InfoNgen 'Publisher HD' Is Now In The App Store…

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I wanted to let everyone know that the first cut of InfoNgen’s iPad newsletter generation application – Publisher HD – is now up and available in the Apple App Store. Equally exciting is the great reception the app has received. It was even featured in the New & Noteworthy section for productivity apps:

If you get the chance to download it, I would welcome whatever feedback you have. There are a lot of things we want to add, refine and extend in the current release of Publisher HD, and we are already hard at work on putting that next version together. You can leave suggestions in the comments section for this post, or just email me directly.

Best of all, Publisher HD is free – just bring your own iPad. You can download it via the link below:

ENJOY!

The iPad: Living Up To The Hype…

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If you haven’t actually used the iPad, it’s hard to appreciate what a compelling computing experience it gives you. Though at a physical level the device may seem to be nothing more than a large iPod Touch, in real world use it becomes something quite unique.

And that’s what makes the iPad so exciting.

I’ve been using the iPad as my main computer for the past three days, covering everything from email, web surfing and media playback to working on a detailed presentation and typing up the outline and notes to go with it. I even used the iPad to type up most of this post on the train this morning. While not perfect in every respect, the device has shown itself more than capable of handling everything I have thrown at it – no small feat for a small, mobile device.

Based on that experience, I wanted to share a list of those things with the iPad that seem to really work well, and also those that I think Apple still needs to focus on.

Working Well:
The iPad does so many things well, but certain things are really standouts. Here are some that I feel merit specific mention.

  • The iPad extensions made to the iPhone OS interface make using the larger display both intuitive and efficient. The pop-over displays are a great idea for maximizing screen real estate, and the way apps reconfigure to optimize themselves based on screen orientation is brilliant. The entire user experience here is simple and refined.
  • Every native iPad application brings more of a desktop experience than I’ve ever had on a mobile device. Unlike traditional apps running on netbooks, iPad apps don’t feel cramped or chopped up. In fact some iPad only apps – like Mail or the Wall Street Journal reader – actually seem to surpass the experience you can get on the desktop today. There is an opportunity for some groundbreaking innovation here that has been missing in the software industry for a long time.
  • Though touch-typists may feel differently, I found typing on the landscape keyboard to be very similar to typing on a MacBook. Though lacking the tactile feedback, having the keyboard on the same physical plane as what I’m typing gave more visual feedback than I get from a separate keyboard and display configuration. The auto-correct is also excellent, saving me from going back to fix common typing and spelling errors.
  • Battery life seems to be awesome. Unlike with the iPhone (where you always have to keep an eye on the power meter), the iPad just seems to keep running. I’d work on it for over 3 hours at a clip and never had the battery drop below 75%. I’ll be interested to see how well the 3G version does on this front.
  • Once I started browsing the web on the iPad, it was tough to go back to the traditional browser experience. Using touch to navigate around full sized web pages is so much more satisfying than using a mouse or trackpad. It’s the most natural way I’ve seen to move through information on a screen.
  • The iBook application is a real standout. I can see why so many publishers have become excited about the iPad as a delivery medium. I would like to see how this develops – especially around interactive and mixed media ‘books’. Short of reading in direct sunlight, the lack of eInk doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here. The display was crisp and easy on the eyes, and the book reading software was both playful and functional.
  • Apple multi-use iPad cover is a must have accessory. Beyond protecting the device, it provides a stand that optimizes either viewing and typing based on how you orient it.

Missing The Mark:
Not everything with the iPad deserves acolades. Here are a few of the less than optimal features that Apple will need to pay some attention to going forward.

  • While iPhone native apps do run on the iPad, they simply don’t translate well to the large screen. They look pixelated and lack the elegant interface touches that iPad native apps all have. I know that it will simply be a matter of time before most apps are updated to accommodate the iPad, but running ‘classic’ apps on the device right now isn’t very satisfying. Streamlining the process of getting converted apps approved and in the store needs to be a priority for Apple.
  • It’s hard to believe, but there is no coverflow for media files on the iPad. Given that coverflow is almost a signature Apple interface element, I’m at a loss to figure this one out.
  • While far from heavy, the iPad weighs more than I thought it would. I don’t notice it when I carry it around, but it is definitely tiring to hold it unsupported in a reading position for long periods of time.
  • Apple has done an excellent job adding books to the iPad, but treating newspapers and magazines as general applications seems to be a real kludge. Even if the unique nature of magazines and newpapers benefits from an application based packaging model, that should at least be collected and organized outside the general pool of applications, with given a consistent way for people to purchase or subscribe to them.
  • There is no obvious way to copy PDF’s or other published documents over to the iPad. I typically carry around a lot of reference documents and manuals, and was hoping the iPad could lighten the load of physical paper I currently need to carry around. Hopefully Apple or a third party will provide an app for that soon – it’s such a natural use for the device.
  • It seems out of place that a media centric device like the iPad won’t be able to include a video iChat compatible application. The lack of a web cam is something of a disappointment. At this point, I’d at least like to see a basic text iChat application released.

