Apple SIM and more flexible data plans

(c) 2014, Apple (from their website)The new US and UK iPad Air 2 and Mini iPad 3’s now come with a new, programable SIM (see wikipedia SIM article for more info) card for their cellular data services. This is a first in the industry and signals a new movement to more flexible cellular data plans.

Currently, the iPad 2 Apple SIM card supports AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the US (what no Verizon?) and EE in the UK. With this new flexibility one can switch iPad data carriers anytime, seemingly right on the phone without having to get up from your chair at all. You no longer need to go into a cellular vendor’s store and get a new SIM card and insert the new SIM card into your iPad Air 2.

It seems not many cellular carriers are be signed up to the new programmable SIM cards. But with the new Apple SIM’s ability to switch data carriers in an instant, can the other data carriers hold out for long.

What’s a little unclear to me is how the new Apple SIM doesn’t show support for Verizon but the iPad 2 Air literature does show support for Verizon data services. After talking with Apple iPad sales there is an actual SIM card slot in the new iPads that holds the new Apple SIM card and if you want to use Verizon you would need to get a SIM card from them and swap out the Apple SIM card for the Verizon SIM card and insert it into the iPad Air 2.

Having never bought a cellular option for my iPad’s this is all a little new to me. But it seems that when you purchase a new iPad Air 2 wifi + cellular, the list pricing is without any data plan already. So you are free to go to whatever compatible carrier you want right out of the box. With the new Apple SIM the compatible US carriers are AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. If you want a Verizon data plan you have to buy a Verizon iPad.

For AT&T, it appears that you can use  their Dataconnect cellular data service for tablets on a month by month basis. I assume the same is true for  T-Mobile who makes a point of not having any service contract even for phones.  Not so sure about Sprint but if AT&T offer it can Sprint be far behind.

I have had a few chats with the cellular service providers and I would say they are not all up to speed on the new Apple SIM capabilities but hopefully they will get there over time.

Now if Apple could somehow do the same for cable data plans or cable TV providers, they really could change the world – Apple TV anyone?

Comments?

The Mac 30 years on

I have to admit it. I have been a Mac and Apple bigot since 1984. I saw the commercial for the Mac and just had to have one. I saw the Lisa, a Mac precursor at a conference in town and was very impressed.

At the time, we were using these green or orange screens at work connected to IBM mainframes running TSO or VM/CMS and we thought we were leading edge.

And then the Mac comes out with proportional fonts, graphics terminal screen, dot matrix printing that could print anything you could possibly draw, a mouse and a 3.5″ floppy.

Somehow my wife became convinced and bought our family’s first Mac for her accounting office. You could buy spreadsheet and a WYSIWIG Word processor software and run them all in 128KB. She ended up buying Mac accounting software and that’s what she used to run her office.

She upgraded over the years and got the 512K Mac but eventually when  she partnered with two other accountants she changed to a windows machines. And that’s when the Mac came home.

I used the Mac, spreadsheets and word processing for most of my home stuff and did some programming on it for odd jobs but mostly it just was used for home office stuff. We upgraded this over the years, eventually getting a PowerMac which had a base station with a separate CRT above it, but somehow this never felt like a Mac.

Then in 2002 we got the 15″ new iMac. This came as a half basketball base with a metal arm emerging out of the top of it, with a color LCD screen attached. I loved this Mac. We still have it but nobody’s using it anymore. I used it to edit my first family films using an early version of iMovie. It took hours to upload the video and hours more to edit it. But in the end, you had a movie on the iMac or on CD which you could watch with your family. You can’t imagine how empowered I felt.

Sometime later I left corporate America for the life of a industry analyst/consultant. I still used the 15″ iMac for the first year after I was out but ended up purchasing an alluminum Powerbook Mac laptop with my first check. This was faster than the 15″ iMac and had about the same size screen. At the time, I thought I would spend a lot out of time on the road.

