Back in 2004 or so, I desperately wanted a 8-10” tablet from Apple. Something that would let me browse the web and check my mail while I was away from my desk, without forcing me to lug my laptop around. Something that would let me play with new ideas over lunch. Something that could use to build cool stuff.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was never going to happen. There just wasn’t enough of a market for it, and the form-factor requires UI that is drastically different from desktop OS X. They’d have to start from the ground up to build it. It wasn’t going to happen.
So, every 6 months or so, when the Apple Tablet rumor popped back up, I just ignored them–they were obviously bunk–and they went away on their own.
That is, until a few months ago, when the rumors shifted dramatically, and it became clear that Apple really was building a tablet. So yesterday morning, I was watching 3 live streams of the launch to see what magical thing Steve and company were working on. And now the rumors and the hype have cleared, and we’re left holding the iPad. Which is more or less exactly what I was looking for in 2004.
And I’m amazed to discover that I don’t want one. Not now, not in 2010.
It’s not like I’m immune to iProducts. I mean, I was literally in a car, on the way to the Apple store halfway through the iPhone announcement. We had to turn around when he announced that it wasn’t going to ship for 6 months. As a family, we’ve bought 9 iPods and iPhones over the years, including the very first model.
So why doesn’t the iPad work for me?
- It doesn’t do anything that I can’t already do. I have a laptop. I have a phone. I have a Kindle. The iPad can’t replace the phone or the laptop, and my Kindle doesn’t need replaced right now. Sure, it’s a better web-browsing platform than the phone, but not really all that much better.
- It’s too closed. I switched from an iPhone 3GS to a Nexus One a month and a half ago, and I don’t really want to go back. The iPhone is prettier, and Apple has more useful apps, but the N1 is much more useful for me. It has a dramatically better interface to Gmail and Google Calendar. It multitasks, so IM works right. When the browser is too slow loading a page, I can go check my mail and then flip back to check on the page loading later. Random third-party apps sync in the background on their own. Apps can extend the core OS experience trivially; install a Flickr uploading app, and the ‘Share’ button in the existing camera app suddenly knows how to upload to Flickr. Heck, I even replaced the default home page/app browser with Slidescreen, just because it fits what I want out of my phone better. None of this is possible with the iPhone, and none of it will be possible with the iPad.
- I think this is really the killer for me: the iPad is really just a media consumption device. I agree with almost everything Tim Bray has to say on the topic–the iPad is 98% oriented towards consuming existing content. Which is nice, sometimes. I mean, that’s all the Kindle is good for, and I love my Kindle. But it’s not what I want in a portable, always-with-me computer.
So what *do* I want in tablet-like device, or really any mobile computer, PDA, tablet, or phone? I want it to make my life better in some meaningful way. I want to build things with it. I want to look at how I do things in my life and create tools to make myself more powerful. And I don’t believe I can do that with the iPhone or iPad. They’re too tied to Steve’s View Of The World, and I’m not Steve. Almost everything that I’d like to have a device like this automate for me requires some sort of background processing, syncing with services online, and the iPad can’t do any of that right now. Maybe that’ll change in the future. Maybe iPhone/iPad OS 4.0 will fix that. Maybe the second-generation iPad will be able to do some of that. Maybe they’ll be able to convince me to fork over $100 just to write software for my own device. Maybe.
For now, though, I’m planning on sticking with my Nexus One, and I’ll probably keep an eye open for mid-sized Android tablets with high resolution screens. Android absolutely lacks the polish and shine of Apple’s products, but it’s moving amazingly fast, and it finally seems to be Good Enough for me. It’s reached a sort of critical mass, and it’s developing into a viable ecosystem of its own. At this point, the only thing that I really miss from my iPhone is the Kindle reader app, and I assume that Amazon is working on one for Android. Android’s not perfect, but it’s getting quite good. And while it lacks Apple’s polish and shine, it doesn’t have the same shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, plastic feeling that so many interactions with Apple have these days.
I should have planned this better. I’m going to be one a plane to NYC (and therefore completely out of touch) during the WWDC keynote. That means that I’ll have to wait hours to learn about all of the exciting new iProducts that Steve is trying to sell me.
The scary thing is that I’m not sure if I’m joking or not.
I’m currently somewhere over Oregon, flying from the bay area back to Seattle. This is the 6th flight that I’ve been on in the last 3 months, and the very first time that I’ve even bothered pulling my laptop out of its bag. Since the flight between SEA and SJC is only in the air for 90 minutes or so, I haven’t really seen the point–I’d rather spend the time reading, listening to my iPod, or sleeping.
