iBooks Comes to the Mac in OS X Mavericks

A pleasant surprise revealed in Apple’s preview of OS X Mavericks during the 2013 WWDC keynote address was the announcement of iBooks for the Mac. The lack of an iBook app for the desktop has been frustrating and frankly impedes my productivity. I love reading books on my iPad but I do most of my academic work on my 27″ iMac or Macbook Air. Having my iBooks only available on the iPad or iPhone stymied my note taking and research. I compose most of my work in Pages for Mac and have multiple documents open on my virtual desktop and physical books on my real one. Voice dictation into iOS  Notes with my iPhone lets me easily create notes from  physical books and synched to all devices I use to for work. However, I have not been able to easily move highlights and notes from iBooks between my iPad and iMac. Soon I will because iBooks is coming to the Mac and several new features are squarely aimed at the education market.

ibooks_mac

Multiple open books is a new feature coming to iBooks for the Mac.

iBooks on the Mac will have the same features as those on your iOS devices — turn pages with a swipe, zoom in on images with a pinch, or scroll from cover to cover. Notes, highlighted passages, and bookmarks created on your Mac, are pushed to all your devices automatically via iCloud.  iCloud even remembers which page you’re on. So if you start reading on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you can pick up right where you left off on your Mac. Best of all is the ability to have multiple books open at the same time. When have you ever opened a book, then closed it before opening another to extract notes from, only to close it before moving to the next one? I doubt ever, especially not me. I’ve got multiple books spread out in from of me quite often to move back and forth through. Now I’ll be able to do the same within iBooks. Yes, iBooks in Mavericks puts multiple books on your virtual desktop just like your real one. Highlights, notes, bookmarks and other features are synched in iCloud and ready to use on any iDevice. A Notes pane gives you a list of all your notes and the highlighted text associated with them. The  ‘dynamic textbook functionality’  allows you to  convert notes into handy study cards.

Craig Federighi demonstrating note taking at WWDC 2013

 We’ve got a few more months before OS X Mavericks is released to the public. The new iBooks for Mac is a welcome upgrade that I can’t wait to start using. It will definitely increase my productivity and hopefully yours too.

All media courtesy of Apple Inc.

Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Mini

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The iPad mini has become my go to device for media consumption. Even without a Retina display, text is crisp, images pop, and it is ergonomically easier for me to use than my full-sized iPad. It has become my constant companion around the house and at work. It is a fantastic note taking and personal productivity device. Like my full-size iPad, I’ve had issues with the on-screen keyboard. I’ve gotten pretty good at typing on the mini, but longed for a regular keyboard. I considered using one of my Apple Bluetooth keyboards, but found it to be a bit overkill on size and not as portable as I like in a mobile office. Hence, I went on a search for a keyboard case for the mini.

I have a folio case for my iPad and know how they increase the bulk of the device. The reason I bought the mini was to decrease the load in my gadget bag, so I was hesitant to go with a folio option again. I settled on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover, $79.99 with free shipping direct from Logitech.

cover_closed The build quality of the cover is excellent as is its style. The cover’s anodized back perfectly complements the iPad mini’s having nearly the same height and width dimensions. The cover comes in black, white, and red. I chose the black and it looks like it was original equipment from Apple when closed. The cover adds a mere .29 inches to its depth for a total of 0.57 inches. Made of aluminum and plastic, the case adds 0.45 lb. bringing the weight of the mini to 1.13 – 1.14 lb. depending on iPad model. The case attaches to the mini with a magnetic hinge similar to Apple’s Smart Cover. Like the Smart Cover, the mini is put to sleep upon closing and awakes upon opening the Ultrathin cover.

The mini detaches easily from the magnetic hinge and fits securely in the keyboard groove in either portrait or landscape mode. I find myself using it in landscape mode more often than not. Unlike some other reviewers, I did not find the angle at which the screen sets to be an issue in most use cases. The unit sat nicely on my lap without the floppiness that some folio cases I’ve used with my full-sized iPad.