But as it turns out, I didn’t spend that much time out of the office so when I generated enough revenue to start feeling more successful, I bought a iMac G5. The kids were using this until last year when I broke it. This had a bigger screen and was definitely a step up in power, storage and had a  Superdrive which allowed me to burn DVD-Rs for our family movies. When I wasn’t working I was editing family movies in half an hour or less (after import) and converting them to DVDs. Somewhere during this time, Garageband came out and I tried to record and edit a podcast, this took hours to complete and to export as a podcast.

I moved from the PowerBook laptop to a MacBook laptop. I don’t spend a lot of time out of the office but when I do I need a laptop to work on. A couple of years back I bought a MacBook Air and have been in love with it ever since. I just love the way it feels, light to the touch and doesn’t take up a lot of space. I bought a special laptop backpack for the old MacBook but it’s way overkill for the Air. Yes, it’s not that powerful, has less storage and  has the smaller screen (11″) but in a way it’s more than enough to live with on long vacations or out of the office

Sometime along the way I updated to my desktop to the aluminum iMac. It had a bigger screen, more storage and was much faster. Now movie editing was a snap. I used this workhorse for four years before finally getting my latest generation iMac with the biggest screen available and faster than I could ever need (he says now). Today, I edit GarageBand podcasts in a little over 30 minutes and it’s not that hard to do anymore.

Although, these days Windows has as much graphic ability as the Mac, what really made a difference for me and my family is the ease of use, multimedia support and the iLife software (iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto, iWeb, & GarageBand) over the years and yes, even iTunes. Apple’s Mac OS software has evolved over the years but still seems to be the easiest desktop to use, bar none.

Let’s hope the Mac keeps going for another 30 years.

Photo Credits:  Original 128k Mac Manual by ColeCamp

my original Macintosh by Blake Patterson

Brand new iMac, February 16, 2002 by Dennis Brekke

MacBook Air by nuzine.eu

iMac Late 2012 by Cellura Technology

Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion

I am a bit behind the times with respect to Mac OSX updates but finally thought I should take the plunge.  We have been running Snow Leopard on our gaggle of Mac’s for years now and until now hadn’t seen much reason to change.  After finally making the change  here are some of my thoughts on the differences between these two.

It all started at a recent conference, when I couldn’t send an invite to a event from my iPhone. To do this I could either move my calendar to iCloud or adopt Exchange/Outlook.  Not having an easily accessible Microsoft Exchange server  around, I thought it best to move to engage iCloud.  After installing it on Snow Leopard I found out about the “Find my Mac” MacOS application, iPhone/iPad app, only available with Mountain Lion and I was hooked.

So after a 2 hour download, an hour upgrade and another hour migrating to the new  MacMail, we arrived at Mountain Lion.

The good, bad and ugly of Mountain Lion

First, the good:

  • Dictation – a nice toy and probably works ok for short tweets and stuff but it’s not something I feel believe worthy of everyday use. But after using it a while, I may change my mind.  [08Mar2013 updates – still not using this 5 months in.]
  • Mission Control – an interesting evolution of Spaces. I was a fanatical spaces user mostly on my laptop with more limited screen real estate.  And after using Mission Control, I still prefer Spaces navigation better (3-d hyper-cube scrolling) over Mission Control’s navigation (2d strip scrolling). But other than that it’s certainly usable and more configurable. [I find that I don’t use Mission control as much, maybe due to the lack of 3d scrolling, also not sure you can go directly to a screen like you could before.]
  • Twitter (and Facebook) integration – a real nifty feature for the twitterers among us (ditto for Facebook I imagine).  I was using the new Safari and saw  the iPad/iPhone sharing icon. When I clicked to share a link on twitter, it brought up the Accounts panel from System Preferences to establish a twitter account link.  That’s about it and now Notifications tab, Safari and I suspect a bunch of other apps can now share content. [find the notifications (see below) kind of nifty and easily configurable but haven’t used the ability to post tweets, facebook updates as much as I thought.]
  • Notifications – nice feature but “here lies dragons”.  I have always been a proponent of not examining email every second of idle time and actually only checking it one or two times a day.  By default notifications generates a banner alert every time a new email came in.  But you can easily turn it off on any and all applications. I turned it on for twitter and it only notifies on mentions (~1 hour later than email, go figure).
  • Messages – interesting application. We are a pre-texting family and just found out that iPhone to iPhone texts (via iMessage) are free. and even so we probably do a text or two a day now.  But finding out that you can use Messages to send texts may just double or even triple that rate, at least until the kids get that texting fever.

