Touchfire Keyboard for iPad

A long, long time ago, I pitched in on a Kickstarter project for a rubberized keyboard overlay for the iPad. The concept attempts to solve one of the biggest problems for touch typists and typing on the iPad, namely, the inability to lay your fingers on the virtual onscreen keyboard without initiating input. The Touchfire Keyboard for iPad seems to solve some this main problem but, as can be imagined, a rubber on top of a touch screen interface does feel a bit unnatural… it just feels better if there is skin on surface rather than an artificial barrier between you and the one you touch. But, such is the price to be paid if you want to avoid unintended typing on virtual keyboards.

A Screentop Touch Keyboard For The iPad

The Touchfire keyboard is an interesting experience. Although there are more typing errors than with a real keyboard, the ability to actually rest your fingers on the keypads provides a more tactile experience. The J and K keys have the traditional bumps, so you can find your way quickly to the resting position. Although the keys are raised, there is practically no pressure bump when depressing the keys.

This keyboard will come in handy if you need to do a lot of typing on your iPad in an environment where the dictation feature is not an option such as on a plane, in a meeting. Using the Touchfire keyboard is certainly preferable to trying to use just the onscreen display. However, it is not an ideal solution for long term use as you’d be better off switching to a Bluetooth keyboard or moving to your laptop. But, as a lightweight keyboard which requires no power supply, and takes up virtually no space, it seems that it may have hit a sweet spot.

The keyboard is held in place by magnets which work with the iPad magnets to keep it in place. There are small metal bumps provided along with 3M adhesive which stick to an Apple Smart Cover. Those metal bumps then match to magnets not the keyboard itself. Together, the keyboard can then either be left magnetically attached to the iPad for use, or retracted back with the Smart Cover to get out of the way. The keyboard stays in place really well while on the iPad for typing, yet unclips easily due to this magnetic set up. The Touchfire’s ability to move out of the way by attaching to and rolling up with Apple’s Smart Cover combine with thin and light materials to make it an unobtrusive and easy to carry accessory. However, the magnetic clip also increases the width slightly and tends to slip, cycling the iPad on and off if it is set to unlock the screen when opening a Smart Cover.

Typing accuracy is nowhere near that of an actual keyboard, but is efficient enough to make you suddenly realize the limitations of the onscreen keyboard, such as having to touch and hold the “!/,” key in order to get an apostrophe or the “?/.” key to get double quotes and you can completely forget about typing out numbers with any speed. But, of course, these are limitations of an onscreen keyboard which are simply made more glaring by the efficiency of the Touchfire keyboard.

Overall, the Touchfire is a bit of a niche iPad accessory. At $49.99 it is a bit steeply priced, by way of example a casual iPad user saw it and guessed the price to be around $10-$15. But, if this niche fits for you, it might be worth picking one up.

iPad at Trial

Maclitigator just completed a four day jury trial (a.k.a. “in the Soup” as my friend Chuck might say) using the iPad as the primary means of getting information in front of the jury.  Here’s the low down on how it went.

iPad for Trial Presentation

The last post on the iPad indicated that it isn’t (yet) of too much use in the day to day affairs of a trial attorney.  However, at trial, the iPad really shines. Trial technology should be transparent. This means that it should not appear to the jury as (1) overly flashy; or, (2) a complete headache and a distraction to the attorney. Apple has created a product which facilitates presentation of evidence without getting in the way and does so in a completely unassuming fashion.

The iPad sits low and is the perfect size to place next to a legal pad or other notes while at the podium. Using Keynote, all documents to be admitted at trial were loaded in. BlankiPad_Trialslides provided a ‘tabbed’ divider set up, separating photos of the scene, x-rays, medical records, tables & summaries into their respective categories. Once the “Trial Slides” were completed, examination outlines cross referenced the appropriate slide. The slides were not ‘motion slides’ or slide incorporating transitions or other fancy Keynote stuff. Just a single page per picture/document. Photos were grouped as a single exhibit (e.g. Exhibit 5 was a series of 5 photos, or 5 slides in Keynote).  The slides were then printed out and placed in an indexed binder which referenced the Exhibit number, the slide number, and the tab within the three ring binder. In this fashion, slides could be pulled up quickly and all evidence to be admitted was contained in a single Keynote presentation.

