Thursday, January 28, 2010


There is already a lot that has been said about Apple's new tablet. A surprising amount of it is negative. Or perhaps, it isn't that surprising given all the conflicting wishes that people had for this device.

The history of the tablet based computing devices has been in itself underwhelming. It is a conceptual device that has a certain amount of visceral appeal, but the compelling functionality and cost hasn't been there. Apple tried once with the Newton, and learned a lot from the experience.

It is very hard to deploy a new user interface that employs new modalities for use. Newton's concept that everything was a database is a very forward thinking idea (and is still somewhat alive in apple's search technology) but required some shift in thinking. Microsoft chose to simply deploy a "tablet enhanced" version of windows as it's solution, which buried the devices with design decisions that assumed a keyboard and mouse, thus the predominance of "convertible" tablet/laptop devices. Pure Windows based tablets with no keyboard simply aren't that popular (I know, I had one and gave it away).

Apple wisely built on what they already do well. The iPad really is just a bigger iphone/itouch. I have heard many complaints about that. Apple has a methodology where it appears that their products are often revolutionary, but in essence they are not - they are simply the result of informed design decisions and paying attention to what and does not work - learning from other's mistakes. There were many digital music players before the iPod, but Apple made a critical decision to not just make the device a pleasure to use, but more importantly - provide a sensible way for users to manage their content on their devices via a computer. Most of the software that shipped with other players, and even microsoft's own media management software, was dreadful. To Microsoft's credit, it has improved quite a bit - but only because Apple pushed them to do it.

There are a tremendous number of potential developers for the device. For some, it will mean nothing more than tweaking code. For others, the additional screen area will allow them to do things that they previously could not have imagined. No one has start over, and the clearly defined interaction and look and feel guidelines in place, combined with a good development environment and a way to directly market your applications makes the device even more attractive.

The tablet is not a replacement for a laptop. Everyone has tried to make that happen and has failed. Apple made the intelligent choice to not make a diluted device that tries to serve many needs, but does none of those well. Pricing in this light is critical; it can't cost the same as a laptop because people won't buy it. As it is, it is a bit too expensive for a device that competes with a laptop for someone's dollars.

I own a desktop, a laptop and a netbook. I will be replacing the netbook with an iTablet because it more closely maps to what I was using the netbook for, which was couch surfing, taking a lightweight and compact device with me that could display web pages better than my iPhone, and looking at images I just show with my camera. For these limited (but frequently used on my part) needs, the iTablet actually fits the bill.

It doesn't have multitasking. That requires more horsepower, which equates with less battery life and additional cost. Limited background tasking would be nice though, and it is not a foregone conclusion that this won't show up at some point. It doesn't have a camera, which I wish it had for teleconferencing.

I do look forward to see what Apple does in publication space. I hope to be able to subscribe to digital version of magazines for the device. Part of my hesitancy in subscribing to magazines these days is the paper. I am willing to pay for access to high quality, editorially vetted content - beyond the stuff I can already get from blogs for free - which is of widely variable quality. I want high quality imagery and good writing from someone who truly knows their subject, and has made writing about these subjects their primary career. There is a decided difference here - and I am optimistic that people will pay for it, just like they will pay for professionally performed music and film/video.

I do think everyone who is crashingly negative about the iPad is jumping the gun. They haven't even touched one yet. It needs to be given a year or so to see where it settles. It may never be the major success story that the iPod/iPhone has, but my guess is that it will sell fairly well.

I plan on buying one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Irony is Dead. Hal has an OLPC.

No kidding. Really. It is just as bad and good as I thought. Tragically already outdated. It is sluggish and at times flaky. And cute as hell.

I am spending time with it to be objective about works and what does not. It is an interesting design challenge, and I admit I can't be totally fair as my adult expectations will color things. I have already been a bit disappointed, and a couple of times been impressed (the way that networking is handled is very clever). I want to take this as an opportunity to step into the heads of the people who put this together and hopefully learn something.

Here's a help ticket worth reading: