The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

The iPad and Autism

I was sent a link to a very inspiring story about how the iPad is turning out to be a powerful learning tool for autistic children. I’m also impressed how many apps there are out there specifically for kids with autism.

“My son Leo’s life was transformed when a five-dollar raffle ticket turned into a brand-new iPad. I’m not exaggerating. Before the iPad, Leo’s autism made him dependent on others for entertainment, play, learning, and communication. With the iPad, Leo electrifies the air around him with independence and daily new skills. People who know Leo are amazed when they see this new boy rocking that iPad. I’m impressed, too … I don’t usually dabble in miracle-speak, but I may erect a tiny altar to Steve Jobs in the corner of our living room.”

Read the complete article here:


June 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

PDF faceoff: iBooks vs Fast PDF

The big news today is that iOS4 is available to download for iPhone and iPod Touch owners. For iPad users, we still have some waiting to do.

Along with the new OS comes an updated iBooks app which (finally) supports PDFs. I dumped a couple of PDF magazine files to my iPad and tried to gauge if it was any better than Fast PDF, which is my current favorite reader app.

Both Fast PDF and iBooks feature a bookshelf view, and they look strikingly similar to each other in this mode. It’s worth noting that iBooks keeps PDF content on a separate bookshelf from your regular ePUB books.

The iBooks PDF bookshelf

The Fast PDF bookshelf

Fast PDF List View

I opened the same magazine file in both iBooks and Fast PDF. I know it was naive of me to even hope for iBooks to bring its awesome page turn animation to PDFs, so I shouldn’t be disappointed at its absence. But that would have been so cool.

The page turning speed on both readers seemed to be reasonably fast, as long as you wait a few beats after opening the file to let the cache build up. However the big difference came during spread-and-pinch operations. When you zoom into text on iBooks, there’s a definite lag before the jaggy text shifts into full resolution. FastPDF earns its name by being rendering things … well, faster.

Another downside to iBooks: for now, you can’t view facing pages in landscape view. You’re limited to just the single page, whereas Fast PDF will let you view both pages simultaneously.

FastPDF landscape view

iBooks landscape view

A unique feature that Fast PDF offers which I use quite a lot: it has a built in web browser that allows you to surf without leaving the app. Even better you can use it to select and download PDF files off the web straight into the app’s bookshelf. During the download process, you can’t quit FastPDF but you can still open up a file to read while waiting for the transfer to complete in the background. Not quite multitasking, but I’ll take it. And should you still need to transfer via cable, you can drag and drop via iTunes App Sharing.

Lest you accuse me of being a FastPDF shill, I urge you to also consider another app, namely GoodReader. The latest build offers much improved pre-caching that puts it right up there with FastPDF, plus support for VGA out, the ability to crop margins to maximize your screen space (good for scanned files) and FINALLY, horizontal swipe page turning. GoodReader also offers the ability to connect to popular servers such as MobileME, DropBox, GoogleDocs, or any other WebDAV or FTP server. However, the current look and user interface makes it feel more like a file utility than a reader app, so I prefer to use FastPDF for now.

PDF support is a welcome and much anticipated addition to iBooks. But it still has some way to go before it will compete with third party offerings. If PDF reading is important to you, the $2.99 for Fast PDF or an even cheaper $0.99 for GoodReader should be worth it.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

External keyboards and the iPad

Okay, touchscreen keyboards are getting pretty good. And Apple’s implementation is particularly solid. But I’ve always been a tactile, physical keyboard kinda guy . On my Blackberry and on my Macbook Pro, I can type just about as fast as I can talk (which believe me, is pretty fast). On the iPad, not so much.

Now not everyone knows this, but the iPad does support the use of an external Bluetooth keyboard. The folks at Cupertino would of course prefer you use the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock, or even the  Apple Wireless Keyboard, but in reality almost any Bluetooth keyboard will work. Which is a good thing because neither Apple keyboard is quite portable enough to slip into a gadget bag.

