Archive for the ‘ iPad ’ Category

Google Nexus 7 and a Brave New World

So the fates threw another curve ball my way, and made the magic smoke come out of my SO’s game machine.  As luck would have it (for her) my recent Windows 7 game machine – and more recently a 64 Bit Debian Linux development machine – was identical in make and model, and quickly drafted as a replacement.  After extracting the hard drive, and a 122 mm fan from the hanger-queen – and retrofitting said parts into my old machine – she was back up and running her favorite games on a machine that had much better airflow(overheating had killed the the motherboard).  Love knows no bounds.

Unfortunately for me, this yet again put a kink in my previous new-year’s plans.  Then Google happened.  More precisely the Nexus 7 happened, and this happening which I was not cognizant of in my normal ‘antennae up’ manner – was fortunate in that its timing provided me the leverage needed to modify my plans from doing the sort of development I expected, to presenting an alternative.  So I bought one – the $250 model – that I quickly encased in a faux leather magnetic covering – a la SD Tabletwear Smart  Case for the Nexus 7 – and preceded to learn the ins-and-outs of.  I also managed to get a few books on Android development…and the rest, as they say, is history.   Or more accurately, ‘history in the making’.

In comparison to the iPAD, the Nexus 7 (built by ASUS) is much smaller and lighter than the iPAD.  Reading and using the device is a breeze – easy on the hands and arms in comparison to the iPAD over long periods of time.  The one drawback – 16GB of storage compared to 64GB on the iPAD – is made up by the snappy graphics processing of the integrated NVIDIA CPU/GPU sporting a Quad core CPU and 12 core GPU – and the fact that I found an old iPOD Nano laying around [daughter’s present, 5th generation circa 2009 – never opened – her loss] that I copied my music over to (I can actually walk around now, and listen to my music without having to lug the iPAD around).  The Nexus 7 is dedicated to running apps/games – and I really like the interface that it uses with the Android 4.1 Jellybean OS.

Comparing the two OS’s/interfaces, I would say there are some things better done by Apple, and some better done by Google.  For example, I like the way Apple handles process control – clear and absolute.   Shutting down applications on Android is somewhat labyrinthine  (until you figure out that you can use the settings widget to create a desktop shortcut to the apps control) always leaves me with an uneasy feeling – the question in my mind, ‘did that application really shut down?’  As I later learned, this is a feature of the Android development and runtime system: resources can be defined for an application – and will be run as requested by the app…hence the mysterious application services that mysteriously seem to appear in the process list.  From this perspective, I can see that it isn’t necessarily Android, as much as undisciplined developers.  My own efforts to create applications for Android will test this theory – so more to follow on that on future blogs.  Android does get some things interestingly right – such as interprocess communication, and the layering of applications and interface components such that you can clearly back out of something and return to what you were doing before without necessarily having to jump around so much (the ‘back’ button).

Overall – for my purposes, the Nexus 7 is the perfect form factor and functionality.  I do like the iPAD – but (there is always a but, isn’t there?) I think it is really geared for people who are into media and media creation.  You can’t do development on the iPAD (aside from some sand-boxed interpreters that are very limited – without access to the underlying resources), and external native development for distribution is limited and requires a $99 fee (at the time of this writing).  On the other hand, native applications on the Nexus 7 can be developed and distributed freely – and not only can you develop externally to the device, you can download the AIDE (Android Integrated Development Environment) and do development on the device itself.  Add a bluetooth keyboard, and you have the next best thing to a laptop.

Now remember: your mileage may vary.  Others might argue that the small screen size, the lack of storage space, and wifi-only networking are deal killers.  I don’t have issue with any of that – my old eyes are getting to the point where I have to wear glasses anyway to read any screen smaller than 17″ LCD, I moved the largest part of my stored items – the music – over to a more appropriate/mobile iPOD device, and I have a smartphone which already has mobile telephone data network capability for the rare times I really need it.

Don’t feel bad for my old iPAD – it will live on as a media device associated with my living room TV system (there is an app for that).  And if I get an Apple TV device – it might even have even more life breathed into it as a video streaming device as well.

