Thursday, March 24, 2011

Life without an iPad

It's been two weeks since I sold my iPad in preparation for the arrival of the iPad2. Before the big day (tomorrow), I thought I'd reflect on the last two weeks.

A lot of people have written about how their computing habits changed after getting an iPad, and while these changes are quite noticeable after the first few weeks of owning an iPad, it's tough to really see those subtle changes of usage over time. I must say that I was probably using my iPad more and more the longer I owned it, finding more uses for it and getting more apps for it. Being without the device really gives me an opportunity to reflect on how much I was using it.

My typical day starts with an alarm provided by TuneIn Radio. I have AirPlay configured, so the radio plays out of some speakers nice and loud and it's really easy to wake up to Death Metal Radio at a reasonable volume, not to mention a pleasant accompaniment to my getting ready in the morning.

On my commute to work via bus and metro, I typically browse a few sites, check my work calendar and email, check flipboard and perhaps even get a quick gaming session in. One important thing to note is that I can listen to music on my iPhone while playing games on the iPad. In the last two weeks, I have had to choose between one or the other on my commute. I can check the web on my iPhone, but the experience is entirely different - many web sites offer me a mobile version which is not the experience I want.

At work, I've been quite at a loss without the iPad. I tend to have a lot of meetings and bring it along to take notes or check mail. The iPhone is no replacement for that. Another thing I tend to do at work is use the iPad as a music player while I'm at my desk - I plug in some headphones and I have my entire music library on the device. My plays are scrobbled back to when I sync with my computer in the evening. A lot of stuff I listen to isn't on Spotify, and I cannot fit much music on my iPhone. Being able to quickly check my calendar is much easier on the iPad, as is looking up reference material on the spot.

I've composed several presentations with Keynote and some documents with Pages. I recently worked with a colleague on creating an analysis diagram using Popplet. I've composed some of these blog posts entirely on the iPad. I'm starting to see more and more productivity uses for this device in the real world.

In the evenings, I tend to spend time gaming on the iPad. Gaming on the iPhone is nowhere near as nice (as I've mentioned previously, I've pretty much stopped playing iPhone games now). I also might check facebook (something I haven't done at all in the last two weeks). I also like to watch a fair bit of youtube (I'm addicted to Starcraft 2 replays) and I've had to resort to sitting at the computer to do this instead of laying in bed and watching.

In general, I've also missed the ability to quickly look things up on the web at will - a recurring theme in my common usage scenario. I haven't travelled at all in the last two weeks, but I must mention that in the last half a year I've only travelled with my iPad, leaving the laptop at home, since I can pretty much do anything I need to do with the iPad and it's so much lighter, not to mention the battery life and no need for a heavy charger unit (I carry a miniplug iPod charger).

In the end, although I considered my iPad as primarily a gaming device, I'm surprised at the extensive list of uses it's had that I took for granted. I'm certainly looking forward to tomorrow and hope that I manage to obtain the new one, should it arrive on schedule in Finland and in enough quantity that my preorder is filled.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

iOS5 speculation (and Lion)

It's been a pretty busy week for me work-wise, and for those who know who I am, it doesn't take three guesses to figure out why. Anyway, as promised, I'm going to go through some iOS5 speculation and wish-lists that I've been reading. As a bonus, I wanted to talk about Lion, the new release of OSX, since I feel this is quite important and relevant.

I watched one preview video of the Lion feature set as it stands, and I was honestly quite impressed. Lion appears to be slowly merging iOS and OSX features together in a way that screams touch screen interfaces in the future. One could further speculate that Apple is slowly preparing OSX for an eventual complete merge with iOS. Or to put it another way, OSX may one day take over on devices like the iPad. This might not appear at first to really hold on all fronts; for one, the Mac App store goes against this idea.

