I may not yet own an Android phone but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up to speed with the latest offerings from those who are using Google’s mobile OS. For the most part though the phones that I’ve been interested in are unfortunately incapable of being used in Australia thanks to our lack of CDMA and 4G services. Still there are quite a few nice handset options available for us Australians most of which come from the handset giant HTC. However after asking my far more Android savvy friend about which handset I should go for (after giving up on getting anything more than a HTC Desire) he said that I should check out the Samsung Galaxy S as it’s been a very popular handset of late. What I found surprised me.
The handset itself is quite impressive with specifications easily rivalling that of all its competitors. The 1GHz CPU and 512MB RAM are what we’ve come to expect in almost any high end smart phone. However the use of a Super AMOLED screen and a dedicated graphics chip (the same as the one found in the Apple’s A4 processor that powers both the iPad and iPhone 4) is what sets this handset apart from it’s pack. Considering this handset can be picked up for just under $700 unlocked it’s really quite competitive when compared to other handsets. It’s no wonder that Samsung has managed to move over a million of these to date.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Samsung wasn’t capable of delivering such a quality piece of hardware; I thought the same thing too. Whilst they have a reputation for making quite beautiful TVs and monitors they haven’t exactly been seen as being synonymous with quality when they’ve branched out into other areas. Still I can’t say that I’ve had a bad experience when it comes to Samsung’s products, in fact most have performed quite adequately. The stigma then is most likely because people have seen them as one of the cheaper brands for consumer electronics, unfortunately tagging them as lower quality as well (however valid or invalid that might be).
Still they’ve managed to prove that they can build and deliver high end consumer devices that not only work, but can also be counted amongst the best of breed in their class. You can then imagine everyone’s excitement when they announced the upcoming Galaxy Tab, building on the success of the Galaxy handset line:
London, UK, September 2, 2010 – Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, a global leader in mobile technology, today announced the launch of the Samsung GALAXY Tab (GT-P1000). Powered by the Android Operating System 2.2, the GALAXY Tab is the first of the company’s tablet devices, representing a new category of mobile products for Samsung.
The Samsung GALAXY Tab brings together all of Samsung’s leading innovations to provide users with more capabilities while on the move. Consumers are able to experience PC-like web-browsing and enjoy all forms of multimedia content on the perfectly sized 7-inch display, wherever they go. Moreover, users can continuously communicate via e-mail, voice and video call, SMS/MMS or social network with the optimised user interface.
The specs on this little beasty are really quite impressive. In fact if you go down the list pretty much every gripe that anyone has ever had about the iPad has been addressed as it comes in a smaller size, packs a higher resolution screen and has both front and back facing cameras. Couple that with expandable storage and it looks like Samsung might be onto a winner here, especially if the rumours of it being aimed somewhere between US$200 and $400 turn out to have some truth to them. The question then remains: will this device sell?
Well 1 million Galaxy owners can’t be wrong and you can bet that many of them who’ve favoured Samsung in the past would definitely give such a device heavy consideration. It’s definitely aimed at the anti-iPad crowd what with its cherry picked features and Android OS, leading me to believe that this might become the flagship tablet for the Android platform. Whether it will sell or not is heavily dependent on how the market sees it. The iPad did well thanks mostly to its brand name, something which Samsung just can’t leverage the way Apple did. Still the Android crowd has proven to be just as loyal and cashed up as their Cupertino counterparts so Samsung is definitely in with a shot here.
What’s the most interesting thing about the announcement of this tablet is Samsung’s recent mindshift that has spurred them to innovate in the mobile sector. Just on a year ago if you bought a Samsung phone you probably weren’t buying an Android device and no one predicted that they would bring out something that would capture such a large market. The introduction of a tablet means that they’re looking to square up with Apple and hopefully take a piece of their deliciously profitable hardware sector pie. They’re definitely a force to be reckoned with as they have a net income of over $10 billion a year and enough sway with a whole lot of manufacturers to really give Apple (and all other companies producing tablets) a run for their money.
There’s a phenomena that many of us IT folks deal with every day but not many outside our industry know about. It goes by many different names but the most apt one is what I refer to as the Qantas Club factor. You see whilst it’s all well and good to develop solid technology that provides tangible benefits to business it really doesn’t help if it doesn’t get any visibility with higher ups (or decision makers as the vendors call them). The one sure fire place to find an executive or someone who can sway the decision making process is the various flight clubs and lounges that they frequent whilst jet setting around the world. Any technology that is either present there or in the literature available to them is almost guaranteed to find its way into that decision maker’s organisation.
My own personal experience with this was Blackberrys. One of the top executives had been on a recent jaunt overseas with a couple of his peers from other organisations. Before they were boarding the flight they were all discussing their various exploits when the other two pulled out their Blackberrys. Feeling quite inadequate that he didn’t have one his own the executive put a request down the line to trial the Blackberrys within our organisation and no less than 2 weeks later we had 10 of them running rampant in our environment.
Now I wouldn’t of cared that much since Blackberrys do enable some people to be more productive than they could be otherwise and I’ll never turn down new kit. However we’d already been trialling our own solution (Exchange ActiveSync) that was not only free but would also run on a wide range of handsets, something that was deemed critical as part of the email on phones solution they wanted us to develop. Still the Qantas Club factor was enough for them to overrule all their previous decisions and push forward with a solution that, whilst completely functional, showed a complete disregard for any kind of practicality or reasoned thought.
The same can be said for the iPad. When it was released I lamented it’s limited ability and took a torchto the speculation that it would be a revolution in the online media space. I still stand by those comments as whilst it has been a unabashed success the revolutions it was meant to spur haven’t even begun to show their heads yet. It has however managed to change the landscape of consumer PCs devices effectively creating a new market segment, much like the netbooks did before it. Consequently many manufacturers are playing catch up to try and corner one part of this market and one of those has the Qantas Club factor executives squarely in its sites.
