Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apple vs. Intel?

The iPad is powered by the new Apple A4 chip. I don't know a lot of specifics but the consensus on line is that it is an ARM A9 core with its own graphics core (Imagination Power VR series). The ARM architecture is not surprising at all given that iPhone and iPod touch have used them for years. That Apple designed and had produced its own chips is also not surprising since that what Steve Jobs said would happen with the acquisition of P.A. Semi a couple years ago.

What is surprising is the sudden realization that most of iLife (except maybe iMovie), all of iWork, and pretty much all of OS X runs on it.

Can anyone imagine a MacBook Air running on an A4 (or even an A8, assuming the number refers to how many cores there are)?

I know there are limitations to splitting software over multiple cores effectively, but Apple has also been investing in GCD and OpenCL to best use multiple CPU and GPU cores as well.

So how about a MacBook Air with 128 GB of solid state storage and 10 hours of battery life? For a lower price than the current one?

I'd consider it.

One Reason To Leave A Camera Off the iPad

I've read a lot of criticism of the iPad for not having a camera for web chatting.

But remember, the working position of an iPad is different than a laptop or desktop machine. Who really wants to iChat with this perspective:

I call it the Nostril View ;)

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Just Can't Stop About This Tablet!

Seemingly like the rest of the Internet, I'm fascinated by what will come later this month from Apple (and possibly this week from other vendors at CES, and certainly in the coming months from other vendors). But it's the Apple product that has me mesmerized. So much so that when Joe Wilcox blogged that tablets are a niche market and wanted to know what people would use them for, I couldn't resist.

First and foremost, I think the tablet will be a really simple way for people to access the internet and email. That may sound silly in this day and age, but believe me a lot of people do not want to go through the hassle of getting broadband internet, configuring wireless access, figuring out whether to use client email or web email, and diagnosing where problems are when things aren't working. I envision the tablet to be sold like an iPhone - with connectivity and email configured before you leave the store.

Second is ebooks, magazines, and newspapers. The Kindle and the other readers have shown that this market is growing and has a large potential. The killers here are a readable screen, very light weight / easy to hold, and battery life. I expect good performance on the first two but wonder how much battery life they will get when balanced against these desires.

Finally, video. Anyone can watch video on a desktop or laptop computer and it's not bad. But it's not great either. Most computers are built as functional devices, not beautiful ones. They just don't have the clean look that consumer appliances like TVs do. Almost all TVs have hidden their control buttons and moved to a sleek border with few accents. This tablet will be similar - I bet you'll be able to prop it up (somehow!) and watch and not feel like you're bringing a keyboard, trackpad, and a bunch of buttons along for the ride.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Compatibility and Fratricide

Yesterday on Daring Fireball John Gruber posted an insightful article about the forthcoming Apple tablet. I largely agree with his thinking and am intrigued by the idea of how the tablet fits into the Apple product lineup. In my previous posts Tabula Rasa and Apple Takes Advantage of the Netbook Market I covered some similar ideas.

Gruber compares the relationship between the tablet and current MacBooks to the original Macintosh and the Apple II, saying that the tablet represents the future of portable computing just as the Mac represented the future of personal computing. That analogy contrasts somewhat with my assertion that the tablets would add a major category between MacBooks and the iPhone / iPod touch lines.

Gruber then postulates, as I have assumed, that the tablet will come with its own version of OS X - not the desktop / laptop version or the iPhone version, but a third customized flavor. I think this is the only rational way to go as the other versions are tailor made for the display and input methods and sizes used.

Here is where something interesting occurs though. Thinking back to the introduction of the Macintosh, it not only provided a new computing paradigm but departed totally from the Apple II. No programs written for Apple II would run on the Mac, and no Mac developed programs would run on the Apple II. This complete departure worked against the Mac as time went on. While the Apple II had held an advantage in application software the Mac started from scratch and ended up behind the IBM PC / DOS platform.

One step that Apple could have taken with the Mac but did not was to create an Apple II compatible application or emulator - essentially an Apple II terminal window for the Mac. I don't know why they didn't do that and have not developed enough code on the 6502 or 68000 platforms to know how difficult it would have been. What I think may have had a bearing on it was the fact that the Apple II and Mac teams within Apple were competitive with each other. Putting an Apple II compatibility mode on the Mac may have cut significantly into the attractiveness of the Apple II itself. It may also have cut against the grain of creating a totally new paradigm - what good was the GUI if most people used the command line interface?

The idea of fratricide in product lines is very real; just look at how HP and Dell's revenue and margins have been impaired by netbook sales. Those sales likely would have gone to higher ASP laptops had netbooks not been available (or course, if HP didn't offer netbooks the sale would have gone to an HP netbook).

I believe Apple, at some level at least, was protecting the Apple II line by not putting in the compatibility mode. I also believe this decision contributed to the inability to gain market share against the PC / DOS systems of the day.

Fast forward to the iPod days and it seems that Apple learned from the lessons of the Macintosh. When the iPod mini was burning up the charts and Apple killed it to introduce the iPod nano. The thinking there was that something better than the mini was possible, and if Apple didn't introduce it then someone else would. Therefore the mini had to be replaced even though it was a popular product.

With the tablet things are a little different. The iPhone has created a software environment that is leading the competition, and the OS X environment is also healthy. It seems highly likely that the tablet will run software made for iPhone, though it may take some code refactoring to make that happen. Also likely is that web-based apps will run in a version of Safari built for the tablet.

What is not clear is if the tablet will have a way to run desktop OS applications from OS X. Other tablets that are introduced from other vendors in the coming months will undoubtedly include desktop OS applications. Some will run Windows 7 and others will probably use Linux variants (I can't tell if Chrome OS tablets will run desktop apps at this point, but it seems like they won't).

If the Apple tablet relies only on iPhone apps and new development can it compete with tablets from other vendors in the long run?