Mobile phones as desktop and laptop replacements

It’s high time we were able to come home and place our mobile phones in a dock that’s connected to a display, keyboard and mouse, and have it turn into a full-fledged desktop and laptop replacement. Mobile phones have sufficient computing power for most of our needs, they have the apps most of us use on desktops as well, and there are incredible energy savings to be had. Hardware manufacturers need to start making sincere, concerted efforts toward this end.

You may also want to read through this post of mine, where I tried my best to use a tablet (an iPad) as my main computer, only to be frustrated to no end by the lack of common ammenities and functionalities we’ve come to expect on desktops and laptops, simple things such as the use of a mouse, drag-and-drop functionality between folders, a finder/file explorer and the ability to easily access drives and files on the network.

I realize that people who engage in heavy computing on a daily basis, such as 4K video editing, 3D graphics and 3D video rendering, large-scale CAD projects, serious coding that requires powerful compilers and other such tasks, will still need very powerful desktop computers and even small server farms in order to do their jobs and I am in no way suggesting that they start using mobile phones to do their work.

We simply have to acknowledge that the majority of the population that uses computers can do just fine with the computing power of a mobile phone. I’m talking about the people who mostly check their email, use social networking sites and apps for social networking sites, plus some online banking and take casual photos and videos. What if all those people were able to use their mobiles phones as replacement desktops or replacement laptops? Wouldn’t that be a significant cost savings to them?

Looking at the greater picture, if all those people, or at least a significant portion of them did this, wouldn’t that translate into significant energy savings for cities, counties, states and countries? Aren’t we always talking about reducing our carbon footprint? Well, instead of using a laptop that consumes about 60W when plugged in, or a desktop that eats up about 200W, give or take, why not use a mobile phone that consumes 3-5W when plugged in?

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Tablets not quite ready for mainstream computing

The new tablet from Apple, the iPad Pro, which comes in two sizes as of this year, is quite impressive. I’m sure they’re fast, and the addition of a stylus for more precise control is an interesting and fitting choice (which also hearkens back to the first tablets Microsoft made, years and years ago).

Apple’s push to market them as mainstream computing devices, as replacements for laptops and desktops is also interesting and worthwhile (and it also mirrors Microsoft’s past efforts in this area).

Yet I have to say that the time hasn’t yet come for it. Oh, we’re close — we’re very close — but trying to do all of one’s computing on a tablet is still an exercise in frustration, and it will continue to be so until tablets are robust enough to handle serious computing and more importantly, mobile apps evolve to the point where they offer all of the options of desktop apps. That will involve a concerted effort from both hardware and software makers of all shapes and sizes.

apple-ipad-pro

I’m glad that Apple’s picked up the ball on this and is running with it, but in my book, they haven’t won the game yet. Tablets are still a niche market when it comes to laptop and desktop replacement and let’s face it, most people use them to go on Facebook, YouTube or Netflix (hardly something that qualifies as work).

I’ve tried repeatedly to use an iPad as a desktop replacement, and while it works quite well for dawdling on the websites mentioned in the previous paragraph, even there the options offered by the mobile apps are limited.

For example, the Facebook Pages app doesn’t let me manage my pages the way the desktop version of Facebook lets me do it, because it doesn’t give me all of the options available to me there. So I still have to remember what I can’t do on my tablet and go back to my desktop to do those things. The YouTube app won’t let me access all of my comments and block offensive commenters. So when I’m traveling without access to my desktop, that’s a frustration. But some of you will say, “Why don’t you access those websites through the mobile browser and take care of things that way?” Because I’m automatically directed to mobile versions of those sites and I still don’t have access to the options I need.

I tried editing short videos on my iPad, and while the performance of iMovie app was pretty good, my tablet got pretty warm and ran through the battery as I edited simple clips, making me wonder what would happen if I tried to edit multiple camera angles and longer videos on it. Oh, wait, I can’t do that, because in the mobile iMovie app, there are no such options and of course there isn’t a mobile Final Cut Pro app. There’s no sound to video synchronization, the options for cutting soundtracks in and out are very limited, and the list goes on and on.

But surely you can work on a book on an iPad, right? Well, my wife tried to do that on one of her new books and she couldn’t. It’s just a text file at this point, somewhere between 100-200 pages. The iPad should have been able to work on it just fine but nope, it kept choking on it. The cursor would barely chug along as she typed, forcing her to take frequent breaks and allow it to catch up. The diacritics were all screwed up. After about half an hour of this nonsense, she gave up and went back to her laptop, which is an aged, mostly toothless beast, an 8-year old MacBook Pro with all the speed of a constipated sloth, but it still fares better than a tablet when it comes to editing books.

