My introduction into the world of trading card games began almost 2 decades ago when a friend of mine gave me my very first deck of Magic: The Gathering cards. I didn’t wholly understand the mechanics at the time but I can remember it being a great way to pass the time whilst waiting for the bus to pick me up from school which was an hour away from anywhere. The interest faded in high school, that solitary deck sitting on my shelves for a number of years before it was opened up again. Today I’m more of a filthy MTG casual, attending a draft every so often and playing when my friends and I get together. In that regard then Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft would seem to be right up my alley as it’s almost entirely centered around casual play.
Hearthstone is a free to play card game that uses the vast wealth of lore within Warcraft as inspiration for the cards, abilities and character classes that make up the core game. Long time Blizzard fans will notice familiar names popping up, from the big names of Warcraft lore to the lowly mobs that you might only encounter once when levelling a character in World of Warcraft. The mechanics are simple to understand, especially considering that they’re rigorously enforced by the game rather than you having to remember every rule yourself. Of course the initial simplicity belies the complexity inherent in the various mechanics and wider metagame, making it quite a challenge to master.
Blizzard’s signature low poly work makes its appearance yet again in Hearthstone as whilst it would appear to be a 2D game on the surface it’s actually more akin to the 2.5D adventure games of old. The table you play on is littered with little 3D elements like a zeppelin drifting listlessly around its tether point. Unlike many other digital trading card games though Hearthstone employs a variety of visual effects for creature abilities, spells and almost everything else making it quite an interesting experience visually. It’s not so heavy that you won’t be able to run it as I’ve heard the iPad version works well even on the generation 2 devices, albeit with a little stutter here and there.
Mechanically Hearthstone will familiar enough to most trading card game fans that it can be picked up very quickly although there are some notable differences that change the way a typical game plays out. For starters you don’t have mana/land cards in your hand, instead every turn you’re granted a number of mana crystals that you can use to cast your cards. This means that the pace of the game is rigorously controlled and that no game can really be decided until turn 4 or 5. Additionally you’ll play as one of many character classes, all of which have access to an unique ability as well as a set of cards that other classes do not. So whilst on the surface the Warlock’s ability of being able to pay 2, sacrifice 2 life to draw a card as many times as they want seems overpowered it’s in fact not as their library of cards is designed with that in mind.
The practice matches, ones done against the AI, are a good way to get familiar with the way that the classes play and how best to counter them. The AI, as in most games, can get a little predictable at times, favouring offing your creatures before they try and target you. This often leads them to make incredibly bad trades against some of the stronger cards putting you in a much better position than you otherwise would be if you were facing off against a human. Still even after a dozen or so games (mostly to unlock the characters) I did manage to find myself losing if I made a mistake or didn’t play my strengths against their weaknesses, a common thread that will continue on through competitive play.
Talking over Hearthstones matchmaking with some of my friends who’d just started playing it had shown that the experience was somewhat lacklustre, with many of the people they faced off with often having cards that they simply couldn’t get access to for a long time. Indeed when I first started playing I found much the same thing which was made even worse when I gave the arena a go. However I think this is predominately a function of the default decks being completely crap than anything else as once I found some basic decks online, ones that could be constructed without spending a single dollar, I found I was able to win matches much more consistently. Sure there were times I’d come up against legendary cards that I found incredibly hard to deal with but at least with a non-default deck I had tools to manage them.
The free to play nature though does mean that you’ll either spend an inordinate amount of time grinding out levels and gold to get the cards you want or you’ll have to pony up for some card packs. Now I don’t begrudge Blizzard for doing this, it’s their prerogative to make money off the games they create after all, however it meant that the time required to build up another class to the level I wanted to play it at was a little prohibitive. Some of the more advanced decks did look like a lot of fun but honestly I didn’t really like the idea of spending a good chunk of change just to give them a whirl. Of course I know this has gone the other way for many players as building your way up to that can be just as enjoyable as levelling a new character.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a fun trading card game, taking many elements of its various physical counterparts and wrapping it up with mechanics that are uniquely Blizzard. For those of us who’ve played trading card games before the mechanics will familiar yet different enough to provide some interest and the healthy competitive scene means there’s always bigger and better things to strive for. It’s free to play nature was what lost my interest after a while as I wasn’t particularly keen to invest my cash in getting better cards but considering the number of other players around I get the feeling I might be the odd one out here. For fans of trading card games and the Warcraft universe alike Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is definitely worth a look in.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is available right now on PC and iPad. Total play time was approximately 8 hours.
