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Why I don't use the iPad for serious writing

I have an iPad. (I think I already mentioned that a while ago ...)

I think the multitouch tablet interface style exemplified by iOS is the future of computing, in much the same way that the Mac interface circa 1985 was obviously the future of computing back then. Decried as a toy and handicapped by a closed architecture and a lack of third party applications though the Mac was, it nevertheless pointed towards a vastly more transparent and accessible way of working with computers, which in turn made computers useful to many more people. (I discount earlier GUI platforms such as the Xerox Alto because at $75,000 a seat in 1980 money accessible isn't exactly a suitable word to describe it.) You're reading this blog entry online (and, knowing my audience, you are more technologically literate than average), so you may be over-accustomed to using computers, which makes it hard to see it may be desirable to make them even more accessible; but if you watch an 80-year-old try to double-click the left button of a mouse within a particular window on a screen, it becomes glaringly obvious why we need a better, truly intuitive, interface paradigm.

(Moreover, by this time in 2013 we will, for the first time, have a networked general purpose computer in every adult's possession. Smartphones are real computers, and they're finally crawling out of offices and nerd bedrooms and into everyone's pocket. This means computers are making a great leap forward in social penetration, from being embraced by 10% who are truly proficient (and accepted reluctantly by 25-35% who can be taught to click on an icon to run a program), to being used by literally everyone.)

Anyway: I have a criticism ...

The iPad is primarily targeted as a media consumption device. Yes, I get that. Apple are focusing on speech (via Siri) as a next-generation tool for conversational interaction with iOS devices. I get that, too. But if iOS is going to reach its true potential as the next generation of general computing, then among other things, it needs a vastly better text input system. The current one is so poor that I'm not writing this blog entry using it. That's a warning sign. It ought to be a no-brainer that the iPad (or an equivalent 10" touchscreen tablet running Android) should be usable by a writer. It has a brilliant battery life by laptop standards, weighs two-thirds as much as Apple's lightest Macbook Air, and has a range of text editors and word processing apps available. So why am I not using it?

I think the answer is down to input methods. The iPad provides a couple of on-screen keyboards; but whoever designed them was aiming for simplicity, not generality. The missing Control key I can understand, for the same reason that the original Mac 128K had no arrow keys or function keys: it's an attempt to block simple-minded ports of applications designed for the previous paradigm. What is less clear is why Apple omitted cursor movement keys from the on-screen keyboard. As it is, If you want to reposition the cursor you need to hold your finger on the text for long enough to trigger the magnifier and then drag the thing around using your finger, which is way too big and imprecise for the job: it turns a simple move-to-previous word operation into an interminable exercise in threading a needle, which in turn makes editing text on-screen incredibly laborious. A simple cursor-key diamond in the touch-screen keyboard would solve the problem — and there's plenty of room to add one, by clawing back space from the symbol-shift keys and the space bar — but appears to be taboo: a hold-over from the ancien regime that shall not be allowed to contaminate the garden of pure ideology that is iOS.

Some of the text editor apps (for example, Nebulous) provide their own on-screen keyboards — complete with cursor movement keys and, in some cases, keyboard macros (so that you can assign your own functions to keys). It's a huge step forward in terms of making it easier to write using an on-screen keyboard. However, the alternative keyboards are sandboxed; they're baked into the apps they come with. There's no general mechanism for replacing or augmenting the standard keyboards in iOS (unlike Android).

Yes, you can use an external bluetooth keyboard. But they add weight, bulking the iPad up to the weight of a netbook or a Macbook Air, and they add complexity (device pairing, remembering to charge the keyboard, and so on).

And if you do use an external keyboard, another problem comes to light; iOS is really not very rich in text movement features. With a keyboard, you get arrow keys for single-character movement, and word forward/back, and paragraph up/down, and start of document/end of document. That's it! How about incremental regular expression search a la emacs, guys? Or sentence forward/back and page up/down? How about (while I have my shopping list handy; this isn't strictly part of the keyboard's job) bookmarks in documents so I can drop a marker, go edit something else in the text, and then jump back to the marker? (I hear WordStar had that in 1979.) How about keyboard macros? Yes, I know about shortcuts; I'd like something a bit more powerful. Yes, I understand the need to keep it simple and approachable for people who may never have used a computer before. But there also needs to be some depth behind the pretty face.

I'd like to see Apple add a mechanism to allow developers to install custom keyboards that are globally accessible so that other applications need not be crippled by the default on-screen keyboard's limitations. Ideally, I'd like to see extra key bindings for richer cursor movement commands, an enhanced search API with pattern matching and substitution, and some kind of keyboard macro system that goes beyond simple shortcuts. By all means leave this switched off by default, hidden behind the keyboard preferences for those who know what they need; but at least make it possible to enhance the text entry capabilities of the OS!

I gather Apple's suppliers are now shipping retina displays for the iPad 3, which is due to ship in March or April 2012. It's going to be a steamingly powerful machine compared to the original iPad — much like the Macintosh II in comparison to the original Mac 128K. It'd be a shame to hobble such a powerful tool by not making it more productive for content creators.

178 Comments

1:

I'm surprised that a highly experienced programmer is surprised by all this. ;) Anyone who ever used a Palm for any length of time could have told you the same thing: when it comes to serious computer work, there's just no alternative to a good physical keyboard. And remember when Microsoft tried to push for a move to tablet computing? It failed horribly, and for the same reason: hand-writing is slower and more awkward than typing. As for virtual keyboards, have your measured your error rate on one?

Now, I do have a friend with wrist issues who swears by a neat application called Dasher; there's certainly room for variety in the field of input methods. But even Dasher is noticeably slower than typing, and it doesn't address text navigation at all.

Make a tool even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will want to use it. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

2:

It's hard for me to square the notion that Apple has targeted the iPad as primarily a media consumption device with the fact that they launched it with two different keyboards and an office suite. This doesn't even take into account the creative work one can do that doesn't involve a keyboard. e.g., there are lots of apps that one can use to create some serious music. Apple has done lots of work over the years upgrading iOS to make those apps possible. They done the same sort of work for image editing.

Lots of people may use it as primarily a media consumption device. Media consumption may be how you see it best used. Both of those are different from Apple's strategy as implied by their design decisions. (e.g., there is no Amazon supported way to connect an external keyboard to the Kindle Fire. AFAICT, there isn't even an unsupported way.)

That said, I also use my iPad for serious writing. An iPad plus a bluetooth keyboard is still lighter than the vast majority of laptops. Having used a netbook before, I'd rather use an iPad even at comparable weight. As for the Macbook Air, I don't own one of those, but I already own an iPad. Keep in mind that I'm definitely one of those people where an iPad does everything I'd normally use a laptop for. Yes, this makes me an odd duck, especially for readers of this blog.

I agree that Apple should upgrade the operating system so that it supports the full complement of possible keys combinations. At that point, apps will be able to add all the features you ask for in your antepenultimate paragraph. The OS, itself, doesn't have to support jumping back to marker, for example, but more apps will certainly have that functionality if it did. (As much as I'd like it, I seriously doubt Apple will allow third-parties to replace the default virtual keyboard. That completely breaks their sandbox model.)

Could Apple do for writers as well as they have for musicians and photographers? I think they can. The shortcuts in iOS5 are clearly a down payment in that direction. [Note that TextExpander has some primitive macro facilities. I don't know if they plan on moving further in that direction.)

3:

What makes you think I'm surprised by this?

NB: the Zagg/Logitech keyboard case works pretty well, and if you prefer a folio style case they've got one of those, too. However, the cursor movement bindings available to any bluetooth keyboard talking to iOS still suck.

(I never got on with Dasher, but used to use FITALY on PalmOS. Alas, FITALY's creator died, and then so did PalmOS.)

4:

I rather assumed that input into word processors etc was intended (ultimately) to be voice, or some subvocalization pickup on the neck.

5:

Totally agree. Even for those of us who aren't professional writers, the keyboards are horrific.

If ShapeWriter were better integrated (i.e. had the ability to add its keyboard throughout the iPhone) I'd use it all the time - it's an elongation of IBM's SHARK project back in the day, using recognition of the patterns used to make up words. As a way to use crappy virtual keyboards, it's way up there - not perfect, but makes the entire process a lot easier.

Mind you, I'd like some haptic feedback too - I find having no locational details/feedback for the keys makes me a far worse typer on a tablet than on a keyboard.

6:

Voice input is Not Fit For Purpose if the purpose is writing. Written linguistic usage is fundamentally different from spoken; yes, you can dictate to a machine, but it's a highly artificial form of speech and the cadences/structure of verbal speech doesn't fit with written text. For example, in written text there's no need for pauses to draw breath! Moreover, dictating lengthy chunks of text to a computer denies you the use of your voice for out-of-band communication with, say, your office cat.

I've known a couple of writers who switched to speech-to-text; their writing style changed markedly, and not for the better.

7:

The interesting thing is that when tethered to a bluetooth keyboard all the function keys work as you'd expect them to do. So whilst I'm sure you're correct that it's about forcing a shift in design I do have to wonder if there is also a little bit of them not being able to fit all the keys in and make it aesthetically pleasing.

8:

"Moreover, dictating lengthy chunks of text to a computer denies you the use of your voice for out-of-band communication with, say, your office cat."

Not to mention it's a sure-fire way to make you *really* unpopular if you decide to do some work on a lengthy train journey...

9:

I wonder if voice input is fit for some of the functions you're talking about, like "go back three words".

I suspect better would be really outstanding eye tracking. You're right that the finger is way too big and imprecise for placing text cursors, but I suspect it's fine for indicating that you wish a text cursor to be placed. If you could look at the spot you want the cursor to go and touch the screen vaguely near that spot... the device uses your finger to figure out your intent, but uses your visual attention to figure out the details.

(Of course, a bunch of function keys or a command key would be even better than touching the screen in this case. If command-g means "go where I mean", no need to take your hands off the keyboard.)

10:

From comment #1: "Make a tool that even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will want to use it. Sorry, that's just the way it is."

Things that this is not true of:

A hammer
The alphabet
The New York City subway system
A box of Legos
A katana
A BMW
A 1952 Fender Telecaster

In fact, the world appears to be full of things that "even an idiot" can use, and which, it turns out, non-idiots want to use as well. Moreover, this is true whether you define "idiot" to mean an untrained person, a fool, or someone of below-average intelligence.

What Charlie is calling for is tools designed to be immediately useful to the untrained, while offering further usefulness to the more sophisticated. This is far from a revolutionary idea; it's one of the basic design aspirations of much of the modern world. Obviously some tools necessarily present a complex interface even to first-time users. But as a categorical assertion about all tools, the quoted sentence clearly fails.

It is remarkable, though, how many people feel some variation of "The ugliness and bad design of my chosen tools proves that I'm smart"--feel that good design is a "frill," a luxury extra. This outlook is a kind of Puritanism, really, and like all varieties of puritanism it's ultimately grounded in vanity.

11:

Too true

I do write on the iPad, the onscreen keyboard with the lack of give on it, obviously, has set off tennis elbow.

IÄ Writer has a slightly better keyboard, but Apple won't let them share it

My Bluetooth keyboard is thin, cheap and usable, but the whole package, all in all, is inferior to my desktop set up, or even my £140 Linux laptop off EBay

Android had an advantage, early models had trackballs, but those are disappearing and I haven't seen that on a tablet.

Need cheap versions of Mackook Airs with the same battery life. Pity I bought the iPad, the AsusnTransform looks interesting, or the Slider

12:

So then, if these things are in another system and work fine there, what is holding you to the ipad? It seems that the primary thing desired from it is available just fine somewhere else. Given that it was the best option when purchased. And has lots'a other cool things about it.

The best I have seen recently is the Asus Transformer....The switch from laptop style to tablet is much cooler when you see it in person.

13:

Have you seen this?

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/740785012/touchfire-the-screen-top-keyboard-for-ipad

It's a dumb plastic overlay that drops over the iPad screen, fastening on via the iPad's own magnetic lid clasps, and provides shape and flex to the onscreen keyboard. It's allegedly possible to touch-type on it. Plus it's supposed to be flexible enough you can still do gestures through it.

I have no idea what it's like in real life, but it *looks* like a nice compromise between a real external keyboard and the on-screen keyboard.

14:

You describe yourself as a writer of text. That puts you squarely into the obsolete paradigm. Maybe you can find a new career as an Angry Birds athlete or a music listener.

15:

So then, if these things are in another system and work fine there, what is holding you to the ipad?

I dipped a toe in the Android water and rapidly concluded that Android is to iOS as Windows 3.x was to MacOS back in the late 80s/early 90s. Malware, inconsistent user interfaces, configuration/setup info in six different places ... what's to like? (Oh, and the office suite apps I've seen on Android looked distinctly inferior/underdeveloped wrt. the iOS ones.)

Two points about the Asus Transformer: firstly, I've always had problems with Asus keyboards -- they seem to suffer the common design flaw of companies in countries with ideographic writing systems, which is that they don't understand why anyone would want a right-shift key on QWERTY (sorry, but having none/too small/in the wrong place is an ergonomic deal-breaker for me). Secondly, hinges. Been there, done that, from the Psion 3 onwards in the early 90s through the iGo/Think Outside keyboards in the noughties; hinges break.

