Archive for the ‘iSlate’ 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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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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eBook Reader Technology Scorecard

August 31, 2007

reader-face-off2.jpg

I’ve been evaluating different ebook reading technologies over the last months, and I think it’s time for an interim report card on just how suitable the different technologies are for the purpose. My ratings are extrapolated a bit to try to account for the capabilities of a category as a whole rather than any specific device, but it’s obviously an inexact art. I’ll also put out the immediate disclaimer that this discussion is based on a limited sample of devices which aren’t wholly representative of the range of available gear. For fun, though, I’ll even include hypothetical ratings on a machine that doesn’t yet exist — my dream ebook machine, the mythical iTablet or iSlate. This not-so-farfetched device is like an iPhone grown up into a slick, touch-driven, Mac OS X tablet computer.

These hardware categories — desktop, laptop, tablet, dedicated reader, mobile and mythical iTablet — are rated on six criteria that affect the reading experience:

Compatibility refers to a machine’s ability to open ebook files and other documents in various formats. Are proprietary and DRM’d formats supported? Are workarounds required or even available for opening these formats?

Form Factor is a qualitative measure of how comfortable the devices are for reading. Does it pass the reading-on-the-couch test? How about the even more rigorous trial of reading in bed?

Portability is an indicator of size and weight. Is it something that I’ll want to casually carry around, or will I need to consider trade-offs to save room in my messenger bag or, more importantly, to save my back?

Display is a subjective measure of how good the screen is for the purpose of reading. This encompasses hard data like color, screen resolution and screen size, but it also is a subjective measure of how comfortable the reading experience is and how well it renders and displays text.

Battery Life is an indicator of how often the device needs to be charged on a typical usage cycle. This includes drain from other uses, so if I typically use a laptop for general computing and use up the battery, this is included in the measure. A dedicated device is, by definition, largely used for a single purpose and thus would have fewer other applications leeching from its usable batter life.

Experience is an effort to sum up all of the subjective and sometimes intangible qualities in a single number. This includes the device’s feel in-hand, negative distractions from the reading experience (such as system demands for attention — did someone say “Vista?”), interface usability and even that ultimate example of subjectivity— the fun factor.

The Scorecard

feature desktop laptop tablet reader mobile iTablet
compatibility 10 10 10 4 6 7
form factor 1 3 8 8 6 10
portability 0 5 7 9 10 8
display 9 9 9 5 3 10
battery life n/a 5 6 10 8 7
experience 1 4 6 6 5 9

Notes

Compatibility ratings are high for the general-purpose computers, since they can generally handle anything that can be thrown at them. One major exception is the lack of support for some proprietary DRM formats on the Mac.

the hypothetical iTablet displaying a comic book

The hypothetical iTablet.

The mythical iTablet would have limited initial support for these formats, but being a general-purpose and relatively open machine, software could be developed for the purpose.

The form factor for the tablet PC gains a few points for a large and flexible display, but loses them again for being somewhat bulky compared to a dedicated reader. Conversely, the dedicated reader gains points for svelteness but loses a few for the relatively small screen. These factors are a wash for me, resulting in the tie score.

Display ratings for the mythical machine are higher than the other general-purpose machines based on the assumption that it will sport a superior display like that in the iPhone.

Text display on e-ink-based dedicated readers like the Sony Reader would be a point or two higher for text read in good light. The lower score in the table reflects poorer performance in marginal lighting conditions. Displays on LCD-based dedicated readers like the iLiad are closer to the ratings for tablet devices.

The tablet would rate higher on overall experience if it were just a little lighter and more compact, and if the operating system required less care and feeding. I ding the mobile devices for overall experience because I don’t like reading on tiny screens unless I have to, even given the superior screen and great ebook potential of something like the iPhone. Your mileage on this, like everything else on this table, will vary.

A Moving Target

I’d like to make this table a living document, updating it periodically as the technologies evolve and adding additional criteria as needed. If you have suggestions for additional measures, let me know. And if you violently disagree with my ratings — or just have your own ideas — I’d love to see your version of the table and the reasoning behind it!

Related Posts

Lenovo X61T: The Reading-on-the-Couch Test
Sony Reader: Mammal or Dinosaur?
eBook Readers: Looking for Just Right
iPhone and eBooks: the Video