Tag Archives: iPad

iPad comes to Verizon!

Well, now, isn’t this interesting: I just heard from Verizon that their stores will start selling the iPad on October 28. With 3G data packages.

Hold on…it’s not that interesting. Verizon will carry the entire range of WiFi models and pairing them with their MiFi mobile 3G WiFi hotspot. So it’s not a 3G iDevice communicating directly through the Verizon 3G network.

Still, that’s a compelling data point. Apple had been expanding the range of iPad retail outlets beyond Apple Stores and AT&T all this quarter; you can buy them at Wal*Mart, for instance. But Verizon is the first mobile wireless store that will have it…and barring another Interesting email, the online.

So! Rumors of a “sooner rather than later” Verizon iPhone have just clicked one stop higher on the credibility scale. Mind you, it’s still firmly in the “I won’t believe it until I hear an official announcement” zone.

I’m a big fan of the MiFi. I have one, and used it exclusively for mobile and travel access for more than a year. And until my personal iPad 3G arrived, it was how I connected to the Internet with an iPad when I wasn’t at home or in The Bagel Place With The WiFi. These devices are the most economical way to get mobile broadband on as many devices as possible. You wind up paying just one monthly fee instead of two or three. It supports up to five connections at a time and works with anything that has a WiFi pulse.

Bonus: it’s a base station. I often use it just to set up a local intranet in my hotel room, to handle file sharing and data transfers between devices.

The data plan is fair. You get one gig of data for $20 a month. No word yet on whether you need to buy it under contract or if you can go month to month. Verizon is happy to sell you an iPad without the MiFi, too.

[Updated: I’ve heard back from Verizon on the plan. You do need to sign a service agreement for the 3G, but you’re paying month to month; as with the iPad 3G on AT&T, there’s no fee for canceling.]

Full details are available on Verizon’s website.

But yes, the big deal is that Apple and Verizon have clearly allowed themselves to be seen holding hands in a restaurant. Perhaps they’re planning a summer wedding, with the release of a dual-channel GSM/CDMA phone that will work on all networks. 

Unfrozen Caveman Restauranteur

Greetings from that sprawling, amorphous place known as “The Road.” My talk at the Southern New Jersey Mac User Group went well and even I learned something new. Specifically: when you’re running a presentation from your iPad and you pick it up to make a point and you dislodge the dock connector in just the right way, you can freeze up the iPad so badly that it takes several minutes to reboot.

(In the middle of the presentation)

(Duriing which you’ve been talking about how good the iPad as a notebook replacement.)

(Good thing I got my travel expenses in cash, in advance.)

This is a bit of a historic trip: it’s the first one in which I’m using the iPad as my sole computer. It’s working out swimmingly, just as I thought it would. I even had a new iPad doubleplus love moment.

I wrote a column on my iPad using the Elements app. Then I needed to do a little research on the Web, just to double-check on some specs and product names. So I closed down Elements and launched Safari. I had to; the multitasking edition of iOS is coming to the iPad in November. Until then, there’s no quick and easy way to switch between this column and the browser.

Aha! But I didn’t need to! Because Elements is one of those text editors that stores your files on Dropbox, and I had a copy of the app on my iPhone as well!

So I was free to look things up on the iPad while I made the edits on my iPhone. When I was done, I re-launched Elements on the iPad and bingo-presto, all of my changes had been applied. Naturally. There was no syncing and no cutting and pasting: the iPhone had literally been editing the same file I had created on the iPad.

It was even better than an iPad doubleplus love moment. It was also a “Good God, I love living in the 21st century!” moment.

This is a weird, tri-state trip. The talk was in New Jersey but my hotel was in Philadephia. Now I’m in Baltimore, visiting my good pal Barbara.

Last night she picked me up from the train station and we cruised around looking for a good place to eat. We discovered a restaurant that had apparently been entrapped by a glacier in 1949 and had only recently been freed by global warming.

I want to stress that the food was good (I had an excellent beer-battered fish and chips) and the staff was friendly, attentive, and capable. But the decor made it very easy to imagine the room as it might have been in 1952. Full of women, dressed in expensive Chanel gowns, a plate of untouched salad in front of them, chain-smoking elegantly, the way that their comportment teacher instructed them at boarding school. Full of men in grey wool suits, working out the best time to loudly ask a waiter “Could you go out and make sure I didn’t leave my lights on? It’s the brand-new Cadillac Marquis Supreme, with the optional full-calfskin leather interior and limited-edition gold accent package.”

The capper: our check arrived and the waitress handed it — deliberately and specifically — to me.

!

I can’t remember ever dining alone with a woman and being handed the check. Waiters always place the folio on the table at the precise midppoint between the two patrons, with maximum permissible error of about three millimeters in the sexist direction. Four millimeters, and there’s a severe risk of a 5% tip. Six, and a district enforcer from the League of Modern Waitstaffs comes up and shoots the server.

I was amused and cheered by this throwback move. Also, it allowed me to play the “No, I insist, this is on me” card from a position of considerable strength.

Apple Event – My Live (to tape) Blog

A frame grab from Apple's livestream. I was watching it on my iPad, via AT&T's 3G connection.

The session starts with a reminder that Skype is a piece of crap. I was supposed to be joining Leo and Alex in a special MacBreak talking about the presentation as it happens. I even had a special MacBook and iPad setup with a camera and a mic. But Skype said no ****ing way.

And Skype’s screwup cost me about $30. I paid for a day’s worth of hotel broadband solely for the Skypecast. And then when I realized that I’d need two sets of headphones (one to listen to the event on my iPad, one so I could listen to the TWiT studio on my Macbook) I ran to the corner Walgreens and bought a cheap pair of Sonys.

I repeat: Skype is just a total misery. It frustrates the hell out of me that I need to use it but can’t count on it in any way.

Anyway. So here I am in my hotel room with the MacBook on one side, with this blog post open. And the iPad is next to it, streaming the show live via AT&T.

Steve takes the stage and starts by showing off the glam new Paris Apple Store, and the new Shanghai Apple Store. New York gets a big glass cube; Shanghai gets a big glass cylinder. Coca-Cola is now in negotiations to fill it with 178,000 gallons of beverage on special occasions.

I’m not “liveblogging” this because there’s an actual livestream that people should probably watch instead. This blog post is intended for the contemplation and illumination of future generations.

Very good video quality…it ranges from “webcast” quality to “netflix streaming app” quality…depending on how much the video is moving around. Video is _slightly_ choppy…I’m guessing that I’m seeing less than a full 30 frames per second.

Interesting statistic: Apple Stores are seeing one million visitors per day. Yes, on a good day, but that’s still an interesting figure; Steve compares it to the days when Macworld Expo would be happy to see 30,000 people.

iOS is the next topic.

iOS 4.1:Bugs fixed — The wonky proximity sensor on the iPhone, Bluetooth, and iPhone 3G bugs.

New feature: HDR photos! Very cool.

HD video upload over WiFi.

TV show rentals. One rumor confirmed.

Game Center.

