Archive for the ‘iPhone’ Category

If you’ve read anything from this blog before, you’d know I was a pretty dedicated Apple fan, so keep that in mind as I discuss the embarassing debacle now known as the iPhone 4 launch. I’m not sure exactly who to blame or what the core problems are, but this 4th release of the iPhone was by far the worst and most poorly executed one that I’ve been a part of. And yes, I’ve participated in all four. It’s difficult to come up with viable excuses when the companies in questions are loaded with cash and filled with experience doing these releases yet somehow came across as unprepared amateurs; you’d think this was the first time they’d done this.

It all started with the Pre-order mess. A date but no specific time was announced for the start of pre-orders. Now “normally” one would think that this iss not a big deal, it’s just a pre-order. But by this time, with over 80 million iPhones sold, and the presumptive release tagline “This changes everything again,” you’d think Apple and/or AT&T would have an inkling that there just might be some significant interest and pent up demand for this release.

So what happened? Ordering began around 1am PST that night if I didn’t hear wrong. I woke up at 2am and started trying, but was never able to get through AT&T’s servers when they would try to confirm my status. It would typically get to a point when they were waiting for information from AT&T and then it would just time out or crash. Apple’s site was eventually crashing as well. I read that some people were having luck going directly to AT&T but that didn’t work for me either. So I went back to bed and tried again in the morning. And again. And again. All day it was the same, whether through Apple or AT&T it was just a flat out mess and eventually AT&T just said (on the phone, earlier they were just automatically hanging up on me) that their servers had crashed. I finally called the local Apple store and was told some people were having luck using the new Apple Store iPhone app. So I tried that, and lo and behold I was somehow given a “reservation” to pick a phone up on release day. Now what I really wanted was a true pre-order shipped to my home, but clearly that was not going to happen. I tried numerous times throughout the day, to no avail. By the time I made it home from work, the release date pre-orders had already ended and ship dates had been pushed out a week. Not much else to say here. Whether it was poor planning or poor execution, there’s just no excuse for such incompetence from these companies. Eventually it was announced that over 600,000 pre-orders had been placed. Impressive, but really not that big a number in the relative scheme of things. For comparison, 1.2 million copies of the first World of Warcraft expansion were sold on opening day – which also means that that many people (or more) were hitting the WoW servers that day. Do you seriously want to tell me that AT&T/Apple’s resources are less than Blizzard’s? Here’s a clue AT&T: spend some cash and upgrade your server capacity!

Next came the great AT&T price upgrade extravaganza. As a baseline, the iPhone 4 was being advertised with subsidized pricing (2-year contract) of $199/$299 for the 16/32GB models, which equates to a $400 total discount off the full retail price. This pricing was for any new customer or any old one who “qualified” for an upgrade. To be nice, they even pushed up the contract dates for some people, so that anyone who would expire in 2010 also qualified (essentially bumping qualification dates up to 6 months earlier). On top of this, they released a flyer and verbage on their website that for “previous iPhone users that didn’t qualify for the best pricing” a special “early upgrade” price would be offered with a $200 discount at $399/$499 with a reset 2-year contract renewal. This is exactly the system they used last year, and I think for the most part people were happy and satisfied with it. Sounds all good so far, right? Turns out that certain select customers (namely me) simply did not qualify through AT&T for either of these discount/upgrades. I called multiple times and mentioned the flyer, and even went to the store to confirm. Everyone had a different story. Supposedly “high spenders” had improved upgrade dates, though I was never able to confirm if this was true or not. Some people who bought the 3GS the same time I did were being offered *full* upgrade pricing, and others the early upgrade pricing. At the store I was told that the “early upgrade” price could only be used once every 2 years. Essentially I decided it was all arbitrary and completely at AT&T’s whim. What bothered me was the inconsistency and lack of definition. I can live with AT&T wanting to reward its highest paying customers, but they should define exactly what that means so that I can decide if it’s worth it for me to put myself into that category by spending more.

In any event, I ultimately decided to buck the system and simply terminate my existing contract for a $115 termination fee, and start a fresh/clean line with the full $400 discount, so essentially a $285 net discount. Some additional hassle no doubt, but this is what the actual AT&T store representative recommended to me! You can do the math yourself, but clearly this makes no sense. If they had simply offered me the “early upgrade” pricing as they did last year, they’d still have me on a new 2-year contract, and I’d only get a $200 discount. Their own stupid policy cost them extra cash up front AND created un-needed animosity. It’s a complete lose for them at the expense of a little inconvenience for me. Stupid stupid stupid.

As release day approached, word got out that pre-order shipments were being delivered early. In the past (both for the 3GS and iPad), Apple has controlled shipping so that everyone would get product on the same day. Not this time, as people started getting their phones 2 days early. Rumor has it this was deliberate to allow more people to start activating sooner and relieve the pathetic AT&T servers for the actual launch. Of course the early birds were happy, but people like myself who had put the time in to pre-order but were blocked from AT&T’s server ineptitudes were not happy campers. Not only had we been denied the comfort of home delivery, but now to add insult to injury, we were missing the day one release fun.

By the actual release date I was feeling pretty bitter and unenthused about the whole thing. I was actually thinking about the Droid X and Verizon and whether all this trouble was worth it. I woke up around 7am and debated whether to hit the lines. I checked online and apparently at my store there were over 500 people lined up since very early in the morning. I kept checking in and the word was that the line was simply not moving. I changed my plans and decided to go to work and come back later in the day. I kept checking online, and kept reading the same things: little to no line movement in a hugely long line, with conflicting reports on whether people were split into 2 lines (reservations and non). Basically it was a mess. I even heard there had been fighting in the store, not sure what that was about. I finally got in the line about 500 deep or so at around 7:30 in the evening. By this time there were no more non-reserves left and I thought the line might progress well. I was wrong. The line moved, but nowhere near quick enough and by 9 we heard talks about vouchers being given out; these vouchers would allow you to jump back in the following day. I ended up waiting until 10:30 to receive a voucher, thanks to some Apple store employees who seemed like they couldn’t stop chatting. At one point the “voucher guys” spilt up and started working one from front, one from the back. This was even more aggravating as some of the back people had only just arrived while others of us in the middle had been waiting over 2 hours. We were told explicitly that if we left that night, the *only* people buying phones the next day would be people in our line who had vouchers. I took a brief count and there were maybe 400 people max still left in line when I left, so I figured waiting until the next day was a no-brainer.

I came back after work around 4:30 and there were only a few people in front of me, maybe 15 at most. At some point I realized they had actually lied, because some of the people in line with me told me they weren’t part of the previous night’s line, but had been given vouchers for some other line in the morning. By that time I really didn’t care to belabor the argument, but the flat out lying and misinformation given out by the Apple employees was pretty disappointing. I’m sure this isn’t their fault individually, but someone in Apple management had clearly directed this strategy. At that point if phone stock had run out I was planning to make a major scene. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but I still ended up waiting nearly another 2 hours before I was let into the store. By that time they had really worn out my resolve, and the cheery Apple salesman was able to con me into multiple extra purchases. On a side note I do wonder if this isn’t some sort of bizarre psychological tactic used to weaken customers so that they are more compliant to buy more. The salesman was great, but I could see now why it was taking so excruciatingly long to make the line move. Every customer was being given full-on sales pitches for Apple Care, MobileMe, accessories, etc etc as well as personal support to activate and transfer everything onto their phone. Even a normally efficient person like myself ended up taking close to 20 minutes. I could easily see other customers taking 30-45 minutes at a time and this relatively small Apple store clearly did not have the size and personnel to create a larger throughput.