Would Steve Jobs approve my choices?  Probably not – but time marches on – and I am nothing if not pragmatic, in a Bruce Lee sort of way.  To Steve’s credit, the vision to create this tablet/smartphone ecosystem allowed the Nexus 7 to exist – he made his mark through the company he lead and the products he championed – and the world is better for it imho.

It is certainly a brave new computing world for all of us.

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iPad (3rd Generation) Announced Today!

Okay — I’ll get it over with right now and say, “meh.”  This, you have to understand is from the same person who still owns his original iPad – that I’ve been operating since 3 April 2010 (the earliest the general public had access to them).  I love the fact that I’ve only managed to use about 1/4 of the total 64gb storage space on the thing – even with my complete music collection and a boatload of downloaded books and applications.  I don’t regret going with the WIFI only model (I suspect this saved battery life – and my iPhone serves when I’m out of WIFI range).  There is a lot of life left in this baby – and there isn’t enough reasons for me to switch just yet.

On the other hand, I can see some of the value of the new iPad for some specific use cases that might make others want to consider it:

  • If I were an artist and wanted to draw photorealistic or detailed artwork, or do photo editing the new iPad with it’s Retina high resolution display is a good candidate.  I know doctors did not take up the iPad or iPad2 because the screen did not have the resolution needed to properly interpret medical images.  With the new iPad, perhaps they have the answer to that problem?
  • It’s improved camera makes it a decent candidate also for video blogging – although the form factor is kind of large for that.  My iPhone 4 can do the same in terms of video and pictures, and fits in my pocket.
  • If you opt for the mobile wireless model – you can get the ‘lightening fast’ LTE 4G technology.  Probably nice if you are streaming a movie in high definition to that beautiful screen when out on the road.

But that’s about it.  It is heavier than the iPad2 (to accommodate the 10 hour battery) 1.44 pounds versus 1.33 pounds.  It does have a slightly better CPU.  Overall an incremental upgrade similar to the iPhone 4 to 4S changes.

If you do find the new features worthy of switching from an older iPad, or if you’ve never had an iPad and want the latest and greatest – you can pre-order now from apple.com for delivery on 16 March 2012.

As for me, I’m thinking about getting a Kindle Fire for half the price for my kids, and I will continue to love my original iPad.

iPad Redux

To bring you up to speed from my last article, I did indeed preorder the iPad, and had it delivered by UPS on release day, 3 April 2010.  I ordered the 58GB memory model, and it was wifi only.  I also ordered the rubberized folio cover that Apple was offering at the time.  I immediately started using it – and it has been a constant companion device for me.

The problem I was trying to solve with the iPad was the limitations imposed by Laptops and netbooks when used in a general purpose note taking scenario.  Those limitations included, weight, low battery life, and the costs of task switching.  Using my laptop computer in the past for meetings – I found many times that the effort involved in disconnecting the machine from the wired secure network, moving it to a meeting room and lugging the power adapter and mouse along with it – caused me to defer to paper and pencil more often than not.   My initial reaction with the iPad was that its lightweight and legalpad-like form factor would make me keep it with me more than I ever did with laptops/netbooks – and I wasn’t wrong.  I completely gave up taking laptops or pen/pencil and paper into meetings.  Couple that with solid state flash memory, and long battery life due to limited power consumption when actively using it, and it fit perfectly into my vision of such a device.

Most of the software on it is free, and I have sprung for a few items that were not.   I did buy Numbers and Pages – but I don’t use them that much to have justified the cost (spreadsheets do come in handy from time to time).  I bought SketchBook Pro – and I use that quite a bit more, and I also bought WritePad – and have dabbled a bit with handwriting recognition — basically keeps the carpel-tunnel at bay by allowing me to switch between typing and writing.