The product is the Windows 7 Slate from HP.
Now back when it was announced the Slate had your typical Microsoft vapourware flavour to it. They’re often guilty of announcing a product, usually with specs that border on the edge of reality, that will never see the light of day. It’s done to scare would be competitors out of the market and unfortunately has a track record of working. When the iPad was a runaway success that couldn’t be killed by this kind of grandstanding many people thought that HP had killed the slate completely, opting instead to acquire Palmand create an iPad competitor based on their WebOS software. This was all but confirmed when HP registered the trademark PalmPad as there didn’t seem to be any reason to release 2 competing platforms.
As it turns out though instead of pulling one in favour of the other they were in fact working on rebranding the device as a enterprise appliance:
We’ve sensed that something‘s been up with the HP Slate for a while now, and it looks like we’ve finally gotten the first solid confirmation that the Windows 7 tablet as unveiled by Steve Ballmer at CES in January won’t hit the consumer market as planned — speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, HP Personal Systems Group VP Todd Bradley just said that the Slate will be “more customer-specific than broadly deployed,” and that it would launch the Microsoft-based tablet “for the enterprise” in the fall. That fits right in with HP telling us the other day that it was in “customer evaluations” as it prepared for the “next steps,”and based on followup comments from Bradley and Palm head Jon Rubinstein, it certainly sounded like the company will focus Windows tablets at the enterprise and develop a variety of webOS devices for the consumer market.
Enterprise in this sense means it will more than likely be running either a fully fledged Windows 7 OS or a Windows 7 Compactinstall in order to support all enterprise functions (compliance, software deployment, etc.). Additionally I wouldn’t expect it to be a consumption focused device like the iPad purely because in the enterprise there’s not a great need for a casual computing device that fits that need. I can see them becoming the next execu-toy to have filling in a requirement that didn’t exist before the product became available.
That puts it firmly out of the league of the iPad, for better and for worse. Realistically there’s little to no justification for having an iPad in the enterprise as they’re solely focused on the consumer with no integration with traditional enterprise applications. This is by design and follows the trend that Steve Jobs follows. Apple has never been that big in the enterprise and never will be with Steve Jobs at the helm as he prefers to focus on consumers at the cost of other applications. That’s not a bad thing either as he’s shown that Apple can be quite a successful consumer electronics company and it looks like other companies are starting to take notice.
Does this mean I’ll be buying one? Probably not as it fits into the same requirements model that is aptly filled by a laptop, which I’m currently in the process of buying. It appears though that the demandfor a Microsoft alternative to the iPad is strong but unless you’re willing to shell out enterprise level dollars for it (read: probably double the iPad) it will be firmly out of your reach. There are wide range of alternatives of course, including the all but confirmed PalmPad, but none of them have drawn the attention that the HP Slate did when it was first announced.
I’m sure I’ll get to have a good play with one of them when one of the executives catches his friend using one before their next trip
Ah the cloud, it seems to be the catch all for any problem that you might have had with your computer since the day it was invented. Need your files wherever you go? Put it in the cloud! Want to sync your personal data across all your devices? Put it in the cloud! Does your hair not have enough body and lift? Get some better shampoo, since the cloud probably isn’t the answer to that one. Still there are some interesting ideas that just so happen to be cloud based and one of those, that I’ve covered a couple times previously, is OnLive. A curious service that aims to bring high end gaming to those on a budget, all for the low low cost of $14.95 per month (plus game costs).
Now whilst I haven’t been a huge fan of the idea I did muse that it had its place, albeit in a somewhat niche capacity which limited its appeal. Still this hasn’t stopped them from inking deals with big names like British Telecommunications to bring their product to a much wider audience. From what I’ve seen there’s still a significant amount of work required before they hit all the platforms they were talking about (computing appliances, like the iPad) and there’s still some issues they won’t be able to innovate away (input lag for instance). Given time and their obvious sway with investors I’m sure any problem that can be solved will be solved eventually, hopefully driving up the market adoption they’ll need to keep their heads above water.
There really hasn’t been that much said about OnLive in recent months, most because the initial trials have been done and now the only thing people are interested in is when they can give it a go. Turns out that might be sooner than we thought, thanks to this little tidbit of news:
Smart move by OnLive today. The controversial streaming game service is offering to waive the $14.95 monthly access fee for a full year (originally it was 3 months) for anyone who enthusiastically pre-registered early — many of you we suspect. It’s even tossing in a coupon for a free game when you register for the offer. The only catch seems to be the credit card required to complete registration as proof that you’re over 18. If you didn’t pre-register then tough luck, no offer for you. But at least you can take comfort in knowing that a small army of gamers will be taking the service to task unencumbered by membership fees. In other words, we’ll know right quickly if OnLive can live up to its “ultra high-performance” streaming gameplay on entry-level PCs and Macs.
I’d previously criticized OnLive for attempting to charge for their service from the get go, saying it would stifle adoption rates. Whilst this offer is really only valid for a very small subset of people (read: those who can actually get the darn service) it does mean there will be 25,000 people on the service in its early days functioning as free beta testers. The offer of a free game confirms this since that means everyone will have at least something to play on the service for their free 12 months. It will be interesting to see what the retention rates will be like after the initial 12 months, since I’m pretty sure that if OnLive isn’t up to par it will be dropped completely when they start asking for your credit card.
