Sunday, April 21, 2013

Adding A Trackpad, or (Jail)Breaking iBad

As a reward for surviving his operation in 2010, we gave Dalai, Jr. one of the original iPads. He never really took to it, preferring his laptop instead. Even so, in  those heady, early days of the iPad, I was quite certain it would become THE radiology accessory, as seen in this cartoon which I made even before the iPad was released, and then this one after it was out. Later, I wrote an early review of the radiology viewing software then available. Some of my comments in that piece were rather prescient, especially those concerning the eventual increase in screen-resolution.

My son's iPad ultimately languished in a drawer for several years. On a lark, I dusted it off and used it for a teleprompter with the proper app (dvPrompter), which worked very well. It occurred to me that perhaps it was time to revisit the iPad, and maybe even pop for the iPad 4, with the Retina Display I had correctly predicted, and the Lightning connector which I had not foreseen.

The closing paragraphs of my software review referenced Apple's potential to redefine the PC world (in the more generic sense), with tablets taking over from laptops and desktops. This hasn't quite happened. It is rather ironic that Microsoft itself ran with the idea...right into a brick wall. The Latest and Greatest Windows, version 8, tries to add a touch interface and some flashy graphics to the venerable GUI. But it isn't selling, as noted by Yuval Rosenberg in the Fiscal Times:
Windows 8, meanwhile, hasn’t won over consumers since being launched in October, accelerating the popular shift away from PCs. Microsoft looks to have a flop on its hands – and one that, despite Ballmer’s talk of devices and services, remains very much at the heart of the company’s strategy. "At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," IDC’s Bob O'Donnell said in releasing the quarterly data. IDC’s data doesn’t include tablets or the new wave of laptop-tablet hybrids, so the slump in Windows-based computing may be slightly less pronounced than its figures show, but rival tracking firm Gartner found an 11.2 percent decline in year-over-year PC shipments so Windows 8 clearly hasn’t helped turn the tide.

The new operating system, designed to enable touch screens, has failed to win over users accustomed to the old user interface, or UI. Plus, PCs with touchscreens are still expensive compared to tablets. "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices,” O’Donnell said. “Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market."
And therein lies the problem. I came to the conclusion independently, but CNet's Scott Stein stated it better than I could in a 2012 article, "Why My iPad Can't Replace My Laptop:  It's The Trackpad":
Adding a keyboard to an iPad, like the Logitech/Zagg Keyboard Case for iPad 2, solves the problem of text entry. That's great for when you have to write a long essay, or are working on a chunk of your Great American Novel, or just want to jot down some notes. It's not so great when you have to edit a document, or create a blog post with embedded links, or do simultaneous Web research and writing. To do anything more than text entry and a few other commands, you'll have to reach up and touch the iPad's screen, which isn't exactly ergonomic or time-efficient when you have the iPad propped up and a keyboard attached. In fact, it's downright awkward.

This is why touch-screen laptops haven't taken off. No one wants to touch a screen while typing on a keyboard. I want a trackpad when I work, or even a mouse. Touching the screen makes no sense in "laptop" mode. I'd rather use the iPad as a straight-up tablet, which brings me back full circle and defeats the purpose of the keyboard.
So, the key to high-level iPad happiness is a keyboard and a pointing device. Several keyboard cases exist, and work well. There are all sorts of Bluetooth trackpads out there as well, but they don't work with the iPad as yet...because they aren't supported by the IOS (operating system). But, there is a way...

You've probably heard of jail-breaking an Apple product, and I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that with the proper software, one can take control of one's iPod, iPad, or iPhone, freeing it from the shackles of the iTunes store, not to mention the Kupertino Kops and their vision of exactly how your interface should behave. In my research, I found that there IS software to allow the use of a Bluetooth mouse or trackpad with an iDevice...IF it's jailbroken.

Legal opinions in the past few years have declared that it is not illegal to jailbreak the Apple progeny, (but it is of course illegal to then download software for free that should be paid). If you jailbreak, you will void Apple's warranty, but, well, my old iPad 1 is waaaaaay out of warranty...

So I did the deed. I jailbroke my son's iPad.

Once processed, the only initial change to be seen is the appearance of a new app named Cydia, which one could think of as the iTunes Store of a jailbroken, parallel universe, or perhaps a Bizarro world (any Superman fans out there?) Navigating Cydia is an experience somewhat less refined than browsing the iTunes store. The interface is cruder, and not for the faint of heart. To be honest, I felt sort of dirty being there, like wandering through an Earth-Fare and being the only customer without Birkenstocks. But it works, and once you get the hang of it, there is a tremendous amount of stuff that will transform your iWhatever into something the late Steve Jobs would probably haunt you over if he could.

Aside from the various downsides of not being able to upgrade to the latest IOS until the mad geniuses out there upgrade their jailbreaking software, and losing the warranty, there isn't too much of a downside. BUT, if you were expecting everything to be free, you would be sadly mistaken.  So...I have yet to spend the $5 for the Bluetooth software. But I will. Eventually.

What I envisioned is a keyboard case for the iPad with a trackpad built in, something like this:

The Crux "Loaded" clamshell iPad case, prototype pictured above, was to have transformed your iPad into a mini-laptop for the small fee of $250. But for whatever reason, Crux seems to have dropped the project. Probably because the small fee of $250 was a little steep for the purpose. Add the cost of a souped-up iPad and you've about hit the $1,000 minimum price of an 11" MacBook Air:

15, 13, and 11 inch Macs, image courtesy
Personally, I'm thinking the Air would be the better choice after all. I wonder if you can jailbreak an Air...

In the meantime, the Android world does have trackpadded options; Stein cites this Asus Transformer:

Credit: Scott Stein, Josh Miller/CNET
While the radiology apps for Android is not yet as numerous as for IOS, some do exist, and in fact Calgary Scientific's ResolutionMD is the first to receive clearance from the FDA for diagnostic reads.

In the meantime, I'm just going to wait for the iPad 5, before making any purchase decisions.  The '5 is said to be thinner and more powerful then ever before. I wish I could say that about myself...

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