What I want in iOS 6

The WWDC keynote is tomorrow. As expected, Apple will unveil a litany of new products and software.

Let’s get the leaked things out of the way: a revamped Maps app, Facebook integration, Siri for iPad, OS X Mountain Lion preview, more iCloud apps (notes, reminders), and new Mac hardware (Retina Display laptops, anyone?).

Got it? Good, now forget about them. Instead, let’s prognosticate on some bigger and bolder ideas. Things that haven’t been discussed to death already.

Here’s my wish list of features I’d love to see in iOS 6 or beyond:

1. Apple TV apps

The WWDC schedule has a lot of “To Be Announced” sessions, which has led people to suggest Apple’s introducing something big: possibly apps for the Apple TV set-top box or a Siri API for 3rd-party apps.

I think there’s a few reasons Apple won’t be adding apps to Apple TV just yet:

  • Competing set-top boxes (Roku, Boxee, Google TV) that do have apps have all floundered in the marketplace.1 Apple TV isn’t selling like gangbusters either, but for the moment, there’s no real competitive pressure that compels Apple to have apps or risk losing market share.
  • TV apps are a killer feature and they’re waiting to introduce them with the “real” Apple TV to maximize impact. The full-fledged Apple television, expected next year, will presumably also have more features for developers to play with, like voice control and a camera.

Given that, I think a Siri API is the more likely announcement.

But what if Apple does add apps to Apple TV? I say it’s a market-changer. Apple’s additional functionality (AirPlay), ecosystem (iTunes store), and brick-and-mortar stores could suffocate the market for competing set-top boxes.

Roku and Boxee did the hard work of convincing content providers to make TV apps in the first place (Hulu+ arguably only exists because of Boxee’s amazing work porting the service without permission).2 But Apple will come in and scoop them all up, the allure of its orders-of-magnitude larger customer base too hard to ignore.

In 2008, Apple introduced the original App Store with the iPhone 3G and device sales exploded. Will they do it again with Apple TV?

2. YouTube app REMOVED as default

When the iPhone was originally launched, it didn’t support 3rd-party apps. So Apple made its own apps for Google Maps and YouTube and included them as system apps. They’ve been built-in on every iPhone since.

Since then, the relationship between Apple and Google has cooled. Apple doesn’t want to rely on Google anymore, so they started buying up mapping companies 3 years ago. Tomorrow, we will see the fruits of that labor, as Google data is unceremoniously excised from the Maps app and replaced with a homegrown solution.3

I want Apple to go one step farther. While they’re at it, can they kick out the YouTube app, too?

The current Apple-made YouTube app has barely changed since 2007. But YouTube is a very different service now. Many of the app’s old elements are broken and many of YouTube’s new features aren’t supported.

The reason you sometimes get an error about a video not playing on mobile devices—especially music videos—is because the app doesn’t support YouTube ads. I’d rather be able to watch a video with ads than not be able to watch it at all.4

Even Google hates the app. That’s why they built a full-featured mobile site that no longer redirects you to the built-in YouTube app when possible.

A new standalone app in the App Store, made by Google and regularly updated with new YouTube features, would be a vast improvement.

3. Safari extensions

One of the more glaring limitations on iOS right now is not being able to change the default app for making calls or checking email or browsing the web. I don’t envision Apple ever changing that for usability reasons.

Fine. So give us a way to customize the built-in browser a little instead.

There’s too much innovation happening in the browser not to add a little customizability. Apps like Instapaper, Readability, Delicious, Pinboard, Pinterest, DuckDuckGo, and many others would be greatly improved if they could do just a little more inside the browser.

Look, I don’t know how an extension system that maintains the simplicity and usability of iOS would work. But then that’s why the folks in Cupertino get the big bucks and not me.

Or, you know, they could just let us set a different default browser.

(While we’re talking about Safari updates, don’t forget a unified URL/search bar, à la Chrome and OS X Safari. Makes even more sense on mobile, where there’s no keyboard shortcuts.)

4. Improved App Store

As successful as the App Store has been, the current implementation could use some improvement.

First, background app downloads. There’s nothing worse than when you want to download more than one app and being kicked out of the App Store app after each purchase. An option for background downloads (or a download queue) would easily solve this.

Second, search and discovery. When developers have to rename their app just to get discovered, you know there’s a problem. Fortunately, Apple bought Chomp earlier this year, so that should lead to some direct upgrades.