I wasn’t going to write about Apple’s latest release in the iPad Mini and iPad 4 mostly because there wasn’t really anything to write about. The iPad 4 was a bit of a shock considering that the 3 is barely 6 months old and was a pretty significant upgrade over its predecessor so you wouldn’t really think it needed a refresh this early on. The iPad Mini was widely rumoured for a very long time, so much so that blogging about it would feel like I was coming incredibly late to a party that I didn’t really care about in the first place. Thinking about it more though the iPad Mini represents a lot more than just Apple releasing yet another iOS product, it’s a sign of how Apple is no longer in control of the market they created.
Steve Jobs famously said that a tablet smaller than the iPad wouldn’t make any sense as it’d be too small to compete with regular tablets and too big to compete with smart phones. With Apple’s relatively long development cycle its likely that he was aware of the iPad Mini development but I don’t think the idea for its creation came from him. It was easy for him to make judgements from atop the massive tower of iPad sales that he was sitting on at the time however I don’t think he expected them to be as successful as they were. None of them can match the iPad for total numbers sold yet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a niche area that Apple was failing to exploit.
It all started with the Kindle Fire just over a year ago. The tablet was squarely aimed at a particular market, one that didn’t want to spend a lot on a tablet device and was happy to accept a lower end device in return. This proved to be wildly popular and as of this month Amazon has shipped over 7 million of the devices putting it second only the iPad itself in terms of sales. This in turn drew other companies to the small tablet form factor with the most notable recent addition being the Google Nexus 7 which as of writing has already sold an estimated 3 million units world wide. Apple can’t have been ignorant of this and saw that there was a rather large niche that they weren’t exploiting, hence the release of the iPad Mini.
For a company that’s been making and dominating markets for a decade now the iPad Mini then represents the first product Apple’s created as a reaction to market forces. Whilst we can always point to technology companies that did what did before they entered the market they’re usually no where near as successful. With the small tablet form factor sector however there are multiple companies who have managed to make quite a killing in this particular space prior to Apple entering. You could argue that Apple still owns the tablet space as a whole (and that’s true, to a point) but when it comes to form factors other than those of the traditional iPad Apple has been absent up until this week, and that’s lost money they’ll never recover.
Comparatively it’s a small slice of the overall tablet pie which Apple is still getting the lion’s share of. Even though they might’ve lost 10 million potential sales to a niche market they weren’t filling they still managed to ship 14 million iPads last quarter. Their figures for this quarter might be down on what people were expecting however with the release of the new iPad and the iPad Mini right before the holiday season it’s very likely that they’ll make up that shortfall without too much trouble. Whether that will translate into dominance of the smaller form factor tablet market is up for debate and realistically we’ll only know once next quarter’s results come in.
Whilst I don’t believe this is the beginning of the end for Apple it is the first product to come from them in a long time that, as far as I can tell, is a reaction to the market rather than them attempting to create one. That’s a very different Apple than the one we’re used to seeing and whilst it isn’t necessarily a bad thing (dominating semi-established markets seems to be their bread and butter) it does make you wonder if their focus has shifted away from market creation. I don’t really know enough to answer that but if you were still wondering what Apple under Tim Cook would look like then you might be seeing the beginnings of an answer here. Whether that’s good or not is an exercise I’ll leave for the reader.
Well another year has gone by since my last post on the iPad so that must mean its time for Apple to release another one. The tech media has been all abuzz about what Apple had in store for us today (like there was any doubt) ever since Apple sent out invites to the event that, as of writing, is still taking place. Speculation has been running rampant as to what will be included in the next version and what will be left by the wayside. Not wanting to disappoint their fans Apple has announced the next version of the iPad (strangely bereft of any nomenclature denoting its version) and it’s pretty much met expectations.
Usually I’d chuck a photo of the device up here for good measure but the new iPad is basically identical to the last one as far as looks go, being only slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor. Honestly there’s little room for innovation in looks as far as tablets go, just look at any other tablet for comparison, so it’s no surprise that Apple has decided to continue with the same original design. Of course this might come to the dismay of Apple fans out there, but there’s at least one defining feature that will visually set the new iPad apart from its predecessors.
That feature is the screen.
