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Aperture's book worms

Written by Chris Oaten Tuesday, 10 August 2010 23:46

Not long ago, I implored you to commit your most precious images to hard copy form and, as was rightly pointed out in the forum by Xenophos, the best way to do this is to put them in a photo book. I couldn’t agree more.

Aperture 3’s book layout tools are vastly improved over version 2, with better control over some crucial design elements. Among my favourite are the improved text handling tools you invoke using the ⌘-T key combination. My favourite button in the pane that pops up is the letter width tool, which looks like this:

Professionals refer to letter width adjustments as tracking and kerning. Tracking adjusts the amount of width space applied to all body text and kerning applies to adjusting the space between a pair of letters. You can use A3’s letter width tool to both track and kern. Select all text to adjust tracking, or select a pair of letters to adjust kerning.

And what’s the big deal? The big deal is that going to the trouble to adjust tracking and kerning to improve legibility can add a professional touch to your books. For instance, in most fonts, a capital A and a capital V have a huge gap between them that can impair the way the human eye scans across a page. Kerning them so that they are closer together improves legibility.

You can use tracking creatively, too, by putting additional space between letters. Think of the poster for the film Aliens as an example of this treatment. Best not to to over-use that one, though. It’s already a bit tired. I can’t offer a lesson in tracking/kerning techniques here. It’s not really my strong suit but, if you want to know more, you could have a look at some tutorials here.

I won’t say any more on it, other than to suggest an exercise. In a new book layout, enter the words “This is a headline” into the cover’s default text box — which is the only text box on the page, you can’t miss it. Then select the text and hit that ⌘-T combo. Then start playing around with tracking and kerning. I won’t tell you how to make it look better. Just look at what happens and decide for yourself. You’ve had plenty of practise reading, so let your own eyes be your guide. As an example, I’m a fan of the HeadlineA font for, well, headlines. Problem is the spacing between words is massive, as if you had hit the space bar twice, so I always select the first and last letters of adjoining words and track them together.

This is just one new feature among many that makes A3’s book layout mode a terrific way to get your photos and the stories behind them into print and looking sharp. However, there is one aspect of ordering a book from Apple that might lead to tearing your hair out. It involves managing the title on the front cover and the associated spine text. I’ll outline the problem and offer some workarounds.

The problem: If you didn’t already know, A3 automatically generates a PDF when you push the “Buy Book” button. Generating the text that goes on the spine of your book is built in to the PDF creation process that A3 undertakes to generate files to be sent to the printer. The spine text is picked up from the default text box on the front cover. If you use two lines of heading, and do so by using a hard return, A3’s PDF generation can't parse it as a single line of text for the spine and truncates the second line. It’s there, but you can’t see it. In some fonts at some sizes, you may see the ascenders (ie the top of an L or P) jutting from the bottom into the line of spine text you can see. This is hardly acceptable.

A3 also defaults the text colour on the spine to black, so if you have a black background the spine text is entirely obscured. You can’t see it. Again, it’s there, but you can’t see it.

The workarounds: If you want to use two lines of heading in one text box, you can work the automated spine text process in your favour as long as you’re not creating a cover with a very dark or black background. Here’s how.

Enter the title in the default text box. Make it any size you want but small is best. Manoeuvre the text box to a position on the cover where it won’t obscure other page elements and lies within an area of solid colour. On a wraparound cover, you can even move it to the back cover. Then use the text colour tool to sample the colour around that text box and apply that colour to the text. This will cause the text to merge seamlessly with the background. However, A3’s PDF generates a line of black text for the spine. You are then free to add additional text boxes to the cover page to handle headline text in any way you like.

Multiple lines, different fonts, sizes and colours — whatever you do with additional text boxes won’t affect the spine text, as long as you don’t delete the original default text box.

But what if you have a cover with a black background? There’s a way to get white type on the spine. In fact it’s better than the previous workaround, as long as you’re using a wraparound cover. You simply create a new text box, enter the title, choose an appropriate size — nine or ten points is good for most fonts — and rotate the text 270 degrees. The rotation tool is in the Layout Options pane, which you hide or reveal from the gears icon menu that sits under the page thumbnails.

To get this vertically-aligned text box dead centre in the wraparound layout for your cover, create a guide by adding another text box sized to exactly the width of the cover. The text box “handles” located in the centre of this empty text box will reveal the dead centre of the wraparound layout. You can also use an empty picture box but you should remember to delete these empty boxes before sending the book to be printed.

One last tip is to be sure to softproof your book. After you press the “Buy Book” button to get your order under way, there is an option to preview the book in PDF form. You should definitely do this is you want to be certain your workarounds with the book title haven’t generated any unexpected outcomes. If you do see something unexpected (and there may be other glitches in the book during the PDF generation), cancel the order and go back to the drawing board.

I’ve noticed when ordering the extra-large book size that elements can slide around the page when the PDF is generated. This may lead to a white border around an image that appeared to be flush to the edge of the page when you were designing the book. The simple workaround is to go back to the photo box, select it, and resize the photo box so that its edges lie beyond the edges of the page. This may be tricky with tightly cropped shots that already are near the edge of the page. You may need to re-crop an image or select a different image. I haven’t seen these anomalies occur when creating the smaller sizes of books, so I have a suspicion there may be something weird happening under the hood.

To finish up, I want to offer some kudos to the people at Apple online services, who did an amazing job helping me while I worked through the problems that led me to offering you these workarounds. I ordered an extra-large, 82-page book through Apple that came back with an inking error on one of the pages. It looked like a bit of hair or fluff had landed on the paper during printing, preventing the ink from coating properly.

When I registered a complaint, the cost of the book was refunded without question. When I re-ordered the book, Kit at Apple internet services, upon his own initiative, picked up that there was an issue with the spine text and cancelled the order on my behalf so I could fix the problem and re-submit the order. I then went to the trouble of outlining the problems I’d been having, along with my workarounds, and complained that A3 doesn’t offer users enough flexibility in managing title text and spine text.

Apple responded by saying my concerns had been passed on to the Pro Apps group for further support. Each of these email exchanges involving book order issues were turned around within hours. Apple has been getting some pretty bad press lately and while I’m not yet sure if it deserves the negative coverage that “antenna-gate” has caused, I do know of many instances in the past when Apple support has gone totally off the rails. When that happens, Apple deserves a rap on the knuckles. However, there are times when exceptional customer service deserves to be highlighted. And this is one of those times.

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iPhone 4 arrival events

Written by Matthew JC Powell Friday, 30 July 2010 13:20

Unlike previous iPhone releases, at which the customer queues themselves were notable, this time around lines of eager iPhone purchasers were a given for the major carriers. The question was not "who will be first in the queue" but rather "which queue will be the coolest place to hang out".

In Sydney's George Street you had your choice of venues: Optus's queue stretched around the block and then some while only the first 50 in line got to see Kelly Rowland perform; Telstra had musical guests and Masterchef caterers; and Vodafone/3 offered its customer an alternative to queueing with a party at the fashionable Ivy.

(In the tradition of "best laid plans" of course people were still lined up past 1am to get into Vodafone's non-queueing party.)

Alex Kidman and MJCP spent the evening flitting between the three telcos (and the hardy souls lined up outside the Apple Store despite the fact it wouldn't be open until 8am) to check it out. Read MJCP's coverage on Twitter and watch Alex's video record below.

Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site

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Apple's secret (blue) strategy

Written by Alex Kidman Monday, 26 July 2010 08:36

As I write this, it's four days until Apple releases the iPhone 4 in Australia.

That's pretty much all I know, and even that's only based on two bits of information. First, there's Steve Jobs' reveal of launch dates at the recent press announcement regarding free bumpers and antenna problems, and then (with a tip of the hat to Clinton Philips for tweeting it) there's Apple's retail page which at the time of writing even lists a time Apple stores might be open on Friday to sell it.

Beyond that ... nothing. Likely to cost more than $A719, because that's what an 8GB 3GS now costs. Probably not a lot more than $A1000, because that's what a 32GB 3GS used to cost. Probably available on plans from carriers starting at around $A59 a month, because that's still prime territory for smartphones, and there are a lot of rather nice Android models on the market right now at that kind of price point. All of that is just slightly informed guesswork, though.

Trying to follow Apple's product strategies is rather like being a mushroom. You know. Being kept in the dark and being fed ... well, you might be eating, so I won't finish that particular phrase. I'm sure you know where I was headed.

Sitting down and pondering the facts on Apple, and for that matter mushrooms yesterday, I came to a stunning realisation. A realisation that reveals once, for all time, Apple's exact marketing strategy. The pieces fit together so neatly, so perfectly that I'm stunned nobody's ever noticed it before.

The company once known as Apple Computer is run by Smurfs.

Stop giggling in the back there. I'm serious. Let's consider the facts.

First, the broad sweep.

Remember when Steve Jobs said that the iPad was "Magical and Revolutionary"? Smurfs are magical creatures. Magical creatures who live in mushrooms. Magical creatures who live under broadly communist rule. One might say … revolutionary.

Looking at leadership styles. Papa Smurf rules over the utopian Smurf community with absolute authority, a beard, and a costume that never actually changes, but is distinctively different to everyone around him.

Remind you of anyone?

When Papa Smurf is deposed from the throne by "King Smurf" — clearly a thinly veiled reference to John Sculley — everything goes wrong for the Smurfs, and only Papa Smurf can save the day.

Papa Smurf is into herbal medicine, as is Steve Jobs. Sure, Jobs doesn't appear to have blue skin, but that's just because the Steve Jobs we see is a complicated robot body, run by Papa Smurf himself. That whole issue with the liver transplant was, I suspect, an excuse for the robot body inhabited by Papa Smurf to be rebuilt with A4 processors inside of it, instead of the ageing PowerPC processors he'd been running on since the mid '90s.

That presumably means Grey Powell is Drunkard Smurf, and Jonathan Ive is Painter Smurf. Phil Schiller is Greedy Smurf. Woz is clearly Handy Smurf, as he does all the heavy lifting around the Apple Campus. I could point out exactly who Smurfette is, but then I suspect Apple Australia's PR team would never talk to me again.

The whole issue of iPhone 4 reception woes? The result of an argument between Brainy Smurf — the clear technical designer in Cupertino — and Jokey Smurf, who likes things that explode. It's clearly not often that Jokey is allowed input into the design process, but he's also to blame for MacBooks that overheat, graphics cards that don't fit properly and every mouse Apple's released for the past decade.

Gargamel's original primary interest in the Smurfs was so that he could figure out how to turn them into gold. Have you looked at Apple's share price recently?

Getting back to the iPhone 4 and the lack of information surrounding it, any time that humans (I think I still broadly count under that definition) attempt to come near to the Smurf village, they get hopelessly lost and confused. Unless a Smurf is willing to show you the way to the village, you'll never find anything out about them. As someone who has tried on countless occasions to get comment out of Apple, I recognise this strategy implicitly.

Just in case you're still shaking your head in disbelief, consider the classical description of Smurf characteristics.

They're blue. What colour was the original iMac?

They're exceptionally small — something that Apple has worked for with every iPhone and iPod release to date.

In fact, they're not just described as small. It's rather more explicit than that. Consider the classical description of exactly how tall Smurfs are. They're not three inches tall. Not three retail copies of Windows Vista tall.

They're always described as being three apples tall.

I wonder if it's actually legal for small magical blue creatures to run a major US corporation?

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iPad, iFolio, iSuccumbed (well, almost)

Written by Chris Oaten Tuesday, 20 July 2010 14:09

Surprisingly, the Oaten household has been iPad-free up until only recently, when it rained iPads. One was bought for junior as a 16th birthday present, another arrived soon after on loan from Apple. A double epiphany, as it turns out.

The time for a review of Apple’s wunderkind pad/tablet has long passed but I figured I’d share my thoughts on it as a photographer’s aid. This is quite the challenge because every time I pick the iPad up I find myself drawn to playing Doodle Jump or Need for Speed Shift. As a gaming device, the iPad gets the thumbs up from me.

But I digress. I knew that would happen. Didn’t beat my Doodle Jump high score, either. Again.

What I did manage to confirm in my time with an iPad is that it can be a terrific tool for previewing images. I’ve got some runs on the board here, so let me share with you the devices against which I’m comparing the iPad.

