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The iPad revolution in education

Fraser Speirs on Apple's recent education announcements:

Apple already revolutionized education when it invented the iPad. While iBooks textbooks are a bridge from the past to the future—and we do need a way to get to the future—they are not that future. If Henry Ford had been an educational publisher, his customers would have asked for electronic textbooks instead of faster horses.

The recent announcement of digital textbooks, iBooks creator, and iTunes U is a move (mostly1) in the right direction. My feeling is that the best is yet to come. In some ways Apple's development of the iPad is like Guttenberg's invention of the printing press. All the benefits of the web, apps, and digital communication converge seamlessly in one device. The next ten years will be interesting.

  1. Except for the draconian licensing terms associated with iBooks creator. As John Gruber put it: "This is Apple at its worst". 

Steve Jobs Remembered

Steve Jobs Remembered

Steve Jobs and Apple in Negative Space

There has been an overwhelming response to the passing of Steve Jobs. Here are some of the things that have been said that I have found moving.

Walt Mossberg from All Things Digital has put together a collection of anectodes about his various encounters with Steve. My favourite is about the infamous meeting of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at the fifth All Things Digital conference:

For our fifth D conference, both Steve and his longtime rival, the brilliant Bill Gates, surprisingly agreed to a joint appearance, their first extended onstage joint interview ever. But it almost got derailed.
Earlier in the day, before Gates arrived, I did a solo onstage interview with Jobs, and asked him what it was like to be a major Windows developer, since Apple’s iTunes program was by then installed on hundreds of millions of Windows PCs. He quipped: “It’s like giving a glass of ice water to someone in Hell.” When Gates later arrived and heard about the comment, he was, naturally, enraged, because my partner Kara Swisher and I had assured both men that we hoped to keep the joint session on a high plane.
In a pre-interview meeting, Gates said to Jobs: “So I guess I’m the representative from Hell.” Jobs merely handed Gates a cold bottle of water he was carrying. The tension was broken, and the interview was a triumph, with both men acting like statesmen. When it was over, the audience rose in a standing ovation, some of them in tears.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber posts this beautifully written memory of seeing Jobs at WWDC this past summer with a grass stain on his sneakers:

I like to think that in the run-up to his final keynote, Steve made time for a long, peaceful walk. Somewhere beautiful, where there are no footpaths and the grass grows thick. Hand-in-hand with his wife and family, the sun warm on their backs, smiles on their faces, love in their hearts, at peace with their fate.

The front page of has a series of tributes to Steve Jobs from various technology titans, including this from Bill Gates:

"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with him, it's been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely." — Bill Gates

Arstechnica is running an article called The first time I used an Apple computer was... that the various staff members are contributing to. Here is an excerpt from Ryan Paul, Arstechnica's Open Source Editor:

I went through several boxed sets of Lord of the Rings over the years, reading them with love until they fall apart. My Apple II has fared better—it is still fully functional after all this time. I kept it as a memento of the challenges I overcame when I learned to program. But after Steve’s words encouraged me to think about the joy that the Apple II brought me in my childhood, it has become a much more powerful symbol. It is the light that holds back the bitter cynicism that I’ve accumulated with age. It reminds me that magic still exists, as long as we believe.

John Siracusa, also from Arstechnica, has a touching story about the photo of the original Macintosh team he had hanging on his wall as he grew up:

In a post-Steve-Jobs world, there is no longer an excuse for large corporations to be less bold than start-ups. Elegance, character, artistic integrity, and ruthless dedication to design can no longer be derided as luxuries of those who don't have anything to lose. Apple is now one of the largest, most successful companies in the world, but it still behaves as if all of its employees could fit in a 9x7-inch photo.

Finally, there is the commercial The Crazy Ones produced in 1997. Originally Steve Jobs was to narrate the commercial, but the aired version was done by Richard Dreyfuss. Here is the never aired Steve Jobs take.

Steve Jobs's Stanford Commencement Address

From Daring Fireball

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Thank you Steve

Steve Jobs has died far too young. It is amazing how much he accomplished in his 56 years. He was one of those once-in-a-generation visionaries who transformed the computer, consumer electronics, movie, telecom, and music industries. He built a company that thinks different and is structured differently to every other company out there.