If you cast your mind back a year (or just read the first linked post) you’ll notice that rumours of a retina level screen for the iPad have been circulating around for quite some time. At the time many commented that such a resolution would be quite ludicrous, like near the resolution of Apple’s 30″ cinema dislpays kind of ludicrous. Sure enough the now current generation of iPad sports a 2048 by 1536 resolution display which gives it a PPIof 264, double that of the iPad 2. Whilst everyone is calling this a “retina” level display its actually far from it as the screen in the iPhone 4s sports 326 PPI or about 20% more pixels. The display will still look quite incredible, hell even monitors with a lower resolution and an order of magnitude more size manage to look great, but calling it a retina display is at best disingenuous.
Of course to power that monster of a screen Apple has had to upgrade the processor. The new chip is dubbed the A5X and sports a dual core general CPU and a quad core graphics chip. As always Apple is keeping the gritty details a closely guarded secret but it’s safe to assume that it sports a faster clock rate and has more integrated RAM than its predecessor. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something along the lines of 1.2GHz with 1024MB of RAM as that would put it on par with many other devices currently on the market. We’ll have to wait for the tear downs to know for sure though.
Apart from that there’s little more that’s changed with the new iPad. The camera is slightly better being able to take 5MP stills and film 1080p video. Whilst you won’t find Siri on this yet you will now be given the option of doing speech-to-text on the iPad. That’s pretty much it for what’s new with the iPad and whilst I wouldn’t think that’d be a compelling reason to upgrade from the 2 I’m sure there will be many who do exactly that.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been eyeing off an iPad for quite some time now. I had had my eye on many an Android tablet for a while but the fact remains that the iPad has the greatest tablet ecosystem and for the use cases I have in mind (read: mostly gaming) there’s really no competition. The new iPad then, whilst not being worth the upgrade in my opinion, has reached a feature level where it represents good value for those looking to enter into the tablet market. If you’re just looking for a general tablet however there are many other options which would provide far more value, bar the insanely high resolution screen.
Apple’s yearly release schedule seems to be doing wonders for them and the new iPad will not likely be an exception to that. Past the screen and new processor there’s really nothing new about the now current generation iPad but I can see many people justifying their purchase based on those two things alone. The really interesting thing to watch from now will be how Apple goes about developing their ecosystem as whilst the iPad can boast the best tablet experience Google’s not too far behind, just waiting for the chance at the crown.
Whilst Android has been making solid inroads to the tablet market, snapping up a respectable 26.8%, it’s still really Apple’s market with them holding a commanding lead that no one’s been able to come close to touching. It’s not for a lack of trying though with many big name companies attempting to break into the market only to pull out shortly afterwards, sometimes in blaze of fire sale glory. It doesn’t help matters much that every new tablet will be compared to the iPad thus ensuring every new tablet attempts to one up it in some way, usually keeping a price parity with the iPad but without the massive catalogue of apps that people have come to expect from Apple products.
Apple’s got a great game going here. All of their iDevice range essentially made the market that they’re in, grabbing enough fans and early adopters to ensure their market dominance for years to come. Competitors then attempt to mimic Apple’s success by copying the essential ideas and then attempting to innovate, fighting an uphill battle. Whilst they might eventually lose ground to the massive onslaught of competitors (like they have to Android) they’ll still be one of the top individual companies, if they’re not number 1. It’s this kind of market leading that makes Apple products so desirable to John Q. Public and the reason why so many companies are failing to steal their market share away.
Rumours have been circulating for a while now over Amazon releasing a low cost tablet of some description and of course everyone was wondering whether it would shape up to be the next “iPad killer”. Today we saw the announcement of the Kindle Fire: a 7-inch multi-touch tablet that’s heavily integrated with Amazon’s services and comes at the low low price of only $199.
As a tablet it’s something of an outsider. Foregoing the traditional 9 to 10 inch screen size for a smaller 7 inch display. The processor in it isn’t anything fantastic, being just a step up from the one that powers the Nook Color, but history has shown it’s quite a capable system so the Kindle Fire shouldn’t be a slouch when it comes to performance. There’s also a distinct lack of cameras, 3G and Bluetooth connectivity meaning that the sole connection this tablet has to the outside world will be via your local wifi connection. It comes with an internal 8GB of storage that’s not upgradeable, favouring to store everything on the cloud and download it as required. You can see why this thing wouldn’t work with WhisperNet.
Also absent is any indication that the Kindle Fire is actually an Android device with the operating system being given a total overhaul. The Google App store has been outright replaced by Amazon’s Android app store and the familiar tile interface has been replaced by a custom UI designed by Amazon. All of Amazon services: music, books and movies to name a few, are heavily integrated with the device. Indeed they are so heavily integrated that the tablet also comes with a free month of Amazon Prime, Amazon’s premium service that offers unlimited free 2 day shipping plus access to their entire catalogue of media. At this point calling this thing a tablet seems like a misnomer, it’s much more of a media consumption device.
