Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Livescribe + iPad = Killer Combo

Or so I wish...  I played around a bit with a Livescribe Smartpen and was very impressed.  If you're not familiar with it, Livescribe's device lets you write like a normal pen but it also captures everything digitally, including the audio around you. So it's perfect for taking notes in a meeting or in a classroom.  One cool feature is that when you touch the pen to a note you wrote during a recorded meeting the audio playback jumps right to the point where you took the note.

Imagine this solution applied to the iPad.  The "smart" components in the pen would move into an iPad app and the pen would simply become a stylus.  The iPad even has a microphone built in to capture the audio from a meeting/class.

Oops.  Anyone who owns an iPhone knows that the touchscreen doesn't respond to inanimate objects, so a stylus won't work on the iPad's similar display.

Bummer.  I wonder if Apple would ever consider changing their display technology to support a stylus.  A Livescribe-like application for the iPad would make the device even more powerful and irresistible.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Start Building a Free eBook Library for Your iPad

Why wait?  Jeff Rutherford offers up this guest post about how you can start building a free ebooks library for your iPad now:

If you're reading this blog, you're probably like me, and you've either already ordered an iPad, you've reserved an iPad for pickup at your local Apple store, or you're trying to convince your spouse, significant other, or parent why you should absolutely buy an iPad the first day or first week of release.

I've had a fairly long history of using e-readers. I first read a variety of eBooks and downloaded web content on my Visor handheld device.

Then, I purchased a Gemstar ebook device which I actually still use today. You can't beat the well-lit screen for reading in bed. Along, the way, a very generous friend and neighbor gave me a first generation Sony Reader that he received at a conference. And, finally, my wife surprised me this past Christmas with an Amazon Kindle.

I was immediately intrigued by the iPad, and I’ve reserved one for pickup on April 3rd. However, as soon as I learned that the iPad would display ePub-formatted eBooks, I immediately started thinking about where I could find ePub eBooks either for free - or for purchase. Here's what I've found so far:
Project Gutenberg - Obviously for older, public domain titles, you can't beat Project Gutenberg. All their titles are available for free in ePub format - Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creator of Tarzan), and many, many, many more books.

It's easy to take it for granted, but all the books available via Project Gutenberg were typed and proofread by volunteers. If you're so inclined, there are lots of ways that you can volunteer to help with Project Gutenberg. What an amazing resource.

With iPad rumors flying fast and furious, I should mention that App Advice, a website focused on Apple apps, reported recently that Project Gunteberg books will automatically be included in Apple's iBookstore.

Baen Free Library - Baen Books, named for the late science fiction-fantasy editor Jim Baen, was one of the earliest publishers to embrace free ebooks. If you're a science fiction or fantasy fan, there's lots of great books available for free, in ePub format, from the Baen Free Library.

DailyLit - While DailyLit doesn't offer ePub formatted books, they do offer free books which can be easily enjoyed on the iPad. As Steve Jobs demonstrated at the iPad unveiling, email was designed as a core app for the iPad. DailyLit offers free books available via email or RSS. Each day, DailyLit emails you a chapter of the book you've selected. If you want to keep reading when you reach the end of the DailyLit email, click on a link at the bottom of the email and the next installment will be emailed to you immediately. The 800+ free titles available via DailyLit span the gamut, including Berlitz Spanish Lessons, 151 Movies You've Never Seen by Leonard Maltin, and many, many more.

