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Gizmodo’s Review of the iPad and iPhone 4

As we brace for this week’s deluge, I thought I’d provide two samples—from Gizmodo no less—in contrast to my complaints from last week. Despite sharing a similar format and tone, both are among my favorite gadget reviews. What I like in particular is the way (which most reviews tend to do in reverse) both Chen and Lam use the experience of living with these devices as the method by which we might extract value and meaning from them; Is there space in our lives for the iPad? How do you—why should you—redefine the already ubiquitous experience of owning an iPhone?1

Neither article is perfect (at times too coy and proud of it) but they do point towards an alternative discussion of consumer technology I can’t recall seeing elsewhere since. The only writer exploring in a similar manner whose name comes to mind is Shawn Blanc. The difference is that where Blanc’s voice is technical and definitive, Lam and Chen’s are ambiguous but honest. It’s too bad these reviews remain a distant anomaly in Gizmodo’s mired rear view mirror.2


  1. In hindsight, the reviews complete each other. I’d wager the way Chen talks about the iPhone 4 is the way we could approach this year’s reviews of the fourth generation of the iPad. The numerology isn’t the point here, but rather the transition from the merely ubiquitous to the utterly ubiquitous. 

  2. Knowing full well the futility, I remain curious about what shape a Gizmodo sans Gawker would have taken. The double edged sword to Gizmodo’s identity has always been it’s willingness to risk being contrarian—if not even rebellious—in a space that discourages it. While that risk sometimes materialized into the aforementioned reviews, it’s also been responsible for theft, glamorizing theft, contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake, and hiring Jesus Diaz. My pet theory states that by removing Gawker’s appetite for exploiting sensationalism, Gizmodo’s risk taking would amount to more than repeated embarrassment. 

iPad-ography

The iPad as the right kind of camera

Neven Mrgan, on the iPad 3 and photography:

Any iPad with any lens may be just too physically awkward to make a good camera. But, there’s something to be said for a device that can shoot and then immediately process shots and footage. The iPad is too big to shoot with; the iPhone is too small to edit on.

If Mrgan’s comments seem to echo the general attitudes towards the iPad camera, I’d like to suggest that our critique of the iPad as a lousy device for capturing images stems from the wrong perspective; that while an iPad may indeed be a terrible replacement for a consumer point and shoot camera, it may in fact be an ideal choice for certain kinds of photographers.

Mission Beach - June 2009

Of the many cameras I’ve had the luxury of owning, my favourite by far was the Mamiya RB67. A sturdy, mechanical camera from a bygone era, the RB67 is a workhorse professional camera that, amongst its many other qualities, created stunning images thanks to its superb optics and use of larger medium format film. But perhaps my favourite feature of my RB67 was its large, waist lever viewfinder that was invaluable when composing some of my favourite landscape images. Compared to most eye-level viewfinders, using my “RB’s” viewfinder was a much more comfortable, even contemplative, photographing experience. To be sure, the RB67 wasn’t an ideal camera for every photographer. Its considerable heft and relatively slow shutter mechanism certainly wasn’t ideal for capturing an elusive moment or carrying around all day in the streets. But for landscape and portrait photographers, where images are often carefully staged and envisioned, the practicality of the RB67 and its large viewfinder can’t be understated. This is why digital landscape photographers are so keen on using the increasingly large LCD displays that can be used to capture imageson most modern digital SLRs.

All this to say that my experience with my RB67 colours my perception of the iPad as a camera differently than most. Where people picture someone awkwardly holding out an iPad at arm’s length trying to keep up with their frolicking children in frame, I imagine instead standing at the end of long beach with my iPad mounted to tripod, feet wet from the tide, watching the life of the ocean unfold before me on a large, clear -and hopefully retina, display. Even if the iPad 3 might never be as practical a camera as the iPhone, I still believe it could be a better camera than its smaller sibling in specific situations and for certain types of photographers. If the new iPad’s optics are similar to the iPhone 4S, as Mrgan suggests in his post, I’d have no hesitation recommending it - or future iterations, to many photographers not only as an image editing device but as an image creating device as well. It won’t be for everyone and it’ll be a long while - if ever, before the pictures it produces reach the quality of medium format film (for displays and small print sizes, that probably doesn’t matter much anyways), but I can’t imagine I’m the only landscape photographer having used a medium or large format system that isn’t excited - or least intrigued, by the prospect of using an iPad with a Retina Display and a quality image sensor as a camera you’d use much in the same way as a Mamiya RB67 or Hasselblad. Combined with the countless software possibilities to be explored on iOS and the App Store, I don’t see why the iPad couldn’t succeed as a camera if only we focus a little more on its strengths as a camera, rather than its more obvious weaknesses.

