February 2010 Archives

February 26, 2010

Autism iPod App Review: Look In My Eyes, and Look In My Eyes: Cars: Unique Autism Apps

This week I got an email from the developers at FizzBrain about their apps for children with Autism.  They offered to give me some free time to try out their apps and consider writing a review.  I checked out the website and liked what I saw, so I replied and offered to try them out and review the app.  Here is the write-up they gave me about the games.

"Look in my Eyes," a game to help children on the autism spectrum

"Look in My Eyes" is a game for the iPhone and iPod touch designed to help children on the autism spectrum practice eye contact. The game rewards children for quickly focusing in on a person’s eyes. Through repeated practice we attempt to develop a habit that families can transfer to real life settings as they remind children to use the skills they have practiced in the game. The game makes practice fun as players use the points they earn to buy items for their own virtual world, such as a restaurant or autoshop - a unique reward system that grew out of our decades of classroom teaching experience (we are both teachers, one with a masters degree in special education). We have combined this experience with our extensive training in best education practices and many years of close personal relationships with children who have Asperger’s Syndrome and autism to create a social skills game we hope will benefit your child! We also have some promo codes available for free downloads to families who could benefit. Contact abbiejcort@msn.com if you are interested. We have many more games to come in the future so check back frequently. Read more about the games, read reviews from parents, and see screenshots at www.fizzbrain.com
or http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/fizzbrain/id349835342

These two apps are designed specifically to help those with Autism and Asperger's to look someone in the eyes.  The idea is simple:  provide some detail in the eyes (in this case a briefly showing number), ask the person to identify the number, and they receive a reward.  Once they have built up their rewards, they can use it to "purchase" additional rewards. 

As those with Special Education experience will no doubt recognize, this is simple, effective, and commonly used Behavior learning techniques.  Ideal, I might add, for most if not all children in on the Spectrum.  It's not surprising when you learn that the developers have the benefit of a Masters in Special Education.  And it works.  It works very well.

I downloaded the apps and tried them on my son.  At first I just opened it and let him go at it, at which point he promptly switched out of it and into his favorite apps.  Realizing this will take some time, I then sat him down next to me, started an app, and played with it a little bit.  He then was hooked.  He didn't play it as it was designed to play, as he didn't really care about amassing the reward dollars.  Instead, as he is learning his numbers now in preschool, he did it purely for the number recognition. 

This is something the app doesn't advertise, and yet does beautifully.  My son is excellent with his letter recognition, and can't be tripped up with the wrong letter.  But he's not so strong on his numbers.  So the application does two things:  teaches him to look into the eyes of other children and adults, while also helping him with his number recognition.  It's brilliant! 

Now, I did bill these apps as unique.  Why?  Because they don't focus on communication.  At all.  Instead, they focus on behavior, which children with Autism really need along with their communication skills.  So while a lot of Autism billed apps focus on helping children recognize words, learn to speak, for speak for them, these apps help children deal with a basic social experience:  looking someone in the eye. 

I can highly recommend these apps for any parent with a child on the Spectrum.  Don't be surprised if they don't play the game as you would expect, but as long as they get the basic idea (look in the eyes, see the number, touch the number), you will see benefits.  I only hope to see more apps like this coming from the Autism community that focus on real social skills beyond simple communication. 

If you are interested in learning more about the applications, feel free to contact them.  They also said they would be willing to offer free promotional codes to parents to read the review on this blog, so if you are interested email Abbie at the address above, and mention the blog. 

Thanks FizzBrain for the work, and I'm looking forward to other programs you have coming down the pipe!

February 24, 2010

How I Would Use the iPad and Similar Tablets

Here is my problem:  I don't want to get another laptop, but I need a mobile device that will let me accomplish some specific tasks.  Tasks like writing and editing documents, surfing the web, checking and responding to email, watching videos and listening to music, and a number of other very specific tasks, and all while on the go.  I had hoped that the iPod Touch would take care of all that, but it's lacking in a couple of areas, mostly because while I like the virtual keyboard it's too small to type fast enough to keep up with my brain.  So, taking a page from Patrick Thornton's blog on how he would use the iPad, let me outline mine:

On The Go:

  • The Bus and LightRail:  I currently commute using the MAX bus to TRAX up to the University of Utah.  Using a laptop is awkward at best, because of how close the seats are.  The frustration comes from the form factor:  the clamshell may allow for a touch-type keyboard, but it doesn't allow for easy use with the seat in front of me.  The iPod Touch works well in this environment, even when I am cramped in a corner, but the screen is too small for me to do any effective typing.  Unlike many younger than I am, I am not adept at "texting", and therefore my thumbs seem to be good for only one thing:  the spacebar. 

