Jan 272010

Enough details have leaked from the announcement to talk a little about Apple’s new toy – the iPad (which seems to be one of the less popular guesses about the name – I went with the “iSlate” possibility). For those looking for the specifications :-

  • 1.25cm thick.
  • 700g heavy
  • 25cm multitouch display
  • 1GHz Apple A4 chip – presumably an ARM variant.
  • Between 16GB and 64GB of flash memory
  • Around 10 hours of battery life.

And it starts at $499 for a 16Gbyte one limited to WiFi access – what’s the betting that means £499 in the UK ?

Basically it’s a big iPhone with all the advantages and disadvantages that brings – both great usability and savage vendor lock-in. There are a few new presumably built-in applications to allow for the greater functionality possibilities – an eBook reader, iWorks, etc.

Interestingly Apple also announced a keyboard for the iPad and implies that it should work with any bluetooth keyboard. Finally admitted that not allowing keyboards on the iPhone was a mistake ? Maybe Steve Jobs finally listened to me 🙂 Who knows ? Maybe the next version of the iPhone software will include keyboard support.

And where’s the forward facing webcam ? That is perhaps the biggest missing feature. Whilst you may want a separate device for making normal videos, a webcam suitably placed for video chatting is pretty much the norm for those little Netbooks that Steve hates so much.

There are other things missing too :-

  • A set of magnets to let you stick the iPad to your fridge in the kitchen – get a recipe up on the iPad, stick it onto the fridge whilst you cook.
  • An SD card slot or two. Who wants to buy a replacement iPad if you find that the 16Gbyte version is not quite big enough. Well Steve wants you to, but an SD card slow would let you hold off on that extra purchase.
  • A USB port or four. Sure there’s Apple’s dock connector and I’m not suggesting they get rid of it. But not have a USB port to allow emergency charging and connecting to a portable hard disk ? Or a USB keyboard ?

The funny thing about the Apple site is that special section proclaiming how green Apple is with their iPad. Total rubbish of course. There is no user replaceable battery and no expandable storage, so the only option you are left with when the battery life declines to a level where it becomes useless or you run out of storage, is to throw the old iPad away and buy a new one. Being green isn’t just about using less environmentally hostile materials.

But does it do anything about the vendor lock-in for content ? It does not seem very likely – this is Apple we are talking about after all. However it does seem that the iBook application (and it used to be the name of a nifty Apple laptop) does support the ePub format. Whether that means that content bought through iBook will be transportable to other devices remains to be seen.

Whilst most of us are used to vendor lock-in when it comes to software – Windows software runs on machines running Windows; OSX software runs on Apple computers, and Linux software runs everywhere(!). We are not so used to the idea that content is only available on one device.

If I buy a book, a film on disc, a magazine, I own a physical object that I can put on shelves and go back to later. If I buy an eBook to go on the iPad, can I read it on anything else ? My Sony reader ? Anything else ? Well we do not have enough details to say, but I doubt it.

Content “hoarders” who accumulate scarily large piles of books, etc. are unlikely to be too keen on a content paradigm that means that content stays locked to a device. I have books that are in the region of 100 years old, and even some tatty paperbacks that belonged to my grandfather; will I still be able to read eBooks that I bought on the iPad in 40 years time ?

As it is an Apple product is has a certain “cool” aura, and I am sure it will sell. Heck, if Apple announced a downgraded iPod Classic they would have fans who would buy it without checking that the new hard disk (120Gbytes) was smaller than the old (160Gbytes). Will it change the way we think of consuming content ? I somehow doubt it. It will however push forward the idea of tablet type devices as a way of consuming content; not enough to gain iPhone-like status (which effectively put the smartphone into the hands of the ordinary consumer, and gave a swift sharp kick to other smartphone manufacturers).

Would I buy one ? Well if I had not already bought a netbook/slate to use as a couch potato machine – I tend to look things up whilst watching TV – I might very well do so. But would it replace my Sony eReader if I managed to put my own DRM-free eBooks onto it in a satisfactory manner. Hmm … will Stanza adapt well to the iPad ?

