Apr 6 2010

(it seems there is a technical problem where line and paragraph breaks are removed)

The iPad, the morning after.

It has been an interesting experience so far, with some growing pains.

Please don’t view the following paragraphs as an absolute tear against the iPad. I know they are growing pains because of  limitations in the current iPad OS – actually I should say iPhone OS used on the iPad – but I think they are reasonable and common enough problems, that you may like to read about them.

The main questions about the iPad are of the “do I need an ipad?” and “can/will this replace my laptop?” kind.

My short answer is: you probably don’t need an iPad and it won’t replace your laptop. Certainly not in and by itself. Plus, you probably want to wait for the operating system to be fleshed out a little if you would like your iPad to work more a little bit more like a computer, rather than an iPod Touch.

I see the iPad mostly as a coffee table machine, where you can tap your way to some information (pull up some local information about a location in a travel show), show pictures to other people, without having to pull out a notebook; or – if you don’t have an iPhone – as something for light browsing and reading on the road and some quick messaging.

If you are an avid reader, Apple certainly wants to sell you the iPad as an ebook reader capable of a whole lot more.
Or, if you have specific apps for your profession or education, like reference material, then the iPad does give you the ability to have a go anywhere portable library of books with a good size color screen and lots of storage.

Copying data to the iPad

The biggest hurdle I have experienced so far is getting data into into the iPad and accessing network data using the iPad.

Take for instance PDFs. I spent a large part of my Sunday afternoon trying to figure out how I could put some instructional and educational PDFs onto the 60+ GB of space (we have the 64GB iPad) There is no card slot or USB port, so it is either WiFi or syncing. Via WiFi I can browse to PDFs I host on the network in Safari, but one can’t save anything in iPad Safari.

Syncing then? I can hook the iPad up to the notebook and sync with iTunes, but I can’t transfer anything. Not a PDF, not a txt note, nothing other than iTunes & iPod compatible music & video. Via online third party instructions it turns out that data transfer is document type dependent and only enabled when you have a compatible application on the iPad. Since there is none by default, you have to purchase one.  While it makes sense that you don’t want customers to copy a plethora of data files over that they will never be able to view on the iPad … what about simple text documents, notes, html files, etc.? The stuff we all view in Preview or Safari?

So, despite the fact that the iPad shows PDFs, you will need to buy a third party PDF compatible with data transfer ability; before you can get PDF files onto your iPad. Welcome to hunting for apps and trying to determine which is going to be best value to do what you want. Something that easily could have been included via a small iPad Preview app.

And why the cludge of a) iTunes syncing and b) per app? Why isn’t data transfer part of the OS? Why is it via USB cable and not WiFi? Why is there no Disk sharing ability on the iPad, where the iPad storage shows up on your desktop and you can drag & drop stuff over? Why is there no small iPad Finder capable of browsing the local network and copying some files over. Let the iPad be a wireless family member. Allow access to public shares, on the fly. Not this, oh wait, I have to go plug my iPad into my desktop and sync a file over iTunes crap.

Shared libraries
I have two systems on the network that share data files, music, etc. Through Safari I can browse to individual files on the NAS (network attached storage) and play them in Safari, but I can’t view shared stuff on our macs or PCs. To my disappointment (but not that it really surprises me in the end) I can’t play music from shared iTunes music libraries.

The question is: Why not?  With multiple GBs of music online on the network, and being at home, it is silly to require that you copy stuff over from the NAS to a Mac, then copy it via iTunes onto the iPad, when it is all there in the home cloud. And, so far I have not found an app that will enable this functionality.

The whole lack of File Management, lack of sharing and network access is so … first generation iPod, but then anno 2010 on a device Apple has been developping for, eh 5 years?

Safari
As good and fast as the browser runs on the iPad, I miss tabbed browsing as well as Firefox and AdBlock Plus. I know quite a number of sites that browse a lot faster when ads are blocked, alas there is no ad blocking in iPad Safari. Having been addicted to tabbed browsing ever since it was first introduced, it is a bit of step backwards that you need to tap a button to switch to an all pages view and then jump over. Ditto to close the page you are on.

I know they did this to give the full screen experience, but I think it would not be a problem, from the user standpoint, to have an auto-hiding tab bar on top.

