November 28, 2010
Right before the Thanksgiving break, Acer was in town to talk touch. Android slates of various sizes and a 10” Windows tablet with keyboard dock were announced along with a 10” Windows tablet that will be accompanied by a keyboad dock.
But the signature product was Iconia, a dual-screen 14” Windows notebook that follows in the footsteps of such dual-screen devices as the Kno tablet and the Toshiba Libretto W105 that I got to try for a bit earlier this year. As with the Libretto W, I found typing on the Iconia’s lower display to be surprisingly comfortable. Of course, I didn’t get to type anything of great length on it, but even from my initial trial, I’d likely rather use its keyboard than the iPad’s keyboard for even a few hundred word. in fact, I didn’t make a single typing error. The one caveat was that I needed to take a moment to orient my fingers on the lower screen, but from there it was smooth sailing, as I imagine it would be for most touch-typists.
There’s still much that isn’t known about the Iconia, such as what its battery life will be or how much it will cost. Going with a 14” main display puts it in the heart of screen size volumes, but I still think that the limited nature of a display-based keyboard lends itself better to a smaller screen size — not as small as the Libretto W105, but something closer to a mainstream netbook.
Tags: Acer, dual-screens, Iconia, iPad, keyboards, new form factors, QWERTY, Toshiba Libretto W105, touch screens, Windows
October 20, 2010
In previewing some of the features of the next Mac OS, code-named Lion, today, Steve Jobs decried the idea of using a touch screen on a notebook. Apple’s CEO cited the ergonomic burden of having to constantly reach forward to touch a vertically oriented screen and said that the proper orientation for a touch surface is a horizontal surface. Hence, Apple is expanding the multitouch gestures invoked from input peripherals such ad the MacBooks’ trackpad, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.
However, the iPad is not generally used in a horizontal orientation — just check any of the Apple Pad billboards. There is a bit more to the story than just orientation. First, despite the iPadian nods to touch manipulation Apple is planning in Lion, desktop operating systems simply are not designed around the same kind of large on-screen UI elements and design that characterize the iPad experience.
This becomes obvious on a touchscreen Windows system long before arm fatigue sets in. (If you don’t have a touchscreen Windows system but do have a Winsows PC and an iPad, you can test this by using the Splashtop Remote Desktop app or any number of screen sharing alternatives.) Apple could, as many PC makers have, tweak the controls, but then the apps would still be a UI generation behind stuck in the traditional paradigm a on Windows
Second, the iPad is far more of a passive consumption device than a Mac.I’m not sure how many touch gestures the average iPad user makes versus mouse movements for a Mac user, but I would guess that the latter number is generally much higher. So even if. Apple were to create a Mac slate and tweak the UI elements, using such a computer would not be the smooth, gentle experience of an iPad.
Tags: Apple, iPad, Lion, Mac OS X, touch, user interface
April 16, 2010
I had a chance to chat with some of Apple’s MacBook team this week to talk about the new MacBook Pros, which look exactly like the old MacBook Pros. One interesting note, though, is that the battery life of all models have been improved thanks to the good work of Apple’s on-staff battery chemists, and those looking for a portable computer that can yield 10 hours of battery life need not carry their screen and keyboard separately as the 13” model has answered the iPad’s challenge.
The battery life on the 13” model’s larger-screened siblings is also quite good, clocking in eight or nine hours. But these products also have faster processors, larger screens and discrete graphics, all of which take their toll. While I’ve always understood that smaller devices need to have smaller batteries, which affect battery performance, the paradox was that smaller smaller, more mobile notebooks more likely to be used away from a plug. Score one for the little guys this time.
Tags: Apple, battery life, McBook Pros, stamina
April 2, 2010
The iPhone was really something of a talking dog. It was so amazing that Apple had brought such functionality to something that was so omnipresent that it was relatively easy to forgive the cramped interface and incessant swiping that sometimes seemed required to get things done. In a form of geek noblesse oblige, advanced users accepted these limitations understanding that it was part of the platform’s overall gestalt that brought new users into the smartphone ecosystem.
