When Apple took on touch, it created a new OS (though, yes, based on OS X) with entirely new UI conventions. It threw out everything end users knew about getting around in software and started building anew with the finger as the foundation.
When Microsoft took on touch, it first tried to bolt it onto Windows 7, then got off its ass and built an entirely new interface for Windows 8. This time Microsoft used the finger, but also the pen, as the foundation.
When Google took on touch, it slapped a web browser in a traditional PC notebook, gave it a price tag of $1,300, and said ‘good luck tapping tiny 30-year-old UI buttons designed for mice and keyboard shortcuts’.
The “tablets are only for consuming content” arguments generally dissolved after their purveyors submitted to the influence of reason. After all, plenty of traditional PCs aren’t used for anything more, but why is that use even a problem? I find it interesting, though, that those discussions never seemed to return with the debut of buzz-worthy seven-inch tablets like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or now the iPad mini. It is especially interesting if you consider the way each company positions their tablets.
[For the record: sure, the iPad mini is 7.9 inches, which technically fits under the umbrella of “sub-full-sized tablets that are generally 9.7–10.something inches diagonally, the sweet-spot size which allows for a relatively comfortable touch-screen keyboard in landscape orientation but still a realistic tablet weight, even if it requires two hands in many cases.” Since the iPad mini stretches that umbrella and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 doesn’t fit under it at all, let’s go with “compact tablets” instead.]
In their initial consumer-facing “here’s our great new thing” videos, Google and Amazon position their compact tablets squarely as media consumption devices. In Google’s Nexus 7 video, which lasts just under two and a half minutes, the first use cases mentioned by Tim Quirk, Head of Global Content Programming, Android, Tim Quirk, are music, books, games, movies, and finally apps. In other words: “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, and the other stuff that probably doesn’t qualify as entertainment.” Real-world use cases, in order of appearance, are:
- opening a book
- answering email
- playing a game
- flipping through a magazine
- Google Maps
Amazon’s Kindle Fire video, clocking in at a TV-friendly 30 seconds, spends almost as much time promoting Amazon’s website and shipping services as it does the Kindle Fire. It’s a subtle echo of CEO Jeff Bezos’s message that the Kindle Fire is perhaps even more of an extension of its maker’s overall ecosystem than the Nexus 7 is of Google’s.
The order of real-world use cases in Amazon’s video goes like:
- reading a book
- adult on a plane playing a game
- a child playing a game
- watching a movie
- a video conversation
- musician doing something I can’t make out—maybe playing piano and singing along to a music video
- then the narrator wraps it all up with “22 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, books, and more.”
Apple’s iPad mini video diverges from the compact tablet camp in a number of ways, not the least of which is time; it’s twice as long as Google’s at 4:44. It still has Apple’s traditional style of introduction videos which Google adopted, including monologues from a handful of executives and designers that gradually intersperse more and varied real world use cases of the product.
But, in a somewhat ironic move by a company hailed for obfuscating complex and debatably unnecessary details from consumers, Apple’s video delves much more into technical specifics like manufacturing processes, product dimensions, and screen resolutions. To be clear, I generally like that Apple does this because its fantastic build quality is a great product feature that I think deserves some spotlight time. I’m just acknowledging one can argue that Apple has spent a lot of time fighting against leaning on bulleted lists of tech specs, so it can be surprising to see so many of them in introduction videos like this.
Apple’s core message around the iPad mini is what might really set it apart from the competition—if consumers buy it. In his opening pitch, Johnny Ive lays it all out: “Our goal was to take all the amazing things you can do with the full-size iPad but pack them into a product that is so much smaller.”
In the video, the app and use case order of appearance is:
- a medical app displaying a 3D model of the heart
- Mail (reading)
- a “Global Product Performance” app
- a media-heavy weather app
- Videos (watching Brave)
- an interactive book
- Safari showing The Washington Post
- dinosaur book
- iMovie, editing a movie
- iTunes Store
- Real Racing 2 HD
It’s notable that, when it comes to showing basic productivity input tasks like typing, Google briefly shows someone typing an email one-handed at 1:07, and there is no tablet typing in Amazon’s video. The message in both videos is clear: our compact tablet and its platform are designed first and foremost for consuming all the media you love, then maaaaybe for some nebulous app-y stuff.
While Apple waited until 4:13 (nearly the end of the video) to show someone typing two-handed in landscape orientation with an app I can’t make out, it shows a fair number of productivity uses early on like Calendar, the 3D medical model, and a product performance app. There are also repeat mentions of Apple’s vast App Store library, stocked with over 275,000 iPad apps that cover nearly every use case you need. In other words, Apple’s message is: we believe the original iPad can be used for both content consumption and creation, and so can the iPad mini.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the market buys that message and the iPad mini’s build quality enough to make the premium price worth it. The combination of supremely one-hand-able weight (it’s even lighter than the Nexus 7), support for bluetooth keyboards (which is what plenty of iPad users seem to stick with anyway), and the App Store’s healthy selection of productivity apps might very well help it to pull ahead of the entertainment-centric competition for users who want to consume and create with one tablet.
