Can an iPad replace a laptop, seriously?

Ever since I was convinced to buy an iPad 4 years ago, I’ve been a massive fan and predicted they would eventually replace laptops for most consumers. Just as not everyone needs a truck, not everyone needs a laptop right?

It turns out however, that iPad sales are falling. This is more likely a combination of people having much larger phones, iPads being reliable and not needing replacing, lack of innovation (today’s fifth generation iPad does the same as a second generation, only faster), and the fact that the vast majority of consumers don’t need anything more powerful than a phone. It saddens me that despite the Internet being a place where anyone can publish anything at very low cost (or for free in many cases), most people use it to consume TV and post frivolous Facebook updates that don’t require much more than a mobile phone – but that’s another topic altogether.

At the other end of the scale you have business and professional users, who tend to use laptops because they offer much more power. Processing power isn’t as far off as you might think, the power difference is now in the software. Take for example a simple task I needed to achieve last week – downloading an MP3 from a web site (legit I might add! It was to accompany a course I was taking) and add it to my iTunes Match Library so it would be available on all of my devices. This is easy to do on a Mac or Windows laptop, but impossible on an iPad. That’s ridiculous.

The other software issue that holds back these devices is the transient nature of applications. At any time your application might get terminated due to lack of memory. This rarely results in any loss of work, as developers usually code with this in min (until iOS 4, this happened overtime you left an app). Not many developers both to restore the state of an application (as they are suppose to), and even when they do having to wait for it to load again is painful.

So the answer is no, an iPad can’t replace a laptop at the moment. I would like to see Apple push forward with this vision. Why not have a simplified version of Xcode for the iPad? It could be a great way to introduce people to programming (and could feature the Playground function introduced last year). The built in applications should be updated to support ‘Open In’ so I can open that MP3 file in the Music app, for example.

For many users, nothing will beat a dual screen setup with a mouse and keyboard – but I can’t help thinking that 90% of my non-work computing needs could be done on an iPad if the software were better.

Update: 31/5/2015

I’ve been using an external keyboard with my iPad a lot recently, so hardware wise it’s more on par with a laptop. Here’s what I miss most from a full blown Windows/Mac laptop:

  • The a ability to have more than one document open within a single app. Some apps such as Mail support having mutipe drafts open at once, but all the apps I use most frequently such as Microsft Word, Pages and Excel can only open one document at a time. It takes about 30 seconds to close a document and to load another, which just slows me down.
  • Lack of keyboard shortcuts – such as being able to press ‘Enter’ to send a message, or CTRL + Enter to send an email. Also being able to switch between documents / apps using the keyboard would help too.
  • Applications getting unloaded from memory. Or rather lazy developers not bothering to reload the state of an app when it gets reloaded. Again, like with the document switching – it gets in the way when you return to a presentation and find the app has gone back to the open screen. 
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Apple Watch

So the details are finally in, and I have to admit – I’m slightly disappointed. I was hoping Apple would unveil some major new functionality at last week’s event, but it was just filling the gaps between what we already knew.

In essence, the watch has 3 main functions: a fitness tracker, notification viewer and of course telling the time. You could also add a 4th function: fashion accessory.

The fitness tracker part of it excites me most, as I have used the Nike Fuelband previously and found it was good at telling me how inactive I was, convincing me to workout more often. After 6 or 7 months, I didn’t need to wear it anymore as I kind of knew when I was active and when I wasn’t. I guess if I was marathon training I might need more detail, but surely and GPS enabled Garmin watch would be more suited in this case? So for me I’m partially excited about this aspect of the watch, but it doesn’t seem groundbreaking to me.

The notification viewing aspect of the watch doesn’t excite me at all. Mainly because it requires I have my phone in the same building. Not being a high-flying executive who needs to view every email within seconds, the thought of having notifications on my wrist makes me shudder. If the watch had cellular networking and meant I could leave the house without a phone, then I would be interested. In fact, one day I see the iPhone being obsolete and the watch being the main connectivity device. When they need a bigger screen, people will tether their iPad to their watches.