16:

I hate to be the one to voice the seemingly obvious, but what about - say - the Asus Transformer Prime. It has an apparently attachable keyboard, a good open OS, and a rafter of 3rd party keyboards. Among my group of friends, android seems to be the choice among the techier set.

17:

"The iPad is primarily targeted as a media consumption device. ... But if iOS is going to reach its true potential as the next generation of general computing"

I would not apply either categorisation to the iPad's primary purpose. Media consumption, requiring a screen and a headphone jack, can be done on almost any device. General computing, to me, means interacting with/creating digital content, effectively in isolation from the physical world (so there is a clear, mutually exclusive dichotomy between 'being at' a general computer and 'not being at' a general computer), and we have PCs for that.

The biggest value to me from my iPhone and my iPad comes from their informational extension of my physical surroundings. I see them as adding an extra, interactive, informational layer on the world. My usage of them depends on what it is I am otherwise doing. It is functional AR – not in the sense of adding silly annotations to camera-captured video, but in the sense that I can find where I am in a new city, capture a video/snapshot of what I find interesting, look up some info about what I am eating, share some ideas with a friend, verify a recipe, etc. It can also do some light general computing, but for to do serious general computing I need to stop doing everything else (and so sit in one place for a while), so there would be no point in using a mobile device.

18:

Curse my decision not to preview. That should read:

... it has an apparently pretty decent attachable keyboard...

19:

Touchfire looks dreadful to me. Doesn't solve the not-enough-key-bindings problem, doesn't work in portrait, and looks to have the dead-fish feel of the Cambridge Z-88 or worse, the Sinclair Spectrum.

Word Processing on the iPad seems to work a lot better in portrait than in landscape -- with a little zoom you can actually get a true WYSIWYG page of A4 manuscript text on screen. (And with a retina display -- 2048 x 1536 pixels -- it should be pin-sharp.)

20:

I've seen a friend's Asus Transformer Prime. When you add the keyboard (plus battery, admittedly) it's heavier than a Macbook Air. The keyboard suffers from Asus Misplaced Right-Shift Rot, which makes it unfit for touch-typing on in my opinion. The range of apps is rather smaller and of poorer quality than on iOS, and I already have the iPad.

Put it another way; I won my saving throw vs. shiny quite easily.

On the other hand, if I didn't have a Macbook Air and an iPad and iPhone and a bunch of iOS apps, in other words if I was coming to the tablet field cold, I would consider it.

21:

I have a ASUS Transformer (original flavor) and the situation is much better there. The Transformer is designed from the ground up as both a laptop and a tablet. The keyboard module has arrow keys and a very well integrated trackpad with two buttons. While not perfect it works very well for extended writing. It also supports standard USB HID devices so I can plug in my beloved Logitech trackball.

In addition the interlocking keyboard makes the assembly monolithic, which is one of the strengths of the form factor. Grab your laptop and you have a minimum complement of display, keyboard and trackpad.
But once untethered the tablet element is arguably the best Android tablet (short of the prime). It's not for everybody but it doesn't have to be.

Personally, this is why I prefer the Android Bazaar to the iOS Cathedral, it's messy and never perfect but it is far more perfectible.

As for touch interfaces, they are indeed wonderful and part of the future, but only part. Both iOS and Android haven't even begun to catch up with where PARC as 20 years ago with regard to Ubiquitous computing. Additionally, technology such as the Kinect, picoprojectors, AR and 3D printing are offering far more intuitive interfaces for many tasks.

In my opinion, the "There can be only one" ideology in which one true interface and form factor must annihilate all others. Truly awful hardware (Keypunches, Osborne Luggables) will vanish, but other form factors will remain, in an altered form (desktops, laptops, even PDAs).

22:

I think voice input for navigation requires too much precision in speech.

I'm not talking about pronunciation, but I can see the vast majority of people getting involved in 'Back three, no four, no forward one...Oh fuck it where's my pencil' scenarios

23:

Emacs or death. Or do I mean 'and'?

24:

The iOS :: Android as MacOS :: Win 3.1 comparison is a somewhat valid one, in that the Apple product provides a more "pure" experience and the competitor has more of a "worse is better" approach to tacking on features. Although the historical lesson is that elegance usually loses out to uglier products with more raw functionality.

That said, you're a bit misinformed about the Transformer. It does have a right-shift key, although it is a bit small due (ironically given the topic) to the need to make space for the arrow keys. (See the image at http://www.asus.com/Eee/Eee_Pad/Eee_Pad_Transformer_TF101/)

Since the hinge and other moving parts (there are a couple of latches to hold the tablet in place) are on the $150 detachable keyboard and not the $500 tablet, you don't end up screwed when the hinges or keyboard break.

Also, I'm not sure why you think the configuration/setup is in six different places. You've got a main settings panel (admittedly not a pleasure to navigate, but it is all in one place) and then many possible shortcuts to options like toggling wifi or silent mode.

I'm using the Transformer as my full time non-work computer these days, replacing a 1st generation MacBook Pro. I think that having the option to switch between a tablet for reading and a netbook for text entry is the optimal form factor. Unfortunately, we're still waiting for applications (including apps for writing and coding) to catch up.

25:

I think that we Asus Transformer advocates can accept that as capitulation on that front, in regards to this forum. I actually own the Viewsonic Gtablet, and it's screen is not up to standard for many people.

I think that the pure number of apps in either market has reached a point where it just doesn't matter who has more. I think that it's come to a point where they are the same, and what matters is does the app you need exist for that device. For many people this means Browser/Kindle/Netflix, and those are the same everywhere. Quality of the app is up to the author of the app, and is much the same at this point.

While I can't make any judgements regarding text processing on Android, I can point to a favorite app of mine: Wi-Fi Analyzer. All the similar IOS apps fail at being anywhere near as good, and actually look like copies. I don't even use my Fluke for this purpose anymore, it's just not worth the bother.

I have used emacs via ConnectBot(ssh). maybe that is the way to edit text? some tablet, a keyboard and a connection to a remote machine with decent tools.

26:

I wasn't suggesting that Asus products lack right-shift keys, merely that they're stunted and in the wrong place. Which, as I said, is a deal-breaker for me because for some reason I use the right shift key more than the left shift key. I touch-type, and to repeatedly find myself typing on the line above the point where I intended to insert an uppercase letter drives me into fits of apoplectic fury.

Note for the peanut gallery: I hate emacs for its key bindings, which invariably gave me repetitive strain injury within a week (stabbing pains in the tendons on the backs of my hands) on every one of the several occasions when I tried to switch to it. It's an ergonomic train-wreck. Also, I didn't grow up with the American CS curriculum so I'm lisp-illiterate. On the other hand, I bow in awe before its monstrous power and long for something similar and cross platform with design values that don't want to make me set fire to my beard and run naked and screaming down the street.

27:

Platform lock-in! That's completely different than arguing the merits :-)

To be fair, I don't think the Transformer as it currently exists is ideal either. The keyboard is a bit cramped (necessary given the form factor) and has flat keys with no bevel, which reduces the tactile feedback that keeps your fingertips are in the right place. It's not quite a "real" PC keyboard so using classic text editors like Emacs and vi are tough without an escape key and awkwardly placed or unsupported control and alt keys (depends on the app). It also doesn't make any effort to suppress accidental trackpad touches, which is irritating, although you can enable/disable the touchpad with a single key. Of course, the iPad doesn't support a separate mouse pointer at all.

The difference is, you'll probably see a lot of these issues addressed in successive designs (and Android revisions, and app improvements) in the next couple of years; the designers of the iPad appear to be philosophically opposed to the kinds of features that would require it to be friendly for text input and traditional "desktop" computer interaction. Of course, with Steve gone, you never know...

28:

A bit off topic, but close enough that I hope I don't piss off our host, or any of the regulars here. We're getting an Ipad2 for our oldest boy for Christmas. I like to play around and make home movies of the family get togethers, but Windows Movie Maker is a complete drag. Can anybody recommend ANYTHING better than WMM for the Ipad2 that won't break the bank. What I need more than anything else is to have more than one audio track available. Anything has got to be better than WMM.

Thank you in advance.

29:

"Make a tool even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will want to use it. Sorry, that's just the way it is."

That's one of the least insightful sentences I've ever read, seeing as it applies to pencils/pens, hammers, spoons, knives, plumb lines, and most of the other basic tools that we've used to create our civilisation.

Equally, plenty of uneducated / stupid / poor people have jobs tending complex machinery.

Closer to home - the Mac version of OS X manages to be both easier to use than Windows and most other Unix environments, while allowing exactly the kind of customisation that Charlie wants - right down for being able to swap those pesky emacs bindings for the correct vi ones.

Of course, it's also a product of a different era - one in which NeXT and Sun and DEC were vying to create the best workstation, for an audience who could mostly program.

30:

I recently fired up emacs for the first time in a year or two, and discovered that the key-bindings that used to be built into my fingers have finally started to dissolve from bit rot. Getting them back might take some time, so there's less motivation to start using emacs again on a regular basis (I used it almost exclusively for about 20 years). But I agree the key combinations tend to require more agility and flexibility than I have at my advanced age (I once called the emacs keybindings "A game of Twister for fingers").

A minimal lisp ability, enough to create some basic functions like "Search for a given string and insert a replacement built from this root and an auto-incremented numerical appendix" is easily-enough learned, so if I had emacs with a reasonable set of bindings, I'd probably use it again. Seriously, if you can program python you can program lisp; the syntax you need for most things is very simple. The more advanced features like lisp macros and reflective programming aren't needed for most text manipulation.

It's clear that it's possible to install additional keyboards into iOS: look at the international keyboard settings (and someone please explain the difference between the US or UK English keyboard and the Extended English keyboard). It's just that Apple hasn't exposed the API to do it. If enough developers yell at them, maybe they will.

31:

And of course Apple in their infinite wisdom doesn't provide a USB port, just a dock port, so you can't simply plug in your choice of USB keyboards without hauling the dock around. (It's not actually a totally stupid move, because the keyboard would need to get power from the tablet, but it's still really annoyingly proprietary of them.)

32:

A katana can be used by an idiot? Bwahahaha! *falls over, choking with laughter*

But yes, a BMW can be used by any idiot... and that's why crossing the street is nowadays an adventure fraught with peril.

And come to think of it, there's only one thing you can ever do with a katana... or a BMW... or a hammer. And you still need serious training with any of them. Why should a machine millions of times more complex than that be *easier* to use?

33:

Charlie, the basic objective of the iPad is to make lots of money for Apple. This requires it to be just better than good enough for the average user (and until recently good enough to keep Steve Jobs happy. It was not designed for users like you-there arn't that many novelists- so why meet your needs?
Of course with the death of Jobs the quality of Apple product will decline to "just good enough"

34:

How about trying iMovie on the iPad?

35:

And of course Apple in their infinite wisdom doesn't provide a USB port, just a dock port, so you can't simply plug in your choice of USB keyboards without hauling the dock around.

Wrong. Just grab one of these. Or use bluetooth.

Parenthetically: I am getting really annoyed by the snide sniping at Apple on this thread. If you want to discuss their marketing and design strategy, that's fine: but the holy wars are thataway. Take this as a hint before I ask the moderators to step in.

36:

Tell me, as a touch-typist, how can you stand any rinky-dinky itsy-bitsy keyboard? In all the add-on keyboards I've tried, the tactile feedback is simply awful. I make typos, it takes more effort... And yes, I do write professionally.

What's worse, around here even the regular desktop keyboards you can buy are intended for gamers or people whose greatest writing effort is the status on Facebook.

37:

Using the iOS on-screen keyboard is even worse for languages that uses accented characters. Having to hold on a letter to select its accented versions breaks the rhythm of writing. It's okay for a text message or a tweet, but for anything longer it becomes a pain.

38:

Charlie, the basic objective of the iPad is to make lots of money for Apple.

And the basic purpose of an Asus Transformer is to make lots of money for Asus. And the basic purpose of Android is to deliver eyeballs to Google. Don't talk down to me.

(Meanwhile, I think you're dead wrong. I believe the iPad is/was Steve Jobs' second attempt at implementing a very particular vision of personal computing, and in many respects it has followed the same roadmap as the Macintosh, circa 1984-87; you might want to read Revolution in the Valley to get a handle on what he tried to do in the 80s and tried to do again nearly 20 years later. Whether Apple continues to follow the road map ... well, on the one hand Steve is no longer CEO, just like 1986; on the other hand, he left an awesome mystique behind that might lock his successors in a bit tighter this time. But anyway: the curve is one of increasing hardware performance using low power devices, until multicore ARM converges with Intel CPUs some time between 2013-15. Then we are truly into the post-PC era, just as the early 90s were the post minicomputer era, and all bets are off.)

39:

Here's the issue, as I see it:

Touch-typing on a full-sized keyboard is inherently multi-touch. Your fingers are on the home row, and some of the characters require multiple keys to be depressed simultaneously (anything with a shift state, for example).

On a smartphone screen, typing is inherently a single finger activity, or at best uses thumbs. The screen is simply too small for a multiple-finger-sized keyboard.

The iPad is a scaled-up iPhone. Lots more real estate for UI elements, different keyboard maps ... but somehow the idea of keyboard-as-multitouch was forgotten, or set aside, while the software developers were scaling up the UI. As witness the way the iPad on-screen keyboard doesn't display shift states of letters, or the way the shift key itself is "sticky" (hit shift, then you can take your finger off it and the next key you hit will be uppercased).

