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.

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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.

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Google Chrome notebooks coming by subscription?

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Is a Google notebook by subscription in your future?

Though the first preview versions got somewhat mixed reviews, an “exclusive”  posted on neowin.net has an interesting twist on Google’s Chrome notebooks. According to the article, Google may be using a subscription model tied to Gmail for “selling” them. Whether this applies to all Gmail customers or Google apps premier is not known.

What is interesting is how this might work for educational institutions that have a laptop requirement for all students or those who have migrated their email and productivity suites to Google apps. According to the neowin.net source, a $10 – $20 per month per user includes hardware refresh and replacement for faulty units for the life of the subscription.

Could this be a relatively low-cost way of delivering ubiquitous computing to students? What are the implications?

Edit Google Docs on the iPad

Not being able to edit Google Docs on the iPad has been a source of frustration for many an iPad user, including myself when I first bought the device. That complaint can now be put to rest as Google has brought the ability to edit Google Doc to iOS (and Android) devices. I wasn’t concerned with editing Google Docs on my iPhone, but not having access on my iPad was a pain. However, while I was waiting for Google to implement this feature, I began the process of migrating my cloud-based document storage over to iDisk. Like Google Docs, I have access to my documents wherever I have a network connection. In addition, I can edit my documents using a much better, in my opinion, application …. iWork Pages. For me, Google’s move may be a bit too late, but perhaps not for you.

Migrating from Google Apps to iWork and MobileMe

For the last several years I’ve been an avid user of Google’s cloud apps, especially Google Docs. I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of features and interoperability with Apple’s iWork suite of late. I’ve also been concerned about what Google may be doing with the work I entrust to their services. It’s my understanding that Google scrapes through GMail accounts collecting data that they use  for targeted advertising. This troubles me a great deal, and especially if this occurs in any of their other services. Even though no person read my email, I’m still a bit squeamish about this.

Google apps were handy because they were available anywhere I was and from any type of operating system I was using at the time. But, I have migrated away from Windows to Apple products, and have a number of devices that affords portability of my work, notably my Macbook, iPad and iPhone. Thus it is a very rare occasion that I’m without one of these devices when I need to get work done. I also have migrated away from MS Office and prefer to do my work using Apple’s iWork suite of tools. If I need to, programs in the iWork suite like Pages allows me to export documents to their MS Office equivalents. But where’s the “cloud” in this transition?

Admittedly, Apple has been slow to offer a cloud capable version of its iWork suite. Apple has the iWork.com service, still in beta, that permits one to share a copy of a document to a server for review by colleagues. Realtime collaboration is not possible at this point. As an aside, I’ve always wondered how useful it is  having multiple people working on the same document in real time. Apple has their MobileMe service that for a $99/year fee gives you 20GB of combined email and file storage and 200 GB of monthly data transfer (upgradeable storage for an addition fee). Documents created in the iWork suite, well any files for that matter, can be stored in your iDisk and accessed as if they were stored on an external drive. What I like about Apple’s approach is that I can use my full-featured iWork programs on my desktop or laptop to access cloud stored documents from anywhere I have an internet connection. For the iPad I simply have to download a copy of the file, and then upload changes back to my iDisk. A bit more cumbersome, but I don’t do a lot of “serious” work on my iPad (though this is changing as the iPad evolves).

So at this time I’m in the process of migrating away Google’s services as the Apple iWork/MobileMe combination provides me with a better experience.  Google largely makes its money from advertising, and hence has to find a way to monetize their “free” services. Even though it is somewhat expensive, moving to Apple’s MobileMe service eliminates my privacy concerns associated with Google. Apple is also bringing a large server farm online in the near future, so a cloud-based iWork suite may be in the offing. Until then, I’m satisfied with the work flow that they are able to provide with MobileMe.

How the CrunchPad Could Fit into the Education Market

cbd2_smallOver a year ago, Michael Arrington expressed a desire that many of us have, a simple tablet for “consuming” information on the Web. The device would be able to access your email, browse web sites, and watch videos online. It would be a simple, low-cost, and highly portable consumer device. It will be different from a tablet PC and netbooks as it will not have a hard drive and thus not be able to store data per se, or run applications for word processing and such. Its “operating system” would be the browser, a unique and powerful way of breaking away from the confines of Windows, OS X,  and Linux if one only wanted to interact with web-based resources.

Mr. Arrington told the NY Times that he would hold an event at the end of July or the beginning of August to make a big announcement about the CrunchPad, and the tablet would be for sale “as soon as possible.” What we know at this point the CrunchPad

  • will have a 16 mm thick enclosure
  • use a 12 inch screen mounted flush with the aluminum case.
  • will run on an Intel Atom chip
  • will have a soft keyboard
  • will include USB ports for Keyboard/Mouse/Whatever
  • use a Webkit based browser
  • will be Flash-enabled
  • and have a target price of around $300.

