Category Archives: iPad

One more thing about iOS 6 Maps

I'm pretty tempted never to write anything about the iOS maps app again, but there's already starting to be a backlash against the backlash, so ill write one more thing.

I've seen a few comments out there to the effect that actually people should remember this is the first release, that mapping is hard, that it's not their fault Google wouldn't give them maps, and therefore Apple should be cut some slack. To my mind, this is nonsense. It's effectively grading Apple on a curve, giving them a pass to create something sub-standard because doing good maps is really tough.

But, as John Gruber puts it:

Anil is right about the bottom line though: the maps experience in iOS 6 is a downgrade. Users shouldn't (and won't) give a rip about behind the scenes negotiations.

And that's the thing: as an Apple customer and user, I don't care about the issues behind the scenes. Maps is now a poorer experience than it was a few days ago, and I want Apple to fix it fast because that's what I expect from them. As a tech writer, of course, I do care, because he behind-the-scenes machinations are where the real story is. But right now, it should be the customers who matter.

iOS 6 Maps is a mess

In common with everyone else, I spent Wednesday night attempting to DDoS Apple’s servers by hammering them with update requests for all my iOS devices, plus all the applications, plus the odd Mac system update too. iOS 6 is, by and large, brilliant. I love shared Photo Streams. iMessage finally works how I expected it would. Panoramas are great.

But there’s one little problem: Maps. In short, it’s the most half-cooked piece of software that Apple has released in my memory, which goes back far longer than I’d care to admit. Worse than Ping? I think so: Ping was, after all, easy to ignore. Maps, on the other hand, is one of the core features of any mobile phone, and Apple has completely fluffed it.

Putting it bluntly, the maps on iOS are now so second rate that they’re a key advantage for Android, and one that I would expect Google to exploit as ruthlessly as possible. If you live in a major US city, I’m sure Apple’s maps are OK. You now get turn-by-turn navigation, which is great, and while Flyover looks like a novelty at first, it’s actually a pretty smart way of orienting yourself.

Outside the US, though, things are a little different. In London, the satellite images are decent enough, but weirdly the names of places are often slightly archaic. Step outside the M25, and the satellite images become blurry, pixellated, useless nonsense. The place names get worse (calling Daventry “Leamington” won’t win many friends in the Midlands). Businesses placed on the map seem to have been drawn from out of date data, in some cases fifteen years out of date.

Weirdly, it even incorporates trap streets that Google got rid of years ago. Search for Woodland Way in Canterbury. See Newark Street at the end? Doesn’t exist. If the satellite images were any good, you could see it going through two houses.

iOS Maps looks like what it is: something cobbled together fast from multiple sources of variable quality. And the problem is that for a core part of a mobile operating system, that’s nowhere near good enough.

The putative 7in iPad versus the Nexus 7

I'm not one for comparing products which don't exist yet to products which are already on the market, but James Kendrick has written what I think are a good set of reasons why he'll be first in line for a 7in iPad, despite liking the Nexus 7:

Using an iPad is so much more pleasant compared to the Nexus 7 that I am confident that the rumored iPad Mini (or as I prefer to call it the iBook) will capture the small tablet market and quickly. The pricing Apple puts on the smaller tablet will certainly be a factor, but knowing the company I believe they will get it right.

James is right. I own both the N7 and the latest iPad, and while I like both a lot there's a big difference between the two in terms of experience. Even though the N7 is much smoother than previous Android devices (thanks to Jelly Bean) it's still not as responsive as the iPad.

More importantly Android's still lacking in quality applications built for tablet sized screens. There's still no killer Twitter client, although a couple come close. There's a few decent games, but not many. There's no writing app as good as Pages, or presentation app as good as Keynote. Android has occasional quality tablet apps; iOS has depth in quality.

Computer security doesn’t have to be a binary state

Robert Atkins, on John Grubermissing the point” about the EFF’s “crystal prison” argument:

It’s a pity Richard Stallman is such a boor because he’s actually right about some things: if we aren’t vigilant, the general public will have its legal right to build and run arbitrary software on hardware they own eroded to the point where it’s impossible to do so legally.

What I think both John AND the EFF are missing is that this is not a black/white, either/or argument.

Chrome OS gets this right: you can’t install any executable on the machine at all, or tinker with the operating system in any way. It is, to all intents and purposes, arguably more locked down than iOS. Thanks to the inclusion of TPM, a Chromebook simply won’t run if so much as one byte of its OS code is changed.

But flip a hardware switch on the side, hidden behind a panel, and you have full access to everything. If you want to tinker, you can. But if you want a secure, safe machine you can have that, too.

Apple’s move into maps may not be plain sailing

MG Siegler on Google’s Maps announcement and Apple’s forthcoming map tech:

I say that with the biggest caveat possible: again, no one knows much about the Apple maps product yet — it could very well suck. Mapping is not easy. And Google has been at it for years. Pulling off a product that can reliably replace Google Maps seems almost impossible — it’s that good — and maybe it will prove to be.

