Thoughts on the (iTablet) iPad – connectivity, apps, multitasking, integrating with Macs

The following is a draft I wrote prior to the announcement of the iPad, but which I didn’t publish because it was a series of hypotheses based on an as yet non-existing product. It’s a series of thoughts on how an interface of a touchscreen larger than an iPhone might look like. It is inspired by both my experiences with Macs and since recently with an iPod Touch. Here goes.

A couple of thoughts I had last night (written on 13.01.2010) about interfaces, the current state of development for the iPhone OS, how Apple could build a hybrid of Mac and iPhone OS, and how the company could build multi-tasking into its rumoured tablet. My thought were the following:

Welcome-to-the-Apple-Store-Apple-Store-U.S.

a. A new category: I don’t think the iTablet, if it exists, will be either a Mac or an iPhone. My super-superficial reason: it doesn’t fit in the Mac line-up depicted on the online Apple Store (see pic), but a more underlying reason is that I don’t see space for it in either a Mac-category or a Mobile phone/media player category. Which is not to say that it won’t do either well, but I think it will more fall into the class of Netbooks, though of course with the purpose of bombing those low-tech, low-innovation devices out of the water… just like Apple did with MP3 players and with Phones. Note from today: as it turns out, the iPad is depicted below the iPod, iPhone, and Mac lines, but time will tell where it will be xvideos once it’s on sale. owning an online casino

b. The Keyboard: I think that any 10″ screen will demand more connectivity to secondary (Apple) devices than the iPhone allows for. That means, an external keyboard and mouse, which transforms the tablet into a desktop. I have less complaints about the software-keyboard now, after working with a Touch for a while, but I still don’t see it as an alternative for longer texts, which a larger screen would warrant. Some months ago, I made a stupid mock-up of the iPhone + a keyboard (see pic), which is how I envision it looking (only better).

c. The App Store: 3 Billion Apps downloaded, Apple just reported, which also suggests a kind of lock-in. For better or worse, developers have accepted youjizz the App-store and I think it works for several reasons for both, namely more protection from pirates, more predictability for developers when developing for the black hole that is Apple, and more control by Apple, which is what Apple likes, not to mention new income streams for both. I think the App Store will continue to exist and will present new challenges when talking about a larger screen. Note from today: I don’t believe that what we will get to see in less than two months will be that what people were playing around with after the Apple keynote. iPhone apps inflated to a larger screen, come on? 4 pics 1 word

Apple-Dashboard-in-iPad-1d: The User Interface: I’ve written previously about Quick Look in Snow Leopard and how I also dug its slight innovation in terms of in-icon playing of media. Previously, OS XXX also introduced Dashboard into Tiger (I believe), whose interface, on the surface at least, resembles the iPhone. My view is that Apple will give developers the option to just keep the same resolution apps as they have offered before, though not exclusively of course. But imagine “Quick Looking” an app and still having it run inside its “Icon,” while the user does something else. For the rest, I of course think that full-screen Apps will exist, which is where Dashboard comes in, or at least a type of Dashboard. (Note: that was wrong. More below.)

Apple Dashboard in iPad-1.jpge. Integration with the Mac: One of the most underused interfaces, at least on my Mac, is Dashboard, which allows people to have continuously open widgets on anything from news, to games, to radio, to system monitoring. It’s useful for those purposes, but not really something i spend more than a few minutes at a time with. Yet annunci69 the first thing that came to mind when thinking of a “Tablet,” using both iPhone and Mac interface components, was Dashboard. It creates a new layer on top of a traditional desktop, allowing for user-input and information display. When I envision someone running the apps that would work on the “iTablet” also, I think of it either being that you open up a new layer on your Mac and run the very same apps on it through something like a Dashboard-like interface. Or, and the simplest solution is usually the best, through having the Tablet sync through iTunes with regular applications on the Mac.

Note from today: well, obviously this was wrong, but there have been several theories aired of having a type of Dashboard on the iPad for apps like calculator and weather, which don’t at all make sense to run in single focus on a larger screen than the iPhone.