The keyboard connects to the iPad wirelessly via Bluetooth. The keyboard is responsive and doesn’t have the mushy feeling that some less expensive iPad keyboard cases have. Some keys have been removed, moved, or combined like the combination A and caps lock key. Logitech included keys for cutting, copying, and pasting. It’s nice having the same media keys found on my Apple wireless keyboard on the Utrathin cover keyboard. Like other reviewers have noted, the keyboard is a bit cramped. I’m not good touch typist so this hasn’t affected me in a significant way. I’ll be typing as fast as I normally do within a few days of use. Unlike some, I didn’t find the size of the keys much of a problem, even with my somewhat larger than “normal” fingers. The only issue I have is reaching for the upper row of keys, missing, and hitting the bottom of the screen causing the cursor insertion point to move to an unintended place. I’m confident that my reach will adjust to the keyboard with continued use.

According to Logitech, you’ll get three months of battery life using the cover for two hours a day. Charging is accomplished with a micro USB cord, which is somewhat short for my liking. No wall adapter is included. A functional cleaning cloth is provided.

I am very pleased with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover and use it often. Other reviews have suggested that you try before you buy. Though I didn’t, it’s probably a good idea to test it in person. It’s a welcome addition to my portable office and greatly enhances the iPad mini as a personal productivity device.

iPad Mini: It’s What I Need in a Tablet

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Apple recently entered the “mini” tablet space with it’s new iPad Mini. Sharing many of the same technical specs as the iPad 2, the iPad mini is “every inch an iPad” as Phil Schiller described it. Fitting the experience of an iPad in my palms is what I’ve been after for a while. Though I love my iPad, I turn to my MacBook Air to really get work done. Notice I refer to getting “work done” as opposed to getting “things” done. To get my work done such as creating interactive content for etextbooks, app development, research on technology enhanced learning, I’m much more productive on the Air. I need the functionality that Mac OS offers, especially having content in two or more on-screen windows to work from. I can certainly get “things” done on my iPad, e.g., personal productivity, check and respond to email, web research, and of course, entertainment. For me, the iPad is a wonderful consumption device and at this point a light-duty work device. During the work day I use it for keeping track of to dos, project tracking, note taking, reading eBooks and pdfs, and scheduling. I’ve found I don’t need a full-size iPad to complete these activities. The iPad mini better fits my work flow and content consumption. It will also make my mobile office lighter and more portable. I rarely take my iPad “on the go”, it’s the MacBook Air that nearly always is in my portable office. The new iPad mini changes all of that.

I’m locked into Apple’s ecosystem by choice. Like other Apple devices, the iPad mini can access my documents in iCloud. With the release of OSX Mountain Lion and an update to the iWork suite of applications, Apple implemented their vision of working in the cloud. Rather than using an app in the cloud like Google Docs, the app is on my device. Documents produced by iCloud-compatible apps are stored locally and synced to other devices via iCloud. Moving the document handling to the app makes so much sense, though you’re not locked into iCloud for document storage. Applications offer a choice to open from iCloud or your local drive. Rather than drilling through the Finder, your document is right there in the iCloud Document library. I’m thrilled at the offline editing and automated saving that iWork does. Living in a smaller community there are times when I have no Internet access but need to get things done. Having local copies of important documents accessible whenever and where ever allows me to do my work, Internet access or not. In fact, a portion of this post was written on my plane trip to a conference using my iPad. All of my work was instantly updated after I logged back in making it available to my MacBook Air once I arrived at my hotel. I’ll be able to do the same thing on an iPad mini.

With the new iPad Mini, my tablet returns to my portable office. Combined with iCloud it lightens my load as I can dispense with my external drive. All currently active projects and files for courses are in the cloud and also available to be used offline thanks to iCloud and Dropbox. Shrinking size without losing the features that help me do my work and enjoy my leisure time, is what I’m looking for in the iPad mini.

Disclosure: I’ll be honest … the above was pitch to my wife for why I needed one … and it was under the  Christmas tree this year. I love that lady.  :-)

UW-SP offers Tablets to all Faculty/Staff

University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Greg Summers has announced that all faculty and academic staff who desire will be issued a tablet “in an effort to support innovative methods of teaching and learning”. These will be supplied in addition to their office desktop.

