Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Data for One, Data for All!

Captain's Log - Startdate 64648.3

Lieutenant Commander Data has been captured by the Borg, a collective of living machines bent on enslaving the human race. For the good of the Collective, they have stated their intention of splitting Data into several pieces and then reselling him to the Federation in small, expensive, controlled bits. Riker is so upset, he shaved his beard (and man, has he put on weight; I really ought to put this in the Supplemental Log).

Data is now under the complete control of the Borg Collective, consisting of the Borg vessels Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint. We currently have no course of action to get him back in one piece. I fear, unless we engineer some sort of inverse tachyon beam (which will be pretty tough to do without Data), we may be at the mercy of the Borg and Data will be forever their slave.

Of course, Leonidas would have simply impaled Q, proving that even a lame god-ish thing can bleed.

I'll make this short and sweet (like my wife, except this article won't get bored when I tell it about the up and coming, 7", SAMOLED display tech). I'd like wireless providers to start offering shared data plans, similar to the shared minute plans we all enjoy. Make it a $10 per device per month fee for each additional device, or some such thing. That way, My Cr48 could share with my (soon to come) tablet and my wife's (soon to come) tablet, and I can hog all the GeeBees since my wife barely uses any.

Make it so!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The iPad 2 Cometh

As some of you know, I'm a little obsessed with tablets. Since even those not obsessed with tablets took note of the presentation Apple made on 3/2/2011, it goes without saying that I took particular note of it. I know what you're thinking, consequently: "If it goes without saying, then why did you say it?" Because it's my blog, and I'll say what I want. I'll even have mock arguments with myself over minutia. Deal with it.

Back to the point. I'm talking about Apple's unveiling of their successor to their uber-successful: the iPad 2. 

<cue Handel's Messiah>

Though I didn't want to purchase the OG iPad, due mainly to its price and lack of functionality, I still loved using it. As a big touch-screen interface aficionado (I left out the commas because I mean it in both senses of the phrase), the tablet form factor resonated deeply with me. Internet browsing, video watching, email checking, etc. are all as they seem meant to be. Even my Cr48, which is built as a simple window to the web, doesn't give anything close to the same kind of immersive experience.

I want a tablet so badly that I even purchased one: the Archos A70HDD.

<cue, well, something a little less impressive than Handel's Messiah>

You'll notice that this is the first I've talked about the A70 on my blog, and there's a reason for that. I don't have it anymore. After about two weeks, back to Amazon it went. Another story for another time.

Suffice to say, though, I've got a fever. And the only prescription I know of is more tablet.

Gotta have that tablet, baby!

After my brief foray into the world of slates, I decided I should wait to see what the real players were coming out with next. One of the many factors that forced the return of the A70 was that it was still running a Cortex A8, single core processor. It would soon be obsolete; or, at least behind the times and unable to play with the new software inevitably coming out. Heck, my OG Droid is a lowly, Cortex A8, single core processor. So is the OG iPad, iPhone 4, Droid X, Galaxy S, Nexus S, and a bunch of other stuff I don't have but wouldn't mind getting my hands on. Knowing that 2011 will be The Year of the Tablet, patience is a particular virtue right now.

But some things make it really hard to hold out.

Doncha' wish your handset was hot, like me?

The XOOM is pure radness, but two things kept me from standing in line (possibly by my lonesome) at 5AM in the snow in front of Best Buy:
1. Price. It's expensive, pure and simple. $799 is a lot to ask, even if the product delivers. WiFi only will be coming out for $539, but that's still a chunk of change. I'm just a lowly working guy; I'm looking more in the sub-$400 range.
2. iPad 2. Even as someone who's not really an Apple fan (though I really like my Mac, and loved using the iPad), I would be a fool to purchase something so close to the imminent release of what will be the top dog, sales wise, for the next six months or more.

But now, the wait is over. iPad 2 is announced, and will soon be in the wilds of malls everywhere just waiting to be snatched up. So, what did the wait bring? Let's explore.

Apple's last slate offering was a 3G or WiFi, 9.7", 1024x768 affair and was running iOS 4, which, though full of nice apps, had the same basic UI as a 2002 Nokia.

But it's so intuitive!

The new rig, though, will not only be rocking iOS 4, but will also have a 9.7", 1024x768 screen. And it not only has the option of WiFi, but 3G, too!

OK, so there's a little bit of tongue-in-cheek there. The screen on the OG iPad, though a "lowly" 136ppi, was always a very pleasant experience. I have zero issues with Apple keeping the same screen. Also, since iOS doesn't handle different screen sizes and resolutions as elegantly as Android, the iPad would have had to go up in resolution a ridiculous amount in order to avoid apps looking downright silly on the new screen. Suffice to say, the screen is fine as is (as anyone who has used an iPad can attest to).

As for iOS 4.3 and 3G . . . well, we'll get to that in due course. Another thing that's remained unchanged, thankfully, is the price. iPad 2 will start at just $499, albeit for a WiFi only, 16GB (non-expandable) party. Also, the battery life remains the same, best-in-class longevity you're used to on the OG iPad. 

So, what has changed? I'm glad I asked, because now I get to tell you. First, let's start with the processor.

Apple has ditched the old, cortex A8, single core chip (made by Samsung) and gone with a brand spankin' new, cortex A9, dual core chip (also made by Samsung, I believe). They've presumably bumped the RAM from 256MB to 512MB, too; which will be a great boon for next-gen type gaming. If this is running the PowerVR SGX543 GPU (which it most likely is), that's also a gift to gamers. All in all nothing surprising, but certainly everything welcome.

