We’ve already seen the Apple “iTablet”…you’re holding it in your hand right now.

October 27th, 2009


photo: www.gizmodo.com

Let’s all hope the rumors of Apple’s tablet computer are true or else there will be a lot of tech writers who will have to eat their lunch. The much rumored and speculated “iTablet” may make a debut sometime early next year, possibly in January. If such a device exists it will be one product launch that may out do all the others in recent memory, including the iPhone. Let’s hope Apple does not disappoint.

Along with the written speculation, there have been a number of artist mockups too about what the device will look like. These are are pretty much the same, a slab of technology with about a 10″ touch screen. What you don’t see in these drawings is the software and interface interaction. Sure, it will be some flavor of OS X obviously, but it will be how we interact and use the thing that will capture the imagination more than just an artists rendition of the physical device.

As the rumors swirl, its easy to try and imagine what the device would be like to use and I believe there are plenty of hints already out there in the form of your iphone and iPod Touch. Some may ask, just what will make the tablet better than an iPhone and even a 13″ MacBook or MacBook Pro? Why would one want one and what is the big deal anyway? Well, ask yourself that question too about the iPhone when it came out. We have had cell phones a long time and the new models rolling out never really got us all excited. I mean it was just another phone. But Apple showed us something quite different. I suspect they may do it again with the tablet. “See, now this is a TABLET!” is what the thing may scream. Its not just another netbook or laptop…its a new way of interacting with not only hardware, but software and all the media of today’s digital diet.

I think the big deal is going to be in the touch screen no doubt. Currently, there are no small form factor devices that have given users an adequate experience. Much as I love the iPhone, the screen does get a little small at times, but it is ALWAYS there. Pull it out of your pocket and bam, there is the web in your hand and 85,000 other things you can do with it too.   No, you are not going to put an Apple tablet in your pocket, but slip it into a small case and it can easily disappear in a backpack or purse without the bulk of even a Netbook. Hopefully Apple will find the sweet spot for screen size. All bets are it will be in the 10″ range. Such a device could give the Microsoft Surface a run for its money in the portable space.   

And while the iPhone is a great media consumption device, it does have its limits. Its not a great tool for editing media unless you like working on very small screens. And its not great a producing media, although its getting better with video in the 3GS and a better still camera. Typing out more than short emails is not a fun experience. Ditto for taking notes or any sort of long form writing. Also, editing video can be done on the 3GS but its not great at all. Same for photos and audio. Watching video is nice, but I don’t want to watch Lawrence of Arabia on it.

What I think will be so great about a tablet will be the opening up of the mobile world to larger touch screen devices and what this will mean for computing in general. In addition, I can see the value of a touch screen computer on your desktop. While Apple’s new Magic Mouse is quite cool and will pave the way for more touch versatile input devices it could be something like a remixed tablet that begins moving us further down this road. Our current input devices still work pretty well, especially the keyboard on desktop systems, but we need to move on to other paradigms in the next few years. However, its when you get a larger touch screen on a mobile device mobile that things get interesting, as the iPhone showed us in small, elegant ways. I personally like how easy it is to flip through home screens, open web pages, and even closing and launching apps is effortless (lets not talk about typing shall we), not to mention all the creative ways people have come up using the screen through the Apps. Unleash a larger screen space on developers and who knows what we will be flicking with our fingers. Its pretty easy to make the leap into what a slightly larger screen with the same touch capabilities as the iPhone will be like…it will be the same, only better.   