All deposition transcripts were transferred to Keynote as separate presentations, using PDFtoKeynote, a great little application that will take a multi-page PDF and turn it into a Keynote presentation, one page per slide.  Because the iPad can switch so quickly between presentations, flipping from the Trial Slides to the deposition transcript slides during a cross examination is an effortless process. Jumping back and forth between evidentiary exhibits and impeachment transcript evidence works like a charm and is much more smooth than wandering around the courtroom looking for the paper documents. PDFtoKeynote also works great for moving over multipage medical records too.

One caveat about using Keynote. If you develop your slides on a iMac or MacBook, be aware that (1) presenter notes do not transfer; (2) some fonts/transitions/image groups do not make the cut and will be replaced or removed. There is an Apple support article detailing these issues, but realistically your slides should be single page evidentiary focused, not slick “hey look at me stuff.”

Hardware Setup

Hardware setup could not be simpler.

(1) a good high lumen projector (>2500 lumens);

(2) a high quality and long VGA cable. Don’t try your local Shack or Bust Buy, they’ll either sell you an overpriced “Monster” cable or tell you that you can’t run long VGA cables because the signal fails. We ran a 25′ thin VGA cable from the projector to the podium with no loss of signal and at a cost of about $25. Our cable came from VPI and was good quality.

(3) an iPad, of course;

(4) a VGA video adapter cable for the iPad;

(5) the silicon inCase for iPad (get the black one, obviously). The iPad itself is a bit slippery. Sweaty palms and all during trial, the inCase silicon provided a great grippy feel and prevented the hard ‘bang’ sound of aluminum on wood at the podium. One downside of the case is that the iPad VGA video adapter would not fit through the opening. This required pulling the case slightly down to plug in the video.

Only twice did a technology hiccup occur during use at trial. On opening a presentation for the first time, Keynote abruptly quit, resulting and returned to the iPad home screen. Tapping Keynote and reopening the presentation quickly cured the problem. It’s a weird little bug that will probably be remedied and can be avoided by opening the presentation in advance. But, even with the ‘crash’ of Keynote, two taps and the thing was back up and FAST. The first time it happened there’s that momentary panic, but it opened up so quickly that the second time it happened I didn’t even notice it.

The MacBook came along at trial, but sat somewhat despondent at counsel’s table. Never once was it taken to the podium. It did come in handy for a quick search, during opposing counsel’s direct exam, for cross exam references in the witness’s deposition. But, iPad then took over by pulling up the transcript for the jury to see. More about the trial itself can be read here.

iPaid for iPad

Putting the iPad through its paces, this post was drafted using Dragon Dictation on the iPad.  What follows, within quotes, was completely drafted and edited on the iPad.

“We keep hearing about the iPad’s “magical” experience. However, the only magical thing about the new iPad is the ability to make people pull money out of their pocket and simultaneously make them blind to the shortcomings of the device which they receive in exchange for that cold hard cash. Getting any real work done on the iPad is next to impossible. The keyboard itself makes typing documents more than difficult. But, add to that fact a complete inability to move documents easily back and forth between the desktop and the iPad a practice in frustration.

So, here is a complete review of the iPad as relevant to attorneys.

What it’s good for right now.

Right now. There are some amazing things that the iPad can do. Following is a list of applications which are necessary for attorneys.

Dragon dictate. This little application is quite amazing on the iPad. It enables you to dictate at an accuracy and ease much much greater then Macspeech/Dictate.

Nuance’s Dragon Dictate represents everything that should happen with a dictation program. I don’t need to train it, I don’t need to alter words in its dictionary, I don’t need to pay outrageous sums for special legal dictionaries. Granted using Nuance to dictate something like 790 3P third 1004 (Utah 2007) can be a bit frustrating.

GoodReader: this application allows you to “mount” an server for remote file storage such as Dropbox or local network hard drive.  Only by doing this can you readily and easily access files which are not available on the iPad. Good reader also allows youIMG_0005 to read Adobe PDFs in an easy way which restructures the text flow so that you are not scrolling all over the screen and also incorporates the ability to cut and paste text, albeit an entire page at a time.

iWork/Keynote: Keynote is going to be an application which gets used at trial very easily. Loading slides in and then scrolling to them during trial will be very easy. You can transfer keynote slideshows from your Mac to iTunes which are then transferred over to the iPad. Or, you can create slideshows directly on the iPad itself. Assuming that you have loaded all necessary images into the photo browser.

