One year ago, Apple launched a new product to accompany its first ever iPad Pro: the Apple Pencil. Presented not as a replacement for touch input, but as a tool geared toward specific tasks, the Pencil immediately endeared itself to creatives who sketch or illustrate. In the weeks following the announcement, I remember scouring Twitter and Instagram for any first impressions I could find from people who had tried this new device. Some of the best came from Apple's visits to Disney and Pixar, where many of my favorite movie makers seemed thrilled about the Pencil. It looked like the perfect tool for artistic tasks.
Apple's pride in creating the Pencil has been clear since they first announced it. In its already jam-packed September 2015 keynote, the company dedicated significant time and attention to the product, including a video introduction from Jony Ive and three live demos that put the Pencil to use. In this past March's keynote, when Apple announced the 9.7" iPad Pro, Phil Schiller called the Pencil "the greatest accessory Apple has ever made." High praise from a proud parent.
My initial take on the Pencil was that it seemed like a great device, but it wasn't for me. I don't sketch, I'm not a fan of handwriting notes, and using the Pencil for system navigation never appealed to me. But I bought one to give it a try. Apple's return policy made sure no money would be wasted if the Pencil became merely a pretty paperweight in my life. Within a few hours of use I discovered that while the Pencil isn't a daily-used tool for me, it is a device that, for specific tasks, I would never want to be without.
I watch a lot of TV shows and YouTube videos on my iPad Pro. Thanks to the 12.9-inch iPad's large screen and four-speaker system, watching directly on the device is a pleasure (I tend to prop up the iPad with the Razer keyboard I reviewed here) but I've also been streaming to Google Chromecast and Apple TV depending on what I want to watch (Chromecast is great for YouTube).
Every time I want to watch something, I use Infuse. I've been an Infuse Pro customer for years now and I like the app because it can stream videos from my Synology NAS and it can play anything I throw at it without issues. Yesterday, Infuse graduated to version 5, which is a separate app with a new subscription model at $6.99/year. I don't mind paying $0.58/month for an app I use several times each day, and the new version brings some welcome additions that will save me a lot of time going forward.
Infuse 5 supports Split View and Picture-in-Picture, two features that were strangely missing since the launch of iOS 9. Infuse also uses iCloud now to keep shares, favorites, metadata, and other settings in sync between devices; I don't use Infuse on my iPhone, but it's good to know I won't have to set it up from scratch. In terms of other native iOS features Infuse 5 supports, there is integration with the document picker to download files from external apps and optimizations for video playback on iOS 10.
More importantly for me, Infuse 5 can automatically download subtitles from Open Subtitles and stream videos from a connected Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive account. The first option is welcome for those times when I have some friends over who want to watch a movie in English audio and subtitles, which I usually keep disabled. Now I don't have to go looking around the web for the right version of subtitles as Infuse seems to be doing a decent job at picking up the correct .srt file from the popular subtitle service. Cloud streaming means I have an easy way to beam work-related videos from my Dropbox to my Apple TV or Chromecast while retaining the benefits of Infuse's UI.
Infuse is the only video app I keep on my iPad Pro. Unlike other video apps, Infuse combines an elegant interface and intuitive controls with powerful functionalities and integrations, which is what I need when I'm done working and want to relax at the end of a long day. Infuse 5 is available on the App Store; a paid upfront Pro version is also available at $12.99 if you don't want to subscribe annually.
Since getting a 12.9-inch iPad Pro last year, I've had a fairly troubled relationship with external iPad keyboards. I didn't like the original Logitech CREATE keyboard case, so, surprised by the lack of notable Smart Connector-based accessories, I ended up using an Apple Magic Keyboard for the majority of 2016.
Nebo is a digital notetaking app that was created by MyScript to showcase its handwriting recognition technology known as Ink. The app is iPad-only because it requires an Apple Pencil for input. Nebo can also convert hand-drawn diagrams and mathematical equations and embed photos and sketches within notes. I’ve been using Nebo to research this review and the accuracy of its handwriting recognition is remarkable. Nebo is a solid notetaking tool. It lacks a few features that would make it more competitive with notetaking apps that have been around longer, but the handwriting recognition is so good, that Nebo has become my default notetaking app.
Right at the end of the WWDC 2016 keynote, Apple announced Swift Playgrounds. This is a new app from Apple that is designed to allow children to learn to program on an iPad. This is a first from Apple and a major advance for iOS as a platform.
I was fortunate to be awarded an educator scholarship to WWDC 2016 and was privileged to be in the audience at the announcement. While attending the conference, I was able to speak with many of the engineers and educators working on Swift Playgrounds and gain an insight into what the software is capable of and the reasons why it was built.
Nock Co. founded by Brad Dowdy and Jeff Bruckwicki, has been making cases for pens and notebooks and paper products for three years. Today, Nock launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand its line of cases to include a slimline briefcase called The Lanier. Brad was kind enough to send me a prototype of The Lanier a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would share my impressions of it with MacStories readers.
Frank A. Krueger (maker of Calca, a longtime favorite of mine) has launched Continuous, a new programming app for iOS.
Continuous gives you the power of a traditional desktop .NET IDE - full C# 6 and F# 4 language support with semantic highlighting and code completion - while also featuring live code execution so you don’t have to wait around for code to compile and run. Continuous works completely offline so you get super fast compiles and your code is secure.
I like the approach he took to "doing work on the iPad" as a software developer:
I love the iPad but was still stuck having to lug around my laptop if I ever wanted to do “real work”. Real work, in my world, means programming. There are indeed other IDEs for the iPad: there is the powerful Pythonista app and the brilliant Codea app. But neither of those apps was able to help me in my job: writing iOS apps in C# and F#. I couldn’t use my favorite languages on my favorite device and that unfortunately relegated my iPad to a play thing.
I don't know C# and F#, but Continuous looks impressive and exactly like the kind of app we should see on the iPad more often. It even has full framework support for native iOS libraries such as UIKit, Foundation, and CoreImage. Reasonably priced at $9.99 on the App Store, too, with an iPhone version available.
Between Continuous, Pythonista (which recently received a brand new version 3.0), and the upcoming Swift Playgrounds, the iPad as a programming environment is growing up.
In my iOS 10 Wishes story from April1, I wrote:
I heard from multiple sources a few weeks ago that some iPad-only features will be shipped in 10.x updates following the release of iOS 10 in the Fall. I wouldn't be surprised if some iPad changes and feature additions won't make the cut for WWDC.
I didn't have high hopes for major iPad-specific features to be announced at WWDC. Still, I was disappointed to see the iPad return to the backseat2 after last year's revitalization. Every time Craig Federighi ended a segment with "it works on the iPad, too", it felt like the iPad had become an afterthought again.
After WWDC, I strongly believe that Apple has notable iPad-only features in the pipeline, but they won't be available until later in the iOS 10 cycle, possibly in early 2017.
I'm starting a new short-term project to raise money to send iPads to the Barefoot College in India.
My friend Srini Swaminathan recently asked me if we had any iPads that we could donate to the project he's working with in India. We didn't actually have any right then but we are coming up to the end of our lease at school and I thought there might be an opportunity.
Our lease requires that we either send the iPads back to the leasing company or buy the lease out. To buy out, we would need to pay back the fair market value of the iPads, which is currently about £100 per unit and we have 110.
Barefoot College, which was recently visited by Apple VP Lisa Jackson, is an organisation that trains women in rural India to build solar powered projects to help their villages. These projects include solar water heating, cooking, desalination and even data projectors for use in night schools.
Great initiative. You can donate here.