Well, what about the Photos app? Surely you can at least edit photos on it? Well, I downloaded photos from one of my DSLRs on my iPad (with the aid of this little gadget), and it got hot and ran through half the battery just importing them and generating previews. As I started to browse through them, it would take 5-7 seconds just to let me see a crisp version of each photo. Granted, these were raw files and I have an iPad Air, not an iPad Pro, but I can’t imagine things being too different on the newest, shiniest Pro tablet. I’ll give credit to the Photos app when it comes to editing photos taken with the iPad or the iPhone. It’s plenty fast on those. But the idea of replacing the notebook or a desktop means you’ll be editing photos taken with other cameras as well. And it’s just not there yet.

So where are we? Simply put, tablets are great for fiddling around on the internet but they just aren’t up to par when it comes to replacing notebooks and desktops, at least in my own experience.

That’s not to say I don’t yearn for the day when that happens! I’d love to only have to carry a tablet and a portable keyboard with me as I travel. Even at home there’d be huge benefits in terms of energy use (we’re talking tens of times less than notebooks or desktops), carbon footprint and other aspects. I do hope Apple (and others) continue to push the envelope on this. I particularly want to see mobile apps become full-fledged working apps for power users. Once that happens, hardware is bound to catch up with the needs of the software and we’ll be in business.

Hardware preview: Apple iPad 2

Apple iPad 2

The new iPad 2 will become available on March 11th (see a neat video from Apple introducing it). In my post about the original iPad, I said the following:

“In spite of the failures of their predecessors, I think Apple will pull this off. I think the iPad will be very successful.”

I’m glad to see that I was right. Not that I had anything to do with the success of the device. The credit goes entirely to Apple, and to the people who bought it and used it so well.

I got to watch the March 2 keynote today (a few days later). Much to my surprise, Steve Jobs was on stage to present it. I was very glad to see him able to stand up and hold a meeting, given all the tabloid rumors about him — though I have to say he was skinny as a board. Thank goodness he’s still around. I hope he gets better, and continues to be around for a few more decades.

Here’s a quick summary of the salient features of the iPad 2:

  • 33% thinner than the original iPad (0.34″), and lighter (1.33 lbs)
  • Comes in both black and white finishes
  • Dual-core A5 chip, up to 2x faster
  • Graphics are up to 9x faster
  • Same great 10-hour battery life
  • Same 1024×768 display
  • 2 cameras (front and back) for video or photos, in HD
  • Magnetic smart cover designed specifically for it
  • Instant on
  • AirPlay to your TV via Apple TV
  • Video mirroring (up to 1080p) via $39 cable
  • AirPrint

My only disappointment with the iPad 2 is that it doesn’t have a Retina Display. Word on the grapevine is that they’re still difficult to make in that size. Who knows… It would have been nice if this iPad had it. Still, I believe iPad 3 will have a Retina Display.

iPad 2 Measurements

iPad 2 A5 Chip

I am however very glad to see that the iPad 2 does have a video camera — and not just one, but two. In my review of the original iPad, I said this:

“It’s very likely the next gen iPad will have a video camera, and it will have iChat as well.”

Glad to see I was right on that count as well. It was, after all, a logical step.

Facetime on iPad 2

iPad 2 Smart Cover Line-up

Smart Cover for iPad 2

There are some new accessories for the iPad 2, which will be offered in addition to the ones designed for the original iPad.

  • The Smart Cover, naturally, which comes in 10 colors, 5 of them polyurethane and 5 leather, as seen above (see the Smart Cover in action in this video)
  • The Digital AV Adapter provides an HDMI-out port with video and audio routed to it, in addition to a 30-pin connector which lets you charge the iPad while playing content to an HDTV
  • The iPad 2 Dock is designed for the thinner iPad 2, and also works with Digital AV Adapter

iPad 2 Dock

Of course, given that the iPad has Bluetooth, you can stick it in a dock and use the Apple Wireless Keyboard to type on it.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

The Smart Cover is so nicely designed.

iPad 2 Smart Cover (1)

iPad 2 Smart Cover (2)

iPad 2 Smart Cover (3)

The Digital AV Adapter will make it so easy to display content from the iPad on an HDTV.

iPad 2 Digital AV Adapter

iPad 2 Video Mirroring

iPad 2 Airplay

The iPad 2 will come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models, as well as WiFi-only or WiFi+3G (GSM or CDMA) models. My guess is that iPad 3 will have a combined 4G GSM/CDMA chip, eliminating the need to offer separate 3G models. The pricing grid for the various models (there are 18 possible models, given that there are two color finishes and two 3G providers), goes as follows:

  • WiFi-only: $499/16GB, $599/32GB, $699/64GB (black or white finish)
  • WiFi + 3G: $629/16GB, $729/32GB, $829/64GB (black or white finish, AT&T/Verizon)

Images used courtesy of Apple Computer, Inc.

