iOS 9 and the return of the iPad

For people who own (or are considering purchasing) an iPad, the forthcoming release of iOS 9 is the biggest most exciting event since the iPad was released in 2010.

There’s been a long-standing debate about the iPad. The question is: For those who use a MacBook to get work done, is it practical to replace your MacBook with an iPad? I mean completely replace, as in selling your MacBook and going “all in” with the iPad. For people such as myself, whose work (at least prior to my retirement) consists mainly of writing, the question boils down to: Can the iPad function as one’s primary (maybe even exclusive) writing tool?

For the fortunate few (and I include myself here), the question can seem inconsequential. I own both a MacBook and an iPad. I typically take both with me when I travel. And, at any given moment, I grab whichever device seems best suited to the task at hand. End of story.

But for many others — due to financial constraints or a need to limit one’s travel load or perhaps just for the sake of simplicity — there is a preference to get by with just one of these devices. The question is: Which one?

For most, the answer these days has been trending towards MacBook. There has certainly been a significant decline in iPad sales in the past year, while laptop sales continue to grow. One of the popular proposed explanations for this trend is the success of the iPhone 6 Plus: its larger size can eliminate the need to own both an iPhone and an iPad.

Whatever the explanation, I can tell you this: The iPad has been far from the ideal digital device for serious writing. A MacBook bests an iPad on almost every measure here. True, you can make do with an iPad. But you’ll have to work harder to do so. And, no matter how hard you work, there will still be a significant productivity cost.

If you’ve ever done extensive typing and editing on an iPad, you know what I mean. Using the loupe tool to move the cursor around is a pain. Cut and paste is much more time-consuming and prone to error on an iPad than on a Mac — especially if you are working across applications. Style formatting is more difficult. Simply adding web links can be a major chore. And on and on.

Yes, a few iOS text apps (my favorite is still Textilus) offer features (such as cursor keys and short cut toolbars) that overcome many of the hassles (although there is an irony in touting the advantages of cursor keys, a feature that the Mac largely abandoned when it introduced the mouse). Adding a Bluetooth keyboard to an iPad can similarly be a huge productivity boon. Even so, it’s still more work to do writing work on an iPad than a MacBook.

iOS 9 to the rescue

This is where iOS 9 potentially changes the game — bringing the iPad to near parity with a MacBook. Coming exclusively to iPads are QuickType and Multitasking features that represent the final pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that Apple has been assembling since it first added cut-and-paste to iOS devices years ago.

With Split View (available only in the iPad Air 2 for now), Slide Over and Picture in Picture, you can finally interact with two apps simultaneously. With the new QuickType “trackpad simulator,” you can move the cursor around much like you do on a Mac, eliminating the need for the loupe tool. There’s now a system-wide shortcut toolbar. There’s even a Mac-like app switcher than you can call up with Command-Tab on a Bluetooth keyboard. I’ve tested all these out with the iOS 9 beta and can attest that they work pretty much as advertised.

The jigsaw puzzle metaphor is not perfect; there are still improvements I’d like to see (the ability to drag-and-drop selections across split-screen apps is one obvious example). As with any digital technology, the picture will never be completely finished. But you get the idea. The major pieces are all in place, the refinements are coming.

Originally, I planned to delve into far more detail here as to why these new features are so compelling. However, Federico Viticci has saved me the trouble. I recommend that you read his excellent analysis, which concludes:

“iOS 9 is going to be a watershed moment for iPad users. For many, the iPad is about to graduate from utility to computer.”

These new iOS 9 features are just the software side of the equation. On the hardware side, if the rumor mills are accurate (and I believe they are), a new larger “iPad Pro” will be coming this fall. It should introduce further productivity enhancements. I’ve recently expressed some doubts about the viability of an iPad Pro. But after seeing iOS 9, I’m much more positive. I’ll reserve final judgement until the end of the year, but I’m feeling optimistic.

The bottom line? For those who need a computer to get work done (especially writing work) and have been hoping for a time when the iPad alone could function as that computer without significant compromises, it looks like that time is about to arrive.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPad, Mac, Technology | 4 Comments

Hanging up my virtual pen

The first time I was paid for writing about the Mac was in 1985 when A+ magazine published a reader’s tip I submitted. It detailed how to use ResEdit to modify the Welcome to Macintosh message. For 300 words, I got paid $50. It was far from a momentous event. At the time, I didn’t expect it to lead anywhere. My day job was still as a professor of psychology. But, as it turned out, the reader’s tip was the spark that ignited a flame.

