My Blog and Soapbox

To help order and sort some of the things in my mind, it often helps me to write them down. And this is the place I do just that. Not always related to photography. Not always in English. Manchmal auch auf Deutsch.
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my new blog:
I have recently switched blogging platforms. Here is my old blog:

Two days with the iPad

I know I know, I'm pretty late to the game, but hey, I'm in Germany and Apple decided to let us wait. I have spent two days with the iPad now, and I think that is enough time to form an opinion, so here it is.

You can't form an opinion from blog posts or from spending 30 minutes with the device! I spent about 30 minutes over the weekend to play with various people's iPads. It was fun. I liked it. Then on Tuesday my own iPad arrived and I have now had two days with it. Spending two days with one is definitely different from spending 30 minutes with it. I am looking at it with different eyes now. There are many little things that you can't grasp in a short time. Especially not if you stay at a level where you only compare features and leave out all the interaction details that make or break a device. Let's face it: the most complete feature set can be useless if the interaction with it is broken.

Flash? Didn't miss it in the past two days. Yes, I ran into the odd website that was 100% flash, but it was never something that couldn't be easily worked around. A lot of embedded videos (especially those from YouTube) are now HTML5 anyway, and those play just fine embedded into web sites.

Battery? The advertised 10 hours of battery life are pretty accurate. As with most Lithium Polymer batteries I expect things to become even better after a few charge/discharge cycles.

Weight? It is a bit heavier than I thought it would be, but after handling it for two days the weight is basically a non-issue. Reading in bed works, but not with holding it up above my head. Same as with a big book. Lying on my side with the screen locked is great.

How to hold it? The iPad is a new class of device. Yes, there were tablet computers in the past, but they were the size of laptops, none of them was ever this thin and had such a large screen. Which means we will have to come up new ways of holding it. When sitting down I tend to prefer the landscape orientation holding it with both hands, using my thumbs to interact. A lot of apps and games seem to follow this model quite well, so most of the time it's very convenient.

I can totally see the upcoming iPhone 4 with its super high-res display to take the "reading in bed" spot.

Which case? I don't have a case yet, but played with the Apple case on the weekend. I like the fact that it can easily be used to put the iPad on a flat surface at an angle in horizontal mode. I've been propping the iPad up exactly the same way here on my table and it felt very natural. I also like the flip-over cover, easy access is king.

Consumation or production device? The iPad is awesome to consume content. I like reading on it. I like watching videos on it. I don't really use it a lot to listen to music a lot. I downloaded some magazines (Spiegel, Popular Science, brand eins) and Zinio (a magazine store) to test the interaction model. Everyone is doing their own thing right now, and I guess it'll be a while until some sort of a standard emerges. Or maybe they don't want that to be different.

Production-wise I got Pages, Keynote and Numbers and I played with all three of them. Easy enough to manage, and I can totally see myself using them. Let's see what the next 6-hour train ride will bring. From a photography point of view I can see myself importing selected pictures on the road (I'm still waiting for the camera connection kit) and putting some touches on them right where I am to show a customer an idea or a concept. Or to do a quick upload to flickr. But then this is early days and I didn't really have the opportunity to put that side of the iPad to the test yet.

On-Screen Keyboard Usable. I touch type and as long as I can get the iPad into a comfortable position (see Apple case above) I can type quite well. Maybe at 50-70% of the speed I would get on a hardware keyboard. Good enough to answer emails or even write longer texts. Painting brush strokes into a picture during editing (for example with Filterstorm) is fun and easy.

Apps! The iPad would be nothing without its apps. Here's a small of mine: AirVideo (plays my video collection over the air), 1Password (stores and protects all your passwords and more), Outliner (does what it says, syncs with iPhone version, has a web interface too), Evernote (I love the iPad version), Osfoora (great Twitter client), Pinball HD (bye bye productivity..), GoodReader (get and read your docs from virtually anywhere), Photogene (image editor), Filterstorm (more control over local picture changes), Delivery Status (very useful and beautiful, Junecloud's design rocks), WolframAlpha (yey, big screen geekiness), Pulse News (a beautiful great approach to news reading).

There are probably more to come, but hey, I've only had it for two days...

Two apps I hope will be out as iPad versions very soon are Pocket Informant (calendaring, gtd-style todo management, etc.) and Reeder (Newsreader that syncs with Google Reader. I've briefly played with a beta on the weekend, it rocks!)

iPhone apps They work. Some of them scale up nicely, some of them are better used in their native resolution. Switching between the iPad keyboard and the iPhone keyboard on the same device is awkward. Many iPhone apps will upscale much nicer soon, as Apple has come up with some easier ways to make higher-resolution artwork available for developers even in standard iPhone apps. This is a side effect of the higher-res iPhone 4, but the apps will look much nicer on the iPad then too.

Games Yes, games. The iPad is a great gaming platform. Pinball HD is fast and fun, play Flight Control HD together with someone else on one iPad, and Mirror's Edge is exciting and really well done. Can't wait for all the great titles that will be released on the iPad!

My conclusion is this: The iPad is an awesome media consumption device, and it has a huge potential to become a production device as well. Not on the level of your Mac Pro, it doesn't have the horsepower for that, but that's not what it was made for anyway. It's all in the apps, we see that with Apple's own apps Pages, Keynote and Numbers. All three of them are capable and follow a new interaction model. We are already seeing a lot of promising apps that take advantage of the zippy hardware and bring with them a much more natural interaction model than it was ever possible with the mouse-screen disconnect. I'm happy with the iPad, and being able to say that after just two days, I know I will enjoy it even more as the platform evolves and new and well thought out apps come along. And looking at the simplicity of the just-point-your-finger-at-it interface, I know that the iPad will open up computing to a whole new range of people who up to now had all the reason to be afraid of computers, even of Macs.