Currently, the only tablet supported by the University’s security policies, such as being able to wipe data remotely in the case of loss or theft, is the Apple iPad. A three-year upgrade cycle similar to the faculty/staff desktop program will apply to the tablet program. In the future, Android or a Windows tablets will become available for those who prefer one of these options. The standard issue configuration will be:

  • 32 GB storage
  • WI-FI enabled
  • folio cover
  • Productivity apps such as  a remote desktop app called Jump, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote; and Acrobat reader

The cost of  upgraded storage, cellular options, etc.  will be born by the faculty/staff member’s home department.

Even in this era of tight budgets and declining state support, it’s refreshing to see bold moves by administrators to address the changing landscape of technology-enhanced teaching and learning.

* Note: iPad pictured above is not necessarily the configuration provided.

The iMac I’m still waiting for

Nearly four years ago I read about an Apple iMac design concept that basically turned it into a docking station for the iPad. I’ve said it before, this would be the perfect system for so many people, especially in education. Imagine a college student being able to carry their iPad that has a fully functioning set of productivity tools, stores their textbooks, and hasWi-fi  access to the Internet. Coming back to their room to study, they simply slide the tablet into the iMac Docking station. How long until Apple acts on this design?

Mockup of Apple Tablet and Docking Station (Courtesy appletell)

Apple’s magazine subscription market place tips scale for initial mobile app development

For one publisher, Apple’s magazine subscription market place development tipped the scale when deciding on the mobile operating system to initially develop for.  Geographical published by the Royal Geographical Society recently released an app for iOS. An interesting exchange occured over their choice of operating systems to release the app for first. In a quick conversation posted to Twitter, they made clear that the Apple magazine subscription “subs market” was a “bit more developed.

I don’t care about Apple’s so-called eTextbook “walled garden”

The announcement of Apple’s new foray into the educational textbook market has garnered the usual cries of despair over their so-called walled garden. Oh my, what are schools to do? Gosh, how are we to deal with a proprietary ebook format? Guess what, I don’t care about Apple’s so called walled garden when it comes to the new textbook initiative. Some have decried the fact that adopting an an iBook textbook will lock a K-12 school into a particular format. When schools buy a textbook K-12 schools they often buy sets of textbooks from a particlar publisher so they are in a sense locked into a walled publisher garden. They will use them until the are worn and in some case terribly out of date. The fact is, the new iBook textbooks could reduce book costs, possibly keep them more up to date than print,  and in the process give students a much richer educational experience by having an iPad.

I agree with  Buster Heine from Cult of the Mac observations that Apple’s move will enable people like me to share our expertise with a potentially large audience and maybe make a few bucks at the same time. Am I concerned that it is limited to the iPad? No. Heck, my university is a Microsoft colony that basically pays lip service to us Mac users. I’m willing to create educational products that may only work on particular hardware (at this point) and might not even be used by my students. For me it’s about the creative process and desire to explore new ways to help students learn.

The propriety file format argument is a red herring  that doesn’t hold water in the publishing industry. If they deem it important, textbook publishers have ported their textbooks to multiple formats. Just examine the various platforms that Pearson, McGraw Hill, etc. publish their textbooks in. Unless they’ve been barred from doing so, textbooks from these publishers won’t be exclusive to Apple iBook format.

Tech pundits should really move beyond this old and tired “walled garden” arguement. It really is matter of choice. If you want open, go for it. If you want an Apple experience, adopt it. Pundits, quit trying to demonize one paradigm over the other.

A Portable Office

Because my teaching, research and much service work is done online, I split my time between my university and home offices. Doing so means having my work accessible no matter where I am, and whether I’m online or offline. I have been a big proponent and user of cloud services. But lacking ubiquitous and free wireless throughout my hometown, constraints are placed on my use of cloud stored documents. This is why I like the approach Apple is taking with iCloud, storage and “syncing” across all of my devices. The only issue with iCloud at this point is that it does not replicate Dropbox-like synching. Docs created on my MacBook Air do not automatically sync to my iMac. Until Apple comes up with true device-to-device synching, I’ll rely on a local, but portable storage system.