Further thoughts from today: I do think that we will see a new OS update for both the iPhone and iPad before the release of the iPad. This will address the concerns that people have about it just being a larger iPod Touch. For the rest, to me the only downside to this device is the lack of a front-facing camera for video-calling, and some minor things. And I also think it’s the perfect “parent device!” What the Wii was to gaming, the iPad is to computing, addressing a very very blue ocean.

As previously stated, I’m still in line to get one this year, though only after trying one first.

Paradigm Shifts Between Phone, Tablet, Desktop & Web Interfaces

…Or how not to approach development. It’s busy in Vincentland, but I’m still determined to regularly update Tech IT Easy. Today, my question is: What determines the choice for a platform? Is it market, personal taste and talent, or the desire to create something that fits a certain paradigm? In the end, no matter how cool or uncool, we’re talking about a technology choice, which is affected by cost (time & financial), the tools available, and the potential return on investment. Just to put it coldly…

I’ll be honest. I have become a big fan of the tablet paradigm. Similar to the Nintendo Wii, it’s a blue ocean that not only addresses the un-targeted space of everyone that doesn’t use computers (from toddlers to old people), it also represents a potential (!) future for computing, away from the constraints of the abstract mouse and the oh-so-square keyboard. It’s a portal into right-brained computing, which I’ve written about several times before. Traditional computing is left-brained, it’s logical and doesn’t allow for the unstructured approach to creativity & thinking that materials like paper does. We’ve long needed a digital equivalent, and it quite possibly is here today (or soon anyway).

Touchscreen-iMacThe biggest obstacle to tablets becoming mainstream is not software, it is cost. You can justify the cost of an (Apple-priced) laptop in a work or school context. It drastically increases your productivity. While Apple has tried to keep the cost of its tablet-line relatively low, there’s no equivalent formula for calculating the return on investment from tablet-computing yet, because the money-making processes aren’t easily carried out via that medium yet. At some point, I envision tablets becoming clients hooked up to a massive server, docking into a pseudo-computer with a keyboard and (something akin to) a mouse. That would require a central computer to act as storage and a well-thought-out dock that is on people’s desks. The reason this doesn’t exist yet, is because no-one’s sure how to interact with the touch-screen when it’s standing up like a display — it’s an ergonomic conundrum.

The bigger problem is simply that having a device with too many faces — touch-interface on the one side, desktop power-horse on the other — creates a confusing paradigm for both users and developers. Would there be software that only works on the tablet-side, or would a software have to be “cross-platform?” It appears to me that this problem is being addressed in Apple’s new operating system Lion, that integrates features from OS X and iOS, but we’ll see if and how it works in practice. In any case, it will be designed to legacy-support the last few generations of Mac-computers, which all use a traditional mouse and keyboard interface. Future versions may be a fabled iMac that is also whole-or-part touch-screen, we’ll see.

Mac OS LionTouchscreen iMac

The difference between phone and tablet is clear: minimal screen-size and processing power (somewhat changing) and maximum portability. Tablets are also portable, but more armchair or go-to-a-café portable than wait-in-line-in-the-supermarkt portable. Not having used a tablet everyday yet (but it’s happening soon), I don’t quite know how this translates to applications. I do expect to use a tablet as a magazine and book reader, and would love to use it as a boardgame replacement with other people(!), both of which are natural to either the armchair or café context. The phone interface naturally lends itself to casual use, whether it’s a 1 minute game or a quick browse through the news or mail. While the iPhone’s retina-display is beautiful, beautiful for reading eBooks, it’s still a nicer experience on a bigger screen or a dedicated eBook reader.

Desktop software is geared towards productivity, both in an office and entertainment context. If you see how some people play StarCraft, you’ll understand that there will never be such a game on a console (though we’ll see about tablets). Equally first-persons-shooters that are released in parallel on desktop and console perform much, much better on the desktop. There’s no beating the mouse and keyboard-combo, whether you’re typing away in Excel or fragging your enemies to little pieces.

