Smaller Macworld still offers up surprises
Macworld | iWorld is much smaller than the cavernous expos of old. Still, I found myself intrigued and often surprised by some of the products on display.
Special to The Times
When Apple decided to stop exhibiting at Macworld Expo in 2009, many people assumed that was the end of the show. The event, now dubbed Macworld | iWorld, was held a week ago and is much smaller than the cavernous expos of old. Still, I found myself intrigued and often surprised by some of the products on display.
People want styli: Steve Jobs famously asserted that if you have to resort to using a stylus to operate a tablet computer, you've already failed. As a former dedicated Palm user, I've used styli for too many years — I don't miss them at all on the iPad.
But for drawing or writing short notes, a stylus can be essential. It's also helpful when using an iOS device in cold weather (unlike earlier years, I didn't see any exhibitors hawking special gloves that work with touch screens).
The issue with using a stylus with an iPad or iPhone is that the screen doesn't react to pressure: it's capacitive, detecting the electricity in your body when your finger touches the glass. So a stylus needs to channel that energy to be recognized.
Studio Neat demonstrated the $25 Cosmonaut, a stylus that looks like an oversized child's crayon . Inspired by the feel of dry-erase markers, the Cosmonaut has an aluminum or wood shaft encased in grippy rubber.
For more of a pen feel, the $100 Adonit Jot Touch combines a springy tip, software and a Bluetooth connection to gauge pressure sensitivity in supported apps. It also has a "precision disc," a transparent plastic part that makes contact with the screen while revealing the point at which you're writing.
If sketching and painting are your main interest in using a stylus, Nomad Brush makes a set of styli that are, in fact, brushes. Ranging in price between $18 and $39, the Nomad Brush uses conductive fibers in the brush head to interact with the screen.
Banish Address Book: Mac OS X stores information about all your contacts in a central database accessible to all applications. However, the built-in application to access and edit that data, Address Book — well, I despise using it. It's always had a bare-bones functionality about it, but the version under Mac OS X Lion has actually gotten worse.
Address Book has adopted the visual style of the iPad's Contacts app, foisting a simulation of a physical book onto an otherwise workable utility. Now, for example, you must click an unmarked bookmark icon to view groups and then click it again, or double-click, a contact's name to view its information. I get a little angry every time I'm forced to use the application.
Cobook is a new Mac OS X utility that may let me keep Address Book closed. Cobook appears as a menu bar item accessible via mouse click or configurable keyboard shortcut. Activate the Cobook pop-up menu and start typing to find a contact.
When one is found, it's easy to add information; the app parses what you type into its main field, so entering most text is recognized as adding a note, but typing a series of 10 numbers is assumed to be a phone number.
You can also synchronize Cobook to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If one of your contacts gets a new job and changes her information online, that data is updated in your library. Highlighting the social-media address displays the most recent information, such as one's latest tweets.
Cobook is available as a public beta, so I recommend making a backup of your contacts database before installing it (in Address Book, choose File > Export > Address Book Archive). The developer expects the shipping version to be available within one to two months; pricing hasn't been set. But even so, Cobook makes me feel liberated from Address Book.
This year's Macworld | iWorld conference also featured dozens of informative sessions from some of the best brains in the Apple ecosystem, live music events, an iPhone film festival and a lot more than just the products on the show floor. Merely three years after Apple's exit, the event is now fully its own entity, not just an extension of Cupertino's reach.
Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.