Third, the “top 25” lists. The top paid apps list doesn’t change often enough. The top free apps list is infested with sketchy games hocking in-app purchases. The top grossing apps list makes me lose hope for humanity. But it doesn’t have to be all doom-and-gloom. Instead, like AppShopper, Apple could do more innovative things like showcasing apps with rising momentum or dropping prices.

5. More app sandboxing

Earlier this year, Path got into trouble for sucking in your contacts without informed consent. Fortunately, the uproar got them to quickly revert. But not every developer is as scrupulous.

The fiasco mainly highlighted how insecure your personal data is on iOS, despite Apple’s purported “walled garden.” On the Mac side, Apple has started enforcing app sandboxing, only granting apps permission to access your personal data on a temporary and need-to-know basis.

I hope Apple embraces and extends this behavior on the iOS side. Just like GPS and push notifications, I want to know when an app wants access to my contacts or calendar or email or photos.

6. Files, files, files

As much as Steve Jobs believed otherwise, I say the file system still has a place in the digital world. The success of Dropbox is evidence of that.

One of the shortcomings in iOS is that apps can’t access each other’s data. You can’t start a document in Simplenote and then edit it in Pages. On a normal computer, you can just save a file in one program and open it with another.

WebOS had a VERY cool feature called Synergy that solved this problem. You could login to your Dropbox account once and then every app could use it as a backend for files. Apple will never integrate Dropbox like that, but what about storing files in iCloud? Apple already has Documents in the Cloud; it just needs to make it easier for apps to access, and more importantly SHARE, these documents.

7. Wi-Fi phone calls

T-Mobile has long had a feature in which certain phones could make calls using your home Wi-Fi network. I’ve never understood why this feature wasn’t more widely adopted by the carriers. Phone calls made over Wi-Fi mean less strain on their network and ensure customers always have a quality signal at home.

T-Mobile originally required you to use specific feature phones with the UMA technology built-in, but they later got the service working on generic Android phones with a pre-configured app. Similarly, Apple could bundle this technology into iOS 6 and then allow carriers to enable support over time, as they did with MMS.

Wi-Fi phone calls would be a natural evolution of FaceTime for consumers, as well as a cost-saving measure for the carriers. But like iMessage, it could also quickly become another salvo for Apple in its ongoing cold war with the carriers and provide more leverage when it comes time to renegotiate contracts.

8. Pokémon for iOS

A man can dream, right?

  1. Aside from gaming consoles, Roku is arguably the most successful streaming set-top box. GigaOm reports they’ve sold 2.5 million units from the inception of the company through the end of 2011. For comparison, Apple sold 1.4 million Apple TVs in just the last 3 months of 2011. ↩︎

  2. Speaking of Hulu+, an Apple TV app for the service was developed last year but never released. Might we finally see it tomorrow, new Apple TV App Store or not? ↩︎

  3. In recent days, Google employees have said Google Maps will stay on the iPhone one way or another. Presumably, they will release their own app in the App Store. Will it have turn-by-turn navigation, like the Android app? In 2010, a Google employee mentioned they were working on it, but nothing ever materialized. ↩︎

  4. Little-known tip: Most videos that won’t play in the current built-in YouTube app can still be viewed on your phone. Just go to http://m.youtube.com and find your video. ↩︎

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How to use the Nook Simple Touch without registering

I really, really hate companies that don’t let you use their devices without registering them in some way. Even Apple isn’t that evil.1

But Barnes & Noble is.

I recently purchased a Nook Simple Touch as a gift for someone and wanted to set it up with some books for them. I’ve done this before with a Kindle without any problems.2

However, the Nook Simple Touch forces you to create a Barnes & Noble account and add a credit card on file before you can actually use the device you paid for.

Aside from being a bad out-of-box experience, it also makes things like selling the Nook down the line harder (assuming you like to reset your devices before selling them and the buyer wants to see them actually working before paying.)

Well, for anyone else in the same boat, here’s how to get your Nook Simple Touch up and running without registering. Please note that all credit for this solution goes to crazy_jake from the xda-developers forums.

  1. Turn on the device, but do NOT start setting it up. B&N devilishly waits until the last step to ask you to create an account, at which point the following instructions don’t work. If you do start setting it up, just turn it off and back on again.

