Hire Me?

As it's the start of the year, I thought I'd mention that you can hire me to help your school or organisation with iOS deployment. There are more details on fraserspeirs.com but, in brief, I can help you with:

  • Planning the change management process
  • All technical aspects of iOS deployment
  • Mobile Device Management
  • How to deal with App Store accounts and volume purchase

For schools in particular, I can also help with:

  • Staff development around 1:1 teaching and iOS
  • Helping teachers and parents understand the school's educational goals with 1:1/iOS
  • Setting educational goals around mobile devices in the classroom
  • Integration of iOS into existing systems
  • Deploying Mac OS X Server Profile Manager (or other MDM systems)
  • Developing acceptable use policies to cover 1:1 deployments
  • Evaluating lease vs. buy arrangements
  • Planning and deploying Wi-Fi and broadband upgrades to support 1:1

I'm happy to travel worldwide and I'm happy to work with you remotely. Whatever fits your needs and budget.

If you're interested in working with me before the summer, please get in touch as soon as possible. The diary is filling up!

It's just getting started

We are about six weeks away from the summer holidays at Cedars. That's a whole academic year passed since we first deployed the iPad to every pupil, and what a year it's been.

At a rough count, we will have hosted visits to the school from over 200 teachers. We were featured on several prominent news websites and national newspapers - in the process, discovering the highly variable degree of perspicacity required of the modern journalist. My writing was published in Macworld and the Times Educational Supplement.

I've appeared on several podcasts, held dozens of conference calls, answered thousands of emails. I spoke at a tablet computing event at Virginia Tech as part of a week-long schedule of visits to schools on the east coast of the US. Paul Kent was kind enough to invite me to speak at Macworld Mobile in Barcelona and I was honoured to be invited to speak at Abilene Christian University's 2011 Connected Summit.

Finally, to cap it off, I was named an Apple Distinguished Educator alongside my colleagues Andrew Jewell and Jenny Oakley in the new ADE class of 2011.

It's been quite a year.

When I started this, I had no idea that this was all going to happen. I thought we would buy some iPads then go back to being an unknown teacher in an unknown school in educational circles. The reality turned out to be a little different. I looked back in my calendar to see when I started getting calls about the project. The local newspaper visited us the second day we opened, then the first "consulting" call was on day five of the term.

After a while, we kept telling ourselves "surely that's the worst of it over", thinking that the interest would pass and we would get on with our lives. Right now, it seems, a chunk of the education world has woken up to the revolution that's happening in edcuational technology. The level of interest is, if anything, increasing instead of decreasing.

We have been working on some plans to try and make the interest in our project more manageable. The first step was the Technology for Excellence 2011 conference, a two-day workshop for 30 people at Cedars. We opened a sign-up list for information about the conference and already - four months out - have 75 people signed up from as far away as Japan and Australia.

The second step I'm taking personally is to launch fraserspeirs.com, a site designed to put what has been happening informally onto a more formal footing.

One of the things about being a teacher is that people often expect you to provide your time for free. Over the past year, I have gladly given away many hundreds of hours of free consulting to anyone who asked. I'm not complaining - I was happy to do every single call - but it's not sustainable.

It's not sustainable for me financially to give away my productive working week for free. I've been doing a lot of this on unpaid time off from Cedars. Similarly, giving away my free evenings to those in time zones further west can put a strain on family arrangements even if you have the best wife in the world, as I do.

Information wants to be free but my time is a finite resource. I'll continue to write up what I learn, what I observe and what I think about on this blog. You can read that for free. If you want a piece of my time, I'll be delighted to work with you in a way that makes sense for both of us. After all, you're going to spend hundreds of thousands on those iPads. Let's make sure it really delivers for you.

On eBook Pricing

My friend Nik Fletcher nails a good chunk of my dissatisfaction with the ebook marketplace - and I say that as someone who, this very day, broke down and purchased an actual Kindle to go with his iPad.

You win, Bezos, you magnificent capitalist.

Philip Jones then followed up on FutureBook.net by wondering if Nik was being a little "hysterical" with the word gouging. Since that word really came from Nik quoting a tweet of mine, I thought I should chime in.

Let me make this very clear: I know absolutely nothing about publishing. I don't know how deals are structured, I don't know about advances or geographical rights or anything. All I know is that I'm being offered one package of words in, usually, three formats - hardback, paperback and ebook - at three different prices.

In The Design of Everyday Things Donald Norman famously wrote about the disconnect between the user's mental model of how something works and how it actually works. I think I have this problem with ebooks.

Here's how I think of it:

I made these numbers up and I have no idea if the relative proportions of these blocks are correct in any way. In a sense, that's not the point. What I'm expressing here is how I think about the value proposition when presented with three different ways to read the same book.

The thing that rubs me the wrong way with being asked to pay a premium for an ebook is that, thanks to DRM, a publisher gets to sell a copy that can never ever be resold. I think that enforced reduction to zero of the resale value of a book should be reflected in the purchase price - particularly for higher-end titles such as reference books.

The graph above shows how I think of ebooks and my buying behaviour reflects that. I don't see ebooks as luxury items. I don't see how pricing ebooks above hardback prices is defensible when there has been no material to physically construct and ship. I particularly resent that pricing structure when so many ebooks that I purchase have obvious OCR errors or truly awful typography.

Neither do I see ebooks as having no value. People gots to get paid and I'm happy to pay for ebooks - I have never pirated a book. I just see premium pricing on ebooks as someone, somewhere taking a fat profit from ebook early adopters on the basis that those users are keen on books.