What it’s not so good for:

Right now the iWork applications simply have no usable means of transferring documents back and forth between an iPad and a desktop machine. There is no built-in file management system for the iPad. Additionally, many of the advanced features in keynote and numbers will be lost on transferring over to the iPad.

Bottom line: wait to buy the iPad. There is no specific “need” for attorneys to have this device at this time. While the future of the iPad may hold magical and amazing things in store for attorneys, the inability to do any significant work and the complete lack of applications which support the workflow of an attorney

What to look for down the line: There needs to be a more robust and easy-to-use method of transferring files back and forth between a full desktop computer and the iPad itself. Additionally, there needs to be a more legal specific applications. OmniGroup is going to crank out OmniOutliner for the iPad as well as OmniFocus.  Both of these will be welcome additions.

Additionally, if Circus Ponies were to create an iPad version of their Notebook software this would be an amazing addition to the iPad which would make it infinitely more usable for attorneys. Specifically, either OmniOutliner or Circus Ponies Notebook would make taking depositions with the iPad very very easy and enjoyable, to the extent that a deposition can be enjoyable. In effect, no more playing the who sunk my battleship while asking questions over the top of the laptop screen thrown up as a barrier between you and the deponent. Similarly, either of these applications, if they supported an external monitor/projector hookup, would greatly increase the efficiency with which direct and cross examinations could be conducted at trial while simultaneously displaying the exhibit, document, or other evidence directly on screen for the jury and judge to observe.

Finally, look for Apple to create a feasible file transfer solution. The current method of transferring files back and forth is a complete mess. Requiring users to transfer files via iTunes is simply unworkable as it not only makes things unnecessarily complicated, but the net result is two different versions of a single file.

Sent from my iPad”

A few notes: Cut and paste from Dragon Dictation into WordPress did not work. Additionally, the screenshots, although taken directly on the iPad, were also uploadedDragon Dictate Error via a MacBook. Finally, Dragon Dictate has some kind of word limit to what it can handle (see screen shot). After dictating for a while, the app gives an error message that the server is busy, but if a new dictation note is started, it works just fine.

End of a Love AffAir.

I am writing to tell you that this relationship just isn’t working out for me, even though we’ve been together almost one year. I need to be happy and I’m just not happy anymore. When it all started, the sparks and super sexy attitude filled my eyes so much that I could not accept that you just did not complete me. And, I must confess, I have been seeing someone else. Yes, they are a little thicker around the middle, but they really fulfill all my needs. Plus, no offense, you’re smart, skinny super thin sexy, but you just lack the processing power I sometimes desire. Also, you are a little uptight, not enough ports and slots.  And don’t get me started on the way you hide your battery and memory.  I can see why you hide the memory part, it being so small and all.  But your battery too? Finally, that hard drive…. so shallow and slow and scant on space. A bulimic supermodel, always a binge and purge of information and data just so you could fit into that thin aluminum shell.  I know you’ll find someone who truly loves you for what you are, a white hot, super thin model of aesthetic perfection. They might even tolerate your diva like demands of a high price for low output. But me, I’m moving on. The new MacBook has all I need, even if a little bit heavier, I can live with the weight gain. So, goodbye Air, we’ll always have the memories.

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a laptop a paper thin slice. Take my advice and here’s what you do, get a fatter laptop to carry round with you.

MacBook Air On the Road; ModBook Gets Probed

Traveling this week with the MacBook Air. A few things of note: air2.jpg

  1. On a five hour flight from Las Vegas to Anchorage, the battery was still chugging along at 25% (wi-fi disabled) when the flight attendant told me to put it away because we were landing.
  2. Some early reports suggested that a high-speed USB internet adapter would not fit in the Air’s unique flip down USB port. However, the Sierra Wireless AirCard 595U slides in no problem.


  3. Some shock and dismay when attempting to lock the Air down with a Kensington cable as the Air has no Kensington lock receptacle!
  4. On the plus side: the Air actually fits inside my hotel’s in-room safe (unlike the 15″ MacBook Pro replaced by the Air).

In other news: PC Mag reviewed the ModBook and gave it a paltry 3 out of 5 recommendation. For a rig that costs $2,600+ it really should do much better than 3 out of 5. PC Mag found the ModBook fell short by having terrible handwriting recognition, no rotation of the display (you are stuck with portrait mode); including a GPS antenna instead of WWAN (yeah, that’s just bone headed); lack of keyboard; and, heavy for a slate (5+ versus Motion Tablet’s 3.3 pounds). So, guess that makes the Air the better choice at this point even though it has neither built-in WWAN or GPS. 