Back in the heyday of PDAs (Palm, iPAQ, Pocket PCs, etc), portable folding keyboards were readily available and somewhat popular. Initially these were infrared and needed to be pointed at the host device to work, but later on they became Bluetooth enabled and more versatile. But as PDAs fell out of favor, these accessories eventually disappeared from the market.

I was able to track one down on eBay for a reasonable amount (well, $50 seemed reasonable to me) and just took delivery of it today. It’s called the Stowaway Sierra and is (or at least, was) made by a company called Think Outside.


The Stowaway Sierra

The Sierra is pretty unique in that it folds out in several sections to form a full sized keyboard complete with dedicated number row (which most portable keyboards sacrifice). When unfolded and laid flat on a table, it feels sturdy enough and you can type with confidence – but obviously, because of its construction, it’s not as stable or as rigid as an Apple Wireless Keyboard would be. You can’t lay the Sierra in your lap and type on it; it will buckle and collapse unless you tuck a magazine or hardbound book underneath.

Cue transformers theme! "More than meets the eye..."

The keyboard came with an installer CD in case you plan to use it with a desktop computer or PDA – not going to be much use with an iPad, though. However, the pairing process was extremely straightforward – just hit a tiny recessed button on the Stowaway and then open up the Bluetooth preference pane in the iPad settings. The iPad gives you a number to type in on the keyboard, you type it in and then hit Enter, and bada bing, you’re all set to go. It will hold the pairing even when you fold the keyboard back up, so the next time you need to use it you can just start typing straightaway.

And now to type this blog post.

Of course, you’re still dealing with a touchscreen OS, so the cursor keys have no effect, and don’t think that you can take the next step and pair up a Bluetooth mouse either. But for the meat and potatoes typing – you’re good to go.

So, you might ask – why go to all the trouble of buying a touchscreen device and then buying an external keyboard? Why not just buy a laptop?

The answer, in a nutshell: flexibility! It all depends on what you need to do. For about 75 to 80 percent of what I use my iPad for (surfing, Twitter, games,  reading) I don’t need a keyboard. But for long emails, chat sessions, and in fact even for typing this blog post: it’s unbelievably liberating to be able to type on a real keyboard that I can just tuck back into my bag when I’m done.  The Stowaway/iPad combo is still a heckuva lot lighter than carrying a laptop. The Apple iPad Case also sets up at a great angle for BT keyboard typing, and color coordinates with the Sierra pretty well too.

Next project: an external DVD burner! Just kidding.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Taking notes on the iPad

Both my wife and I are inveterate note scribblers, our preferred method usually being a Moleskine or equivalent. As I mentioned in a previous post, we also have a modest collection of fountain pens.

I’ve been eying the Penultimate app on the store for quite some time now, since it essentially replicates the Moleskine look and feel. However, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase it because I just don’t see myself writing anything using only my finger, unless it’s “WASH ME” on the back of someone’s car.

That all changed the other day when I found Pogo products for sale at the newly renovated Power Mac store in Greenbelt. I picked up a Pogo Stylus for myself and a Pogo Sketch for Cyn. Both are similarly constructed – a thin barrel with a soft foam tip on the end that brings to mind an eye makeup applicator. This is because a stylus needs to be capacitive to work with the iPhone or iPad; any old plastic spears you have lying around from the Palm Pilot days may actually do your screen more harm than good. (Here’s a link to a method for making your own capacitive stylus – let me know if it works for you!)

In celebration of my newfound writing instrument, I downloaded Note Taker HD and Penultimate from the app store. Cyn and I spent a few days scribbling with both apps and here are some of our thoughts.

