MediaFile

How tablets can save the PC

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

‑ Winston Churchill

These are tough times for the personal computer: The 30-something device that everyone used to covet is being crowded out by younger objects of our affection. Time for a makeover.

Visionaries like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs started a revolution by imagining that computers — at the time, massive, room-filling machines that basically just did arithmetic — could become indispensable tools for the masses. PCs led to a world filled with powerful electronics we could take anywhere: Desktops became laptops, phones became mobile and then smart. And now there are tablets.

PCs aren’t going to disappear, but they are no longer the most important computer we use. Many people carry three computers now: smartphone, tablet and laptop. The laptop is becoming the one we use least. Even some of our enduring PC use is reflex and habit. If we lost the use of a laptop, would life grind to a halt? Not with all these other options.

PC sales had their worst quarter ever in the first three months of this year, down almost 14 percent over the same 2012 period and the first full quarter when computers shipped with Windows 8. Analyst Bob O’Donnell from top research firm IDC connected these dots. Per Yahoo News:

How Amazon used the Kindle to beat the odds

Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on PandoDaily.com. It is being reprinted with permission.

Whether you own one or not, you have to respect the Kindle. In the age of digital Darwinism – where perfectly good products and companies were brutally rendered extinct by superior species – the Kindle was the little e-reader that could, not only thriving in the age of tablets but even, in time, evolving into a multimedia device that took a bite of the market share for tablets.

The Kindle was never flashy. It lacked the sexiness of the iPad, offering instead pure functionality. Its design was bland and boxy, offering up a color spectrum that could be found in a dirty ashtray. It went on sale in 2007 for $399 and sold out in five hours. Skeptics thought this was just a small but fervent niche market of book lovers who fetishized the Kindle. But in time, the Kindle proved those skeptics wrong.

Amazon and the tablet market’s 7 / 10 split

Amazon is going where few have dared to tread, announcing a “full size” tablet that takes on Apple directly — and has the gall to be cheaper than the iPad. The tablet highway is littered with the remains of wannabe iPad killers from big hardware names — Motorola, Blackberry, Samsung. Even Google, whose Android software powers the Amazon tablets, didn’t bother to poke the Cupertino giant when it released its Nexus 7, choosing to make a tablet a smidge under two inches smaller than the iPad.

Amazon’s new large tablet, the 8.9-inch Fire HD, has a slightly smaller screen than the iPad’s 9.7 inches. But the entry-level price, announced today, is $300 — $200 less than the iPad equivalent, and only $100 more than the industry standard price for the new 7-inch interlopers, pioneered by Amazon.

Why bother overtly taking on Apple? Because Amazon can — and almost only Amazon can.

Google enters the tablet wars with a small, safe bet

Google took another bite at the hardware apple with the announcement Wednesday of the Nexus Seven tablet. The tablet, very wisely, is not looking to compete with Apple’s iPad – the indisputable leader — but rather the smaller, cheaper tablets from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Outside of the iPad monolith, the Kindle Fire and Nook Color have been the most competitive entrants (albeit modestly) since Apple created the market in 2010.

Google’s Nexus Seven is a safe bet and, especially given Microsoft’s (sort of) foray into tablets, not entirely unexpected from the search and advertising giant.

And that’s why Google is smart to go after a part of the market where Apple doesn’t compete — the iPad is a “full-sized” device of 9.5 inches that starts at $500. There’s no reason to believe Apple is interested in making a 7-inch model, a size the late Steve Jobs derided. But both Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet are 7-inch models that retail for $200, the same as Google’s Nexus Seven. By going after less-entrenched – but still huge! – companies, Google’s success doesn’t have to be measured against Apple’s. It can start small – literally – and see if it makes inroads against two companies still trying to make inroads themselves.

Scratching the Surface: When is a tablet not a tablet?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Microsoft’s huge announcement Monday that it was going into the consumer computer business is a turning point for the Redmond giant – a real gloves-off, damn-the-torpedoes moment. It’s also perhaps a grudging nod to Apple and Steve Jobs’s view that hardware and software need to develop together to get it right. Until now Microsoft has ceded hardware issues to other companies – Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, etc. Now it will compete with them.

But the notion that “The Surface” – Microsoft’s new tablet PC unveiled Monday but not expected on the market until the end of the year – will take on Apple’s iPad is misguided.

LinkedIn launches iPad app

Reaching people through mobile devices is one of LinkedIn’s key initiatives and yet, the networking site for job-seeking professionals never had a proper app for tablets.

 The number of LinkedIn members — all 150 million of them — who use mobile phones to access the site is growing at a fast clip. In Q1, LinkedIn  said that 22 percent of its traffic came from mobile devices, up from 15 percent in Q4 2011.