All told, this launch may have been numerically successful for Apple (they are touting 1.7million sold in 3 days), but I think psychologically they may have failed for the first time. Many people were irate at the broken pre-order system, some at the mis-steps in shipping, more were disappointed in the poor efficiency of the stores and line-ups (I’ve read a variety of issues with AT&T and Best Buy stores as well), and all of that is now topped off with a possible faulty antenna design (more on that in a future post). How do you get this far along in the process and come out looking this unprofessional?

I think it’s become clear that Apple is fast outgrowing their singular (no pun intended) tie to AT&T; the exclusivity is becoming a burden for everyone involved. AT&T simply can’t handle the volume of customers, as well as the bandwidth requirements, but the demand continues to grow. Splitting off to Verizon and T-Mobile and giving customers some additional choices is only going to help everyone. Let’s hope it happens soon.

…after exactly one week spent with the iPad, I can honestly say for certain it’s made a successful and appreciated transition into my life. For what it’s worth, this blog post is the first time I’ve touched my Macbook since the iPad arrived. There was one time when I instinctively went for the Macbook to check something online, but it dawned on me it would be much faster to do it on the iPad. Since that moment, I haven’t really looked back.

The iPad has just integrated right into regular use almost seamlessly, but on top of that is getting much more additional use than I did out of either my netbook or laptop. I keep it close while watching TV to check scores and actors’ details, and also nearby my desktop when I’m gaming to check news or watch live TV. I’ve used it on the treadmill, and been able to watch video, listen to music, and even surf and shop while exercising. I bring it to the bathroom, I read eBooks in bed, game on the couch. I’m constantly checking the App store for new apps, and I’ve found quite a few gems, as well as iTunes for new music and videos.

Pretty much everything I’d imagined it would, the iPad is handling, and with very little effort on my part. This is not a “forced usage” kind of scenario where I’m doing these things just to prove a point. More the opposite, it’s really filling in the blanks where I had no effective equivalent on top of taking care of easy things like checking email regularly. The treadmill is the best example, where I watched an episode of Glee the other day while walking a few miles. Before I knew it 45 minutes had passed as I marveled at how good the video quality (and the show itself) was. I’ve tried other video devices and it’s always been too awkward due to the form factor or too small a screen to enjoy, so I had kind of given up. My only issue was the sound (which tends to get drowned out by the treadmill), so as soon as I stepped off, I was on Amazon searching for a Bluetooth speaker. I found a nice one for $50 (Altec Lansing) which pairs up with both the iPhone 3GS and iPad, so the next time I’m on I’ll have decent room-filling sound as well. I can’t wait for Slingbox to optimize their app so I can watch higher quality live and DVR TV; the current version works but video quality is fairly poor.

Typing on the iPad works amazingly well considering what I was expecting, but of course can still never compare to a physical keyboard. The feel of this one in particular (Macbook Air) just fits for me. That said, I’ve gotten used to typing on the iPad for short posts and emails, which I’ve typically avoided on the iPhone; I tried a typing test site and averaged about 30-40 WPM with no errors, so clearly speed and accuracy are not a big problem using the touchscreen implementation. The auto correction, as mentioned in the previous post, is very accurate and useful. Unfortunately with no tactile feedback it’s just not quite the same experience as keys can give. I don’t consider this an issue since I have other options, but somehow intending the iPad to be their *only* device should think about whether they are satisfied with the tying options.

As far as gaming, I am anticipating really big things based on what’s already been demonstrated with the first releases. We Rule is terribly addictive, and often I’ll just watch the graphics as they are just gorgeous on the larger screen. There’s also something incredibly satisfying about touching the screen to collect cash and harvest your crops, silly and hard to explain. Warpgate HD looks like an incredibly deep space sim with an endless amount of gameplay. RealRacingHD has smoothly rendered racing tracks and great responsiveness to the accelerometer; the use of the screen as both HUD and steering wheel makes for some truly innovative gameplay. Plants vs Zombies is just plain fun and the touch interface and gorgeous graphics are perfect for the iPad. There’s a “God” sim called Godfinger which is quite amusing, and a new MMORPG-lite entitled Pocket Legends which is trying to bring Diablo style online dungeon romps to the mix.

So far I’ve only demoed the iPad to a couple of close friends. Both seemed to love the Photos and Books in particular, so these should be popular among the non-geek crowd. My one friend is now re-thinking upgrading his old Macbook, and instead going with a desktop (iMac perhaps) + iPad combo instead. Of course it really depends on your personality and usage, but I’m thinking that’s a really good way to go. Have a nice large screen with plenty of power to do your more intensive tasks, and then use the iPad for general and on-the-go needs. For more tech savvy users, set the desktop up to for both remote use and as the server to stream content from, and you’ve really got a powerful tool at your fingertips.

Clearly this is not going to be a hit with everyone in the short term. I’ve had a lot of questions from folk who still seemed confused by the entire concept? Is it a laptop replacement? Is it a computer? Is it an eBook reader? A portable gaming machine? The answer is of course it can be all of these things and more, provided one is willing to make a few sacrifices like Flash and USB support. And understand to really take full of advantage of all it has to offer, you’ll need to research the right apps and then try them out to see if they worked well for you.

My advice if you are really in the market for one but are still on the fence: take a trip to the local Best Buy or Apple store and try one out. My local BB had 3 of them for people to play with. You really have to feel the thing in your hands and interact with it to make sure it feels good to you and that you can accomplish your highest priority tasks with it. There are some things (like web and photo browsing) I flat out believe are a better experience here than anything else out there. Something about the immediacy and intimacy of the Touchscreen transcend the general state ofThen there are others (productivity) that appear to need some additional effort to learn. This kind of thing will start to sort itself out over time.

All in all I can see the iPad fitting into all sorts of different lives and lifestyles, from students to gamers to housewives to retired folk. It has the potential to be different things to different people, and because of its particular size/weight/form factor, the potential to go a lot of places that traditional laptops/netooks wouldn’t. So it will be interesting to see if it catches on more mainstream or remains in a niche. I’m guessing it won’t really take off til perhaps Christmas, taking advantage of both the holiday and (hopefully) the introduction of iPhone OS 4.

