I have held back,until now, in commenting on Apple’s recent launch of the iPad. One thing you have to give credit to Apple for is building the tension, I hesitate to say hype, prior to a launch. Most technology companies are happy to have journalists review prototypes over several months which dilutes the impact when the final version is launched. Apple managed to release just enough titbits to make us hungry for information at the launch.
It is fair to say that the iPad has been a disappointment. It is missing an OLED screen, a built-in projector, web-cam, microphone USB ports, HDMI, SD card slot, a SIM card slot and of course replacement battery. Some of these will be provided, but at extra cost using adaptors. Some of you will immediately cry that all those ports would go counter to its slim, attractive design. However, many others, myself included, will decry the fact that Apple have again produced a device clearly part of their locked-down platform strategy. Equally frustrating is the lack of support for Adobe Flash, which will mean that it will not be able to work with some websites, but most importantly it will not allow multi-tasking. So if you are used to streaming music whilst working, or even doing downloads in the background – forget it.
Apple have not created a ‘new’ type of device – as was hoped for. It is not the killer device which would define how we would enter the cloud era. However, it may attract new buyers who have not yet owned a laptop or netbook, and once they use the iPad they are unlikely to ever purchase a conventional laptop. As Apple has not yet released any iPads for review or produced iPad apps perhaps we are jumping the gun a little, or are we just disappointed at a missed opportunity?
It will function as an eBook reader, challenging the Kindle (at least in the USA). Perhaps this is in order to exploit another revenue stream with its new e-book service, very unimaginatively called iBooks. As their iPod, in its various guises, now account for more than 70% of the global sales of MP3 players, books will be a useful addition to music. It has also been suggested, but not by Apple, that this will mean the end of the iTouch. The iPad is priced close to the iTouch, but includes a significantly larger screen and a number of new features.
There are other innovative devices worthy of consideration. The Kohjinsha DZ dual screen netbook is one. At first glance it looks like a conventional 10″ netbook, until you grasp the screen and slide out the second 10″ screen behind it – very impressive. You might also check the Archos 7 tablet, running on Android – a device which is the antithesis of the locked-down, do-it-my-way, iPad. Microsoft are currently working with HP on their rival, called the Slate. Would I buy an iPad? No, at least not in its first iteration. I will also wait to see what other manufacturers produce.
It is always said that the best ideas are the simple ones. Well here is a very simple idea which meets the needs of any of us with two or three small devices which need charging. There have been a number of gadgets released recently which try to address this problem. This one, the IDAPT, is elegant. Unlike others, there is no need to fit any of the devices with special adapters.
As you can see from the picture, it is a single unit, on to which up to three devices can be attached in order to charge them, using a single cord. Each of the three charging points are interchangeable modules (they call them ‘tips’), and can be used to charge phones, satnavs, MP3 players, hand-held games consoles and even just to charge AA/AAA batteries. It is
also available with generic DC, micro-USB and mini-USB tips.
The range of interchangeable tips are compatible with over 3,500 devices (Apple, Garmin, Blackberry, Sony, Nintendo, etc ). The unit is supplied with six different tips, and additional tips can be purchased. The IDAPT itself costs as little as £30, with additional tips in the region of £6 each. I like this idea very much, but I am disappointed that we have yet another gadget prefixed with the letter ‘i’ . See the video in my Vodpod section.
3D television was a significant feature of the recent CES. However, I think that it is too early for wide adoption of these devices. There are three fundamental reasons.
Many people have in recent years dispensed with their CRT televisions and purchased LCD or Plasma flat-screen TVs. Apart from those who have to posses the latest in home entertainment, these TVs are due to last seven to ten years before needing replacement. The second reason is that although the 3D version of your flat-screen TV is about 15% more, you have to buy the glasses to go with them. You will be unable to use the 3D glasses you recently acquired on your visit to the local cinema. These panels require micro-shutter glasses to work with the polarising output from the panel. As these will cost about £125 ($200) a pair, then a new 3D TV for a family of four will be the price of the TV plus £500. What will you do when you have visitors? The third reason is the software. We are still awaiting for the majority of broadcasting to be in High Definition. I think it unlikely that broadcasters are going to consider adding the expense of 3D broadcasting – although some of the coverage of the London Olympics will be in 3D.