    It's in this case that a tablet with a virtual keyboard would be ideal.  It's small enough to pull out without taking too much effort, and typing on the screen within my lap would take less space than using a clamshell screen.  At this point, since I would naturally be looking at the right angle to my lap, I could see what I was typing without having to adjust a screen to the right angle.  Also, given 3G or the eventually promised WiFi on the bus system Internet access would allow me to be productive the minute I'm able to sit down. 
  • The Car:  While I normally drive the car, and therefore never use mobile devices while driving, it would be nice to have a device with a large screen for the kids to see while driving.  Some have suggested that I get a DVD player, but I don't want to mess with DVD's, as my son with Autism tends to break them easily.  That's mostly why I opted for the Apple TV to begin with.  So while DVD's are out, I need another solution.  An iPod Touch works great for one child, but what about the other one?  Well, we could use two iPod Touches, but by that point we are pretty much spending the same amount for an iPad, which both could see.  Add a car mount to be between the front seats and an audio cable to pug into the car stereo, and the device starts to make sense.
  • Walking:  Even my little 12" Powerbook G4 is pretty heavy when I carry it around, though it's dimensions are the same (if thicker) than the iPad.  The weight starts to tell when carrying books for students, note pads for book and software ideas, etc.  In fact, I often need to switch from my message bag to a backpack just to carry the laptop, power cable, etc. with me.  The iPad would take a lot of weight away, making my daily walks easier to manage. 
  • Long Commutes:  I commute an average of 2.5 hours a day, it being about 1 hour 15 minutes (give or take) from my house to my office, and then the same back.  Long commutes mean the need for long battery life.  Here my iPod does ok, but the battery is really running low by the end of the day from all the activity I use it for, and that's with a 6 hour video time.  That's also roughly what most modern laptops get as well, though that is shortened by the boot/wake delay.  With a tablet that is always on and has at least 10 hours of battery life, I can not worry about having to charge the device at work as well as at home.  The benefits here is a device that is always on, therefore has no wait time. 
  • Flying:  Occasionally my job requires me to travel.  Flying is troublesome enough without having to lug a laptop with me.  It takes up a lot of valuable space in my carry-ons, which I can use for something else.  A flat tablet would give me the work ability I would need while flying, and the long battery life would let me watch those videos I want to see.  And even if I needed to take a laptop with me, I would prefer to use a tablet in the cramped areas of the airplane (as I inevitably get to sit with the other larger guys on the flight) with more comfort than the clamshell form factor. 

In the Office:

  • Notes:  Typing on a larger screen makes it easier to take notes than on my iPod Touch, and therefore would make it that much more useful than the iPod Touch. A laptop would be awkward to carry into a meeting, use, and set aside when not needed.  Not to mention battery life issues and the screen going blank when I don't want it to.
  • Presentations:  Using a laptop for presentations becomes tedious, because it requires a lot of hookups and cables, a place to set it, and I become tethered to be within reach.  A tablet with a display cable that was long enough (or could be extended) to allow me to wander about with the presentation in my hands would make that much easier, even if all my slides were just in a PDF format.  I could simply swipe through each of them if needed.  Creating or editing presentations isn't that important, though it would be nice.  I have really wanted to have a version of PowerPoint or Keynote on the iPod Touch for a long time, if only just as a viewer.  Having it available for real makes it that much better.