What’s really intriguing about the Kindle Fire though is the browser that Amazon has developed for it called Silk. Like Opera Mini and Skyfire before it Silk offloads some of the heavy lifting to external servers, namely Amazon’s massive AWS infrastructure. There’s some smarts in the delineation between what should be processed on device and what should be done on the servers so hopefully dynamic pages, which suffered heavily in this kind of configuration, will run a lot better under Silk. Overall it sounds like a massive step up for the usability of the browser on devices like these which is sure to be a great selling point for the Kindle Fire.
The more I read about the Kindle Fire the more I get the feeling that Amazon has seen the game that Apple has been playing and decided to not get caught up in it like their competitors have. Instead of competing directly with the iPad et. al. they’ve created a device that’s heavily integrated with their own services and have put themselves at arms length with Android. John Q. Public then won’t see the Kindle Fire as an Android Tablet nor an iPad competitor, more it’s a cheap media consumption device that’s capable at doing other tasks from a large and reputable company. The price alone is enough to draw people in and whilst the margins on the device are probably razor thin they’ll more than likely make it up in media sales for the device. All those together make the Kindle Fire a force to be reckoned with, but I don’t think current tablet manufacturers have much to worry about.
The Kindle Fire, much like the iPad before it, carves out its own little niche that’s so far be unsuccessfully filled. It’s not a feature laden object of every geek’s affection, more it’s a tablet designed for the masses with a price that competitors will find hard to beat. The deep integration with Amazon’s services will be the feature that ensures the Kindle Fire’s success as that’s what every other iPad competitor has lacked. However there’ll still be a market for the larger, more capable tablets as they’re more appropriate for people seeking a replacement for their laptop rather than a beefed up media player. I probably won’t be buying one for myself, but I could easily see my parents using one of these.
And I’m sure that’s what Amazon is banking on too.
The last two years have seen a major shake up in the personal computing industry. Whilst I’m loathed to admit it Apple was the one leading the charge here, redefining the smart phone space and changing the way many people did the majority of their computing by creating the wildly successful niche of curated computing (read: tablets). It is then inevitable that many subsequent innovations from rival companies are seen as reactions to Apple’s advances, even if the steps that company is taking are towards a much larger and broader goal than competing in the same market.
I am, of course, referring to Microsoft’s Windows 8 which was just demoed recently.
There’s been quite a bit of news about the upcoming release of Windows 8 with many leaked screenshots and even leaked builds that gave us a lot of insight into what we can expect of the next version of Windows. For the most part the updates didn’t seem like anything revolutionary although things like portable desktops and a more integrated web experienced were looking pretty slick. Still Windows 7 was far from being revolutionary either but the evolution from Vista was more than enough to convince people that Microsoft was back on the right track and the adoption rates reflect that.
However the biggest shift that is coming with Windows 8 was known long before it was demoed: Windows 8 will run on ARM and other System on a Chip (SOC) devices. It’s a massive deviation from Microsoft’s current platform which is wholly x86/x86-64 based and this confirms Microsoft’s intentions to bring their full Windows experience to tablet and other low power/portable devices. The recent demo of the new operating system confirmed this with Windows 8 having both a traditional desktop interface that we’re all familiar with and also a more finger friendly version that takes all of its design cues from the Metro interface seen on all Windows Phone 7 devices.
Looking at all these changes you can’t help but think that they were all done in reaction to Apple’s dominance of the tablet space with their iPad. It’s true that a lot of the innovations Microsoft has done with Windows 8 mirror those of what Apple has achieved in the past year or so however since Windows 8 has been in development for much longer than that not all of them can be credited to Microsoft playing the me-too game. Realistically it’s far more likely that many of these innovations are Microsoft’s first serious attempts at realizing their three screens vision and many of the changes in Windows 8 support this idea.
A lot of critics think the idea of bringing a desktop OS to a tablet form factor is doomed for failure. The evidence to support that view is strong too since Windows 7 (and any other OS for that matter) tablet hasn’t enjoyed even a percentage of the success that the dedicated tablet OS’s have. However I don’t believe that Microsoft is simply making a play for the tablet market with Windows 8, what they’re really doing is providing a framework for building user experiences that remain consistent across platforms. The idea of being capable of completing any task whether you’re on your phone, TV or dedicated computing device (which can be a tablet) is what is driving Microsoft to develop Windows 8 they way they are. Windows Phone 7 was their first steps into this arena and their UI has been widely praised for its usability and design and Microsoft’s commitment to using it on Windows 8 shows that they are trying to blur the lines that current exist between the three screens. The potential for .NET applications to run on x86, ARM and other SOC platforms seals the deal, there is little doubt that Microsoft is working towards a ubiquitous computing platform.
