Sunday, September 21, 2014

Finally, a big step up for dictation

To my surprise, the fresh iOS 8 (for iphones and iPads) includes a big improvement of dictation. (I'm surprised because... well, an example: the Mac had a voice, Fred, for years, since the early nineties, I think. And this voice was never improved upon until... I wanna say 2005 or so. The basic technologies improve slowly, generally.)

Dictation is now computed Live in the device, not sent off to a server in bits. The means it comes out as you are speaking, and fascinatingly, you can see it correcting itself as it hears more of what you are saying, and makes more sense of it.

And importantly: it's just better. I just had a text chat, and two long sentences were flawless. I don't think I have had even *one* long, flawless sentence before.
This will make it much more fun to dictate texts and emails.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why did it take us so long to see the need?

John Martellaro writes.
Apple resisted the idea of a phablet for a long time and so did its customers. But times have changed, and we've moved on.[...] the iPhone grew in great power and complexity, people started to use iPhones not just as smart telephones but as portable Internet devices for all kinds of new services.

Well, personally I don't get this long cultural lag. For one thing, I've been writing articles here since the Note 1 came out, begging Apple to make a similar "bigphone" as I called it before the clumsy term "phablet" was invented.

For another thing: way back in 2007 (for heaven's sake), Jobs introduced the iPhone as *three* things, only one of which were a phone. (Why did they even call it a phone? It's a hand-computer). One of those was a web browser. And then when I tried web browsing on a 3.5-inch iPhone, I screamed in frustration. It was like digging a garden with a teaspoon. Most web sites were nigh impossible to use or read.
Who, I wonder, did not have the same experience?
In other words, how could it not be obvious to anybody that smartphones are/have been too small?

I must admit that for a while, this size category did not occur to me. But I did write in mid-2009: "I don't even like many regular web pages on my iPod touch, very often the screen is simply too small for it work well."
And when the Samsung Note1 5.2-inch came out, I yelled (and wrote) "Heureka", and not: "Booo, that's for geeks only..."

Image by me, from my 2011 article, saying:
"apart from the price, this is currently the portable ereader to have"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oops, it's official now! New Kindles and Fires (updated)

And just as I was going to bed after a hard evening watching Miyasaki films, our friend Len Edgerly announces that Amazon has, in conspiracy with a lot of journalists, sneaked out an announcement of new kindles.

I haven't even read it yet myself, but Len already has two articles out, one here, and then one here.

Well, it's undeniable that it's pretty amazing that you can now get a quality color tablet for just $100! Even if it is last year's model, basically.
There were already tablets in that price range, but they were, not to put too fine a tip on this: junk. Cheap plastic things, slow and unreliable. Amazon in contrast vary the amount of features to vary the price, but the quality you can trust.

And as to the Kindle Voyage, the reports are very positive.
I may just get one, as I do every time. At least I want to have the history of ereading, it's that important. And who knows, maybe *this* time is the one which has an e-ink Kindle pushing over a tablet as my hand-held reader of choice. (Though this time it also has the awesome iPhone 6 Plus to content with, it'll be a fearful battle.)

New Kindle PaperWhite flagship model coming

[Thanks to Ganesha Games]

There has been leaks on foreign Amazon sites which shows that a new Kindle Paperwhite is coming, called Kindle Voyage. It's roughly $50 more expensive than the current one, so it may be a new top model instead of a replacement.

It will be a bit smaller in all dimension, and a bit lighter, all good things.

It will have some pressure sensors in the bezel, so you don't have to move your thumb for each page change, something I think is good.

It has a bit higher screen resolution: 300 PPI. This sounds very high, but to me it seems that the present model with about 230 PPI (pixels per inch) does not look at all as sharp as an LCD screen with the same PPI. It may be because the pixels are composed of little physical plastic balls which move, and perhaps getting 100% of them to move perfectly is not attainable. In any case, I'm sorry to say that while the front light made the Kindle a LOT better, I've gone off it a bit again, since when I take it out, the screen just seems significantly less sharp and less even than the great HD LCD screens we have become used to since Apple introduced the Retina Display four years ago, and later put it in the iPad. So I mostly use a tablet. (Which are also much faster.)
(Sorry, Paperwhite fans, it's just a feeling. If it works for you, I'm only happy. Perceptions are very subjective.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Watch ereader?

