Category Archives: ipad

Hey Apple haters, the media coverage is warranted

You may have heard that there’s a new iPad out today (you can read my review here or see a video review here). Why have you heard about it? Probably because the media is saturated with coverage of everything Apple does.

This really ticks some people off. Truth be told, it used to annoy me too. When I was a staffer, whether it was at a newspaper or website, the only technology stories the front news section - the “mainstream” part - ever seemed to be interested in were those dealing with Apple’s new gadgets. That always struck me as grossly unfair and possibly even biased, since other technology companies launch cool new products every day yet never get anywhere near the same coverage. Isn’t devoting such attention to one company essentially giving it free advertising?

But then there’s the other side. The fact is, stories on Apple products inevitably get tons of readers, which means a few things. Clearly, there is a large audience for such stuff and it’s the media’s job to cover things people are interested in. There are, of course, limits to this truism, otherwise there’d be even more celebrity gossip “stories” out there than there already are, but for the most part news outlets like to give people what they want. Never mind the fact that stories with more readers equal more advertising dollars.

There’s more to it, though. The inordinate amount of coverage Apple gets is also warranted by the fact that the company has a track record over the past decade of shaking things up. Whether it’s content distribution (iPods and iTunes), communications and telephony (iPhone) or portable computing (iPad), Apple has serially revolutionized some markets and created others. Few other technology companies can make the same claim.

This success has translated not just into a ravenous reading public, but also a soaring stock market value. Apple is the world’s most valuable company, as well as one that sets trends, so why shouldn’t journalists be covering its every move? Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on March 16, 2012 in apple, ipad


The new iPad, reviewed

Thinking of getting the new iPad? Well, check out my review - in word form - over on CBC, or have a gander at my video review below:

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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in apple, ipad


New iPad appeals to game developers

Epic Games executives showed off the new Infinity Blade: Dungeons game at Apple's iPad event.

If you follow tech news at all, you know by now that the big news out of the Apple event in San Francisco on Wednesday was the announcement of the new iPad. Rather than going with iPad 3 or iPad HD, as many observers expected, Apple went with just the plain, simple “iPad,” which is the name the original – since-retired – tablet went by.

The new just-iPad features some beefed-up specs, like a faster processor and wireless connection, as well as better graphics through its “retina display.” I wrote up a quick hands-on for The Globe and Mail and a larger analysis of why these seemingly trivial specifications matter in the grand scheme of things for CBC. I’ll also have more coverage next week, closer to launch.

Alas, there was no iTV – I must admit to being a little disappointed – although there was a new Apple TV, or another iteration of the small $100 box that connects to your flat panel and lets you rent movies and shows from iTunes, as well as stream media from other devices. Is this device a stop-gap until the long-awaited iTV arrives?

As per usual, Apple brought some app developers up on stage to show off the capabilities of its latest iPad. One such developer was Jim Shelton, game design director for Namco Bandai Games America, who demoed Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, a new game coming to the iPad at the end of March. The improved processing power and graphics hold special appeal to game developers, so I had a quick chat with Shelton after the event. Here’s what we talked about:

How does the retina display improve your capability to create games for the iPad?

There are a lot of tricks you do in graphics to try and hide the pixels that are there. We spend a lot of horsepower just trying to hide the fact that there are pixels whenever you try to make something realistic or even stylized. One of the things the retina display allows us to do is, because those pixels are so small, they’re already hidden for us, so we can take that horsepower that is usually used to cover it up and apply it to the gameplay. So when we have this horsepower, we have terrain way off in the distance or small, minute details, all these things would often get lost because you couldn’t see them anyway. If you’ve got details smaller than a pixel on a regular display, it’s lost. Here those extra pixels help make every little thing we shove into the game (noticeable).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of developing for iOS?

The great thing about iOS is that the devices always deliver a nice experience on nice hardware, with power. That’s mainly it. There aren’t really any disadvantages.

Are there any disadvantages in developing for other platforms? It’s often said Android is very fractured with its many versions, so it’s hard to develop for.

Having a platform that has few variations, yeah it can certainly be helpful. We’ve done well in managing a lot of different devices, different hardware specs, so we’re pretty experienced in doing that, but it’s always nice when we can focus on one or two flagship platforms and really make them shine.

Is it hard to develop games for touchscreens?

It just requires a different mindset. You have to understand that you’re not developing for something that has buttons or those kinds of controls. You really have to look at it sort of in a unique way and say, ‘What are the strengths [of the touch screen]?’ and focus on them. The key to dealing with limitations is pushing against them. That’s not to say the touch screen is a limit, but it’s a particular way to access a game so you try to build as much as you can around that. With Air Supremacy, we have the touch screen, accelerometer controls and some casual controls as well. In simulator mode, you have full control of that jet. It’s something you really don’t see in other platforms. You can control pitch and yaw, you can roll your plane. You can really fly with precise controls.

Is there an appeal to developing for the iPad because of its larger install base among tablets?