Also, the all windows view causes delays, because when you switch to all pages view, they load as blank pages and then start to refresh their content. Or at least that’s what it looks like. And then when you open a page, it reloads again. Maybe they’ll implement a cached thumbnail and some browser cache to avoid this.

Printing
It is not that I print that much, but it is a frequent occurrence that I want to print something. You either receive something in email, order something online, research this or that, stumble on something, etc. and either want to print a receipt for an order, print some complicated instruction on paper or as I do to stay green: print to PDF. I am aware of a 3rd party app solution to print from the iPhone (“there’s an app for that”) but in my opinion Apple should have provided a conduit to print a local computer. Of course Apple will probably just go green – while saving some green by not developing printing for the iPad – and let the iPad save paper ;)

Keyboard
I can type quite well on the virtual keyboard, either with one finger or two index fingers, but entering passwords and punctuation would greatly benefit from having a virtual notebook keyboard instead of the limited iPhone keyboard. Switching between keyboard modes shouldn’t be required on a screen this big. By virtual notebook keyboard I mean: having the number row, 4 cursor keys and possibly the modifier keys CTRL, OPT & CMD (for copy/paste like behavior etc).

Business apps
It is reported in various websites, including MacWorld, that when you export your office files through iTunes into the iPad with Keynote, Pages and/or numbers installed, that some data gets stripped out, and of course remains lost when you edit the file on the iPad and want to transfer it back to your computer. What the heck?!

Final thoughts
Again, I know many of these things are growing pains, if they are not deliberate limitations imposed by Apple (which some may be). But, I hope they will make some serious improvements soon – because with the iPad positioned as a multi-fuction computer that they also tout as business capable???

In some areas it does feel like its wings are clipped and I don’t think it is a complete enough of an experience to be revolutionary.  The device is evolutionary, but the current limitations rub me the wrong way. High time for some OS updates.

Speaking of updates. I’m curious whether Apple will separate the iPhone OS from the iPhone OS with regards to features and updates. iPhone 4 OS will be previewed next week and likely released this summer (with the new iPhone). Does that mean the iPad OS will update as well? Or will the iPad OS update independently 6 months or a year from its release date?

PS: A few extra details:
+ I can’t read the iPad in the sun wearing polaroid sunglasses on. The screen just appears black.
+ Forgot to mention it is single user and no multitasking, other than background audio.
+ No tethering to your iPhone Unlimited data package.

Apr 3 2010

The Apple iPad, Apple’s latest brain child is touted as their most revolutionary product, and we pre-ordered one. Not because of the hype, but because we like the iPhone, which does seem undersized for use at home.

With the announcment of the iPad it also became obvious why Apple never produced an ultra-mobile PC / netbook class machine, and likely never will, so one might as well get an iPad then.

If you are familiar with the iPhone or iPod Touch, the iPad will be most familiar, if not, it is very intuitive.

Unboxing. There is not much in the box: iPad, cable, charger and a tiny pamflet. No headphones, stand, dock, … which was known at the time of ordering but I think a basic dock should have been included.

inside the iPad box

It is very glossy: iMac glossy, but now in a portable version that will be angled towards the ceiling and user. Even with the brightness all the way up you get reflections abound. Part of me wants to call this the iMirror.
(photo below is with screen off)

iPad or iMirror

Fit and finish is not 100% and I dare to say that Apple rushed these out the door. Our iPad screen and case are not entirely flush all the way around the device. See the black line appear and disappear outside of the aluminum frame.

iPad rough around the edges

The first start is a let down because you have to activate it with iTunes and need to get the latest iTunes update as well, so you’re just sitting around twiddling your thumbs for 20 minutes till iTunes is updated before you can really turn the thing on. Then it wants so sync apps, music etc. Another delay in gratification.

Finally you get to the home screen.

iPad home screen

The iPad is bigger than you think and heavier than I thought. In size it compares directly to a 10″ netbook screen and the weight is probably the same as a netbook without battery.

iPad on top of MSI Wind 10"

It has a curved back, meaning that it doesn’t lay flat in a stable way. It wobbles a bit when you type on it. Typing is very doable. Easier than I thought.

