About Apple’s Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

This thing is a unique typing experience.

And I kind of like it.

The folding nature of the device is initially awkward, but easy to master. Out of the box it was slightly disorienting, but you quickly find that the keyboard is somehow engineered to fold itself into one of its two positions — one for typing, the other for “viewing” — with very little coaxing. Getting it to fold back on top of the screen for protection and carrying also comes easily after a few first awkward tries. My 8-year-old nephew figured it out pretty quickly. He even thought it was fun.

I think there’s a third position to the keyboard — sketching — where you just flip the entire keyboard behind the iPad so it’s flat and easy to hold like a regular sketchbook.

Unfortunately, the keyboard offers no capacity for storing the rare, extremely expensive Apple Pencil. Huge shortcoming.

The feel of the keys when you’re typing is unusual. The entire typing surface is like a fabric that’s been drenched in some kind of plastic. It’s totally sealed up. There’s no spaces around the keys or anything for crumbs to collect in or water to spill in. But that surface is not just about protecting the device’s guts, it’s also part of the key mechanism. 

You can feel that there’s nothing under the keys pushing them back up. Instead, after each press, they pop themselves back up with the surface tension of that plasticy fabric. A regular keyboard is designed to push the keys back up after you press on them. These ones are pulled. The feeling reminds me of that big bubble in the middle of the old Trouble game. It’s very quick.

It’s flimsy. If you don’t have a solid surface under it, the keyboard will flex slightly as you type. It’s doing that now as I type with it on my lap. It’s not a huge flex, just a movement. It doesn’t impact typing performance, really.

The device is way lighter than the Logitech keyboard. Once you have it attached to the iPad Pro you barely even notice its added weight.

The Smart Keyboard is going to appeal to a different user than the Logitech CREATE keyboard. The CREATE will work best for someone who is ditching their notebook computer in favour of the iPad. Apple’s Smart Keyboard will win favour among native iPad users who want to enhance the functinality of a device they’re already familiar with.

About Storing the Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil costs $130. It’s incredibly hard to get. Right now there’s a 5 week wait to get one. It’s value is nearly incalculable since, for now, it’s effectively irreplacable. (Though on eBay you can currently buy one for about $500.)

Yet the Apple Pencil is really easy to lose. It’s slim and slippery. It fell out of my pocket yesterday when I sat down. It just slipped right out onto the floor, just like that.

I’m absolutely terriffied of losing this thing.

So, to try and alleviate my fears, I ordered an iPad Pro Dodocase yesterday.

I ordered this particular case for just one reason. It was the only case I’ve found on the market that provides a simple, effective solution for storing your Pencil.

Dodocases are usually pretty good anyway, but I’m desparate for a way to keep this ultra-losable device unlost. Of course, there’s no solution for integrating a keyboard into Dodocase, but I’m just so terrified of losing the Pencil that I ordered one anyway (Dodcase currently has a 35% off everything sale, and that was really the straw thay broke my wallet’s back). I’m hopeful that some third party will soon release an iPad Pro keyboard that doesn’t include an integrated case and can be used with existing cases. Fingers crossed.

Aesthetically, though, I prefer this similar leather folio case from Pad and Quill.

I would have ordered this one. But I was disappointed that they hadn’t included integrated storage for the Pencil as Dodocase had. Just a simple elastic loop is all it takes. It’s the more handsome option, I feel, but without the utility to store a Pencil I simply couldn’t consider it. I really do prefer its appearance, though.

Okay, now to go find that Pencil…

About the Logitech CREATE Keyboard for iPad Pro

This thing is an absolute beast.

It adds considerable mass to the iPad Pro, effectively turning it into a notebook computer. In fact, once you have the iPad Pro jammed into the case (and that’s the only way to describe how you install the iPad Pro, you jam it in there — and good luck getting it out again) you’ve pretty much doubled the weight of the device as a whole. And then the whole package literally becomes enormous. And, despite this mass, there’s nowhere to store a Pencil. Granted, not every iPad Pro owner will have a Pencil, but I expect most will. A case of this enormity should have a solution for stashing a Pencil.

And it’s not pretty. The fabric-y feel of the outside of the case feels more sort of kevlar-y, so it’s like you’re carrying around a bullet proof slab of metal. It’s not pleasant. And the seams, where the top and bottom of the case come together when you close it, are not nice, all sort of uneven. It looks especially ugly when it’s closed, sort of like a decrepit old clamshell.

Then opening that clamshell is about as hard as opening a real clam. It’s a struggle that requires two hands and a surprising amount of force. That’s mostly because of the weight of the iPad itself, but also because there’s some kind of magnet at work and the top portion of the case itself adds weight that you have to lift against.