It doesn’t hurt. I can’t really speak to sales numbers but obviously if you have a lot of people out there using the devices and those devices perform very well, it really helps.


Posted by on March 8, 2012 in apple, ipad


Air Force cancels iPad purchase

And just when we thought the Cold War was over…

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has cancelled its purchase order for 2,861 iPad 2 tablets, apparently because the devices were to come preloaded with Russian-made software, according to government news website Nextgov.

The military branch was looking to outfit pilots with the tablets, thereby replacing heavy paper flight manuals, but nixed the plan - at least temporarily - after the website inquired about the inclusion of GoodReader, which is a PDF reader made by Moscow-based Good.iWare.

The Air Force didn’t comment on the cancellation but Michael McCarthy, the Army’s smartphone project director, previously told the website that “he would not use software developed in Russia because he would not want to expose end users to potential risk.”

It’s likely that simply being based in Russia is enough to get a company onto the Pentagon’s cautious list, but Good.iWare doesn’t seem to be doing much to help its cause. Contact information and further details on the company are sparse to non-existent on its website. That’s too bad, really, because GoodReader is generally a well-regarded app.

The purchase cancellation is likely to be temporary as the benefits for pilots to use iPads are becoming well known. Commercial pilots who are already using them have found that the devices can easily replace 20 kilograms worth of paper manuals, which ultimately add up to fuel savings as well. (As an interesting aside, U.S. pilots are now allowed to use iPads during takeoff and landing, yet passengers still aren’t able to.)

Air Force pilots will almost certainly be using iPads just as soon as a non-Russian-made PDF reader is decided on. Let the lobbying by app makers begin.


Posted by on February 23, 2012 in apple, ipad, war


It’s folly to underestimate Apple’s contributions

I’m back from my short vacation and what’s the first thing I see? A character assassination attempt by my fellow Macleans blogger Jesse Brown.

Just kidding. I have nothing but respect for Jesse and love his stuff (his interview a few years back with Jim Prentice, where the industry minister hung up on him, is one of my all-time favourites). He messaged me while I was gone to ask if I was okay with him rebutting my blog post the other day about Steve Jobs and Apple’s importance to technology over the past decade. Of course I was, so he had at it.

To summarize, Jesse challenged my assertions that Apple changed everything with a slew of products that included the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad. He went on to say that Google has been the far more important technology company over the past 10 years.

Just as he thought I was “off my nut,” I think he’s similarly out to lunch, not so much for his conclusion but for how he got there.

First, a mea culpa of sorts. Jesse says I was wrong to say that Jobs himself has been the most important person of the decade, that “Osama Bin Laden must be spinning in his grave.”

No argument there. I’m a technology journalist and commentator and don’t necessarily consider myself qualified to discuss who the most important and influential person overall might be. I thought it was a given that I was limiting myself to the world of tech, but perhaps not. If so, my bad.

As far as which company has been more important, it wouldn’t be as straightforward an argument as Jesse suggests. While I’d probably also favour Google in that debate, it wouldn’t be without reservations, which is where we differ. Jesse asserts that Apple’s biggest impact has been aesthetic - that all it has done is perfected the work of the previous century and only changed the way things look:

It’s essentially a hardware company, and it’s ill-prepared for a world where objects mean less and information means more. There’s no new God-gadget coming from Cupertino—all Apple can do once it’s done sticking cameras on things and offering them in different colors is to release cheaper iPhones and cheaper iPads, devaluing their gear until the gee-whiz factor is totally gone.

Google, meanwhile, is the company that has reinvented advertising, organized all the information on the internet in a meaningful way, driven cloud computing and created “a data-driven economy fueled by the input of individuals.”

Again, I don’t disagree with the arguments for Google, but I do take umbrage with the serious undervaluing of Apple - and every other hardware maker, for that matter. Such a position completely discounts a full half of the internet because without the things that actually connect to it, there is no internet. It’s just an electronic ether that doesn’t really exist, much like heaven (as far as science can prove). Until we can connect our brains directly to this virtual miasma of data that Google has done such a good job organizing, we’re going to be reliant on companies to make hardware that acts as the intermediary.

There are many hardware companies that are important to the internet, from Cisco and network equipment manufacturers to HP and other server makers. Apple and other consumer-facing companies, however, are the ones that decide how every-day people access and use that miraculous internet.

Apple is just one of many makers of this sort of stuff, but its impact has been far more than aesthetic. It hasn’t just made things look nice, it has led the market and invented entire categories of products, all of which exploit, expand and bring value to the internet that we treasure so much. And before the Apple haters jump down my throat, there is a big difference between inventing a “product” and a “category.” Apple may not have invented the tablet computer, for example, but it sure did motivate the section for them at Best Buy. Apple didn’t invent smartphones either, but it absolutely kickstarted demand for them.

That said, isn’t a company that has expanded the ways and means in which people access all that information and data on the internet just as valuable as the company that organized it and did nifty things with it? I think so.

