Tag Archives: apple

On iPad Mini

People say now the MBAs has taken over Apple at the wake of this announcement, etc. If you don’t know why they’re releasing a mini tablet, you are blind and/or a fanboy. Put it this way: one size never fits all. It’s as true as Moore’s law. It’s why there are 2 iMacs, or 2 Macbook Pros. And why shouldn’t there be 2 (or more?) iPad size factors? I welcome Apple’s new move, it’s more progressive, more demographic, it offers choice with the minimum compromise. It has a reasonable price point for what you get, too. If Apple is serious about dominating the tablet space, they have to release multiple form factors.

The problem is, actually, if you compare the Mini with, say, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. The Fire HD is a terrible machine overall, but for certain specific applications, nobody does better. One of these is watching/consuming media: reading and watching videos. Both of my parents bought tablets in the past 12 months. Mom got the original Fire, and Dad got the Nexus 7. Dad uses his mostly to browse websites like Craigslist, Mom uses hers for Chinese/Korean/Japanese soaps. Now that I know what they use these things for, I would not hesitate to get mom the Fire HD if she wants another one for Christmas, or an iPad for dad. The only real advantage for the iPad mini for Mom (and it would be the one to get since she has a history of RSI/carpal tunnel), is that she can ask one of her Apple fashionista friends to do tech support, and not me. I think Dad doesn’t want an iPad because that contrarian streak is part of the family DNA and nobody wants an iOS device as everyone has one, plus Android tabs are better deals. Well, a refurbed iPad 3rd generation is a great deal now.

For the record, I’m very much ecosystem neutral. I evaluate based on merit. Mostly. I’m glad I dodged the bullet on the 13″ Macbook Pro w/ Retina. If it had a 650M I would have had to sell my 15″ and trade it in.

The other concern about fragmentation (as in, Apple is fragging more of their ecosystem) is valid, but ultimately near-sighted. With Android, it’s a good case study on how fragmentation impacts user uptake and developer uptake. I think ultimately we have to recognize that fragmentation is the future. There’s no way around it. You might as well bite the bullet early. Apple definitely has a big head start by not fragmenting their ecosystem, but the time will come when they have to (to grow marketshare with more devices, to differentiate their existing product lines, etc). Well, they already did with the iPad. It’s not a stretch to do it again, as soon it will be a reality for all devs in this space.

The Point to Retina Display

When someone says “I don’t see the point to Retina Display” on the internet I laugh, because they are obviously right: They are blind, which is why they can’t see.

I guess maybe I’m just nerd enough to be close enough to the PC hardware industry, but the display was one of those patented bottleneck in today’s PC computing. And let me explain why.

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. 

For the longest time, the biggest bottleneck for casual PC use was the storage–this is what the SSD revolution has freed us from. There were plenty of proponents against the SSD switch, and they have solid and factual basis to say so. But I’m not sure if they are motivated by the right reasons. A lot of people balk at the cost of it; the PC industry generally lives on the skin on its back; this is why we can score cheap laptops over the holidays at bargain prices. This is why there’s that perceived “Mac Tax” and it’s a very real thing. And until just very recently, SSDs cost a lot of money, and for fairly little space. What it trades is insanely fast read and really, really fast writes.

A decade ago I was already lamenting about both the storage and display problems, and you can see the result of that in the $2400 ultraportable I bought back in 2004 (Fujitsu P7010D, 2004). It had a very sharp and brilliant screen, and sure it was not even WXGA big, it kicked the butt of most laptop screens. I blew bigger bucks on a HDD upgrade so I get the fastest thing on the market, even if all I had was 60gb. This is in the nascent days of SATA so this laptop was still all PATA. As an concept that laptop still kicked ass; if it had a i3 and a SATA drive today it would still kick ass, but by processing standards my Galaxy Nexus is faster than that now. But it had a screen that kicked the butt off of most netbooks that came in the later parts of 2000s.