With regards to the writing experience – Penultimate is possibly the closest you’ll ever get to putting a real pen on your screen. The accuracy with which the screen tracks your ink flow is remarkable – fast strokes produce thinner lines, slower strokes give thicker lines and even a hint of blot. You can experience this even with your finger, but it’s best felt with the Pogo stylus. Penultimate also lets you create virtual Moleskine-like cahier notebooks, with the option for ruled, graphed, or blank paper. It also boasts a “wrist detect” mode that you can enable to prevent your palm from leaving marks on the page while you write towards the top of your iPad. It works fairly well but isn’t foolproof, and in fact in my experience is better turned off if you’re writing at the bottom of the screen.

Yes, my handwriting is this bad in real life.

Note Taker HD, on the other hand, is not as elegant or visually appealing. If Penultimate feels like a Moleskine and a broad-nibbed Waterman, then Note Taker HD is a standard issue yellow pad with a Bic ballpen. However, I found myself using Note Taker intuitively and invisibly after only a few minutes of familiarization. In fact, I was quite surprised with how quickly I got used to it.

Not as pretty, but I find it more useful

You can edit in two modes: a whole page, like Penultimate, or Edit Mode 2, which really takes this app to another level. Using Edit Mode 2, you scribble in a small box at the bottom of the screen while your handwriting appears in a resizable target window on the paper up top. If you’ve ever done intensive data entry on a Palm using Graffiti, you know the feeling. Changing the size of the target window changes the size of your writing. Note Taker will even help you scroll once it detects that you’ve run out of room and need to start over from the left edge.  And in a nod to usability, Note Taker will automatically switch back to the pen tool after you’ve selected, erased and lifted off the screen using the Erase Tool. This lets you can keep writing without missing a beat. It’s flawless to use in a real world situation.

Edit Mode 2: the killer feature

Other minor points: both Penultimate and Note Taker HD do not let you adjust “nib size” on the virtual pen. With Penultimate, you’re stuck with what fountain pen aficionados call “a very juicy broad” … no, that didn’t sound right …. and with Note Taker, as I mentioned, you’ve got the equivalent of a disposable ballpoint. Both apps let you export the page or the entire set of pages either as image files or via email.  Only Note Taker allows you to write in multiple colors, which may be a deal breaker for some.

So at this point, it may come down to your own personal preference. I don’t want to call it a battle of style over substance because different people take notes different ways. For instance, Cyn was intrigued by Note Taker HD but she absolutely loves Penultimate.  And I can see myself preferring to use Penultimate for quick phone numbers or shopping lists.

Cyn has found her new favorite notebook app

Finally, I exchanged emails with Note Taker HD creator Dan Bricklin. Dan also created VisiCalc! And if you know what Visi Calc is, then I know how old you are.

Dan mentioned that his future update plans include looking into other inking options, though he would need to balance it with app performance once you factor in lots of different inks and zooming (options that Penultimate currently does not offer). He pointed out that, just as I discovered, “real life use” should always be a priority and in fact it remains his main area of concentration.

Just a reminder to conclude, both apps have pros and cons – but the bottom line is, to get the most out of either of them, you absolutely need a stylus. In fact, just this morning I found myself trying to push my stylus into a nonexistent hole on the top of my iPad. A muscle memory flashback to my iPAQ and Palm days!

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

The iPhone 4 is out! So, what does that mean for the iPad?

So, the next iPhone has descended from the heavens and is finally official. I must say, it’s an amazing creation. The video showing how the phone was engineered and built is like a scene out of a science fiction movie! And of course, it was announced with a whole new slew of features, some of which will be very significant for the iPad platform.

The most obvious of course will be the new operating system. They’ve stopped referring to it as the iPhone OS and are simply calling it iOS, presumably encompassing the iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads. Multitasking and folders are some of the more significant features, and it rolls out for the iPhones towards the end of this month. No real word yet as to when it hits for the iPad.

As an avid reader, one of the most exciting developments  for me was the announcement of an impending upgrade to the iBooks app (now available on iPhone for the first time). This would allow you to read PDF files within iBooks without the need for conversion (yay!!). I wonder if this has any implications for the sale of magazines and periodicals on the App Store. Right now, the current model for purchasing standalone, non-Zinio magazine titles (Wired, Time, Popular Science, GQ) is just too damn expensive and kludgey.

