TextMate has been supplanted by a new fling, Sublime Text 2, shown here with my own icon:
to replace the gray turd that comes supplied. Acorn 3 has finally come along far enough to replace Photoshop for most mockups and simple graphic tasks. Chrome’s slightly-enhanced version of WebKit’s Inspector is now good enough to replace the only reason to use Geezer Firefox: Firebug. TaskPaper usurped the forever-beta-expiration-updating Hit List, though there’s been murmurs of activity in the long-dormant lands of Potion Factory. I’ve been leaving Transmit open for the single feature ForkLift lacks: DockSend.
Dark gray version:
It’s been nearly ten months since I posted my first impressions of the iPad. When I first wrote about it, the iPad was all over the tech news — people raving at how it was more expensive and less capable than a netbook; it was a toy (of course to many harping hacks, everything Apple is “just a toy”); it was nothing but a rich-but-dumb merit badge for those who want to shine at Starbucks; it was merely for media consumption and incapable of being a creative or business tool; it was just an overpriced “iPod on steroids.” But most of all, it was the latest disgustingly well-designed, minimal-port, non-replaceable-battery, fanboi fruit in Apple’s repressively walled garden. Junk! In two years Android will demolish the iPad with cheaper, Flash-enabled, open-sourcier slates! Windows Mobile 8 Tablet Series Connect Gobility will conquer as soon as it comes out in 2015!
My previously cute & cheap & useful MSI Wind U100 hackintosh is now covered in ten months of dust. The only time I have used my supposedly superior netbook was to get YouTube on the projector before the (admittedly overpriced) Apple VGA adapter arrived. Since then: bupkis.
My iPhone has also felt the sting. Around the house, the only thing I need my phone for is, well, making calls. That is of course, in the parlance of our times, when AT&T allows my phone make a phone call.
The disparaging fact that one’s tough guy image may be tarnished by a manpurse to tote the 1.5lb, 10” iPad has been making the media rounds. The fact is, I think I’ve taken my iPad outside the house about 5 times in almost a year. Like more and more folks these day, my futuristic handheld ever-connected supercomputer slash phone is in my pocket at all times, and if I need to do “real work” such as coding or Photoshop, I take along the oh-so-hefty 4.5lb MacBook to the cafe.
So what the hell do I use the iPad for? Let’s run down my most-used apps:
I’m writing this on PlainText , using a bluetooth keyboard. Previously I used SimpleNote, which is still a great app, but Jesse of HogBay has concocted the perfect amount of visual grace and functionality in PlainText to make it a joy to write on.
There are many options now for Dropbox-synced text editors, and for good reason. The iPad makes a fantastic writing machine. It has just the right amount of connectivity, and distractions are more cumbersome to get to. The core concept of iOS, that the device becomes whatever app you’re using, is very well suited to keeping focused while writing. Then it’s just up to you to sit your ass down and write. That’s always the toughest part, but it doesn’t hurt in our over-stimulated age to have subtle ramps and funnels channeling your attention to a single task. PlainText does just one thing and one thing well: manage text files.
I’ve become more and more of a cinephile over the last few years, but I was late to join Netflix. Nearly all my friends have had those ubiquitous red envelopes lying around the house for years. The iPad was the perfect gateway device to an $8/mo streaming service. It also helped that Netflix was reaching a critical mass of streaming titles to make it worth the jump.
The iPad app seems to be almost entirely a WebKit-wrapped view of the Netflix website, and hasn’t received much love at all since release. You still can’t rate titles and it sometimes has rendering issues, but it’s functional. You can find movies and queue them up and Instant Watch. It usually remembers where you left off if you quit and come back, though sometimes it doesn’t even register what you just watched.
I’m still finding that about 1 out of every 4 movies I look up is DVD-only (or not available at all), but honestly, I have just been firing up HandBrake and ripping anything Netflix sent me in the mail, so I can watch it on the iPad streaming over my next favorite app.
I’ve never been a fan of having iTunes manage movies and tv shows. It means the media has to live on my main drive, and has to go through ridiculously slow conversions, then synced to live on my space-limited iOS device. I much prefer to put movies on a large external drive and stream as needed. Air Video does just this, and it does it surprisingly well.