In fact, the fact that it’s such a short flight factored into my shopping when I picked up a new PowerBook a couple months ago. If I’d really expected to use my computer on the plane, I probably would have picked up a 15” PowerBook, but I figured that I could cope with a few computer-free hours per month and bought the 17” model instead. I’m really happy with my choice, all things considered–the screen on the new 17 is amazing–it’s basically a 20” LCD shrunk down to 17”. My old 15” PowerBook was really most useful when it was sitting on a desk plugged into a real monitor, while I’ve never even bothered to plug my 17” into anything, even when I’ve had a spare monitor or two sitting right next to the laptop.
So, when I bought the laptop, I figured that the extra screen real estate was worth an extra couple pounds and a general inability to use the laptop while traveling. Frankly, the 15” was never very comfortable to use on planes anyway, so I doubted that I’d miss anything. If I’d really wanted to work on planes, I’d have picked up a 12” PowerBook and found a way to cope with their limitations.
Anyway, here I am, sitting on a dinky little Alaska Air MD-80 with my laptop out, and somehow, even though MD-80s are generally cramped even without an oversized laptop, somehow there’s actually more then enough room here to work. It fills up my entire tray, and it helps that my seat is reclined a bit and there’s no one in front of me (or next to me–no one in their right mind flies at 6:30 on a Saturday morning), but it’s actually pretty comfortable. I could probably get 3 or 4 hours worth of work done this way, if my plane wasn’t landing in 30 minutes.
Now back to the one remaining bug in my new Typo caching code…
There’s a rumor going around that Apple and Nokia are going to partner and produce a mobile iTunes application for the Nokia N91. Nokia is denying it, but the phone’s still months away from its launch, so there’s plenty of time for things to change.
As I see it, there are sort of three levels of iTunes integration for portable devices:
- The device syncs with iTunes and can play encrypted iTunes Music Store
.m4pfiles. Right now, this is pretty much just the iPod, although the long-rumored Motorola iTunes phone will join it once it’s released.
- The device syncs with iTunes and can play MP3s and maybe unencrypted AAC files. Before the iPod took off, most MP3 players fit into this category, but I don’t know if Apple has continued supporting their competition.
- The device and iTunes don’t know anything about each other, and the user is stuck looking for third-party tools.
I suspect that the N91 will fit into the second category–just plug it into your computer using a USB cable and iTunes will copy things over. It’s possible that we’ll need a bit of glue code, but that shouldn’t be too hard to write. Worst case, it should only take a few hours to write something that can read through iTune’s XML database and copy playlists to the N91.
- The PowerMac G5 will be upgraded with dual-core 970MP chips, giving Apple effectively a quad-processor system at the top of their line.
- The PowerBook will be upgraded to around 2 GHz, using the 7448 that I discussed last week.
- The PowerBook will get a HD screen.
- The Mac mini will get a G5.
- The iPod mini will get a color screen.
- There will be a video iPod.
Some of this seems pretty obvious–the color iPod mini has been rumored for almost a year, and it’s a pretty obvious direction for Apple. I don’t think anyone doubts that it’ll happen, it’s just a question of when. Similarly, the dual-core PowerMac G5 is Apple’s only available upgrade path for the G5 systems–if they’re going to upgrade them at all before they get dropped for Intel systems, then Apple’s going to use the 970MP.
The PowerBook upgrades are a bit more of a mystery to me. I can see a simple upgrade that swaps the current 7447 CPU for a 7448–they’re basically pin-compatible. The 7448 has a slightly faster FSB, which will help since the G4 suffers from a painfully slow bus, but it’s basically just a continuation of the current G4 line. The problem is that several rumors say that the PB G4 is moving to DDR2 memory, and that confuses me. It suggests that Apple’s building a new north bridge, which seems kind of expensive for a product that will only be on the market for 9-12 months.
The DDR2 change would make perfect sense if Apple was really swapping the current 7447 for a MPC8641 and using the MPC8641’s on-chip DDR2 controller, but as far as I can tell, the MPC8641 isn’t supposed to ship in quantity until early next year.