My Canon M80 is a pretty good photo box. Epson makes something very similar called the P-7000. At 140x81x34mm, the M80 is a small device that wears well as a belt attachment. With an 80GB drive and slots for CD and SD cards, it’s hard to beat for portability. I’ve used it whenever I knew there’d be a long time between laptop drinks, such as when roaming a racing circuit.

Two problems with the M80. It’s slow, and the battery life is terrible. Best I’ve ever got from it is about three hours. The 3.7in TFT screen, however, is excellent. The M80, at $1100, also is expensive. Especially as it’s a one-trick pony. It stores pictures and videos. That’s it.

Another device I’ve wanted to like a lot is a digital photo album from Digital Foci. This is very much like a digital photo frame, with a leatherette cover and front-mounted controls. It has only a 4GB internal memory capacity, which is its biggest downfall but its screen, about the same size as an iPad but with a coarser resolution, is its saving grace. Photos go into it via CF, SD or USB and, as such, makes for a handy sales tool. However, it, too, is a bit slow.

I had long hoped for a device that combined the portability of the M80 with the visual appeal of the Foci’s large-enough screen. Hello, iPad.

The iPad doesn’t quite measure up to the M80 on the portability front. I don’t see myself attaching one to a belt while I go walkabout. The iPad does slip into my camera bag a lot easier than a MacBook, though of course the iPad has neither the versatility or the processing grunt to match. What it does have is a quicksilver response to user input, which is great.

Why? Because if you are going to use it to preview images for someone, as I did on the night before writing this, you want to be able to flick away the dud shots you don’t want to share. Either that, or be more selective in the first place about which images you choose to import. Sitting in front of someone while ticking or unticking import previews is not only tedious but kind of spoils the mood of the moment. A bit like when you’re talking to someone more interested in their text messages.

Few professional photographers would ever expose themselves to this kind of potential for embarrassment. I, too, see it as a risk. Indeed, there was a series of shots that I thought was working really well while firing them off but, in reality, not so much. It was a bit humiliating to reveal my misdirected creativity.

Even so, it’s high marks to the iPad as a preview tool, though I would always make clear to anyone previewing images with me in this way that they shouldn’t judge the image quality. This will come later, after the RAW versions have been processed.

The other use for the iPad is as a portfolio. I reckon on this score the iPad is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can’t be beaten for versatility. You could store a number of portfolios that show your different styles or strengths and easily combine a new set of images tailored to a specific interview. What’s more, with the visual grace that a Keynote presentation offers, you can make your portfolio really shine and help it stand out from the crowd. Until, that is, the rest of the crowd has an iPad, too.

The flip side is that while the iPad is a great portfolio tool when displaying to anyone who buys images for 72dpi applications (web pages and so on), the size of the iPad’s display can do little to demonstrate that the quality of your technique and equipment are up to the task of producing fine art quality prints. If you were thinking you could use an iPad exclusively as a portfolio tool, I wouldn’t advise you against it, but I would say you should still have a set of your finest prints, just in case some old-fashioned fuddy-duddy like me wanted to be reassured your print workflow was up to the same standard as your digital presentation.

So if you were to ask me if I would buy an iPad to help me with my photography, the answer would be “no, not for now”. And here’s why.

For a start, my daughter has one. So when the occasion calls for it, her iPad can be put to work.

However, the thing I most want to do with an iPad, which is to set up a workflow that allows for wireless transmission of images into the iPad’s photo album, is simply not feasible. I can’t do this because the iPad doesn’t allow for creating ad-hoc network set-ups. Sure, I can create an ad-hoc from a laptop and shunt images in a folder via a third-party app such as Air Sharing. And, to be fair, this works OK, except that the folder of images is locked inside the Air Sharing app. I want them in the Photos app, where they are fun to share.

Also useful would be the ability to import/export between apps. This would allow me to, for instance, shunt images wirelessly from a laptop to the iPad using Air Sharing, and then export an image into a Bento library from which a sales order could be generated, along with a model release if needed.

Better yet would be the ability to link the iPad to an SD Eye-Fi card. I’d shoot to CF card and SD simultaneously, allowing f or wireless transmission of JPEGs from SD card to iPad without interfering with accessing RAW files from the CF card.

