Tag Archives: Handhelds

The iPad and me

There’s a million posts around about the iPad today, and there will be a  million more tomorrow. My reaction is simply that I’ll be buying one, because I’m a geek, and that’s what I do.

As for whether it’s good or bad, game-breaking or Apple-breaker, that I’ve yet to learn.

I learned with the iPhone never to judge Apple products until I’d  had them in my sweaty paws. As a dyed-in-the-wool BlackBerry user, there was not way I was going to get an iPhone. Not a chance.

However, as a general nerd, I felt duty-bound to experience the interface – so I bought an iPod touch. Within two weeks, I’d bought an iPhone. Having used the interface  on the touch, there was simply no way that I was going to not have that lovely interface on my phone. It made my perfectly-good BlackBerry feel like something from the 19th Century.

So, till I actually have one in my hands, I’ll refrain from too much comment. People who judge Apple products by looking at the spec sheets simply don’t get it.

(Image by MarketingFacts)

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Stewart Alsop says dumb things, get attention

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Stewart Alsop is having many problems with his Motorola Droid:

“The software (Google’s Android plus apps both from Google and from other developers) doesn’t work and is unacceptable on a mobile device.”

Only thing is that these are problems that it appears no other Droid users are having – blatant, massive issues which anyone even glancing at the phone for five minutes couldn’t fail to see.

But Stewart’s opinion is, at seems, that everyone else is wrong and he is the only one who has seen it.

Obviously, there’s some kind of conspiracy and all the other people who have Droids and are not reporting this behaviour are in on it. As opposed to, say, Stewart having a duff phone.

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There’s these great cut-down computers, right…

Daring Fireball: Maybe Instead of Two Cars, You Just Need a Car and a Bicycle:

“The idea of a computer that does a lot less — leaving out even things you consider essential, because you can still do those things on your other, primary computer — is liberating. That’s the opportunity, and that’s the idea behind Chrome OS and Litl and even Android and iPhone OS.”

The idea of it is liberating, as I’ve found out with my experiences with netbooks over the years. The problem is that while the idea of it is liberating, the actual reality of it is less so.

While my MacBook Pro takes up a larger bag, I’ve carried it around with me much more lately because it really doesn’t weigh that much more. And the rest of the time, I have my iPhone – a constantly-connected device which lets me take notes, write short documents.

Chrome OS is an interesting experiment, but in the long term the trend is still towards more power on the desktop – and in the lap.

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Come, gentle readers: Help me buy a new phone (Part 1)

Within the next month, my contract with o2 runs out – and that means it’s new phone time. However for the first time since the release of the iPhone, I face a serious choice: do I stick with iPhone, or not. Here are the runners and riders.

iPhone 3GS

Let’s be clear: I like the iPhone. Compared to everything that came before it, it’s a wonderous thing of amazement. There’s the responsiveness. You touch it, it responds, and you almost purr with pleasure. Yum. This thing was designed by someone who really, truly understands that the most important thing about a touch interface is how it responds to being touched. Sounds obvious – but try any one of the competitors, and you’ll quickly see how few companies have really got this fundamental point.

But… I’ve run into some walls with the iPhone. Things which actually have begun to drive me what can only be described as “batshit crazy”.

First, multitasking – or rather the lack thereof. I cannot begin to describe how painful the lack of multitasking is. I’ve used an OS with multitasking that I’ve forgotten what computing was like before it. Or rather, I had forgotten it – until the iPhone.

Using iPhone is like taking your lovely new MacBook Pro, ripping out Mac OS X, installing System 6, and disabling MultiFinder. But still letting you run the powerful lovely apps you’re used to. Just one at a time. It’s dark ages computing – and I’m bored of it. The novelty has worn off. I can multitask – why can’t my phone.

I don’t care that I might do terrible things – like making my phone run at less than optimal Jobs-dicatated performance. It’s my phone – treat me like a grown up and let me do it.

Multitasking is the big beef, by it’s by no means the only one. There are plenty of elements in the iPhone which are half thought out, or just plain half baked.