My assessment of OnLive being suited to “casual, city dwelling gamers” still seems to ring true 4 months on and when coupled with some recent developments I’m even more sure of it. Whilst I’m aghast to point to the iPad as a potential source of innovation (ugh I feel dirty already) the casual gamer, to whom the OnLive service would be highly appropriate, is in my opinion much more likely to have a device like the iPad. The reasoning behind this is simple, for most casual games they don’t need a high end machine and most casuals would rather use a device like an iPad or netbook since they’re cheaper and far more portable. The iPad is the more likely of the mostly thanks to the brand power that Apple commands and the fact that it has been marketed directly as a casual computing device. If you then also consider that those who are buying a product like that are more likely to have the disposable income required to pay for such a service then the iPad becomes a pretty powerful gaming device for those that like to game but don’t want to bother messing around with a full sized machine.
I really hadn’t considered this viewpoint until I came across a recent article about one of OnLive’s competitors, Gaikai, who was mentioned in the same breath as World of Warcraft running on the iPad. Now whilst that might just seem like a pointless waste of time (and in fact I can’t confirm that it actually works) its actually quite a smart move by Gaikai. You see of the 12 million-ish subscribers to World of Warcraft the vast majority of them would identify themselves as casual players¹. For them playing on an iPad would probably be quite preferable to sitting on the computer and the bonus would be that they could play all the other games they have on there as well. So whilst OnLive might still be a niche, they might just have had a huge gust of wind put in their sails by Apple.
For me personally I’ll probably never have a use for a service like this. I get far too much enjoyment out of building up a really good gaming rig and then putting it through its paces, savouring the moments when I can crank all the slider bars up to “EXTREME”. Still I’m beginning to realise that even though a market might not yet exist for something there’s the potential for someone to create it, and OnLive seems to be doing a good job of developing theirs. Time will tell if they have enough staying power to be the best and fend off their imitators, but that’s what capitalism is all about right?
Now I wonder how long it will take them to release it in Australia…. I’m not going to hold my breath over that one.
¹ I tried to find a good source on this as I remember a survey being done some time ago showing the breakdown of play times and amount of content completed. From memory it was something on the order of 6% of players identifying as hardcore players and the rest identifying with something along the lines of casual, semi-casual or casual hardcore. Doing some quick numbers there are approximately 6100 guilds that have “finished” the current content patch (I.E. defeated the last boss in the current endgame encounter) which gives you about 153,000 players I’d consider “hardcore”, which is about 1.3% of the total population. That’s a wild guess though and should be taken as such.
There’s really no love lost between Apple and I. Whilst I’ve blasted them many times on this blog I’ve never made a sweeping statement against all their products since frankly, if they were crap Apple wouldn’t be in the position they are in today. Still I’ve got a beef with how they deal with developers and how they keep features from their users (citing that it’s not required or bloat) and then releasing that very feature to wide fanfare in another revision (MMS anyone?). Still with them pushing over 42 million handsets worldwide they’ve created a market that I can’t rightly ignore if I’m in the business of mobile applications that strive to have widespread adoption. So about three weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped a cool $1040 on an iPhone 3GS and I’ve spent every minute with it pushing the phone to its limits.
Now I’ve spent a considerable amount of coin on phones before but the iPhone still tops out as the most expensive one that I shelled out for. Usually when you part with this much dosh you’re greeted with packaging fit for a king with extras and accessories flowing from the box. Apple, true to their minimalistic design philosophies, give you little more than the phone, ear buds, usb cable and charger, with the whole thing fitting in something roughly the same size as a house brick. Sure I wasn’t expecting too much but I’ve bought phones for hundreds of dollars less that came with more, so my initial impressions, whilst impressed with the minimalistic nature, were soured by the fact that I had parted with so much for so little. The blow was softened somewhat by the fact that my company paid for 90% of the phone, one of the perks of being a contractor
I then took the time to get the phone set up which (groan) had me installing iTunes. Now I’ve had an iPod shuffle for about a year so you’d think I already had the software installed but this isn’t the case. I’d managed to avoid it by using a program called Floola which allowed me to drag and drop music onto it. After getting the software installed (and making sure not install the bug ridden port of a browser Safari¹) I had my iPhone up and running and something caught my eye.
It was the screen on this phone, it’s really quite gorgeous. Even though my Xperia X1 has almost double the screen resolution it just doesn’t seem as nice as the one on the iPhone, even with Sony’s UI smothering the beast that is Windows Mobile’s default UI. For a long time geek like myself the UI was very intuitive and my better half (who I bought an iPhone for as well since she’d been pining for one for years) didn’t have any issues navigating around her new toy. After getting the basics out of the way I decided to go straight for the heart of the iPhone’s apparent success: the App Store.
Yet again I was met with extremely slick UI design that was done to facilitate the non-tech crowd through a world that was ostensibly for techies. In minutes I was downloading all manner of applications: Echofon, Facebook, Shazam, AroundMe all found their way onto my phone in a matter of minutes of getting it onto the world wide web. My initial disappointment with the lack of included extras was soon pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of functionality that could be unlocked with few clicks on the App store. My inner Apple critic was still shouting loudly in my ear that this was the devils store and any more attempts to dive deeper into this world would be met by damnation of all those who sit atop a pylon of free and open ideals. But the apps called to me because it was just so damned easy.
It took me a long time to be willing to part with extra money to buy something on the app store but it finally happened when I had 30 minutes to kill and I was stuck in a parking lot with just myself and my iPhone. Browsing through the free games section nothing really caught my fancy so I looked through the paid section. Noticing that a long time addiction of mine, Bejeweled, was available I happily signed my soul away and not less than 2 minutes later I was busting jewels like a pro. The game has since brought me a couple hours of entertainment, well worth the $4 I parted with for it.