  2. Hold down the top right button on the front of the device and slide your finger from left to right across the top of the E Ink screen. (It’s a little hard to see, but it’s the Nook’s default next page button if you were using your right hand. For past Kindle owners, it’s the one in the same spot as the previous page button on a Kindle.)

  3. A ‘Factory’ button should appear in the top left corner of the screen. Press it.

  4. Once in the Factory menu, hold down the top right button on the front of the device and tap the bottom right corner of the screen.

  5. You should now see a ‘Skip Oobe’ button. Tap that and the Nook should finally load the home screen.

Hope this helps someone. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. (2015 UPDATE: I have not had a Nook in years, so I’m afraid I cannot help you if the above instructions no longer work.)

  1. iOS devices may not be terribly useful without registering an Apple ID to download apps, buy music and movies, or use FaceTime and iMessage—but at least you can if you want to. ↩︎

  2. Other than the fact that the Kindle has no easy way to sort books into folders (“collections”) on a computer before you sideload them onto a device. ↩︎

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Tastes like chicken

I once read an article about the things that taste most like chicken.1 First was chicken.

But second was Tofurky.

I don’t know if that’s true or not. What I do know is that Tofurky puts quotidian vegetarian fare to shame. And it keeps getting better every year.

Try one sometime. You might—nay, will—be pleasantly surprised.

PS. Some Black Friday advice from a battle-hardened veteran: skip the stores, shop online.

tofurky

  1. I thought I saw it on AskMen.com, but I can’t find it there anymore. ↩︎

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The Most Underrated iOS 5 Features

I think it’s safe to say that iOS 5 is the greatest single-year leap in Apple’s mobile OS, not least of which is due to iCloud integration. That said, amongst the bevy of new features, I’ve come to appreciate a few that have more-or-less flown under the radar.

  • Group by Album Artist

    For far too long, the iPod app on the iPhone has actually been inferior to an actual separate iPod. Why? Because the artists list was cluttered with every artist from every song in your collection.

    On the contrary, iTunes on your computer will only show you album artists (as it should). For example, if you have a movie soundtrack – do you want it to show up once as “Various Artists” or “Soundtrack” in your artists, or do you want 15 different entries for all of the random singers that you don’t know or care about? Now, thankfully, the iOS Music app can be set to only show you album artists.

    It’s never too late to get something right. Find it at Settings > Music > Group By Album Artist.

  • Storage by App

    If you’re anything like me, you constantly use up the space on your phone. Fortunately, iOS 5 now makes it easy to identify the space-filling hogs in your app collection. Even better, you can delete them directly from the same place.

    Just go to Settings > General > Usage and delete away.

  • Notification Alert Style / Badge App Icon

    The new Notification Center not only replaces modal notifications, it also introduces modular notification settings. That is, you can select notifications in the form of alerts or badges, or even disable them entirely, per app.

    iOS 5 also now lets you completely hide the badges on apps. This is especially useful for apps like Google Voice or Appshopper, where you want to see an immediate alert when something happens, but don’t much care to go through old messages you have already read on your computer.

  • LED Flash for Alerts

    I’ve been known not to respond to text messages for hours, if not days. Why? I missed the notification. While the new Notification Center will certainly help, Apple has also added another nifty feature so you can be hyper-aware of any new notifications demanding your attention.

    Find it at Settings > General > Accessibility > LED Flash for Alerts. Now silent night owls have no excuse for missing notifications.

  • Wi-Fi Sync

    Wi-Fi Sync is blissful. Imagine never needing a cord to your computer again. Instead of needing two wires, one plugged into the wall near your bed for charging and one plugged into your computer for syncing, you only need one now.

    Even better, you can use the phone while syncing now.

All in all, I’m very happy with iOS 5.

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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away today. He will be remembered for revolutionizing at least four industries: music (iPod, iTunes Music Store), movies (Pixar), mobile phones (iPhone) and, of course, computers (Macintosh, iPad).

His contributions to the world have made my life immeasurably better. He continually pushed the envelope and the technology industry is demonstrably better for it.

Most people will remember him tonight for the products he had a hand in creating. I’d like to take a step back and look at the consummate showman and prescient visionary.

Because he generally shunned interviews and public appearances, there is not much public footage available of Jobs. In fact, I only know of three places that he had publicly spoken: Apple keynotes, the D: All Things Digital conference, and at Stanford’s 2005 commencement.