You will need a dock or some kind of stand. You can hold it in your left hand and tap around with your right hand, but you’re not going to do that for anything but brief periods of time.

iPad browsing

If you put  a lower edge on the table, so you’re not lifting it anymore, it still wants to scoot around.

iPad resting and holding

Propped up against the MSI Wind for a stand, since the dock and other accessories are still days and weeks away.

iPad resting against MSI Wind

The machine is fast. The user interface is very responsive.

Connecting to WiFi was no issue. It detected our home WiFi network and upon selection it requested the password. Done.

Safari is fast. I have managed to crash iPad Safari three times trying to log in to MacWorld. Otherwise it has been stable. Most sites work and load fast.

The elephant in the room is of course that there is no Flash and no Silverlight, meaning you will not see video content from a whole range of sites, for the time being.

No video news at:

ABC News

ABC new flash problem

VTM.be – iWatch.be

vtm.be - iwatch requires silverlight

NOS.nl

Flash needed for NOS.nl

No videos at hulu.tv

No hulu.tv video

No streaming of local radio stations like 94.9 WHOM that use Flash

94.9 WHOM  on iPad

Flash required pop-up on iPad

I just hope that we won’t need multiple news/video/radio apps to the tune of one for every single TV and radio station that will stick it out with Flash.

Propping it up in your lap is not the greatest. You need to hold it with one hand or prop it up against a bent knee. It has a tendency to sit really low in one’s lap, hiding the home button under a t-shirt or whatever clothing.

iPad browsing in recliner

iPad couch surfing requires knee or hand

Did I mention this thing is a finger print magnet? Clean hands on a warm 70+F spring day.

iPad fingerprint magnet

Readability of the screen: very high. The IPS screen is great. I do wonder if they couldn’t have made an iPad nano. Same screen resolution, but the whole device fitting inside the area within the bezel. I’d forego some battery life etc for a bit smaller size and lighter device.

It feels sturdy.

I’ve clicked around in most apps.  I am sure there are other sites that will cover the variety of apps in great detail and point out the various shortcomings.

Niggles & negatives:

I have very mixed feelings about tethering it to iTunes to bring documents and files in an out of the iPad. I will have to increase my cloud computing.

No USB, SD … file access.

I am really missing a USB or SD card reader slot, so I can just pop in several GB of data without having to sync or push and pull things through a cloud, email myself, … Ugh.

No printing. I don’t expect to have direct printer support on the iPad … but can’t we get a conduit to send anything via PDF to a networked mac and have it push things to the printer?

No tethering. I know there are a couple reasons why we can’t tether to the iPhone (don’t overtax AT&T, pay extra for iPad 3G, pay for AT&T iPad 3G account) but it shouldn’t have to be that way. As an individual you can only use the iPad or the iPhone at the same time.  If you share your iPad with a family member on the road, so be it.

Single user only.  C and I have different internet habits and needs, use different apps, …  it would be nice to have the ability to setup two users.  Even a guest user account would be handy.

Keyboard.  On a screen this size, why couldn’t they put the number row up on the virtual keyboard? So you don’t have to keep swapping keyboard styles to put some numbers for passwords.  Typing in PASS123word456 is more cumbersome than it should be. I guess you should only do it once and have it save the password. Nonetheless, that row of # would be handy throughout all  apps.

While using the bluetooth keyboard, I kept wanting to use a mouse; but instead had to move my hand up and touch the screen.  I have to get the bluetooth mouse out of the office and see if works, for the heck of it.

Home screen. Why couldn’t they fit more buttons on a single page? There is a a lot of wasted space.

App button management. The iPad received all 100+ apps from the iPhone … in alphabetical order.  This is the third time all iApps are scrambled into alphabetical order … grumble … can we finally have some fixed categories or sorting options, please!

As with all things Apple, be it the iPods, iPod Touch and iPhone … you have to live within Apple’s limited mobile OS and general Apple structure of one or two ways of doing things, the Apple way (iTunes, iPhoto, …)

I’m really hoping a ton of people will send feedback Apple’s way to take this mobile  OS to the next level, just like with the iPhone.

If you have questions,  feel free to post in the comments and I will answer to the best of my abilities & time. I am also more than happy to do brief visits to your website with the iPad and comment if it all works fine.

Oct 31 2009

Yes, that’s an iPhone 3GS 32GB next to the stylish Mercedes-Benz MHI BlueTooth adapter.

iPhone 3GS and MB MHI BT adapter

Costly little buggers, but ultimately it seemed that was the cost of seamless integration without headaches, maximum safety and forward compatibility (Operating system update wise) with the benefits of the iPhone ecosystem.