In addition, there are yet more sites that offer free ePub books. It appears that many of these sites are using Project Gutenberg texts but are adding their own unique formatting or illustrations to the books.  Some of those sites, include: ePubBooks, ManyBooks, and Snee.
Librophile – I discovered this “search engine” for free eBooks and audiobooks from a recent Lifehacker article. Created by LibriVox, the same organization that has pioneered crowsourced, free audio recordings of public domain titles, Librophile appears to do a decent job with finding free audio recordings online, but they need some improvements on searching for free eBooks.
The pricing debate for eBooks is far from over. But, if you want to buy more current books in ePub format, there’s plenty of online ebook stores ready to take your money, including: Barnes & Noble.com and ebooks.com. Note that not all titles at those two sites are available in ePub format.
What about you? Have you started downloading ePub books in anticipation of the iPad launch? What sites are you using? Let us know in the comments.
Jeff Rutherford

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why I Might Jailbreak My iPad

Despite recommendations from friends and colleagues, I've never seriously considered jailbreaking my iPhone.  I don't use a landline for work so my iPhone is my only voice communication tool.  Why would I risk disabling it just so I could multitask or run a few apps Apple doesn't want to sell?  It's just not worth it.

On the other hand, jailbreaking my iPad sounds very appealing to me.  Why?  First of all, I'm going with the wifi-only model.  No 3G for me.  I already pay AT&T too much every month for data service for my iPhone and the family plan my wife and kids are on.  More importantly, if jailbreaking my iPad means I could tether it to my iPhone and tap into my existing data plan, well, how could I resist!  My iPad won't be as critical a work device for me as my iPhone and enabling 3G access for it without having to pay an additional monthly fee sounds like a great idea.

Yes, I know jailbreaking my iPad means I'll void the warranty.  But after repairing my daughter's iPhone screen awhile back I'm much more confident fixing Apple's devices on my own.  And since we're still a week away from the iPad's release it's hard to say whether the jailbreaking process will be easy or hard.  I can't wait to find out though!

P.S. - I'm hoping nobody at Apple is reading posts like this...  Wouldn't it be ironic if my iPad is the only one that doesn't show up at the Apple Store next Saturday?

P.P.S. -- I couldn't resist the opportunity to embed the cover image of one of the greatest albums by one of my all-time favorite bands: Jailbreak, by Thin Lizzy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Instapaper...as an iPad App

Instapaper is one of those nifty little apps that every iPhone owner needs.  It quickly and easily lets you pull down web content and save it for later reading.  That's nice on the small screen but think how much more use you'll get out of it on the larger iPad.

I didn't even have to wonder what Instapaper could look like on an iPad though; Marco Arment, the developer behind Instapaper, almost has the iPad version ready to go.  You can read more about the iPad version and see it here.  He's taking a very smart approach by setting up Instapaper Pro as a universal iPhone/iPad app so that you only have to buy it once but you'll have it on both devices.  Based on what I read on his blog the iPad features are almost identical to the iPhone version, which is a lesson all iPhone-to-iPad developers should take to heart.

Since I'm going with a wifi-only iPad I figure I'll need Instapaper Pro even more than I did on my iPhone.  I'm sure it will be a lifesaver every time I hop on a plane or leave a hotspot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ESPN ScoreCenter...as an iPad App

I'm a huge sports fan, which is why ESPN's ScoreCenter app has a special place in my heart and on my iPhone.  I use it to track all my favorite teams as well as catch up on scores and news.  It's like having ESPN SportsCenter in your pocket.  So how could the experience be improved on the iPad's big screen?

ESPN could start by implementing some of the pop-up window options I mentioned in my earlier MLB AtBat post.  The iPhone app only lets me track one game at a time but there's no reason for that limitation on the iPad.  I'm also blown away by the complete lack of video and photos through the app.  I know there are rights issues here, but if they're able to show them on their website, why not include them in the app?  If it's a screen real estate issue, that goes away with the iPad.

And while I'd love to see all of that implemented, the #1 feature I want for an iPad edition is...chat.  That's right.  Chat.  Why not have a window with two frames: one for fans of each team to trash talk the fans of the other team?  How fun would that be during a Yankees-Red Sox game?  I'd definitely have that window open and contribute regularly!  Why stop there though?  Have another option where you can invite your friends into a private chat room to do the same, but on a smaller scale (so that you don't have to find their comments among the zillions of other Sox-hater remarks).

