Apple, Comics, Journal, Musings, Technology

The Apple Pencil has Reignited my Love of Drawing

The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil. After many years, my love of drawing has been reignited and transported to the digital age.

Friends of mine from childhood, high school and college remember me as someone who loved to draw. Armed with reams of continuous pin fed dot matrix computer paper from my father’s workplace, my elementary school friends and I would draw battleships and castles. Our fortresses featured various dungeons, moats and parapets to defend the inhabitants from the invading hordes. Our vessels would have multiple 16-inch cannons, missile launchers, and enough anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine weaponry to repel any assault on our naval fleet. As I entered middle and high school, I began reading comic books and drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman in my sketchbooks.

Yet, as much as I loved computers, I never took a liking to drawing digitally. Tools like Illustrator still confound me to this day for anything but the most simplistic projects. I remember buying one of the first Wacon Intuos tablets, but I could never get used to the experience of looking at the screen while drawing on the tablet. It felt unnatural and I yearned for that 1:1 experience. I realize that many people have no problem with this approach, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve tried numerous styluses, both dumb ones and those with Bluetooth for my iPhone and iPad, but none could replicate the feeling of drawing on paper.

Today, Wacom has its Cintiq line, Samsung has the Galaxy Note 5 which features a halfway decent stylus in the S-Pen (though the screen is too small for the type of drawing I would like to do) and Microsoft has Surface tablets which come with high-precision styluses. As a longtime Apple user, however, I could not bear myself to switch platforms.

With all that said, one can imagine my excitement with the announcement of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The videos depicting the Pencil in action were impressive, and I waited with great anticipation at midnight of launch day to order the Pro and Pencil. While I was able to pick up my iPad Pro on day one, my Pencil was backordered for three to four additional weeks. In some ways, this was good, because it gave me the chance to become more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML documents.

I didn’t buy the iPad Pro for typing; I bought it to draw! So last week, I began calling Apple Retail stores around the peninsula, asking if they had any Pencils in stock. I was initially told that all Pencils were backordered, and that they wouldn’t be arriving for weeks. Then, I read reports that small batches were indeed arriving at retail stores, including the one nearest to my house. I went to that store on the morning of the 19th. The specialist informed me that while none were in stock at the moment, more were coming later in the day. So, back home I went and waited until after lunch. As I entered the Apple Store, my eyes went directly to the shelf  where the Pencils should have been. My heart sank when I saw an empty shelf. Fortunately, my prayers were answered; they had 10 more in the back!

Up until now, I have been using an Adonit Jot Touch Bluetooth Stylus1 and Procreate on an original iPad mini for my digital illustrations. Shown above is a page from a children’s book that I am making for my son. While the Jot Touch was certainly better than using my fingers, I have not been entirely satisfied with it. The lag, the weird plastic disc at the tip, and the buttons that I kept pressing by accident were annoying. The lack of good palm rejection in all of the iOS apps I’ve tried to date made drawing an awkward experience.

The Apple Pencil resolves all of these problems to my satisfaction. It has the least lag or latency of any stylus I’ve ever used due to the high sampling rate between the Pencil’s movements on the iPad Pro’s display. The tip of the Pencil is small and precise; where I place it is where the digital ink appears. I know Wacon tablet users love their buttons, but I like the fact that there are no buttons on the Apple Pencil; there’s nothing to accidentally press. Finally, palm rejection is extremely good across several applications like Paper, Procreate, and Notes. I am so glad to be able to place the side of my hand right on the screen without worrying that a big splotch would appear! And while there remain times when I see a stray ink mark, it happens so infrequently that it’s not a problem for me.

Procreate from Savage Interactive is an excellent painting application that offers multiple layer support, perspective tools, dozens of pre-set brushes, and an easy-to-use interface. It also records everything you do in the app, making it easy to see how I went from a blank canvas to the finished Spider-Man drawing.