I have just read that SKY TV in the UK are launching a service to include 1 Premiership football game a week. A demo of the technology will take place in selected venues in the UK on Sunday 31st Jan. The event will mark the first time any TV company in the world has broadcast a live 3D TV sports event to a public audience.
One manufacturer, Samsung, is pushing ahead. “Recently, 3D displays have captured the industry spotlight,” said Wonkie Chang, president of the LCD Business at Samsung Electronics. “Samsung Electronics aims to lead the global 3D TV panel market in pioneering panel mass production for 3D LED and LCD TVs.” I think that Mr Chang has jumped the gun on this one.
Telecoms companies often tout the statistic that their mobile phone coverage is x% of the population. What about the 100-x% of the population, typically 4% in the UK, who do not get coverage? There is a larger percentage who do not get 3g coverage. However, help may be at hand. The UK company picoChip recently launched their femtocell solution at CES.
Basically, femtocells are mobile phone base stations. They employ specialist microchips to boost a mobile phone signal, by piggybacking on a user’s broadband connection. The devices also route mobile phone calls wirelessly.
There are three types of femtocells. The one which is of interest to most of us is known as a Class 1 femtocell. This class of femtocell devices are aimed at private and small business users, with between four to eight users. They are about the same size as a small book, and work simply by being plugged into your ethernet and a mains power source, rather like a wi-fi device, to amplify reception within a 50-yard radius. They work with existing phones. Some of the UK mobile phone service providers are giving them away free, depending on the type of contract you have. I hope to get a femtocell soon, as I live in a rural area with little or no signal, and will report back on my experience.
Nasa have just unveiled a plane they have called the Puffin (I have avoided the obvious jokes). It was announced at an American Helicopter Society meeting in San Francisco. The word helicopter gives you a clue – as it is capable of hovering. The statistics for this single-person mode of transport are that it is 12 feet high, has a wingspan of 13.5 feet, theoretically can cruise at 150 miles per hour and it is suggested reach speeds of more like 300 miles per hour. Some have suggested that it is akin to an Iron Man outfit, as in the recent movie. However, this one is electric rather than rocket propelled.
The ‘cockpit’ is made from carbon composites, weighing 135 kgs, but in addition another 45kgs is accounted for by the lithium phosphate batteries. These are described as state of the art (expensive) and provide a range of about 80 km (50 miles). Initially, no doubt, the target market is covert military operations and so it may be some time before it sees the light of day in the domestic market. See the vodpod on this page for a news broadcast from ABC covering the story.
The move to digital entertainment, often downloaded for personal consumption, and the fact that we are broadcasting less across the airwaves is having an unexpected consequence. The founder, some fifty years ago, of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Dr. Frank Drake, states that the level of radio transmissions from our planet is making it almost invisible to others who are searching for intelligent life in our galaxy. He states that the earth used to be surrounded by ‘a shell of radiation, some 50 light years wide, made up of our radio and television transmissions from the last half century. With more and more transmissions arriving to us by cable and the web, and with satellites pointing their beams directly at the surface of the planet, very little radiation is escaping in to the cosmos.
Digital signals are weaker than their older analogue counterparts, and it was suggested that the transmission has fallen from about one million watts to about two watts (little more than that from a mobile phone). Meanwhile, all the episodes of Coronation Street are moving at the speed of light towards other civilisations. I hope they are suitably impressed. We have always hoped that any advanced civilisations out there will be benign and ready to share the wealth of their knowledge with us. If it proves not to be the case, we may be grateful that our move to digital is making us invisible.