My life with the iPad Kult

For Christmas this year, Santa brought me a collection of gift-cards which I was able to launder into a nice subsidy on an iPad2. The iPad is the only iOS device I have ever owned, and being a primarily Windows/Android/Linux type of guy, I am normally fairly resistant to its charms. I also have a lot of tech gear, so there aren’t a lot of niches left for the iPad to fill, but in spite of all that, I still really like it. It’s a genuinely cool, handy device, but the price I paid for it makes me feel like I critically failed a saving throw and my wallet took double damage as a result.

The thing I like most about the iPad is its portability. The screen is big enough to surf most real websites without lots of infuriating side scrolling, but small enough that I can take it with me just about everywhere I go without feeling stupid if I never get the chance to use it. There are occasional random javascript problems with the browser (like the T-Mobile prepaid website) but since I live 75% of my life within arms’ reach of a windows desktop or laptop, it’s not that big of a deal. I often take my laptop or notebook with me when I go out of town and if the need to use it doesn’t pop up, I feel like I wasted some of my energy. It doesn’t fit in a cargo pants pocket the way that my OG Nook did, but it will fit nicely into any bag or pocket that you can fit a standard sized magazine in. I carry a backpack or messenger bag with me to school and to work, which is roughly 75% of the waking hours I spend away from home, and the iPad hardly takes up any space at all. Carrying my iPad around the remaining 25% of the time requires the use of a murse, but I have found that an infants’ diaper bag can be a handy disguise [assuming you have an infant with you to justify the bag] thereby reducing my murse-time (mursing?) to something like 10-15% of the time. I am secure enough in my masculinity to carry a murse 10% of the time without feeling that I need to explain myself.

In my book, an iPad is not a replacement for a netbook or laptop, period. However, it should be noted that there is no netbook in the Apple world. Size-wise, my dedicated-to-schoolwork-netbook is roughly equal in length and width, but the netbook is a lot thicker, and weighs like a couple of pounds more. In fact, I keep my school netbook in an iPad case that is clipped to the outside of my backpack. The battery life is better than any laptop I’ve ever used, but not as good as my OG Nook. So if you want to carry just one gadget that does anything that you can name, save yourself a couple hundred bucks and buy a netbook.

It is very apparent that Apple does not want the iPad to compete with the iPhone, because while there are a ton of VOIP apps for the iPad, I have yet to find an application that will allow the iPad to ring when there is an incoming call, and put up a prompt for me to answer it, like every VOIP app ever made. The Google Voice iPhone app is great for managing text messages and voice mail since the interface is very similar to the GV website, but the iPad app does not make outgoing calls. Talkatone for the iPad will do outgoing calls over wifi, but has a terrible interface for messaging. Talkatone will “ring” when I get an incoming call, but I have yet to successfully answer one. Both apps will register a missed call.

UPDATE: I figured out the issue with Talkatone, the answer dialog looks exactly like the “slide to unlock” dialog. Also I turn the sound off a lot, which is bad for a speakerphone.

Calling on my iPad is kind of a big deal in a couple of situations, because I use Google Voice so that I don’t have to keep my mobile with me 24×7. I do this as part of my Dream Phone initiative. On the PC, voice calling was trivial, and text messaging was a problem until I ported my mobile number over to GV. On the iPad, the reverse is true. I hate sitting at a my work or home PC with a 3 screens and a 104 key keyboard, and pausing a game/movie/work to fish my phone out of my pocket to answer a text. Often when I’m at home, my phone is plugged in and sitting by my bed or sitting in the the bin that I throw all the stuff from my pockets in to, rather than at arms’ reach. With GV I can take calls and texts on my PC, and have calls forwarded to my home or work phone, which is handy when I leave my phone at home. It would be nice to have calls ring my iPad as well, but so far I haven’t found the right app for that.

An unexpected benefit for me is using the iPad to play games. The touch interface is great for tower defense games, but the hidden “wow” factor for games has been playing iPad-ified versions of board games like “ticket to ride” and “small world“. Both iPad games have “play and pass” modes where two people can play on one iPad, and ticket to ride has an internet multiplayer option, and a “local” option for two or more iPads to play via bluetooth. I highly recommend learning to play these games alone on your iPad, and then playing the physical board games with real people.

