1. I bought a Logitech iPad Mini keyboard and although it doesn’t have a tab key it’s still pretty good

    Posted January 3, 2014 in hardware  |  No Comments so far

    I’ve started using my iPad Mini a bit more often. I like it, but typing on an iPad reminds me of tap-dancing on ice, so a couple of days ago I ordered a physical keyboard.

    The keyboard, a Logitech one, arrived in the post today.

    Keyboard in use

    The initial experience of using it was very strange. As my fingers sought out the individual keys my left hand signalled back to my brain with the disturbing news that there was no tab key next to the “A”.

    Typing hard

    If you touch-type, like this crocodile here, you probably know how weird that feels. The tab key doesn’t get used a lot while typing but it helps the fingers suss out where the “A”, “S” and “D” keys are. Without a tab key I kept pressing “S” when I meant to press “A”. Just imagine the social embarrassment that could cause.

    You mean to type: “That meal you cooked was a hit”
    You actually type: “That meal you cooked was s hit

    As I got more confident and started to type more quickly, a new problem emerged which reminded me of pretty much every time I’ve tried to combine a keyboard with a tablet. This involved the fingers brushing against the iPad’s screen every now and again, causing the cursor to jump to a new random location and making a right mess of the text I was entering. Having to stop typing every five words to reposition the cursor is not my idea of fun and it probably isn’t yours either.

    My hand is shown for scale

    That particular problem seemed to abate quite quickly though. I guess my fingers adjusted their flight paths without a conscious effort on my part, diverting to new routes that allowed them to hop from key to key without hitting the screen. And the little finger on my left hand was gradually coming to terms with its new responsibilities as the “A”-typing key, and my ring finger was making friends with the “S”. I was starting to get to grips with the thing at last.

    IMG_1926

    When writing I redraft sentences all the time. Very rarely do I write something and then leave it as it is. You’d never tell from reading this blog, of course, but it’s true. I’m utterly dependent on shift and arrow keys to select words, lines or entire paragraphs, then move them around or consign them to the scrapheap.

    These sorts of things are long-winded and frustrating to do on the iPad’s “soft” keyboard, so I was relieved, as I started to experiment with them, to find that the new “hard” keyboard actually did them pretty well. And when I stopped typing and turned it back into a case again, I was glad to see that the keyboard did the magnetic thing and made the iPad’s screen turn off too, same as the official Apple case. My earlier annoyance with the keyboard started to fade.

    I decided to write a post about the keyboard right away, before I became accustomed to its ways and forgot how it had felt in these first five minutes of use. And I thought, maybe I’ll type the post with the new keyboard, to really put it through its paces. Then I thought, life’s too short. So this post has been typed on a “real” keyboard.

    Croc typing away

    Sorry, little keyboard! You’re good – but not that good.


  2. The new iPad might not be very impressive on paper. But who cares?

    Posted March 8, 2012 in mobile, strategy  |  No Comments so far

    Yesterday Apple revealed the new iPad. You can read all about it elsewhere or go right to the source if you want to buy one.

    As usual the announcement was preceded by feverish speculation. Would the new device come with iOS 6? Was it going to allow users to ‘touch’ pixels (or tixels) through advanced haptic feedback technology? And what about Siri?

    The answer to all these questions turned out to be “no”, but some new features did make it in. First and foremost was the Retina display, which doubles the screen resolution. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of this – talk about display resolution never really captivates ‘normal’ people – but it does matter.

    The other enhancements possibly fall into the “so what” category. Take the support for 4G and LTE connections. If you’re in the UK you might well ask, support for what? These are new standards for mobile networks that are becoming common in north America, but they’re still some way off here. So that enhancement isn’t really relevant to British users.

    And then there’s the new quad-core processor. The less said about that the better. It’s not that it isn’t important – it’s just that it really doesn’t excite consumers. Remember in the early 2000s when Windows devotees would mock the lower clock speeds of PowerPC CPUs, believing this proved the inferiority of Apple machines? You probably don’t: it turned out that no-one cared. Apple refused to join a CPU arms race and it turns out that they were right.

    So this leaves Apple with a new product announcement that is evolutionary rather than evolutionary. No freaky futuristic stuff, no “one more thing”. But does it matter?

    I don’t think it matters at all really. The iPad dominates the tablet market and there’s nothing on the immediate horizon that’s going to change that. When Windows 8 launches it’ll be in a battle against Android for second place, but that could end up being a pretty small prize to fight for. There’s a more tangible threat to the iPad from the Kindle Fire but Amazon has work to do if it’s going to convince people that these products belong in the same device category. Apple’s dominance of the tablet market is ensured for the foreseeable future.

    Given all this, throwing new features at the dominant product in an attempt to revolutionise it would be a bad move. When you’re behind, the “hail mary pass” – a single recklessly ambitious scheme to stave off disaster – is a good strategy. But when you’re ahead that’s the last thing you want to do. It’s what Microsoft did with Vista, and it ended up spending millions giving the world a product it didn’t need. Apple isn’t going to be “doing a Vista” with the iPad any time soon.


  3. The keyboard is not going away

    Posted April 8, 2010 in user centred design  |  No Comments so far

    Since the launch of the iPad, hubris and hysteria among technology commentators has been gradually increasing. The device is the future; Rupert Murdoch thinks it’s the saviour of journalism; it will change the world; it “can replace any real-world object you own”.

    One notion that I take exception to, however, is that the iPad signals the death of the keyboard and that touch interfaces are destined for ubiquity.

    Now, I’m no technological conservative – I’ve been using touch-screen phones since before the iPhone came out. But I think a more fundamental point is being missed here, which is that the roles computers play in our lives are multiplying greatly.

    Computers used to play a relatively limited set of roles which could be supported with a common set of interface models, mainly centred around the keyboard and the mouse. The keyboard & mouse setup worked when the computer operator was sat at a desk, had to enter lots of data from a large character set, and needed direct access to many (maybe even several hundred) on-screen controls offered by their applications.

    Today, not every computer user is sat at a desk and in the need state described above. Computer users might be on the other end of a phone line from the machine itself, operating it through a (notoriously infuriating) voice interface. They might be delivering a parcel and collecting the recipient’s signature using a handheld computer’s (notoriously infuriating) pen interface. And of course the computer user might be using a personal device like a smartphone, which needs to be small and light and whose functions don’t require the sort of ¬†intricate and precise interactions supported by the keyboard/mouse combo.

    But this doesn’t change the fact that some computer users will still be in situations where the keyboard and mouse paradigm is appropriate. Therefore the keyboard will not die.

    What things like the iPad illustrate is that we are using computers more than we used to – in a wider number of contexts and for a wider range of reasons. They don’t replace what we already have, they’re just a new addition to our collection of tools.