technology Uncategorized

The Pixel C’s intriguing keyboard case

Walt Mossberg on the $149 keyboard accessory for Google’s new Pixel C tablet:

It’s sturdy and heavy enough to form a fair base for lap typing. And it has a very clever, very strong, magnetic hinge, which allows you to tilt the screen smoothly but confidently at a wide variety of angles. Not only that, but, while the keyboard is Bluetooth, it charges inductively from the tablet, so you never have to plug it in.

Reviewers have panned the Pixel C’s software, but I’m more interested in its primary accessory: a premium keyboard that attaches via dedicated magnets housed in the tablet’s case.

After a few weeks with a keyboard cover for the iPad Air 2, I’ve grown bullish on the tablet-with-keyboard trend. But for tablets to truly replace laptops as our workhorse machines, we need more keyboard designs like the Pixel C’s[1]—and fewer like the iPad Pro’s “Smart” Keyboard. Apple’s fabricky cover relies on goofy origami folds to prop up the iPad. Like the Microsoft Surface’s Type Cover, this design proves top-heavy and unstable when used on your lap.

The iPad Pro and iOS 9 seem to indicate that Apple now takes tablet productivity more seriously. To keep the ball rolling, next year’s iPads should make keyboard support a primary hardware feature, rather rather than an accessorized afterthought.

Step one? Steal that nifty magnetic hinge.

  1. The Pixel C’s keyboard isn’t perfect. There are no dedicated function keys for things like volume controls or screen brightness.  ↩

technology Uncategorized

Microsoft’s “convergence” vs. Apple’s “supersession”

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook made headlines this week when he spurned suggestions that his company might merge its mobile and desktop operating systems:

We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad. … Neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.

Cook’s comments indirectly belittle Microsoft’s Surface line, which combines a mouse-first desktop environment with more touch-friendly elements.

To be fair, Windows 10 is a solid effort, the fullest expression yet of Microsoft’s computing vision. Unlike Windows 8’s ill-conceived “Frankenstein experiment,” Windows 10 converges interaction paradigms with a tempered, desktop-anchored approach.

Use the OS for long, however, and you’ll see the seams: legacy UI that can’t be easily navigated via touch. For example, the new, finger-friendly Settings app in Windows 10 almost (but not quite) replaces the legacy Control Panel, which demands a mouse cursor. Presumably, over time, Microsoft plans to root out such vestiges of the desktop era, replacing them with more consistent, touchable UI.

Tim Cook rejects Microsoft’s strategy, in which computing’s past slowly transforms into its future. By contrast, Apple started fresh when it launched the iPhone and its touch-friendly interface eight years ago.

If we call Microsoft’s approach “convergence”, we might label Apple’s strategy as “supersession.” Over time, the replacement platform (i.e., iOS) matures to the point that it can replace the legacy alternatives (including Mac OS) altogether—or, at least, for the vast majority of users.[1]

I had my doubts about supersession’s viability up till now. iOS felt too small, too hampered, too limited to ever replace a laptop. I’d often feel as if I were wrestling with iOS rather than hitting my “productivity zone.” Drafting a tablet to fight a PC’s battle felt silly. And the market seemed to agree; the iPad’s cratering sales—along with the Mac’s continued growth—cast doubt on Steve Job’s assertion that the “post-PC era” had arrived.

But more recently, Apple’s mobile platform has taken strides that make supersession more viable. iOS 9—with its improved keyboard shortcuts and multitasking support—makes it much easier to do work on the iPad. In fact, I now write most blog posts (including this one) on my iPad Air 2. I’ve enjoyed the experience enough that I just purchased a premium keyboard dock.

The iPad Pro, released just a few weeks ago, further demonstrates Apple’s commitment to mobile productivity. The Pro offers an improved typing experience (via an optional hardware keyboard), vast screen real estate (another mainstay of desktop machines) and a pressure-sensitive stylus (replacing PC drawing tablets). Can the iPad Pro replace your laptop now? For most power users, the answer is “No.” But suddenly it’s much easier to see how that might happen in the not-too-distant future.