The keyboard itself – the whole reason for buying this thing, I suppose – is great from a usability perspective. Logitech, not surprisingly, has nailed the size and feel of the keys. It’s one of the very best keyboards I’ve ever typed on.

But it’s noisy. Like, crazy noisy. Each keystroke makes a cruel pounding sound. It’s not a light clickety-clack, it’s more a dull, echoey whack-whack. The volume is such that I’m typing this beside my snoozing 12-year-old son and it’s waking him up.

I think of this case as a tank. It’s big, ugly, tough, and noisy. Clearly there’s some great technology here, but it demands refinement. You get the feeling Logitech rushed this thing out the door, and you can almost hear the designers in their organization weeping over how much better a device it could have been if they’d just had more time with it.

Oh well, next year we’ll see version 2, probably –hopefully, and it should be slighter, lighter, and quieter.

About the Apple Pencil

It’s not the best stylus experience ever. Just the best on an Apple device.

I had a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 for a while. That was the last Surface model that had a Wacom stylus digitizer. It was awesome. The default Surface stylus was alright, in the same way that the Apple Pencil is alright. But then I picked up this Bamboo stylus from Wacom.

I don’t think they sell it any more. 

Writing and drawing on the Surface Pro 2 with that stylus is the best stylus experience ever. In fact, writing on any Wacom-based digitizing surface with that stylus is great, even something like that Asus VivoTab Note 8, which is a great little Windows tablet that punches well above its weight.

I don’t think you can buy it any more, though. Too bad. It’s one of those devices that never got the attention it deserved, especially considering it cost under $300.

Anyway, the Apple Pencil.

It needs one of these things.

 Yeah, that’s one of those cheap rubber pencil holder things that kids use in grade school. It needs one because the shaft is altogether too smooth and narrow. Apple may have done that on purpose to open up new third-party accessory opportunities. Or maybe it’s just because I live in the most arid and cold city in Canada and holding on to an Apple Pencil with cold, dry hands is damn near impossible. I wish the shaft had some texture and was slightly wider; and perhaps not round but hexagonal like a real pencil.

But these rubber things are a cheap solution to the design shortcomings of the device.

Performance-wise, the Pencil performs about as well as the old Surface Pro 2. It’s better than the newer Surface Pro models, because the newer N-Trig digitizers that are in the Surface Pro 3 and 4 aren’t as good as the Wacom digitizer in earlier models.

But the Apple Pencil’s performance depends a lot on how developers have enabled support for the Pencil in their apps. Like, in the notebook app Outline, the Pencil is nearly useless. But in another notebook app, Good Notes, it’s impeccable; the Pencil is glorious.

So it seems that the Pencil is a great device, but app developers really have to work to correctly implement support for it.

It’s early days though for the Pencil. Overall, it’s a tremendously positive start. I just hope Apple improves on the physical design or lets third parties develop pencil devices. And I really look forward to how app developers will improve on what’s already a really good experience.

About Steve Jobs

(The movie.)

It’s remarkably good.

And it’s not the fact that it’s about Steve Jobs that makes it good. It’s just a really good movie.

There’s not a story, per se. There’s not really a beginning, middle and end. It’s more like a three-part symphony played out in pictures and words, that explores the themes of parentage, parenthood and being human.

You could literally pull Steve Jobs and Apple out of the movie and it would still be a riveting exploration of one man’s struggle to discover himself in light of his familial history, even as he alienates and rejects his own child, amongst the scenery and colour of the people around him.

The characters play more as muses and demons and angels in an almost Shakespearean way. This is Hamlet for our modern day, featuring a man seized with self-hatred and angst that he desparately tried to weave into something good and pure, all the while battling away the light that shines all around him.

This is not about Steve Jobs and his trials and tribulations as a corporate executive. Jobs is just the vehicle for a larger thematic framework. It’s about the struggle we all face to be human under extenuating circumstances.

How does one balance the motivation to succeed professionally with a child’s need to be loved by its parents? Do we stay at work for that meeting to advance the project, or do we attend the Remembrance Day ceremony that our child is performing in? Steve Jobs just happens to be the perfect case study for just such a question.

How do we reconcile friendship with the use of people? Are we hanging out with someone we know as an act of friendship, or are we simply managing a relationship to coerce support for some other interest? Jobs’ life story is the perfect extreme-example foil for this sort of conflict that many of us struggle with every day. 

I didn’t go to Steve Jobs expecting much. But it was one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. The writing was so tight, the direction tense and supple, the acting directly authentic and affective. More to the point, it was thematic to the point of allegory. This film wasn’t about Steve Jobs, it was about me. And you.

The story of Steve Jobs is tiresome now. Apple is such a big, ugly company now that none of us want to hear any more about it.

But this film deserves our attention. It’s a deeply moving story of what it is to be human in our age.

