Article Tags: Tech

  1. I realise that for some people a single post on the iPad might be one post too many, but allow me to indulge my inner schizophrenic for a moment and play a little game I like to call Devil’s Advocate.

    Yesterday’s reaction was unquestionably the response of my inner nerd; the techy person, the guy who cares that Apple has made their own CPU for the device, that knows what CPU means, and that actually reads tech specs.

    But after a conversation with an old friend on Twitter, I’m starting to think – in fact I’m pretty much convinced – that it’s not about me. And, dear reader, there’s a good chance it’s not about you either.

    I owned the first generation hard disk based iPod, back when they came in Mac or Windows flavours. I had to format my Mac flavoured iPod to work with Windows. I had to use specific software to get music onto it because there was no iTunes for Windows. It had a black and white display. And people really didn’t get it. It was odd to them, seeing me carrying around all my music on this little box. You copy your music onto your computer? Nutter. Just look at the iPod now, eh? Even my mother-in-law has one.

    And then I got a touch screen mobile phone, back when Windows Mobile looked modern, and that seemed weird to people too. Using a stylus to drive your phone? Freak. Now it’s odd, maybe even unfashionable, to have physical keys.

    With the iPad, the shoe is on the other foot. I’m the one that, maybe, doesn’t get it. Because it’s not about me.

    Windows 7 is not intended to provide a good tablet experience. Snow Leopard, in just the same way, would suck as a tablet os. Any platform that’s been conceived for a mouse and keyboard is a non-starter for a tablet. They’re two fundamentally different approaches to interaction, and it needs something else. And that “else” is still evolving. It’s not as mature as the software that I – and maybe you dear reader, if you’re even a sliver as techy as me – have been using for years.

    As an example: my son is four years old. He can navigate his way around my iPhone effortlessly. He launches whatever app he likes, listens to music, plays games. He knows how to quit them. He knows where his favourite shortcuts are. My other son, is 18 months old. He knows how to unlock the iPhone, that the flower icon means photos, and that he can swipe left and right to see pictures. He can find the picture of iCarl on the homescreen, fire him up, and tickle him for a bit. Then wave bye bye when he goes away.

    There is no way on Earth my youngest son could accomplish that on a PC or Mac running a desktop OS.

    If I handed either of them the iPad, they’d be up and running in seconds. And there are, as Steve Jobs said yesterday, 75 million people just like them. 75 million people, who don’t need to worry about anti-virus, or firewall, or Windows Update, or anything other than using their fingers. A massive group of consumers who don’t even use the phrase “smartphone” because as far as they’re concerned, the iPhone is just their phone.

    To drop into techy mode again for a second, I wanted to mention the screen on the iPad. It’s using a technology called IPS (in-plane switching) that’s specifically designed to make the screen look better when you’re not directly in front of it.

    Think about that.

    They’ve used a technology that even I wasn’t familiar with, and that costs more than using inferior technology, specifically to make the iPad work better from other angles. The obvious implication for that is typing; you still need a decent view of the screen if it’s flat on a table and you’re typing on it. But think about sharing the experience: flicking through photos like people used to flick through an album, browsing the internet together, and – here’s a radical thought that I hope someone else has had and will develop – board games. Imagine sitting around a table, the iPad in the centre, and you’re all taking turns playing a board game with a dynamically updating board, brilliant graphics, and extra content just a download away. Imagine an iPad version of Snakes and Ladders if you want something simple. Or, for anyone who wasted their youth hanging around a Games Workshop, image Space Hulk on an iPad. Here’s another thought: the iPad has a really nice looking calendar. It’s also got a wireless connection. It can sit on a dock in your kitchen and sync up with all the calendars in your family. With a quick tap you can see everything you’re up to for the next few months. And when you want to go and slouch in front of the TV, unhook the iPad, take it with you.

    I mentioned photos. That 18 month old son I also mentioned: he loves flicking through photo albums. Showing someone photos on a laptop isn’t anything like the experience of leafing through an album. I’ve got a slideshow on my TV of digital photos, but even that lacks the intimacy of sitting next to someone and showing them a visual representation of your memories.

    There’s the boring stuff: this thing would be superb for schoolwork. Imagine a bluetooth or wifi connected classroom, where the teacher beams things to each iPad as they need to. There’s no restriction on age – you can paint on it, type on it, read text books on it. From pre-school to university, the iPad could have applications in education far beyond anything we have today. Beyond that, consider its potential uses in a medical capacity. Remember the diabetes monitor Apple demonstrated during the iPhone 3 SDK unveil – scale that up to something that runs on the iPad.

