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  • Newsletter Issue #541

    April 11th, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    The word came down from Apple that 300,000 iPads were sold the very first day it went on sale. As of Thursday morning, when iPhone 4.0 was demonstrated, that number had soared to 450,000. That figure doesn’t include people who are waiting for the 3G version of Apple’s new tablet computer, nor the people who pre-ordered but whose merchandise had yet to ship.

    All told, it’s very possible the iPad will hit the magic one million dollar threshold by the time Apple releases its quarterly financials later this month.

    Clearly, on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the iPad remained front and center. First off, Kyle Wiens, from iFixit, took the iPad apart piece by piece in a virtual fashion, describing what makes it tick and how well it works after it’s all put back together. And, yes, he apparently has encountered that persistent problem with poor Wi-Fi connection quality reported by some iPad users.

    In a change of pace, Microsoft’s Amanda Lefebvre revealed the inside details of the forthcoming Office 2011 for the Mac and gave you a preview of the new Microsoft Messenger for the Mac, which includes support for audio and video recording. As you’ve heard, the next version of Office will sport a new email/contact manager app, Outlook, designed to be very similar to the Windows version and, I hope, more reliable than the ever-flaky Entourage. The controversial ribbon interface, first introduced on Office for Windows, will be enhanced for the Mac version.

    Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, concluded the episode by recounting his expert hands-on experience with the iPad, and then provided his post-game analysis to the official rollout of the iPhone 4.0 software, which includes the long-awaited expanded multitasking support and lots more.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we honor the memory of the late Mac Tonnies and his final work, “The Cryptoterrestrials: A Meditation on Indigenous Humanoids and the Aliens Among Us,” about Earth-based UFOs, with co-host Paul Kimball, Greg Bishopand Nicholas Redfern.

    Coming April 18: Co-host Paul Kimball presents a roundtable featuring science fiction author and filmmaker Paul Davids and paranormal writer Nicholas Redfern to discuss the dysfunctional relationship between Sci-Fi, UFOs and the paranormal.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    SO IS APPLE AT WAR WITH DEVELOPERS?

    No sooner than the ink dried on the updated iPhone 4.0 developers agreement than the complaints flared up. Apple was engaged in a plot to destroy Adobe, and kill a number of third-party development tools that were supposed to make it easier to build iPhone apps — and those for other mobile platforms too.

    Here’s the key paragraph that generated the furore: “Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).”

    This may not mean a thing to most of you, but the key is that this evidently means that apps created through some sort of “runtime” scheme, such as a port from Flash, or using a cross-platform compiler, are prohibited. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    So you can understand that Adobe and a number of other companies are complaining about the alleged hubris in Apple’s decision to want to force you to use their own development tools to build apps for the iPhone and iPad. How dare they?

    Now I’m not a programmer, and I don’t play one on TV, so I’m going to concentrate on the practical results, rather than the geeky details of why apps are being developed using one method or another.

    From the standpoint of developers who want to convert Flash apps or use a cross-compiling tool that lets you build apps for different platforms, being saddled with Apple’s Xcode would supposedly force them to build multiple versions of their apps, rather than just one that can be ported rapidly to the iPhone, Android OS and other platforms.

    I suppose you could look at all this as part of Apple’s grand scheme to kill Flash and, besides, competing mobile products. But the truth often lies between those extremes. There is, for example, a brief email exchange where Jobs speaks of cross-compling tools building “sub-standard apps.”

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Jobs is not just trying to behave as the control freak he reputedly is, but is actually making a sensible point. If you use one of those cross-compiler tools, the app is not properly optimized for each separate platform and is thus compromised in some fashion. I know that Mac ports of some applications are often criticized for bad performance and/or not quite adhering to Mac interface guidelines.

    But that’s part of the picture. According to Daniel Eran Dilger, in an AppleInsider article:

    But if Apple were simply trying to block Adobe from cross-compiling Flash to create iPhone apps, it could have added the changed text to its existing license agreement and spoiled Adobe’s CS5 party immediately, rather than just threatening change that appears fated to kick in when Apple delivers iPhone 4.0 in June.

