Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mr. Tech Reviews the iPad

I've always been kind of a sideways fan of Apple. Ever since they adopted Berkely Unix as part of their Base Operating System, I thought it was a good alternative to Windows. I'm pretty much a died in the wool Open Source guy, I run Linux on my desktops and have been even know to run a copy of FreeBSD now and then.

The reason I've chosen this route, is twofold. One I get every ounce or CPU and Memory I paid for. It uses all of it. Second, I don't have to worry about constant upates to protect me from malware and other nasty threats. I update every once in awhile, but most updates are not "life threatening"

It's always been my opinion that Mac's are nice, if you have wads of cash to waste on looks. There is no performance advantage in buying a Mac. There are some security advantages in using an *nix based operating system over Windows, so Mac's score points there.

But I digress a bit. The iPad is not a Berkely Unix based operating system, it's Apples iOS 5. So it loses a few points there.

No Flash Support

One of the biggest glaring gaps are It doesn't support Flash. Now I've never been a big fan of Flash, but but there are a lot of sites that use it. I'm not a big fan of Javascript either, but since so many sites use it, browsers have to support it. Steve Jobs was pretty smug when he said "iPad users aren’t missing much video", in April of 2010. Here my short list of things I can't do on the iPad, because of lack of support for flash.
  • Daily Show with John Stewart Full Episodes
  • Grooveshark
  • South Park
  • Colbert Report
  • Any Flash Games
I'm not a big Facebook fan, but lots of people like to play those games and there's just lots and lots of Flash content out there and it's quite a big hole in the iPad to not support Flash. Almost every other manufaturer of tablets has Flash pre-installed. The iPad not only doesn't have it pre-installed, you cannot install it. If you go to the Adobe website it says it's not available "because of restrictions that Apple has put in place." So what I'm gathering is that even if Adobe had a version of Flash that would install on my iPad Apple won't let them do it? Why?

Music is a hassle

Next up on the list. My music. I've got lots and lots of MP3's, OGG's, WAV's and other audio formats, and I would like to be able to copy said files from the desktop of my choice to my tablet. Not so with the iPad. To get music into your iPad you have to install a 300mb applications, (The iTune store), then load all of your music into iTunes, which now makes another copy of your music, taking up twice the disk space, in Apples proprietary format. It was the same thing with the iPods, just a lot of back bending to get a music file from point A to point B. I've had a G1 phone for years and all I've ever had to do, to move music, video, or other files to and from my device is plug it in to any machine, Mac, Windows or Linux and drag and drop. It looks like a thumb drive to whatever machine I plug it into, no additional software is required. iPads on the other hand force you to install a large application and sign up for an account, verify your e-mail address, etc. Just to put your music files into your device. I'm sorry I just don't feel it's necessary for me to have to reveal my personal information to Apple, just so I can put my music on my device. I also now get regular spam from the iTunes store, and I assume I can opt out, but I'll have to log into their site to do it.

No Java

There are a lot of mobile devices that don't support Java. But the iPad is not a phone. It touts itself as being a crossover device between a phone and a desktop. I kind of expect that it will run my desktop applications. I've got quite a few applications that depend on Java applets loaded on the web, and my favorite IDE Eclipse

What it does well

So let's talk for a minute about what it does well. I have to say it looks very nice. It's a very sexy piece of technology. The included E-mail application is nice and the Safari Web browser seems to work well. The UI is snappy and has a nice feel to it. And I have been able to find a couple of useful free applications.

iPad Applications

Here's a short list of free iPad apps that I've really liked so far.
  • ABC Player - Since iPad doesn't support Flash, you'll need this if you want to watch streaming video from ABC. There's an NBC player and a PBS player as well. You'll need these extra apps if you want streaming video. Comedy central has a player, but you have to pay for it. If you have flash, watching full episodes is Free.
  • Flipboard - a cool way to read the news, allows you to change pages like flipping the pages of a book.
  • PivotalTracker - I've been using this Agile task management system in Eclipse and on the Web, I've very stoked that there's an iPad client because Safari seems to have problems with the Pivotal web interface.
  • MetalStorm - A fun, free basic flying a jet and shooting down other planes game. I've been laying off the games as of late (much too much work), but this one is a fun quick distraction.
  • UYH - Use Your Hand, a very cool little notepad app, that lets you use your finger to write like a pen. It doesn't to OCR, which would be ultra cool, but it's works pretty well if you want to write instead of type.
  • Skype - This has been a very cool app for a long time and the iPad app is no different, it made me fall in love with tablet computing. With the front and back camera's in the iPad you can do "see what I see types of calls"
For every cool application there are probably about 1000 that are just junk, much like the Android app ecosystem. Either they are a rip off of the original that doesn't work quite as well, or they are just overpriced for what they offer. For example having to pay for an application to watch streaming video that will also have commercials inserted. I can see paying money for a really robust application, but most of the things that are being charged for just aren't worth it. That being said, iPads, and Macs in general have always been targeted at those who don't mind spending a few extra bucks on something that looks sexy and stylish. If you don't really care about the looks, these are all things I was doing years ago with my G1 phone. The tablet glued a bigger screen to the whole affair, and voila!, a Tablet. So really what I have here, is a nice big sexy smart phone that won't do Flash, won't easily store my music and won't make phone calls, although there is a Skype client and several other VOIP clients. That being said, this was given to me as a gift. Because of that fact alone, I love it dearly. There are quite a few things that it does well, but I'm rather reticent to support a company that mucks around with likes of patent trolls. This type of behavior has seriously tarnished my impression of a company that at least had the 'nads to put a Unix based OS on their desktops. DISCLAIMER: My opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the opinions of anyone I have worked for, currently work for or may work for in the future. They also do not reflect the opinion of my cat, my next door neighbor, or the guy that hangs out down at the beach and talks to himself. My final opinion is to follow my geeky heart and gravitate towards, Open Source and Android. If I'm going to do a tablet. It's just got to be Android. The main reason, is that if I chose a set of applications and I get to like them. If I stop liking the hardware. Or the hardware vendor starts providing crappy customer service, or I stop liking the hardware vendor for any other reason. I can buy hardware from any other number of vendors that my application will run on. Locking yourself into a single hardware/software solution has never been a good idea, no matter how many dancing monkeys, or dolphins jumping through flaming hoops you get along with the deal, being able to choose is always a good thing.

All that being said, at the end of the day, I have to support a company that is going to further my chosen profession, as a creator of technology solutions, and I have to avoid supporting companies that indirectly hurt my profession, in the blind pursuit of profit, no matter how cool it would be to have a dolphin, ride a flaming monkey shot from a cannon, through a big letter A.

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