iPad Keyboards, Cases and Styluses

Increasingly, people are using iPads for creating content, as well as reading and viewing content. While the iPad digital keyboard is nifty (especially if you know these clever typing shortcuts) a stylus, or keyboard, or keyboard-and-stand combination can all make writing, editing, and creating on the iPad much easier. Dan Frakes has a thorough review of iPad keyboards in his Macworld Buying Guide: iPad keyboards. Frakes also favors Adonit’s Writer folio case and Bluetooth keyboard, the one I wrote about here and have been using quite happily (though I’m still planning to pick up Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad and with an iMac).

For non-keyboard cases, this Macworld Buying Guide: iPad Cases seems to be the most thorough and helpful collection of reviews. I might as well confess that Apple’s red leather smart case for the iPad 2 (or possibly the navy blue leather one) are awfully tempting—though not quite enough to tempt me into buying an actual iPad 2. Instead, I bought a padded neoprene slip cover case that neatly fits in the padded laptop compartment of my backpack. That said, I’ve been eyeing the design-your-own cases and protective hard shell covers from Zazzle and Cafe Press.

My current obsession, personally, is with the utility of using a stylus to write and draw on the iPad. I’m about to post a review of the Griffin GC16040 Stylus for iPad/iPhone and Other Touchscreens. I’ve been fascinated to see how well it works, and yes, the Griffin Stylus really is an asset. I note that once again the Macworld Buying Guide: iPad Styluses seems to provide the best coverage.
At the high end, they like the Wacom Bamboo (and it’s available in multiple colors) at around $25.00. I’ve heard good things about Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus from others too. I note that a lot of my friends are buying the BoxWave Capacitive Stylus; like the Griffin Stylus, it’s about ten dollars, but the Boxwave comes in colors, and people seem to be buying two or three at a time.


Adonit Writer I for iPad

Image of an Adonit Writer II finally received my Adonit Writer I. The Adonit Writer I is a Bluetooth keyboard and cover combination. So far, I quite like it. I note that the keyboard, while it has a nice response, is very small and won’t work well for some users without a lot of practice. I’m accustomed to using laptop keyboards, and was fairly comfortable after about ten minutes.

I do notice that I need to be very careful about bumping the screen lock key when reaching for the Delete key. Oddly, some of the iPad’s keyboard shortcuts, like pressing the spacebar twice for a period and trailing space don’t work.

But The Adonit Writer makes things like blogging much easier than using the digital on-screen iPad keyboard. I’ll likely keep trying other keyboards as well, but I was primarily looking for something to use while away from home, and the Adonit Writer I does look like it will serve that purpose quite well. I’m still thinking about an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for home use as an alternative to my laptop, in case of emergency.

Adonit makes the Adonit Writer for iPad 1 for first generation iPads, and Adonit the Adonit Writer 2 for iPad 2 for second generation iPads. Both are available from Amazon.

Adonit Writer for iPad 1

Writer 2 for iPad 2

Win some, lose some

Two software releases of note: one is much improved, one needs to be much improved.

First is the rebranded Barnes & Noble Nook app (formerly eReader). It works much better than the first release, providing customization features that outshine both Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle reader for iPad. Glenn Fleishman over at TidBITS provides the details. While I hadn’t bought any Barnes & Noble vended books for the previous iteration of the app (though I did look at several book samples), this version is tempting me to start stocking the app’s virtual shelves. I only wish there were some interoperability among ebook readers, because I am starting to find it difficult to remember which books I have in which apps, and it’s only going to get worse as time goes on.

Second is TV Guide’s woefully clumsy TV Guide for iPad app. After only ten minutes with the app I’ve already decided to consign it to the Island of Lost Apps.

It all started when I tried to see the HD channels offered by my cable service. My service starts those channels at channel 401, and I could not find any way to get to those channels other than by swiping…and swiping…and swiping down the long list of channels.

So, strike one: the channel listing has very poor navigability in an age where most cable services offer hundreds of channels.

Then I decided to build up a list of “favorite” channels and put my HD channels there. I tapped the Favorites button and was alerted that I had no favorites and had to select a channel to add. Fair enough. So I selected a channel, but discovered that there was no way to make the channel a favorite. Turns out that one must select a show on that channel and then, in the information panel for that show, tap a button to make the channel a favorite.

