The Tablet Is The Computer – Almost

July 1, 2011

Richard Raucci

The main tech topic for computer users at all levels today is the tablet – that ubiquitous portable device that will destroy the desktop market and become the only computer anyone will ever want, use, or need.

Everyone has a tablet

But is this for real?  Can the tablet adapt enough for the PC user marketplace to grab onto it solely, and kick their PCs and Macs to the curb?  It looks like it can – by forcing users to adapt to it.

The widespread adoption of the tablet started in early 2010, when Apple unleashed the iPad, and Android tablets hit the streets.  Until the iPad, the tablet hardware marketplace was a stratified mess – kludgy Windows PC tablets were the norm, and size and form factor were abominable.

Apple’s iPad held the idea that the OS from the phenomenally popular iPhone would be good enough for end-users in a tablet format.  They were right about that – the change in paradigm is broad, but the ease of use aspects are impossible to overlook.

Apple made the substantial innovation that a tablet forms the basis of an entirely new style of computer, by giving it a mobile-oriented OS.  This can be jarring to a user who’s used to a desktop OS, but on the other hand, it allows the tablet itself to be smaller and lighter than a scaled-down desktop tablet would be. In a way, 2010’s intro of the iPad is like the original intro of the Mac in 1984.

Original 1984 Macintosh

The first Mac was a transportable desktop, with a built-in handle, for a premium price.  It featured a point-and-click interface instead of a command-line PC interface, which was all you could get on other desktops and luggage-sized transportable PCs.

That first Mac required a paradigm shift for early computer users: you had to be able to accept that you were going to use a computer in a different kind of way, by using a Graphical User Interface, rather than a tedious text-based input system.  The Mac’s ease of use, non-threatening hardware, and novel GUI interface were light-years ahead of PC hardware and software.  This allowed the Mac to become a very popular computer, and changed the way PC software was developed, as well.  Graphical User Interfaces became the norm for computer systems, and people adapted to them.

You can have this one

or this one

In the same way, tablet OS software is changing to meet the needs of end users, and Apple is leading the pack.  The generational push in computing is being led by a company with a great deal of experience in user interface development.

Not that there aren’t snags – a tablet isn’t exactly a desktop replacement, yet.  Technology doesn’t exist that will allow a tablet to replicate a high-end desktop, in terms of components like blazing-fast CPUs and video chipsets, optical drives, expandability, and peripherals.

This gulf between a “real” desktop and a tablet is developing in two directions – in one direction, PC components are being taken out of a tablet, as manufacturers are slimming them down and streamlining them, in an effort to keep battery life up and increase portability.

In the other direction, tablet CPUs, video subsystems, and other integrated components are becoming faster and better performing, along the lines of Moore’s Law.  Competition between hardware manufacturers for the tablet marketplace also drives innovation and increased tablet capabilities – for example, the novel way of induction-charging the HP TouchPad.  Just drop it in, and it charges:

HP TouchPad Inductive Charger

Apple is also showing signs of understanding how tablet and desktop software and hardware have to merge.  The introduction of an HDMI cable – with a pass-through dock connector – shows that the idea of hooking your tablet to your desktop monitor hasn’t got past them.  This is the kind of hookup you’ll need to bypass that desktop entirely (currently, other laptops, like the Toshiba Thrive, have PC-style USB and HDMI already integrated).  And iWork apps designed for OS X have already been ported to iOS, and run quite well on the iPad.

HDMI video mirroring for iPad

Pages for iPad

HP’s webOS is another sign of how a non-PC OS can evolve into a tablet interface.  By leveraging Palm’s experience with handheld computing, webOS becomes a fantastically useful interface, with elements that are easier and more intuitive to use than iOS or Android.

HP TouchPad, running webOS 3

In Google/Android’s favor, however, is an open-source model that allows multiple hardware vendors (high-end, like Motorola and Samsung, to low end, like Coby and Pandigital) to crank out tablets in a dizzying array of models, with many price points way below Apple and HP.  As of July 2011, eBay has over 20 distinct Android tablet manufacturers with thousands of offerings listed, and over 2K listings from other non-specified tablet manufacturers.

Motorola Xoom Android Tablet

These competing vendors keep the hardware innovation moving right along – and Apple/HP can’t keep their hardware and software designs static, or they’ll fall behind.

That’s why Apple is making such an effort to make sure that the innovations in iOS 5 are novel and important, and will help users migrate not only to the cloud, but away from their desktops.  For example, iOS 5  will allow first time setup capabilities that won’t require a Mac or PC, and wireless innovations like video mirroring without the use of a cable.