HDR Photography. Tap a button on the camera app and it’ll bracket the exposures and combine them into an HDR image. So instead of black shadows and blown out skies, there’ll be plenty of detail in the whole image. The Camera app writes both the “normal” and the HDR version to your photo library so you can pick the one you like.

I love HDR and use it all the time…if this works well, then the iPhone will kick the ass of many real cameras, let alone cameraphones. I wonder if they’re doing “real” HDR or doing a “smart sampling” technique to combine separate exposures? Some consumer apps do that instead of using the real HDR algorithms.

Game Center. Here’s the aggressive sell of the iPad and iPhone (and, um, iTV? [edit to add later: no, as it turns out] as a gaming platform. They’ve always had success there but this is the one where they say really put it out there.

Mike Capps from Epic Games demos new games that take advantage of Game Center. “Project Sword.”

The name seems to indicate that it should be followed by “: The Leverage Of Barjed-Sijnjen Chapter 4, ‘The Re-Brobnoning’.”

Good demo of head to head combat over GameCenter. Also showing that gameplay can be recorded as video. I wonder about latency; are they playing via WiFi or 3G?

Game will be out soon on iPhone and iPad. Looks neat.

[Edit: demo is available as a free download.]

iOS 4.1 available next week for iPhone and iPod Touch; free download via iTunes.

Sneak peek at iOS 4.2. “It’s all about iPad.”

Brings “Everything to iPad”

Wireless Printing – brings long sustained applause. Also something called “AirPlay.” I bet this is a WiFi video sending scheme. [Edit later to say: yes, it is.]

Now there’s a “Print” tool in Pages. Select a printer, number of copies, etc. A new “Print Center” app appears in the multitasking area when a print job is in progress. You can see jobs and cancel them.

AirPlay: it’s the new name for AirTunes. You’ll be able to stream audio, video and photos, which means they need a new, vaguer name for it.

Live demo on an iPad. Steve launches Pandora. He’s got it streaming in the background as he does mail and Safari. We see the exact same multitasking interface as on the iPhone: screen slides up to reveal icons of running apps. You can switch apps and kill them.

Folders: works the exact same way on the iPad as on the iPhone. This is a reminder that “iOS” was a necessary rebranding: if you own an iPhone, you have a mini iPad; if you have an iPad, you have a big iPhone. It’s the same thing; it’s feature-identical and they all work the same on both hardware.

iOS 4.2 will be out in November for iPhone iPad and Touch.

Onward to the iPods. This is, indeed, the annual Holiday Music Event. This is what we’re expecting.

275 million iPods sold. See? This is why we wonder why Amazon hasn’t said how many Kindles they’ve sold. Also why Apple hasn’t said how many AppleTV’s they’ve sold. If you’re happy with the sales, you don’t keep them secret.

All-new designs for every model. Even the Classic? (As in “We’ve redesigned it: it’s now invisible in our product line.”)

[Edit: iPod Classic is absent from mention. So Apple officially is done with hard drive-based iPods?]

iPod Shuffle. Interesting to see how (if?) it’s important today. “People clearly missed the buttons” from the last edition (the “aluminum stick of Trident gum” design). New one has the familiar “button ring”…looks more like a slightly smaller version of the 2008 version.

It includes VoiceOver, just like the Trident model…so you can do playlists and hear names of albums and tracks Can you control it via voice as well? Must ask.

15 hours of battery life. Retail package looks like an ice cube.

$49 price! Nice. They needed to sell this CHEAP to compete with Sandisk’s cheap and excellent music/video players. Lowest iPod price ever, I think.

iPod Nano. Another one that maybe has identity problems, in light of the iPod Touch and how close it is in price.

Eliminated the clickwheel: it’s now a multitouch device. It’s a tiny square with a color screen. “Wearable” via a clip. It’s large enough for four app buttons. 46% smaller, 42% lighter. Hardware volume buttons. FM radio, Nike+ and pedometer. Works in 29 languages. Battery life of 24 hours.

Does it run apps? Other than the built-in features? It does looks like an iPod Touch crammed into a screen that can only hold a 2×2 square icon panel. [Edit to add: nope, no mention of third-party iOS apps. Must ask later.]

Nice clock app…looks like it’d make a nice watch when clipped onto an armband. Albeit a watch that only runs for X hours before you need to recharge it and probably doesn’t tell you the time until you “wake” it.

Hmm. I’m really going to need to play with this. I don’t know how useful a touch interface will be on a screen this small; your finger is covering up so much of the screen. Especially when you’re doing particularly clever things like trying to “scroll” through the alphabet and find a specific album. Even Steve appears to be operating the new Nano cautiously. On the plus side, when you and I use it, the results won’t be on a huge HD auditorium screen for the world to see,

(I’m nerdly impressed that they’ve got a hack via the dock connector that has the output from this dinky little device projected right onto that huge projector in the auditorium. No, this won’t show up in the consumer device. But I love the idea of this dinky thing being used as a video source.)

Screen rotates via touch (apparently not automatically via sensors).

Comes in seven colors including Graphite and “Product RED” editions.

What’s the capacity? $149 for 8 gigs, $179 for 16 gig version.

Still has a bit of an ID crisis. Why not pay a little extra for an iPod Touch, when it does so much more? I guess for some people, the smaller size really is that important. [Edit: I forgot how much more expensive the iPod Touch is, too.]

iPod Touch. — …Steve hears my comment here in the hotel room and acknowledges that the iPod Touch is the best-selling iPod.

More rah-rah about Apple mobile gaming: “outsells Nintendo and Sony portable players, combined.” I believe that number…but at PAX Expo it seems as though everyone had Nintendo DS systems, not iPods. I need to think about that.

The new iPod Touch. It’s even thinner. Same basic lines as the older model (not squared edges like the iPhone 4).

As expected: it has the same Retina Display as the iPhone 4 (24 bit color, 326 ppi). Same A4 chip as the iPhone 4 and iPad. Also has the 3-axis gyro.

And Facetime via a front-facing camera. New rear-facing HD camera. No light on the camera (apparently). iPhone’s iMovie app works on the iPod Touch, too.

40 hours of music playback.

8 gigs for $229, 32 gigs for $299, 64 gigs for $399. OK, so there’s the difference between the Nano. I should also remember that someone who wants a consumer music player sees a MUCH bigger difference between the extra dough than someone shopping for (say) a laptop or an ebook reader might.

All iPods will ship next week. Pre-order starts today.

Ads for the new iPods. Apple spokespeople are still trapped in The Matrix, as they’ve been for the past ten years or so. Someday the company will be doing well enough to afford a background scrim or something. Like, one of them peaceful waterfall scenes you get with your school picture or at the boudoir-photography store over at the mall.

iTunes. And now, Apple releases version 10 of the iTunes app. Time for a new app icon! The kids today don’t know what a CD even is any more. Now just musical note over a blue background.

(Please, audience: you’re applauding an icon. Do let’s preserve the Dignity of the Press, wot?)

Added a new “hybrid” view in track listings: if it senses there are bunchs of tracks from an album in a row, it’ll use extra white space to show album art. Nice little flourish; seems like something that a member of the team does for fun, and then it impresses everyone else enough to make it into the actual app.