Based on the time I’ve spent with it, I don’t see the iPad replacing either my laptop or my iPhone. It is a unique device with it’s own place in my ‘gadget world’. That said, I don’t consider myself the typical computer user, so your experience may vary. What does speak volumes to me about the capability that is in the iPad is that its the first device that I could see taking on trips or vacations instead of my laptop. It is also my clear first choice for doing email, web browsing, and watching video. It really does fill the gap between my iPhone’s portability and my laptop’s power.

I think that for many people (non-power user, non-bit tweaker, real world people) the iPad could even end up becoming their primary computing platform. It does so many things well, and with a simplicity unmatched by any other device on the market, that I expect it to catch on with this broad demographic in a significant way. Once you actually start to use an iPad, you understand the limitations of what today’s computing experience offers.

You simply don’t want give it up.

And that’s the thing that makes the iPad so ‘magical’.

I would strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself. In every way that really matters, the iPad does live up to the hype.

Windows Phone 7 Series Preview…

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Microsoft is betting ’7′ will be a lucky number for them.

Looking to build off of the initial success of Windows 7 (the consumer side looks good but still not sure how well corporate adoption will go), Microsoft previewed the next generation of their Windows Mobile operating system – the “Windows Phone 7 Series” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday. As part of their introduction of the new mobile OS, they put together a video that essentially slams Apple’s iPhone platform:

While slickly produced, this video segment is somewhat misleading. It is comparing Apple’s current iPhone OS against an unreleased version of their mobile OS that probably won’t be available until late this year. I have no doubt that by then, iPhone OS 4.x will be out and offering quite a few new and updated features – including broader multitasking capabilities.

That said, there are some interesting concepts in Windows Phone 7 that give it a completely different feel from the raft of inferior ‘iPhone Wannabes’ that have flooded the market over the past 18 months. I would need to spend time with it to get a feel for just how usable it actually is in the ‘real world’, but it clearly represents a total reset of Microsoft’s previous phone OS efforts. This is something I applaud – the Mobile 6.x line was a complete dead end.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for Microsoft and almost every other mobile OS provider is that they are trying to support a broad range of hardware options and capabilities. While ‘consumer choice’ may seem like a good thing on the surface, apps developed for this type of heterogeneous environment either end up being limited by the least capable device they support, or developers make a conscious choice to limit their compatibility to selected handset models. While this approach may be satisfying to tech savvy users, it tends to confuse and frustrate mainstream consumers, and ultimately works against broad adoption.

Windows Phone 7 Series definitely looks interesting, and does demonstrate a real commitment by Microsoft to be successful in the mobile space. This is probably the last real chance they will get at making something to work here.

And I believe this OS is more important to Microsoft’s future then Windows 7.

NOTE:To find out more about how the 7 Series will work, check out this complete video of Microsoft’s preview event. It will start to play automatically once you make the video window visible. You will need stop it manually if you want to watch it later.

Apple's IPad Event: Looking Beyond The iPad…

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There has been so much written about the iPad itself over the few days that I don’t think my fawning over it would add much to the discussion.
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Do I think there will be more in the released version than we saw in the presentation? Yes. Am I excited about the potential of the device? Without a doubt. Will I get one when it finally goes on sale? Absolutely! And though I am pretty pumped about ordering one, there is clearly still a lot of speculation in the media over the true market demand for a device like the iPad. Passions seem high on both sides. Given everything that we still DON’T know about the final functionality of the software/OS and about what types of new content will end up in the various ‘iStores’ by the time the iPad is released, I’d rather wait till then before jumping in to the fray.

Instead, for this post, I’d like to dig down a level and look at three of the less sexy things that were revealed during the iPad event that could actually end up being quite significant both to Apple and the industry overall.

