Touch Me

Written by Alex Kidman Friday, 30 April 2010 00:03

A lot of the Apple rumours going around the traps at the moment relate to the iPhone OS. And why not? It's making Apple enough money that the size of Steve Jobs' offshore money bin recently caused seismic shifts leading to the explosions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

Or that's the rumour I've heard, anyway.

Anyway, so the rumours go, all sorts of features of iPhone OS are going to leak over into Mac OS X 10.7. For the purposes of making sure I don't get the name right this time, I'm going to suggest that 10.7 will be called "LOLcat". I'm sure that will be wrong. But you owe me a beer if it's not.

In any case, some of the rumours circling are at least a little bit LOL-worthy, especially the one that states that Apple will open up an OS X "App Store", and anything that runs on LOLcat will need Apple approval. I can't exactly see that happening in a sane universe, and I can't even see a huge benefit to Apple in doing so, given the backlash that would ensue.

One of the other features of iPhone OS that I have seen endlessly rumoured is the inclusion of touch support within OS X. Touch is one of those holy-grail-type applications that tech types have drooled over for decades now, with varying degrees of success. If you've ever struggled to use one of those information screens in big shopping centres, you'll know what I mean.

Apple has a product suite that does touch very well in the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. V ery well, it should be noted, for a set series of functions — not all of which would translate well to OS X. Selection is OK, but typing is a bit of a chore. It's workable, and I've trained my fingers well enough for iPhone/iPod touch typing, but larger screen typing on the iPad is another story altogether.

When I originally sat down to write this column, I was going to compare the touch capabilities of an iPad to those of the multi-touch tappable mouse on the Core i7 MacBook. I started out typing the column on the iPad. Here's my completely untouched, uncorrected iPad work:

"I had reason to ponder that this week Sm I starte d testing two new Apple products this weaken. First, an iPad 64GB WiFi, and then a core i7 !ackbook.

Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd test this thesis by typing up nor half on the iPad and one half on the MacBook. I would eve left tit like that to show the differences in quality, but if younhVdmt worked out by now that the first half so far has been on iPad (sans corrections) then you're really not paying attention.

I touch type, and for e iPhone t)-5/ worked out ok, But my speedy approach to typing just plain doesn't suit the iPad all that

Well n

Over to the Macbook I think, just so this column becomes vaguely legible."

It's not very good, is it? Although the internet being what it is, the mention of a "left tit" might bring in a whole lot more traffic to this article. Hello there. This isn't what you're looking for. Sorry.

Admittedly, I am a touch typist and I did type all of that at a speed approaching the kind of speed I'd normally type on a keyboard. Yes, the iPad does support Bluetooth keyboards and it would be conceivable to pair one up for faster typing duties, but then you'd be carrying around two gadgets and worrying about the battery endurance on both of them. It would also be rather contrary to Apple's design goals in terms of simple interfaces. Remember, this is the company that stuck for years to single-button mice design goals (while supporting multi-button mice) on the grounds that it led to simpler user experiences.

As an aside, thinking back to my introductory paragraph, if ever there's a word you don't want to type into an iPad, it's Eyjafjallajökull. Hang on for a second while I try that one.


Not quite accurate, although I'd be willing to bet a fair proportion of the audience would have just as much luck pronouncing the iPad version. At least it didn't try to autocorrect it.

What do you think? Are touch interfaces the inevitable way of the future for everything?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!


Night of the Long Knives for Tier-2 resellers

Written by Matthew JC Powell Monday, 26 April 2010 16:05

A number of Australian businesses supporting Apple got an unpleasant start to the ANZAC Day long weekend — notification that their support is no longer required. Multiple "tier-2" Apple resellers were sent emails late on the afternoon of Friday the 23rd of April informing them of the termination of their reseller agreements with Apple — meaning they are no longer permitted to sell Apple hardware.

Tier 2 resellers are generally businesses such as consultants and service centres that might, as part of the service they provide, sell a customer an Apple computer if required. The sale of Apple hardware is not their primary source of revenue, and only in a few cases is it even a significant portion of their income.

However, the manner in which the agreements have been terminated has more than a few backs up.

MacTheMag has been contacted by a number of resellers (who asked not to be named) informing them that their agreements have been terminated in accordance with Clause 13.B of the contracts. That clause (in section i) allows for either party to terminate the agreement at any time, without cause, on the provision of 30 days' notice. However, the letters MacTheMag has been shown specifically state that the termination is effective immediately, not in 30 days' time.