I had the good fortune to be around for the dawn of some of the most significant technological developments in human history: the arrival of personal computers, the emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web, and the current dominance of social media and mobile devices. These and other technological advances continue to alter our world at an ever accelerating pace. One day Apple is on the verge of bankruptcy. The next day (or so it sometimes seems), it is the largest most profitable company on earth. Who’d have guessed?

At a personal level, these changes became the impetus for a new career direction — a career I did not foresee and would never have predicted. That initial reader’s submission led to me becoming a contributing editor for several Mac magazines, a book author (most notably of Sad Macs, Bombs & Other Disasters) and the creator/editor of one of the earliest Mac websites (MacFixIt). Again, who’d have guessed? Certainly not me.

The result has been three decades of doing things I thoroughly enjoyed and getting paid for doing them. Who could ask for more?

Which brings me to today. I’ve decided to call it quits and hang up my virtual pen. What I expect to be the last article I get paid to write was posted to Macworld last December.

To any of you who have followed my work, this should not be a surprise. In fact, some of you may feel this announcement is more than a bit anti-climactic. I’ve been flirting with retirement for the past two years, gradually diminishing my published output — even giving a “retirement” session at Macworld/iWorld last year. For the past year, the only paid writing I did was a small number of articles for Macworld. A few weeks ago, I “gave notice” and told the folks at Macworld that I was done. That made it official — and made it real to me in a way that it had not been before.

Why now? There’s no mystery. I’m old enough that it seems appropriate and financially well-off enough to manage it, so why not? While I could keep writing occasional articles for Macworld, it seemed better to make a clean break. Recent events helped move me in this direction.

In the past year, Macworld ended its print publication (as well as laying off almost its entire editorial staff, who just happened to be the people I had known and worked with for more than a decade). Around the same time, Macworld/iWorld announced its demise. Several notable Mac websites similarly came to an end in the last year or so, including TUAW and my own MacFixIt (which, subsequent to my leaving it, had been run by CNET).

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I began to feel that these were all signs of a “torch-passing” moment. There is a generation of tech writers (of which I am a member) whose careers date back to the 80’s. We still vividly recall “highlight reel” moments from prior decades — like Steve Jobs unveiling the original Mac or the Boston Macworld Expo keynote that kicked off Steve’s triumphant return to Apple. For much of a younger generation, these events are tantamount to ancient history.

For now, these two generations co-exist in many work environments. However, as is inevitable and appropriate, the balance is steadily shifting towards the younger generation. Over the next decade, I expect the older generation to exit the stage in increasing numbers. As one of the oldest members of that generation, I am merely at the leading edge of this trend — which makes now seem like a perfect time to leave. I expect there will be times when I miss being “part of the action.” But I leave without regrets.

I don’t intend to entirely disappear from the online world. I plan to write columns here at Slanted Viewpoint from time to time. And I may still do occasional podcasts at MacVoices. Of course, I will continue to post tweets. Beyond that, my life will be lived offline.

One last thing

Whatever success I have had, I could not have achieved it without help. Lots of help — from a great bunch of people. To all of those listed below (and to any I may have forgotten), I offer my heartfelt thanks…

Bob LeVitus. In addition to giving me my start as a freelance writer (when he was editor of MACazine), Bob was essential in getting me started as a book author and as a speaker at Macworld Expo.

Dan Frakes. A colleague of mine at MacUser and later Macworld, Dan was also my co-author for Mac OS X Help Line. For a while, he was even an editor at MacFixIt. He remains a good friend.

Chris Breen. Another friend and colleague from both MacUser and Macworld. Prior to his recent move to Apple, Chris, as an editor at Macworld, was the editor of my Bugs & Fixes column.

Chuck Joiner. As the person behind MacNotables and MacVoices, Chuck was my conduit into the world of podcasting. Thanks to Chuck, I was able to have all the fun of podcasting without having to do any of the work.

Dave Rogelberg. While at Addison-Wesley, Dave was the incredibly patient editor of my first edition of Sad Macs. He also generously provided advice that helped further my book authoring career.

Cliff Colby. Cliff was the project editor of the books I wrote for Peachpit Press. His friendship and encouragement were a big part of what made it such a delight to work for Peachpit.

Ric Ford, Eric Belsley, Kurt Christensen and Stan Flack. When I first started MacFixIt, these four ran competing websites (MacInTouch, The Macintosh Resource Page, VersionTracker and MacCentral, respectively). Yet each one went far out of their way to provide the help I needed to get MacFixIt up and running.