Telling the time is of course a very useful function. At work (where lets face it, I spend a good chunk of my time) I have a computer in front of me with the time omnipresent, and typing with a watch on can be uncomfortable. So I only need this functionality at weekends or when I go out after work. My Casio serves its purpose here – do i really need an Apple Watch for this?

Then there’s the fashion element. Apple has, since the iPod been a fashion brand – though a slightly geeky  fashion brand. I have a feeling Smart Watches will end up like calculator watches in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – looking dated and ‘of their time’. Then there’s the ridiculously priced ‘Apple Watch Edition’ made out of solid gold. I get that some watches cost tens of thousands of pounds. However, isn’t part of what justifies the price of a Rolex that fact that they have been engineering watches for over a hundred years, and have a reputation for exceptional quality? If Volvo released a Rolls Royce-priced car, it wouldn’t make it comparable to a Rolls Royce. Making something expensive doesn’t make it fashionable. I personally go out of my way not to wear overtly branded clothing (to my dismay, the craze of wearing ‘Super Dry’ plastered over your front like you’re selling children’s nappies door-to-door hasn’t subsided yet, at least in the UK), and so I wouldn’t want a watch that was too ‘showy’.

Of course I haven’t mentioned the apps yet. This is where I think the watch could excel. it could be like the iPad, which I was doubtful about upon its release, but now I think it is the world’s greatest personal computer. Will I buy an Apple Watch? No. I’ll wait and see what the second generation has to offer. My hope is it will have a way of using the device purely over WiFi (I accept cellular is  a long way off for battery reasons) so I could realistically go out for the evening, and as long as the place I am going has WiFi, I can still keep in touch.

Apple Upgrade Regret

As someone who owns an iPhone, Mac, iPad and an Apple TV, I can safely say I’m deeply embedded into the Apple ecosystem. I got my first Mac, a white iMac n 2001 at the dawn of the OS X revolution and loved it. I had switch back to a Windows PC for university as back then a lot of the software development tools I needed were PC-only or required I keep upgrading my OS on the iMac to install them (the poor G3 processor struggled from the offset with OS X).

I came back into the Apple ecosystem with an iPhone in 2009, and later an iPod Touch (now retired), iPad and more recently and Apple TV. They all work well together, and the hardware design and quality is second to none.

So I was excited when Apple announced as WWDC that iOS 8 and Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite would further deepen that integration. About a month ago I finally upgraded my phone (a trusty 2-year old iPhone 5) and iPad to iOS 8., and two weeks later my MacBook Air to Yosemite. My Apple TV also got upgraded (after weeks of nagging me) to iOS version 7.0.2 (oddly it seems to be on a different versioning system).

In short, I have regrets.

Yosemite on the desktop is the polar opposite of 10.9 Mavericks. While Mavericks was all about optimisation, whether it was battery life or memory consumption, Yosemite is a lavish excursion into a world of translucency and bright colours and unfortunately, some bugs.

Take for example listening to music over headphones. No longer possible if you have an Apple TV on the same network. You either need to unplug the Apple TV, or turn off Wi-Fi. Animations are choppy, and the new looks resembles the much derided Windows Vista. There are a few useful new features; Safari now feels much more streamlined and being able to send and receive SMS messages from the Mac is brilliant. I’d rather have a fast, bug free system running Mavericks and sacrifice these small but useful features, however.

On the Apple TV side things are even worse. It used to be that from a Mac or iOS device you could start beaming audio or visual content while the Apple TV was in deep sleep mode (“off”). This no longer works. Now I need to hunt around for the infrared remote and switch on the Apple TV first. This also rules out using the iPhone Remote app, as it uses the same mechanism and cannot wake the Apple TV. Often I try and beam a video to the Apple TV an get sound coming out of the TV but no audio. Frustrated, I reboot my iPhone or Mac and it still happens. In the end I learnt that I actually need to reboot the Apple TV to get my videos to play.