Even better than that would be for Apple to recognise that users may want to use the iPad in ways that don’t fit within Apple’s definition of the way it should be used, and give developers the tools to create the support for a workflow of the type I just described. An import button in Photos that lets me grab images stored in other iPad apps would make a great start. Unless it can already be done with a third-party solution. The App Store is a forest of possibilities in which it can be difficult to spot the tree with the solution that fits.

If anyone knows of that magic faraway tree that does support the workflow I just described, please let me know about it in the forum. Please. I desperately need an ironclad excuse for buying an iPad.

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Apps Gone Crazy

Written by Alex Kidman Tuesday, 20 July 2010 00:31

Prince made headlines recently by declaring that the "internet is over".

Before you panic, no, he's wrong. Quite wrong. Especially the part where he declares computers and digital gadgets to be no good because "they just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you".

Utter rubbish. I've never had a problem with my iPad besides the 000001010101010101010101011110101011111010101010WOZWOZERE10100001010101010110101

Sorry, where was I?

It was part of an interview the minuscule Minneapolis musician did with the UK's Daily Mirror to promote an album he was giving away with the newspaper and, naturally enough, generate a little controversy. He's no stranger to controversy. It was the name of his fourth album, after all. He also went on to declare that releasing albums via a newspaper made perfect sense because it eliminated online piracy.

That bit didn't work there are copies all over the net right now, probably more than there would have been had he not said that. For the record, I've sourced a completely legitimate copy of the album via a relative of mine in the UK who bought (with some embarrassment) the paper in question. It's not very good. The album, that is. I already had a low opinion of the Mirror.

Anyway, before you worry — that you've somehow slipped from MacTheMag into PrinceTheMag — there is an interesting tale to tell here for App developers.

Prince's problem — well, one of them, anyway — is that it's increasingly hard to sell music in a crowded marketplace, especially if you don't like the established labels that much. Sales are down for everyone, even with the remarkable success of iTunes. There's a generation out there who happily just download every skerrick of music they can find without ever expecting to pay for it. It's a bit tough to keep yourself in shiny white doves and purple motorbikes in that kind of environment.

Aside from generating controversy, which helps sell newspapers and promote the deal, there's some sensible business here for Prince. He got paid upfront by the paper (and apparently by several other European publications) for delivering the music to them. For all I know, they may have even paid for pressing the CDs and sleeves to put them in. He writes, gets paid for the music and in one sense can happily ignore the piracy problem because he's already got the money. Depending on the nature of the deal, quite possibly more money than either a record company or ongoing sales might have netted him in this day and age.

So then, a market where there's a flood of content, much of it acquired for free, in which it's hard to compete or even stand out. That's the music market today. Does it remind you of anything else?

It reminds me of the App market. For every Angry Birds there's countless other games. For every Hipstamatic, countless other photography apps. And so on, and so forth. The established method for getting noticed tends to be radical price drops in order to shoot up the App charts. That might net you some notice, but not a significant chunk of cash, and you're gambling that word of mouth and App chart placement will reap some kind of reward down the track. Unless, that is, everyone's moved on to the next free App of the day. Otherwise, you're just blithely hoping somebody at Apple will notice your app and decide to feature it on the iTunes front page.

This is where I reckon a little clever marketing might just make a world of difference. There's established precedent in the Australian marketplace for iTunes giveaways, for a start. The Herald/Age newspapers gave away iTunes music and video content over Christmas last year, a deal that undoubtedly involved Apple and the papers playing nicely together along with the content providers. Clearly, the infrastructure exists, whether it's a matter of a website to generate the codes, or a one-day-only code.

The trick is a marketing one convincing an established outlet (whether it's a newspaper, magazine, coffee chain or petrol station doesn't matter, as long as it's mass market enough) that it's worth paying you upfront for the App in question. Sure, you'd perhaps lose out on a percentage of sales to people who might have otherwise handed over the cash, but you get instant prominence (and potentially the same shooting up the App store rankings boost you'd get out of a "free" app switch) and a payout upfront. That to me seems better than the financial Russian Roulette than current App development seems to be.

Or perhaps, as Prince would have put it once upon a time, I've gone crazy. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to look for the purple banana before they put me in the truck.

What do you think? Do App developers need to innovate in their marketing and sales approaches in order to make actual money?

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