I wonder when there will be an ereader app for the Apple Watch?     :-)

I know, I know, it's tiny, the opposite of what I've been campaigning for. But this would not be for my main reading platform. It would mainly be for fun, actually.

And I actually know people who have been reading novels on cell phones *before* smartphones... display barely bigger than this, and much, much cruder in resolution.

Mockup by me. I might use
a bigger font, but it looks good.

Len reminded me of the perfect app for tiny screens: Spritz, one of several apps which show just one word at a time. It sounds odd, because professors with letters after their names have told us that it's important to read by seeing several words at once, preferably a whole line. Well, personally I consider this debunked, because the other method is remarkably workable. I could read 300 words a minute even without any training.

We just need the app on the watch, and then to have it integrated with the Kindle App, so all the popular ebooks are included.

Oh, and I also think another thing is important, a feature which didn't seem to be in any of those apps: the ability, if you miss something, to go back a few words, or to see a couple of lines together. It's easy to miss something if you come across an unfamiliar words, or just get distracted by something happening elsewhere. Or heck, if the reading just stimulate thought, it happens to me all the time, and I'm sure I can't be alone!

Samsung has actually already put Spritz on their Gear S smartwatch. Well done.

Wallpaper enthusiast (updated)

I love playing around with the Wallpaper on my machines. You know, it's the static background picture you see when nothing else is showing. It's the thing they for some reason usually call "screensaver" on films and TV shows.  :-)

One does not have to stick with the lovely but generic nature shots they supply with the machine. There are so many options. With my tablets, I often take screenshots when I'm watching videos. (On an iPad, it's the sleep button plus the home button. On Android it's supposed to be sleep button plus Volume Down, but it doesn't work on my 12-inch 4.04 system.)

Here are two I got recently from one of my favorite shows, Phineas And  Ferb (they have sub amazing visuals).
The top one especially fits so well as Lock Screen. I am not sure why, but it strikes me every time I wake up the tablet...

Lock screen:
By the way, the image, helicopter ride over the city, is a
homage to West Side Story, which opens so. A minute is
almost shot-for-shot the same, brilliant. 

Wallpaper, home screen:

Bron asked if I did not use my own photos or art for wallpaper. Sure, I do that too. Here are examples taken from what I happened to have downloaded to my new tablet:

Here are some autumn-leaves, slightly enhanced in the computer:

Here is one of the "frost flower series". Straight photo

This one is not mine, but kindly donated by TCGirl.

This one I took near Prague, model is Marketa.
(Actually I don't so often now have girls on my screens, I guess 16 years of running has satisfied me for a while!    :-)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Michael Hart, a Pioneer of E-Books, Dies at 64

Michael Hart, a Pioneer of E-Books and founder of, Dies at 64, article.

Not fresh news this, but he was an interesting character.
Over the next decade, working alone, Mr. Hart typed the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the King James Bible and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” into the project database, the first tentative steps in a revolution that would usher in what he liked to call the fifth information age, a world of e-books, hand-held electronic devices like the Nook and Kindle, and unprecedented individual access to texts on a vast array of Internet archives.
Today, Project Gutenberg lists more than 30,000 books in 60 languages

Friday, September 12, 2014

The time is 9:41, no more, no less! Or: *now* is the dawn of Internet-everywhere

So, after huge glitches in the streamed keynote speech, and a 40-minute delay in the pre-ordering schedule which had a couple million people foaming at the mouth, people can finally buy the wonderful new iPhone 6, and 6 Plus (my fave, regular readers will know why. Finally a perfect take-everywhere computer.)