What I imagine, however, is a unit like the Macbook Air fitted for touchscreen use (perhaps with a fully back-foldable screen) that could double as either a tablet or a laptop, depending on your needs. This isn't a new concept. However, Apple would be taking that concept onto a level where it truly works. At this point, you can fully appreciate the idea of the Mac App store. Putting out full-screen enabled apps that have a feel of iOS apps transitions the OSX platform in the direction of iOS. This enables you to have one half of the equation: the tablet. The other half of the equation is already well-supported, and that's the laptop paradigm. This idea isn't all that implausible when you look at a few factors. Firstly, the Macbook Air 11", as it stands, is only marginally thicker than iPad first gen when closed, and the weight is similar. Secondly, the Macbook Air has the quick on/off functionality found in iOS devices. Thirdly, the price point isn't that different (especially considering you get two devices in one). You can probably see where I'm going with this. Anyway, this is an exciting proposition when you consider the chances of it happening.

Let's move onto iOS5. There's obviously a lot of speculation and wishlisting going on right now around iOS5. The iPad2 has been getting some okay reviews, but I notice a trend. The most common points I've noticed in these reviews have been the following. The most common point has been advice to keep your current iPad (first gen) if you already have one, since the iPad 2 has been widely viewed as an evolutionary update. The second, and most valid point, is that the lukewarm reviews of the device concentrate on iOS itself. At this point, you could have the most sleek hardware with the best internals, but people will not get past the fact that the device feels like it did at the iPad first gen launch, and that is an iPod Touch XL. The phone operating system that they've been leaning on is simply not doing the device justice. And almost a year on, this is even moreso the case with tablets being launched by everyone and their dog. Although the iPad still has an ecosystem that beats all others and a way more fluid interface than it's competitors, it's being outstripped on simple usability. Sticking with the simple "lots of icons" approach isn't cutting it against Android's widgets. The multitasking implementation falls short of WebOS. Check any video of Windows Phone 7 and you'll see a really slick and user-friendly interface the people everywhere are talking about. And let's not even get into the alert dialogs. You can have all the apps in the world, but it doesn't help if your operating system interface feels oversimplified and archaic. Apple has always prided themselves on being the leader in the UI space and it just slipped behind pretty much everyone (including Windows) on this front, and that's something they have to be worried about. The snail pace development of iOS for iPad isn't too encouraging either. Small incremental fixes over the next few years at the pace they've happened up until now will leave the iPad interface in the dust.

I'll detail a few wishlist items I've seen so far and how realistic I think they are.

Wireless Sync - not out of the question, but I bet it'll be tied somehow to MobileMe.

Download Multiple Apps at a time - I'd rather have the app store not kick me back to springboard every time I download or update something to start with. Then let's talk about multiple app download. Anyway, I can't imagine this is high on the priority list - things work okay as it is.

Better Lock Screen - this is pretty much a must-have. Check the smart screen video on the above link to see how it should work. Even Nokia phones have this sort of thing. However, will Apple implement this? I doubt iOS 5.0 will have it.

iTunes from the Cloud - I think we'll see a big announcement about this likely at the September media event, since that's the time of the year that Apple likes to focus on music-related stuff. It'll be a selling point for the new iPod Touch, but it'll retroactively apply to iPad 2 and whatever the new iPhone is called. It's somewhat likely given Apple's acquisition of that technology quite a while ago.

Give the messaging system an overhaul - I'd really hope this happens and I consider this also a must-have item. However, they didn't acquire the resources to implement this all too long ago. Despite that, I'd say this has a pretty good chance of happening.

Some of this site's wishlist overlaps. There's no point in going over those a second time, so from here-on-in, I'll cover the unique items only.

Better organisation options for the UI - I feel this is a must-have also. This overlaps with widgets and the iPad iOS doesn't have some of the simple apps that iOS for the iPhone has, such as weather, stocks, clock, calculator, etc. One can only assume they plan on making widgets and some sort of either dashboard system or an actual configurable UI. I feel that something along these lines is possible in iOS5, but I feel that the development of this will be incremental, meaning we won't see a great deal of customizability from the get-go.

Flash Compatibility - no way in hell.

Game Center - this one talks about connecting Game Center with Facebook or Twitter. I kinda doubt it.

AirPrint - I can imagine Apple spending a bunch of resources improving this feature that 99% of us couldn't care less about. Very likely.

Syncing with Multiple Computers - This isn't really an iOS5 thing as much as it's an iTunes thing. I doubt that anyone would spend the money to try and fix that.

iMount - Turn your iPad/iPhone into a USB device? There's an app for that already.

