Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

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Visualizing Comics on the iPad

January 27, 2010

Steve Jobs didn’t specifically talk about comics and other visually-intensive ebooks on the iPad, but it does fix many of the graphics and usability issues that severely limited the comics-reading utility of the monochrome e-readers and bulky tablet PCs that came before.

With its large color screen, slim form factor and long battery life, it may well be the reading device that comics fans have been waiting for.

While we await the iPad’s arrival, I wanted to visualize just how the iPad might work as a comics-reading machine. I fired up Photoshop and plugged in a couple of screens from the Witchblade books on WOWIO. What do you think?

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Sony Readers, Library Software for Mac — Soon

July 7, 2009

Mac and Sony Reader — Flying BooksIf you’re a Mac user using a Sony Reader, you’ve been compelled to use various workarounds to get content onto your device. While the third-party software allows the addition of ebooks from other sources, Sony’s own ebook store can only be accessed using the official Windows-based eBook Library software.

With surging Mac mind (and market) share — along with competition from cross-platform ebook readers like the Kindle — it looks like Sony is finally going to provide official Mac support by “the end of Summer 2009” (see the announcement reproduced below). The original PRS500 Reader is conspicuously absent from the announcement — perhaps it’s unsupported but still compatible as a discontinued model?

Sony Announcement, July 7, 2009

Attention Mac users!

We’ve received many requests to make the eBook Store work with Apple® Macintosh® computers, and we wanted to share with you our progress on this front.

An updated version of the eBook Library Software compatible with Mac OS X operating systems will be available by the end of Summer 2009 for download to your computer to enable you to purchase, organize and download content to your PRS505 and PRS700.

Send us your email address, and we will notify you when the update is available.

Thank you,

Your Friends at The eBook Store

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iTablet / iPad / iSlate Dreams

April 30, 2009


MacFormat posted some feature ideas and lovely mockups of the long-awaited, still-hypothetical Apple device known variously as the iTablet, iSlate, and, most recently, iPad in its various rumor mill incarnations.

This iPhone OS-based configuration makes total sense to me, though the design for an on-screen keyboard for a device of this size seems like a tricky (though certainly not insurmountable) UI challenge.

Be sure to check the original post for more…

(via 9 to 5 Mac)

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The Hypothetical iTablet: What’s Taking So Long?

April 9, 2008
iPhone and iTablet

The iPhone and a 5.25″ iTablet, to scale.

iTablet concept from Yanko Design

iTablet mockup from Yanko Design.

Interest in the hypothetical Apple iSlate or iTablet — the hybridized descendant of the iPhone/iPod Touch, the Mac and the Newton— never seems to die, as new (or recycled) rumors swirl with the approach of every Apple-sponsored gathering. The iPhone/Touch branch of the Apple family tree is beginning to unfold with new models and a true third-party development environment, so most of the foundations for a multitouch-enabled tablet device are already laid down. Yet, the machine remains forever on the horizon, a mere glimmer in every Apple fan’s eye. Perhaps — as Apple competitors have discovered — the matter of making such a machine usable and polished to Apple standards is far more than a simple supersizing of what already exists. Given what we know about existing machines, it’s instructive to look at what the iTablet/iSlate might be, along with some of the substantial interface issues that Apple will need to solve before such a machine can become reality.

Look, Touch and Feel

iTablet

The iTablet, based on a rendering posted at TechEBlog.

The iTablet will likely follow the evolving design themes emerging from Cupertino, continuing the convergence toward aluminum and black that characterize recent Apple machines. The critical acclaim and hotcakes-like acceptance of the MacBook Air guarantees that slimness and lightness will be a priority, and by their omission, optical drives will be given another small push toward obsolescence.