Regarding the web, I was fascinated to read the Ars Technica article, entitled “The Strategy Tax.” It refers to the scenario where Microsoft’s Office business unit was competing with the Web devision and was blocking the latter’s ability to innovate. Or so they say, but looking at what’s being on the Web now in terms of Office-alternatives, this is a credible claim. The desktop’s limitation is the lack of sync (something that the Google laptop is trying to address), which affects distribution and security (in the back-up sense). While it supposedly doesn’t yet have the matching horsepower that a Mac Pro or Alienware desktop computer would have, you can clearly switch between both — use the web for streaming and the desktop for processing — very effectively.

To summarise, following are the paradigms that I understand these four platforms to fit into:

Standing in line portable: Phone. Mostly used for quick activities on the road, like checking your todo’s, playing a 1-10 minute game, or browsing some quick news or mails. I see the interface for this being as reaction-fast as possible. We just want to launch it and go.
Armchair portable: Tablet. Mostly used for activities that take at least half an hour and can be done on the couch, e.g. reading or playing a game (I’m purposefully leaving out complex activities like drawing or making music, both of which have both hobby and professional applications. Launch time is important, but there’s more room for multi-tasking and displaying rich information.
Workhorse: PC. The powerful combination of mouse and keyboard, together with other factors contribute to its use for activities that require a lot of productivity. We care more about ability and features here than speed (though no one stops caring about speed).
Connected: Web. We favour the web because it keeps us in connection with stuff that is relevant to the task. That affects things like storage, security (both positively in the sense of backups and negatively in the sense of encryption), and more. Since the interface is used in the context of either a phone, a tablet, or a desktop, we tend to require a fitting interface and functionality from web-apps.

But why do I ask all these questions? In the end it’s a distraction, because I’m the type of person that asks a million questions to be sure before engaging a trajectory. In my case, I use so many Touch-interface apps and hate PCs so much, that I want to try developing (small) apps for that platform as well. But I’m also wondering about the future of these platforms and if developing for them is a safe investment. If you ask me, they are, but the exact shape isn’t clear yet. And it’s up to software developers, more so than hardware-developers, to define how tablet-platforms will be used, by toddlers, the elderly, and my generation—the 25-45 age-group.

EU investigation into roaming prices

The European Union Commission Thursday said it would launch a formal in-depth investigation into roaming prices charged in Germany by Vodafone Group PLC (VOD) and T-Mobile International AG (TMO.YY).

The regulators can impose fines of up to 10% of annual turnover if they find the two mobile phone companies guilty of abusing their dominant positions in the German cell phone market to set excessive prices for roaming, a service provided to cell phone users outside their home country.

In practice the levies are a fraction of the 10% limit.

The Commission said its aim was “to ensure that European consumers are not overcharged when they use their mobile phones on their travels throughout the E.U.”

E.U. officials in Brussels have been investigating T-Mobile and Vodafone since 2001.

Since the 1990s, mobile phone companies have charged higher prices for roaming than for conventional phone calls.

The E.U. Commission has been cracking down. In July it issued a threat to Vodafone and MmO2 PLC (OOM) about roaming rates in the U.K.

The problem, said E.U. spokesman Jonathan Todd, is that these companies have been overbilling foreign phone companies whose customers “roam” in Germany and the U.K.

Todd said the Commission had looked at other countries but “we established that Germany and England had the highest prices”.

E.U. competition commissioner Neelie Kroes had to absent herself from the case because she once served on the board of 02. Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso handled the case. It’s the third time Kroes has had to step down because of a conflict of interest.

Todd said that resolution of the Germany and U.K. investigations were “months away.”

As Dow Jones Newswires reported earlier this week, Vodafone has already promised the E.U. it will cut roaming charges throughout Europe this summer, according to an E.U. official who declined to be named.

When the new charges are applied, Vodafone clients will pay a flat fee for roaming porno calls, which will be much lower than the current charge of EUR0.89 a minute within the E.U., the official said.