FM Radio - Speculation that many of the devices have an FM radio that's already built in but not in use. Dunno, you'd figure they'd have added that app already, or if not, jailbreak would have. So not really plausible.

Improved Mail - flags and better attachment handling (I for one would like zip support). I can kinda see this happening, since Apple is trying to break the iPhone and iPad into the corporate space.

Customizable Multitasking Tray - this request touches on the, imo, single reason to jailbreak: SBSettings. I'd love that to be built in. I think this is remotely possible.

iOS Data Sharing - this is something I've been asking for. However, I feel that Apple wants to make people use MobileMe, so I have a feeling they'll implement it in that way if they do. Shame, really, since it would give great incentive for people with one device (e.g. iPad) to buy the other device (e.g. iPhone) for amazing interoperability and a true ecosystem of devices (akin to Airport Express, Apple TV, etc.) Who knows? Perhaps this would happen. It makes good business sense and creates additional brand stickiness.

Customizable default apps - I somehow can't see this happening. It does potentially open up security problems.

Editable Dictionary - Actually, I'd like this myself. Enter something wrong into autocorrect and you're stuck with it. However, I can't see this being a "wow" feature that they'd spend time resourcing over some other more pressing features.

I could continue - there are plenty of other iOS 5 wishlists on Google. However, I think these four covered a majority of the items you'll see. So what would I like to see? Check back on my older posts for a list, in addition to those I voted for here.

I'll try and keep my blog a bit more up-to-date once the busy times at work subside. I sold my iPad just over a week ago and I've been living without one until the iPad2 arrives here in Finland (if it does) next Friday. I will probably blog about life without an iPad pretty soon, since it has been a device I've come to depend upon and living without it has been, well... it sucks. More to come!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lameness predictability has decreased, aka. My predictions were wrong on a few counts

I'm quite pleasantly surprised that some of my predictions were off. Let's take a quick look at them:

The first prediction that was wrong was the availability of the iPad2 for "the rest of you". Apple's tendency is to break down "the rest of you" countries into several sets. Places like UK, France, Germany tend to get the next best treatment. Like for instance being able to buy movies or books for the device. Then comes the next set and the next set, and so on. Finland is way down there, and has been for a long time. Back when the original iPhone was launched, we couldn't buy it here and from what I understand, if you happened to have one in Finland, the service centers woouldn't (and probably still won't) even give you the time of day should you want it fixed, meaning having to mail it back to the US. Finally the iPod touch arrived on the scenes to give us a taste of an iOS device. It took more than 6 weeks after the proposed date of availability before a very small number of 1st gen iPod Touches arrived and were snapped up immediately.

Flash forward a few years to the iPad. What a joke. The iPad is announced and then released in the US only on April 3rd 2010. It next became available to the first tier of "the rest of you": Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom on May 28th 2010. Roll on tier 2 of "the rest of you" Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore on July 23rd 2010. China got theirs on September 17th 2010. The English wikipedia site doesn't even have the recorded dates of when the iPad went on sale in Finland, but the Finnish wikipedia has the dates. It went on sale here on the 30th November 2010, ladies and gentlemen. That's a few days short of 8 months after it was available in the USA.

The idiotic thing was that a few months after the iPad was announced, Apple announced the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 went on sale here in Finland just a few weeks or months, it doesn't matter,after becoming available in the USA (it still arrived here way before the iPad). So, effectively all the hype about the iPad not only died, but was buried by the time we got to officially buy one. As evidenced by the articles in all newspapers here about there being not even the faintest sign of queues or even excitement on the release day.

The announcement that "the rest of you" for iPad2 includes Finland and that it should be available just two weeks after the yanks get theirs is a pretty pleasant surprise. Did they finally get rid of the need for the devices to be shipped via camel to Finland? Lets see if the devices actually end up in the shops on March 25th.

My next error in prediction has to do with iPad2 optimized games. Back when the 3GS was announced, many game companies made noise about creating special versions of the games that would utilize the improved hardware. Not much of this really happened for a long time, if ever. However, today I've seen three announcements of games (Infinity Blade, Real Racing 2 and Dead Space) that will support better graphics for the iPad 2. These are available on the release day (US) of the iPad2. This is only a good sign! Hopefully more will follow. I was initially thinking that there would probably not be much reason to upgrade immediately, since we'd have to wait for developers to drag their feet about maybe updating the graphics in their games. This is not the case - people upgrading will get something new straight away.