I was quite surprised by the browsing experience on this phone. With many sites now creating mobile versions specifically for the iPhone (this site included, if you’re on a mobile device it will switch to an iPhone-esque theme for you) browsing sites is quite a lot easier than I thought it would be. With sites that don’t implement it the multi-touch interface makes zooming around the pages quite smooth and very enjoyable, a long way from my roots in Windows Mobile world. I haven’t had a chance to compare the experience to Opera Mini, but from what I’ve heard you gain page loading speed at the cost of some things not rendering quite right. Still I’ll stick with the default browser for now since most people design for that first if they’re creating a mobile site.
In the interest of doing a full review of the iPhone I decided that I’d best buy some music as well, and while I’m at it let’s see how it would perform downloading an entire album over the cell phone network. Hitting up the store I decided that I’d grab an album of a band I’d just recently come across: Miami Horror. For the princely sum of about $8 I was treated to a full album of tracks and in the space of a 15 minute walk all but 2 tracks of it had finished downloading. Colour me impressed as I’ve tried doing things like this before on other phones and been quite disappointed. The whole experience left me wanting to do it again just for the sheer novelty of being able to think of a bad, look them up on iTunes and have their album on my phone in less time than it would take for me to drive to the closest record store. Once again Apple’s philosophy of “It just works” seems to be a winner.
But of course since I am at heart a geek there are some things about my new iPocketCandy that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. In the nation’s capital 3G coverage is somewhat spotty for my carrier (Three) and this usually incurs me roaming whenever I go indoors. That’s not too much of a problem since the iPhone has a switch to not use Internet when roaming (which is bloody awesome, I had to get an application for Windows Mobile to do that). However the process of getting it to switch back to 3G takes about 2 minutes or so to complete when the same operation on Windows Mobile took about 10 seconds. Given that the device also freezes for about 5 seconds when switching networks by itself this has become a bit of a bugbear, especially considering I’m in and out 3G reception most of the day.
I’ve made a habit of keeping a good contacts file in my Outlook ever since I moved to a Windows Mobile phone. You can then imagine my elation when I saw an option to sync directly from Outlook in iTunes. That was until I actually tried to sync them to my phone upon which I received the error that there was no default mail client installed. Funny that since I had the email client open at the time. A couple furious Google searches later proved that I wasn’t alone in this problem and it in fact lies with Apple, since they haven’t built in support for the x64 version of Outlook. For a company that likes to tout itself as an innovator it gives me the irates when they miss something as simple as this, especially when the problem has gone unresolved for months. I ended up creating a CSV file of my various contacts and uploading them into Google Contacts (I’d never seen this before) and syncing them that way. That’s 4 hours of shenanigans that I shouldn’t of had to go through.
There are also some other tasks, like importing your own ring tones, that feel like they were purposefully made difficult so that you go for Apple’s solution. When you first plugin your iPhone iTunes won’t even show the ring tones folder, which would send most people straight off to the store to buy a ring tone they want. Sure its relatively easy to work around but is it really that hard to have the option there right from the beginning? I’m sure the sales department had a say in how that whole thing went down.
The iPhone is also the reason why I believe the iPad is not a revolution of any kind. Whilst I’ve yet to get my hands on an iPad the countless videos and reviews I have read show me little more than an overgrown version of the very phone I now carry with me. Most of those 42 million people who bought the iPhone did so because they actually had a use for the damn thing. The iPad however fills a need that none of them had previously and subsequently I can’t fathom that the initial rush of purchases are anything but people who would buy whatever latest widget that Apple released. Sure it would make a great “coffee table device” but really think about how often you would actually use such a device, and then think again if you had an iPhone in your pocket. The use cases for the iPad shrink considerably the more thought you give to purchasing it, which ironically I think is the exact reason why it has so sold many (yes I just called all iPad owner’s thoughtless brand whores, what are you going to do about it?).
That all being said however I can’t detract from the fact that the iPhone is the best mobile phone I’ve ever had. Everything about it just works (eventually at worst) and the amount of functionality that can be unlocked through the App store is quite phenomenal. Apple’s commitment to making what was once geek now chic works incredibly well with the iPhone and I can see the reason why over half of my tech oriented friends choose the iPhone as their smart phone. For anyone that can afford one the iPhone is a purchase that you won’t soon regret and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how my future Android purchase (currently shaping up to be a HTC Incredible) shapes up along side it.
¹Seriously, Safari on Windows is a bloated piece of garbage with numerous security holes. From all accounts its fine on OSX but it seems the team who ported it to Windows didn’t put a heck of a lot of thought into it and as such I can’t recommend it to anyone. Chrome/Firefox are still the safest and best browsers on this platform.
I’ve been at this geek thing for a long time now, over 20 years since I can first remember sitting down in front of a computer and hammering away at some DOS game. In that time I’ve had my share of ups and downs when it comes to tech and for the most part its always been ups. Games are always looking better, I’m rarely lost for choice when it comes to finding some form of entertainment and I have enough gadgets and gizmos to keep me entertained when even the great Internet fails me. Still for all the good that the tech industry has done for me there have still been times when I’ve cursed some of the companies who are responsible for lavishing such greatness on myself and the wider world.
Take for instance the Sony PSP. Many moons ago I remember hearing about Sony’s foray into the portable gaming market and almost launching myself through the roof with excitement. Having recently purchased a Nokia N-Gage (don’t be hatin’ my sidetalkin’ yo) the rumours that Sony would be releasing a handheld gaming device that, at the time of the announcement, could have a phone in it made me one happy geek. Sure the N-Gage wasn’t a terribly good gaming device or phone but I was sure that Sony could do a better job and waited patiently. You can then imagine my disappointment when it was finally announced that the PSP had no phone and no bluetooth which while it didn’t stop me from purchasing one did turn me towards casting a skeptical eye on tech rumours. It would seem however that getting burnt by my tech dream date wasn’t enough to stop me from getting caught up a recent whirlwind of speculation however.
