I Really Wanted a HomePod for Christmas

The device I really was looking forward to getting for Christmas was a new Apple HomePod smart speaker. I wanted it even though we have already invested in the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. When I say that we have invested in the Echo smart speakers, what I really mean is that we’ve spent money on few devices that let us do things like turn on lights, set timers, and play music out of an annoyingly poor sounding speaker. We really bought them to do stuff and they introduced us to the whole idea of just saying the name of a song or artist and getting instant gratification, even if the sound was inferior to what we have historically been accustomed to. I wanted the HomePod because it could do the smart home stuff, but is targeted as a “real” speaker and I have been missing real speakers since we moved to Chicago two and half years ago.

We’ve always had great speakers in our homes because we value listening to music. With the new place, there just hasn’t been a place, or frankly a desire, to put out real speakers connected to a real stereo. The Echo completely reinforced the idea for my wife and I that we did not want the complexity of a physical stereo system in the main part of our home. I also was not interested in spending tons of money on hiding systems in closets, getting in-wall speakers, and managing it all with multi-room gear. That just feels so last generation, especially now that I can simply say, “Alexa, play some Nora Jones” and it just happens. The problem is with the Echo it sounds less than satisfying when it magically starts playing.

Enter the HomePod. Apple promised it by Christmas and I had visions of pairing two to make a stereo front stage in the family room … yes, at $350 per speaker I wasn’t looking forward to the cost, but I’ve paid more for speakers in the past. I was ready to go and then they delayed it until sometime in early 2018.

I have been toying with the idea of entering into the world of Sonos for years. Ever since a great friend of ours showed it to me years ago in State College I was really intrigued, but I never pulled the trigger. It seemed limiting having to control it from your phone and the streaming services weren’t quite there, so I watched from the sideline. When Sonos and Amazon announced that there was a growing number of integrations between the Echo and what could be played via voice control I started to really do my research. At the end of the day, I dropped $300 on two Songs Play 1 speakers so they are paired as a stereo set and I couldn’t be happier. I have an Echo Dot in the family room that can voice control playback on the Sonos speakers and they sound very good. I compared them across the line and found the Play 1 to be better suited to what we needed (and was easier on the wallet) than getting the larger Play models.

The reality is that while Amazon is now one of the largest installed base of speaker manufacturers in the World, their speakers sort of stink at being speakers. Apple had a great opportunity to steal some thunder from Amazon this Holiday season and they let that opportunity slip by while Amazon sold tens of millions of Echos of all flavors (especially the Dot). Now that Sonos has integrated Echo into its new, One speaker, there is a very high quality smart speaker on the market from an audio company. Have I mentioned that Google has a couple of nice products as well? I am upset I couldn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas, but I am very happy with my Sonos setup. It leaves me wondering if there will be a chance for Apple to catch up in this space? I will be hard pressed to go back and buy a HomePod now, but I have learned over the last few years to not bet against Apple. Right now I am more likely to expand my Sonos collection than spend on the HomePod. Time will tell and your milage may vary when it comes to Sonos, Echo, Google, and eventually the HomePod … it is an interesting space to be watching at the moment and it sounds like it is just getting started.

Giving iBooks a Try

This is not a post discussing the merits of Apple’s iBooks 2 announcement … that has been done all over the web. Instead I did what I typically do when a new publishing engine emerges, I try to publish content with it. So attached to this post is a first shot at publishing some content … and again, as I typically do, I grab content that exists and re-imagine it within the construct of a new platform. This is the same content that was published a long time ago by my team in the IST Solutions Institute via the D3 platform we utilized. I have since published this old content numerous times across various platforms including Drupal, WordPress, and MoveableType. Now it is reborn as an iBook — with a few extra pieces of media thrown in. This is not a full test and it certainly is not a “publishable” piece of work … although the process to get this much content packaged and online was next to nothing — maybe 30 minutes of work.

If you have an iPad you can download and install (I guess that is what happens when you click the link) this text into iBooks 2. The process of getting it onto the iPad seems a little slow and outmoded without the aid of the actual iBook Store. The link takes quite a bit of time to bounce me from Safari to the actual iBooks app on the iPad. I did sign up to be a publisher, but I have yet to receive all the information back from Apple even a couple hours after I submitted it. If I can find a way to become a publisher, this would be much simpler and would probably integrate very nicely with the new iTunes U functionality. I will keep looking at it.


I met him once in the lobby at Apple headquarters as he spoke to Ive. Really the only person I have thought of as famous that I worked really hard to understand. Other than Michael Jordan he was the only famous person I cared about. But I cared about how he did things more than anything else. I hope Steve is OK and he can enjoy years of happiness going forward. I want to believe he is just stepping aside … still it is a difficult story to read. I’ve bee an Apple guy for as long as I can remember, getting my first Mac in 1984 as a birthday present — still the greatest material gift I ever received. With it came a free subscription to MacWorld … the first cover?