On Wednesday, LinkedIn finally rolled out an app for  iPads hoping to get more people to linger at the site longer.

The high costs of the cloud

How great is it that high-definition video is now portable? Thanks to cloud computing, superfast 4G networks and tablets with high-resolution screens, we can watch thousands of movies and TV shows in lush, beautiful clarity wherever we go.

In a way, that is pretty great, as the millions of people who have bought the new iPad with retina display and LTE connections have already seen. But in another way, it’s going to quickly become not so great: As hi-def video – or rather, the data bandwidth to deliver it – becomes a commodity for more people, that commodity will start to become much more expensive. Not just for consumers, but for the companies that will increasingly need more wireless spectrum and wired infrastructure to handle the surge in data demand.

Call it the curse of the cloud. The proliferation of online video services and portable devices to watch them on have added congestion to data networks even as wireless carriers impose fees on its biggest data users. According to Bytemobile, video accounted for half of all mobile data traffic in February, up from 40 percent only a year earlier.

Teardown experts crack open Apple’s new iPad

The electronics hardware experts at iFixit find themselves again in the spotlight as they crack open the latest iPad to see what chips, display and other components make it tick. Teardowns, as they’re called, are closely followed by investors betting on which companies supply components for consumer electronics devices like Apple’s massively iPads and iPhones.

iFixit sent its engineers to Australia, where they managed to buy one of the first new iPads to be sold, and — fueled by cans of Red Bull –  proceeded to crack it open with tools ranging from guitar picks (to pry open the cover) to “spudgers” (for poking and prodding at wires).

They’re live-blogging the entire affair, but so many people appear to be watching that iFixit’s webpage is responding very slowly.

A new iPad, the same iEthics

Several days after the launch of the new iPad 3, HD, or whatever it’s called, we all know about it’s blazing 4G capabilities, including its ability to be a hotspot, carrier permitting, of course. We know about its Retina display, which makes the painful, insufferable scourge of image pixelization a thing of the past. We know about Infinity Blade. We know that to pack all this in, Apple’s designers had to let out the new iPad’s aluminum waist to accommodate some unfortunate but really quite microscopic weight gain. We know the iPad’s battery life is still amazing, and its price point is altogether unchanged. We know Apple has adopted a cunning new strategy of putting the previous-generation iPad, as it did with the iPhone 4, on a sort of permanent sale, to scoop up the low end of the high-end market. (We wonder if this was Steve Jobs’s last decree or Tim Cook’s first.) We know a lot about the iPad.

But what we don’t know: How many of Foxconn’s nearly 100,000 employees will harm themselves, intentionally or inadvertently — or their families or loved ones — in the manufacture of it? And will the developed world ever acknowledge the dark side of these truly transformative technologies, like the iPad, or will we continue to tell ourselves fables to explain away the havoc our addictions wreak on the developing world? Is a device really magic if to pull a rabbit out of a hat, you have to kill a disappearing dove?

Those of us who have been technology journalists have long been subjected to the cult of Steve Jobs’s Apple, and those of us who are fans of technology are mostly well aware of the stark elegance and extreme usability — even the words seem inadequate — that come with using, let alone experiencing, Apple products. But the rumblings about Apple’s manufacturing processes started years ago, and the recent New York Times series on the ignobility of Foxconn as an employer blew a hole in the side of that particular ship of willful ignorance. Few Apple consumers can claim not to understand the human sacrifice behind their glowing screens — the death, diseases, exhaustion, mental and emotional stress, and superhuman expectations placed upon the workers who bring these magic devices to life. It’s not just in the papers — Mike Daisey’s This American Life podcast exposé on Foxconn and Apple is a mere click away, and most mainstream media have given at least passing coverage to the working conditions reflected in the Gorilla Glass on our devices.

Apple, the new iPad, and being ‘sanely great’

Sometimes it’s best to start with the obvious. The “new” iPad announced Wednesday will sell like mad when it goes on sale next Friday. So confident is Apple in what it isn’t calling the iPad 3 that it didn’t even bother to give it a special name. It’s just iPad, even though there is a first-generation iPad (a retronym, of course) and an iPad 2. When you’ve achieved one-name status — Bono, Cher, Liberace — you don’t give that up lightly.

The new iPad has a bunch of hardware and design upgrades that do make sense, even though the impetus for incorporating them may or may not have been to play catch-up with some Android tablets that nobody is buying.

It’s nice to see 4G make its first appearance on an Apple device — one wonders why this wasn’t possible on the iPhone 4S that came out not that terribly long ago. This exponentially better network standard isn’t widely available yet, but where it exists. it spoils you quickly.