Vodafone spokesman Jens Kuerten declined to comment, only saying that the film porno company will talk about fees when it is ready.

Concerns for investors in mobile telecommunications

Slowing sales growth and increased margin pressure are shaping up to be the major concern for investors in mobile telecommunications equipment makers in 2005.

Market leader Telefon AB LM Ericsson’s (ERICY) fourth quarter 2004 gross margins Thursday came in below expectations in the face of intense competition. The company said the effect was specific to the fourth quarter – an assertion some investors appeared to doubt as the shares were marked down 7.8% to close at SEK20.20.

Market research firm Gartner forecasts the market for mobile network gear, which accounts for the majority of sales, will grow 5% in 2005.

That compares with estimated 10% growth in 2004, which helped major players show good revenue growth and recovering earnings to offset massive losses and falling revenue in previous years. Ericsson’s shares were up 64% in 2004.

Ericsson projects the market growing between 2% and 5% – both Gartner and Ericsson measure in dollars – and Gartner analyst Jason Chapman said he sees industry margins coming under pressure short term as there will still be a fairly high proportion of hardware sales during at least 2005.

Hardware sales typically attract lower margins than software. Competition for new contracts is fierce and vendors are forced to accept wafer-thin margins, hoping to increase them over time.

“Later, margins should be helped by a growing share of software as upgrades to third generation equipment show up in sales,” Chapman added.

Currently many new networks are being rolled out generating sales of hardware such as base stations and other network equipment. In emerging markets such as Russia, India and Brazil it’s primarily second generation networks using Global Systems for Mobile communications technology that is driving sales. In Europe, third generation network rollouts are now taking place on a large scale.

In connection with the fourth quarter earnings releases Alcatel SA (ALA), Nokia Corp. (NOK) and Ericsson all said that margins have been or will likely be negatively affected by low prices on some new orders the companies have signed for rolling out those networks.

Analysts are worried about the implications of these signs of margins weakness.

“We remain concerned that margins, both gross and earnings before interest and taxes, will remain under pressure through 2005,” said CSFB in a comment to Ericsson’s fourth-quarter earnings.

The bank sees Ericsson’s operating margin coming down to 20% in 2005 from 22% in 2004.

CSFB added that the mobile systems market remains one of the most competitive global industries.

Number two xxx player Nokia said after its fourth-quarter earnings release on Jan. 27 that its targeted 14% operating margin in the infrastructure business will likely not be met short term, also blaming new network rollouts.

Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola Inc. (MOT), Alcatel and Lucent Technologies Inc (LU) showed a combined 14.5% sales growth from its mobile infrastructure and services businesses in 2004 measured in euros, according to calculations by Dow Jones Newswires.

Measured in dollars that growth was around 26%, implying that the major vendors gained market share at the expense of smaller ones.

Ahead, sales growth is seen being higher for services related to mobile xxx infrastructure than for the gear itself. Ericsson said it sees the services market growing 10% in 2005.

Siemens AG (SI) no longer discloses figures for the mobile networks unit and Nortel Networks Ltd (NT) has yet to disclose its full year 2004 earnings due to videos xxx accounting problems.

Watch TV While on the Run

New services let you watch TV on your mobile phone, but it may be tough on your eyes.
Tired of gabbing, writing text messages, and playing games on your mobile phone to kill time? Try watching some TV.

I’ve done just that for the past two weeks. And the experience has been, well, entertaining, to be honest.
Let me say from the start that I’m not a big TV viewer, but when I view xxx video , it’s generally in one of three areas: news, sports, and movies. All three are available in the Live portal of German network operator Vodafone D2, one of Europe’s first operators to offer a mobile TV service.

The mobile TV offering, designed especially for higher-speed 3G (third-generation) phones, currently offers a series of rotating shows, a sports channel that gives a roundup of the Saturday games shortly after they’ve finished, a news channel updated four times a day, and full-length movies. Live news or sports coverage is not available today but is technically possible and likely to be offered in the not-too-distant future, according to Vodafone D2.

Put to the Test
Because mobile TV is about viewing on the go, I checked out the service in a car, train, and streetcar. Reception in all three was fine as long as I remained in a 3G cell–which meant that when I recently boarded a train in Frankfurt, I lost reception shortly outside of the city. That’s a shame because I think many train commuters (and Germany has plenty of them) would readily use the mobile TV service.

Third-generation coverage is still spotty because most operators in Europe, including Vodafone D2, are initially concentrating on big cities. However, coverage will be gradually extended to major roadways and railways, and later to smaller communities.

The streetcar test was interesting. I found nearly everyone standing near me in the crowded compartment trying to get a peek of what I was watching: the N24 news channel.

The highway test was a lesson in itself. I let my young boys, who are under 12, view some programs on the phone–Motorola’s sleek E1000–while I sped around the autobahn near Dusseldorf. They went wild. So, there’s a toy for kids on long trips, I guess, but not only: drivers caught in hours-long traffic jams (not uncommon in Germany) should be interested, too.

Mobile TV, of course, isn’t just for people physically on the move; it’s also intended for those waiting for a train or taking a coffee break or even sitting in a cab waiting for a passenger. I asked a cab driver what he thought about the service after I tested it during a porno ride. “Nice,” he said. “Really nice, but I doubt I can afford it.”

Paying the Price
For sure, pricing will be crucial to the success of mobile TV. Although the service is currently free as a promotion, in April Vodafone D2 will begin charging about $4 per hour after the first two free hours as part of the monthly subscription fee, which, depending on the volume of minutes, ranges from $26 to $125. However, more differentiated fees, such as pay per view, pay per time, pay per news, or sporting event, are in the making.

For kids, those fees can add up quickly but they’re not the primary target group, according to Vodafone D2, which sees the most potential in 20- to 30-year olds, as well as businesspeople in that age bracket and older.

Noteworthy Note Takers for PDAs

PhatPad and BugMe add pizzazz and pictures to handheld memos.

I generally don’t use my PDA for taking notes, much less for drawing. But maybe that’s because I’ve never had the tools to make the effort worthwhile. I’ve recently been playing with two note-taking apps–PhatPad on Hewlett-Packard’s Pocket PC Phone Edition-based IPaq H6315, and BugMe on my PalmOne Treo 600–and I’m impressed by how much they expand the capabilities of these handhelds.

Both PhatWare’s PhatPad 1.3 and Electric Pocket’s BugMe let you scribble or draw with your stylus in colors and stroke widths you select. Both also let you attach alarms to those notes–hence the name of Electric Pocket’s app, I imagine. And both include tools for sharing those notes by turning them into image files and saving them to a memory card or e-mailing them from a connected handheld. The two apps do have a few differentiating features, however.

Pocket Phat
Click here to view full-size image.The $20 PhatPad requires Windows CE 3.0 or later. Basically, this means the app can run only on Pocket PCs of vintage 2000 or later. When you launch PhatPad you get a list of notes you’ve previously saved; you can either work on one of those, or start a new note.

By default, new notes start on a background that looks like a sheet of lined notebook paper. But you can change the background color by tapping on Options in the Tools menu and choosing from among five options. You can also either eliminate the lines (by unchecking Horizontal Grid in the View menu) or add vertical ones to make the sheet look like graph paper (by checking Vertical Grid in the View menu). I couldn’t see a way to change the grid size, however.

A zoom tool in the View menu lets you see the whole note, but everything gets very small. The default is a partial view of the sheet with scroll bars on the bottom and the right side to navigate to off-screen areas.

Colors and Shapes
PhatPad is reasonably generous in its ink palette, letting you choose from 39 colors. A handy button alongside the palette icon brings up your stroke width options: from skinny (1 point) to thick (9 points), with every point size between.

Need some help refining your doodles? Click Correct Shapes in the Tools menu and it tidies up your circles, squares, and triangles–at least, some of them. It ignored some of my larger circles, but did fine with the smaller ones.