“It’s been a long, a long time coming – but I know a change gonna come…”

Yeah you know the lyrics, and they were right – so shelve your netbook, box up your UMPC collection, hide the “tablet” PC, give your Nintendo DS and Sony PSP to your nephew, and stick your eReader in the bottom drawer – because after a long, long, excruciating wait (for some of us anyway), the iPad is finally upon us.  And yes, don’t be afraid of the hyperbole; we are absolutely talking about a revolution.  The time to speak gently for fear of rousing the naysayers is over; it’s time to spread the word to the non-haters who still have an open enough mind to accept an awesome new piece of technology that will help define a brand new usage space that crosses over from casual usage to business productivity to portable game console to eBook reader to media player.

OK OK I may be going a bit overboard here in excitement, but after about 4 hours of non-stop use, I’m definitely impressed.  That said, I think you’ll find a fairly balanced impressions post, as I’ve noticed a few negatives along with all the sheer awesomeness.  One thing was clear to me after my first day with the iPad; if you think you know exactly what it is and have defined (or confined) it to a particular space, you are most likely wrong.  In spite of all the research I did and all my past experiences with this “space,” I was still surprised by some elements of the actual user experience.  It’s quite simply a unique and different feeling compared to everything that’s out there now; if you are genuinely interested or on the fence, you really have to try it to see if it suits you.

So without further ado, let’s dive right in:

First “feelings”

When you first pick it up, the iPad feels “just right” – the size, weight, balance, everything seems slick and well tuned.  The first slide to turn the unit on, the first time you start browsing or checking out your photos, everything feels pretty amazing.  Contrary to the unboxing experience I had with the Archos 9 (A9) PCTablet, the iPad comes ready to go, fully charged.  If you wanted, you could just start using it immediately, with the only setup being connecting to your wireless network.  For me I had to spend about an hour syncing to my Mac, and much of that time was my own fault because I needed to reorganize my gazillion apps.  Still, the “out of box” experience was infinitely better and easier.  I’ve seriously already had more quality usage in one day than I’ve had with the A9 and my last netbook combined.  With those two, I literally spent more time updating and upgrading than I did actually using.

Back to the iPad, the rotation from the accelerometer is extremely responsive, more so than the iPhone I believe.  But after longer usage, I noticed (depending on the app) it can be awkward at times, the rotation may be too sensitive, and the weight is definitely still not optimal.  I’ve said this all along, I really think you want to be a pound or under for a device that’s meant to be held in one hand for extended periods of time.  In terms of the accelerometer sensitivity, it’s great for gaming (see RealRacing HD) but not great for general use as it can bounce around back and forth between modes when you are walking, for instance; luckily there is a hard button to lock in your screen perspective.  So I’m mixed on the day one “overall feel”.  I know I’ll get used to it in time and find natural positions (and accessories) that compensate (this is already happening in day 2), but I was a little surprised it wasn’t somehow “magically” better from the getgo.  It was probably an unrealistic expectation given that I knew the dimensions/weight, and you just can’t cheat physics.  I’ll review this again after a month or so of use.

Screen/Touch interface

As expected, the screen is gorgeous and the interface is every bit as responsive as you might hope.  The added size (it seems to be like 6x the iPhone) gives you so much more of everything to work with, and it is very impressive.  Bad news though?  Even with the special coating you’ll get fingerprints all over, and the screen feels sometimes like my finger is sticking (as opposed to sliding).  Of course I should mention that I use a screen protector (Boxwave Anti-Glare) on my iPhone which has an overall smoother feel at the cost of sucking out some of the brightness of the screen.  I was hoping not to have to add a protector but it’s probably a good idea for me since I’ve become so accustomed to the feel I have on my iPhone.  Overall the screen is of the highest quality that you expect from Apple, the touch response incredibly well executed (with no calibration whatsoever required), and the large size as it sits in your hand and close to your eyes creates a unique feel that is difficult to describe.  Yes it sounds a bit weird, but more “intimate” is probably the best choice of words.

Keyboard

Prior to release this looked like it would be the Achilles heel and I had a lot of doubts it would be effective, particularly after the relatively poor experiences I had with the Archos.  With software keyboards on a touch screen, the larger size can actually become a detriment as I found with the A9.  Luckily, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, in spite of my good experiences with the iPhone keyboard.  In portrait mode, it’s actually easier to use because (assuming your thumbs are long enough) you can just type similar to the way you would on your phone, but with much larger keys and more spacing.  Basically your 2 hands are holding the unit and your thumbs do the work.  I can’t type at regular speed, but combined with the correction technology, I can type faster than I can on the iPhone, which is pretty amazing.  Landscape is actually more awkward if you are holding the iPad; you pretty much have to set it down somehow to type properly.  This can get awkward depending on how you are sitting.  The good news is once you take care of the positioning, you can really take advantage of the size of the keyboard and type with 2 hands.  The speed/responsiveness is almost fast enough to keep up with my typing speed, but still a bit too slow.  Again, the correction tech is almost impeccable, and anyone who’s come to rely on it like they do with the iPhone should be a happy camper.  Now if you do decided you need a physical keyboard you can either go with Bluetooth or a keyboard/dock combo.  One bad thing is for the latter, you are stuck using the unit in portrait mode since there is only one docking connection on the bottom (in portrait).  Personally I’m not thrilled with that design trade.

Battery Life

More good news here, thus far from reviews and my own experience, it looks like Apple’s 12-hour claims were justified.  My usage over 4 hours was browsing, gaming, some video, books, pretty much everything I could think of – and a lot of wireless access.  Last I looked I was at about 70% so I’m pretty impressed.  On other piece of good news, even after all the constant usage I never felt the unit get hot, not while gaming, not while surfing, not while constantly using wireless.  This is a major feat in itself and should not be taken for granted, as pretty much all the (larger screen) portable devices I’ve used will get hot in spots or under sustained usage.

Email

The email client is very nice, if you’ve seen the demos you pretty much know what you’re going to get.  Being able to interact with the touch screen makes for an overall more enjoyable feel compared with web mail and even Apple’s own client.  I definitely like the way that I can flick scroll through all the email while still having a particular one on the main screen.  Speed and overall response is also quite better than it is with the iPhone.  It’s not going to sell the device, but it definitely offers a “best of both worlds” experience compared to the iPhone and a Macbook or traditional web-based client.  The only negative is of course typing, so if you do a lot of long replies, it may not be the best choice.

Web Surfing

This is really the crown jewel of the iPad in my opinion.  By now everyone surfs the web, from my elderly parents to my baby nephew, and finally someone has really made it an enjoyable, more personal and (there’s that word again) “intimate” experience.  Information comes to you as you touch it in an intuitive and comfortable manner, it just feels right to gently flick a page and have more information scroll forward.  We got a taste of this with iPhone but the screen was just too small and cramped to give a more complete experience.  With the improved processor and Wireless N, browsing is just a wonderful experience on the iPad, as full web pages complete with graphics just pop up almost instantly, and responses to your touches are just a tad more responsive and immediate.