Take email. Like a lot of people, I have work and personal email accounts, and I check both a lot. And on the iPhone, the elegant, minimal iPhone, it takes four taps to get from one inbox to the other. By happy coincidence, that’s the same number of taps it takes to type “suck”, which is what the iPhone’s email client does.

This “make ‘em tap” approach is elsewhere, too. Tethering, for example, takes five taps from Home Screen to turning on, and the same five if you want to turn it off – which is, of course, what you should be doing. This should be on the home screen, but it’s not. It’s almost like the developers were so pleased with how well tapping and scrolling and touch generally worked, that they decided to make you, the user, do more of it so you’d appreciate just how responsive the interface is.

Worse yet, no developer other than Apple can create the simple app to do it, because that is a Part Of The OS Into Which Only Apple Is Allowed. Thou shalt not mess around with those bits, sayeth Steve.

And that’s a great example of the other great flaw of the iPhone: developers cannot fill in the bits which Apple doesn’t do right, if it means digging into some bits of the system. Leaving aside the fact that the App Store is broken, what developers can do is firmly in Apple’s control, and the company keeps tight reign on where they’re allowed to poke. Want the ability to link up an external keyboard to your Mac? Can’t have it – not because developers don’t want to make one, but because Apple won’t allow them to do it.

But… having said all that… the iPhone is still my front runner. Why? Put simply, because it’s the path of least resistance. I have lots of Apps, which I like, and I’d need to install and run some of them on my iPod touch if I didn’t have an iPhone. And that touch interface really is seductive. So for all my complaining… maybe iPhone is my best option.

In part two, I’ll look at the two other contenders: Android (of some kind) and the Palm Pre.

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The One Million Application Store

The iPhone App Store is now over the 90,000 mark, and marching inexorably towards 100,000. Responding to my and Scoble’s posts on the App Store numbers, John highlights the fact that I think I alluded to in my post: That the position is very similar to the old world of Mac vs PC from the 1990′s (and still true today).

To John, and I suspect a lot of Mac users, quality of applications is more important than quantity. After all, Windows has many, many more applications than the Mac. If you’re talking about the world of the personal computer, there’s only one company that could use the phrase “there’s an app for that” – and it isn’t Apple.

However, I think that is missing the long-term picture of the App Store, and how it changes the game compared to the world of the PC. 100,000 applications, even of low quality, is already a big number. A very big number. Having searched around, I can’t find a number for the total number of Windows applications, but I’d hazard a guess that it’s not an order of magnitude larger than 100,000.

In other words, I think that the total number of iPhone apps is already within distance of the total number of Windows apps – and given that the iPhone is much, much younger platform that’s significant. Now relate this to this point of John’s:

“It’s a sign that the iPhone and the App Store are popular, and it’s a self-perpetuating form of popularity, in that developers go where the action is, and users go where the software is.”

More applications = more developers = more applications = more users = more developers… you get the idea.

Given the astonishing growth of the number of iPhone applications, the question should be this: What happens when (and it is when, not if) there aren’t 100,000 apps, but one million? How will that change the game? When “there’s an app for that” isn’t just true in a sorta, kinda, advertising-ish way but literally true, how does that change what people can do?

I don’t actually know the answer. I suspect, in fact, no one does – that the ability to know that whatever you want to do, there’s an application to do it, and importantly that you can find it all in one place – changes the relationship between software, platform and usage so dramatically that we’d be entering a different world.

This is related to a point that Dan Lyons made in one of his best recent Fake Steve posts. The worlds of applications and content are meeting and blurring, and what the outcome of that will be is really unknown at the moment. The next generation of content creators will think of everything as an application. It’s not a video, it’s not a book, it’s not even a web site. It will be a genuinely interactive expression of an idea. The iPhone is starting to give us a glimpse of that. The Apple tablet (if there is one) will give us another glimpse.

Think of it that way, and suddenly even a one million app store isn’t big enough. Ten million? Twenty? Who knows?

But it will be fun finding out.

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Scoble is right about iPhone users. But the game isn’t over yet

Robert Scoble has a post up about why Apple’s key advantage is the breadth of the app store. And he’s right – but the game isn’t over yet.