Playing touch-screen electronic versions of tabletop games has helped me realize the value of a large-scale multi-touch surface for gaming. When I saw early demos of Microsoft’s Surface interface, the only killer app I could see in it was playing the ultimate game of Dungeons and Dragons. Watch the video to the right when they put their Redbull cans on the table (around 2:20) and imagine having that stuff available for your miniatures :-)

I like the device a lot, but it’s not perfect. My beef with the iPad is that while it does the best imaginable job of the things that Apple intended for it to do, it does a terrible job of some of the things that I want it to do. Because I am one of those dirty hippies that believes in consumer rights, I want the device that I traded all of my Christmas presents for to do what I want it to do.

I am not positive that an Android tablet would be too much different. After all, Google had to get into bed with the mobile operators as well to be allowed onto their networks just like Apple did. The buyer should just be aware that the iPad is not a general purpose computer, like a PC. It’s an appliance, like a mobile phone, and should not be expected to do whatever random thing that you can write software for it to do. I suspect that this “restrictive specificity” is endemic to the tablet platform. It probably occurs on Android and WebOS, and will probably creep up on Windows8/surface tabs as well. The market for general purpose computers is pretty competitive, and the margins on over-designed appliances are probably better. This desire to protect margins is why there is a war going on against general purpose computing:

Today we have marketing departments that say things such as “we don’t need computers, we need appliances. Make me a computer that doesn’t run every program, just a program that does this specialized task, like streaming audio, or routing packets, or playing Xbox games, and make sure it doesn’t run programs that I haven’t authorized that might undermine our profits.”

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable idea: a program that does one specialized task. After all, we can put an electric motor in a blender, and we can install a motor in a dishwasher, and we don’t worry if it’s still possible to run a dishwashing program in a blender. But that’s not what we do when we turn a computer into an appliance. We’re not making a computer that runs only the “appliance” app; we’re taking a computer that can run every program, then using a combination of rootkits, spyware, and code-signing to prevent the user from knowing which processes are running, from installing her own software, and from terminating processes that she doesn’t want. In other words, an appliance is not a stripped-down computer—it is a fully functional computer with spyware on it out of the box.

We don’t know how to build a general-purpose computer that is capable of running any program except for some program that we don’t like, is prohibited by law, or which loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware: a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user’s knowledge, or over the objection of the computer’s owner. Digital rights management always converges on malware.

apple wants control of your textbooks

this article about the stir that apple has created over high school textbooks is amusing in that it’s much ado about something that has already played out with movies and music.

the author has a valid concern over apple serving as a gatekeeper to education:

Apple’s vision is a walled garden that offers a carefully curated experience to those willing to lock themselves into it. It will be shiny and beautiful, but education will be a commodity and Apple the company through which we will consume it.

however, the author concern fails to take into account the “invisible foot of piracy”. unlike the invisible hand of the market that keeps things going, the invisible foot kicks people and corporations who attempt to wield too much control.

prior to receiving my first e-reader, i had read a couple of books on a computer screen, and a few more on my phone. after receiving my original nook, i jumped into ebook piracy with both feet. this is why the apple lock down just isn’t a big deal. people don’t need apple hardware to access apple controlled education because digital goods are so easy to pirate. this quality is known in economic terms as excludability. excludability is the ability to keep people from benefiting from something without paying. digital content is by nature non-excludable. as a matter fact, i kind of hope that apple succeeds in locking people out of the education system, because that will make pirates like me even more valuable than we already are.

after two attempts at college, and three course corrections during my second attempt, i can say with conviction that education can be adversarial to people who are not on what the educational establishment considers to be the optimal trajectory. for folks like me, who missed the opportunity to go to college right out of high school, you are basically fighting the college for the right to succeed.

having digital access to course materials and text books, be they legitimately obtained or pirated, is of tremendous value to a student fighting to succeed. thanks to filthy scumm pirates, apple will never be able to wield total control over access to those materials.

more itunes induced panic

itunes causes a lot of panic in my social circle.

