Is There Food?

by Daniel Woolstencroft
  1. Three iPhone 4s, three different faults. That’s where I stand now. Reception issues, “No Sim” errors, and now the yellow screen blotches.

    Do I go back for a fourth kicking? Is three strikes enough?

    Surely it should be. This should be easy, right? They can’t make these phones without faults, why line up for that? Cool, screw ‘em then, let’s go get a Google Phone.

    You can argue that science of antennas and screen adhesives as much as you like, but it’s not about that. It’s not that easy.

    My kids have grown up around the iPhone. It’s regularly handed to them in pubs or restaurants. My son (5) was bought an iPod Touch for his birthday. He reads stories on it, plays games on it, listens to Johnny Cash on it (Tennessee Stud, thanks for asking).

    Today, I took him to the hospital for a hearing test. He took his iPod Touch, I took my iPhone. We played multiplayer FingerFoos while we waited to be seen. It was beautiful man, you should have been there.

    I recorded the whole expedition on the iPhone in the best 720p video I’ve seen from a mobile phone. I edited it together in a couple of minutes when we got back. Then his Mum could see how he got on at the hospital. It’s the most mundane, trivial little thing, but to him it was amazing that he could capture all this and play it back for everyone. He was proud to show the final cut off to his family when he got home.

    I could do this on other phones. My son could have a Nintendo DS or a PSP or something.

    My other son is 2. He’s attached to the iPad. He likes to play with the piano apps, and at bed time he watches Little Bella. The other night he had some sort of nightmare, and couldn’t get settled in his room. He was screaming and wouldn’t go back to sleep. He watched iPlayer-streamed CBeebies using the iPad. Within minutes he was calm, settled. He slept fine after that. iPad is a part of his vocabulary already.

    The whole time I used the Nexus One, neither kid was interested. There are no kids stories, no apps that appeal to them. It didn’t feel like something any of us could get emotionally attached to. Perhaps that’s a good thing, healthier.

    Apple’s secret sauce is that attachment. That ridiculous, irrational, unnecessary attachment. Whether it’s the iPad, the iPhone, your MacBook, iPod it doesn’t matter: it’s not just another phone, or another laptop, or another MP3 player. It’s yours.

    I heard a girl in the Apple store saying how gutted she was that she’d lost her iPod Nano. It’s not even an expensive piece of equipment, but she was visibly, emotionally affected by its loss. That doesn’t make any sense, but it’s the same situation I have here with my family and these shiny little toys that Apple make for us to play with.

    FaceTime taps into that emotional irrationality, it’s a good example of the technological tricks used to keep you on their platform.

    So I’m left with a decision again. Ditch this platform, or line up for another kicking…

  2. I get up at 3am, drive through the quiet streets into Leicester town centre to park up and head to the Apple Store. There’s a queue of about 12 people. I join the queue. That good old queueing spirit is present and correct. We laugh, we joke, we wait hours for the store to open.

    There are lots of iPad owners in the queue. Quite a few MacBooks. The earliest arrived at 9pm the night before.

    We are allowed into the shopping centre. Apple staff split us into a preorder queue and an “everyone else” queue.

    The preorder queue is given priority. Despite the 9pm arrivals, that have queued overnight, the first person into the store was turned up at 7, some 10 hours after the first arrival.

    Lots of preorder queue people go in. No “everyone else” people. After an hour, we’ve not moved.

    Apple staff explain that they have to deal with the preorders first. We explain that the preorder queue is only getting bigger, and that we’ll never get into the store if they insist on keeping that up.

    Eventually they admit that things are not working.

    Finally things start moving. Apple staff say Vodafone is playing up. Despite a 7am opening, they’re not accepting orders until 10am.

    I enter the store at just before 9am.

    I’m invited to play with the phone. A salesman tries to talk me through the new features. He’s pleasant enough, but I don’t want a sales pitch. I’ve been here since 4am. Just sell me the damned phone already. It becomes rapidly apparent that, tech nerdy geek type that I am, I know way more about the device than he does.

    A customer adviser starts to process my order:

    Him: You need a new sim.

    Me: O2 have already given me a microsim, look.

    Him: That doesn’t matter, you need a new sim. That one won’t work. This might take a few hours to activate.

    Me: It’s a microsim, of course it’ll work.

    Him: I have to key the new sim number here.

    Me: It says on screen that that’s not required.

    Him: It won’t work if I don’t fill it in. I’ve tried it.

    Me: Try it again.

    It works.