Another issue is that the iPad tries to display keys as close to full size as possible, but only shows four rows of them -- the core QWERTY block, plus a couple of essentials (shift, space, return, and so on). I think they got the key size and positioning somewhat wrong, and deprecated a lot of the punctuation/accent keys because those keys aren't used as much on a smartphone ... but are essential for proper typing on a portable computing device with a reasonable sized keyboard.

40:

Android suffers similar problems.
I'm enjoying my Kindle Fire as a media consumer / web browser (Ooh! Root it and you can run Google Currents. Pretty... but not as useful as a simple feed reader), but if I want to type more than about three sentences, I go upstairs to use my laptop. Even my phone, a Moto Droid (original) has a slider keyboard -- with arrow keys -- and it's more annoying to use than an on-screen keyboard (Swype). Editing is a non-joyful time for exactly the reasons you describe: The little "big thumb" pointer they added with Honeycomb (only on the KF, not the Droid), only appears when it feels like it.

My biggest complaint is that gaming situations that are mostly just click-on-this things (like ironsudoku.com) are now useless if some options require a shift-click, alt-click, etc.

41:

Hmmm. I see a bigger issue here actually.

If iPads and so on are all output devices, who's providing the input again?

This isn't just for writers, it's for programmers, and anyone who has words as part of their content creation.

It's weird in how we're dumbing down people through technology (yes, this is on topic). First, we used books to take away internal memory skills. Memory (Mnemosyne) was Mother of the Muses in classical times, and classical sages were known for the quality of their memory. That started going away with the invention of the book index, page numbers, and the printing press, all of which turned books into our external memories instead of memory aids as they were before.

Now we've got Google and Wikipedia as our primary external memories, and a lot of (foolish) people argue that we don't need to use our human memories at all. The problem is that the ancient notion of Mnemosyne as mother of the muses wasn't sentimental, it was a way of saying that creativity requires a mental tool chest to draw on. To paraphrase the jazz saying, if it ain't in your head, it ain't comin' out your mouth or your hands.

IMHO, this is the big problem with the iPad and all similar devices. They are for dumb consumers, not creative types. You need a different type of device for content creation, one that makes inputting effective, and one that keeps at least some of the "content" in the creator's head, not in a cloud somewhere.

42:

Charlie, have you looked at Aquamacs? I'm not an Emacs user myself, but this one's got a native OSX interface and at least some native keybindings.

43:

If iPads and so on are all output devices, who's providing the input again?

Eventually it's going to be people using "iPads and so on" -- or rather, their n'th generation, vastly improved descendants.

Otherwise there's going to continue to be a separate "creator" category of device.

My money -- if I was a betting man -- would be on Apple releasing something outwardly resembling a Macbook Air 11", but with the heart of an iPad (and a multitouch screen) within 2-3 years. And by that time, iOS on keyboard devices will have converged considerably with the functionality of OSX.

44:

I use an Android smartphone for a week now - my first eve toch device, and my initial reaction was exactly that: What, no cursor keys? How can I move in a fast way in a text, then? Unpure as it is, my Android phone quickly let me replace the built-in keyboard with another one, or rather, let me add another choice to the input method selector. I found Hacker's keyboard, an app that simultaes (in landscape mode) the classical IBM keyboard, arrows, function keys etc. etc. It has its own problems, especially on the reduced screen estate of a smartphone, but at least, there is the possibility to replace what you don't like.

45:

"If iPads and so on are all output devices, who's providing the input again?"

People sitting in front of real computers, where "real" ranges from a laptop to a firebreathing multicore workstation and three large monitors on a desk.

I saw this argument played out when the first iPad was released as photographers fell on it with cries of glee and then started asking when Adobe was going to release Photoshop for it. As it dawned on them that the iPad was, for their purposes, little better than a fifty-buck digital photoframe their reaction was about what you might expect.

It's the same for most tablets, it's not an Apple-specific thing. The x86 tablet computers in circulation at the time fitted into a different market segment where thin cases and long battery life weren't important but power under the hood and compatability with existing software (usually MS OS and apps) was.

46:

http://kdenlive.org/
Available for OS X or Linux, open source and free, and fairly usable.

47:

Imovie is definitely on the list. It's just that when I look for an app, I'm frankly overwhelmed by the myriad of options/choices. I was hoping that somebody with some experience with one or more editing programs could offer some insight.

48:

I'm highly amused by your comment, because whenever we talk about some Damn Writer who "does this" or "does that" it's always the same Damn Writer. Not only that, but that same Damn Writer is always the canonical example of that particular problem!

You probably should avoid going to the same conventions as Damn Writer, because I suspect that if you touch each other, there will be an immense matter-antimatter explosion that will hurl the earth out of its orbit and into the Sun.

The really terrible thing is that Damn Writer's books are a horrible addiction I can't break. I got into the story before he began doing many of the things that make him the Damn Writer and I really want to find out how the whole thing ends.

Is there a 12-step group I can join? I think I need help!

49:

The Kindle Fire, can it run standard Android 2.2 apps?

50:

You can feel the stylistic change in Jack Vance's later books; Cadwal Chronicles were written with a massive zoom, then everything after that was speech-to-text-to-speech.

Changes the character substantially, you're right.

51:

vi then? or my goto, nano?

:-)

52:

I think it's fair to say that tablets, smartphones and mainstream touch interfaces in general represent the biggest re-think of human computer user interface paradigm since the original GUI. Both hardware designers and software developers are really still catching up and/or exploring the possibilities.

My hope is for eventual phone / tablet / desktop convergence. This means being able to write a single app that scales up or down depending on the device (presumably requiring the programmer to implement multiple UI layouts, I'm not asking for magic here). A lot of small-screen phone apps would make nice desktop gadgets or widgets, for example.

If Apple makes a MacBook Air that runs iOS and has a real keyboard, that would be great!

As far as better text editing, photo editing, movie editing, etc content creation tools, it's either going to take 10 years for the new applications to catch up to the feature set of desktop apps, or we're going to need better ways to port desktop apps to the tablet operating systems.

Incidentally, you can run OpenOffice on the Transformer :-) You just have to:
root it, install a Debian ARM system image, mount it to loopback, chroot to the image, apt-get install openoffice, apt-get install vnc, run a VNC server (since there are no Android X servers I have yet found), run openoffice, then use an Android VNC client. Works great! (not!)

With regards to applications in the spirit of Emacs that don't require as many keyboard shortcuts, the closest I have been able to come up with is unfortunately Eclipse...

53:

My experience of that kind of hackery (the OO.o on Transformer shtick) is that the hardware just isn't up to it. OO.o is rather demanding, and a machine with, say, 256Mb of RAM and a 1GHz ARM core isn't up to making it remotely usable. On the other hand, the Document Foundation have announced development work aimed at porting LibreOffice to iOS and Android, albeit probably in cut-down versions at first. Which would certainly be useful.

54:

just swapped back to my thinkpad X32 because the bigger one with the hi-res screen is fan-dead. The android tablet is sitting on the side pining, the blackberry keeps getting used for twitter/emails because it integrates well and has a tactile keyboard, and the X32 might be staying over here, with the larger laptop being relegated to the table with the monitors.

something with a keyboard small enough to go on the lap, a reasonable screen, proper mouse nipple, and all the shift/alt/ctrl/meta/bucky needed for emacs?

mmm.

55:

Here's another pet peeve: screen aspect ratios.

Laptops today all seem to come with a wide screen, in the same aspect ratio as an HD video.

But if you're going to use a laptop for productive writing work, you want a wide screen like you want a hole in the head -- what you really want is a tall screen, so you can have a long scroll of text visible.

Meanwhile there's a trend to clutter up apps with lots of toolbars and ribbons and visual clutter stretched horizontally across the top of the window. Which eats into your usable vertical screen real estate really badly -- and proportionately worse if you use a wide aspect ratio screen.

The portrait-orientation iPad should actually be better for writing than most current laptops. If the input method and app feature support were both there.

56:

Isn't this a call for a monitor that can be rotated 90 degrees?

57:
what you really want is a tall screen, so you can have a long scroll of text visible.

what you want is a screen that will do c.a. 80x40-60 in the left window, with space on the right for various other stuff as needed.

which is, of course, Emacs again. (Keybinding arguments aside).

Though looking at my desktop through your suggestion, I'm moving my toolbar to the right, and trying to work out if Mozilla can be persuaded to move the crap-at-the-top to crap-at-the-side.

58:

The iPad does that, curiously enough, and does it really well. (Rotate through 90 degrees and, unless you've activated the screen lock or are using an app that's deliberately designed to work in only one orientation, the display flips to match.)

59:

Ditto my Android Tablet (Acer Iconia).
However, I was referring to something like a 24" screen

60:

Charlie: In my experience whenever a blog commenter says, "Why are you surprised by this?" what they're really saying is, "I agree with you but want to appear as if I thought of it first by mocking your editorial as obvious and unnecessary."

It's one of my favorite things, it really is.

61:

One of the worst indignities of the Bluetooth keyboard situation is that even though your keyboard has Opt and Cmd keys on it, app writers can't actually use them! The author of iSSH tells me that Apple provides no API for getting at raw keystrokes, so there's no way to process a "meta" key in such a way that it can be translated and sent through ssh to the Emacs on the other end. The app can't see those keys at all. My ESC-based Emacs muscle memory has been gone since the 80s. It's a horror trying to admin machines remotely from an iPad because of this.

62:

Wide screens can be a pain - if all you have up front is your text window.

I've been using a main central window for typing (and web browsing, like right now), but I keep a letterbox section on each side, with overlapping windows from other programs or documents, that I can either refer to (character name spellings) or switch to (by alt-tab or by mouse click). The main text window is only about half of the total screen width.

Tablets for writing? Maybe, but only for "day trip" situations, where I'm not going to have the laptop with me - if I go out of town for more than a day, the laptop comes too. A tablet would certainly be the choice for light editing/review instead of the laptop, but not for any serious work. Sitting out on the porch, looking for errors? Yeah. Cranking out 10,000 words on a Saturday? Nope.

63:

I see the iPad as the Miata of the computing world (all tablets really). It looks nice and it will get the basics of getting you around in comfort done well, but its not a machine for someone who really needs to do serious work on a computer. Serious work being managing giant spreadsheets, writing complex code, serious media creation/editing, or a lot of typing. Just as no cattle rancher could get by with a Miata, no serious computer user could get by with an iPad. You need a truck with 4-wheel drive and a trailer hitch or a desktop with a nice keyboard, a mouse, a big screen at an ergonomic angle, and an ability to setup and manage a complex collection of files and apps. Saying "In the future all computers will be tablets" are as silly as someone saying "In the future all automobiles will be electric sedans."

Actually, the worst part about the iPad for serious typing isn't the keyboard for me, its the ergonomics. It's just not comfortable to type on for a while. You can get a case to adjust the angle, but you'd need an external keyboard to begin to approach something workable for someone who types for several hours a day, and even then its not a close approach.

64:

"Just as no cattle rancher could get by with a Miata, no serious computer user could get by with an iPad."

But just as almost all cattle ranchers use small, specialized vehicles like ATVs for many errands and light work, an iPad is great for doing things that really don't work well at all on the Not-That-Big-Iron that most Serious Infonauts love.

65:

PNH writes:

A katana. A BMW.

I don't know that either of those was made to be used by idiots. I've seen idiots with both; the results were usually prompt and messy...

66:

I'm tempted to try and reduce the issue back to basics: How do you create an interface that gets words out of your head into a computer memory?

We've got the keyboard because we used to have typewriters, very physical objects - but surely there must be something better? Ought we think about methods that don't take mechanical behmoths as their starting point and perhaos forget about typing completely?

Spoken word doesn't work for reasons Charlie mentioned earlier (it adversely effects style), and no way could I "write" code verbally!

The iPad would appear to lend itself to some form of touch iconography - but is the screen sensitive enough and could you make a touch system intuitive enough?

Obviously I haven't got a fully formed "better" system in my head (or I'd be patenting it) - but there must be something........

67:

Charlie @6:
"Voice input is Not Fit For Purpose if the purpose is writing. Written linguistic usage is fundamentally different from spoken; yes, you can dictate to a machine, but it's a highly artificial form of speech and the cadences/structure of verbal speech doesn't fit with written text."

I'm predicting it now: the machines will train us more quickly than we train them.

That is to say, once Siri 2.0 or similar voice-recognition tools become ubiquitous, humans will change their speech patterns to fit the capabilities of the tools more quickly than the tools will be improved so as to interpret "natural" speech.

68:

Enlarging on Charlie's point @39 - basically, a typist's keyboard is similar to a musician's keyboard - it's designed to accept simultaneous input from multiple sources and provide recognisable output from all sources. A touch-screen is designed to process input from a single source and provide recognisable input only from that source. So effectively a proper keyboard is going to allow you to do the textual equivalent of harmonics (for example, shifted characters) while a touch-screen keyboard isn't going to allow you to do more than play the straight melody line. That's fine if all you're after is attempting to convey the equivalent of "Mary Had A Little Lamb", but when you're trying to come up with something a bit more complex (say, the equivalent of some of the exercises for "The Well-Tempered Clavier") then a lot of the essential complexity of the piece is going to be lost.

For most people, this isn't going to be an issue. But for someone who works with text input in much the same way that a concert pianist works with musical notes, it is.