So what happens if I feel I'm being ripped off for the ebook? Do I buy the paper version? No. I just move to the next item in my list of "books that sounded interesting". Maybe I'll come back to yours but that list contains, at current rates of consumption, about two years worth of reading. It'll be a while until I get back to you.

I don't care and don't want to have to care about the internal structure of your industry and the value chain and who pays for what when. If it doesn't feel like a good deal, then no deal. All this says to me is "we think you're a schmuck":

I'm not unsympathetic to people trying to make a living in book writing or publishing. I merely note that any value proposition that includes within it something about "you, the customer, need to understand our cost structures and pressures" sadly contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Moving a Mac App: Viewfinder for iPad

Viewfinder for iPad shipped a couple of weeks ago. It's been insanely busy since then but I finally found some time to reflect on the process of moving a Mac OS X application to iPad.

Mission Statement

In most talks you hear from Apple employees about designing for iPhone and iPad, they always suggest that you develop a 'mission statement' for your app. On Mac OS X, Viewfinder's mission statement was simply:

Easy photo search and download for Mac OS X

For the iPad version, that statement was radically overhauled to say:

Easy photo search and download for iPad

The entire point of Viewfinder has always been to solve the problem that it's way too hard to find and use good quality, correctly-licensed photos on the internet.

Translation

When moving an application or its general concept to iPhone, the rule has always been "find the core functionality and translate that to the iPhone". It's still true of the iPad but the difference is that the iPad increased processing power and screen size invites you to bring a much larger feature set.

As I was working on bringing the core functionality of Viewfinder to the iPad, I took a three-step approach:

  • Eliminate the features that are impossible to translate
  • Simplify the features that can be done, but in a reduced manner
  • Focus on a polished, native experience for the rest

Eliminate the Impossible

As it stands, Viewfinder on Mac OS X is a fairly tightly focused application. It doesn't contain a lot of superfluous features, but there were a few features that couldn't be brought to iPad because of the limitations of the iOS platform.

Viewfinder on Mac OS X can automatically add a downloaded photo to the current Keynote document. This feature is implemented on Mac OS X using Automator, which doesn't exist on iOS, so it couldn't be brought over. There's no equivalent cross-application automation technology on iOS, so it had to go.

Similarly, the feature that allows Viewfinder to set the Mac OS X desktop picture directly is also not possible on the iPad. There's simply no API to do this on iOS. Gone.

Finally, Viewfinder supports a "Search in Viewfinder" service on Mac OS X. As with the other features, Mac OS X services have no analogue on iOS so the feature had to go.

Similar but Simpler

Developing for iOS devices is developing a highly resource-starved environment. Many fewer, slower processor cores; slower graphics hardware, dramatically less RAM and, on 3G, much slower and less reliable networking. I find it a source of constant wonder that we squeeze the performance that we do out of these devices, and often wonder why Mac OS X machines feel so slow by comparison.

Viewfinder is an application designed to show large numbers of photos. Without care, this is potentially a difficult thing to do. Photos are some of the largest data blobs an iOS app will handle, so it's important to manage that precious memory carefully.

On the Mac, Viewfinder has a dynamically-resizable thumbnail view. It responds to the user's intention by automatically loading ever-higher resolution images as the thumbnails grow. The internal architecture of this feature is something I'm really proud of, and I think it's a great feature.

The idea of transparently hitting the network for ever larger images doesn't translate well to the iPad. Particularly in this new world of mobile data caps which are "unlimited*" - the asterisk being the international symbol for "if you take this literally you're a sucker" - being more conservative with data usage is important.

So, for Viewfinder on the iPad, I built a thumbnail view with similar core functionality only simpler. The thumbnails are fixed at a maximum width or height of 100px and, instead of zooming them to a larger size, you enter a full-screen mode similar to the built-in Photos application.

Another feature that I personally love in Viewfinder for Mac OS X is the ability to filter the search results by the size of the largest available version. This is a really important feature on the desktop, where you may be looking for photos to fill a 27" display or a high-resolution document.

On the iPad, I decided to leave this feature out. I left it out for two reasons. One is that using the original full-size image on the iPad is often difficult because of the incredibly large file size that some modern DSLRs produce. Secondly, you don't need a massively high-resolution image for most purposes on the iPad. The screen is only 1024x768. Viewfinder still supports searching by the full range of Creative Commons licenses.

Polish The Rest

So, what's left in Viewfinder? There are a core set of tasks that make the application:

  • Set search options
  • Begin a Search
  • View a set of thumbnails
  • View a larger size
  • Download photos
  • Inspect and copy information about the photo

Too many iOS applications aspire to "brand" themselves. It's sometimes appropriate, of course, but I took my inspiration from two system apps that Apple provides: Safari and Maps.

The thing I most love about Maps is that there is almost no UI. It's an incredibly powerful application that delivers everything through a small number of UI elements:

  • A toolbar with two buttons and a search field (two fields in Directions mode).
  • A popover with details about locations
  • A page-curl view to set options
  • An alternate full-screen UI for Street View

The rest of the display in Maps is given over to the main function - showing a map. Viewfinder endeavours to be similarly minimalist.

Not the iPhone

The typical approach to bringing an application to the iPhone was really three steps:

  • Identify the core functionality of the app
  • Remove everything else that isn't essential
  • Polish the user experience

I think the iPad is different. I've written before that I believe the iPad is a true productivity platform and not just the "content consumption" toy that some lazily claim.

Instead of looking for some kind of barebones set of core functionality, I decided to see how much of the desktop app I could bring to the iPhone. I'm delighted with the result and I encourage my fellow developers to push the iPad as far as it can go.

For the rest of you, why not visit the App Store and check out Viewfinder for iPad?