At Home:

  • On the Couch:  Right now having a laptop is not a good option for me while sitting at my couch with the kids running around, trying to get something accomplished.  You see, both my kids like to grab the screen and pull it down their way (opposite me) to see what I'm doing.  Almost immediately it means having to quickly stop their action, which gets in the way of what I'm trying to accomplish.  It can also potentially damage the screen (though to date I've been lucky with my PowerBook).  A tablet would make working from the couch with the kids much easier, as they can see what I'm doing immediately without having to move a screen or pull the thing out of my hands. 
  •  Reading:  I am a prolific reader.  I love to read, and use my iPod Touch extensively for reading in both Stanza and the Kindle app.  I don't use a laptop because it's awkward to read from while sitting or lounging on the couch or bed.  A tablet of some sort would be ideal in this situation, where the clamshell form factor just isn't.  It also would beat out the smaller tablets because of real estate.
  • Special Needs Interaction:  My son is autistic, and as such has very special needs.  Part of that is his need to find a way to focus his mind in order to calm down.  Currently the iPod Touch works for that, though it's very small and doesn't have much real estate for him to work.  I would never let him use a clamshell device because he would inevitably break the screen because it moves.  With a single tablet device with little to no moving parts all the concerns about his breaking is has been reduced.  He's very careful about placing large things like books down, and so wouldn't throw the iPad.  There are also several apps that are targeted directly to children and adults with Autism, making the iPhone OS an excellent choice for me.  Is anyone aware of Autism apps for Android?  I would like to know.

So what about the complaints against the iPad?

  • No Flash:  I hate Flash, though not because of the platform, just for what it's used.  Flash to me means annoying ads that fly in front of text I'm trying to read for the news.  I don't play Flash games, and I don't use Hulu (I found it very unfriendly to use).  When we use YouTube as a family (such as viewing rollercoaster rides for our son), we use the Apple TV primarily.  Why do I like to avoid Flash?  Because it gets in the way.  Sure, other technologies will probably come along that the iPad supports that will get in the way to, but right now it's Flash that is my big complaint.  If there is a Flash only website, I tend to avoid it like I would lima beans.

    Some may say I'm missing out on the richness of the Web by avoiding Flash, but I would counter by saying they are missing out of my patronage by forcing me to use an intrusive program that defeats the purpose of visiting the site in the first place.  It would be like forcing me to install Adware just to use an operating system.  I would quickly find another operating system.
  • No Camera:  I've never once used video conferencing, even when I had cameras.  Text typing tends to be faster, and I don't have to be dressed up or shave my face to use it.  Audio chat is fine too.  That, and I don't see video chat on a Tablet being very useful, because it would be hard to use the tablet still while talking.  Nope, for video chat, a clamshell format would be ideal.  And if I really want to video chat, it would be from my office on my iMac. 
  • No Multitasking:  This isn't strictly true, as the iPod Touch already multitasks, in that I can get email, have a webpage load, play a song with iTunes, and still play a game.  It is more accurate to say that multitasking all apps is not available, and generally, I don't need to.  The only types of apps I would like to have multitask for me is a telephony app like a VoIP app, a voice chat app, or a text chat app.  Other than that, I don't use it a lot, and have learned to do without with these all running at the same time.  As I use one tool at a time, and don't use it much in the background until I come back to it, I don't really see the need for "multitasking".  How do you multitask with your mobile devices?  Let me know, because it would be interesting to see how people use multitasking on mobile devices.
  • No Physical Keyboard:  This is true, though quite honestly I consider it a plus in my book.  I would much rather use an onscreen tablet than a clamshell while out and about, because it doesn't require as much space to use.  Why is that?  Because with a clamshell on your lap, you need to either lean back to see what is going on, or rotate the screen back (almost doubling the flat area of the laptop) to see what you are doing.  Nope, this is definitely a benefit of the Tablet.
  • Closed System:  While I'm all for Open Source, and have taught and worked with Linux as an Operating System, for a tablet device to work well I think it needs to have a controlled environment.  Otherwise you start running into battery issues, performance issues, and all sorts of headaches.  I honestly think this is why Google has Android and their app store:  It keeps the apps somewhat controlled, and therefore controls the user environment.  For small computing devices, I see this as a huge benefit, and so the iPhone OS isn't a barrier for me, it's a blessing.
  • Not A Full OS:  Why do you need a full OS for a tablet anyway?  Most are slow enough on more beefy hardware like a laptop, let alone a device built for less power consumption.  I've heard this argument before, and I can't for the life of me see the benefit of a full OS on a tablet vs. a specialized OS for the tablet.  All I can think of is software.  But why would you want to run a full fledged desktop program on a tablet?  Most desktop programs are designed for a mouse and keyboard input setup, which doesn't port over easily to a touchscreen (another reason Flash would be a beast on a tablet).  While you won't find a replacement for Photoshop or Dreamweaver for the iPhone, I wouldn't be surprised if similar apps start to show their heads now that the iPad allows them far more real estate to work with. 
  • AT&T As The Partner:  Simple:  Don't use them.  The 3G version is open, though there isn't another carrier in the US that will support it, and with a MiFi-type device from any other carrier, you have the same benefits as the 3G version, but on the WiFi only version.  While this could be a valid complaint for the iPhone itself, I don't see it as a problem on the iPad. 
  • There's No Phone:  VoIP with a headset aside, did you really think you were going to put something this big against your face?  Really?  The iPad and tablets don't replace smartphones, and they are not meant to. 
  • No USB/SD Card Slots:  This I can see as a legitimate complaint, though the more the device has to power another device connected to it, the more it will deplete the battery.  While it would be nice to have an SD card slot for additional storage or as a way to quickly upload video/photos from a camera, there are adapters out there for SD and USB connections for cameras that upload into their iPhoto app.  And, just between you and me, I have yet to fill my iPod Touch 16 GB and use it all. 
  • The Name/It's Made By Apple/It's Overpriced:  The name argument is just, well, stupid.  Does it really matter that much to you?  Really?  Well, you can get the Adam if you want, or Nook, or Kindle, or Pete.  Heck, you can call it Pete, or iPete, or RePete.  I don't consider that a real complaint.  Don't want people looking at the name?  Get a skin for your RePete, or better yet, make one.  It shouldn't be that hard, I would imagine.