Regardless of whether mobile OSes “converge” with the desktop or “supersede” it, one thing seems clear: most people will buy just one non-smartphone computer. It won’t make sense to own both a desktop-class computer (whether a Mac or a touchless Windows PC) and a tablet (whether an iPad, an Android slate, or a touch-enabled Windows option).

  1. In adopting these strategies, both Apple and Microsoft are constrained by their current market positions. It makes sense for Apple to pivot its popular mobile platform into a productivity powerhouse. The Mac, despite its recent growth, remains a minority desktop player. Meanwhile, Windows Phone has struggled to earn market share and developer support, Microsoft would be ill-advised to bet big on that platform. Desktop Windows remains dominant (at least in sheer number of users); it makes sense to start there instead.  ↩

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iPad Pro as PC replacement?

Federico Viticci reviews the iPad Pro, which went on sale yesterday in the U.S. He writes,

The iPad is, for me, a device that combines the benefits of a traditional computer with the intrinsic portability of iOS. I use the iPad at my desk when I’m writing and responding to emails, but my lifestyle also requires moving around with it a lot.

Even before the Pro’s release, Viticci had embraced the iPad as his full-time computing platform. While it’s neat that he can do this, I struggle to understand why anyone would want to. To me, the inconveniences (e.g. no file system, strict sandboxes, and primitive keyboard support) have always outweighed the conveniences (e.g. owning just one machine, computing while standing).

But that’s changing, and the iPad Pro (along with iOS 9’s multitasking features) may signal a shift. Whether spurred on by the Microsoft Surface’s success or by the iPad’s tanking sales, Apple has decided to take tablet productivity more seriously. Now, an iPad-only workflow seems less and less like an impractical experiment. If the platform continues to mature, even power users might someday consider going iPad-only.

Let’s just hope the product line lasts long enough for that to happen.

internet technology Uncategorized

The iPad as a dedicated content-creation device

Since the iPad’s 2010 debut, detractors have dismissed it as a “content consumption” device. Sure (they say with a sneer), it’s great for watching movies, reading books, and playing games. But you can’t make anything with a tablet. The iPad only reinforces our culture’s addiction to media.

Until I owned an iPad, I didn’t realize how wrong-headed these critiques are.

Honestly, I have other devices better-suited for content consumption. For reading in bed, I grab my smartphone. Holding the iPad takes both hands, leaving my arms trapped outside the covers. For watching movies, we prefer the TV. The big screen’s easy to see from anywhere in the living room, and you don’t have to balance it on your lap. Finally, although I’m not much of a gamer, I’d rather play games on my PC or a dedicated console than on the iPad. Touchscreen controls just can’t compete with a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad.

If anything, the iPad serves as my dedicated content-creation device. If I want to pound out a blog post, the iPad provides a minimalist, distraction-free writing environment. For sketches, I reach for the iPad; it’s cleaner than pencil and paper, and my Wacom tablet chains me to my desk. When I’m making music, the iPad serves as sheet-music reader and recording studio, all in one.1

The iPad is a luxury device. If you already own a smartphone, a PC and a TV, you probably don’t need a tablet. But buying one doesn’t necessarily make you consumption-obsessed. You may find that the iPad’s biggest “luxury” is that it makes you want to create cool stuff.

  1. Worth noting: each of these activities requires accessories. Without creative tools, the iPad feels less useful. For example, if you hate typing long-form media on a touchscreen (like me), you’ll need a Bluetooth keyboard. Finger-painting is fun, but it’s hard to draw anything precise without a capacitive stylus. And you can’t cut a decent recording with with the iPad’s built-in microphone. 

    Still, it’s the iPad that makes the creative activity possible. Its strength is versatility; each accessory (and app) transforms the iPad into a different artistic workstation.