Apple lab


So The Tablet is out, and its the iPad. (Sigh.) I haven’t been blown away, but I also managed not to lose my fucking mind over it. What’s interesting about the iPad is that basically nothing on my wishlist came to be. What’s even more interesting is why. Now, I’m a registered iPhone dev and have already downloaded the new beta SDK, but I haven’t had time to do much with it yet, so I’m not going to be breaking the NDA, because I haven’t seen anything official. Its amazing when you have to go out and do stuff.

So first of all, I didn’t get what I wanted. So am I angry, bitter, or disappointed? Not at all. What I wanted was iPhone OS 4. I was actually surprised when people were talking about 4.0 coming out today, since I was expecting an announcement in March. Well, none of the 4.0 features that I wanted were announced today, and that’s mainly because the iPad is running iPhone OS 3.2. And that’s the other thing: it doesn’t get its own OS. As far as I know (without running the new Xcode), I assume that iPad apps get their own starting point when starting a new project (just like the various iPhone and Mac options) and build option in Xcode. None of this is shocking or unexpected. The other thing to remember is that this thing doesn’t come out for another two months.

In March.

When iPhone OS 4 gets announced.

So maybe I’ll get what I want out of the OS then. As to the iPad itself, the question is, who’s going to buy it? I’m not, but not for the reasons that the haters are claiming. I had to think about it for a while. Its certainly a nice device and is well thought out. But what is it? What is its role in my workflow, or day to day life? Yes, it lies between my phone and my laptop, but what does that mean?

What is a laptop’s role? A laptop is a portable general purpose computer. It does everything you want a computer to do, and you can take it with you. What is a smartphone’s role? Fundamentally, its a communications device. You use it for phone calls, email, web browsing, twitter, IM, texts, and all sorts of other stuff. So, what’s the role of the iPad? According to Apple, its a media consumption device. You listen to music, watch movies, read books and browse the web. Sure, it has a lot of overlap with PC’s and smartphones, but the functionality really isn’t the point. The feature list isn’t the point.

According to Apple, the form factor itself is not only the point, but the defining characteristic. You decide which device to do based on what you want to do and where. Laptops are portable, but they’re not really mobile. I might be weird, but I find that I need to set up some kind of workstation in order to be really effective with a laptop. I don’t mean just looking at the web or checking email, I mean really working. If I’m pounding a spreadsheet, working on my novel, writing code or doing graphics, I need a workstation. I need to be sitting at a desk with all my stuff arranged in a way that’s conducive to getting things done. The main benefit of a laptop for me is that I can take my work anywhere and get stuff done. Generally, my desk at work is arranged basically the same way as my desk at home, and I carry enough stuff in my bag to easily set up anywhere.

The iPhone is truly mobile. It lives in my pocket, so I can check Twitter, do email, use Omnifocus on the bus, in line at the coffee shop, while out shopping or in between tasks in the lab. But its small. Due to nothing more than the size of the screen, I can read emails on my Mac at least twice as fast as on my iPhone. I can see a hell of a lot more tasks in Omnifocus. There’s no comparison between how fast I can type on a real keyboard compared to a tiny smartphone keyboard (any smartphone keyboard).

The iPad takes what’s good about the iPhone and adds a lot of what’s good about the Macbook. The bigger screen and higher resolution makes reading, writing and watching better. What remains to be seen is whether or not I can carry this thing around without having to throw it in my laptop bag.

So, while I”m not going to buy an iPad instead of that Core i5 Macbook Pro I’m waiting for, I can see its appeal. I’m going to wait. Next year’s base model will have more memory, probably enough to hold my entire iTunes audio library, plus a bunch of movies. I want to see just how reliable that A4 chip is. And my bank account needs to grow back. But I will buy one eventually. Apple’s clearly in this for the long haul, so I don’t see any rush.

But here’s the rub: that’s about me buying one with my own money for my own use. I would have killed to have this thing in my last two jobs. Working in the lab means taking lots of notes in lots of bench sheets. In an aquatic toxicology lab, you have to take daily water qualities, with lots of fields, daily animal observations, and other stuff. In a pre-clinical lab, you have to do daily observations, regular animal weights, track mortality, all across various groups in multiple experiments. This all leads to hours upon hours of tedious manual data entry where we have to copy enough numbers from a benchsheet to a spreadsheet to make your eyes cross. And it needs to be done perfectly, every time.