It’s only been a few days, but to say that I am satisfied with the Apple Pencil is an understatement. For artists like me who never got accustomed to drawing on graphics tablets like the Wacom Intuos, didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a Cintiq, nor felt the need to switch platforms, the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro is a game changer. And the great thing is that this technology is only going to get better. I’d welcome using the Apple Pencil on a smaller iPad for those times when I want a more portable drawing system. I’d also like to see better iCloud support in Procreate so that I can easily switch between art projects on all of my devices. I fully expect to do much more drawing in the future, now that the technology has matched my expectations.

Lastly, I pulled the old Apple Bluetooth headset dock to function as a charging stand for the Apple Pencil. I connected a 30-pin to Lightning adapter to the Pencil’s female-to-female Lightning adapter to complete the system. The port for the headset is magnetized, so the Pencil’s cap won’t roll off the table.

Here are some more articles and reviews of the Apple Pencil that are worth reading:

1 I originally wrote that I had a Jot Pro, but it’s really a Jot Touch. Mine is an older version of the one Adonit sells today, and it features a plastic disc instead of a normal looking plastic nib at the pen’s tip.

Using the iPad Pro software keyboard is remarkably  fast and accurate, as long as you can master the Shift key.
Apple, Technology

Thoughts on the iPad Pro’s Software Keyboard

A week into the release of the iPad Pro, much has been written about its use as a laptop replacement. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that he travels with just an iPad Pro and an iPhone. Day one iPad Pro reviewers were given two hardware keyboards to evaluate: the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Create. The media was generally positive towards the feel of the two keyboards, with most preferring the Create’s plastic keys over the Smart Keyboard’s fabric keys. They were less impressed by the extra bulk the keyboards added and the incomplete integration of external keyboards in iOS 9. For instance, there is a keyboard shortcut to initiate a Spotlight search, but there is no way (yet) to select one of the search results. As a result, one still needs to reach up and touch the screen frequently, and this can get tiring over time. When paired with the Smart Keyboard or the Create, the iPad Pro becomes larger and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display or the 11-inch MacBook Air it aspires to replace in the eyes of some users.

Less emphasis has been given to the iPad Pro’s software keyboard in the reviews, which is a shame because I think it’s the best software keyboard implementation I’ve used yet. Thanks to the large 12.9″ display, the Pro’s virtual keyboard is almost the same size as Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. The width of the keyboard is almost a perfect match, and the height of the soft keys is a few millimeters shorter than the physical keys.

The iPad Pro's software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The iPad Pro’s software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The keyboard layout is nearly the same as the physical keyboard shown above. Instead of the Fn, Control, Option and Command keys, we have the Keyboard Layout, Alternate Key, and Dictation buttons. Also missing is the Esc key and the various function keys adorning the top row of the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Pro’s soft keyboard even features a tab and caps lock key. It is worth noting that the number and delete keys are half the height of the alpha keys; they do take some time getting used to, as you have to be careful not to accidentally hit the Undo, Redo, Paste, Predictive suggestions or Editing buttons above them.

All this makes typing on the iPad Pro familiar and satisfying compared with the software keyboards on previous iPads. And, with a few tweaks, I was able to make the Pro’s soft keyboard function nearly identically to a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Inputing HTML on the iPad Pro

Anyone who has ever tried inputting HTML1 on iOS devices knows how maddening and time-consuming that task can be. For instance, entering the left angled bracket character takes three taps on the iOS software keyboard: 123 button, #+= button, and the < key. Editing a blog post in WordPress through Mobile Safari is an exercise in patience and not for the faint of heart2. And, while there are apps that add HTML formatting keys above the standard software keyboard (i.e. Panic’s Coda), their keyboards normally don’t transfer to other applications3.

Two frustrating things when inputting HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or any non-English terms are Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Both of these features are great when you’re typing things like emails, texts, and Facebook updates, but all bets are off if you want to write code.

Since the iPad Pro’s software keyboard looks like a real keyboard, how about configuring it as close as possible to a real keyboard? Turning off the Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correction in Settings > General > Keyboards does exactly that.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro's keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro’s keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Check out the following 2-minute video that shows entering some basic HTML in the iPad Pro’s Notes app, with and without Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct.

