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Discovering your destiny

Posted: April 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Lectures | No Comments »

I had planned to write about some of the major tech events of the day. Palm is saved! Apple buys more stuff to mothball!

But I’ve started a new job this week, and life lessons are cascading on me such that I can’t help but jot them down. So I’ll ask that you indulge me in a thought.

You need to find and fulfill your destiny. If you think that’s crazy, you really should read on. If you already know yours, I hope you’ll find some value in my story.

I don’t necessarily intend this in a cosmic, religious, or metaphysical sense, though it may very well be in that way that you experience your destiny. For my purposes, I’m defining “destiny” as what you want to have achieved before you die, what you want to be remembered for, or just what you want in general. Joseph Campbell would call it your “bliss”.

At my new job today, I was reminded of a story. It’s an uncomfortable one.

My desperate grasp for control

About seven years ago, I worked as a low-level geek at a large local business. I didn’t know what I wanted, just that I wanted to move up in the world. I’d come pretty far, considering that 18 months earlier I’d been delivering lunches for a living. In my year as a computer technician there, a pretty clear path emerged in front of me. If I wanted to move up, I needed to get into management or operations.

Lo and behold, positions opened up in both at once. There was an operations job and a management job for my team. I wasn’t sure what either entailed, only that I felt I deserved one of the two. I applied for one, only to have it scooped up. I threw my hat in the ring for the other, only to have my coworker slide into that position.

Over the next few months, I seethed. I tried a number of ways to fix my feeling of powerlessness: I complained, whined, and even tried to rally my coworkers into open revolt against the obviously political and corrupt organization I found myself trapped in.

One morning, we were gearing up to go on a department-wide ski trip. I had my snowboard loaded up, and as my colleagues clumped into carloads, I was pulled aside by my coworker-now-boss. I was to report to HR. I was sure I hadn’t done anything wrong, so it was with a bit of nervousness I walked into the HR director’s office to find my boss and my boss’s boss there.

“What am I supposed to tell my wife?”

The next 15 minutes are still a blur. I was being fired. They tried to be gentle, but I was hot with righteous indignation. How dare they patronize me and say “it’s not a fit”? They threw around words like “bad customer service” and “borderline insubordination”. Even now, I’m flushed with embarrassment as I write this.

So I’d been proven right. I was powerless. What was I supposed to tell my wife? I called her, not just crying; heaving as I apologized to her. How was I going to pay the mortgage? After many months of scrambling for a sense of control, it was all taken from me in one moment. I spent about a month feeling sorry for myself, but I was offered another job; a chance to start over.

At my next job, I was shocked to find the situation play out all over again. I watched for 5 years as coworkers were promoted, and I had my position, title, and pay “redefined” downward. I could feel more layers press down on me. Was this my destiny? To fumble as others succeed? I was smart, capable, and I worked damn hard. Why wasn’t that getting through to these people?

Now, it’s obvious that I was doomed to fail because I didn’t own my destiny, while I watched my coworkers claim theirs. I didn’t know, but even though I shared a workplace, lunches, and conversations with my successful coworkers, they were in a different, parallel universe. In their universe, they had direction and control, while I clung desperately to a job I couldn’t afford to lose.

Finding a compass

Just over a year ago, exasperated, I had a long talk with the person whose career had rocketed while mine stagnated in the same company. Ostensibly, it was about learning to program. But really, I was profoundly unhappy and was hoping he could point to any exit.

That talk set off a chain of events that led to more than a career change; it was a chance for me to grab a compass and choose a direction for my life.

In the year that followed, I watched as the workplace tore itself apart in desperation as the company crumbled and sank. It was the worst work environment I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot at this point. But as my personal course became more clear, this became less relevant.

More recently, I spent several months helping start a company from the ground up with a small group of close friends. With no job title, manager, or ambition, my only responsibility was to create something of value. Although my compass has now led me in a new direction, this experience helped solidify my understanding that it’s me who shapes my destiny.

You can cheat to win, but not to succeed

Today, when I hear people grumble about bosses, politics, and promotions, it is with an odd detachment, and I realize: I’m in a different universe now. I’m not at a job to try to win a promotion, a ribbon, a prize, or raise.

Promotions, raises, and awards are simply how the world reacts to good work. My goal is to produce good work, and match myself with the kind of organization that shares my idea of good work. Trying to “game” this system offers a mere illusion of control, and is a fast track to an unhappy life.