You run a small program on your Mac, tell it which drives to broadcast to the iOS apps via Bonjour, and it can either queue up conversions or send movies over the air on-the-fly (essentially a nice wrapper for ffmpeg). The videos stream in good quality and support subtitles if present, and it will remember your spot on the last-viewed movie. I’d love to see a bit more attention to the file listings, like a recently played list, folders listed above files, a jump-to-letter scroller like in Contacts/iPod, and a sort-by-date option that actually works. I don’t know what the hell kind of metadata it’s using, but sort-by-date doesn’t match up with Finder at all. It would also be great if there was a desktop player that shared your last-played position with the streaming server.
The lack of in-the-cloud sync and streaming are arguably the biggest weaknesses and possibly an achilles heel in Apple’s current tenuous stronghold on the smartphone market. It hasn’t hurt them much so far, and it’s no doubt the slow-to-no development was largely influenced by licensing issues with record label dinosaurs who fight tooth and nail at every technological advance. It feels like something’s going to change soon, however. There are rumors bubbling about MobileMe finally becoming a usable service, possibly freemium. In the meantime, services like Dropbox and apps like Air Video are filling in the gaps.
I’m a big fan of gmail, and Google has put a lot of energy behind both the iPhone and iPad versions. Of course, any HTML5-happy mobile device now benefits from their efforts. It’s so good that I use web gmail over the native Apple Mail, even on the desktop. It’s a huge selling point for the iPad to be a very capable (and daresay fun) email device.
I played games quite a bit as a kid, from Intellivision and Commodore 64 to Amiga and Nintendo. However, most of the newer game consoles don’t do too much for me. Like movies, the gaming industry frequently lets cutting-edge graphics trump interesting story or gameplay. The Nintendo DS and iPhone have come along to tap into a sleeping market of many old-fashioned gamers like myself. Limited hardware caused developers to once again focus on making games fun without relying solely on dazzling eye candy.
Details on the games I like could easily fill another post, so I’ll keep it to a tiny list of favs: Jet Car Stunts (iPhone-only, but this game is pretty far & away my favorite iOS game right now), Scrabble, The Incident, geoDefense, Canabalt, Katamari, Pinball HD and Eliss to name a few. As you can see in the screengrab I have more in another folder, and there are two more folders of iPhone-specific games on the next screen .. oof!
I understand many folks initial reaction to the iPad — where does this fit in? What’s the point? I’ve found I use it most at night in bed, watching a movie, checking email and blogs, and reading using the iBooks and Kindle apps. When I’m ready to crash, I load up the Public Radio app with come classical music and set it to sleep in 30 minutes. Similarly, I start the day checking email and flickr. It’s come in handy for displaying recipes (the Epicurious app is free and well done), scrollable by elbow while being more resilient to flour and random food debris than my laptop.
Yet another post could also be dedicated to music-making apps, there are a ton in the app store, but I wanted to mention a recent favorite find (no iPad-specific version, but still great): nanoloop. You might recognize that name from the old gameboy cartridge version.
I’m not even touching on an aspect that many folks have championed: the iPad is a social device. It’s great for handing around to folks in a room to look at photos, a YouTube video, or a website. I’ve only experienced this a few times since I rarely take my iPad out, but when it happens, you realize it’s a use we aren’t really accustomed to with computers. I’m sure this will be explored more in time, especially once Apple implements support for multiple users.
In short, after almost a year of use, I find myself using the iPad more and more, discovering new uses as apps are developed. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it so fun to use, but the seeming hyperbole of Apple’s description as “magical and revolutionary” doesn’t seem too far off for once.
Microcosm asked to add a todo section to their admin, and this is what I came up with after a few half-days of coding (thanks in large part to my good friend MooTools). They have two shops and a growing staff, and everybody spends quite a bit of time in the admin I built for them.
I’m a huge fan of The Hit List, which I believe is just about as perfect a task manager as you could ask for, and I obviously borrowed some ideas. If I had more time to fuss with this, and if it was something I’d be using regularly, I’d implement full keyboard control and mimic The Hit List even more.
Todo apps feel like the advanced “Hello, World” of programming exercises, akin to Tetris for game developers. I can’t believe it took me this long to get to make one.
Developers must be seriously ambivalent about their users now being able to purchase and update software over the web. Gone are the days when you sweated a bug-free shipping release that was pressed to a permanent medium, boxed up and set out on shelves. Release early and release often is the new chant of the user, especially the latter part. That and “I can’t live without the auto-syncing iPhone companion app!”