We actually tried using a tablet PC years ago, but it sucked. The Excel sheet had tiny cells, required lots of scrolling and the tablet never connected to the network properly. It was such a pain in the ass that we just gave up and went back to the sheets. Having a handful of iPads in the lab would have made it worth my while to convert the Excel sheet to Numbers just to save on the headaches. I would have pushed and pushed until we got some in. And $499 is not at all expensive for lab equipment. I regularly spent $1000 on sterile plastic tubes. I spent $1100 on a digital scale and $1300 on a homogenizer. And those were both bargains. Mark my words: this thing is going to kill in the lab and in the hospital. A lot of scientists are already die-hard Apple users. They are going to be first in line to buy iPads just for iWork, and I would be shocked if benchsheet apps didn’t hit the App Store real soon.

Apple hardware iPhone

The Tablet

So, tomorrow brings us The Tablet. The mythical gadget that people have been hyping for years, and more recently, losing their fucking minds over, is real. I don’t care. Really, I just don’t see the need for a 10″ tablet in my life. I’m only willing to accept the limitations of my iPhone (or any modern smartphone) because it lives in my pocket. Once I have to toss something in my bag, its competing with my 15″ Macbook Pro. I’m assuming that those laptops are going to be upgraded with Core i5 chips soon, so that’s some serious competition for my money.

But I’m not here to sit back and chuckle smugly at the Appletards who’re going to be lining up to buy this thing. Quite the contrary. I’ll be following the liveblogs and am fully prepared to be blown away. I just don’t see the need right now. The thing that I’m excited about is the software. Tablets have been around forever. There’s not going to be anything surprising about Apple’s hardware. It’ll look slick as hell, probably have an iPod dock connector and probably have the first PA Semi silicon. Its not going to run Mac OS X. Microsoft has done that for years and it sucks. Its not going to run the iPhone OS, because its not a one-handed device. So logic dictates that it will be something in between. The fact that the top Apple execs are openly talking about how great it is leads me to believe that its going to be damn good.

Like other people, I’m pretty sure that the Tablet OS is going to be more iPhone than Mac. What has me more excited is the fact that Apple doesn’t like to duplicate effort, which means that a lot the Tablet OS is going to make its way into the iPhone OS. I’ve been complaining about the philosophy of the iPhone OS since at least 2.0. I have 117 apps sitting in iTunes (but many of those aren’t installed on my phone). If an app is beyond the second homescreen, I just search for it. Likewise, if a contact isn’t in my favorites list, I search. Its just not worth expending the mental effort to recall where all this crap is. Having an app-centric homescreen is no longer tenable. The homescreen needs to be favorite-centric with the apps moved to their own area. Android gets this very, very right. I don’t use more than 10 or so apps on a daily basis. Likewise, I don’t call more than 3 numbers daily (and only have nine favorites). I want these to live in my homescreen, everything else can live in a searchable database elsewhere.

The same is true for notifications. Modal notifications suck. You can only see one at a time, and only the most recent one. They interrupt what I’m doing and force me to ignore them or leave my current app to take care of them. There’s no way around it, and Apple must know it. Android has a much better way of dealing with notifications with its shelf. WebOS has an even better implementation than Android’s. Both the iPhone and Tablet OS’s need multitasking. The Tablet is not going to get away with running one full screen app at a time, especially with the hardware that I suspect its going to be sporting. Honestly, the same is true of the iPhone. Apple’s rationale of battery life and memory doesn’t really hold water with the 3GS. I’ve been running Backgrounder and Pro Switcher on my 3GS for months now and I have to say that having Tweetie, Instapaper, GV Mobile and whatever doesn’t harm the battery. In fact, the thing that was impacting my battery the most was push Gmail. When I went back to regular IMAP, I was shocked at how much that positively impacted my daily battery life. As much as that says about Google’s inability to run a mobile push server, it says that much more for the 3GS to have backgrounding turned on.

Make no mistake: the 3GS has the hardware chops to run full, native backgrounding.

With that being said, both the iPhone and Tablet need a graceful and intuitive way to kill apps. While I’m at it, neither OS should allow third party apps to run in the background in the first place without being explicitly told to do so by the user. Not everything needs to run in the background all the time, or even at all. Palm has a really good thing going in WebOS with the card metaphor. Pro Switcher stole the idea and it works really well.

