apple

iPads 1, 2, 3

by Michael Alderete on 4/13/2012 · 0 comments

So I bought a first-generation iPad, Rochelle got an iPad 2 as a “spousal patience” present, and we both got “the new iPad (3rd generation)” when it came out in March.

Obviously if we’re still buying them, we must like them. But, how about some details? What do we use them for? Why is the iPad useful, or cool? Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The retina display is amazing. Truly spectacular. Once you’ve used it, you will find it hard to go back to any other screen. Indeed, I used my original iPad less and less as I got more used to the retina display on my iPhone 4. I am already reading far more than I have in months, due to the crisp perfection of text on the screen. Both Apple’s iBooks and Amazon.com’s Kindle app are great for reading. When I can’t get DRM-free ebooks I tend to shop at Amazon.com first, simply for the selection, even though I probably prefer the UI for iBooks, marginally.

    It’s not just text that’s spectacular on the screen, either. I’ve…uh, checked out some of the comic book apps on the new screen, and it’s pretty much as good as holding a printed book. Spectacular. I’ve only used the Comics app from comiXology and the Dark Horse Comics app, but both have really delivered incredible on-screen quality.

  • The original iPad was really heavy, for a device you’re going to hold in a reading or viewing position for long stretches of time. Reading a book, watching a movie, browsing the web—all great “lean back” activities on the iPad, but the weight, it was a killer. The new iPad is a little heavier than the iPad 2, but quite a bit less weight than the original. It’s still not light enough, but it’s an improvement.

  • The new iPad does not get hot. No matter what you’ve read. It does get slightly warmer in a particular spot than the earlier models, but barely. You have to want to feel it to notice it.

  • The new iPad does indeed take almost twice as long to charge. On the one hand, the battery has almost twice the capacity, so this is not a surprise. On the other hand, it’s a genuine limitation, in that it becomes much more important to remember to plug it in to charge overnight if you’re planning on using it heavily the next day.

  • I used two iPads during March Madness, using the March Madness On Demand app to watch three games at once. Watching March Madness in my living room on the TV and two iPads The quality of the video, if not as good as my HDTV, was as good as my old standard definition TV set. Kind of amazing.

  • The Netflix app is even better than that. Damn near HDTV quality. The combination of Netflix streaming for under $10/month and an iPad may let you kiss a $100+/month cable bill goodbye. (We haven’t subscribed to cable in 4+ years.) That’ll pay for an iPad right there, in less than a year.

  • Rochelle is the master of replacing cable with iPad apps to watch her shows. Here’s a list to the apps she uses regularly:

    When we want to watch something that’s not available from those services (Justified, The Walking Dead), it’s not hard to justify renting or purchasing in the iTunes Store, given that we don’t spend anything on cable. Not available there, either? Patience is a virtue…we wait for it to be on Netflix’s regular old disc service.

So, nutshell, worth it? As an upgrade from the original iPad, absolutely. The first generation iPad was interesting, even compelling as a vision of the future of computing, but for most people, I think it was easy to say “I’m going to wait for the version where they work out the bugs”.

That wait is over. I don’t know what will come in future generations of the iPad, beyond more processing power and more storage, but this third-generation hardware is “fully baked”. The high definition screen delivers an experience that you do have to see and touch to fully appreciate, but once you do, you’ll want it, too.

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Been a bit of a brouhaha recently about the behavior of the iPhone’s ring/silent switch, kicked off by an article in the New York Times. John Gruber, Andy Ihnatko, and Marco Arment have weighed in, and covered most of the ground for and against, but here’s three specific thoughts I haven’t read elsewhere:

  1. The iPhone’s silent switch has behaved the way it does for 4½ years, and we’re only now having this conversation? Because some guy got a brand new iPhone and embarrassed himself at the symphony the same day? And people want to change the behavior because of one (well-publicized) incident of user error? Seriously?

    There’s no better indication that the behavior should remain the same than the fact that we’re only now discussing it.

  2. Flipping the ring/silent switch is a casual act. You can do it without looking at your phone. You can do it without even taking it out of your pocket. You can do it unintentionally, digging something out of that same pocket.