It remains to be seen how tablets will evolve to compete with higher-end desktops ranging from gaming rigs with big screens to high-end laptops that have to run a full range of PC and Mac software to justify their existence.

But it seems clear that the lower-end and mid-range PC and Mac could go the way of the dodo, real soon now.

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A NEAR-AIR EXPERIENCE: Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2 Review

June 21, 2011

Logitech / ZAGG’s front shell / keyboard combo may be just what you need to turn your iPad 2 into a Macbook Air facsimile

iPad 2 with Logitech / ZAGG Keyboard Case

One of the more pressing issues in moving from a notebook/netbook to a tablet lies in what’s missing from your tablet computing experience. Tablet-style computers stress features like mobility and streamlined design over common notebook features like integrated keyboards and covers.

Consequently, you can spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out the best cover for your iPad, then wrestle with a pop-up on-screen keyboard that works well for short texting and tweets, but isn’t so great for a word processing / page layout program like Pages.

My own case fiasco began after I got my iPad 2; foregoing a Smart Cover until later, I picked up a third-party back cover, then the Smart Cover, only to find out that they didn’t like each other. If I used the back cover, the Smart Cover fell off. Later I found a back cover that works with the Smart Cover, but won ‘t work with the iPad 2 dock. So it goes.

But the real issue with the iPad – for me, at least – is in how the form factor of a notebook goes missing in the design. Sometimes the iPad display appears to be a detached screen, almost as if the lower half of the computer, the part with the keyboard, just isn’t there.

For traveling, I’m used to a small netbook; open it up, and it’s ready to go, keyboard and all. It’s hard to replicate that experience with the iPad and other tablets.

However, Logitech and ZAGG have come up with an interesting case design that takes a stab at addressing these issues. The Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 is a padded aluminum shell with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard. It holds the iPad face down in a snug grip, and pops up into a two-position keyboard stand for both portrait and landscape modes.

My $99 review model came in an unassuming box – Logitech and ZAGG can take a design cue from Apple, whose relatively high-priced peripherals at least come with interesting packaging. From looking at the box, you can’t even tell there’s a high-quality aluminum shell inside.

Box for the Keyboard Case

Opening the box up, I found the keyboard/case all in one piece, as well as a USB/microUSB charger cable for the case’s integrated battery and a set of transparent rubber feet for the bottom of the ZAGG shell. The charger cable worked well with Apple’s iPad 2 – USB charger, and/or you can plug it into a spare USB port on your computer.

The terse set of instructions didn’t help me set up the keyboard very well. The instruction sheet jumps into how to separate the iPad from the case, but there’s nothing that told me how to get it in (just line up the port cutouts and press it in firmly). To get it out, you have to apply a firm amount of pressure, but at least your iPad isn’t going anywhere once it’s engaged.

Once you remove it from the case, there’s a small stand that pops up to support the iPad in a portrait or landscape orientation.

It wasn’t apparent to me at first that the ZAGG case didn’t feature a way to keep the iPad connected as it flips up; this would have been a nice touch, and would have made the case work more like a netbook. As it works now, the iPad has to come clear of the case, then you have to set it down on the stand. This isn’t so hard when you’re sitting at a table or desk, but in a moving vehicle or when walking around, it can be a handful. It’s like having your screen and the bottom of your netbook come apart as a part of opening it up. Not good.

The other aspect of the disconnection between the Logitech Case and my iPad is that there’s no dock connector. True, the integrated Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t need one, but still, it would have been nice for the case to have a dock connector with a pass-through port that would allow you to charge the iPad while it’s in the stand. This type of design change would add a bit of length to the overall design of the case, and you’d need a way to rotate the iPad for portrait use, but it shouldn’t be impossible to do. (Note that in landscape mode, you can use a dock connector cable to attach to a power supply / computer while your iPad is in the Keyboard Case.)

On the positive side, pairing the keyboard to my iPad was a snap. Just make sure Bluetooth is on in the iPad’s Control Panel, then look for the Logitech keyboard to show up, and click on connect. You’ll get an access code for the case that you enter via the keyboard, and that’s it – the keyboard/case connects more or less permanently after this step.

Keyboard Layout

At the top of the case is a large padded bar, with the tilt stand located directly in the middle. It was a little tricky trying to unsnap the stand, and the instruction sheet didn’t give me a clue on how to do it, but I finally figured out that the stand comes hinged in two parts, and unfolds/locks into the front position.

Directly below that, to the left, is the case’s on/off switch, status lights for charging/Bluetooth and a Bluetooth connection button. Below that, on the keyboard itself, I found a set of dedicated iPad keys at the top left, like function keys on a full-scale keyboard. These allow you to access common functions like the Home and Search screens, the Virtual Keyboard, and a Slideshow; double-clicking on the Home button launches Multitasking view, where you can see your currently running apps. There are also helpful word processing keys for cut/copy/paste and undo/redo functions. To the right of these keys are a set of iTunes control keys, and a sleep/wake lock button. Added to the standard U.S.-layout keyboard, these keys went a long way to keeping my fingers on the keys, not on the screen, and increased the overall netbook experience.

The keyboard itself is a fairly good size, comparable to a netbook keyboard, and with the same type of mechanical design. Not too many complaints there, although the dedicated Apple keys (Control, Option and Command) are a bit cramped, and the lack of a escape (ESC) key is a hindrance.

In an informal speed test, I was able to shave a minute off a basic résumé editing task in Pages using the Logitech Keyboard. Editing the fields in the short Photo Résumé template document took around 2:30 with the physical keyboard, as opposed to 3:35 using the pop-up Virtual Keyboard included in the iPad iOS. At least for me, this shows that there’s a substantial benefit to having a detached keyboard, instead of one existing only in software that expects to share screen space with your app when you’re using it.

If you plan to switch between the Keyboard Case and the Virtual Keyboard for a test like this, or any other reason, be sure to first turn off the external keyboard or you’ll find that it is still active when the iPad isn’t in the stand. Of course, you can use this feature to access the iPad in another stand or dock, like any other Bluetooth keyboard.

Exposed iPad 2 back, as docked with the Keyboard Case

In terms of design style, the aluminum shell case works really well – it’s one of the few iPad accessories I’ve seen that seems to get the right look and feel. The deep padding protects the iPad well, and the sturdy metal construction helps the keyboard have the right solid base. The only issue lies in the exposed back – the iPad’s back area is open. It seems that an add-on ZAGG skin would go well here, although it would have been better to have something in the box that covered this issue, like the little rubber feet that come to protect the aluminum ZAGG side.

Another way to deal with the exposed iPad back is to use a sleeve case, like the Incase iPad 2 Neoprene Slip Sleeve Plus.  I found that the iPad / Case fit into it fairly well – the material stretches far enough, though it’s a tight fit – and the fluffy fake fur interior keeps both metal sides from being scratched.

Ipad 2 in the Keyboard Case, fitted into the Incase Neoprene Slip Sleeve

The only other design caveats I had are as mentioned earlier: this case seems jammed between being a real iPad/notebook adapter that would allow an iPad to rival a MacBook Air, and being just a stand with a keyboard addition. A little design rev would make this a killer product; as it stands now, it’s close, but not exactly right.

***

Tips:

You can set the Logitech Keyboard Case at an angle, using a paperback book or some other kind of prop (like a deck of cards). Slide the book under the back to get the tilt angle, being careful to watch the iPad’s center of gravity (so it doesn’t tip over).  This slight tilt puts the keyboard at a good angle for typing on a flat surface.

Keyboard tilt, using a paperback book

I was also able to position the tilt stand all the way back, so that my iPad sat it in at a sharper downward angle. This is good for using the keyboard and the iPad while standing. To do this, fold the stand together, then push it back against the back of the case, then set the iPad into the stand.

iPad tilt, using the stand in back position

***

Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2

Aluminum back shell with integrated stand / Bluetooth keyboard

1-year warranty

$99, at major retailers


MEEGO: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

May 24, 2011

Richard Raucci

At the recent MeeGo conference in San Francisco, the questions came thick and fast during the Q & A after the “Where Do We Go From Here?” conference closer. This session laid out Intel’s roadmap for the MeeGo platform.

Many of the developers in the room had serious questions about Intel’s plans for competition against Android, and their policies on open hardware and open-source hardware, as did I.

One of the first questions asked was about the main differences between MeeGo and the ever-popular Android platform.

Arjan Van de Ven

Arjan van de Ven, a Senior Engineer at Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, who ran the session, told the developers, “Try making an Android device – all of the paperwork and contracts between multiple hardware vendors, it’s very hard to figure out. With MeeGo, you don’t have to think about that – it just happens. There’s complete access to the Intel hardware reference platform to developers outside of Intel. We don’t even know who’s making this stuff – when the new WeTab tablet came out, we only found out after we read about it in magazines and on websites.”

“As opposed to Android, MeeGo is a business and professional platform, designed to scale across multiple devices. Right now, Android is basically for phones and tablets.”