Microsoft’s execution of this plan is going to be vital for their continued success. Whilst they still dominate the desktop market it’s being ever so slowly eroded away by the bevy of curated computing platforms that do everything users need them to do and nothing more. We’re still a long time away from everyone out right replacing all their PCs with tablets and smart phones but the writing is on the wall for a sea change in the way we all do our computing. Windows 8 is shaping up to be Microsoft’s way of re-establishing themselves as the tech giant to beat and I’m sure the next year is going to be extremely interesting for fans and foes alike.
We often forget that the idea of a personal computer is an extremely modern one, considering how ingrained in our lives they have become. Indeed the first personal computers appeared around 40 years ago and it took decades for them to become a fixture as common as the television in modern households. The last 2 decades have seen an explosion in the adoption rate of personal computers growing at double digit rates nearly every year. Still even though today’s personal computers are leaps and bounds above their predecessors in terms of functionality they still share the common keyboard, monitor and mouse configuration that’s been present for decades despite many attempts to reinvent them.
There does however seem to be a market for curated computing devices that, whilst lacking the power of their bigger brethren, are capable of performing a subset of their tasks. I first began to notice this trend way back when I was still working in retail as many customer’s requirements for a PC rarely amounted to more than “email, web surfing and writing a few documents”. Even back then (2000~2006) even the most rudimentary of the PC line I had to sell would cover this off quite aptly and more often than not I’d send them home with the cheapest PC available, leaving the computing beasts to gather dust in the corner. To me it seemed that unless you were doing photo/video editing or gaming you could buy a PC that would last the better part of 5 years before having to think about upgrading, and even then only because it would be so cheap to do so.
The trend towards such devices began about 4 years ago with the creation of the netbook class of personal computing devices. Whilst still retaining much of the functionality of their ancestors netbooks opted for a small form factor and low specifications in order to keep costs down. I, like many geeks of the time, saw them as nothing more than a distraction as they filled a need that didn’t exist failing to remember the lessons I had learned many years before. The netbook form factor proved to be a wild success with many people replacing their PCs in favor of the smaller platform. They were however still fully fledged PCs.
Then along came Apple with their vision of creating yet another niche and filling it with their product. I am of course talking about the iPad which has enjoyed wild success and created the very niche that Apple dreamed of creating. Like with netbooks I struggled with the idea that there could be a place in my home for yet another computing device since I could already do whatever I wanted. However just like the netbooks before them I finally came around to the idea of having a tablet in my house and that got me thinking, maybe the curated experience is all most people need.
Perhaps the PC is better off as an appliance, at least for most people.
For the everyman their requirements for a computing device outside the workplace don’t usually extend past the typical “email, web and document editing” holy trinity. Tablets, whilst being far from an ideal platform to do all those tasks aptly (well, in my opinion anyway) they’re good enough to replace a PC for most people outright. Indeed the other Steve behind Apple, Mr Wozniak, has said that tablets are PCs for everyone else:
“The tablet is not necessarily for the people in this room,” Wozniak told the audience of enterprise storage engineers. “It’s for the normal people in the world,” Wozniak said.
“I think Steve Jobs had that intention from the day we started Apple, but it was just hard to get there, because we had to go through a lot of steps where you connected to things, and (eventually) computers grew up to where they could do … normal consumer appliance things,” Wozniak said.
If you consider the PC as a household appliance then the tablet form factor starts to make a lot of sense. Sure it can’t do everything but it can do a good chunk of those tasks very well and the barrier to using them is a whole lot lower than that of a fully fledged PC. Plus unlike a desktop or laptop they don’t seem out of place when used in a social situation or simply lying around on the coffee table. Tablets really do seem to be a good device for the large majority of people who’s computing needs barely stress today’s incredibly powerful PCs.
Does that mean tablets should replace PCs outright? Hell no, there’s still many tasks that are far more aptly done on PC and the features that make a tablet convenient (small size, curated experience) are also its most limiting factors. Indeed the power of tablets is built on the foundations that the PC has laid before it with many tablets still relying on their PC brethren to provide certain capabilities. I think regular users will gravitate more towards the tablet platform but it will still be a long time before the good old keyboard, monitor and mouse are gone.