Clause 13.B (ii) allows Apple to terminate the agreement with immediate effect where: "(a) Reseller fails to fully perform any obligation under this agreement or violates any Business Practice and Procedure, (b) Reseller commits a crime or engages in any unlawful or unfair business practice, (c) there is a material change in or transfer of Reseller's management, ownership, control or business operations, or Reseller becomes affiliated, through common management, ownership, or control, with any person or entity that is unacceptable to Apple, (d) Reseller's actions ex pose or threaten to expose Apple to any liability, obligation or violation of law, (e) Reseller fails to maintain sufficient net worth and working capital to meet its obligations, has a receiver or trustee appointed for its property, becomes insolvent or makes an assignment for the benefit of creditors, (f) Reseller closes its last Authorised Location, or (g) Reseller abandons this Agreement."

Got all that?

Not only does it seem unlikely that numerous of Apple's business partners simultaneously breached their agreements with Apple in any of these ways last week, but all of the affected resellers who contacted MacTheMag are adamant they have not committed any such breach. Several expressed surprise, having previously had no issue whatsoever in their dealings with Apple. None of the letters shown to MacTheMag specify the manner in which Clause 13.B is purported to have been infringed.

There were, however, some warning signs. One such reseller, who is primarily a consultant, said he was speaking to an Apple Store employee about a month ago who mentioned, in passing, that in future Apple wanted all of his sales to go through the Apple Store but didn't elaborate. Another mentioned a colleague who had tried to renew his tier-2 agreement with Apple "about six weeks ago" only to find that the option was no longer available.

In other words, it appears Apple has been planning this move for some time and could easily have provided the requisite 30 days' notice called for in Clause 13.B (i), giving these businesses time to satisfy outstanding orders, keep their customers happy and line up alternative revenue sources. Instead, by terminating the agreements "effective immediately" Apple has invoked Clause 13.B (ii), effectively accusing a number of its partners of unspecified wrongdoing and leaving several of them with customer orders they will now not be able to fulfill. Sending the letters out on the Friday night before a long weekend, meaning the affected resellers were not even able to call Apple for clarification, is the icing on the cake.

Comment has been sought from Apple regarding this issue.

UPDATE Apple's response to MacTheMag's questions regarding this issue in full:

"Apple does not comment on its business operations".

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iPad iPad iPad, Oi Oi Oi?

Written by Alex Kidman Thursday, 15 April 2010 15:05

So, as you may have noticed, a couple of weeks back the WiFi only version of the iPad launched in the United States. Actually, if you were even remotely interested, it was rather hard to ignore, with what can't really be covered by the simple term "blanket coverage". Perhaps "Doona on a king-sized bed" coverage would fit better, but then that doesn't slot neatly into a newspaper or web site headline.

Now that the iPad is in the hands of consumers and reviewers, we know all sorts of interesting things about it, including some tips and tweaks. There's the suggestion (for those who must) that jailbreaking will be possible. There's demonstrations of how well the pixel doubling efforts of specific iPhone apps work on the iPad. There's methods for getting multiple calendars to work on the iPad. If you're into full-frontal nudity, there are dedicated, chip-by-chip teardowns of the iPad available. And yes, because we all really had to know, after some light modifications, it will indeed blend.

Actually, comedy aside, the really remarkable thing about the blending video is that if you watch it as the screen breaks, the keyboard is still visible. Ergo, that's one tough tablet.

So we know everything about the iPad, right ?

Nope. While I know several people who made trips to the US personally, returning with shiny new WiFi iPads firmly grasped, and a few who have paid large sums of money for express shipping of an iPad, there's still no sign of pricing information for actual Australian iPads.

All we do know is not much of everything.

That's because Apple's statement on local iPad availability doesn't say a whole lot of anything. Here's the original release in its entirety:

"iPad Wi-Fi + 3G models will be available in Australia in late April. Pricing will be announced at the time of availability."

And after last night's revelation that Apple sold more than a few iPads in the US — such a shock — and it would be delaying the release until "late May" things didn't get any better, even if we can pre-order on May 10th. In one of life's little ironies, when I initially penned this column, I included the following rather prophetic statement:

"Hopefully it's not using ‘late’ in the sense of ‘dead’, and there's an announcement in the wings heralding its late October release date due to ‘unprecedented overseas demand’. I'd better stop writing that press release for Apple right now, before I give them any other ideas."

Just in case I do have wonderful prophetic powers to change Apple's business strategy, I'm going to come out and say it right now: Free iPads for all Australians.

Hey, it can't hurt to try, right?

Still, we don't know much. Will May 10 be when we can pre-order WiFi units? 3G units? Will the telcos having pricing in place by then? It's certainly possible to extrapolate out from the $US499 (16GB) $US599 (32GB) and $US699 (64GB) prices to rough Australian pricing for the WiFi-only models that are already on sale, but for the more interesting 3G models, it's much less clear. Carriers I've spoken to won't say much more on the record other than that they're "discussing the iPad with Apple vigorously", or words pretty much to that effect. The use of Micro-SIM cards means that the iPad represents an entirely new revenue stream for the carriers. Call me cynical, but I don't know that we'll see any kind of "all you can eat" pricing á la what AT&T's going to offer in the States.

