Apple Keynote feature request: easy recording of your talks

Screen shot 2011-03-15 at 10.12.26 AM
Summary: It should be easier to film your talks when practicing at home. Not everyone can make it to a conference or meeting where you present, but it's really easy to share a video of your talk with the entire world on Vimeo or YouTube. Sal Khan has shown how one guy can change the world with some screencasts, and I'd like to see the power of that fall into the hands of anyone with a Mac. I wish Keynote made it easier, and hopefully the next version does. 

 

My last post linked to my SXSW talk that I recorded at home. A lot of people asked me how I did it, and it required the following steps:

– get two macs running ichat that can talk to each other (one computer was using my AIM screenname, the other my .Mac screenname). Disable all audio in/out on the second computer you don't present on.

– Start a video chat between the computers, then drag your keynote file into the lower half of the video chat window to start "iChat Theater" on the computer you will present from.

– Resize the video chat window to something around 1024×768 in size, then start screencasting software (I use ScreenFlow) to record the entire desktop and make sure to capture the computer's audio.

– Walk back to your presenting computer, give your talk.

– Walk over to your screencasting computer, hit stop. Edit out the beginning and end of walking between computers, zoom the video so only your presentation shows in the viewport, then save.

– Export video out (I used the 960×540 AppleTV size, and it took about an hour to render) then upload to Vimeo.

 

You can currently rehearse your talks in Keynote, but it creates a slides-only video with your recorded audio. Most macs all have iSight cameras in them, so I'd really like to see a single mac option to record a video exactly like the screenshot above, without the need for a second mac or complicated screencasting software. 

About the only change that would be necessary and is currently lacking is that I can't see my presenter notes when using iChat Theater. The presenter sees something like this:

Screen shot 2011-03-15 at 10.12.59 AM

You can collapse the small image of your current slide and just have the forward/back controls, but I really wish notes were in that panel, like so:

Screencastnotes

Overall, I think this would make a killer addition to the next version of Keynote, and let people share their knowledge much easier and to wider audiences.

Innovation with Solitaire?!

Solitairescreenshotupdate Last summer I was bored one day and searched the app store for solitaire apps. I admit, this is like telling the universe you give up, you're so bored that you'd like to play the most boring game known to man, the game most synonomous with isolation and going it alone.

I started playing the free version of MobilityWare's Solitaire and realized quickly that the love affair I ended in 1999 with Windows 95's included Solitaire had been rekindled and I quickly paid the 99 cents for the "gold" version to remove ads. It was a fun way to pass time when I was bored but I also found it quieted my mind and was a great way to get to sleep, by playing 5-10 hands until I was so tired I was about to drop my phone.

Enter Game Center

A few months later, the game was updated to add features with Apple's Game Center, and they presented a list of 20 acheivements as part of the game. Funny enough, I had already done about half of them in my months of casual play but it was enough of a motivator to complete the rest that I started playing solitaire not just to cap off a day and get ready to sleep, but increasingly I found time during the day to chase goals. Three of them were quite difficult. One was scoring above 10,000 points on a hand and it requires not just a near-perfect randomly dealt hand but you have to learn how to do a speed run since points are increased for shorter times. As I was sitting there speed running solitaire games for hours a day waiting for the elusive easy hand so I could finish an entire game in about 60 seconds, I knew this was ridiculous, but a couple days later I surpassed the goal. The other two acheivements were playing 5,000 hands and 10,000 hands. I was somewhere around 3,800 hands when the app was updated so a couple weeks of playing it grinded me over the 5,000 mark and though the 10k mark seems far off (as I've gone back to casual play) I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,800 games played and I'm sure I'll hit ten thousand by the end of the summer.

They also added some social scoring via Game Center and at one point I was in the top 100 of all players for some metric and I was on the leader board, though the people near the top were a magnitude away from me in terms of games played and points scored, so this aspect never appealed to me.

