Monday, June 27, 2011

Why the Playbook isn't an option yet

Lots of us have loved our blackberries for years, for the office tech integration and the mobility and flexibility they provide.  Yet sales have been anemic.  The Playbook has an impressive screen, true multitasking, innovative yet intuitive gestures, DocumentsToGo pre-installed (for office document editing), a Facebook app (the iPad has third party Facebook apps) and Dropbox integration, through Bluebox.  So what's the problem?

1. No Citrix Receiver, yet.  Apparently, it is in development.  If RIM wanted the Playbook a workable productivity tool in the corporate environment right of the bat, it should have worked hard to ensure a Citrix Receiver app as of day one.  The playbook does have VPN, but you have to hope it is the type supported in your corporate environment (there seems to be endless variations to VPN configurations).

2. The screen is too small.  The importance of screen size has been underestimated, in my view.  Many vaunt the ability to stick a playbook in a suit pocket (my suit pockets are not big enough).  But a large smartphone is not appealing.  The iPad has the right screen size for typing away, using Citrix Receiver, etc., as well as other activities such as reading, making up PDFs, etc.

3. No native email support.  When you think about the Blackberry's original purpose, this omission is a little bizarre.  If you don't have a blackberry already (you can interact with your Blackberry emails on your playbook), this device is not for you.

4. For Playbook, as well as for Blackberry, they should have developed a better integration tool for those of us who use iTunes for our media collections.

5.  I'm not one for comparing shere numbers of apps available on different platforms, since most iPad apps are stupid.  But a good selection of quality apps is essential, and the iPad is miles (years?) ahead.

Friday, June 24, 2011

iPad keyboard shortcuts

For iPad keyboard shortcuts, see this link.  These tips can make your typing on the iPad more efficient.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Blackberry app for travelling: Worldmate Live and Flightstats

The Worldmate Live app ( identifies itinerary emails that arrive in my inbox, extracts the necessary information from them, and adds the information to my Blackberry calendar and, as a result of my Blackberry calendar being synced with my firm's Microsoft Exchange servers, my Outlook calendar (taking timezones into account).  This is a great, streamlined process for putting my travel plans and detailed itinerary into my Blackberry.

I can view my itinerary either through my calendar on my Blackberry, or by going into the app itself.  The app organizes the information by "trip".

Other useful features in the app include multiple clocks and a currency convertor.  If you are a paying member then you can check on flight status, receive flight delay alerts, and view a Worldmate travel directory.  I am not a paying member because I do not travel enough to justify it.

A free way to receive flight status messages is to create a free account on Flightstats:  Once you have done that, you can create flight alerts by inputting the date, airline, and flight number.  You then select the type of message you want (SMS or email) and for email the type of email (short, long, HTML).  I think the website could be improved (I sometimes find myself puzzled as to where to go to do what I want), but I can live with that since it is free.

Worldmate has a plug-in for MS Outlook which you might want to check out.  I do not use it since the app works great already on my Blackberry without it.

Worldmate also has versions for the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Getting video onto the iPad

One of the handy things about the iPad is how much content you can take with you in a small package: ebooks (e.g., Kindle, Kobo, Stanza, etc.) PDFs (e.g., iAnnotate), Word documents (e.g., DocumentsToGo), powerpoints (e.g., Keynote), notes (e.g., Note Taker HD), email, web browsing, music, sheet music (e.g., ForScore; OnSong; SyncSong), etc.  This can be very handy on a plane trip for example, since instead of stacks of papers, books, and an iPod, I only need the iPad (and my Blackberry).  The iPad can also play video, of course.  The question is how to get video onto the iPad.  If the video is already in iTunes, then it is a simple matter of plugging the iPad in and allowing it to sync, but most video you will want to watch will not be in iTunes, particularly movies you have on DVDs on your shelves.