Next, the bad:

  • Recovery Disk Assistant – ok, there had to be something for a complete disk wipe out, but a USB stick? Something about being in the storage business seems to make me need to backup of systems, applications and data.  When I first launched the app, it just spun and never got anywhere. I mounted a used USB stick which didn’t help, then ran Disk Utility to find that elusive Recovery HD partition on the startup disk but it never showed.  Apple support finally explained that the Recovery HD partition is hidden.  And that I had to have a USB stick in Mac OSX extended, journaled format. With the newly formatted USB thumb drive, I was finally able to create my recovery media. But I am not overly fond of USB data endurance, reliability and or fault tolerance.
  • IOS like iCal, Contacts and Mail – ok, maybe the look and feel for these make for a better UI.  I am probably ok with Contacts (didn’t use it that much),  less ok with Calendar (used that a lot), not ok with Mail (used that an awful lot). I am still trying to figure out how to sort mail (as I write this, there’s a small triangle at the top of the mail panel that supplies this).  And I don’t like the automatic preview.  But the automatic threading is a nice feature.  [having mixed feelings about the threading feature, I am still occasionally going back to non-threading to try to locate an email that I know came in on a certain date…]
  • Launch pad vs. Dock – ok, the iPad/iPhone look may have gone too far.  The new rocket icon on the dock provides an iPad like launch pane.  Ok, after playing around with it for awhile, it kind of makes sense. Getting to the applications folder was a pain before. Launch Pad makes it much easier and quicker to go after those less used apps. Maybe this will let me clean up my Dock.

Finally, the ugly:

  • #$%^ scrolling – I want to go back.  Not sure why but scrolling on the iPad or iPhone seemed pretty natural with your finger on the screen and I always thought the momentum scrolling was fantastic. But over decades, I kind of got used to scrolling with sidebars and bottom bars that moved the screen as you moved the bar.  Now I push and pull screens.  Ok, the side bars are there when I start moving screens around but it’s not the same.   I have yet to see how to change this back but I thought I would give it a day or so to see if it gets better.   At the moment (two days in), it’s frustrating me to no end. [you get used to it, and now when I go back to a Mac without it, I am a bit confused but shift back easily…].
  • [Launching apps at startup that were open at shutdown – Yes there’s a little checkbox on the shutdown pop-up that you can use to stop this.  And yes, occasionally it’s convenient to not have to wait for the app to come up when I get to use it for real. But, this kind of slows down my startup activity and I find I am quiting apps at shutdown just to not have them come up automatically at startup. Alright, I checked it is a persistent option you can uncheck the box and it will not startup the apps that were operating at shutdown.  I do however dislike the highlight it gives indicating that just maybe you should rethink not checking the box…]

Probably more stuff I will run into but this is my 1st couple of day view of the new OS.  I tweeted about (from notifications pane) and thought it deserved more lenghty treatment.

The rise of mobile and the death of rest

Read a couple of articles this week about the rise of mobile computing.  About a decade ago I was at a conference where one of the keynotes was on the inevitability of ubiquitous computing or everywhere computing.  I believe now that smart phones have arrived, we have realized that dream.

How big companies die

One article I read was from Forbes on Here’s why Google and Facebook might disappear in the next 5 years.  The central tenet of their discussion was that the rise of mobile is a new paradigm shift just like Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 emerged over time and reinvented most of the industries that went before them.

Most companies around before the internet were unable to see and understand what would constitute a viable business model in the new Web 1.0 environment. Similarly, the major players in Web 1.0 never really saw the transition that occurred to a more interactive, information sharing that became Web 2.0.

The problem is that all these companies grew up in the reigning paradigm of the day and became successful by seeing the transition as a new way of doing business. They just couldn’t conceive that another way of doing business was coming along that was strategically different and thus, highly damaging to their now outdated, business models.