Finally, one thing that’s crossed my mind if Mrgan’s predictions of an improved camera and more powerful image editing software pan out: How will Apple illustrate those points in - assuming they create any, promotional images and videos. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Apple would want to show iPad 3 users going through the whole process of image production solely on the iPad. iPhone and iPad commercials often relay on the emotional power of friends and family to demonstrate their technology, so I wonder how they’d portray people taking images with the iPad, especially given the awkward nature of using it for candid photography most frequently found in images of family vacations and the like. The iPad 2 cameras had previously only been shown in ads as FaceTime enablers, if only because the iPad 2 camera was too shitty for anything else. Supposing the iPad 3 has a camera equal to the iPhone 4S and exclusive and powerful editing software, it’ll be interesting to see how they demonstrate and emphasize that through their advertisements.

On the Fascination with the iPad’s PC-Ness

Since the iPad’s announcement, its equivalence to the PC has been in question. Two years later, it seems this particular debate is far from settled. The topic has resurfaced recently in light of Apple’s wild success with the device, prompting many to wonder how to interpret one computing device’s accomplishments in the face of an industry that seems to be in free fall. Yet for all the yes it is, no it isn’t arguments revolving around the iPad’s PC-ness, no one has elucidated the reason why the iPad must be categorized one way or the other. Or why it even matters. 1

The obsession with the PC2 moniker itself is interesting, so much its definition is open to interpretation. Is a PC strictly defined as a Personal Computer? Computers have been steadily becoming more and more personal since the term was coined that the only thing we mightn’t call PCs are the numerous server farms powering corporations and our favourite web services. Neither are we defining PC as the distinction between Justin Long and John Hodgeman.3 And it’d be nearly impossible to draw a line at the distinction of what is or isn’t a PC based on it’s internal components, its operating system, or whether it has a physical keyboard or not. Eric Grevstad describes this slippery slope:

But is everything with a chip in it a PC? Surely not, or we’re embracing embedded systems and appliances that have one or two applications at most. A digital camera isn’t a PC any more than a digital picture frame is, even though it may offer simple in-camera image editing.

What people are likely trying to define is whether the iPad is as productive as its PC counterparts, where “PC” in this instance is verbiage for a desktop or laptop. Which reveals the “is it a PC?” debate for what it truly is: the “content consumption vs creation” debate in another candy wrapper.4 Grevstad thinks the answer lies in the anecdotal experiment of watching people use iPads:

But of all the iPads (and infrequent Android tablets) I see day to day, virtually none are running those [productivity] apps. People are using tablets for e-reading, Web surfing, and movie viewing. And—at least for now, at least if you focus on real-world usage patterns—I say Canalys is wrong to count tablets as PCs.

Apparently, it seems Grevstad has never5 seen the real-world usage of PCs in person outside of the workplace, since it’d be safe to assume most people are using PCs at home to browse the web, update their Facebook accounts, and torrent a screener of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Otherwise known as consuming. Nevertheless, it would be as easy to name examples of people using iPads in a variety of productive ways. Which brings us back to square one.

Perhaps we want to measure whether the iPad is as capable as a PC. If the iPad can do every task a PC can accomplish, then perhaps indeed it could be considered one. And while it would be a simple argument to prove the iPad isn’t a PC (say, you can’t program and build an iOS application on an iOS device), it’s a stretch to claim that all PCs themselves are all equally capable. If no one is using the iPad for serious professional film editing, neither is anyone using a netbook or consumer desktop with integrated graphics. Once again, it’s impossible to draw a line based on capabilities alone.

