There’s an iPod in your iPad

The mythical Apple tablet is finally out and it has a name too. The iPad. But placing it in our lifestyle is still as polarized as it was before Apple revealed it to the world. It’s just a big iPhone, it’s an underpowered laptop without a keyboard, it’s not tablet-y enough (no stylus), it doesn’t have multi-tasking etc etc. Oh yeah, and no pizza-delivering unicorns as well. Bummer.

To me it looks like a success in the making. Sure, it’s not all the things all the geeks in the world imagined, and so far it might look like an oversized iPod touch with a few apps that are special, but give the developers some time and we will see some clear differentiation between what an iPad app can do as opposed to their iPhone brethren.

Price-wise it’s quite well positioned. If you are not comparing it with a $300 netbook, which you really shouldn’t, because they just have different scopes. These days everyone compares everything with netbooks, just because they are dirt cheap (even though for their feature sets they are really not.) “Oooh, the [insert specialized gadget with price > $300] is so stupid, I can do everything and more with my $300 netbook.”

Now. About that name of it. When everyone was throwing possible names around, I thought “well, that ‘iPad’ one sounds really stupid, (I hope) it  will never happen.” And yet here I am, faced with the iPad (metaphorically, of course.) I still don’t like it, sounds funky to me, but I can understand why Apple went with it: to position it clearly in the iPhone/iPod ecosystem, an extension to your Mac or PC.

Speaking of names starting with i, the music application is called iPod, not iTunes, or simply Music (like on the iPod touch). Even though it looks a lot more like the desktop iTunes, rather than the iPod Music app. The iPod is being shifted from a music playing device, to a music playing concept. However, since the iPod app on the iPad can’t manage the music on its own and needs to be synced with iTunes on a computer, it doesn’t make sense to call it iTunes.

What I really like about it:
– IPS display (not even Macbook Pros have that, yet)
– blazing speed (as reported by people who experienced it hands-on)
– the built-in apps look like a lot of fun and some even better than the computer versions (Mail for example)

Since it’s based on the iPhone OS it has the same limitations:
– no multi-tasking (and strangely no word on push notifications, but these should be in there)
– dependent on a computer for syncing

Now the big question: Will I buy one? I don’t feel like I have a gap between the iPod touch and the Macbook Pro that I need filled. Or at least the iPad doesn’t fill it. I must admit that for me a tablet with an adapted Mac OS X (rather than an adapted iPhone OS) fits the bill better, but that is another device altogether, which would certainly not retail starting at $499.

The way I use my iPod touch what actually matters for me is the pocketable size. When I don’t need pocketable, the laptop is fine. I can imagine bringing an iPad in my ‘digital lifestyle’ and enjoying it quite a lot, but I don’t have a need for it.

No. I won’t buy one. Yet.

On a somewhat related note, I wish Microsoft has the balls to unleash this baby already: Courier. The concept looks simply amazing, and deep down I really hoped that Apple was doing something like this. But this is another discussion altogether.

PS: maxiPad. There. I said it. And this.

Quenching the firewire and the strange case of the missing diskette

The new Macbook

The new Macbook

As you probably heard by now, launched new Macbooks, and you can get the full specs and stuff over at their website. Going through the product page you will see that this is both good news and bad. The good news is obviously the new design and features. The bad news is not so obvious, unless you plan to get a new Macbook and have a slew of Firewire devices. Which you won’t be able to use. Since it completely lacks FW or any kind.

Some people compare this with the introduction of the original iMac, which lacked a diskette drive. These are the people who don’t have FW external hard drives, or don’t have miniDV cameras which rely on Firewire to transfer video on the computer. So you see, it’s actually not at all as not having a diskette drive in the original iMac. Try capturing digital video via USB and you’ll see what I mean.

Firewire, besides being technically more advanced than USB in almost every way, offers some key advantages that make it “not just another port taking space on the side of the laptop”:

– the ability to daisy chain up to 63 peripherals in a peer-to-peer architecture
– Target Disk mode (this is specific to Macs, Windows PCs don’t have this)
– no system overhead during use (unlike USB which relies on the system to manage the data transfers)
– for DV: the ability to control the video camera (play, stop, rewind etc.) via the capturing software; with USB the camera only streams like an old analogue VHS player

Currently I use my Macbook Pro with three Firewire 800 hard disks daisy-chained on the FW800 port, while keeping the free FW400 free for the video camera. I can also connect the DV camera to the last of the hard disks in the chain, so I could even do with one FW port (meaning I could do this with the white plastic Macbook). But having both is still nicer. Having none is impossible.

I don’t think this is a case of the “missing diskette”. I think it’s a case of rev. A hardware corroborated with the rush to get this babies into production in a certain timeframe. Remember the rev. A Macbook Pro? That one only had FW400, no FW800. By rev. B it had both.

