Today is a good day to code

Thoughts on the Apple iPad

Posted: January 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Companies, iPhone | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

First off, let me say that I am an apple fanboy to the highest degree.  Prior to today, there has been only one Apple device since 2001 that I have not really wanted in its original form, that product is the Apple TV.  Today, there are two.  In the rest of this post I’d like to explore why I feel this way.

There are bound to be many, many people who will find a tablet like the on Apple described yesterday to be wonderful.  I am coming from a slightly different place, as I have a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and a Kindle.  What I was looking for was something innovative enough to replace all three, and the tablet isn’t it.

Looking at my needs for a portable computer, we can eliminate the tablet right off.  It can’t run GCC, it can’t run clisp, PHP, etc… So for me as a developer it isn’t practical, as a writer, it is.  Between iWork’s pages and the keyboard attachment, it will make a fantastic transportable word processing device.  The biggest problem with this is that I can’t run openoffice or word.  Not that I would necessarily want to, but if all of my files are in word format, and Pages mangles them, then this is a non-starter.  Also, without the ability to move files easily onto and off of the device, I’m sure there will be a mobile me tie-in here, it just isn’t as flexible as my laptop, ahem… netbook.

On the smartphone front, this device is way too big to put into my pocket, doesn’t have a camera, and doesn’t support standard cellular voice.  Of course I could use skype, etc… but sometimes, for as much as we complain about AT&T, it is nice to just make a regular voice call and have it not be complicated.  On top of that, since it doesn’t tether to my iPhone, something that I should be able to do just in general.  Instead, I have to, on top of the data plan that I already pay for for my iPhone, pay an additional $29 per month to use the internet.  The 250 MB plan is a joke, as soon as I watch a few Hi-Def youtube feeds, I will have gone through it.  This doesn’t replace my smartphone, iPhone.  It doesn’t even really work together with my iPhone.

While the iPad, even with its unfortunate name, has a really beautiful ebook reader application.  The books are way more expensive than the Kindle, and the screen is still a backlit LCD.  I can read my Kindle just fine in the high-noon sun, which I do a lot.  I can read my kindle with no problem at the playground with my kids.  I can’t even see what is on my laptop in the sun, perhaps the iPad will be better, but it doesn’t even come close to the readability of the Kindle.  It is great that the battery life on the iPad is 10 hours, I can’t look at the screen reading text for that long.  So it doesn’t really replace the Kindle in its current form.

Overall, it is awesome at some things, but it doesn’t really replace what I have, is it better at browsing the web than my laptop with a 3G card?  No, not really, I can use Verizon or Sprint 3G, I’m not stuck with AT&T, I have the choice to use Firefox or Google Chrome, I’m not stuck with Safari.  I like Safari, but Chrome and Firefox have better features.  Is it better at media, since I tend to consume a lot of audio podcasts, no it isn’t.  For users like me the iPad is just what I hoped it wouldn’t be, its a big iPod touch.  I already have an iPod touch and an iPhone and a laptop.  There is nothing that the iPad does that would make me replace any of them, not even the iPod touch, since I can actually put that in my pocket and take it with me.  There is also the neck pain that comes from looking down into your lap for 4 hours that we have all felt from playing games on the iPhone.

I don’t intend to buy the iPad, at least in its current form.  I was really hoping that Apple would come in and do something super cool with gestures or something to make that form factor work, what they have done is smart in that they aren’t really challenging the other markets, they are trying to make a niche that is there own.  I think the super wealthy digerati will buy this, and some people who don’t already have an iPod Touch or a Kindle, or even some people who don’t have a laptop, but most people will still spring for the $300 netbook over the iPad.

It has dawned on me though that the iPad is a megaton bomb on Google’s Chrome OS hopes.  iPad Safari will be able to run all of the google apps in the same fashion that Chrome OS likely will, from an icon on screen, so to the majority of users they will be the same.  Google does have one advantage, and that is its openness.  Google is talking about allowing NSAPI plugins that run native code on the platform, Apple can claim that one could just write a native application, but it doesn’t allow augmenting the web browser to provide additional functionality to web applications.  The lack of openness could end up biting Apple as we transition all of our desktop environment to the web.