So I’m sold on the tablet idea. After resisting it since Apple started popularizing it with the iPad I’ve finally started to find myself thinking about numerous use cases where a tablet would be far more appropriate than my current solutions. Most recently it was after turning off my main PC and sitting down to watch some TV shows, realizing that I had forgotten to set up some required downloads before doing so. Sure I could do them using the diNovo Mini keyboard but it’s not really designed for more than logging in and typing in the occasional web address. Thinking that I’d either now have to power my PC or laptop on I lamented that I didn’t have a tablet that I could RDP into the box with and set up the downloads whilst lazing on the couch. Thankfully it looks like my tablet of choice, a wifi only Xoom, can be shipped to Australia via Amazon so I’ll be ordering one of them very soon.
Initially I thought I’d go for one of the top of the line models with all the bells and whistles, most notably a 3G/4G connection. That was mostly just for geek cred since whenever I’m buying gadgets I like to get the best that’s on offer at the time (as long as the price isn’t completely ludicrous). After a while though I started to have a think about my particular use patterns and I struggled to find a time where I’d want to use a tablet and be bereft of a WiFi connection, either through an access point or tethered to my phone. There’s also the consideration of price with all non-cellular tablets is usually quite a bit cheaper, on the order of $200 with the Xoom. It then got me thinking, what exactly is the use case for a tablet with a cellular connection?
The scenarios I picture go something along these lines. You’re out and about, somewhere that has mobile phone reception, but you don’t have your phone on you (or one not capable of tethering) and you’re no where near a WiFi access point. Now the possibility of having mobile phone reception but no WiFi is a pretty common event, especially here in Australia, but the other side to that potential situation is you either can’t tether to your mobile phone because its not capable or you don’t have it on you. Couple that with the fact that you’re going to have to pay for yet another data plan just for your new tablet then you’ve really lost me as to why you’d bother with a tablet that has cellular connectivity.
If your reason for getting cellular connectivity is that you want to use it when you don’t have access to a WiFi hard point then I could only recommend it if you have a phone that can’t tether to other devices (although I’d struggle to find one today, heck even my RAZR was able to do it). However, if I may make a sweeping statement, I’d assume that since you’ve bought a tablet you already have a smart phone which is quite capable of tethering, even if the carrier charges you a little more for it (which is uncommon and usually cheaper than a separate data plan). The only real reason to have it is for when you have your tablet but not your phone, a situation I’d be hard pressed to find myself in and not be within range of an access point.
In fact most of the uses I can come up with for a tablet device actually require them to be on some kind of wireless network as they make a fitting interface device to my larger PCs with all the functions that could be done on cellular networks aptly covered off by a smartphone. Sure they might be more usable for quite a lot of activities but they’re quite a lot more cumbersome than something that can fit into my pocket and rarely do I find myself needing functionality above that of the phone but below that of a fully fledged PC. This is why I was initially skeptical of the tablet movement as the use cases were already aptly covered by current generation devices. It seems there’s quite a market for transitional devices however.
Still since nearly every manufacturer is making both cellular and wireless only tablets there’s got to be something to it, even if I can’t figure it out. There’s a lot to be said about the convenience factor and I’m sure a lot of people are willing to pay the extra just to make sure they can always use their device wherever they are but I, for one, can’t seem to get a grip on it. So I’ll put it out to the wisdom of the crowd: what are your use cases for a cellular enabled tablet?
So here we are 1 year and 1 month after the initial release of the iPad and Apple has, to no one’s surprise, release the newest version of their product the iPad 2. As anyone who knows me will tell you there’s no love lost between me and Apple’s “magical” device that filled a need where there wasn’t one but I can’t argue that it’s been quite successful for Apple and they arguably brought tablets into the mainstream. Still Apple has a habit of coming late to the party with features that have been part and parcel of competing products and the iPad 2 is no exception to this rule.
The iPad 2 is mostly an incremental hardware upgrade to the original iPad as the technical specifications reflect (cellular model specs shown):
Most notably the iPad 2 is 33% thinner and 15% lighter than its predecessor. To put that in perspective that makes the iPad 2 thinner than the iPhone 4, which is pretty damn slim to begin with. Additionally the iPad 2 comes with a dual core A5 processor (not to be confused with the ARM Cortex A5) as well as front and rear cameras. Rumoured features of a Retina-esque type display for the iPad 2 were just that it seems with this device retaining the same screen as its predecessor. Additionally although Apple is going to be offering the iPad 2 on the Verizon network it will not be capable of accessing their 4G LTE network unlike other tablets like the Motorola Xoom.
In addition to announcing the iPad 2 Apple also announced the upcoming update to iOS, version 4.3. Amongst most of the rudimentary things like updates to AirPlay and Safari Apple is also enabling all 3GS handsets and above the ability to create a wireless hotspot using the 3G connection on the phone. Tethering has been available via bluetooth and USB cable for a long time now but if you wanted the hotspot functionality you were relegated to the world of jailbreaking so its good to see Apple including it in an official release. There’s also iTunes home sharing which allows you to view your entire iTunes library without having to sync it all to your phone which I can see being handy but not really a killer feature.
Like the vast majority of Apple products many of the features that they are releasing today have been available from competitors for a long time before hand. Wireless tethering has been around for quite a long time, hell I even had it on my Xperia X1, so it makes me wonder why Apple omits features like this when they’re so rudimentary. The same can be said for the original iPad being bereft of cameras as many who saw the device instantly recognized its potential for being a great video conferencing device. In all honesty I believe that the lack of cutting edge features on most Apple products is not simply because they want to make everything perfect, more its about keeping enough features up their sleeves in order to be able to release a new iteration of their iDevices every year. If they included everything they could for the get go their scope for future upgrades narrows considerably, along with their potential profit margins.
It should really come as no surprise then that the iPad 2 doesn’t come with a Near Field Communications chip in it. Now no one was really expecting that, all the rumors point to the iPhone 5 being the first Apple product to have it, but Apple could have had a huge advantage in driving the technology had they have included it in their latest offering. Heck I’d probably even be lining up to grab one if it had NFC in it just because I’ve got a couple start up ideas that need a NFC tablet and phone but I guess that will have to wait until the next generation, if that.
Apple has also redesigned the cover that they’ll be selling alongside the iPad 2. The original one, which drew the ire of some Apple fan boys, was a more traditional case in the sense that it covered up the entire iPad. The new case is more of a elaborate screen protector but it has some novel uses thanks to its sectioned design letting you prop up the iPad in landscape mode. The cover also makes use of the new proximity sensor on the iPad 2, turning off the screen when you close the cover.
Honestly the iPad 2 is everything we’ve come to expect from Apple, an incremental improvement to one of their now core products. Even though I’m starting to come around to the tablet idea (I don’t what it is but the Xoom just tickles my fancy) Apple’s offerings are just never up to scratch with the competition, especially considering how good Android Honeycomb is looking. Still it will be interesting to see how the first hardware refresh of the iPad fares as that will be telling of how large the tablet market is and whether Apple can continue to hold dominance in the space they helped to bring into the mainstream.
It’s no secret that I’m not a believer in the iPad (or any tablet for that matter) as the herald of a new era in the world of media. Whilst I now have to admit that Apple has managed to take a product that’s already been done and popularise it to the point of mainstream I still remain wholly unconvinced that this new platform will change the way the media giants operate. Thus far all experiments with launching on this platform haven’t done well but this could be easily due to them not working well in their traditional forms either. Then comes along The Daily, the brainchild of media giant Rupert Murdoch which be almost wholly confined to the iPad. With $30 million spent on research and development and a budget of $500,000 a day you’d think that this publication would have a real chance at beginning the media revolution, but I’m still not convinced.
You see whilst I might be coming around to the idea that this whole tablet craze might actually have something to it (I’m really taking a shine to the Motorola Xoom) the media industry has an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to adopting new forms of media. Whilst a new platform might be extremely popular if it conflicts with their way of doing business they are more likely to fight it than they are to try and innovate with it. Heck many of the traditional media outlets are still struggling to make their subscription based model work on the Internet and that hasn’t enjoyed the success they thought it would. Why then would the same model work for the iPad? From what I can see it doesn’t.
But don’t take my word for it (since I’m a biased source on this subject) take it from the many other people that are under whelmed by Murdoch’s latest offerings. From the videos and initial user reports it seems like The Daily is much like its print cousins, delivering news the day after it happens. They have managed to blend in a lot of social media elements (like Twitter streams and Facebook sharing) but the integration appears to be very weak with the Twitter streams being half a day old and the link sharing giving only a small part of the article. In an age where social media thrives on the latest information even being a day behind in the news¹ means you’re way behind what everyone is interested in. There’s still a place for good journalism however I don’t believe it’s on the iPad, at least not in the form that has been presented to us thus far.