MacBook Air – The Litigator’s Review


So, I bought in. But, it’s no shocker. Prior to switching, and a LONG time ago, I ran a desktop computer and an IBM X20. Why? Power at home, utility on the road. The X20 fit perfectly for long sessions doing document research & review, went through depositions, hearings and meetings with a breeze. The desktop provided screen real estate, more power, a dedicated DSL connection and loads of hard drive space. The more things change, the more they stay the same.Evolution, not revolution.Many fault the Air not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t… revolutionary. The Air fits a niche, but doesn’t redefine a product line like the iPhone, or practically invent a market, like the iPod.So, present day, I run a MacBook Pro 17″ for screen real estate, power, hard drive capacity, lots of i/o paths (firewire, usb 2.0, dvi etc.) and the Air goes to depositions, meetings, hearings and, of course, the couch… because it’s just that light and I’d rather surf tech reviews and news or summarize depositions than devote my full attention to another mindless professional sport.No, the Air is not for everyone. For professional hardcore computer users, it’s a second laptop. For students (with enough capital backing), or everyday users who travel alot and like to carry their computer along, it’s a first and only computer. If you really want to edit video in Final Cut Pro and massage images in Aperture, get MacBook Pro.


D4… You Sunk My Battleship!

At some point, Microsoft began pushing the Tablet PC format. Any professional (attorney, accountant, psychologist, investigator, auditor, physician) should be in love with the tablet form factor. Setting a laptop between yourself and a deponent (or anywhere on the table for that matter) instantaneously creates a perceived barrier to communication. You know how you feel when you are at some bureaucrat’s counter and they look at the screen you cannot see? Laptops accomplish the same thing for interviews of any kind. The tablet form factor eliminates the “You Sunk My Battleship!” feeling from any interview or deposition.Also, walking to a podium carrying a tablet seems much more natural than walking to the podium carrying an open laptop… Sorta like carrying a large notepad. And, of course, typing notes while speaking with a judge fails miserably when compared with jotting notes on the flat screen of a tablet. In short, I miss my tablet.

Air Everywhere.

So, back to the Air. It doesn’t eliminate any of these issues, but does mitigate some of them. The Air’s light and thin characteristics make it much less obtrusive and more natural to carry around a courtroom. But, that screen still sits at a 90 degree angle, raising the barrier between you and your audience, deponent or interviewee.Battery life, though advertised at 5+ hours has been coming in around 3.5-4.5 depending on usage. Of some note, however, is that the battery takes much longer to charge than your typical MacBook. Typical battery life on my prior slates/convertible tablet PeeCees averaged from a low of 1.5 (?!?!?) to a high of 2.5. So though not making the grade on advertised battery life, the Air lasts a lot longer than my PeeCee tablet setups. Also, the Air’s harddrive capacity and processing power actually exceed most of my prior tablet setups. This means I can carry more information and have it accessible for a greater length of time than previously. Finally, and without a doubt, the Air trounces prior set ups, whether tablet or ultraportable PeeCee, in processing speed, memory and display. So, while not perfect, it fits for now.

A Word on ModBook.

No doubt some of you are wondering why not just buy a ModBook? Well, because I could put my hands on an Air at the Mac store local. I have no idea how well Axiotron integrated Spaces & Expose, features of OS X I cannot live without (especially on a smaller screen). Also, I still need a keyboard and a pure slate simply won’t cut it… In fact, I previously moved away from a Motion Tablet M1600 because it was a slate and switched to an IBM X60t simply to keep the keyboard without having to carry extra junk. Finally, Back-to-My-Mac will play an integral part in trial presentation (more on that in a later post) and I need to know for certain that the ModBook will play nice with screen sharing. Right now, I cannot test any of these things out and because Axiotron is a third-party vendor, no guarantees exist that any of these features will work the way I need.

Pros & Cons

Pro- Light; goes anywhere; super bright and fast screen (almost feels like an instant-on computer); small form fact makes it less obtrusive.

Con- Still a laptop; battery life not as advertised; a little bit expensive.This review, of course, focused on the litigator perspective for the MacBook Air. If you want a ‘spec’ breakdown, I suggest: TUAW’s review.