I can see an almost full sized virtual keyboard, some interesting touch screen multimedia editing capabilities and hopefully some nice integration with things like HDMI TVs and your desktop computer. Borrowing a page from Wacom’s Cintinq line, it would be cool too see the device as a small secondary screen for your laptop or desktop. An integrated iSight and possibly down the road, a LCD projector would be nice too. Essentially, the tablet would become a sort of sketchpad of the 21st century allowing one to both consume and produce media with ease. One intriguing possibility would be that the device can replace your keyboard on your desktop offering you a completely new way to interact with your desktop system (or home entertainment system) while giving you the freedom of mobility. This thing will change its use simply by what device you are using it with. This may be the device that starts to really pull us away from the mouse and keyboard. Look at the small wireless keyboard Apple sells for its desktops and Mac Mini and imagine that form factor as a touch screen device paired with your desktop. Now that would be interesting (and more comfortable). Imagine having several people with tablets being able to interact with each other’s desktops or a single larger display. It could be a very interesting collaborative device. And while its not doing anything it can be the ultimate portable digital picture frame on your desk, but I digress…

And of course, with all the ebook excitement, such a tablet would take the digital book and magazine experience to a new level making the Kindle and its E-Ink brethren look positively 19th century. One notable area absent from the slew of ereaders hitting the streets is of course color and screen resolution. This leaves glossy coffee table photo books out in the digital cold. A device like what Apple may bring to fruition could fit a niche for this content giving viewers rich color images (and hopefully HD video) paired with a super high resolution touch screen (iPhone screens have twice the resolution dpi of your desktop displays). Low resolution displays (and projectors) have long been the bane of presenters who can fit more on one piece of paper than on one computer screen (thank you Edward Tufte for that insight). Comic books too are perhaps an area that an Apple tablet could breathe new digital life into. And then there would be the gaming and all the cool potential of field based computing that could be done on a device with multiple sensors, and a high res color screen. Mobile mapping may never have looked so good…

So while we wait with baited breath for a new device from Apple that may (or may not) actually exist, ponder the possibilities of what it may offer by looking and thinking closely at its little brother the iPhone. Perhaps Apple has used it as the ultimate test bed for “the next big(ger) thing.” Only time will tell….and that time is coming soon.

Keene Haywood

Ready or Not, here come the e-textbooks…

August 10th, 2009


In the past few days there has been a flurry of news about e-books and e-textbooks in particular. The NYTimes ran a story on Saturday about the looming demise of the physical textbook. It does say that the physical paper textbook we know and love is not going to disappear overnight, but that now, more than ever, e-textbooks are poised to make a permanent push into the classroom. The article notes that higher education will be leading the way into this area but that K-12 schools won’t be far behind. There are issues of the digital divide with the costs of e-reader devices, but if digital textbook prices fall significantly, the price issue may not be an insurmountable obstacle in my opinion. There is the cost of the device up front, but once in hand, these devices could potentially be used for years reducing the cost of ownership. And as the market matures, the devices can potentially become low cost appliances. Since they are less complex than a full computer, they can also potentially be re-sold fairly easily or even rented to those who truly cannot afford the up-front price.   

In addition, the NYTimes article quotes CTO Sheryl Abshire from the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, LA who points out just how different students of today are from the “read the textbook” linear students that education has traditionally embraced.

Kids are wired differently these days. They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite. They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote… Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.

This fact coupled with a technology that is now maturing enough that it can be used in a widespread fashion in the classroom might just be enough to usher in a new digital age of learning. Who would have imagined that the venerable paper textbook might one day be just be a memory, but in a few more short generations of higher ed students and the legions of K-12 students behind them, this may just be the case.

To add some more fuel to the fire, today, CourseSmart has just released an iPhone/iPod Touch app that allows access to its large textbook library. The iPhone app is free but it only works if you are a paying customer using CourseSmart’s desktop application. CourseSmart is one of the largest e-textbook publishers out there right now so adding an iPhone app to the mix will only help get their content more mobile. It should be noted that CourseSmart knows that trying to learn and write on an iPhone or Touch is tricky so they tell you the iPhone app is really meant to compliment the desktop software as CourseWare EVP Frank Lyman notes…

Instead, it’ll provide a quick, searchable reference for use on the go when using your computer is impossible or awkward. CourseSmart EVP Frank Lyman suggested one possible scenario for how students might go about using the new program to enhance and extend their learning. “If you’re in a study group and you have a question, you can immediately access your text. (quoted from this entry at The Apple Blog)

I think this is a good point and perhaps the sweet spot for truly mobile devices like smartphones and e-readers. No one really wants to try and read a full text book on a smartphone. Your vision will get blurry long before you graduate. But as noted by Mr. Lyman, they are great tools for looking up information, sharing information and enabling in situ research and collaborative, contextual learning. Used in conjunction with a larger e-reader device or a full blown laptop or desktop system, students can use both together to enhance their learning in new ways.