    As for it being made by Apple and you for some reason hate them because of their marketing success, personal bias, or resentment of how they treat Windows as a platform; well, there are lots of other tablets coming to market, each with their pros and cons.  Some with Windows 7, some with Android, and eventually some with the Chrome OS if rumors are true.  If you don't like a product, you can get one elsewhere.  It's not going to hurt my feelings, and it shouldn't hurt yours if I prefer an Apple product or experience.  As long as it does what you need it to do, isn't that really the point? 

    Pricing for the iPad is actually pretty standard with most retail outlets.  T-Shirts tend to be marked up 56% or so, as are most other products from the cost of the company to produce them.  That's because they have to pay wages, marketing, distribution, and research.  But if you want something cheaper, I'm sure other companies will cut into their profit margins to accommodate. 

So, that is my list.  Honestly, I see the iPad and other similar tablets taking the place of most netbook functionality because of the new form factor.  I don't see them replacing laptops, netbooks, or desktops completely, as those who don't want to have a desktop computer would probably prefer a laptop for their work (like students in a dorm).  But I don't think that having a laptop, a desktop, and a tablet will be a necessity.  The tablet would make one or the other unnecessary (at least for me), and which depends on your needs.

So tell me what you think.

February 19, 2010

Chicago Company Aligning Jobs With Autism

NPR has a story on Morning Addition on the 11th, where for some jobs Asperger's Syndrome can be an asset.  The company is called Aspritech, and is a nonprofit company that trains those with Asperger's and others with high functioning Autism to do data entry and computer program testing.  Why these skills specifically?  Because those with Autism are very detail oriented, and repetitive tasks do not become boring.

The article continues with a similar business, from which Brenda Weitzberg (the founder of Aspiritech) took the idea:  Specialisterne, which is a six-year old Danish company.  Both Brenda and Thorkil Sonne (of Specialisterne) started their companies for the same reason:  they wanted opportunities for their children diagnosed with Autism.  They found that instead of forcing a career on their child that didn't fit his abilities, they would find the career that would match those abilities. 

Like other parents of an Autistic child, I worry about the opportunities that will be available for my son.  Every time I watch him work on a project, focus on a task, and find something he likes to go over again and again, I try to match a vocation to that and the steps necessary to get him into that vocation.  And just the thought of other people out there with the same ideas and the same goals helps me feel as though I'm not alone, and there is plenty of hope for my son. 

Well done, Brenda and Thorkil!  Well done.  Thank you.