I watched Casablanca on my iPad on a recent trip to Toronto.  That was the great part.  I simply used the Apple iPad cover to stand the iPad up like a TV screen.  The hard part was, initially, getting it onto the iPad.  I own a Casablanca DVD, so I have no qualms about copying the video onto my iPad so that I can enjoy it while on the plane.  I do not share copies with anyone, so in my view I am squarely within fair use.  I love travelling without having to drag a laptop around.  But iTunes does not come with a built-in transcoder.

One free option is to use Handbrake + VLC.  VLC is needed to deal with the digital rights management on the DVD, and Handbrake to do the actual work.  I am not going to go into details here (you can search for instructions on google), but I was not impressed.  It took hours of my time, it was not straightforward, and I ended up with poor quality.  Perhaps that is a result of my own incompetence, but if it is not easy, or if it consumes too much of my time, it is generally not worth it.

I then decided to download iSkysoft's DVD Ripper to Mac for US$39.  This turned out to be a good decision.  Here is what I liked about the app:
  1. It was easy to install.
  2. The settings were straightforward.  I clicked on the device image (that's the image at the very right of the blue bar in the screenshot below) to select the device for which I wanted the video optimized.
  3. You can choose what you want.  I choose not to copy the trailers, extra languages, or subtitles, all of which would take up valuable digitial space.  In the image below, only one file is listed, but a DVD will usually list multiple files, such as the trailers and special features.
  4. You have flexibility.  I choose to have the output all in one simply video file, but you could choose to break it up (a single file is chosen by clicking on the check-box in the lower right box of the image).
  5. It was easy to start the process.
  6. The final product looked great.
  7. I dragged the resulting file into iTunes and it synced perfectly to the iPad.
DVD Ripper MacNote however, that it still takes several hours for the program to do its work, but that did not involve my time.  The Handbrake + VLC method took lots of my time, and I ended frustrated and dissatisfied.

You should also note that videos transcoded from DVDs can quickly fill up your iPad (or your computer harddrive).

I rarely watch movies on my iPad, but when on a trip it can be handy.

If anyone has a better/cheaper way, I'd be pleased to hear about it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Guide to using iPad in the corporate/firm environment

The Tablet Legal blog ( has a post regarding implementation of the iPad, or other iOS devides, in the corporate environment.  It describes a new book from Apress publications, Enterprise iPhone and iPad Administrator’s Guide by Charles Edge.  A quote, with links, from the Tablet Legal blog:

"Apress has graciously made the first three chapters of the book are available for TabletLegal readers to preview at this link. The full book retails at $59.99 but is available new from Amazon for $44.99 at this writing (Amazon link). I see that the book is also available for Kindle (or Kindle app equipped iPads) for $37.67 (Kindle store link)."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Amazon has improved the Kindle app for iPad

Amazon has improved the Kindle app for iPad in important ways.

First, it has added new ways to put a book or similar document into the Kindle app.  Until now, it had to be downloaded by the Kindle app over wifi or 3G from Amazon's servers.  Now, you can drag and drop a document into the Kindle app using itunes and, more importantly, you can now open documents in other iPad apps in the Kindle app.  For example, if you receive a compatible document by email, you two-finger click on that document and then select "Open with... Kindle".  Kindle imports that document.

Second, but more importantly for me, the Kindle app can now read .mobi documents (and also .prc documents).  Mobipocket is owned by Amazon, and so I had earlier complained in this blog about the lack of compatibility.  One of my main resources is Carswell's Practitioner's Income Tax Act.  Carswell's electronic version of that product was only available in the .mobi format.  The only modern platform that Mobipocket itself supported was the Blackberry.  Although Amazon owns Mobipocket, I could not use that .mobi document on the iPad.  A dedicated app from Carswell for the Practitioner's Income Tax Act would be better and more functional, but this is a helpful step forward from Amazon. (Carwell: where is the Practirioner's Goods and Services Tax Annotated electronic version?)

Third, the Kindle app will now background download from the Amazon servers.  Not doing so before was only a minor annoyance given how quick ebooks download, but it is a nice improvement.