I hope Apple engineers are working on squeezing a FW connector on the Macbook right now. The Macbook is a great little machine for doing home videos, or for use in a home recording studio (with all those audio devices that connect via Firewire), so not having any Firewire connectivity cuts out a lot of people out of the loop. And it’s always nice to not have your processor spike up whenever Time Machine starts churning out entire gigabytes of back up data.

Here’s to rev. B Macbooks!

HTC’s Android powered G1: work in progress

The Google Phone has landed. It’s the HTC G1 and it’s supposed to kick Windows Mobile’s and iPhone’s ass in one fell swoop with its open source operating system and physical keyboard. Or something. Maybe not. The interwebs already start dismantling Google’s own god phone:

– no desktop syncing (everything gets synced with Google’s cloud thingies)
– no video playback except stuff on YouTube (developers should be adding this stuff apparently)
– no multitouch (this is a G1 specific hardware problem)
– no integrated storage (takes micro SD cards and comes with a mediocre 1GB micro SD card)
– no Exchange support (that’s something for the suits, no need to bother my consumer mind about it)
– no audio jack (that’s right people, you have to use a miniUSB adapted dongle to hookup your headphones to this thing, but it’s okay because…)
– the music playback interface is horrendous (so you probably won’t feel like listening to music anyway)

And there’s more…

Android looks like a mess right now, with missing bits, reliance on developers to bring features that really should have been in there from the start, a future app store that seems rather open to malware developers. Even though Apple is going overboard with their control of the apps these days, I’d rather have some certainty that my personal info is safe, thank you.

And this is only when only one device is on the market. Imagine what will happen when dozens of handsets will start popping out with their myriads of feature variations.

The G1 is supposed to be a consumer device, and it’s supposed to be at least on par with the iPhone. But considering all these flaws makes me wonder if it’s even fit for a consumer device, as it looks more like a hacker’s play toy right now.

Sure, the iPhone had its fair share of flaws when it was launched, but even then it was ahead of today’s G1 when it comes to polish and being ready to go. This is not the way to launch an iPhone alternative.

Canon 5D Mark II: Jelly? No thanks.

Vincent Laforet:

“This camera is the ultimate “equalizer” – you no longer need half-million dollar’s worth of high definition video cameras and lenses delivered by a truck with its own driver to shoot a high definition film in low light – you just need a $2,700 camera and a few lenses – and talented and dedicated friends that you can call on last minute at the drop of a hat.

Everyone has been waiting for the video camera that can also take stills… here’s a still camera that can shoot stunning video.”

And it doesn’t have the “jelly motion” when panning, like the Nikon D90.

Canon sure had some shrewd timing for launching this camera, right after Nikon was done with the launching of the D90 and the D700 (and I bet they were feeling pretty proud of themselves just a few days ago). Nikon’s been poking them with a stick and look what happened: they opened a can of techno-whoop-ass in the shape of the 5D MkII.

What Canon is doing is putting an amazing video camera in the hands of photographers and a stunning photo camera in the hands of videographers, they are blurring a line that was once very clearly drawn between video and photo equipment. The fact that they are actually producing quite nice video cameras while Nikon has no prior experience in this field might make a difference.

Now head on to Vincent’s blog and read the whole thing, the camera is simply… impressive.

Amilo Dalmatian and the sorry state of laptop design

Fujitsu Siemens updated the design for their line of their laptops. Unfortunately they are still keeping the Amilo name (it always seemed sad and hopeless to me), albeit with a new styling, and the new font is not helping at all. On first viewing it reads “omilo”.

The design itself is all angular with soft corners and black and white. It’s like the bastard child between an Apple Macbook and an IBM Lenovo Thinkpad. The concept, as explained on their site, is interesting but in the end just a gimmick: the black stuff represents technology (all ports and jacks are on black), and the white is “the human interface” (keyboard, power button and cover).

All in all the design isn’t bad, but it just comes off as another computer company trying to crack the “stylish” market, and when you put it next to the latest Dells, Vaios (you know, Sony’s Amilo), HPs and even Toshibas, it really doesn’t stand out from the crowd that much, if at all.

Sony Vaio

 

Dell Inspiron

Dell Inspiron

 

HP Pavilion

HP Pavilion

 

Toshiba Portege

Toshiba Portege

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess the Vaio comes the closest to the laptop that they are all trying to emulate, the Macbook. Now I’m not saying that all laptops should look like Macbooks, far from it. For example I like the look of the new Lenovo IdeaPad (hate the name though). I actually think it looks the way Thinkpads should be looking, instead of the dated design they are still having so many years later.

The big flaw all of these machines is trying to look like some other laptop (whichever that may be). When the Macbook was launched (actually the iBook G4, Macbook’s precursor) it looked like nothing else (even though the first iBook was much wilder in design), and that’s what mattered, that’s what made its design timeless. Everyone trying to reproduce that very same laptop is just producing knockoffs.

WARNING: “Apple is the greatest thing in the world” type rant follows. If you have a low threshold for “Apple fanboism”, consider this post over and out.