February 16, 2010

Oxytocin and Autism: Social Awareness Treatment And Positive Research

Lately the news has been running a story from the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience in Lyon where Angela Sirigu reports those children diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome who inhale the hormone oxytocin were able to pay more attention to eyes and faces, and were more likely to understand social cues (like being ignored) in game simulations.  It was reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released during the mother-infant bonding process, usually the first social bonding that happens with children in their lives.  The research here identified the need for oxytocin in the system of those children with Asperger's to better identify socially with those around them.  The research was completed with 11 men and 2 women with Asperger's, and the control group was equally as large. 

The research is very interesting, because it identifies and treats a huge hurdle in the lives of those with high functioning Autism:  social awareness.  With the introduction of this hormone treatment, those with Asperger's (at least) can identify with their surroundings socially and more comfortably. 

Of course it requires a hormone inhaler, and hormone therapy can be dangerous if not properly metered and monitored.  There are potential risks to any hormone therapy, and we have yet to see if there are any long term dangers to taking Oxytocin for longer periods of time.  I'm hopeful that there will be no dangers to cancers and other problems that accompany many hormone therapies of other types, because I imagine a lot of parents will be jumping on the oxytocin bandwagon quickly and early. 

But keep in mind that this isn't a cure-all for Autism.  There are a lot of other problems that accompany Autism beyond social interaction.  Currently my son is working through his non-verbal issues, which have little to do with the social aspect of Autism.  So before we all think that we have found a "cure" (really just a treatment to manage Autism), let's take a step back and take the research for what it is:  a sign that there are potential treatments for a real medical disorder. 

Oh, and because it's a real medical disorder, that means insurance companies should cover Autism and it's therapies. 

February 12, 2010

New Free iPod Touch Apps for Autism: AutismTest, AutismXpress, and Learn To Talk

Today I thought I would look for more apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch that are geared directly to those with Autism.  Previous searches (such as when I last posted about them), there were only a handful.  Today, however, there are tons, and at varying price points. 

Those at the higher end of the price scale were assistive communication tools, like iConverse, and Proloquo2go.  These at any price below $8,000.00 are, believe it or not, a bargain compared to the other options available with the same functionality.  They all try to achieve the same goal:  help make communicating for those who are impaired easier.  And each one succeeds to some degree, though not all are ideal for an individual Autistic child, depending on their placement on the Spectrum.  As a side note, it may be helpful for a free lite version of each of these apps to be made available so parents can test out the mechanics of the app before investing $50.00 to $200.00 on something that their Autistic child is unable or unwilling to use.

Other apps that were listed were First Words apps (which my son loves), and various ABA flashcard apps.  Most of these are in the $0.99 category, though others can be more or less depending on the volume of content in the app.  These I generally tend to shy away from, as my son is beginning to show aversion to using ABA picture cards for communicating (much to the frustration of his teachers).  So today, I thought I would evaluate and write about three apps that I found:  AutismTest, AutismXpress, and Learn To Talk. 


First is AutismTest.  This was one of several Autism screening questionaires I found in iTunes, some for free and some to buy.  This particular one was free.  The test was developed by researchers at Cambridge University for screening, and is used for online screening.  I was rather dubious at first, as Autism is a diagnosis which requires observation from a psychologist, but I thought I would check it out. 

The First thing mentioned in the description is that this is NOT a replacement for diagnosis.  I want to stress that as well.  If you are looking for any services for Autism, or need to focus on a specific learning plan through your school, you need a proper diagnosis from a certified psychologist.  No one will take this score seriously when looking for real treatment.  But, that being said, there has been come correlation between the assessment and an actual diagnosis, so it would be a good place to start if you are wondering if you should consider getting your child screened. 

The test is not very long, and focuses primarily on attention, social ability, and reaction to order versus chaos.  I found it to be well thought out, very well structured, and according to the test, I have autistic tendencies (I'm very much an introvert).  These are much the same traits looked for when screening for Autism, so I thought it would be something worth mentioning.  But let me emphasize again, THIS IS NOT A DIAGNOSIS!  If you are concerned that your child may be Autistic, take them into a psychologist for a screening. 

The app was written by an Autistic parent of an Autistic child as a method of helping people understand what Autism is.  In that way, I would say they have succeeded.  For that reason, I would say that it's a good app to have for the family with an Autistic child.