There are ways to bypass the whole issue of 3G access with a portable WiFi router such as those offered by Internode, Virgin Mobile, Edimax or Netcomm, although you'll still be paying 3G data rates. Again, I'm speculating, but I suspect that we won't see any brave and bold new iPad-only data pricing at all, but just "more of the same" kind of pricing. To make matters worse, my inbuilt scepticism suggests that the pricing we'll see (irrespective of the buy or contract price of an iPad) will mirror the data costs of a mobile phone rather than a mobile modem, even though the iPad's much more of a data device than the iPhone.

What do you think? Are you panting expectantly to get your hands on an iPad, and is price irrelevant?

Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!


Scenes from a launch

Written by BGrant Thursday, 08 April 2010 13:31

The giddy atmosphere that accompanied the "arrival" of iPad makes an interesting study. I'm not looking at the reviews per se. The best reviews will come in a few months' time when the reality distortion field dissipates and real people begin using iPad for real tasks.

31st March: embargo lifts, journalists who have a week with iPad under their belts publish their reviews. If the Apple-sphere wasn't already abuzz, it went berserk at this point.

Notably, Andy Ihnatko does an hour and a quarter interview and demo live on TWiT, complete with viewer questions. Ihnatko is convinced it's a computer, just not a computer as we understand it right now.

The FCC even joined in, publishing pictures of the gizzards, which iFixIt did a superb job dissecting (see, iPad is good for promoting biology education at least). This kept the geeks busy until release day.  iFixit also did its own, more detailed teardown on release day.

I don't know if reviewers were giddy at having the most sought-after gadget on the planet to themselves for a week, but reviews were positive to a fault. Criticisms were pretty lame. No Flash (yawn!). PC sites decried the lack of file system, USB port for extra storage or printing. Opinion was divided as to whether the screen was easier to read than Kindle in daylight. Mail still won't let you create folders, (iPhone whinge) etc. Won't charge from computer's USB (MJCP's favourite). Most of these could have been inferred from the tech specs. What did they learn from a week of ownership?

Cory Doctorow sounded a cautionary note and even he seemed to be reaching — perhaps as an over-reaction to the hype. He criticised iPad for perpetuating old and dying media business models — people can't share comic books anymore! Doctorow publishes with a major publishing company, while giving away full copies of all his books free from his web site, so I have a lot of time for him, even if I don't agree in this case.

11am the day before: the truly dedicated Robert Scoble set up a tent at the Palo Alto Apple Store — what he calls "Steve Jobs's Apple Store" — and played Pied Piper to the rest of the media, waiting for Mac luminaries like Bill Atkinson and Steve Wozniak to drop in overnight. The TWiT crew grabbed a "magical" quarter hour of Woz's time to talk about the whatchamacallit.

And the local angle. The ballad of a couple of guys from Melbourne going to New York to pick up some iPads for friends. Read how it went down on Twitter.

Share your memories of "iPad Day" on MacTheForum!


Why the iPad will be successful

Written by John Chidgey Thursday, 08 April 2010 13:20

Many pundits have put forth their suggestions regarding Apple's new "magical" device and, having read through the opinions both for and against, it's time to draw a line in the sand and face the facts: The iPad will be successful.

Before discussing why let's first tackle the leading arguments against the iPad in the current global debate:

The iPad is just an over-sized iPod touch. Yes - that's exactly what it is. This is a bad thing? Why? The most infuriating thing about an iPod Touch or iPhone is the amount of scrolling that needs to be done when surfing the web, reading a book, navigating long lists of items in contacts, music, email or whichever application is running. The iPad reduces this problem by having a bigger screen. Another drawback of the iPod touch/iPhone is the battery life isn't very good. The iPad - in most benchmarks so far - is exceeding Apple's claimed ten hours of continuous use by a good margin. The only bad thing about the iPad is that it's bigger and heavier which, frankly, it needs to be in order to overcome the previously-mentioned limitations. What is the problem with being an over-sized iPod touch? Nothing so far as I can tell. People who want a portable music player that can surf the internet in a pinch when they are out and about will choose an iPod touch/iPhone - the others who want a bigger screen and a more immersive experience and don't mind the extra bulk will buy an iPad. Maybe some people will even buy both.

The iPad is not as powerful as a laptop. It's important to understand that whilst the iPad is a powerful computer in its own right, it's not trying to be everything for everyone - yet. For the moment most application s have been tweaked over many decades of development toward mouse-hover and -click and not touch input. With time applications will be ported to the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch devices and will also be usable on these devices too - it's just a matter of software and time. The Apple A4 chip (like many ARM-based CPUs) is very energy efficient. So are the latest Intel CPUs and, on benchmark tests, the performance gap is beginning to narrow (when single core executions are considered). In the interests of slimmer packaging, better battery life and better cooling needs, laptops are also reducing their speed when operating on their battery and future iterations of the iPad will come much closer to laptop performance.

