualising my location data over time and having this as an opt-in service or better still ‘an app’ is obviously what I want. Latitude does a half-assed job of recording and a worse job of reporting and it’s the reports that I’m interested in. I want to see where I go. At what speeds.

So where are the apps that really do Location well?