Keynotes

Most people only saw Jobs at Apple’s product launches. His ability to command the room and stage is legion.

While he had many great moments, the beginning of the iPhone keynote at Macworld in 2007 was his most masterful.

Additional viewing:

PCWorld has many more older keynote videos, if you’re so inclined.

If, like me, you prefer high-quality downloads, Apple provides a podcast of keynote speeches since 2007.

D Conference

As Walt Mossberg noted tonight, Steve was most comfortable on stage, with a script. That is what makes his unscripted interviews at the D: All Things Digital conferences all the more compelling.

I watched these videos for the first time only a couple years ago. I was blown away by how eerily accurate Steve’s predictions were about where the technology industry would be today.

All Things D also has some bite-sized clips from these interviews, including Jobs on phones, tablets, PDAs, and televisions.

Stanford Commencement Address

Perhaps Jobs’ most famous public appearance, however, is his 2005 Stanford commencement address. It is, as far as I know, the only time he has delved into his personal life at some length.

He tells three stories from his life: one about connecting the dots, another about love and loss, and the last about death. They are simple, amusing, insightful, morbid, and hopeful.

Here’s the video (speech starts at 7:30).

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” (Full text.)

Here’s to the crazy one.

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Automatically Detect Displays in Mac OS X using AppleScript

If you’re anything like me, you need a large display to be productive (I used a 24-inch LCD when I lived at home and was later spoiled by using Dan Tran’s 30-inch monstrosity when I was in Seattle).

Fortunately, Mac OS X has great support for multiple displays. However, one weird quirk I am often frustrated by occurs when you initially connect the external display to a MacBook or other laptop.

If you do it the proper way, the MacBook should still be sleeping (or turned off) when you connect the Mini DisplayPort (or DVI, for older models) cable to your laptop. However, in Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and 10.6 (Snow Leopard), my MacBook Pro would never automatically register that a new display has been connected and turn it on accordingly.

Hence, I would have to manually go to System Preferences each time I connected the external display (a very frequent occurrence personally, as I took my laptop to school everyday), go into the Displays preference pane, and then manually click on the ‘Detect Displays’ button.

System Preferences - Displays

System Preferences - Detect Displays

Eventually, I decided this simple action HAD to be scriptable and looked into AppleScript to figure out a way to do it. Suffice it to say, I tried a bunch of different methods, without satisfying results. Eventually, some adept Googling and a lot of experimentation led me to (in my opinion) the simplest and best code for automating this simple action.

Please note that all credit for the final code goes to ‘Fess’ from the InsanelyMac forums. I’m just posting this here as a permanent and convenient reference for anyone else who runs into the same problem.

Set up an AppleScript with the following code:

tell application "System Preferences" to activate
tell application "System Events"
    tell process "System Preferences"
        click menu item "Displays" of menu "View" of menu bar 1
        tell button "Detect Displays" of window 1 to click
    end tell
end tell
tell application "System Preferences" to quit

Please note that you have to save this script as a “.app” file or otherwise it won’t work. If you’re not sure how to do this, TUAW has a great tutorial.

To activate this script especially quickly, I named my app “Detect Displays.app” (original, right?) and use LaunchBar to open it (I set it to the keystroke shortcut “dd”).

This simple script has saved me untold time and I hope it does the same for you!

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Living with 75 Things

Amazingly, all of this stuff was packed into that bag in the top right and a small knapsack.

As I write this, I’m 20,000 feet in the air, en route to Chicago. I’ve just left Seattle, where I’ve been living for the past 2 months.

On the plane, I have a very small knapsack and one overstuffed carry-on bag. I didn’t check in any luggage, so those are actually the only bags that I have with me.

Between those 2 bags and the things I have on my person, I’m only carrying 75 items.

That’s right, 75 things in all.

That’s pretty much all I brought with me 2 months ago, too. And the crazy thing is that I actually didn’t even need all that.

The fact of the matter is that I have been happily living with fewer things than I used to cram in my car trunk alone.

Minimalism in Action

Sound impossible? Perhaps to some people. But ever since I started pursuing a clutter-free life in early 2009, this has actually been a dream of mine: needing so few things to live and work that I could pack everything into one bag and travel wherever my heart desired.

I’m not the only one crazy enough to attempt this: in 2008, Dave Bruno started the 100 items challenge. The idea to permanently live with so few items was radical at the time, but many minimalist bloggers have since followed the same trailblazing path in recent years.

