Archive for the ‘e-books’ Category

The iPad: A Review

May 29, 2010

[Note to reader; I’m assuming you’re familiar with the iPhone OS to some extent in this article].

 

Since the US launch of the iPad at the beginning of April, worldwide customers hankered for the news of their own launch dates. Just a few weeks ago, UK customers, along with those from eight other countries, including, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Japan were able to pre-order their iPads for a 28TH May release date, while other countries still anxiously await their launch date, expected to be announced sometime in July.

 

I, along with many others, pre-ordered my iPad, opting for the 32 Gig wifi model and impatiently waited for it to arrive. It came early though, a day in fact and am I glad I was home Thursday morning to receive my new toy. I created an unboxing podcast and could not wait to play with the iPad.

 

Initial Reaction

GORGEOUS!

It’s sleek and very aesthetic, even to the touch. A slightly curved back with the smooth glass touch screen we were promised. Everything about the iPad, before you switch it on is beautiful. And I don’t believe I’m saying this because I genuinely love Apple products. The keys are seamlessly fitted into the device and nothing looks out of place on this sleek unit.

 

Setting Up!

 

The setting up process is such a breeze. Literally, plug it in, register it and turn on universal access and off you go.

[Note, the device needs to be connected to a computer running the latest version of iTunes for it to work so you do need a computer to utilise the iPad.]

setting up voice over or Zoom or contrast on the iPad is very similar to the way it is achieved on the touch, iPhone, nanos and the shuffles. In summary within the iPad, or as voice over calls it in iTunes, iPod scroll area, VO to universal access and select voice over on under the “seeing” section. Once the iPad has synced, voice over will come on as I’m sure the other desired methods will.

 

You have a choice to use back-ups from any other devices, I.E. iPhone or I’m assuming iPod Touch. I chose to not do this as I wanted to customise the iPad at my own leisure and although I have put a few of my iPhone apps on the device, I didn’t want them all there.

 

First Use!

 

Using the iPad is as Steve Jobs said, “Magical”. It feels at home under your fingers and when taking the experience at a leisurely pace, you can truly appreciate the style the iPad has. It is a lot bigger than other touch devices that people may be used to using but that is an advantage. Using apps like settings, mail and safari gives an intricate experience with the iPad screen. Now, you can select a general setting in the settings app and see all of your choices without having to go back to the previous page if you want to select the mail/contacts/calendar settings, for example in Settings. Mail is beautiful on the iPad, being able to see your emails in the left column and read the message in the main screen area. And Safari definitely utilises the screen giving the browsing experience a whole new level of smoothness and realness.

 

iBooks, worth it?

 

Although the UK store is not populated to capacity, and I am realistic about this fact, it will take time to become my primary book source, it is amazing. I’ve downloaded a few free classics so far and have searched the store for some titles and found a few that I shall be purchasing soon. The search function was a little tricky at first but this is where one of the new gestures comes into its own. Although, the four-finger-swipe can be used in apps like mail or settings to jump from the selection list down the left side to the content area and vice versa, I didn’t comprehend it would work in the app or iBook store. But it does. I four-finger-swiped and was able to type my search, swipe again and see the results. A wonderful edition to the Apple repertoire of gestures.

 

Actually reading on the app is wonderful. I can lay my iPad down and let it read to me or use my fingers to scan down the page. It’s a very personal experience of reading books I’ve not experienced before. Braille has to be read word to word and audio has someone else’s voice and interpretation while iBooks utilises the voice over voice, your own interpretation is very real.

 

Twitter, IM and social Networks?

 

As I no longer have a facebook account, I shall comment on the social networks I have used on the iPad. Twitter Apps are few and far between on the iPad right now. Some of my favourites have not yet transgressed to the iPad. However I’ve found an app for the iPad that is accessible and works good enough. Not had that much experience to comment on some features but it reads your timelines, you can reply, DM, retweet and such but no list support as yet. And I’m assuming there’s multiple account support but haven’t tried so don’t quote me on that. That app is Tweet and it’s free.

 

I haven’t found an iPad specific app for apps such as Fring or Nimbuzz which I use on the iPhone so I’m using the fring app for now. I have it in full screen mode and still works nicely. They tend to only work in portrait and seen as I have my iPad in landscape for the majority of use, this can be a slight annoyance but once the app is Ipad specific, [let’s keep hoping], it’ll work beautifully. There is a slight border around the screen in full mode but it is still workable.

 

Skype works nicely on the iPad too. In the UK, still no iPad specific app but I’m told they have one in the US now so we’ll just have to wait for our version to hit the App store.

 

Typing!

 

I immediately opted for touch typing mode which I love. This can be changed while in an edit field with the rotor setting. I am finding I’m becoming quicker all of the time but will still opt for my wireless keyboard for extensive use. Touch typing will become easier and feels very natural. When I go to type on my iPhone, I hold the key down to hear the phonetic letter and it of course never comes and often forget to split tap to enter text. I cannot wait for touch typing in 4.0 on the iPhone. Typing on an almost full sized keyboard feels good and even if your finger is a letter out, sliding it to the right letter and lifting up feels great. Double tapping here will lead you to the need of a lot of deleting.