PC desktops tended not to have this problem. For decades we have big and powerful monitors. I still remember my first “good” monitor, it rocked 1600 x 1200 and weighted like a ton at only just 21 inches diagonally. Come to think of it, that’s some pretty high resolution even by last year’s standard. If that thing was in retail, it would have asked for over a thousand bucks.

A few of my friends are proud owners of those 30″ Dell Ultrasharp 2560 x 1600 displays. History-wise, this was well into the LCD era where IPS screens have matured enough for all-purpose use. Sure, it still cost roughly a thousand bucks in 2012, but it’s hard to beat on color accuracy and quality. But my friends don’t rock quad SLI mega-boosted desktop configs; just humble i7s and what not; stuff that can be put together at around the same price as the monitors. To me, and I agree with them, that as far as the human experience on personal computing goes, the display is a huge bottleneck, warranting paying this sort of price (assuming you can afford it).

The SSD story is similar to the evolution of high definition displays; for too long consumers and PC manufaturers treated storage as a size thing, and not a speed thing. Anyone with a real background in computer engineering knows otherwise. If you have powerful i7 CPUs and a ton of RAM, even if you got some massive next-gen graphics solution in SLI/Crossfire, it means nothing if you are outputting on the cheapest TN display you can find on Black Friday or running your apps on a 5000RPM platter mule. In fact, it’s kind of a waste.

[Updated: I forgot one more big obvious clue.] Back in the early 2000s the best drives you could’ve gotten were these 5yo SCSI drives (because used SCSI drives were at least priced similarly). When old PC technology (arguably SCSI drives were) were better than today’s technology, you know you’re looking at something that has fallen into a hole; an opportunity for revolution. SSDs were just that. It wasn’t because platter disks were hitting that limit (although they are now, for various reasons) but because the impetus in market was for size, not speed. Granted we did get better drives and faster, quiet, and power-efficient units, it lacks the huge jump that the rest of the silicon technology was going at. Now, think back to my 1600 x 1200 CRT monitor–how old is that thing? How come we are only coming up to that level of tech 10+ years later? I don’t know.

That is the beauty in the way Apple has designed its hardware. And by beauty I mean cunning business savvy focused on the user experience, being able to charge the big bucks on a nice experience, but offering the least expensive component possible while delivering that experience. Maybe that’s okay, but it stings my nerd-based sense of value. This is why I laugh at first-gen MBAs despite they are close to my ideal form/format, because a C2D is painfully outdated by 2009 standards, and why the MacPro will continue to lament in its state of yesteryear even after the recent refresh.

But it’s a good thing. The MBA is close to my ideal laptop, so if they stick to the line they will eventually get better. The main problem the MBA had was that it had a crap screen. The second problem was it rocked Intel’s embedded video solution, which is much better in 2012 but was woefully inadequate even just in 2011. I wanted real GPU muscle if I’m going to lay down over a grand of greenbacks, and so should you. I know how much my component is worth. And the user experience of playing Starcraft 2 on Intel HD3000 is not going to cut it. The mandatory Nvidia 650M on the Retina MBPs testify that it is the next bottleneck, after you get your phat display going. Screw this Intel nonsense (at least for now).

To cut to the chase: the Retina Display moniker is just a marketing scheme. The point is that quality display on laptops is a sorely needed thing. If you took a survey of laptops out there in Q1 2012, they’re just list of spec sheets, and DPI or image quality is not on them. (IPS is, funnily enough.) Consumers are not educated in terms of what it means on a scale of marketing quality (Intel spent $$$$ back during its Netburst days to teach people that high clock is good, just for example). The low margins mean it’ll make a hard sell to put good displays on monitors because consumers are not educated enough to realize those things are worth the extra money. These ultrabooks all rocked either terrible screens or mediocre at best. Nobody had discrete graphics (and I don’t count those Sony Z’s).

But I do count Sony. They’re the only real player in quality display on the consumer laptop market, at least until Apple hit it out of the park with its Retina MBP. Everyone else is pretty much behind. Maybe Lenovo has a corporate solution. And worse of all, other than the Z series, nobody has a quality screen below the 13.1″ line.

