I haven't used the term mind-blowing in 30 years or so but this is truly mind blowing. The link is to one of the talks at April's TED conference last month. (Follow the like for an explanation of the conferences.) Although on one level, TED is sort of a conference frequented by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs and people who are generally fascinated by technology, it is very far from a bunch of geeks hauling up their inventions. It's more a festival of ideas. But in this case it's an actual thing that we're looking at although the thing is an app on iPad.
This particular talk, a very short one, less than 5 minutes., concerned the reconceptualization of Al Gore's 2009 book called Our Choice from paper to electronic media.
Okay, there have been e-books for decades, maybe going as far back as the last time I used the term mind-blowing. But in this case we're talking about being able to virtually pick-up photographs in the book with our fingers and look at the back sides; animate them, other things you wouldn't believe. It's all very Harry Potter-ish, except words in print can't do the concept justice. You really need to go to the TED site and download the video of the conference.
SHINY AND NEW
If you haven't heard about this, it's because it's current news. The Ted talks announcement was only released on Thursday, April 28. And I've always seem press reports on the app in two sources when I Googled it. (Although one was USA Today.)
Normally, I don't follow the TED conferences that closely, but in this case my timing was perfect. I had just got my very own iPad, and I was looking for neat things to put on it. So it occurred to me that all of the TED presentations are available online. They're called TEDTalks, and at this point there are more than 700 of them.
So, since I have this new iPad and I was looking for things to download, I went to the site and found a short TEDTalk. It turned out to be this demonstration.
The whole demo consists just of a guy sitting on a seat with a close-up camera shooting over his shoulder as he goes through all the different ways that the experience of reading a book has been enhanced. Probably the most awesome moment comes when he literally pulls up a picture of a windmill and blows on it and the blades start to turn.
Okay, that's a gimmick, but it begins to show how a creative mind can take this toolset and exploit it.
BOOK REVIEW TIME
The demo is one thing, reality is very often something else. So here's a report on what it's like actually to download and run the app. The first thing to consider is the price. If you go on-line you can find paperback copies of Our Choice for about $18. If you go to the Apple apps store you can get this whizz-bang app for five bucks. Obviously, that's loss-leader pricing, but it sets a precedent.
Click to buy it, and the download is not exactly fast. (Of course no download is exactly fast on my system because all I have as a pipe is DSL.)
When you first open the app, you get Al Gore giving you the same demonstration that the developer did in the TEDTalk. You also get Gore's introduction, both of which you can skip subsequently.
Once you're into the book itself, there are 18 chapters. They load rather slowly the first time , but hey load in sequence, so you could be reading chapter 1 while the subsequent chapters are loading. Of course, if you're like me and you're impatient, you won't do that. In any event, your broadband is probably faster than my DSL.
Once the content is loaded, it all works smoothly and quickly, just like the demo. In terms of that content, the book is a follow-on to Inconvenient Truth, perhaps with more positive, "can do" encouragement along with the with the scientific explanations.
But it's not a engineering handbook. I'd say it's aimed more at the education level of a smart eighth grader, which is often not a bad audience to shoot for.
THE APPLE ANGLE
In the great debate among Electronic Design editors, you can put me down on the mildly pro side. I've used Apple products off and on since the Apple II and the original Mac, but I've had mostly Wintel machines since I gave up my beloved H89 with CP/M. I got the iPad after being totally disappointed with a Lenovo swivel-screen notebook that allegedly had multi-touch and accelerometers. While the machine ran Win7 adequately, the notepad experience was so abysmal that I put my name down for an iPad 2 despite the four-week delivery.
Since then, like they say, the thing mostly "just works," although the paradigms take some getting used to. (They call the video app "Video." So what do you use to play audio? That's right: "iPod." And I still have no idea why only some of my music syncs.) Otherwise, it's pretty cool, and I get to show people the "blowing on the windmill" trick.