What I Want in a Tablet

Posted by Mike Brittain on February 10, 2010
Gadgets / 3 Comments

For the last week I have been laid up in bed and on the couch while recovering from ACL reconstructive surgery. I would estimate that I’ve been using my iPhone an average of 7 hours a day for online tasks:

– Reading articles on newspaper sites
– Reading RSS subscriptions (in Reeder)
– Posting links to Twitter and Delicious
– Reading and writing on Twitter
– Reading and writing emails
– Drafting blog posts in WordPress and Tumblr (this post is, in fact, being written on the WordPress app)
– Writing in online forums and posting bug reports for apps
– Instant Messaging (AIM)
– Searching for web content on Google and Wikipedia
– Taking photos and posting to Flickr
– Posting events on my calendar
– Checking the weather
– Ordering dinner (Seamlessweb)
– Ordering groceries (FreshDirect)
– Setting timers (post-surgery medication and exercise schedules)
– Reading and writing messages to friends on Facebook
– Trying out new native apps and web apps

I feel kind of like an expert at ingesting and creating content on a “tablet” computer. An iPhone truly is a mini-tablet.

Knowing that the iPad release is just around the corner, I’m somewhat upset that I don’t have one because a lot of this would be a lot easier on a larger device. Additionally, the suggestive video of a Chrome OS tablet is also intruiging. While a number of the tasks I listed above are being done within iPhone apps, I believe that nearly all of them could be done from web applications.

So here are some thoughts about the experience of doing all of this on an iPhone and what I’d like to see (or not see) in an iPad.

1. Web browsing. I would characterize web browsing on the iPhone as very good. You can san whole pages and zoom in on portions you care about. I can get to about 85% of what I’m interested in right from Safari.

There are some downsides.

Some sites don’t scale well when zooming. The text is just too small when the column is spread full width, either in portrait or landscape. My workaround is to send these pages to Instapaper and allow that app to reformat the text for easier reading.

Sites that use Ajax and fancy UI designed for desktop browsing don’t always translate well in Mobile Safari. The touch interface and the select/copy tools on the iPhone often get triggered inappropriately when using some of these interfaces.

Even with zooming, text is often too small. Horizontal scrolling back and forth to read an article is downright annoying.

Most of what I do on my phone is done in the browser, so I look forward to a larger display that will make it easier to read whole pages at a time without zooming in and out.

2. Missing Flash Content. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.” Sure, it’s kind of annoying that a lot of articles I’m reading embed a video player written in Flash. It’s actually a little frustrating to me that a core use of Flash for so many sites is simply to deliver videos. The same uploaders, transcoders, storage services, and video players have been written by so many sites. It really is time for video playback directly in the browser. So I think the web is at a growing pain. It may suck for a short while as so many Flash-based videos will be inaccessible to iPhones and iPads, but the prototype sites from YouTube and Vimeo show promise of in-browser video playback for HTML5.

I’ll admit there are still some areas, especially gaming, where Flash is a solid platform. As for so called Rich Internet Applications, I think most developers would agree that Ajax toolsets make these more capable directly in the browser today.

3. Battery Life. Battery life on the iPhone has always been pretty bad. If you have an iPhone, then you’ve trained yourself to recharge your phone every morning or evening. It’s simply a habit. When you’re using your phone for 7 hours a day, then you’re charging it a few times a day. A battery life at least three times as long as this phone would be appropriate.

4. Watching Video. There are probably a lot of conference presentations I would consider watching from my iPhone which I’m not doing now. I think this relates most directly to the battery life issue. My guess is that many (but not all) are already available for viewing on the YouTube app for the iPhone.

5. Multi-tasking. Gotta have it. One thing I’ll say that I like about iPhone apps is that they are fullscreen and keep your focus. It would be nice in a larger display to be able to run two apps side by side, but I don’t know that I want user-sizable windows.

What I do miss is having an IM client running in the background so I can be reached by people I chat with while working.

6. Webcam or Camera. I could care less about both of these. I can’t see aiming a device the size of a textbook at someone to take a picture. And as for the webcam, I agree it would be convenient, but picture the following case. You are relaxing in your favorite easy chair reading the news on your tablet which is in your hands but resting on your legs. You get invited to a video chat and accept. The way I see it, from the position you are sitting the webcam on your tablet will have a great shot straight up your nostrils. This is not the image that sells video conferencing on tablet devices.

7. Virtual Keyboard. I tend to think the iPhone keyboard is pretty good and easy to adjust to. I’ve written this entire post from my phone, and it likely has a few spelling mistakes to prove it.

An improvement for a larger device would be to have a more functional keyboard with command/alt/option keys. This would make SSH clients more approachable on a tablet device.