One good thing to come out of this though is the addition to iOS SDK that allows app developers to make use of the subscription framework that The Daily uses. It’s not a major change to the SDK but it does allow other publications and apps the ability to deliver additional paid content to an iOS device without prompting having to prompt the user or sending them through some weird web work flow.
More it seems that people are interested in crafting their own news feed based around their mediums of choice. Twitter is arguably the medium for breaking news with blogs coming in close second and traditional media sources serving as verification once the story has been broken. This is one of the core principles of the Internet in action and no matter how hard you try time has shown that free access to a service is wildly more successful than a walled garden with a ticket price. Of course it’s still very early days for The Daily and the next few months will be crucial in terms of judging the viability of the publication. Right now it doesn’t look good for them but since they’re already $30 million in the hole I figure Murdoch is watching the reaction to his new publication closely and if he’s smart there’ll be some radical changes coming soon.
¹Yes yes, it’s quite obviously that I’m usually several days (or weeks) behind when it comes to reporting stuff. This isn’t a news blog though so being in the midst of media storms isn’t my thing so you can keep your “how ironic” comments to yourselves
It’s no secret that I’m amongst the iPad’s most harsh critics. My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment with my following posts continuing the trend, launching volley after volley about how the iPad had failed to meet the goals that some of its largest supporters had laid out before it. After that I avoided commenting on it except for one point where I dispelled some of the rumours that the iPad was killing the netbook market, since there was more evidence that the netbook market was approaching saturation than the iPad was stealing sales. Still I hadn’t heard any reports of the product failing miserably so I had assumed it was going along well, I just didn’t know how well.
To be honest I was intrigued to see how the iPad did almost a year later as whilst the initial sales were pretty amazing I hadn’t really heard anything since then. Usually when a company is doing well they like to trumpet that success openly (hello Android) but Apple’s silence felt like it said a lot about how the iPad was performing. As it turns out it was doing really well, so well in fact that even the most wild predictions of its success were way off:
Apple sold almost 15 million iPads last year. It is outselling Macs in units, and closing in on revenues. The 7.3 million iPads sold just in the December quarter represented a 75 percent increase from the September quarter, and the $4.6 billion in revenue represented a 65 percent sequential jump. (The iPad launched in April). By any measure, this is an incredible ramp for an entirely new computing product. It is so startling that nobody predicted it—not bullish Wall Street analysts, or even wild-eyed bloggers.
A post on Asymco tallies all the early predictions of iPad unit sales from both Wall Street analysts and tech bloggers. The iPAd ended up selling 14.8 million units in 2010. The highest Wall Street estimate from April was 7 million (Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech). David Bailey at Goldman Sachs predicted 6.2 million. Even Apple table-pounder Gene Munster initially thought they would sell only 3.5 million iPads. The average prediction among the 14 analysts listed was 3.3 million.
Even I’d find it hard to keep a straight face and say that almost 15 million sold in under a year isn’t a sign of success. Since Jobs’ return to the Cupertino company they’ve made a name for themselves in bringing technology to the masses in a way that just seems to command people to buy them and the iPad is just another example of how good they are at doing this. The iPad coincidentally fuelled demand for other Apple products leading to Apple having the best financial quarter ever. Even the industry analysts had a hard time predicting that one. There’s then no denying that the iPad is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Whilst much of the groundwork was laid by the several generations of iPhones before it the iPad is quite a viable platform for developers to work on and companies to promote their brand with.
However I still can’t help but feel that some of the hype surrounding it was a little bit too far reaching. Initially many people saw something like the iPad as the death knell for traditional print media, killing all those who dared defy the trend and publish themselves through the digital medium. In the beginning there were signs of a media revolution in the works with many big media companies signing on to create iPad versions of their more traditional media. The results were good too with many of the digital magazines and newspapers selling hundreds of thousands of copies in their first runs. However the shine soon faded failing to capture a new digital market and not even managing to cannibalise sales from their traditional outlets. The media revolution that so many expected the iPad to herald in has unfortunately fallen by the way side and I take a rather sadistic pleasure in saying “I told you so”.
By all other accounts though the iPad counts as a resounding success. Whilst I hate the fact that Apple managed to popularise the tablet format I can’t honestly say they haven’t created a market that barely existed before their product arrived. As always the hype may have run away from them a little bit in terms of what people thought the device symbolises but, let’s be honest here, that should be expected of any new device that Apple releases. I’m still waiting to see if any of the tablets will take my fancy enough to override the fiscal conservative in me but it would seem that Apple has managed to do that enough people to make the iPad the most successful tablet ever released, and that’s something.