Serious cool. To so many Apple is about product, to me it has always been about philosophy. The philosophy is what Jobs was always about. He wrote his own rules and has lived by them. I can honestly say that his approach to innovation is what continues to drive me. I know that sounds a little corny, but it is true. Seriously, here’s to the crazy ones.

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Jobs said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

I’ll continue to watch and learn from Steve and hopefully a whole host of new talent that he has inspired. To Steve, I say thank you for giving me a career path and for inspiring so many through your work.

A Year with the iPad

It is hard to believe the iPad has been here for a year now. As the device turns one I thought I’d write a little bit about the past year that I’ve spent with It. I had one delivered to my door on this day last year and was immediately impressed with the iPad on lots of levels. When I first got it I committed to spending a full month with it as my primary mobile computing platform to really see what it was all about. After my hands and arms recovered from relearning typing I was very impressed. That month was as much about learning about the new device as it was about learning about what it could be in the future. What I learned was that I could in effect do close to everything I needed on it if I thought hard about the workflow associated with it. Having to think really hard about doing normal tasks seemed frustrating at times, but I have to say it was worth the stretch to build a deeper appreciation and understanding of the device.

At launch it did not multitask and that was limiting to a degree, but more so in a backward looking way — I didn’t much miss it as the best apps I used built the multitasking in. That was a huge deal for me as I got to see software being rethought for the first time in a long time. That little insight is what pushed me from forcing myself to be an iPad user to actually becoming an iPad user — things are different on it and it is pointless to build comparisons to a regular computer.

So many people look at the iPad as a purely consumption device and that just isn’t the case. I use mine for all sorts of things. I am writing this post on it and would have no problem doing a whole host of other production level tasks with it. I think that comes with practice and working with apps the way the designers envisioned. Sometimes that breaks your own workflow, but this is a new platform. As an example, this weekend I built a new 60 slide Keynote deck on my iPad — a first for me. I was scheduled to be heading to Cupertino to visit with Apple this morning when I had to cancel at the last minute to be home with my wife who got sick in the night. The crazy thing was that I was going to be on the west coast from Sunday to Thursday and I was only taking the iPad. That is huge given I was on the agenda to present tomorrow … I was doing it from the iPad. I am finding that a year after it’s arrival I am now 100% comfortable with the idea that this can really be my primary mobile production and consumption device.

I won’t ramble on about the iPad, but I will share seven notable thoughts from my first year with the iPad …

Number 1. No doubt it has limitations, but the affordances far outweigh the small annoyances. I rarely take my laptop back and forth from work and I almost always reach for my iPad well in advance of the MacBook Pro. Do I still love my laptop? Yep, but it just is too limiting in my new workflow … that sounds strange even for me as I read it back … the laptop is too limiting. I can’t for example easily move between reading, writing, controlling my cable box, cuing up content on my Mac in the other room, editing wikispaces, playing games, or writing a blog post. I just can’t … so many of those apps don’t exist for my laptop in the same way they do on my iPad. At the end of the day, it may actually be more powerful for doing all sorts of things, while my laptop is more powerful for doing very specific things.

Number 2. I visit with new Department Heads at the start of each Fall semester. I did 15 visits last Fall and nine of the folks I met with had iPads. What makes that so notable is that in the previous five years I’ve done this not a single person had a single piece of technology. Yep, only a few months after the introduction over half of the academic leaders I met had already added the iPad to their workflow. I spend a huge amount of time in meetings with lots of people and I am never in a room with fewer than three or four iPads. That is staggering to me — especially for a device that is derided as consumption only.

Number 3. The pilots we’ve done in English are proving to be successful in ways we didn’t anticipate. I think that is really at the core of my own delight with the iPad — I didn’t expect to like it this much. I thought I’d use it for a month and give it to someone else. In general the undergrad and graduate students are finding the device really capable for supporting their work and have found new ways to integrate into their lives. Same can be said for several of the faculty we’ve given them to — they are finding new ways to use apps and the device to change the way they write, organize their scholarship, communicate, assess, and connect. I find that very interesting — the device becomes what they need it be.

Number 4. The iPad still invites lots of stares from people even though it is showing up all over campus. When I sit and work with it in the student union people look and people stop and ask me questions about it. Given how many of these Apple sold in the first year it is surprising that it stills inspires curiosity. My children really still can’t keep their hands off the thing … even after a year it inspires curiosity with each new app.

Number 5. Speaking of new apps, the thing that I am most surprised about is how it seems to become a new object with each new app that I consume. The new iMovie and GaragBand are perfect examples of the iPad becoming new objects via the app interface. When I edit video in iMovie on the iPad I feel like I am sitting on some sort of futuristic version of an old school Grass Valley switcher. So many of the apps I use transform the iPad into something that feels like it was built specifically for that task — browsing the web, reading feeds in Reeder, playing Angry Birds, using Evernote, and almost everything else on my first screen feels like a different device each time I launch an app.