This is one of the things that worries me about Apple creating its own mapping technology, rather than using Google Maps. Maps are core to Google’s business, because location data is incredibly value for increasing the relevance of ads, and without ever-increasing relevance, the click-through rates on ads will go consistently down.

On the other hand, maps are not core to Apple’s business. Having a good map experience on mobile is, of course, but that’s something that doesn’t require owning the technology – it requires dealing with Google. And “dealing with Google” is the bit that Apple is obviously having problems with.

Owning technology is great for Apple if it makes the user experience better. If it doesn’t, it’s just ownership-for-ownership’s-sake, or ownership to make Apple’s bottom line better. Neither of those are bad reasons, but it’s worth bearing in mind if it proves that Apple’s maps experience gets worse, not better.

And, as MG points out, mapping is something that Google has huge experience in, and pours vast resources into. Is Apple going to be sending people up mountains with backpacks to get visual data? I doubt it.

The other thing that bothers me is that this is yet another thing to consider if you’re creating a cross-platform service, rather than a one-platform app. Suppose you have a web service which also has an iOS app, both of which incorporate mapping. Is Apple’s map service going to allow access to it from web apps, or just iOS (and presumably OS X)? It not, you now have to incorporate support for two different mapping APIs, and – more importantly – spend time and resources understanding how everything’s supposed to work.

Of course, Apple could ace it, and clearly they’ve been buying high-quality mapping talent for a very long time. We’ll see next week.

No, iOS is not a prison

I shouldn’t have found Gruber’s comment to be such a revelation. Last year, I wrote about Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond’s comments upon the death of Steve Jobs; both of these leading lights of open-source software compared Apple customers to jailbirds. I figured out then that they have a problem with technology users whose priorities are different than theirs. And really, since the prison metaphor is so manifestly silly, what the people who make it are doing is objecting to the choice that Apple’s customers make. The idea that other people take pleasure in something they dislike upsets them.Here’s the sad part: Lee and Eckersley make some really good points. I too wish that Apple would introduce an optional ability to install unapproved apps. Although, when you think about it, jailbreaking provides that ability right now, which means that the world isn’t all that far from Lee and Eckersley’s desired state.I also share the authors’ alarm over Microsoft’s decision to allow the distribution of Windows 8 Metro apps only through its own Windows Store. Microsoft would never, ever have made that move without the App Store’s example, so sure, let’s go ahead and blame Apple for it.But by bringing up the prison thing, the EFF’s authors aren’t making their case more compelling. Instead, they’ve giving readers a convenient opportunity to roll their eyes and reject their argument. Especially readers who happily use Apple devices, and who bristle at people suggesting that they’re patsies for doing so.

via iOS: Can We Declare a Moratorium On the Prison Metaphors, Please? | Techland | TIME.com.

Will the iPad 3 use LTE?

Almost everyone seems to believe that the next iPad, rumoured to be being launched in early March, will have 4G connectivity, in the shape of LTE. When the Wall Street Journal is reporting it, that usually means it’s pretty likely.

However, I actually have my doubts. To my mind, there’s more than a few reasons why Apple is unlikely to make the leap to LTE for this iPad, and will hold off until the next one. I have no inside info, and don’t normally make predictions, but something about this rumour doesn’t quite make sense given the way that Apple tends to work.

In favour of LTE

Of course, LTE offers significantly higher speeds than 3G. But the big drawback is battery life: almost everyone who has an LTE phone ends up charging it multiple times a day.

However, the iPad is not a phone. Not only does it have a bigger battery, but its use of data over mobile networks is different. Most iPads spend much of their time tethered to WiFi networks, rather than being used when out and about on mobile. With smart software, you could probably build an LTE-equipped tablet of iPad size without getting hit hard on battery life.

Against LTE

Implementing LTE now would, though, would be something of a departure for Apple, for several reasons. First is that LTE chipsets remain expensive compared to those for 3G. Although Apple doesn’t scrimp on the quality of its components, they don’t waste money. Given that its price points tend to be fixed, it builds to a strict budget which forces designers and engineers to balance technology with cost.

Second, though, is the spread of LTE. At present, there are 31 countries with LTE deployed. In many of these countries, that deployment is either experimental or extremely limited, which means it’s only available in large, major cities.

Compare that with GSM. Apple currently ships the GSM iPhone in more than 70 countries, with more in the pipeline.

Of course, Apple could simply ship an LTE iPad which then stepped down to 3G when LTE wasn’t available. And, if LTE were widespread in the largest markets, Apple might do that.

But it’s not. Even within the US, LTE coverage is patchy – something that you’d probably not get if you only read journalists based in the Bay Area. Some major markets, such as the UK and France (combined population: 127 million affluent consumers) have no LTE available at all. And remember that 62% of Apple’s sales are “international” (ie not in the US) now, and the company clearly aims to grow that percentage over time. China, the biggest potential market for iPads of the lot, has no LTE.