Apple, under Steve, blended that tricky mixture of engineering savvy with artistry to create devices for the rest of us. From his teenage years working for HP and Atari he had a fascination with computers and burning vision to make computers accessible to everyone. He mastered the art of addition through subtraction and fearlessly murdered his darlings.

I was just talking to Jaime this morning about what the world would have been like without Jobs. No iPhone, no Apple II, no Macintosh, no iPad, no iPod, no Pixar, no iTunes, and so much more. The technology world would be far starker and desolate without his transformative vision.

It is this vision that intrigues me the most. I recently read the interview that Playboy Magazine carried out with him in 1985 when he was 29. At that time Apple had just introduced the Macintosh which was a radical departure from any commercial computer system previously available. In the interview Steve talks about one day wanting computers to be ubiquitous devices able to communicate and network with one another to improve our lives. Steve wanted to make the computer as simple to use as an appliance so that the vast power that they represent could be accessible to everyone. He talks about the day a computer could act as a type of digital assistant capable of responding to natural language commands to help us in our tasks. With the iPad I believe that Steve has come closer than anyone else to turning the computer into an appliance (in a good way), while with yesterday's unveiling of Siri the iPhone can now act as a digital assistant. It took 26 years from the time of the article, but the vision he shared in that Playboy article has finally become a reality.

On a personal note, I switched to using a Mac seven years ago at the start of my PhD. Not for a single day have I regretted that decision. The Mac, and the generally superior software available, have dramatically reduced the friction I experience when using a computer.

Thank you Steve for making my life better.

Review of Final Cut Pro X(press)

Review of Final Cut Pro X(press)

Final Cut Pro X

Apple recently released a new version of their popular movie editing software package Final Cut Pro X. As a former Final Cut Express user (and sometimes Final Cut Pro user), I love Final Cut Pro X. I don't have a tape based work flow. I shoot with a DSLR. I work by myself. I am not an expert or professional—I just love to tell stories. After taking a couple of days to get used to the new layout, I find the changes really let me fly. Everything is so much faster now without having to wait for things to render. With the new version the software mostly stays out of my way, leaving me time to craft a story. It has made making movies fun again. This is a definite step up compared to the (now discontinued) Final Cut Express.

The Final Cut Express Prespective

People using Final Cut Express and iMovie will find a lot here to like. The new interface is much simpler to use. This is a solid foundation on which Apple can build on in the future. Much of the power has been harnessed in a way that allows complex things to be easily accomplished. For the most part I like the magnetic timeline; it makes simple cuts quick to achieve. The new trim tool is also cleverly done. Audio managmenent within the program is also much better. I like that the magnetic timeline can be switched off to restore an older style workflow if needed (just select the P icon for place). The new audio sync is also handy. I used to do all of my audio syncing by hand using a clap or some other sharp noise. It wasn't that difficult to do, but it does take some time. Now it is almost instantaneous.

Final Cut Pro X screen shot

Working with the AVCHD files from my Panasonic GH1 (hacked) is also much easier. There is no need to transcode the files (although more background rendering seems to be needed). I can still skim and edit the native footage without slowdowns. Even better, while the footage is being imported and I can work directly with the files on my memory card. Adding text also seems much simpler and less cumbersome than with the old Final Cut (notwithstanding Conan's video editor's experience). This is a tool that is so much faster and easier to work with.

There are some frustrating things I have encountered. Some of the transitions and text effects are buggy and don't always render correctly. There are occasional crashes. The documentation is spartan at best. It took me hours to figure out that you cannot use an external time machine volume to store events. Luckily I had another drive around to use as a kind of scratch disk. I am also trying to figure out the best way to edit a much more complicated music video without having the audio constantly fall out of sync. I am not sure the older Final Cut would offer much advantage here though (the nature of the project precludes the use of multicam). I also wish the colour correction tool offered s-curves like those found Aperture. I find the current tool to be imprecise and clunky compared to colour correcting in Aperture or Lightroom, but It is still a vast improvement on what Final Cut Express offered.

The Professional Backlash

This product has been been met with widespread derision from film professionals and experts. Film pros have legitimate reasons to be upset; the new software is missing many critical features essential to a professional environment (these missing features and problems are well documented here, here, here, and in the comment section of David Pogue's follow up review). It should be noted that Apple has promised to add many of these features back in over time. In the meantime, Apple is issuing refunds to unhappy customers (via EOSHD).