The Kindle app could still be improved.  For example, for some reason, the Kindle is still not compatible with ePub documents.  That is a hindrance for anyone who wants to use Kindle as their main ebook app on the iPad.

More importantly, for workflow, I would like to be able to copy.  For example, if I am writing a memorandum on, for example, section 126 of the Income Tax Act, it would be nice to be able to copy the relevant parts of that section over into a memorandum.  I can do that on my desktop using Carswell products (or free sources on the internet), but not on the iPad.  The Kindle app allows me to highlight, bookmark, and make notes, but not copy.  Obviously Amazon wants to prevent copyright infringement by copying an entire work, but limiting the ability to copy to a paragraph at a time should deal with that concern.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Remotely access your computer from your iPad: Logmein Ignition

To access my home computer from my iPad, at first I used iTeleport ( It was not overly complex to install for use on my local network, but did require that I make some adjustments to my computer's settings, which some users will find less than straightforward.  In an attempt to simplify set-up, iTeleport uses your google account to connect your iPad to your computer.  That makes some users nervous.  It is simple enough to create a single-purpose google account for iTeleport, but then that is yet another set-up step.  iTeleport worked fine on my local network at home, but was difficult to set-up for external access.  Indeed, I can no longer get it to work externally, and iTeleport's instructions to set it up for external access are no longer available on the iTeleport website.  Using iTeleport to control your computer from another room in the house may be useful to some users, but not to me.  I need external remote access.

I have now installed Logmein Ignition.  The iPad app is $19.99, and the computer version comes in free (Logmein Free) and premium (Logmein Pro) versions.  Logmein Free was easier to install on my computer than iTeleport, and does not use your google account credentials.  There is no extra set-up required for external access.  For setting up remote access, Logmein is the model of simplicity.

Ignition has many useful features.  The setting I value most is greyscale.  As the name implies, my home computer's screen appears in shades of grey on the iPad when using this setting.  That significantly reduces the data that is transmitted and so speeds up the reaction time.  The lower data usage is particularly useful over 3G.  When I need access to my home computer, it is not to enjoy fancy graphics.  It is to navigate, read, and copy.  Other options include colour in high, medium or low quality.  There is also an auto setting available to detect your bandwidth.  I have used Ignition on both wifi and 3G, using greyscale, and find it quite responsive.

Ignition starts by displaying your entire computer screen.  Of course, that renders everything too small to read or work with.  You simply use the usual iPad pinch-to-zoom to enlargen the area of the screen you need to work in.  Ignition handles multiple screens with a special screen switiching three-finger horizontal swipe.  The three-finger vertical swipe is used for revealing and concealing the on-screen keyboard.

As for using the mouse, Ignition defaults to a setting where the mouse pointer is in the middle of the screen and you move the home comptuer screen around.  That setting is easily changed.  I found that clicking the mouse took some getting used to.  Sometimes it did not seem to process the click.
You can set up Ignition for use with multiple computers.  Depending on your firm IT policies and systems, you could use it to access both your home computer and your work computer.

I was concerned about how it would work with multitasking on the iPad.  While iOS 4 allows some background processes to run, most multitasking is based on app freezing.  I was not sure how that would work with Ignition's connection to my home computer, but so far my testing has not presented any issues.  I have copied text in Ignition, switched over to DocsToGo to paste, and then switched back to Ignition, with no problems.

When bandwidth is not an issue (for example, when on the home wi-fi network), you could use Ignition to view flash websites, but it will not be as good as using your computer directly to view such sites.

Ignition Pro is a subscription service ($69.99/year) that provides access to additional features.  When you first set up Ignition, the additional features are available automatically for a trial period.  One useful premium feature would be file transfer, but it does not work on the iPad.  Fortunately, given that you can remotely operate your home computer's email program using Ignition, there is always the free email alternative for transferring a file from your home computer to your iPad.  Where this feature would be particularly useful is where the file is too big for email.  Other premium features are remote printing and desktop sharing, which could be useful to some users.

Logmein also allows you to access your home computer from a web browser, by logging into your account on the Logmein website.