I’m at a job to apply my unique and valuable skills to create things of consequence. If that’s not the deal, we could part ways with no hard feelings, and I’d find a place to create things of value. As it stands, it seems to be working out great. Someday, I hope that place will be my own company, and I’ll apply my skills to my own projects full time.

The magic ingredient

As it is, I’m confident that I’ll succeed in my current role. It was my choice to accept it. Every day, it’s my choice whether I give my best.

And although confidence is the magic ingredient that puts you in the “other universe”, it’s simply a byproduct of doing things. You do something, then you know you can do it. That’s confidence.

I repeat: confidence is essential, and it’s a byproduct of doing.

There is a real lesson here, and in case I’ve couched it too deeply, it is this: If you don’t believe you have a destiny, if you think you’re powerless, life and the universe will prove you right in the most exquisite and painful way.

If you’ve found your destiny, your mission is to fulfill it. Seize it.

Here’s a hint: If you don’t know what your destiny is, creating something is probably a good start. Helping people is a great start. Creating something that helps people? Now we’re talking.


Would you pay $10/month for “Hulu Pro”?

Posted: April 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Media | Tags: , | No Comments »

First off, I want to say that I’ll probably be one of the first to sign up for a $10 Hulu subscription when it’s available. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that the service won’t be that long-lived. And the reason is closely linked to many, many big startups over the past 10 years.

After seeing some videos from the Startup Lessons Learned conference today (and spending the last 5 years of my life at startups), I’m struggling a bit with the idea of companies that launch with a “go get lots of users, we’ll monetize them later” mentality.

For every Google, there are a hundred MySpaces that get huge with no business model, then don’t stand up in the harsh light of a quarterly report. Hulu, Twitter, and Facebook are all in that perilous transition period where user base isn’t good enough anymore.

Hulu is especially interesting to me, because it represents about 90% of the content that’s piped into my house. Almost a year ago, I shut off our satellite service in favor of streaming over the Web. We have a Mac Mini hooked to our TV, and most of our media consumption is through Hulu Desktop.

I’m convinced Hulu Desktop is the most forward-thinking app in the current crop of media players. It’s more vital than Boxee, VLC, Plex, or even iTunes. These are solutions that are primarily geared toward people who amass and store media locally, while Hulu recognizes that I don’t care to store a huge amount of content… I just want to watch it.

So it’s like the worlds biggest TiVo, and it went ahead and recorded everything on TV for me, with a fantastic interface for browsing the content.

The most important thing Hulu Desktop does is exactly what convinced my wife to watch TV on a computer: you turn it on, and it starts playing. This concept is so much a part of the fabric of set-top devices over the last 30 years that I’m shocked it eludes modern software. Every modern set-top media box seems to want to dump you into a heirarchal menu, requiring you to make a series of complex choices before you can watch TV… even the Apple TV (though I hear that’s due to change soon).

Let me repeat: the most important thing you can do when showing media on TV for the mass market (I.e. “non-techies”) is to just start playing something when the device is turned on. When a show ends, it shows me the next episode, or something similar. It plays the NBC Thursday night comedies in order, and it follows up Stewart with Colbert (at least, it used to). The people behind Hulu get it.

On top of that, they’re handling the subscription model very well… If it adds enough features. A free service suddenly switching to a pay model is usually a kiss of death, but the addition of premium services is the backbone of the “freemium” model that has a fighting chance of success.

Now the bad news: I think Hulu is doomed.

Hulu’s eventual downfall will be due to a slow degradation of service, at the hands of greedy and fearful media conglomerates. And it’s already begun: though the show’s creators wanted all episodes online, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” yanked all but the last 5 episodes in Hulu’s first PR blunder a couple of years back.

More recently, Viacom yanked Jon Stewart and Colbert altogether. All this taught me is that I can live without them. Nice work, Viacom!

So is a $10/month subscription model likely to stem the tide of this gradual degradation? Not likely. Media giants like Rupert Murdoch have already proven to be so short-sighted and afraid of change that I think Hulu will constantly have to fight for its life against the media companies that created it. And it will lose.

I worked for a startup that had a great product that had thousands of loyal customers. But the product could never live up to the billion-dollar expectations that fueled massive overspending in building it. From that point on, the product could never be financially viable: the cost to build it was ten times what the market would bear.

I think Hulu is doomed in a similar way. It’s the media companies trying to collect pennies where they are accustomed to demanding briefcases of money. Yes, these pennies are better than nothing, but no, it’s not going to provide the budget to create another Lost. Hulu, while a great service overall, is based on a fundamental misunderstanding about the direction of media on the internet: that the money they used to make from TV content through mass advertising will magically come from the interwebs.