The mockups shown here are beautiful, but I think they’re wrong in at least one other key respect — a touch- and stylus-enabled tablet from Apple would be running a scaled-up variant of the iPhone multitouch interface (Mobile OS X) rather than a scaled-down version of Mac OS X. This avoids the problems that Windows has on Tablet PCs, where traditional Windows interface elements designed for precise mouse control are pressed into service for use with the highly-imprecise fingertip (or somewhat better stylus). Instead, the iTablet would have a new version of the slick iPhone OS X that’s specifically designed for touch input. Controls are sized larger and tasks are logically set up for touch interactions. Gestures for navigation and zooming are fully integrated and intuitive. A pressure-sensitive, Wacom-type stylus might be included as an additional input device, for the artists and graphic designers who would be a key (read “drooling at the thought”) market for such a machine.

iTablet concept image from looprumors.com

If Mobile OS X is indeed used, it opens the question of how more-computer-like tasks will be handled. The larger and more capable form factor implies more complex usage scenarios such as editing between multiple documents, and with it comes an increased expectation or desire to do more than one thing at a time. In the iPhone’s paradigm, very few apps are allowed to multitask in the background and, from a user’s perspective, a single task takes over the entire machine at any given moment. Apple will need to figure out a new method for task switching, while still balancing against the device’s more limited battery and cpu resources. Further, Mobile OS X has no user-accessible equivalent to the Mac Finder to manipulate files. While it’s very possible that Apple will choose to keep it that way, a new paradigm for transferring user files onto the system and allowing access within appropriate apps will still need to defined and integrated into the user interface. The searchable hierarchical lists used in the iPhone’s iTunes Store or the Mac’s Spotlight search app may point the way to how this might work, but much remains to be done.

Screens, Pixels and Thumbs

In my earlier specifications for an ideal ebook reader, I thought that a 12″ display would be ideal. Now, after using a 12″ Lenovo X61T Tablet PC, a 6″ Sony Reader and a 3.5″ iPhone, I’ve changed my mind. The high pixel density and high contrast of the iPhone’s display allows for good readability at reduced text sizes, and the weight and battery life penalties suffered by the Tablet PC make a smaller screen even more attractive. At four pounds, the the X61T gets to be uncomfortable while reading in bed, for example. A high-pixel-density 5.25″ display — as conjectured by the rumor sites — would provide very usable screen real estate without unduly compromising portability or power consumption.

Screen size has other significant implications for the iTablet’s user interface. The virtual keyboard would have room for larger and more widely spaced keys than on an iPhone, but their size and positioning are constrained by the physical reach of the user’s thumbs if the keyboard is to be used in a two-handed, iPhone-style landscape typing position. The bigger the screen, the more necessary it becomes for Apple to develop a smart solution distinct from the simple layout used in the iPhone. Larger screens also open up the possibility of typing on the screen while it rests in landscape mode on a flat surface, more like a traditional (albeit shrunken) computer keyboard than a Blackberry. This usage implies yet another keyboard layout, and Apple would then need to make the machine clever enough to display the right one at the right time. Sensors could detect this orientation similar to the way they currently detect rotation and face proximity — doable, but clearly requiring yet more development.

Suite Apps

Macs, iPhones and iPods all ship with complete suites of applications that allow the machines to perform the functions that they were designed for, all while showing off the machine’s capabilities. By virtue of its screen size, the iTablet is inherently better suited for reading and editing longer documents (like ebooks) than the iPhone. The latter’s smaller screen is not as well suited for this purpose, and the resulting compromised user experience is probably one reason why Apple has not made reader software a priority to this point. In contrast, the iTablet will be a very able platform for ebook reading, and it’s virtually certain that Apple will create an app to show off this strength. Similarly, a stylus-enabled iTablet would make a beautiful handwriting notebook and sketch pad, and it seems very possible that Apple will create a simple app to show off this functionality.

If Not Now, Then When?

That’s the big question. Nearly a year has passed since the iPhone’s debut, and a second generation phone is already expected this year. On the other hand, the issues sampled here suggest that an iTablet is far more than a physical upscaling of the iPhone. Many incremental but still substantial additions and adaptations are needed, and getting it right takes time.

Related Posts

iPhone and eBooks: an Early Flirtation
iPhone and eBooks: the Video
iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard
iPhone Reader: The Long Sessions

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A Personal Library for a Pixelated Future

September 24, 2007

a book dissolving into digital bitsFor the sake of argument, let’s say that the future of the book is cast — ebooks in some form will dominate, with paper books reserved for special works, as gifts and for hobbyist-collectors. Book stores and public libraries have already begun (or in the case of purely-digital stores like WOWIO, have already completed) the transformation from atoms to bits, and they will continue along their evolutionary paths paralleling those of the books.