    Setting an alarm is a deliberate act. I defy anyone to do it while their iPhone is still in their pocket. I defy anyone to do it accidentally. If you forget you have an alarm set after going through the process of setting it, and get embarrassed at the symphony, shame on you.

  3. If you think the ring/silent switch should override an alarm you have set, causing it to not make sound, there’s an easy way to do that: don’t use the built-in Clock app. Many third-party alarm apps respect the ring/silent switch. I like Night Stand. It’s pretty, and when silent mode is enabled, it vibrates but doesn’t ring. Solve your problem for 99¢ and move on.

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“Just a Big iPod Touch”

by Michael Alderete on 12/21/2010 · 5 comments

When the iPad debuted, the witticism was that it was “just a big iPod touch.” This week Motorola echoed this by saying it’s “like a giant iPhone.”

This is about as stupid as saying a swimming pool is like a giant bathtub.

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Five Bars at Home with the AT&T 3G MicroCell

by Michael Alderete on 4/30/2010 · 2 comments

AT&T is the exclusive wireless provider for the Apple iPhone here in the United States, and has at least partially earned a reputation for providing poor wireless phone coverage. In my own travels, I’ve had great reception in Portland, Austin, Palm Springs, and Chicago, among other places, four or five bars, consistently. I don’t recall ever having poor 3G reception anywhere — except here in my home city of San Francisco.

Now, San Francisco presents some unique challenges, such has high-rises and famously steep hills. But solving those reasonably straightforward RF challenges is what AT&T gets paid the big bucks to do. After almost four years there has been some improvement, but reception is still a major issue, with some parts of SF being almost completely dead zones. (I believe this has more to do with the tinfoil hat crowd than AT&T’s lack of effort and investment, but that’s a post for another day.)

AT&T reception in our house, while not awful, has been spotty, and seems oddly worse since we gave up our land line in January. It has definitely been an issue, with dropped and “one-way” (you can hear someone but they can’t hear you, or vice versa) calls being a regular occurrence.

AT&T 3G MicroCellAT&T has a solution for that problem. It’s called the AT&T 3G MicroCell, which puts a mini cell phone tower called a “femtocell” in your house, and no less a personage than the NYTimes has written about it. Their first article, Bringing You a Signal You’re Already Paying For, is a bit snarky, but does a good job of covering the details of the technology, and why you might want it. Their second article, Dead Zone Doldrums Test Skills of iPhone Customers, is more pragmatic, focused on usable ways to improve your reception, including the MicroCell.

Ultimately, finding a usable solution is more productive than pointing fingers. While the 3G MicroCell does cost $150, there are no monthly fees, and I can attest to getting at least three, and mostly five bars everywhere in my ~1400 square foot house. The MicroCell hands off smoothly to a standard AT&T tower when I move to my back deck, where reception was already excellent. Call quality has been excellent. Once set up, there is nothing to do. It Just Works.

There were two tricks to getting the MicroCell working. The first was actually getting one. They are not yet available for ordering online, at least not in San Francisco. But, after reading a tweet that AT&T Wireless retail stores were selling them in Santa Rosa, I stopped by a store in downtown San Francisco. Yes, they had them in stock, and so did the second store I visited. So, if you want a MicroCell today, you may need to visit your nearest AT&T Wireless store. For me, this was only 10 minutes out of my way, not a big deal.

My second issue was activating the MicroCell. It needs to have a reliable two-way connection to the Internet. For you to receive calls, the AT&T network needs to be able to reach the MicroCell, that is, connect from the Internet to inside your home network. This is something that a good firewall will normally prevent. I assume that the MicroCell uses UPnP or NAT-PMP to attempt to automatically open appropriate holes for itself, but my decidedly non-standard firewall software and even more unusual hardware don’t support either. So, I had to put the MicroCell outside the firewall, which is easy enough if you have a simple home network…and a pain in the ass if you have a fully wired house. For most people, this won’t be an issue, but I would appreciate a way to manually configure my MicroCell, or at least the technical information to open the right holes. Currently AT&T wants the 3G MicroCell to be a black box that requires no direct configuration by the customer.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with the 3G MicroCell. It’s set up, it works as advertised, and I didn’t need to wait for AT&T to put a new cell tower nearer my house, or for Apple to launch a Verizon iPhone.