Big Old Media is both what makes Hulu so compelling (big-budget content on the web!) and the millstone around its neck (big-budget content… on the web?!?).

Still, I look forward to seeing the features that $10 buys me, until the media companies ruin it. I’d love access to a larger back catalog of episodes, so I can catch up on Fringe. Maybe it’ll even bring back Colbert. But not for too long, I’d wager.

UPDATE: While editing this post, I saw that NBC’s Thursday night lineup is not on Hulu yet, as it has been on every Friday night for the last year. The rules of Hulu are constantly shifting, and always out of favor of the user. I’ll be sad if I have to fire Hulu as my primary media source before they even have a chance to launch the subscription service.

In short, you can’t make your service suck just a little more each week and expect people to flock in instead of out.

Despite all this, am I the only one who’s still signing up?


The iPhone bombshell and the loss of perspective

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Other Blogs | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

This lost-and-found iPhone story has kind of made very one associated with it a little insane.

The editors at Gizmodo have absolutely lost my respect, by paying for a “scoop”, when their legal and ethical obligation was to report the missing phone to the police. Engadget simply lost the bidding war and tried their best to capitalize. And for what?

Check out this tweet by Marco Arment. There’s not a dollar amount they can draw from this that would justify the cost, in time, effort, and lawyers, that this is likely to bring. But, driven by the “gotta be first” mentality of tech blogging, they ignored all semblance of journalistic integrity and busted out the checkbook.

Worse, when the shit hit the fan, they detailed the plight of the Apple employee, name, picture, and all, that they themselves caused, then making a disingenuous offer to return the phone.

And again I ask, for what? To steal pageviews FROM YOURSELVES on the day of the inevitable upcoming reveal. I’m sickened by the way this has been handled, but more confused as to why no one seems to have been using their brains. I can only surmise that those involved saw that rarest of beasts, the Apple prototype, and lost their shit.

And then, the New York Times found an analyst who opined that he’d “rather be anyone else in the world” than this Apple employee. Really? The world is a big place full of suffering people, and here we have a guy who has raised Steve Jobs’s ire.

I‘ve sat in a deposition room while being grilled by an Apple lawyer who was sent by an angry Steve Jobs. The lawyer twisted every email, document, and snippet into an insane, madhouse version of the facts, and even insinuated that I had gone to work for Apple as a spy. And hey, I’m still here. And I could even be an Apple employee again someday (not bloody likely, but I could).

My point is that this clumsy guy isn’t going to die of Pissed Off Steve Jobs. He may be fired, and then he’ll have the world’s best cover letter for his next job application. Let’s save some of this worrying for the people who really deserve it.

I don’t know what to do about Gizmodo, though. I would support a boycott if one were proposed, but I lack the influence to put it together myself. John Gruber, I’m looking at you.


Apple’s bringing sexy back.

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , | No Comments »

iPhone 4G? Are we not calling it the iPhone HD yet? That nomenclature is beyond confusing, because, unlike the iPods, whose generations we stopped counting around 5.5, the 3G iPhone is named after the network, and is only a second-gen device. In addition, the “4G iPhone” doesn’t seem to actually function on 4G networks.

That rant aside, it’s been a big day for nerds. Setting aside the douchetacular way this has been handled by the blog networks (until my next post, anyway), the thoroughly unofficial unveiling of the iPhone HD is exciting stuff.

Facts first: this is the new iPhone. No Apple prototype makes it that far into the field without it being a production sample. Seams and all. WYSIWYG.

Apple was keen on showing off how the new iMac’s screen has an “infinity edge”, like a trendy bathtub. Of course, it’s all aesthetic; under the infinite expanse of glass is a bezel as thick as ever. Still, this edge-to-edge glass is a welcome replacement for my endlessly scratchable (and dated-feeling) chrome bezel.

The glass back is stunning. Many are saying it’ll carry a signal upgrade, but someone will have to explain to me how glass or high-gloss ceramic is more radio transparent than plastic.

No. What this represents is Apple realigning function with form, after letting function run the show for two years.

When the iPhone was announced, it wasn’t just a shiny new gadget. It was a tiny, sexy monolith. Aluminum was slippery and impaired the signal, but not the signal it sent to your brain (and your friends): I own a premium device.

The 3G changed that. Much like comparing the 1G iPod with its eventual descendants, you get the sense that the latter devices were meant for mass production and consumption, with all its unsexy signs.