Nothing major on its own, and yes the very definition of a 1st world problem – my frustration is that this stuff used to work so brilliantly, and now it doesn’t.

On the iOS 8 side things have been surprisingly non-eventful. After the upgrade that was iOS 7 it might just be it seems that way in comparison,  but it seems to work pretty well. I love being able to use LastPass in Safari. Occasionally I find Safari will show me a white page, only to show the content when I try and scroll. No big issues though.

Writing bug free software isn’t easy, I know that all too well, so I don’t feel like its fair to call out Apple as being any different to say, Microsoft (one word: Excel). However Apple could make the lives of its users easier by letting them downgrade! There’s nothing wrong with trying something, deciding it’s not for you right now, and going back. Software should be running on a device because the user wants it, not because they have no way of removing it.

iPhone OS 3

While self confessed geeks and technology enthusiasts like myself may get 2 or 3 years out of a device (if that, I know many people who switch phone multiple times a year), normal people expect to get a bit more out of these expensive gadgets. I found a first gen iPod Touch in my dad’s glove box today and thought I’d reminisce about how much iOS (then called iPhone OS) had changed, yet in some ways hasn’t much at all.

Home screen

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This was how it looked from iPhone OS 1 through to 3 – the metallic dock. The iPod Touch always had separate ‘Music’ and ‘Video’ apps, whereas iPhones has a single app called  ‘iPod’. No wallpaper, but apart from that it stayed pretty much the same until iOS 7 moved Spotlight search to the top instead of being on the left.

Lock Screen

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The lock screen stayed exactly the same until iOS 7 – the only minor change was the additional of a camera button in iOS 5.1.

Home button

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The days before ‘multitasking’ (aka recent task switching) meant the home button ‘double tap’ action could be customised. I always remember having it be set to launch the music player. If you had ‘Show iPod Controls’ selected then you would get an alert box with music controls, no matter which app you were in. Multitasking.

iTunes Store

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The iTunes Store was a major selling point of the iPod Touch. Being able to wirelessly buy and play an album within minutes was pretty darn mind blowing at the time.

Wallpaper

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The bundled lock screen images seem very ‘of their time’ – silhouettes with white ear buds.  

No Speaker

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This setting is a carry over from the classic iPod. The original iPod Touch had no loudspeaker. The noises it could make were on par with a Casio watch.

About

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Released in 2007, the iPod Touch got its last software update on February 2nd 2010.

WWDC 2014 Opening Keynote Thoughts

Overall a packed keynote with lots to say, here are my highlights.

 

  • iCloud Drive is looking to take on Dropbox and SkyDrive, with Windows clients too.
  • CloudKit looks to be something similar to Microsoft’s Windows Azure Mobile Services, but free. Will it support non-iOS clients, though?
  • HealthKit and HomeKit look interesting, as long as they don’t go the same way as Game Center.
  • Finally, we have unified communications between all your devices. Receive SMS on your PC, make phone calls from an iPad. Great stuff.
  • With widgets in the sidebar and lots of translucency, I couldn’t help but think of Windows Vista when I saw Mac OS X 10.10. I joke of course, though I will miss the 3D dock.
  • The new Spotlight service looks like it will be extremely useful, and could reduce iOS/Mac OS users’ reliance on Google.
  • The new photos in the cloud service should really help me with my measly 16GB device. Can’t wait for the Mac version to be released.
  • Objective-C replaced! I was not expecting that. Great to see a more modern language being introduced.

iOS Disappearing Calendar Notifications – Mystery Solved

Ever turned in your iPhone to see a calendar notices suddenly disappear from the lock screen? I've been seeing this a lot lately, and it's really bugged me – especially when my phone is on silent (as it is most of the day), so I can check it at chosen intervals rather than be disturbed (developer thing, no doubt) .