Apple’s A4 Chip:

blog-a4-chipOutside of the release of the iPad itself, the revelation that it is powered by a custom Apple chip (handling both general and graphics processing chores) could be the most significant thing to come out of last weeks event. While the A4 chip will almost certainly make it into the 4G version of the iPhone, I also expect the A4 (or some variation of it) to also be at the heart of the next generation of AppleTV. This would likely be as part of a move of ATV onto the same OS platform as the iPhone/Touch/iPad, and would probably allow the box itself to be re-engineered to better support HD video (eg – real 1080p) and also to open it up to running games available from the App Store. As a big fan of the existing AppleTV, I see this as something that is long overdue. (I expect it to be announced before mid-2010.)

Another way Apple could leverage the chip this year could be the release of a successor to the Macbook Air based on some version of it. This could give Apple a way to deliver the dramatically improved battery life and graphic muscle of the iPad in the super-thin laptop form factor of the current Air (not to mention integrated “always connected” 3G/4G ). It could even end up running the iPhone OS, and provide the ‘Touch’ aspects either through a substantial trackpad area or directly on the display. While I’m not trying to predict specific product details here, I do see an opportunity for Apple in this segment as well – a hybrid offering blending the best tablet and laptop features for true ‘road warrior’ types.

Ultimately the most exciting thing about the A4 is that it frees Apple from Intel’s lock on mobile processors, and can give them the ability to change both the economics and overall direction of products they launch in this area. And in the hands of Apple, that holds some pretty big promise for the future.

The Touch Based Version Of iWorks:

blog-iworks-ipadApple’s iWorks has been around for quite a few years now, and has matured into a full productivity suite offering word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. While no where near as popular as Microsoft’s Office suite, each component of iWorks is well thought out and a pleasure to work with. Unlike Office on a Windows tablet computer, the new iWorks isn’t simply an extension of the previous version that makes it usable without a keyboard. Instead, iWorks on the iPad has been designed from the ground up to work in a touch environment. From the way various functional menus are displayed to the way task specific virtual keyboards appear in different contexts, every element of the product is designed to be part of a native touch experience. While I will need to spend some quality time with the new iWorks before passing judgment, it does appear that Apple has learned a great deal from iterations of the user experience they developed for iPhone apps, and have done a good job scaling it to more comprehensive applications on larger displays.

While this is impressive on it’s own, what may end up being the most significant aspect of the new iWorks probably isn’t in the code or design at all, but rather in the business model surrounding it. iWorks for the iPad will be sold through the Apple App Store, with each component application available individually for less than $10. That means the entire suite can be bought for under $30 – less than a third of the discounted price Microsoft’s Office 2007 Home and Student edition sells for on Amazon. By unbundling the individual applications, selling them for such a low price, and making them available through their App Store, Apple is clearly challenging the current economic model for the sale and distribution of traditional software applications. This is not without precedent for Apple – even beyond what they did with pricing in the iPhone App space. When Apple moved into producing professional media creation software (known for outrageously high prices), they were able to reset the price points for applications like video editing, compositing, and audio editing in a similar dramatic fashion. It would not be surprising to see this model finally slip over to the Mac, with the desktop version of iWorks taking on similar pricing and packaging to the iPad version – and possibly being sold through the app store as well.

Selling Books In The iBookstore Instead Of On iTunes:

blog-ibookstoreI think the fact that Apple chose to build a completely separate ‘iStore’ for books is interesting. By approaching print publications as truly unique forms of media with unique content and marketplace dynamics, Apple stands a good chance at reshaping the ebook market and really challenging the current dominance of Amazon’s Kindle platform. I believe that what was shown at the iPad launch is simply the most basic starter functionality for this store. I see it ultimately having different business and functional models to address some unique opportunities found in this marketplace. For example:

  • renting eTextbooks for a semester instead of buying them
  • offering subscriptions to magazine and newspaper content via special viewing applications unique to each of them
  • selling content that is pretty much static – like a daily newspaper – with options for dynamic updates
  • integrating social elements to let people discuss or interact around specific titles – much the way a college study group or typical reading club might interact

There is a lot of room in this space to innovate. The upheavals we have already seen happen between Amazon and publishers like MacMillan (almost 2 months before the iPad is even released!) are a good indication of how dynamic this marketplace still is – and just how disruptive Apple’s entry into this space will be. By having an independent store that can evolve quickly and embrace new and unique ways of accessing media, Apple will have the flexibility they need to learn, adapt, and adjust. Success wouldn’t be achievable with a more static approach.

I am firmly convinced that the iPad will have just as significant an impact on the media marketplace as the iPhone did on the mobile phone market. The convergence of these two markets, and the increasing importance of mobile computing will continue to present incredible opportunities for Apple. I believe the three elements I’ve discussed here will be important differentiators for Apple as the aggressively pursue this new market.

I can’t wait for my iPad…