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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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, eBooks and the Media Tablet.

TechCruch’s MG Siegler posted an article interpreting Steve Jobs comments in the New York Times about Apple’s interest in eBook devices. It should be apparent to all from Jobs statements before last week’s Apple music event that Apple has no intention of creating an eBook reader. Only once in recent history has Apple created a single use device, the iPod, for entertainment media. But even the iPod has morphed into a multi-use device, the iPod Touch/iPhone. It would not be in Apple’s interest to build a standalone eBook reader. There are several players in the field already for such hardware. Though garnering lots of press, I wonder as does Jobs just how well they are selling. What Apple would be interested in is selling eBook content through the iTunes store to drive the purchase of a media tablet.

It is a media tablet that is needed for distributing eBook content in the education market, not the standalone reader. Students from elementary through graduate school do not need an additional device to carry around. What they do need is a well-done touchscreen media device capable of performing daily tasks related to their educational pursuits. For most this may mean just a tablet, capable of taking notes in class, reading an eBook, and communicating with their teachers and classmates. The device must be of sufficient size (10″ inch?) to comfortably allow for text entry of notes and playback of most media types. Storage space is not of great concern due to the advances in cloud computing and cheap external drives for archiving files. A few years ago rumors began swirling about Apple’s potential move into the tablet market, and an announcement seems imminent next year. In January of 2008 a patent for a Mac docking station was released. Such a pairing would be ideal for students.

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Mockup of Apple Tablet and Docking Station (Courtesy appletell)

In the meantime, others are testing the touchscreen tablet waters. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington  promised a special press and user event for last July for his “CrunchPad” media though nothing official has seen the light of day. Netbook maker Asus has made a half-hearted foray into the touchscreen tablet field. But we continue to wait for an elegant solution to bring eBooks to life in a truly useful device. Patience grasshopper …

Switch to a Mac

When Apple released their first Intel-based Mac I jumped at the chance to become a “switcher”. Tired of the eye-candy, crashing, and viruses that Windows is plagued with, I bought one of the first MacBooks … and I’m so happy I did. I’ve since replaced my University office desktop with a 20″iMac, bought a 24″ iMac for my home office, and use an iPhone (along with various iPods). They all play well together and can sync files, mail, contacts, calendars, etc. between them and with Mobile Me (previously known as .Mac).

Though I was concerned I’d be at a disadvantage given the standardization around Windoze that my university has been engaged in, I found that it’s just not that much of an issue. First, there is a Mac version of Office, though I rarely use it. I just don’t require such a bloated environment to do my work. Apple’s “Pages” works just fine and I can export files in WORD format AND as pdfs. There’s also several free applications like OpenOffice or Google Docs that play very nicely with Office. I switched to Dreamweaver, a much better product for Web site creation than MS Expression.

Thankfully I no longer use Internet Explorer because there isn’t an updated version for the Mac. I switched to Firefox long before I moved to a Mac anyway. There is an issue with accessing some of my University’s web sites IE is required to gain access to some resources. Web mail especially is an issue. However, Mac’s Mail app does work well with Exchange.

In the rare event that I need it, I simply fire-up Parallels Desktop for Mac and run Windoze along side OSX, something a regular pc cannot do. So whenever a colleague or friend exclaims that Macs are more expensive, I simply point out that I’ve got two computers packaged in one. Besides, several recent articles have shown that Macs aren’t more expensive …. and even run Windoze Vista better than a pc.

For more reasons and to debunk a few myths check out “PC Myths Debunked

If you’re in the market for a new computer, you really should check out a Mac.

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