Hardware review: the duraSync cable for iPad, iPod and iPhone

I’ve been using the duraSync charge and sync cable for the past few months, and I love it. It’s a durable, solidly-made, premium cable that replaces the stock sync cable which ships with your iPad, iPod or iPhone, and it’s made by CableJive, the same company that makes the SoundDock and iStubz cables.

The cable is really sturdy, and it’s made to last. It comes with a Lifetime Warranty, so if anything should ever go wrong with it, you can send it back to CableJive for a replacement.

It has a stiff rubber outer shell and an impact-resistant plastic core. The dock connectors will withstand crushing, banging, dropping and being stepped on, even driven over with a car. The cable itself is made of durable wire, with heavy-duty shielding and a clear coating. It will withstand pulling, jerking and being run over.

Continue reading “Hardware review: the duraSync cable for iPad, iPod and iPhone”

Hardware preview: Apple iPad

Today, Apple launched the iPad, their long-awaited version of the tablet computer. In spite of the failures of their predecessors, I think Apple will pull this off. I think the iPad will be very successful. In case you haven’t gotten your iPad fix yet, grab a cup of tea and sit down, this post is loaded with photos of the iPad and its accessories.

As I mentioned yesterday, I wrote a post in September of last year, where I unwittingly described the functionality of the iPad. I was actually focusing on the need for what I called a portable Apple TV, a device that bridged the gap between an iPod and a laptop, and that’s exactly what the iPad is. Let me quote myself:

Clearly, Apple has the technological know-how to put together a really nice Apple TV that’s not yet another box tethered to a TV in the living room, but a display with integrated speakers and the circuitry that allows it to get on my network and access media from various drives, or to play the media I sync to it through iTunes, or to download media from the Internet.

Just think, with a nice LED screen of about 13-17 inches, a touch screen, plenty of onboard storage, a good battery, WiFi, Bluetooth, and speakers, they could have an amazing device that I could take with me wherever I decide to sit in the house or in the yard. I could take it in bed and watch movies without draining my already tired laptop battery, I could take it outside on the patio at night to watch stuff there, etc.

Apple already has all of this technology. Why don’t they put it together?

Wouldn’t you know it, someone at Apple must have seen my post… I’m kidding, naturally — the iPad has likely been in development for at least a year, so it’s not like I had much to do with the iPad’s invention — but it’s nice to see that my hunch, or at least my perception of a need in the marketplace for a product like the iPad, was right.

What does the iPad do? It can:

  • Browse the web
  • Read and send email
  • Enjoy photos
  • Watch video
  • Listen to music
  • Play games
  • Read e-books
  • Basically, anything but any real work 🙂

I may be wrong about that last capability though. Here’s what Apple says:

“Apple also introduced a new version of iWork® for iPad, the first desktop-class productivity suite designed specifically for Multi-Touch. With Pages®, Keynote® and Numbers® you can create beautifully formatted documents, stunning presentations with animations and transitions, and spreadsheets with charts, functions and formulas. The three apps will be available separately through the App Store for $9.99 each.”

So who knows, we may be able to get some work done on the iPad after all, if we’re not too tempted to watch movies or read books on it.

Before we get too awestruck with all of the awesome things the iPad can do, it’s important to note two of its capabilities. I’ll let Apple explain:

“iPad is powered by A4, Apple’s next-generation system-on-a-chip. Designed by Apple, the new A4 chip provides exceptional processor and graphics performance along with long battery life of up to 10 hours. Apple’s advanced chemistry and Adaptive Charging technology deliver up to 1,000 charge cycles without a significant decrease in battery capacity over a typical five year lifespan.”

Apple has not only developed new battery technology which is already in use on its laptops and now, on the iPad, but, and I think this is huge, they’ve now developed a new chip, called the A4. Since when do they have the technology to develop computer chips? I thought they always outsourced that function, to Intel, and before that, to PowerPC. Now they’re making chips? Wow. And since this new chip is called the A4, are we to assume there’s an A3, or A2, or A1, or more importantly, an A5, or an A6, or A7? Where were they used, and where will they be used?

Let’s look at the iPad’s exterior. It is a gorgeous device, incredibly thin, made of aluminum and glass.

It comes in two models: Wifi-only, and WiFi + 3G. The only difference (on the exterior) between the two models is a bit of extra weight for the 3G model (1.6 lbs. vs 1.5 lbs.), and the presence of the 3G antenna, which looks like a black strip at the top.