The education market needs a low-cost, highly portable device that will lighten the burden (both physically and financially) on students and replace plethora of single-use devices with one multi-use device. As I continue to read about the CrunchPad  I am struck with its potential as a light-weight device for students and learning. What potential you might ask? It doesn’t have a hard drive. So what! The trend in computing is to move more of our work (and education) off our devices and into the cloud. The CrunchPad could not only let students consume information, but presumably interact with web resources and their fellow students. Students could view course web sites and take notes using online word processing programs like Google Docs. In laboratory classes students students could have an digital “clipboard” to enter and share data with Google Spreadsheets or similar online applications. Online polling and testing of students could occur during class via a learning management system or a web-based class room response system, eliminating the cost of a “clicker”.  Class discussions using social networking sites are increasingly being used by instructors and should be accessible through the CrunchPad.

The ability to run flash is especially important for the education community who uses many resources that are programmed with it. Flash-based instructional media produced by textbook publishers and distributed on CD-ROM could be placed in a learning management system and then accessed with the CrunchPad. CrunchPad could serve as an eBook reader as well. eTextbooks in Flash would benefit by having a device that accesses them without the need to download the book to a hard drive, protecting publisher’s intellectual property rights (a contentious issue, but one that I won’t get into here). These books often use an interface that permits highlighting text and tagging passages with notes and stored online. Yes, there is the Kindle DX, but it has rather limited capabilities, especially for the science textbook market that requires color.

The possibilities for CrunchPad in education are potentially endless, but we won’t know for sure until the widely anticipated availability announcement is made in a few short weeks. I am anxious to get a hold of one to test its possibilities for use in my courses. It could be a revolutionary device for instructors to deliver educational content and activities to new generation of learners.

Working in the Cloud – Part 2

evernoteThis is the second installment of my “adventures” in working in the cloud.

For the last few years I’ve been an avid user of Google Notebook, a wonderful little online note taking and web clipping application. Its underlying beauty, from my perspective, was its simple interface and browser extension that made clipping and organizing notes on the fly very easy. But alas, Google has decided to stop development and eventually shutter the service at some point. As a result I was faced with finding a new application as well as saving the notes I had stored in my Google Notebooks. I really hadn’t expected Google Notebook to disappear given the Google’s resources and its commitment to cloud computing. But disappearing online applications is always a potential issue when working in the cloud.

Enter Evernote.

Though there are many web clipping and note taking applications available, Evernote has evolved into the most usable one for my needs, and I’d venture to guess for most of you too.  There is an Evernote client for Macs, Windows, smartphones, and web browsers. It can capture nearly any kind of content that you want access to. You can even take a picture of a document and Evernote’s OCR capability will allow you to search through it for needed information There’s no need to detail its functionality here as they have an excellent site that does that already. Here’s a short video introduction to Evernote’s capabilities:

I have Evernote installed on my home  iMac and Macbook, iPhone, and office iMac. All my notes are synced via “the cloud” and accessible whenever and from whatever device I’m working from. And now the best part.

In the opening of this post I was faced with migrating hundreds of notes from Google Notebook to a new application. Initially, I was opening each Google Notebook, going to the original source of the note, then clipping it into Evernote …. quite tedious. Now, Evernote has a new import page that does all this in a flash. One needs only to export each of your Google Notebooks as an Atom-formatted xml file. Once you have all your notebooks exported, head to the Google Notebook import page where you upload the exported files into Evernote. Your notebooks’ creation dates, URLs, images, and other metadata are maintained, while labels and sections are converted to tags.

So far, Evernote has exceeded my expectations for synching notes via the web and getting things done. I encourage you to give it a try.

Working in the Cloud – Part 1

cloud-300x300In a recent post, George Siemens discussed his desire to move to the “cloud” for the coming year in order to become device neutral. “Cloud computing is a general concept that incorporates software as a service (SaaS), Web 2.0 and other recent, well-known technology trends, in which the common theme is reliance on the Internet for satisfying the computing needs of the users.” (Wikipedia)  I’ve been working in the cloud for quite a while now and find it highly efficient and productive. Freed of a particular device, I need only a connection to the Internet, and sometimes not even that, to get my work done.

Since they became available, Google Docs and the iGoogle sticky note widget have been the starting point for much of the writing I do. The first draft of this posting was completed in the Sticky Note widget embedded in my iGoogle personal portal, or webtop as some like to call such technologies. I’ve found it easier to begin drafts in the widget as it is quick to return to in subsequent writing sessions, and my Firefox browser checks the spelling on the fly. There’s no fancy formatting available which is not a hindrance with a first draft. Once I’ve finished with a majority of the content, I simply copy and paste it into whatever application I need, in many situations another web app. For a blog post this means WordPress.com, for other documents it usually means Google Docs.

Though I’m not far from an Internet connection during much of my day, the fact that my documents required a connection to work on them was somewhat bothersome, enter Google Gears. Google Gears enables web apps like Google Docs to be synced with your local desktop  computer for offline use. with Google Gears one can edit a local copy of a document and then automatically sync it once you go back online.

More “Working in the Cloud” to come …..

(Image source)

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