Free iPad software I have used the hell out of: CJournal – a system that is a people oriented log and todo list manager,  and iThoughtsHD – a mind mapping system, who’s output files are compatible with ‘FreeMind‘ – which I also have loaded on all of my other workstations.  Others include PCCalc Lite (a scientific calculator), Biorythm (plots biorythms), SSH Terminal – for connecting to my systems remotely via SSH, and a few programming language related items – cbmHandBasic (C64 Basic emulator), Luna (Lua scripting language),  and iSkeme (a Schema implementation).  Having used the software over the past year and 3/4, I’ve more recently come to the conclusion that I need a better means of managing multiple projects and todo lists — the complexity of projects, both personal and work related, caused the CJournal software to show it’s limitations.  As a result I found ‘Get It Done 3.0’ – while free, a more full featured project ‘todo’ list manager than CJournal.  I will continue to use CJournal for what it excels at, logging meetings and phone calls with contacts – but the project management will be done in the new app.

My usage pattern has been split about 2/3 productivity, and 1/3 entertainment.  I have my full music library loaded on it – and I often use it at work with over-ear noise cancellation headphones to bring peace to my cubicle world.  The wifi connectivity is perfect for me – I already have cell phone with a data plan – so I knew if I were really out and about, I would use the phone to find directions or whatever else I would do truely mobile.  The iPad form factor doesn’t lend itself to truely mobile use – which is fine by me.  I really see the iPad as a highly portable laptop replacement for when I’m on the go – in meetings etc – and it has lived up to that perfectly.  While I don’t use it to write novels, I am looking at expanding my repetoire to capture ideas related to larger writing projects when I get the idea – and may not be in front of my workstation or laptop to capture it.

To that end, I’m now experimenting with two writing programs on the iPad that my initial evaluation leads me to believe are best in class: Werdsmith and A Novel Idea.  Werdsmith is designed primarily to capture your words – and even includes a project model keyed to the number of words you expect to write – so it can track your progress.  ‘A Novel Idea’ is more full featured, and is really designed not so much to actually write the whole enchilada, but instead to capture key aspects, such as characters, locations, scenes, and tie them together with a given project (novel).  Right now I’m leaning towards ‘A Novel Idea’ for my purposes – but Werdsmith’s tracking mechanism also makes me take pause.

Another key aspect of the iPad is it’s ability to hold reading and reference material.  This not only serves an entertainment purpose for those times when I have enforced downtime (such as waiting for the bus), but also allows me to keep a library of technical reference documents to have at my fingertips in meetings and other locales where I don’t have access to my workstation.  My younger colleagues tell me they don’t ‘get’ the iPad form factor – since you can do all the same things on the iPhone etc.  My point to them is, ‘wait a few years’.  At some point they are going to get old and need glasses, and reading text on an iPhone for any length of time beyond the length of an SMS message will be downright painful in a font that allows them to actually see it.

So here is my scorecard for the iPad:

  • Overall – B
  • Ease of use  – A
  • End user programmable – D
  • Availability of useful software – A
  • Readability – A
  • Portability/weight – B
  • Battery life – A

I’m so happy now with the iPad, that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade to the iPad2.  My one drawback is the iPad does not have the facilities to do any self contained development/scripting.  The result is spending $100 to gain access to the iPhone/iPad SDK program, and having an external machine capable of doing the development.  It is definitely not a general purpose computer from the user’s perspective.  I’ll talk about that more in a future installment.

Stop the Presses

Yes – Apple modified their website to (finally) provide the delivery date of the iPad (3 April 2010) – and you can pre-order on the 12th of March for either delivery or pickup at your local Apple store.  But while simultaneously exciting and relieving to know the dates now, that is not the reason for today’s article.

The bulk of today’s subject is the effect a truly ubiquitous reading device will have on the traditional print media.  Interestingly enough, while perusing http://slashdot.org I came upon an interesting and well thought out blog on just that:  Books in the Age of iPad gives a very well thought out dive into the subject from someone who’s been making ‘dead tree’ books for some time.

To summarize – the content of traditionally printed material was either ‘formless’ (no formatting changes would alter the presentation or meaning of the work), or ‘definite’ (having a definite layout in relationship to the size and shape of the page and incorporating artistic elements as part of the work).  The author while being deep into the binding and creation of books, is intrigued by the potential for the new tools to basically do away with the kind of books that were never meant to survive a first reading – paperbacks.  Furthermore he sees the potential for the new medium to allow us now, for the first time to do two things really well: publish the kinds of works that thrived in the paperback medium easily and cheaply, and provide new and unanticipated ways of viewing and interacting with the content – even for those works where ‘defined’ content is relevant – not just the words themselves.