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Four quick iPad thoughts

by Michael Alderete on 1/28/2010 · 0 comments

I just watched the full video from yesterday’s introduction of the Apple iPad, and had a few thoughts.

  1. If you have seen other Apple product introductions, the format is familiar, and they are never less than well executed. Of the intros I’ve seen, nothing has come close to the introduction of the iPhone. (I saw the original Mac intro years too late to fully appreciate its true impact.) But what the introduction of the iPad may have lacked in shock and awe, it made up for in the completeness of the story. The iPhone was on stage by itself, just the software that came on the phone. The iPad arrives with an entire ecosystem, of new and existing applications, third party developers, accessories, etc.

    People who were expecting to get the stomach drop of excitement that the iPhone intro produced (at least in me) were certainly disappointed. But that’s misplaced, the iPad is a far more advanced product and story than the iPhone was when introduced. It’s like the difference between the excitement of crushing hard on someone new, versus the comfort and trust and love that comes after many years of marriage. One’s more exciting, but the other is richer and more fulfilling.

  2. Another disappointment, or fear, that people have expressed is the lack of “openness” or “freedom.” I’ve got a different word for that concept: “complexity.” You can call that spin if you like, but I’ve spent 20+ years showing people how to use computers, and they’ve never been easy to use. Even today, 25 years after the concept of clicking and double-clicking hit the mass market, I see people confuse the two, and that is the most trivial of examples. It’s easy to come up with dozens more serious.

    What Apple is doing, first with the iPhone and now with the iPad, is offering a new model for computing, one that allows more direct interaction with objects on the screen, while at the same time simplifying away huge amounts of complexity, things that most people will never care about.

    Those of us who are “computer sophisticates” think those things are important, but when the iPad arrives, and normal people love them, and rave about the user interface, and buy them by the millions, we’ll see what’s really important, and it’s not the “freedom” to fuck around in the file system, or the “openness” to go out onto the Wild Internet and download and install random software.

    Try this exercise: every time you hear an expert say the iPad isn’t open, change “open” to “complicated.” Every time they write the iPad is “locked down” subsitute “simplified.” When the gurus get detailed about “important” three letter acronyms or random tech talk, hear “blah blah blah,” because that’s all it matters.

    Gruber put it best, it’s the arrival of the automatic transmission for computers. Those of us who are enthusiasts and experts will have access to manual transmissions for decades — regular computers are not going away. But for those folks who only care about getting to their destination, it just got a lot easier.

    Update: Here are some terrific articles that tackle this topic in depth, and in different, complementary ways:

  3. If you want to really understand this, and get an idea of just how much Apple is leading by example, watch the segment where Phil Schiller demonstrates the iPad versions of the iWork suite (a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool). Apple has completely re-thought the way that you interact with these tools, and except for the on screen virtual keyboard, it surpasses the desktop experience in every way. Really quite extraordinary, it was here that I got genuinely excited about what is new in the iPad, and what it means. A small taste of The Future.

  4. Scott Forstall offered developers a big incentive to build apps specifically for the iPad: separate, prominent placement in the iPad App Store. The phrase “a new gold rush” was used. Is that sound in the distance the clatter of Android and web OS and Blackberry phones being dropped by developers? Maybe not, but Apple is certainly building tremendous momentum for their platform. Competitors will not be catching up for years.

At $500, the iPad will be $100 cheaper than the original iPhone I lined up to buy. I may not line up for an iPad, but I’ll certainly be buying one. Yes, the 2nd generation will be even better. That’s always true. So what. I don’t think the iPad is the grand slam home run I wrote that the iPhone was, but it’s most definitely a hit that will score runs. I want one.

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App Review: Recorded Books Audiobook Apps

by Michael Alderete on 1/13/2010 · 6 comments

If you search the App Store for “audiobook” you turn up hundreds of results, most of which are crap. (More on that in a future post.) Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a challenge. Aldo on Audiobooks will only bother to review worthwhile apps.

