iPad Thoughts

iPadApple announced their tablet computing device yesterday, and the general consensus around the web seems to be “meh.” A coworker of mine said (paraphrasing here) “why would I buy this if I already have an iPhone and a laptop?” I agree. If you’re already a laptop toting iPhone wielding Apple fanboy, then this has to be a bit of a letdown. There doesn’t appear to be anything vastly innovative or different about the iPad. The iPad appears to be little more than a bigger, faster, iPod Touch. People wanted more. More innovation. More pizazz. Apple didn’t want to shake the boat too much though, and went with what has worked for them in the past.

But for me? I am intrigued. Not blown away. Just intrigued. We have one computer in our house. It’s a somewhat aging desktop, and it’s located in our basement. I don’t have smart phone. I don’t have a Kindle or other e-reader. I do have an iPod Nano. Kate doesn’t understand the appeal of a device like the iPad. Here’s what I see.

  • Portable Web Browsing: Not mobile web browsing, because I’m not willing to front the extra $130 up front and $30/mo that the 3G versions of these devices require. But portable web browsing I can get behind. Need to send a recipe to your friend, but don’t want to trek down to the basement? iPad. Want to check the directions to your event that night but don’t want to trek down to the basement? iPad. Want to check your fantasy football score while watching the game? Ipad. Send a quick email, update twitter, or check facebook? iPad, iPad, iPad.

    Yes, there is a certain laziness implied in the above paragraph. It IS only a flight of stairs, after all. Let me put this another way. Want to do any of the above but can’t because your spouse/kids/dog/cat/gerbil is using the computer? iPad.
  • Portable Video: Watch an episode of Chuck in the comfort of my own bed before I go to sleep? Or on an airplane ride? Or on the beach? Or on my way to New York while the kids sleep and Kate drives? Heck yeah!

    Oh who am I kidding? I never let Kate drive.
  • Calendar, Contacts, Notes, etc. The functions and form of the iPad point towards it making a pretty decent PDA, especially if it syncs nicely with Google Calendar and Google Contacts. This is something that I always thought would be nice about having an iPhone. The successfulness (or lack thereof) of the on-screen keyboard will likely affect the iPad’s usefulness in this category.
  • Photo Sharing: If I’m toting this back and forth from work every day (see the previous bullet), which I would, you’re darn right I’m going to use it to show off my kids. Heck, I’d prop it in my cube when it’s not actively in use and it’ll be a digital picture frame. Because my coworkers don’t get enough pictures of my kids already.
  • Light Gaming: I’m kidding everybody if I don’t include gaming. I (and yes, probably the kids) will play a few games on this device. Not like I would on a gaming console or a full blown PC, but I bet there will be a couple of ways to waste some time with this bad boy.
  • Digital Books, Magazines, and Newspapers: As much as I hate to admit it, digital magazines, newspapers, and yes, books are the wave of the future. I don’t think I’ll ever give up on reading a hardcopy book, but magazines and newspapers make pretty good sense for a device like this. It remains to be seen if the technology is to a point where I can read on a device like this without getting a headache, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

So while it might not make sense for others, this device might make sense for me. Does it have shortcomings? Absolutely. Might I wait a while for the price to drop and for the next version to come out in a year or two? I might. But this device definitely fits a hole in my electronics devices arsenal. Is it a hole that I absolutely have to fill? Ask me in March.

