A case for the iPad

I love gadgets! I’m a techno consumerist, and maybe even a little bit of an Apple whore (although I don’t unconditionally bend over for Steve!). There, I said it, it’s out of the way!

My love for gadgets started when I got to work on the web (I think) back in 1997. I started to make some real money, so I could afford some things once in a while. Working in this environment exposes you to servers and routers and stuff, and you start to get intrigued about how things work (or don’t work). Still, laptops were pretty expensive back then, and underpowered. My first laptop was some Compaq, a 14″ one with a detachable cd-rom wedge, which made it pretty cool actually. Slim and light. I liked it alot. But my first true gadget, was the Compaq iPaq 3630 pocket pc in 2000. It was the first pocketable device, that looked nice, felt nice and had stuff going for it. It had these jackets you could slide it into that would extend its functionality (like extended battery, compact flash card readers…). Now I wish I was blogging back then, so I’d remember what it was like. I did find this review. But back then, I still felt it was pretty limited in use, not really a joy to use. Since then I had a bunch of gadgets, most of which I don’t remember really (I bought a PSP years ago to browse wirelessly, not necessarily for games), that’s how much impact they had on my life (none).

My first foray into Apple territory was a beige G3 Power Macintosh minitower desktop with a 21″ Apple CRT display, at work, I guess around 98-99. I didn’t like OS9 much, but I was using it to do some manuals in FrameMaker, and video editing, next to the development I did on Windows NT4/2000. Around 99 or 2000, we bought our first Apple for home use, a Bondi blue iMac G3. I played around with some Director development (remember Lingo?), but mainly used it for surfing the web and webdesign. I believe I sold it again and went back to a Windows pc at home. In 2005 I bought my first 30 GB white iPod, which I loved. A couple of years later, we bought a (second hand) white “lampshade” iMac which came with OSX which was so much nicer to use (than OS9 and Windows I thought). We loved it! It still felt underpowered though, if I remember correctly. But then we had to sell it again when moving to Australia. In early 2007 I bought my first Apple Macbook Pro (to replace a dead Acer laptop), followed by a first gen iPod touch, and a couple of months later the first gen, jailbroken iPhone from eBay. Followed up by an iPhone 3G and then last year a 3GS. I upgraded to the new unibody MBP last year. I’ve got a LCD cinema display, an Apple TV, an Airport Extreme and Time Capsule. Sooo, will I buy an this new Apple device? You guess…

That was a bit of background history. The fact that I remember these Apple devices, and not much of any of the other gadgets in between (oh, a Mio GPS, and forgot about the Sony Clie PEG-UX50), means that they had some impact in my life, they gelled into life and I loved using them. They do their job and get out of the way. And I’m a (web)developer, I love to get my hands dirty trying things out, see how it works, how to develop something that works on particular platform.

I jumped on the netbook bandwagon. I was intrigued by the its form factor, it’s kinda like a baby laptop.  It’s cheap enough to carry around (and loose it, have it stolen,… in stead of my workhorse MBP), small enough to fit in my “manbag”/gadgetbag, and it “kinda” offers the full PC experience. This when travelling, going to meetups/conferences. Yes, an iPhone does fit this profile too: It’s great to tweet, keep track of your email, search Google, GPS your way around town, grab a picture,… And I love it! It has some crazy cool apps, great games. It contains my most recent music (I’ve got a 160GB classic iPod that contains everything), it links to my Flickr account to show of my latest pictures on the go, I check the weather, the TV timetable, use Shazam when I hear music I like, has my contacts, keep a noise diary in Evernote, get the next Sydney ferry, keep track of my weight, check my bank account, play Wurdle, find nearby ATMs, remote desktop into my work pc at team meetings,… All in my pants’ pocket (yes, I am still talking about the iPhone here).

But the iPhone really isn’t comfortable to read lots of email, blogposts, nor ebooks for that matter (neither is a BlackBerry, or an Android phone). Sure the Stanza an Kindle apps allow you to do read ebooks, and some PDF apps allow you to read PDFs. But you really don’t want to read like that for an hour or more. Neither is it particularly practical to watch long (movie length) videos. It’s great for three minute YouTube videos, and three in a row at that. It’s inherent to that particular formfactor. And then there is the battery life while actively using the iPhone. I don’t bitch about it, because, again the formfactor limits the size of the battery they can use. Previous phones didn’t allow this functionality anyway so that’s why batteries would last for days. Or when they did offer the functionality, you still would hardly ever use it because the user experience would be so appalling (Nokia N95 anyone?).

That’s why I thought a netbook is a great idea. So I’d have something to easily browse the web, read emails and ebooks (pdf or some ebook format), while watching TV at night in the sofa, in bed in the morning without disturbing my partner, or at a conference, or while travelling. My 15″ MacBook Pro is really too big to read in bed, gets too hot, makes too much noise when it is so hot… (though it does have a backlit keyboard) . I got me a 7″ eeePC. It was crap. The screen and keyboard too small to do anything. It was rather a toy for toddlers.

