January 27th 2010 was a special day for us Sri Lankans for 2 reasons. One was the announcement of the 6th executive president of Sri Lanka. Secondly, Apple introduced the latest device that will be a big hit among book lovers and internet users. A lot of rumours had been published about this device and I am sure most of it helped in Apple’s marketing campaign. We also had an article on it based on rumours in our November issue (see http://digit.lk/Nov_hardware). Anyhow, let’s now take a look at the real product that Steve Jobs introduced to us on 27th January.
Some might say this is a giant iPhone which can’t make calls! But as Steve Jobs highlighted in his keynote address, he was addressing a device that stands between a Smartphone and a laptop, and the iPad is his solution. A device that can be used for browsing the web, checking emails, going through pictures, watching videos, enjoying listening to music, playing some nice games and most importantly reading eBooks. A device to enjoy during leisure times or on the go.
The Multi-Touch screen is similar to the iPhone but obviously in a larger scale. Hence Jobs reason to state that it’s the best way to browse the web using the most natural pointing device: your finger. Scroll through a page just by flicking your finger up or down on the screen. Or pinch to zoom in or out on a photo.
Due to the device being able to detect the way you hold it, it automatically fits the orientation. This is useful when checking email. In landscape, you get a split-screen view showing both an opened email and the messages in your inbox. To see the opened email by itself, turn iPad to portrait, and the email automatically rotates and fills the screen. No matter which orientation you use, you can scroll through your mail, compose a new email using the large, onscreen keyboard, or delete messages with nothing more than a tap and a flick.
The Photos app displays the photos in an album as though they were in a stack. Just tap the stack, and the whole album opens up. From there, you can flip through your pictures, zoom in or out, or watch a slideshow. Getting photos from your computer or via email is easy with the sync facility.
The iPad specification gives a resolution of 1024×768 and this is enough quality to watch a good video. However I feel that due to its near square screen, viewing widescreen videos would not as worthwhile. Although it gives the option to go widescreen using a double tap, I feel that either a percentage of the video won’t be shown or there will be too much black screen which makes the viewing pleasure a bit on the low side.
As all were expecting, this would be a device that will give the Kindle a run for its money. With the release of the iBooks app, it puts a new dimension to reading books. The device promises to give a sharp, rich color even in low light making it easy to read. Also iPad supports ePub overcoming publishers’ resistance to having to support a proprietary format such as Kindle’s. When compared to a Kindle where you have to press a button to turn a page, the iPad allows you to swipe through pages in a more natural manner.
The iPad has a number of other worthwhile applications including Maps, Notes, Calendar, Contacts which are all useful in organizing workload and for time management purposes.
The device is thin and light when compared to a netbook (I don’t think Steve Jobs would have liked that comparison though, since he feels netbooks are inferior and can be used for absolutely nothing these days). The iPad is 9.56 inches in height and 7.47 inches in width. It weights just 0.7kg and the design of Apple is first class to say the least with the slight curve to the back makes it easy to pickup and comfortable to hold.
So you have an iPad and you are on the move, so how long will the device last until it requires recharging again? That is the basic question we would normally ask for a device such as this which will be used during movement. You would be surprised to hear that the device can last 10 hours!
The device comes in 2 models, one with wi-Fi only and the other with 3G as well.
After Apple bought the semiconductor company PA Semi in 2008, it now boosts of its custom-designed A4 chip (created by Apple engineers) inside iPad which they say is extremely powerful yet extremely power efficient.
So overall, I think this device will set things up for others to come up with better devices and I believe one is already on the works with the HP Slate that will be out soon this year.
So taking all things into consideration, I believe it deserves a 9 out of 10 with a point lost due to a camera not being present nor a USB slot.
Apple iPad tour
Steve Jobs Keynote on Apple iPad
I know I was bit silent for sometime. I should apologize but I could not find anything really exiting to tell you about. But the Google’s big announcement at the dawn of the year could be enough for a few months.