Books/Reading

Thus far I’ve dabbled with 2 book readers (Apple’s iBooks and Kindle) and a comic book reader (Marvel).  All were free to download but cleverly give you some free choices and free previews, but then charge you for the content you really want.  And since it’s all done seamlessly through the app itself, you can quickly bankrupt yourself before you know it.  iBooks includes a free Winnie the Pooh book, which is perfect to demo the app as it includes a number of gorgeous original color illustrations.  It also has a great in-app brightness changer and the graphical page turning that’s been shown in commercials and demos.  It all makes for a much nicer presentation than Amazon’s more spartan offering.  Still Amazon has the content at this point so it should be an interesting battle.  The comic reader is absolutely fantastic.  I bought Joss Whedon’s classic Astonishing X-Men #1 and it was simply a pleasure to experience in bold vivid colors on the iPad screen.  There’s even a feature where you can switch to have each panel appear individually and progress the story, which really gives you the opportunity to focus and appreciate the artwork.  All in all I am very satisfied with the reading aspects.  I still need to try reading before bed to see if the brightness will bother me.

Photos

You’ve probably seen the commercial or the demo, and let me just say it is every bit as cool as it looks.  The way your photos kind of come alive at your fingertips as you explore an “event” is simply amazing.  Everything is smooth as silk and flipping through photos, zooming in and out, is all wonderfully rendered.  Be forewarned that the first time you install all the photos will be “optimized” for the iPad, so that can take some time.  All that said, this is more of an adjunct feature for me, I don’t anticipate it getting heavy use.  It’s great for showing off though, I have to admit.  And for photo/image buffs, it could be a main selling point.

Music and Video

It’s funny that like with the iPhone, the whole iPod featureset is pretty much overlooked.  We’ve come to take it for granted that we’re going to get a solid experience, and the iPad delivers pretty much everything you’d expect, though coverflow seems to be missing in the music interface.  Instead a more practical but less sexy scrolling interface is used, more similar to the contacts list.  Video quality looks pretty top notch, but again no surprises here.  I have to admit this is the feature I looked at the least so I will probably evaluate it more as time passes.

Apps/Gaming

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve heard different stories on the number of “release” apps specific to iPad.  Something like 1000 was the rumor.  Add that to the nearly 200,000 iPhone/iPod Touch apps and it’s actually a bit overwhelming.  But having choices is always good, it just might take some time and research (and perhaps some misfires) to get to the cream of the crop.  Before even receiving my iPad, I had already downloaded about $100 worth of iPad apps, ranging from the iWork productivity suite to games to comic and book readers to note-taking.  I was amazed at both the quantity and apparent quantity of what is already available.  Apple definitely worked the timing out well, giving developers ample opportunity to hone this first gen of apps and give us a much stronger release sampling than the iPhone had.  And compare this to your typical console release which generally comes with 10-20 titles, this is absolutely insane.  Most people generally agree it will be the apps that will sell the system long-term, and judging by the initial wave it looks like we are all in for a real treat.

I have about 6 pages worth of apps already, a mix of iPad exclusive and iPhone apps I wanted to try out, really far too many to cover in detail here.  The iPad versions are noticeably improved taking full advantage of the higher resolution and larger screen.  Worth mentioning is the RealRacing HD app, which allows you to use the full iPad to steer as you drive.  I was afraid it might make me nauseous but it just played perfectly.  It’s a very unique experience gameplay wise as no other driving game offers you quite this exact perspective in this size of a screen.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense (physically steering the actual first person point of view) but game-play wise it just works.  I also got some time in Dungeon Hunter HD, which looks fantastic on the larger screen and plays great once you get used to it.  I ended up going with a touch approach (in place of the virtual stick) which seemed to work better on the large screen.  If you are into the Farmville scene, I highly recommend We Rule.  The iPhone version was already addictive enough, but the iPad takes the interface to the next level.  It’s absolutely gorgeous and with the larger screen you can pretty much see your entire kingdom without scrolling and gain a great overview.  Even nicer, instead of having to come out of your kingdom view to see the larger area map where your friends are, you can stay in your kingdom and scroll around the Social map.  Just some nice subtle touches but all very appreciated.  I also tried the first few levels of Plants vs. Zombies HD and let me just say the graphics were stunning on the screen.  I wasn’t actually expecting it to be much better as I thought the iPhone version was already close to perfect, but the higher res graphics and larger screen size take it to the next level.  Playing it with full touch is such a marked improvement over using the mouse to click on things, I’d almost say this game alone is worth the price of admission to getting an iPad for fans of the genre.

MIA

So after all that, what’s missing?  It’s hard to dwell too much on a couple of desired features that didn’t make it into this first design after being overwhelmed with the amount of things that were done correctly.  But yes, Flash is still not supported so a number of websites are going to look sparse or flat out not work.  I’m lucky in that the majority of my top sites do not use much Flash at all, so I really don’t notice it.  I would have really enjoyed a front or dual-facing camera for video chat and the like, plus there have been many innovative uses of the camera such as for a business card scanner.  This is a minor disappointment all in all and likely something that will be added in the next release.   Multi-tasking is of course the “big” feature that many people have complained about, essentially saying it cannot compare to a powerful “computer” because of this.  The fact is we know on some level the hardware is already capable of “multi-tasking” as you can already run iPod music in the background while surfing or doing other things, or check a map while on the phone (as shown in the commercial).  So while I do believe Apple will address this soon enough (both here and on the iPhone), I have to question the full necessity of it.  Cluttering memory with a dozen open applications is something we get used to on our desktops, but does it really make sense to do a traditional style multi-task on a portable device like this?  Honestly I have never once felt the need to have some background process running on the iPhone, and there are only a couple usage cases where I could see it being truly relevant.  Hopefully when it does come it will be presented in a logical, useful, easy to use way, and not just added as a feature to appease the critics.

Bottom Line

Is it for you?  That could be a tough call given the price point which is enticing but certainly not cheap.  For geeks who love new tech, it’s practically a no-brainer.  Ditto for gamers who are interested in a different style of interface.  The hardware itself is top-notch, but when combined with the never-ending supply of cool new apps, it’s a dream come true for people who love new releases and you can bet there will be plenty.

For a truly casual user, it could conceivably replace or be used in place of a “real” computer (laptop or desktop).  It’s going to handle all the same core functions (web, email, multimedia) in a simpler, easier to use form factor.  People like my parents could easily get by with these functions as that’s pretty much all they do.

I could also see this being perfect for students as the preferred unit to carry to classes and coffeehouses.  Imagine having all your textbooks loaded on the iPad and being able to highlight and copy/paste and annotate directly onto the electronic books.  From a business-user’s standpoint, it’s tough to say.  I haven’t had a chance to evaluate the “big 3” productivity products but they look solid.  Still, I don’t see people necessarily giving up their computers to work on detailed spreadsheets and presentations.  As I’ve seen in other reviews, the iPad looks like a great way to edit and review content but not necessarily to generate new content from scratch.  One other thing that I found disconcerting at first look was there doesn’t seem to be an obvious and intuitive way to handle file transfers, organize documents (particularly PDFs), or stream media from other computers.  I found an app called FileTransfer that seems to do what I want, but it’s been difficult to get running effectively, and this is something that really should be handled by the OS.  (Edit: apparently it’s handled somewhere in iTunes, I still have to figure it out.)