    I leave with a phone after checking the screen for yellow blotches. There are none. It’s lovely.

    I come home. I try to make a call. If I hold the phone in my left hand, the call drops. I try this four times. It happens every single time. I’m not doing anything special. I’m holding it like every other phone I’ve ever held in my left hand.

    I call Apple’s store. After fifteen minutes in a queue, I get a ringing tone for 5 minutes. There is no answer.

    I call the techincal support line. I get a very foreign sounding lady who asks me what me problem is with. “Oooh, an iPhone 4, my first”, she gleefully exclaims.

    Me: My first too, yeah, and it doesn’t work.

    Her: Oh, what seems to be the problem?

    Me: When I hold it in my left hand the signal drops.

    Her: Excuse me? Really sir? Me: Yes. Her: So if you use it in your right hand is it ok? Me: No really, there are videos on YouTube and everything, if I hold it in my left hand with pressure over the join at the bottom it drops the call. Me: Look, I don’t think you’re taking this seriously. I want someone to sort this. Her: Of course, let me book you an appointment….you can have Tuesday next week (today is Thursday). Me: No good. I queued for this at 3am, I want someone to look today. Her: OK, here’s the store number, call them. So I go back into store. Security stop me from entering, I explain, calmly that I want to see someone about the iPhone I bought this morning. I wait for someone to come and ask me what’s up. Eventually I get in. The “Genius” looks at the phone, watches me perform the amazing signal disappearing act, then proceeds to ask someone to give me a new one. He logs a support call so they can keep track of the issue, he says. So they can report it Apple HQ, he says. He has no interest in seeing any youtube videos or websites. “I’m not putting a link to MacRumors in a support call” he says. Customer advisor swaps the phone. I keep asking if I can try it. He ignores me. I ask again. Eventually I try it, it does the same thing. At which point he tells me there’s nothing he can do. He’s not prepared to open any more boxes, they don’t have enough stock. I can have a refund, that’s it. I ask to speak to a manager, who, I must say was excellent. When he asked to see the fault, the phone refused to drop the signal altogether. It reduced a little, but didn’t drop off entirely. Feeling like something of an idiot, I offer to return home and try it out, on the strict promise that I’ll be back if it does it again. He gives me his email address, insists he’ll get me another one in, and we’ll try to get to the bottom of it. Again, he has no interest in seeing YouTube videos or web links. He suggests that maybe I’m “holding it wrong” or that there’s “something inside I’m covering up”. Sure enough I come home, try to make a call, and the phone does the same thing. I’ll add my YouTube video the list once I’ve managed to capture it on film. I’m going to try getting hold of a bumper or case to see if that helps, but I fail to see why I should use it in a case just so I can make calls. Part of me thinks I’d use a case anyway, so am I fussing over nothing. Part of me really likes the phone, part of me is thoroughly sick of it already. I’ve emailed the store manager, explained the situation, and we’ll see if I get a response. I have 14 days to cancel the whole deal, I believe, so the clock is ticking. (While writing this I’ve had a reply from the Apple Store manager. He’s reserved a bumper at my request, and will happily replace or refund if the bumper doesn’t resolve the issue. I shouldn’t have to use a bumper, but I need to decide if the phone’s positive features outweigh the need to bumper it. And see if anyone sheds any light on why this is happening in the next few days).
  3. Not sure how many people fit into the Android + iPad demographic, but I thought I’d post this in the hope that someone thinks its useful, or neat.

    It’s also a good example of what’s possible on Android versus the iPhone, as there’s no way given the current state of iOS 4 you could achieve this using an iPhone iPad pair. It’s definitely something Apple should consider implementing though - shared messaging and notifications across all your iOS apps would be pretty cool. Especially if the Apple TV ends up with an iOS powered update.

    I came across an Android app called Remote Notifier which can be used to send notifications from your phone to the Growl notification process running on a PC (Mac only at the moment I think, but Windows is coming). You just have to install a notifier app on your desktop, and configure the app on your phone, and it will broadcast notifications when it’s on Wifi (or Bluetooth). Then your Mac wil pop up a Growl message passing on whatever the phone’s said.

    The next step is to configure the Boxcar plugin for Growl, which will send any Growl notifications from your desktop to your iPad (or iPod Touch, or iPhone). This is quite handy for downloaded complete notifications and such anyway, even without the Android notifier component.

    Given the impressive battery life on the iPad, and the convenience of browsing on it when you’re in front of the TV or in bed, not having your phone by your side is a reasonable scenario. With this setup you’ll know if anyone sends an SMS or tries to call you. You’ll even know if your battery is running down.