Robert DeLaurentis, Ilene Hoffman and Shawn Platkus. When the work at MacFixIt became more than one person could handle, these three joined the site and became essential in preventing me from collapsing under the load.

Ralph Risch. When I was looking to sell MacFixIt, Ralph, as CEO of TechTracker, made me an “offer I couldn’t refuse.” I’m glad he did.

Jason Snell. As the editor of Macworld, Jason consistently made it easy for me to work there.

Scholle McFarland. As a copy editor at Macworld, Scholle never failed to improve whatever I submitted.

Dave Hamilton, Bryan Chaffin, Jeff Gamet and John Martellero. For several years, I did a column for The Mac Observer called User Friendly View. It was my first gig writing op-ed columns — which I had long wanted to do.  As a bonus, I got to work with these great guys every day.

Tonya Engst and Adam Engst. As the publishers of the Take Control book series, Tonya and Adam gave me the opportunity to write one of the first books about the iPhone.

Paul Kent and Kathy Moran. During my almost two decades as a speaker at Macworld Expo, Paul and Kathy were the hard-working duo most responsible for making it such a fantastic experience.

Jonathan Cerf and George Sullivan. Back in the early 1980’s, I worked with Jonathan and George on a journal about the game of Othello. They helped me hone the skills I would later use when writing about Macs.

And many many more, including…

John Anderson, Marjorie Baer, Neil Bauman, Jeff Baudin, Gordon Bell, Jennifer Bell, P.A.M Borys, John Braun, Gleb Budman, Jim Bruce, Serenity Caldwell, Jeff Carlson, John Chaffee, Adam Christianson, John Christopher, Raines Cohen, Robert Coffman, Peter Cohen, Marty Cortinas, Colin Crawford, Matt Deatherage, Albert Dion, Charles Downs, Glenn Fleishman, Lex Friedman, Lynda Gousha, Anne Griffin, Rob Griffiths, Jon Gotow, Andy Ihnatko, Russ Ito, Susan Janus, Shawn King, Rocky LaRochelle, Chuck LaTournas, Robert Leeds, Dan Littman, Jean MacDonald, Carol McClendon, Kirk McElhearn, Philip Michaels, Dan Miller, Dan Moren, David Morgenstern, Rik Myslewski, Tom Negrino, Gary-Paul Prince, Naomi Pearce, Nancy Peterson, Elissa Rabellino, Schoun Regan, Nadyne Richmond, John Rizzo, Lorene Romero, Michael Rose, Nancy Ruenzel, Ian Schray, Jon Seff, Sal Soghoian, Dori Smith, David Sparks, David Stillman, Derrick Story, Duane Straub, Dave Taylor, Neil Ticktin, Ladd Van Tol, John Welch, Ben Wilson, Dan Wood and Jon Zilber.

Of course, a special thanks to my wife Naomi. None of this would have been possible without her support.

Finally, thanks to Apple and all the people who have worked there. Without them, I would have had nothing to write about. As a related postscript, I was recently contacted by Apple about a potential job. Bad timing…given that I was on the verge of retirement. But I was none-the-less flattered, surprised, intrigued and very much tempted. As you might imagine, much internal conflict ensued. In the end, I remained on my retirement path.

Update: May 19: I made a few additions and corrections to the “thank you” list.

Posted in General, Technology | 27 Comments

Six surprising things I learned at the Apple Store…and one thing that was not a surprise at all

Yesterday, I visited my local Apple Store (4th Street in Berkeley) and got my first hands-on time with the Apple Watch and the 12-inch MacBook. After all I had read about these two new Apple products over the past few weeks, I expected the event to be anti-climatic, confirming conclusions I had drawn from my immersion in the web coverage. Many of my expectations were met. But I was also in for a few surprises:


• The look and feel of the new 12-inch MacBook turned out to be much more “drool-worthy” than I had anticipated. It is so thin and so light, it’s hard to believe there’s room for all the required hardware inside. No wonder Apple made it so difficult to open up the case. They don’t want you to see that it’s powered by metachlorians.

Compared to the MacBook Air, the new MacBook is a big step up in almost every way.

In terms of appearance, I much prefer the border-to-border glass to the aluminum rim of the Air. The Air’s case design is unnecessarily wide. The 12-inch MacBook has almost the same width and depth as the 11-inch MacBook Air.

The new MacBook features a Retina display, absent from the Air. And I was comfortable with the resolution of the MacBook, not finding text too small (as some have complained).

Unless saving three or four hundred dollars is critical ($899/$999 vs $1299), I see no reason to prefer a MacBook Air. I especially expect the market for the 11-in Air to fall to near zero over time. The 12-inch MacBook is a much superior piece of hardware — and targets the same market. The MacBook is also a serious competitor for people otherwise considering an iPad Air as their main computer.

The primary downside of the MacBook remains its lone (USB-C) port. This can lead to numerous hassles that will likely require one or more expensive adapters to resolve. Even an initial first step of transferring data from an older Mac can prove to be a challenge, especially if you want speeds faster than Wi-Fi or USB 2.0. Still, I suspect that the target audience for the new MacBook will not be put off by this constraint.

Speaking of USB-C adapters, after looking at Apple’s $79 USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, I started to wonder why the short stretch of cable is needed at all. It seems to just get in the way. Why not have the adapter “clip on” to the MacBook when you plug it into the USB-C port, making it almost like an extension of the laptop? Perhaps a third-party is already working on this type of adapter.

• Based on the online images, I had decided that gold was the color I would get, if I ever got a MacBook. To my surprise, after seeing all the models in the Store, I much preferred Space Gray (joining my friend Dan Frakes in this assessment).

• I knew that typing on the new MacBook’s keyboard would feel different than on other MacBook models. But I wasn’t prepared for how different. I did not like the feel at all. It’s something I might get used to over time, but I doubt I will ever prefer it.

Apple Watch

• I walked into the Apple Store with no prior appointment for trying on an Apple Watch. I expected this would mean I would not get to see one on my wrist that day. Wrong. I was immediately offered a 15-minute session. In fact, the counter displaying Apple Watches was the least crowded spot in the Store. I’m not sure if this is a bad omen or just an outlier.

• I had decided that, if I were to buy a watch, my choice would be the 42mm Space Gray Sport Watch. It looked great online and (at $399) was at the bottom of the price scale. But when I actually got to try one on, I didn’t like the feel of the band and I found its overall appearance underwhelming. Too “sporty” and not “classy” enough for my taste. I wound up much preferring the Milanese Loop. Even at $699, that’s the one I would now get. At least I was correct in assuming that the 42mm model was the right size for me.

• My biggest hesitation about getting an Apple Watch was that it wouldn’t be worth the bother. I’m content taking my iPhone out of my pocket; I don’t need a separate device to save me that effort — especially one that needs charging every night and may not always display the time on demand. However, after playing with the Watch for a while, I began to change my tune. Access to maps, notifications, email, Apple Pay, Siri, and more — all with the flick of my wrist. I could see where I would really enjoy having this device. And the interface worked much more smoothly than I anticipated. The touch screen, the button, the digital crown: I got the hang of combining their actions in no time at all. No amount of advertising can substitute for actually spending time with an Apple Watch. If you have any doubts about the Watch, you owe it to yourself to get over to an Apple Store. Like me, you may be pleasantly surprised. I’m now very close to ordering one.

• One thing I totally expected easily lived up to my expectation: The gold Apple Watch Edition is an exorbitant waste of money. It’s simply a gold-colored Apple Watch. Aside from the color, it has no advantages (if you can call color an advantage). Yes, it’s made of real gold. But if I didn’t know that, I could easily be convinced that it’s merely a gold-tinted alloy. Viewing it from the glass covered display, it didn’t seem special at all. It seemed utterly absurd that the Edition watches cost at least $9000 more than the stainless steel models sitting adjacent to them. I can’t see why anyone would spend the money on an Edition. Even if you could easily afford one, you’d feel better getting 10 or more stainless steel Apple Watches for the same money — and giving away the ones you don’t intend to use.

Posted in Apple Inc, Mac, Technology | 6 Comments

TV today: Too much of a good thing

Yesterday, I was shocked to learn of the apparent admission of guilt by Robert Durst. The admission was startling news all by itself. What was even more incredible was the source of the news: not a newspaper’s or government’s investigation, but a six-part documentary on HBO, titled The Jinx.

Unfortunately for me, I had not been watching this show — despite having seen excellent early reviews. As a result, I didn’t get to experience the “gut-wrenching” surprise in the finale of what the New York Times described as “appointment television.”

Truth be told, I watch a good deal of television, including shows on HBO. I am always on the lookout for new shows worth watching. So why did I decide to skip over The Jinx?