For gamers, it’s opening a whole new gaming interface due to the size of the screen combined again with the touch sensitivity and the accelerometer.  I’m expecting a lot of bigger and better things to come along and clever ways to use these capabilities.  The small portable DS and PSP screens just can’t compete, so this is something developers can really take advantage of.  Admittedly there are certainly some games that become more awkward when you don’t have buttons or a mouse, but there are others (like Plants vs Zombies) that really do play better when they are all-touch.

So for now I see the iPad fitting perfectly alongside my other gadgets and computers, but quickly taking over some spots (like the bathroom, bed and couch).  It’s the perfect companion piece to fit in the in-between spaces that were awkward for my laptop or when the iPhone screen is too small.  On top of that it’s providing the best web-browsing interface I’ve personally used to date, as well as a whole new way to game.  Short version: love it.

Since the January 27th announcement of Apple’s new iPad, I’ve encountered what appears to be a great deal of negativity and skepticism regarding the tablet.  As is now becoming fairly customary with Apple’s announcements, there appears to be a focus on all of the things the new device can not do:  Flash, take pictures, multi-task, eInk, the list goes on and on.  I’m not going to ignore the fact that this initial release is not the perfect, ideal tablet I’ve been dreaming of with every feature I might have wanted, but I also think many people are missing the point to some degree.  They are focusing on a list of specifications, or lack thereof.  They haven’t even looked at the video demo of the iPad in action, or thought about how the device might be fun and useful in their everyday lives, because they are too busy being disappointed, pointing out all the flaws and missteps. 

Then there’s another set of folk, who I think are more just skeptics, they just don’t see where the usage “space” of such a device might be in their lives, or how it could fit in since they already have a nice desktop, laptop and iPod Touch.  So this blog post is mostly for that group.  Now obviously I can’t claim to know exactly how the new device works, but I’ve had years of experiences with other tablets, as well as the iPhone, and therefore I have a distinct sense of how I think I might use it one day.  So without further ado, here’s an imagined “day in the life” scenario with the iPad:

Morning.  iPad alarm wakes me up with some nice classical music I downloaded the night before.  I get up and pull it out of its dock and take it to the breakfast table.  I stand it up in the case and read the LA Times while eating my breakfast.  Flick to the next page, entertainment section – oh, I see that HBO’s Ice and Fire show is premiering tonight; zoom in to check the time.  Hit the Home button and hit U-Verse app, a quick search and I set the DVR to record the series.  Well, heck, now I feel like actually watching some TV.  Hit the Infrared Remote app (this requires an additional attachment), and the TV is now playing the morning news.  Commercial comes on, I change the channel to MTV, and a  new Lady Gaga video is playing and gets stuck in my head –  so I hit the iTunes store and download her latest album.  After finishing breakfast, I check my calendar – yuck, my section meeting is at 9 and a vendor is coming in at 2.  I still have a package to drop off at Fedex so I better get moving.  Open Maps, check for the closest Fedex station, a couple zoom-ins and I’m on my way.

On the drive.  Switch on Bluetooth and stream the new songs I downloaded to the car stereo, not bad so far.  At a stoplight, check the map one more time to make sure I know where I’m going.   Drop the package off and then head to work.

Work.  At my desk, I flip through the presentation I’m going to make at the section meeting.  A couple of things are off and I’m not sure on a few numbers.  So I show it to my colleague on the tablet and he point out a few typos, which I change on the fly.  I call up an eBook reference to check the last of a few questionable equations, switch to the calculator to check my numbers.  Looks good enough.  At the meeting, I use the VGA adapter to put my presentation up on the projector screen, and flip through it as I go through.  All goes well.  Back at my desk, it’s lunch break so I relax with a quick game of Need for Speed.  I remember there was something on my desktop I wanted to finish so I jump into Logmein, move a few files around and get a round of file encodes started in Handbrake.  Update my calendar throughout the day, taking notes as needed on the pad.  At the vendor meeting which we do in the lobby due to security reasons,  the vendor has an idea for a new mechanical housing he’s trying to describe, but I just can’t visualize it – I hit Brushes and let him draw the concept out for me since there’s no white board around.  Ah ha!  I like it, so he’s going to put a quote together.  I save the drawing he made and email it to him right there as a reference.  Back at my desk, I finish out the day in the lab, importing my data into a spreadsheet from the PC directly into Numbers, which I’ll look at later if I get a chance.

Back home.  Laker game is on but I want to get in some exercise.  So I change clothes, get on the treadmill.  Hit Remote to access my main iTunes library and start playing some background music through the Airport-enabled speakers.  Touch the 2010 Treadmill playlist, Shuffle and Play.  Then hit Slingplayer and get the TV game up on the screen while doing the treadmill.   Exercise isn’t too bad like this 🙂  Half-time comes, so I access my home server and pull up an old episode of Buffy that I just converted.  Man I love that show. 

Dinner-time.  iPad is sitting on the table again, this time with the latest Wired magazine up.  Flipping through while eating some pizza, I soon get in trouble when my partner asks if I’m ever going to put “that thing” away.  So I hit Photos and set it to screen-saver mode, and it’s immediately a nice picture frame, just off to the side.

Evening.  I cuddle up in my favorite recliner and do a little more browsing, check a few forums and other sites.  Move to email and flip through quickly to see if any need responses.  Watch a Youtube video that a friend has recommended, then play a round of Words with Friends.  Back to email, I see another friend has recommended a new 3D RPG, so I move to the App store and download it.  Sweet! 

Night time.  Sitting in bed I read a couple more chapters of the latest George RR Martin novel.  There’s a couple of characters I don’t remember so I call up the previous book and re-read a few passages.  But then I realize some of the plot still doesn’t make sense so I bring up Wikipedia and read the details.  Wait a sec – who’s going to play the mom again?  Hit IMDB and check that out.  Back to the book, finish out another chapter.  Finally put the device back in Alarm mode in its dock and turn out the lights.

What a difference a year makes.  No lines this year, no 8 hour wait and insane anticipation, no Smart Water handouts or bizarre conversations with strangers, no free popsicles to beat the heat.  Instead, the Apple faithful, but faithfully lazy, stayed at home and watched and waited with baited breath to see if the power combo of Apple, AT&T, UPS and Fedex could all work in tandem to get thousands and thousands of phones into their preorder customers’ hands all on the same day, Friday 6/19.   Many promises were made, and from the looks of it, the majority of them were kept.  Amusingly enough, forum-goers were spun into a tizzy by the http://www.flightaware.com website, anxiously tracking every flight that may or may not have been carrying their precious cargo.  I was not immune to the hype, I had flightaware and UPS both loaded and ready to refresh on my MBA, hoping for some sign of an early (or at least on-time) delivery.  It all came down to the wire, with UPS holding delivery in Kentucky, and not until 8am PST the morning of delivery did the update tell me a flight from KY to LAX had flown out in the 4am timeframe.  Talk about cutting it close!