Engadget hinted last week that the DDR2 move was really a power-saving move, not a performance move. Since moving to DDR2 wouldn’t help performance a whole lot when even PC2100 RAM is faster then the 7448’s FSB, power savings make as much sense as anything. I don’t know enough about laptop power budgets to know if dropping 5W on the CPU and a few more Watts on the memory is enough to really extend the laptop’s battery life by a significant margin, but it suggests that Apple may be aiming for 6-7 hours, rather then the current 4-5 hours that most PowerBooks currently get.
Back to the rumored Mac mini G5–I can’t see this happening at all:
- Cost. The G5 is supposed to cost more. The Mac mini is Apple’s most price-sensitive Mac. Even a $50 price bump would probably be unacceptable.
- Cooling. The dinky little Mac mini case has many of the same cooling problems that G5-based laptops would face. Battery life isn’t an issue, but getting rid of 30W of waste heat is.
- Lineup. If Apple speeds up the mini, then it’ll have to either drop the eMac or upgrade it too. It could also cannibalize iMac and iBook sales. Those wouldn’t be a big deal if Apple could upgrade either model and get more performance, but they’re basically stuck with both of them. I guess they could build a dual-core iMac G5, but they have cooling problems with the iMac, and adding a hotter CPU probably wouldn’t help with that.
I don’t know about the video iPod–I can see a 5th generation iPod that’s capable of playing videos on the 2” display while still being optimized for audio playback, but I have a harder time seeing Apple producing an iPod with a huge display. I don’t feel really strongly either way, I guess.
Finally, on the x86 upgrade question–I’ve been wondering which Apple model will be the first to be switched, and when it’ll happen. Apple said that consumer systems would be first, and that’ll happen sometime in 2006. My personal guess would be the iMac in March or so–it’s Apple’s most distinctive system, and it would appeal to users even as a stylish Windows box. It’s not really going to be fast or cheap enough to kill PowerMac G5 sales, so that’s a safe move for Apple. The Mac mini and iBook are the two other consumer options, but I can’t see either one being part of the first wave of upgrades–they’d kill sales of the PowerMac and PowerBook. So I expect that we’ll see systems upgraded in roughly this order: iMac, PowerMac, PowerBook, Mac mini, iBook.
Heh. Apparently eBay knows something about the mythical PowerBook G5 that the rest of us don’t. Take a look at this ad that Google Ads attached to Engadget’s RSS feed:
Update: The Inquirer has a few more details on the PowerBook G4 update front. They’re pointing fingers at the Freescale MPC8641, the single-core version of Freescale (formerly Motorola’s chip division)’s dual-core G4. The chip includes a RapidIO FSB, on-chip network and PCI-E controllers, an on-chip dual-channel DDR2 controller. Other reports have suggested that Apple’s going to use Freescale’s 7448, which seems to be the same basic chip, only without the on-board memory controller, PCI-E, networking, or RapidIO, and with a 200 MHz FSB instead.
It goes without saying that I’d love to see the dual-channel MPC8641D in a PowerBook, but that’s probably asking way too much from Apple.
I can’t believe it: Apple has a new mouse, and it has more then one button. Actually, if I read this right, it’s really a four-button mouse with a 2-d scrollwheel/trackball. Plus two of the buttons are force sensitive. It looks cool, but I don’t really ever use a mouse anymore–I bought a nice Logitech optical mouse when I first bought my PowerBook, but I found that I’d rather use the touchpad.
ThinkSecret says that Apple is getting ready to upgrade OS X Server with some sort of improved mail and calendar solution, probably Hula. That’s nice and all, but I REALLY want them to upgrade iCal to support some publicly-available calendar server. The ability to publish read-only calendars was nice in 2002 when it was first added, but it’s been three years, and I’m still waiting for the ability to share read/write calendars with other family members. I’m aware that I could probably do this with .Mac, but I’m not willing to pay $100/year just so I can edit events on my wife’s calendar a couple times per week.
Having said that, Hula looks pretty nice. Even without iCal syncing support, I’ll probably consider it when it’s time to upgrade my mail server software again; fortunately that’s probably at least a year away still. If iCal gets CalDAV support before then, then I might have to be a bit more aggressive with the timeframe. Either that or look for other CalDAV servers.
The AC adapter for my PowerBook died this morning. It was weird–it was working fine at home this morning, but it completely failed to work at the office. I changed power plugs and wiggled all of the connectors, all without success.
Fortunately, my office is only 20 minutes from one of the local Apple stores, so I was able to dash out and get a replacement. After 40 months, I guess I’m not really surprised when pieces die on my laptop anymore.