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Conductor for Your Mac and iPad

Conductor - An iPad app for the aspiring presentation performerDevelopers M3ME have created an application that enables your iPad as an input device. You can use your tablet as a full-enabled trackpad, with all of the features found on a MacBook Pro. This is a very cool app with that functionality alone. Combine that with an integrated launcher that creates an iOS-like UI for your Mac’s applications and the ability to switch quickly and easily from one application to another via an additional UI and this application makes multi-media presentations and demos a snap.

If you had ever been in a client presentation that required “alt-tabbing” through multiple applications to deliver your message, the $9.99 price tag is easy to swallow. You can see a full demo on their website or download it via the AppStore.

The iPad As Artistic Medium

Artist David Kassan is shown leveraging Apple’s iPad as both palette and medium. Kassan, who works in both traditional and digital mediums, is using Brushes, a digital painting application, for the iOS platform.

LiveView For Mac

If you design or develop for any of the web, iPhone or iPad LiveView is a must-have app. Essentially a screencasting tool, it allows the user to place a “virtual” device on their host mac and share that marque view with an iPad or iPhone via WiFi. Great tool, genius idea. John Hicks has posted a video that does the product justice.

Quick demonstration of how LiveView works from Jon Hicks on Vimeo.

iPad, Apps and Publishing

The App and the Interactive CD-ROM: What do they have in common?Apple’s iPad has been out for a few months and there is still quite a bit of excitement as publications begin to experiment with this new platform. Both Popular Mechanics and WIRED had been quick to release 2 very impressive “App” versions of their publication. Both of these pieces are very engaging and mirror content found in their print publication. The interactive versions include some dynamic enhancements including video content, interactive 3D models and social media integration. Of course, there are also video-based ads and dramatically animated advertisements. These pieces, and a number of other publications that have been released in the AppStore, are showcases for what can be implemented on these platforms.

Despite how impressive these applications are, they are not the future of publishing. In fact, these publications offer none of the benefits of what an “App” can offer at all. The WIRED application as well as PM and many other newly launched periodicals available in the AppStore are merely screenshots of the print publications they are replacing. There is interactivity and user engagement not found in the pulp-versions, but there is no evidence of what is really driving people to online media: Real-time, always on information. One of the most attractive qualities of the web is the ability to retrieve information as it becomes available: RSS, cross-linking, related posts, comments. These are all data-points flowing into one another as a real-time conversation. The “new publication” model utilizes few, if any of these differentiators.

What I am especially discouraged by is how closely the new “publication as app” model resembles the CD-ROM boom of the early 90′s. Very much like the iPad publication hype, CD-ROMs where supposed to change the way that media was distributed. CD-ROMs fell from popularity because they where proprietary, not easily shared, difficult to update and did little to further user engagement beyond what was already being offered in the market. I don’t want to come across as an Apple hater or someone who doesn’t think the iPad is a paradigm shift. My issue is with publishers who believe that porting their print materials to a screen and accompanying a few interactive elements is going to save or reinvent their industry.

Equally as offensive to the “interactive” arrangement of JPG and PNG files is the cost model that is being provided for subscribers. Although the cover price is similar to what is found on the traditional newsstand, the development costs don’t seem to warrant the $4.99 app costs that need to be paid every-month for an issue. One hope I had for the new publication model is that without the cost for printing and shipping, that the hyper-engaged advertising opportunity would provide a reduced subscription cost. Instead, users are downloading 400, 500 and even 600MB+ files into their devices to deliver advertising (a issue still pending is how metered bandwidth will affect this model as over-the-air download of these applications is not available via AT&T). Even with the proliferation of broadband, the “web” as a rule is still very lean and content can be provided over a range of bandwidths while maintaining a decent user experience.

The iPad offers so many opportunities for developers and content creators. The massive selection of useful applications is a testament to that. Taking the WIRED and PM samples to task, the solution that should have been implemented is one that provides a subscription “stub” on the device with a framework for the publisher to populate daily or over the course of the month as opposed to a traditional release cycle. This would provide a benefit beyond traditional content delivery and make user engagement more meaningful. This would also lessen the storage footprint and make the application more serviceable to those who have purchased devices with smaller amounts of memory. Advertising would be downloaded on a cycle so that the ad-model itself would apply as it does now. Interactive ads could pull “on-demand” with smaller portions of the ads cached and delivered under a “no-charge” bandwidth model-perhaps the Apple iAd service. I think an offering like this is more valuable and more inline with what the iPad’s benefit is to it’s users: Always-on content delivery that is up-to-the minute.

Consuming and Creating

The release of the iPad and its settling into the market point to a distinction between the devices and software we use to “consume” media and create it. The digital workstation is long overdue for an overhaul and Microsoft Research is developing a solution. In recent demonstrations, Microsoft is leveraging their Surface technology to create a naturally manipulated user interface to draw, write, cut, copy and paste digital data. The demonstration presented shows how you can marry user input devices, in this case a pen, with touch to treat the screen as if it is a true “art-board”.

Surface, as demonstrated here, goes beyond previous generations of tablet and touch interfaces like those currently offered from Wacom and Adesso. Although these input devices make use of naturalistic behavior, they offer a limited surface area for manipulation and lack the utility of multi-touch demonstrated on the Surface technology. Both Microsoft and Apple have incorporated mutli-touch into their native operating systems, the keyboard and mouse software is still the primary paradigm for operation. This is partially due to software developers not yet taking advantage of the new native APIs available in the operating systems, but also a lack of clear indication as to how users will use these technologies. The introduction and evolution of “consumption” dedicated devices like the iPad may yield an answer.

Having used Wacom tablets for year and recently being able to spend time with the Surface, both offer an add a freedom beyond the mouse. Both pressure sensitivity and a natural movement allows fast and quick almost gesture-like actions. This is a benefit and attraction because of the nature of my work in design. I’m unsure how much wide-market appeal it will have or if, beyond page-turning and “flicking”, it can offer with today’s content structure. The iPad, the publishing industry and how developers begin to use this technology will help shape the next generation of user interface. I believe that this is why so many people are excited about the iPad and what it brings to the marketplace.

India Ink, the original content creation mediumInterface design like the one presented by Microsoft Surface is creating a completely new arena for content creation and will also influence the aesthetics of design to come. Both print and new media designers may completely change their approach with the freedom presented by these new tools. It may seem strange, but there is an entire generation of designers who may not know what it is like to sit at a drafting table or balance a bottle of India Ink in their hands while burning the midnight oil.

Thanks to John Nosta for the Microsoft Research clip inspiring this post.

About Cullmann

Chris Cullmann is a Creative Director and Online Strategist. He works for Ogilvy CommonHealth Interactive Marketing, a digital agency dedicated to healthcare marketing. His professional and personal portfolio includes interactive websites, viral and social media, and online education applications. His portfolio and observations about the design and marketing industry can be found at www.cullmanndesign.com

The opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or those who I am professionally connected.

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