Another story on the jkOnTheRun blog about the heating up of the e-book space also aired today. I like their point about its not the device, but the content. Indeed, we need to make sure that educational content remains as open as is reasonable. Publishers should be able to make money, but not hold students hostage with excessively high rates for books. As this whole market matures, I can imagine scenarios where students rent e-textbooks or have subscriptions with publishers while also using more freely available content from blogs, websites, etc. which the NYTimes article points out. Learning truly becomes a fluid exercise in a digital world where nothing is set in stone so to speak.

As Amazon preps release of their large format Kindle DX into the higher education space this Fall and Apple prepares a new tablet like device along with Barnes and Noble teaming up with Plastic Logic to offer another compelling device to the market, the e-book wars look like they are just beginning. Like the digital rights management issues that the music and movie industries have long wrestled with, content for educational textbooks and e-books in general is about to get thrown into this in a big way. It may be a bumpy ride, but like it or not, e-books and e-textbooks are coming to a school and student near you perhaps sooner than you think.

The iPhone: Taking us into the cloud and beyond…

July 8th, 2009


Cell phones have been around in the United States since 1983. The big brick microwave strength phones of that era have thankfully long passed, but small, sleek cell phones have also been around a good while now too. Motorola and Nokia in particular pushed the envelope. Remember the Razr? And there was Palm whose Treo was all the rage for a time. But everything changed when Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007 and the rest they say is history. Its been nothing short of a phenomenon with its elegant touch interface, bright, high resolution screen, stellar web browsing experience (aside from lack of Flash) and of course its OS, SDK and the App Store. All of this turned the idea of smartphone on its head and the industry has not been the same since. But despite Apple’s innovation, there is something else going on here and its worth thinking about for a moment. The iphone is really a metaphor for a mass move into cloud computing. Two technology writers make this point and are worth noting. In particular, I think this metaphor and their ideas will have quite an impact on education as students move their digital worlds higher and higher into the clouds, circumventing in many ways traditional IT infrastructure associated with institutions of higher learning. Writer Chris Hoff at Cisco put his finger on the pulse in his commentary on the iPhone and the Cloud with his nice post. And Fellow Cisco blogger James Urquhart succinctly summed Hoff and added his two cents with another post on CNet.  Both are worth reading and pondering for a moment. Here are a couple of quotes pulled from these: Hoff says:

The iPhone is a fantastic platform that transforms using technology that has been around for quite a while into a more useful experience. The iPhone converges many technologies and capabilities under a single umbrella and changes the way in which people interact with their data and other people…

The thing I love about my iPhone is that it’s not a piece of technology I think about but rather, it’s the way interact with it to get what I want done. It has its quirks, but it works…for millions of people.

The point here is that Cloud is very much like the iPhone. As Sir James (Urquhart) says “Cloud isn’t a technology, it’s an operational model.” Just like the iPhone.

I think beyond just the success of the iphone, we have to look at the success of cloud computing and how the iPhone is a metaphor for cementing this way of computing into our lives and society. Its a device that has showed us the possibilities and clearly, we all want more. And clearly today’s students will increasingly use this technology more and more on devices that fit into the pockets of their jeans. A commenter on Urquhart’s post mentions that the “cloud” part of computing is soon destined for the tech talk closet since a good deal of computing is done now in the cloud and its just called computing. So perhaps we can just think of the cloud now as just part of the larger sky to use an obvious metaphor. So sky computing anyone? Whatever you want to call it, its here to stay and Apple found a compelling way to deliver this experience in a consumer device that just works.


Blackboard on the iPhone – its coming (soon).

