Tag Archives: Opinion

Which Tablet?

I was recently asked to recommend a tablet. I thought my reply might be generally useful, so below is a lightly edited version of what I wrote.

The machine I’d recommend depends. It depends mostly on how much you want to pay and what it might used for. The good news is that, by and large, you get what you pay for. (Corollary: don’t get any of the really cheap ones. Argos, for example, do a really cheap one. Avoid it.)

The main ones I’d consider are:

Kindle Fire HD 7″ £119

By far the cheapest but very much tied to Amazon — indeed it’s pretty much sold at cost with the expectation that you’ll spend more money with Amazon later on. That means there are fewer apps (games), you can’t download/rent movies from iTunes, etc. But if you just want to surf the web, check email, etc. and play some big names games it would be fine. Probably worth spending the extra £10 to get the version without adverts (“special offers”) though.

Google Nexus 7 £199

Nicer hardware than the Kindle but mostly what you get is access to the Google App Store, which has far more apps, lots of which are free or very cheap. It runs Android, which is the main competitor to Apple and is generally considered to be pretty good, though I’ve not used it much myself. It’s also not tied just to Amazon (though you still can’t get iTunes) but you can get most of the Amazon stuff. Like the Amazon one, it’s cheap because Google expect to make money from you in other ways.

Apple iPad Mini £249

Better hardware than either of the previous two (metal rather than plastic case) but, arguably, a worse screen than the Nexus (physically bigger but fewer pixels).

iPad gives you all the iPhone and iPad software — which is typically better than Android. Also gives access to iTunes for music, movies and TV shows. The iPad software is often considered to be bit easier and less confusing than Android and you’d get stuff like FaceTime and iMessage (free text messages with other Apple users) which you can’t get on Android.

iPad mini with Retina display £319

As above but with a far nicer screen and is about four times quicker. It will probably last longer as it’s more future proof (but that’s obviously speculation at this point). Possibly hard to get hold of right now as it literally just came out and it “supply constrained.”

Apple iPad Air £399

As above but with a 10″ screen rather than 8″. I have an older versions of this, though the mini didn’t exist when I got mine…

(The prices above are “retail” prices. Some of the links go to the same product but for a lower price.)

It’s also worth noting that you can get more expensive versions of all of them that come with more space and/or cellular radios (so you can access the Internet when you’re out of the range of a friendly WiFI network).

It’s even harder to give general advice about this than the tablets themselves. In general, the more you want to download movies and large, complex games, the more capacity you’ll need. If you mostly surf the web or read books even the smallest versions should be okay. (Indeed, that’s what I use.)

The 3G/4G question is tricky. Me, I get the cellular radio because I do travel with my iPad and I have a Pay As You GO SIM which means I don’t pay a penny in months that I don’t use it. But it does cost more. You might prefer to spend the extra to get a larger storage capacity.

When I first got an iPad, it was because users of one of my apps were asking for a version that used the iPad’s bigger screen. I was skeptical that I would actually use it. These days I probably use it more than my Mac. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s worth getting the right product rather than just the cheapest.

iTunes Match — addendum

Since I wrote about iTunes Match nearly eighteen months ago I thought it was worth revisiting and seeing how things have changed in that time.

Oddly, the short answer is “not very much.”

The problems that I identified last year are still very much present. Indeed there are some new examples. This is my favourite: when listening to “Man Machine” by Kraftwerk, iTunes Match seems to have decided that track four, which should be “The Model,” is really “Wouldn’t it be nice” by the Beach Boys. I don’t even own a copy of “Wouldn’t it be nice.”

The biggest changes in those eighteen months have been on the client side. iTunes 11 (the lipstick on pig release), as far as I can tell, didn’t change very much. iOS 6 wasn’t nearly as fortunate. The point zero release removed the ability to delete individual tracks. Not exactly progress. (It’s back again in 6.1.)

Apple likes to talk about its magical products that Just Work. iTunes Match tries to be more magical than most but clearly missed a few visits from the faeries.

One bit of magic that I thought was supposed to happen was that when getting low on disk space, iTunes Match would delete less played tracks. In fact, what I think happens is that it removes older, cached tracks.

The distinction here is between cached and downloaded. If you press the download (cloud) icon it isn’t automatically removed; if you didn’t it is.

But how do you tell? Well, that’s the other major client flaw. There’s no easy way to see which tracks have been downloaded without opening each album, one by one. I have six hundred albums which makes this an exceedingly tedious task.

My guess is that you’re supposed to use it by just pressing the Play button and have iOS manage the space for you. But this would mean you live in a utopian universe where you have a data signal every time you want to play some music. That does not resemble my life.

What I want it to be able to download tracks that I think I’ll want to listen to and then allow playing from the cloud. When low on space it should remove tracks that have not been played recently regardless of how they got there.

So eighteen months on I find that many of the same problems remain and I’ve found some new ones, yet I still paid for another years subscription without much though. Why? Well, it’s still very useful. I like being able to play music using my Apple TV. I like being able to access any of my music when I have wifi or 3G. I just wish Apple would spend a little time and make it less like a 1.0 release1.

  1. You could argue that they added iTunes Radio, but that only comes with iOS 7 — nearly two years after iTunes Match came out — which isn’t out yet and even then that will only work in the US to start with. []

iOS 6

Like all the best upgrades, iOS 6 is almost entirely invisible. It works just like iOS 5 — which is to say, pretty well most of the time — but with some convenient new additions. Also, unlike version five, it’s been relatively stable throughout the beta process.