I was happily suffering in silence over this matter because for the most part the only major offender of this sort of malarky was Apple. Whilst I can appreciate the astronomically successful PR campaigns they put out for every one of their products (their “leaks” are anything but that) the inevitable wave of speculation on the tiniest bit of information manages to drown out actual stories about real products. It had been tolerable for the last couple years since there wasn’t so much of a frenzy over the revised iPhones but their iPad has and continues to create enough fluff pieces to coke a giraffe several times over. I mean come on the thing has only been out for what a couple weeks and already there’s rumours of an iPad Mini set to be released at the start of next year. Frankly I’m sick of hearing about it, and the only news I want to hear from Apple on their iPad is sales numbers and how their media deals are going. That’s the only interesting apart about the device I’ve bashed into oblivion on this blog, yet I’m still flooded with Apple rumour speculation.
What sent me over the edge however was this little piece of non-news:
Confirming the rumors, and after dismissing the iPad as nothing more than a large phone, Google is getting ready its own tablet computer. At least, that was what Google CEO—and Steve Jobs’ own personal Judas—Eric Schmidt is saying.
According to the New York Times, Schmidt told friends about the new tablet at a recent party in Los Angeles. NYT’s sources point out that Google has already been talking with publishers about delivering content for the platform. Surprisingly, Schmidt said it will not run Chrome OS—as recently shown by a Chrome OS engineer—but Android, making it the true big phone Schmidt was mocking. It makes sense to build on Android, since it already has applications.
I wonder if Schmidt told Jobs about it over coffee. The War for the Future of Computing carries on.
So a Google exec told a friend at a party that they’re working on some form of product and a couple people who can’t be named confirmed it. Colour me unimpressed guys, without any real information on the product you’re basically just spreading FUD. Sure it’s quite feasible that Google is fiddling around with something and whilst they’re not as secretive as Apple they have a habit of not talking things up before their release (the first rumours of the Nexus one surfaced around December 13th last year, it was released less than 3 weeks later). So it’s plausible yes, but then again every man and his dog is talking about an iPad competitor, this isn’t news!
Bah maybe I’m just cynical because I’ve been burnt too many times in the past or maybe my new iPhone (review coming!) just serves as a constant reminder of Apple’s shenanigens. I’m sure in a few more weeks the rumours will die down and I can get my teeth into some juicy new tech instead of harping on Apple and everyone who’s trying to be/beat them.
Go on, cave in and get yourself a shiny iPad. You’ve been hankering for a device like that since the Apple rumour mill started working you over in the middle of last year, and you were sure it was the only device you ever wanted once Mr Jobs dropped the proverbial iBomb back in January. I mean come on, it’s not like there’s any other options available to you is there? If you want a highly portable, large touch screen device you’re pretty much stuck with Apple, and you might as well sell your soul to the covenant of Steve Jobs whilst you’re at it. If you only have one choice you might as well be happy with it, right?
<Cheesy French accent> WRONG! </Cheesy French accent>
I wish my satirical take on what I can only describe as Apple Fever was as far away from the truth as the iPad is from being the only device capable of doing what it does. Thanks to their aggressive PR and rabid fan base every other tablet/slate/pad device that has been announced or even released over the past 6 months has been lost in a white wash of iPad fandom. The cult of Apple will almost always trounce these other devices as copycats or half baked attempts to steal Apple’s thunder when in fact some of them were in development long before the Apple rumour mill was whipped up into full swing. Today I’d like to take you though the 4 (yes FOUR) other options that are either available right now or will be in the next couple months.
An idea spawned by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington this 12 inch slate has had a troubled birth as it went from being called the Crunchpad to the Joo Joo after a deliciously dramatic bit of controversy. After several delays and dismal pre-orders they finally managed to get some actual hardware out the door, albeit at the most unfortunate time when everyone else in the world was collectively soiling themselves over their new iPad. It probably hasn’t helped that the custom software for the Joo Joo has been met with lackluster reviews leaving this potential iPad contender floundering in the wind. Still it shows that despite the hype there are alternatives available, should you be willing to subject yourself to an inferior experience.
Ah Archos. These guys have been around for quite a while now (over 20 years to be precise) and made their name initially selling peripherals for Commodore Amigas. Shortly afterwards though they dived into the world of portable media players and more recently have been making their name with their slew of MIDs and netbooks. The Archos 9 PC Tablet is in essence a fully fledged computer as it comes pre-installed with Windows 7, which realistically puts it in the UMPC category. Reviews so far have been less than stellar mostly due to its (relatively) slow processor and so-so screen. Give it another iteration and I’m sure Archos will be a serious contender for the iPad, especially with those hungering for more functionality. It is also available for purchase right now.
OpenPeak isn’t a name you’ll instantly recognise, mostly due to their devices being re-branded by the carriers they sell them to, but they’ve got a bit of a record for delivering some pretty stellar products. Their latest work is the OpenTablet 7 which boasts its own custom UI and apparently thousands of applications ready for it. Whilst it is not yet available previews of the device have been well recieved and the specs of the device are extremely impressive (1080p front facing camera? Wow) with oodles of connectivity this might just be enough to convince the tech crowd that tablet devices are worth giving a second look to.
First seen brandished by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer back at CES the HP Slate is probably the most mysterious of all the tablet devices out there. Recent leaks have shown quite a bit more information about the iPad competitor but with nary a hint of release date or price its still up in the air on whether or not its serious competition or just a swipe at Apple by Microsoft. On a technical level though the HP Slate seems to win out and since its announcement I’ve had my eye on it for demonstrations of my up and coming application Geon, since its one of only 2 tablets on the market (that I can see at least) that will support Silverlight applications out of the box, and the only one that seems any good at the moment.