The iPhone 3G seems to accept that its eventual destination is a landfill, from the chintzier chrome buttons to the hollow sound of its thin plastic casing. For me, it’s enough to pine for the original, premium iPhone. For some crazies, it’s enough to custom-fabricate titanium replacement casings.

Some are calling the new iPhone an honorary Dieter-Rams-Era-Braun design, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s elegant, minimal, and every part seems to have been thought through in great detail. I love the simple, glass-aluminum-glass sandwich, the buttons, everything.

I also love that it’s thinner and flat: It can’t hide it’s bulk by tapering at the edges (which even the iPad does). It is what it is.

Some are saying that the battery is now user-replaceable, which makes sense. Apple loves to let third parties set up cottage industries around their products’ shortcomings, only to yank the rug out from under them in one surprise reveal.

Make no mistake: Apple has noticed that the only people not making money on iPhone batteries is Apple. They’d be all too happy to sell you a spare battery or two with your iPhone at $69 a pop.

That means that all those battery-case hybrids are three times irrelevant: they don’t fit, the iPhone needs less protection, and there’s no need for a dock-blocking (heh) battery backpack.

Speaking of case manufacturers, I’m so glad to be rid of invisible shields I could burst. I loathe those things. They cheapen the look and feel of my iPhone, discolor almost immediately, and turn into used Band-Aids in a matter of weeks. But the scratch-prone plastic case makes them an absolute necessity. The worst part is that they add $40 to the cost of every single iPhone I buy. Now, with a glass front and back, they’re toast.

The high-res screen was a gimme. I’m wondering how that’s going to work, though. Sure, existing software will look the same, but will developers need to create 3 versions of apps: 1 for iPhone, 1 for iPhone HD, and 1 for iPad? I’m sure Apple has an answer waiting in the wings as to how this isn’t going to fragment the market and create hell for developers.

For my part, going from using my iPad and my wife’s Droid makes the resolution on my iPhone feel downright woeful. At this point, it’s more of a “fix” than a feature to me.

I hope the front-facing camera does more than video chat. I don’t use it on my computer, And I don’t anticipate using it on my iPhone that often. It’s novel, but it’ll be up to the software to make it useful. And iChat just isn’t all that useful. (Now Skype, on the other hand…)

LED flash: super meh. Those are only useful in the absolutely most dire circumstance. I can’t wait to hear Scott Forstall get all bug-eyed and declare a new gold rush on LED flashlight apps.

The microSIM tells me that Verizon customers shouldn’t get their hopes up for a simultaneous launch with the AT&T version. Maybe someday. Maybe. On the other hand, Apple is punching AT&T in the face repeatedly with the iPad 3G “pay as you go, then stop paying whenever you want, easily” plan. That relationship sounds strained, at best.

I am satisfied enough by the iPad that I’m in no hurry for a higher-res iphone browsing experience, but the device itself. Oh my gosh, so sexy. It’s everything I miss about the original iPhone, stepped up.

June can’t come fast enough.


Wow, posted 6 minutes before me.

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Makes me feel good that Instapaper mega-developer Marco Arment and I are thinking along the same lines.


Is obsolescence becoming obsolete?

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Today, Apple announced new MacBooks and MacBooks Pro (that’s right, I said MacBooks Pro). And I couldn’t care less.

I’ve got an 18-month-old Unibody MacBook Pro that I’ve dirtied, scratched, scraped, dropped, dented, and abused. And I honestly think it’ll be my main machine for at least 12 more months. And this is coming from a guy who used to upgrade every 6-8 months. What gives?

For one, I have an iPad. At 1 GHz and with 256MB of RAM, it sounds like it’s a ten-year-old computer, which is why you don’t see Apple bragging about the specs. But nobody really cares. I do nearly half of my computing on this machine now, and don’t find many occasions to open the laptop unless I’m at work.

Second, I bought an SSD. Forget gigahertz, the new standard is MBps. (And that’s even for those of us who care about such measurements.) Most people don’t yet realize that the reason they constantly see spinning beach balls isn’t that their computer is too slow, it’s that they’re relying on slow, inefficient, and increasingly crashy hard disks for storage.

After 2 failed hard disks in 3 months (admittedly, one was because I dropped my laptop), I opted for the Crucial RealSSD C300. It’s arguably the fastest SSD out there right now, and at $700 for 256GB, definitely in “early adopter” territory. Still, I would much, much rather have this upgrade than a new MacBook Pro. In daily life, things that took minutes now take seconds.

And it’s a confluence of these factors is breaking the traditional notion of “obsolete”. The tasks you ask of a computer are often small, like playing YouTube videos or word processing, and these are easily within the grasp of my iPad. But even the most demanding tasks like running Photoshop or editing a video can be done quite effectively on a 3-year-old laptop.