But you’ll find less of that feeling of compromise with the iPad. Yes, technically the iPad is very similar to a large iPod touch. But it is also an unbound iPod touch – unbound by the constraints of screen size, limited battery life, cramped keyboard, and a user interface that lacks some of the efficiencly boosters Apple has now implemented.
As I noted in a recent Laptop Magazine article, I put the iPad closer to a notebook on the smartphone-notebook continuum in terms of functionality and usage scenarios. And yet, the iPad is not a netbook, nor do I think it aspires to be one even though at least some of the tasks — most notably, e-mail and Web access — can be managed pretty well on it. But a BlackBerry handles e-mail pretty well, too. Furthermore, I think it would be the wrong path for Apple to try to make the iPad more netbook-like; this would work to the detriment of the device experience and would of course risk cannibalizing Apple’s Mac business. So far, the lack of multitasking is even less of an issue on the iPad than on the iPhone as you’re far more likely to be engaged with the device as you use it, and there is less need to have geolocation apps running in the background. Lack of Flash is being addressed by video providers — perhaps even Hulu — working on their own iPad apps.
Tags: Apple, iPad, iPhone, netbooks
November 25, 2009
Comedian George Carlin recognized that necessity is the mother of invention in a comedy routine (Warning: adult language) on the origin of flamethrowers:
“[A]t some point, some person said to himself, ‘Gee, I’d sure like to set those people on fire over there, but I’m way too far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw flame on them.. .””
The observation applies to less violent tasks that have driven home technology since the advent of the TV remote control . Indeed, the Windows 7 feature that probably received the most attention at the launch event was Play To. Play To simply enables one to “push” content such as music as photos to compatible DLNA receivers, and Microsoft used it to show how Windows 7 could simultaneously serve ten video streams (over wired gigabit Ethernet,)
But with Play To, unlike as with a flamethrower, it’s far more likely that you want to “pull” the output from a source than push it. Any serious media receiver around the home such as Sonos, a Logitech SqueezeBox or Apple TV provides a way to navigate sources remotely. This was a usage problem when Apple introduced AirTunes. Another shoe needed to drop and finally did once Apple finally released the Remote software for the iPod touch and iPhone years later.
Microsoft or its partners need to plug the Play To remote hold in similar fashion via iPhone software, Windows Mobile software, or some dedicated device because, in the world of DLNA, the same device can serve as server, renderer and controller, making things very confusing for the consumer. I’ll have more to say on the demands of this level of remote control in the near future.
Tags: AirTunes, digital media adapters, digital media receivers, DLNA, Play To, rremote control, Sonos
May 29, 2009
Earlier this month, I wrote a Switched On column for Engadget that discussed how Windows 7 Starter Edition’s three-app limit left Microsoft wide open for jibes from Apple and detractors. Today, the company announced that it is lifting the three-app limit. Instead, it will rely on features such as personalization and streaming music support to distinguish the Starter Edition from Windows 7 Home Premium, which will be the default edition for developed economies.
Removing the three-app limit, which was arbitrary in this day of Web applications that Google Wave has so aptly demonstrated, will remove potential frustrations that consumers of value-targeted PCs would have experienced while still providing enough of an incentive to induce consumers to upgrade. The losers here are Apple’s commercial writers, who will now have to dig a little harder to find something to ding Windows 7 on, and Linux, which, as I’ve noted, has increasingly had trouble justifying its presence in netbooks. But the potential of other “gaptop” devices such as Qualcomm’s SmartBook initiative, may offer new hope, It’s starting to look, though, that the opportunity is more around the smaller screen size than a lower price point.