The Android platform has been around for sometime. The HTC G1, and HTC Hero both were very popular smart phones that ran on this particular platform. One thing that really made them popular was their speed and its search capabilities. The success of the HTC G1 led to many big names in the mobile phone industry such as Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and Samsung, incorporating the Android platform into their upcoming models. This was a big opportunity for Google to experiment their new platform and to visualize its future in the market. It was a matter of time till Google released its own version of the mobile phone that runs their platform. The Nexus One from Google did not really come out as a surprise when it was announced on the 5th of January 2010. So let the drooling begin.
Nexus one is a guy’s phone. It is ultra thin and the slightly inward curve at the end gives a sexy feeling when you hold it. You cannot deny that it tries to match up to the most desired phone yet, the iPhone. The devices houses a 3.7 inch display even though the device itself feels smaller in size compared to other smart phones. With a form factor of 119mm X 59.8mm X 11.5mm it is not the smallest or the thinnest in the market but enough to pass the benchmark. Nexus One also has a track ball to navigate, 3.5mm head phone jack, micro-USB port and a microphone hole. It also is equipped with a 5 mega pixel camera with a LED flash which I should say is pretty impressive. So overall the look has no real flaw so it passes with as a great ergonomic phone.
Beauty is only skin deep?
Not for the Google Nexus One. As it was said in the rumors, Nexus One runs the much hyped Snapdragon CPU from Qualcomm. It runs at 1GHz (which was the speed of your desktop not far back), and is capable of 720p video encoding, integrated 3D graphics, 5.1 surround sounds, 12 megapixel sensor and a GPS chip. The RAM and the ROM are just 512 which are neither impressive nor disheartening. The 3.7 inch display I spoke of earlier is an AMOLED (Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) which is matrix of OLED pixels integrated to a Thin Film Transistor (TFT). These OLEDs generate light upon electrical activation. These types of screen are much popular among the handhelds because of its low power consumption. Nexus One has the capability of Wi-Fi, a micro SD slot that comes with a preloaded 4GB card which can be expanded to 32GB. The phone was expected to be fast and it is fast. Yet Google Nexus one is not without flaws. The colors in its’ 480 X 800 screen seems to have over saturated particularly for red and orange. This is common in all devices with AMOLED screen, so good luck using it outside on a sunny day.
There seems to be a significant step forward in the Nexus One with regard to its camera. The speed of the camera application has improved. The focusing is very fast and the pictures turn out very much as required. Google has also made the user experience of the picture gallery much more enjoyable with far more options.
This is one key area which is a “do or die” for a smart phone. Power consumption of a phone, especially for a smart phone should be good enough to keep a single charge for few days or even a week. The battery in the Nexus One seems to be doing very well according to the comments received from the existing users and it is very much due to the AMOLED screen.
What is so different in the new platform? There seems to be nothing different except for some cosmetic changes which are the ones we notice right away. At the first glance you would see that the look and feel of the navigation is different. There are five home screens which you can navigate by swiping your finger left and right along the screen. The application icon menu has given itself a 3D effect where the top and the bottom edge slide over as if the list of apps seems to be along a ring. But Google promises an apps store (which is like of like a must for smart phones) and with the Snapdragon processor there is room for few more exciting applications.
My final thoughts
I am very glad that Google has taken the step to be actively involved with its platform by joining in the game. Android for a long time had to endure with different brand names but it never had this kind of support from Google. Although Google did join in the Open Handset Alliance to build Android to make a free and open mobile platform, it is the best for a survival of a device to be different from the rest. It would be interesting how the other market players such as Microsoft and Apple react to this. For example Microsoft relies on a large number of partners to bring out its mobile platform. The market reaction towards Nexus One would definitely have an effect on Microsoft’s rumored Zune phone. All in all Nexus One is not a beginning of a new era nor its end but a device that is able to standup and deliver in par with other devices.
Twitter has been in existence since 2006 but yet I only created my own twitter account in February of 2009 (you can see exact date by visiting http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com and typing my account name ‘gihangamos’). That was also the month we created this magazine (http://diGIT.lk) and when I received a very friendly email from a fellow Sri Lankan who was living in USA. She gave us words of encouragement and suggestions to improve the readership of diGIT. That’s when she also suggested I should join the twitter club or as Shel would put it, ‘land in Twitterville’. I am grateful to Sukanti Husain for her kind words of encouragement which has given strength to the diGIT magazine and has helped in reaching out to the right readership for the magazine.
So what’s so great about twitter you would ask? A good question and a question which has a million answers. As Shel puts it in his book, each of us use Twitter in our own unique way, which is why we all have different followers.
What makes twitter great is in how well you want to make twitter your companion. The book gives us great examples (stories) on how people have used twitter in times of crisis or how people have resolved customer care issues and got back faith in a company.
It’s worth mentioning that Shel is humble enough to suggest Chris Brogan (a fellow social media writer) as the mayor of ‘Twitterville’. Shel justifies his decision purely on the fact that Chris is everywhere, as a mayor should be looking after the people of the city. I too follow Chris on twitter (@chrisBrogan) and its true. Chris has written and continues to blog post almost every day with many of them focusing on tips to businesses to use social media. Shel points out how Chris once (in Feb 2009) ended up shaving his head so that kids could get laptop computers that they could not afford! You should definitely read the book to see what initially led to him shaving his head.
He also coins a term ‘braided journalism’ which in his own words is ‘convergence of old and new media’ reflecting on the influence blogs and micro blogs such as twitter has on newspapers, specially the dailies. He gives us insight into a few tweeters who became ‘citizen journalists’ in times of adversity (such as when Katrina was hit or when Mumbai was hit with terrorists).
As James Governor (cofounder RedMonk) says Twitterville ‘is a marketplace of ideas, thoughts and prejudices. It’s where people live declaratively, which creates opportunities and challenges for companies of all shapes and sizes.’ Shel has clearly brought out that in his book.
So as Shel has put it in his sub heading for the book, Twitterville is clearly a place where you’re business can thrive in the new global neighbourhoods. It doesn’t matter whether you are a small startup company as long as you use the easy to access technologies such as twitter to get the attention of the world!
As I kept reading the chapters one by one, I couldn’t but help wonder how everything falls into place in this technology driven time that we live in. I can’t wait to see what we will have in, not 5 years, but in 2!
I like to end this review with a tweet that really captivated my eye and hope it will be an inspiration for you. Its on page 132 (of Twitterville) and by @gapingvoid who twittered:
I work extremely hard doing what I love, mainly to ensure that I don’t have to work extremely hard doing what I hate.
You can order Shel Israel’s book from amazon via http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1591842794
I usually do not prefer to write about mobile phones since it is anyway a quite popular topic. So I played around with few topics for the March edition of “diGIT” for sometime. But in the end, the World Mobile Congress (WMC) which was held in Barcelona in February 2009 made my choice for this edition. Many big names in the industry gather each year at MWC to show off their new mobile devices to be launched during the year. This year too was not any different from the previous years. When we analyze the WMC 2009 it is very clear that this time it is very much a Microsoft party. With no real appearance of a solid “Android” (mobile platform developed by Google) based device, Microsoft is parading around its platform in many new mobile devices. The most anticipated announcement was “Windows Mobile 6.5” which is the latest mobile operating system by Microsoft. Let’s see what we would be looking forward to during this year.
It’s errr…. Windows Mobile 6.5
Although the announcement of “Window Mobile 6.5” was very much looked forward to by the tech enthusiasts, we were able to get some sneak peaks few months earlier. Clearly the user interface has gone through some major changes. The operating system is now much more touch-friendly compared to its older versions. The traditional grid menu has been replaced by a honeycomb style layout that is easier to finger. The Internet Explorer Mobile has gone though a facelift and some touchups with touchable zoom slider and frequently-used commands. Microsoft also has introduced two new services “My Phone” and “Windows Marketplace for Mobile”. Microsoft’s “My Phone” is a service that allows the users to synchronize text messages, photos, videos, contacts and many more with a previously created internet account. “Windows Marketplace for Mobile” will provide mobile applications that can be accessed directly from the phone or through the internet. So is it all new underneath the 6.5 platform? I’m not very sure. If you currently own a Windows Mobile 6 mobile device, I’m sorry Microsoft would not be giving Mobile 6.5 as an update. Devices with Windows Mobile 6.5 should be in the market by the fourth quarter this year according to Microsoft.
HTC Touch Diamond 2
From my point of view, this is the star of the show. From the looks of it, the HTC Touch Diamond 2 has improved much from its earlier predecessor. The device is much sleeker in its design and carries a good specification. The display is larger with 3.2 inches instead of 2.8 in the earlier version.
The battery cover is flat which I like and it is a welcome change from the jagged uneven cover of its previous version. It carries a 5 mega pixel camera which is gives no additional “wow” effect but rather gives an “is that all” effect. The device would run on Windows Mobile 6.1 when it comes out but it will be upgradable to Windows Mobile 6.5.
I’m not sure how much you are familiar with Samsung Omnia but it was a huge hit in the recent mobile phone market due to its elegance and features. Samsung has come up with its next version the Samsung OmniaHD which will be released in the second quarter of this year. The most eye grabbing feature is its 3.7 inch touch screen with 16 million colors. But there is more. It has an 8 mega pixel camera with a 720p HD video feature. From the terms of connectivity it boasts of Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi, microUSB port, and a HDMI port for a high quality TV out. This is the ideal phone for all you “point and shoot” people out there.
Samsung Omnia HD
Still strong, still connecting people
It is not only Microsoft who came into the convention with all guns blazing. Nokia introduced a number of mobile devices in many of it popular phone ranges. It should be noted that Nokia is the only player who still manages not to be intimidated by Microsoft mobile and keep introducing mobile devices in Symbian and its own platform. Among them, Nokia E75 shows a lot of promise for a slider phone with a QWERTY keyboard. It is surprisingly thin (just 14.4mm) but has a very user friendly keyboard. People may agree or disagree on the design of the phone as a whole but its features are nothing new except the “Nseries” image gallery which was confined to the “N” series all this time.
Nokia too unveiled a phone equipped with an 8 mega pixel camera (N86) in the Mobile World Congress. N86 has 28mm lens, with a mechanical shutter (impressing ha?). Other goodies coming along with the phone are 8GB internal memory, microSDHC card slot, FM transmitter, Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity. All this for; yes it is 375 Euros.
From microwaves to mobile phones
LG may not be on the top of your best mobile phone brands but they definitely managed to impress the crowd during this convention. Although the designs were far from original the devices the features are quite satisfactory.
LG GM730 LG GD910 LG KM900
Like many others, LG GM730 has tried to mimic the Samsung Omina user interface. It handles very well and with a 3 inch touch screen, it has nice thumbable interface. Furthermore it has a dedicated graphics accelerator which should make its response time much faster.
The LG KM900 Arena deserves a better round of applause. Its interface response time is so snappy and fluid compared to it counterparts thanks to its dedicated graphics accelerator. Similar to GM730 it also is equipped with a 3 inch touch screen but its user experience is much different and exciting. LG KM900 is definitely a phone that you would enjoy. But my favorite is LG G910, a watch phone. For all you “Star Trek” and “Knight Rider” fans the time where you will wear your phone is not very far away. Yes it has a touch screen. It also has a built-in handsfree, speech recognition, mp3 player and it is water resistant. What more can you ask from a watch phone?
LG also unveiled its solar cell phone that generates enough power for emergency calls and LG KP108E that is made entirely of bio plastic.
12 Mega Pixels in my phone camera?
Even the point and shoot I own has only 8MP. Song Ericsson’s newest baby, “Sony Ericsson Idou” indeed has a 12 mega pixel camera but it packs way more than that. This mobile device would be the very first mobile phone to run the latest open source Symbian user interface which is still being developed by the Symbian foundation. Sony Ericsson has been very bold during the last few years taking very brave decisions in introducing new mobile devices. Idou, which is the code name for the device is nowhere complete. It would not be possible to see these devices in the market until the 4th quarter this year (Remember how long it took to get XPERIA in the market?).
So the bright year ahead…
Looking at the mobile devices at the Barcelona convention the direction of the mobile market is clearly visible. Your future mobile phone would be flat, wide with a big screen on which you will be leaving thousands of thumbprints as you will no longer have any buttons. Another hint is that it would be quite a while till there would be a huge response to the “Android” platform. But there is a lot of promise out there and will be looking forward to few more devices in the “Android” platform. Windows mobile 7 is bit far off but whether it is going to be a complete overhaul of the old platform is a question. Despite all of these it is very unpredictable how the market will respond during these hard times. The consumers are looking for value in the item they buy and it would be a tough sell for all unless they take less from wallets of the consumer. How the devices will fair in the market, time will tell us.