Height: 9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
Width: 7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
Depth: 0.5 inch (13.4 mm)
Weight: 1.5 pounds (.68 kg) Wi-Fi model; 1.6 pounds (.73 kg) Wi-Fi + 3G model

One thing I’m not clear on is whether the 3G version of the iPad will require the AT&T network, or whether it will be “unlocked” for use on any 3G network. I’m certainly not keen to use AT&T’s network, for reasons with stem directly out of my personal experiences and my parents’ personal experiences with their horrible customer service.

Let’s move on and look at the display. I was hoping to see a larger-size device, but as things stand, the screen is 9.7″ across, at 1024 x 768 resolution. What does compensate for the somewhat smaller screen is the ppi (pixels per inch) spec, which is 132 — almost double the 72 ppi of standard displays. The display uses a technology called IPS (in-plane switching) which allows for a wide, 178° viewing angle.

When I look at the TV and Video specs, I’m glad to see that it will also output 1024 x 768 to an external display with the aid of a dock to VGA adapter, and that it will output SD and better-than-SD video (480i/480p and 576i/576p) to a TV with an Apple Composite A/V cable. More than that, it can play 720p (HD) video, which was expected and was the right thing to do.

“H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats. “

The iPad’s power adapter is rated at 10W according to the specs, which is great in my book. It means it’s a very efficient device. Think about it, what you basically get with the iPad is an HD TV which you can take to bed with you, and which only consumes 10W when plugged in. Have you even looked at your HDTV’s power usage lately? Even the most efficient LCD displays consume more than 100W, and if you look at how much plasma displays consume, you’ll want to run away.

The iPad can open most of the usual file formats, as is expected since it will have its own version of iWork, but does that mean we’ll get a Finder, with a Home folder for our account? After all, if we’re going to work with documents, we’ll need a place to save them and access them.

“Viewable document types: .jpg, .tiff, .gif (images); .doc and .docx (Microsoft Word); .htm and .html (web pages); .key (Keynote); .numbers (Numbers); .pages (Pages); .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat); .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint); .txt (text); .rtf (rich text format); .vcf (contact information); .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel).”

This becomes an even more important question if we consider the iPad accessories, among which we find the Keyboard Dock, which clearly allows one to use the iPad as a lightweight computer. If it’s going to be used as such, we’ll definitely need a Home folder, with a Documents folder and other such usual amenities to keep our stuff. And will these documents get synced with the documents on our home machine? Furthermore, if we’ll download our emails onto it, will they automatically get synced with Mail on our laptops and desktops?

There’s also a regular dock, which lets the iPad charge and holds it upright, so you can watch movies unhindered.

I like the camera connection kit, which lets you download photos from your digital camera either through a USB cable, or with an SD card reader. That’s a smart and elegant solution.

The iPad case is great, too. It’s wonderful for carrying the iPad about, and for travel, as it turns into a stand that lets you watch movies without needing to hold the iPad in your hand.

All of this exterior beauty wouldn’t be much without interior smarts and looks that match it to a tee. Here’s where Apple’s advantage really comes into play. Since they make both the hardware and the software, they can marry the two so well that they act as one. There’s never any doubt that a button you press on an Apple machine doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, because it was made specifically for that reason and there’s a part of the code on the machine written specifically for it. On the iPad, I can see that significant thought and effort was put forth to design the software UI around the look of the hardware, to make the two act as one, and it’s a success. Have a look at how well each of the iPad’s purposed uses is represented by the software written for those uses.

Photos on the iPad:

Maps on the iPad. Can you believe how gorgeous those maps look on the iPad, and how cool it is to manipulate them (zoom, pan, annotate) on that large multi-touch display?

iBooks on the iPad. The Kindle’s battery may last longer, but can you argue with color?

iCal on the iPad. It’s just gorgeous, much more than its counterpart in OS X. Why doesn’t it look this good on my MBP?

Contacts on the iPad. Very cool.

Notes on the iPad. I’m going to love taking notes now, even more so than on my iPod Touch.

There is one disappointment. I expected an iSight video camera on the iPad, and there isn’t one. I’m not sure why. Possibly for the same reason the iPod Nano got a video camera last year instead of getting it one or two years prior to that. It’s very likely the next gen iPad will have a video camera, and it will have iChat as well.

Still, the iPad is a fantastic device, and it exceeded my expectations in many ways. I’d love to know what you think of it.

iPad will be available in late March, worldwide, for a suggested retail price of $499 (US) for the 16GB model, $599 (US) for the 32GB model, and $699 (US) for the 64GB model. The Wi-Fi + 3G models of iPad will be available in April in the US and selected countries for a suggested retail price of $629 (US) for the 16GB model, $729 (US) for the 32GB model and $829 (US) for the 64GB model. International pricing and worldwide availability will be announced at a later date.

The video from the Keynote iPad launch is available here, and the iPad overview video is available here.

Photos used courtesy of Apple.