    You can moan all you like about the lack of multi-tasking, but right now all I’m doing is typing. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity of experience: focus, make the most of what you’re doing. Screw multi-tasking. Do one thing, and do it well. Maybe it’s only us ADD techy types that feel the need to maximise the potential of every last second of our time. And what actual percentage of that 75 million iPhone using horde are actually bothered about multi-tasking?

    All these things I’ve described are very mundane, in a way. They’re not exciting to the technologically focused individual who wants more fantastic bells and whistles on his device. They’re there for everyone: the wife, the child, the student, the parent. Apple are trying to sell a device that millions of people can use easily, safely, and enjoyably, and in doing that they’re inevitably going to leave a few boxes unticked for the more technologically proficient.

    It’s not about me. It’s about them. And if they buy into it in the way they’ve bought into the iPod, or the iPhone – maybe not with version one, maybe with version two or three as the price inevitably drops further – then the iPad really could change the way we approach computing in the modern home.

  2. “When something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical” says Jonathan Ive in the slick, enthusiastic video launch of Apple’s no-longer-mythical tablet device, the iPad.

    Magical? I haven’t played with one myself but I’d go so far as to say that the single biggest problem with Apple’s launch today was that it lacked just that: magic. The device can, albeit unfairly, be described as “a big iPod Touch” and almost certainly will be.

    But that really is grossly unfair. It’s clearly a very well designed, desirable piece of technology. I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t want one (although it did take the previously mentioned slick video to convince me), but then the geeky, gadget-obsessed part of me always wants a new Apple toy. The problem Apple has here is that nothing could possibly have lived up to the pre-launch hype.

    So let’s try to take a step back from the hype, and evaluate the device fairly: it’s got a 9.7 inch screen, running at a resolution of 1024×768. It sports fast 802.11n wireless networking, and at its heart is Apple’s custom-designed 1ghz A4 processor. There’s a variety of internal storage options (16, 32, and 64 gigabytes), and optional 3g support for use with mobile phone networks. But the tech specs, are for the most part, uninteresting beyond the realisation that Apple now manufactures everything, even the CPU.

    What’s interesting is the operating system and the applications: the software that’s driving the device and the software you’re going to use on it on a daily basis. The iPad is running iPhone OS 3.2, and is compatible with iPhone apps; either displaying them in a small 480×320 window with huge black borders, or blowing them up to full screen using “pixel doubling”.

    The device’s applications evoke a strange deja vu sensation for anyone with an iPhone. They look oddly familiar, yet they seem new at the same time. The email application, for example, is 1/3 the iPhone’s email application, but then 2/3 full screen preview. At least, in landscape mode; in portrait it looks just like the iPhone version. There are nods to the iPhone throughout the device, and yet everything feels weirdly spacious. There was much song and dance about the new iBooks app: Apple’s version of Amazon’s Kindle app, or the very popular Stanza app. Indeed, iBooks is the iPad’s main weapon in a direct attack on Amazon’s Kindle device. Why buy a device that just does eBooks (although Amazon did recently announce their intention to allow Kindle apps) when you can buy one that does everything?

    Apple also unveiled their iWork suite for the iPad, perhaps giving some indication of the kinds of people they’d expect to be using it. No iLife product for the device at this stage, only iWork. The applications look slick, pretty, and typically Apple-esque but… Text entry is via an on-screen keyboard, with the keys spaced very much like Apple’s current line of keyboards. You’re not supposed to use your thumbs on the iPad, they want you to type like you would on a real keyboard. And that’s where the shine starts to wear a little thin. The angle of attack for typing on the device doesn’t look at all conducive to comfortable text entry for larger amounts of text. At first glance it seems less comfortable for short text than even a smartphone’s on-screen keyboard. Apple sell an add-on keyboard dock for the device, but using that destroys its “take it anywhere” charm; you’re now transporting your iPad and clumsy looking keyboard bolt-on.

    And so we start to touch on the dichotomy at the heart of the iPad:

    Text entry: potentially flawed.

    Application support: if developers don’t support the iPad you’re going to be looking at a range of scaled up iPhone apps. There’s going to be any more iPhone users than iPad users for some considerable time. Not to mention the introduction of another platform to fragment the app store.

    Video: the iPad supports 720p playback, but the screen is square, not widescreen, and less than 720p HD. Output to a TV is also restricted to 1024×768 according to Apple’s tech specs.