Jesse also argues that much of what Apple has done was inevitable:

If the iPod and iTunes never existed, online music sales might have taken years longer to develop from the ashes of Napster. But it still would have happened… [With the iPhone Jobs] may have jumpstarted the popularization of the mobile Internet by a year or so.

Couldn’t the same be said of Google? There were search engines before it - all Sergey Brin and Larry Page did was come up with a particularly effective algorithm that eliminated human labour from the equation. While Yahoo had employees manually surfing the web and inputting search results, Google had computers doing the same, which gave it a huge efficiency advantage that ultimately crushed all competitors. Google Maps is similarly a fine tool, but isn’t it just a shinier version of Mapquest? Gmail is also great, but isn’t it just a better Hotmail?

Google’s real innovation was in figuring out how to apply ads to all of this stuff and make piles of money from them, which in turn enables everything else it does. In a way, all Google did was get to that now-logical conclusion before anyone else.

The point is, it doesn’t matter if it’s Apple or Google - it’s wrong to disparage a company just because it thought of a better way to do something that somebody else did before. That’s the essence of innovation.

Getting back to the iPhone, it’s hard to overstate just how big an impact it has had. Prior to its release, when corporate users were busy punching emails into their BlackBerrys, mobile data was unbelievably expensive. Here in Canada, a single gigabyte cost somewhere in the realm of $2,500. If Jobs’ biggest accomplishment over the past 10 years could be pinpointed, my vote would go to his convincing AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPhone for less than $100. From his perspective, there was no point in releasing a handy data- and web-enabled device if people weren’t going to use it because of its prohibitive cost, so he somehow forced AT&T to play ball. Carriers across North America had no choice but to follow suit, which is why we now have a smartphone and mobile internet boom - one that Google is coincidentally profiting from.

The smartphone originators - BlackBerry, Nokia or Microsoft - could have tried to do that, and for that matter so too could have Google, but they didn’t. It was Apple that dragged the internet off of computers and into the mobile light of day. That’s a huge accomplishment.

Jesse is also a self-avowed non-believer in the iPad and, by extension, tablets at large:

I’ve yet to notice any real impact of the gadget… Tablets are not the written word’s savior or the future of the digital age. They’re just a different kind of computer that adds comfort while subtracting control.

That misses the point of what a post-PC world is - it’s a future where computing is made invisible and divided into different devices in different situations (until we get that direct brain-internet connection, that is).

A few years ago, if you wanted to do any sort of computing work - write an article, look up movie showtimes, edit a video or watch a movie - you had to either sit down at your desktop or pull out your laptop. Now, smartphones are cutting into all of that, as are tablets.

I took this tablet hating to task a few months ago in a post where I professed my love for them. That love has only gotten stronger since. I write my stories and blog posts on a computer, but I do everything else - read books, watch movies while on the go, play games, hotel check-ins, social media, mapping, check the weather, you name it - on an iPad. A few weeks ago, I had coffee with an editor who told me about how her elderly parents had taken up computing thanks to the iPad. The former Luddites used it to book a trip out west, then emailed photos once they were there. My old Polish mother has also expressed an interest in tablets. That fact alone, if you knew her, is a major impact.

Businesses are adopting them too. A few months ago, when I was taking a shuttle from the L.A. airport, I couldn’t help but notice the buses all used iPads for route planning and organization. Similarly, The Guardian had an article over the weekend about how airlines are using tablets for their flight plans. These are anecdotal examples, but more and more of them are popping up every day. Add them up and you have the makings of a real impact. The actual numbers, which show that PC sales are sliding because of tablets, are starting to show the same thing.

A post-PC world, therefore, isn’t one where computers are made obsolete - it’s one where the majority of computing is done on mobile devices.

The bottom line to all of this is that it’s easy to like Google and hate Apple, especially if you’re a journalist. One is relatively open and preaches the same while the other jealously guards its secrecy and is otherwise a closed book. Despite that, Apple still manages to get an undue amount of media attention, which rankles many.

By the same token, it’s easy to hate on the top dog - and let’s face it, that’s what Apple is in consumer tech (it has near-monopoly status with iPods, iTunes and iPads; has the top-selling smartphone by far despite Android’s collective market share leadership; and is on the verge of finally conquering Microsoft in computers). While the company amassed an army of fanboy followers over much of its history as the underdog in the epic struggle against the “evil empire” (Microsoft), it’s perhaps understandable that haters are now popping out of the woodwork. It’s poetic justice and all that.

As a neutral observer with no stake in this issue either way, I can’t say I particularly care whether Google or Apple is the more influential and important company of the past decade. Both have been drivers of major change and will likely be vital to the continued evolution of the internet and technology in general, at least for the next few years. To dismiss or discount the accomplishments of either, however, is folly.


Posted by on August 29, 2011 in apple, Google, internet, ipad, iphone


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