Honestly I was hoping to tread all over the iPad’s reputation by showing it up with all the alternatives available. However after doing a bit of digging I’ve come to realise that all the options available now have a long way to go before they’re actually worthy of being called competitors and the devices being released soon are already up against an army of 300,000+ iPad warriors. Frankly the only competition thus far resides in the HP Slate and time will tell if the Microsoft/HP partnership will be enough to take away the mind share that Apple has gained.
After sifting through the backlog of April Fools Day pranks that had accumulated over the Easter weekend whilst I was hiking my way up several mountains unnecessarily (note to everyone out there, a real GPS is money well spent) the next big ticket item that seemed to be gracing my favourite news sources was of course the iPad. Over the weekend it appears that all those who lashed out to get their hands on Apple’s latest device have finally got some physical hardware in their hot little hands and the reviews of the device have been coming thick and fast. I’ve read my fair share of the commentary of the lead up, announcement and now actual review of the hardware and if there’s one thing that stands out from all of them it’s this: I just don’t care anymore.
Way back when the iPad was still just a rumour and had a much cooler name (iTablet and iSlate have a much better ring to them in my opinion) I actually perked up at the idea. Needing some form of Apple computer to develop on I had hoped to be able to purchase what would amount to a less powerful Mac Mini stuffed into a touch screen, and had almost resigned myself to parting with circa $1000 for the privilege. The actual announcement then left me with a rather sour taste in my mouth as the device was nothing like I had imagined and was completely unsuitable for the use cases I had drawn up in my head. That’s no fault of Apple and I completely lay the blame on myself for getting caught up in any Mac hype, but that didn’t give the iPad a good first impression in my head.
However for what its worth the reviews of the device, even from those who were deliberately skeptical in the lead up to actually getting their hands on the hardware, have been fairly positive. The iPad experience seems to be well rounded and there are seemingly no 1.0 glitches to sully Apple’s reputation for good products. In all honesty I expected as much as the software hasn’t really undergone any revolutionary changes apart from a UI redesign, something Apple has proven themselves to be quite capable of doing. There’s been no report on any major website of DOA hardware or anything else so hats off to Apple for being able to ship thousands upon thousands of iPads without any glaring manufacturing defects.
Just like the original iPhone before it there are a few things missing from the device that have drawn the ire of a couple reviewers. Many of them make a point that a device like this would be a pretty darn nifty video conferencing device if there was an included camera, although since Apple has yet to include a front facing camera with their iPhone you’d have to question how much use the thing would get if it was actually there. The lack of a user login on the device is probably a bit annoying for those who were looking to have it as a coffee table device that was shared amongst a family, but the use cases for such an interface are a bit dubious (I mean really porn on the iPad? Ewwww). There’s also the usual no multi-tasking and lack of flash support but I’ve already harped on those enough already and beating a dead horse isn’t really my thing.
What I’m not seeing however is how the iPad is the media revolution device that it was supposed to be. Sure this could be due to the fact that negotiations between Apple and the media giants aren’t going along as quickly as they had planned (or the fact that most people who get their news on the Internet won’t pay for it) but those who are extolling its ease of use with all forms of media are really just regurgitating the same points they made when the iPhone came out. In reality there’s nothing new here apart from the form factor and 90% of the things that the iPad does the iPhone or iPod Touch could do before it. It’s still early days to call it a failure in that regard but for the most part even the enthusiasts aren’t really excited about the media revolution that this device was supposedly bringing in, they’re just really impressed with a solid piece of Apple hardware.
It seems whenever I post on the iPad I always have to finish it off with a “let’s wait and see” just because the product is going to need a long time for it to actually become whatever the hell it was meant to be. Apple to their credit has launched a solid bit of hardware that’s backed up by some very mature software but beyond that the device is nothing more than the giant iPod touch it was first revealed to be. I would say I’d give one to my parents, but they discovered netbooks last year and haven’t had any troubles using them. I think the iPad would just confuse them more than it would help them.
Then again, my parents aren’t that typical (I mean they did raise me up as the complete geek I am ;).
I spent last weekend in Adelaide with many of my good friends (and two of them fellow bloggers). For the most part we’re a pretty technical bunch with nearly all of us in IT based fields. You can then imagine that many of our conversations came down to various bits of tech or services that we might have found interesting or useful and with the hype of the iPad still fresh in our minds we inevitably came to discussing the implications of the device and strangely, for me at least, ended up with an agreement to disagree on many aspects of this device. Today I’d like to take a go at deconstructing the arguments that were put forth and see where it takes me.
“The iPad, from a technical standpoint, is nothing more than an overgrown iPod touch”: This point we could all agree on. Realistically the device itself is nothing of a technical revolution, nor is the software running on top of it. When Apple released the iPhone they did what they were good at, making tech that was reserved for the annals of geekdom cool and easy to use for the masses. The iPad takes the innovations of the iPhone and just plonks them on new hardware, with only small variations here and there. The real differences do lie within the software but as far as normal releases of Apple hardware go this was something of a technical let down, but that really only means anything to us geeks.
“Apple is seeking to revolutionize the print media industry/The iPad will see the birth of digital news subscriptions”: From eBooks to online newspapers the iPad is quite capable of serving them up on a quite large screen. Traditional media organisations have typically been pretty hostile towards new formats and the digital realm has been no different. Apple is definitely working at getting more content available for the iPad through direct channels with news organisations however their style of business is clashing with those of the old media giants. The talks are still in early days and there are already some publishers pledging their allegiance to the platform but I still don’t think this is enough. The iPad’s iPod ancestors had their content channels (read: iTunes) setup and ready to go long before the release of the device. Sure much of the iTunes infrastructure will be used in order to facilitate the delivery of said content but without solid media deals in place beforehand I can’t see this being as revolutionary as it’s being made out to be.