    Features: it doesn’t do anything that other devices don’t currently do. The iPhone has book readers already, as do other mobile platforms. Other devices let us view photos, send email, keep a calendar, or any one of the features on Apple’s iPad Features page.

    We’re being presented this magical, revolutionary, best of breed device that doesn’t seem terribly appropriate or efficient for some of the things it does, and doesn’t offer anything dramatically new on top of other devices.

    What’s even more disappointing in all of this is Apple’s apparent lack of fixes for the iPhone’s current problems. The homescreen design remains the same: pages of applications arranged in grids of icons, requiring the user to swipe-page their way from one end of the device to the other. Spotlight is included, a feature hastily introduced to the iPhone to attempt to tame a system that was never actually intended for use with installable applications. There’s no indication that the device’s notification system has changed: its applications will still use Apple’s much criticised push notification system, which in turn will still suffer from the same issues it currently has.

    The biggest issue with a device that’s specifically designed for productivity (and the presence of iWork confirms that’s the intention) is a lack of multi-tasking. You can’t listen to streaming music using an app while working in iWork. You can’t display a web page on screen while creating a presentation. You can’t display your notes while writing up a finished article. One app at a time please.

    In terms of what the iPhone OS does – and this applies to both the iPhone and the iPad – things haven’t really come on. And the smartphone competition is starting to catch up, even if Apple have a head start in the Tablet race.

    What does it all mean for the iPhone? Current reports are that the development kit for the iPad is not compatible with current iPhones. This doesn’t mean Apple won’t eventually release something, but for now iPhone users are left out in the cold. Indeed, there was no mention of the iPhone with regard to the iWork applications, or even iBooks. The latter is a particularly puzzling omission seeing as Kindle/Stanza/Classics et al already function admirably as ebook readers on the device. There was also no mention of comics on the device, although it’s fairly easy to imagine a third party app covering that shortly after launch.

    One thing Apple really did get right is the price. The cheapest model comes in at $499 which is dramatically cheaper than I expected. They’re not going after the MacBook Air market with this, they’re going after the iPhone market. Which makes a certain sense: millions of people already know how to use their iPhone, so why not replace their laptop with a bigger version. And then replace their TV with an even bigger version! (just remember: you heard it here first – next gen Apple TV to run iPhone OS and feature Wii style remote interface)

    Speculation will now inevitably turn to what’s next. In a few weeks we’ll start to get iPhone 4G this, and iPhone OS that. New hardware, more apps, additional carriers. The hype machine will reboot itself and start up all over again. Apple generated so much buzz prior to this announcement without anyone ever seeing or hearing a single confirmed fact about the device. And they’ve revealed something that’s – aside from generating lots of feminine hygiene jokes – not really captured the imagination.

    I’d love to play with one. I may well buy one at some point. But I remain unconvinced as to whether it will infringe on the popularity of NetBook devices, laptops certainly have nothing to fear, and the iPhone and numerous other smartphone brethren can’t really learn much from it.

    Evolutionary, not revolutionary, would be my take at this stage. But then, they said that about the iPod didn’t they?

  3. By now, it’s quite possible that the whole world (plus dog, cat, or other assorted pets) has reviewed the new and improved Apple iPhone 3g. I, however, decided to wait and see; to use the device for a few weeks and determine exactly what it offers before offering my opinion on it. Read on for the results.

    First off, a short history lesson entitled “My Mobile Life” by yours truly. I’ve always been one of those people that has to have the latest nifty phone and after a while that’s evolved into a kind of phone dependency. I’ve been a heavy user of mobile browsers for awhile, so much so that mobile browsing has probably replaced the newspaper and magazines in my daily routine. Over the years I’ve sampled a number of phones, from Nokia’s earliest smartphones, to Windows Mobile devices of numerous size and shape, to, yes, Apple’s original iPhone.

    I’ve tried both flavours of N95 and a procession of HTC devices (such as the T-Mobile Vario, Vario 2, Vario 3, and HTC’s own Touch), amongst others. A comparison of these three different platforms – Windows Mobile, Apple’s Mobile OS X and Nokia’s weapon of choice Series 60 – will almost certainly be a topic for a future article. For now, we’re here to focus on the iPhone 3g.

    Or are we? Some of the 3g’s most important features are actually part of Apple’s 2.0 software update. Which means they’re not exclusive to the 3g at all: you can easily get them on your first generation iPhone.

    The most prominent of these are, of course, Apple’s iTunes App Store and support for Microsoft’s Exchange server. Both of these work brilliantly. Much has been written on the App Store’s game changing introduction, and it’s certainly the most impressive mobile app installation experience I’ve had since, well, the jailbroken iPhone I owned before this one.