 

The phonetic speaking letters are a welcome edition to the iPhone OS and will strongly be looking forward to utilising this function on the iPhone.

 

 

Sound quality!

One Word! Awesome! The speaker sounds wonderful and the US voice I opt to use sounds incredible. Music and videos perform nicely and even though I haven’t tried it yet, I’m assuming headphones will sound just as crisp and clear.

 

Weight!

 

It is heavier than the touch and iPhone but this seemed obvious to me. Its compact and durable and I like the weight so I don’t lose it somewhere. It is not so heavy you could not carry it around with ease and yet it’s not light enough that you will forget it’s on your lap.

 

Overall Impressions!

I waited eagerly since the announcement in January and I have to say I am delighted with the product. Is it worth the money? Ask me that after a few weeks of working with it but I will go out there on a limb and say yes, I’m glad I paid for such a revolutionary product. Do I think it’s an oversized iPhone? No! It’s a different product entirely and the beauty of it is, people will choose to use their iPads for their own uses. There’s no rule book when it comes to the iPad and that is what I love the most about it.

 

 

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The iPad is Coming! the iPad is coming!

May 7, 2010

The iPad is coming! The iPad is coming!

Apple today announced today, 7TH May 2010 that the iPad is being rolled out to Australia, Canada, the UK, Spain, france, Germany, Italy, Japan and switzerland on 28TH May. So far, UK pricing has been released as follows:
Wifi 16 gig, £429
Wifi 32 Gig, £499
Wifi 64 Gig, £599
Wifi + 3G, £529
Wifi + 3G, £599
Wifi + 3G, £699
All prices include VAT and can be pre-ordered 10TH May with apple. all models can be bought through Apple’s online store or their retail stores and through selective third party retailers.

The iBooks app will also be released in these countries on the same day but release dates, pricing for other countries is expected in July.

So finally we have a date. Now the choice is in your hands, if to buy, which model do you get your eager hands on?

Opening The Door with Apple’s IPad?

April 1, 2010

With the launch of Apple’s next big thing on the US horizon, it is hard to escape the many articles either reviewing or speculating about the IPad.

When it was announced back in January that the IPad, otherwise known as the much anticipated Apple Tablet, rumours began to fly about all kinds of things. For those of us interested in the accessibility, Apple did not fail to deliver, including the much loved and used voice over feature on the IPad.

Since its introduction last June, the voice over feature on the IPhone and IPod Touch consequently in september, has enabled thousands of visually impaired users to utilise the products as freely as their sighted counterparts with no extra cost. Despite everyone being uncertain whether it would be introduced last year, it has possibly become an assumption that Apple would not leave out this excellent, innovative feature. And even as the IPad was launched, we soon learned that voice over was indeed featured on there too.

However, questions began to rise in conjunction with a new Apple store launching and what it would mean for the visually impaired and dyslexic users of the IPad and its technology. IBooks promise to potentially open up doors never as open as before. As true that there are organisations in many countries around the world that offer merely a fragment of printed materials in alternative formats, the amount of that content available compared to the general market is miniscule.

Enter the IPad

At launch, this product seemed as though it could be the answer to many avid readers’ dreams. Especially those with a “print impairment”. If the voice over stretched to the IBooks feature at least. However, anyone who has been around this debate for the last year or so, will know that there has been many fights about whether Text to speech is actually a violation of audio copyright.

Most of us sensible people would state that audio books are completely different to those read by a screen reader. However, the author’s gild did not agree with that notion and filed a suit against Amazon and its Kindle reader last year to ensure a feature was available to authors/publishers to turn off the speech functionality of the Kindle if they so desired.

granted, I realise that this protects the content somewhat from hackers but as no expert in the matter I will comment no further on this except to say, while you’re keeping the hackers out you are also blocking millions of readers from accessing the material because of an impairment. Even though the Author’s gild still seem rather adamant about the reading aloud situation, I’m not entirely certain Apple will back down as easily as Amazon did.

Apple’s policy of universal access would completely be in disarray if Apple allowed the voice over feature to be turned off on certain books. Not to mention the fact that it should be an individual’s right to choose how they read a book. For those who are print impaired, walking into a bookstore and picking up a book is not an option. Audio books are only on occasion made in comparison to publication of print books so Ebooks seems like the most viable option to not only avid readers but to students alike.

Imagine, trying to study and be unable to get hold of the core text because it is simply not available in the format you need. Thousands of print editions but no other alternative and if there is, I.E. an Ebook you are unable to read it because the devices capable of doing so have been blocked access because the author’s gild deem your screen reader as equivalent to a human voice.

It does seem Apple have not gone into this with their eyes shut, they rarely do but after reading and rereading the statement on their Ibooks feature page where it says,
“iBooks works with VoiceOver, the screen reader in iPad, so it can read you the contents of any page.” and maybe I am reading too much into this but it says can read the contents of “any page”. That suggests that the DRM ability like so many other devices has protected against the “print impaired” users accessing the books does not exist here. Apple does not state, will read all the content on an unprotected book’s page or anything to that affect. So, I do conclude that Apple have
A. Thought this through and
B. are keeping to their universal access policy.

