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My thanks to Treehouse for sponsoring the RSS feed this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

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Professional Grade

Rene Ritchie, in an article about how, for Apple in 2013, it’s all about iOS 7 and iCloud:

It’s not about outdated concepts like widgets or settings toggles, or inconsequential interface trends like skeuomorphism. It’s about software and services that don’t force us to hunt for data or controls, no matter how they’re painted up, but that bring data and controls to us, flat or textured. It’s about actionable notifications powered by headless apps and seamless inter-app communication. It’s about predictive data assistance with multi-layer natural language interfaces. It’s about data moving from cloud to device, or vice versa, transparently, in the background, so we have what we need, when and where we need it, without having to manage or store it. It’s about all our stuff working together directly, device to device, so using one of them is akin to using any one of them. It’s about an app ecosystem that pushes rather than than waits for us to pull, with demos and refunds, and analytics that delight developers and users alike. It’s about the brilliant interaction of software and services both on-device and in the clouds.


Last year was a hardware-packed year for gadgets being designed in California. Retina MacBook Pros, super-slim and bubbly iMacs, iPhone 5, iPad mini, et al.

Of course, 2012 wasn’t strictly a hardware year. We got Mountain Lion, and OS X is now on an annual update cycle; we also got iOS 6 and Apple’s own maps app. But the updates to iOS and OS X were not of the same breakthrough caliber as the hardware updates — last year was a very good year to be in the market for a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone.

This year, I’m hopeful that the pendulum will swing towards the software-side of things.

I believe Apple wants to improve iOS in many of the areas Rene points out above. By removing some of the friction and frustration currently experienced with iCloud, maps, and more. And I also believe Apple wants iOS to be seen as a professional-grade operating system, worthy of “real work”. There is still some low-hanging fruit, and no doubt there are also some significant updates and breakthroughs to the usability and functionality of iOS on the horizon.

Of course, Apple already sees the iPad as being a legitimate work machine. As do many others (Federico Viticci being a chief example).

But I think it’s fair to say that the general perception of the iPad as a legitimate work device just isn’t there yet.

Even amongst the readers of this site — whom are decidedly, clever, nerdy, and prone to living on the bleeding edge — when I talk about using the iPad as my laptop, I get more than a few raised eyebrows and responses from people who still need or prefer to grab their MacBook when it’s time to work away from the office. Even my own wife would not be persuaded to get an iPad when she needed a new computer.

The prejudice against the iPad as a legitimate work machine isn’t isolated to just the iPad. It’s one of the few things all tablets have in common right now. Microsoft is attempting to market the Surface Pro as a professional grade device by showing people in a board room dancing.

Apple, on the other hand, I believe will demonstrate the iPad’s professional viability by bringing best-of-breed solutions and then demonstrating real-life use-case scenarios. A massive component of this is, and always will be, the App Store. But it can’t end there. Apple has more than a few areas where their own technologies and services need to catch up to those of 3rd parties as well as to those of their own competitors.

Professional Grade

Brandon Griswold is Kickstarting a book — or rather, a letterpress printed, handmade testament to manliness:

As tough as letterpress can be, it’s strange to see it so heavily associated with things like wedding invitations and greeting cards. I mean, those are good things, but not very manly. Let’s see if we can do something about that.

Manly Marks

Although you won’t find fine corinthian leather or green felt, magazine apps on the iPad are still some of the worst offenders when it comes to skeuomorphism getting in the way of usability. As Bryan Larrick points out:

Eschewing live text and making the text an image file preserves appearance, albeit at the expense of file size, search engine optimization, usability, and much of the ability to update content dynamically.

Enter magazines. Most magazines made the decision that preserving appearance is more important than utilizing all of the iPad’s functionality, so instead of pages loading text dynamically, a typical magazine page is one big png file.

Design Dictatorship

Louie Mantia:

Skeuomorphism is a word that everyone disagrees on what it means (or suggests it means all of the above), but is often used to discriminate apps that use realistic textures for the sake of joy, beauty, and delight. When you’re talking about an app that uses realistic textures, call that “theming” or “skinning” because before last year, that’s what we called it, and that’s what it is.

Mantia on Skeuomorphism

iOS: Empowered by Apps

It’s 7:00 am on a Saturday morning. Saturday, April 3, 2010. And I’m standing in line at my local Apple Store to buy an iPad.

Believe it or not, just two days prior, I had no plans to buy an iPad. But, be it gadget envy, a hunch, or whatever, I changed my mind at the last minute and I bought an original iPad on day one. And I’m glad I did, because looking back I realize I was, in a way, standing in line for a 9.7-inch slab of history.