In some ways, it’s curious why anyone would want to equate an iPad to a PC in the first place. Chuck Skoda establishes good reasons why an iPad is actually quite different from whatever we call a PC. The debate frames the iPad’s inability to be a PC an inferiority, while in actuality it is those very differences that make it more desirable. Couldn’t you attribute the iPad’s success to the fact that it eschews old computer interaction paradigms, that it facilitates content consumption enjoyment, or that it feels infinitely more personal than any PC before it? If anything, doesn’t the iPad demonstrate a market demand for something that isn’t only post-PC, but something un-PC? If so, why are tech writers trying to prove the iPad is something it so clearly isn’t?

Ok so who’s right?

The answer to this debate is immaterial, having nothing to do with the iPad itself and everything to do with legitimizing and justifying its existence ourselves, whatever side of the coin we happen to fall on. No one seriously disputes that the iPad isn’t a computer in some form, from which point it becomes moot whether it’s equivalent to notebook or a desktop tower: both arrive at similar results and similar experiences. The difference is only in implementation. So what’s to gain in proving it can be as useful as a notebook or that it is more useful than a smartphone beyond self-satisfaction?6 Is the twisted logic that if we can somehow prove the iPad is a PC, and PCs are generally accepted as practical tools in modern society, that the iPad must then be more than the luxury item some claim it is? Problem is, this argument only works as a riposte to detractors who make the iPad out to be a toy. It is sufficiently clear to any reasonable person that the iPad can be practical in the modern world, if only by mere virtue of its popularity. But if you’re repeatedly engaging in such convoluted justifications for your own sake, then perhaps you didn’t need it in the first place.7

And what if you oppose the iPad’s PC-ness? Perhaps you’re simply scared of the inevitable sea change computing is undergoing. You want to believe in the the PC’s continued relevance, that’s its implementation methods are still valuable and needed. Acknowledging the iPad as a peer to the PC would be admitting defeat. Maybe you’re scared of losing the status conferred by understanding the complexity of desktop operating systems and computers with removable parts.8

Or maybe at its essence, the whole debate is another example of the sports fan, “I’m right your wrong” mentality the tech community is often prone of expressing. Sides are picked, allegiances are made, and the fires of rivalry are stoked.

But is the iPad reeeaaally a PC?

Shawn Blanc makes the best effort to sort through the naysaying to understand what it is that is actually driving this forum on the iPad’s PC-ness. He describes the cause…

There will come a time when the majority of consumers who are in the market for a new personal computer will consider (and buy) an iPad or other tablet rather than a laptop or desktop computer. And when that time comes, the debate about the iPad being a PC or not will be over.

The market will decide that the iPad is a PC by buying them instead of laptops and desktops.

And effect…

The fact that: (a) such a young device could be such a smashing success; and that (b) it could disrupt the decades-old PC market, are both interesting topics for discussion. And that discussion is manifesting itself as: “is the iPad a PC or not?”

In the end, Shawn comes around to a similar conclusion as the one I’m presenting: that the discussion says more about us than it does the iPad.

It seems that those arguing against the iPad being called a PC are really trying to make their own point that, for them, an iPad could not replace their PC. When they say the iPad is not a PC what they mean is that either: (a) there’s no way I would or could give up my PC and use an iPad instead; or (b) the iPad is not yet a PC, but it probably will be soon.

His focus is on those arguing against the iPad’s PC-ness, but similar points could be raised for people arguing for it: that they’ve simply arrived to early at the party and aren’t ready to admit they still do need their PCs.

The answer Blanc arrives to is as such: that what we are attempting to determine through this debate is the precise moment in time when our primary computing paradigms shift from those proposed by traditional PCs to those from modern, touch based systems like the iPad. Denying that the iPad is a PC becomes an attempt to delay that moment, to push it back to some later date, in the hope it may never come. Meanwhile, those claiming it is a PC have simply acknowledged that the shift is occurring as we speak.

So in the end, even if there is no definite answer, we may be able to come to some understanding as to why we are so eager to discuss the iPad’s PC-ness. One thing is for sure: the arrival of the iPad has and will continue to simultaneously massage the ego of some while unquestionably deflating those of others.9 Which ego you end up as is all a matter of your ability to deal with future-shock.


  1. Except maybe for analysts. Determining whether the iPad is a PC or not changes whether their reports can claim “skyrocketing PC sales” or “PC market free fall”. I suppose the distinction matters is you’re trying to defend investments in HP and Dell stocks. 