Full speed ahead

But it even get’s worse. Another article I read from Tecnology Review was titled Questions for Mobile Computing.

One interesting tidbit is that time it’s taking to reach a certain adoption level in the market is shrinking. The chart (from Apple) showed that both the iPhone and iPad has drastically shrunk the time it took to attain high market adoption.

Mobile business models

The main question in the article was how web 2.0 advertising revenue business models were going to translate into a mobile environment where they no longer controlled advertising.  Many Web2.0 companies seem to be ignoring mobile at the moment but it won’t take long for companies focused on this new computing tsunami to roll over them.

Apple and Google have taken two distinctly divergent approaches to this market but at least they are (massively) engaged.  That’s more than can be said for some of the web 2.0 properties out there ignoring mobile to their long term detriment.

The fact is that mobile is a new computing platform.  It’s possibilities are truly extraordinary from mHealth (see my post on mHealth taking off in Kenya) and  mCurrency today to Google glasses of tomorrow.

I strongly believe that those companies that see this shift now and go after it with new business models to profit from mobile computing will succeed faster and mightier than we have ever seen.   The rest will be left in the dust.

The funny bit is that it’s not the developed world that’s taking the new model to new directions but the developing world.  They seem better able to see mobile computing for what it is, an relatively easy way to leapfrog from the 19th century to the 21st in one jump.

So what are profitable business models that leverage mobile computing?

Our long romance with Apple technology

 

Lisa 2/5 by MattsMacintosh (cc) (from Flickr)
Lisa 2/5 by MattsMacintosh (cc) (from Flickr)

We all heard last night of the passing of Steve Jobs.  But rather than going over his life I would like to here discuss some of the Apple products I have used over my life and how they affected our family.

 

I don’t know why but I never got an Apple II. In fact the first time I saw one in use was in the early 80’s. But it certainly looked nifty.

But I was struck with love at first sight when I saw the Lisa, a progenitor of the Mac.  I was at a computer conference in the area which had a number of products on display but when I saw the Lisa I couldn’t see anything else.  It had a 3.5″ floppy drive which was encased in hard plastic, hardly ever considered a floppy anymore.  But the real striking aspect was its screen, a white background, bit mapped screen that sported great black and white graphics.

At the time, I was using IBM 3270 terminals which had green lettering on a dark screen and the only graphics were ones made with rows and columns of asterisks.  To see the graphics pop to life on the Lisa, different font options, what you see is what you get was just extraordinary at the time.  The only downside was its $10K price.  Sadly we didn’t buy one of these either.

Mac worship

Then the 1984 commercial came out in the superbowl spot.  The one where Apple was going to free the computing world from the oppression of big brother with the introduction of the first Macintosh computer.

We got our hands on one soon after and my wife used it for her small accounting business and just loved it.   Over time as she took on partners their office migrated to business applications that were more suited for PCs but she stayed on the Mac long after it was sub-optimal, just because it was easy to use.

 

Apple Fat Mac by Accretion Disc (cc) (From Flickr)
Apple Fat Mac by Accretion Disc (cc) (From Flickr)

Ultimately, she moved to a PC  taking her Fat Mac home to be used there instead.  Over the next decade or so we updated the Mac to a color screen and a desktop configuration but didn’t really do much with it other than home stuff.

 

Then the iMac’s came out. We latched onto the half basketball one which had a screen protruding out of it.  We used this for some video and photo editing and just loved it.  Video upload and editing took forever but there was nothing else out there that could even come close.

 

Our 1st iMac
Our 1st iMac

I ended up using this machine the first few years after I left corporate America but also bought a Mac lap top, encased in aluminum for my business trips.    Both these ran PowerPC microprocessor but eventually ran an early generation of Mac OSX.

 

A couple of years later we moved on to the all-in-one, Intel based, desktop iMac’s and over time updated to bigger screens, faster processing and more storage.  We are still on iMac desktops for home and office use today.

iPhone infatuation

In 2008 we moved from a dumb cell phone to a smart iPhone 3G.  We wanted to wait until the world phone came out which supported GSM.