being the only tech support person for my family, i am often called upon to solve problems that are beyond my skill to heal. today’s problem involves the syncing of itunes to a new PC, when the old PC is no more. the hope is to take the music from an ipod touch, and add it in to itunes. the problem of course, is that itunes wants to erase what’s on the ipod, and replace it with what’s on the PC, which is nothing.

i had a sneaking suspicion that all was lost, since most consumer devices that facilitate ripping a CD (like the original xbox) almost never let you move the files to another device. apple had to suck so much RIAA cock to allow itunes to exist in the first place, they are basically required by law to screw their consumers when it comes to transferring devices.

i turned to google for assistance, and the first search result is an apple fanboy/shill trying to stay on-message while he tells a new user that he’s completely fucked:

first comes the butthurt:

followed by the “it’s not a bug… you just don’t know what you are talking about” response:
proper fucked!

also, no one makes backups. ever. just sayin’.

and when i look at the “more like this” box, it’s full of people who have the same problem:
everyone loves the old in-out-in-out

apple is a big company, supposedly bigger than microsoft, and big enough to have it’s own private police force. surely they can stand up to the RIAA and tell them how it is, but alas, i guess not. too bad for their consumers.

i had to download a utility to be able to copy the files off, which all have randomly generated names. thankfully i know script-fu, but what about the people who don’t? what happens to them?

if you having snycing problems i feel bad for you son, i got 99 problems, but playing my pirated shit on my player of choice ain’t one.

how to get a +4 to saving throws vs. tablet temptation

i am kind of a gadget freak. i do like them, and i do often consider buying them, but i don’t always give in to temptation.

some gadgets i dearly love (my droid, my nook), and some i get burned on (celio redfly, nokia n810). everytime one comes out, i hold out for as long as i can, usually until the price comes down below $200, and/or when there’s a great hack that adds tremendous functionality to the device (like the original xbox).

when it comes to tablets like the ipad or various android varieties, i have trouble getting past the price tag. they are basically double the price of a netbook, and while they offer a significant increase in battery life, they do so at the price of running a lot of software. but for some reason, people love tablets, and i’m asking myself “what am i missing?”

i do have a 1st generation (classic?) nook e-reader, and i really like the screen, but i dearly love the battery life. it goes for days on end between charges (especially in airplane mode). having a device that lasted several days on a charge would be really great.

the ipad looks awesome, no doubt about it. it’s larger than a phone, so presumably it will have a bigger battery that will last longer. however, just like googleTV, i just don’t think the ipad is $500 worth of awesome. extra battery life and a better screen just don’t seem to be that big of a deal, especially when i can get a nice laptop for the same price, or pay half that for a netbook.

a debate about tablets and smart phone broke out among my friends on google+ and my friend craig pointed out that in the apple universe, there is no cheap laptop or netbook, therefore an ipad is a real value.

for the rest of us, (or at least for me) not so much. the gap between smart phone and netbook isn’t so severe as to merit the cost of a tablet. learning this felt like getting a +4 willpower bonus to my saving throw. if you are wondering what all the fuss is about with tablets, there you are :-)

itunes fail leads to frantic facebook post

a facebook friend of mine got locked out of her music because itunes decided that she was no longer authorized.

ZOMG ituenz fail!!1!

this is exibit A in the case of pirated digital content being a superior product when compared to downloads which are mired in DRM and other central management crud.

(i am not the chris who replied. i wouldn’t know how to use itunes if you put a gun to my head)

california police are apple’s private army

so some engineer at apple lost his phone, which just happened to be a prototype of the iphone 4.

apple responded by sending the police to kick jason chen’s door in and take all of his shit.

the story breaks down like this: gizmodo acquired the phone, then published a bunch of stuff about it, apple asked for the phone back, gizmodo complied, and then apple turned around and sent the cops to wreak havoc, presumably as punishment for leaking news on the jesus phone. i already pretty much hate apple because of their love affair with control of the iPlatform, but this gestapo bullshit cinches it.

also, if you aren’t using block level crypto on your laptops and servers, now is the time to start. srsly.

so the burning question for me is, how can apple do this? why do the cops just do what apple tells them? don’t people who publish news have protections under that pesky little document called the constitution?