But while I’ve been slowly decluttering ever since I discovered Unclutterer and Zen Habits, I knew I needed to do something radical to really jump-start myself on the path to minimalism. So last year, I called up my good friend Dan Tran and asked him if he wanted some company this year. He graciously welcomed me and so I found myself on a plane to Seattle only days after graduating from college.

Now, I feel like my decision has been vindicated. I haven’t been at a loss for anything while staying in Seattle; in fact, I actually put a bunch of stuff I wasn’t using back in my bag after only a week.

The 75 Things

But before I get ahead of myself, let me share with you exactly which 75 things I’ve been living with:

Clothes (47):

  • 8 T-shirts
  • 2 sleeveless athletic tees
  • 6 button-down shirts (3 short-sleeve, 3 long-sleeve)
  • 7 pairs of pants (athletic shorts, jorts, blue khaki shorts, pajama pants, 3 pairs of jeans)
  • 9 pairs of boxers (8 cotton, 1 Ex Officio travel pair)
  • 8 pairs of socks1
  • 2 belts (one black, one tan)
  • Zip-up hooded sweatshirt
  • Jacket
  • Pair of Timberland shoes
  • Pair of gloves
  • Beanie hat

Electronics (9):

  • 13″ MacBook Pro + charger2
  • iPad + charger
  • iPhone + sync cable
  • Canon Rebel XS DSLR camera + 2GB SD card + charger
  • 3 portable hard drives (1TB, 1TB, 250GB) + sync cables
  • Apple remote
  • Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter

Toiletries (8):

  • Contact lenses
  • Contact lens cleaning solution
  • 2 pairs of glasses
  • Deodorant
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap
  • Comb
  • Toothbrush

Other (11):

  • Wallet
  • Passport (for weekend excursions to Canada)
  • Water bottle
  • 2 pens (black, blue)
  • Portfolio
  • Double-headed screwdriver
  • Towel
  • Fleece blanket
  • Small knapsack
  • Carry-on luggage bag

Too Much: Travel Light or Pack Everything?

As we were counting up everything, Dan actually remarked, “that’s a lot of stuff.” That’s an almost crazy notion, considering I was able to pack it all into a carry-on bag and knapsack, not to mention the fact that most people live with thousands upon thousands of items (go ahead and count your stuff, I’ll wait!).

But even crazier is that I actually agree with him—I definitely did over-pack. This was the first time I’d lived away from my old home for more than a week and I wasn’t entirely sure of what I’d need (a screwdriver? a media remote?!).

All of the “extra” stuff I packed—the things I never touched or packed away after only a few days—fall into 2 general categories:

1. Too Many Clothes: Let’s face it, I packed a lot of clothes. Interestingly, when I was originally packing for the trip, I had even more clothes but they didn’t fit into my carry-on bag (12 t-shirts, more button-down shirts, etc.). When I started taking stuff out of my bag at midnight the night before my 8am flight, I was worried it might not leave me with enough. On the contrary, I found myself actually taking clothes out of my weekly rotation. For example, I packed away 2 of the t-shirts and 2 of the long-sleeve button down shirts because I only wore them to delay doing the laundry each week; by putting them away, I forced myself to adhere to a regular laundry schedule and wear only the clothes I felt most confident in (most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time, an idea derived from the Pareto principle).

2. Too Many “What If” Things: Despite my best intentions, I fell into the trap of packing things that I really wouldn’t need regularly; instead, I should have remembered the “Buy It There” philosophy, which advocates buying cheap “what if” items only if and when you actually need something, not weighing down your bag with everything from the get-go. For example, I really didn’t need the gloves, beanie hat, screwdriver, remote, blanket,3 or 2 extra hard drives,4 just to name a few.

(By packing even lighter, I could have hopefully avoided stuffing my bag to the point of bursting!)

However, in practice with BIT, I did buy some stuff in Seattle too: a pair of Ex Officio travel underwear, a 2 oz. bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, deodorant, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and 2 new pairs of glasses (purchased online!). As you can see though, most of the stuff I bought was consumable products, which helps keep my material objects to a minimum (as they will be used, replenished, or replaced over time).

Could You Live with 100 Things…or Less?