Apple has also discontinued the old, much loved, version of the software that form a critical piece of the workflow for many organizations. This is the move that I think is most worrisome for these organizations; they can no longer go out and buy new copies of the program for updated workstations. There is no supported way forward for their workflows as a stopgap until Final Cut Pro X is feature complete. If Apple cares about the professional market (a big assumption), they could create a lot of good will by selling copies of Final Cut 7 price matched to the current version of Final Cut Pro X (a price drop from $1000 to $300) until Final Cut Pro X is up to speed.

Some of the reaction around Final Cut Pro X has bordered on hysteria though. People complaining about starting a project in an older version of Final Cut Pro and not being able to finish it in the new program are anything but professionals. A professional does not switch editing suites and make drastic changes to their workflow just because a newer, shiner, product comes out. Don't switch horses midstream. This advice is as true today as it was in Lincoln's time.

The Future

Apple's tagline for Final Cut Pro X is "Everything just changed in post". This is certainly true for me. Final Cut Pro X feels more powerful and accessible to me than FCP7 or FC Express ever did to me even though it is missing key high end features. This is a key theme of all of Apple's products—first make the features that are used 90% of the time as simple and intuitive as possible, then add in the extra functionality over time. This drives power users nuts, but makes things infinitely more useable for the rest of us. Too many companies waste their time on the 10% of features that only a small fraction of their potential users care about.

Apple did this with iMovie 08 when they released a stripped down and simplified video editor that replaced the much loved iMovie 06. Power users hated the new version (rightfully so) as many of the features they had come to depend on were stripped away. But iMovie 08 opened up video editing too many more people (including myself). It coincided with the popularization of the Flip class of cameras that made shooting video cheap and simple (my first camera was a Flip Mino HD). iMovie 08 made it simple and fun to cut together footage, add basic effects and text, and produce decent looking video clips to share online. Most new people using iMovie 08 didn't care about tape ingest, multiple track, and the extensive plugin support of iMoive 06. They just wanted to share videos on Youtube. I remember the thrill when my Flip arrived in December 2008. I shot a few clips of Jaime walking through a blizzard to a restaurant to pick up some take out. Within an hour I had finished editing a short montage set to music. Despite its roughness it is still one of my favourite movies. The much steeper learning curve of iMovie 06 would have never let me do this.

I love this quote from Daringfireball's John Gruber about the iPad:

The central conceit of the iPad is that it’s a portable computer that does less — and because it does less, what it does do, it does better, more simply, and more elegantly.

I remember handing my iPad to my parents for the first time. It was the first computer they were not scared of. Within minutes they were surfing the web and watching videos on Youtube. When I came back twenty minutes later and my mom had found Sketchbook Pro and made a little drawing. The iPad doesn't have nearly as many features as their regular computer, but it is so much simpler to use that they end up doing far more with it. Now that my parents have iPhones they use them far more than their computers despite the smaller screens and touch keyboards. This is something most power users don't understand. It isn't about features and checkboxes. It is about usability for the most people.

Just as the flip cameras revolutionized the low end of the video market, DSLRs are changing the high end. Most big budget movies won't be shot exclusively on DSLRs (yet), but many smaller features, commercials, and indie films are. Final Cut Pro X is for these people and what Apple sees the future of film making to be. Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.

Ron Brinkmann, one of the developers who worked on Apple's now discontinued high end movie software Shake, has this to say about Apple and its support of professionals:

So if you’re really a professional you shouldn’t want to be reliant on software from a company like Apple. Because your heart will be broken. Because they’re not reliant on you. Use Apple’s tools to take you as far as they can – they’re an incredible bargain in terms of price-performance. But once you’re ready to move up to the next level, find yourself a software provider whose life-blood flows only as long as they keep their professional customers happy.

Serentity Caldwell writing for Macworld says this:

When it comes down to it, Final Cut Pro X isn’t about alienating professionals: It’s about finding out just what a “professional” looks like in this day and age. That line has blurred tremendously in the last decade thanks to widely-available—and inexpensive!—personal technology. Filmmakers are putting together features for $11,000. TV crews have gone digital; and that’s not even covering the amount of video created every day on the Web.

Apple doesn't care about the high end entrenched professionals, they care about the rest of us.

UPDATE: Apple has released this FAQ about missing features and a rough timeline for when things will be included. Looks like Multicam support will be in the next major update.