This sounds to me like a regular Apple development process, and I also don’t see how the Echo and HomePod are in competition (Echo starts at $50, HomePod costs $300 more).
That said, the Echo – or rather, the built-in Alexa assistant – has changed what people expect from a “smart” speaker. As an audiophile-ish smart speaker, HomePod seems more in competition with Sonos, and the latest Sonos One – which has Alexa built in – is the product that blows the HomePod, as we currently understand it, out of the water.
This has spawned some speculation about the UI on such a thing. Since the chinless design means it’s almost certain the bottom strip of the display will include space for a virtual home button, it would make sense if the navigation bar wound up there too. This would also be easier for big-phone users to reach.
Another issue is: does Apple embrace the notch or hide it? The leaked device icon implies that they will embrace the notch (have the status bar match the colour of the screen rather than the black of the notch). I dunno. It is rumoured to be an OLED screen like that in the Apple Watch and some Android phones, and in OLED screens black pixels are actually off, so they can match the bezel exactly.
The other thing is the crazy 3D face-reading camera. Presumably that means TouchID is out. But taken alongside Apple’s new and potentially yuuuuuuge ARKit, 3D sensing cameras could mean some amped-up AR jazz up in this piece. Sadly, as close as these long dreamed-of technologies get to reality, it just makes my brain skip ahead to Apple Glasses and how close those might be. Can never stop dreaming those dreamin’ dreams!
Nebo is a handwriting recognition app. And it works. Really well. Just to prove it to you, I’m using it right now. here’s the screenshot of what I wrote:
Part of what makes it effective is that it displays its interpretation of your scrawl live as you write. So if you do get a little too sloppy – ironically, this happened to me with the wards “handwriting recognition” – you can immediately adjust. It has a lot of neat pencil gesture tricks, too. Like to erase a word, you scratch it out. Or underline for bold, etc. But the major part of it is that the text conversion works really, really well. Living-in-the-future well.
Anyway, this app is taking a place in my home screen IMMEDIATELY.
I wrote seven years ago about magic books. By that I meant various technologies that were transforming the way I/we read: RSS, read later services like Instapaper, e-readers like the Kindle, audiobooks and podcasts, etc. etc. What would a magic notebook be? Something that transformed the way we create, not just consume? For many years this has been a notebook computer, i.e. a laptop. But for me, the magic notebook is now the iPad Pro.
Let me go out on a limb and declare writing with a pen or pencil as far more natural-feeling than typing on a keyboard. We learn to do it earlier, and because it’s easier to switch to drawing, and to use space to arrange your writing, it’s more versatile. I love handwriting, especially for brainstorming. But I’m not a Moleskine dude. I’m terrible at keeping track of physical pieces of paper and I am so totally into having everything all digital and linkable and searchable and easily revised.
I’ve had iPads since the first and almost as early on I was buying various styli. My dream was, I hand write something onto the sheer sparkling glass of the iPad and it converts itself into glorious digital text. Now that’s a magic notebook. But it was not to be, not then. The early styli felt like writing with someone else’s finger. But I knew I wanted to play around with the iPad Pros once they came out, more or less because of the Pencil.
So I got one. (Note: I got one a couple months ago, so I’m referring to the previous generation iPad Pro 9.7”, not the new ones that just came out (d’oh!).) And: my dream isn’t here, but it’s a hell of a lot closer.
The pencil works really well for my purposes, which are short on drawing, long on hand-written notes. I use OneNote and although the Pencil support isn’t the greatest, it lets me keep everything in one place. Also, it has handwriting-to-text! It’s not great, especially as my handwriting looks like something you might write in mud with a stick as death spasms wracked your mutilated body. Plus, seems that feature only works on Microsoft OSes right now (speaking of death spasms).
But it’s getting there. So let’s imagine a near-future utopian world in which Microsoft has enabled this on the iPad. Then let’s imagine that same world where the machine vision craziness has continued to proceed apace. Assuming we’re not all cowering in the muck as T1000s hunt us down to force us into indentured servitude in SkyNet’s underground sugar mills – or something – then perhaps my dream will be here. Writing longhand, tapping convert and leaning back as my insta-posted genius blog post / promo script goes out into the world and somehow causes dollar bills basically to start flying out of my screen as I give a double thumbs up and grin wildly, revealing a full set of solid gold shark teeth…
Sorry, where was I?
Something something iPad something.
The Other Accessories
So anyway, I’m using it for brainstorming and rough notes and then kinda formulating my first draft with an actual keyboard. And oddly enough, here’s where two other Microsoft products make an appearance, in hardware form.
Number one is a $5 loop with adhesive, the Surface Pen Loop, which you can use to affix your Apple Pencil… well, anywhere really, but I’m sticking it to the edge of my case like so:
That way the pencil’s always with the iPad.