Then it went all social

This week, the creators released a new version with something they call "Winning Hands" which will tell you when you're playing a new hand that it is indeed solvable and if you get stuck, you can replay someone else's method for solving that puzzle. At first, this sounded a bit goofy but I could see it coming handy when you get stuck with a seemingly impossible puzzle. I played a few games with the settings tweaked to give me more Winning Hands plays to check my skills against random previous players. I found I could solve them easily about 9/10 hands, but once in a while something would get me stuck and it was fun to watch someone else replay a hand, though it often included them making some crazy move when presented with a few options (where I took a more sensible path).

Another innovative thing is that you can click the "winning hands" indicator and be told what the fastest time, most points, and fewest moves was for that hand in the past. This has become a new motivator to keep playing as the feature is new and I can easily take a minute off the best time, score thousands of points more, and often save a dozen moves.

I never thought I'd say Solitaire makes for a fun social game, but the latest version is pretty impressive and knowing that I'm competing against others has changed the motivation to play completely. Knowing my process and moves can be viewed by others is also pretty cool.

With enough players and hands dealt, it seems like the creators of this app can very well exhaust every possible hand in solitaire, tell you which plays are solvable (I'm curious what the global statictics are on overall winning percentages), and show you the exact moves someone, somewhere used to finish it.

For a solitary pursuit, it's pretty amazing that the game developers came up with a way to record everyone's games, and let advanced players gain recognition for a job well done as well as use that play to teach less experienced players the tips and tricks for solving the seemingly impossible. I know it's just solitaire, but I could envision an app operating in much the same way allowing real-world impossible-seeming problems be solved by tapping social aspects of a large userbase trying their best, sharing the successes and showing the exact process of their solution, letting others build upon that quickly and easily.

Mac App Store: It’s all about installation usability

I think the biggest thing that Marco and Rafe are missing in predicting the success of the Mac App Store is the (current) pointlessly complicated installation process on a Mac. Have you ever taught someone how to install apps on a new Mac? Or remember what it was like the first time?

Since most people come from Windows, they're used to this process:

  1. Download an .exe/.msi installer (or if it is a zip, unzip to get your installer)
  2. Run the installer, run the app

On a Mac, the process usually goes like this:

  1. Download a zip file
  2. Unzip
  3. Drag application to Applications directory
  4. Delete downloaded zip and extracted contents, then run application

or

  1. Download .dmg file
  2. double click it to "mount"
  3. Follow whatever instructions are given, usually have to open a new finder window to drag application into Applications
  4. unmount disk image after installation is complete, run app

or 

  1. Download zip/dmg (unzip if needed)
  2. Run .pkg file installer
  3. Give your admin password, complete install
  4. remove/unmount downloaded files, run app

As easy as the Mac is to use, I've never understood why the installation process is so varied and tedious (I understand there are obvious security issues that complicate the process, it still sucks for the user that wants everything to be easy). I've had to walk friends and family through this several times and it takes half a dozen tries before they start to get it right on their own (Try explaining to someone new to computers why you must "unmount the disk image" or what that even means conceptually). People often get tripped up when nothing happens after they download a .dmg file (Why do I have to mount it first to use it, why doesn't it just work?).

My biggest Mac app installation pet peeve is when a mounted disk image runs in its own Finder window without the helpful sidebar, so I can't simply grab the application and drag to the Applications folder on the sidebar, but I have to open a new Finder window because the features were disabled by the application writer.

Make no mistake, every Apple store in America is selling new Macs like hotcakes, to many people that have never owned one before. I bet a large percentage of new owners just stick with the shipping apps of iTunes, Safari, Mail, iLife, etc and don't install apps without help from the Genius Bar or friends. It seems crazy to someone like me that has used a computer daily for 20 years, but you can probably do a lot of things with a stock Mac without installing any additional apps.

A Mac App Store is going to be a boon for developers and Mac owners because it'll finally get rid of the clunky installation process and make the whole thing as easy to use as installing an app on an iPhone. Click into the App Store. Click an App, Click Buy, Run the App.