But this was another paradigm shift for me. When working in the corporate world I had a blackberry and could use it for contacts, email, and calendar but seldom did anything else on it.  And in fact, at the time I used a PalmPilot for a number of business applications, games, and other computing needs.

When the iPhone3G came out, both the PalmPilot and dumb cell phone were retired and we went completely Apple for all our cell phone needs.  Today, I probably scan email, tweet, and do a number of other applications on my iPhone almost as often as I do them on the iMac.  Over time we moved one or the other of us to the 3Gs and 4 and now the children are starting to get hand me down iPhones and love them just as well.

iPad devotion

Then in May of 2010, we bought an iPad.  This was a corporate purchase but everyone used it.  I tried to use it to replace my laptop a number of times (see my posts To iPad or Not to iPad parts 1, 2, 3 & 4) and ultimately concluded it wouldn’t work for me.  We then went out and got a Mac Airbook and now the iPad is mainly used to check email do some light editing as well as gaiming, media and other light computing activities.

The fact is, sitting on our living room couch, checking email, twitter and taking noteshas made using all these tools that much easier. When we saw the iPad2 we liked what we saw but it took so long for it to become available in the stores that we had lost all gadget lust and are now waiting to see what the next generation looks like when it comes out.

—-

All in all almost 30 years with Apple products both in the home and at work have made me a lifelong advocate.

I never worked for Apple but have heard that most of these products were driven single-mindly by Steve Jobs.  If that was the case, I would have to say that Steve Jobs was a singular technical visionary, that understood what was then possible and took the steps needed to make it happen.  In doing that, he changed computing forever and for that I salute him.

Steve Jobs RIP

What’s wrong with the iPad?

Apple iPad (wi-fi) (from apple.com)
Apple iPad (wi-fi) (from apple.com)

We have been using the wi-fi iPad for just under 6 months now and I have a few suggestions to make it even easier to use.

Safari

Aside from the problem with lack of Flash support there are a few things that would make websurfing easier on the iPad:

  • Tabbed windows option – I use tabbed windows on my desktop/laptop all the time but for some reason on the iPad Apple chose to use a grid of distinct windows accessible via a Safari special purpose icon.  While this approach probably makes a lot of sense for the iPhone/iPod, there is little reason to only do this on the iPad.  There is ample screen real-estate to show tabs selectable with the touch of a finger.  As it is now, it takes two touches to select an alternate screen for web browsing, not to mention some time to paint the thumbnail screen when you have multiple web pages open.
  • Non-mobile mode – It seems that many websites nowadays detect whether one is accessing a web page from a mobile device or not and as such, shrink their text/window displays to accommodate their much smaller display screen.  With the iPad this shows up as a wasted screen space and takes more than necessary screen paging to get to data that retrievable on a single screen with a desktop/laptop.  Not sure whether the problem is in the web server or the iPad’s signaling what device it is, however it seems to me that if the iPad/Safari app could signal to web servers that it is a laptop/small-desktop, web browsing could be better.

Other Apps

There are a number of Apps freely available on the iPhone/iPod that are not available on the iPad without purchase.  For some reason, I find I can’t live without some of these:

  • Clock app – On the iPhone/iPod I use the clock app at least 3 times a day.  I time my kids use of video games, my own time to having to do something, how much time I am willing/able to spend on a task, and myriad other things.  It’s one reason why I keep the iPhone on my body or close by whenever I am at home.  I occasionally use the clock app as a stop watch and a world clock but what I really need on the iPad is a timer of some sort.  I really have been unable to find an equivalent app for the iPad that matches the functionality of the iPhone/iPod Clock app.
  • Calculator app – On the iPhone/iPod I use the calculator sporadically, mostly when I am away from my desktop/office (probably because I have a calculator on my desk).  However, I don’t have other calculators that are easily accessible throughout my household and having one on the iPad would just make my life easier.  BTW, I ended up purchasing a calculator app that Apple says is equal to the iPhone Calc App which works fine but it should have come free.
  • Weather app – This is probably the next most popular app on my iPhone.  I know this information is completely available on the web, but by the time I have to enter the url/scan my bookmarks it takes at least 3-4 touches to get the current weather forecast.  By having the Weather app available on the iPhone it takes just one touch to get this same information.  I believe there is some way to transform a web page into an app icon on the iPad but this is not the same.