Rolleiflex Calibration Wall

This is the story of a group picture.

Last weekend Monika and I held an analog photography workshop in Braunschweig, Germany. We held the workshop together with our friends Micha and Tilla of Spürsinn; they have helped make this a very special event with their never ending knowledge about all things cameras and film. When it comes to analog photography, we couldn't have been in better hands. And when it comes to photography history, Braunschweig is a true gold mine - it's the birthplace of both, Voigtländer and Rollei, two iconic German camera brands.

Not only did we hold the workshop in the city of Braunschweig, we held it at the very spot that used to be the office of Mr. Heidecke, one of the two founders of Rollei. The very same rooms actually! I can't think of a better place to hold an analog photography workshop and the surroundings did their part to make this a very special event.

Now you might be are aware of the fact that I love taking unusual group pictures at workshops. This one was no exception.

We literally had an analog camera museum around us during the workshop with everything from folding pocket cameras from the 1920s to medium format cameras from Japan, but when the time came for the group shot, the camera that was at hand first was a Polaroid 640 Land Camera from the 70s, loaded with original Polaroid 600 film. This film has been out of production for a while, and I happened to have one of my last few film packs with me, possibly even one of the last original Polaroid 600 film packs in existence today. So what better occasion could there have been than using the last three pictures in that pack for the group shot of our first analog workshop.

We went to find the original Rollei calibration wall, where we had to improvise the above images due to not having a tripod. But it was all in the true spirit of our workshop: trust the medium, don't take it too serious and most important: enjoy photography to the max! The photographers of those three pictures: Michael Weyl, Monika Andrae and yours truly (in cooperation with several "composition helpers"). We tried to get Tilla Pe for a fourth shot but noticed that we had ran out of the valuable film.

Thanks everyone for making this workshop a memorable experience!

You DON'T want to make money? Really?


Picture by chotda on flickr

Man is it SOAPBOX time again today. Hold tight. Lean back. Get the popcorn out.

This story was handed to me by a friend. Let's call him Thomas. Thomas lives in Germany.

Thomas recently got a recommendation by another friend of mine (let's call him Michael) to check out the work of a Science Fiction author (let's call her Sue). "If you're a fan of Heinlein, Gaiman and Gibson, you've GOT to read her books, she's excellent! A real discovery!"

Being the modern guy he is, Thomas got online to buy one of her books. The original English version, not the German translation. Not as a hardcopy, but as an eBook.

With the iPad on the horizon (first deliveries in Germany will start in about a week) he also wanted to future-proof his investment. Buy it now, start reading on the iPhone, continue reading on the iPad as soon as it arrives. Sounded like a plan.

Apples iBooks app and iBookstore aren't an option here in Germany yet, so he looked into Kindle. Turned out the book in question wasn't available in the German Kindle bookstore. Bummer.

Next stop Stanza. Yes, it's not available as a native iPad app just yet, but with the Kindle app having made it to the iPad, there is a chance that Stanza will be allowed in too. So Thomas installed Stanza on his iPhone, fired up the built-in book search and lo and behold, there was the book in question, available on the BooksOnBoard store right from within Stanza. For $12.72. He hit the "Buy" button, was transferred to the BooksOnBoard web store in Safari, he registered an account with BooksOnboard, diligently filled in all his information, got to the book page, put it in the shopping cart, clicked the check out button in anticipation, and ...

"This title is not allowed for sale within your country. Item failed to add to cart! Please close this window and try again."


After some more research Thomas had to learn that it seemed impossible to legally buy the book in question as an English version in Germany in any eBook format.

Thomas was ready to spend $12.72 of his hard earned money for this eBook. He happily wanted to throw money at an online store (e.g. the entire chain: the shop owner, the publisher, the author, and even the government if you take taxes into account). But for some very stupid reason he wasn't allowed to. What's wrong with this picture? Everything!

And this is where Thomas had it. He wanted the book. "If they don't want my money, I'm savvy enough to get a hold of this eBook in another way."

20 minutes later he not only had a copy of this one eBook on his hard drive, but about 500 others too. Five friggin hundred. Why? Because he couldn't find the book on its own on BitTorrent, but instead had to download it as part of a ridiculously large Science Fiction book collection.

Just to make it clear: this download was not a paid download. At this point let me add a quick word about BitTorrent: No, not everything on there is illegal. By far not. BitTorrent is first of all a great technology. The telephone is a great technology too, and I don't even want to start thinking about the amount and kind of illegal activities that the telephone is being used for at this very moment...

Back to the story:

Let's do the math. Thomas was ready to pay $12.72 to BooksOnBoard, and I'm sure they would have loved to take the money and give him the book. Instead he now had 500 not-quite-so-legal eBooks sitting on his hard disk. Assuming the same price, those books summed up to over $6000 in lost sales potential.

Book industry? Government? Authors? Collecting Societies? I don't really care who's fault this is, but are you reading this? Instead of losing a sale of $12.72 you have just lost the potential to make $6000. If Thomas wasn't such an honest soul, that lost potential could have easily multiplied many times. "Look what I just downloaded, let me send you a copy..."

Imagine the amount of people searching for (not necessarily legal) ways to get a hold of digital goods, that they cannot get otherwise for ridiculously stupid reasons.

PS: Honest soul that he is, Thomas of course deleted the 499 eBooks that he had to download to get to this one book. And he hasn't shared the downloaded copy with anyone. Not even with me. He's now trying to find out if there is a way to send Sue a donation, because he loved her book so much that he wants to give her something in return. Which will probably be way more than what she would have earned if he had bought it the "normal" way.

What is your take on this?

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