Well it turns out iOS will remove a notification after the event has finished. Kind of makes sense, although it does mean if you totally miss an appointment, you'd be none the wiser unless you pay very careful attention and see it before the notification quickly disappears.

Odd quirk, but probably not a bug – just a design choice (I would say it makes sense to remove them from the notification centre, perhaps not the lock screen) and Apple should probably hide it before the screen turns in to avoid the confusion of seeing something for a split second.

I like Siri

But wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to speak to it?

Google Now seems like a preferred approach, you tell it the teams you follow, and where you work (or it works it out), and the information just appears when it’s needed.

Size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts

Apple seems to be getting a lot of bad press recently because of their refusal to release a larger iPhone. That and the fact that iOS is apparently getting 'stale' because hasn't changed much since its release in 2007.
I completely disagree with this criticisms – and here's why: Firstly, when it comes to a phone, I don't believe bigger is better. What matters to me is the portability of the device, coupled with software which is of a high standard and turns this 'black mirror' into something useful. If anything, quality and resolution of the screen matters far more than the dimensions.
When people start talking up screen sizes, it reminds me of the TV market, where people routinely buy the biggest screen they can get for their money, even if it means the screen will disproportionately intrude into their living room. There hasn't been much innovation in TVs in the past 6 years, we've seen half-hearded attempts at 'app' ecosystems, but ultimately people just want to sit passively and watch stuff, not mess about with apps. Since the iPhone was released in 2007, introducing multitouch, inertia scrolling and a touch screen that didn't need a stylus, we haven't seen any other big changes in paradigm. The iPhone 4 got a super high resolution screen that made reading text all the more pleasurable. Apart from that, in terms of hardware at least, we've gotten thinner, lighter and faster and that's all.
With phones, the quality of the apps and ease of use is what makes the difference – not the size of the thing. Price also plays a part – a big part. Having used Android for the past 18 months (HTC Desire S, and a Nexus 7) I can't help but be drawn back to iOS, purely because th software is so much better.
 

 

Goodbye HTC Desire S, Hello iPhone

Did you read that right? Yes I posted to this blog in 2010 when I replaced my old iPhone 3GS with HTC’s Desire S. and 2 years before that when I replaced my Nokia N95 with the iPhone.

At the time of getting my Android phone I wasn’t too happy about the state of the iOS ecosystem. Apple was banning apps left right and enter, and the iPhone 4 didn’t excite me much. I took the plunge and switched to Android, and was immediately pleased with what I got. Over time however I came to regret that decision. What I took for granted in iOS was missing from Android – quality.

Quality is a difficult concept to describe. We all know it when we see it, but it isn’t always obvious to see when you’re looking for it. In the case of my HTC Desire S, quality means the small details in the user interface that you would never notice until you have to do without – take for example making a phone call to someone who isn’t available, I’d go to my recent contacts list (3rd in the list), tap their name, and wait while it rings. After 20 seconds it would hit voicemail. This was an urgent call, so I wanted to call back straight away. I hit ‘Hangup’ and went back to the recent call list, thinking to tap the name – still 3rd in the list. Just as I tap it however, it moved from 3rd in the list to 1st, and I end up calling someone else instead. The phone was just slow. It may have been dual-core compared to my single-core iPhone 3GS, but that comparison is like sitting a motorbike and a lorry next to each other with the same engine, and expecting them to hit 60 at the same time.

Then there was the lack of updates – it took a year for me to get Android 4.0 and when I  finally did it was through a HTC developers site (and made the phone even slower).

The on-board software was buggy and confusing. There seemed to be 2 of everything. A HTC Twitter app, the official Twitter app. A HTC mail client, and GMail, HTC Facebook and well, you get it. On the other hand with iOS you get minimalistic software that actually does useful stuff.

It wasn’t all bad of course, as by original blog post stated. You do get a lot more freedom, but I found myself not caring since Apple seems to be far more reasonable these days when it comes to App Store Approval (and I actually quite like the fact that Apps can’t take over system functions so easily).

So, I am glad to be back Smile