The case is a cheapo number, the Moko Ultra Slim. I’m… very fussy. There, I admitted it. So I bought two other cases and returned them, and tried a few others in-store, and this $17 Moko is my favourite. It’s like an Apple Smart Cover in principle, except a lot cheaper and the back is clear plastic. Importantly for me, it’s light and slim.
When I do need a keyboard I have Microsoft product number two, The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard. Like I said I tried a lot of cases, including the two premier keyboard cases, the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Create. I didn’t find the Apple Keyboard comfortable to type on. The Logitech Create was great for typing, but as a case it’s not great – it doubles the weight of the iPad, for one. And both of them are expensive. The Microsoft folding one is thin and light, costs half as much, and stays in my bag until I need it. Most of the time I don’t need the keyboard, and so the iPad is as light and portable as possible until I do. in that case it folds out wider than the screen of the tablet, giving the keys more room. I will not lie: some of them are still cramped. But I find it quite agreeable to type on. I still have a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard at home and I figure if I ever need to write for hours on my iPad I will bring that.
Short answer: I fucking love this thing.
Slightly longer: this iPad is my favourite thing for: reading the news, browsing the web, editing photos, writing, and general purpose computing. Certain things I still need a computer for: video editing, web stuff (although thanks to the incredible Coda I still do a bunch on the iPad), design. The pro apps are still lacking on the iPad. I love the portability compared to a laptop – I mostly have it in my bag by default.
My iPad is already out of date with the advent of the 10.5″ model, which has a slightly bigger and significantly better screen, is faster, and boasts better pencil performance. Thing is, I’m happy enough with this one to not care. I’m good. Mine is already overkill in all of those areas. (It could be, though, that the Smart Keyboard is greatly improved by the added width; that’s my one regret with this model, but it’s not much of one.)
IOS 11 has a shitload of iPad-specific improvements: easier app switching, better multitasking, a file browser, and more pencil functions. I’m excited about all of those.
The area that needs real improvement is the pro app world. I can’t find a good pro video editor: where is Final Cut iOS? I am having trouble finding a design app that meets my needs. I’ve run into situations with relatively simple photo manipulations, say wanting to rotate a batch of images at once, where the stock photos app doesn’t do the trick and I don’t know where to turn. Hopefully Apple pushes forward in this area. It certainly looks like they are. They’ve been touting the iPad as the future of computing for a while, and only recently have they begun to back that up. And only recently do I think I agree with them.
WatchOS stuff was all welcome, but relatively minor. Would like to see third party faces and maybe smart complications, i.e. same principle as the Siri watch face except for any face. But I suppose it’s been a good year for the watch, so there’s no need to rock the boat.
Mac stuff: OS and app stuff not particularly thrilling. New Macs! It’s nice to see them revving the MacBooks Pro so soon after the latest update – it’s gotten so that Apple refreshing hardware at faster than yearly pace is eyebrow-raising. I think it’s been longer than that for the other Macs, but they updated a lot of things at once: modern GPUs! VR support!
The iMac Pro looks sweet but obvs so expensive that I doubt I will ever get near one. Although I suppose it does put them back into contention in the workstation class.
As usual there was a lot more heat on the iOS front, and especially for the iPad. They implemented almost the entirety of an iPad nerd’s wishlist: improved multitasking, drag and drop, pencil improvements, proper file browser. Interesting to see Apple Notes getting a lot of improvements including a document scanner. And of course new iPads Pro to seal the deal. I just bought a new 9.7” iPad Pro a couple months ago, but I don’t even feel bad about it. For one, it’s waaay faster than I need it to be already, and for two I will get all the software improvements anyway.
The ARkit stuff is interesting. I’m fairly sure Apple will release some sort of AR device at some point in the near future (Apple Glasses? Apple Monocle? Apple Telescoping EyePiece?), and this is a significant step in that direction.
And the speaker. It’s overpriced, which is not really a shocker considering we’re talking about Apple here. Especially so if you consider it an Amazon Echo competitor, which Apple doesn’t want you to. They positioned it as a cross between an Echo and a Sonos. I have two Sonos speakers, so I have a dog in this hunt. I went with Sonos not so much because of the multi-room capability but because they deliver reliable wireless playback. Neither Bluetooth nor Apple’s AirPlay was able to do that for me, and believe me, I gave it a shot. So no matter how good this thing is I doubt I’ll sell my Sonoses as I love them, but I’d pay special attention to how reliable AirPlay 2 is.
Speaking of Maciej Cegłowski, here is the text of a recent talk. Lots here on the rise of the nationalist right and its use of tech, the “feudal internet” of huge tech companies that dominate our online lives, and what can be done about it.
Amazon announced their long-rumoured Echo with a screen today and frankly I think this thing is a dog, but what do I know.
