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A Hardware Keyboard for iPad

I’ve been toying with the idea of an external keyboard on my iPad for some time now. There are several options available, from the more or less loosely integrated approach of the Incase Origami Station to a more tightly integrated package (where the keyboard is part of the iPad cover) that can be purchased e.g. from Logitech.

My idea of a keyboard for my iPad primarily follows the tightly integrated approach because this seems to be better suited for being carried around and requires less effort to get the entire rig into operation.

Enter the Logitech Type+, a protective case and keyboard for iPad. Snap the iPad into the cover and you’ll be presented with a laptop-like setup that is really fun to work with. Nothing beats having a full screen of text without the on-screen keyboard taking the better part of the screen real estate.

The entire package, iPad plus Type+, weights something in the range of 900g. This may seem unbearably heavy for an iPad, and yet this number is in the same ballpark as the new MacBook which can be rightfully considered as a super-lightweight workstation.

On top of that, you can separate the iPad from the case and enjoy less weight at any time. If this was the only concern, I think I could easily live with it.

The product can be used in two different positions, one for “creation” (with the iPad in a near upright setting and keyboard activated) and one for “consumption”1, with the iPad positioned flat on the inactive keyboard.

Pairing between iPad and the Type+ couldn’t be easier. It just works. However, it only works if the correct version of the product is used. Due to oversight from both myself and the sales person in the Apple Store I went out first with the version for iPad Air and that one refuses to pair with an Air 2. So keep your eyes on the numeric qualifiers when purchasing.

The build quality of the keyboard is within the expected range, i.e. definitely worse than a Mac keyboard and similar to many PC laptops that I already have had the pleasure to work with.

I’ve got the German layout and I’m happy to report that the key combinations for e.g. square brackets are exactly the same as on my Mac2.

The keyboard features an extra (top) row of function keys specifically tailored to be useful on iOS. These are (from left to right):

  • Go to springboard.
  • Activate task switcher.
  • Search. Note that the focus is not set to the search text field automatically. In order to actually start searching it is necessary to manually tap the search field to set the focus to it. This is inconvenient for obvious reasons because the keyboard-centric workflow is interrupted.
  • Language. On pressing this button, an on-screen menu appears that displays the new keyboard3. The keyboard layout changes to the selected language. As far as I can see, there is no way to keep the layout that is printed on the keys and just switch the spell checking (like on OS X).
  • Activate on-screen keyboard.
  • Take screen shot.
  • Media control: rewind, play/pause, fast forward.
  • Volume control: speaker on/off, volume down, volume up.
  • Put iPad to sleep.

As expected, the actual switch of the keyboard Layout is one of the most glaring downsides of using a hardware keyboard in iOS. You better be good in memorizing key positions in different keyboard layouts.

Admittedly, it is beyond the keyboard manufacturer to “fix” this. This is a consequence of someone at Apple thinking that it would be brilliant idea to bind the spell checker to the keyboard layout and not let people select keyboard layout and spell checking language separately. Let me tell you, it’s not.

Interestingly, there’s a hole in the cover through which the back camera could take pictures.

Theoretically.

In reading mode, this does not work because the camera points at the underlying keyboard. The only way to actually use the camera would be to put the iPad upright in the cover or else hold the iPad in your hand with the keyboard part dangling. Just don’t.

I’ve come across reports from customers at Amazon such that physical contact between the keyboard and the iPad’s display may cause scratches on the latter. Well, all I can say is that if you hold the folded cover against the light such that the small gap between the keyboard and the iPad becomes visible I can see the point of such claims.

There is one area, right above the keyboard itself, where the iPad and the Type+ touch each other even if there is no stress put on the cover. I can imagine that given some stress and movement between the iPad and the cover damage could very likely occur.

This is a shame because The cover seems really sturdy and able to protect the iPad against influence from the outside. In this case, however, the weak point may very likely be on the inside and that is just sad.

I guess it would not do any harm to always have a piece of microfiber cloth handy.

All things considered, I’m personally in two minds about a hardware keyboard and the Type+ in particular. On the one hand, I can type much faster on a hardware keyboard and There is a lot to like about the function keys.

On the other hand, having to memorize key positions and, in consequence, blindly use a significant part of the keyboard isn’t fun at all and decreases my average typing speed a lot. The gain provided by the existence of the keyboard is effectively consumed by the necessity to find the correct key.

Plus, the sheer possibility to physically damage the display when putting the cover into a bag for transportation is outright scary.

I’m not a big fan of using the on-screen keyboard but the downsides of the Type+ will probably weigh heavier than the benefits I can take from it. So far, I haven’t tried writing in portrait mode using the on-screen keyboard.

In portrait, the ratio between the part of the screen that contains text and the part occupied by the keyboard is much higher than in landscape and this would at least mitigate one of my complaints about using the on-screen keyboard.

But don’t get me wrong, I still believe that the Type+ is a great addition to an iPad if the user does the majority of writing in the language supported by the particular variant of the Type+.

  1. Sorry, Federico, could not resist.

  2. This information is a special service for the geniuses at the local Apple Store.

  3. This works in pretty much the same way as keyboard switching using the on-screen keyboard.

Yosemite Is Trolling Me

My current wallpaper is a dark one, a picture of the center of our galaxy. Obviously, it stands in stark contrast to the light menu bar.

In an attempt to mitigate this nuisance, I have switched on the dark mode introduced with OS X 10.10, a.k.a. Yosemite.

I understand that there is some debate about both the concept and the implementation of the dark mode, but in my particular case, it really solves a problem.

And yet, every now and then, when I wake up my old and trusty 2011 MacBook Pro from sleep the dark mode mysteriously has been switched off again. I haven’t been able to find related information on the Internet, so it does not seem as if this is a common problem for a larger group of people.

This has happened and continues to happen with every version of Yosemite from 10.10.0 to 10.10.2.

Weird.

Two Pairs of Headphones Enter

I like to listen to music, I like to listen to podcasts whenever I have the opportunity. I’m more often than not in an environment that will find it challenging to tolerate my personal taste in audio recordings of both kinds in the long run.

The obvious solution to this problem is a decent pair of headphones that provide good sound quality, comfort, durability, and fold up for transport.

Your mileage may vary greatly on any of these criteria for any given headphone model and it can be tough to find the optimal solution for the personal taste.

The search may involve iterations, even dead ends. Like with many other devices, it may be necessary to (more or less happily) submit into using a specific model for a given amount of time, if only to learn enough about one’s requirements in the hope that it will be possible to find a better solution come time and opportunity.

In this spirit, I have recently replaced my Sony MDR-1 RB by a pair of AKG K545 headphones. While my memory of the Sony is fresh and my experience with the AKG ramps up I figure I should write down the differences between the two devices according to my personal perception1:

Cable

The cable of the K545 is thinner than the cable that ships with the MDR1. I have read several complaints from reviewers on Amazon that claim a thinner cable means less quality.

So far, I cannot confirm this conclusion. On the contrary, the thinner cable works much better for me because it has less weight such that it doesn’t sink into the gap between my chest and my jacket and pulls at the headphone with every movement of my head.

Sound

The K545 sounds better. By a lot. The sound seems more detailed over the entire band, the MDR1 sounds “muffled” in comparison. The AKG’s bass sounds punchy in comparison, but overall I think it is just that the Sony is just too weak on the bass. But again, it is not just that.

Strangely, the only aspect where, according to my ears, the Sony is nearly on par with the AKG is spoken audio (read podcasts).

Build Quality

AKG wins. Metal vs. plastic, it’s that easy. And I’m not bothered in general with the Sony’s plastic build, it is that kind of plastic that audibly creaks with every movement of the head.

I’m well aware that I’m comparing a two year old MDR1 to a new K545, which may not entirely be fair. However, I’m pretty sure that the creaking was present from the beginning and only got worse over time.