It’s really not that complicated to make a really good laptop. Take the very Macbook example, subtract the design, and just look at the process. Find a nice shape, and then refine the hell out of it. Make sure everything looks perfect from any angle. Make sure you don’t have stupid stickers on it. Make sure the blinking blue lights don’t become a pain in the ass after only 10 minutes of use. Make sure that the back of the laptop doesn’t look like something from Alien 2. Pay lots and lots of attention to detail. Forget focus groups. Not having every possible button for every possible feature is a good thing. And pay lots and lots of attention to detail at each step of the process and in between.

This is what separates the Macbooks from the rest, not the design itself, but the execution of that design. Stuff like the overall simple and unobtrusive look of the thing, the way the sleep light glows less powerful in the dark and stronger in the light, the way the back of it is designed to look good even if you put it upside down, the perfect alignment of the ports and connectors, the magnetic power connector, two finger scrolling etc.

See how easy it is? This is really what bothers me when I look at a Windows laptop. It tries to look all designed and fashion-y and stylish, but fails brutally when it comes to the details, and more specifically to the lack of attention to details that “went” into it. A stupid screw somewhere very visible. Too many seizure-inducing LEDs. Those dreadful Windows and Intel stickers (easily fixable fortunately). Manufacturer specific buttons (such as the “go to toshiba.com” button – is anyone really using that button?!). 

Anyway, the list could go on forever. The Macs have their own flaws, but at least the effort that went into the process  of refining them is very palpable. I went into this “Macs are the greatest thing on earth” ranting mode and I really think I should stop before I get the Mac Mac label. Yes, Macs do piss me off sometimes, they crash as well, apps get stuck. But they do it while looking so much better than the rest.

Hmm jelly…

This can’t be good… That’s not how Nikon’s marketing footage looked like. Although, come to think of it, in most shots the camera was still. Only a few clever motion scenes which would mask the ‘jelly movement’.

This is why all the video cameras use CCD sensors, and not CMOS sensors (like most DSLRs).

Smile, you are on video! The Canon 5D Mark II

The photographer web’s a’buzz with Canon brand spanking new 5D, the Mark II. The key features include a new 21MP full frame sensor, DIGIC 4 processor, VGA screen and environmental sealing.

And of course, last but definitely not least, Movie recording. And not just any movie recording mode: the full HD 1080p of glorious shooting. For 12 minutes. (VGA resolution for up to 24 minutes). The clips are encoded in H.264 in both modes.

I won’t go into more tech specs than that, DPReview has them covered in devilish detail. I will however discuss two issues: (1) market approach and (2) sensor wear.

One

Market approach goes first. Canon decided to go with movie recording in their higher end offering ($2700 is no pocket change), while Nikon goes for the entry level with the sub $1000 Nikon D90. This is rather interesting because, personally, if the Canon 50D had movie recording, I would not even think about the new 5D MkII, I just want to shoot video through my sweet Canon glass. And Canon is forcing me into spending $1000 more for the privilege. What is certain is that the next 50D (60D?) will most certainly have movie recording (1080p or less remains to be seen.)

To me, the first generation 5D was always a weird animal. It had an amazing sensor (it had a surgical quality to details that I found staggering), a rather hefty price tag, and yet the body was not even near the 1D series. It had no environmental sealing, the finish was somewhat like a 30D/20D, and the ergonomics were surpassed by the “fits like a glove” Nikon D200. Yet many (myself included*) were quite happy with the compromise for the imaging quality versus overall price. (The 1D series is still double the price.)

And now the Mark II solves those body issues (except the ergonomics bit probably – it looks identical to the 1st gen) and adds a 21MP sensor, which, if continues Mark I’s tradition of surgical quality, Canon’s got one whopper of a camera here.

Two

And now for the sensor thing, the question I want to ask (which goes to the Nikon D90 as well) is how will the sensor cope with lengthy movie recording sessions. Considering this issue of sensor heating and wearing, Nikon’s decision to go after the entry level market makes more sense, as the pro users won’t want to thrash their camera’s sensor on movies and then have it underperform in important photo shoots. While this may indicate that Canon have something up their sleeve like a sensor cooling system or a new sensor design that is more resilient to extended exposures. But I find that hard to believe, as this is something that Canon would have branded with a cool sounding trademark. SensorCool™. Or Thermoshield™. Or SensorCoolKeepingThingy™ (SCKT™). Well, you get the idea.

All sensors age, and as they do, hotpixels begin to rear their ugly 1px heads while more noise taints the image. Having stuff like Live View and movie recording mode only accelerates this process. For now, only time will tell how Canon and Nikon’s babies will fare under the pressure.

*While I don’t own a 5D myself, I worked with a borrowed unit for a few photo sessions as well as seeing tons of images with it while I worked at a stock agency. When I don’t borrow expensive gear from friends, I am shooting away on my “mere mortal grade” 30D, which may not have that 5D surgical grade image, but still has some cool stuff going for it: the amazing responsiveness of the thing and the fact that I can use the EFS 10-22.