About the iPad Pro

I received my iPad Pro about a day ago and have a few early thoughts.

First, the obvious: it’s big. Part of that is due to the screen ratio. But it’s just really big.

The audio system in this thing is amazing. The highs are crisp and clear, the bass literally vibrates up your arms through your fingertips. You don’t need an external speaker system with the iPad Pro. The audio system is the best I’ve ever heard in a mobile device. Better than any notebook computer I’ve ever used, actually.

There have been complaints that the iPad Pro uses the old Touch ID. I prefer it. I find the Touch ID in my iPhone 6S Plus too fast. I prefer the response rate on this iPad Pro.

After a day of use, though, it’s clear that this iPad is not meant to be used solo. Smaller iPads suit just fingers well. The iPad Pro is something you can hold, easily, but its scale more than its weight make it something that works better propped up.

I like it, though. I’ve played around working with the split screen mode and enjoyed it.

But I guess that’s the main thing about the iPad Pro: it needs app support. The apps that have been updated with full iPad Pro support are phenomenal and highlight the incredible potential of this device. The apps that just scale up for the screen, though, emphasize the fact that the iPad Pro can’t be used that way. It needs to have apps updated specifically for its screen size or it simply won’t reach its full potential.

I’m sure that’s just a matter of time, though.

About Kicking Apple Photos to the Curb

Apple Photos and the iCloud Photo Library once promised to be these marvelous things that would unify all of our photos and videos across all of our computers, mobile phones and tablets.

Instead, they have turned out to be yet more confusing, slow, deeply flawed software frustrations from Apple.

Yes, the Photos apps and iCloud Photo Library are huge disappointments. And Apple shows no sign of improving them any time soon. It’s time to kick them to the curb and find other solutions. Which is what I’ve done.

Faulty by Indesign

Really, let’s not lie to ourselves about this “new” Mac app called “Photos.” It’s really just iPhoto with a fresh coat of paint in the colour Ive (and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that Jonathan has no sense of colour). It’s slow and crashy and feels like it was designed circa 2006.

And iCloud Photo Library? It’s the molasses poured all over your iPhone’s camera app that slows its launch time to over 10 seconds. It’s the cludgy proof perfect that Apple still just doesn’t get the cloud.

Then there’s Apple’s boy-in-a-bubble syndrome. Apple Photos and iCloud Photo Library totally lock you into the closed, sterile Apple ecosystem. We’re cut out of engaging and collaborating with anyone who isn’t likewise willingly trapped.

One Platform to Rule Them All

If Apple sucks at software and services, it’s nigh-irrefutable that the company reigns supreme at devices and platforms.

Fortunately, because of the extensible spirit that Apple builds its iOS and Mac platforms with, iPads, iPhones and Macs themselves uniquely integrate with pretty much every other service out there. That represents tremendous opportunity, and there are plenty of alternatives to Apple Photos and iCloud Photo Library ready to be explored.

Google Candy

As Apple faded in my eyes, Google Photos grew on me pretty quickly when it was launched back in May. It does pretty much the same thing as Apple Photos, but better and cheaper. Plus, it has some candy-sweet features that bring your photos to life, like automated stories, animated gifs, and reminders of past events. Apple Photos seems veritably dead in comparison.

Even better, Google gives you options in terms of how your photos and videos get stored.

The quick and easy default choice is to have the service tuck an unlimited quantity of your pics and videos away for free in the cloud. There are some catches with this approach, of course, as there always are when things are free. First, it only saves lower-quality, lower-resolution copies of your pictures and videos (the average person wouldn’t notice the difference, however). Second, the files are locked away in a closed catalogue, just like Apple’s opaque iCloud Photo Library. Third, and most importantly, Google data mines your stuff for the purpose of profiling you and profiting from your photographic ventures.

The other choice you have with Google Photos is to have the full quality, original photo and video files saved directly into an open directory system on your Google Drive. So you’ll have full access to the files in your private cloud storage environment and can sync it with any device you like. There’s a cost associated with this option, but it’s notably lower than what you’ll pay for Apple’s iCloud Photo Library.

Unfortunately, beyond storage options, Google Photos offers almost nothing in terms of photo management. It is a service clearly aimed even more squarely at sucrose-hungry amateurs than Apple Photos. Not that I’m a pro photographer or anything, but I do like to at least add keywords and other metadata to my images. Google Photos doesn’t go there.

Fortunately, with the ability to save your files on Google Drive, you can expose them to cataloguing and management software from other companies.

Like Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is way overburdened with superfluous features, but its excellent cataloguing capability is just what I’m looking for. Plus, it’s completely open in terms of letting me manually establish a location and structure for my photo files.

So I can combine the way Google Photos will save my photos and videos as files on Google Drive with how Adobe Lightroom enables me to catalogue my stuff, whatever file system it’s in.

