The Northern Spy
The Day The World Continued to Turn
2010 01 27 is now past
and the iPad officially exists, instead of merely being the chief grist for the rumour mills, as for the last year. How did the Spy do on his predictions? Got the name wrong (was there a last minute iSteve change of mind because so many, including the Spy, guessed the original name correctly as iSlate?) He was right on the initial size (9.7 inch LED screen. It's also very thin at 0.5 inch and weighs in at 1.5 pounds +0.1 for 3G), and that there would be several models, though not quite the actual differences (some with 3GS and some without; various RAM sizes to 64G--as with the iPod Touch).
He called the 1 GHz chip (custom A4 non Intel) and the OS (more like the iP/T than Mac OS) correctly as well. The clue on that last one?--the long wait for an iPhone OS upgrade from 3.1.2. Tightly closed box? Yup--an iSteve special, with everything in house. Another size yet to come? Stay iTuned. OX X influence is barely evoked by the presence of an applications dock on the desktop. No camera? Got that one right too. Expect one to be added about the same time as the Touch gets one--maybe a long wait. Consumer connectivity product of course, no keyboard except on screen, all as expected. Likewise, syncing is done through the iTunes store, just as for an iP/T. Ten hour battery life and one month standby claimed. Believe that when you test it.
As for other hardware issues, the iPad will connect to a projector, has a keyboard dock accessory, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It also includes an accelerometer, compass, microphone, SIM-card tray (3G models only; include GPM also), and built-in speakers. Per Apple's specs, there is support for 1024 x 768 with a Dock Connector to VGA adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable, and 576i and 480i with Apple Composite A/V Cable.
What about applications? For starters, the iPad will run most existing iP/T apps right off the iTunes store without modification. Enhanced versions of major apps such as Google Maps, iCal, iTunes are ready to ship when the hardware does. Going forward, developers may choose to expand to the full screen or leave their apps running at iP/T size in a window. A new developer's kit will be available to take advantage of all the new real estate. A new version of iWork apps (Keynote, Pages and Numbers) will be available for the iPad at $9.99 each--all file compatible of course with their Mac brethren. Photos, mail, music and video are all there of course, and on the much larger screen than iP/T can offer. Of course, there'll be a new version of the iTunes Store someday soon.
Apple also has its own eBook reader called--what else--iBooks (as if iSteve had just invented a new concept). Apparently books will be available from a variety of publishers, starting with Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and the Hachette Book Group, and will employ the EPUB open book format. Publishers will have more control over pricing than at present with Amazon, with initial prices shown in the demo ranging from $8 to $15. No doubt many publishers, including the Spy's own, will do much better than that. Anything above $5 is for first run best sellers. But, if this proves to be "eBooks done right", Amazon and the Kindle are toast, a passing side show making way for the big top.
The New York Times demonstrated an app to read its content--a bit disappointing to the Spy as he had hoped for a universal news reading interface that periodical providers could just drop into. Does this suggest a fragmented marketplace, with every information provider doing their own thing? Not good. Needs work.
As far as data connectivity goes, think iPod Touch but with GSM in some models. For the latter AT&T (at least) will provide data contracts at $14.99/250M and $29.99/unlimited, with no locking, and no lock-in. Deals on other networks are yet to be announced. The Spy is happy with his iPod Touch, and sees no reason to want a phone installed in one of the new iPads either. Connect via Wi-Fi-n (or Bluetooth where applicable--but let's hope the latter's been unleashed and Apple will allow all peripherals.)
Prices for basic iPads are $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB and $699 for 64GB. Models with 3G will cost $130 more at each step. The former will ship in 60 days, to be followed by the 3G units in another 30. Add at least another month for international service on the 3G models, and you could be up to June-July in the frozen north.
Assessing this next big thing
The wow factor is certainly there, as iPad is not a reinvention of either the netbook, or the MacBook Air. Neither is it the iPhone writ large, though the latter is closest. It's a new kind of product with its own niche, one that will live or die on content. Sold as a connectivity-driven newspaper, magazine, and book content delivery mechanism, the iPad is certain to be a big winner over the long term, and could revive those three failing industries, in just the nick of time. The dead tree publishing industry is dead. It just doesn't know it yet. The Spy was reminded, for instance, of what is wrong with the textbook industry when his students had to pay over $C200 for a slender volume on number theory for a one semester course. It shouldn't be that way folks. Make it a $20 download, tops.
But as mentioned here last month, the Spy will not be an early adopter. For one thing, in this first iteration, we don't quite get National Geographic. Give that until the second or third rendition. For another, the volume of content needed to tip the scales and make the iPad a daily read just isn't there yet, despite extensive negotiations between Apple and content providers. When it is, the Spy will keep it on the living room coffee table and have it download his journals, books, and newspapers on a daily basis. He may keep another in his office for reference books. Soon. Not yet. Third, it is not the universal information connectivity device he calls the PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance) in his novels. It is a step along the way, but this needs maturing for a few years.
However, the Spy has little doubt these puppies will sell in the two-figure millions. Other easy forecasts: a few will suffer from cracked screens; the content will be less than expected, and Apple will have hyped battery life and functionality well past credibility, then get sued for breach of promise--but only in the Excited States (business as usual, in other words). Figure on $1.7-$2.5B added to the bottom line over the first year of life, more thereafter. Also, figure on Apple banking more mindshare still to cash in with computer sales down the road. Time to up the computer marketshare and stock price projections a few more notches.
As a final word on the subject for this month, iSteve is reportedly quoted as having said that the iPad is the most important thing he's ever done. The Spy sincerely hopes not. As interesting as technology can sometimes be, the most important things in life are not things, and the most important things after life don't even include things.