There is no such issue with the AKG.

Neck Dropping

This is way easier with the MDR1 thanks to the less sturdy build and the shape of the earcups. The K545 drops less elegant, and this is in part the fault of the round earcups and the rest of the blame goes to the headband (which is wider than the headband of the MDR1).

Wind

Walking in strong wind with headphones on can be unpleasant because wind generates noise. However, the K545 is way less susceptible to wind than the MDR1.

The latter sometimes literally howls in the wind, thanks(?) to a small hole at the top of each earcup that, when exposed to wind, maybe the source of the howling noise.

Comfort

That’s a close call between the two models. The Sony is a bit more comfortable to wear (in terms of pressure on the ears) over a longer amount of time. On the other hand, the AKG isn’t uncomfortable by any means.

It fits tight enough to provide a good sealing against the environment but the pressure on the ears is not too hard.

I had to readjust the Sony every single time I put it on. That is, as soon as you remove the Sony from your head (and as the immediate result of that) the adjustment is gone. In contrast to that, I have adjusted the AKG to my head dimensions once right after I unboxed it, and I never had to change the adjustment since then.

The lack of higher temperatures kept me from gaining any experience with the AKG. Let’s see how the AKG makes it through the summer. I’m confident because the AKG’s earcups are made from leather and that should, at least in theory, work better than the leather substitute on the MDR.

Transport

There is not much difference between the two models. The folding space occupied by the AKG is definitely in the near range of what the Sony requires. I should know because I’m using the bag that shipped with the Sony for transporting the AKG now2.

None of them folds to a tiny package that fits into your jacket pocket, but obviously none of them has been designed for this purpose. Still, I usually have enough space in my backpack to keep my headphones and therefore the folding space is not a big issue for me.

Conclusion

Initially, I was very hesitant to even try to replace my sort of trusty pair of headphones with a new candidate. Even though3 I have done a ton of research, you can never be sure how the purchase turns out.

There’s always the risk that some detail spoils the fun to the point of regret. And as much as I love to wear headphones, the process of shopping for them is nothing that I’d like to repeat on a monthly basis.

Despite my doubts, the purchase turned out the right thing to do. The longer I’m using the AKG the happier I am with my decision. And so, the pair that’s eventually leaving the arena is the one with the letters AKG printed in bold letters on the headband.

  1. The order of topics is arbitrary and does not represent any personal priority

  2. The Sony’s transport bag isn’t great, but unfortunately the AKG ships without any transport container of any kind. So I’m using the Sony bag on the basis that anything is better than nothing.

  3. Or, maybe, because of it.

Taskmator

To-do apps. Again. I know, this is starting to look like an obsession. But it is fully under control. Trust me on this.

The point that I’m trying to make is that there is room for more than one, depending on the requirements applicable for a given situation. In other words, there is an entire spectrum of capabilities that a to-do app can come with and which may or may not recommend it for a given purpose. Allow me to explain.

There is the “feature-heavy” end of the spectrum that is firmly occupied by apps like Things or OmniFocus. These apps come with a rich feature set and a sophisticated UI to support the user in utilizing these features as good as possible.

And then there is the “lightweight” end of the spectrum that consists of apps that come with a very minimal feature-set with respect to keeping track of your tasks.

For the sake of the argument, there are TO-DOs and there are to-dos. The difference is fuzzy, of course, but here are some characteristics of the lightweight to-dos:

  • They don’t have a deadline or a collection of them shares the same deadline.
  • No need for push notifications and reminders.
  • No recurrence, i.e. once completed, it is OK to throw away the to-dos.
  • The items on the list are thematically related.

Clearly, it would be possible to track this kind of to-dos in apps like Things or OmniFocus as well, albeit with a certain amount of friction.

To overcome this friction, it would be possible to utilize a kind of app behavior that facilitates adding a bulk amount of (fine-grained) tasks to the list. This typically comes in combination with the ability to easily mark a given task as completed or assign further qualifications. Fittingly, there is little or no UI to work with. For example, this kind of app is well suited for setting up shopping lists.