My Own Personal System

This is were I’m moving my 90,000-plus, 500 GB photo library to.

Sung to the Happy Days song, "Pump Your Blood"

Sung to the Happy Days song, “Pump Your Blood”

Don’t freak out – it looks a lot more complicated than it really is.

The main parts of my photo-management process are represented by solid lines, and these are pretty much automated. The dotted lines represent backups or “bonus” parts. These are parts I’ll do manually, when I want to.

The Flow

I’m using both an iPhone 6s Plus and an Android device (a Nexus 6) to capture photos day-to-day. And I have a propensity to randomly use various other mobile devices as they fall into my hands. (I’m trying to get my hands on a Nexus 6P right now…)
I also regularly shoot with a Sony NEX–7 DSLR camera.

So I have three main photo input sources. Those are represented at the top of the illustration.

The Google Photos apps on both my iPhone and Nexus automatically sync all my photos and videos from each device directly to Google Drive.

After I shoot with my NEX–7, I use Adobe Lightroom to import the photos from the camera into a directory system on an external hard drive that’s attached to my MacBook Pro.

And that’s where the connection into Google Photos comes into play.

That entire external drive is my Google Drive sync point. So the photos that get automatically uploaded from my iPhone and Nexus are placed into the same file system that my Adobe Lightroom catalogues are based on. And, likewise, the photos that I upload from my NEX–7 are placed into the file system that Google Photos uses.
Google Drive automatically syncs all of the sources together. Effectively, Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom share the same file system and each software environment can see all the photos and videos.

Then I use Lightroom to manually manage my entire media library’s metadata, adding keywords and sorting them into collections while Google Photos automagically manufactures delightful stories, animations and reminiscences for me on the fly. It’s a nice balance of sugary treats that Google feeds me and the pro power that Lightroom provides me.

But Wait, There’s More…

On top of that, I get plenty of extensibility.

Because the files are naked in an exposed directory system, I can back them up as I see fit, both locally and in the cloud. For example, from Google Drive I use Mover to sync the photos and videos directly over to OneDrive and Dropbox. This saves me having to use my expensive local internet bandwidth to transfer files up to each cloud file systems from my computer. (Mover is one of the best services available to heavy cloud users like me. It’s free, but I’d gladly pay for it.)

I also mirror the local external hard drive that syncs with Google Drive to a second external drive as another backup.

Addicted to the Apple

Despite my Escape from Appletraz, I’m still dependent in some ways on Cloud Cupertinoo Land’s way of doing things. For example, I like the fact that my Apple TV can display a gallery of my photos in my living room as an eternal screen saver.
Similarly, I love the fact that my Apple Watch can show me a different one of my favourite photos every time I glance at my wrist.

Not surprisingly, I can only feed these Apple devices my pictures through the Apple Photos ecosystem.

So I manually export the very best pics I take from Lightroom into Apple Photos, and they sync from there over to my Apple TV and my Apple Watch.

Migrating is Hard Work

I’ve slowly begun the process of moving my photos and videos out of Apple Photos and into this Adobe/Google hybrid I’ve designed.

It’s a long, time-consuming process and there are downsides. The downsides, though, really just reinforce the fact that I need to get out of Apple’s walled garden.

For one, even though all of my photos and videos are already stored in the cloud in iCloud Photo Library, I can’t move them directly from there to Google Drive using Mover because, as I mentioned before, the Apple system is a closed black box.

Instead, I have to manually export my photos out of the desktop Apple Photos app into Google Drive and it all has to be uploaded again. That represents considerable time and lots of expensive bandwidth.

Another major problem is the fact that Apple Photos can’t include all – or, in most cases, any – metadata with photo and video exports. That means the hours and days of time I’ve invested in tagging and cataloguing my media using iPhoto are probably going to be tossed away during this transition.

That’s a painful reality, but one I’ve reconciled to in the interests of moving to a more open, extensible system.

Closing Thoughts About Opening Up

Whining aside, I understand why Apple builds their software and services the way it does. It’s all about catering to customers with a low skill level and moderate needs. Apple’s stuff is easy to use and, with low utilization, works relatively well. If you just shoot a few pictures from time to time and want to sync them between your iPhone, iPad and Mac, Apple Photos is great. That’s fine, from a marketing perspective. You can easily get up and running and locked in with Apple’s products and services.

Once you have tens of thousands of pictures, though, and start using devices that don’t bear an Apple logo, things break down very, very fast.

That’s where Apple is doing its customers a disservice by not enabling us to grow up and easily leave its walled garden when we hit performance problems caused by its software quality failings. Like a hyperactive parent, Apple is doing its customers more harm than good by smothering us under the blanket of its hermetically sealed information ecosystem. Show us you love us: set us free, Apple.