If my experience is any guide, it is both surprisingly difficult and easy to maintain such a lifestyle with a minimal number of possessions. You should and will expend significant cognitive effort figuring out exactly what things you need to live and work. However, once you decide and actually limit yourself, I truly believe you will not be at a loss for anything. I honestly had a blast living with so little and would not trade it for anything.

What about you? How many possessions do you need to live your ideal life?

  1. Some minimalist bloggers actually count all pairs of underwear or socks as one item; I think that’s cheating, so I’m counting each pair as an additional item. ↩︎

  2. Since chargers/sync cables/memory cards are pretty much useless on their own, I’ve chosen to count them as part of the item they’re designed to be used with and not as their own unique separate item. ↩︎

  3. My friend had some for guests already. ↩︎

  4. Let’s just say I’m really paranoid about my backup strategy, as you darn well should be too. ↩︎

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The iPad: Unpublished Premonitions on Tablet Computing

Note: This post was actually drafted almost one year ago (Feb. 2010), after the iPad was announced but before it was released. I never published it then, but I think it’s an interesting read now that we know much more about how people are using tablets in general and how the iPad specifically has fared in the market (namely, a rollicking success). Without further ado, a blast from the past…

On the day the iPad was announced, I immediately tweeted this:

The iPad is utterly underwhelming.January 27, 2010 7:49 pm via web

At the time, I could see no practical uses for the device; it was just a larger iPod Touch to me.  The cost, despite being lower than projections, was still too high for the masses.

The iPad is the best digital picture frame you’ll never buy.January 27, 2010 10:28 pm via Twitter for iPhone

However, after deep rumination and lengthy conversations with fellow technophiles, I’ve come around on the iPad (and tablets in general).

Now, I hope and believe the iPad will be the ultimate device for going paper-free. There, I said it…yes, the iPad does actually have a real-world use.

Past Attempts

Other companies have tried to fill this need. Amazon debuted their Kindle DX last year, with a 9.7″ E-Ink screen and PDF support. Unfortunately, the $489 price tag was just too expensive for most people to justify for a single-purpose device. I seriously considered purchasing one for school — cheaper textbooks over time would help defray the higher upfront cost — but ultimately, it was too limited of a device (I instead purchased a Kindle 2, but sold it after a few months because of the dearth of textbooks available for it).

Some people advocate netbooks as superior to tablets in every way – smaller, cheaper, and infinitely more useful. However, for the purposes of trying to go paper-free, a netbook falls far short of being an effective tool for anyone. Would you ever want to curl up in front of your fireplace with a nice eBook on your netbook? Enough said.

Why the iPad Will Be Different

Simply put, I believe the iPad will be the tipping point for people that have contemplated going paper-free.

The iPad is different than the eReaders that have preceded it because you can not only READ documents on it, but you will also be able to EDIT documents easily (thanks to Pages and many other similar apps that will surely be released for it).

Moreover, the iPad represents the first true instance of a “digital piece of paper.” Just think of how many physical objects something like that can replace: books, magazines, textbooks, comic books/graphic novels, kids’ books, cookbooks, and just about anything you would store in a file cabinet.

The iPad may not be a good single-purpose device, but it sure can replace a lot of other screens in our lives.

Don’t Pre-Order Just Yet

However, not everything will be hunky-dory. There are many concerns that still need to be addressed or clarified by Apple. For example, Apple has said that the iBooks store will sell ePub files. However, will these books be DRM-free, like Steve Jobs argued was a necessity in the iTunes Music Store? If not, I suspect book publishers will severely restrict our ability to use purchased books, from preventing people from copying passages into other apps to disabling sharing a book with a friend.

Furthermore, in order to be a true replacement to paper, tablets must be appliances, not computers. I don’t have to worry about my toaster getting infected with a virus and I shouldn’t have to worry about my tablet either.

The iPhone has established a strong precedent in this area, but tablets are a new beast with new problems. It should be interesting to see just how well the iPad holds up in day-to-day use once millions of people get their hands on one.

What Does This All Mean For You?

Tablets are going to change everything.

“Normal people” hate their computers. They hate rebooting every time an application crashes, they hate updating virus definitions every day, and they hate how slowly iTunes runs on Windows.

The iPad, and tablets in general, have the power to change that. By abstracting away complex computing paradigms (like the file system), end-users will be presented with a simple device that lets them just get things done. Tablet apps must and will be simpler, but I suspect many people will be happy with that trade-off.