Tags: Linux, netbooks, nettops, Windows 7 Starter Edition
April 29, 2009
Nope, that’s not a Wi-Fi access point you’re looking at. It’s the Seagate Replica, a new backup storage appliance from the hard drive giant. Replica uses a combination of hardware and software – the slick Rebit that was one of the standout software products I saw at CES – to create a continuous backup experience on Windows that comes closest to Time Machine for the Mac (minus the extensive “space warp” eye candy).
Replica is also Seagate’s answer to a variety of brainless backup products offered under the Clickfree brand by Storage Appliance Corporation, including a number of hard drives and a cable that can convert any external hard drive into a ClickFree hard drive. The company recently raised a $10 million round of Series B funding and I touched on it in in a two-part Tech on Deck column I wrote last summer. These are good options to have in the market for the nontechnical user, or might also be one of those products that geeks give non-geeks, alongside MSNTV, the Ceiva digital picture frame, and the Presto printer.
Tags: clickfree, rebit, replica, seagate
April 14, 2009
Some of the more interesting products I saw at CTIA had nothing to do with cell phones. A great example of this was the SISO Tablo by Hantech, It’s been available from Brando for a while, but should be receiving broader distribution in the near future. Using similar technology to that which powers the IOGEAR Mobile Digital Scribe, which could also emulate a mouse when writing on paper, the Tablo turns practically any laptop with a 7″ to 15″ screen into an ersatz tablet PC.
Of course, the Tablo won’t allow your laptop screen to twist around and lay flat atop the keyboard like a convertible tablet PC. However, for about $100, it seems to be a good fit for the user who needs tablet functionality only occasionally, say, to scribble down a diagram when taking notes. And, yes, Lauren and Giampaolo, it works with Macs, too, so now there’s you don’t have to go to Fry’s to get a computer with a screen you can write on.
Tags: pen computing, Sisio, Tablet PC, Tablo
March 8, 2009
Last October, Christina Warren at TUAW expressed concerns that Apple might be phasing out FireWire while her fellow TUAWer (pronounced “tower”?) Mike Schramm more recently danced on the grave of the 400 Mbps spec, likening it to Polaroid film. I blogged about competition to FireWire 800 in 2007 and more recently commented about it in a TechNewsWorld article regarding the future of PC ports.
FireWire 800 is, of course, backward compatible with FireWire 400 although a physical adapter is required, and the overall standard got a boost last week when Apple announced the continuation of the port on its low-end Mac mini which, small as it is, apparently doesn’t require the kinds of tradeoffs that led to FireWire being axed on the MacBook. So apparently we will have Apple’s sexy name for IEEE 1394 around for some time to come. While I, like Christina, am a fan of FireWire’s target disk mode that USB 3.0 won’t have an equivalent for, I increasingly look at it as more of a legacy standard as Apple somewhat characterized it at the MacBook’s introduction. Apple would do more for video at this point by nailing. AVCHD support in Mac OS than continuing to promote or support FireWire, particularly given the blistering speeds that USB 3.0 promise to support.
Tags: Apple, FireWire, USB
February 23, 2009
Gizmodo highlights an interesting demo video of how Apple could use iTunes to do a far more efficient and effective job of app management than is resident on the iPhone itself using the richer object manipulation capabilities of the PC. Some capabilities I’ve been hoping for that are demoed include reordering screens and selecting multiple icons. I’m not sure I need the “space locking feature.” But on the other hand, it doesn’t include the screen-naming feature I’d like to see.
I think Apple would have been more open to this back at the debut of the iPhone where the device was more dependent on the computer for tasks such as activation and sideloading. Gradually, though, as the iPhone becomes a more robust platform in its own right, the notion of the computer as the digital hub – at least for peripherals – seems to be fading. What replaces it? Perhaps the PC is disintegrating into fragment computing – notebooks and netbooks depending on the mobile usage model, MIDs to rival consumer electronics, and a home server for housekeeping and personal media distribution around the home.
Tags: digital hub, iPhone, user interface