I'll probably cover some new and interesting wishlists for iOS5 that I've stumbled upon recently in my next article, so tune in soon!

Friday, March 4, 2011

iPad 1.5 and why I don't play games on the iPhone anymore

So, the new iPad has been announced, as expected. The new one was pretty much what I was expecting, too. Of course, we won't know how much RAM the thing has for another week, but I'm assuming it's going to be 512MB. If it's 1GB, I'll be quite surprised (and excited), but with the diminishing number of features absent on the device now, it's likely that they'll make that the selling point of the next iteration of the device for sure. It should be interesting to see where the next iPhone iteration weighs in on RAM. For that matter, it would be interesting to know why Apple thinks the iPhone needs more RAM than the iPad. Oh, but they don't mention RAM for a reason, kinda like it wouldn't exist.

Anyway, when they find the 512MB in the new iPad, I'm expecting all kinds of scandal in the media and comparing the specs to current Android tablets, like they didn't expect it.

I'm a self-attested fanboy of Apple. That's right. I admit it. This is why I'm trying my hardest to resist the need for this new iPad. I'll list the reasons why I DO want it, though.

It's sexier looking. Who doesn't want sexier. Shit, it even looks good with a baby blue "smart cover". It's probably going to be Macbook Air sexy when I finally see it in real life.

The covers. Yeah, that's the best thing about the new iPad. I'll repeat that. The new covers are the best thing about the new iPad. I never saw that coming.

Faster and better graphics capabilities. As my primary, and currently only, gaming device, I find it hard to resist the pull of new hardware. As stated, the games appearing in the app store over the next year, at least, will cater to the lower hardware requirements of the first iPad, but just to know that they'll run smoother and load faster is always a carrot towards wanting the new device.

The cameras are something I don't need, and I hate tilt games, so I don't care about a gyroscope. I don't think there was anything else.

In the end, it'll be the looks of the device, case included, that will get people buying it. I don't see other manufacturers coming close to Apple's industrial design standards anytime soon. Apple are just genius to be able to put out hardware again and again that people just want because of the looks.

It was disappointing that they didn't share any new ideas on iOS, only telling us what we've known for ages about 4.3. I watched maybe the first ten minutes of the Steve show until the audio on the stream cut out and de-synced with the video. So much for that working on the iPad. I can't be bothered to watch more of it, since it's just a bunch of patting oneself on the back about statistics and numbers, followed by an over-exaggerated long infomercial about the new product. I call myself a fanboy, but watching the cheers from the audience (especially on parts of the infrastructure that us lot outside of the US don't benefit from) makes me almost want to puke. I could understand the need for cheers back when Apple was a nobody, but it's not necessary in this day and age.

Onto gaming.

It really didn't take me long after getting the iPad before I switched over to it being my only gaming device. Well, I say it didn't take long. In actual fact, there was jack and shit for games for the first six months, but I was playing blocky pixel-doubled iPhone games for a good while.

I honestly don't bother playing games on my iPhone anymore. The battery on my phone goes down in no time at all if I start gaming, and the screen is just too small, especially when you consider the size your fingers take up on that screen for controlling things. The iPad is way nicer and it's set the bar, for me, on what a portable gaming device should be. I'm not at all excited about the NGP (PSP2). This 9.7 inch screen is like having a small TV and console with me at all times. I can hold the device comfortably away from my face while playing. The screen real-estate means that the controls can be sensibly placed and take up almost no screen when used. And the larger screen really allows for all sorts of concepts you can't fit onto a phone screen (although there are almost no games that capitalize on that yet). Some people complain about the weight of the device while playing. I'm a pretty small and wimpy guy and I don't have any problems, so those of you that do might try and exercise just a tad. You could maybe hold your iPad in one hand and lift it up and down a bit to build up that missing bicep.

As a final note, and on the subject of gaming, I read that Starfront Collision is very good. This is a game that would undoubtedly be more suited to the iPad than a small phone-size screen, being a rip-off of Starcraft. Is it out on the iPad? Of course not. Gameloft, you fail yet again.