Further metaphorical work: my current "best practice" example of a good touch-screen device is still my old Palm m515. It was small enough to be stored in a pocket, complex enough to handle voluminous data (such as e-books and long pieces of fanfic!) and had a flexible enough input system that inputting the details of a five-minute meeting (who, where, when, what's it about, set the alarm to get there in time) took less time than the actual meeting would have (unlike its current semi-replacement, my little Nokia mobile phone). It also synched with my PC of the time (and quite frankly, if there hadn't been a combination of damage to the cradle and a loss of working serial ports on PCs, I'd still be using the flippin' thing, despite its declining battery life), allowing me to use it as a sort of portable scratch pad for ideas which came to me in the middle of things like bus journeys to and from university, or last minute at night when I've switched off the light and am having trouble getting to sleep. It wasn't a full replacement for the functionality of a PC, in much the same way that a 7x10cm spiral-bound notebook isn't a full replacement for an A4 lecture pad. But in much the same way that a 7x10 notebook can act as an adjunct to memory, it was a useful accessory item for me (and I still want a workable replacement, damnit).

But if the Palm was the equivalent of the 7x10cm notepad (or more accurately, an A6 notebook), the existing mobile phone I have is the equivalent of a scrunched up serviette with some phone numbers semi-legibly scribbled on it. I've no idea what the iPad would equate to (are we into A5 notebook territory?), but I'd be putting most netbooks and notepad-format PCs in the same category as the A4 lecture pad - and none of these are the same for textual processing and formatting as a dedicated word processing program used on a properly sized and oriented screen with a full-sized keyboard.

69:

If you will excuse the plug, this Reg article was my take on (one of the) gadgets I'd really like. Basically, a reborn Amstrad NC100 or something vaguely akin.

70:

I have a fully hacked Barnes and Noble Nook. My needs are fairly minimal and, the Nook satisfies most of them.

I go through periods of iPad/MacBook Air envy but, then the fact I'm a geezer on a fixed and diminishing income comes into play. Most of my tech is a generation old because I get it from my techie son. He's fully Apple now. He and his wife each have iPad2's and MacBook Airs. (Can't wait for the next generation. I'll finally have one of each!)

I have had a PDA/smartphone for years and could not survive without it. I had an iPhone 3 and loved until IOS4 crippled it. I now have an HTC/ATT Android smartphone.

Here's what frosts me: My Android smartphone keyboard has cursors, the Nook/Android does not. In keeping with the criticisms above of IOS devices; how in hell can anyone in the 21st century design a computer interface (I agree with Charlie that that's what all these are) without easy page navigation (i.e., cursors)?

Finally, can anyone imagine a cubicle farm where everyone is using voice input? Another name would be Bedlam.

71:

Go for one of these then:
http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4231127/Chinese-firm-offers-sub-100-Android-4-0-tablet-

"The tablet, which is available in China and online through Ainol Electronics Co. Ltd., features a 7-inch capacitive multi-touch screen and is powered by a MIPS-based processor from China's Ingenic Semiconductor Co. Ltd. The tablet supports WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, USB 2.0, HDMI 1.3 and microSD, as well as 3-D graphics with the Vivante GC860 GPU, 1080p video decoding and dual front/rear cameras. The tablet, NOVO7, is the first tablet based on Android 4.0"

$100

72:

"so you may be over-accustomed to using computers, which makes it hard to see it may be desirable to make them even more accessible;"

No! I've been using computers for more than thirty years. I am a RADICALLY visual person and I find that current computers are still not visual enough for my needs. Also, I can get intensely frustrated when I work without haptic feedback. This is why I stopped playing video games twenty years ago and why I alternate between writing text and doing other things when I work on a computer. The newest computers have mad it easier for me to alternate a lot, but want them to go further. I want them to be more visual. I'm not alone in this.

The problem with the current paradigm is that it is incompletely fulfilled. At the core the concept of this paradigm could be said to be that of a direct manipulation interface, if I may use Ben Shneiderman's terminology.

But, this direct manipulation interface is only partially realized in its graphic aspects and is just starting to be realized (thanks to what The Register calls so aptly "fondleslabs") a tiny bit in its haptic aspects.

It will take quite a lot of years before we take further steps because development is slowed down by the facility that programmers and manager-programmers and programmers-decision-makers have with text, with abstract concepts. They themselves work fine without resorting to direct manipulation so they have to struggle with the idea (or reject it by focusing on a single aspect such as graphics) and they're usually too manly to go ask some psychologists to work with them.

73:

My Android tablet made installing a cursor-equipped touchscreen keyboard relatively easy (Toshiba Thrive), but I just can't see editing or writing on the thing, at least not to any real extent. My netbook has a reasonable keyboard and it's light and I can happily write on it for hours, which is why the tablet remains a curiousity.

Barring a sizable change in text entry technology, I'd rather simply make my files available to any machine (I write using text editors, so file compatibility isn't an issue), and let the editors scale up and down based on the device.

I use Ubuntu One, and I can work on a project using any of my Linux/Android devices (desktops, laptop, netbook, tablet and smartphone). I'd suggest working off the smartphone or tablet are typically more about guilt abatement than raw productivity, but we all make accommodations with our neuroses.

A writer's platform (using markup languages, version control for non-nerds and pushbutton output in any number of formats) would make a bigger contribution to writers than trying to make a tablet do what it really can't, at least not happily.

With the ability to replace keyboards, a file browser and other goodies, I will say I'm a lot happier with my Android tablet than I was with the iPad2, which my three year-old pretty has converted into a dedicated Dora the Explorer device (which it's better at than the Toshiba).

74:

I believe William Gibson has said that he occasionally writes on an iPad.

75:

Will nobody define the Damn Writer?

And for what reason his soul should be roasted
in the flames of hell for eternity?

-- Andrew

76:

Charlie, what are your thoughts on a tablet with a stylus and handwriting recognition?

Yes, I remember the Newton. The iPad is bigger, similar to a writing pad. We have more processing power. And if it were aimed at writers rather than first time users, I would guess that a certain amount of training could be required.

77:

OpenOffice/LibreOffice is a bit of a pig, but for most uses word processing is something that was perfected in the early 2000s when 256mb RAM was the norm. The Transformer has 1GB of RAM.

But you're absolutely right, running OO.o with the contortions I outlined is impractical. The issue is not so much the performance of the program itself as the graphics hit taken by using VNC, and the fact that you can't easily "right click". These are by and large software issues that could be resolved by someone with enough time his or her hands. I'm supprised there aren't more people interested in converging the Android and the Linux desktop.

(/me holds out a lonely torch for the "year of the Linux desktop" that never came...)

78:

If you don't recognize that a lot of BMWs are herded down the road by idiots, you don't live in the same world I do.

79:

Don't worry about it. If I hadn't had a very bad night last night (massive family crisis with very little sleep) I would have remembered that Charlie requested in an earlier thread that the subject be dropped. (And there is nothing wrong with this particular writer - he's just very, very different than our host.)

80:

Isn't this a call for a monitor that can be rotated 90 degrees?

Well, yes, but in my experience rotating a wide screen monitor 90 degrees goes too much in the other direction. The screen is very narrow but tall, and I don't find that too comfortable, either.

My solution at home is to use two monitors, one with 4:3 aspect ratio and one with 16:9. The non-wide-screen is the main screen, the wide screen is for watching (wide screen) videos and the "on the side" stuff: I put everything occasionally needed there, depending on what I'm doing.

Usually it has a music player and perhaps one browser window. For EVE Online I have irc (rather, ssh to the shell server), browser for information, and depending on the need Ventrilo or a spreadsheet on the secondary monitor, and the game itself on the 4:3 monitor.

This of course takes up space. I still have a desktop computer at home and it (and the monitors, and the printer, and the networking peripherals) sit on a large desk in the corner of the living room.

At work I have a wide screen monitor attached to my laptop, and I usually feel that it's too wide.

81:

I dunno. Idiots with hammers are pretty scary.

82:

Me, I've drawn on an iPad, with my finger. Um, er, well... (There are stylii available, however.)

But, no, I think this is a step on the way, and the way depends on technology that is still only developing. I am utterly convinced by the iPad as a reader, but isn't the point of ubiquitous computing to open up the world to writing as well?

Meantime, the folks at McNeel have handed architects a graphical scripting tool, link, and it's starting to look like a killer app. It runs on Windows. Maybe, eventually, Mac. iPad, no way--specifically forbidden by the "no scripting languages" policy.

There's an awful lot of good ideas and interface design in Windows these days.

Also, watch for Google's 3D-in-a-browser (WebGL) as something potentially major. It is available on iOS...for advertising.

83:

Somebody, somewhere, should surely have recognised the advantages of putting menu-bars down the side of the screen.

But I can only recall seeing it with graphics software. Quite a bit of the info you need to display in a web browser, for instance, is text. We read that left-to-right, recognising things such as the overall shape of a word which would be wrecked if it were written
M
a
k
i
n
g

L
i
g
h
t

It's obvious, but making it easy to use would be tricky.

84:

QUestion from someone who gave up programming over 20 years ago .....
IF you have a "pad" or "smartphone" of any sort, you can send-&-recieve e-mails, right?

How do you then integrate and transfer those e-mails to your "Main" account on your fixed home terminal?
Bacause you want to keep them, and you don't want to have to reference two or three or ... n computers/tablets/phones to look something up.
I'm assuming that you are NOT using a cloud for said e-mails.....

85:

I think the main way nowadays is to have the emails on some ISP server and then access them through IMAP. It's not cloud, usually, though I'm not sure what Gmail does, and that seems to be what most regular people use.

So, I think the mails are on a central server and all the computers that access those (yes, the phone is a computer) just uses the IMAP protocol to show the messages there.

Me, I'm very old fashioned and I have couple of Unix mail accounts (work and private), and I use ssh and mutt to access the mails.

At customer sites I use what the customer requires, usually Outlook.

86:

By the same logic, Mr. Zawinski, anyone who ever comments on a blog post does it to show how smart they are and how much they have to add to the conversation. One can either decide that's not such a bad thing, or else refrain from ever posting a comment anywhere. Anything else is hypocrisy.

I apologize if I sounded condescending or mocking. That was most emphatically NOT my intention. Even if I thought the original post was somehow obvious -- which I don't -- it could still be necessary. I was tired and make a bad joke. Sorry.

87:

So what you're after is the iPad guts in a netbook form-factor (presumably sprayed with Apple Shiny), possibly running OS X as opposed to iOS 4.

88:

I have an iPhone and an Asus Transformer. They tether beautifully.

But alas the Asus Transformer doesnt cut it when it comes to using any of the current word apps so it cant double as my work laptop (I bought mine with the keyboard dock)

I love them both and expect that I will be able to use the Transformer or a newer version of it as an office laptop in the coming years.

89:

For a better system, it'd probably be best to throw away the assumption that we're going to use an alphabet and cross-compare writing systems to identify the sweet spot between ease of learning and ease of use. Oh, and to fix our rather ad-hoc grammar to erase the irregularities, no?

90:

Saw it, Liam (I was going to buttonhole you about it at Novacon but you weren't there).

I agree, up to a point ... but I'm not sure the point stands; any of those devices look impossibly bulky and heavy by the standards we're becoming used to. Now, a 13" iPad Pro with a better-sized keyboard with more keys might very well fit the NC100 niche perfectly (albeit at a slightly higher price point) ...

91:

Someone who would buy your speculative 13" Ipad Pro is a lost sale for a more profitable Macbook Air and one thing Apple have learned over the years is not to fragment their product lines.

92:

I would go so far as to say that touch screens are just a fad. Yes, they are beautiful and quite practical for a few tasks, but I really prefer my mechanical keyboard (I recently splurged on a DAS Keyboard, and I don't regret it) for most things by far. Physical feedback when you type is incredibly important, and I don't see typing going away in the next century, at least for programming.

This guy here comments on this issue, by showing a video first, and then dissecting it. I absolutely agree with him.
http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/

93:

One thing that always amuses me about this sort of blog post is thinking about what to reply. I wholly accept that Charlie finds he can't type in a way that lets him seriously work on an iPad. At the same time, I know of at least two other regular bloggers who now use their iPads for a lot of heavy writing (and some coding in one case) and who have sold their laptops because they just don't use them. What is a girl to make of it, beyond horses for courses?

One thing that did occur to me though, if Siri takes off, would be the possibility of a fewer-keys keyboard (on screen or separate), with Siri accepting the cursor moving and possibly some of the other commands. "Siri, move the cursor to the start of the sentence" or "Siri, type an em-dash" are pretty clear. This would let the likes of the Zagg case make bigger keys because they need fewer or them and while one or two might be in slightly odd places, you could adjust.

The other thing would be a change in keyboard technology. How long until we have a roll-up rather than hinging keyboard I wonder? You could probably make a roll-up keyboard robust enough to be a sort of protective sleeve for the iPad too, steal the Zagg paradigm.

94:

Personlly, by using IMAP accounts. (A copy stays in the cloud.) Or forwarding to another email account I pick up off my desktop. I save important emails offline as text.

Myself, I don't have a tablet. An Ipod Touch which caters for quite a few useful functions. I touch type and always will want a physical keyboard. I'm too used to that tactile feedback from hitting real keys. A QWERTY keyboard is a marvlessly efficient tool for getting text into a display medium. I mean, it's up there with the pen. not easily supercieded. Well maybe one day with some kind of brain implant.