For a year or two, my iPad primarily served as a “content consumption” device (ugh). Though mixed with casual email checking, to-do list management, and writing session, my iPad was primarily used for things like reading, watching videos, and surfing the web. Whenever it was time to get to work, I reached for the Mac.

The fact that I primarily “took in” content rather than “create” it wasn’t a limitation of the iPad so much as it was the software that accompanied it. The iPad shipped with a handful of creation-centric apps, but none that could fully replace my dependence on my Mac.

Moreover, when the iPad was new, things created on the iPad liked to stay on the iPad. In Pages, for example, the process of syncing a document was a joke. Notes were synced awkwardly over IMAP to the Mail app on my Mac. And Syncing my Things to-do list, though clever at the time, needed all devices to be on the same wi-fi network with Things launched.

When I first bought my original iPad back in 2010 and friends and co-workers would ask me about what makes it so great, I’d usually tell them about the 10-hour battery life. I can take notes, check email, and surf the web in this little tablet the size of a pad of paper, and I leave the cables at home. Part of what made the iPad so magical wasn’t entirely about what it could do, but what its potential promised us that it would one day be able to do.

Today, a lot of that promise of potential has been realized. Robust software abounds. As does over-the-air syncing of just about everything. Pretty much all of our stuff is accessible, usable, and editable from our Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

Some people don’t even need a Mac anymore, since the iPad is perfectly capable as one’s primary PC. And for those who still rely on OS X, the iPad is so much more than the satellite device it was in 2010 that for many, it can serve as a very good secondary work machine.

For those of us who need a powerful computer for the bulk of their work as well as a computer they can take on the go, we’ve gone from (a) a setup comprising the best desktop computer possible and the cheapest laptop possible, to (b) owning simply the best laptop possible, to (c) owning a Mac and an iPad.

The laptop of yesterday is the iPad of today.

Today, the iPad is what — back in 2010 — we envisioned the iPad could be. So, what has happened between now and 2010? Well, thousands and thousands of world-class 3rd-party apps. That’s what.

The fundamental capabilities of the iPad itself are, more or less, the same today as they were in 2010. Strip away the hundreds of thousands of 3rd-party apps from the fast, Retina- and LTE-equipped iPad, and all you’ve got is a device which is only a little bit more capable as a work machine than what you had in 2010. Albeit, that device is significantly more advanced and delightful than its predecessor. But, without the software, it’s just an attractive slab of glass and aluminum.

When the iPad was new, many of us had ambitions of one day leaving our MacBook Pros at home and traveling only with our iPads. But, at least for me, that idea quickly faded away as I ran head-on into the fact that I just couldn’t get a lot of the work done on my iPad that I needed to do. The iPad was by no means useless, it just wasn’t the laptop replacement I wanted it to be.

But that was nearly three years ago. And, like I said, a lot has changed.

Last summer, I took only my iPad with me to WWDC. It was a bit cumbersome at times, and I had to suspend my daily Shawn Today podcast, but I survived with nary a scratch. Today, I don’t even hesitate for a moment to walk out the door with nothing but my iPad and Origami Keyboard.

I recently looked back at an article I wrote in 2010 about how I used my iPad, Mac, and iPhone. Comparing my usage in 2010 to how I use them now, I use my iPad and iPhone for work-related things much more often. Also, my iPad and iPhone do a much better job at those work-related tasks than they did in 2010 — the experience, usability, and reliability of using these other devices has increased tremendously. And it continues to get even more usable, reliable, and delightful.

This is thanks entirely to the apps I have available to me (along with some nerdy Mac server hackery). These apps have evolved to such a place where I can work from my iPad anytime I want. The projects I’m working on are all in sync, and the apps I have at my disposal allow me to complete the same work.1

My iPad workflow relies heavily on apps and services such as Dropbox, 1Password, TextExpander, Poster, Simplenote, WritingKit, OmniFocus, Instapaper, Reeder, Tweetbot, Diet Coda, and Pinbook. Many of these apps didn’t exist on the iPad in 2010. But now that they do, I can leverage them to get the same work done on my iPad that I do from my Mac.

Our iOS devices have been empowered by 3rd-party apps.

  1. There is one exception: graphic design and photo editing. I use Photoshop for editing graphics and Lightroom 4 for doing post-processing work on my pictures. I know there are solutions for doing graphic editing work, screenshots, and the like on the iPad but I haven’t yet crossed that bridge.
iOS: Empowered by Apps

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Sponsor: Harvest

Concerning Inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCD Displays


It all started last summer when my cousin sent me a link to this article by Jeff Atwood concerning his discovery of the gray-market of inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCDs on eBay.