Quick peek at the iTunes Store. I wonder if they put up a special Katy Perry album art banner so that the keynote didn’t show the “bare-assed on a cloud” art that’s been plastered on iTunes’ front page all week.

New feature for social networking of music: they’re calling it “Ping.” “A social network for music.” It’s built into iTunes. Follow favorite artists and friends to discover the music they’re talking about, listening to, and downloading.

Ping is now in the sidebar, almost like a Device. You can see what your friends are posting and discussing. The idea is that you can click in there and check out music.

Ping will create a custom Top 10 chart of the music your friends are following.

An artist page. recent posts from Lady Gaga, her favorite songs, and concerts she’s appearing in. Click a button to Follow.

Uh-oh…for the first time, the video feed is stuttering a little. screen blacks for a quarter-second three or four times in a row. Must have been the mention of Lady Gaga. Her fans are rabid. Think about what would have happened if the stream got Biebered.

You can control your Followers: let everybody follow you, let people only follow you if you approve each person. Create “circle of friends” So it seems as though they thought hard about privacy controls.

Over 17,000 concert listings. “Ping is open to over 160,000,000 iTunes users in 23 countries immediately. We’re starting with a very large base.”

(Can you buy tickets? Must check.)

Live demo of Ping. You see a Facebook-style aggregate feed of all of the people your’e following. Shows an artist who seems to have posted a bunch of tour photos. You can leave a comment.

I wonder how useful this will be. I generally don’t care what a million fans of an artist have to say. I only care about what my friends are thinking, or a handful of critics/commentators whom I like.

You have a profile page with a photo and description, with your favorite tracks and albums. Does this work with affiliate listings? Do I get a kickback if people buy tracks based on my recommendation? iTunes does have an affiliate program. Must ask.

Oh my god: the video stuttered again…and once again it only happened WHILE LADY GAGA WAS ON THE SCREEN. Fear the Gaga! Gaga “posted a backstage video” to her own Ping stream.

People can see that you’ve purchased a song. Hmm. Do I have control on a song-by-song basis? I wouldn’t want to just automatically publish my whole buying history. “I only bought that ABBA song because I wanted to make fun of it in a blog post…I swear!”

Ping also is on the iPhone. Checking activity and making posts, etc.

iTunes 10 available today. I immediately check Apple.com but they’ve still got the iTunes 9 download link up.

One More Thing…

One more Hobby, Steve says, getting applause. Yes, it’s time for AppleTV or iTV.

Introduced 2006 and not a big hit. “Users love them,” but Apple has never said how many they’ve sold.

Apple asked users what they want. They want hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want. “They don’t want Amateur Hour.” And they want HD. And lower prices for content.

They don’t want a computer on their TV…

Did Steve just mention Lady Gaga again? Now the stream has frozen completely: static screen. Had to restart it.

Back a few minutes later.

All HD, All rentals, no purchases. No storage because you don’t store anything on the device. Rental prices are so cheap that it’s still less expensive than buying, even with multiple views.

No syncing required. Seems like he’s saying that Apple’s done a better job, solving problems by making it more like a Roku box than a “hotplate Mac.”

$4.99 first-run HD movies, rented the day and date that the DVD is released. And they get cheaper after first-run.

Renting an HD TV show is now 99 cents. And it’s commercial-free.

They’ve got ABC and Fox on board; “we think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board with us.”

Awesome: you can also stream Netflix. That immediately makes it relevant.

Also support for YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe, all in HD. And stream music photos and video from Mac or PC.

UI is simple, looks like the last-generation AppleTV (the “infinite corridor” of scrolling movie posters). Also includes the TomatoMeter! RottenTomatoes.com is unquestionably a powerhouse of the online film community.

What the hell? Now the theater is empty. The stream jump-cut to…what? Is it people entering, or people having left?

Refresh the stream again. Stream picks up roughly whee it dropped. Steve is now renting a movie. I’s skipping around a bit. I think it’s speeding things up to get me caught up to the “live” end of the movie. Iron Man 2, btw.

TV. Nice twist: it keeps track of your favorite shows and tells you about shows you’ve missed. So I could check and see that last week’s “Simpsons” was a new ep, not a repeat, and watch it for 99 cents.

Netflix. It seems to have the same features as what you’d see on a Roku (queue, suggestions, New Arrivals, searches, genres).

Finds your iTunes and photo libraries. I mnight have missed something: dunno if it finds it just on the local net or anywhere in the world via MobileMe. I bet it just works on your local network.

Slideshow looks a little like an Apple commercial. Yes, your kids and wife are in The Matrix again. Very pretty, though.

“Now let me show you something else that’s really cool.”

Yes, you can stream content from an iOS device to an AppleTV. Streaming “Up” from iPad to TV. Tap a button in the iOS 4.2 video player app to choose where you want to stream it to. Will stream it to the TV via WiFi.

(Makes me wonder what they did this time to “clean” the room and make sure that other WiFi signals wouldn’t screw up the demo hardware’s connection!)

(It also forces me to reflect upon the fact that if you buy a copy of “Up” from the iTunes Store, you can connect your iPad to your HDTV and watch it via a special network box and a WiFi network, but not via a $29 cable that Apple sells to connect the iPad to an external monitor. This is thanks to the DRM embedded in video purchases.)

AppleTV used to be $229 — another stumbling block to its success. New price is just $99.

Another huge step forward: $99 is the consumers’ “Sure, what the hell?” price. AppleTV available in 4 weeks.

“We started doing this music stuff for simple reason: we really love music.” Oboy! There’s going to be some live music!

“This group has had four albums so far…” OK, so it’s not Ringo and Paul. It’s U2. I mean, Coldplay.

Chris Martin, ladies and gentlemen…Chris Martin.

Is he going to play the special custom guitar with the Apple soundhole?

“I wish the rest of the band were here…but they’re too lazy,” he said, sitting at the piano.

Here the stream stops and then stops again, after a restart. I leave it alone.

Mr. 10,000 (Tweets)

The Andy Ihnatko 10,000th Tweet Live Video Spectacular from Andy Ihnatko on Vimeo.

After three years, 10,000 Tweets, and being followed by more than 35,000 people, I still don’t have a good answer to the question “But what’s the point of Twitter?” I’ve come up with two responses that work.

Apparently, Twitter is either a boat or a sliver of soap, depending on who’s asking me and who’s listening.

If my audience sincerely and earnestly wants to understand Twitter, I tell them “It’s like a boat. Anybody can use a Twitter account just for fun. A much smaller percentage are leading the kind of lives in which it’s actually useful. And a tiny, tiny fraction are making money with the thing.” If it’s a conversational kind of request, I say “Think of that sliver of soap left in the dish. That’s a single Tweet. All by itself, it’s worthless. Squeeze lots of them together, and you’ll eventually have something with weight and substance.”

But I guess Twitter is like my iPhone 4. Sometimes the best endorsement you can make — and the only endorsement that really matters — is the simple fact that you use the hell out of this thing, and that your week would be very, very different without it.

