Monthly Archives: January 2010

My thoughts on the iPad

OK, I’ll confess up front that I am predisposed to like Apple products. We’re a Mac household (with a legacy PC holdover from Apple’s pre-OSX days in the wilderness). I’d have an iPhone, but my carrier is Verizon. I do have an iPod Touch that I love. However, I don’t think of myself so much as a fanboy but as one who appreciates the design, integration and operation of the Apple ecosystem.

I’ve reflected on the iPad and the more I think on it the more I believe that it has really hit a niche that it will very successfully exploit, though I think it’s going to be the Christmas season of 2010 before it really rockets. It will take a while for folks to realize what this is. Let’s talk about it, but first let’s talk about what it’s not.

1) it’s not a phone. It’s too big. You won’t carry it everywhere, but you will carry it with you wherever you’d carry a book, a newspaper, a magazine, etc., and at home, it will likely live on your coffee table or end table.

2) it’s not a laptop. Don’t try to make it one. You’ll access media, messages, and richly formated information. You won’t use for mondo spreadsheet modeling, for writing your thesis, or for doing your taxes.

It is, as Jobs said, the third device. You’ll carry a phone. However, with the iPad close by, you’ll need to use the tiny screen of the phone less often for serious email, browsing, etc. Demographics will help Apple here, so bear with me. No matter what you do, the size of the screen that you can put in your pocket is limited. Us “boomers” with eyes that don’t focus as quickly, as crisply, etc. as they used to will just not ever be as able to do a bunch of work on the screen real estate of a smartphone. I carry a Blackberry and use it for a number of things, but mostly for quick info fixes or quick notes. Anything extensive (like writing this post) and I want to have more space to see and input data. I love my iPod Touch, and think it’s really (with the 140,000 available apps) a true pocket computer. I think that these devices, and the new Android phones and others like them will be our constant companions. However, they have limitations, and you have to realize that. Heck, I had Newtons, Palm Pilots, etc., so I’ve been trying to figure out these pocket devices for a long time. Size is their strength. Size is their Achilles heel.

The next device you’ll have is your computer. It may be a desktop or laptop. That’s a matter of preference, but I’m tending to think that the iPad will continue to push me back to the desktop and away from my Macbook. I use an iMac as my “primary” home machine, with a Mini as a media center machine. The Macbook is a work computer but I am edging toward a desktop environment there as well. I spend a lot of time in meetings, and while I often take a laptop, I don’t do much more than updating google docs, quick web-based email, or adding to web-based task lists. Let me keep it in the cloud! All lightweight tasks for which I schlep 5 pounds of computer around, plus a power brick.

Here’s where the iPad comes in. One and a half pounds, the size of a notepad. Effective for taking notes to cloud-based services. Google docs, Evernote, etc., or to the iPad-native notes database (which can be synched with Mobile Me, I’m sure, as it can on the iPod/iPhone). Effective for web-based email. Effective for quickly browsing up a few facts during the meeting.

When you head home, it has your digital music for the drive (or podcasts of magazines in my case), or streaming via Pandora (or your favorite). When you get home, you put it by the sofa. After dinner, you’ll chill watching CSI 😉 and multitask by doing email or casual web surfing. Oh, you want to watch something else while your spouse is using the main TV? Do so right on the iPad with a nice sized screen (using only one of the ear phones so you can hear your spouse!). Want to read a book? It’ll be great on the iPad (and you can even read your Kindle books through the iPad Kindle app). This morning I looked at the 6″ of snow at the end of my driveway and the trackless cul-de-sac and my lack of a morning newspaper. Would have been nice to read it online on his and her iPads rather than the his and her Macbooks that we used. More room in the lap for the cat, too!