So far as creating stuff, I'm not giving up a desktop computer any times soon as I use it as a DAW amongst other things. Various sound /
noise making devices need to be plugged into it. So having another box sat upon the desk next to other boxes where the sound comes from, isn't much of a drawer back to have a machine with a fair amount of grunt.

That said, some of the development of music software on tablets looks pretty exciting.

95:

Charlie, what are your thoughts on a tablet with a stylus and handwriting recognition?

Raw, burning, passionate hatred barely begins to cover my opinion of handwriting-based input.

(I am a lefty and my handwriting resembles a drunken spider-scrawl. Also, I get writer's cramp if I try to write anything longer than a two line address on an envelope. Also, I can touch-type at 80-90wpm on a decent keyboard but could never hand-write at more than 10wpm.)

96:

I think maybe he's thinking "BMW = motorbike" while you're thinking of the four-wheeled variety. Yesnoamirite?

97:

Also, the Katana was a Suzuki motorbike.

98:

iPad, no way--specifically forbidden by the "no scripting languages" policy.

That would explain the presence of the Python, Scheme, and Lua interpreters on my non-jailbroken iPad, right? All bought via the App store ...

The "no interpreters" rule has been quietly back-pedalled on. What it currently means is "no programming environments that would let a user break the security sandbox, either by downloading and running insecure code or by executing a run around our security policy".

Given the existence of a Java JVM in Javascript[*] I reckon the cat is well and truly out of the bag, and what Apple are currently focusing on is maintaining security sandboxing -- for an environment with hundreds of millions of users, from age 2 to age 100, most of whom haven't got a clue that what they're holding is a general purpose computer. In the long term it's a losing battle, but the longer they can hold the flood of malware at bay, the higher their eventual market penetration will be.


[*] Note for non-programmers: the two languages are utterly unrelated except at the trademark level, and maybe not even there any more.

99:

A decent keyboard with the right layout. And that layout will differ for different people: I occasionally get tempted by the Apple portables, and then I look at their keyboards and I realise why I've never gone that way.

(It seems to be part of their minimalist tendency: I understand their desire to remove functionality in preference to simplicity, but I like, for example, at least 4 buttons on a mouse if I have to use it at all.)

I've shown my Transformer to various people, and there does seem to be a similar split. Some like it, some loathe it. It's very solidly built, particularly the hinge which is positively over-engineered in my opinion.

100:

That's the one I wanted, but settled for a Honda 900

101:

Prognostication:

The roots of OSX go back to 1989, if not 1979 (in the shape of NeXTStep, if not BSD 4.3). It's clearly showing its age. Apple are continuously swapping out subsystems and replacing them with newer stuff; they're not alone, as witness one of the *NIXen recently causing a storm of controversy by ditching syslogd in favour of a database logging architecture, and Ubuntu ditching X11.

UNIX worked great in the 1970s and early 1980s, but the 1990s and 00s and the internet demanded a stronger security architecture -- something more like VAX/VMS or MULTICS, to highlight the two ancestral systems (VMS' heritage fed into WinNT and then WinXP; MULTICS ... well, any time you see a big enterprise UNIXoid system with hot-swappable drive arrays and a security policy enforced by ACLs rather than file permissions, you're looking at something with a lot of MULTICS heritage). Anyway ... there's clearly a requirement for (a) greater security (so that the 90% who are not technically ept can use the internet in reasonable safety) and (b) greater ease of use (so that they can use the goddamn thing at all). Meanwhile, research into operating systems stagnated from the 1990s onwards. (Or so Rob Pike says.)

This may sound like heresy, but I think in the next decade we're going to see more change in OSs than in the preceding two or three decades. A chunk of it will come with the arrival of true virtualization on desktop processors (with the implication that the OS will be relegated to an interface abstraction layer and a visual interface), and with the spread of low-power multicore processors into toasters and automobile dashboard displays and who-knows-what. iOS isn't virtualized, but it is single-tasking and sandboxed; you could wrap each app up in its own iOS VM and they wouldn't be able to tell the difference from running on the bare metal. And Android apps already run atop a JVM on top of a Linux kernel (and do you remember User Mode Linux, by any chance?); I suspect hardware virtualization is just a kernel update and a new processor away.

On the other hand ... if you have each app running atop a single-process OS instance, handled by a VM layer, how do you manage a GUI with multiple windows? And the simple answer is, you don't.

102:

The other thing would be a change in keyboard technology. How long until we have a roll-up rather than hinging keyboard I wonder? You could probably make a roll-up keyboard robust enough to be a sort of protective sleeve for the iPad too, steal the Zagg paradigm.

They've been around for a few years. Feels like typing on a dead fish. Avoid.

103:

My take is that Apple (and all me-too Android tablets) are running away as fast as they can from the reality that these tablets are really computers. Apple has constrained and limited the uses of the iPad such that getting to anything that would significantly control or modify the box is impossible. I presume this is a marketing decision, to sell the iPad as something magical.

And I think the comments are correct that this will go away eventually (at least in Android land) and we will have Word Perfect functionality, control over directory architecture, and the deep control that iOS/Unix gives the command line. And it will still have all the gee-wizz lightness, battery life, and display we see today. But right now Apple is calling the shots, and it is not calling the iPad a computer.

104:

"But anyway: the curve is one of increasing hardware performance using low power devices, until multicore ARM converges with Intel CPUs some time between 2013-15."

I wouldn't count on that so much. The CPU in phones/tablets is already doing pretty much everything it needs to. The performance bottlenecks are in the CPU-GPGPU comms space and the next archs will solve most of those. The CPU won't get a lot faster[1]. It generally doesn't need to when you can have **teraflops** of multicore GPU performance... and then feed that properly and get the data back.

Terascale computing in telephones. Who'd have thought humanity needed that?


{Then your problem becomes finding GPGPU developers. And we're a rare breed at the moment. The idea of crash coursing what passes for IT engineering competency these days into that world is truly scary.}


"A chunk of it will come with the arrival of true virtualization on desktop processors"

XenClient (www.citrix.com/xenclient). Tell them I said hi.


[1] In fact, it's possibly going to get SLOWER. See big.LITTLE

105:

Bloody Hell! That Reg article took me back to Yesterday Once More territory. " The next step from such devices was a Japanese-American classic: the TRS-80 Model 100 "


I once had to buy a TRS 80 though alas it was the Desktop Workstation and not the laptop and I just bought it off the shelf from the Local Tandy in the high street in Sunderland in the U.K.for a lecturer in a Business School that employed me in Technical services way back then, and of course I had to set it up and play with it for a while since I couldn't justify the expense of buying one for me, though the Head of School got me to order one for him when discovered me trying it out so that was two holes blasted into 'my' budget.

" The TRS-80 did not use the S-100 bus like other Z80-based computers.[5] A proprietary Expansion Interface (E/I) provided several important features - the ability to expand up to 48K of RAM, a floppy disk controller, a real-time clock, a second cassette port, an RS-232 port (as an option) and a Centronics parallel printer port.[15] "

Who could possibly want more than 48K of RAM ?

106:

I love how people keep talking about iPads being inappropriate for Serious Work(tm), where Serious Work(tm) is subject to constraints that reveal more about the speaker's background than what the rest of the world actually considers Serious Work(tm):

Serious work being managing giant spreadsheets, writing complex code, serious media creation/editing, or a lot of typing
So, two of those things are simply typing. For that, you just plug in a Zagg and hope Apple add the hooks to process meta keys, and then you're sorted. The former is already available, I expect the latter will appear in time, or else alternative methods will evolve to replace meta keys altogether.

More generally, the point is that most tasks are not typing-oriented, many of them benefit from multitouch control, may well benefit from the extreme portability/connectivity/convenience of a tablet form factor, and those advantages outweigh the slower CPU and reduced memory (which are themselves mitigated by the reduced overhead of iOS vs a desktop OS).

As a result, despite all the claims of "it's for consumption", media creation and editing is huge on iPad. Complete albums by multi-platinum Grammy-award-winning musicians, made with an iPad. There are short films, shot and edited on iPhone. Amongst other hats I wear, I make audio apps. I'm in touch with people on a daily basis who are using iOS to create and edit music — and other audio tasks.

I happen to know that the Washington correspondent for a major national radio network records interviews into an iPhone, bluetooths them across to his iPad, prepares them for broadcast (editing, adding voice-over commentary, background music), mixes the whole lot down and uploads it over 3G or Wifi to his editor at the studio, all without touching a traditional computer or plugging in a single wire.

Professional musicians have been using multitouch since before the iPad: the Lemur was a dedicated musician's multitouch surface, lusted after by many, but available to few, since it cost £1500 — and all it did was provide the input surface and a display, you still had to connect it up to a £1000+ computer running several-hundred-£ software to actually make any sound. Now you can pick up an iPad and software costing between £0 and £50 (with the mode around £7)

Multitouch is important if you want to play chords. Or balance a bunch of mixing desk faders in realtime. Or scratch virtual decks. Or tweak a couple of XY pads at the same time to sculpt a waveform.

People get too hung up on "power" when other factors can be more important to getting creative work done.

Not just audio: video, still imagery, data insight, and medical work are all fields of Serious Work(tm) making good use of the iPad. I've seen iPads inside sterilised plastic bags so they can be taken into the operating theatre... it doesn't get more serious than that.

And... spreadsheets? Thing is, spreadsheets work pretty well on iPad. And working with the associated charts, even more so. The limitation there is raw data entry (but why are you doing that? If you're working with a "giant" spreadsheet the data should be sucked in from some external source pretty much automatically) and storage. The latter is highly amenable to Moore's Law and/or keeping the data elsewhere (probably a good idea anyway) and using the tablet as a rich client. Increasingly, this is "the" model: slim lightweight multitouch devices, with a fair amount of power, and connectivity to acres (literally) of servers to do the heavy lifting on the rare occasions its required.

If I cite all my sources, this'll probably get flagged as spam for all the links, so instead I'll just recommend googling a few things:
- Corliss Blakely and Kyle Lambert — professional artists, both paint on iPad
- The Fall by Gorillaz — album produced on iPad (using one of my apps ;))
- Technopolis Lost by Smite Matter — ditto
- StockTouch and TapFolio — two examples of visualising huge data sets. For that matter, so is Google Maps. Terabytes of data at your fingertips. Read-only? Yes, but there's no reason why it has to be...

And all the music for the last two videogames I made, I created on iPad.

The iPad is a serious content creation device, and will continue to gain strength in this area over time.

107:

48K?

I knew of a Scottish nuclear power station in which a BBC Micro was used. Yes, the Model B with 32K.

108:

"That would explain the presence of the Python, Scheme, and Lua interpreters on my non-jailbroken iPad, right? All bought via the App store ..."

Ah, so it turns out to be a no-Flash policy.

Don't the monopolistic practices ever get to you?

It's interesting that Ubuntu is trying to abandon X-Windows, but it is doing so in favor of a server built on OpenGL, which itself is nearly 20 years old. At this point, it's not clear that NVidia or AMD (Radeon) will fully support Wayland, so I don't know where Canonical expects the graphics hardware to run Wayland to come from. Fighting with your hardware vendors = bad thing.

OpenGL itself is showing its age. The OpenGL graphics pipeline pushes apps into transferring multi-megabytes of texture data, largely because it has a weak lighting model. This is becoming problematic in the WebGL world, and if systems designers can figure out how to get decent performance from a 3D rendering system which transfers kilobytes instead of megabytes, that is likely to be deployed in mobile hardware.

Doesn't look good for open software approaches, I'm sorry to say. Ultimately, that openness has to engage hardware as well, it seems, and I see no interest from the leaders of the FOSS movement in doing so.

109:

"The OpenGL graphics pipeline pushes apps into transferring multi-megabytes of texture data, largely because it has a weak lighting model."

Welcome to 2011-going-on-2012.

OpenGL isn't what it was in, erm, the late 90s. We're rather beyond the amb/diff/spec lighting models grandma and grandad used to colour in their meshes with.

You want a better lighting model, you just upload a better lighting model. You want to compute stuff based on a few K of feed data... that's what pixel shaders are FOR.

110:

Laser projected virtual keyboard:
http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/cellphone/e722/?srp=4

111:

You've gone from dead-fish tactile feedback to none at all. No thank you.

112:

> People sitting in front of real
> computers, where "real" ranges from a
> laptop to a firebreathing multicore
> workstation and three large monitors
> on a desk.

People like me, in other words. With a 25-year-old IBM PC AT/339 keyboard heavier than some modern laptops, and real mechanical over-center switches.

I have a real keyboard and over a meter of useable screen space; poking a fingertip on a tiny display to enter text just doesn't seem like the inevitable wave of the future to me.


Meanwhile, I admire Terry Pratchett's workstation.

"Why do you have six monitors?"

"Because I don't have room for eight."

113:

Out keyboards and software are not well designed for people working in multiple languages. Right now I frequently write in three languages with three different scripts (English, German, ancient Greek), often in the same document. I have to manually change scripts (leaving the keyboard to do it!), remember what German or Greek characters correspond to what parts of my English keyboard, then manually change language settings so my word processor won't mark the foreign text as mispelled. In this respect handwriting is faster than typing.

Voice and handwriting can't replace keyboards, so a better solution would have to be radically different.

Mark me down for "most people can learn to use a sword or a car quickly, so by definition some idiots can use them."

114:

"Terascale computing in telephones. Who'd have thought humanity needed that?"