Marco (and Rafe) are right that this will be huge, I just think everyone is underestimating the potential upside of improving the usability of Macs in a big way that has been overlooked for far too long.

image from media.tumblr.com

 

Apple’s September 1st Special Event

Screen shot 2010-09-01 at 10.10.59 AM
First impression of the video stream viewed in Safari 5 on my mac: insane, like watching a 480p video on YouTube without a single hiccup or buffering message. Back in 1999-2002, I used to be able to try and watch Macworld keynotes and even the times I was at UCLA using Internet2 with their prioritized feeds, the online video barely worked and I usually gave up. Today's perfect streaming to many, many more people is a pretty impressive accomplishment. In the end, I got about 30 seconds of flashing video about halfway through the stream, but otherwise it was perfect for over an hour.

Airplay teaser: whoa, my favorite and most often used app on the iPad, AirVideo, is dead. I'll get the same functionality without the app in iOS 4.2

iPods: Shuffle seems like a step back, but probably a good idea. The Nano is barely bigger than a Shuffle, but the video screen looks very small (is watching video on a 1" screen even possible anymore?). The Nano is so small that Steve Jobs' fingers look too large to even use it in the demo. The Nano does have a dock connector on it, which means it can be used in every sort of iPod accessory, especially cars with iPod connectors. The iPod Touch finally gets cameras, and even gets Facetime. Pretty nice updates all around.

iTunes: The new icon is kind of ugly, and still music-centric even though it does a lot more.

Ping: Holy crap, it's like Napster 1999! Seriously, Napster perfected new music discovery in 1999 (for me at least) and it worked better than anything I've used since, but Ping is looking pretty strong. Last.fm and Rdio must be crapping themselves right now. I wonder if it will log songs from non-iTunes sources though (like Amazon MP3s)? In the demo, Ping looks a bit like a Facebook clone with tons of "buy now" links everywhere. There's also an event planner, like upcoming.org. Comments, photos, and video seem like a stretch for iTunes, it's almost as if Apple looked at iTunes usage of people hitting play and minimizing it and wondered how they could instead have people use it for hours a day.

AppleTV: Holy cow, 1/4 the size, and a better remote. No more purchases is weird, my 5 year old daughter likes to watch the same movies over and over again. Looks like it's going all-streaming like people predicted. Netflix streaming means I now have 6 devices in my house that can do netflix streaming (Wii, PS3, iPhone, iPad, TiVo, AppleTV). Airplay looks good, but I wish I could send any video from my desktop Mac to my AppleTV. $99 seems like a no-brainer given there's no hard drive in it anymore. I suspect someday they may even be free given they drive so many sales to iTunes.

Bolt-on

Dvdres Driving across California yesterday, my daughter was watching Mary Poppins on an iPad and I couldn't help but notice the iPad is a great entertainment device, but also has touch screen games, music, and more.

I thought about how a lot of cars come with drop-down DVD players bolted into headliners (usually as a costly $1k+ option) and I instantly remembered how people used to have phones bolted into their cars, with numbers that were specific to only reaching someone when they were in that specific car driving, back before we all walked around with our own phones.

Chalk it up to another product disrupted by the mobile device maker.

Apple and Toyota

Screen shot 2010-07-15 at 10.43.40 AM

I've had an iPhone 4 for about three weeks now, and so far I've found better reception and fewer calls dropped when compared to my previous 3GS iPhone. I do have one area of poor reception at home where calls dropped about half the time on my old phone, but it hasn't happened once with the new one.

I've seen a youtube video or two of people that can produce a drop in their reception by touching the lower left of their phone, but I can't reproduce it. I've heard news of class action suits, official responses from Apple, and even an upcoming news conference at Apple tomorrow.

The whole thing reminds me of what Toyota has went through in the past year over their Prius. Right from the start, the story sounded fishy to me, that cars were suddenly accelerating uncontrollably. As Toyota officials got hauled in front of congress I wondered if there really was a technical issue with the cars or if it was more about American lawmakers scoring points with constituents by knocking down a foreign-owned #1 car company (remember Gung Ho?).

Early on, someone noticed that a majority of affected Prius owners tended towards very old, where driver error becomes increasingly common and I was surprised to find it didn't really gain much traction in the whole story of the Prius recall. In the end, driver error was the culprit in all but one case.

I'd argue that after decades of the Ford Taurus being the #1 car sold in America shifting to the Toyota Camry, there was a lot of pent-up resentment with Toyota's success. The Prius is certainly a success in its own right, showing that American consumers wanted better economy so badly they were willing to sit on six-month long waiting lists to get their new Prius, and they were willing to pay $25-30,000 for a sparsely appointed economy car that without hybrid technology probably could have sold for $15k.

Same goes for Apple. The iPhone has taken over the mobile market, eating up profits from other makers over the last few years. Apple has been steadily gaining market share in the laptop market as well, and the same decades-old lingering annoyances with all things Apple (pretention, absurdly high costs, "cooler than thou" factor) feels like it's resurfaced with the iPhone 4. The moment the opportunity to strike against Apple presented itself, people pounced.

I'd say there are likely a small number of iPhone 4 handsets in certain areas of low reception affected by how they are held in such a way that the phone can drop calls. Maybe it's 1%?Maybe it's 5%? It's the best phone I've ever owned and likely the best phone made to date, but headlines declaring "Product Maker releases good product" don't sell pageviews as well as "iPhone 4 antenna FAIL!!!"

The folding Palm bluetooth keyboard works great on an iPhone

I made a quick video showing how those folding bluetooth keyboards setup and collapse, and give you the ability to write using a real keyboard:

Sadly, the same keyboard I got for $43 on Amazon in December is now over $100 from a reseller. You could probably find one cheap on eBay. 

A folding keyboard is a handy thing to have in a backpack that lets you write pages of text if need to and are away from a laptop or desktop.

iMovie on the iPhone 4

The other day I was at a friend's house and we set up a slip 'n slide for our daughters to play on. I took out my new phone, recorded a couple clips of the setup and a few clips of them using it. I had downloaded iMovie earlier (it's $5 in the app store unfortunately) so I wanted to try it out for the first time.

I opened iMovie, created a new project, and selected my clips. With its minimal interface and no instructions, I guessed correctly that you can customize output by double clicking items. I added a title and a background song in just a couple clicks, and then it was done.

Here's the output:

What I'm most amazed about is that all the complexity of video editing was taken away and automated but the default settings are very, very good. I'm blown away that an application running on my phone let me edit a little movie, it added cross-dissolve transitions and auto-ducked the music when there was audio on the mic, and even had all the title fade sequences worked out. The whole thing is amazing and pretty incredible for a phone app.

(if you want to see what the app can do in the hands of a pro, check out this video on Vimeo)

Why there is a Save button on Gmail’s compose new email screen on the iPad

Gmailcompose_317x207  I figured out why there is a giant "Save" button on the new mail screens of Gmail on the iPad. 

I was writing a long email to a friend, and I wanted to copy/paste a URL into the message. The URL was already in another open tab, so I simply switched over to it, waited for it to reload, copied the URL from the address bar, then switched back to my Gmail screen.

…and my gmail new message window was blank. Poof! My unsent email was gone.

Turns out I had a 400 comment monster thread loaded in another tab and the iPad seems to not do so well with memory allocation for rendering all your open web windows, clearing out and reloading them whenever you re-request them.

The funny part is that after five years of using Gmail, I've grown so used to its automatic saving of drafts that it never occurred to me that I even had to hit that Save button myself. I assume the javascript necessary to auto-save drafts isn't available on mobile safari, but the big takeaway here is hit the Save button whenever you're in the middle of writing an email and you want to switch apps or switch windows.

Crap I love: The Tiko portable iPhone/iPad holder

TikoLast fall, I bought a Tiko iPhone/iPod holder to prop up my iPhone while playing movies on planes, after hearing about it on Not Martha.

On my way out on the last trip, I decided to throw this barely-larger-than-a-business-card holder in my backpack in case I needed it.

After a cross country trip where I watched about five hours of video on my iPad, I'm happy to report that this designed-for-iPhone stand is barely heavy duty enough to work for holding an iPad on a airplane tray table.

Here's a shot of it holding my iPad on a desk. Best ten bucks I ever spent.