IOS software tweaks

There are some things I think could make IOS much better from my standpoint and I assume all the stuff in IOS 4.2 will be coming shortly so I won’t belabor those items:

  • File access – This is probably heresy but, I would really like a way to be able to cross application boundaries to access all files on the iPad.  That is, have something besides Mail, iBook and Pages be able to access PDF file, and Mail, Photo, and Pages/Keynote be able to access photos. Specifically, some of the FTP upload utilities should be able to access any file on the iPad.  Not sure where this belongs but there should be some sort of data viewer at the IOS level that can allow access to any file on the iPad.
  • Dvorak soft keypad – Ok, maybe I am a bit weird, but I spent the time and effort to learn the Dvorak keyboard layout to be able to type faster and would like to see this same option available for the iPad soft keypad.  I currently use Dvorak with the iPad’s external BT keyboard hardware but I see no reason that it couldn’t work for the soft keypad as well.
  • Widgets – The weather app discussed above looks to me like the weather widget on my desktop iMac.  It’s unclear why IOS couldn’t also support other widgets so that the app developers/users could easily create use their desktop widgets on the iPad.

iPad hardware changes

There are some things that scream out to me for hardware changes.

  • Ethernet access – I have been burned before and wish not to be burned again but some sort of adaptor that would allow an Ethernet plug connection would make the tethered iPad a much more complete computing platform.  I don’t care if such a thing comes as a BlueTooth converter or has to use the same plug as the power adaptor but having this would just make accessing the internet (under some circumstances) that much easier.
  • USB access – This just opens up another whole dimension to storage access and information/data portability that is sorely missing from the iPad.  It would probably need some sort of “file access” viewer discussed above but it would make the iPad much more extensible as a computing platform.
  • Front facing camera – I am not an avid user of FaceTime (yet) but if I were, I would really need a front camera on the iPad.  Such a camera would also provide some sort of snapshot capability with the iPad (although a rear facing camera would make more sense for this).  In any event, a camera is a very useful device to record whiteboard notes, scan paper documents, and record other items of the moment and even a front-facing one could do this effectively.
  • Solar panels – Probably off the wall, but having to lug a power adaptor everywhere I go with the iPad is just another thing to misplace/loose.  Of course, when traveling to other countries, one also needs a plug adaptor for each country as well.  It seems to me having some sort of solar panel on the back or front could provide adequate power to charge the iPad would be that much simpler.

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Well that’s about it for now.   We are planning on taking a vacation soon and we will be taking both a laptop and the iPad (because we can no longer live without it).  I would rather just leave the laptop home but can’t really do that given my problems in the past with the iPad.  Some changes described above could make hauling the laptop on vacation a much harder decision.

As for how the iPad fares on the beach, I will have to let you know…

Commodity hardware always loses

Herman Miller's Embody Chair by johncantrell (cc) (from Flickr)
A recent post by Stephen Foskett has revisted a blog discussion that Chuck Hollis and I had on commodity vs. special purpose hardware.  It’s clear to me that commodity hardware is a losing proposition for the storage industry and for storage users as a whole.  Not sure why everybody else disagrees with me about this.

It’s all about delivering value to the end user.  If one can deliver equivalent value with commodity hardware than possible with special purpose hardware then obviously commodity hardware wins – no question about it.

But, and it’s a big BUT, when some company invests in special purpose hardware, they have an opportunity to deliver better value to their customers.  Yes it’s going to be more expensive on a per unit basis but that doesn’t mean it can’t deliver commensurate benefits to offset that cost disadvantage.

Supercar Run 23 by VOD Cars (cc) (from Flickr)
Supercar Run 23 by VOD Cars (cc) (from Flickr)

Look around, one sees special purpose hardware everywhere. For example, just checkout Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod just to name a few.  None of these would be possible without special, non-commodity hardware.  Yes, if one disassembles these products, you may find some commodity chips, but I venture, the majority of the componentry is special purpose, one-off designs that aren’t readily purchase-able from any chip vendor.  And the benefits it brings, aside from the coolness factor, is significant miniaturization with advanced functionality.  The popularity of these products proves my point entirely – value sells and special purpose hardware adds significant value.