It’s the third device…not the phone, not the primary computer, but the cloud portal information appliance. Don’t try to make it your smartphone (but you can Skype). Don’t try to make your laptop (but you can use iWork and have VGA output). It’s a new category that neatly fills the gap. It will catch on. The key, and I think the reason that Apple configured it the way they did, is the existence of the 140,000 apps and a zillion developers extending functionality. Some apps are trivial but many are very useful; a whole ecosystem of apps. And, yeah, you give up configurability and it won’t run your laptop apps, but that’s missing the point. It’s not a Netbook, which is just a smaller underpowered laptop with all the complexity. The iPad is simple. Pull it out of the box and use it. Hard to mess up. A closed system so you don’t have to worry as much about malware. A new class of device. I can’t wait!

Book Review, “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson

Somehow, I’ve gotten to be 52 years old, and I think I’m a decent geek (I used to be a bit-twiddling systems programmer back in the day) as well as a Sci-Fi fan, and I managed to miss reading Snow Crash for 18 years (published in 1992). Oh well, no time like the present to make that up. I thoroughly enjoyed Snow Crash. I found the style and presentation to be interesting and compelling. I’ve read, over the last couple of months, Stephenson’s Anathem and Cryptonomicon, enjoying them both immensely. It’s clear that they are by the same author, but yet they are so different in characters and story that it doesn’t feel like rehashing the same ground. That’s important when an author spends as many pages telling a story as Stephenson 😉 . I won’t spend a lot of time here rehashing the adventures of Hiro and Y.T. There are a zillion reviews on the ‘net. What I will say is that this is a fabulous book, well worth the attention it has received. The amazing thing to me is that when I read it, though it was written and published in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the computer/information technology described in the book doesn’t feel dated. Sure there are some places where you can spot some anachronisms, but they are so few and far between that it doesn’t detract from the story. I felt the same way about Cryptonomicon, by the way. So, go pick up a copy of Snow Crash if you’ve never read it; as a friend said to me on Facebook, good thing I finally read it so he wouldn’t have to pull my “geek card” 😉

Now, one interesting angle. I’d been looking at eBook readers (and as I write this, I’m awaiting the announcement, in less than 24 hours, of Apple’s “iThing”) and had decided that I didn’t want to spring for a Kindle but I liked the concept. Then I saw that I could get the software for iPhone/iPod Touch (I have a Touch) and PC, with Mac and Blackberry on the way. Cool, I say, so I downloaded the software and forked out $9.99 for Snow Crash on Amazon (I know, coulda got a used paperback for $1). I really liked reading on the Touch. I did read a few chapters on my laptop (but since the Mac version is not out, had to use Parallels with a Windows VM 😉 ). It was useful, though, to be able to read the book in one window and have Wikipedia articles about Sumerian history open in another window (read Snow Crash, you’ll know why). I suspect I’ll buy more books this way, though I really don’t like the Kindle Digital Rights Management (DRM) and think that this is the main thing that we’ve got to figure out in the business model. I should be able to loan or give away the copy I’ve licensed, just like a physical book.

OK, y’all don’t look at any strange bit maps now!

Mobile devices

I’m following the developments in the iPhone/Android space with interest. I’ve got 11 months left on my Verizon contract, so it’s somewhat academic unless Verizon does offer a non-subsidized CDMA version of the Nexus One. We’ll see how that develops. Here’s a good article from the NYTimes on the iPhone v. Nexus One. In the mean time, I’ll muddle along with my Blackberry 8330. I do think, tho, that when I do get a new phone its likely to be either an iPhone (carrier switch) or Android based (on Verizon). Don’t think I’ll stay with the Blackberry. It works, but it’s just not elegant. Everything is kludgy and mostly works; there’s no sense of beauty and integration. I’m very interested to see what Apple releases at Macworld…the rumors about the putative tablet are interesting and voluminous. There’s so much interesting development in the mobile device space. If we think back only a few years, it’s fascinating how far we’ve come and how much functionality we already have. I’m quite interested in the eReader space. A key, I think, is that Amazon has the “iTunes” model for book delivery with the Kindle (and now devices running Kindle software [currently Windows, iPhone/iTouch, with Mac and Blackberry to come]). I’ve downloaded the Kindle software to a Parallels VM on my Mac and to my iPod Touch, and am half-way through my first book on the platform. I actually like the experience pretty well. The integrated bookstore model is where I think that Barnes & Nobles will be significant competition for the Kindle, more than some of the other readers. It’s partly the device, and partly the integration with the services. You have to have both for success. That’s a point in that first article I cited above on the iPhone v. Nexus One. Both devices are capable and interesting, and both have biases for their affiliated services.