There is a new guy in town. Netbook is indeed the new kid on the block and it has separated itself from the traditional laptop (notebooks), palmtops and the ultra portable PCs to create a massive market which has been growing exponentially. So what is exactly a “Netbook”? If I say that it is a stripped down version of a laptop I might be able do justice to the word. But matter of fact, “Netbooks” maybe the answer to so many computer users who are not and will not be using their laptops for serious computing. The truth is that a general person who carries a laptop would not usually use that computer for very complex tasks. He would usually use it to check emails, read documents or to browse the internet. These tasks do not need high end processors and also would not consume a lot of memory. So the question is, why spend money on a laptop which has a lot of processing power and a large memory if only a fraction of it is going to be used.
Do you know the “One Laptop per Child” (OLPC) program? This was the program that was started in 2005 by the members of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab pioneered by Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. The ambition of this program is to educate children around the world through the use of low cost laptops which allowed them the access to information from all around the world. Their first product was XO-1 which was also known as the “$100 laptop” since it was intended to cost $100. These computers did not have hard drives but instead ran on flash drives. The operating system was Linux rather than Microsoft Windows which most of you use. But these computers were sophisticated on their own. It was given access to WiFi or wireless networks so children could use the computer at their own comfort. Although at first most of the big names in the computer hardware industry turned down this idea, including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and CEO of Intel, it did not take much time for them to see big money in it. Although many would give credit to Asus Eee PC as the birth of the netbook market which was release back in 2007, it was the “OLPC” program that ignited this massive portable computer market.
2008 was the year of netbooks as many brands put out their version. Brands such as Asus, Acer and MSI were the first to get the bite but the other big names like Lenovo, HP, Sony VAIO and Dell were not far behind. Software vendors are also backing up the industry such as Microsoft and also community developed Ubuntu. Netbooks are flooding the market as new names are merging with many different specifications and designs. Below are details of few of the popular netbooks in the market.
Asus Eee PC
Eee PC has always looked up to by the others since it was the first to start off a commercially viable market for the netbooks. Asus did not disappoint this time at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by introducing new netbook models. Asus came up with two tablet versions, T91 and T101H. The T91 has an 8.9 inch screen (diagonally) where as the T101H has a 10 inch. T91 is powered by Z520 Intel Atom processor and is also equipped with a TV tuner and a built-in GPS. The T91 would have Microsoft XP home as the operating system. The most interesting thing is like all tablets; it has a “multi touch” screen which is quite rare in the netbook market. There is not much information about the T101 but it is expected to have much bigger capacity in the hard drive than its little brother. Asus also introduced other netbooks in their line up such as Eee PC 1002HA and Eee PC S101. Both are powered by Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. What next to be expected in the Asus lineup is Eee PC 1004DN which comes with the newest Atom chip and also comes with a DVD drive (which is very new to netbooks). The price of Eee PC 1002HA would be in the range of $350 – $450 and Eee PC S101 would vary between $600 and $650.
Sony VAIO P Series
This was the most talked about netbook at Consumer Electronics Show this year. This probably would be the most elegant of all netbooks. It is thin, light and short with just enough space to give room for the screen and the keyboard. It houses a track point that removes the need to space a touch pad. For people who want a palm rest, this is not the laptop for you. With a resolution of 1600 X 768 it can make it harder for some people to read. But it does come up with a feature to zoom in so that a lengthy document can be read with much ease. The power cable is too is very compact and it also includes a small breakout box that includes a VGA and the Ethernet port. Although it comes with Vista as an option, it would be bit of a load for the small VAIO P. But the good news it that it did well with Windows 7 which would be the next operating system coming out of Microsoft. With a price tag of $899 for the basic model it is bit more expensive than an ordinary netbook.