Do you remember a time when you cared about how many colors your monitor could display? It used to be that there was so much we wanted to display on a computer, but our hardware could only render one color, then sixteen, then 256, and then thousands. Then, about 10 years ago, we settled on “millions”, and never thought about it again.

I think that this time is approaching with processor speed. The gap is wider between “benchmarked speed” and “real-world speed” than ever. The Core i7 technology excites my inner geek, and I’d love to convert some video with it. But that’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis.

Intel has made the new processor inside the new MacBooks faster by a factor of two, by many benchmarks. But in the real world, my life would not improve by a factor of two. My “computing quality of life” might increase by 5%. That’s odd, because my solid state disk had a much bigger impact than 5%, and the vastly-less-powerful iPad has improved my computing life by at least a factor of two.

We’re now focused on removing bottlenecks like disk speed (using solid state disks) and RAM (by using 64-bit software to address more than 4GB), or even interface elements (think eliminating the mouse). My computing life is much faster, more efficient, and more fun than it was 18 months ago, and it has nothing to do with there being “Intel inside”.


My first week with the iPad

Posted: April 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

After spending time with the iPad, I have to admit: it does feel like I’m interacting with the future of computing. Simple, elegant, fun, hassle-free. I don’t think you should have to tether to a computer to get this experience, but it’s a pretty decent start. Here are my “notes from the field” after a week with an iPad:

THE HARDWARE

The first thing I did was to put the precious iPad into its first-party case (more on that below), so it took a few days for me to wrest the iPad from of its case and get a feel for how precise and perfect everything feels. I’ve come to expect that from Ive and the team at Apple, but it’s nice to feel that kind of quality in something this compact. It’s a big jump up from the iPhone 3GS.

Battery life is just astonishing. It is like witchcraft. I am a heavy, heavy user, and I recharge 1 time a day. Yesterday, after using it for a little email and web surfing, I had 97% when I got home from work.

THE ACCESSORIES

The case is substandard, but that’s to be expected. My experience with Apple is that they lack the kind of passion for their accessories that they have for their hardware/software. If you remember the first iPod case, packed-in with the 3rd-gen iPod: A flat piece of nylon, bent into a U shape, with a piece of elastic sewn in to hold the iPod inside the U (but leaving the top and sides exposed). It was a piece of crap, but it had a belt clip. It would do until the third parties caught on (and catch on they did).

Apple only produces an accessory when they don’t want to wait for accessory makers to take the lead. In this (ahem) case, Apple saw that a thin cover that makes a wedge, covers the screen, and can stand up is of great utility. And it is! It’s just a piece of crap. The edges are heat-fused, sharp and plasticky, it feels cheap, and the material picks up dog hair better than most lint rollers.

Still, the case offers screen protection (a must) and decent utility as a wedge (however, it makes for a pretty wobbly stand when set up to watch movies).

Aside from those, the best thing about the case is that it provides anonymity. Unless you want to be the “iPad Guy (or Girl)”, I thought it was cool to be the “guy with an iPod” all those years ago, but with the iPad, it’s a bit more conspicuous than I care for anymore. Most can’t tell whether you’re rocking a Kindle, iPad, or even a little pad of paper with the case on.

For typing in-lap, the Apple case is a requirement. I’d love to see someone take a stab at a nicer, classier version.

The iPad is so hard to get out of the case that I haven’t even had occasion to use the Dock yet.

THE KEYBOARD

I was surprised I didn’t miss a physical keyboard. I still haven’t paired it with the Bluetooth Keyboard, something I’d planned to do on Day 1.

There’s an unexpectedly satisfying drumbeat to the tapping of fingers on the screen that’s vastly superior to the iPhone, and maybe even more fun than clacking away on the real thing.

The keyboard is a cruel taskmaster, though: any resting of fingers, even for a millisecond, is met with a jumble of letters on the screen, a kind of rap across the knuckles from an angry typing teacher. Between the iPad keyboard and the Magic Mouse, it seems Apple is trying to teach people to hover their fingers over touch surfaces, and never to lazily rest your hands on anything. It can get tiring.

Ergonomically dubious though it may be, it really only requires a few hours of retraining muscle memory to get used to the idea. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

The best tip I heard all week was to hold down the comma key to get an apostrophe, solving one of my biggest gripes.

