Monday, June 07, 2010

Apple, the Joe Cool of the Tech World

Apple is the Joe Cool of computers and now gadgets. From the cool, grizzled look of Steve Jobs to the little-black-dress look of iPhones and iPads to the exclusivity engendered by high prices, Apple epitomizes cool. Apple is the tribe everyone lines up to join. Well, everyone except geeks and libertarians; the former like control over their gadgets, the latter like to do things their way.

On the weekend, I got to handle an iPad and was surprised I didn't swoon. But I did like. My friend had it in an Apple case, which holds the iPad at a nice angle. I balanced it on my lap as I typed and swiped, touched and turned. This is what I liked:
  • It felt solid, was neither too big nor too little, providing enough screen space to read text clearly yet small enough to grasp an entire app in one glance. It was a bit heavy. Someone really needs to invent a light-weight, long-lasting battery.
  • It had a nice screen, easy to look at, and its brightness adjusts in the same way as the iPod Touch.
  • It works like the iPod Touch with a Home button and on/off switch; it also shows the apps in the same way. So no new learning curve on the basics.
  • The accelerometer actually worked up to its name. It rotated quickly. But not seamlessly. Sometimes the darn thing wouldn't rotate until I moved it into an obvious portrait mode position.
  • The iBookstore and Stanza apps showed books in different ways. The iBook way is snazzy looking, but I found the graphics a bit distracting. The Stanza way shows a clean page with just text. No distractions. Both allow not only zoom, like an eReader, but also brightness adjustment and font changes. I don't know whether it's easy to read in the sunlight or not. The Sony Reader is so easy to read in direct sun, just like a print book. The iPod Touch not so much. To find out which is easiest on the eyes and brain in general, I'd have to directly compare them. But I bet my eyes would get tireder faster looking at an iPad screen than a print book or eInk Reader.
  • Typing was a breeze. I type with both hands: eight fingers and two thumbs. Right off the bat, I could type easily in landscape mode. The only two problems I had was that typing on the hard glass surface hurt my sensitive fingers. And the space bar wouldn't always respond to the too-light pressure of my thumbs. I definitely think that for any typing beyond a few minutes, I'd have to use the wireless keyboard. Someone needs to invent a tablet surface that can 'give' under the pressure of fingers typing -- would be much less painful!
  • The built-in Apple calendar was awesome -- everything easily seeable in one glance, a very nice clean look, attractive graphics. That means the Pocket Informant iPad app, when it comes out, will be even awesomer. I can see that scheduling and organizing would be much easier on the iPad than on the iPod Touch because of the bigger screen, and it would be nicer and easier to discern than web-based calendaring, most of which has crappy graphics and is busy busy busy.
Today, Apple unveiled the iPhone 4, to much tweeting and live blogging. But I felt there wasn't the same universal swooning as there was over the iPad. Does that mean Joe Cool is cooling down? No, but if other companies got their act together and created tablets soon as easy to use, as attractive -- with more design options than basic black or boring pearl -- as integrated (e.g., buy a book and immediately read it on the tablet or handheld or computer) as the iPad, but with open source ability, old-style Palm OS Graffiti and ability to hand-write on it, and best of all ability to see one's events and tasks as soon as one turns it on -- they'd be formidable Apple competitors. The problem for companies like hp, for example, is that they're taking so darn long that the urgency created by Apple's events and advertising, by bloggers and tweeters talking it up, is going to clean out the market before they get there. So they'd better have something superior, not just the same by the time they cough up their tablets, in order to entice people to switch and buy.

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