So this is basically… a smart TV for your kitchen? Is there any other room in the prototypical house for which this would be an appropriate arrangement of screens and speakers? In a living room a TV would probably be better, on a desk a computer would be better, and in a bedroom basically any one of tablet/laptop/TV would be better. My problem is I haven’t tried a normal Echo, and I gather it’s distinguished by an unusually effective voice service, so maybe if I got hooked on Alexa I’d want one of these.
There are plenty of rumours now of Apple getting into this game, and Phil Schiller spoke up saying he thought screenless smart speakers weren’t that useful. But I don’t think that means Apple is bringing out a smart speaker with a screen. I think it means they’ll bring out a smart speaker that will send stuff to your Apple devices that have screens, which is pretty much all of them. Apple needs to bring Siri up to the level of Alexa, integrate more smart home stuff with HomeKit, and make Siri something that is essentially ubiquitous in your home (could be the speaker, but the Watch gets you 90% there), and it could dominate this category right quick. Easier said than done, I guess.
Here’s a note about notes. It turns out that there is some serious OCR (optical character recognition) in OneNote. I knew text in images and PDFs would show up in searches, which is handy but not mind-blowing as it’s been in Evernote for like 10 years. But what I didn’t know is:
You can copy the text ‘out of’ an image and paste it as regular text, or simply convert it. I have been wanting this… For like 10 years.
OneNote will OCR hand-written notes. I mean if your hardwiring has fallen into disrepair for lack of use like mine, it will be rocky, but OneNote will give it the college try.
Yup, it’s how I made this note. I wrote it last night with the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro. I converted it and had to do some editing, and there’s the downside. Of course it’s not 100% or even 80% accurate (again, I mostly blame my handwriting). But also you can’t actually convert to text on the iPad. I’m using the Windows client right now which is the most full-featured, perhaps unsurprisingly. Checking…
No, you can’t do it on the Mac app either. That’s a shame. OCR is working in the background, indexing images so they show up in search results, but there is no feature in the interface that will convert to text.
Anyway, when this feature makes its way into the iOS client, this will be a wonderful option for note-taking. I definitely prefer handwriting for meetings, brainstorming, and some other uses – it’s great just to get away from a keyboard for a bit. It’s certainly one of those things that tablets are good at and feel a lot more delightful than typing. But the ability to turn that scrawl into usable text is to me, kind of a killer app.
So the iPad has issues. After exploding out of the gate in 2010, with sales growth greater even than the iPhone, sales have decreased over the past few years, as Horace Dediu discusses in iPad Optics:
The iPad is considered to be failing, with a presumption of an end of life in the near future. The evidence of this failure the year-on-year decline in units sold… The iPad decline is paired with a steady increase in the Mac. The iPad exhibits a four year decrease in overall volumes. This has, as they say, bad optics.
A quick look at overall iPad sales reveals an ominous trend. Sales have declined for 12 consecutive quarters. After topping out 74M units in 1Q14, the annualized iPad sales rate has declined by 42% to 43M units.
Yeowch! Except it’s not all gloom. As Dediu notes,
the iPad is still a much loved and much used product. … Tablet ownership among US adults increased from 45% in April 2015 to 48% in April 2016 and 51% in November 2016. The rise has been steady. Although this counts tablets, the iPad had 85% share of the U.S. market for tablets priced above $200 so it’s a fair assumption that the iPad audience is growing.
Furthermore, iPads are still growing in “non-consuming” markets. iPad posted double-digit growth in both Mainland China and India, it continues to attract a very high percentage of first-time tablet buyers.
His explanation for the odd numbers is that “iPads remain in use far longer than phones, and perhaps even longer than some computers.”
Interestingly, Cybart blames iPad’s troubles on something else: its little brother.
People aren’t buying as many iPad mini devices these days. Excluding 7.9-inch iPad mini sales from overall iPad sales results in a completely different sales picture… iPad mini unit sales have declined 70% after peaking in 4Q13 and 1Q14. The product’s value proposition has been permanently reduced due to larger iPhones. Apple has clearly experienced Peak iPad Mini.
Whatever the reasons for the “bad optics” are, Apple is suddenly pushing iPad really hard, as Cybart notes. And they’re pushing it in two different directions, as indicated by the two main model lines. The Pro is more expensive than a normal iPad and has added hardware features, mainly the pencil and the keyboard. The iPad Pros are the subject of a new ad campaign, which Apple is clearly targeting at people who want a PC replacement.
Going the other direction, the regular ol’ iPad has just been refreshed. The biggest change is that they dropped the starting price to $329 US. That’s a big deal! The cheap new iPad will compete with Chromebooks in education, it will entice owners of ancient iPads, and it has at least a chance of competing against cheap Android tabs.
There’s a lot interesting about Apple’s strategy on both fronts: they think iPads are their best chance in education, and they think iPads are their best chance at switchers. It wasn’t so long ago it was to the Mac they were encouraging PC users to switch. We’ve known for some time that the iPad was Apple’s “vision for the future of personal computing”. But its latest moves indicate it’s their vision for the present.