The IPad, along with being a potentially fun and innovative way to do work on the go or watch movies in the car could also possibly open up the reading and studying world for millions of people that has remained firmly closed because of simple red tape.

Welcome the IPad and yet another product from Apple that just keeps making me and many others love their products more.

The Kindle, the Authors Gild and the Visually impaired!

May 15, 2009

If you are either a tech freak or a book worm, it might have come across your attention about the kindle or the kindle app for the iphone. The Kindle is a small hand held device to which you can read books purchased electronically, also known as E books. The app for the iphone works in a similar way. The kindle is not quite accessible for the visually impaired community but with the inbuilt TTS [text to speech], it seemed possible that Amazon might one day make the Kindle’s menus utilise the inbuilt TTS and provide the visually impaired community with a broader range of reading materials through the smart device. The device enables users to read books purchased online and read the contents instead of buying a paper back book. This device already has the ability to read the books aloud, allowing users to drive or perform other tasks without actually looking at the device so making it a safe device to use while driving but in that, would also make the Kindle a handy tool for the visually impaired community.

Currently, in the UK, only around 10 percent of books are converted into braille and although audio books are becoming more readily available, it is still lacking in time and quantity. The last Harry Potter book was the only book in the series to be published at the same time as the print one but previously, all books take time to produce and so readers can wait longer for that much anticipated title. The RNIB have been working hard to get more books published faster but this obviously will take some time to implement successfully.

The introduction of the Kindle and Amazon’s promise
Amazon’s Kindle’s blog
would have made the Kindle the greatest accessory to a visually impaired person’s electronic book library. It would have given us the ability to read books at the same time as our sighted peers and pay the same amount for the books as everyone else does, not being penalised for the fact we are unable to read print along with everyone else.

Enter the Author’s Gild!

This organisation claims to benefit authors and protect their rights but they have decided to claim against the kindle being allowed to use TTS.
The Author’s Gild homepage

They claim that it goes against author’s and publishers copyrights to have the inbuilt TTS in the Kindle read their books. This claim, in my opinion is preposterous. They insist it is about protecting their author’s rights and suggest to Amazon or someone else to make a third party device that could be fully blind accessible while suggesting that an activation on an account would enable a visually impaired user to download all of the e-books that will have the TTS lock lifted on them to enable the V.I community to use all books on Amazon or any Kindle compatible sites. Read the Article here

But doesn’t this increasingly send up the problems of expensive technology which as a V.I community we are already subjected too? For some Visually impaired people, third party software or techology is simply unaffordable and don’t we take a risk by passing this suggested “new device” over to a third party or even to Amazon, to increase the price of the product? Sure the books may remain the same price in the long run but Amazon are quite happy to work with the kindle and attempt to get it fully accessible soon and yet the author’s gild are not happy about this still. As a writer myself, I would have no objections to sighted or none sighted to listen to my work, as long as they paid for it and to suggest that TTS was anything like a narrator reading the book is pathetic! I use TtS all of the time and even the most human like voice on the Mac [Alex] does not compete with human readers.

If anyone has bought an audio book recently, you will know the extent of damage it can cause to your pocket. On the audio website I purchase books from, most can range from £10 to £20 or even £25 and even then, not all books are available. I looked into buying the Harry Potter series on audio a few months ago and quickly decided against it when I discovered it would cost me over £200 to get the entire collection. That is seven books that I could have bought as a box set from a high street retailer for £35 in hardback. And the Author’s gild still see fit for the Kindle to be anti TTS?

Most writers just want their work to be read and if that many more visually impaired people could purchase their books online and have full access to the same books sighted people could, wouldn’t it lift sales? I mean, for them to argue the TTS is like audio and people would not buy the audio anymore is a weak and counter productive argument. I would personally buy more books if they were the prices my sighted peers could pay for them brand new and not the triple or quadruple prices of audio books. By them stating it would damage the audio market, are they not just stating that they want the visually impaired community to keep supplementing that market and again segregate visually impaired people from the mainstream markets. By introducing a separate device for the kindle would do just that and I’m no expert but I do believe it would cause the price of the Kindle to soar making more visually impaired people unable to access the books and forcing them to buy into a market that is already extortionate? Maybe I’m assuming the worst but no good has ever come from third party software in my visually impaired opinion. If a company is willing to make the changes for all of their customers, it makes sense and it seems fair. Why should Visually impaired people, or anyone who cannot buy into the mainstream market be penalised for it? The author’s gild is trying to protect publishers in my humble opinion, not writers for writers would probably make more money out of an electronic market leaving all the middle men out of it! Maybe, and I am clearly speculating, but just maybe their own asses is all they are protecting. How many writers can say they don’t want their work to be read, and it would by millions more if the kindle was able to read all of their books once the accessible menus are put in by amazon.

Let’s make the Kindle and all the books in the world, accessible to all! Please!