ESPN has an opportunity to build community around this app and the iPad is the perfect device.  I just hope the folks in Bristol are listening.  If they are, I'm also dreaming of a killer iPad app for The Magazine; my subscription runs out soon and I'd love to convert it to an iPad edition!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Kindle...as an iPad App

You could argue I'm cheating a bit with this one.  After all, earlier today Amazon announced they're offering a Kindle for the iPad app.  Or, as the headline says, "Kindle Apps for Tablet Computers", followed by "Including the iPad" in about the tiniest type possible!  It must pain Jeff Bezos & Co. to have to offer an app for the hot, new device that's about to clobber theirs, but it's the right thing to do.  I just wish they'd make it more functional.

So what exactly should the Kindle app for the iPad do?  More than the Kindle for Mac app I recently downloaded.  The Kindle iPhone app is nice.  It lets me read my books on the go, even if I don't have my Kindle with me.  The apps for larger devices (PCs, Macs and now iPad) should do more though.  Whispersync is handy but I want something more than just a window into my books.

Let's start with cut-and-paste options.  Come on, is Amazon really unable to convince publishers it's OK to cut-and-paste content?  Who is that penalizing?  Do you really think anyone who wants to steal and share the book is going to cut-and-paste every single page?!

Next, how about social networking capabilities?  I've been complaining about this since I got my Kindle.  Why in the world haven't they built in a "tweet this" feature?  It doesn't exist on the Kindle and it doesn't exist in the Kindle apps.  Stupid.

Finally, why is this service limited to books?  It just shows how the newspapers and magazines on the Kindle are an afterthought.  Or, in this case, there's no thought given to them at all.

Amazon, please don't release a brain-dead Kindle app for the iPad.  Give me a reason to want to buy more Kindle edition books from you.  Make the iPad app as rich an experience as the iPad itself.

Aw, who am I kidding?  The key features they're playing up on the app page are things like "customize background color and font size", "adjust screen brightness" and "page turn animation."  This app will be as stripped-down as the Mac version.  At least I'll get to read the rest of my Kindle library on my iPad as I switch to the iBookstore.

Fluent News...as an iPad App

If you're a news junkie you need Fluent News.  It's an aggregation app that pulls from all of the popular news services.  It's one of my most used iPhone apps.  If the folks at Fluent Media are working on an iPad version I hope they do more than just expand the existing user interface for the larger screen!

For starters, I'd love to see them let you configure several panes of related content.  So if I click on a story, leave the article list pane intact, open a new pane showing the story, but also let me decide whether I'd also like to have another pane open up a list of related article links, for example.  They could also enable another pane for recent twitter tweets on the topic.

If they really want to get fancy, how about adding yet another pane option for videos related to the article's topic?  How about also adding a pane that lets me quickly grab an excerpt and tweet it?  I simply want to grab the text and drag it over to a little Twitter pane and press a "Tweet Now" button.  No flipping screens and the article remains visible the whole time.

And now, for the feature that could take Fluent News from a free app to a paid one...  Push the content to me!  Let me select the type of stories (e.g., anything related to the NHL), topics (e.g., the health care bill) or keywords (e.g., "iPad") and automatically push all the articles from the incoming feeds directly to my device.  Don't make me go out and click to download; do it for me.  I can't tell you how many times I've boarded a plane and thought, "shoot, I wish I would have clicked 'save' on all the Fluent News articles I want to read on this flight!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

MLB AtBat 2010...as an iPad App

Given that iPhone apps outnumber iPad-only apps by a score of about 150K+ to zero today, I thought it might be fun to dream about how some of my favorite iPhone apps might be altered to leverage the iPad device.

There are a dozen or so iPhone apps I use pretty regularly.  I have them all clustered on the same screen so they're easily located in an emergency.  MLB's AtBat is at the top of the list.  If you're a baseball fan this app is a must, despite the fact that the price went up 50% vs. the 2009 version.  Hey, for that extra $5 you're now able to listen to a game's radio broadcast while running another app.  Yes, multitasking is slowly making its way to the iPhone!