One may argue that the storage industry doesn’t need such radical miniaturization.  I disagree of course, but even so, there are other more pressing concerns worthy of hardware specialization, such as reduced power and cooling, increased data density and higher IO performance, to name just a few.   Can some of this be delivered with SBB and other mass-produced hardware designs, perhaps.  But I believe that with judicious selection of special purposed hardware, the storage value delivered along these dimensions can be 10 times more than what can be done with commodity hardware.

Cuba Gallery: France / Paris / Louvre / architecture / people / buildings / design / style / photography by Cuba Gallery (cc) (from Flickr)
Cuba Gallery: France / Paris / Louvre / ... by Cuba Gallery (cc) (from Flickr)

Special purpose HW cost and development disadvantages denied

The other advantage to commodity hardware is the belief that it’s just easier to develop and deliver functionality in software than hardware.  (I disagree, software functionality can be much harder to deliver than hardware functionality, maybe a subject for a different post).  But hardware development is becoming more software like every day.  Most hardware engineers do as much coding as any software engineer I know and then some.

Then there’s the cost of special purpose hardware but ASIC manufacturing is getting more commodity like every day.   Several hardware design shops exist that sell off the shelf processor and other logic one can readily incorporate into an ASIC and Fabs can be found that will manufacture any ASIC design at a moderate price with reasonable volumes.  And, if one doesn’t need the cost advantage of ASICs, use FPGAs and CPLDs to develop special purpose hardware with programmable logic.  This will cut engineering and development lead-times considerably but will cost commensurably more than ASICs.

Do we ever  stop innovating?

Probably the hardest argument to counteract is that over time, commodity hardware becomes more proficient at providing the same value as special purpose hardware.  Although this may be true, products don’t have to stand still.  One can continue to innovate and always increase the market delivered value for any product.

If there comes a time when further product innovation is not valued by the market than and only then, does commodity hardware win.  However, chairs, cars, and buildings have all been around for many years, decades, even centuries now and innovation continues to deliver added value.  I can’t see where the data storage business will be any different a century or two from now…

To iPad or not to iPad – part 2

iPad with BlueTooth Keyboard
iPad with BlueTooth Keyboard

(Length post warning – 1200+ words)

We had discussed using the iPad in a prior post and although, it was uncertain up to the last minute, I ended up taking the iPad to a conference early this month.  My uncertainty was all related to getting our monthly newsletter out.

The newsletter is mainly a text file  but it links to a number of Storage Intelligence (StorInt(tm) reports) PDFs which reside on my website.  Creating and editing these documents is done using Microsoft Word.  Oftentimes the edits to these documents involve tracked changes which aren’t handled very well by iPad’s Pages app (they’re all accepted).

In addition, these .DOC files are converted to .PDFs and uploaded to the website.  While Pages handles importing Doc files and publishing PDF files from them, I am still unclear how to upload a Pages PDF file to a website. There are many FTP apps for the iPad/iPhone but none seem able to upload a PDF file out of Pages App.

All this was going to require the use of a laptop but I finally got all the file edits in and before I left, was able to send out the newsletter.

Twitter troubles

While at the conference I noticed that there really isn’t a proper Twitter client for the iPad.  Most desktop/laptop Twitter clients allow one to see their Twitter stream while composing a Tweet.  But the free Twitter/TweetDeck/Twitteriffic Apps on the iPad all seem to want to obscure the Twitter stream(s) when one enter’s a new tweet – probably assuming one’s using the soft keypad which would obscure the stream anyway.  Nonetheless, such actions make responding to Twitter queries more difficult than necessary.

Docs debacle

As always, loading up my current working set (client information, office doc’s, PDFs, etc.) was cumbersome. I have taken to using a special email address, only used for this purpose and creating one email per client which works alright.

