Friday, June 04, 2010

Must Watch Friday - new technology by Kate Hardy

Kate Hardy finds a different sort of screen to watch, this week...

I know, I know, the Friday slot ‘must watch’ slot is really meant to be about films and stuff... but I've been under the deadline cosh and I haven't watched a film in AGES. (I have a big TBW pile, including Bright Star, which I'm really looking forward to seeing soon.) And the only drama I've been watching on TV isn't really a romance (Ashes to Ashes – fantastic show, some romantic elements, but it’s not strictly romance). So instead, my 'must watch' for this week is new technology: the kind of stuff that’s really useful for writers. And the one I'm talking about in particular is a screen...

I've been lusting after a netbook for a while, but the big issue for me was that I'd have to get a removable hard drive (or download Word etc from the net) to get Word on there, and I wanted everything to be easy. Plus I find typing on laptops really uncomfortable (and a lot of the keyboards just didn’t feel right to me – yeah, I’m fussy, but this is my livelihood and it has to be comfortable because I don’t want to end up with RSI). And the wait while the laptop powers up drives me crazy – I can go away and make a cup of tea if it’s the desktop, but I’m mobile I want INSTANT.

The alternative was my PDA – which switches on instantly and can transfer Word files easily via an SD card (necessary, because the memory is tiny), but it doesn’t like handling anything bigger than one chapter. You have to use a stylus for typing; handwriting recognition is hit and miss, or maybe my handwriting is just particularly bad. The predictive text is good, BUT the PDA remembers your typos and won't let you take them out of the dictionary.

So far, nothing was better than a desktop for me.

And then came the iPad. Ha, I thought. Load of hype. It’ll be just a glorified iPod Touch. Can’t justify the price tag.

The kids are on half term this week, so we went into town on Wednesday. They made me go into the Apple shop. And we got to play with one…

I have to say, I was blown away - this was everything I was looking for. Light, easy to use, a really good backlit screen (and it has auto brightness so you can use it outside – not like when I’m diving into the shadows to read a text on my touchscreen mobile phone). Yes, it’s very like a large iPod touch (and you can download iPod apps onto it) but it’s even BETTER. It switches on instantly, like the iPod (and the PDA). The screen is the size of – well, see for yourself (that’s a Harlequin on top of the screen). Perfect.

It can handle Word documents (you have to buy Pages to make that work, but the program costs less than the price of an average CD) and it can also transfer them between the iPad and the desktop PC (though I'm still working on the power management side of things - do Apple think all creative types are messy and disorganised and don't file anything, I wonder?). It has a dedicated e-book reader (but the 'Goodreads' app is actually slightly better for PDF files, which is what all my Harlequin e-books are). It stores music, so I can have a playlist organised for the book I'm working on,. And photos (for research - and also means I can have a pic of my dog as my wallpaper). And you can download excellent limbering-up tools (this is the only reason I downloaded Boggle, honestly…).

Keyboard? Well, there's an onscreen touch one, and the Apple case is beautifully designed so it puts the iPad on the slant and makes it easy to type. Above you can see what it looks like if you use the onscreen keyboard landscape mode. You just touch the screen to press the key.

However, you can also buy a keyboard dock (which I did, after trying one out in the shop) and that’s really comfortable to use. No need for a mouse because you can use the touchscreen to move around the document (and I will no doubt learn keyboard shortcuts when I've used it for a while).

Mine isn't connected to the net, yet, as we have a wired broadband connection (but I'm working on that, too!). But I have to say, this is a brilliant piece of kit. And it's definitely going to make life easier for this writer. Instead of fretting about wasted time, I can work while waiting in the car on the school run (developers have closed the road where I used to park, so now I have to leave earlier to get a parking space - and we're 4 miles from school so walking isn't an option).

I know I'm not the only one tempted by this (waves to Maisey Yates). So tell me - what technology have you had your eye on lately, and have you succumbed to temptation?

Kate’s book Good Girl or Gold Digger? (aka the fairground book) is still available in the US and Australial; and in the UK you can get an early copy of Neurosurgeon… and Mum! from the Mills and Boon website. You can find out more about the books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for this, it's MOST helpful, as I have been thinking along similar lines, but hadn't quite got around to doing the research on it. To be honest, was put off from doing the research because of the complexities...your summary (justification!!?) is brilliant. I bet you enjoy using it.