Having to touch your coworker’s avatar on a mobile, remotely controlled iPad takes the discussion of workplace sexual harassment to a whole new level.
“I see no benefit to the PC versus the iPad. The PC is over. It’s just not relationship friendly. It’s a wall sitting between you and the customer.”
Savino is replacing all 20 of his sales rep PCs with iPads, because all his reps do while in the office is consume.
via Drew Breunig
Microsoft simply refuses to get both feet on board with thematically moving beyond the “PC” era, exhibited by COO Kevin Turner’s comments at his company’s Worldwide Partner Conference. Since the iPad’s introduction, Apple has claimed we’re in a “post-PC” era. Turn says it’s a “PC+” era. More importantly:
[Apple has] talked about it being the post-PC era, they talk about the tablet and PC being different, the reality in our world is that we think that’s completely incorrect. We actually believe Windows 8 is the new era for the PC plus. We believe with a single push of a button you can move seamlessly in and out of both worlds. We believe you can have touch, a pen, a mouse, and a keyboard.
Maybe he’s right, but there are two facts that don’t play at all in Microsoft’s favor. First, as we all know, Microsoft took and missed its first shot at tablet PCs a decade ago, then limped along with what it had. No one seemed to want to buy $2,000+ Windows tablets that were expensive, heavy, and built for pens instead of fingers, and Microsoft and its partners never spent any meaningful time to think about what wasn’t working or make a substantial effort to move the needle forward.
Now, Microsoft has refreshingly—though one could argue only forcibly, and only after the iPad helped destroy the Mac-to-PC sales ratio—done something interesting with Windows 8. It’s finally rebuilt its touch interface after taking the same route Apple did—experimenting in mobile (first the Zune, then Windows Phone), then expanding with notebooks. While I genuinely think it looks interesting, it also hasn’t shipped, so we’ll have to wait and see how Windows 8 is received in tablet form.
The second fact working against Turner is that even Microsoft doesn’t fully seem to buy into its own ‘no compromise, tablet + pen + touch + keyboard’ matra—a mantra, I should point out, that describes precisely the devices people haven’t wanted to buy for over a decade. While one version of Windows 8 tablets will do double-duty as both a traditional and PC+ device, another will be tablet-only, designed to run on bare-bones, low-power hardware, just like the pen-less, keyboard-less iPad.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what either of these companies, or anyone else, for that matter, calls what is turning out to be a period of pretty great innovation in personal computer design. It only matters that our tool builders listen and respond to what people actually want. Apple is clearly doing that with the iPhone, iPad, and App Store. Let’s see if Microsoft can do the same.
Dave Caolo takes you on a journey of rediscovery, looking at how the concept of a tablet evolved through our culture, starting all the way back with the telegraph.
Rumors of a 7.85-inch iPad on the way have started snowballing to the point where smart folks have spent time on the science of why it could work. Richard Gaywood, another smart folk of TUAW fame, has tossed his hat into the ring with some UI images that can help bring the concept to life.
If you visit Richard’s site, Seven Eighty Five, he has an explanation of how a 7.85-inch iPad’s display could work from the context of typical iOS display pixel densities and Apple’s HIG’s for tappable target sizes. He also provides a few images of the iOS UI and a few popular apps that have been properly resized and padded to account for the difference in screen sizes. Open them on an existing 10-inch iPad to see just how tappable these targets should be on a theoretical 7.85-inch iPad.
If you’re the reader who scrolls to the end of reviews, I’m going to experiment here and try saving you some time: I really, really like Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. It’s a thin, solid, and supremely portable keyboard for the iPad 2 and 3. Check out the gallery and read on for the rest of the show.
The Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is the result of your typical iPad keyboard gettin’ busy with one of Apple’s Smart Covers. At the top of the keyboard is a magnetic bar that allows you to attach it to an iPad 2 or 3, then flip it over and use it as a protective cover while traveling.
When you’re ready to get to work, yank off the keyboard and drop your iPad into the “prop slot” (is there a more official name for that?) in either portrait or landscape mode on its left side, since volume and slider controls are on the right. For bonus points, there are even magnets in the slot to ensure the iPad stays snug if you use it in landscape.
The keyboard itself is really good and *really* slim; as in, if you like large, bulky keyboards with lots of key travel and noise, this is the polar opposite. Like most iPad keyboards that shed some weight to fit the 9.7-inch form factor, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover has five rows, and the individual keys are slightly smaller than their on-screen equivalents. I don’t find it very tough to adjust from Apple’s iMac and MacBook Air keyboards, though, since I’ve been getting used to touch typing on the iPad’s display.