But my wife — who has been using ebooks since her med school days in the 90s — brought up a good question the other night… what about our personal libraries? What will they look like once shelves lined with paper books become the exception? Today, guests can walk up to the book case to peruse the titles, whether to find entertainment, discover new titles or perhaps gain a little insight into the books’ owners. How does that work with a mostly-digital collection?

Part of the answer may be in front of us today, with iTunes and its shared media library. The software has already transformed the browsing and sharing patterns of mainstream music listeners, with its various visual and list-oriented browsing modes and its ability to share collections across a local network. This paradigm has spread to videos, audio books, podcasts and other media types as well. Even PDFs are partially supported. Extending the idea to full-blown ebooks is only a short stretch further, with listing options modified to support book-specific content.

iLibrary — the future of the personal book collection?

iTunes: one model for a future personal ebook and media library.
(click image to enlarge)

Extrapolating a bit further, all of the household’s books and other media could be shared on a primary household media machine with plenty of storage and a large, multi-touch screen for browsing or for more-focused use of music, video, games and the Internet. The ready access, sharable view and tactile experience would help retain the social and impulsive aspects of the book-browsing experience.

Casual page browsing in this scenario could be done on the large screen, but for serious reading, guests carrying iPhone-like devices could seamlessly join the local wireless network to access the household’s books (and other media). Alternatively, other types of devices in the household, like laptops or iSlates, could be borrowed for the purpose.

browsing the big-screen digital ebook library

Browsing the touch-enabled iLibrary.

This may sound suspiciously like a Microsoft fantasy home of the future. The difference is, aside from the big-screen touch interface, genuinely usable precursors of this concept are already in wide-spread use. Not just by those on the bleeding-edge, but by second-wave adopters like me.

streaming video from a central media server

House MD: from media library to kitchen.

I store music and video on a living room library machine — a relatively inexpensive Mac Mini connected to a big-screen HDTV — and access it wirelessly from other rooms on laptops and other devices. For example, the photo at right shows an iTunes-purchased episode of House MD streaming from the library Mini to a MacBook Pro in the kitchen as I cook dinner.

Even closer to the hypothetical scenario, I’ve also read ebook PDFs stored in the media library on an iPhone via OS X’s built-in Web sharing (this is a workaround for the iPhone’s current file system limitations which require somewhat kludgy hacks to store and access files directly on the iPhone).

All of this is done with no more technical knowledge than that required to set up a Wi-Fi network (a no-brainer with the Airport Express in my setup), along with the ability to use the simple sharing built into iTunes and the Mac.

So is this what a digital book library will look like? Will my mostly-linear extrapolation of existing technology be leap-frogged by something totally new?

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iPhone and iPod: Dense Pixels, Happy Eyes

September 6, 2007

iPod TouchYesterday’s announcement of the third-generation iPod Nano and iPod Touch was another step in Apple’s accelerating march toward sharper displays and resolution independence. The third-generation Nano now has the highest pixel density in the Apple lineup, at 204 pixels per inch (ppi). By comparison, the iPhone comes in at 160 ppi with the new iPods Touch and Classic at a nearly-identical 163 ppi. Meanwhile, Apple’s high-end 30″ Cinema Display is at 102 ppi.

Subjectively, the iPhone’s display is clearly superior to any computer display I’ve ever seen. While this is a function of many factors, the high pixel density plays a huge part in creating the extraordinarily tack-sharp perception. While the Nano’s screen is too small to be useful for reading, it seems completely within Apple’s philosophy and technical capability to extend the high-pixel-density feature to other devices, including the Mac and the hypothetical iTablet. After all, multimedia and typography are in Apple’s DNA, while resolution independence is an announced feature in the next version of Mac OS X and perhaps a current feature in today’s iPhone/Touch OS X.

I wanted to visualize more objectively just how these increased densities are affecting the reading experience. The images below are enlargements of PDF text (from my latest WOWIO ebook project) rendered in Photoshop to simulate different pixel densities. Be sure to click on the image to see the enlargement so you can see the full effect.