Flickr Adds Video

I first started using Flickr in October 2005. Several months later, I wished I could upload and share some of the short videos of cuteness that abounded. Now, this is reality (yes, it’s been around on other sites for a while – but I wanted a central media repository). Yesterday Flickr launched the ability to upload small (< 90 second) video clips. The clips appear in your photostream just as photos do, and you can basically perform all the actions on them that you would on photos: tag, set permissions, add to groups, etc. Oh, and apparently this feature is currently only available to "Pro" users ($25/year). I know this is probably going to be a controversial move within the Flickr community, as many Flickr users are very serious about their photography. I know there have been some vocal opponents of this as it has been kicked around in the community. But for a Flickr user like me, who posts mostly pictures of my kids, dog, travels, etc., this definitely has potential. Since the videos I take are very rarely over 90 seconds, they will fit well in the "story" that my photostream tells. I also use flickr as an emergency backup of my "best" photos. If my hard drive were ever to die on me, I can rest easy knowing that I have the majority of the photos that I care about loaded onto flickr. I hope that I can do the same with the little videos that I take. My big question is if the file that I upload (60 fps 640x480 AVI) can be downloaded again at some point in the future, or if only a converted, web friendly version will be stored by Flickr. I suppose there's only one way to find out. Here's more of Simon's American Idol training:

Overheard in My House – Coveting

God said something to the extent of “thall shalt not covet”, right? Drat. Too late.

me: Laura let me play with her iPhone this morning.
me: now I covet. dammit.
Kate: think of the monthly charges!
me: I know.
me: forget the monthly charges, think of the up-front charges. doesn’t stop me from coveting.

Laura did let me play with her brand-spanking new iPhone this morning, and boy is it nice. If I had several hundred dollars to burn and nothing better to do with it (like feed my family), I’d totally pick one up. Kate is right, though. It’s the monthly service fees that are killer. Starting at $60/mo. That’s like twice what I pay now. Kate and I share a cell phone. That means my fictitious iPhone would spend all day in the diaper bag and/or Kate’s purse. Doesn’t that defeat the point? Kate probably wouldn’t mind, though.

Still, from my 15 minute trial run, I have to say it is certainly the sexiest cell phone I’ve ever laid hands on. Apple knows user interface design. Damn.

How you SHOULD be reading your blogs.

Standard Feed IconHow do you read your blogs? Do you have a list of bookmarks that you check each time you’re in front of your computer? Do you use somebody else’s handy sidebar list that’s organized by the most recent update? Do you (god forbid) google each site you want to check and use their results to take you where you need to go? Do you put a drunk monkey in front of your keyboard and let him type away until something interesting appears? Each of these involves some varying level of tedium (although the monkey may be mildly entertaining until the poop-flinging begins). THERE IS A BETTER WAY.

Feed Readers. I’ve posted about them before. For those of you who already use a feed reader to keep track of blogs, news, and pretty much any content posted on the web that interests you, disregard this post. Hopefully this is most of you. For those of you who don’t, let me encourage you again to give them a try. Google Reader and Bloglines are both fine readers. If you like those and want to experiment, there are a number of other web-based feed readers, as well as many stand-alone readers that you can download and install locally.

What, you might ask, are the benefits?

  • Eliminate Clicks – Say you have 15 blogs like this one that you check every day (gosh, I’m honored!). If those blogs are like this one, they only update (at best) once a week or so. So that’s 6 useless clicks per blog (90 for all 15 blogs, if you’re keeping track) per week. Now use a newsreader. Chances are at least one of your 15 blogs was updated on any given day. Every time you visit your newsreader, you’re saving yourself time (your mouse-hand will also thank you for eliminating the repetitive stress of all those clicks)!
  • YOU are in Control (i.e., Why Feed Readers are Superior to Mailing Lists) – Some blogs allow you to receive updates via email (although this has become more rare with the explosion of RSS feeds). With a feed reader, you don’t have to expose your email address to anybody. You don’t have to give your email address to a shady web site owner (like me!), exposing yourself to spam. You don’t have to rely on anybody to take you off the list. If you want to stop reading the feed, remove it from your reader and you’re done!
  • Customize Your Reading – Use your feed reader to create “mini publications” for yourself. I roughly organize my feeds into categories by topic: web design, friends’ blogs, comics (gotta have the daily Dilbert), Flickr photos, etc.
  • Feeds for Everyone – There are feeds out there for just about everything you could want to follow on the Web. For instance, did you know that there is an RSS feed for your Flickr photostream? I follow my friends photostreams (public photos only, unfortunately) so I know when there’s a new photo out there by one of my talented friends like Shannon or Lou Ann.
  • It’s so Easy – Wonder if a site has a feed? The answer is probably ‘Yes’. Look for the feed icon that accompanies this post (or some variation thereof). The orange icon is pretty standard, but some sites use custom colors.