The keys themselves feel solid for this class of keyboard. They have a very short amount of travel, which I love. When the setup is closed, it feels really strong and solid, much like an 11-inch MacBook Air feels when closed. There are thin rubber pads on the outer four corners to ensure its keys don’t mark up or even touch the iPad’s display.
I usually toss my iPad into a dedicated, padded sleeve in my Booq backpack or Tom Bihn Ristretto. But with the solid feel of this setup when closed, I would feel confident mixing my iPad into a main compartment filled with books and other items.
As usual with this form factor, Logitech had to make choices on how to resize certain keys in order to fit everything. For example, there are Function, Control, Option, and Command keys (since they all have their uses, even in iOS) on the left of the space bar, and Command and Option keys on the right. But the Command key is about half its size, and the Option key is also a little slim, as is the Delete key on the right of the number bar. If you’re the type who hates to add to your muscle memory, this could be an annoying hurdle to overcome. But if you like staying nimble, be patient and you’ll probably get comfortable hitting everything you need.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that iOS supports many of OS X’s text manipulation shortcuts when you use a physical keyboard. Option + left/right lets you skip back and forward an entire word. Toss Shift in there and now you’re selecting whole words while skipping around. Option + up/down will skip you to the top and bottom of the current paragraph, and again, including Shift will let you select the entire paragraph. Command + left/right arrows will skip you to the front or end of the current line, while Command + up/down arrows will skip you to the beginning and end of the entire document.
One thing I love about iPad keyboards is that the manufacturer usually tosses in a few shortcuts that make it easier to get around in iOS and, more importantly, do much of this text manipulation. This is especially useful for people who don’t know about the aforementioned shortcuts or just find them a little complicated to remember.
Logitech made every key in the number row, including the dash key, math symbols, and even Delete, do double duty with assistance from the Function key. For example, if you hold Function and hit 6, 7, and 8, you’ll be able to cut, copy, and paste selected text. But when it comes to selecting text in the first place, Logitech added new options to the 4 and 5 keys on this Ultrathin Keyboard Cover that simplify the Option + Shift + left/right arrow shortcut for selection text before and after the current cursor position. Despite having an extra row of keys, Logitech’s precursor to this model, the Keyboard Case, doesn’t have these text selection shortcuts.
Speaking of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover’s big brother, I have two competitors to compare this against. The first is the Keyboard Case, which is essentially an iPad keyboard inset in a metal enclosure, so you place the iPad display-down and fit it on top of the keyboard for travel. The other keyboard I have is the ZAGGfolio, a portfolio case that wraps an iPad and keyboard together in a traditional notebook approach. The Zaggfolio’s keyboard is a rebranded version of Logitech’s, by the way, so it’s basically the same keyboard in the Keyboard Case.
The main advantage I see to the Keyboard Case (and the Zaggfolio’s keyboard) is that the special function keys are split out into their own row, the 6th row I mentioned earlier. If you don’t want to hit a second key (Function) to make those features work, as is required on the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, I can see the Keyboard Case being appealing. I’ve been writing so long, though, that the text manipulation shortcuts are second nature and I don’t use the iOS shortcuts all that much. But when I do need them, I don’t mind using the Function key to trigger things like iOS’s system-wide search pane or media controls.
When it comes to the pack-up-and-go factor, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover really pulls ahead. It’s actually a little fun to pull out the iPad, move it towards the top of the keyboard, and watch the magnetic magic happen. It’s just plain faster.
Comparing the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover to a Zaggfolio or any portfolio-style case like it is a different story, because the entirety of this comparison probably hinges on whether you actually want a portfolio case to encapsulate your iPad and a keyboard.
The Zaggfolio was the first iPad keyboard I ever bought, and I quickly realized that I am not this type of customer. I like to hold my iPad by itself, usually curled up on the couch or in a coffee shop chair, reading or playing a game. No matter how easy a portfolio case makes it to remove or detach an iPad, I’ve never liked that barrier to entry.
But if you want the protection or other perks of a portfolio case, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover may not be for you. It’s about the thinnest and most minimal iPad-specific keyboard I’ve ever seen, and when you boil it all down, it only protects the iPad’s display while in transit and nothing more, just like Apple’s Smart Cover.
Another important point to consider in all three keyboards I’ve mentioned is that they do not allow you to adjust the iPad’s viewing angle. Some portfolio cases, like the Incase Book Jacket, try to solve this problem to some extent, but I generally don’t find the single-angle prop slot to be an issue.
The iPad is the epitome of mobile computing, and the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is its greatest physical keyboard counterpart yet. I used it to write this entire review, thanks to Writing Kit and its excellent built-in browser and citation tools. If you want an easily detachable keyboard for powering through serious typing on your iPad, I definitely recommend you give it a look.