Hey! Apple, want to donate one in return for a review ? 🙂

Still not convinced by the name – iPad ? Sounds kind of American and comes across kind of odd to British ears – Apple’s crash-pad, a pad for dealing with spills, not a notebook that we use for scribbling notes in.

Dec 282009

There seems to be an impression amongst fans of digital media that printed newspapers are on the slow decline on the way to oblivion, and they could well be right. Without some radical changes, printed newspapers could be going the way of the town crier – around only as a historical oddity.

But what about radical change ? There are certainly possibilities there. The key is to look at the weaknesses of digital news :-

  1. Authority. Whilst some digital media news sources have some credibility, much of the time when you bump across some random blogger (like me!), you will have no idea on how credible they are – do they know what they are talking about ? I certainly don’t!
  2. Location. There are zillions (well a large number anyway) of places you can find digital news and it can take time to look for the news you are interested in. That is fine for a number of specialised areas – for instance my job includes an unwritten requirement to keep up to speed with what is happening in the IT industry, so I’ll spend a few hours a week searching. But for something less important to me – such as general European news, I’ll pass.
  3. Photography. Funnily enough given the quality of photo printing in most newspapers, this actually a weakness of digital news – whilst they all do photographs, they don’t do them well. Some of the most dramatic moments in history have had their stories told in newspapers with just a photo printed large. This does not happen often, but when it does it is a very powerful way of telling a news story (or starting off the story).
  4. You can’t read digital media in the bath. In the past, Sundays would often include a period of an hour or two sitting quietly reading the newspaper; whilst we can do that on the computer screen, this is rarely as relaxing as reading in the bath, at a quiet spot in the garden (or the local park), etc.

But what are the weaknesses of the printed newspaper ? Here we also have many :-

  1. You pay for the whole paper. Out of an ordinary newspaper, I am probably interested in at most 50% of it, and it seems rather irritating paying for that sports journalist who puts in some long story about a hockey tournament that I have never heard of, do not care about, and will not take the time to read even if you pay me for it. On the other hand, I might be interested in some random articles on things I would otherwise not read – for instance I am completely uninterested in car reviews, but there has been a recent review of a car “made” by Top Gear that I wouldn’t mind reading (for humour if nothing else).
  2. If you are lucky the newspaper you buy was put together by an editor whose interests closely match your own. Far more likely however is that there are news stories that did not get in (because you have “oddball” interests) because they are not seen as popular. I want to see news stories on what is happening in Europe, and local interest stories for Portsmouth, Winchester, Bangkok, and Sangüesa – a rather eclectic set of locations it may seem, but what they really are is individual.
  3. The quality of news photograph prints needs to be improved on. If you can print fashion photographs in a supplement properly why cannot the news stories also be printed properly ? Maybe that would cost more but I for one would be willing to pay extra for it.
  4. Some people want a daily newspaper and some want a weekly one. Actually some of us probably want a newspaper on some Sundays.

What we are looking at here is a newspaper suited to the individual requirements. Conventional newspaper printing and distribution won’t cope with that, but that does not mean it is impossible to provide. After all we have printing on demand for books, so why not newspapers ?

What I envisage is a web site where you start off by choosing something very conventional … “I want a copy of the Sunday Times delivered every Sunday”. From this unpromising start (and a start that is probably more expensive than the current way of getting the Sunday Times), you can add customisations :-

  • Print on quality paper for extra cost.
  • Remove any articles relating to Sport.
  • Add articles relating to this set of locations.
  • Add articles relating to IT, astrophysics, and archaeology.
  • Reset the formatting to use body text font as “Liberation Serif” at 12 points, headlines as “Verdana” at 14 points, and make the pages four columns wide.

From there, you could add additional customisations to the point where the newspaper has little or no relation to the real world “Sunday Times”. Whilst the default preference would be to pay for a printed copy, you could opt for downloading a PDF (or any other suitable eBook format) at a cheaper cost if you wished.

I am sure that if some newspaper magnate were to read this, they would think “hell no, that’s just too expensive” or some other reason for not doing it. That is probably more an indication that their imagination is too limited.

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