But in the end it was kind of anti-climatic.  The termite guy had just left my home, and I was brushing my teeth and washing my face around 10am.  Thankfully I had left the pre-signed approval to leave the box safely taped to the front door, because I had no idea the UPS guy had shown up; I was expecting a day of waiting.  It was only when I opened up the MBA to check email, and refreshed the UPS site, when I noticed it had already been delivered!  Hungrily I opened the door and saw the pre-sign sheet was gone, and quickly opened the plastic drawer we leave outside for packages.  Inside was the tiniest of boxes, so small it seemed insignificant.  But inside I knew was another year of iPhone heaven.

It took a couple hours to get synced up and activated, but again, none of the craziness of years past.  There was some delay in AT&T activation, but it cleared up soon enough.  And then, ultimately, the turn on…. honestly it was kind of a non-event.  It booted up to the main screen and looked exactly like I had left my previous phone.  This was even with the complete overhaul to iPhone 3.0 OS.  On the surface it really looked like absolutely nothing had changed, save for a couple icons and one of my Apps being pushed to another page.  Harumph.

I realized at this point that the truth is, this year’s “upgrade” was even more “under-the-hood” than last year’s.  Last year brought the triumphant App Store into our lives, and that in many ways overshadowed masked the relatively few changes to the hardware.  Now of course I knew this the case since the phone was announced, but the gadget guy in me was likely still hoping for something to wow over, when the reality is that the best phone on the planet had simply evolved internally – and that was about it.

This is not to degrade the obvious increase in power of the new device, which has been compared to the evolution from the 486 processor to the Pentium (a big deal for us old PC guys).  It’s noticeable almost immediately, from turn on to opening Apps, from using email to snapping photos (and video!).  For someone who has spent big bucks buying the latest video card or processor to get something like 30-40% better performance improvements, a jump in hardware like this is absolutely incredible.  Of course, the one major hardware addition/change (the video camera) is extremely welcome, but the fact is most us know that Apple blocked a potential App that allowed the old still camera to take video through software.  Granted this is “real” video and is probably a substantial improvement in quality, but it’s still more of a feature that was “missing” from the original releases, rather than a stunning new one.  As a counter example, I would have loved to see a front-facing cam for iChat, which I presume is slated for future releases (as well as future improvement in the networks’ capabilities to handle live video chat).

The one thing I can say is incredibly impressive in my first day of usage is the battery life, which thus far feels significantly enhanced.  I’ve had a lot of activity so far, much more so than normal since I’m still in “testing mode”, and the battery looks to be at half still.  I guess it makes sense that if you do all the same activities twice as efficient, even if you consume 50% more power per activity, in the long run you will come out on top.  The doubling of available RAM also seems to have drastically improved performance, though it has rendered the “Free Memory” App in desperate need of an upgrade.

So it may sound like I’m a bit underwhelmed, and the fact is that the “experience” – relative to the drama of years past – was really underwhelming.  But that in itself could be considered a major accomplishment – a virtually seamless upgrade to truly next generation internal hardware, all from the comfort of my home.  If I hadn’t been home sick, I could have worked and the upgrade would have had virtually no impact on my regular day, the phone would have been waiting for me when I got home.

An awesome piece of hardware has evolved yet again, refined its ability to perform tasks faster and more efficiently, giving the end user an improved experience with what was already a great interface.  The look and feel have really remained more or less unchanged, as clearly it’s one of those cases where you are hard pressed to tamper with (near) perfection.

So where does Apple go from here?  They can continue to improve the internal hardware, with faster chips and speeds ad infinitum.  They will need to add multi-tasking capability whether it is needed or not, if only to shut Palm up.  But is that going to be enough to secure their domination in the market?  Or are they going to need yet another next generation leapfrog to showcase their superiority in hardware design?  I have no idea, but I’d have to say the iPhone interface, along with the revolutionary App Store and all the talented developers, is peaking toward perfection.  Sure, refinements can always be found, and speed and memory capacity can continue to be bumped, but for the most part, it’s a complete design as I can’t see the shape/size/weight undergoing major changes, aside from further optimization.  Perhaps then it’s finally time for Apple to unveil their Next Big Thing, hopefully the iPad Touch (or whatever you want to call it) that bridges the space between the phone and the laptop.  Come on Steve, we’re ready for you!

It’s been a long time since I’ve actively searched for a full fledged laptop for multiple purposes.  The Macbook Air has really held up so strongly this past year I really haven’t had the need for much of anything else.  Of course there were a few times when I would have liked it to be a bit more powerful to handle new games, or have a better video output and/or an optical drive, but for the most part it really takes care of everything I need from the portable standpoint.  In terms of the search, though, I found it astounding this time around just how many options there were out there, and the price ranges from around $500 to $5000 with everything in between.  Custom units, built units, different sizes and shapes, processors, graphics, there’s so much more to consider in today’s notebook market.  So where did this start?

Recently when Warhammer Online (WAR) released, I went through one of my “desktop upgrade urge” phases.  It really wasn’t necessary but I just wanted to make one innocent upgrade to the latest and greatest WD Velociraptor hard drive.  Simple enough, right?  I’ve added and removed hard drives for over 20 years now, and it has only been easier with the new SATA interface.  Sadly, through a series of unfortunate events, I started having problem after problem, not just with the game but with the computer itself.  Without going into the gory gory details, I ended up replacing not one, not two, but THREE sets of motherboards and CPUs and essentially putting together 3 new/old Windows machines over the course of a week or two – all in order to find a stable machine to play WAR on.  Don’t ask, the details disturb me so much that I want to blank them out of my memory.  

In any event, it occured to me during this period that given my nature and bad luck with electronics destruction, I should always have a suitable gaming laptop as my ultimate backup in case all the desktops were to fail.  Why a laptop, you ask, when apparently I put together multiple backup desktops?  Well, essentially it seems I need something that I physically *cannot* upgrade so that I can’t inadvertently destroy it in the process.  My laptop purchases over the years have been fairly robust – in fact I believe even the giant brick from 5 or 6 (?) years ago still runs fine.  The last semi-gaming laptop I bought about 3 years ago (Acer) is still in good shape, and can handle the majority of older games.  It has an ATI X700 Mobility graphics chip which at the time was very decent, but now is bordering on the edge of obsolete.  For someone who doesn’t typically take good care of his stuff, I’ve found my laptops have held on through time much better/longer than any other electronics item.

At the same time this was all happening, I read quite a few reviews on the recently released Gateway P-7811FX gaming laptop, which you can purchase at Best Buy.  The price/featureset for this laptop are virtually unbeatable at the moment, particularly when on sale for $1249 as it was recently.  Even at the original price point of $1499 this unit is practically a steal in terms of specifications.  It has pretty much all the features you could ask for and price comparisons I made with other vendors were literally double the cost for similar specifications.  A good (2.26GHz) Intel processor, 4GB RAM, 7200rpm 200GB hard drive, ESATA and HDMI ports, 1066MHz bus speed, and the icing on the cake, a Geforce 9800M GTS graphics processor.   With a 3DMark06 score in the 10000 range, this puts it on par with many desktop gaming systems.  Try to put this set of features together on HP, Sony, Dell, or Alienware, and it’s almost shocking what you’ll find, or what you won’t be able to find.  Many of the big names don’t have the option for the higher end gaming video GPUs; the gaming boutiques that do generally cost a whole lot more.  As an example, a similarly specced unit from Vigor Gaming priced out at $2491.  By the way, Notebookcheck has a great chart on relative performance comparing various mobile GPUs.