Pairing the two was easy and it just took a moment to figure out that for address book synchronization, you need to physically switch the iPhone off and back on. It doesn’t happen during initial pairing or when they re-discover each other when you return to the car.

All I can say is the iPhone 3GS is pretty smooth to operate and making phone calls from your steering wheel is way cool. Let’s just hope the AT&T and partnered GSM network won’t disappoint. AT&T can advertise “more bars in more places” as much as they want, but the GSM network in Maine still means “no bars in many places” where CDMA is fully present. Ultimately some apps and car integration caused the purchase, so … Steve Jobs made me do it ;)

Apr 12 2009

[ Part 1 is posted here ]

Here at icerabbit HQ we have been a little too busy recently to focus on testing the new Mac mini 2009 2.26GHz with other hard drives, after we upgraded the memory. Last night I finally gave the mini a nice place on my desk under the 20″ Cinema Display to which it is hooked up.

My original plan has been to use the Mac mini with a faster 3.5″ external hard drive, rather than upgrading the internal drive, which is rather tricky. If you like detailed instructions to perform such an upgrade, look no further than this iFixit guide.

Noting that I haven’t switched to the mini as my primary machine yet; so far, I have been very satisfied with the speed of its 2.5″ Fujitsu …. hard drive. The combination of this drive + the mini is more responsive than many macs with 5400 rpm drives I have seen over the years. So, I haven’t special ordered an anno 2009 zippier 3.5″ 7200rpm drive yet for the ministack. Right now it looks like I will use the ministack for secondary mass storage with a regular drive.

I still want to do some tests using the newertech miniStack v3 with some older drives as well as a couple retail external drives from Maxtor (3.5″USB2 & FW400) and Seagate (2.5″USB2). While I agree that the internal SATA bus is the fastest connection, it doesn’t mean the internal hard drive is the fastest by default. Regardless of connection method, the internal hard drive is still the slowest component in the computer (apart from the optical drive) and so an external hard drive could be faster.

Even if I don’t find something faster than the internal drive in the house it will be a fun exercise to see how long it takes to back up the mac mini using USB2, FireWire400 and FireWire800. What external bench scores will be? Which will be the faster drive? Which applicaion will be faster? SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner? And what about temperatures? Does all this hard drive activity kick the fans in overdrive, or not? Click through for the findings.

Click here to read more …

Mar 22 2009

[Update: Part 2 with some external drives is posted here ]

Quite a number of people wonder if it is worth upgrading the Mac mini 2009 from its default Core 2 Duo running at 2 GHz to 2.26 GHz (13% CPU increase), so below are my first benchmark results.

I hadn’t see any 2.26 GHz benchmarks yet, when I decided to order my mini with this upgrade. I figured it was worth it since I was going to save money on doing the other hardware upgrades myself. Upgrading the CPU, memory & hard drive kicks a mini over $1000. 

Note that I consider 2GB pretty much a mandatory upgrade, so it enables both memory channels and unlocks the shared graphic memory from 128MB to 256MB. The jury is still out, I think, about a 7200 rpm drive.  Generally the hard drive is the slowest component in a computer (ignoring the optical drive) and a 7200 rpm drive should be faster than a 5400 rpm drive. But, other technical details come into play like amount of cache, # of platters, platter density, … and so you can see a great 5400 rpm drive hold its own against an average 7200 rpm model. Research is key.  The PowerBook greatly benefits from the 100GB 7200 rpm drive over the default one, but maybe Apple made a good hard drive choice here. 

Note: Geekbench 32 bit demo mode. 

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 1 GB RAM - OS X 10.5.6 – 1st Boot * 

Geekbench 32: 3007 — Integer: 2428 — Floating point: 4343 — Memory: 2410 — Stream: 1558

Xbench: 124.57 — CPU: 142.52 — Thread Test: 307.03 — Memory Test: 154.54 — Quartz Graphics Test: 170.22 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 110.46 — User Interface: 248.38 — Disk test: 48.79 

* I noticed after completion that Apple had a software update process running in the background that was pulling several hundred KB/s of updates, so that may have compromised the result.