One thing that is quite common with Autistic children is the lack of emotional and social understanding.  For instance, they can't tell if you are joking, being sarcastic, angry, or sad.  It just doesn't register.  AutismXpress was created to help them recognize these emotional states. 

The app is essentially a flash card type app, but the faces move.  It's not too stable though, it crashed my iPod Touch twice in 10 minutes, requiring me to reboot the thing.  But other than that, it was fabulous.  I'm looking forward to showing this one to my son.

The app was created for Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), which is the largest Autism support organization for Australia.  The work they have done here is phenomenal, and I look forward to a more stable version.  And it's also for free.

Learn To Talk (Lite)

Learn to Talk is a flash card app as well, with artwork that is very much like the old "Dick and Jane" stories (ink and watercolor).  Essentially the card repeats the word, and then you can click on it for the word again, or slide on to another word.  This was priced really high in previous versions, but the price has down for the pay version to $1.99.  The free version is what I tried, and it seemed pretty good.  I'm not sure how my son will take to it though, as he doesn't repeat very easily, but others have mentioned how helpful it is for their children in speech therapy. 

So, those are the apps I tried.  I'm really looking forward to what the iPad will bring with it's expanded real estate on the screen and additional tools available.

February 11, 2010

Autism. Aspergers, And Definitions: Names Don't Really Matter

Recently the news has been covering a new designation of those with Aspergers syndrome, placing them officially within the Autism spectrum.  Psychologists have long placed them within the spectrum, but they were given their own designation because Aspergers was first identified back in the 1940's.  And now it seems that those with Aspergers are upset by getting placed within the Spectrum officially.  It's almost as though they are losing their identity, their unique place in the world.

Personally, I don't think clinical labels matter in the day to day life of those with Autism.  They still struggle in social settings, have difficulty communicating clearly, and continue to think in a completely different way than neurotypical minds.  But the designations do have some importance, which is why I doubt you will see Aspergers, or any other syndrome attributed to Autism, be completely wiped clean in favor of the general Spectrum designation. 

Firstly, they help clinical psychologists, special education teachers, physicians, and school psychologists know how to best approach a child emotionally, physically, and academically.  Those with Aspergers are less likely to react violently than those with more acute or severe forms of Autism.

Secondly, as genetic research begins to unravel the complex puzzle of the Spectrum, we will most likely find that different genes or gene combinations comprise individual disorders.  This will be huge, and I see it coming down the pipe within the next 10 to 20 years.  Therefore the diagnosis of Aspergers will no longer be based solely on behavior, but also on firm genetic testing.  This will mean very early intervention, early training, and far more success stories of Autistic children being mainstreamed into an education system that will be prepared for their individual needs. 

And lastly, I feel that the designation will live on because those with Aspergers want it to continue.  It's a sign of their unique view of the world, and one that has become a badge of honor.  For that reason, the name will not go away. 

So while the news may be looking for the next big story, the inclusion of Aspergers officially into the Autism Spectrum doesn't make a whole lot of difference.  After all, as Shakespeare penned, "A rose by any other name doth smell as sweet", and a mind, no matter how it is defined, is just as powerful. 

February 5, 2010

Playing with OilCanvas on iPod Touch

Today I thought I would end the week with something whimsical:  pictures I've played around with on my iPod Touch with OilCanvas.  I love painting with oils, though I don't get a lot of time to do so these days, so this was a fun app I thought I would give a try.  I'm looking for this and other comparable apps on the iPad:

[gallery columns="2"]

February 4, 2010

Google SketchUp, Universal Studios, The University of Utah, and Autism

Earlier this week while I was teaching my Mac OS X Support Essentials class, a really good friend of mine sent on an article she read about the University of Utah, Google SketchUp, and Autism.  And just today, as I was returning from administering a certification test, I heard the same news on KSL.  What was said isn't that big of a surprise, but the connections made my eyebrows rise. 