March 25th, 2009

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Blackboard users (you know who you are) rejoice! A week or so ago, Blackboard made it known that they have a native iphone app under review with Apple that will allow users to access their Blackboard accounts in their iPhone or iPod Touch. It probably won’t be long before we see the app show up in the App Store. The app will be free and uses Blackboard Sync to push and pull information to and from the iPhone. There is a YouTube video posted from a tradeshow where a Blackboard rep is demoing the app in the booth. The audio is a little low and the camera can’t get a good focused image of the screen, but the rep is well spoken and explains generally what it will do. It sounds like Blackboard is building out a number of apps or hooks into social services and other mobile devices.

While Blackboard may not be the cutting edge of education technology, it is used widely on campuses, so this move to the iPhone is a good one and should help bolster further use and development of Blackboard services for mobile users. If you don’t want to sit through the four or so minutes of the YouTube video, here are the takeaways:

- It uses smart Token technology to store passwords remotely on secure servers. No passwords are stored on the device.

- Will provide alerts to new course content, grades and announcements

- To access, just enter the URL of your particular Blackboard, enter your password and you are in.

- Can access and read Blackboard Mail (and presumably send it too)

- Supports Learning Module content, but not the actual formatting of the Learing Module, so it will look different when seen in Mobile Safari on the iPhone.

- Supports proprietary Building Blocks plug-in architecture so one can make unique customized plug-ins for Blackboard

- Blackboard working on integrating across mobile devices and services such as iGoogle and Yahoo!. It currently has a Facebook app.

- PDFs can be viewed in a Blackboard account on the iPhone (question asked to the rep at the end)

So keep an eye out on the App Store and you should see the free Blackboard app show up any day now.

SekaiCamera – Seeing is (maybe) believing, just don’t trip

February 17th, 2009

There is a new iPhone app on the horizon called SekaiCamera. Its not out yet and some are skeptical that it can really do what it proposes, but the demos at conferences have been well received. It is being developed by a company in Japan called Tonchidot. The app uses the iPhone’s camera as a “lens” onto the world where tags pop up in the field of view showing items people have tagged in the area you are looking at. You really need to see some of the video demos to get a sense of it. If its the real deal, it will be one amazing application. Do a Google search for SekaiCamera for links and go to this one at TechCrunch for some more eye candy. Don’t trip!

To infinity and beyond…pushing the limits of iPhone apps

January 7th, 2009


So what happens when you reach the maximum number of apps you can install on your iPhone? Does Steve Jobs congratulate you with a phone call? Do bells go off next time you log onto your iTunes Store account? Just what the heck happens? Well, dear readers, I pushed the limit to find out and here is what happened. But first some numbers… There are 16 apps installed by default (and cannot be removed) on an iPhone/iPod Touch. You can install an additional 128 apps plus the 4 in the app bar at the bottom of your screen (the dock, if you will, of the iPhone). This brings the grand total to: 148 apps on 9 screens (this is the max number of screens you can have). This is the most apps can have installed at the moment (OS upgrades may allow more in the future). And yes, I have succeeded in completely filling my iPhone with apps. Perhaps in 2019 there will be an iPhone that can store all 100,000 apps that may be out by then. I just hope they come up with some other way to find and organize them as flipping through screen after screen does get a bit old, even with just 9 screens. But I digress…

Anyway, I was wondering what happens when you go over the digital threshold into the unknown. What happens is this – Your app will install but it won’t show up anywhere on your screens because they are full. When you go back to the App download page in the AppStore on your phone, it shows that the app was installed but of course you can’t see it on your device and you can’t re-download it. The trick is to delete an app and then restart your iPhone/iPod Touch. Then when the device boots up again the app will finally install and will be seen in the space where you deleted a previous app. Whew! I thought my iPhone might start smoking or worse, but alas its not too bad to go over the limit, but it would be nice to get some sort of an alert screen to give you a heads up.

Also, don’t worry about deleting an app. The iTunes Store keeps track of what apps you have downloaded, either free or paid, and will allow you to download the app again if it senses that the app is gone from your phone when you next sync it with iTunes. You must be logged into your iTunes account in order for this to work.