In my review of the Bookmark iPhone app, I noted that for the long tracks of an audiobook, the standard controls of the iPod app, optimized for 3 minute music tracks, can be frustrating. Bookmark is one solution to this issue. Another comes in the form of self-contained audiobook apps from Recorded Books.

Recorded Books audiobook apps

These audiobook apps are found in the App Store section of iTunes, rather than in the Audiobooks section. You are buying not merely the audio portion of the audiobook, but also an app that will play it back. Indeed, you can only play the audiobook from its dedicated app; you cannot use the iPod app, or Bookmark, etc.

These apps are the iPhone equivalent of the Playaway format: player and book baked into a single device. The idea is to make an audiobook as easy to use as a regular book — a single (physical, for the Playaway) object that you pick up and take with you, no other items needed. The self-contained audiobook app makes the experience of buying an audiobook, getting it onto your iPhone, and playing it simple and straightforward. In theory.

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App Review: Bookmark

by Michael Alderete on 12/21/2009 · 12 comments

If you search the App Store for “audiobook” you turn up hundreds of results, most of which are crap. (More on that in a future post.) Separating the wheat from the chaff can be a challenge. Aldo on Audiobooks will only bother to review worthwhile apps.

Bookmark is an alternative audio player dedicated to audiobooks, based on the insight that the iPhone is great for music, but not very well-suited to audiobooks. Bookmark was designed around the central concept that, when listening to a long audiobook, you want different controls for moving around in the much longer tracks, and tools for marking positions in the recording that go beyond just saving where you left off. Bookmark app If you’ve ever listened to a long audiobook track on an iPod, and especially if you’ve ever thought “I want to go back and hear that part again,” you know what this is all about.

Using Bookmark is simple. Start the app, choose a book from the list of titles (Bookmark filters out everything but audiobooks), and press play. In this regard, Bookmark is much like the built-in iPod app. The basics of playback are pretty obvious, with standard controls for play/pause, volume control, and track progress.

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Holy afterburners, Batman!

by Michael Alderete on 9/5/2007 · 11 comments

Today Apple announced a whole series of changes to its lineup of iPods, including improvements and a price reduction for the iPod I recommend for audiobooks, the 4 GB iPod nano.

But the most interesting news, to me, was about the iPhone, at the end of the event. From Steve’s lips to our ears (via Macworld):

“We’re on track to ship our millionth iPhone by the end of this month, and so to get ready for the holiday season, here’s what we’re going to do: The vast majority of customers want the 8GB iPhone. So today, we’re going to focus on just the 8GB model. [And] the 8GB isn’t going to sell for $599, it’s going to sell starting today for $399. We want to put iPhones in a lot of stockings this holiday season.”

So (a) the iPhone is selling incredibly well, getting to a million units in under three months. And (b) if they were selling well before, how well are they going to sell at $200 less? I predict 4-5 million iPhones sold by the end of the holiday season.

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One week with an iPhone

July 6, 2007

Last Friday I bought an 8 gigabyte iPhone at an Apple store. I’ve been using the phone for a week now, and overall, while there are certainly flaws and omissions, it is a spectacular synthesis of hardware and software excellence. No other handheld device I’ve used even comes close, including the seven previous iPods I’ve […]

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iPhone Preview

June 9, 2007

Saw an iPhone in the wild today, including watching the owner look up a contact and dial them. It looked as brilliant in real-world use as it does in the commercials. Want. Want. Want!

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Thoughts on “Thoughts on Music”

February 8, 2007

On Tuesday, in an open letter Thoughts on Music, Steve Jobs responded (accidentally ;-) to my prior post calling on Apple to license FairPlay to other device makers. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, as all the best propaganda is, covering a lot of ground concisely and persuasively. Other people have analysed Thoughts on Music […]

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Five reasons Apple should license FairPlay

January 29, 2007

I have some very specific, personal reasons why I want to see Apple license their FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM) system to other device makers; I’ll publish those later this week. Here I want to lay out a logical argument for why Apple should do this, in their own best interests. 1. Running into the […]

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