  2. Ummmm, the iPad. I want one... Especially now you've told me about the keypad dock, Kate. Don't think I could use a touch screen to type. I like to feel my fingers hitting the keys.

    Seems my love affair with Apple is set to continue! don't know what it is about their products but they just make me feel all young and hip and gorgeous.... (even though my son says if you use the word 'hip' you aren't). See I've got it bad.

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  4. Carol - it's seriously impressive, and I've just discovered that it fits in my favourite Radley handbag. Result :o) I'd say go and play with one (ditto netbooks) because it's the only way to find out what feels right for you.

  5. Heidi, the touch screen's not that bad (though I think my problem's going to be with the space bar). There are two keypads - the one I have, or the wireless one (you have to buy an extra dock, but that's if you need the screen further away. Given that this isn't a huge screen, I don't need it to be as far away as my desktop screen).

    LOL on your son. Does he not realise that his mum is a style queen?

    LOVE the iPad, though not sure if I'd swap my PC for a Mac. Not unless the file management system on a desktop is substantially better than it is on the iPad (or maybe I haven't played with it enough yet to find out!)

  6. Julie - LOL. I'll let you play Boggle on it at the RNA conference ;o)

  7. Kate, you are sooo gonna get me into trouble! Gray told me to wait for the hype to die down [read: reduced price], and I'd more or less stopped lusting after one...until now and reading your wonderful review.

    I'm going to fwd this post on to the powers-that-be and then wait with bated breath...

  8. Sue - sorry to be such a bad influence! Can't see Apple reducing the price for years; and although I've heard rumours of the HP slate, I can't see it being better than this (or cheaper unless they compromise on the size).

    I honestly thought it was overhyped. But it's turned out to be pretty much what I wanted (bar file management, though that might be my fault) but didn't think was technically possible yet...

  9. Kate: Your post touched on a lot of the issues I've had with laptops and portable devices. I've always been frustrated with the keyboard size. I prefer my Alphasmart for the full size keyboard, but alas, then you have to carry around a whole bunch of other devices. I've also hated the mouse pad placement on laptops. I'm forever hitting the damp thing with the fleshy part of my hand.
    Except for the keyboard issue, the IPAD seems like a good compromise. Especially since I'd love an Ereader as well. Thanks for the article.

  10. Barbara - several of my friends (including Kate Walker and Nic Marsh) swear by the Alphie. But I played with Kate W's and decided against it because you couldn't see much on the screen. I want to be able to scroll quickly through a document.

    In portrait mode (she says, bringing the iPad to the desktop desk to check) the keyboard is actually full size (the qwerty bit, that is - you have to hit a key similar to a shift key to access numbers and punctuation other than full stop, comma, question mark and exclamation mark). It's definitely worth having a play to see if it suits you :o) (I ought to be on commission here!)

  11. The only technology I've been drooling over lately (just call me Gadget Woman) is the iPad. Those lovely people at Apple keep sending me emails with the lovely, lovely pictures ... oh, and I have to keep going to the Apple site to site and watch the demos. :)

    Mine is on order and I can't wait to take it out of the box. I'll be in Shiny Heaven.

    And yes, you should be on commission. :)

  12. Great post, Kate! Yes, as you said, you're not th only one who has succumbed. And I love my laptop, I have to be mobile, three kids four and under, you know?? But my battery like is one hour. Tops. That was not working.

    So, like Shirley, my iPad is on order and it will be here early next week. (rawr! waiting!)

  13. Shirley - it's worse when you live near an Apple shop and can go and play with one... :o)

    Enjoy yours when it arrives!

  14. Maisey - a one-hour battery? Oh, man!

    (And you can get really nice apps for kids on it. Just sayin' *g*)

  15. Kim - you're a Modern Heat writer so you need Modern technology...

  16. Oh kid apps. The Boy has already stolen the iPod, and thinks my laptop is his. He can do things on them that I don't know how to do...if he so much as touched the iPad once...he'll claim it in the name of Aidric and I'll never get it back! LOL.