And, another thing
The tower refresh looks a little more urgent than it did a month ago. Despite some ongoing issues with the OS on the twenty-seven inch models, the current high end iMacs perform as well as or better than the currently shipping towers in many respects. Unless iSteve plans to abandon towers altogether--something the Spy rates at 30%--the clock is ticking on the current machines. When they're gone, they're gone.
Sighted in the wild
this month by host browser logs: System 10.7. The Spy expects developer seeds by June. Given that Snow Leopard was a performance upgrade with few new features, Apple's developers have had plenty of time to invent and test new toys, hence the early sight on developer builds compared to the last two upgrades. How about "Feral Cat"? Accompanied by an iPhone 4GS and an iP/T OS upgrade from the coming 3.2 to the bigger and better 4.0, this package would make a nice WWDC announcement, though 10.7 isn't likely to actually ship until at least Fall, perhaps early 2011. Lots of testing yet. It's also worth noting that 10.7 is getting to be a high second number. Planning has undoubtedly commenced for System 11, to come sometime after 10.9, or maybe 10.11.
Speaking of the iPhone/Touch
Well, we sorta were. The Spy oughta mention what have become his most used apps--just in case his reader cares to emulate the old croc.
His lower menu bar has the Olive Tree Bible Reader, Safari, Apple's Calendar App, and iWHMCS. He's spoken of the first at length. Until Logos has version 4 of their software on the Mac and their iP/T app matches it for functionality (by, for instance, reading the NIV as it should) OTB is the best of many such readers--sophisticated, well designed, long pedigree, and a good (perhaps not great) interface. It may well continue as number one, though Logos is a potentially formidable competitor./P>
Continuing across the bottom, Safari is all right, better than other browsers the Spy has tried, though not great. Browsing needs multitasking to shine in the face of space limitations, and Safari seems too ready to choke the bandwidth when it has a little trouble retrieving a complex page such as a Web Host Manager home page (get sto be slower than walking, never mind running). Finally, iWHMCS is a super complement to WHMCS itself, giving fast access to client orders and trouble tickets for the on the go web host. It could use a better layout, remembering its state between invocations, and enhanced functionality, but it’s a pretty good start.
Outside his menu bar, the Spy has the typical five home pages of apps, only a handful of which he uses on a regular basis. Apple's own "App Store" access is handy for updates, though searching for apps is best done on a larger screen. For books, he uses eReader Pro from Barnes and Noble/Fictionwise (account moved over from his Palm Treo days--a fairly decent interface, though it could use improvements) and Stanza (decent access to a number of free and other books, though there are limitations to the number of these. Unlike the continuous scrolling OTB, both use a page flip paradigm. Both models have their strengths.
As an aside, a partnership between Apple and Barnes and Noble for content delivery, while it would make sense in terms of Fictionwise as an existing retailer for books from many publishers, is probably a non-starter. Apple wants to cut out all other middlemen but themselves, as evidenced by the iPad having both its own reader and its own store section for books. Pity.
His information category page includes the Yahoo weather app, the CustomHouse currency app, Stock market info from both Yahoo and Bloomberg (different stuff available), Sportacular (good coverage of the NHL, which is all that matters, though other hockey leagues should be there too), NetNewsWire, Metro, and enGadget for news readers, and FStream to catch the Canucks games on TEAM Radio 1040 as well as a Corus app for CKNW 980 Vancouver for talk (well, there are many other stations available of course, but....)
AirSharing and FileApp provide file transfer, and PCalc is by far the Spy's preferred calculator. He's got lots of other apps, but those are the ones he's gravitated to. He's started deleting. And, one more thing: he spends far too much time in Apple's Settings app. All settings should be in the individual app. Forget this business of having to go to another one to make a change.
In other news,
and almost lost in the iPad hype two days later, was earlier word that for the most recent quarter, Apple posted revenue of $15.68 billion and a net quarterly profit of $3.38 billion, that is $3.67 per share, compared to revenue of $11.88 billion and net quarterly profit of $2.26 billion, or $2.50 per share, in the same quarter the previous year. Gross margin was 40.9 percent, compared to 37.9 percent. This represents the company's most profitable quarter yet on record sales. More (as in lots more money) to come.
Psystar and SCO continue to kick once in a while, but are gasping their last. Can't happen too soon. Interestingly, the latter is dead for being behind the times. Trying to exist solely as a copyright holder and litigator is oh, so wastefully yesterday, even if there were technical merit to claims of owning all versions of *n*x (and the courts appear to have definitively declared the obvious, that there are not). But the former is dead for being ahead of its time. We haven't yet gotten to the age when all copyright and patent claims will cease to exist or matter. Don't know what the model for making money from innovation would be in such a market, but for now, iSteve's little company has the exclusive right to be Apple. Here's also hoping the Spy can still make pizza money from his novels before pirates run completely amok.
In miscellaneous news, the Spy notes that Bubble Wrap celebrated a fiftieth anniversary on January 24.
"You can run but you can't hide" department
The Spy has for many years ruminated about the loss of privacy in the information age. With application use tracking now a common feature, and browser hits having been recorded for years, these predictions have come well to pass. App makers will record usage in greater detail, Apple and other hardware makers will increase snitching back to Mom, governments will keep closer track of their citizens, credit card companies and retailers will target advertising and coupons to past buying practices--in short, we only get the benefits of the information age by being prepared to live in a world where everyone will know everything about everyone else, and nothing can be hidden. It's not called the information age for nothing. Live with it.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics as well as Senate Chair at Trinity Western University. He is also on the board of CIRA, operator of .ca. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
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