8. Functioning “File” Form Controls. One thing I hate on the iPhone is signing up for some new online app ad not being able to do something simple like uploading an avatar. Would be great to see file fields in Mobile Safari that could pull from files stored by various apps (camera roll photos, documents, etc.)

Decision time.

I’m very excited about tablet computers and expect that unless there is a good looking product announced prior to the ipad release, I’m 90% certain I’ll buy one.

There are still some open questions about iPad functionality that may be addressed prior to it’s release. How exactly do you get files in and out of it -all via iTunes sync? Will there be background apps in the next iPhone OS and will that roll out onto the iPad immediately?

But even if the product is not perfect out of the gate, Apple has already demonstrated a successful model of revising and deploying updates. Like the iPhone, the iPad is a product that will continually improve while you own it.

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Interesting Ad for MacBook Air

Posted by Mike Brittain on April 14, 2008
Apple, Gadgets, Mobile / Comments Off on Interesting Ad for MacBook Air

This YouTube video for the Salesforce and Google Apps Integration uses the MacBook Air as the hardware platform that demonstrates the new applications.  The cool thing is that this is where we could be in a few years as more and more data resides online, and not on your hard drive — lightweight, mobile, thin-clients.

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Getting more out of Google Calendar and Contacts

Posted by Mike Brittain on March 06, 2008
Gadgets, Mobile, WWW / Comments Off on Getting more out of Google Calendar and Contacts

I’ve been waiting for this news for a while, and friends of mine have, too. Google has opened a Contacts API to allow developers to manage or sync contacts with your Google account. Maybe I can finally ditch Plaxo, which just seems a little weird for me, now that they are trying to extend into the social network space with their “Pulse” product. All I want is an address book, and if I add a new one on my phone, I want to see it at home and at work. And if I delete one at work, I want it deleted on my phone and at home. And if my wife has access and changes one of my contacts, I want that change to show up for me, too. That seems like it’d be nice.

Additionally, there’s a first step toward syncing your Google Calendar with Microsoft Outlook. Looks like it only supported on Windows, so far. What I’m still waiting for is good syncing between Google Calendar and iCal, or even better, wireless syncing from the iPhone Calendar app. If Google were to open a sync API for Calendar, I’m sure plenty of application support wouldn’t be far around the corner.

Found this news on Matt Cutts’ blog.

Google Phone coming right after I’ve bought an iPhone

Posted by Mike Brittain on September 19, 2007
Apple, Gadgets / Comments Off on Google Phone coming right after I’ve bought an iPhone

Oh well, what can you expect. There’s always something around the corner. I had a lot of reasons that I wanted to wait before buying an iPhone, but in the end, I blame Howie… and the Installer app.

Improved Efficiency in Solar Power

Posted by Mike Brittain on October 25, 2006
Gadgets, Green / Comments Off on Improved Efficiency in Solar Power

A new approach to solar power from Infinia appears to be a smaller alternative to standard photovotaic cells. Their solution also looks to be more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity.

One What? One Watt!

Posted by Mike Brittain on October 16, 2006
Gadgets / Comments Off on One What? One Watt!

Ars Technica is carrying a story about cutting the use of standby power on electronic devices. It’s a very practical step for people (read: everyone) to take to reduce energy need and cost.

This story comes a few days after another story that interested me about the increasing use of home wind turbines in Britain. There are always two sides to this equation — how can you increase your use of renewable energies, while also reducing your energy requirements?

In my own home, I must admit there is not a lot I’ve been able to do. I looked around our small apartment for any stray power cords that were unused, turned off another stereo component (which was already on standby), and expect to turn off my computer tonight… and hopefully more nights in the future.

With my “constantly connected” lifestyle, I have a hard time waiting for my Mac to boot up, no matter how quickly it moves.

Extending Lazarus

Posted by Mike Brittain on October 11, 2006
Apple, Gadgets / Comments Off on Extending Lazarus

Since I “upgraded” my iPod, it seems that it eats up its battery faster every day. I was pretty certain when I replaced the 20 GB drive with a 30 GB drive that the power consumption would also grow. Additionally, lithium ion batteries are known to have a limited lifespan, as charge capacity dissipates over time. By last week, my iPod’s battery seemed to hold about enough charge to get me to work and would die shortly after that. Moreover, if I changed course in my playlist (e.g. changing artists or songs in mid-stream) more than once or twice in an hour, the added seeks on the hard drive would cause the batter to expire even faster.

The battery meter was never quite right, either. Directly after charging the battery, the meter might read less than 1/4 full. As music played, the meter would rise for a bit. Or, sometimes when the meter was at about 1/2 full, the battery would suddenly quit.

I named my iPod Lazarus. When I replaced the broken hard drive, it got a 2nd life. (No that doesn’t make me Jesus, that’s not where I’m going.) It was time to revive this little guy one more time.