Screen Pixel Density Simulation (small)

While rendering on the actual devices will be different, these images can still give an idea of the relative quality of the text displays. The smooth and crisp type renderings at the higher pixel densities correlate directly into perceived text clarity and reading comfort. Today’s common complaints about fuzzy, headache-inducing screen text — one of the most persistent obstacles to reading long-form text in digital format — are literally being smoothed away.

Related Posts
iPhone and eBooks: The Video
iPhone and eBooks: An Early Flirtation
Books v. eBooks: the Reader’s Experience

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Sony Reader and the Mac: An Unfinished Story

September 4, 2007

Mac and Sony Reader — Flying Books

I find that I’m turning to the Sony Reader more and more often as my primary ebook reader for books that are mainly text (as opposed to those with extensive embedded images or comics). Its compactness, fast start time and long battery life are turning out to be more important than the superior display of the bigger and heavier X61T Tablet PC.

While I’ve loaded the Sony Connect software on the Windows-based X61T, my MacBook Pro is my primary machine and I prefer to manage the Reader’s content from there. While Sony’s software only supports Windows, several workarounds exist which make the Mac and the Sony Reader a viable combination. One option is to run the Sony software by installing Windows on the Mac via BootCamp, Parallels or Fusion. Mssv tested the Mac/Parallels/Windows combination, and found it to be completely functional (with the notable exception of performing firmware upgrades). In this post, I’ll take a look at other methods which don’t require Windows at all.

Sony Reader and Mac - using the memory card slot

The Sony Reader’s memory card slot.

Memory Stick or SD Card

The simplest (and most reliable) option for adding books to the Reader is via a flash memory card. Files on a card are automatically added to the Reader’s catalog when loaded via the device’s memory card slot.

Docudesk PRS Browser v1.0

This free download from Docudesk provides more options for browsing and file management of a Reader connected to a Mac’s USB port. The software is stable and it successfully reads the contents of the connected Reader’s internal memory. Files can be added by dragging and dropping from the Finder or browsing a dialogue box. Files can also be deleted with a single click. Flash cards in the Reader can also be read, but only the top-level directory is accessible — subdirectories can be seen but not opened.

Docudesk PRS Browser screenshot

PRS Browser’s minimalist window.

PRS Browser’s other main limitation is in its minimal display — it only shows the file names of the books rather than the book titles stored in the files’ metadata. Other metadata like author name or file size are not available. The file-name-only display works fine for books with fairly meaningful file names. For example, Jane Rule’s Contract with the World downloads from WOWIO with a file name like ContractwithWorld_186849.pdf, but cryptically-named files — like those from Sony’s Connect store, with singularly unhelpful names like CBUS125110000B00U.lrf — can be a problem. In these cases, the files are best renamed in the Finder before attempting transfers to the Reader via PRS Browser.

libprs500 v.0.3.106

This open source project from Kovid Goyal is available as a free download for Windows, Mac OS X and various Linux distributions.

libprs500 screenshot

The libprs500 library window.

As a version 0.3 product, the software is clearly not yet complete and can’t be expected to be fully stable. Indeed, it crashed several times in the course of my testing. However, the software promises to be a very full-featured package, with full file management options, metadata display and editing, and even file conversion capabilities into the Sony’s native reflowable .lrf format. That last feature includes the capability (due in the next update) to download, reformat and index the contents of a web site (for example, the New York Times could be downloaded, converted to the Reader and read off-line). Development appears to be moving along steadily, with version 0.4 due in late September.

In its current early-development release, libprs500 can display and edit the full metadata (title, author, file size and modification date) for books on the Mac and in the Reader’s internal memory and card slot. Files can be copied from the Mac to the Sony’s internal storage. Books in the memory card slot can be viewed and deleted but not yet added or copied.

While it clearly isn’t ready for day-to-day use, libprs500 is definitely worth watching as its development continues.

Related Posts
eBook Reader Technology Scorecard
Sony Reader: Mammal or Dinosaur?
Books v. eBooks: the Reader’s Experience