To get my work done, I use a 350 GB external drive that is slightly bigger than a deck of cards. This is backed-up automatically once a week to my home office iMac and another external drive. Yes, three backups. I keep all my university work on the external drive and back up the documents to my university office iMac. This may not be solution for all, but it works for me.

My 11″ MacBook Air is a joy to use, full-size keyboard, solid-state storage wrapped in an ultra-thin case. Though some might think it overkill, my portable office includes an iPad. Kicking back with the iPad makes long form reading much more enjoable. Add a Bamboo stylus and its free app and you’re set for serious notetaking. Fire up the $4.99 “GoodReader”  to highlight and annotate that “stack” of journal articles needed for  projects I’m working on. My iPhone 4s is a fantastic device with versions of my productivity apps, location aware reminders, and of course Siri, my digital assistant.

Apps are certainly important, and that’s where Apple’s controlled ecosystem works for me. Apple’s iWork suite is available across all my devices. Evernote is used to capture, what else, notes, and especially items from the web. Ominifocus is my project management software and ToDo integrates with iCal to handle my to do lists. These  apps sync across all my mobile devices and home office desktop.

My portable office is neatly stowed in a STM Bags Xtrasmall Scout bag. The Xtra-small is plenty big to handle the MacBook Air and an iPad. Two front pockets hold keys, iPhone, external drive, power brick for the Air, and stylus. A zipped pocket is provided, with a quick-open full size pocket on the back to slip a few papers in. I also own the vertical style bag when just wanting to travel with my iPad. Though this approach won’t work for all, it has been a near-perfect solution for me.

Apple Patents Compass Bearing Feature for the iPhone Camera

One of the most challenging aspects of online learning and distance education in the geosciences is fieldwork. Access and cost of equipment is especially problematic for conducting field studies. It’s becoming easier to engage students in field activities as mobile devices with geolocation capabilities are winding up in their pockets. A new patent published by the USPTO describes a new compass bearing feature for the iPhone’s camera. An overview of the patent is provided on the Patently Apple site.

Image courtesy of Patently Apple

iPad Keyboard Case: Tablet to “Netbook”

I find myself doing much more work on my iPad. It’s lightweight, extremely portable, and simply fun to use.  I decided to buy a keyboard case because I do extended writing with iPad these days. Though I have become adept at using the onscreen keyboard, I simply couldn’t type as fast as with a physical keyboard. I tried using an aluminum Apple bluetooth keyboard, but that was unwieldy when transporting. A keyboard case seemed to be a solution.

After spending quite a bit of time investigating, I settled on one sold by ThinkGeek. The iPad slips easily into the cover, much easier than my Apple case. It sits are a reasonable angle when used at a desk. The cover folds back so you can hold the iPad like you would without the keyboard, though it is a bit thick and prolonged use may not be comfortable. The case and iPad weighs in at 2.75 lbs. USB charger is included. The Bluetooth keyboard case also fits nicely into my  STM Scout XS iPad bag. It has a “spill proof” silicone cover over the chicklet style keys (Thankfully so as I write this while eating egg drop soup and spring rolls!) It has several specialized keys for controlling the iPad. The home key works like that on the iPad, click once to return to the home page, or double click to switch to open the multitasking bar. Though Apple has done a fine job with touch-based copy and paste, it’s nice to have the familiar keyboard shortcuts to handle these operations. Arrow keys make it easy to move through text.  Keys to control the iPod are a nice addition.

Sleek!

If you’re looking for the stability of a laptop, you’re looking at the wrong solution. It’s a bit unstable sitting in your lap while typing, but not terribly so.  The angle at which the screen sits is a bit to vertical for me when on my lap, but fine at a desk. And the closing flap is a bit uncomfortable when typing in your lap.  The only major downside is the awful fumes that the case is off-gassing out of the box. The smell is dissipating after 24 hours of “airing”.

Some will think it blasphemous to add a keyboard to a touch device. But for me, it’s made my writing time much more productive. The iPad easily slips out of the case to convert back to tablet form factor. Having become interested in a minimalist approach to life and work, the iPad and keyboard case  are perfect fit.

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