Just in case anyone out there is wondering… in the words of The Marathon Man, “Is it safe?” Yes, it is safe so download away.

Keene Haywood (The University of Texas at Austin)

Baking web apps without code? Now it just may be possible with ModelBaker

January 5th, 2009


Building online databases is a foundation of Web 2.0 (a term that is starting to feel a bit long in the tooth) applications. Just about every web app has a backend database usually running mySQL and connecting to the browser through PHP which performs the heavy lifting of retrieving data from the SQL database and serving it to the user on the fly. Creating these web apps requires a programmer with some decent skills in SQL and PHP to make all this happen. But now, a new application called ModelBaker may change this. While the app claims no coding is required, its really not that simple. One does need to understand how databases work and are put together in order to fully appreciate this application and what it can do. However, for small departments that need webapps but can’t afford a programmer, or for programmers who want to quickly deploy an app for testing or protyping, ModelBaker may be a great tool to use. A nifty feature of the program is the ability to create iPhone, iPod Touch and Android compatible web apps on the fly which turns your web app into something that looks good on these devices rather than just viewing a traditional web page on a mobile’s rather small screen. There is a 30 day free demo and academic pricing is available at very good discounts for approved colleges and universities. The standard version is $399 for a single license and $99 for an academic license. Multiple licenses are available.

Happy New Year everyone!


Are there some bad Apples in the iPhone Apps?

July 16th, 2008

Apple fans may be so overly enthusiastic about their devices because Christmas comes several times a year for the faithful when Apple releases new products and makes new announcements. Heck, the rollouts should be on an iCal calendar pushed out by Cupertino HQ. In any case, the four pronged launch last week of the iPhone 3G, the 2.0 version of the iphone software, MobileMe and the iPhone/Touch Apps store gave much fodder for frustration and joy. When I upgraded my iPhone to v.2.0 and started loading up on free apps, I was a kid in a candy store. How cool!…Well that excitement lasted about a day when all of a sudden my apps were crashing left and right. I could not get anything to launch after the initial installation. Hmmm…. it turns out that its easy to forget that the iPhone is running the Mac OS X and now that applications are being installed, all sorts of “interesting” things can start happening. The two gotchas that kept my apps from launching was the fact that I did not have much space on my iPhone left over. Actually, I had just over 1 GB of space (I have an 8 GB non-3G device), but it seems that may have not been enough. The iPhone uses disk space on its solid state drive as virtual memory so it needs free space to load applications and execute them. I ended up deleting my music off the iPhone to free up space and tried launching the applications again. Then they all worked (for the most part). Some were a little sluggish as I am not running on a 3G phone and just about all the apps I have need to access the web to do their thing. So if you are having app problems, check to see how full your phone is and unload little used music or movie files to see if that helps.

The second issue is launching apps if you need to sign onto a wireless network. If you need to authenticate to the network, launching apps before you do this will cause the application to crash and in some cases the iPhone to reboot. This is understandable, but it would be nice to perhaps have a message saying the network needs to be activated before the application can be launched. Maybe this is not the problem, but after I was logged onto the network, the apps launched just fine.

Covering the problems with apps launching are the folks over at iPhone Atlas who posted a special report about troubleshooting crashing apps. There is also talk of Digital Rights Management issues or problems with Apple’s firmware. A patch, v. 2.0.1, is supposedly in the works and should be imminent. One of the scapegoat apps has been the highly touted WHERE which is a location based app that feeds you information about your surroundings using the iPhones geo-referencing capabilities. It has been sluggish to work or not working at all, although some improvements have been seen. It has lots of cool potential so give it some time, both for Apple and the developers of Where.

People hold the bar pretty high for Apple. Launching a new platform is not an easy task. People can be quick to criticize the downfalls, but overall, despite the hiccups, things could have been worse with the launch of not only a new piece of hardware, but also significant software. Patience please! If users are still having problems a few weeks down the road then perhaps the gripe meter can be turned on again, but for now give it some time, take a deep breath and reboot when necessary.