    Let me know if you find this useful. It’s certainly food for thought when you consider the flexibility of Android powered devices versus iOS ones.

  4. A few things have happened in the last 6 days. Some good, some bad.

    Let’s do the bad first.

    I tried to buy an app from Android’s Market (note: not market place, not app store, just market). And I couldn’t.

    It turns out that if you’re using a Google Apps account (mail, calendar, contacts), and a Google account (reader, picasa, etc) with identical email addresses (so they’re both me@mydomain.com) you can snooker yourself and end up not being able to buy apps. Ouch. There’s a way around it involving creating new google accounts, changing email addresses and the like, but that’s a lot of hoop jumping if I’m not staying on Android.

    Then I discovered that the same problem applies to Picasa. Android automatically works out if your account has Picasa linked to it, and shows you all the Picasa functionality in the Gallery app. Not so if you’ve snookered yourself.

    The camera isn’t particularly great either. It takes a decent enough photo, for sure, but it just doesn’t react very quickly. Trying to take photos of two small children isn’t easy with something as sluggish as the Nexus One’s camera app. The iPhone at least works its magic in ways which we can only try to understand, but it’s little things like that which really make the difference.

    And then there are the good things.

    Things like Google Navigation, which is damned impressive for a freebie. Things like SMS Popup that allow you to transform the way the phone responds to incoming text messages. Twicca, which might actually be my favourite ever Twitter app. And the best, top most good thing that’s happened over the last few days, at least for Android, is that I’m actually starting to contemplate a long term future with an Android device.

    And that’s just about the biggest compliment I can make to the platform. This Nexus One, running FroYo (2.2) that I thought I’d probably hate and that would cause me spend the last 11 days pining for my iPhone has totally transformed my view of the OS. It’s now, in no uncertain terms, viable. More than that, it presents a clear and present danger to Apple’s dominance.

    (and I mean dominance in a metaphorical sense: Apple are seen as the ones to beat in the smartphone arena. They set this ball rolling, they were ahead of the curve. Now, not so much.)

    So what’s my next move? I have three options:

    1) Get myself an HTC Desire. It looks like the custom rom scene is starting to gather momentum, so it shouldn’t be too long before the community have a fully operational FroYo rom for the Desire. It’s a nice piece of hardware. This would also free up funds to by an iPad.

    2) Get myself a Dell Streak. This has sort of snuck onto my list in the last few days. Originally I thought it didn’t feature a phone, but it turns out it does. It’s not a tablet, Dell are barking up totally the wrong tree in my opinion by marketing it as such, but it’s a fascinating sounding bit of kit. Questions are: will it make you look like a tit if you use it as a phone (it has a 5 inch screen)? What’s the battery life like? Why are the shipping it with Android 1.6? And when will it get an update? Oh, and my favourite: will anyone actually buy it if all of the above are negative? This too would free up funds to by an iPad, as I can get the Streak as an upgrade on my current tariff. But would I need the Streak AND an iPad?

    3) Go with the next iPhone, as originally planned. A few days ago this was a sure thing. Nothing else entered into it. Now, I’m not so sure. I have to see what Apple do on Monday. If they simply release the hardware we’ve seen leaked, running the same OS4 I’ve already used on my 3GS, then do we have a compelling update? Things like the better shutter speed, potential 720p video recording, and increased durability all tick boxes, and there’s no way I could hand a Desire or Streak to one of my children to keep them amused. This option would rule out the iPad purchase - it’s likely that the iPhone update would set me back most of what I’ve raised from the 3GS sale.

    But the freedom you’re offered by Android, in fact the sense of power you get from leaping between apps, downloading files, and generally doing anything you like on the handset is addictive. It’s why I can’t write Android off just yet.

    A few days ago I’d decided that in six months time I’d almost certainly get an Android device. I was going to wait until after the next update, let the release cycle slow down a bit, and then get myself whatever the current device was assuming Apple continued on their present course. Now I’m not so sure. Many people I’ve spoken to use their iPhone less now they have an iPad, so is an Android handset plus iPad the ultimate combo?

    We shall see.

    I’ll be posting my thoughts on the WWDC keynote over at Blogomatic3000 on Monday night, and I’ll report back here once I’ve made my decision. I’m hoping to have a play with the Dell Streak tomorrow, so I may post some thoughts on that too.

  5. So much for a post a day eh?

    Here I am: day 5 of using a Nexus One instead of an iPhone 3GS. Despite feeling genuine emotion while boxing up my 3GS for sale, I don’t think I’ve really missed it. Much.

    I’ve been taking notes in Evernote as things occur to me, so for the sake of brevity I’m just going to throw down a list:

    RSS Readers - this was the first thing I went in search of an the Market, and the only thing I’m still not happy with. The state of RSS reader apps on Android is pretty poor. I’ve got NewsRob installed now, but compared to the best of the iPhone (Reeder and MobileRSS, and maybe NetNewsWire) it’s a poor relation. I’m using the web app now, which is probably the best interface to Google Reader on Android, but I really miss Reeder.

    Instapaper - My Instapaper workflow is dead in the water on Android. I used to skim in Reeder, send longer articles to Instapaper, then read them later in the day. No more.

    Multi Tasking - first big Woah moment. I didn’t think true multitasking would be a big deal, but when you can actually use it, it changes your opinion. Hopping between apps with no lag, and no care about them retaining their state is a great feeling.

    Google Navigation - surprisingly capable sat nav app. And also: multitasking! Simple things, like replying to an SMS while sat nav continues to run, really do make me smile.

    Mail client - I haven’t tried with anything other than Gmail, because I hitched my horse to that particular email product many moons ago, but it’s a far better fit on Android than the iPhone. And seeing as Apple are so often at loggerheads with Google these days, I can’t see the iPhone client becoming a better fit any time soon.

    Typing - initially I thought it was horrible. Now I’m not so sure. Word prediction is a great feature, and you rarely have to type more than 4 characters. It’s a totally different approach to the iPhone, but each is probably valid. My Nexus One has some random screen uncalibration fit which throws key presses off, so that doesn’t help. But I’m learning to live with that.

    Install via Email - Woah #2: I sent myself an install package over email, and the email app gave me a big “install” button right then and there. Of course, there’s a security implication here, but if you’re stupid enough to arbitrarily install emailed files you deserve what’s coming.

    Notifications - are amazing. This is less of a “woah” and more of an ongoing “ooh, aah, lovely”. Above all other things, this is Android’s best UI feature for me. Apple take note: releasing the iPhone HD with the same old crappy notification system will be a huge mistake.

    Signal strength - is better than the 3GS. People have moaned about the Nexus One’s signal, but it holds a call better than my iPhone, using the same network, and driving the same route.

    File downloads - Woah #3: download a file, and simply tap it in the filesystem to launch it.

    Network file copy - Woah #4: film my son’s sports day, come home, kick off a file copy to network attached storage while I make a copy of tea, watch videos on a big screen. Awesome.

    Oleophobic screen - Or rather the lack. The Nexus One’s screen gets pretty funky after a while. It’s also pretty much impossible to use in direct sunlight.

    Battery life - or again, the lack of it. Days 2 and 3 with my Nexus One resulted in the device not being alive when I got home, which is something my iPhone’s never done. This was actually very inconvenient on day 3 as there were people I needed to get in touch with. I actually used a pay phone for the first time in roughly 15 years.

    I’m done. Sorry for the gratuitous list action there, but it seems the best way to get my thoughts down quickly. And that’s what these posts are supposed to be about, right?

    I’ll say this: today, with the iPad being launched, I’m incredibly tempted to take the cash from the sale of my 3GS and grab myself an iPad, then sign up for a new contract with Orange and get an HTC Desire. The reason for this is simple: the things Android does well, are phone related activities, the things I primarily want to do out of the house. The things I miss about the iPhone are things that would typically take place in the comfort of my own home, and this I can probably achieve better with an iPad anyway. There’s a disconnect between the two platforms that I’m sure may be bridged over time, with a few well thought out apps and some Android and Apple savvy developers.

    That would be madness though, wouldn’t it? A smidgen over a week from the announcement of the next iPhone, it would be insane to lock myself into a new contract for 18 months. If the next iPhone offers some of the things I’m expecting (iPad level battery life, increased durability, 720p video recording) then I’m going to have a tough decision on my hands. Add to that Apple’s stellar customer support (I’ve never been anything other than stunned by how accommodating they’ve been in my local Apple Store) and each device probably has an equal number of pros and cons.

    And that’s saying something isn’t it? A year ago I was saying Android was a toy, that it wouldn’t ever be taken seriously. And now, here I am, taking it very seriously. Well played Google. Your move Apple.

    See you in a few days.