So, yeah, that’s really all I want out of tomorrow: a useful homescreen, backgrounding added to the SDK and a non-shitty notification system. I won’t mind if Steve blows my fucking mind with the MOST IMPORTANT THING HE’S EVER DONE, but that would just be gravy.

On the other hand, if Apple releases a Core i5 Macbook Pro with Lightpeak wrapped with hookers and blow as one more thing…

personal politics

Once Again

What’s good for Wall Street and huge corporations isn’t good enough for us plebes. From the HuffPo:

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson once said: “And let me emphasize, any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator – and one who is not honoring his obligations.”

The head of the Mortgage Bankers Association, John Courson, played up the moral argument against walking away, telling the Wall Street Journal last month: “What about the message they will send to their family and their kids and their friends?

But corporations and businesses don’t play by those rules. Like CalPERS’s McKinley said, “You come to a point where you write it off or stay in the game. If you want to stay in you got to put in more capital. We reached our limit on that. It was not a prudent thing to put more money into it.

“You get to a point where you can’t keep throwing good money after bad,” he said. “These are illiquid investments. You gotta fish or cut bait.”

As for homeowners walking away en masse — perhaps lenders’ biggest housing-related fear — McKinley added: “We’re hopeful that won’t happen.”

I just love how that works.

In any case, Wednesday is going to be interesting. What’s sad is that at this point, I’m so jaded that I’m pretty sure that whatever comes out of Steve Jobs’ mouth is going to be far more important and world-changing than what comes out of Obama’s mouth.



Both Gruber and Marco have some good pieces up regarding the Apple tablet. Both of them spill a lot of ink to basically say that no one knows what The Tablet is, does or how it works. I haven’t bothered to write anything about it other than to complain on Twitter about how stupid this whole thing is and to express my hope that the whole thing would just go away. That’s because, like Gruber and Marco, I not only have no idea what this thing would look like or be like, I also have no idea what it would have to be like in order to blow my mind.

Back in late 2006, everyone “knew” that Apple would be releasing a phone. No one knew what it would look like. At all. My own hope was that it would be a Treo mashed together with an iPod Nano, but good. (For the record, if the iPhone hadn’t happened, I would’ve been rocking a Treo 680.) The original iPhone was, in fact, very much like a Treo mashed together with a Nano, but good. The iPhone OS is very much a child of the UI conventions of Palm OS and the Newton, but wholly modern.

Its very simple for me to say that Apple should glue two very different devices together to come up with a great product. Delivering the actual iPhone was nothing of the sort. Its similarly easy for people to say that The Tablet has to be unexpected, completely new and amazing to succeed. Apple’s had more than ten years to see what doesn’t work with portable and mobile devices. They are not going to come up with a tablet PC, a giant iPod Touch or a JooJoo.

The other, more profound reason why I haven’t bothered myself too much is because I don’t have any pressing need for it. Every cellphone I had before the iPhone was a total piece of shit. My house is surrounded by wires that basically made it impossible to get a call on the street or anywhere but a single corner towards the back. Then there’s the contacts issue, and all the other stupid problems of dumbphones and pre-iPhone era smartphones. I don’t have that problem with computers. I’ve been living out of laptops since 2002. I want more power and more capability out of my portable machine, not less. I want Nehelem, USB 3, lightpeak and all the other goodies. I don’t see how Apple can impress me to the point that I’m willing to give up a next-gen MacBook Pro for a The Tablet and an iMac.

This is the simple question that no one has been able to answer yet: If I need to take my laptop bag with me anyway, why would I choose a The Tablet over a MacBook Pro? Weight is not an issue, usability is. One of the big arguments for netbooks is their small size and weight (and cost). But having used several of them, I can’t get over the less than full-sized keyboards and the tiny trackpads, especially compared to the large, multitouch pad of my current MBP and the huge one of my next MBP. People want to use tablets because all they do is use the web and consume media. I do that, but I also write. A lot. I also do coding, photography, light video, digital drawing and painting and 3D modelling and animation. That’s a lot to give up.

I might just be outside of the target for The Tablet, but somehow, I don’t think so. Whatever it is, it needs to be something that solves a problem that I and normal people have. The problem is, I don’t know what that need is. Its not that simple.