The new iBooks app will also give you the ability to create bookmarks and notes as you read. And in a neat tip of the hat to the Kindle’s Whispernet, the latest version of iBooks promises to sync your page location wirelessly across all your iDevices – so if you start reading a book on your iPad in the morning and then over lunch decide you want to read a few more chapters on your iPhone, you should be able to pick up right where you left off.

The FaceTime video chatting feature of the iPhone Quattro is extremely interesting because it could portend the arrival of a video camera in the next iteration of the iPad. True, an iPad can’t do mobile calls but the fact that FaceTime operates (for now anyway) only over WiFi makes it plausible that video chat will show up on all of Apple’s devices. But I think that releasing an iPad with a camera before the launch of iPhone 4 would have definitely diluted the effect of the new phone’s FaceTime feature.

It’s a safe bet that a variant of the Retina Display technology will eventually show up on the iPad as well, but  they’ll probably need a processor boost on the next gen iPad to power that large a display resolution.  To tell the truth I’m already quite pleased with the resolution of books, photos, and movies on my iPad’s display so any further improvement on pixel density will be nothing short of staggering.

Together with the iPhone’s HD video recording capabilities, Jobs also announced a mobile version of iMovie for more sophisticated editing. It remains to be seen if this app will run on the iPad, but it just seems logical to see a scenario where you shoot video with the phone and then export it to the tablet for easier editing and eventual presentation. You can do that with photos after all, why not movies? That, frankly, would be awesome.

These are my preliminary thoughts as the announcement sinks in. We’ve been given a peek at the future roadmap of Apple’s mobile devices (iPad 2.0 will be fantastic, and we’re still trying to get used to iPad 1.0!), and it’s exciting as hell. I can’t help but marvel at how Apple has somehow gotten to the stage where they’ve got two legitimate, powerful operating systems (Mac OS X and iOS) out there powering their machines. As hardware improves and prices drop, will we see their convergence? Or will one dominate the other? Either way, it’s a great time to be a fanboy.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

iPad App Review Wiki – check out the work in progress

If you want to make the most of your iTunes credits, then you owe it to yourself to check out this collaborative wiki page that a couple of friends and I have started. (Login password hint: it’s the city in California where Apple HQ is located!)

We basically figured it would be useful to pool a list of the apps that we’ve purchased and post thumbnail reviews and comments. It’s a good way to discover new titles or get firsthand feedback on an app that you’ve been eyeing.  I’ll eventually migrate this page to the main blog but for now it’s a simple Writeboard page.

Go ahead and browse and if you’d like to contribute your own reviews, be my guest!

June 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The iPad: A Magical Device

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Especially when, it’s, you know, magic.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Documents to Go® Premium Now iPad Compatible – 20% off!

Another good deal that you might want to take advantage of while it lasts. Download it now!

20% OFF SALE EXTENDED! Buy now, ends 6/4/10

** Now a Universal app for iPad, iPhone & iPod touch and still the 1st & only Office suite to support viewing & editing of Word, Excel & PowerPoint files **

– Editor’s Choice Award,
– CNN: One of the best apps of 2009. Video at
– Apple’s Best Selling Apps of 2009
– 2009 “Productivity App of the Year”,
– 2009 “Best App Ever Awards” Nominee,

“DocsToGo” Premium lets you:
• EDIT, CREATE & VIEW Word, Excel & PowerPoint files (including Office 2007/2008/2010)
• View PDF, iWork & other files
• Send & receive attachments in MS Exchange and Gmail – no need to forward your email to an untrusted mail server
• Access, use & sync files stored in Google Docs, Dropbox,, iDisk & SugarSync
• Includes desktop app (Win & Mac) with 2-way file sync (Wi-Fi required)

• Supports the iPad’s high resolution screen for displaying documents
• Open & edit files directly in DocsToGo from any third party app that supports the “Open In…” file sharing feature. (E.g. the built-in iPad email app can now open supported attachments in Docs To Go)
• Supports iTunes File Sharing via USB cable for moving files between your iPad & computer

DocsToGo, now in its 11th year, is developed by DataViz, Inc., a producer of quality software for Macs & PCs for over 25 years. DocsToGo is currently pre-loaded on millions of devices around the world, including BlackBerry, Palm & others.