  2. The debate to define post-PC is even more absurd. Can someone please define post-personal? What comes after personal? 

  3. In which case the iPad is unequivocally not a PC. 

  4. Presumably to fool those who’ve already tuned out of that debate. 

  5. Grevstad’s example of productivity apps? The laudable DataViz’s Documents To Go, which still thinks Palm and S60 are platforms. 

  6. Something I’ve personally been unable able to justify, resulting in returning both my iPad purchases shortly after owning them. 

  7. See 6. above. 

  8. Which would go a long way towards explaining why every argument against the iPad being a PC is the lack of some form of complexity only a small or particular group of people care about. 

  9. Persons and corporations alike. 

Dave Winer Dislikes Mobile Web Design

Dave Winer, complaining about Google’s mobile search results page:

Designers really need to hear the following, loud and clear: The iPad browser is fully capable. It doesn’t need you to treat it differently.

Spend 30 seconds with an iPad and you’ll notice that, in fact, it should be treated differently: you interact with it by touch, it can display graphics in different orientations, it has geolocation capabilities and many more attributes than a desktop browser has access to. Why shouldn’t designers build websites taking advantage of these differences?

What Winer could have said is that mobile web design should be as information rich as on the desktop. What he’s complaining about, and the Google example is a bad one in my opinion, is mobile web design that dumbs a site down into a few touch button with large text that isn’t useful to users. That is a problem, especially if websites redirect iPad users to mobile websites intended for smartphones. However, Winer’s solution is as incorrect and shortsighted.

Double Dipping

Marco Arment:

Consumers have tolerated double-dipping — products that cost customers money and have ads — for over a century. It doesn’t feel as offensive in contexts that have always had it, such as printed newspapers and magazines, or cable TV.

But ads shoved into a non-free iPad or web publication feel wrong to me.

Arment gets how things should be, but I doubt we’ll ever see anything of the sort in the near future from historically print driven publications. Publishers like Conde Nast (the New Yorkers parent publishing house) or newspaper organizations just aren’t operating at the scale necessary to maintain ad free magazines or papers driven instead by per issue or subscription revenue. They are simply too large as organizations.

Ads have already been the main source of income for most publications for decades, making it hard to shift gears into the digital realm with a new business model. The issue isn’t that there aren’t enough people willing to pay $4.99 an issue or more for quality content. The problem is that there just aren’t enough people, even if there were hundreds of thousands of them, to sustain corporations that employ thousands of people, sometimes around the world, trying to publish both digital and print publications that require massive overheads(especially with print or publications with a large journalist team). Not to mention that the success of some publications may insure the survival of other publications from the same house. The per issue cost of the New Yorker may be enough to maintain itself, but who’s to say that the ad revenue is what ensures the survival of some of Conde Nast’s other digital offerings.

All this to say that I’m not optimistic on the chances of say, the New York Times, dropping ads from its digital subscriptions. However, I am more optimistic that a great iPad magazine can rise from the ashes of print by a website like Ars Technica, who’s operations costs are already geared towards an online only model. I would expect such online publications as The Verge or The Huffington Post to be the ones driving innovation on iPad publishing, not the Wall Street Journal. If anything, online journalism has shown that a news organization doesn’t have to cover all news on all subjects to be successful. There’s plenty of money to be made delivering specific and focused news to a discerning audience that will flock to whatever interests them. That is how most of us get our news today. The potential is massive for whoever wants to bring that paradigm over to digital print.

Re: Consumption

Shawn Blanc, on the use of the verb consume in technology parlance:

If you were to say that you are “consuming the content” on this website, it would be a fancy way of saying you are reading. But consuming has far more relation to food than it does to words. It would be awkward for me to say that this website doesn’t have readers, it has consumers.

As Blanc outlines, though the word makes sense in its usage, we still get the feeling it isn’t the best option. Why not?

Superlatively, in our use of the word, “consuming” is utilitarian and efficient: a quick way to describe multiple actions without having to outline each one. It functions as a linguistic shortcut, rather than a fancy synonym for reading, watching or listening. In Blanc’s above example, “consumuing the content” does sound fancy and pretentious because it exaggerates and implies (whether true or not) more than what his readers actually do on his site, which is reading. However, saying the iPad is a “consumption device” isn’t pompous; it simply alleviates the writer from having to say “the iPad is a device for reading, watching, sharing and learning” every time he wants to describe it as such.