  6. Our American readers have probably already played with an iPad – I suspect you can stroll into your nearest Apple store and satisfy your curiosity – but as Apple have yet to reveal the all important date for worldwide availability, the rest of the world don’t have that luxury. I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to spend a short time playing with Apple’s latest gadget and thought I’d share my thoughts.

    The first thing that struck me was the screen. I wasn’t even holding the device at the time and the clarity of display, even from the angle I was seeing it, was dazzling. HD videos from iTunes look absolutely stunning, even if the iPad’s 4:3 screen resolution means the video has borders top and bottom. I don’t see this as a big deal: I don’t have a 4:3 TV, but certain aspect ratios still produce borders. It doesn’t bother me there, it didn’t bother me here. The second thing that struck me: the weight. That’s not to say it’s a brick, far from it, but for some reason it’s heavier than you expect. I think it’s down to the effortlessness with which you’ve seen people interact with the device in the videos; there’s a lightness of touch demonstrated and your brain expects the physicality of the device to mirror that. The iPad feels like a solid piece of hardware, well made, and durable.

    The iPad I sampled wasn’t crammed with apps, but what was there impressed me. Twitter needs were catered for by Twitterrific and Tweetdeck, and of the two I think I preferred Tweetdeck. Twitterrific is very pretty, but Tweetdeck better demonstrates the step up from phone class device to tablet device in it’s use of the additional width in landscape mode. Whereas the mobile version only displays one column at a time, this feels more like the desktop version and allows three columns on screen at once (with the usual swiping gestures scrolling between extra columns, naturally). I can see iPad Twitter fans loving this.

    The Marvel comics app was installed, and it’s beautiful. Viewing comics on such a fantastic screen, at a resolution that doesn’t require zooming in or panning around, really opens your eyes to the implications of a device like this for print. With the right subscription models, I think graphic novels and comics on the iPad could be huge.

    I also got to try iBooks, which on first impression is the closest any digital device has gotten to the feel of a real book. The weight of the device feels comparable with a hardback book and little graphical touches, like seeing the depth of the remaining pages, and varying page turn animations depending on whether you turn the page from the top or the bottom corner, all conspire to trick you into thinking this is old school. The only thing missing is some sort of scent attachment to give it that fresh book smell.

    The built-in apps are all suitably impressive too: the YouTube app benefits massively from the increased screen size, and the calendar is a really beautiful piece of work.

    There were a few iPhone games on the device, and they all scale up quite nicely. Particularly Broken Sword, which looked superb on the iPad. Text-heavy apps really don’t scale so well, but look nice and crisp in their native resolution.

    Perhaps one of the most mundane sounding apps, but the one that impressed me the most was Safari. Apple have said “it’s like holding the web in your hands” and it’s very easy to roll your eyes and write this off as hyperbole, but there’s something in it. Seeing a web site filling the iPad’s gorgeous screen, zoomed at a perfectly readable resolution, and requiring only the lightest touch to navigate, really does make mouse and keyboard seem primitive. Years ago we thought the introduction of the scroll-wheel onto a mouse was progress, but being able to gently brush your way through a website seems like the natural next step. You really are taking the middleman out of the equation, and letting your fingers do the walking.

    Finally, I wanted to get to grips with the onscreen keyboard. The notes app seemed like a good choice, so I set the iPad down on a flat surface and tried to touch-type. And the results were pretty damned impressive. I’m a pretty fast typist, and didn’t throttle back at all for the iPad, and at a guess I achieved roughly 95% accuracy. Sometimes the iPad compensated for my errors (which feels quite strange on what’s nearly a full size keyboard) and other times it gave me a squiggly red underline to indicate that it needed some manual intervention in determining which word to use. I’m sure with a little practice I could become quite proficient with its keyboard.

    So there we have it. I only got to spend a very short time with the device, but even at this early stage the iPad is an impressive piece of technology. I had no issues with wireless connectivity, and I didn’t detect even the faintest trace of sluggishness in all the time I used it.

    Apple are due to unveil their next mobile operating system in just a few hours, and we’ll have some thoughts on that, and what it means for the future of Apple’s devices, after the event.

  7. 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.

  8. “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?

  9. I said there were a couple of things I wanted to post, and despite that fact that it’s taken me days to get around to it, here’s the first.

    It’s a zombie short called Plague, and it’s awesome. I really hope Matt Simpson gets to make some more films, because he seems genuinely talented.

    Enjoy.

    PLAGUE - OFFICIAL SCREENER from Matt Simpson on Vimeo.