Yes, in the modern world it needs the equivalent of the entire computing capacity of Earth circa 1980 to make a phonecall.

115:

Hmm, so that is what they didn't tell me...

I spend time in a shared virtual word, which uses OpenGL because it is supported across Windows, Mac, and Linux. The Mac version of the software is a bit picky about OS versions, and the Windows version started going badly wrong with current video cards, a few months ago.

If there's that sort of change happening in OpenGL, and graphics programmers capable of handling it are thin on the ground, I can see things getting a tad lively.

They outsourced the development of v2 of the software, and that seems to be coming back and biting them.

116:

The 30-pin to USB connectors don't allow you to hook up USB peripherals like keyboards. They are just meant for syncing and charging. I know, because my son-in-law has been selling breakout boards and USB conversion connectors for the iPod and the like for a number of years.

117:

"You want a better lighting model, you just upload a better lighting model. You want to compute stuff based on a few K of feed data... that's what pixel shaders are FOR."

Except that pixel shaders do a really wrotten (oops) job of it, so that apps end up loading megabytes of textures to the GPU, and most of that is baked lighting. The assumptions used to be that textures were stored in main memory on disk on the same computer with the GPU, so this was not a problem. As WebGL is arriving, it has become painful.

118:

I use an empire aristocrat typewriter (the one with the clip in lid to make it a travel version). I use it specifically to type up my case notes when travelling.

One amusing fringe benefit is the look on the faces of all the laptop users when you get it out..

119:

On the other hand, I used one as my main keyboard for years, writing at least two novels on it. It was pretty comfortable, IMO. The biggest plus for me was its ability to withstand coffee spills and other random abuse (by me and my cats) that had put several regular keyboards out of commission before I got it. I stopped using it when my desktop fried and the laptop became my main computer, though I still have it. If I start selling novels again, I suspect I'll start using it again.

120:

That was my first typewriter!

Actually it was my elder sister's, but she got a better one when she went to university so I abstracted it, aged 12, and taught myself to type on it.

Bloody thing died of metal fatigue after three years -- the keys began snapping. Not built for someone like me who routinely banged out a thousand words a day, 365 days a year ...

121:

Yes, that's an Empire Aristocrat! (The photo is a clickable link that'll tell you a lot more.)

122:

You want 'idiots' to be able to use what is actually complex technology so that they won't be afraid to use similar technology at school or work. These devices are saving educators tons of hours. Think back to how hard it was to learn how to write manually because as a child there weren't any toys or games employing that same set of movements for you to practice.

"Intuitive to use" is nice but all too often just means someone's marketing research shows that the "majority" of consumers are right-handed, have 20-20 vision, want to follow twenty-something celebs, etc. What I'd really like is for marketers/manufacturers to become better acquainted with the other aspect of the classic distribution curve, i.e., range of users/usages, this means increasing the range or flexibility of devices so that I can adjust devices, including keyboards, to fit me.

123:

@ Charles Stross

I suspect you are correct and my poor typewrite will eventually die a painful and grisly death but until that time I love it. It stops me being distracted by emails and bbc web pages and novelists diaries.

What did you move onto after the typewriter?

124:

Ah, the steampunk word processor!

Responding to your earlier humorous note about replacing English with something better, I had to wait until the giggles subsided before I could respond. Presumably you do know how many times this has been attempted, right? Esperanto to date is the best surviving example, and we can all see how it's, ahem, thriving.

Heck, even getting people with carpel tunnel problems to use a dvorak keyboard is hard, and that's a proven better design that has been around for 75 years.

Even if we went to something sane to represent our spoken language (like the Hangul jamos expanded for English), it would probably take centuries for people to make the switch, just as it took about 500 years for Koreans to use hangul almost exclusively. Switching to a character based system Chinese would be even worse.

Unless Peak Oil happens and the internets crash, I suspect that the future international lingua franca will be translate.google.com and its successors. James White's Sector General series may have been more on target than we expected.

125:

Well from my driving experience, there are a lot of prats with BMW's. Moreover, I know someone who used to live outside London, in the sort of area where newly rich city (Financial not town) kids would move once they had made enough money trading or whatever. At the same time they usually bought an expensive car. Unfortunately being aggressive people and with limited experience of driving through living in central London for the last few years, they repeatedly smashed their nice new BMW's and other examples of nice engineering.

126:

You already have an efficient phonetically correct alphabet for English, UNIFON.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unifon

Yes, it still needs lowercase symbols and personally I think that it would be really nice for "foreigners" like me if you added a diacritic indicating the stressed syllable (we don't have stressed syllables in French as each is treated equally) in a word, but on the whole it's the best "new" English alphabet that I've encountered.

One of the rare times that I've actually been tempted to buy a Mac was when I read that you could customize the Mac keyboards, the screens and the printers to make them work with absolutely any alphabet you could invent. I would have customized it to write in UNIFON.

I've looked at hundreds of proposals for English orthographic reform over the years and UNIFON is the one that would give the biggest bang for the buck.

It's close enough to present English letters that you don't need a big adaptation period. It won't record all English accents correctly but it fits received pronunciation and tht's all that's really needed. Otherwise, you should go to IPA and more specifically the new glyph forms some people have proposed to replace the current, grossly deficient ones. But then, you'd have something that's overkill for English alone. Right now the International Phonetic Alphabet is a tool for scientists and nothing more.

I often make tests of Google translate (and other computer trnslation) between English and French and vice versa. The results are laughable. As a result of this I cannot take seriously any suggestion that such services might replace the knowledge of several languages. As a crutch it's useful, sometimes, but even then you really need to know the basics for the languages involved.

127:

Ou[r] keyboards and software are not well designed for people working in multiple languages.

For now. There is already a stunt keyboard available where every single key is reprogrammable and fitted with a tiny color LED screen allowing it to be changed, on the fly, to something completely different as necessary. This can be very practical, such as changing to a Greek language or Dvorak layout keyboard with the touch of a button. (It can also be impractical, such as playing a movie on your tab key or using your whole keyboard to display a slideshow. Hey, it's your choice.) The keyboard is not even close to reasonably priced yet, and there's no word about the ergonomic feel of the thing, but I admire it from a distance as an engineering achievement.

128:

My take is that Apple (and all me-too Android tablets) are running away as fast as they can from the reality that these tablets are really computers. Apple has constrained and limited the uses of the iPad such that getting to anything that would significantly control or modify the box is impossible. ...

And I think the comments are correct that this will go away eventually (at least in Android land) and we will have Word Perfect functionality, control over directory architecture, and the deep control that iOS/Unix gives the command line. ...

I think you're missing industrial history. Look at TV sets and automobiles as just two examples. They have become very closed. And most of the people who purchase them like it that way. And while there's still a jail break communities in these area it is a very small niche.

To carry your argument to autos you'd have people demanding control over a Prius drive system so they could control when it used the gas engine or the electric one. And when your braking was regenerative or friction.

And how many people buy component sound systems compared to iPods and their competition with attachments for speakers?

And one of these days I guess I'll need to get rid of my timing light and dwell meter. I don't think they've been used in over 20 years.

129:

"For a better system, it'd probably be best to throw away the assumption that we're going to use an alphabet and cross-compare writing systems to identify the sweet spot between ease of learning and ease of use. Oh, and to fix our rather ad-hoc grammar to erase the irregularities, no?"

A phonetic pictogram system (like Chinese?) did occur to me - but I think effectively changing the language might be a bit beyond the technology.

Like anything else it's got to keep within the current human "skillset" (which is why we still have QWERTY keyboards).

Watching my kids text on their mobiles: perhaps a ten "button" touch predictive text system?

Looking at the (admittedly extreme G15) keyboard I'm currently using, how many keys could be stripped out and still leave it usable? I suspect 26 + space + caps + "./," for something that'll hack in basic text with minimal formatting.

Or how about a phonic pictogram system illustrating sounds - where the processor does almost all the "translation" to english, spelling, grammer and punctuation? Most word processors will tell you if you make a spelling or grammatical error already.

Or,or,or..... (I'll stop inflicting my own living proof of Sturgeons Law WRT my ideas here)

My own feeling though is that within 10 years someone will come up with a device/method of input that is so "obvious" that we'll all be kicking ourselves for not having spotted it sooner. Sort of like the development of the mouse.

130:
They have become very closed. And most of the people who purchase them like it that way. And while there's still a jail break communities in these area it is a very small niche.

But really, isn't this because modern automobiles actually give the people what they want? Modulo the expertise you have to bring to the task of jail-breaking, of course.

Maybe the same will apply to the computing industry in another twenty or thirty years.

And one of these days I guess I'll need to get rid of my timing light and dwell meter. I don't think they've been used in over 20 years.

Ah, brings back memories from my own distant youth - Dads teaching their sons how to use this vital appliance used to be something of a right of passage in my part of Middle America. Right up there with the Ritual of Installing a Huge External Antenna on the Roof for Our New TV :-)

131:

If you want a coherent, efficient pictogram language then there's the Bliss speech system:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blissymbols

I say coherent and efficent because over the decades several educators have been perfecting it.

On the other hand, if you want something already available on smart phones (in Japan) there's Emoji. If you want something artistic and more occidental, with very little pretense at coherence an efficiency, there's iConji. It works on iPod touch.

Both iConji and Emoji have wikipedia pages but if I link to them here then my comment will go beyond the limit and it will be held up.

132:
My own feeling though is that within 10 years someone will come up with a device/method of input that is so "obvious" that we'll all be kicking ourselves for not having spotted it sooner. Sort of like the development of the mouse.

People have been looking for this one for a long time now. Given that the constraints aren't obviously technological in nature, we might be waiting a lot longer. Incidentally, this is something of a minor trope in sf, the idea that the use of machines would have a profound influence on the spoken and written forms of communication. Niven had a bit in one of his Leshy Circuit stories where thousands of years of computer use eventually resulted in one civilization adopting a base eight number system, for example.

I don't really buy this one . . . but I'm old. And inflexible. Not plastic. My 17-year-old, otoh, has no problem with weird abbreviations, using swype on her phone, etc.

133:

"I am a RADICALLY visual person and I find that current computers are still not visual enough for my needs."

I'm synesthetic; for example, much of my thinking is in kinesthetic/tactile/visual diagrams. People like me do not seem to be a mass market.

134:

Indeed. My daughter, who is a Mac user, teaches ancient Hebrew. Most of the class takes place over the Internet and she has to deal with people using PCs and different browsers. Mention the topic and she will rant for an hour.

She also faced the challenge of writing her dissertation in English with included material in Hebrew.

The only time I did document layout with English and Hebrew combined I wrote Postscript code directly and tweaked it till I got it right.

135:

Blissymbolics are kind of fun. I can't write them, but I did use them in a story I wrote. I can't help noting that it was originally designed as a universal language (following the model of Chinese), but is currently used mostly by disabled people.

The problem with Blissymbolics is the same one that hits unifon, Dvorak keyboards, Esperanto or even Hangul. Hangul has had the best history to date, and as I noted above, it took centuries before it was universally adopted and Chinese characters were gradually (not entirely) phased out.

Conversely, people are willing to rapidly adopt English, Chinese, Sumerian, Sanskrit, Arabic Latin, and other haphazardly evolved, nonsensical systems. The point is that little things like politics seem to matter more than good design, at least when it comes to human communications.

My general conclusion is that anyone who thinks that sensible systems can be quickly adopted has little history to support this belief.

136:

They have become very closed. And most of the people who purchase them like it that way. And while there's still a jail break communities in these area it is a very small niche.

But really, isn't this because modern automobiles actually give the people what they want? Modulo the expertise you have to bring to the task of jail-breaking, of course.
Maybe the same will apply to the computing industry in another twenty or thirty years.

That was my implied point. The use of computers in society today reminds me of the early 60s through early 70s with autos.

A lot of macho "you shouldn't own a car unless you can and do rebuild the engine ..." amongst the car "geeks" which translates today into "you should not own a PC unless you can take it apart and repair it yourself and better yet you built it yourself"

Those ideas are considered very edge case with autos now and soon will be so with computers. In theory I could tear down my engine in my 96 Explorer as I have the skills. But why on earth would I want to do so? And something like a Prius? Yeah, right. About the only maintenance I do except to help out my kids with their cars is replace the belts and easy to get to hoses plus swap out the disc brakes because they are easy and it saves a ton of money. If I'm in the mood and it's not too cold or rainy outside.

137:

Recently an Apple engineer brandished his iPad at me and asked, "Can you imagine the day when everyone at your work has one of these?"

"Nope," I replied.

I swear he nearly cried. I went on to explain I thought touchscreen keyboards aren't suitable for 40 hour weeks, and the screens too small for writing large documents efficiently.

However, having thought about it some more, an iPhone with a high resoulution nanoprojector and a decent keyboard sounds like a winner. The trick is the getting the keyboard right. Magic may be required.

(as an aside I just updated my xbox to latest version. Giving it voice commands was cool, in a "Hey! I'm Scottie from Star Trek IV" way).

138:

The completely invented "language" of icons for documents and tools has been adopted rather fast. Of course you could argue that many aspects of its adoption were not rationally planned, especially when you look at the a posteriori rationalisations to cover iconic/glyph systems which have sprung up without central planning.

