Technology, Travel

Continuing Thoughts on Portable Keyboards

I’ve been on a keyboard buying spree lately after cancelling my WayTools TextBlade order two weeks ago. While I like the iPad’s software keyboard, I can still type faster on a physical keyboard. Writing code on iOS devices prior to the iPad Pro has been a torturous exercise, with constant tapping and re-tapping of the 123 and #+= keys to access commonly used programming characters. An external keyboard makes this all so much easier.

With the money that was credited back to my account from WayTools, I now have three working keyboards that I can use with my iOS devices or Mac computers:

  • iPad Keyboard Dock (iOS only)
  • Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard
  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (MFK)

These are in addition to my venerable Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard which I’ve been happily using for the past four years.

Read the rest of this article

Standard
Rants, Technology

Cancelling my WayTools TextBlade Order

There was a draft of this post that had been waiting to be published on this blog for over four and a half months ago. It’s time to post it and provide a four-month update.

“I’m still waiting for my WayTools TextBlade multi-touch keyboard that I ordered back in January, 2015. The company said that they would ship in February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and now mid-October. Unexpected hardware changes and revisions to firmware are the reasons for the delay, but WayTools keeps telling its customers that shipments are right around the corner. I’ll believe it when the TextBlades ship. Other customers are getting restless, judging from the increase in the amount of order cancellations and disappointed posts on the WayTools forum. The company has not done itself any favors with its passive aggressive attitude on the forums and its habit of cancelling orders for those customers who complain too much.”

As a way to pass the time, I drew a twelve-month calendar for 2016 called, Waiting for TextBlade.

Waiting for TextBlade

It’s now mid-February, and the TextBlade remains an elusive product for customers. At the end of December, 2015, the company released the companion app for the keyboard on the iOS App Store, which gave hope that they would ship in January. Then, at the end of January, WayTools announced the Test Release Group (TREG), which is a shipment of pre-release TextBlades to a small group of customers (hundreds). The TREG is designed “to accelerate validation and help refine the product quality and experience.” WayTools also noted yet another hardware problem with the shield layer (that protects against leaking electrical noise) that they would be fixing.

Continue reading

Standard
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.

Update December 1, 2015: One can tell Siri to, “Open Keyboard Preferences” to quickly go to the settings page. From there, it’s a quick tap or two to turn off Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct for those times when you want to use the iPad Pro’s keyboard like a regular keyboard.

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.

Standard
Aperture, Photography

Aperture Caption AppleScript for Effortless Captioning

Update 2008-03-28: In conjunction with Aperture 2.1, Apple has released a free AppleScript-based app for captioning called Aperture Caption Palette. Check it out.

I’ve been using Aperture as my primary RAW processor for quite some time now. One thing that has been bothering me and others is the lack of a keyboard shortcut to edit the captions of successive photos. This is one reason why I’m still using iView Media Pro to handle annotating my images — it’s much faster to annotate photos using the keyboard in iView.

Since we all can’t wait for Aperture 2.0 to fix all of our problems with the app, I finally found an hour this evening to come up with a quick captioning solution. Aperture Caption is a free AppleScript that makes it really easy to caption your images one after another. You don’t even have to touch the mouse!

Aperture Caption is a free AppleScript that makes it easy to caption and keyword images in Aperture using just the keyboard.

  1. Download Aperture Caption
  2. Decompress the archive and install it in the following location:

    ~/Library/Scripts/Aperture Scripts/

  3. Make sure that you have the Scripts menu activated by running the AppleScript Utility application in the /Applications/AppleScript folder.

    AppleScript Utility

  4. Launch Aperture and select an image you wish to caption
  5. Choose Aperture Caption from the Script > Aperture Scripts menu.

    Aperture Caption in Script Menu

  6. Aperture Caption display the following dialog box on launch:

    Aperture Caption Welcome

  7. Click Captions Only to only add captions to your images. Click Captions & Keywords if you want to add both captions and keywords to your images.

    Enter your caption

  8. After entering your caption, click OK or press Return. If you launched Aperture Caption using the Captions & Keywords, another dialog prompt will appear allowing you to enter keywords for the current photo.
  9. Enter keywords for this photo

  10. Aperture Caption will then caption and keyword your image, replacing any existing caption or keywords in the image.
  11. Aperture Caption will now go to the next image until you hit Cancel.

    Aperture Caption will automatically go to the next image until you hit Cancel

Tips

If you want to add a keyboard shortcut for Aperture Caption, download FastScripts Lite from Red Sweater Software. The standard Scripts Menu in Mac OS X does not let you assign a keyboard shortcut using the Keyboards and Mouse System Preference.

Standard