That said, what is it about laptop performance that matters anyway? If you are serious about video editing or playing graphically-intensive games chances are you're not using a laptop anyway, or if you are it's a high-end MacBook Pro which is a major step in price above the iPad. Simply put, as the software selection improves, less people will want to use laptops because they are bigger, more expensive to purchase and difficult to carry around when compared to an iPad.

The iPad doesn't support Flash. This is regrettably Apple's choice and it's a shame that it's taking a stand on such a significant product as Adobe Flash. There is no doubt that Flash (to date) hasn't endeared itself to the computing public as it is a resource hog (unless hardware accelerated), it is proprietary code which Adobe changes regularly without much notice (making hardware acceleration difficult in the long term), and it is well known to be unstable (prone to crashing browsers and some operating systems). Apple's stance may well be right on this one but it seems too much like a back-door action against Adobe for other reasons which doesn't endear Apple to anyone. Win or lose, in the end this will be a pain for the very large number of people in the world who enjoy playing Flash games in Facebook or any number of novelty emails that fly about the ether. With Apple's mind unlikely to change and Adobe unlikely to support a rear-guard action with a Flash plug-in loadable on jail-broken iPads, it seems we will all die wondering whether this was much ado about nothing from Apple.

The iPad can't be easily read in bright sunlight. How many laptops can be easily read in bright sunlight? Take that number and then divide it by the number of people who also enjoy reading a book in bright sunlightyou're your result is in double-digits then that's about how many people in the world this will affect. It's a problem, yes, but for so few people it doesn't really matter. If it really bothers you, buy an e-Ink device like the Kindle or the Nook.

There is no multi-tasking (for third party apps) on the iPad. There are four basic scenarios when background applications make sense: For notifications/listening (like a VOIP application); for loading/working on data in the background (like a web browser); for swapping data back and forth between applications (copying bits and pieces between notes and email and Pages lets say); and keeping the state of the application when reopening it (like staying on the same place in a book you're reading when you reopen the application).

Due to the nature of VOIP there's currently no choice but for each device to register on the internet and wait for a call. It would be possible to have a notify-respond-recall system that would work with push notifications but this is not the way VOIP currently works and hence there's no easy way around this one.

Loading or working in the background is most common when users want to play with a simple (non-intensive) application like Twitter, whilst typing up a long email or similar between comments in a conversation. Switching in and out of the apps to answer a tweet then back to the email seems like a pain to some people but in reality this is merely the equivalent of switching windows on OSX/Windows - except the mouse is used and not the home button with a tap on the application. Why is that such a problem?

Another common multi-tasking need is transferring data between programs - usually text and/or pictures. The iPad supports this with cut, copy and paste. It takes not that much more time on an iPad than it would to perform the same operation in OSX/Windows.

It would surprise many to know that most of the way interruptions to an iPad application are handled (or iPod touch/iPhone application for that matter) has more to do with how the application is written than it does with the OS. If the application is well-written the state of the application is stored on exit and restored on reentry and this isn't a problem.

Whilst it is true that running applications in the background could be advantageous at times, it's not a deal-breaker and, once again, it can be easily rectified by a firmware update at any time should Apple change its mind.

Tablet PCs have been around for a decade and have never taken off. Yes the hardware platform known as Tablet PC has been around for a decade or more now. However, the intention of a Tablet PC is that touch (via pen or finger) completely controls the device and all of its functions. In the past, touching was simply overlaid onto a point-and-click interface. Gestures were basic, inconsistent, unreliable and for the most part not well thought out in nearly all implementations. Add to that a greater expense for the device and it's no wonder they never took off.

The iPad is different because: it's more affordable than the vast majority of tablets that have been and gone before it; it builds on the iPod touch/iPhone gestures and touch technology which is now best in class; the entire operating system for the iPad was developed with touch in mind - not a mouse; and the applications written for it are optimised for touch input - they're not desktop applications which have no idea you're using a Tablet PC.

Herein lies the fundamental reason why the iPad will succeed. Unlike all the Tablet PCs that have come before it, it is designed to be basic hardware, with most of Apple's efforts focused on the software. Why did Apple itself write three flagship applications in Pages, Keynote and Numbers for the iPad? It had to show the world how to write a good touch-based, desktop-quality application. Third-party developers will follow Apple's lead and the sky's the limit.

Despite the detractors and a few restrictions the iPad will be a success. Is it magical? That's debatable. It is Apple's second big step down the new road in computing - putting the PC into the hands of the masses who can easily learn to use and enjoy what PCs have to offer. If you think it needs a built-in hardware keyboard and a command-line interface, chances are you're a geek and it's just you.

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