So I had my head set on making the purchase at Best Buy, and I went to take a look.  I found the unit on display and started playing around with it.  It definitely seemed fast but unfortunately there were no significant game demos to try, so I ran Fate for a couple minutes, which looked really good.  (Note to Best Buy: why not show these units off with some real games running?)  The only problem?  The thing just looked and felt HUGE.  It’s got a great looking 17″ screen, so if you’re looking for a true desktop replacement, this may be the best buy ever (no pun intended), at least in the short term.  On top of the overall size, it just felt kind of unwieldy all around, for lack of a better expression.  I loved the featureset and price point, but I wanted something that I still might potentially travel with, or at the very least be willing to lug from upstairs to downstairs on occasion.  The Gateway just didn’t seem the way to go.

So, I thought, well why not just look for the same features in a smaller package size?  Surely Gateway itself would offer something of that nature.  Nope, nada, try again.  Shockingly I went all over the internet and could not find something comparable but smaller in the same price range.  A lot of vendors are going slick and stylish but are lacking in the graphics department.  I flirted with the idea of the Macbook Pro, but the model at that point was running an 8600M GT, and the price point was similarly close to double that of the Gateway, not to mention I knew new models were coming out.  (Note: I’m now glad I didn’t wait for the new models, as it would have been well over $2200 with inferior graphics capability and no option for Blu-Ray.)  One of the other things I really wanted was a built in Blu-Ray drive so that I could wacth movies on the laptop and/or hook it up to my TV.

After going through a bunch of different options (including my old standbys like Cyberpower and iBuypower), I had pretty much decided I would go with a Sager laptop.  I’d had very good success with my first custom gaming laptop many many years ago, and there was a vendor called PCTorque which I really liked.  I liked that I could customize it any way I wanted and it would still be in a relatively smaller form factor.  So, I priced it out exactly as I wanted – but this time adding in the feature of a Blu-Ray drive – which ended up being right around $2000 configured similarly to the Gateway but with the added Blu-Ray drive.

Another day or 2 passed, and I was ready to place my order for the Sager, when I happend upon the Asus G50V series.  I hadn’t noticed these before, but the more I read in reviews (particularly user reviews), the more I realized this looked like a good deal (relatively speaking) with a solid build and design.  Custom is great, but I also like a pre-built design for a laptop, with the assumption engineers have gone over all the options and made specific design choices and tradeoffs for good reasons.  This one sports a 2.53GHz Intel  processor, 9700M GT graphics, 4GB RAM, with ESATA and HDMI ports as well.  While the graphics processor is weaker than the Sager and Gateway, it was just one step down and the reviews seemed to indicate it was well thought out and put together.  The A2 model includes a Blu-Ray drive and 400GB of hard drive (7200rpm) space for a $1900 base price.  The Sager similarly equipped would cost me a few hundred more, but would likely be a very good computer as well.

So thus far I’m fairly pleased with the decision.  I’ve only done very limited testing, but it certainly runs Warhammer Online fine.  The next big test will be to connect the HDMI port up to my HDTV and see how that pans out.

A long, long time ago in a suburb far, far in LA, a young lad was introduced without much fanfare to his first Apple Personal Computer.  Well…. sort of.  A friend of my dad’s had come back from Taiwan and purchased an Apple ][ clone, which my friends eventually dubbed the “Orange”.  I’m not sure if it was a gift or what, but eventually I took over the unit, completely mesmerized by the glowing green CRT and the magical worlds it introduced me to.  I do recall we started off extremely old school, I still remember hooking the unit up to the TV and using an old tape recorder to load in software.  Wow, those were the days.  Eventually I was introduced to my first computer role playing game (CRPG) – Ultima – and have been hooked on the genre ever since.  I was completely obsessed with Ultima and Wizardry those early years, and the Orange became my home away from home as it took me further into the computer gaming format as a hobby.

Some years passed and I eventually moved on to college, at which point the IBM PC/Microsoft era was beginning to take hold in the PC market, most noticeably in the gaming department.  Because of that, I also shifted away from Apple and labelled myself as a “PC Gamer” exclusively.  My primary home computer has been a PC since the early 286 platform and good old MS-DOS, and has remained so to this day.  Interestingly, while in grad school my research group was largely using Macs (just a coincidence I guess).  While programming and “complex” computational software was running on mainframes at the time, we did the majority of documentation and presentations on an old Mac Plus, and eventually on some Power Macs.  Because of this, most of my data and graphs were on a Mac, and I ended up writing my entire doctoral dissertation on an old Macintosh IIci (completed in 1998)!  Somewhere during this period, I also briefly fiddled with an Apple Newton, which I thought was just the coolest thing on the planet at the time, but never got much real use out of.  I think I still have it sitting in the closet or garage somewhere.  So oddly enough, even though I functioned as a PC Gamer “snob” of sorts (I was known to often pan the Apple line for its expensive prices and lack of new/good games), I was always surrounded by and acutely aware of the Apple platform.  From time to time, I would flirt with the idea of trying a Mac at home but nothing would make me take the plunge, the closest thing being that cool looking Borg Cube contraption.  A lot of my friends and colleagues in college were avid Apple fans, but I held fast that until they had the top tier games playable, I’d always be a PC man.

Then around 2001, a strange looking little white device called the iPod was released into the world, and this, I believe, marked the beginning of the end for me.  Well, maybe more appropriately the beginning of the beginning.  I resisted it strongly at first, not really understanding or knowing what it was all about and finding the price to entry just a bit too much for my taste.  Finally, though, I gave in to the hype and my instincts, having spent a number of years collecting expensive gadgets that I didn’t use much, and purchased one of the classic units.  (Ironically I just fished that original iPod out the other day and stole its case to help protect my iPhone 3G, who’d a thunk it?)  As soon as I got started with the iPod, I was hooked.  The interface, the sound quality, the look and feel of the device, it was just absolutely perfect, and at the time there really didn’t seem to be anything like it in existence.  Coupled with the capability of transferring one’s entire CD library (I still have hundreds of CDs sitting in boxes) to the format using iTunes and having portable access to all of the songs, this was a major leap for a music fan like myself. 