I have always had a weak spot for the idea behind TaskPaper that used to be the prototype of the lightweight to-do apps. The app uses structured plain text for the specification of tasks as well as tags (e.g. @done, @cancelled) that further qualify the task. TaskPaper as a product is available on OS X only.

Back in 2011 I wrote:

The most compelling feature is that the content is stored as a mere text file that can be put on the dropbox so that other instances of Taskpaper can access the same to-do list. Just let dropbox take care of the syncing!

There used to be a first-party app for iOS as well but this one has been discontinued nearly a year ago. Recently, I came across an article on Macdrifter endorsing the app Taskmator as possible counterpart of TaskPaper on iOS.

And sure enough, I like the approach taken by Taskmator1. The app is nicely designed and a pleasure to use. I like the swipe gesture to set a task to “done” and also the strikethrough applied to these tasks has a nice touch:

After I had created a couple of files TaskPaper-style in Taskmator the app started to crash on my iPhone. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop crashing. I tried the usual suspects but could not make any progress in achieving more stability.

I guess there is something wrong with the connection to Dropbox, i.e. the crashing stopped after I disconnected Taskmator from Dropbox. This conclusion does not provide any comfort, of course.

The bottom line is that I have to either wait for a fix or start looking for a replacement. Fortunately, there is hope: Editorial 1.1 supports the TaskPaper format. The developer, Ole Zorn plays it low:

Now, before you get too excited, the new TaskPaper mode is not a full replacement for the TaskPaper app, it’s actually more like an additional syntax highlighting mode with a couple of convenience features for editing lists, but it should be possible to build workflows for a lot of the other things.

But in my opinion the implementation of the TaskPaper format in Editorial is more than decent and doesn’t need any excuse. Sure, the presentation doesn’t look exactly like Taskmator and it is necessary to use the file extension “.taskpaper” in order to make Editorial apply the applicable presentation, but that’s hardly a reason not to use Editorial for this purpose:

I especially dig the fact that this is another way to take benefit from a great app, in the spirit of the idea to use one app for many aspects and learn to use it really well.

Again, neither Editorial nor Taskmator will ever replace Things on my devices. However, for all the lightweight tasks that are easier maintained in a pure text format I’m now having a proper alternative at hand.

  1. Although I’m slightly irritated by the fact that the “developer website” registered in the App Store is a generic Facebook page

Elusive Markdown Package

For some reason, a popup-window complaining about the lack of an available Markdown package started to show up on every launch of Sublime Text:

This is strange because the Markdown package is a stock package delivered with Sublime Text itself. It is hard to see which other package might have messed with my installation to make the Markdown package unable to parse.

While trying to hunt down the cause of this issue, I found out that there was no Markdown package whatsoever available in either of the following folders:

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages
~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Installed Packages

In my particular case, the Markdown package is on the list of ignored packages anyway in order to fulfill a requirement for running the far more capable Markdown Editing package:

"ignored_packages":
[
	"Vintage",
	"Markdown"
],

But still, Sublime Text is complaining about the missing package and will do so on the occasion of every single launch.

It was obvious that to make the error message go away I’d have to provide the package. But how? See, it’s missing.

I started digging into the contents of the Sublime Text.app itself and sure enough, I stumbled upon the missing package

/Applications/Sublime Text.app/Contents/Packages/Markdown.sublime-package

So, the fix would require me to copy this to the “Installed Packages” folder, right?

Unfortunately, that does not work. What did work, however, is to rename the file Markdown.sublime-package to Markdown.zip, and put the contents of the archive into

~/Library/Application Support/Sublime Text 3/Packages

According to the Sublime Text Unofficial Documentation, the classification of packages is arbitrary and should therefore not really impact the behavior as long as the package format in the respective folder is correct.

Fortunately, I don’t really care about the stock Markdown package as long as Sublime stops throwing error messages at me. As for this aspect, my mission is completed.