    The primary reason for the change, say sources familiar with Apple’s plans, is to support sophisticated new multitasking APIs in iPhone 4.0. The system will now be evaluating apps as they run in order to implement smart multitasking. It can’t do this if apps are running within a runtime or are cross compiled with a foreign structure that doesn’t behave identically to a native C/C++/Obj-C app.

    Now Daniel is sometimes criticized as being too much of an Apple cheerleader, but he makes a solid point here that hasn’t been refuted so far. Apple has taken heavy lumps for the lack of multitasking support for third-party apps on the iPhone platform. In recent months, since the iPad was announced, multitasking was sometimes mentioned more often than the lack of Flash support. You can bet Apple takes it seriously.

    The way the feature is being rolled out demonstrates an extreme amount of care. Apple’s development team is evidently trying hard to give you the high flexibility multitasking has to offer yet at the same time reduce the impact to system resources and battery life. While other mobile platforms just let multiple apps run unhindered, Apple is providing seven APIs that deliver the effects of multitasking with as few of the downsides as possible.

    So if you’re using an app and want to switch to another, it can save its state, meaning that when you return, you pick up where you left off. If you are downloading or uploading a file, the app won’t quit till it’s done. You’ll be able to receive calls from Internet voice apps such as Skype while performing other functions, the same as with a regular phone call. If you’re using a GPS app to guide you to your destination, it will continue to run while you’re using your Apple mobile gadget to do something else, although this is one area where battery life can be impacted seriously.

    You also won’t be saddled with iTunes for music playback while engaging in other pursuits. Background playback will expand to Pandora and any other media player app that chooses to implement this feature.

    Daniel reinforces his point by quoting one reader, clearly someone astute when it comes to developer-related issues: “[The operating system] can’t swap out resources, it can’t pause some threads while allowing others to run, it can’t selectively notify, etc. Apple needs full access to a properly-compiled app to do the pull off the tricks they are with this new OS.”

    This appears to mean that apps that are not built in accordance with Apple’s new restricted guidelines won’t properly support multitasking. If true, that is the beginning and end of the argument. There is no counterclaim to be made, unless it can be shown that the cross-compilers are equally capable to building an iPhone 4.0 app that will fully support multitasking and the rest of the new features.

    You wanted multitasking? Well, that may be the tradeoff.

    Of course, it’s possible that Jobs is exaggerating and that Daniel is off-base. Apple might just be posturing in order to exert further iron-clad control over its development platform, without regard to whether there’s a real advantage. But evidence of that would have to be provided first, and it won’t come by way of attacks about Apple’s motives. It requires facts and proof, perhaps in the form of some sort of demonstration that you don’t need Apple’s developer app to correctly support all the new features.

    Unless or until that happens, I’m not inclined to pay much attention to conspiracy theories.

    CAN THE iPAD BE A REAL LAPTOP REPLACEMENT?

    I have suggested recently that, by 2015, a hefty number of travelers will be using an iPad or another tablet computer rather than the traditional laptop. That may either seem perfectly sensible, or very much out in left field.

    Part of the skepticism is no doubt due to the fact that the iPad cannot presently exist as a standalone device. It requires docking with a Mac or a PC periodically to update the operating system or sync with iTunes. While the new enterprise features in iPhone 4.0 are expected to allow businesses to untether your Apple mobile devices from most such restrictions, the rest of the world will have to keep that traditional personal computer at hand, at least for now

    But don’t forget that the iPad is strictly a version 1.0 product. There are certain hardware features it lacks, such as a built-in Web cam. The lone speaker, which evidently produces a fairly decent sound, is strictly mono. You want to listen to music, get a headset or an external speaker system.

    Typical of any new Apple gadget, they don’t put everything in the first version. New hardware capabilities are rolled out over the years to, of course, get you to buy the next version and to refine a feature before it’s added. That approach stands in sharp contrast to many other tech makers, where they simply throw in everything but the kitchen sink as quickly as possible, without regard to whether or works or not. If a competitor has a feature, they add it too, again seldom worrying about whether it fulfills any useful purpose.

    From the software standpoint, remember that all we know about iPhone 4.0 are those seven “tentpoles,” plus a small number of added capabilities. There are supposed to be 100 features in all, and it may well be some were either deemed less significant or just not ready to demonstrate.