Subliminally, “consuming” also has pejorative connotations. Using Blanc’s analogy to food, the act of “consuming” is plain, brash, vulgar, and uncaring. The term makes us cringe because it suggests that the things we consume are unimportant, low-brow afterthoughts.

I consumed this movie

Wouldn’t you rather “feast” on content, “savor” it, “enjoy” it?

I enjoyed this movie

Further still, “consuming” can also be construed as “consumerism”, another term that raises the ire of most people. No one wants to be described as a mindless “consumer”.

(Strangely enough, you could in fact consider readers of a website “consumers”. I purchased a membership to Blanc’s website. Could you not make the argument I must therefore be a consumer of his site’s content?)

A somewhat colloquial term, we automatically infer that “consuming” is inferior to the sophisticated act of “creating”. Blanc is right when stating that most people describing the iPad as a “consumption” device do so to negatively compare it to traditional PCs, which let you “create”. And while it is debatable that the iPad lends itself more to certain types of activity, that fact alone doesn’t invalidate it as a serious tool. Herein lies the crux of the issue: the need for a term that describes the iPad as ideally constructed for certain activities without making the device, and its users, feel like a second class citizen.

Finding a suitable replacement can be tough. After all, describing the iPad as only for “feasting” or “savoring” content obviously sounds wrong. While undesirable, the verb consume has the specific ability to describe a specific method of interaction. Specifically, it differentiates between two types of interactions: activities where the user engages and influences the content being presented to him, and others where he is disengaged, merely a spectator.

Abstractly, you could call define those actions as dynamic and static engagements, or perhaps active and passive interactions. But is that any better way to describe the iPad?

The iPad is for passive interactions.

The iPad is a static computer.

Describing it this way is as biased as using “for consumption”. It still delineates between something good and something bad. Who wants to own a passive computer?

Hence why I come to agree with Blanc’s implied conclusion: that perhaps we should describe each specific action we take on our iPad.

The iPad isn’t a “consumption device”, it is a computer particularly suitable to the acts of reading, watching, listening and learning.

And who can argue that growing from and becoming inspired by content is worse than “creating” it? In fact, aren’t many of the best creators of media also often its biggest consumers?

Subtle Difference

Seth Clifford:

That doesn’t seem to be happening with iPads, because I think people’s expectations are set accordingly when they buy them. These are not full computing devices; they’re not built to be - and yet when you watch the commercials, what do you hear? The “full” internet. Flash. Do it all. Why wouldn’t people be disappointed when they can’t actually replace a computer with a device that promised they could?

Clifford is wrong, but not in the way he thinks. The iPad may never advertise itself as a computer replacement, but it does market itself as a device that can do individual tasks: checking email, browsing the web, watching a movie, preparing a presentation, playing games, etc.

As it turns out, most average consumers use their computers for a handful of these lightweight tasks, sometimes only one or two. The magic happens when they purchase an iPad for a specific reason, discover how wonderful it is to use, and never return to their comparatively grotesque and unpleasant computers.

Apple doesn’t have to market the iPad as a computer replacement because they believe the iPad is replacing the computer. Subtle difference.

Via Daring Fireball

In Case You Thought I was Being Quick to Blame

Joshua Topolsky “reporting” for Engadget, back in January:

And what about that device? From what we’ve been told, the thinner, sleeker tablet will sport a new screen technology that is akin to (though not the same as) the iPhone 4’s Retina Display and will be “super high resolution” (unlike reports to the contrary). The device will remain at 10 inches but will now feature both front and rear cameras (not a huge surprise), and… there’s an SD slot. That’s right — our sources say with near certainty that the device will have a dedicated SD slot built in (with no traditional USB slot). In fact, see that weird notch in the photo below? That’s where the SD part will be located. What’s most interesting, however, is what’s happening under the hood.

The new iPad will feature a dual GSM / CDMA chipset produced by Qualcomm and will mark Apple’s shift away from Infineon as its chipset maker to Qualcomm for all of its mobile devices. It’s not clear if the chipset being used will be based on the company’s EV-DO / HSPA Gobi variety or an entirely new design. Presumably, the strength of the new dual-mode chipset is that it will allow both Verizon and AT&T to offer the iPad simultaneously.