For example, my own family members only use a few apps on their computers. My parents use Firefox, Microsoft Word, and some tax software. My grandfather uses Firefox, iTunes, and a simple Mah Jongg game. My sister uses Chrome, Word, Picasa, and an IM client. How many of these apps can’t be replicated on tablets? How many of these programs can’t be improved with a fullscreen touch-enabled interface?

Even if you don’t want to replace your entire computer with a tablet, it can still be useful as a paper replacement. For example, my sister will be going through the college application process this fall. By the time she actually starts college (in about 18 months), I can almost certainly guarantee she will be using a tablet device for textbooks (and so will many of her peers, if for no other reason than textbook piracy). Before you know it, lugging around a backpack full of heavy textbooks will seem downright antediluvian.

All in all, this is going to be one exciting year in technology. I don’t know if the iPad will be a hit with mainstream consumers (still too expensive for my blood), but I am confident it will finally introduce tablet computing to the masses. And hopefully some of them can take advantage of it to finally go completely paper-free.

Will you be buying an iPad? Why or why not?

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The Setup: Stuff I Use (2010)

I’m continually fascinated to learn what hardware and software people I admire use. The Setup does a fantastic job interviewing prominent technologists about this exact topic. One of my favorite bloggers, Paul Stamatiou, has created a version of this as well, which I’m blatantly stealing (with permission!).

Computer Setup

  • Laptop: 13.3-inch unibody MacBook Pro (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo/4 GB RAM/250GB hard drive)
  • Monitor: BenQ 24-inch LCD
  • Mouse: Logitech MX Revolution wireless mouse
  • Keyboard: Logitech Wave wireless keyboard
  • Speakers: Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 THX speakers
  • External Hard Drive: Seagate Freeagent (500GB), Western Digital My Book Essential (1TB)
  • Home Server: HP MediaSmart Windows Home Server (4x1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 HDDs)

Gadgets

  • Cell Phone: Apple iPhone 4 (black 32GB)
  • Tablet: Apple iPad (16GB Wi-Fi)
  • Digital Camera: Canon EOS Rebel XS 10.1MP DSLR
  • Router: Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 (802.11g)
  • eBook Reader: Amazon Kindle 2 (sold)
  • Video Games: Xbox 360 (sold)
  • Media Receiver: Apple TV, original Xbox with XBMC (sold)
  • Projector: Optoma DV10 DLP Projector (built-in DVD player) (sold)

Services

  • Email/Calendar: Google Apps (custom domain)
  • File Sync: Dropbox
  • Online Backup: Mozy
  • Video Rental: Netflix
  • Web Hosting: MediaTemple (gs)

Software

  • Web Browser: Firefox (primary), Chromium, Safari
  • RSS: Google Reader
  • Blogging: WordPress
  • Twitter: Tweetie
  • To-Do Lists: Things
  • FTP: Transmit
  • Web Development: Coda
  • Virtualization: VMware Fusion with Windows XP
  • Media Player: VLC Player
  • Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2008
  • Music: iTunes
  • Photos: iPhoto
  • Backup: Time Machine
  • Other: TextExpander
  • Other: TunesArt
  • Other: iStat Menus
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Going Google-Free: A Video Postmortem

Before I started this little experiment, I was wary of just how big of a monopoly Google seemingly had on useful web services.

So, I decided to live without Google for a week.

How difficult was it? Well, at first I was incredibly frustrated. I recorded a short video (but to abide by my own rules, I sent it to someone else to upload to YouTube for me):

As you can see in that video, recorded on only my first day of the experiment, I was already second-guessing myself. However, as I progressed through the week, I found it became easier and easier to use some of the alternatives.

I chronicled my story in tweets, where you can see an evident progression from being obsessed with Google products to finding equal, if not superior, alternatives from other companies.

In the end, I found myself rather happy with the results of the experiment. I recorded another video, where I further expounded on the reasons I believe myself and others feel so connected to Google, but also why we have reason to be legitimately excited for the future:

All in all, I must say that I found this little experiment to be a bit of an eye-opener on the power a single company has over the Internet. However, after trying so many new products this week from startups and competing online behemoths, I believe that singular stranglehold on trailblazing products may now be waning. More than anything, I am ridiculously excited about the future of the Internet and what the days and years ahead will hold.

What about you? Could you ever go a week (or longer!) without using Google products, now or in the future?

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