    It may well be, for example, that there will be a better file management system. Surely not a full-blown folder-based hierarchy, a relic of the 1980s, but something sleek and efficient to allow you to handle files outside of the app with which it was created, and to easily transfer those files wirelessly to a Mac, PC, or another Apple mobile device.

    While Apple would probably want you to believe that printing is passe, I still think there’s a possibility for a workable solution. Maybe it won’t happen on the iPhone, and perhaps that’s why the iPad upgrade won’t happen until the fall, to give Apple more time to bake in some unique capabilities. Wireless printing might be one of them, because I doubt Apple expects you to transfer documents created in Pages, Numbers or other productivity apps to a Mac before you can get your hard copy.

    Yes, there are third-party apps that perform this function now, essentially by using a Mac or PC to do the heavy-lifting, feeding the print job to a connected output device. But that’s not a complete solution.

    When it comes to complete device untethering, Apple might use MobileMe as the cloud-based sync medium, or perhaps relent and let you use any networked device, computer or hard drive or a third-party cloud-based solution. Let the third parties make some cash here.

    All or most of this will come. Maybe not this year, but soon enough to make you begin to wonder whether the traditional personal computer is at last ready to be put out to pasture.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #541”

    1. dfs says:

      To an extent, devices like the iPad have the potential to replace the laptop, at least for users who are essentially content consumers (I mean as opposed to programmers, Web designers, people who work with graphics, video, and audio, and so forth, who produce the content that the rest of the world consumes). But it is important to remember that the modern computer is essentially a communications device, used to send and receive messages share and exchange information, and an iPad-type device can’t be viewed as a serious competitor to the laptop unless it does just as good and comprehensive a job of performing these functions. In the case of the iPad, the problem is getting data in and out of the device, in every way from acquiring new apps and media to acquiring and sharing files to printing, many of which things you can’t do except via a USB cable to a laptop or desktop. So this issue isn’t any kind of side issue or something Apple can postpone until some fine day in an undefined future, it’s crucial to defining the nature of the device and the scope of its usefulness, and limitations on wireless connectivity is a very discouraging indication since it seems to indicate that Apple’s vision of what the iPad is all about is more limited than one would hope. And, to build on something Gene says at the end of this peace, it is also discouraging because it shows that Apple is less than visionary about the Cloud, since Mobile Me and the iPad ought to be a marriage made in heaven. As I said in an earlier posting on this subject, with comprehensive wireless connectivity, including access to the Apple Store and the ability to route data to printers and exchange data with other devices (backup devices included), you should be able to own an iPad and get full use out of it even if you don’t have immediate access, or even own, any other computer. Personally, I’m hanging onto my dollars until if and when Apple ever puts such a device on the market.

    2. Louis Wheeler says:

      Most of the drawbacks cried about the iPad will turn out to be misplaced, unnecessary or fixed.

      You are being way too conservative though, Gene. 2015? Why that’s four years away! That’s dog years in computer terms.

      The iPad is not very impressive technologically, so it has substantial room for improvement. The processor chip is ARM Cortex A8 that works fairly well at 1 Ghz. The ARM Cortex A9 processor chip is out and offers speed improvements and multiple core possibilities in the next four years.

      What could we reasonably expect in four to five years? I wouldn’t be surprised at more than 2 Ghz with at least a dual core. This would, also, be very energy efficient. These specifications would be comparable most laptops, so why shouldn’t the iPad replace them?

    3. Al says:

      Even if the multitasking argument or the app quality argument were really just red herrings, Apple still should shoot down 3rd party multi-platfom development tools or it would be violating its fiduciary responsibilities towards the shareholders. Multi-platform tools always benefit the smaller device mfrs at the expense of the bigger one. It allows Android, WM7, and the rest of them to piggy back on development efforts that are meant primarily for iPhone/Pad. So Apple should lay the law down now, while Apple is the indispensable customer for mobile app developers.

      So is Apple at war with developers? Only if you don’t use Apple’s tools. If you do, this actually benefits you because 1) if this causes some developers to drop out, then you have less competition and 2) anything that increases Apple’s dominance in this space will benefit you.

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