Have you noticed that every picture of the iPhone 6 shows the time as 9:41?
Is this Apple micromanagement still surviving Steve Jobs? Or is it just simpler because they are all made with photoshop instead of taking an actual photo of the screen? (I could understand that, it's surprisingly hard coordinating the brightness of the screen with the ambient light, and handle reflections.)

I wonder why 9:41 exactly? Does it have a significance, or was it found to be the most aesthetic formation of number shapes, or was it random? [Update: Thanks to Ken for this answer.]

Aaaaanyway... Maybe it's me changing emotionally too, but I am surprised at how much I lust after this phone. I sound like my pal Laurie when the first one came out: "I want an iPhone, and I want it *now*!"
I was not very interested then, but it makes some sense, because as a photographer/videographer he zips around the country and the world every week, whereas as a webmaster (then) I work from home, and really only use email, not phones.

This one, though, due to the size, really makes the computing-device side of the "phone" come into its power for the first time. In fact, the usefulness and the attraction of this compared to the "mini-phones" of yesteryear is like night and day, to me anyway. We saw this already with the Samsung Note 1, the first "phablet" at 5.2-inches.

When Jobs introduced the iPhone 1, he said it was "a revolutionary Net device", showing a web browser on the phone. But browsing the web on a 4-inch screen is like doing athletics in a full knight's armour. Almost doable, but a royal pain in the but.
This, not 2007, is the real dawn of Internet-everywhere.

And it's a perfect portable ereader. (Hmm, did I say that before?) Web articles, books, magazines, documents, research... Keeewl.
(OK, except for the high price, that is. Which is why I recently called for the creation of a dedicated ereader in the size and form of this phone. It should not have a phone contract or a $700 price tag if you don't really need the phone part.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

iPhone 6 Plus with 5.5-inch display (updated)

[Watch the entertaining Apple Keynote releasing iPhone 6, Apple Pay, and the new Apple Watch.]

iPhone 6 Plus with 5.5-inch display announced starting at $299, article.

I want to thank my fans at Apple for answering my requests, by far the biggest of which the keen reader will have no trouble recalling: that the iPhone six came with a 5.5-inch display, making it a perfect portable ereader (and generally better for so many things)!

I wonder what kind of profit margin companies are getting on phones though. I just bought, as seen below, a wonderful high-class 12 inch tablet. And the 5.5 inch iPhone 6+ is over £250 ($400!) more expensive than that tablet! It is around £700 ($1000) with 64 GB storage! To me that it looks like ugly price gouging. I love apple and their products, but sometimes their pricing really leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Anyway, as I had expected, Apple did not want to disenfranchise their customers in tight jeans, so the phone comes in two sizes, the big ("phablet") iPhone 6 Plus, and the more regular-sized iPhone 6 (with a good-sized 4.7-inch display). I think those sizes are perfectly chosen.

The cameras are improved in various small ways, though the resolution is the same 8MP. The most important improvement is optical image stabilization to help with camera shake, really a must these days. But that is only on the 6 Plus. (I think that's one of the reasons it's slightly thicker (though still thinner, amazingly, than the iPhone 5s).
Oh, the autofocus is also faster, which is important.

The iPhone Four was the first iPhone I got genuinely interested in. iPhone 6 Plus is the second one. I expect it to be outstanding.

Our old ally Janet Tokerud has posted about why you should get the 6 Plus. In part:
5. 2-Column Landscape View in iOS 8. Not available on iPhone 6.
6. One device is better than 2. This is a mini mini iPad not just an iPhone but that too. 1 device to maintain and purchase. 1 cellular connection. You won’t need to lug your iPad mini or maxi around as much. Or you can sell/trade-in the mini.

I couldn’t agree more. Unless one really just needs a phone, or money is really tight, this is currently the king of hand-held Everything Machines. I haven’t been this excited since the iPad 1.

I’ve tried writing a book on an iPhone 4. Can be done, but it gets old. This one, no problem. Portable keyboard, and boom, you’re a mobile writer. I'm actually thinking of a book I want to write on this. Get out of your home/office and yourself, good for the creative juices. (I like a good simple text editor which saves in the cloud, like My Writing Spot.)

And it’s a great portable entertainment center too. Buy all ten seasons of Friends and never fear a waiting room again!
And it sure looks gorgeous. I did not think they could beat the iPhone 4/5. I bet that rounded, slim form, bigger, feels really good in the hand.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The 12-inch reader/tablet is HERE!

The 12-inch tablet is here!
Reading comics on this device once again gives me that unexpected experience in digital media: it is not only as good as reading them on paper, it is better.

iPhone 5s, Kindle Fire 7, iPad Air, Samsung 12.2-inch

I've written several post begging, cajoling, pleading, threatening, trying to bribe, manufacturers, especially Apple, for making a larger tablet, for reading art books, text books, comics, and anything more complex than pure text books with small illustrations.

OK, Samsung came first. But so far the news is very very good: I have been testing it for my most important apps in these areas for the last two hours since I got it, and there have so far been no major bugs, in fact it's been a pleasure... finally, the 12-inch tablet is here!

Photo: Engadget

Wow. I'm creaming my... bagels, I'm creaming my sauce, I'm creaming my coffee, I love this.

Magazine pages in Zinio, art books in Google Books, and comics in Comixology... in all of them I can now with more or less ease, and for the first time, read a full page with illustration and texts without zooming in. 

[Ping: Apple, this is the challenge of the year for you, not that durn online watch or whatever it is people are waiting for. This will be important for many more reasons than just reading. Not the least in productivity.]

The Samsung Galaxy Note 12.2-inch tablet does not even feel very big or heavy. It is only as big and heavy as an iPad Air would be if it was a 12-inch device. And it is only a hair thicker. It is beautiful.
[Oh, and by a miracle, it fits in my big Flote tablet floor stand. It fits exactly, it could not have been one milimeter wider! Huh.]

And the screen... almost exactly the same number of pixels as my Apple 30-inch Cinema Display! At 12 inches, this is one seriously high-resolution device, trust me. (I just wish my eyes were like they were when I was a kid, again. But even with middle-aged eyes, this thing is booootiful.)
[Update hours later: I have often mentioned my dislike of the buggy Android OS. Well, either they have pulled off a miracle with version 4.04, or with this device, or I have become mentally more tech-friendly or something. But I've been using this thing now for hours, and there has not been a bug worth mentioning. Using the tablet is smooth, and the bigger screen, like always, enhances the experience. It's actually almost as fun as using the iPad the first time. Maybe not, but I'm having so much fun playing with, setting up, and using this tablet that it's already well past my bed time. After all the disappointments in the past, I would never have thought that could happen with an Android device.]

Reading comics on this device once again gives me that unexpected experience in digital media: it is not only as good as reading them on paper, it is better. If you need you can still zoom in instead of straining your eyes. You don't need to arrange for good light on the page, the tablet takes care of that. The colors are better, a good screen has a far better color range (gamut) than normal print, better even than high-end print. And even the sharpness is better than print.

And even here, early in the game of such devices, it's not very expensive, it's roughly the same as the (smaller) iPad costs.
(I would have preferred a large iPad since Android has bugged me before, but so far things seem to be going really well with this one, maybe Google or Samsung has upped their game considerably.)

I'll say e-reading and "tabletting" is coming of age.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A simple strap can boost your comfort when reading

Most ereaders and tablets are a bit too big to hold comfortably in one hand for any length of time. But after some experimentation, I've found an easy DYI way of helping this, and even an economical way of buying a similar solution.

I’ve been making straps for my own devices. A simple loop of leather or whatever, measured tight to four fingers of your own hand, and super-glued to a thin and light case for the device. (Many good cases are under $12 these days, so even if you have to cut off the front to make it practical, it’s little loss.)

Another option is to buy the TFY Universal Hand Strap, which I found on eBay. It seems to be made by a small company in Hong Kong, and the quality is good.
It is a solid-sized hand strap (a bit overkill for cell phones, I find), padded really well, with velcro on the underside, and a corresponding slap of female velcro to put on your device. (It’s easy to buy Velcro if you want to use it on more devices.)

I recommend mounting the strap near a side of the tablet, so you can use your thumb to change pages.

Cases with straps I’ve seen are shown with the whole hand trapped behind the tablet, and the wrist turned in an awkward position. But if you make the fit tight so you don’t have to use constant muscle tension to keep it in place, and your thumb is free on the front, it can be comfortable, actually more comfortable than holding a paper book of similar weight.

Here is my Kindle Fire HDX used with a strap,
showing how easily I can use my thumb for
one-handed use.
(The bumps are Sound Jaw to direct the sound front.)
I can easily hold the tablet in any position even
with no muscle strain whatsoever. 

This is the TFY Universal Hand Strap, a good product.  
This a Nokia 1520 6-inch phone (great e-reader), with a cheap plastic
half-shell and a home-made leather strap (2mm x 25mm) super-glued
to the back.

This is a cheap shell case for iPad Mini (with front cut off),
with a home-made fabric strap super-glued to it.
Notice it's set towards the site, as the all are except the Nokia
because it's not wide at all.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Why are tablets/ereaders so important?

Sometimes I feel quite lonely in my feeling of just how gosh-durn important ebooks and devices are. Sometimes it seems that many still haven't gotten above the level of "an iPad is just a bigger iPod Touch". (That's total hogwash. Years ago I ditched my iPod Touch two minutes after trying to read web pages on it. But my iPad I use for everything, every day.)

I am not joking in the header when I say it's the most important thing to happen to reading since Gutenberg.

So.. why?
Because they are doing to long-form text and to long form video what the World Wide Web did to very short text and very short videos. Expand it, democratize it, take it to everybody, both as audience and as creators.

And that is damn important, because long form video and long form texts are our main carriers of knowledge and beauty, and so they are the main instruments for our mental and spiritual growth.

That may sound hyperbolic, but in the long run, decades, I really believe it to be true. I can feel it deep in my bones, and the logic is there too.

New devices soon

Very soon we will have new iPhones, then new iPads, then new Kindles and Kindle Fires. I can't wait. For some reason it feels like it has been soooo long this time. How long do I still have to read my books on a screen with a mere 324 pixels per inch?! How long do I have to suffer!?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Endorsement of the Fire Phone

"I am not embarrassed to say that it still seems like a good idea to have changed from the elegant iPhone 5s to this scrappy little new device." 

- Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles about his new Amazon Fire Phone

I just thought that was a typically charming, inscrutable, and funny comment from Len.
As to the Fire Phone... it seems to me that Amazon needed a phone, but were out of ideas for a Unique Selling Point. It seems if not a desperate, then at least an oddly lateral business move to have the phone's major feature be an expensively developed technology to let the phone know where your noggin is at. A feature which nobody, not even Amazon, knows what it may be good for some day besides a cool demo to your friends.

I'd hoped Amazon had done more to make the phone a good ereader. Especially a bigger screen is important. I've been riding that hobby horse to death for a long time, but these days I'm not alone anymore. Just today, the MacObserver once more jumps in there.
The idea that we could function these days with a 3.5 inch smartphone display seems entirely ridiculous. It was only relatively recently that Apple, with the iPhone 5, switched to a 4 inch display and stayed there with the iPhone 5c/5s. Many think Apple waited too long, and I agree.
Along the way, we smartphone customers started doing so much more. We navigate with Google maps in a sunlit car going 65 mph. We watch Netflix in the doctor's waiting room — or read a Kindle book. We take fantastic photos and want to appreciate them right away. We monitor the local weather with Doppler radar. We do online shopping and banking. And we can even create modest text documents. All that requires serious screen real estate

Tuesday, August 5, 2014