Similarly a point was made that the iPad would see people coming full circle on their news consumption habits and we would see the rebirth of the newspaper subscription, albeit in digital form. At the time I made the unsubstantiated claim that no one would pay for it, based mostly on the idea that I wouldn’t. There does seem to be some hard evidence to suggest that I’m not alone, with a recent experiment netting only 35 subscribers in 3 months for a total cost of $4 million. Just because the subscription might be made available on the iPad doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be willing to pay for it. In fact I’d argue that most of the big media corporations will continue to offer the majority of their content online for free and continuing to reap what they can from advertising.
The argument was then made that people are always willing to pay for good journalism. Whilst I can understand the idea behind that (you get what you pay for) the fact is that no matter how many paywalls go up there will always be another alternate source of news that will be made available for free. Many of the wire feeds can be had for a certain fee and realistically it wouldn’t take too much programming effort to grab said feeds, format them appropriately, slap on some advertising and put it on the web for all to see. The fact of the matter is that the current generation of netizens are accustomed to getting their fix of digital news for free and putting up paywalls, no matter how they’re delivered to the end user, will end in utter failure for them. I can see the possibility of say search deals with Google (as they have done for a good number of paywalled sites already) that drop the paywall in return for favourable search listings but the net result is still the end user not paying directly for the content.
“The iPad is a great eBook reader”: Well yes and no. It’s great for those who haven’t lashed out for an eBook reader and wanted a device to fill a need they didn’t know they had but as an eBook reader well it’s sub par. The LCD screen, whilst an appropriate size and quite usable, isn’t what you’d want to be reading books on for an extended period of time. E-Ink systems such as those found on the Kindle and Nook are far more readable in many more conditions than that of a LCD. It might sound like yet another geek technicality but those I’ve spoke to who own one of those devices swear by them. Many of them had attempted reading eBooks on other LCD based devices before switching to their new E-Ink device and for the most part wouldn’t want to take a step back, even for something that has oodles more functionality.
Additionally the biggest advantage that the Kindle and Nook have over the iPad is the free cellular wireless connection that comes with every single device sold. Whilst I can appreciate the fact that the iPad can have similar connectivity or the fact that many of these won’t be away from a wireless access point for very long the fact still remains that almost anywhere in the world the current eBook readers have free access to their book stores and various Internet sites. If you want Internet on your iPad you will be paying at least US$130 more for the privilege or you’ll be hopping from hot-spot to hot-spot, something which you just can’t do very well in places like Australia.
The picture looks even more grim for the iPad as an eBook reader when you consider the sales of devices already in the market. The Kindle is already over 3 million units shipped and the Nook, released only a few months ago, could already be passing the 500,000 mark. That’s an enormous install base to get past and, thanks to the proprietary nature of the current eBook market, none of them are going to want to switch since they would either relegate themselves to having to use 2 devices or give up on the book collection they acquired on their pre-iPad device. Consequently the range of books available through iBooks is currently unknown and you can bet your bottom dollar that Amazon and Barnes and Noble won’t be too keen to share their range with what will be their biggest competitor.
“The iPad seeks to create a niche, not fill one”: I agreed with this point as it’s something that Apple has done several times in the past with great success. Their combination of minimalistic design and it-just-works usability has made geek tech cool and accessible to the masses. The iPod and iPhone are great examples of this with both of them coming into a market that was already awash with many other devices but was struggling to reach critical mass. The iPad is probably one of the little more adventurous additions to the Apple product line as whilst there are a few other tablets out there they’re still having trouble getting into people’s homes. This is in contrast to say the MP3 player and smartphone market before them which where very much alive and kicking at the time, but were still lacking mass market appeal.
Consequently calling the iPad a tablet PC is somewhat of a misnomer since it really doesn’t fit into the definition of a tablet that the market had defined prior to its arrival. Tablet PCs to this day have had the ability to function as full fledged computers on their own. The iPad on the other hand really can’t be used as a replacement for a full desktop or laptop simply because it lacks the higher end functionality that these devices bring. It would be far more apt to call the iPad a netbook since it aligns much more closely to those ideals, what with the custom user interface (ala the EEE) and lack of computing power.
Is there a market for this niche they’re looking to create? Absolutely. If we learnt anything from the Joo-Joo (aka Crunchpad) there are people out there who like to do the majority of their computing, mostly consisting of web browsing and light document editing, in non-traditional computing settings. These are the people that have been up until this point unsatisfied with their laptop/netbook and are looking for something, how would you say, more casual. Devices like this aren’t meant to be a drop in replacement for your home computer but if you’re wanting to quickly check your flight before you rush out the door a quick booting device that shows a web browser is exactly what you need. Couple this with iPad’s insane brand loyalty and you’ll have many of these devices hitting homes around the world before people are even sure what they want to do with them, but that will only last so long.
“Apple is a hardware company”: This is a point I didn’t make during the discussions with my peers but its something that’s come up time and time again in the online buzz surrounding the iPad. For all their spruiking and hype about the various services they provide the majority of them don’t appear to make a whole lot of money for Apple. Trying to uncover some hard numbers on their sales figures leads only to a rampaging horde of opinion pieces, none of which provide accurate figures. Steve Jobs has said in the past that it only makes enough to cover its costs, and has said similar things about the App store. You’d then wonder why they bother providing them in the first place.
Well the first reason is fairly obvious: Jobs was lying and their a massive profit machine. Without hard numbers though it’s just going to be another he-said she-said situation so I’m going to work on the assumption that they at least cover their costs, and are at least turning a profit now.