Terminology aside, he makes good points – and poses the question, “to what extent will this technology be a game changer over the next few years, and as we go through it, what will the traditional publishing houses look like afterwords?

From my perspective I think this is yet another traditional ‘middle-man’ business (in this case delivering written works of fiction and non-fiction) that will continue to be less and less relevant in a wired world.  Just like the music industry now going through the throes of 99-cent music on the iTunes store, other once highly profitable zero-content main-in-the-middle delivery businesses will have to change their scope and focus, or die.  Rupert Murdock’s thrashing all over the internet (bid to block Google from seeing his sites, to his recent call for BBC to not to have as much news programming because free content is impacting his business).

If I had to look into my crystal ball, I would say this wave is very quickly rising (it is logarithmic – and we are still on the front side of the wave – but it is getting very high and we are very high up on that wave now) – and now is the time to either ride it, get out of the way, or get crushed by it.  That being said, the old dinosaur content distribution entities still have a lot of money in the bank – and some of them seem intent on doing whatever it takes to keep their precious profit margins high.

For the content creators and their fans/customers – I don’t see this as a big deal.  There are so many ways now to reach an audience – either for profit or not – and the iPad just adds another means of doing that.

iPad Debute…Sizzle or Fizzle?

I observed the ‘great unveiling’ of the iPad via live updates on Wired…meh.  Later I watched it on YouTube.  Initially I was a bit disappointed.  Where was the cell phone, and the camera?  But then I warmed to the idea of it.  Now, maybe I am showing my age, but I think this is just what I’ve been looking for… (elaborate fade to flashback 1989)

Since I had my first laptop, I’ve really wanted something truly portable that I could use as an adjunct to the heavier laptop/workstation.  I tried various PDAs to no avail.  Handwriting recognition was a stinker (I never had an Apple Newton – so I don’t know if that was better or not), and the things were too small and delicate (damaged, lost, or in the case of the early Palm Pilots corrosion munged the runs on the board ugh).  Years went by and I continued lug around multiple laptops (2 for work, 1 for personal).

Enter netbooks — I got an ASUS eepc – running Linux, of course.  I loved it, and I hated it at the same time.   The keyboard was too small for my ham-fisted typing, and the screen looked like a postage stamp when sitting on my lap.  I loved that I could load my favorite free development software easily using the package manager…but I couldn’t really use it.  I ended up giving it to my wife, who was happy to have it (the tiny hand cabal wins again).

I looked at various pen based computers over the years too — but most of the ones I’ve seen were as heavy as a laptop, and the operating system on them was just a ‘desktop’ operating system, made to use a touch screen.  Yawn.  Might as well keep lugging around the MacBook (fast forward to the present).

So, like some mello modern day hippie Moses – Steve Jobs came down from the mountain and delivered his iPad.  And much like the ten commandments, it is a simple device.  If you want a full featured general purpose computer – this thing is not for you (the vast majority of the complaints I see are along this vein – stop whining already).  Get another pad based computer or a laptop if that is what you want.

However if you want a device that is ubiquitous as a legal pad, contains all the books and documents you want to keep close (a library in your hands), with your calendar synchronized  – on top of games and music, when not reading fiction to keep you entertained when you’re forced to wait (for the bus, or a long meeting…), with the ability to view web pages and various document formats – then this thing is for you.  I’m not a fan of Flash — so that isn’t a deal breaker for me either.

That being said, there is only one thing that needs to shake out before I will plop down the $699 (yes I want the Wifi-only 64Gig model – if I can’t find an errant wifi signal to use where I am sitting and it is that dang important – I’ll move my fat ass):  Will you be able to sync documents to the device directly (e.g. PDF, DOC, TXT etc)?  I have a large library of PDF files and text files and information that I’ve created over the years that I find extremely useful to have at my fingertips when questions arise about technology and other subjects.  Using spotlight to index and search these on the fly would be very nice.

Everything else looks fine to me – I guess I’m easy to please.  Time will tell once I get my hands on the thing and have to live with it day in and day out.