January 2010 Archives

My Thoughts On the iPad

When the iPhone was announced in 2007, I wanted one. A cellphone which could browse the web? Sold. In the three years since then, the iPhone has become more than just a cellphone with a really good browser; it has become a convenient pocket computer with thousands of available apps. It has become a viable mobile computing platform, and I think that's why the iPad is just another evolutionary step.

The iPhone (and the iPod touch) is an excellent take-it-and-go device. Everywhere I go, I see them, and I can't remember the last time I went to a restaurant and didn't see at least one other iPhone. It is true that the iPad is substantially bigger than the iPhone. The iPad won't fit in a pocket, but many "portable" devices are just downright bulky and won't fit in pockets, such as the Playstation Portable. As we are more networked and plugged in, the more the device needs to fit our lifestyle.

That is where the problem lies with the iPad. In an increasingly networked world, where does the iPad fit in? It's almost as big as a laptop, but only has the functionality of an iPod Touch. It is, for the most part, a larger iPod Touch with 3G capabilities. While Apple bills the device as something that fits in between an iPhone and a computer, the iPad is a large Mobile Internet Device (if it has 3G, otherwise, it is simply a Wi-Fi Device). The iPad has a far more limited niche than anything else Apple has out on the market right now, but it fills a useful niche in the Apple ecosystem -- a larger format visual device.

This is a product that takes aim at the e-readers out there, especially the Kindle. Just like Apple's closed system, the Amazon Kindle is a closed system, even more heavily restricted than Apple's. The Kindle Development Kit is still in closed beta, with little details on the approval process. For those considering an e-reader, hands down, here's a list of reasons on how the iPad is better than the Kindle:

  • Backlit LED color screen vs. grayscale e-ink
    The iPad has a LED color IPS screen, while the Kindle uses e-ink. the iPad is backlit, while e-ink isn't. The only way to light the screen is to use a third-party booklight.
  • Mobile Safari vs. Experimental Web Browser
    The Kindle's web browser is laughable. They've hidden it away in the recesses of the "Experimental" section, but it feels more like what a browser would be if someone had invented a web browser in the late 80s. It's only experimental because it's so bad.
  • ePub vs. Amazon proprietary
    Within e-books, there are several different formats for book publishing. Amazon created their own book format for the Kindle, while nearly all other book publishers are using ePub. As Tim O'Reilly noted a year ago, "Unless Amazon embraces open e-book standards like ePub, which allow readers to read books on a variety of devices, the Kindle will be gone within two or three years." His timeline of extinction still bothers me -- I think it may actually be five or six years, given that Amazon seems determined to throw good money after bad. Amazon's Kindle can handle ePub, but not if it's been DRM'd. Additionally, while the iPad will be able to install a Kindle reader to read Kindle content, I won't expect the Kindle to be able to read Apple DRM locked ePub books.
  • Response times
    While specs of the refresh rate of the iPad haven't been released yet, I can tell you that whatever algorithm the iPad is using to turn pages on their e-book is much faster than the rendering of e-ink on the Kindle. With the refresh being an screen wipe, the Kindle actually reminds me of an old Cold-War era computer in the way that it redraws the screen.
  • The Amazon Kindle Only Does One Thing
    They've tried to integrate more functionality into the Kindle, but have failed. Even with their KDK (which is only entering beta this spring), I don't think there's much there. When you're competing against the library of iPhone apps, there is simply no contest.

Even after two years, the Kindle is still a niche product, and though I've seen a few in the wild, they haven't nearly been as ubiquitous as iPods or iPhones.

One of the things that Apple recognized was for the iPad to make use of the iTunes program for syncing and purchasing of content. While I believe that this may be more clumsy than Amazon's on-device purchasing, it maybe good enough for the first generation of the device and the current version of iTunes, but some improvements to the system must be done.

Predictions for Apple Event on January 27, 2010

Tomorrow's Apple event is definitely going to be the announcement of the Apple Tablet; it's been confirmed since McGraw-Hill made an appearance on CNBC this afternoon. What still remains in contention is all the finer details -- how big the screen is, what kind of processor is under the hood, and who will be publishing content on the device. If McGraw-Hill is in fact one of the publishers, Apple has scored a major win in the educational market, as McGraw-Hill is a major textbook publisher, and was one of the few companies who did not publish on the Kindle DX. If they are in fact publishing with Apple, this event should also send shivers down Amazon's spine.

Amazon and Apple have been competing against each other for some time now in the music/video-on-demand market, and I suspect that this competition will carry over onto the tablet as well. A look at Amazon's selection of e-readers, for instance shows only the Kindle being carried by Amazon directly; other e-readers are available through third-party sellers only. I suspect that Apple, in a bid to gain market share from Amazon will allow book publishers to set their own prices, much like the way the iPhone App Store works, with a similar split on revenue.

The Kindle will likely retain a solid advantage over the Apple Tablet in one major area: free wireless connectivity. I suspect that this new tablet may come with wireless service but that it may be an additional service fee, much like a wireless modem or data tethering plan. While e-books are relatively small in size and do not constitute major bandwidth usage, if the Apple Tablet is as versatile as the iPhone, I don't see how it would be possible to offer free wireless on the device, especially considering how utilized the iPhone is.

Multifunction is good, and I suspect that the Tablet will be more than just an e-reader. My guess at the price point is going to be $799, with a data service contract on top of that.

Other possible announcements? iPhone exclusivity over, and perhaps a painting program for iLife '10? The MacBookAir and MacBook Pro may get a refresh, but announcements of new laptop products may be further downstream, as I suspect that Apple will want to focus on the new product.

Just 10 hours to go. Can't wait.

Why I Think The Google Nexus One is a Mistake

At this point, everyone should know the details about Google's Nexus One phone, which is basically Google's copy of the iPhone running Android.

Nexus One is basically Google's answer to the iPhone; there is an Android app store, and features that are altogether too similar from the Cupertino-based phone. Google thinks that there is a market for those who want an unlocked smartphone without a contract, and I agree, but a first phone is not it. How many poor saps who bought a Motorola ROKR tied to AT&T regretted that decision when Apple's iPhone was unveiled in 2007? Those that purchased the ROKR are exactly the same followers who would buy a Nexus One -- those that are early adopters or the company faithful; I honestly don't see much over that.

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