Friday, 29 January 2010

You could argue that one shouldn’t complain about a product before it lands in your hot little hands, but a common theme over the past few days among the pundits on the web has been the newly-announced iPad and it’s apparent lack of openness. as Alex Payne comments, “Apple has decided that openness is not a quality that’s necessary in a personal computer. That’s disturbing.”

While I think the iPad is a cool device, and that it will be useful, and that I will likely buy one… I have to agree with Alex. He’s right. That’s an interesting and complicated place to be: I want to and probably will use an iPad to do good things, and make valuable use of it. But there’s a big part of me that won’t like it too much.

The risks of closed platforms have been debated for some time, in many venues and over a variety of companies, platforms and systems. Lots of catchy terms like “walled garden” and “black box” are used to describe essentially one thing: Vendor-provided ecosystems that you can only interact with they way the vendor allows you to.

It’s why the iPhone “hacking” community has been so active, and so popular. Everywhere I see teenagers and aducts with iPhones that have been “jailbroken” so they could run third party apps and get around Apple-instituted limitations, or unlocked so they could drop in a T-Mobile SIM card. The numbers are staggering when you look at how many iPhones have been modified. And I think we all know that the same community will step up and take the same approach with the iPad. After all, “it’s just a big iPod touch,” as they say. Well, whether you look at it that way or not, the software is a common denominator for sure.

Apple needs to step up and find a way to work their garden so the walls can at least be lower. There must be a healthy balance between truly closed, which is what we have today. Apps can’t be installed on the iPhone unless Apple sells and approves then (unless you jailbreak your device). Allow multitasking and background application activity, in the very least. Some restrictions are simply unacceptable.

The closed nature of the device – and I call it that purposefully – foretells the possible future, one where consumer devices replace computing systems. The iPad may have a computer chip in it, but so do my clock radio and televisions, and those are devices – not computers. If I can’t have unfettered access to the computer, it’s a device in my mind. When I was a kid we used to get into the guts of the computer, physically and programming-wise. We were able to make them do whatever our little hearts desired. That might be something good or bad, smart or stupid, broken or functional. But we learned and we created, we discovered and we built.

The iPad is a design feat (with a fat bezel, but still a cool design). The OS is another design usability marvel. The ecosystem built around the devices is popular, usable and works. But it stifles creativity, choice, flexibility. Are we at another of these inflection points, where things like common-person usability and “it just works” are acceptable trade-offs for flexibility and capability?

My hope is that Apple will step up to the plate and make some hard choices that benefit their customers’ bigger-picture needs. It’s the right thing to do, and would add some traction to what otherwise appears to be a deceptively  slippery slope. I can envision a software switch (which would be set to the “safest” mode by default) that a device user could manipulate to “lower the garden walls” electronically as a matter of choice, with the potential consequences clearly spelled out (and I should point out that this would be a useful enterprise capability as well, should they wish to properly and securely enter that space someday).

Choice. What a concept.

Ready – Set – Comment.



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Apple | Mobile | Tech | Things that Suck
Friday, 29 January 2010 11:38:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Apple is taking the covers off a new “tablet” style device today – called the iPad (link to Apple’s new product site, with video) - in a much-hyped announcement. I rely on my iPhone in so many different ways nowadays that I have a hard time thinking what work and life would be like without it. I could manage just fine, but things would change substantially.

One of the things I do a lot with my iPhone is pilot-related. I have a number of apps on the iPhone that I use to help me look at aviation weather, airport information and diagrams, radar images, current wind and weather conditions, electronic charts, and a whole lot more.

iphone-ipad But the iPhone is a small screen for a lot of the information. Much like small GPS devices in the cockpit are convenient yet too small to offer the best experience, the iPhone doesn’t provide the best format for some content.

Here are the iPhone aviation and pilot apps I use most often:

  • ForeFlight Mobile – worth every penny and more, this is an amazing app for planning flight, filing your flight plan, lot of maps (VFR/IFR/street/weather/clouds), electronic airport information, weather info to the max (including closest station winds aloft) and much much much more.
  • CoPilot – I use it mostly for the terrific weight and balance calculator and graphing portion of the app. Also for some speed/distance/fuel/etc. calculations (all of which I always verify manually). If ForeFlight had all this included, it would be terrific.
  • AeroWeather – Probably the app I run most often. One tap on the screen and I have an instant one-screen view (very well laid-out) of the weather situation at each airport I care about, arranged the way I want.
  • TWC (The Weather Channel) – Not an aviation app, but it has a good 10-day view of the weather that tends to show the most pessimistic look at what’s forecasted, which is nice for pilots. We need an aviation-specific app with a long-term view like this one has (within reasonable predication limits).

http://c0581892.cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/apple-tablet-keynote_033.jpg

Enter the Apple iPad. Half and inch thick, 1.5 pounds and a 9.7-inch display. And it can run ALL iPhone apps out of the box, pixel for pixel with a border, or via pixel doubling in full-screen mode. A new SDK lets app developers take full advantage of the screen real estate and resolution.

And, there’s 3G service for $14.99/month for 250MB of data, or $29.99 for unlimited data - from AT&T. Free AT&T WiFi hotspot use with those accounts, too. But, the iPad 3G models are unlocked, so choose your GSM carrier. Prices for iPads start at $499 for a 16GB WiFi only model (with options of 32GB and 64GB storage), and 3G models for $629, $729 and $829. WiFi models available in 60 days, and 3G versions in 90 days.

Now, granted I am predicting the future a bit here, but hopefully ForeFlight and a few other iPhone apps on the new tablet will – assuming they all take advantage of the new display capabilities in updates – be the most perfect in-between device option for the private pilot.

Grab a copy of the latest AFD as an eBook? There’s an app for that.

I can even imagine Garmin or some other aviation GPS software/hardware maker offering a iPad app for sale, rather than selling a device with the software. The possibilities for flying – after accounting for very necessary safety and quality requirements - are great.

Anyone else think they might want an iPad for their aircraft cockpit?



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Apple | Mobile | Tech
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 11:46:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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