And so it began, with each subsequent release, Apple hooked me further.  First it was the nano, which I convinced myself would be perfect for exercising/jogging.  I even got the special Nike shoes/nano combination.  This I admit only got limited use for a few months, but that was more out of my physical laziness and not about the technology.  Next up was the video iPod, how could I resist?  The only thing I loved more than music was music videos!  The screen, though tiny at the time, was just so crisp and perfect.  The advent of the iTunes store only helped to further the frenzy for which I “needed” the new technology.  This is/was the beauty of the Apple hookline, somehow it became more of an inexplicable obsession than simply a desire.  My video iPod I had inscribed with my name and the following line: Apple Owns Me.  At this point in time, I really had no idea just how far that statement would go.  It was meant to be ironic, or funny, or sad, depending on your viewpoint, but realistically I felt like I was pretty much satisfied from the entertainment device standpoint.

Then just when I thought I was “safe”, along came 2007.  When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in January, I was more angry and stunned than anything else.  I refused to watch the keynote or read the hype.  Why?  Because I had just purchased a new smartphone from Verizon (at the time I didn’t keep up on Apple release news/timing) and was locked in to a new 2 year contract, but Apple announced it was going solely with AT&T.  I bitterly convinced myself that I didn’t care, because my phone had all the functions (and more) that the iPhone claimed to have, and more.  But the truth was at the time, I would have paid top dollar for just a larger/wide screen version of the video iPod; even the touchscreen was icing on the cake.  So I spent the next few months in rabid denial, seemingly content with my smartphone and separate iPods.  Then one day out of boredom I decided to hit the Apple store and actually watch the keynote.  I don’t remember what the impetus was, maybe seeing a commercial or something I had read online.  Once I watched Steve Jobs’ presentation, I was once again hooked.  The accelerometer, the seamless integration of functions, the beautiful screen, the touch interface, it was just too much for my gadget crazy brain to fathom not possessing.  When he did the rotation and started playing a scene from The Office, it was all over but the crying.  In fact I may have shed a tear that evening knowing how much longer I had to wait, and how much money I’d have to spend to buy the iPhone and dump my existing contract.

So, as described in detail in this blog, I did the whole big “iDay” thing in June, and finally got my beloved iPhone.  I won’t repeat what’s already been discussed previously, suffice to say in spite of some ups and downs, I was pretty happy all in all with the purchase.  Soon after, Apple announced a new revamped line of iMacs, and at this point the so-called “halo” effect finally nabbed me.  I was having trouble with some sync issues with the iPhone on my PC, so I finally decided to make an excursion into the Mac world and have all my media (photos, videos, etc) run through the iMac as a central hub.  Even the look and the feel of the iMac seemed designed to compliment the iPhone, the perfect desktop companion.  I loved the ease of use of OS X and especially features like iPhoto and iWeb.  I had a new, nice looking web page up, literally in minutes.  Eventually I collected all my masses of digital pictures from all the sources and backups I could find and for the first time, organized them all painlessly using iPhoto.  Given how lazy I am in general with these types of things, it was a big deal, and only a fun, easy to use interface could have sucked me into doing this.

Earlier this year, I was drawn in yet again by the Macbook Air.  Sigh.  Helpless to the marketing effect of seeing a full powered notebook computer pulled out of a manila envelope, I immediately pre-ordered and waited with baited breath for it to arrive.  Even realizing I was being manipulated, I couldn’t help myself.  It turned out well, giving me yet another wonderful piece of hardware, so light it’s almost impossible to describe.  I now do the majority of my finances, personal email and surfing solely on the MBA.  More amazingly, I was easily able to install Windows XP2 in a dual boot configuration and run some fairly challenging PC games on the Air.  On a plane trip a few weeks ago it almost felt like no added weight to my backpack.  I watched as other people brought out big chunky laptops and almost felt guilty about how light the MBA is.  I’d often wondered if there was a “perfect” weight point for a portable PC, and this has to be pretty close; weighty enough so it doesn’t feel cheap or like it will blow away, but light enough to be held on one’s fingerstips and literally as light as (or lighter than) a paper notebook.  Also, at this time I had purchased the Time Capsule as the backup companion piece for the MBA.  I later found that it was much more useful, and I’m now using it as a central file hub for my PC and Macs, as well as for wireless N throughout the house. 

But the “total conversion” doesn’t end there.  Another product I had dismissed during its original release was the Apple TV.  It was back when I was at the peak of my fandom, so I was actively trying to convince myself to like it.  But at the time I couldn’t find any viable reason to purchase it.  Finally this year with “Take 2” and the introduction of the rental market via an iTunes interface, I took the plunge and brought it into my main entertainment system.  It’s turned out great, as much as I intended to use it for rentals of movies I didn’t want to buy, I seem to use it the most for watching music videos, surfing You Tube and listening to music.  Just another classic example of an Apple product surprising me with usability in ways I might not have expected or imagined.

The final straw in the conversion process?  Recently I opened an eTrade account and for the first time put myself in the stock market by purchasing a few shares of Apple stock.  This was a big leap for me, and while I don’t actually have a lot of money invested, it felt good to be investing in something I really believe in, and in some ways actually feels like I’m investing in myself.  OK, so the stock hasn’t been faring too well since, but I am keeping the faith.

The iPhone 3G is the latest in my Apple Fanboy checklist, and I’ve been loving it and the new App Store addition to iTunes.  In all honesty it feels like a stepping stone en route to even bigger and better things.  Next gen iPhone with video conferencing?  iPad Mac with full touch screen interface?  Who knows what’s next.  While I haven’t made a 100% move away from the PC, I do believe I’m getting close.  I’ve been eyeing the new iMacs with nVidia graphics as well as the Mac Pro.  Knowing now that I can easily dual boot for gaming, there’s less and less reason to not go 100% Mac, even in the gaming world.  Cutting edge video card performance is still the limiting factor, but realistically there are so few games coming out that make use of the cutting edge, there’s almost no point these days.

People still complain about the pricing from Apple and how it creates a barrier relative to what you can purchase from other companies offering devices with similar (or perhaps more) functionality at a lower price.  To this, I say, yes, all that is true.  However, I would also say it’s not always so simple to look at it as a flat dollar cost.  There are tons of gadgets and cool gizmos released all the time; many of these are feature rich, and often less costly than the Apple equivalent.  The question to ask, though, is just how much use and enjoyment one would get from them.  All I can offer is that from a relative standpoint, I have always received more “bang for the buck” from my Apple purchases in terms of usage, and as mentioned, most of them have surpassed my original expectations.  I have a closet full of gadgets that were retired after a short usage period, but from Apple?  Every device is in regular rotation (and many that have been upgraded have been passed down to someone else), and each plays a significant and varied role in my “e-life.”  The devices are friendly and inviting, so much so that it’s not a matter of forcing myself to find uses for something I’ve bought, but instead the products have made something previously difficult (or perhaps just annoying enough to become a deterrent), much easier to do now.   Somehow the precise combination of presentation, interface and sheer usability create something larger than the core functions or specifications.

So there it is, a long (and admittedly expensive) journey covering roughly 25 years of gadgets and gizmos, the insidious yet inevitable creation of an avid Apple Fanboy.  While I don’t actually consider myself a complete fanatic, I will (obviously) admit to being a strong devotee.  As long as they keep cranking out wonderful products that challenge and break conventional technological barriers and modes of thought, I will be there with bells on.