85,000 is the headline figure, and what it allows Apple to leverage is a classic “long tail of usefulness”. For me, 99.99% of those applications are (to me) useless crap that would have no bearing on whether I stick with iPhone. Unfortunately for everyone else, that still leaves 8 or 9 apps that act like heavy anchors, dragging me back to Apple’s platform.

But suppose Nokia, Android, or whoever got the developers of those apps to port them to their platform? Great! They’ve won me as a customer. But the problem is that this is a long tail: maybe four or five of those would be common ones, but three or four would be ones which only me and a relatively few other people wanted. So the actual base of applications that are “must haves” would be much wider, in the low thousands at a guess. That’s a long way from Robert’s claim that you need all 85,000, but it’s still a pretty daunting number.

And the experience of Apple in the 90′s, when the Mac was on the back foot, proves that it’s no good having “equivalent” applications – once people get used to having app X, they want app X, not app Y which does pretty much the same thing.

However, there’s a catch: it’s worth remembering that most people haven’t bought smart phones yet. Smartphone penetration remains comparatively tiny, and in the biggest growth markets for phones (Africa, BRIC) it’s still dirt-cheap simple phones which are driving the growth.

And people are used to buying phones on hardware features: the best camera, for example, is a big influence. That’s why Apple has been advertising with “there’s an app for that” – raising a flag for the one big advantage they have. But until you actually use a phone which is infinitely malleable via applications, it’s hard to appreciate why it’s so cool. So it’s not a totally easy sell.

(As an aside, this is the reason why the iPod Touch is so important: it’s a “gateway drug” for the app store. You might not buy an Apple phone, but you might replace your old iPod with the touch… and then find that you love the apps. At which point, you’ll buy an iPhone next time.)

So the game isn’t over yet, and there’s plenty still to play for. But Apple has a head-start, and if I was a betting man, I’d place my money on the iPhone. Essentially, it’s Apple’s lead to throw away – but, as others will no doubt point out, Apple has thrown away leads before.

(Update: John Gruber’s written an interesting response to this, and I’ve written a further response posing what I think is an interesting question: What happens when there aren’t 100,000 apps on the store, but one million?)

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3′s Spotify/Android deal could be a game-changer

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Image via CrunchBase

Quick heads up on this, and I’ll probably write more later, but 3 is apparently going to do a bundle of the HTC Hero Android phone (widely-regarded as the best of the current crop) with a premium Spotify account for the two year lifetime of the contract.

And, by strange coincidence, it’s priced at the same level as the cheapest o2 iPhone package.

More to follow, no doubt.

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“Please don’t call this an iPhone killer”

The phrase “touch screen phone” is synonymous with “iPhone” in some people’s minds. That’s tough on the other phone manufacturers, but indicates the extent to which Apple has managed to dominate the market – if not in sales, at least in marketing.

But the Apple way of making a touchscreen phone, which focuses on the software above everything else, isn’t the only way. With the Arena, LG has concentrated on making a phone which offers excellent audio alongside high-quality pictures and a compact, easy-to-use phone. It’s not fair to compare it to the iPhone – it’s a very different kind of touch-screen.

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Apple owns the touchscreen phone conversation

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I went along to a blogger’s briefing on the new LG Arena a couple of evenings ago, and – of course – the iPhone came up as a topic of questions and conversation.

What struck me was the way that Apple has managed to come in and completely dominate the conversation about touch screen phones, owning the space and creating a benchmark that every other phone is measured against. And what’s interesting is the way that other manufacturers are pulling against this, and get the conversation back on to territory where they are strong.

The Arena is a case in point. I’ll write up a proper review of it in the near future, but it’s fair to say that it’s terrific hardware. The touch screen is a great improvement over that of the LG Viewty, the camera is 5mp and feature-packed (120fps video, 6-shot burst mode, face tracking, etc), and audio is really good thanks to some new gubbins from Dolby.

But it’s not open in terms of development, it doesn’t have an application store, and the web browsing experience is no more than adequate.

In other words, it’s aimed at people who want music, video, a good camera, and a small phone: People, in other words, who probably wouldn’t even think of an iPhone. It’s not in the same market. And yet, because it has a touch screen, we’ll undoubtedly see lots of reviews which start with the question “is this phone an iPhone killer?” – when it’s not meant to be.

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