I got a taste of that over the past few days. For the past couple of weeks, I’d been aware that I was nearing my 10,000th Tweet. I knew I wanted to do something a little bit special for #10,000. Eventually I got to #9998, which meant that I had just enough shots left to announce what I was going to do and then to do it…which also meant that I couldn’t Tweet anything at all until I figured out what those things were going to be.

Behold, The Answer: I did my 10,000th Tweet on Ustream. Click away, but I should warn you that there’s an Anthony Newley impression coming.

“What should my 10,000th Tweet be?” I wondered. I came up with a halfway decent “140-character novel.” Naw. I thought about just being sincere and sweet and thanking the folks who’ve supported my work in various ways. Mmm…naah. When the right idea came, I instantly recognized that there could be no more appropriate way to crystallize my previous 9,999 Tweets.

But yes, these Big Plans meant that I had to stop Twittering for a few days, to preserve the #10,000 slot. Going without Twitter for 72 hours served to remind me about the things I most enjoy about the service.

I missed the ongoing communication with the people who read my columns and listen to my podcasts. There’s an immediacy and a conversational tone to the Twitter timeline that doesn’t exist in any other medium. I like responding to questions and I also like hearing good and bad reactions. Either way, comments are usually to the point, and valuable.

I missed those little moments of time with my friends. If I could afford to send each of my friends one of those baskets of fresh fruit cut into flowery shapes a few times a week, I could. Commenting on a particularly cool of interesting tweet of theirs is close enough, though it really does next to nothing to combat the spread of scurvy and The Ghost Disease among the geek populace.

Not Tweeting has been a little like watching milk go bad in my fridge. Little things pop into my head and maybe they’re of no use to anybody, but they’re fun little strings of words. Twitter is the only place where I can post them, really, and if I try to “save them up” for a later date, they go completely stale after sitting in my head for so long. “I was acting on impulse” isn’t a great explanation for why you did something stupid, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than having to admit that yes, you thought about it for two or three days and it still seemed like a solid idea. This admission is often the precursor to a fiancee maintaining her composure just long enough to twist the engagement ring from her finger and fling it at you with enough force that you’re going to want to apply a little Bactine to the wound.

I don’t feel like I’ve done all I can for something I’ve just written and published until I’ve Tweeted a link. And here we get to the Business end of Twitter. I was looking through my Flickr feed the other day, specifically looking for “orphan” photos that haven’t been organized into any existing photoset before. It’s not hard to figure out why some of these have received just four or five hundred views over the course of a year and another one got 2,000 in just a week: I Tweeted a link to one of them.

I create and publish things for many different reasons and they vary from item to item but yes, somewhere in the back of my mind “I’d like people to see this” is always on the list. I can come up with what I think is an interesting idea, research and write it well, edit it carefully, and publish it. But I’ve got this list of 35,000 people who at some point clicked a button to indicate that they’re somewhat interested in the stuff I post. Until I’ve posted a link to Twitter, I feel like the job is only partially-complete. If it fails to catch on, it fails to catch on…but just like sending a kid off to school with a good, hot breakfast in his or her belly, I feel as though I gave this piece every reasonable advantage.

And Twitter just keeps getting more and more important. Yesterday, I downloaded the sort of app that gets all of my Nerd Parts tingling. Within the first ten minutes of using Flipboard and linking it to my Twitter account, it seemed as though writing a review of it became the most important thing that I would ever do. Phrases like “From now on, instead of vaguely talking about the future of magazines and newspapers, we should just point to Flipboard and then break into discussion groups” and “This free app will justify at least $150 of the money you spend for your iPad” came straight to mind.

(When I feel this exuberant about something…yeah, I quickly realize that I need to calm down and see how I feel after a few more days.)

Screenshot of iPad app Flipboard, showing a collection of articles from various sources.

Flipboard: it really feels like the way I'll be getting 80% of my news from now on.

Still! What a brilliant idea. I follow about 250 people on Twitter. This is, exclusively, a list of people and institutions whose opinions matter to me (actual friends, and writers or publications who regularly write things that I want to read). Their Tweets are of interest to me. These people also often Tweet links to articles and other content that they think is valuable.

Flipboard strip-mines your Twitter follows for content and links, and assembles it all into a beautiful digital magazine of fresh content. I’d say it’s almost “suspiciously” beautiful. Like the Mechanical Turk, it’s hard to imagine that this on-the-fly design and layout is the result of an automaton working without human intervention.

It’s not a Twitter client, really. But yes, you can reply to Tweets and Star the original posts and whatnot.

The app was just released a day ago, so details are still a little sketchy. In addition to linking to Twitter and Facebook, there are “curated” channels whose sources are managed by the Flipboard team…and other social-media sources are coming soon. I almost wore out some of the glass on my iPad tapping and searching for a way to add my Flickr feeds to FlipBoard; a “National Geographic”-style viewer for all of my friends’ photos is going to be a killer feature.

When I first tried Twitter (let’s see: “March 22, 2007” — oh, my…were we ever that young?) I dismissed it as just a useless micro-trend. Then my friends started to join, and it became entertaining. Then, it somehow became important. I truly value the Twitter infrastructure. I’ve never been interested in playing the Numbers Game; having a certain number of Followers doesn’t motivate me. It’s the connections represented by the 282 people whom I follow and the 35,589 people who follow me that I rely upon. It’s not something that can be engineered. It has to be grown over time.

I had an awareness of the value of the unique shape of this thing called “my peculiar use of Twitter” before Flipboard was released. Flipboard is just the first app that makes that value so tangible.

Well, then. The next milestone, I think, will be 50,000 Twitter followers. I have at least a couple of years to think about how I’m going to mark that occasion. I hope to do something big but even so: expect a cash bar.

iPad comes to Verizon stores at the end of October

Well, now, isn’t this interesting: I just heard from Verizon that their stores will start selling the iPad on October 28. With 3G data packages.

Wait, it isn’t that interesting. Verizon will carry the entire range of WiFi models and pairing them with their MiFi mobile 3G WiFi hotspot. So it’s not a 3G iDevice communicating directly through the Verizon 3G network.

Still, that’s a compelling data point. Apple had been expanding the range of iPad retail outlets beyond Apple Stores and AT&T all this quarter; you can buy them at Wal*Mart, for instance. But Verizon is the first mobile wireless store that will have it…and barring another Interesting email, the online.

So! Rumors of a “sooner rathe an later” Verizon iPhone have just clicked one stop higher on the credibility scale. Mind you, it’s still firmly in the “I won’t believe it until I hear an official announcement” zone.

I’m a big fan of the MiFi. I have one, and used it exclusively for mobile and travel access for more than a year. And until my personal iPad 3G arrived, it was how I connected to the Internet with an iPad when I wasn’t at home or in The Bagel Place With The WiFi. These devices are the most economical way to get mobile broadband on as many devices as possible. You wind up paying just one monthly fee instead of two or three. It supports up to five connections at a time and works with anything that has a WiFi pulse.

Bonus: it’s a base station. I often use it just to set up a local intranet in mu hotel room, to handle file sharing and data transfers between devices.

The data plan is fair. You get one gig of data for $20 a month. No word yet om whether you need to buy it under contract or if you can go month to month.

But yes, the big deal is that Apple and Verizon have clearly allowed themselves to be seen holding hands in a restaurant. Perhaps they’re planning a summer wedding, with the release of a dual-channel GSM/CDMA phone that will work on all networks.

The iPad Keyboard Dock works with the iPhone 3GS! (*)

Mostly.

Kinda-sorta.

The fact is, if you upgrade your iPhone 3GS to iOS 4.0 and then slap it into an iPad Keyboard Dock, the keyboard (well, I’ll be damned) actually works. You can write emails and notes with it; it works everywhere I’ve tried it.

There are just two little hitches with this:

1) The iPhone 3GS’s rounded base has a tendency to wiggle up from the dock, causing Unexpected Things to sometimes happen. Sometimes I’d experience “stuck” keys. I also suspect that another potential Unexpected Thing might be that your iPhone’s dock connector could get cracked if you keep trying to scrunch it in there.

2) This is only a practical solution to the problem someone betting you $10 that it can’t be done. The iPad Keyboard Dock isn’t even a practical travel dock for the iPad, for God’s sake. If you want to use a physical keyboard with the iPhone, just get a Bluetooth one…Bluetooth keyboards are supported “for real” right within iOS 4. Apple’s Wireless keyboard is slim, trim, affordable, and it works great. Other Bluetooth keyboards are even smaller.

Still, it’s an interesting little quirk and I suppose we can all enjoy this until Apple decides to smack it off the table.

Yes? A question at the back?

Ah. Of course. “Does this mean that you can use USB keyboards with the iPhone 3GS as well.” Obviously you’re an iPad owner and know about the trick of using the USB adapter in the iPad Camera Connection Kit with keyboards and microphones and headsets. Alas, no such luck with the iPhone 3GS. You get the dreaded “Who the hell told you that it was OK to plug this, of all things, into the iPhone?” message from the OS and that’s the end of the adventure.

Speaking of adventure, wish me well on yet another week in which I need to bash the hell out of an OS and a piece of hardware and write another Old Testament-style review. This must be the fifth or sixth of the past couple of months. I’m definitely lining up the rest of my summer so that I only have to review things like Windows task managers and novelty USB key drives.

 

USB microphones work with the iPad! (New post)

Okay, let’s try this again.

My iPad Camera Connection Kit arrived this morning and I couldn’t wait to try a trick I read about in Glenn Fleishman’s great review of the Kit over on TidBITS: if you use the Kit’s USB dongle to hook up a standard USB microphone, iPad audio apps will use it as an audio input-output device without further ado.

Proof:

iPad USB Audio demos by Ihnatko

It’s really that simple. My fave iPhone audio recorder (Recorder Pro) didn’t even blink; it recorded 44.1k audio straight away. It worked fine with my Blue Yeti mic (the premium mic I record my podcasts with) and Skype worked just fine with my USB headset.

The lone failure was my iUke. It’s ukulele with an integrated USB audio pickup. It’s possible that this is merely an exotic device, or that I just could get its levels dialed in correctly. There’s only one of these on the planet (it was custom-built for me by the iGuitar guys) so perhaps this isn’t a problem that will affect a great many users.

I wanted to try out something else Glenn mentioned. USB keyboards work just fine, too. The iPad sniffs that “This hardware isn’t supported” but nonetheless, it managed to screw up its courage and allow the keyboard to work just fine in Pages…including its function and command keys.

Cool beans!

That doesn’t mean that the iPad suddenly has a standard USB audio port. You’re limited to just the devices for which the iPad has built-in drivers. I suspect that the fact this is all evidence that internally, the iPad sees its stock keyboard and any dock sound devices as standard USB devices requiring nothing more than a basic driver. USB storage devices aren’t recognized by the iPad (except as sources of pictures and video, which is what God intended the Kit to serve). My mouse and my tablet didn’t do anything. And if anybody ever tried to create a printing app that exploited the Camera Kit and included drivers for HP, Epson, etc. I bet Apple wouldn’t approve it.

Still, this elevates the Camera Kit big-time. And it makes the iPad into an even better “road warrior” ultralight. I knew going in that it would let me post photos and videos from my DSLR and my Flip camera — an all-too-common reason why I’d drag my MacBook with me on a simple three-day trip — but now I know that I can Skype into a live podcast and deliver high-quality audio. Done and done.

CoWA Day 1: Jennifer Connelly’s Breasts

Power Girl convention sketch by Adam Hughes.

I’d had the iPad for more than a week before it truly became “mine.” I had it well before the release date, yes, but until I was done writing about it and demonstrating it on TV, it had to remain simply “an” iPad. If I were demonstrating the Mail app on live television and the whole world knew that I was trying to rent out a theater for a massive “Gossip Girl” season-finale viewing party…well, that simply wouldn’t do.

So when I got home from New York on Friday, I was finally able to replace all of its sample, demonstration, and test content with my personal data. At that time, I also officially changed its name to the one that had come to me in a flash sometime on Day Two of my testing.

I probably shouldn’t tell you what it is. The OS uses the name to identify this iPad to a network. But it’s a good one and I’m keeping it. However, after my first day at the Conference On World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I learned its true identity:

This iPad is Jennifer Connelly’s breasts.

See, I learned exactly what it’s like to be the star of “The Hot Spot,” “Career Opportunities” and “Mulholland Falls.” Everywhere I went — the speakers’ office, Monday evening’s party, and even during my panels — everyone was really happy I was there but it was the same story. It quickly became clear that while they liked me as a person, they mostly thought of me as the support and mobility system for two big, meaty, luscious things.

Namely, my iPad, plus the MiFi mobile WiFi access point that would let them see the Netflix streaming app in operation.

It didn’t help that when I was checking my schedule and mail before heading to my next panel, I’d be holding the iPad at chest-level, like the Statue of Liberty.

“Hey! My eyes are up here, fellah.”

No kidding. My first panel yesterday was about Twitter. The basic form of a Conference On World Affairs panel is for each of the speakers to talk for about ten minutes, and then the floor is opened up for questions.

Well before a time when there were no more questions about Twitter, someone raised her hand and asked “If there are no more questions about Twitter, could Andy tell us what he thinks about his iPad?”

I offered to talk to her about it after the panel was over.

There were a couple more on-topic questions. But soon enough, well, yeah…everybody just wanted to know what I thought about the iPad. So that was the last ten minutes of the session.

Next, I was on a panel about the disappearing middle class. I led off, spoke for nine minutes, and felt that I’d done pretty much OK for someone who isn’t an economist or a sociologist. Near the end, I’d used the iPad in front of me as an example of consumer spending. The point was that it’s fine to buy something like this for practical reasons, but buying it because “it’s what the cool people with money are buying” is self-destructive; I’d likened it to all of those people who bought homes they couldn’t afford because it would make them feel good about “living the American dream” or somesuch.

Later, a panelist who really knew the economics angle cold — he’s a columnist for The Financial Times — referred back to that comment. But he abruptly stopped in the middle of his thought.

“Do you keep that in a case, Andy?”

He’d caught me off-guard. It’s not customary to direct questions to fellow panelists during your 10 minutes. I’d been listening closely. Jurek Martin always leaves me impressed with his ability to speak plainly and powerfully. uBt I struggled to imagine how it fit into his remarks.

“I’m sorry…?”

“Do you just carry it around with you in your hands, or do you have to carry it in a bag? I imagine that might be inconvenient…”

And then I gave Jurek the usual answer: that yes, it’s big for a mobile device but no bigger than it needs to be…and that it presents no more problems than carrying around a book or a magazine. A fellow sitting in the front row stepped forward and handed Jurek his own iPad, snug in its Apple convertible case.

The iPad was a superstar on my first day at the conference. Not for the attention it got; for its performance. It underscored every positive impression it made upon me during the week when I wasn’t allowed to use it in public.

1) The battery life is spot-on. I was using my iPad from the moment I awoke at 8 AM to just before I sloped into a car to go back to my house at 8:30 PM. In between, if I ever had the slightest notion to do something with the iPad, I did it without any thought as to the need to “keep some battery in reserve for emergencies.” In the end, I still had 30% battery left…about three hours’ worth.

2) The iPad shone through in the “I need to write and publish something straight away, even though I didn’t plan ahead and bring a real keyboard” scenario.

I had imagined that it would. But yesterday was the first real-world test case. While sitting in the back listening to a panel, I checked my email and found an invitation to an Apple event on Thursday. I wrote about 500 words about it using the virtual keyboard, edited it, and published it to my blog. As I’d expected, I couldn’t type as quickly or as accurately as I can on my MacBook keyboard, but even with this little slate balanced between my knees I was typing fast and naturally.

It’s a perfectly usable keyboard. With the added advantage that when I don’t need a keyboard, it goes away completely. Big, big win all around.

3) The iPad is the perfect choice when discretion is important. You can only imagine how many different kinds of computers I’ve had in front of me at the Conference On World Affairs over the past 10+ years. Today, someone came up and told me he remembered all the way back to when I had a Newton Messagepad up there on the stage.

At the CoWA (and many other conferences) I don’t use a computer for slides. I just use it for reference. The screen keeps a rundown of the points I want to make, in their order, as well of a list of any names or data that I need to mention. I might also want to open a browser window and check on a fact or two.

Good stuff. But I don’t like using a full notebook up there. To the audience, it looks like I’m dividing my time between my participation on the panel and my Twittering about how awesome last night’s “Amazing Race” was.

The iPad is the first computer that scored tens all the way across the board. The screen is viewable from any angle; I can just keep it lying flat on the table and still read the screen perfectly. It has a big screen, so I don’t need to squint and hunt to find my place in my notes. And it’s fast and it’s powerful and has a big, typeable keyboard. So when another panelist spoke about the Citizens United case (the Supreme Court case that says “corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens”) I could pull up SCOTUSWiki and refamiliarize myself with it in a way that wouldn’t be distracting to anybody else in the room.

4) Carrying it around isn’t a hassle. Not in the least. Yup, you’re going to want to have a bag of some kind with you. I refer back to my earlier comment about the inconvenience of carrying books and magazines. I normally have a smaller version of my Indiana Jones satchel with me at conferences. The difference is that I’ve just deleted about four or five pounds from my normal load: My 1.5 pound iPad takes the place of a 5.5 pound MacBook plus its charger.

The most important point is that the iPad does a better job in this environment than a MacBook or any other notebook. I slide it out of the newspaper pocket of my bag, click the Home button, and it’s awake and ready to assist. When I’m done, I click the Power button and slide it back; no need to wait for the machine to Sleep or the hard drive to spin down.

And I don’t even think about battery life. So I use it all the time.

I can also use it in environments where a notebook — even a netbook — would be awkward at best or inappropriate at worst. Can you use a netbook while you’re standing up? Kind of. Sort of. Not really. But the iPad is just as handy when I’m waiting in line somewhere as it is when I’m sitting at a table. Only when you finally have a computer like the iPad do you realize how often you need to do something on a computer when you’re standing.

My review of the iPad was very positive. It was also very academic, thanks to the fact that the iPad was under house arrest.

I wish I could go back and add a whole new section to it, now that I’ve taken it on trains on spent eight hours in an airport and on a plane with it and a whole day at a conference. Lend someone an iPad for a day and you’ve got yourself an Apple customer for life.

iPad and Multitasking

I talked about the iPad’s multitasking features in my Sun-Times review — in a couple of places, I think.

Here’s the most complete explanation, from the main piece:

The first problem should be put in air quotes. The iPad certainly does support multitasking. The iPod app plays music in the background of anything else you’re doing and if you download a movie from the iTunes Store, you can navigate away from that app and do something else during the time it’ll take to grab that 1 gigabyte file.

It’s just third party apps that can’t run in the background. Which presents a few annoyances, such as when I’d like to listen to music from a streaming media app while I work elsewhere.

Apple has removed background operation of third-party apps for sensible reasons: they say it makes any mobile platform less stable and kills the battery. I happen to believe that later this year, Apple will release an update to the iPhone OS that will introduce some form of third-party multitasking that avoids these problems. So I’m confident that in time, at least, this limitation will be lifted.

More of a problem: the iPad is, by its nature, a “one window” interface. You can’t open a movie and have it playing in a corner of the screen while you write. If you want to instant message people, it won’t be a little sidebar that you keep an eye on; it’ll be the whole screen. This is another defining difference between the iPad and a notebook. It’s the same amount of power, but applied with different intentions.

So it disappoints me to see commentators on TV today dinging the iPad for a lack of multitasking. A tech expert whose mission is to communicate tricky technology to civilian audiences can’t let that pitch go by with a flat “no.” You also shouldn’t offer a flat “yes” but at least the statement “the iPad OS multitasks” is technically correct. You’re there to educate. Which means that you don’t want people to come away thinking that (for example) iPod playback stops when you try to get your mail or fire off a Tweet.

I’m glad to hear the increasingly-loud rumors that Apple has figured out how they want to do third-party multitasking. A signature of Apple’s design philosophy is not to just fire-hose features into a product. They like to believe that if they add something, it contributes way more value than what its presence will cost the user, and that the feature is consistent with the “story” of this product. I’ve seen Android tablets with every kind of port and other hardware feature built-in. Mostly, their purpose is to be something that the marketers and the users can point to and say “See? Look what this has that yours doesn’t.”

Sometimes they actually enhance the device. Mostly, though, they’re like a third nipple. Good for conversation, but functionally useless.

My Morning Purchases

#alttext#

Between the hours of 8:30 and 8:45 this morning, I bought two things:

1) Breakfast, consisting of a wheat bagel and a Diet Coke. Purchase price: $1.74.

2) An iPad. Which cost me more than the breakfast.

People have been asking me “So which iPad are you planning on buying?” and I still don’t know how to answer, even though I’ve actually bought one now. I’m not anywhere near the average consumer.

So instead, I’ll tell you what I think about the two major variables in this sort of decision. You’re in on the ground floor at $499. Where should the rest of your money go? Is it even worth buying a better model?

I think the first thing you should spend money on is additional storage. The iPad is going to be one hell of a great content device and my experience with my iPhone tells me that although you can make any amount of storage work, a mobile device pays the greatest dividends when there’s a good chance that answer to the question “Gee, I wonder if I have that file or content with me?” is “Yes.”

This is an especially big deal on a device like the iPad, which comes with a big, gorgeous screen. 16 gigabytes is useful. It means that I can cautiously put a movie or two on it, and maybe a vodcast subscription, and sure, I can have a couple of photo albums on there so long as I don’t go nuts. But 64 gigs means I can throw media on there with the reckless exuberance of a dancing hippie who doesn’t know that the Rolling Stones have hired Hell’s Angels as event security.

It also means that when apps like AirSharing and Evernote come to the iPad, the device can truly be that one electronic file folder that contains every document or scrap of research you’ve touched in the past month or will ever want to lay your hands on.

Put it this way. I’m in a coffeeshop and writing this on Lilith, whose 500 gigabyte hard drive contains just about everything I’ve created and everything that’s ever caught my eye online. If it suddenly occurs to me that what this blog post needs is right here, right now, is a statue of George Washington regarding a lesser public sculpture, I don’t need to hit the Internet for just the right image or head home to my desktop:

Thomas Ball's statue of George Washington, in Boston's Public Garden. Sculpted during the Civil War, it was the country's first equestrian statue of the first President. Photo by me.

So get as much storage as you can afford, I say.

Onward to the 3G question. I’m starting to wonder if 3G is going to be terribly important. “Internet everywhere” is impulsively attractive, but do you really need mobile broadband? New England is practically lousy with free WiFi. There’s so much radio traffic here that it interferes with the migration patterns of many local bird species. As I entered the coffeeshop this morning I passed by a whole family of wrens, shivering in little Bermuda shorts and wondering what the hell happened.

And if you already have some sort of device that can share its mobile broadband connection — a phone with an app that turns it into a mobile WiFi base station, or a MiFi — the question’s of moot.

Still, Apple and AT&T are offering a sweet deal on the data connection: $29 for a month of unlimited traffic, with no contract or ongoing commitment required. If you want mobile broadband this month, you buy 30 days of mobile broadband. Done.

As a MiFi owner, I’m more interested in the 3G model’s GPS features. Live navigation on a pocket device is lovely. But what can we do with it when the screen is THIS big? What happens when this live, interactive map is flat on a table where three people can peer at it and make suggestions? What kind of car app is possible, when there’s enough screen real estate to deliver a lot of information in a concise and uncluttered way?

If you’re truly seeking my advice, and your funds are limited, I say give the 3G model a miss and put that extra $129 into additional storage, or an important accessory.

If I were an ordinary consumer, I bet I’d be opting for the 32 gig WiFi model, with the wireless keyboard and the desktop dock as no-brainer addons. I think those two accessories will have a bigger impact on my use of the iPad than 3G and GPS. I’d want to own the 64 gig one, but we’re trying to economize in this scenario.

Of course, if I truly were an ordinary consumer, I’d be patient and wait to see what the reviews have to say about the iPad. It’s a rare person who can afford to pre-order a $499 thing sight-unseen. I think most of the folks who are rushing to pre-order the iPad are folks like me who have pre-existing plans for theirs.

What did I actually get? Oh, the top-of-the-line model: The iPad 3G with 64 gigs of storage, due to ship a few weeks after the WiFi-only iPad.

My decision was influenced by factors that would never apply to a regular consumer. iPad 3G, or the WiFi-only model? By one way of thinking, I needed to buy both. I need to have one in my hands on April 3 (meaning: the WiFi edition) but I’ll also need the 3G model because I’m writing a book about the iPad, and the 3G model has unique features.

Damn. I remind you that I am a freelance journalist in a rapidly-collapsing print market. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll have an Apple loaner on April 3. I don’t know for sure, mind you. But you need to place your bet before the betting window closes and no matter what I bought, I definitely wanted my pre-order to be near the head of the pack in case models were in short supply.

So I went with the 3G. I did hesitate a bit over the “accessories” question before completing my order. Ultimately, I didn’t buy any.

I already have the Wireless Keyboard and that’s the only accessory that I consider to be a slam-dunk. I don’t wanna drop an extra hunnert bucks, only to discover a month later that the folding easel I keep my iPad in makes Apple’s $29 desktop stand irrelevant, and that I almost never see the benefits of an extra $29 charger.

Why might that be? Because apparently the iPad can charge from its USB sync cable. This is just conjecture, but I imagine that the only thing the 10-watt brick can do is charge it faster. My office is already lousy with USB wall chargers. If it takes twice as long to charge it via USB — I’m just making up a number, here — how likely is it that I’ll actually take advantage of that extra time?

[Edit to clarify: you do get a 10W charger with your iPad.]

There was another factor at play: for the love of God, I was already spending $829, before tax, on this thing. I’m being paid more than $829 for the book so please, shed no tears. Nonetheless, to a freelancer, that kind of an expenditure is like a deacon hearing people whistle in the church. It fills me with a secret sorrow.

All I can tell you is that when I arrived at the coffeeshop, something made me order the 75-cent can of Coke instead of the $1.69 bottle of juice…

Rollup to iPad

Yes, everyone at the press event needed a shot of their own site on the iPad.

Until Friday, when the release date for the iPad (April 3) was finally announced, all of my iPad-related projects were hovering in Fantasyland. It was great. There would be a lunch, great ambitious plans would be made, and the meeting would end with a mutual chuckle and an acknowledgement that really, the project wouldn’t make any great leaps forward until we knew the ship date and had some idea of when we might get our hands on an actual iPad.

Now? Yeah. Things…have changed.

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To answer an increasingly popular question: no, I don’t have an iPad. I’m up against a real deadline, too. On the morning of April 4, I leave for a whole week at the Conference On World Affairs. If I have an iPad in my hands, then it’ll be one hell of a great opportunity to test the iPad in a very tricky and critical environment.

I’ve yet to find a computer that works exceptionally well during a trade show or a conference. It’s a bit like selecting a piece of gear for a lunar expedition. Size, weight, power requirements, the parameters of what I need to get done during my time on the surface, and usability in a hostile environment all come into play.

A full notebook can serve any function I could possibly need. But I often leave my room at 8 AM and don’t return until after dinner; that’s a lot of stuff to be toting around all day. The battery only lasts a couple of hours, so I’ll need to bring the power brick and hope that I can find seats near outlets. And in many scenarios — like sitting on a panel — a big laptop isn’t exactly a discreet way to take or access notes.

A netbook? It’s tiny and light and has a four or five-hour battery, so we’re off to a good start. They keyboard is tiny and no fun to work with, though, and even a Hackintoshed one probably won’t run the sort of software I need. As for the iPhone, it lives at the intersection of casual nonchalance and emphatic power, but I certainly can’t write anything with it. And I’ve tried and failed to use it to host the various notes and cheat sheets I often rely on when I speak. It’s just too small.

So as a consumer, you can imagine how keen I am to test out an iPad in this kind of environment. A big screen on a slim device that runs a modern OS and exciting apps, which weighs a pound and a half and is an inch thick, with ten hours of battery life and a wireless keyboard that I can touch-type on? Gimmegimmegimme.

If it works. Which is still an unknown. Again I remind myself and the world that I have more experience with the iPad than almost anybody outside of Apple…which only means “I played with the work-in-progress for a half an hour at the media event in January.”

If I don’t board that plane with an iPad…I would surely be the saddest little boy in all of Puppetland. On one of my first panels of the Conference, I will be distracted by a familiar glow in the crowd. I will lean into my mic, interrupt whoever’s talking, and say “You, in the eleventh row…is that an iPad? Um, can I see it?”

Pathetic, I know. But that’s what’ll happen.

Let’s not even contemplate such a thing. The iPad will go on pre-order on Friday. If thousands of people with no particular mandate from an eager readership will have them on April 3, then so shall I. The worst-case scenario: I simply go to the Apple Store early that morning and look for a bleary-eyed person who looks as though they’re too exhausted to keep a firm grip on their iPad. See, kids? There’s a solution to every problem if you look hard enough, and tell your driver to keep the engine running.

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In the meantime, I’m preparing for the iPad. I’ve already bought my first two hardware accessories: the Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Pogo Sketch stylus.

Apple's bluetooth Wireless Keyboard.

I liked this keyboard the moment it was released. I thought it was v.v.cool. My fellow Americans, I did feel lust in my heart and I wished to own it. But here’s the thing: the main selling point of the Apple Wireless Keyboard is that it’s small enough to travel with. Any computer I’d be traveling with would also, you know, have a keyboard built in.

So I didn’t dare live the dream. Ah, but in January it became something I needed. Nay, I was now practically obligated to buy it because it works with the iPad.

(But for good measure, I bought it with Amazon Associates credits instead of real money.)

I’ve had it set up with my iMac. It really is a lovely keyboard. Photocopy your notebook’s keyboard, scissor out just the bit with the keys, and there you have the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The keyboard deck itself is stupid-thin, but it’s all made out of aluminum so I think I can throw this into my laptop bag (or my Stylish iPad Envelope) with a certain fearless elán. I’m also pleased to find that it’s a handy alternative to my big Logitech diNovo keyboard when I’m podcasting. It frees up space on my desk for the microphone and a recreational beverage.

Sometimes my first instinct about a product misses the point. I think that’s what happened with the Pogo stylus, though I hope the official scorer will credit the company with an assist.

When it first came out, it was absurd. The whole point of the iPhone was that you didn’t need a stylus. Using a Pogo was like buying a 60″ HDTV and then projecting 8 mm movies onto the screen, or something. Its only possible selling point, as I saw it, was that it let you use your iPhone or iPod Touch in cold weather without taking off your gloves. Even there, you’d probably look at the original price tag ($25) and decide that cold fingertips would help to build character.

Things have changed since then. The price is $15 and there’s a new Stylus model that has a pocket clip, but that’s not the big deal. Now, there are a whole bunch of great drawing apps for the iPhone.

I bought the Stylus at an Apple store on Sunday, with no sense of urgency. I had time to kill, so I moved on to a restaurant in the mall and started fiddling with a drawing app while I waited for my burger. It arrived ten or fifteen minutes later. I’m not sure how long it was. I had become engrossed in sketching, and my food got a little cold before I finally dug in.

Autodesk's SketchBook...my fave drawing app.
A five-minute doodle. Look, I didn't say I was a GOOD artist...

Apps like Autodesk SketchBook (my favorite drawing app) are fun even when you’re just using your fingers. But it’s a different experience when you have a stylus in your hand. The business end is thinner than a fingertip, so it’s much easier to see what you’re drawing. Plus, I stopped painting with my fingers a long time ago. I think it ended right around the day I came home from school with yellow paint inside my nostrils and my Mom yelled at me. Drawing with a pen in my fingers feels more intuitive and natural.

I do have a simple complaint about the Pogo Stylus: you don’t get a little cap or something to protect the drawing end. C’mon, guys. Even an 89-cent Paper Mate ballpoint comes with a cap.

But I can’t even remember the last time I got so engrossed in a drawing that I lost track of the clock. It was another huge win for the iPhone in general. If there’s a single feature that elevates the iPhone from the rest of the pack, it’s the way that it urges and enables me to maximize the amount of time I spend thinking and doing and creating, each and every day. I’ve got ten minutes while I wait for a burger to arrive, three minutes at the post office while as a clerk explains the concept of a “forever stamp” to the unenlightened, six minutes waiting in the subway…it all adds up. I leave the house with my iPhone in my pocket, and I come home with new photos, new drawings, a few tiny things written, many pages of books read, and a better sense of the news of the day.

I accomplished (okay, “accomplished”) all of that in crumbs of time that otherwise would have gone to waste. I don’t get that sort of effect from other phones…least of all from Android devices. If there’s a signature advantage to iPhone’s apps, it’s that you’ll want to use them.

Android apps tend to stop short of being both productive and engrossing. Most Android apps come with a cost: an overall clunky user interface. How motivated am I to draw a picture of the parking lot outside my table? Not very. How much trouble am I willing to go through to do it? Not very much. With an Android drawing app, I’d sigh and end the activity the second or third time I drew a little bit too low on the screen and accidentally activated its Search menu. If it had been a Nexus One in my pocket on that Sunday, it might have occurred to me to draw something with a sketch app but I probably would have just used it for simple distraction: as a way to avoid thinking.

The iPhone can be just as effective as an Android phone as a catalyst for thought-avoidance, of course. That’s not how it usually works, though.

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My iPad prep work continues apace. Right now, I’m trying to get my hands on a case or a cover. I’m also trying to line up as much iPad software as I possibly can. The iPad will be released on a Saturday and that’s significant because the CBS Saturday Early Show goes out on Saturday, y’see. Which means that there’s an excellent chance that on the morning of April 3, I’ll be on TV trying to contain my opinions to a smooth four or five minutes of live television. I’m hoping to have a bunch of apps on “my” iPad that won’t be on any of the others being shown off on TV that same morning.

I should mention that The Early Show’s studio is on the same plaza as the Fifth Avenue Apple Store (its big, signature glass cube is only twenty yards away) and my segments usually go out live at about 7:30 AM. It’ll be a total zoo out there. Every specimen of Our Kind Of People will be on full display, excited about getting their hands on the iPad. Needless to say, I can’t wait. I’ve never been at an Apple Store for a release. Usually I need to be up all night writing so I’ll have plenty of stuff online on That Special Day.

I’m 10% sure that I should wear my tuxedo, as though it’s the Oscars and we’re on the red carpet.

I’m also 10% sure that if my segment is at 7:30 and the store won’t allow people in to get their iPads until 9 and I have a working iPad in my hands, I’d probably better wear shoes that are comfortable for running…