BUILT-IN SOFTWARE

It’s a huge pain to constantly exit my app, go back to the home screen, click settings, click General, adjust the brightness, return to my app’s screen, and re-open the app. I’m honestly considering giving a coveted Dock spot to Settings, due to its all-too-frequent use. It’d be great to have some more convenient access to brightness control in more apps (or even by some tweak to the Volume switch).

At no point have I missed multitasking. My thinking is that when OS 4.0 comes out, it’ll be exactly the sort of feature I wonder how I ever lived without.

Spell check and its “replace” function was a fantastic surprise, and worked well in everything but text-entry fields in Safari (which seemed odd).

My family loved the Photos app. It makes the iPad the best photo album on the planet right now. Some of your photos may go on the iPhone, but all of them go on the iPad. It just feels like this is where your pictures go. Browseable, shareable, emailable… My sister spent 2 hours looking through old photos and emailing herself photos of interest.

Also interesting is that all photos seem to be sized down to around 3 megapixels before being transferred to iPad. They look great, and photos now email in full-resolution, unlike the automatic resizing that happens when you email a photo on the iPhone (so no need for copy-paste workarounds).

Getting files on & off the iPad is a well-documented nightmare. Hopefully Apple has some plan to move toward cloud-based storage of this stuff. Photos would be a great start.

BROWSING THE WEB

This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: Browsing the web on a tablet seems like the “proper” way to surf. It just feels better than on a computer. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss Flash, especially since inline YouTube plays without issue… lots better than the way iPhone launches a separate app.

Browsing the Web in a portrait orientation feels like I’m seeing movies on a widescreen TV for the first time. Like “oh, that’s how that’s supposed to look.” Amazing stuff.

The bad news: I really, really miss tabbed browsing. You have to hunt down the multi-page button, just like on iPhone, but it pulls up an array of pages to tap, rather than a row to browse through. It’s a pain to hunt down a dedicated button to see which pages are currently open.

Ah, but that’s the trick: they’re not open at all. I usually see one or 2 thumbnails and 6 blank pages. It seems the iPad can only cache one site (two max) at a time, so with 4 or 5 tabs open, it throws up a blank screen, and forces me to reload the entire page.

That’s time-consuming and irritating in itself, but if you have a half-written blog entry, forum post, or email in a browser window, you’d just better finish it up before opening another tab, because once you do, buddy, it’s gone.

All told, there needs to be some polish done on the mechanics of Safari for iPad to bring it closer to its Mac cousin, but I haven’t touched on how fun it is. Browsing the web on a portrait-oriented touch screen just feels like the way the web was meant to be explored.

APP STORE

This is the killer app, period. I find myself checking for changes to the “top 100″ and for updates at least twice a day.

Two apps that I missed last time are Twitterific and NetNewsWire. These are used so frequently that I treat them like built-in apps. Email, RSS, Twitter, Web. That’s 75% of my iPad use.

One more piece of app news: Air Video went HD for iPad (at no additional charge!), and transcodes my movies into high-res, iPad-friendly movies and streams them to me like a champ. After iBooks, it’s the app I show people to really show off the fact that the iPad really is the future.

GAMES

“iPad as gaming platform” is not as ludicrous as it sounded to me at first. As I posted before, I am finding myself drawn to the games on iPad as I rarely do the games on my console systems.

Interestingly, the accelerometer seems friskier and more accurate on the iPad. I don’t know if it’s due to the iPad’s size (and therefore takes longer to move around), but Real Racing seems to be vastly more accurate on the iPad than iPhone. Controls are tight and fun.

I have nearly worn blisters on my thumbs from playing Geometry Wars so much. Seriously, my thumbs hurt. This could become a phenomenon.

EBOOKS

I bought a Kindle a year ago. It lasted a month. I bought a Sony Reader afterwards, and it lasted for 2.

I love e-ink. It’s like a miracle, with no discernable pixels, even though the iPad has a higher-res screen than the e-ink crowd (1024×768 vs. 800×600). Text on the iPad is a bit rough around the edges, literally: you can see jaggies, anti-aliasing tricks, and most importantly, the backlight (I’ll get to that in a sec).

And if you’re planning on reading outdoors, well… you may want to budget an extra $260 for a Kindle, or skip the iPad altogether. I don’t care what I’ve read elsewhere, it’s damn-near useless outdoors, even on a somewhat overcast day. I don’t really read outdoors, but the combination of backlit LCD and mirror-reflective screen make it even less tempting.