Keene Haywood (University of Texas@Austin – DIIA)

iPhone vs iPod Touch part 2 – The iPhone still wins…

May 22nd, 2008

One of my first posts talked about why I would choose an iPhone over the iPod Touch despite the need the have an AT&T contract. Cellular connectivity is my main argument for the iPhone. With the new, faster 3G iPhone arrival imminent, this only bolsters the iPhone as the tool of choice for a constantly connected communication and information device (assuming you have access to 3G networks). But there is one other thing that I failed to mention in the earlier post. This is the fact that the iPhone has a camera. Granted, its not a very good camera, but a camera nonetheless. Its terrible in low light, you have to be very steady to get a sharp image, no zoom, no flash, etc etc. Its about as bare bones as one can get and its only a 2 megapixel image. But the Touch does not have a camera at all… As meager as the iPhone camera is, there are still a few tricks you can do with it. With the SDK out it looks like Apple will be adding a geotagging feature to the camera. Speculation is that the new phone will have true GPS capabilities giving users a much more accurate fix than the current cell and wifi triangulation it currently uses, thus making accurate geotagging possible. Geotagging is a big deal these days and it would be great to have it on the iPhone. This would open up some new possibilities for the device, especially for field based education and research. The rivals out there such as Nokia and Garmin’s Nuviphone (which is still vaporware but should appear later this year) offer full fledged GPS chips in their phones. So once again, I think an iPhone wins head to head against the iPod Touch despite the Touch having larger storage capacity. Now if someone can just come up with a battery that lasts longer than the lifespan of gastrotrich (which is three days btw) to power the gps, the wifi, the bluetooth, etc…

Keene Haywood (The University of Texas@Austin – DIIA)

Multiclutch… touching the future

May 13th, 2008

Now that the iPhone/iTouch revolution is upon us, its clear that Apple has not just released a new device, but launched a new platform pushing computing forward into the mobile space. One of the most innovative things about the iPhone/iTouch is the way we interact with it. Using the patented touch and sensor technologies, Apple has brought about a new way to interact with our machines and our information. Apple has recently expanded their touch technology onto the MacBook Pro platform enabling traditional notebook users to use the new multi-touch features on their trackpad. I would guess this technology will eventually make its way into the entire mobile Apple computer line-up (it is still missing from Macbooks). It may even trickle into desktop systems via new displays (Apple please give us new displays!) and input devices… Now along comes Multiclutch.

A clever developer, Will Henderson, has just released a beta version of this utility. It has a nice review by Dan Frakes on Macworld. You really need to see the video to appreciate what it does. Basically, Multiclutch allows the touch technology to drive other aspects of your Mac computing experience in addition to the default built-in touch support which is fairly limited. It turns out that touch is actually a pretty good way to get around your Mac. You have the ability to customize gestures to a wide range of actions with various programs. Dan really likes how you can use Multiclutch to flip through our Spaces on your Leopard equipped Mac…

To give you an idea of how you might use MultiClutch, I’ve added gestures for Safari so that Zoom In increases text size; Zoom Out closes the current tab; Swipe Right or Left switches to the next tab to the right or left, respectively; and the Zoom Out/In combination creates a new tab. I’ve also set Zoom Out as a global gesture for Command+W, so I can close the current window in any program by simply pinching two fingers together; and Swipe Down is set to minimize the current window to the Dock—a rather intuitive gesture, in this case.

Another very cool use of MultiClutch is to switch between workspaces when using Leopard’s Spaces feature. A simple three-fingered swipe—up, down, left, or right—“swipes aside” the current workspace to switch to a different one.

The point of all this is that we are seeing the beginning of a truly new way to interact with our information. The keyboard and mouse I think will be with us awhile longer, but clearly touch screens and various motion sensors are coming into their own allowing our interactions to be more seamless, creative, fluid and hopefully more fun!

Disclaimer: Multiclutch is beta software so please proceed with caution if you download and install it on your system!