Users are also often demanding that the programmers join the social web revolution, broadcasting their progress in regular blog or twitter updates. A month of silence is inexcusable, 3 months is justification to jump ship, 6 months is proof of vaporware, and anything beyond that is a dire personal insult to each and every user hungry for features that “every other competitor already has.”
Two of my favorite programs on OS X, TextMate and The Hit List, seem to attract the loudest of these users. And yet, they’re both amazingly functional, almost perfectly so, in their current releases. Granted, the Hit List folks are mostly angry about the iPhone version that’s apparently been in private beta for some time, but there are also a number of users vocally upset that the dev is focusing elsewhere instead of posting further updates to the desktop version.
Many users have given up waiting for The Hit List iPhone app and jumped ship toThings, which had its own similar fiasco, yet in reverse — users were up in arms when Cultured Code chose to focus on releasing their iPhone companion app before their desktop version was usably out of beta. To add insult to impudence, the original iPhone version was just as buggy when it finally came out. User revolt got so out of hand they completely wiped out their forum, after initially hiding it from their navigation.
Another promising program that has developers who are quiet on the web and slow in their updates, with an accompanying torch-wielding mob of angry users, isMacRabbit’s Espresso. I picked up The Hit List and Espresso in the last MacHeist bundle for a piddly $35, so I feel like I have no right to complain, but I’m seemingly alone with that opinion. I agree to the extent that Espresso was obviously rushed to v1.0 for MacHeist, and although it definitely holds a lot of promise, it does have deceiving claims on their feature list: live preview does not work on anything but locally hosted pages for one. MacRabbit similarly hid their forums from their main site navigation, but it still exists.
It’s been almost three years since Allan Odgaard warned TextMate users to “put TM 2.0 up there with Duke Nukem Forever and be positively surprised the day it is released.” Yet, folks to this day post rudely passive aggressive comments on any little post he manages to eke out on the Macromates Blog. You’d think they’d have given up by now.
Despite these desires to see future updates, I have a perfectly functional set of software that I trialed before purchasing. I don’t feel the developer owes me anything but essential bug fixes. Beyond that, I consider any updates a gift, and they should feel free to get the hell off the computer, travel around and booze it up, spending whatever scratch they managed to squeeze out of the competitive software market.
Ages ago, in prehistoric computer times, before Apple fully realized its uber-technological prowess and took over the world with touchy glass devices, I was enamored with a one Commodore Amiga. To this day I lament that Amiga isn’t giving Apple competition, as it was wayahead of its time with multitasking and distributing tasks to multiple processors, as well as just feeling like a creative machine. I mean, c’mon, it had “B52/ROCK LOBSTER” stamped on the circuit board! One thing I used a lot, and could never figure out why OS X had no equivalent, was a dual-pane file manager. It took ten years, but there are finally some very solid options out there.
Since the early announcement of ForkLift, I have kept a close eye on the development, and have helped with various stages of beta testing. Along with TextMate, ForkLift has been in my daily workflow for years now. It’s incredibly fast, reliable, and does just about everything I need from local and remote file management. I couldn’t imagine working without it at this point. Yesterday they released the first public beta of ForkLift 2, a huge upgrade to the already-capable 1.7.
The list of new features in Forklift 2 is impressive:
Last week, Panic released Transmit 4, which is a gorgeous and capable superpowered FTP application, and also now allows you to have both panes showing local drives. I have a registered copy of Transmit 3 and used it before ForkLift came along, and still use it now and then for certain FTP servers that gave the old FL engine trouble.
I spent a few days playing around with the new Transmit, and strangely the first impression I get is ForkLift Lite. However it is, in true Panic form, a very beautiful and well-thought-out product with some interesting UI decisions.
I couldn’t help comparing it to the beta of FL2:
Overall, Transmit 4 is a very nice upgrade, but to me it really feels like a very pretty FTP app with limited functionality. In comparison, ForkLift feels much more powerful and useful, less expensive, and has all the features I’d ever use in Transmit.
I don’t discount the appeal of nice aesthetics and a few tasteful visual flourishes. Folks spend a LOT of time in these type of apps, and having a bit of fun and whimsy goes a long way. I think FL2 could use just a few more brushstrokes to pretty it up, but I’m already using it for production use and love it to death. I’m sure they’ll refine it quite a bit, it’s only in the first public beta after all.