My beloved 23-inch Apple Cinema Display had been on the fritz for several months. It was a 9-year old monitor. It was getting dim and had something wrong with the logic board’s ability to recognize the power supply. In short, if the monitor ever lost power then I’d have to try and short-circuit / jumpstart the logic board into turning back on.

Now, I love the look of California-designed hardware on my desk as much as the next Apple nerd. But when my 23-inch ACD finally pooped out last fall, I wasn’t exactly set on replacing it with a Thunderbolt Display.

For one, knowing that new iMacs were on the horizon, I didn’t want to fork over $999 on a Thunderbolt Display when it was very possible that an update to those was on the horizon as well.

Secondly, I wasn’t totally comfortable with spending a thousand dollars on a display that I could find elsewhere for significantly less (albeit, with a few less features).

So I decided to get one of the same, cheap displays as Atwood had. Same as Atwood, I ordered the FSM-270YG. You can still find them on eBay (and if you look, you can even find them in matte).

Since I’d already tainted my all-Apple setup with a black, ugly, awesome mechanical keyboard, it made it easier to take the leap and get a black, ugly, awesome new monitor. You know, to match the keyboard.

Aside from being ugly, the disadvantage to the FSM-270YG is that it comes with no bells or whistles. There are no USB hubs, no thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining, no ethernet, no HD FaceTime camera, not even the ability to tilt the thing. Moreover, when you buy one of these monitors off eBay, you’re taking a gamble. If you get one with a dead pixel or 10, then you’re out of luck.

But, my eBay monitor certainly has some advantages: (a) it was about 1/3 the price of an Apple Thunderbolt Display; (b) it has a matte screen — no gloss, no glass; and (c) one feature it does have is a built in speaker that sounds like if you were to plug in your earbuds, lay them on your desk, and then turn the volume up all the way.

I don’t mind the lack of features because you get what you pay for. And though it’s ugly on the outside, the part that matters the most — the pixels — is just what you’d find inside an Apple display, or any other expensive computer monitor.

My goal was to get the best possible display for the cheapest possible price. All in all I spent $406.76 ($339 for the monitor + $67.76 for a Dual-Link DVI adapter).

Monoprice’s Version

Just recently, Monoprice began selling their version of the FSM-270YG. It’s called the CrystalPro.

The CrystalPro looks exactly like the FSM-270YG monitor I have in front of me right now, except their’s has a Monoproce logo slapped on the front.

The CrystalPro costs $390 + shipping. You can find plenty of the generic FSM-270YG monitors on eBay for less than what Monoprice is selling their monitor for, but there is a significant advantage to going with Monoprice: the warranty.

Not only does Monoprice check each monitor they sell to make sure it works, they also offer a one-year warranty which means they’ll replace the display if there are more than 5 dead pixels.

The Problem with Dual-Link DVI Adapters

What’s unfortunate about both the FSM-270YG and the CrystalPro is that they require a Dual-Link DVI connection. And if you’re running your monitor off a MacBook, you’ll have to get a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter. And, they stink.

Not only are they expensive, but they’re flaky. I often have an issue with my monitor where, when waking the computer from sleep, the screen will show “snow” (like when your TV is on a dead channel). Fortunately, a quick off/on of the monitor itself resets the connection and the snow goes away. But still.

So far as I’ve been able to tell, this has to do with the adapter itself. I thought it was because I’d originally purchased a Monoprice adapter, but I had the same problem after purchasing an Apple adapter. And after researching about it online, I’ve realized I’m not the only one.

Not only are Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapters expensive, they also take up a valuable USB port on the Mac, and they’re known for causing occasional video issues.

So my biggest complaint against these monitors is not the monitor itself, but the adapter they require.

Dell’s Offering

The Dell UltraSharp U2713HM is just as ugly as the Monoprice CrystalPro but with a lot more advantages.

On Dell’s 27-inch ISP monitor you can adjust the height and viewing angle, it has a USB hub, and you have several options for how to connect to it — including DisplayPort. And a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable costs all of $5.

The price of the Dell UltraSharp moves up and down, but lately it’s been hovering around $650. Factoring in shipping, cables, and adapters, you can get the Dell monitor for about $200 more than the Monoprice.

Which Inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCD Display Should You Get?

If you’ll be plugging your monitor into a tower that already has plenty of USB ports and doesn’t need a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter, I’d go with the Monoprice CrystalPro.

If, however, you’re looking for a nice, big monitor to run while your MacBook is in clamshell mode, go with the Dell. Its extra USB ports and non-reliance on a Dual-Link DVI adapter make it worth it the extra money.

Concerning Inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCD Displays