Another nifty feature: You can select part of your note or drawing using a selection tool, then switch to a move tool and drag the selected material around the screen. A Text Note option in PhatPad’s View menu divides the screen in two, so you can enter text in the upper half using your preferred Pocket PC text input method. The lower part of the screen remains available for drawing. And even without using Text Note, if you also purchase PhatPad’s Calligrapher handwriting recognition software for Pocket PCs, you can turn handwritten notes on PhatPad into editable text: You jot down a note, select your handwriting, click Recognize in the Tools menu, and Calligrapher turns the handwriting into text that you can edit or copy-and-paste into another program. Bought separately, Calligrapher costs $30. But through the end of August, PhatWare is offering Calligrapher and PhatPad as a bundle for $45, a $5 savings. I didn’t have Calligrapher, so I can’t vouch for its efficacy.

My biggest hassle with PhatPad had to do with the way the application interacted with the text input tools in Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC Phone Edition (the latest version of Microsoft’s Pocket PC software). Basically, I had difficulty making the OS’s tools go away so that the PhatPad screen wasn’t diminished by a text input area or software keyboard when I was just trying to draw a diagram with a few jotted notations. Somehow the app didn’t seem to realize that the Windows Mobile text input area wasn’t needed. The Transcriber (which does handwriting recognition on the fly for most apps) has the smallest screen footprint–but when I turned it on, it tried to recognize my scribbles and, when it couldn’t, made them disappear.

The problem is, PhatPad won’t let Transcriber or any other text input tool work in a regular drawing: They will work only in a Text Note area, if you choose to create one. I finally figured out how to get rid of Transcriber (tap on the X at the right side of the toolbar) so I could get back to working on my diagram.

Overall, I’d say PhatPad dovetails nicely with the Pocket PC’s general corporate orientation by providing the tools to create simple diagrams and sketches with editable text annotations.

Annotations, Anyone?
Electric Pocket makes versions of BugMe for several smart phones and PDAs. I tried out the $20 Palm OS 5 version, and found it to be a bit more ambitious than PhatPad, especially in terms of its graphics tools. (There’s a separate version for handhelds based on earlier versions of the Palm OS.)

The extras start with a selection of graphics tools reminiscent of those in Microsoft Windows’ venerable Paint utility. In addition to a pen for freehand drawing, there are tools for drawing straight lines, squares, and circles; creating filled circles and squares; and filling any enclosed area with color.

BugMe clip art
Unlike PhatPad, BugMe comes with a selection of clip art–arrows, balloons and the like–that you can use in your drawings. A panning tool lets you move these elements around; it also works with text that you can add anywhere on your note by choosing a text tool. But you can’t select and move your own drawings the way you can with PhatPad. If you choose the panning tool and place the stylus on anything but a text block or clip art, it moves the entire note instead.

BugMe tools
But what I really like about BugMe is that you can use it with something other than a blank screen–a photo or a map, for example. I was able to select one of the images I’d captured with my Treo 600’s camera and annotate it using the entire range of BugMe tools, even adding text using the Treo’s keyboard.

However the Treo’s lack of native support for Graffiti meant I couldn’t try out another BugMe feature: It can create screen shots of any Palm app. To do this you use Graffiti’s command stroke (a diagonal sweep from lower left to upper right) on the screen you want, then launch BugMe and tap an icon that completes the screen capture. You can then annotate the image the same way you can annotate photos.

BugMe dialer
Another neat feature: If you type a phone number, e-mail address, or URL from your contact list into your note, BugMe recognizes it and creates a link. Tap that link and it either dials the number, initiates a blank e-mail message, or activates the browser to view the Web site on a connected PDA. You can also e-mail notes within BugMe from a list of saved notes.

BugMe’s 24-color palette is slightly less extensive than PhatPad’s, and it has fewer stroke options (six, varying in shape as well as size). There’s no handwriting recognition option, either. Still, I’m finding it a fun addition to my Treo: If nothing else, I’ll be sending some interesting digital postcards when I travel.