What’s new and what will you like? I’ve grown so accustomed to most of them that I had to look up the “What’s new” page on Apple’s website. Really, that’s a good thing. Invisibility is the fate of a feature that’s quickly integrated with how you use a device. (The thing that makes it tricky is that it’s also the fate of a completely useless feature that you never use.)

Roughly ordered by how much I like them:

  • Do not disturb. This is the one feature that the Blackberry had that I missed in iOS. I only had a Bold for a few months but being able to switch off “work” between certain hours was brilliant, and the same is true of Apple’s implementation. You set a range of hours and it automatically mutes. This feature alone is worth updating for
  • Shared Photo Stream. This will be even better when I can share directly with other people’s devices, but being able to create a web gallery of Photo Stream pictures has already proved to be useful
  • iCloud tabs. This feature sat idle until Mountain Lion and then… great. The only thing I would ask is for this to work on my iPad!
  • New options when receiving a phone call. The “decline but remind me later” is a great option

Stuff I’m ambivalent about:

  • Maps. Apple switched from using Google’s maps to their own. I miss Street View but otherwise all the functionality seems to be there. Searching for stuff seems a bit hit and miss, just like with Google Maps. Search results differ but I’ve not used it enough to determine whether one is better than the other
  • Siri. I have an iPhone 4 and an iPad 1, the former of which doesn’t support Siri, the latter of which doesn’t support iOS 6
  • Passbook. This might be great when there are apps to support it. Right now, a waste of a spot on my home screen
  • FaceTime over 3G. Not sure if it will be supported in the UK. Rarely had the need to call when there’s been no WiFi

The only “bad” I can think of is that it doesn’t run at all on my two year old first generation iPad. I understand technically why they made this decision, but at the same time it’s a little galling to have such a relatively recent device be declared obsolete.

In conclusion, this is one of Apple’s “refinement” releases. They seem to have a big update (iOS5, Lion) and then a release that fixes some of the rough edges (iOS6, Mountain Lion). 2012 has been a year of two spit and polish releases. I’m not complaining.

Mountain Lion — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I’ve been using Mountain Lion, the new version of the Macintosh operating system, for less than a day so this isn’t intended to be detailed (see John Siracua’s review) or thorough. I have, however, kicked the proverbial tyres so here are a few, quick thoughts.

Good

  • Probably the most stable 10.x.0 release I’ve used
  • Little earth shattering but lots of really nice improvements, not all of which I’ve seen documented (for example, attachments in Mail now appear in the “All My Files” view in the Finder, multiple Time Machine disks)
  • Notification Center works well; AirPlay mirroring is going to be really useful
  • I’ve not found any software that worked in Lion that no longer works. That includes stuff like VMWare (scary because it’s low-level) and Photoshop Elements 6 which is not listed on Roaring Apps compatibility list

Bad

  • You’re not going to be able to make the best use of everything until iOS 6 comes out. This is a bit of a pain if you own a first generation iPad and know that this will never happen…
  • The installer got confused. After “less than a minute remaining” it went to “-1 minutes remaining.” It got to -7 before finally resetting to twenty minutes. It worked in the end so clearly this isn’t a “show stopper” but anything weird in a process that reconfigures your system is disconcerting
  • I launched Mail. It upgraded my database successfully and then, while I was making a cup of coffee, crashed. It’s been stable ever since, but first impressions and all that
  • Every time I click on Messages — the new iChat — it opens the instant message (“Messages”) window. Do Not Want

Ugly

  • The font in the new Notes app. What were they thinking?!
  • If you didn’t like the iOS-ification of Lion you’re not going to like Mountain Lion any better. But if that’s the case you’d probably start thinking about migrating to another platform!

But overall, at less than £15 it’s a no-brainer if you use your Mac a lot.

My delicious.com bookmarks for February 25th through March 5th

Going Rental

Apparently the movie studios are placing further restrictions on rentals in order to promote the purchase of shiny disc. Marco Arment says this won’t work because:

If Im adding a movie to my Netflix queue, Ive already decided not to buy the DVD. Im adding it because it looks mildly interesting and Id like to watch it sometime.

I take the opposite approach. I am unlikely to buy a movie unless I have previously rented it. Why would I buy it if I don’t know whether or not I like it?

I don’t mention this to suggest that Marco is wrong. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that I can’t think of any use cases where this strategy would work. Whether you’re not buying it because you don’t want to buy it or not buying it because you don’t know whether you’ll like it, the common thread is that no purchase is involved. The studio would make more money in both these anecdotes if they allowed rentals.

But it’s not really about making money, as bizarre as that might seem. It’s about control.

Movie studios look to the music industry and are trying to learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately they’re taking completely the wrong lessons. Rather than seeing customers buying music instead of taking free copies from P2P networks, they see Apple being in control and able to dictate “unfavourable” terms to them.

To an outsider, “unfavourable” is an odd word as it mainly seems to involve more people paying for more content.

In this battle between the studios, the content providers (Amazon, Apple and NetFlix) and consumers there are no winners. Consumers either miss out on seeing films they want to see or end up making illegal downloads. Amazon, Apple and NetFlix all have to disappoint their customers with seemingly arbitrary additions and removals from their catalogue. And the studios continue to leave money on the table.

Personally I see that as the most “unfavourable” outcome, but what do I know?