  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct ON: 1 minute and 20 seconds
  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct OFF: 30 seconds

That’s nearly three times faster, with far fewer finger gymnastics and headaches. I’ll take it!

Don’t get me wrong, both Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct are great in most cases. Being able to turn these off and use the software keyboard like a regular keyboard, however, means I won’t dread using the iPad to make changes to webpages or to type longer passages of text. And, it lessens the need to have a physical keyboard with you in order to effectively use the iPad Pro. I do wish that long-pressing on the keyboard layout button would display additional options to toggle Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Switch modes from the keyboard is way faster than going into Settings > General > Keyboard to change the settings.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Swipe Up Tip

Update: November 19, 2015: On previous iPad devices, one could swipe up on two characters on the software keyboard, the period and comma keys to output the quote and double quote characters. On the iPad Pro, this feature has been extended to all of the number and symbol keys. Swiping up from the one key will output exclamation point and swiping up on semi-colon key will output the colon character. This makes even faster to input alternate characters since one doesn’t have to press (and/or hold) the shift key.

One can also press and hold on the keys to display alternate letters, but I find swiping up to be faster in practice. Pressing and holding is required for certain alpha keys since they feature more  alternate letters.

Ergonomics Revisited

On the flipside, I recognize that typing on the iPad Pro’s keyboard in slate orientation with the Smart Cover comes with some downsides in the ergonomics department. In this setup, my neck is angled down and my back is hunched over the iPad. Prolonged typing sessions like these will make those muscles very uncomfortable.

Thus, is the best way to use an iPad Pro at the desk similar to what we do today with laptops? Hook up the iPad Pro to an external display or elevate the iPad Pro so it’s more in line with our eyes? In the first scenario, one could touch type on the iPad Pro’s while looking at the external display, looking down only to tap or swipe. Alternatively, one could use an external Bluetooth keyboard while looking at the elevated iPad or the monitor.

These two scenarios are illustrated below with the iPad Pro’s screen mirrored on an Apple Thunderbolt Display. How this is possible, one might ask, given that the iPad doesn’t have a Lightning-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It turns out that one can use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror an iOS device connected via a regular USB-to-Lightning cable.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Use Quicktime Player's Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro's screen onto your Mac.

Use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro’s screen onto your Mac.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

One can also use OS X El Capitan’s Split Screen feature to have both iOS and OS X operating side-by-side in fullscreen mode! I admit to some confusion when using this setup; I half expected the cursor on the iPad to move when I used the mouse to click in the iOS window on my Mac! Microsoft would beg to differ with its Windows 10 operating system and device lineup, but I agree with Cook that in the case of OS X and iOS, the two operating systems shouldn’t be merged into one.

Who says a Mac and an iPad can't share the same screen?

Who says a Mac and an iPad can’t share the same screen?

Future Improvements

For me, an external keyboard has always been faster at inputting data than the iPad’s software keyboard. The iPad Pro’s, however, comes closest to emulating a physical keyboard. If Apple adds the Taptic Engine and 3D Touch hardware to the iPad Pro, the software keyboard could get even better. One could imagine being able to tune the amount of force needed to signal a keypress. I’d imagine it would be a power hog, so maybe it would only work when plugged into the mains. And, it’s at least one or two generations away, but I am excited about the prospects!

27-inch iPad Ultra Pro?

I’ll end this article on a fun note. Here’s a photo of my iPad Pro’s home screen displayed on my 27-inch Thunderbolt Display in fullscreen mode. Can you imagine this is what a 27-inch iPad Ultra Pro might look like?

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

1 Old habits die hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I normally eschew the visual, WYSIWYG editors and prefer to edit webpages in HTML.

2 The WordPress app hasn’t been optimized for the iPad Pro’s software keyboard. The app works better for stock WordPress sites, but is not optimal for those who run heavily customized WordPress installations.

3 Is there a Custom Keyboard for HTML editing on iOS? A quick search on the iOS App Store didn’t reveal much.


Steve Jobs Was Technology's Change Agent

As the world says goodbye to Steve Jobs, I’d like to share a few stories and photos of my own as I reflect on his death and legacy.

Steve Jobs in front of a slide of himself and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak before revealing the iPad in 2010.

Growing Up With Apple

I’ve long had a love affair with Apple and its products. My parents purchased an Apple II computer for the family back in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The computer was a ticket to faraway worlds, and I spent countless hours playing games such as Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, and Pirates. I learned how to type on the Apple II, and my earliest memory of programming was from watching my brother tinker with Midway Campaign, changing the game’s enemies from the Japanese to the Soviets.

My earliest photo with an Apple product. Look how happy I am next to the Apple II computer!

Read the rest of this post »

Apple, MsgFiler, Software

MsgFiler Review on Macworld and Betalogue


Catching up on great reviews of MsgFiler on Macworld and Betalogue. Dan Frakes gave MsgFiler a 4.5 mice rating!

MsgFiler is the fastest way to move, copy, and label messages in Mail. It also offers useful features for navigating and managing mailboxes.

Betalogue’s review of MsgFiler covered the MsgFiler’s transition from an Apple Mail Plugin to a Mac App Store application. While there were some initial bumps and bruises with the launch, the current 3.0.2 release is pretty stable on Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

There do remain some problems with MsgFiler and the current Developer Preview 3 of Mac OS X Lion (namely filing via AppleScript and not using the MsgFiler Engine). I have filed several bug reports with Apple, and I’m hoping that these will fixed in a future Developer Preview. I for one hope that Apple does not release Lion at WWDC next month, since that would leave me and other app developers scrambling to rewrite our apps with inefficient workarounds. With the App Store review process taking anywhere from one to two weeks, there’s not much time between now and WWDC next month. I’ll be there for the third consecutive year, so I’ll be sure to talk to Apple’s Mail developers at the conference.

Apple, Journal, MsgFiler, Software

MsgFiler 3.0 – Coming Soon to the Mac App Store


Update February 27, 2011: The wait is over. MsgFiler is now available on the Mac App Store!

While I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, I’m happy to announce the upcoming release of MsgFiler 3.0, available exclusively on the Mac App Store. I submitted the app for approval last week, and it’s currently awaiting review.

Astute readers might stop and ask, “Wait a minute, aren’t Mail plugins not allowed on the Mac App Store?” You’re right that they aren’t, but MsgFiler is no longer a Mail plugin! In a way, MsgFiler has come full circle. The original release was a separate application built using AppleScript Studio. MsgFiler 2.0 was rewritten as a Mail plugin. Now with MsgFiler 3.0, it’s back to being a separate application that communicates with Mail via AppleScript. Longtime users should not worry; there’s still tight integration between MsgFiler 3.0 and Mail.

I’m excited about the new features in MsgFiler 3.0, many of which were direct requests from users over the years:

  • Favorite mailboxes
  • Recent mailboxes
  • Ability to create new mailboxes from within MsgFiler
  • Configurable default action
  • Exclude mailboxes
  • Match on mailbox names only
  • Restrict search to selected accounts
  • Full keyboard access

Check out the MsgFiler 3.0 product video. I’m sure it will get you pumped up and ready to buy it when it becomes available!

There will be a special introductory price of $4.99 for MsgFiler the first week it’s on the Mac App Store. That’s right, you’ll be able to get MsgFiler at 50% off for one week only!

I’m really excited about this new release, and how it’s going to help Mac users save time decluttering their inboxes!

Apple, Reviews, Technology

11.6-inch MacBook Air Thoughts

The new 11.6-inch MacBook Air on top of the 12-inch PowerBook G4 and the original PowerBook 100.Since the Apple Event announcing the new MacBook Airs, I’ve been using a loaner unit of the 11.6-inch Air. I won’t bore you with yet another standard review of the Air; instead, I’ll share some thoughts from the historical perspective of a longtime Apple laptop owner.

Steve Jobs called the new Airs as the future of laptops. No doubt, but these seeds were planted many years ago by previous laptops and mobile devices.

Read the rest of this post and see the photos »