I would be remiss if I did not present the one major drawback to the convenience of using a feed reader. It’s SO easy that you may find yourself subscribing to more and more content on the Web. Your feeds can eventually become like those magazines you subscribe to that lay around your house waiting to be read. But at least on the Web it’s free!

There are plenty of other reasons to use a feed reader, not the least of which is “Pat told me to.” So what is your current procedure for reading blogs? Would you consider a feed reader? If I push it any more will you stop reading THIS blog?

New Reading: LifeHacker

The Internet is a wonderful and dangerous place. Not dangerous in a “watch out for the weirdos” way (although it is sometimes that too), but rather in the way that the plethora of information can suck you in and not let go. So my stumbling upon LifeHacker is probably both a blessing and a curse. The description that appears in the sidebar states:

Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right. LifeHacker recommends the software downloads and web sites that actually save time. Don’t live to geek; geek to live.

This isn’t entirely accurate, as the subjects at LifeHacker deviate from this quite often. It might be more accurate if they simply said:

Stuff that interests Pat

In other news, Apple today announced the iPhone, and boy does it look cool. I won’t be buying one anytime soon, as I don’t have my own cell phone (Kate and I share one). I’ll go out on a limb and bet that Ken will be the first person I know to own one.

Switching to the New Blogger

I’ve switched to the new version of Blogger, which has a couple of features that I’ve been hoping for, the biggest of those being the ability to categorize posts. I’m not super-thrilled with how it’s being implemented for non-blogspot hosted blogs like this one, but something is better than nothing.

Update: Oh and look at that, already something I don’t like. I thought that I’d figure out where I wanted to incorporate labels into my posts on my own, but apparently Blogger decided to put them in for me. How thoughtful of them. . . grr…

Google Calendar Released

I’m really not a shill for Google. Really I’m not. But I find myself using their Web applications more and more often. In fact, I’m using one right now to compose this post. Here’s a quick list of google products that I use on a regular basis:

  • Search – Naturally
  • Email – Gmail blew Hotmail away and I’ve never looked back.
  • IM/chat – AIM’s most recent update is so wretched that I wish everybody were on Google Talk. I reluctantly use both. Google Talk’s smooth integration into Gmail is also really nice.
  • Blogger – Owned by Google. Simple and yet feature-filled. Not as filled with features as I’d like, but it has more than enough to keep me coming back.
  • Google Reader – Yeah, I realize this is cheating because it’s been momentarily supplanted by Bloglines, but I’ll continue to keep an eye on it.
  • Picasa – For red-eye removal only. Sad, huh? If it integrated with Flickr I’d be sooooo happy. But Flickr is Yahoo’s baby. So no-go.

A Portion of the Google CalendarGoogle Calendar offers what promises to be a responsive and intuitive calendar. Being just released to the general public last night, there are still the occasional hiccups. But I noticed small problems with the release of Gmail and the integration of Google Talk into Gmail too, and they were resolved fairly quickly. I won’t talk too much about the interface. I already used both “responsive” and “intuitive”, and I really don’t have anything to say about it beyond that.

The feature that I’m most interested in is the ability to share and display multiple calendars between users. You can see from the picture that I’m currently displaying four of “my” calendars in Google Calendar. In addition to my default calendar, there is Kate’s calendar (which I can see but not update) and two fully shared calendars that both of us can update. I’m hoping that I can continue to use the Internet to supplement my woefully inadequate memory and actually keep my busy (ha!) social life in order.

Google Calendar also allows users to add “public” calendars. Right now I’m using two of these. Knowing all the US holidays is a nice addition. And since I’m a big geek I added a public calendar that automatically shows new episodes of Lost. Say it with me: Big. Geek.