What I can work on though are some hard numbers of say what an iPhone costs to make. Taking numbers from here the grand total for the bill of materials for an iPhone is US$178.96 and that phone will sell for a good US$699. If we round up the cost to $200 to cover shipping and whatnot you’re still looking at a whopping $500 profit on each handset sold. To put that in perspective most companies run on profit margins for hardware somewhere in the vicinity of 3~5% which pales in comparison to the 250% that Apple makes on each iPhone sold. It is therefore worth their time to create services that, whilst not explicitly profitable for them, drive the more profitable hardware sales.
You can see this in every aspect of their business to with their entire range of Apple products attracting premium pricing regardless of the competition on the market. Initially this started with their desktop range and sales where driven by the “it-just-works” meme that Apple has indoctrinated into its users. Initially the hardware was significantly different to what regular consumers got but in the last few years the hardware they use is identical to what you’ll find in most common PCs. The premium then comes from the integration of all the various bits and pieces together into one cohesive bit of hardware and software that to the end user is almost brainless to use. Couple that with the hipster cred that comes along with it and you’ve got products that market themselves.
After all this I’m still not convinced that the iPad will achieve the greatness that the Apple fan club has attributed to it. Sure it might sell a decent number of units but I don’t think that will be enough to drive the eBook and online media revolution that some have ascribed to it. My RSS feeds used to be ablaze with the hub-bub about the iPad but the last month has seen that die down to a quiet whisper in the background. Time will tell how successful the iPad is and whether it can achieve all it sets out to do, and this blog post will either stand as a triumphant prediction of the future or a large helping of my own words which I will have to humbly consume in front of the wider Internet audience.
You can probably guess which I’m hoping it is
UPDATE: Some recent developments have shown TV execs are also hesitant to cave into Apple’s demands for cheaper entertainment that would help spur sales of their devices. Can’t say that I blame them since it would be a boon for all of Apple’s media devices and probably wouldn’t be so good for them:
Apple has supposedly been pitching networks on lower prices for TV shows, cutting the current standard from $1.99 to 99¢. If a report in the New York Times is accurate, it seems that most networks have been reluctant to consider lowering prices for two reasons: they fear the lower price will devalue the content, and doing so may give Apple more control than they would like.
Though iTunes music sales have been a success in the face of dropping CD sales and increasing P2P file sharing—Apple is already gearing up to commemorate 10 billion songs downloaded—two-dollar TV episodes have only been downloaded about 375 million times. Apple is trying to convince networks that 99¢ will make TV shows more palatable and drive increasing sales.
Not that I wouldn’t mind that though. Paying that much for a high quality copy of a TV show would be mighty tempting, especially if there was no delay between the free-to-air and digital release. Yet another piece of interesting information to consider in the greater iPad world.
Finally after the collective Internet hive mind being caught up in a flurry of speculation and turtle-necks we’ve finally been put out of our misery and Steve Jobs has unveiled the much rumoured new product: the iPad. It has caused such a fluster that it managed to eek its way onto the local news this morning, something which things like shuttle launches struggle to do. I’d been following the rumours pretty closely in the hopes that whatever Apple released would be appropriate for a demonstration I was planning for when Geon hit the next milestone. To be honest I’m a little disappointed at Apple’s offering, but not for the reasons you might think.
Apple is renowned for their good design and keen eye for minimalist aesthetics. The iPad unfortunately suffers from the legacy of its predecessor the iPhone. Initial mock-ups that floated around the Internet showed something scarily similar to that of the picture shown above which is in essence just a scaled up iPhone. The kicker here is though that unlike the iPhone the iPad has a giant black bezel around the screen which makes it look kind of clunky. I can see why they did this though as the device is only half an inch thick, something which they would’ve struggled to achieve had they not made it a little taller and wider. Still it looks more like those cheap digital photo frames more than a classy Apple product. I’ll still reserve final judgement for when I see one of these things in the store though.
There is however one place I feel I can criticize fairly aptly, the tech specs. Apple has been kind enough to provide a list as long as your arm of the features that the iPad includes:
Nice sized screen and lots of connectivity options so that’s a good start. Where things start to awry is when you look at what’s under the hood: a 1GHz custom CPU, hard drives smaller than the majority of SSDs available and no mention of how much ram the thing has. What I’m seeing here is actually just an upscaled version of the iPhone something that’s actually quite comparable to say the Nexus One. So realistically it would be more aptly described as a stripped down netbook, as it doesn’t really have much grunt behind it at all. Though I admit the iPhone did show you can do some quite interesting stuff with minimal amounts of power.
The real crux of it though comes down the Operating System (OS) that runs on top of all this hardware. Seeing it this morning it looked like the iPad was running yet another custom OS from Apple. Turns out this isn’t true and it is in fact running the 3.2 version of the iPhone OS. So the iPad shares the flash immunity of its iPhone brother (and by extension, Silverlight to) and will be limited to applications available on the app store (seems Apple isn’t done milking that cash cow just yet). So it looks like the rumours of the iPad just being a huge iPhone are confirmed, which is extremely disappointing.
So overall Jobs has put forward something that is far from revolutionary, is extremely limited in its application and really fails to meet the industry standard of what we’ve come to expect from a tablet PC (be honest with yourself, its a scaled up MID). I wholeheartedly swallowed the rumours on the device and was quite prepared to shell out $1000 for something that would be running say a cut down version of OSX, but it seems that’s never to be. I’m sure the iPad will enjoy a decent amount of success thanks mostly to the Apple brand but when the $800 netbook I bought months ago runs circles around it you can guarantee one of these won’t be making an appearance in my house.
And I thought I was beginning to like Apple, for reals.