Getting More Out of my iPad Through Visual Design

IMG_2827The iPad has become my multipurpose device when it comes to content creation as well as content consumption. I am using it as an artistic instrument and a drawing tablet rather than what it was originally intended for. This is real interesting because I am having a blast doing it and I am doing it on a regular 2017 iPad and not the Pro that has the awesome multi-touch stylus that does angles well.

I am using Art Studio right now because I still have not updated to iOS 11 due to game compatibility — I have many games that haven’t been updated to 128bit and would like to complete them before moving on. Then I will dig into the infamous  Procreate mentioned in this best of iPad art app write up on Creative Bloq.

I am doing this while watching Illustrator tutorials and trying to get into vector-based art on my Macs. I have Illustrator, but I hate the aspect of memorizing keystrokes and dealing with so many options at once such as vector masks, live paint, its weird trace options and just learning the program. Art Studio for me right now is just robust enough to do fun things while using a stylus to draw.

Yes, I am using a stylus on a regular, non-pro iPad, and it works well although not nearly as well as the iPad Pro’s. I got the one that has two tips: the fat finger-like tip that almost looks like an eraser, and works well as one when using the eraser tool, and the finer point encased by a see-through round plastic tip. The stylus is available on Amazon for $15 and is reviewed at 4.5 stars currently.

It surprisingly works real well, like I mentioned, and can be lined up well during tracings due to the circular point being see through and the true endpoint being in the middle of it. It truly shows you don’ really need the iPad Pro to start creating great works. Here are some of my recent projects, you may have noticed I have been adding to my graphic design section of the site:

 

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Everything in these pieces was hand-drawn using the stylus, app, iPad and no cut and pasted objects. SOme of the objects, like the door in the first image was done using Art Studio’s square selection tool and fill border, but rest including the circle in the second image was done entirely using the stylus and layers. As you can see, you can do some cool stuff even on the non pro-version of the iPad with a descent stylus and Art Studio.
This is an app not much talked about due to other options out there like Assembly or Procreate, but I  like it more than Adobe’s drawing options and it has great use of effects and layers on top of a canvas that reacts well to touch. I will continue to update the graphic design section so look for more content and may keep posting about it as well. So get to drawing, because whatever tool you use or device and whether you are on an iPad, Bamboo, or a Mac/PC, there is no excuse with so many options available for artists.

 

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Here is a third image I have been working on lately (post publishing this post initially) and it has also been drawn all on iPad using a photo of a cloud in the background (the white one coming out) that I added my own clouds onto and the bird(s). I tried to also add a UFO effect of sorts and some lighting in later revisions:

 

 

 

The funny thing it was created from scratch using the iPad even as a camera and the added on content all via Art Studio on top of the single photo of the light blown-up cloud in the background with UFO coming out of it. Everything else is hand drawn though using a stylus.

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Another Game Shows iOS, iPad in Particular, is Becoming an Amazing Gaming Platform

IMG_2008So, I was browsing the new game list on Pocket Gamer and TouchArcade only to find one of the biggest titles of last year (made its debut in 2016 for Xbox One and later Windows and PS4) just hit the App Store. The game is none other than Playdead’s Inside.

 

This is a huge deal. You may ask how huge? Well the game, for one, got a perfect score or 10 out of 10 on IGN. It was rated as one of the best and most innovative games last year.

This amazing piece of narrative and game design is a psychological thriller of sorts where you guide a boy across landscapes full of peril and danger to safety. I guess describing it can almost summarize describing a game like Ico or The Last Guardian. However, this game plays in a 2D or side-scroller perspective and consists of mostly avoidance of danger and puzzle solving.

The game won all sorts of awards and was even mentioned as the game of the year by much of the press of last year. In fact it being one of the swaying points for me whether I would our hase the Xbox One or PS4 since for a while it seemed like it would stay exclusive to Microsoft’s platform.

It is pretty amazging how indy devs have come and the sway they now have over us gamers. They create some of the most interesting and thought-provoking games for us to sink our teeth into and Inside as well as its prequel (also available on iOS) Limbo prove just how far indy devs have come.

I still haven’t played much of Inside due to my incredible large backlog of games I have to get through on the iPad, but I look forward to playing more of it. I recently also made the plunge on a game called Severed, which made its way from the Sony Vita to the App Store.

These sort of games and experiences are what to me makes gaming on the iPad such a unique and interesting experience. Sometimes the controls do not make the transition as well as the actual games (in terms of content, graphics and everything else), but other times they offer an even superior experience (Severed could be considered an example of this statement as it was designed for touch form the ground up).