AtBat brings you pitch-by-pitch updates of every game.  They also broadcast just both team's radio feed and there are also several live video feeds throughout the week.  I also love the video highlights they offer after a game.  But this is simply the functionality that exists on the small screen today...how could this app evolve on the larger iPad screen?

First of all, think more windows.  Pop-up windows, in fact.  I love the pitch-by-pitch view of AtBat's Gameday feature (pictured above), and if I want to see what Cliff Lee's stats are, I can just click the link below his name.  But on the small screen, that means Gameday goes away while I view the stats.  So one obvious iPad enhancement would be to show the stats through a pop-up window that doesn't overlap with the Gameday display.

Even better: Let me designate several different default pop-ups the app loads automatically every time I run it.  I'm a Yankees fan and I want to see how Derek Jeter is doing, so regardless of what game I'm viewing in Gameday, pop Jeter's stats up so I can see what he's been doing lately.  Or show me the stats of the 3 most popular stars for each of the two teams I'm currently watching via Gameday.

Speaking of Gameday views, why limit me to just one?  Let's turn the iPad display into a mini-sports bar where I can watch 2, 3 or 4 games at the same time!  Bandwidth issues?  No way!  I'm either using my wifi connection or paying AT&T, and you know Apple & AT&T wouldn't mind seeing their 3G subscribers exceed their bandwidth limits and pay a penalty!

One final point on enhancements like this: I'd pay more for them.  AtBat is, by far, the most expensive iPhone app I've purchased.  I've said before that I'd pay more for it though.  If MLB and Apple add features like what I've described above, there's no reason they couldn't charge more for the iPad version than the iPhone version.

That's right, folks.  Get ready to pay more for your iPad apps than you've grown accustomed to paying for your iPhone apps.  If the enhancements are there, the Field of Dreams saying will prove true: If you build it, they will come.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

T-Minus Two Weeks

If everything goes as planned, two weeks from now I should have a new iPad.  I ordered a 32-Gig wifi-only model last Friday morning and I requested in-store pickup.  Why 32-Gig and no 3G?

I figured it best to go with the middle-of-the-road memory option.  After all, half the 32-Gig on my iPhone 3GS remains unused almost a year after buying it.  I also didn't want to go "all in" on the first generation device; I'm sure I'll get hooked on this platform and will buy a new model every time Apple produces one.

Why the wifi-only option?  Two reasons.  First, between my home and places like Panera, I figure I'm in a free hotspot 90-95% of the time.  As a result, my iPhone always has wifi turned on.  Second, and perhaps most importantly, I can't justify paying AT&T even more every month for a data plan.  I already pay them way too much for my work iPhone and a family plan of four other devices for my wife and kids.  Way too much.  So if this forces me to work smarter with wifi, so be it.

I've been blogging about the publishing industry and the Kindle for 5+ and 2+ years, respectively.  iPadHound is where I plan to invest most of my blogging efforts going forward though.  I'll still write a new post every week or so for my Publishing 2020 blog but I've officially put my Kindleville blog on mothballs.

I was a huge Kindle fan for the first year or so but became disenchanted several months ago when it became clear Amazon isn't enhancing the platform.  I know Apple won't make that mistake, so I'm switching to the iPad.  I now refer to myself as a "recovering Kindle user."  I'm sure I'm not alone out there as the iPad is simply irresistible.

In the coming days and weeks I plan to post frequently about pre-release hype and then about how well the iPad delivers on my expectations.  I'm also active on Twitter, so be sure to follow me there for more frequent, shorter observations.

Let the countdown begin.  In 14 days I'll have $599 (plus taxes!) less in my bank account but I'll be as happy as a kid on Christmas morning...assuming Apple's pre-order system works as advertised, that is.

P.S. -- If you're wondering about the cute mascot in the corner, that's Ricky and he's one of our family's three basset hounds; the other two are Olivia and Betsy.