• View, edit & create Word (.doc, .docx) files
• InTact Technology retains original document formatting of edited files
• High fidelity viewing: embedded graphics, tables, comments, footnotes/endnotes, text boxes
• Open password-protected Word 97-2004 files
• Extensive character formatting & paragraph alignment
• Auto bullets/numbers
• Multiple Undo/Redo
• Find & Replace
• Word Count
• Table of contents & hyperlink support

• View, edit & create Excel (.xls, .xlsx) spreadsheets
• InTact Technology retains original document formatting of edited files
• Freeze rows or columns
• 111 functions
• Open password protected Excel 97-2004 files
• Extensive cell & number formatting
• Insert/delete/resize/hide/unhide rows & columns
• Rename/insert/delete sheets
• Multiple worksheets
• Multiple Undo/Redo
• Find/Find Next

• View, edit & create PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx) files
• InTact Technology retains original document formatting of edited files
• View/edit Outline & speaker notes
• Multiple Undo/Redo
• Insert/delete/duplicate/sort slides
• Go to slide
• Promote/demote bullets
• Find & Replace

• Thumbnail, Fit To Screen, Fit To Width, Actual Size & full screen views
• Go to page
• Rotate page
• Remembers last page opened
• Open password-protected PDFs

• MS Exchange e-mail and Gmail with supported attachments are downloaded into DocsToGo
• Attachments can be viewed/edited
• Supports multiple Exchange and Gmail accounts

• Download, use & sync files from Google Docs, Dropbox,, iDisk & SugarSync directly in DocsToGo
• Upload files from your iPad/iPhone to your cloud or online storage account

Users can download a desktop app for 2-way file sync using a Wi-Fi connection.
• Sync & transfer files in one easy-to-use desktop app
• Sync entire folders or select individual files

• iPhone OS 3.0 or above
• Win XP, Vista, 7 & Bonjour
• Mac OS X 10.4.10 or above (G3 Macs not supported)
• Desktop sync requires device to be connected via Wi-Fi to same network as computer
• Exchange Server 2003, 2007

More info at

Click me to download DTG Premium!

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Lonely Planet app free for a limited time – grab it now!

Rather large download at almost half a gigabyte, but hey, it’s free!

****Free in honor of the All Things Digital Conference****

Inspire your next trip with Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences – our top recommended experiences showcased through beautiful images and insights from our leading travel authors.

Our app brings together all of the recommendations from our bestselling book “1000 Ultimate Experiences,” in an iPad-friendly package. It lets you swipe, flick and thumb your way through cards with the top 1000 ideas, places and activities to showcase what’s waiting for you on the road!

App features:
* Explore Lonely Planet’s inspirational editorial content through the App’s unique and playful navigation.
* Read through our author recommendations from our “1000 Ultimate Experiences” book title.
* View professional photographs from Lonely Planet Images’ collection.
* Watch Lonely Planet TV videos from Co-founder Tony Wheeler, authors and other knowledgeable travelers.
* Share your favorite ultimate experiences with friends.

Click this photo to download the app!

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fakety faker fake fake.

This is hilarious.

Apparently in Shenzhen you can now buy the “iPed” (say it out loud and try not to giggle), an unabashedly shameless ripoff. It uses an Intel processor powering an Android-based OS, and it’s being marketed in a box that looks shockingly identical to Apple’s.

While you can’t deny that it performs essentially the same functions as Apple’s own device, at a tiny fraction of the cost ($105, and you can probably haggle that down further) … sigh … I dunno man. I dunno.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments