Monthly Archives: October 2010

iPad eMagazines: HTML5 Takes Us Another Step Forward…

Esquire: Using HTML5 instead of JPEG and Flash. Beautiful layout and typography. Pity the content’s so targeted to rich, self-indulgent males…

Three posts ago, I showed a collection of different magazines and newspapers in their newest iPad versions – which I pointed out were beautiful castles built on sand, in that they all used JPEG representations to create their onscreen pages.

The version of Wired magazine I showed was a whopping 590+ Mbyte download. Even with the daily-increasing availability of storage, it’s hard to see how anyone could keep their iPad storage from becoming cluttered after a few months.

However, one of my typography friends on Facebook posted a fascinating link to a company called Scrollmotion, which is creating thousands of applications for the iPad, many of them highly quality magazines.

One of the magazines now available in the iPad App Store is Esquire. I have to say, as far as content is concerned, it’s really not my cup of tea. However, it is beautifully typeset and laid out, with very high quality photographs, graphics and advertising, and it’s a great demonstration of what you can do.

It was created with HTML 5 – not JPEG and Flash pages – and is about a sixth of the size of the issue of Wired magazine which I reviewed in my earlier post.

It’s highly readable. It looks beautiful. There are some problems: it still doesn’t scale, for instance. But the fact that it’s created using HTML means that setting and layout can become more flexible and adaptable in future. With the JPEG pages used in wired magazine, there was absolutely no way forward; the pages might just as well been cast in stone.

I’d be interested to know from anyone technically-inclined out there whether these apps are using common system resources to do their text composition and layout g. I certainly hope so. It would be insane if each magazine or newspaper had to do its own.

This issue of Esquire magazine has an interesting opening gimmick, using out-of-focus video which sharpens and then freezes to become the front cover. I presume – since Flash is outlawed on the iPad – that this also uses HTML5. It works very well.

This is a big step forward. Be interesting to see where it leads. It still seems weird to me that each magazine and newspaper is its own iPad app, unlike eBook, for instance, in which there’s a “Library” with titles. I’ve no doubt someone will figure out the “personal magazine rack”.

Publishers, though, are still giving themselves an easy life by focusing on the iPad alone. We’ll have to see how they cope – or whether they even try – when Android-powered tablets begin to appear, and also the new Windows 7 tablets.

A lot will depend on whether enough of them are sold to create a competitive platform to the iPad.

I have to say that the more I use my own iPad, the more I think Apple has got it right, and the Windows-powered tablets are not really competing in the same space at all.

I use my Pad now much more than I use my laptop; for reading books, magazines, the New York Times, checking Facebook and my Windows Live Mail. If I want to type a document, or create video, then I go to the laptop. But when consuming, the iPad wins every time. I sit in a recliner and read, comfortably.

I have two devices, where I used to ask one device to do two jobs – and of course ended up with an unsatisfactory compromise. I didn’t know that until I began using the iPad intensively. It’s definitely my first “goto” device, and the laptop’s a fallback. The iPad’s “touchy-feely”, but in an imprecise way. I don’t want to do detail with my fingers – just find what I want and turn the pages.

There are some great apps out there. One of my favorites is the PBS app – great nature and history videos to watch in bed, using headphones if you don’t want to wake your partner. I’m getting quite addicted to the New York Times. I guess that’s what they’re counting on by making it free just now, with plans to convert to paid-for subscription next year. The TED app’s another favorite.

A Windows TabletPC is still both devices in one. Apple has taught me that’s not what I want. I was extremely skeptical that Apple could really demonstrate a new product niche in between the mobile phone and the laptop. But that’s exactly what they appear to have done. You’d have to prise it from my dead fingers if you wanted to take it away now.

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Barnes & Noble’s Nook Goes LCD – While Amazon and NYT Go iPad…

The new Nook, announced yesterday, with an LCD screen: B&N claim 8-hour battery life.

I forecast quite some time ago that when the first LCD screen-based eBook reader with acceptable battery life appeared, it would blow away eInk-based devices like Amazon’s Kindle. A few posts ago, I wrote about how Apple’s iPad had done exactly that.

It seems Barnes & Noble agree. Yesterday B&N announced a new LCD-based version of its Nook reader. The device has a claimed 8-hour battery life, and its seven-inch screen has 1024 x 600 pixels.

The previous incarnation of the Nook seemed like a crazy device to me. With a tiny LCD screen so you could browse your library of books with colored jackets, and shop in color – but an eInk screen for reading – it seemed to be neither one thing nor the other.

The Nook, which uses the Google Android operating system, has already come in for some criticism because it is not an open development platform, but will attempt to establish the kind of AppStore at which Apple has been so successful.

B&N isn’t Apple, which not only has millions of iPad customers, but hundreds of millions of iPhone customers who buy apps from the same store. It’s hard to see B&N’s closed app store effort succeeding. Only time will tell.

The device itself is attractively priced at $249. Be interesting to watch how this unfolds. I would not be surprised to see an iPad price drop eventually – although with devices flying off the shelves as fast as Apple can manufacture them, it doesn’t seem like there’s much incentive to cut prices at the moment…

Speaking of iPad and eReading, Amazon did a nice piece of work this week in improving its Kindle business on Apple’s device.

As I’ve already mentioned, I find the Amazon Kindle Reader app the best reading experience on the iPad so far. I use it every day.

One of the least satisfactory features of Kindle on iPad, though, was when you pressed the “Shop in Kindle Store” button, and ended up on the Kindle section of Amazon’s website. The website was fairly awkward to navigate on the iPad; its UI was definitely not optimized for that scenario.

Yesterday I installed Amazon’s new “Windowshop” app on my iPad – and that’s a pretty, easy-to-use way to shop for books that’s much more suited to the iPad’s touch screen.

My theory is that Amazon has seen a huge uptick in sales of Kindle books due to the appearance of the iPad, and it’s going full-out to capitalize on that.

Another great new reading app on the iPad is the full version of the New York Times, replacing the former NYT “Editor’s Choice” app. Now you get a full newspaper, with all the different sections. I’ve been reading it every day, and it’s a joy!

The New York Times on the iPad is currently free. They plan to start charging for it sometime next year. Not sure how well that’s going to fly. It is good enough that I’m almost tempted; we’ll see what price they plan to charge…

Voice Recognition: Blogging With My Eyes Closed – And No Keyboard!

This blog entry is an experiment. I’m going to try speaking it instead of typing it, using Dragon Dictate voice recognition software for the Mac. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but if it gets even 95% of the way, then it will make writing very different.

I bought a copy of the voice recognition software only yesterday, so I’m still coming to terms with it. But it seems to have no trouble at all dealing with my Scottish accent, now I’ve gone through a couple of voice training exercises to teach it my pronunciation. You can also use this recognition software to execute commands, although I haven’t tried that yet.

My friend Peter May, who has been professional writer for many years, and was a colleague of mine on the Scotsman newspaper in Glasgow in the 1970s, says he had a very unsatisfying experience with the same software. However, I have to say that my own test has been pretty amazing. The process of writing has become much easier.

I began working with this voice recognition software using the Macintosh’s built-in internal microphone, which is not recommended, and I was really surprised how well it worked. Then, I remembered that I had a LG-30 Bluetooth headset which I bought for my mobile phone and no longer use. Again, this is not one of the recommended headsets for the software. But I thought I’d give it a try anyway.

You have to hand it to Apple. You really have to hand it to Apple. I switched on the headset, the Macintosh recognized it right away, and asked me if I would like to use it as the preferred audio device. As soon as I confirmed that I did, it began to work. Then I did a microphone test using the voice recognition software, and that worked, too. After that it was just a case of doing a couple of voice training exercises, and the accuracy began to get really amazing.

I’ve been a writer since I was about seven years old. But I’m a terrible typist. Anyone who’s ever seen me at work knows I use only two fingers, and hammer a keyboard into submission. I never learned touch typing. I’m also a terrible mis-typist. I always have to go back over what I wrote and correct it. The word-processor was an incredible improvement over the typewriter for me for its editing ability alone.

There’s something else about typing. Somehow, I can never write conversationally when I’m using a keyboard. The process gets in the way. So, even if what I speak isn’t transcribed with 100% accuracy, it still removes a layer between the thoughts and the words on the screen with which I’ve always struggled to some extent…

So I’ve been dictating this whole blog while laid on my back on a sofa, with my eyes closed. How cool is that?

One of the things I’ve always noticed about my writing is that it has a character completely different to my speech. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, to audiences as large as 25,000. I’ve managed to keep an audience of 3000 people in their seats for more than an hour while talking about typography, the future of reading, and some of the work I’ve been involved in over the years. I’m hoping that the ability to just speak will bring some of that dynamic to my writing.

The future of writing concerns me almost as much as the future of reading. The whole process of publishing has changed dramatically. Anyone can publish on the web. This is a good thing – very good – but it also means that the amount of noise has gone up incredibly. Finding the good from amongst the mediocre gets harder all the time.

When publishing meant printing, the would-be author had to fight his or her way through many layers and filters before the printing press began to roll. Perhaps that battle was too hard. But at least there was some kind of filtering system that more or less worked. If a story got to the front page of the newspaper, you could pretty much guarantee that it was important.

One of the disadvantages of this much more open publishing environment is that it’s becoming more and more difficult for someone to make a living as a full-time creative person. It’s not just that you have to claw your way to the top of a much bigger heap of material. The Internet has spawned a whole generation which believes all content is – or should be – free.

It’s great that amateur writers can now get published. But writing a book, for instance, is a commitment that might involve someone spending a year or more working full-time on it. People have been willing to make that kind of commitment in the past, because they view it as a long-term investment that will eventually pay off.

It’s the same with music. Yes, of course people do it out of love. But they do eventually need to be able to make a living from it.

Okay, that’s the blog post done. It did take a bit of editing, but no more than I would normally do anyway. I have to say I really like this process, and I’ll be using it again. I’m pretty sure that it can only get better the more I use it.

Unfortunately, there is no trial version of the software. So if you want to try it for yourself, you’ll have to pay the $180 for the online download version, or $199 with the boxed product, which includes a USB headset. Dragon Dictate for the Mac. http://www.macspeech.com. I can only say I’m very happy with my investment.

System Requirements: Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Internet connection required for product registration. Nuance-approved USB microphone for Mac (included with new boxed-product purchase).