Personally I found that hard to believe, especially with the upcoming Chromebook, not to mention Google TV.

Another topic was Intel’s position on transparency for software development. A commenter was concerned that Intel could keep whatever part of the OS it wanted to out of the hands of developers.

Van de Ven said, “We had to look at this carefully.  Originally the MeeGo OS was closed, but now it’s open. I prefer not to do it that way again.  The problem we had was that early OS development versions have a tendency to look unfinished. We didn’t want bad screenshots of it appearing in magazines and influencing people’s perceptions of MeeGo.”

This smacks of a near-totalitarian capacity on the part of Intel to control the OS based on faulty assumptions within the company. Keeping software closed and out of the hands of developers for months because you don’t want bad press?  That’s not right.

Van de Ven countered with “Believe me, I want the OS to be open, and we’re taking steps at Intel to make sure it’s open and in the hands of developers.”

He also told developers that Intel had to create an open architecture plan. “This is hard for us to do.  We’re struggling with it. Internally, there’s lots of opposition from inside Intel. But we’re working on it.  Currently, you have to submit an architecture proposal and do the development work yourself. But we’re committed to support that work as it connects to MeeGo.”

Confused yet? This is almost as confusing as how van de Ven described the Android hardware development process.

To try to clarify Intel’s open architecture plans for MeeGo, I met with van de Ven after the presentation and asked a series of hardware-related questions.

Q. It seems as if MeeGo has features of a “closed” hardware platform, like Apple, but with open-source software as its base.  How does that compete with Android, running open-source software on processors from multiple vendors?

A. MeeGo supports other hardware architectures – for example, it can run on AMD.

Q. But Intel won’t develop that support itself?

A. No, we won’t. Inside Intel, they’re still our competitors. But from a MeeGo standpoint, we will support developers for AMD.  And they can build on other developers’ efforts through open-source software and reuse that code.

Q. How does Intel plan to meet the challenge of MeeGo’s rapid-release capabilities, where a product like the WeTab comes to market in five months?  Are there plans to meet this rate of development for your hardware?

A. Intel releases new hardware all the time, with new capabilities and feature sets.  And this goes into the MeeGo reference platform directly, so that developers can access it.

It remains to be seen if Intel can navigate the open-source waters with the MeeGo project. They’ve made a good bit of progress on the open-source software side, but the open-architecture hardware side leaves a lot to be desired.

How open is a hardware platform if developers have to get a proposal approved by Intel to develop it?  Not very.  As long as Intel is the only one making the decisions whether to support an outside hardware project, that’s about as closed as it can get.  And that can strangle innovation, which is one clear way to lose the tablet wars.


Windows XO

February 23, 2009

A little further on getting Windows XP to run on my OLPC XO-1:

xoxp1

xoxp2


Windows XP Boot ON OLPC XO

February 10, 2009

The XP CD Install Boot isn’t working perfectly yet, but at least it’s trying:

img_00951

img_0096


Mac OS 9 on my XO OLPC

January 4, 2009

Pictures of my OLPC XO running Mac OS 9:

xomacos9-002

xomacos9-003

xomacos9-006


How To Run Mac OS 9 On Your OLPC XO

January 3, 2009

Running Mac OS 9 on your OLPC XO is a good way to have a Mac kind of experience with your little green laptop.

This guide is for XOs running Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid) from an SD card.

The software used to run Mac OS is SheepShaver, a PowerPC Macintosh emulator, capable of running up to Mac OS 9.0.4.

Find an Ubuntu version of SheepShaver here:

http://geekyschmidt.com/2008/09/06/sheepshaver-on-ubuntu

This is a .deb file; once you download it, double-click on it, and it will install.

Next you have to take care of an incompatible software library that can hang you up.  Run the following command in a Terminal window:

sudo ln -s /lib/libreadline.so.5 /lib/libreadline.so.4

After that, run this command to take care of a memory issue:

sudo sysctl -w vm.mmap_min_addr=0

To get sound output, run this command:

 sudo modprobe snd-pcm-oss

Next, get your Mac OS Rom and your Mac hard drive image ready.  See the links below for more information.

http://gwenole.beauchesne.info/en/projects/sheepshaver

http://www.redundantrobot.com/sheepshaver-tutorial/

Start SheepShaver.  This will load the config panel.  Set the hard drive path to your hard drive image.  Set the Video to 1024 X 768 Windowed.  Set the networking to slirp.  Set the ROM path to your Rom image, and set the memory to 64MB.

Hit Start, and you should start up in Mac OS 9:

Mac OS 9 on XO