HP mini Series
The HP mini series have become more popular since its first model HP 2133 Mini-Note. The newest editions of the HP mini series have taken a bold move by replacing the VIA chipset which was used by their predecessors and using the Intel Atom instead. The HP mini 1000 was announced last year that was equipped with Intel Atom 1.6 GHz with 2GB RAM, 10 inch display, 60GB or the option to select 16GB or 32 GB SSD (solid state drives) and Microsoft XP. This model ranges from $330 to $550 according to the configuration selected. The HP Mini 2140 is actually the next model which is to replace much loved HP 2133 Mini-Note. It retains the case of its predecessor but includes an Intel Atom chip instead of the VIA. But the best thing being it having better options such as to include a USB external optical drive, 80GB SSD, and a 6 cell battery to increase the battery life would help a great deal. It can range from $500 to double the price if 80GB SSD option was chosen.
Dell started offering its netbook range with the introduction of Dell Mini 9 (8.9 inch screen) and Dell mini 12 (12.1 inch screen). The best about this range was the ability for the consumer to order a customized netbook similar to the other dell products. Dell Mini 12 started out offering Windows Vista but later gave the user the option of choosing Windows XP or Ubuntu. Furthermore the hard drive options expanded with up to 80GB PATA hard drives or up to 64GB SSDs which was very encouraging for the consumers who liked larger disk space. Both netbook series are powered by Intel Atom processors (choice of between 1.33GHz or 1.6GHz) but only offered a maximum 1GB of RAM which insufficient if you are running Vista. The Dell Mini 12 can range from $399 to $599 and Dell Mini 9 could range from $299 to $449. The next netbook in their product range is the new Dell Mini 10 which also referred to as “perfect 10” by Dell. There is not much information about its price or when it will be available in the market but it packs a 10 inch display with multitouch support, an Atom Z530 processor, built in GPS, TV tuner and an integrated 3G WWAN. But the Dell is yet to spill the bean on its most hype laptop; the Adamo. There is nothing about this particular product but few photos that show it to be one of the sleekest laptops to date. But there will be a lot of talk about Dell Adamo in the months to come where more information with regard to its specifications and pricing would be revealed.
Laptop or netbook?
The choice of buying a laptop or a netbook should be done after careful consideration. Much of the decision is with regard to your usage. If you are a programmer who writes codes, use a lot of integrated development environments or run servers, netbooks would give you a headache. If you are a gamer who loves to play the newest games in the market, still netbooks are a “no no”. If you are a graphics person who does a lot of designs on the computer still netbooks are not your best option. So who should use a netbook? Netbooks are for the general users. Netbooks are for users who are using it for reading documents, surfing the web, checking emails or doing presentations. No sophisticated software on netbooks. So why buy them? The price paid by a general user for a high end laptop compared to a netbook in the market has a substantial difference. Why pay for the extra processing power, extra storage and other features that the user will never use? So a user who is well aware of his/her computer usage would be able to make the right choice between a laptop and a netbook.
Next in line
The netbook market is still growing. It is still a very young market. The cost of netbooks would keep dropping in the months and years to come. One of the biggest obstacles for netbooks is the price of the SSDs or solid state drives. Solid state drives are hard drives which do not have any moving part or head, quite similar to your flash drive. SSDs are very popular with netbooks since they allow the netbooks to have a smaller form factor. With no sensors to detect the movement of the netbook the consumer has the luxury to use the netbook at his/her own comfortable position without affecting the performance of his/her user experience.
The lack of good operating systems to support netbook specification is also a concern. Microsoft delayed the deadline to cease their support to Windows XP which was due by the end of last year. Windows Vista is still too bulky for the netbooks but the new Windows 7 which is due mid of year 2009 is focused on catering for netbooks. The first beta of Windows 7 was released in January 2009 and it is currently being tested in many netbooks and it is giving surprisingly better results than its previous windows versions. Ubuntu, which is a linux based (more specifically debian based) operating system is also a big favorite among the netbook brands. It’s rich user experience and much better performance is the ideal for netbook users.
Hardware manufacturers are also looking into improving their products. Intel is coming up with its Atom N280 chip which would surpass the current netbook processors. The other competitor in the netbook processors is VIA which would be introducing it’s VIA nano chip which looks promising. Currently AMD has not shown any interest in designing any chips for the netbooks and Apple is not interested in adding a netbook series to its range of products.
By looking at the hype in the market netbooks are here to stay. If the price of the hardware drops and if the software vendors can provide light weight products to suit them there would be a household product very soon.
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