There’s no mystery here. The answer is that, with all the shows I am currently watching, my viewing tank is constantly on the verge of spilling over. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve had to put new additions on hold. I have a list of shows waiting to replace ones as they conclude their run or that I have otherwise decided to abandon. To override the list, and simply add another show to my routine, requires that I consider if I can (or should) be squeezing out yet more time for television each week. The answer is usually: No. Such was the case with The Jinx.

Here’s how bad (or good?) it is right now:

I’m in the middle of relishing the showdown between Raylon Givens and Boyd Crowder in the final season of Justified. Having recently managed to work my way through all the episodes of Breaking Bad, I am now following Better Call Saul (which, by the way, had a truly standout episode last week, with its back story on Mike Ehrmantraut). I’m also mini-binging on the latest season of House of Cards (I’m half-way through the season, which has so far been the weakest of the three). I’ve watched the first two episodes of The Honourable Woman (it looks promising and I expect to get back to more episodes soon). I’m beginning the second season of Broadchurch, with two episodes currently logged on my DVR. And, I am a bit embarrassed to admit, I am still sticking with The Blacklist, despite its increasingly absurd and nonsensical plots.

My annual foray to Downton Abbey ended a few weeks ago. I watch Abbey, together with Madame Secretary and Grey’s Anatomy, primarily because my wife likes these shows and it gives us some things to watch together (except for Broadchurch, she doesn’t watch any of the shows listed in the previous paragraph). That’s not to say her favorites are a sacrifice for me. They are respectable entertainment and I enjoy them. In the same way, my wife and I are wading our way through The Good Wife. We started with Season 1 a few months ago and are now almost done with Season 3. Definitely fun.

Waiting in the wings are five more series I’ve watched in previous seasons: Mad Men, Orphan Black, Orange is the New Black, True Detective and Sherlock. I eagerly anticipate their returns. Next fall, there will be the resumption of the rejuvenated Homeland.

What about that waiting list I mentioned?

Sitting at the top are Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead and The Americans. I hope to find room for at least one of these series sometime this summer. Meanwhile, my wife is toying with adding one of Shonda Rhimes other two shows: Scandal or (more likely) How to Get Away With Murder. The Affair won the Golden Globe for best Dramatic TV Series and Fargo won for Best Miniseries; I’d like to find time to check both of them out. Lower down but still on the list are numerous other shows that have piqued my interest, most notably The Fall and The Following.

And I promise to someday start watching The Wire, which many of my friends claim is the best series ever on television.

There are also the very occasional one-and-done specials or mini-series, such as Olive Kitteridge, that I have made time to watch. At least these do not require the ongoing commitment of a regular series — which can mean watching as many as 23 episodes a year for six seasons or more.

If only that was the end. It’s not. Those sadistic television programmers keep adding new shows to vie for my attention. Recently spotted on my new show radar is Empire, the first break-out hit of 2015 — reviving a sagging lineup on Fox. Also lighting up with potential are American Crime and Bloodline.

Some shows do occasionally finish up, making room for ones on the waiting list. Last year it was True Blood and The Newsroom. This year it’s Justified and Mad Men.

This is not a complete list of every series I’ve recently watched or hope to watch. But it’s getting close.

With the exception of The Jinx (a documentary mini-series), all of these shows are scripted dramas. These are clearly the meat and potatoes of my television watching. I’ve pretty much given up on comedies — although I have sporadically watched old episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Sports Night. I also have some interest in Modern Family, Silicon Valley and Shameless.

Surely, there’s a lot of garbage still on television (just check out almost any reality show as proof). But the best that television has to offer these days is absolutely the best that television has ever offered. We are truly in a golden age of quality programming. Plus, with on-demand options for almost every show now on the air — and venues such as Netflix and iTunes for catching up with shows no longer running — there’s never been a better environment for watching television.

And there-in lies the rub. I mentioned more than 30 dramatic series in this column. Granted, they aren’t all airing new episodes right now. Still, keeping up with all of them sometimes feels more like a job (albeit an enjoyable one) than a leisure activity. That’s the “paradox of choice” with television these days. It’s so good, with so many great series, that no one (certainly not me) has the time to savor everything worthwhile that’s out there.

And, returning to the top of this column, that’s the long answer for why I didn’t, to my regret, watch The Jinx. Of course, although I now know the surprise ending, I can still view the show via HBO Go. Which I intend to do.

One more thing…if you have a recommendation for some great show for me to watch, one not included here, please don’t tell me. Thanks, but I already have too much of a good thing.

Posted in Entertainment, Television | Comments Off on TV today: Too much of a good thing