Suddenly, it seems (for me, but not in Web time) the Web is awash with new variations that make scientists come up with terms like "distinguishable interfaces".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguishable_interfaces

139:

Mikko P @ 85
Sorry I plead ignorance...
If I've "downloaded" e-mails (I use Outlook @ home) onto a smartphone/pad/tablet.
I can no longer go to my provider for another copy, because I've got it on my mobile device.
]How, now, do I transfer that messages-set back to my main (think of it as my archive) file(s) @ home, for furure reference?
IMAP account - huh?
Ah, looked it up - I'm using POP, here, at any rate.
Can I change to IMAP - does it depend on your ISP (Pipex, in my case) and is it difficult?
Is it worth it, given that if your main home machine goes down on POP, you've lost the stuff (unless backed-up) but if the IMAP server gos down, you'll probably never get it back &/or you have to wait while the engineers fix the problem (remember Black_Berry last(?) month...

Bellinghman @ 106
32k RAM is perfectly adequate for a Nuike power-station.
PROVIDED you think clearly about what you want to do and control
Sorry, as may be obvious from my posting abopve, I still tend to think that way, as computer controlling specific tasks - and very well, if the code is written carefully and economically.

SM @ 112
Are there not " Alt+numeric" codes for German / Greek characters available?
I use them for the odd bit of German, especially the Umlaut-carrying ones....

Generally, in spite of their coming economic dominance (again) Chinese glyph-symbols won't take over the world.
Too inflexible.
Alaphabets are flexible.
Anyway - who wants to go back to cuneiform (which is where chinese originated) - though they won't admit it - not being invented in the "Central Kingdom"


140:

OK, handwriting is Right Out in a product for Charlie. A couple of more questions exploring the design space:

Have you tried, or would be willing to try, a chorded keyboard where various combinations of fingers enter different letters? (Or maybe even common words.) With only ten keys it would be physically much smaller and easier to carry around. In the past they've mostly been aimed at wearable computing projects, but maybe a manufacturer would consider an iPhone/iPad version.

I've seen a demo video (sorry, at a talk, don't have the URL) from Microsoft Research with a projector placing the image of a keyboard on any flat surface and a Kinect tracking your fingers as you type on it. Not portable right now, but another year or so... Big difference from a regular keyboard is that there's no tactile sensation of keys depressing, or even the ridges to keep your fingers in the right place. Would that be a problem for you?

141:

I use POP3 for my (now totally ancient) mailbox. I set the clients to leave the messages on the server until I explicitly delete them.

(I tend to do so via the Demon webmail interface about once a month.)

That permits me to get the same emails on this work machine, on my home machine, on my laptop, on my wife's laptop, ...

142:

I can no longer go to my provider for another copy, because I've got it on my mobile device.

Greg, you understand cacheing?

IMAP: your email lives on the server. But when your IMAP client connects to the server it pulls in a local copy of the email. Then whenever you do something with it (mark it as read, file it in a mailbox, reply, mark it as spam ...) the IMAP client tells the server to update the master copy. There is some locking, so that while your IMAP client is tweaking the state of a file other IMAP clients can't do so simultaneously.

This means that multiple IMAP clients can maintain a relatively coherent view of the contents of the same mailbox.

The old client-server email protocol, POP3 ... well, the mailbox lived on a server; when the client connected to the server it slurped down the entire mailbox, and, if and only if you'd set it to do so, deleted the original. POP3 lacked the synchronization capabilities of IMAP4, so is a lot less useful to those of us who read email on multiple devices.

143:

I've seen a demo video (sorry, at a talk, don't have the URL) from Microsoft Research with a projector placing the image of a keyboard on any flat surface and a Kinect tracking your fingers as you type on it. Not portable right now, but another year or so... Big difference from a regular keyboard is that there's no tactile sensation of keys depressing, or even the ridges to keep your fingers in the right place. Would that be a problem for you?

Lack of tactile feedback is a big problem (although I can make do at a pinch with the audio "click" that an iOS device produces when you hit a key). A chord keyboard would be fine ... but it'd have to work with everything I currently use; providing bluetooth HID compatibility and a full set of key mappings would go a long way towards this.

144:

Re: alternatives to the alphabet keyboard. I can't remember the name of the device, it never caught on. A 5 key'd digital note taker gadget, 1980s. Actually IIRC there were a couple working along similar lines. One as late as the early 00s.

I suspect part of their failure was the learning curve. T9 texting is a bit different since it's a secondry function. A device or system whos' primary ame is text input, with a new bespoke input method, in most cases, I'll contend isn't going to be any faster than a profficient touch typest can do on a regular keyboard, will face an uphil struggle. Even with a brailer, it's still quicker to touch type. (Though a virtual 6 keyboard is horrible to contenplate.)

If a new paradyme arises, it will probably come from a novel gaming device. Maybe a ball with couple of buttons. Rotate to access common key words, with a press of button, you access a second layer, then a third, custom key phrases, dictionaries. A sort of 3 dimentional ireless mouse with gyroscopes. Devil in the detail. (Dam, if I were only an electronics engineer.)

145:

You are thinking of the Microwriter, which was indeed ahead of its time -- or the short-lived mass market variant, the Microwriter AgendA. Note that this tech is still kinda-sorta out there in the shape of the CyKey (which might be about to hatch a Bluetooth version, in which case watch me jump on one) ...

A big problem with Microwriting is that it presupposed the user was right-handed; AIUI no left-handed version was ever produced (the market was probably too small at the time).

146:

"How about [...] bookmarks in documents so I can drop a marker, go edit something else in the text, and then jump back to the marker? (I hear WordStar had that in 1979.)"

Which current-day programs support this kind of wonder? I would love a plugin for N++ that enabled the described feature (shall henceforth be known as a jump-marker (tm))

147:

OK.. will answer that myself: N++ already has this feature via bookmarks (can be toggled with 'CTRL-F2' and jumped to with 'F2')

148:

comment 26 is why you need a like button for upvoting comments

149:

Interesting. Few years earlier than I thought. Having read about the new incarnation, I'd definitely try it. Intrigued as to whether it's as entuetive as it sounds.

150:

The Hacker's Keyboard for Android transformed the text input on my Galaxy Tab 10.1. It provides a standard layout keyboard with cursor keys, CTRL, ALT etc. It makes emacs over ssh quite usable ;-)

151:

There were left-handed Microwriters made but they were rare, special-order only from the factory AIR. Someone I knew a while back had one. Rough summary was that she could get 60wpm out of it after a longish learning curve including periods of drill practice to commit stuff like punctuation and more rarely-used keys such as %, { and } to muscle memory. The bad news was that it didn't alleviate RSI as much as she'd hoped and the time taken to learn this new way of keying text into a computer ate into her paid work as a writer/journalist.

Someone else I spoke to who was interested in the Microwriter had a specific use for it; she worked with monkeys and chimpanzees in the wild and being able to make notes with no gross hand movements meant she didn't distract the animals she was monitoring. I think she went with the AgendA in the end as it was a lot more portable and self-contained.

152:

For the messages you've currently downloaded to the "wrong" place, just email them back to yourself, and make sure to pick them up on your main account. You could do alternatives, like set up a temporary gMail account or similar to forward it there, and suck them down.

But as Charlie has explained, IMAP is way forward. There can be fun and games with it - I suck things into funny folders and remove from the server by default for this, that and the other, but by and large it works a treat and I leave my main computer email on all the time, but check emails when out and about on my iPad quite happily.

153:

I spent a while trying to learn it, on the original layout, but I can't say I had much chance of getting any decent speed out of it. This was a quarter century plus ago, when I still had a chance of learning a new input device.

(And a bit before I encountered a mouse.)

154:

Emacs, Emacs, everybody is talking about Emacs .. tsk!

for the case of mobile text entry, where one either uses a virtual keyboard or a small one (slideout from my SE Xperia mini Pro in my case), the UI paradigm of VIM is obviously superior .. at least that's the best way I've found so far. SSH to my server with IRSSI-Connectbot, then use vim there.

How anyone can even contemplate writing large amounts of text on a non-mechanical keyboard (as in cherry g80 and so forth. in my case DASKeyboard) is beyond me. I _need_ tactile feedback.

155:

Chrlie & Bellinghman @ 140/141
Ah, now that makes some sense.
I'm still on POP 3 - so I need to change to an updated POP or IMACS, whichever is easier, after talking to my ISP, I presume?
So. If I go to IMACS, I can still keep my cahcehed/archived copies on my main machine (& back-up) AND read them elesewhere via tablet/smartphone (if/when I get one) ...
GOOD!

156:

> You already have an efficient phonetically correct alphabet for English, UNIFON.

No, we really don't. That alphabet doesn't remotely fit my own accent for a start.

Unifon was used as an early teaching alphabet but it lost out on that role to the ITA, sorry, "i.t.a.", which was much more widely used, probably because it was much more like normal English spelling so people who could already read picked it up more easily. But it turned out to be a disaster educationally and is almost extinct now. That debacle probably did for Unifon as well. Its an idea whose time has come and gone and been forgotten.

> personally I think that it would be really nice for "foreigners"
> like me if you added a diacritic indicating the stressed syllable

Can't easily do that in a dictionary as stress can be lexical in English - you can change the meaning of a word or sentence by changing the stress. Its one of our standards ways of verbing nouns ;-) Of course it could be done in writing that is meant to be a transcript of speech, but why would English speakers bother? Accents on letters are strange and foreign and complicated and we always get them wrong when we try to learn French. In fact it would be much better if the French just dropped them and made our lives easier!

> It won't record all English accents correctly but it fits received
> pronunciation and tht's all that's really needed.

No, it doesn't. Its a crap alphabet for RP. It gets the vowels hugely wrong. It has no simple unambiguous way of writing the ordinary short "o" used in words like "dog" and "on", which is a very common sound in RP but has been lost by about half of North Americans. Its either ambiguous about all the main splits in standard English pronounication - rhotic vs. non-rhotic, long-a vs short-a, cot/caught - or else plumps for the regional speech of the Chicago area where it comes from (which differs from RP in each of those cases). Also, just as in standard English, Unifon doesn't distinguish between the schwa and a number of other unstressed vowels, which is fine for native speakers but a bugger for foreign learners.

For example, take the transliteration of "Our Father" in that wikipedia page you used. And look at the first two words. Six letters in Unifon replacing nine in standard English spelling. The first of those six, the vowel in "our" is represented by the same Unifon character used for the vowel in "book" or "took". Though this is different from the word "our" on the unifon website where it uses the same vowel as in "on" or "not". Both are wrong for RP. The second of those six represents a sound that doesn't exist in RP - there is nothing there. the "r" isn't there at all. What we call "non-rhotic" accent. In RP the word "our" is a diphthong or vowel glide (in some versions of RP its a single vowel) so there either needs to be one vowel symbol or two, and no consonant. The "f" of "father" is correct in RP. Though the first vowel isn't - it is the same one used in "on" and "not" which is plain wrong in RP (and almost all British English and about half of North American English). The sign that is in place of the standard "th" is ambiguous, as is the standard English alphabet (though not Old English!) The last sound is represented by a sort of "r" that could be used to as a vowel by RP speakers and a vowel/consonant pair by GA speakers but it breaks the notion of one sound per letter and doesn't help language learners at all.

So of the first six letters:

- only one is both unambiguous and correct for RP
- two are ambiguous but arguably correct for RP if you make the right choice
- two are wrong for RP
- one is redundant, representing no sound used in RP
- also one sound used by most RP speakers is missing, represented by no letter

So six misleading letters out of the first six letters. That doesn't look good!

> Right now the International Phonetic Alphabet is a tool for scientists and nothing more.

A lot more than just scientists. Anyone who makes a serious study of language ought to know and use IPA. But I'd give you "scholars". Its not a good vehicle for ordinary writing and was never intended to be. Also there is a huge yet invisible divergence between IPA used to represent phonemics and IPA used to represent phonetics.

And while we're at it, standard French spelling is about as disconnected from normal speech as standard English is! Its even more archaic, and it is full of written representations of inflection that no-one uses any more in speech but they still lose you marks if you get them wrong in exams! And all those complicated little diacritics! OK, there are some languages that have bragging rights over English when it comes to spelling. Welsh, Finnish, Turkish and Korean are all much better. Italian and German and Russian and Spanish are all a bit better. But French? At least both English and French are better spelled than Arabic...

Incidentally that list of languages shows what the reason for the complex spelling is. Nothing but time. Welsh, Finnish, Turkish and Korean all reformed their spelling in modern times. Italian, German, Russian, and (peninsular) Spanish all imposed one accent as correct in quite recent times. So standard Italian spelling is a very good representation of standard Italian - which no-one actually speaks in real life, but gets you marks in exams. But French and English spellings have developed organically since the late middle ages and became more or less fixed in the 18th century so they are both four or five centuries out of date. Arabic is more like a thousand years out of date, and the language has completely split so different "dialects" are in fact different languages. The street Arabic of Baghdad is as different from the street Arabic of Casablanca as German is from English or French from Romanian. But all the Arabs share one common language for formal communications (well, two and half really)

157:

Greg: I could learn those codes for German umlaut characters, since there are only six of them. Disadvantages are:
- I usually use a laptop, so I don't have a number pad. That's another clash between how my keyboard looks and which key I am typing to learn (Fn + NukLk, U is “Num Pad 4” ...).
- Its a lot of keystrokes to enter one character (Fn + NumLk, Alt + “Num+” + “Num0” + “Num0” + “NumC” + “Num4”, Fn + NumLk for Ä)

For Greek its impractical: the Attic alphabet is only 24 letters, but has six diacriticals up to three of which can apply to any letter. So consonants have up to six characters (ρ ῤ ῥ plus uppercase versions) and the vowels about thirty (η ἠ ἡ ή ὴ ῆ ἢ ἤ ἦ ἧ is a start, but each of these characters can have a subscript iota under it like ῃ, or can be in upper case.) Diacticicals can be the difference between “the” and “who” or “I am” and “I go”. Learning six-digit codes for all of those, and typing them in, would be ... challenging. There are shortcuts for “change keyboard mapping” and probably “change language setting” but its still a lot of fuss.​

158:

Charlie@6, re Emacs: "On the other hand, I bow in awe before its monstrous power and long for something similar and cross platform with design values that don't want to make me set fire to my beard and run naked and screaming down the street."