Strike two: the app lied to me.

Once I had tapped the right button, I got an alert notification that I explicitly had to dismiss, informing me that I had just added a favorite (yes, TV Guide app, I know I did: my short-term memory is not that poor!). Once the alert was dismissed, I was left on the TV show’s information panel, and found that, unlike many floating panels, which close when you tap outside of their boundaries, this one had to be explicitly closed by tapping a small, Windows-style close button in the panel’s upper-right (Windows? Really? This is an iPad I’m using, isn’t it?). Recap: to add just one favorite required a lot of swiping and four separate taps.

So, strike three: extremely cumbersome user interface.

But apps aren’t baseball, so I thought I’d give the app another chance.

I looked at the listings for the favorites I had painfully added and found that the channels were not listed in the order in which I’d added them. I had to rearrange them manually—and discovered that the rearrangement wouldn’t stick. Furthermore, while the main channel listings in the app provide a two-hour spread for each channel, the favorites listings only display the shows that are on at that hour, with no easy way to see what’s playing an hour or two later.

Strikes four and five: inconsistent and error-ridden behavior. Send this batter back down to the minors for more—much more—seasoning.

In short, in its current state, the TV Guide for iPad app is a shining example of a user interface disaster. It provides much less utility than the TV Guide site in mobile Safari, which is graceful and polished by comparison. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to use the app. I certainly won’t.

[Update 26 August 2010:] It turns out that TV Guide does provide a way to go to a high-numbered channel quickly in the main listings. If you look really really closely at the right edge of the screen, you’ll see a vertical row of widely spaced light blue 1-pixel dots over the darker blue of the listings grid. Tap on the row of dots to jump up or down in the listings: if you tap toward the bottom of the row, you’ll be in the higher numbered channels; tap toward the top and you jump back to the lower-numbered channels. A useful feature, and almost visually impossible to find (I discovered it quite by accident). So, one point for a useful feature and minus 0.75 points for making it so hard to discover.

Read It Later iPad App

The Read It Later app, Nate Weiner’s application that allows you to “save” Web pages for later reading has been updated and released for the iPad. Originally released for iPhone and iPod Touch, version 2.1 now supports iPads as well as iPhones and iPod Touch. You need to be running iOS 3.1 or later to use Read It Later. You first create a free account on the Read it Later Website, then use a special bookmark on your Web browser Toolbar to save Web pages for later browsing, on or offline, in any version of Read It Later, on any device that supports it. (On Firefox, the Read It Later installs an extension to the browser). That means you can mark pages for later reading not only on your computer, but on your iPad or phone, and they’re all synchronized. In Firefox, the Read It Later extension adds a small icon to the Address Bar (where you see the RSS icon, etc.); click it to save a page for later reading. In Safari, you click a bookmarklet in your Toolbar.

Read It Later can also extract plain text from Web pages, for easier reading (it saves two versions of every page you mark). You can organize your list of saved pages with tags, and sort them. You can choose to share pages in a number of fashions, via several Twitter clients for the iPad as well as variety of news readers have built-in support for Read It Later. There’s a simple tutorial here. If you use Google Reader in your Web browser, you’ll see a Read It Later button right next to the Google Star, for easily marking pages for later reading.

I note that the process of adding the bookmarklet to mark items to Read It Later for Safari on the iPad is a bit laborious—but that is a flaw in Safari, not Read It Later. Read It Later provides good step-by-step instructions for adding the bookmarklet; read the screen, and you’ll be fine. The Read It Later iPad application also has good built-in Help; be sure to read the Tips section. I note Weiner has included helpful Settings for downloading only when using on WiFi, or for text only.

The paid for version Read It Later Pro offers easier saving of pages to read later; you can “tap to save,” without having to first open the link/page. There’s also an embedded full-screen reader, among other features. The niftiest feature is the Digest feature; it sorts your saved pages, and presents them in an easily navigable list. There’s a shot of the Digest screen below.

ETA:Rich points out in a comment to this post that I did not make it clear that the Digest is an add-on feature. It is; it’s an in-app $5.00 purchase for either the free or the paid version of Read it Later. If you purchase the Digest for any version of Read it Later, it is available in all version of the app that you own. See this explanation.