How many devices will we carry, though? A smart phone? Is that enough? Do you need a media reader? Where’s my fullsize keyboard? In many respects, the best device is the one you have with you that’s connected to enough services to be useful. My pockets are full enough already 😉

Apple, bring on the “iSlate” announcement, and let’s see how that changes the playing field!

And we thought it was going to rain all day…

Awoke this morning to pouring rain and low expectations of seeing the beach. Drove to get the paper, and got drenched getting one from the box. However, during the 2nd latte this morning, I looked out and saw sunshine and blue skies! Dropped the paper, chugged the coffee, and hit the beach for a three-mile walk. As soon at the old dog is settled, I think we’ll head out again. There’s a chance of rain again later today, but much better weather than expected!

Those oysters at Jordan’s last night were excellent; we’ll head back for a another peck this evening!

Winter at the NC coast…

This year, the weather over the MLK holiday weekend is more salubrious than last year, though it is supposed to rain all day Sunday. Last year, the highs were in the 30’s on the beach. Today, we had beautiful sunshine this morning, and though the sun is filtered through some thin clouds now, it’s a pleasant 60F on the deck. A walk of about 2 miles this morning to get the paper, breakfast with 3 lattes, then a 5 mile walk. Crackers, brie, and pepper jelly for a snack before oysters at Jordan’s this evening. This is the kind of day that makes you glad you live below the Mason-Dixon line ;-). The last 10 days have been pretty chilly for NC, with lows well down in the teens and highs most days in the 30’s. Ice on the ponds, and my backyard goldfish pool still had an inch of ice on the corners though Friday’s temps were into the 50’s. We’d debated all week about whether to come, waiting on Thursday’s forecast. Hopefully the rain will pull out Sunday night and give us nice weather to get out on Monday morning before we come home. Jan and I both have Monday off, and she has Tuesday off. We’d stay late Monday, but I have a scout committee meeting in the evening.

We talked to some friends right down the street here at EI, and they told us that Swansboro has a new Performing Arts Series, and there’s a folk acoustic trio playing at 2PM Sunday. A possibility for tomorrow.

Oh well, the clouds are beginning to thicken and it’s getting cooler as the afternoon progresses. Time to head inside…

Welcome, 2010…

OK, so it’s already January 12th…it’s still early in the new year! 2010 is off to a good start. We’ve got both kids back out of the house again, off at their respective schools, so peace and quiet reigns. I’ve been trying to keep on top of communications and planning for my new BSA role as District Chairman. I think that the key is to do what I need to do right when I think of it; if I let it sit, too much time will pass and I’ll also stand a better chance of dropping a ball. Electronic communication will be important, and I plan to try to use Skype for conference calls, and also leverage either the current Yahoo site or a Google group. We’ll also make use of collaborative editing with Google Docs. I’m gearing up to teach at UNC-CH again this semester in my role as an adjunct in SILS. Last semester was the first time in 10 years I’ve not taught a class, and I feel energized to do it; it’s been good to take the time off. I’m working on getting my vacation schedule set up and coordinated with my colleagues at UNCG. I want to be sure that I get some time for shad fishing in March, Bassclave in June or July, and beach time in August. Time flies, and the cold weather we’ve been having will be gone soon, and the fish will be biting. I do plan to try for some trout in early February. There’s a local pond/lake that gets a trout stocking during the winter. I’ll be giving that a try this year. What’s that whooshing sound? Time rushing by 😉