There are also many titles being released lately that have been custom-designed for touch and the iOS platform and aren’t available anywhere else. This is what makes gaming on the iPad both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing due to the options we have and constant games that come out of the blue and change the platform’s expectations. A curse due to not having enough time to play them all or try every interesting game that comes along. This is why reading previews, reviews and following the gaming media can make an iOS gamer’s life a bit easier.

It is also worth noting that big-time console and PC games are making their way to the platform and proving the control options are just fine as well as the gameplay and graphics these games bring with them. Now back to that backlog, where should I start first? Avadon or how bout Oceanhorn?

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How to Remain Relatively Anonymous on the iPad

 

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The iPad as many of you may know is my tool of choice when doing almost anything online except playing hardcore PC games, but this is slowly changing (despite iPad gaming almost taking my whole time, I still use my Boot-Camped iMac for this purpose and also own a Macbook Air). I designed this site as a way to celebrate the iPad and although it has had its ups and downs, it truly is becoming a new standard of computing for at least a certain group of uses: those who want simple to use, fun, highly portable, comfortable and in terms of software budget-friendly piece of hardware for their wide variety of computing usage.

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I always thought the Mac, much more so than the PC, was the operating system of choice for those who want a secure, virus-free, and privacy-protected environment. After all, Apple keeps it updated constantly and it comes with a firewall, various options of shredding or securely deleting content (less so on SSD drives) and no registries for every installed app/program, unlike Windows.

This makes it more secure, anonymous and private than Windows, but how does it compare to its mobile cousin, the iPad, relying on iOS? Well, a few years ago, I don’t remember seeing much privacy options on the iPad, particularly when it made its debut. VPN was seen as a premium service for business users then rather than something a mobile device user would even consider. This has all changed now with the advent of Wikileaks, government surveillance and big brother concerns.

The iPad is actually has a pretty good variety of VPN services on the app store and now with the latest iOS versions, they are easy to set up and can become part of device settings and automation. Once you enable the service, you just go to settings on your device and click the on tab under VPN. It is that simple. Before, as in some hears before when I first started learning about VPN, and in older versions of iOS, I do not recall this ease of use. In fact, I actually remember giving up on trying to even use VPN on the iPad.

One free VPN service you can download from the App Store in the form of an app is VPN Proxy Master. It comes with the benefit of a premium license for an additional fee (you can choose from a month up front all the way to an annual upfront payment). This is mostly for those of us who want more servers to choose from, but not much more of a reason to shell out the dough. The app has mixed reviews on the Web, but one thing they all say: it is anonymous and secure.

This is because VPN Proxy Master keeps no logs. So you can safely connect across its wide variety of servers ranging from New York to France or Singapore. No matter what you do online once it is connected, as long as you are safe and stay connected, the app will protect your anonymity and the ip address will be showing only from the servers you connect from. Whatever activity you conduct online will not be logged or recorded by the company, so even governments won’t know what you have been up to; this is great particularly if you travel to the Middle East or China and want to surf the Web from those countries.

The app is also useful for connecting to Web sites that restrict access to regions and tricking them into giving you access to the site or service’s content from that region of the server you choose to connect to. For instance, telecommuting jobs may only be available for sign up from a particular region. This way, you can at least check out those jobs and the salaries they offer without traveling all the way to the location they require.

Another benefit is that apps like Netflix are region based and if you travel somewhere, you may not have access to your account and be able to use it freely. Though if you trick Netflix or the app that you are still in your former region, from which you usually log in from, then you can comfortable continue watching Netflix or using a similar service.

These are just some examples of why using VPN makes sense and is a great option to have. However, another great reason for VPN is security. When you connect over public hotspots, such as a coffee shop’s, you are at risk for data snooping. With VPN, this risk is minimized as it really offers a secure and tunneled connection over the public hotspot.

With all these reasons to use VPN, what are its downsides you may ask? and what are the downsides of the iPad offerings? Well, VPN usually slows down your connection and many of the free options on the iPad, such as VPN Proxy Master, slow your connection down by quite a bit. Usually Proxy Master only offers a few servers with green bars indicating stable and low-latency connections at any given time — a reason to upgrade to the premium version if you have the dough to spare.

One of the complaints you hear about VPN Proxy Master, whether it is the desktop variant or the one on mobile, is that it only offers connectivity to its server database from one device at a time. For me this isn’t an issue as I usually use one device at a time and live alone, but for those of you where this may prove to be problematic, look for other (premium) VPN solutions on the App Store.

Proxy Master also has a weak customer service, but again for me this isn’t an issue as if I ever need customer service I probably will use a different app. One thing that does bug me a bit, however, are its obtrusive ads. Luckily, they do not last more than five seconds.

