It’s a sure thing that would-be tablet PC makers remain flummoxed by Apple, and the ongoing enhancements to their mobile platforms. This despite the fact that the iPad 2 merely contained most of what the speculators suggested well ahead of its release.
For example, it’s thinner, somewhat lighter, and offers a dual-core processor and much more powerful graphics capability. There are front and rear cameras, and HDMI output, with an accessory plug.
All in all, nothing out of the ordinary, but at the same time, Apple’s competitors are positively freaking. RIM’s marketing person has departed the company ahead of the release of the Playbook tablet. Samsung appears to be admitting that their tablets have “inadequate parts,” and Motorola has a lot of explaining to do when they attempt to market a would-be iPad killer for a higher price.
As you might expect, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, it was all or mostly iPad 2 all the time. The Mac Observer’s John Martellaro joined us in a segment taped just hours after Apple’s media event, featuring Steve Jobs, where the iPad 2 was launched. Martellaro offered his initial reactions to the highly anticipated upgrade of Apple’s best-selling gadget.
From his home in France, author and commentator Kirk McElhearn delivered his reactions to the iPad 2 intro as well, along with a preliminary analysis of the newly-released iTunes 10.2.
Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, presented a reality check on how the iPad 2 stacks up against competing tablets. He also offered comments about Apple’s latest announcements covering the forthcoming Mac OS X Lion.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present cutting-edge interviews direct from the 2011 International UFO Congress in Fountain Hills/Scottsdale, Arizona. The lineup begins with Richard M. Dolan, who discusses the new book he co-authored with Bryce Zabel, “A.D. After Disclosure,” continues with UFO abduction researcher Kathleen Marden, and concludes with prolific paranormal author and investigator Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Coming March 13: Gene and Chris introduce John B. Alexander, Ph.D, author of “UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities.” He’ll discuss his ongoing research, and what the government knows and doesn’t know about the subject.
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.
Apple Inc. has a nasty habit of screwing up the timing of the tech industry. On the eve of the release of the highly anticipated iPad 2, other companies are still struggling to figure out how to build their first offerings. Some of the marketing plans are downright stupid, such as Motorola’s decision to sell the Xoom tablet in 3G form, with 32GB storage, for $70 more than a comparable iPad 2.
Does that make sense to you?
This state of affairs appears to turn the conventional wisdom that Apple charges more for their iconic gadgets on its ear. But that pretty much started when the first iPad was announced last year. The predictions had it that the new tablet would sell for $799 to $999, perhaps higher. The entry-level price of $499 was quite unexpected, and Apple has kept an identical pricing structure in place for the iPad 2.
In order to reduce the impact of the second version of the iPad, some industry critics have decided to use the bullet point approach. They will look at the specs of a competing product, and point out where Apple is, well, lacking. The number of megapixels of the built-in cameras are certainly ripe for criticism, although it’s also true that you’re probably not going to use a tablet computer to shoot pictures.
Certainly there’s not much room with which to criticize Apple’s A5 processor, with dual-cores, not to mention the promise of twice the performance and nine times the graphics speed. So they look at the RAM allotment, and there have, unfortunately, been two versions of the configuration. There was a quote of 256MB, same as last year, which was later denied. The guessing is that it’ll be 512MB, same as the iPhone 4, but you won’t know for sure until someone tears down the iPad 2 and catalogs the raw materials.
The other argument is whether Apple should have increased solid state storage. But it’s also true that those chips remain quite costly, and a 128GB iPad 2 would cost quite a bit more than its 64GB brethren. Remember that Apple was clearly constrained by the projected retail price. Clearly, with more and more competitors arriving, or still on the horizon, Apple had to keep the price the same as last year, while still earning decent profits. Shareholders have to be satisfied too.
Also consider that the competition still can’t match Apple’s prices, unless you opt for a service contract for 3G data. In the end, you wind up paying more. Apple promised they’d be aggressive in the iPad’s cost, and it’s clear to most observers they are doing just that. Billions of dollars are being invested in component purchases, which leaves, in essence, just the bread crumbs for the rest of the tablet builders.
More to the point, as iPad sales increase, the cost of assembling them is less. That’s the sort of economy of scale no competitor can match, unless they want to pull Microsoft’s usual stunt, which is to take a loss on each unit sold, hoping to make it back elsewhere. Maybe software sales?
But that isn’t guaranteed. There are very few apps available for Android OS tablets, and none for products that are, as yet, stillborn.
RIM certainly took a hit by announcing the Playbook tablet months before the planned release, and the recent resignation of the company’s marketing head, Keith Pardy, has to sting. Why would someone in that position, shepherding the launch of a critical product for a company, suddenly leave? Is it possible the whole campaign is falling apart at the seams? Worse, can RIM find a replacement soon enough to avoid serious collateral damage?