Working on a project with iPad Pages App worked ok, but:

  • The font/special characters changes between .Doc and Pages files seems awkward.  For example, I was using the large bullet on Pages and when I transformed this file to a DOC file, the bullet became HUGE.
  • Also the font that Pages uses defaults to something different than Microsoft Word’s defaults.
  • Watermark images didn’t seem to be as transparent when converting between Doc’s and Pages

Mostly these were nuisances that I had to deal with when importing a file from iPad to desktop or vice versa.

However, working on one project I realized I needed some metrics I normally keep in a spreadsheet on my desktop/laptop.  I ended up calling home office and walking my associate through accessing the information and telling me what I needed to know.  I also asked them to send that spreadsheet to me so that I would have it for future reference.

BlueTooth blessings/bunglings

At the conference I was blessed with a table to sit at during the keynotes (passing myself off as a blogger) which made using the BlueTooth (BT) keypad and iPad much easier.  I also used the combination on the airplane on the way home and found the combination much more flexible than a laptop.  Although it’s unclear whether this would work as well sitting on my lap in normal conference seating.

Also I really wish there was some sort of other indicators/light(s) on the BT keypad.  It only has one green led and this makes for rather limited communications.  I tried to connect it to the iPad on the plane ride out but it failed.  I thought perhaps the batteries had run down and needed to be replaced.  When I got to my destination I tried again after looking up what the BT keypad green led and it worked just fine.  FYI:

  • A flashing green led means the BT keypad is pairing with a target devicep
  • To turn the BT keypad on, push and hold the side button until the green led starts to blink.
  • To turn the BT keypad off, push and hold the side button until the green led comes on and eventually off.

For some reason this was difficult to find online but it was probably in the printed doc that came with the keyboard (filed away and never seen again).  More lights might help, like green for on/yellow for discoverable, red for (going) off.  Or maybe if I just need to use it more often. I may have tried to pair it with my iPhone which didn’t help  (can’t be sure, also unclear how to clear it’s prior pairing).

Nevertheless, it might make sense to carry some extra batteries and/or their battery charger for just these types of problems.  There were quite a few people who commented on the BT keyboard/iPad combination.  They seemed unaware that it could be used with the iPad

Spellcheck saga

The other problem I had was with the iPad’s spell checker.  It turns out there are two levels of spell checking in the iPad and they are both active within Pages.  One can be disabled at the Pages Tools=>Check Spelling and the other is under iPad settings at General=>Keyboard=>Auto-Correction.   I was able to quickly find the Pages version but it took some effort to uncover the Keyboard one.

Nonetheless, while pounding in conference notes, I often employ vendor acronyms.  Oftentimes the spell checker/auto-corrector would transform these acronyms to something completely different.  Of course my typing is not perfect, so my other issue is that I miss-type words, which after auto-correction had little relation to what I was trying to type.

I realize that this is an attribute of soft keypad corrections, probably coming from the iPhone where often people mis-type due to the size of the keys.  However, when using the iPad and especially when using the BT keypad it would be nice if auto-correction was turned off, by default.

Other iPad incredulity

I was surprised to see some analysts with both an iPad and a laptop (and probably an iPhone/Blackberry).  Personally, I can’t see why anyone would want both other than for more screen space.  But I was a bit jealous when I had to change Apps to tweet something or check email/websites while inputing notes in real time.

Also, I was afraid depending on hotel/conference WIFI would place me at a disadvantage to other analysts/bloggers.  Ultimately, I found that for my use of internet (mostly for Twitter and email) during conferences, WIFI was adequate and I always had my iPhone if it didn’t work.

After 2hrs+ of keynotes and another 2hrs+ of presentations, I was running low on iPad power.  So, I started to power the iPad off between notes and tweets.  Funny thing, all I had to do to power on the screen was to start typing on the BT keypad – cool.  As I recall, it occasionally missed the first key stroke or so but worked fine after that.  Following lunch about an hour later, I pulled out my power cord extension and plugged it into the table outlet and kept it on for the rest of the day.  Thankfully, I remembered to bring the extension cord (that came with the laptop charger).

Well that’s about it, I have another short conference next week and will probably try again to bring the iPad but that pesky monthly newsletter is due out again…