FaceTime < FaceManTime

Another new for '11 feature, at least in the Cupertino camp, are cameras front and rear. iPad can now not only take photos, but video chat, too. This was a much needed upgrade, and really something that ought to have come on the first gen model. Still, better late than never. No word yet on the actual camera specs, other than the rear eye can do 720p video, but I would expect a VGA front and 5MP rear. Apple could surprise us with a 1.3MP front and an 8MP rear, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Though the iPad 2 may look just like its predecessor, it's actually a complete redesign. The new slate slides in at a very tantalising 33% thinner than the previous model, at 8.8mm vs. 13.4mm. In fact, it's even thinner than the iPhone 4, which sits at an already skimpy 9.3mm. It's thinner than the thinnest smartphone, which is the LG Optimus Black (from the makers of the iPhone 4 display), which has a widest point of 9.2mm (though a slimmest point of a mere 6.1mm).

It also has a new cover. I'm trying to get excited, because Steve Jobs turned the RDF all the way to 11 with this one, but it's a cover. It's nice and all, but I wouldn't pay $40-70 for one.

It's a very smart cover.
But, if you ask InCase, it's not exactly novel.

So, where do I land with the iPad 2? In Disappointville, that's where. Even more than the OG iPad, this thing had potential.

Now, before you go spouting off how many iPads were sold last year and how this is going to outsell all the other tablets and marketshare revenue blah blah blah, let me tell you what I care about: how will this benefit me? I don't give two craps about a corporation making a pile of cash, and neither should you. Gadget apologists are some of the weirdest people ever. You do know that Apple, Google, Microsoft, HP, etc. only like you as long as you're paying them, right? Heck, Apple's not even philanthropic with the cash they get from you (not that they have to be; I just don't get people loving on a company that only loves on themselves). Apple makes some nice devices, to be sure, but they're still just a computer company at the end of the day. They need to provide me a product I want in order for me to like them.

Going from that perspective, the iPad 2 is quite a letdown. It's faster, lighter, and thinner, to be sure, but that's not going to lift it above the competition. The Nvidia (Tegra 2), Samsung (Orion), Qualcomm (dual 1.5GHz Scorpion), and TI (OMAP 4) equipped tablets out and coming out are just as fast, while some have more RAM (most will be getting 1GB), better cameras, higher resolution (though I don't count this as a big plus, since the iPad screen is already quite nice), and the same weight (the Galaxy Tab 10.1 will be a whopping 8g lighter, like it matters). Suffice to say, the hardware of the iPad 2 will not be anything that draws me away from the competition.

Then there's the real kickers: what the other guys have that the iPad 2 doesn't.

No matter how good you look, we all know what happens when you bring a knife to a gunfight.

First and foremost, for a guy like me, is 4G. Whether it's WiMax, HSPA+, or LTE (I know some have theoretical advantages over others, and none ought to be technically called 4G; but they all perform about the same in real life usage and are 3-5x faster than 3G). I cut the cord almost a year ago; I'm all 3G, now. 4G is a huge seller for me, since it takes my speed back up to what it was when I had Comcast.

Second, screen size. This one I'll concede to Apple as not a real factor, because it's my qualm alone and not something they ought to have brought to the iPad 2. During my brief affair with the Archos A70, I decided that I didn't like Archos, but I love the 7" tablet size. I'm going to ditch my phone and netbook for one. Seriously.

The cameras are a bit of a bummer if the hype on them is true (VGA front, 3MP or less rear), but we don't know yet so I'll give Apple the benefit of the doubt. If they use the same, rear shooter as the iPhone 4, it's all good.

Now for the real, end all, be all gripe I have with the iPad 2: the OS. It's a wall of icons and, well, more icons. The notification system sucks. There's no homescreen functionality. It's boring and not very useful to boot. In short, it's an OS made for a completely different form factor.

I really like Android's UI on their phones, but I could see how someone would be fine with iOS on the iPhone or iPod Touch. It's far more simple, sure, but most people don't want any more going on with their 3.5" screen. I like to have live weather, a Bible verse of the day, a clock, live calendar, and music players on my 3.7" screen, but I could see how people would be cool with just a simple grid of colourful icons and a custom background (though live wallpapers are certainly a lot of fun, too).

You could always go with ye olde wall o' apps.

 But why would you want to? 

For tablets, though, it's a different story. With the greater screen real estate, there's just so much more you can do than tap on an app. Android already is ahead of iOS when it comes to the notification system; I fully expected Apple to step it up for iPad 2. I would even have liked to see them surpass Android's offerings. What they did, though, was nothing. Android, however, revamped the entire notification system for Honeycomb (their tablet UI). Here's a little taste:

I love how you get your music controls, people's avatars, etc. right there in the notification box (which you pop up when you have alerts). The multitasking interface looks pretty slick, too:

I got to play with a XOOM at Costco and, though I don't want a XOOM, I definitely want a Honeycomb tablet. The WebOS tab and the BlackBerry PlayBook look like they have a good tablet UI, too (none to play with, yet).

HP TouchPad

RIM PlayBook

Great use of the screen real estate on all of these (WebOS, PlayBook, and Honeycomb). It's the perfect mix of desktop UI and smartphone OS. This is the future of portable computing, I believe. Maybe Apple will wow us with iOS 5.x (and I sincerely hope so), but this is what they present right now:

Come on, Apple. You can do better than this.