Apple doesn’t do promises. Shipping an LTE iPad to consumers who can’t make use of that feature, on the promise that when (if) their local phone company turns on LTE they’ll get super-fast speed doesn’t sound like an Apple-ish thing to do.

The only way I’d see that happening would be if they knew that LTE was a handful of months away from widespread adoption, and that’s not happening. Otherwise, you’re giving the majority of your customers a feature that they can’t use yet, but which will magically turn on for them down the line. And when that feature does turn on, in six months or two years, it’ll be like they’ve got an upgraded iPad – something that’s bound to be a disincentive to them actually buying a new, upgraded iPad.

Of course, come 2013, when LTE is likely to be more widely available in the US and be in place across phone networks worldwide, an LTE iPad makes complete sense. And I have little doubt that the iPad 4, which will probably hit the market in the first half of next year, will have LTE: the timing will just be right.

But until then, I’d bet against LTE. While other companies would certainly rush an LTE tablet to market (and have), based on its history it’s just not the kind of move that Apple would make.

Three things Google needs to do to kickstart Android tablets

I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 for a while, in addition to the iPad 2 that I regularly use. It’s a nice little piece of hardware – lighter than the iPad (as you’d expect from the smaller size), and with enough battery life and power to do plenty of stuff.

In common with almost all Android tablets, it runs Honeycomb rather than the latest Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) version of Android. And, although Samsung have stated that it will be getting an update, it’s likely to be later rather than sooner – perhaps a few months. Of course, Android being Android, a bunch of hackers have already started on an “unofficial” port, and the beta of that has been enough to persuade me that ICS, while still behind iOS 5 in many ways, is a big step forward.

But the fact remains that Android tablets remain a long way behind the iPad in many other ways. There’s a lack of “showcase” applications, for one thing: the likes of GarageBand, which can sell an iPad in five minutes, simply don’t exist for Android. Then there’s the failure of tablet vendors to actually use ICS – amazingly, there are tablets which are still shipping using Android 2.3, which is as absurd an idea as Apple shipping a tablet with iOS 3.0.

So what should Google do? I have three suggestions.

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For developers, Android users aren’t the same as iPhone users

John Gruber on the difference between Android users and iOS users:

The truth is, the average Android user is not the same as an average iPhone user. iPhone users surf the web more, they’re more willing to buy software, they’re more willing to install and use apps. Some of these stats aren’t even close. What I see as the fundamental flaw in the Church of Market Share doctrine is the assumption that users are users. That one platform with, say, 40 percent market share, must be in a stronger position than another platform with, say, 20 percent market share, simply and inherently on the basis that a larger number of users is better, period. What Apple has shown with the Mac, and now with the iPhone and iPad, is that all users are not equivalent.

John’s completely right. To give you a historical example that I’m very familiar with, consider the Mac market back when I first started as a journalist in 1995. Then, Apple was floating along with perhaps 3% of the overall computer market – and yet, in the UK alone, the eco-system surrounding the Mac was large enough to support three (and occasionally four) big, thick magazines with plenty of advertising.

Back then, Mac users were not the same as Windows users: they spent more, and bought more peripherals and software. Big companies spent a lot of money on ads chasing their money. Even Microsoft earned more per-user from its Mac customers than its Windows ones.

The problem back then was that Apple itself wasn’t in a healthy state, but the wider market was huge and profitable for the third parties that made software and hardware.

A 7in tablet is not just a smaller 10.1in tablet

I’ve recently been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, one of the newest generation of Android tablets running Honeycomb (an Ice Cream Sandwich update is in the pipeline. Even though it’s not significantly cheaper than the 10.1in Tab, I got it because of the different form factor: it’s significantly lighter and easier to carry around than the iPad I already use, and makes a nice contrast to the bigger tablets.

However, it also illustrates the issues with using an interface which is designed for larger screens on a smaller touch screen. Some of the applications which are designed specifically for Honeycomb have controls and buttons which are perfect for touching on a 10.1in screen, but which are just a shade too small to accurately hit on something a couple of inches smaller.

This is a point that Harry McCracken makes very well in his post on how it must be possible to build a good 7in tablet. As Harry puts it:

No, the reason that a 7″ iPad seems unlikely in the short term is because it would only have a shot at greatness if it had an interface and apps designed with a 7″ display in mind. A 7″ tablet isn’t just a big smartphone, and it’s not a tinier 9.7″ tablet. Building a 7″ iPad by essentially making the iPhone’s pixels larger or the iPad’s pixels smaller would be the wrong way to go about it.

Part of the problem that Android tablets face is that the free-form nature of Android development means that any vendor can decide on sizes and simply hack its own version of the operating system on to the tablet. If Android applications then don’t fit properly, it’s not the vendor’s problem. It’s just the user’s