The End of WinTel: Quad-Core ARM Cortex A9 Apple Tablet

Posted: July 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, Google, iPhone, Microsoft, mides | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

I have been poking around with ARM chips via the beagleboard for a while now, and I have to say that at a far lower speed, they are much more energy efficient than the Intel Atom, and I have a hard time finding the difference in performance.  After Intel’s tirade at that conference, I was sure that there was something to the threat from ARM, now we are seeing some rumors about the possible fruits of the Apple / PA Semi merger :  AppleInsider exclusive: Apple Tablet Early Next Year.

While that is interesting in its own right, I think there is more at stake here than just what chips are powering the coolest devices.  I have been waiting, as have most everyone else, for this conceptual tablet.  I want to not have to carry a Kindle, an iPhone, and my laptop.  It would be awesome if I had a single device that used wireless HDMI to connect to my screen and speakers, bluetooth to communicate with my keyboard and mouse, and 3G for phone calls and mobile data.  This mythical tablet is the closest thing to this.  If it runs full OS X, and has the ability to run iPhone apps as well as native OS X apps it will complete the hat trick.  It should have a virtual keyboard for when I am not near my bluetooth keyboard, and when it is in proximity, it should use it, without dialogs or configuration.  Likewise when the monitor is away, it should display on device, otherwise, it should use my monitor.

So even if this device is only partially what my dream is, it will be enough to get me to buy it and probably most of everyone else will buy it too.  That makes for an interesting shift in the consumption of applications.  Now people will start developing for mobile first and desktop second.  This means that they are developing for ARM first and Intel second.

From the server room to our pockets, power is a concern.  One of the things that I can’t wait for is the ability to have a server that runs 100 ARM Cortex A9 cores at 1 GHz instead of 8 CPUs at 3.4 GHz.  The former server would consume way less power and perform far better as a web application server due to the extreme threading that would be possible.  Desktop machines would follow directly behind with 50 core desktop machines with 50 PowerVR video card on a chip chips with the monitor divided up in a 25 x 25 grid ( this will take some work ).  This could be a very thin box with only one very silent fan and have insane performance.  Not to mention that the same machine could be a laptop that runs way cooler than my MacBook Pro, which hovers around 135 degrees(f) while just playing iTunes.  It could get 16 hours of battery life using the same battery that I use today.

In this world, Apple is far better positioned than Microsoft, with their / Kronos’ OpenCL.  Snow Leopard will be in a great place to benefit from this type of architecture.  Not to mention the AppStore, Apple has the DRM, distribution, signing infrastructure all in place, and hundreds of thousands of developers know how to use it, don’t think they aren’t thinking about pushing this model to the macintosh for application distribution, it just makes too much sense.

The future is clearly mobile, but who is going to lead that charge is an open question.  Apple has made moves to secure their superiority for the next few years, Microsoft appears to be going backwards.  Intel just can’t seem to break into the ultra-low power CPU space without an acquisition.  I think the Wind River purchase was to put a dent in the number of ARM customers.  Clearly the future is not dominated by WinTel.  I am shocked that AMD hasn’t abandoned its platform and moved to ARM computer on a die chips, I am sure you could imagine how awesome it would be to have a muti-core ARM chip with an ATI GPU on a die.  Intel would say that the ARM doesn’t perform as well as their Atom CPU, but that was the mistake that let AMD back into the game before, they just kept sticking to the performance argument while the market was telling them that the current speeds were fast enough, and that they wanted better performance per watt.  If Intel hadn’t had that R&D group pushing ahead with the Mobile Pentium in Israel, the computer industry would look very different today.

I think that the Apple tablet will be a game changer, and will ultimately be their most successful computer launch, even more so than the iMac which brought them back.  I am afraid that if Microsoft and Intel can’t answer, the one-two-punch of Steve Jobs, and Google will finally have felled the giant duopoly.