Have you had a look at Sublime Text 2? My new favourite editor. Portable (Mac/Win/Linux), long list of features and commands, heavily programmable and customizable in Python and JSON. As a former Emacshead who got tired of E's ancient, clunky UI, I love it.

159:

A favorite pet peeve .... Computer keyboards purportedly intended to enable humans to use high tech but whose most common design elements suggest unfamiliarity with fundamental human anatomy.

First off - consider how far apart your arms are at rest. (Hint: They usually hang down be'side' your body). This is also the ideal distance/place for them to be at when working on the PC/laptop. Specifically, consider using the same posture for using your PC/laptop keyboard as used for playing the piano. It's much easier on the shoulders, wrists and back. Try googling The Correct Posture for Piano Playing.

Next - although the PC "wrist rest" is supposed to help ease carpal tunnel pain/symptoms, I don't understand how interfering with blood circulation plus constant pressure on nerves controlling finger movements involved in keyboarding is beneficial. If anything, such a device would probably exacerbate the condition. This is like putting a cast on a sore leg and expecting the muscles to not atrophy and the joint to not get more rigid. Gravity can be your friend here -- when your elbows are bent at slightly more than 90 degrees, they're more relaxed and agile and you don't need to bang on the keys as hard. (It's actually 'work' - harder on your body - to keep your elbows bent at less than 90 degrees.)

Also, why not use a keyboard that splits into 2 pieces that can be positioned at exactly the right distance apart for your shoulder width?

Lastly - position your work/screen at the same level as where your eyeballs are when you're sitting correctly (see piano posture) along with the optimal viewing distance for your vision/lens prescription. Often this means that the optimal work station design is to have separate keyboard and screen. If you work exclusively on a laptop, get the widest keyboard available. I mean width of the alpha keys keyboard excluding the 'calculator' mini keyboard that some laptops include.

These ideas are for at-home/in-office with generous surface work areas.

160:

I should perhaps have insisted on the context of UNIFON being good enough for a normal person who was not raised in an English environment.

For instance, I can't hear the "H"s in spoken English and as a result I can't reproduce them reliably when I speak English. (That's why I love the cockneys so much). So, I can't hear at all (or reproduce, of course) the faults in UNIFON that you mentioned. I find those faults irrelevant for the simple purpose of communicating in English, across the globe. In fact I can't tell the difference between nearly half the vowels in UNIFON. To my foreign (and quite normal) untrained ears many of them sound the same. I need to resort to dictionaries, which most fortunately have diacritics or other techniques (such as capitalization) to indicate where the stress is placed on English words and to what other English word one can make a comparison for pronunciation. Rhyming English dictionaries are great for this even if they take only one syllable in account.

In the context of this discussion on keyboards and the transition between spoken and written text and vice versa I brought UNIFON forward because in theory you could place its 40 glyphs on a normal keyboard, by cheating a bit and using the 12 function keys and other "extras". You can't do the same with the IPA.

I find it surprising that you bring in Arabic as an example of a worst case of orthography not fitting with phonetics. I would have expected anybody doing extensive reading in linguistics and / or phonetics to present certain forms of gaelic, like Irish. But what do I know? All my knowledge of this comes from reading, and reading only, since my ears won't pick up more than those sounds which I was exposed to as an infant. Before my readings in linguistics in the 90s I thought I was pretty dumb, hence my problem in hearing foreign sounds. But it turns out that most people are like me and that you really need an out of the ordinary ear to be able to use the full range of IPA symbols. You also need to put in an out of ordinary effort in visual recognition because the current IPA symbols are too alike graphically to be useful. This is why I reject the IPA as nothing more than a tool for dedicated scientists, and dedicated scholars. I am hoping that the projects to give it a better symbol set (with better distinct graphics for each sound) will somehow become successfull because I do have to turn to the IPA at times now and then, grinding my teeth at its horribly conceived visual codings, as I check up on recordings (wiktionary has more and more of these) to see if that particular sound is something that my ears can make out.

As to French being nearly as bad as English when it comes to its orthography being useful (or useless) in speaking it I can only agree and note that if Charlie Stross had been talking of typing problems in French I would have brought forward "la norme ortograf".

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthographes_alternatives_du_fran%C3%A7ais

instead of talking about UNIFON.

161:

Patrick Neilsen Hayden writes:

If you don't recognize that a lot of BMWs are herded down the road by idiots, you don't live in the same world I do.

I learned to drive out in western Marin County, California. The county tree was whatever the BMW or superbike was wrapped around today.

I'm used to bad drivers in just about every type of car and motorcycle, in every sense of bad (from rude to distracted to out of control to out of their depth to very recently deceased...). Nothing quite like waiting for the Skywalker Ranch fire truck to show up while you immobilize the rider's head and neck and make sure he keeps breathing, or having to stop at the fire department to report the just-laid-down set of skidmarks off the 400 foot cliff...

162:

I think the advantage of the tablet / keyboard combination over a laptop is that the combination is about the same size (including a stand for the tablet), but when you want to do anything else other than intensive writing you can leave the keyboard behind and use it as a tablet. Have you ever tried to lay in bed and read or watch videos from a laptop-It can't be done comfortably.

Though I do believe that some further work has to be done on the interface. It needs to be more sensitive and you need some kind of stylus or on-screen pointer you can use for fine work

Eventually I assume we'll have a powerfull computer packed in a phone and we'll be able to connect peripheries like keyboads and flexible screens by wireless. It will be a complete package that is modular and portable.

163:

Eventually? Right now and for the past three or four years. Most people don't bother but you can do it that way. A deb-Jobsed iphone is basically a Unix computer that fits in your pocket. Run any program you want.

164:

Let me add as a late note: I just acquired one of these.

Pros over the ZaggMate keyboard/cover I've been using hitherto: it's a folio-style case so protects the back of the iPad, the keyboard is somewhat improved (better battery life), feels more secure when used on your knees.

Cons: it's about 200 grams heavier than the earlier version. (See "added protection".)

All told, it's about as good as it gets if what you want to do is to turn your iPad into a netbook. My complaints about cursor movement remain, but it's solid enough to tempt me into trying to do some serious writing on it ...

165:

Related to 153--- a good piece about using vim on iPad over ssh. Some interesting advantages, though obviously not for everyone http://yieldthought.com/post/12239282034/swapped-my-macbook-for-an-ipad

166:

Jumping ahead without reading the rest of the thread; if anyone's already addressed this I apologize, but I'm somewhat rushed this morning.

if you have each app running atop a single-process OS instance, handled by a VM layer, how do you manage a GUI with multiple windows? And the simple answer is, you don't.

Sure you do. X11, which is now more than 25 years old, has a good part of the necessary architecture: it's built on a network architecture, with the server (read display) connected via socket to it's clients. And the window manager process is a client, so it doesn't have to be on the server machine (though not having it there raises performance issues). The point is that each VM has a network address and so you can put clients and server in separate VMs and they can communicate easily. I'm not advocating using X; there were design decisions in the X architecture that I was skeptical of at the time, and am still dubious about. Starting fresh with multi-VM architectures would be a good idea. But there's nothing about a multi-VM architecture that rules out a GUI with window management.

167:

Spot on about X's client/server model being perfect; but X itself is ... well, it's probably not somewhere you'd want to start from these days, is it?

168:
well, it's probably not somewhere you'd want to start from these days, is it?

No, certainly not. I have a lot of respect for the people who built X; I worked with one of them for several years, and used him as a source of advice on the system I was working on1. But there's a lot of art in the field that's come along since, and there's no reason not to take advantage of it.

One of the things that I think OS X did right, that Linux did not, was to start with the Mach microkernel OS. In the long term the security and dynamic subsystem plug-in capabilities the microkernel gives far overshadow the performance hit, and much of that can be gotten back in multi-core systems. A microkernel GUI and window system would be a interesting way to go.


1. I still say that if it hadn't been for absolutely brain-damaged management and some personal problems among one of the engineering teams, we would have pushed Sun Microsystems right out of the marketplace by 1986 (we had a Sun-3 competitor ready to ship months before the Sun-3 shipped), and Tektronix would have been the major force in the graphic workstation market. Certainly our network and graphic solutions were both superior to Sun's initial offerings, and I think our virtual memory architecture was better than anything available in a small computer at that time (including VAX-11/780, which we used as a our development machines).

169:

WOOT!

I might be about to eat my words over the title of this blog entry, because it's official: Scrivener for iOS is under development.

170:

>set fire to my beard and run naked and screaming down the street

Wait for next September 19th when it's speak like a pirate day and no one will mind.

Speaking of pirates... hint hint

171:

thanks for article,.. A writer's platform would make a bigger contribution to writers than trying to make a tablet do what it really can't, at least not happily.

172:

There is also the Velotype. A friend of mine claims to be Europe's fastest velotypist (or even the world's). Similar is the palantype (wikipedia's page is more about the professional person typing, as a speech-to-text reporter, than the keyboard though, so I can't really compare properly).

173:

[ DELETED BY MODERATOR: Reason: rudeness ]

174:

Plus, Tektronix in the early 80's made such beautiful terminals that at my college we'd have actual stand up fights over who got to use one. I mean brutal fights - for certain values of brutal - we were maths students, not Sports Science (*) Oh, and it was a Tektronix employee (James Perkins) who started the Traveller Mailing List, of some importance to SF tabletop RPG players.

(*)Sports Science - A term that is gradually replacing the previous one, "Physical Education". It always makes me think of Sports Supercolliders, big lads running round a track in opposite directions...

175:

And Keith Lofstrom, who invented the Lofstrom Launch Loop, was working at Tektronix at the time. And there was a project in the late 80s to build the first commercial 1 megapixel perfect CCD sensor for astronomical use. They built one before the project was shut down.

Oh, and I mustn't forget the work on hypertext software, or the distributed test and measurement equipment (probes here, signal processing electronics there, and display and user interface a few miles down the road. That was my last project at the Computer Research Labs in Tektronix before they shut the lab down.) Now you know why I gnash my teeth when I think about working there.

176:

This, in short, is why I don't own an iPad. It's also why I own a G2 smartphone with slide-out keyboard instead of an iPhone (or an Android phone without an actual keyboard).

Nor do I think that this is an easily solvable problem. I am not convinced that touchscreen keyboards are ever going to be as effective as a keyboard with tactile feedback.

I'm still waiting for my motherbox: Docking stations are where the real bottleneck is right now. They're primitive and they're stupid.

Ultimately I'm looking forward to what flexible screens will give us: Small device like my G2. Roll the screen out to a large dimension when you need tablet functionality. Slap the whole thing into a workstation when you need specialized input options (like a full-sized keyboard, graphical tablet, etc.). Slap it into a dock on your TV when you want to stream video.

For this to happen, of course, there'll need to be software support that's smart enough to make it easy to swap data on and off of the portable device. And they haven't even managed to do that with iTunes yet after having a decade to figure it out.

177:

@ Charlie on 164 - Can you use that zaggmate keyboard with the iPad in portrait, as I think makes more sense for a writer? If so it begins to look usable! I ask because I too have been thinking of getting an iPad for serious writing but I have held back for a number of reasons, most of which have been identified above my many.

By the way I am a new reader of your work, I just picked up the Atrocity Archive and really, I mean REALLY enjoyed it, and I am a picky reader. I live in London and have never been to Scotland yet, but if ever come up or you come down here, and you are willing, I would seriously ply you with food and drink just to discuss some of your ideas. I've already ordered my next Stross novel and I am sure it will just be the second of many. Thanks also for the super informative blog. I am currently still a slave of the cubicle forest, but have 3 books to my name and although none went through the traditional publishing route, they did make me some money (well two of them did). I have a different take on things from yours regarding publishing, not in the sense that I disagree with anything you say, quite the contrary, but just in the sense that my experiences have been very different and I feel merging the two immeasurably increases my chances of eventually just making my living from writing. Hard and dauntless as that prospect is for the vast majority of would-be full time writers. I KNOW there must be a way to get there faster than 10 years. And I know that way need not include an inordinate amount of luck. See? Just on the topic of writing I am rambling already. Anyway, if you could let me know about the zaggmate with portrait orientation of the iPad I would be very grateful. I followed the link and went all over that site but saw no examples of it being used that way, which would be pretty essential for me I think.
Thanks again for your writing.
G.

178:

Uh...belay that...it does support it in portrait. I just missed the little link that led me to that info... Duh.
Somehow this makes it even clearer for me why we need editors. I mean the ones with red pencils, more than the managerial types.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on December 12, 2011 3:07 PM.

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