What is the iPad really for?

Apple & Mac 3 Comments »

Let’s be honest. Apple make some very desirable gadgets. On Wednesday (27th January), they announced the iPad, the latest addition to their family of (serious) toys.

The iPad is a new handheld, touchscreen product that seems very much to have evolved from the iPhone, with a similar multi-touch interface and applications that are downloaded from a proprietary online store. On the face of it, the iPad looks like a touchscreen portable computer, and, technically, that’s true. However, there seems to be a lot that the iPad can’t do that a typical laptop can. While it does have Wi-Fi connectivity as standard, and 3G as an option, it isn’t a phone, either. The iPad has already received a good chunk of criticism and a chorus of “Meh”s for its ‘missing’ features.

However, what the iPad doesn’t do isn’t important. It’s what it does do. Apple have a knack of taking existing products and streamlining the feature set to improve the user experience. Just look at the iPod for a good example of that.

I don’t believe that the iPad should be compared to a PC, or a smartphone for that matter. It seems to me to be more of an everyday consumer device, just like an iPod or ebook reader: something that has a limited set of features that it does very well.

These features are, by today’s standards, pretty basic things that your average computer user wants to do, such as browsing the web or playing media like videos and music. These don’t require stacks of computing power or a complicated interface.

Instead, the iPad has some advantages over a conventional laptop computer. The most obvious is the touchscreen interface that has proved such a success on the iPhone. Less immediately obvious is that the device is designed to be powered on all the time, just like a phone, with Apple claiming a whole month of standby time. Having to boot a computer to quickly check something online can be a pain (for the impatient like me, at least).

The form factor also lends itself well to casual use: easy to keep on the coffee table or by the side of the bed for some late night Twitter action. I can imagine myself using it for a spot of catch-up TV on iPlayer or 4od in the evening (but not ITVplayer — all their programmes are crap!) or at last, ploughing through some of the many ebooks I’ve acquired on the bus.

The iPad is also able to run a variant of Apple’s iWork suit of applications, games and any applications from the iPhone app store. It will also be interesting to see how developers exploit the features of the iPad once they get their hands on it.

The price, while not cheap, is also much lower than that of one of Apple’s line of portable computers: $499 for the cheapest model, which I expect will convert up to £399 for the UK. More expensive models add more storage or 3G capability, so it really depends what you want to do with it how much you might want to invest.

I truly believe that Apple have hit an untapped niche with the iPad. More user-friendly, convenient and cheaper than a laptop or netbook, but more versatile and better suited to general use than a smartphone. It’s neither, but something that takes some of the most loved pieces of each and comes up with something new. Whether the marketplace agress with me, we’ll have to see.

Just the Jobs

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Apple boss, Steve Jobs, has publicly said he wants record labels to allow downloadable music without Digital Rights Management (DRM). Apple have been criticised (and even threatened with bans by several European countries) for the ‘Fairplay’ DRM on songs sold through the iTunes Music Store, which (deliberately or not) only allow the music to be played in the iTunes software or on an iPod music player.

However, I was always strongly under the impression that the inclusion of DRM was at the insistance of the record labels, which this request would seem to indicate. Without the DRM, they simply would not licence their music to Apple, so they have no choice but to include the ‘anti-piracy’ measures.

As well as limiting iTunes Music Store purchases to Apple software and hardware, the ‘Fairplay’ DRM restricts the number of computers a song can be played on, and also restricts things like how many times you can burn your legitimately-purchased music on to CD. Removing the DRM would mean that the files could be played on any software or hardware that supports the AAC format used by the iTunes Music Store, and copied, moved and, most importantly, played as the purchaser wishes.

Ideally, there would be no DRM in digitally distributed media, but if used it should be completely transparent to the user, and wouldn’t pose any restrictions to legitimate use. In reality, it does things like stop people watching high-definition versions of their legally-purchased Blu-ray discs on their legally-purchased players through their legally-purchased HD TVs, because one of the devices, even an AV cable, doesn’t support the required DRM.

I’ve personally had to register for licenses for content that I’ve created, heard pops in legally purchased, ‘copy-protected’ CDs that I’ve transferred to my iPod, and for some reason, my iTunes music library has four of the maximum five computers registered to it, even though we only have two. This hasn’t caused any problems yet, but could the next time I reinstall my OS or add a user to either computer.

Hopefully this is a significant step towards a DRM-free future.

Apple seeks online music shake-up [bbc.co.uk]

Update: A more detailed look at Jobs’ open letter, and further insight in to the Apple/DRM situation — Apple would “switch to selling only DRM-free music” if labels agree [arstechnica.com]

Boot Camp opens new doors Windows

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Apple have announced a beta version of Boot Camp, which allows Windows XP to run on Intel-based Macs. Yes – Windows on Macs. Without emulators. Officially.

Boot Camp is a beta of technology that is expected to feature in Apple’s forthcoming OS X ‘Leopard’.

There’s been a lot of talk about this already, some positive and some negative. I see this as nothing but a positive thing, since Apple are merely adding extra functionality to Macs. What’s wrong with that, eh? Apple are not ditching OS X, like some people seem to suggest.

On a personal level, this is great news. I can have my Apple and eat it. Or something like that. My situation is this:

  • I like using Macs.
  • I need to use Windows.

But now I can satisfy my own preferences and practical needs with one machine. Top notch!

My self-built WinBox has had two versions of Windows and at least three versions of Linux installed on it over its 5 years, and is well overdue for an upgrade. Realistically, that’s not going to happen too soon, certainly not before Windows Vista is released, but now I think a Mac Mini might be the logical upgrade if it can run both OS X and Vista in one tiny package.

NES Mini

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While I wouldn’t normally condone the destruction of something as sacred as an NES, at least it’s being spliced with something worthy.

Mac Mini inside a NES

Some of Nintendo’s more recent designs (such as the upcoming ‘Revolution’ and DS lite) have been compared to Apple’s products. I’m not sure the NES is one of them, though.

Things to Hate About Mac OS X?

Apple & Mac 4 Comments »

It’s one month since I took delivery of my Powerbook, and I’m still chuffed to bits with it. It still runs smoothly, feels powerful, and getting used to the OS has been like falling off a log that’s been perfectly designed to fall off of. Both the hardware and software are graceful, unobtrusive and actually let you get on with doing something useful!

I’ve just seen the article Ten Things I Hate About Mac OS X on the Peachpit website. I read the article with interest, as I thought it might have a few frustrations that I could steer clear of. What I noticed, however, was that all ten points are really petty (e.g. “Pinwheel Pauses” – the equivalent of the Windows egg-timer)! That’s not to say that they aren’t valid annoyances, but it’s reassuring to see that someone who uses OS X all day can’t find any serious problems with it.

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