I upgraded to a 10″ Aspire One. It feels more like a normal laptop. It is pretty nice actually. It is a WinXP, with 160GB harddisk, 2GB memory. It’s 10″ but it’s resolution is 1024×600, which isn’t that practical for browsing either as the height of the viewport is pretty low. I mostly end up going full screen in Firefox. Reading ebooks, or particularly PDFs, isn’t practical either on this resolution. It’s just too narrow. Sure I can rotate a pdf, and hold the netbook like a book, but it still doesn’t feel right. The keyboard is decent but cramped. The touchpad is a bit too small too.

And yes, I can multitask, if I want to, but I use Gmail in Firefox, and a Firefox extension for Twitter. When I really want to dig into Twitter, I’d open up TweetDeck, and sure whenever I click a link Firefox pops to the front. I can multitask, to run Spybot or CrapCleaner in the background while browsing in Firefox. I can multitask, as ZoneAlarm keeps me safe, while Windows Update does its thing. I’ve got TopStyle installed for when I ever need to fix some html or css on the go. I can open and edit Word documents. But that’s not what I use my netbook for. I mainly use it to browse the net (as in “net”book right?), on the sofa, in bed in the morning,… Sure I can watch videos in Flash, and then the ventilator starts to blow to keep it all cool… As it does whenever browsing media sites with Flash ads on each side. That’s why you’d install a FlashBlock extension in Firefox.

I’ve taken my netbook to some conferences, sometimes to take notes, or browse any examples given by the presenter, or check email in between sessions. But then again battery life is only about 2,5 hours. I guess by now, netbooks come with 6 cell batteries for the same price which would double that time. And I kinda hate it when people are tapping away on their laptop at conferences as it’s really distracting (so I tend to not tap away either, and an iPhone is a lot quieter to type on, but too small to do so continuesly). So, what was a netbook good for again?

Last year I bought a Kindle when they introduced their international version. This is an ebook reader. No more, no less. I though the price was right, the overall size was right. I buy a lot of “dead-tree” books, but in itself they are too heavy/impractical to log around (on holiday, to work, across continents,…). And often ebooks are cheaper (but not always that much!). The screen really reads a lot better than a laptop screen. The 6″ screensize is the minimum size you’d need to comfortably read an ebook on the sofa. It holds a charge for almost two weeks. It’s got a 3G connection, but only to connect to the Amazon mothership to buy books, and update your virtual bookmark (the location in any book you stopped reading at). When I get back to my iPhone, the Kindle book would update to the last read page. Pretty nice. You can add other books in non-Kindle-drm’d ebook formats easily  over USB, as display PDFs. But you can’t zoom into PDFs, and the 6″ screen is too small. You can rotate them, but the the viewport is too narrow again (like on the netbook). I guess the Kindle DX with it’s 10″ fixes these issues, but at $490 it becomes too expensive for a single use device I think (and a lot less an impulse buy).

I was also interested in getting a Time magazine subscription (as well as some other titles), maybe even some newspaper. But on the international Kindle, Amazon limits subscription by not including pictures (which would be in grey anyway), which makes a lot of articles, and the subscription in general, a lot less attractive. They should, and could, update subscriptions through their desktop app. But the Kindle doesn’t get hot, doesn’t make any noise. It feels good in your hand. And I like it (maybe because it kinda feels Apple-y?). But it only does books. No internet browsing, no email, no socializing. This year more ebook readers are being introduced which offer some more functionality (without custom apps or APIs to build on), but often at an inflated price point. One of the selling points of the Kindle, its “free” lifetime, “Whispernet” 3G connection turns out to be also one of its Achilles heels. Since a couple of weeks, Amazon offers a Kindle API for developers, to develop active content on the Kindle. But how “active” can it be if you can only use 100KB per month of Whispernet on offer (as developer you can buy more data though)?

Anyway, I think I’m going to end this one right here. That’s a pretty long post making the case for the Apple iPad without actually mentioning it, no? I guess the hype was too much this time round for Apple to easily disappoint people. But I feel most of the complaints people vent are full of bull****. Yes it doesn’t do the dishes, nor a good cup of coffee. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on one!

PS: While writing this on my MBP, I started up my Aspire One. It had been a couple of months. I had to restart twice as there were Windows updates twice (in stead of bundling them all into one update), and there was a Flash update. Sigh.

1 Comment

  1. Mcgrant · March 3, 2010 Reply

    On a vaguely related note, Apple have done the right thing for themselves by not announcing international iPad prices yet, for the pound is tumbling against the dollar in recent weeks (not the Apples UK prices are set on exchange rate alone).

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