I’d be remiss to not mention Path Finder, especially since they somewhat-recently added the ability to operate with dual panes. For me, however, Path Finder has always felt like the epitomy of bloatware, trying to cram every feature imaginable into one app. Because of that, you get giant lists of tiny-font actions and options, floating panes shooting off every edge of the window, and more opportunity for instability. Some folks swear by it, but it’s never wooed me like ForkLift did from the start.
If I had to recommend one to someone less technical for just uploading files to their website, I’d have a hard time deciding. Transmit errors on the side of pretty and simple, primarily sticking to the paradigm of “local files on left, remote site files on right.” ForkLift 2 leans more towards a power user setup, and expects one to be able to handle the flexibility and extra features with less hand-holding. For me, the latter wins out by a long shot, and if you’re more geek than weak, I’d suggest giving ForkLift a spin.
I was lucky enough to convince my friend John to pay for a relaunch of his website (still in the works) with an iPad. The idea was that he could play with it for a few weeks while I worked on the site, then hand it over when the site was done. This sort of worked, but only if you ignore the “still in the works” parenthetical above.
In short: it’s an amazing albeit not-quite-magical device. Along with many other folks, I mostly look forward to seeing what apps come out, as well as the refinements in OS updates from Apple.
The sentiment that the iPad becomes whatever app is running is a very astute observation. It’s a blank slate of touch-sensitive glass with no OS chrome which transforms into all sorts of different devices driven by the best mobile software to date.
I twatted about how ridiculous it sounded to hear complaints of fatigue from holding a 1.5lb device for any length of time. Of course, I must now eat my words. It’s just heavy enough to make it uncomfortable after about 20 minutes.
Easily the most awkward thing about the iPad is figuring out how to hold it — while typing, watching a movie, browsing the web, playing Scrabble, etc — as well as where to set it down when you’re done. I have the Apple case on order ($46 after taxes and shipping: ouch!), so perhaps that will mostly solve these issues. I’ve never had a case for my iPhone and never felt the need.
I’m in awe we’re still relying on Qwerty in 2010, a keyboard layout thrown together in 1868 in alargely random arrangement to avoid jamming of mechanical key levers. A century and a half later, it’s still our primary input method on the sexiest computing device man has created? Really?
Beyond my disappointment of the lack of a magical or revolutionary input method, I’m impressed with the keyboard. If I manage to get it to lay at a slight angle, propped up on my wallet on a table for instance, I can touch type at almost full speed. It reminds me of the laminated keyboard sheets we used in gradeschool typing class before they let us loose on the Apple IIe beasts.
However, when you’re holding it up with both hands, in any orientation, it’s really difficult to thumb-type. I would love the option for a split keyboard. Not only would it give more screen real-estate, it would be immensely easier to type with.
One baffling decision is the action button on the keyboard (Search, Send, Go, etc) is no longer blue, like it is on iPhone. Why the change? It’s an extra moment of hesitation trying to find the button, especially as the button is now moved up from the bottom-right location on the iPhone. Perhaps this will return with future OS updates. After all, the keyboard could sure use a bit more love aesthetically; the 1 pixel border and thin letter line weights are pretty ugly by Apple’s standards.
The speaker does sound good for a mobile device, and I thought I wouldn’t care about stereo sound, but it’s large enough of a device that it makes a difference. When in landscape mode, it seems very odd for sound to be coming out of only one side.
I’d like to watch movies on the iPad without headphones. I’ve spent many hours watching tv and movies on my trusty old TiBook, which still has the best speakers I’ve heard in a laptop. How much more can it cost to put in a decent set of speakers, especially when they got it right eight years ago?
I’m a big fan of Apple’s gorgeous and often ruthlessly simple industrial designs, but not when it makes it perform as well as my cheapo (now useless) netbook.
This is a common question I hear, usually dripping with barely veiled disgust. I really don’t get this. Do people ask this when you get a new computer? Or a new phone? Or a new car? The iPad is a highly-portable computer. You browse the web, you do email, share photos, play games, make music, watch movies, listen to music, read books.
The exciting aspect is that, much like the iPhone, we don’t really have any idea of how the device will transform as more and more innovative software emerges. People shunned the iPhone as an overpriced, underperforming mobile phone, and look where it is today.