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 1 GB RAM - OS X 10.5.6 – Restarted

Geekbench 32: 3032 — Integer: 2448 — Floating point: 4413 — Memory: 2413 — Stream: 1486

Xbench: 178.53  – CPU: 136.81 — Thread Test: 321.07 — Memory Test: 156.73 — Quartz Graphics Test: 179.30 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 137.04 — User Interface: 244.39 — Disk test: 48.52 

Upgrading the mini is not for the faint of heart, but I did it. More on that in my upgrade story. 

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 4 GB RAM - OS X 10.5.6 – Restarted

Geekbench 32: 3081 – Integer: 2492 — Floating point: 4378 — Memory: 2476 — Stream: 1821

Xbench: 130.57  – CPU: 137.74 — Thread Test: 252.28 — Memory Test: 174.42 — Quartz Graphics Test: 185.21 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 136.94 — User Interface: 285.55 — Disk test: 48.90

I had no idea why the second Xbench score was significantly higher the second time around with 1GB, only to see it drop back to a still improved level with 4GB. A fourth & fifth result were 131. Actually, the only difference that I am aware of was that the initial monitor topped out at 1024 x 768 pixels, versus the mini’s monitor now being 1920 x 1080. Back to the original 15″ monitor: Xbench 132. 

Also noteworthy:

Default installation takes up close to 17GB with the OS & iLife ‘09. 

Boot time: 4 seconds to the “bong” and 35 seconds to desktop fully loaded with custom menu bar (iStat Menu), Wifi on DHCP, BlueTooth on. 

Shut down time: I have seen it shut down as fast as 5 seconds. Another time 32 seconds, where the display goes blank in 3-4 seconds, but it takes another half a minute for the mini’s power light to extinguish. 

All in all I am very pleased with the mini’s performance.

Mar 22 2009

I have been waiting for the mythical midrange mac for so long – namely since the G4 Cube was shelved and Apple went with Intel – that I finally bit the bullet and purchased a Mac mini 2009.

Mac mini 2009 box.

Of course this probably means we will see Apple release such a mid-range machine in the next few months. Which would be the third, or is it the fourth?, time an Apple product we buy is significantly upgraded or replaced by a new model a few weeks later. C’est la vie. I know, you just can’t time Apple for some things.  

So, why the Mac mini? Well, it is very simple. There are three things I like in computers: horsepower, silence & a sense of value; and one thing I absolutely hate: glossy screens.

The latter immediately rules out the glossy iMirror, I mean iMac. If it were matte, I could be convinced about the all-in-one factor. Glossy MacBook & MacBook Pro = no thank you. We have two glossy portables (one of which a MacBook and the screen is really sub-par) and I see no need to buy another. The Mac Pro certainly has the horsepower, but $3000 for another behemoth like the G5? I would have to be mad.

If Apple had a new Cube or a one third or quarter size Mac Pro, with Core i7 CPUs (instead of those $$$ Xeons), somewhere in the $1000 – $1250 range, I would order one instantly. Unfortunately the new Cube is still a pipe dream, so, there is only one machine  left: the mini. With the 2009 revision it includes dual monitor support and after some evaluation, I figured the time was right to simultaneously downsize (in size) and upgrade (in cpu). I decided on the base Mac mini with 2.26 GHz CPU and will do the upgrades myself. 

Mac mini 2009 unboxed

During the un-boxing I found it funny how I kept thinking there should be something more in the box, like a mouse or a keyboard. Pretty much any new computer I have purchased or set-up for someone else ( apart from self-build ) came with a new keyboard & mouse; so it felt like the mini was lacking those. No luck fitting them into the mini’s box, I guess ;) 

Only a mini DVI to DVI adapter is included, so if you have a VGA monitor, or something else, you will need an additional adapter as well as the keyboard, mouse and monitor. 

I was somewhat surprised by the huge power brick. It is hefty, but fortunately smaller than that of a Cube. 

Here is the port configuration in the back: including FireWire 800 and mini DisplayPort. While I didn’t like Apple’s decision to use mini DisplayPort on their MacBook & MacBook Pro, I am happy it is added on the mini besides the DVI port, so it is dual monitor capable. 

Mac mini 2009 port configuration

I know some people are interested in the Mac mini 2.26 GHz benchmarks and I will post those next. Default as well as upgraded with more RAM and later with a 7200 rpm drive.