It seems that Google has been getting a lot of feedback with regards to their drafting program, Google SketchUp.  Parents have been reporting amazing work coming from this platform from their autistic children.  It seems that the unique way Autistic people see the world gives them the ability to see and create in three dimensions.  So the University of Utah and Google have teamed up to teach teachers and parents why SketchUp has become such a useful tool, giving children who are generally dismissed because of their ability a chance to show that they have real commercial and marketable skills.  The workshop they are hosting is this Saturday (Feb. 6th) from 10 AM to noon at the Alfred Emery Building (225 South 1400 East in the President's Circle).  It's free and open to the public. 

Now, I'm not surprised that tools like Google SketchUp have become popular with Autistic children, as I can see the engineer in my son's actions and block constructions.  What raised my eyebrows was the collaboration that Google has been willing to do.  Not only do they already provide the basic version of SketchUp for free, but they are actively working with researchers to develop the software with autistic children in mind.  That is commendable. 

If only other companies would take a leaf from Google in this area.  Imagine, if you would, Apple working hand in hand with Autism researchers and therapists to develop iPod Touch and iPad applications that improve communication, learning, and retention among Autistic children.  The iPod Touch is already been proven to be an exceptional and inexpensive (relatively, at any rate) AAC device.  The potential is phenomenal.

So kudos for Google!  I'm looking forward to seeing more companies take charge in developing useful tools for everyone, even if they do think a bit different.

February 2, 2010

The iPad Impressions: Limits, or Rethink?

For the last couple of days I have been reading a lot about the iPad.  As one author said, there's nothing like Steve Jobs to get people talking about new technology.  Whether good or bad, it's been a huge talking point.

As far as I can decipher the arguments online, it comes down to two different points:

  1. Apple is crazy because they have an underpowered Netbook that doesn't even have a full OS on it, and they are going to lose a lot of money.  This is the worst idea in the history of computing, so don't even think about buying one.
  2. Apple is light years head of the rest of the computing world, and everyone just needs to accept that the future is here.  If you can't accept that, you should hide under your rock of old technology and let the new light of reason shine.

The problem I have with both arguments is that neither have been really objective in their assessment.  Both approached the release based on high hopes, and their own colored glasses.  They have generally based their reviews on past computer experiences, management, and tools, and as such their expectations were colored.  And I freely admit, I was one of them. 

Then I read this article on PC World (of all places) about how the iPad isn't a third device, but a new way of simplifying the computing experience.  It put things in perspective for me, things that I have been thinking about, and trying to formulate.

The main complaints I have heard is that there isn't enough hardware to "do the job".  What job is it you need to do in a mobile environment that requires so much hardware?  Are you editing video?  Can you do that accurately with a netbook, and render it?  I don't think there is enough power there, so you would need a Laptop, am I right?  Even then, often times a desktop would give you the best experience, because that is where real power and speed comes. 

Another argument I hear is that it doesn't have a full OS, so you can't multitask.  There is some room for argument here, but how much multitasking do you really do while on the go?  Those of you who have Android phones, do you really run more than app at a time?  I know you can, but how often do you?  I'm not asking to be mean, I'm really interested in what the numbers would be.  I know there are times I would like to have Skype running in the background while I run another app on my iPod Touch. 

But an interesting answer to the Multitasking argument, and the underpowered OS, etc, is this article on 9to5Mac about a Citrix client available for the iPad.  That's right, they were able to easily turn the iPad into a thin client.  And the resolution is high enough that it will work, unlike a Netbook. 

Another argument I hear is the lack of applications that people want.  What is it you want to accomplish?  Have you searched through the App store to see if there is an App that will let you accomplish your goal?  What about a free app that will work?  I'm impressed with the huge breath of content there, and I'm looking forward to the many iPad specific apps that will show. 

So what is the iPad to me?  It's hard to describe, because each app makes it something else.  In that case, it is a real computer, because it will do what I want it to do, and with a simplicity that will keep me coming back to it, and relegating my desktop for more intense computing needs.  I can write code in a text editor if necessary, access a secure shell client to get into a larger server (like my desktop at home), copy the files there, and run the code.  I have, essentially, a true client computer that becomes a portal to any number of more powerful computers for more intensive tasks. 

I can easily see the iPad becoming a part of my life as a computing portal, instead of just an eBook reader, or just an Email reader, or just a Web browser.  With VNC, Citrix clients, and other such apps being made for the device, I see real potential here.  And I'm still waiting to hear if Blizzard will make a Warcraft app.  ^_^

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