Just what sort of marketing scheme do they plan to use with the Playbook? Will it also run Android apps? And, if so, what incentive is there for developers to build apps for RIM’s own OS? Does any of this make sense to you? I don’t claim to be a marketing guru by any means, but it sure sounds inept to me.
The other question is what other companies are selling when they advertise a tablet? The iPad, and any iOS gadget, is all about the apps. Without apps, they are nothing but blank slates in need of a purpose. That’s a huge reason why the iMovie update, and the arrival of GarageBand on the iPad 2, are so significant. Suddenly a device supposedly designed mostly for consumption becomes a powerful creative tool. Maybe not as powerful as the apps you’ll find on a traditional Mac or PC, but give it time.
That’s a problem Apple encountered long ago with the Mac. The common complaint had it that there was no software for Macs, hence you had to buy a PC. It doesn’t matter that this allegation was largely untrue — except in the case of vertical apps that only came in Windows versions. Once the claim spread, buttressed by the lack of Mac software at many retail outlets, you just knew it had to be true.
With the iPad 2, there are over 65,000 apps optimized for the product. Close to 400,000 iOS apps are at the App Store. Yes, they aren’t all great, and the marketplace will decide how many survive and prosper. But you have a huge repertoire of powerful apps that will allow you to perform all sorts of tasks.
Gaming is a significant area. Where once upon a time, Macs were not too good for gaming, suddenly the situation is improving, no doubt influenced by the iOS and that legendary halo effect. With the addition of HDMI on the iPad 2 (and the accessory cable works on the original iPad, by the way, at 720p resolution rather than 1080p), gaming console makers have to be scared to death. If you can buy great games from the App Store for $5 to $10, a fraction of what you pay with traditional gaming hardware, what will become of the PlayStation, Xbox, and all the rest?
The iPad 2 is also going to move faster and faster into the business world. Already there’s a published report that Best Buy plans to deploy them to their in-store salespeople. Imagine someone who is looking for a tablet computer, perhaps examining a Motorola Xoom, and the salesperson comes over with iPad 2 in hand? The unkindest cut of all!
Yes, the critics and Apple’s competition will do all they can to bring the iPad 2 down to their level. But it doesn’t seem they have a ghost of a chance of succeeding.
Verizon Wireless and Motorola have made a big deal out of the “Droid” line of smartphones, which feature Google’s Android OS. That’s where the “Droid” label comes from, although the ads seldom mention Google’s involvement in the whole affair.
The ads you see are mostly knock-offs of the Transformers game and movie concept, living robotic creatures that will deliver a special experience to those who buy one, along with the requisite two-year carrier contract of course. The problem is that they seldom make clear just what the Droid does — or doesn’t — do.
Beyond Web browsing, which actually runs on Apple’s WebKit rendering engine, same as Google Chrome for the Mac and PC, email and a handful of other staples of a smartphone, where do you go from there? Well, I suppose, to the Android Marketplace, where they have 100,000 or so apps for you to download, and, in some cases, purchase.
Now 100,000 seems a mighty hefty figure. That’s a lot more choices than you get on the Mac, and probably more than a Windows PC nowadays. When the iOS App Store attained that level some time back, it was supposedly a big deal. How can you miss with such a rich app resource?
Well, the problem with the Android Marketplace is that it is, by and large, unmoderated. There are few restrictions on the apps you can submit and have posted, which means loads of ringtones and other downloads that barely approach the app category. While some iOS apps are available in Android versions, don’t depend on a similar rich selection of games and other powerful mobile apps. Indeed, it hasn’t even been demonstrated that big profits are to be made from Android.
The problems include fragmentation. There are loads and models from different makers that have an assortment of hardware configurations. These have to be taken into account when an app developer builds their software. Worse, there’s no guarantee that any individual Android smartphone owner will actually be able to get the latest and greatest operating system. That’s a decision dictated by the manufacturer, working with the carrier. If they don’t deploy an upgrade — even one that has severe security implications — you’re left out in the cold.
For the developer, it means that a fair number of potential customers won’t be able to take advantage of important features only recent OS versions support.
When it comes to security, there’s that story congratulating Google for quickly removing a bunch of malware-ridden apps. But that’s little more than closing the barn door after the cows have left. It still means that thousands of customers may have been impacted. The solution? Buy security software, shades of Windows!
Google wants you to believe that Apple’s curated app repository is a bad thing, since a third party is deciding which products will be made available. At the same time, that third party is busy making sure the apps they approve are safe, secure, and, within reason, perform the functions they promise to perform without crashing your smartphone.
If you’re a power user, maybe that doesn’t matter. Just download another app and get on with your life. But people who want their computing devices to just work deserve better.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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