    Many will claim that Apple’s offering is actually less capable than the jailbreak + installer combo, as applications for the store can’t run in the background on the device. This kills any potential MMS applications, chat applications, or even Last.FM’s excellent Scrobbler utility – which would monitor the tracks you listen to and upload them to Last.FM.

    Current Apps range from novelties to budget trackers, to games, to blogging apps (hooray for the recently released WordPress client). There probably really is something for everyone and this is growing on a daily basis.

    Perhaps the App Store’s key offering is an impressive end-user experience. If you have no interest in jailbreak, or indeed have no idea what it is, then you probably don’t know what you’re missing and think the App Store is wonderful. And let’s face it, that’s probably the vast majority of Apple’s customers.

    By the same token, if you’re not aware of Microsoft Exchange, you don’t care about Exchange support on the iPhone. But for a large number of corporate users this is important. There are a few issues with calendaring when syncing with Exchange, which will prevent adoption by power users and anyone who’s enjoyed the excellent integration offered by Windows Mobile, but if you need to sync your contacts and email on the road using an iPhone, it’s a great solution.

    For those that don’t have Exchange, there’s MobileMe. Apple itself deemed it “Exchange, for the rest of us” and once they actually get it working it’ll be quite good. For now, it’s still occasionally broken and slow. What’s more, it politely tells you to get stuffed if you try to log in with IE7, which is certain to alienate a lot of Windows users. What MobileMe does offer is slick integration, push email, a very pretty interface, and some useful functionality, for your annual subscription.

    However, once Google get their act together and introduce Push Email for the iPhone, it’ll be difficult to recommend MobileMe over Google’s suite of products. Look out for a future article on that subject too.

    On top of all that, the 2.0 firmware offers a number of little tweaks and touches – the ability to consistently tap the “title bar” at the top of the phone to scroll to the top is nice, as is the addition of a stand alone contacts icon (rather than going into phone every time you want to look a number up) and mail’s ability to allow you to move or delete multiple items more easily.

    The downside of 2.0 is that it seems to be a lot less stable. I’ve noticed Safari crashing for no apparent reason, and the SMS and Contacts apps run impossibly slowly at times, until you quit them and go back in. For original iPhone users, it’s possible to downgrade back to 1.1.4 of the software (although it’s not recommended). But for iPhone 3g users, there’s no way back. Let’s hope Apple produce a more stable revision soon. Moving on from the software features of the 2.0 upgrade to the iPhone 3g‘s hardware and things get slightly more interesting.

    The most prominent new hardware addition is fairly obvious from the title: 3g. And, for the most part, it works very nicely. Web browsing is fast, as is email downloading, photo uploading, Facebooking, My Spacing, Twittering, and other common activities. Sometimes you get a slightly crappier signal than others and your browsing experience suffers as a result. Sometimes you don’t get 3g coverage at all, and so you’re plunged back to Edge or below. It’s just like any other 3g phone I’ve ever used.

    Being able to pull down apps while roaming around is a nice touch, and is sure to make many a train journey more interesting. Google Maps is also much happier on a 3g connection – although using it while driving at high speeds on a GPRS connection is a complete non-starter.

    All this shiny new 3g-ness has a detrimental effect on the battery life though, and using that glorious screen, on a 3g connection, while downloading and playing games destroys battery life. During heavy use I’ve had to top up the battery half way through the day, and again once I got home to get the phone to last until after midnight. But I can’t get too annoyed by that: if you’re going to hammer all the features on the phone, expect the battery not to last.

    Having turned off 3g, push email, and other features I don’t need, battery life is pretty good. By “pretty good” I mean “pretty good for an iPhone” of course and you’ll still need to charge your device up every night but I’ve found that the battery in the 3g performs better than the first iPhone if used comparatively.

    If you’re a heavy user, expect to embrace the flood of battery top-up accessories which are soon to arrive on the market.

    Other hardware changes include the addition of GPS functionality, but right now it seems a little like a fifth wheel on Apple’s lovely new car. Google Maps uses it to pinpoint your location with impressive accuracy but vehicular navigation using it is a waste of time. There are a few neat App Store programs (including one that takes a note of where you’ve parked), but right now everyone wants the same thing: navigation. TomTom and others are being coy, but Apple’s App Store requirements suggest navigation software won’t appear on there any time soon. Which is a shame. Do Apple want to sell their own product? Or will a deal be done at some point in the future? We shall see.

