Posts Tagged‘xoom’

Android, Modders and Market Forces.

I used to think I wasn’t your typical consumer, what with my inclination for all things tech especially those with a dedicated modding community. Pretty much every device I have in my house has been modified in some way so that I can do things that the manufacturer didn’t intend for me to do, extending the life of many of those devices considerably. Whilst consumers like me used to be  small in number, especially when compared to the total market, it seems like ever since Android exploded in popularity that the modding community is now a force to be reckoned with. So much so that even handset manufacturers are beginning to bow to their demands.

I started thinking along these lines back when some of my close mates were talking about Motorola’s super handset, the Atrix. Feature wise its an amazing phone with enough processing power under the hood to give netbooks a good run for their money. A few of my mates were wholly sold on getting one once they were released however reports began came in that the boot loader on the Atrix was locked, removing the possibility of being able to run custom ROMs and some of the more useful features. It really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise since Motorola has a policy of locking their devices (which is why the Xoom’s unlocked bootloader was odd) but still many people were sold on the device prior to finding out its limitations. The modding community didn’t just vote with their wallets this time around however, they made sure Motorola was aware of just how many customers they were losing.

Motorola, for reasons unknown, decided to put up a poll on their Facebook page asking their fans what apps they’d most like to see their developers working on next. The response was overwhelming with nearly every request being for them to unlock the bootloader. Not a week after these poll results went viral did Motorola issued a statement that they’d be changing their policy to allow users to unlock handsets, as long as the carriers approved it. Whilst that’s yet to happen for any of their current handsets (they’ve alluded to late this year) it did show that the modding community has become very important to the handset manufacturers, more so than I had ever thought they would.

HTC, long known for there awesomely hackable handsets, seems to be going in the opposite direction to Motorola seemingly ignoring the lessons to be learned from them. Whilst they had never made it as easy as say the Google Nexus lines of phones they were always able to be unlocked should you be willing to take the risk. Back in march I wrote about how their Thunderbolt handset was by far the most locked down device we had seen from HTC ever, warning that doing so would be akin to poisoning the well they drink from. More recently it came to light that two of their newest handsets, the Sensation and EVO 3D, would also come with locked bootloaders similar to that of the Thunderbolt. They have since come back saying that they’ll be working to make their handsets more hacker friendly once again, although many are quick to point out that they might not have much say in that matter.

You see the unfortunate truth is that all handsets are at the mercy of the carriers as without them they’re basically useless. Google encountered this very problem when they released the Nexus One as they had to offer both the subsidized version through the carriers as well as their original vision of selling it just through their online store. Indeed they had originally wanted to sell the Nexus One for as little as $99 unlocked paying the subsidy themselves. That plan didn’t last very long once they started talking to the carriers and the best option they could offer was the $179 version with a 2 year contract, a far cry from their original vision. So whilst I applaud Motorola and HTC’s commitment to keeping handsets hacker friendly the carriers could very well scuttle the idea long before it hits implementation, but only time will tell with that.

Honestly I’m very surprised at the recent turn of events that has led to these quick about faces from the big handset manufacturers. Sure I believed that the modding communities were catalysts for the success that they had enjoyed but I didn’t think they had enough sway to get a corporation to change its wicked ways. It shows that a decent percentage of people are committed to the idea of openness and freedom to use their devices as they see fit and whilst it might be an uphill battle against the carriers we at least have some powerful allies on our side, maybe even enough to make Google’s original Nexus vision come true one day.

Internet Shopping Has Ruined Me.

I’m not what you’d call a big traveller, the longest trip of my life was done just last year and only lasted 4 weeks, but I’ve still been to more places than both my parents combined. I have the commoditization of air travel to thank for that and it’s the reason why many Australians of my generation spent their early twenties in other countries. Like any traveller I’m always keen to dive right into the culture of the place I’m visiting and always want to bring back a momento that’s distinctly from that country. Since I have a distaste for useless things and a heavy interest in tech my options are usually pretty limited though, especially when I go to places that are supposed to be tech centres.

Most recently I saw myself in Singapore for business and thought this would be a good opportunity to grab some of the gadgets I hadn’t bought yet (I.E. a Motorola Xoom). I knew I could get it online for just under $600 so I figured if I could get it for that or within 10% more it would be worth it so I set out to 2 of the biggest technology malls in search of one. The first one I tried was Sim Lim Square, and whilst the number of IT shops there was astounding I failed to find anyone willing to sell me the tablet for less than SG$900 (~AUD$684). It was also a bit of a challenge to find one in the first place since most places didn’t stock it, favoring instead the new Acer Iconia. My frolic through the Funan DigitalLife Mall prove to be equally as irritating, so I ended up leaving there empty handed.

I had similar frustrations looking for some distinctly Singaporean gifts to bring back from my travels. This could be due to the heavy amount of westernization that Singapore has undergone but even trolling through local markets had me finding the same items I could either get online or back in Australia. It’s not just limited to Singapore either, any business running in a modern country is more than likely going to have some kind of web presence which will allow you to get their products without having to enter the country. Thus the actual value of travelling to a location to get things that you can only get there is somewhat diminished, especially if you’re someone with particular tastes like me.

My wife and I had the same trouble when travelling through the USA. We struggled to find anything that they couldn’t get elsewhere and indeed many of the gifts we ended up bringing back could have easily been acquired with 10 minutes on the Internet and a credit card. Sure people are still appreciative of things that have made the journey from faraway lands (especially if you carry them yourselves) but it just seems unnecessary when you could have the package make that same journey without taking up space in your suitcase.

Perhaps its just a result of my particular tastes and chosen travel destinations but the more I travel the more I get the feeling that the world is becoming far more homogenous thanks to the communication revolution of the Internet. It’s also just good business on the part of the multi-nationals who can afford to have a presence anywhere they choose which explains why I continue to see the same products and brands nearly everywhere I go.

Maybe I’m just pointlessly ranting about the diminishing value of travel or perhaps I’m getting crotchety in my old age, not wanting to travel because I like what I’ve got back at home. Both are valid points and looking over this post it does seem kind of a silly point to make. Still though I think there’s something in the idea that the world is becoming more homogenous thanks to the better flow of information and that one of the flow on effects is that the idea of bringing gifts back from overseas is now a quaint notion that could soon be seen as an outdated custom.

Or maybe I’m just shit at finding good places to shop, that’d work too 😉

What’s The Use Case For a Cellular Tablet?

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?

Apple’s iPad 2: Eh, Nothing Surprising.

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):

  • Wi-Fi + 3G model: UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • Wi-Fi + 3G for Verizon model: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz)
  • Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR technology
  • 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
  • 1024-by-768-pixel resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi)
  • 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip
  • Back camera: Video recording, HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second with audio; still camera with 5x digital zoom
  • Front camera: Video recording, VGA up to 30 frames per second with audio; VGA-quality still camera
  • Built-in 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery
  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 3G data network
  • Three-axis gyro
  • Accelerometer
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Wi-Fi
  • Digital compass
  • Assisted GPS

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.