All that said, what’s the verdict as an e-reader? I choose the iPad as my e-reader, hands down. I was really worried about eyestrain, and was an issue at first, but as I learned to really dial down the screen’s brightness, I’ve found myself using the iPad as my preferred way to read. I actually have a physical book sitting on my dresser, begging for attention, but reading on the iPad is my preferred mode.

GoodReader is a great, powerful little app for organizing, managing, and reading PDF content. It’s got a couple of quirks that I’d like to see resolved (how about using the left/right edges of the screen for page turning, for one?). But for someone learning to program, or anyone with PDF e-books, it’s a godsend.

The biggest surprise to me in the whole iPad experience is how good Kindle for iPad is. I’ve tried to buy 3 books on the iBooks store, with no success. So I jumped over to Kindle, and bang, bang, bang… all there. The reading experience has fewer graphical flourishes, and is generally easier to use than iBooks. It’s obvious they put their best developers on this one.

The side benefit to Kindle is that if I do get a Kindle again as a backup reader, all my books are there via whispersync.

One side note about reading: I was worried that I’d never get anything read on the iPad because I would be too distracted with

other possible uses of this many-purposed device. That’s not true, as the iPad melts into whatever configuration best suits the task at hand. It’s an awesome dedicated e-Reader. Just turn off email notifications. Every time I hear the “Bong!” of a new email, my curiosity gets the better of me and I’ve lost my momentum.

The best thing about it is that it’s easy to be in the middle of however many books you want, in one of the many ebook readers for iPad. Currently, I’ve got bookmarks in no less than 15 different books. Since I’m reading programming books, it can be slow going, so it’s nice to have a place to keep track of my place in my entire library, without resorting to a foot-tall stack on my nightstand (which I actually do currently have).

CONCLUSION

I was a fanboy from day 1. But what has surprised me is how the iPad has worked its way into my life. I thought I would be playing with Pages and reading e-books, and the Wi-Fi-only model would be perfect.

The trend that’s emerged is that I find myself picking up the iPad when I want to relax. I’ll catch up on RSS, the latest tweets, read some books, surf the web… and I’ll pick up the laptop when it’s time to work.

I suspect that this will lead to a kind of tech “Disneland Dad” mentality, where people love the iPad so much because it does all the fun things while the laptop nags us to get back to work.

In terms of screen size and usability, it’s a lot tougher to go from iPad to iPhone than it is from laptop to iPad. I can’t explain why, it’s just utility is somewhat retained on the iPad, where the iPhone’s tiny screen just obliterates it.

Anyone with an iPhone is going to be disappointed with the Wi-Fi version, because eventually, you’ll wind up somewhere with no (or flaky) Wi-Fi, and you just want to check Twitter or send an email. I am absolutely upgrading when the 3G version comes out, and that was not what I’d expected.

You’ve probably already made up your mind as to whether you have any reason in your life to own an iPad, but I’ve obviously found many, and as more apps pour into the App Store, I suspect the number of people who have a good reason to buy an iPad is going to steadily grow.


12 Killer Apps for iPad

Posted: April 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

I wasn’t going to write this post on my iPad. It felt like a bit of a cliché, you know? Plus, I thought it would be a bit like fighting with one hand tied behind my back. And it is, to some degree; I type about half as fast as I do on a laptop.

So why go through with it then? Because the iPad is so fun to use, I don’t feel like getting out my laptop.

I have my share of gripes and praises for the iPad, but it’s just 9.7 inches of blank screen without the apps to make it useful. And they do. In fact, “revolutionary” is not going too far.

So, with the aid of the iPad’s WordPress app, here are 12 apps I already can’t live without.

The first thing I want to say is that the iPad is an absolute joy to use. By that I mean that using the iPad elicits actual joy. Everyone was wondering what the killer app for the iPad would be. I think that the killer app might just be the experience of using an iPad, period. But to better answer the question, the answer is twofold:

- Everyone’s going to have their own version of the iPad’s killer app.
- You are going to find at least 10 killer apps within your first 48 hours

Here are 12 of mine.
READING:
I bought the iPad primarily as a reading device. It has already delivered on more than its promise. It’s not hard to imagine having an entire page of apps dedicated to the various types of reading I do. My favorites right now:

GoodReader ($1)
Without solid PDF support, I wouldn’t be able to read programming books on the iPad, and that would be a deal breaker (lame PDF support caused me to return both the Kindle and Sony Reader). Although the PDFs don’t render with lightning speed and the page turning mechanic is wonky (honestly, who turns pages from top to bottom?), this is an app that already shows maturity. I threw a 500MB PDF at it, and it cut through it with ease. GoodReader also has a raft of network-aware features, and although they’re a bit more geared toward power users, they handily circumvent Apple’s insane methods of getting files on and off the iPad.

iBooks (free)
iBooks is the app that always elicits the remark, “now they’re just showing off”. Graphical flourishes aside, it’s fast, beautiful, and fun to read books on. I had serious concerns about eyestrain, but those proved to be unfounded after fiddling with the brightness a bit. The included Winnie the Pooh book was a bit of unexpected genius; a sign of things to come as you dig deeper into the iPad experience.