Number 6. Finally, the thing that has continued to surprise me is how it changes and challenges the traditional model of engagement in group settings. I am no longer the techie behind the laptop. I no longer have an aluminum barrier with a glowing Apple logo on it between my eyes and the room. The iPad is not an obtrusive object between myself and the other people in the room. I find that when I ask many of my colleagues they feel the same way — both about their own participation and that of others using the device. The iPad isn’t just a different platform to me, it elicits a very different type of practice. I am more engaged and less distracted.

Number 7. I can finally use a device all day long without worrying about needing to charge the thing. My MBP is good for a good four hours, but that is far short of all day. I spent nearly the entire day working today on my iPad and it is just now sitting at 7% battery … and unlike my MBP that 7% will last me another 45 minutes easily. That means that faculty and students can actually be mobile all day and not need me to install power outlets in every seat of a classroom. That is an important shift for technology use in education.

So at the one year mark I must say I am impressed. Is the iPad the best of what will become? Probably not, but if one continues to ignore the form factor and the affordances then I think you may be missing the point. Make whatever argument you want — it is closed, it is just a big iPhone, it is only a consumption device … it doesn’t really matter, in lots of ways it is the future. It might not be a bad idea to spend some time unpacking some of what makes it interesting for yourself.

Becoming a New Object

Good iPad apps can make the iPad feel not like a device running an app, but like an object that is the app. GarageBand isn’t a musical app running on an iPad. It turns an iPad into a musical instrument.

via daringfireball.net

This is John Gruber talking about GarageBand from the iPad 2 reveal earlier this week. This thought, that the best apps turn the iPad into a whole new device is something we discussed when it first arrived last year. Scott McDonlad and I took our iPads into our Disruptive Technology class a day after it shipped to share with our students … that single point was what many of the students marveled at — that a device like the iPad becomes something new each time you launch a new app, at least when you launch a good app.

I like that notion a lot. It is still what separates the iPad from my laptop — it is the app I am running.

Real Life Social

The iPad is real-life social in a way that a phone and a laptop just aren't. You really can just hand it to someone to show them what you mean: share photos, videos, writing with real people right next to you. I can see using it to learn with a child, share pictures with my mother, discuss house remodeling, and many other tasks normally done with paper.

In the office, the iPad offers a middle-ground I've found lacking in electronic devices. Bringing my laptop into meetings puts up a screen between me and others, is a hassle to unplug and carry around, and can be personally distracting. Taking my iPhone to make notes makes people think I'm bored of the meeting and sending text messages to friends instead. So normally I choose paper, and tend to lose my notes afterwards.

The iPad is a device that will find fans not only in a family setting, but in a creative setting where collaboration and comment is in person. Criticized for not being open because of digital rights management, the iPad is actually very open, in the sense that it erects few physical barriers to sharing.

via radar.oreilly.com

I like the idea of "real life social," but I depend so much on the web for much of my social networks. I am really lucky that I do work in a place that I like the people I am with and that it is relatively open and social. I wonder how it plays out in a situation like what @Robin2Go wrote about yesterday? We are living in such splintered social times. All of these conversations are really interesting to me.

I do like the idea Edd mentions in that second paragraph … laptops and cell phones in meetings have not only become the norm, but a huge crutch. With an iPad I wonder if we'll see the birth of shorter standing meetings — where we can get together with our devices and never even have to sit down — just get to business and show each other our ideas. I have no idea, but not having my colleagues hiding behind screens may be an interesting change brought about by devices like iPad.

Alan Kay and the Dynabook

“This note speculates about the emergence of personal, portable information manipulators and their effects when used by both children and adults. Although it should be read as science fiction, current trends almost guarantee that many of the notions discussed will actually happen in the near future.” — Alan C. Kay, 1972

If you are interested in how the future is made, this is a worthwhile read. I’m betting at least few people at Apple did.

Office on iPad?

I know this seems like a really stupid question, but does anyone think Microsoft would ever make iPad apps of the individual Office tools? At first I thought there’d be no way — Microsoft has a competing mobile OS, why would they want to enable that? Then I remembered they also have a competing desktop OS and they deliver to that. With Apple releasing iWork apps for $10.00 each for the iPad I wonder if Microsoft will be inspired to create somewhat lighter weight versions of Word, PPT, and Excel? Perhaps one of the motivations Apple had for doing the iPad versions of iWork was to press Microsoft into playing?

The really funny thing for me is that I don’t care. I stopped using Office for anything of any sort a long time ago. If you send me a Word doc it is instantly converted to a Google Doc — and I know that’ll continue to work on the iPad. I just wonder if Microsoft will be willing to let money just sit out there in the cloud? Sorry, I was just thinking out loud.

Imagine shamelessly stolen from Apple.