Yes, the iPad 2 did in fact ship with two cameras. And probably that notch from the picture they’re referring to was simply an early prototype with the magnetic latches for the Smart Cover cut out. So much for near certainty. No dual-band chip or higher resolution screen either.

Oh, and the title of the article?

Exclusive: The future of the iPad 2, iPhone 5, and Apple TV, and why Apple is shifting its mobile line to Qualcomm chipsets

Some iPad HD FU •

Some SB readers were nice enough to take the time to respond to my article on the iPad HD rumors, providing some good commentary on my points and adding thoughtfully to the discussion, much of which I agree with.

It’s inevitable that we will see an new upgraded iPad sometime in the near future. It will undoubtably have better internals and a higher resolution screen. It’s also inevitable that the horsepower of the iPad will someday allow for more intensive creative software, something akin to Aperture and Final Cut. 

What my article was objecting to rather, is the following:

  • The plausibility that such an iPad would appear in the fall, half a year into the life of the current, incredibly popular and, judging from online availability, still supply constrained iPad 2. 
  • That such a new iPad would be released as a separate, pro oriented SKU, along with software geared exclusively for this “iPad HD”. 
  • That This is my Next is reporting these rumours  almost as if they are fact, simply because other news agencies are reporting similar rumours.

One does not need to be an “insider” to come up with accurate speculation that a future iPad will have a better camera, more ram, a new CPU and run a new version of iOS. It’s not so much guesswork as much as it is simply stating the obvious; future iterations of the iPad will be better than the last.

So it’s aggravating, to me at least, when Topolsky lends so much weight to his “sources”. Some anonymous person claiming that “the iPad 3 will likely have a Retina Display” isn’t revelatory or groundbreaking in any way. That the Wall Street Journal has its’ own “source” saying similar things is irrelevant. Besides, there’s no way to verify whether these sources even exist, let alone that they might in fact be the same. In cases like this, we’re at the mercy of the author. All we can do is trust that they aren’t up to some cheap SEO idiocies. 

When rumors are substantiated with actual images or documentation, they’re obviously more legitimate and credible. Those are rumours that can be speculated on. Sometimes it’s even newsworthy to do so. At the very least, they are plausible guesses. When an entire article rests on the balance of what some “sources” or “analysts” claims, not so much. That’s just link baiting. 

Hence my cringing.

Oh, An iPad HD You Say? Um, No.

Joshua Topolsky, waxing lyrical on the latest iPhone 5, iPad 3 rumors:

As hard as it might be to believe, the new tablet is said to sport a double resolution screen (2048 x 1536), and will be dubbed the “iPad HD.” The idea behind the product is apparently that it will be a “pro” device aimed at a higher end market — folks who work in video and photo production possibly — and will be introduced alongside something like an iPad version of Final Cut or Aperture. This product is specifically said to not be the iPad 3, rather a complementary piece of the iPad 2 line. Think MacBook and MacBook Pro.

It’s easy to see how absurd the whole article is simply because it’s painfully obvious that whoever came up with the idea for an iPad HD clearly didn’t think about what pro users might need or want from such an iPad. And it’s clear Topolsky didn’t think about it either, since he’s lending his credibility to these stupid rumors.

Technically, it’s possible Apple could come up with a version of Aperture and Final Cut that could run on similar hardware to today’s iPad. But how much work could you get done on it? Handling and processing large DSLR images and even larger HD video files in a professional workflow would require more CPU, RAM and graphics capabilities than even an iPad with double the current specs could handle. Not to mention storage. Even doubling the 64 GB storage to 128 GB probably wouldn’t be enough. Then there’s the question of transferring all this information onto the iPad. Maybe this mysterious iPad HD also has a Thunderbolt port. Why not?

Even if all this was possible, with a new high resolution screen to boot, how much do you figure it would cost? What possible reason would Apple have for wanting to turn the iPad into a niche product that would likely have to cost the same price as a MacBook Pro? Everyone is complaining that Apple is abandonning the pro community with Final Cut Pro X and now they want us to believe they’re creating an iPad specifically for that market?

For the most part, I really enjoy the work over at This is my Next, but when they post things like this, it really makes me cringe.