Marvel Comics (free)
This is another app that really shows off what the iPad can do. I’m not a huge comic book fan, but they look so lovely on the iPad’s screen that I may pick one up from time to time.

MEDIA:
Air Video ($3)
It’s an iPhone app, but while the team works on their iPad version, they deserve your 3 bucks. With a simple server app, you have access to all the media stored on your home computer anywhere, even over 3G. Media not encoded in iPad-compatible h.264? No sweat. It’ll convert on the fly while it streams your TV shows & movies, and even pixel-doubled, media looks fine.

Dear, departed Simplify Media ($N/A)
This one is a big WTF. Being able to access my music and photos remotely made this easily one of the most useful apps ever. Simplify not only streams your music from anywhere in the world to your iPad, it allows you to share your entire library with friends (and share theirs in turn). It’s the poster child for the idea that your media shouldn’t have to fill local storage to be accessible. But you can’t buy it, can’t download it, and even if you own it like I do, it will stop working in a couple of months. Rumors are swirling that these guys have been bought by Apple, and the mystery surrounding their disappearance is certainly consistent with past Apple acquisitions.

Sketchbook Pro ($8)
Smart controls and pro-caliber features make this the king of the sketch apps. Using it makes me wish I had more talent. I have seen it do amazing things in the hands of greater men than I.

PRODUCTIVITY:
SugarSync (free)
Apple has crippled this genius app. Access to all my documents, synced automatically from my desktop, anywhere… It’s a fantastic promise. On the iPhone, it doesn’t matter that the documents are read-only. But as soon as you need to edit a word document or save a PDF to GoodReader, you’re out of luck until you go through Apple’s convoluted manual sync process, or email it to yourself (and then it’s a crapshoot). Even with its limitations, SugarSync is a great app and helps point out the gaping hole in Apple’s cloud storage offering.

Instapaper (free)
There’s little to say about Instapaper other than that it’s nearly perfect. It’s a simple premise: save longer web articles for later reading. And what better place for all this to wind up than on your iPad? The “nearly” in “nearly perfect” is because Apple doesn’t allow in-app brightness control from third-party apps (though Kindle for iPad seems to have found a clever workaround).

Evernote (free)
Another simple-but-brilliant idea: all your notes, write once, sync everywhere. Clippings, links, anything you’d rather not forget goes into one safe place.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVITY:
Games were the biggest surprise on the iPad. Aside from the week of my life I lost to fieldrunners, I’m not a big iPhone gamer. But with a larger screen, the games on iPad a compelling enough that I don’t foresee firing up my Xbox or Wii anytime soon.

Geometry Wars ($10)
This was the Xbox 360′s only memorable launch title, and it’s made quite a splash on the iPad. The dual-analog-stick-emulating controls are fantastic, though you need to place your thumbs well inside the bezel to get the best results. It’s quick to pick up, and I feel it pulling at me even now.

Top Gun ($5)
It’s dumb, retro fun. Tilt controls are a great way to experience this game that feels like a cross between Top Gun for NES and After Burner for arcade.

Touch Hockey ($3)
The iPad was made for moments like this. You pull out your tablet, set it on a table, and challenge a friend to a realistic, fast-paced round of air hockey. The highs and lows are just as visceral as the real thing, and it seems like a great way to strike up a conversation with a girl. Try doing that with your Kindle.

The iPad has tremendous potential for graphics capability, and I’m still holding out hope for a beautiful-looking, bumper-grinding arcade racer like Burnout (or an entry in the Burnout series).

Incidentally, the WordPress app for iPad (which I posted this from) is not yet a killer app; it’s a larger version of its iPhone cousin. Give us some HTML formatting help and better image handling, and we’ll talk.

I had to use one other app to make this post: Photogene ($4) to rotate and resize the photo I used in the post. Seems pretty cool, I look forward to using it more.

So there it is: for $30, a great way to start off your iPad experience. $40 if you include Pages, but I haven’t yet found occasion to use it.

I have a lot more to say about the iPad in general, but it can probably wait until I’m at a more comfortable keyboard.