But that makes it easy to predict the future, here–11″ or 13″ “Retina Display” are definitely something on the horizon, and hopefully it will something Apple holds no monopoly over. Sony Z’s need to get real discrete graphics, not in the form of a dock. The 15″ MBP has only real one flaw: it’s 15″. Give me 13″ or less and it will be 99.9% perfect. Give me also built-in gigabit port then it’ll hit 100%.

Reacting to WWDC 2011 Keynote

Disclaimer: Android bias. RealNetworks bias.

With that out of the way:

1. iCloud is great. I think this is excellent, the right approach, and to me it combines the best from Google Music, Amazon’s cloud drive, and Unifi. What’s Unifi you ask? Heh, it launches very soon with Vodafone Germany. It’s probably going to go through a phase of normal integration testing, in the comfort of a carrier’s closed garden. Google Music and iCloud are both public betas. Only Amazon’s cloud drive is gold. I mention these things rather than like most every other internet tech people who would drop “dropbox” in this comparison because that’s what those things are gunning for: ecosystem. Dropbox is not an ecosystem.

The cloud idea is old hat. It’s been around. But it is very difficult to execute the ideas Jobs told us today in the sense beyond a drag-drop file system (ie., all those dropbox clones). I actually think Google is the first company who was able to do it in any real sense in terms of their office suite on the web, but they were never able to rope in Picasa, contrary to my expectations.

More pertinently, Microsoft’s inability to get into the cloud despite its spending is another point to consider why this really hasn’t happened. Over at E3, they talked about cloud a bit at around the same time as WWDC’s keynote. But did we know how long it took them to build up MS Live this way? How much effort did Google put into their cloud app suite? (Some would consider it a moat for Goog rather than a genuine market opportunity, in that case.)

I think true multi-device cloud computing is still a wide-open field that is free-for-all. I think Google is by far the closest, but at this stage there’s no “neutral” way to go about it except with something like Unifi. Too bad Unifi develops like a slowass snail 🙁

2. I never noticed it so much with it at this WWDC keynote than any previous one, but iOS has a lot of shortcomings that were fixed by this iOS 5 update. I don’t even know about these things, because I never used iOS in earnest. In fact I think except the music match stuff and maybe 1 or 2 more features, every one of the features were present already on the Android ecosystem. I mean, sharing to Twitter requires a deep OS API? Are you kidding me? Today’s keynote is more like a list of bug fixes, where most of those bugs were already fixed in Android 1.6x. That’s besides the fact that every one of these “feature” is an app somewhere. Or a free app, if you’re on Android.

To drive this home, read this silly bullshit on Giz. Because if the dude’s dad bought a Honeycomb device, he would have none of those problems. None! It’s retarded. A list of bug fixes! That Android had for years! Oh joy now you can go back to your mediocre, non-competitive and low-value software ecosystem! Good job.

As for iOS vs Android, it’s nice to see the keynote start out with a bunch of “hey iOS is ahead” stats. I guess a lot of people do buy iPod touch and iPads, because it’s clearly all Android in the phone market. Seems kind of meaningless since with iPads you’re encroaching on PC territories. But I’m definitely being unfair here. The status quo as king of the hill is a difficult place, and Apple does innovate better than most, to maintain that lead.

3. Before the Keynote, we got a leak about iMessage that it would integrate SMS. That got me in defensive mode for a minute (because SMS is what pays the bill, for me and my team). After thinking about it, it made sense that they would just go for something more mundane; considering what Apple has accomplished via Facetime, iMessage is child’s play. It does open up an in for SMS integration in a way Google voice has been pioneering, but that would require the blessing of carriers, or alternatively, people like me. And that’s a much trickier game.

4. Lastly, it’s about timing. People were too busy being elated about $29 Lion than to note that iOS 5 is due this Fall. In iterative development terms, that’s almost on par with Unifi (actually Unifi is slightly ahead even), and maybe enough time for Google music to turn over a new leaf. Time will tell.