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VPN Proxy Master just works for me and it’s free. It also connects pretty quickly from the iPad’s settings or from within the app itself as you choose a server from a list. The server list first shown are for the premium offerings, but you can click on the right tab for the free list.

VPN is just one layer of security with many others also needed for a full security package. I may go i to further details later on this, but know that if you combine VPN Proxy Master or another logless service with ProtonMail  (esp through its TOR gateway as that is more sacure than going to Proton from a regular browser and VPN/TOR) and even with some of the TOR browsers, you can truly feel secure when relying on the tablet, for sensitive information, as well as anonymous.

The iPad is no more seen as just a toy or a content consumption device. People do some serious work and even reporting or coverage around the world from it where remaining anonymous and private could mean the difference between life and death. Reporters write journalism articles from it. artists sketch and layer works of art using the iPad Pro’s pencil stylus. Teachers and lecturers show presentations using its various power point presentation apps. And tellers use it to store customer data as well as a cash register. All of these reasons means security and anonymity are great things to have in todays digitally sensitive age.

Please note that there are many other options for VPN on the App Store. There is even a browser called Aloha where you can get VPN directly built into its structure, and also comes with a free option. However, I really like Proxy Master’s anonymity of no data logs and ease of use on the iPad. I also like the fact that Proxy Master tunnels all your Web traffic not just browsing like Aloha. This means you can use it over chat or messengers to name a few services.

Please note that I am no expert on Web security or anonymity, these are just some of the tools I use personally, but there is much more to it to truly remain secure. For instance, you should make sure you are using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) with HTTPS (with TLS 1.2) for websites you visit even with TOR or VPN or a combination of both. You also should have Javascript disabled for many sites.

Latest Graphic Design Project on iPad

So I’ve decided to do a little Art Studio for iPad project of the day to add to the previous blog post I wrote about Grid Autosport landing on the tablet and iOS devices in general. You cam see my blog post here and the image is there.

Below are a few different versions of the image before I got to the final corrected one. Please don’t expect something spectacular, as this was a quick project I did for a single article or because I was simply bored.

Note, I used a prefious drawing of an iPad, which I also used Art Studio to create, thus the whole image is from scratch and done on iPad. Here is the stock image I used from the game:

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And here are the images from working progress to completion:

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also decided to update the graphic design section of the site with this image and two others. One of the new added images on there (the man going iside the TV screen) I was planning on adding to the site for a long time, or that secrion, but forgot about. It was an augmented reality scaling distortion I did for an article that you can still read on PC Gamer about the future of AR and my research about the tech. The article with the image I created cna be found here. Here is the image:

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So there you have it. As you can see, with apps like Art Studio for iPad and many other newer offeirngs, the iPad is a great tool for digital artists, content creators and bloggers.

How iSpot Became the Number One Distributor of Apple Products in Poland

IMG_5236You may not think Poland has the userbase necessary for Apple to be relevant or infrastructure available to support an industry of new Apple products — such as iPhones, iPads and Macs of various specifications, models and sizes — however it does. The userbase is there, the fanbase is there, and various retailers are also there that is making it happen, with one in particular making a presence.

The retailer in question is iSpot and it has been operating in the country since 1991, according to Piotr Krakowiak, the manager of iSpot Marszałkowska street here in Warsaw, Poland. There was some physical store presence since 1991 in the country that had been built up significantly since.

”When it comes to the actual retailer, 1991 is the year it started opersting in Poland, he said.  ”It exists in many cities that now include Krakow, Wroclaw (Breslau), the tri-cities (Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia) and there are nine, almost 10 stores in Warsaw alone.”

I’ve noticed the stores myself after coming here to Warsaw from California, which is the hub of Apple and where Apple Stores are everywhere to be seen. I was struck how similar iSpot is in the way it functions and Piotr reaffirmed my suspicions that it functions based on the Apple Store model.

”We constsntly work alongside Apple,” Piotr said. ”The design and look, the overall regulations and service are discussed first with Apple and based on the overall model you see in U.S.-based Apple Stores. We are the one and only Apple Premium reseller here, but we are a separate company from Apple and the Apple Stores. We are independent from Apple.”

This independence has advantages as the company functions as an independent entity offering additional services that Apple Stores in U.S. may not. While I walked inside one location on Marszałkowska street where Piotr manages, I saw the latest Apple products inside. This included vsious Macs, macbooks, Macbook Airs, iPads, iPad Pros (including a display unit with a keyboard attachment for customers to try out) and iPhones that were brand new and up-to-date in specs.

I also saw various headsets from Beats and a couple other supported companies as well as peripherals, such as iPad cases. It seems the retailer offers various brands you may not even see in a U.S.-based Apple Store, hence its independence status. Piotr told me that iSpots even offer specific products customers can order by request.