I bought a new battery on eBay. There are a number of suppliers who sell new batteries that fit all varieties of iPods. These come with plastic tools that are useful for prying open the case. I only paid about $12 for this battery, including shipping.

It took only about 10 minutes to open the case and replace the old battery. The new battery actually has close to 50% more capacity than the original battery. It easily holds a charge through 8 hours of play. Good as new… more or less.

My iPod is just over 2 1/2 years old. It’s now had 2 major surgeries and purrs like a kitten. As far as I’m concerned, this thing could easily last another 3 years with regularly scheduled “maintenance”.

Who needs video, anyway?

AJAX Photo Gallery using the SAJAX toolkit

Posted by Mike Brittain on May 30, 2006
Friends, Gadgets, PHP / 2 Comments

Sean’s recent article about using SAJAX was published at IBM today. He constructs a simple photo viewer application using an XML file for meta data about each photo. PHP and the SAJAX (Simple AJAX) toolkit are used to present the images.

In my follow up article, part 2 in the series, I describe how you can use client-side JavaScript to implement a history cache for the application that mimics the history utility in web browser software. Many AJAX applications suffer from the lack of “undo” functionality, or history navigation, that normal web browsing employs. That’s what I will be addressing. However, the solution will not involve hijacking the back button as other developers have demonstrated. Instead, it shows how to track a history of events using JavaScript within a single browsing session.

A Holiday for Intelligent Design

Posted by Mike Brittain on December 22, 2005
Gadgets / Comments Off on A Holiday for Intelligent Design

While a Pennsylvania judge has banned the teaching of intelligen design, school boards in California and Colorado may begin taking up the torch.

In our holiday greeting card at ID Society, the Flying Spaghetti Monster made an appearance — created by yours truly. I would encourage you to show your support, and vote for my performance… especially if you are from California or Colorado.

The Lazarus iPod

Posted by Mike Brittain on December 21, 2005
Gadgets / 1 Comment

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been dealing with the fact that my iPod suddenly expired. It shouldn’t seem much of a surprise — the poor thing fell from about 4 feet onto a moving treadmill, then was whisked off the treadmill at 7.5 MPH. It didn’t die immediately, as it continued playing music for about 15 minutes after the incident. Though the hard drive had gone kaput, there were still a handful of songs buffered into memory. Just enough, in fact, to convince me that I hadn’t done that much damage to it.

My first attempt at repair was to contact Apple through their “award-winning” support web site. I like Apple a lot. I don’t own any Apple products, other than my iPod. But I do enjoy working on Macs when I have a chance, and would certainly like to own one. I can’t, however, give any raving reviews about the support I received from them on this product. I’m sure they have plenty of customers who are contacting them, however, for the same sort of support.

After spending a few nights researching my options, including Apple’s 10% discount for recycling a used or broken iPod, which can be put toward the purchase of a new one, I decided to look for replacement parts.

My assumption, based on research, was that a drop like this one would only affect the hard drive. So I began my search for a new drive. It turns out that Toshiba supplies Apple with hard drives for iPods, and only a few specific micro-drive models are in use for iPods. These are easiest to replace, from what I’ve read, in 3rd and 4th generation iPods. I happen to have a 3rd gen iPod, with a 20 GB drive.

The iPod, itself, is not that difficult to open. A slim knife, or other implement small enough to wedge between the metal and plastic case, can be used as a lever along the side of the iPod casing toward the top end, just around the corner from the “hold” switch. A little prying and the top begins to pop from the bottom. I happened to use an X-acto knife to start this process, followed by a flat-head screwdriver to finish the job.

After infiltrating the inner-sactum, I quickly discovered the model number of the drive; a Toshiba MK2004GAL. I made the assumption that if I couldn’t get one of these specific models, I could possibly find a newer, larger drive. So I began my search on eBay for replacement iPod hard drives. Along with some additional Googling, I found that 30 GB (MK3004GAH and MK3006GAL) hard drives would make a decent replacement.

Mistakenly, I also assumed that the 40 GB (MK4004GAH and MK4006GAH) would work as well. After purchasing the larger model, I found that it was 8 mm deep, as opposed to the slimmer 5 mm drives that my iPod required. I re-sold that model on eBay, and purchased the better-suited 30 GB drive.

Now, all of this searching, bidding, selling, and shipping – twice over – took some time. But, tonight I’m happy to report, that my iPod is back to life. I took the liberty of inscribing a name on the back, “Lazarus.”

I found quite a bit of information online for this entire procedure, which I’d like to share, should you find yourself in the same predicament and are willing to rip one of these suckers apart. I never found that I needed to deal with any of the formatting or partitioning issues for the hard drive as described on some of these sites, but it is worth knowing what pitfalls might be encountered along the road…