    All of this new hardware sits inside a slightly rubbish new plastic back. I just don’t find it anywhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the original model, and it attracts finger prints as badly as the screen. It’s a blatant cost saving exercise, and I suspect we might see the reintroduction of the metal back in a future product once the price comes down. For me, this is a major step back.

    The new iPhone is also somewhat wider. This results in a more pleasurable typing experience, but has the downside of meaning it won’t fit in my car’s docking station any more. Win some, lose some.

    Or in the case of a large number of 3g owners: just lose. Apple saw fit to remove the 3g’s capability to recharge using the Firewire pin configuration resulting in broken compatibility with a ludicrously large number of devices. I’ve asked a number of manufacturers about adapters or cables to get around this problem, but so far I have nothing to report. Watch this space.

    The 2.0 firmware seems to have broken compatibility with a large number of car bluetooth systems too – BMW, Freelander, and other installations have stopped syncing their contacts with 2.0.

    So where does all that leave the iPhone 3g?

    After a couple of weeks of use, I’d be tempted to say: about the same, really. It’s got a quicker data connection, it’s got gps and it’s got a crappy new plastic back, but it’s really the same old iPhone everyone got to know and love. Except, they didn’t, because it was too expensive last time.

    So what Apple have actually done is produced a cheaper, more accessible version of their product and shipped it to a larger number of countries. Along the way they caused chaos during the retail process – my own phone took four days to come online after I’d bought it – and upset a large number of loyal users by breaking compatibility with their existing hardware. All of which for a device that’s got some serious instability issues at the moment, and has some chocolate-teapot GPS functionality.

    The inescapable fact though is this: it’s still an iPhone. It still has the best mobile browser in existence. It still offers a great user interface. It still has the iPod integration (except now you can use any headphones you like, without an adaptor), the multi-touch and Apple’s usual sense of style and elegance. It’s not without its flaws, but the things it does well more than make up for that fact.

    I suspect iteration 3 of the iPhone will be a phenomenal product. Iteration 2, at the moment, leaves a little something to be desired. I still think it’s the best device on the market for the functionality that it offers, but I get this nagging feeling that Apple can do better.

  4. [![]( idspan2-300x180.jpg)]( content/uploads/2008/08/8285-dellstudiohybridspan2.jpg)I spotted these on Dell’s site earlier today. I think they look great: they’re just the right size to snuggle on one corner of your desk, are aesthetically pleasing (except for the bamboo one), and apparently don’t use a great deal of energy.

    I bet they’d make a nice Hackintosh alternative to the Mac Mini, or a decent home server. I’d like to suggest they’d make a good Media Center machine too, but I’ve had trouble getting the integrated Intel 3100 graphics to play nicely before (largely overscan related, tbh, so YMMV).

    So, anyone at Dell want to send me one to review? No? Curses.

    Anyway, link!

    [Dell Studio Hybrid Desktop Details]( /desktop-studio-hybrid?c=uk&cs=ukdhs1&l=en&s=dhs&ref=homepg).

  5. I think this is round 3, not sure now, lost count.

    I’ve just called Carphone Warehouse again (on 0870 087 0168). I spoke to Alan, in Preston, who was extremely pleasant on the phone. In fairness to them, everyone I’ve spoken to have been very polite and efficient. I just think they’re getting nonsense information from other sources and nobody really knows what’s happening.

    Anyway, Alan - in Preston - said that my details were all stored on their systems, and that said systems had sent the information off to O2, but that the aforementioned systems hadn’t had a response from O2. In the words of Alan Partridge “a-ha!”.

    So, Alan (did I mention he was in Preston?) sent the details to O2 again, and also sent them via email. This took a few minutes while I endured the cheesy piano rendition of “Man On The Run” for the millionth time, but Alan returned and said he’d sent everything off.

    Apparently, O2 have sent an email to Carphone Warehouse assuring them that by 1pm today, all Friday customers will be activated. They’ve said the backlog will be cleared today, and as there are no more iPhones to sell, so no new activations, things should settle down.

    I asked how this affects me, if my details were botched and are only just being sent across, and Alan didn’t really have an answer. He said they usually advise 2-24 hours for a new connection, but that with the chaos lately he didn’t know how long it might take.

    So, I’ve not been back to my local store yet, but I’m going to pay them a visit at lunchtime, and see if I can get rid of the nasty Jawbone thing I bought. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good headset if you’ve got a compatible head. My head, it seems, it distinctly incompatible.