”We have our website online, and infolinia (information line to connect with),” he said. ”We allow customers to call and order on the phone, than bring in the product by request.”

The independence may have a bit of a lowdow , however, for those customers visiting from U.S. and used to the Genius Bar the U.S. stores offer. However, Piotrs reaffired that an alternative method exists to help these customers fix their devices when needing it.

”We don’t have the Genius Bar, but we have a an authorized service provider,” he said. This means when someone has a problem with an Apple product, they can come to ask and we will service it.”

This is great news for anyone visiting the nation with an Apple product in-hand as well as anyone looking for a new device to purchase as iSpot offers a little bit for both types of users.

In terms of how efficient the retailer is in getting new products after Apple announces them and brings them onto the market, it is a two- to three-week wait window, Krakowiak said. What you will see when you walk into the stores will generally be new and up-to-date products.

Many of the products I saw were priced very competitively— when converted from Polish złoty to dollars — in that they were to that of the U.S. if not more so. Despite the fact the whole economy functions differently and a product that costs say $1,000 in U.S might be affordable, the same price might be out of reach for a Polish person of the same standing. Yet, despite this and the prices being this high, the demand is definitely here in Poland for such products.

The other thing you will notice when walking around one of the main Polish cities, Warsaw in particular, is how the company is constantly expanding. Again, this shows the drive for Apple products here and the demand is definitely felt in the air.

”The company, iSpot, is growing, Piotr said. ”We are opening a new saloon mid September (by the time you read this it should be open) in the galerii północnej (northern mall) mall area. The design and outlook will be similar to this one and that characterises the Apple Stores.”

The actual brand, iSpot, is independent from Apple, but is a subsidiary of Hili Ventures based in Malta, he said. That is the main company and owner of iSpot. And the firm functions solely in Poland as of now.

This is reslly interesting because walking among the streets of Warsaw I did notice a couple other Apple product resellere, such as TechMac (which is evident looking at the feature list on its website focuses more on services and various business partnerships related to Apple products and may not mind working outside Apple’s warranty evne offering a service to renew the products) however, none of them had that look of the Apple Stores and the number of products and services offered in one location. Nor were they as widespread as iSpot, offering so many locations on spot in the capital.

Another interesting thing is how Piotr mentioned iSpot functioning solely in Poland and not say in Ukraine, Belarus or other nearby eastern countries. I have talked to a Ukrainian friend who said that Ukrainians come to Poland to buy Apple products and there isn’t much avsilable there in terms of resellers at all.

However, I have seen various resellers and distributors of Apple products in Germany, so this seems to be the model across EU. On the other hand, iSpot seems to be as dominant of a distributor and service provider as Apple Stores in the U.S. are.

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Source contact info:
piotr.krakowiak@ispot.pl

Photo Sketch is Pretty Amazing of an App for Artists, Photographers

If you are into photography, art or a little of both, you must check out an app called Photo Sketch. This app turns your photography into works of art.

It does this by analyzing your photo and sketching it out in pencil while you have various options to choose from. You can make the images darker, lighter, the pencil work deeper and more refined, or lighter and more transparent. You can even set different background hues and textures.

The app truly allows for some outstanding effects and I highly redommend it for historical photos, photos of landscapes, photos of street srt and graffiti, and photos of detailed urban settings. Here are some of the things I created using it.

As someone into photography, art (particularly sketchwork, pencil and charcoal), and iPad apps you know this app captivated me from the sedond I tried it. It will be quite a while before I get bored with it considering all the manipulations and esperimentations you can do of just one image.

What’s awesome about it is that it is completely free with additional IAP options as long as youa re willing to sit through ads and can deal with its limited number or background selections. It is just another reason why I love the iPad as an artistic espressiom tool amd a tool for self learning.

My Latest Analysis of Chatbot Technology

Chatbots are really an interesting development as their advances and capabilities continue to improve annually. Today, they are being leveraged in places such as the Facebook Messenger app.

Companies can reach their customer base using a chatbot that is being run through Messenger for instance — I mention this popular approach because everyone is basically on Messenger these days. When used this way, the chatbot can help customers set up their accounts or use various services and operate around the clock 24/7. They can augment (if not replace) call center agents and telecommunication agents that are limited and expensive to hire.

Chatbots are also starting to use various machine lesening algorithms and have a lot of tools at their disposal that humans might not or have a longer time bringing up. This is why they are becoming more popular than ever. Here is my recent analysis for 360Dialog.DE regarding their use and the sort of technology they offer:

Full URL of my article is https://www.360dialog.com/blog/2017-year-develop-company-chatbot/