iTone-Deaf

I hate to keep telling people I’m a big fan of Apple, just before I criticize them. For one thing, it sounds so fake; for another, it’s just not as true as it used to be.

Yes, at one time, almost every media device I owned had the Apple brand on it, and I was a happy camper. iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes, MacBook; you name it and I had an Apple device that did it. However, over the past few years, I drifted away from the Apple fold and discovered other devices and other platforms.

Yes, I’m talking about Android.

Do I believe Android is better than iOS? No – and yet, the Android operating system had made great strides. Let’s be clear – Apple basically invented the successful Tablet and mobile computing platforms. However, with Google Play and Amazon, the Android user can find most of the content of the Apple iTunes store (many times at a slightly lower price!). You can’t find much in the way of older content – those classic or, perhaps, cult classic movies and TV shows, but new movies are released in Google Play at the same time as on iTunes.

So why am I now criticizing the very platform and ecosystem to which I was so happily devoted? I have three basic reasons;

  • Failure to incorporate the Micro SD:
    • I have a 16GB Apple Mini Retina. It is a beautiful tablet, but after loading the ever-growing iOS and the default applications, I have 10.8GB left.
    • The average HD movie is approximately 4GB in size. For example, “The Avengers” weighs in at 5.93GB, “Big Hero 6” is 3.21GB, and “Les Miserables” wins the prize at 6.05GB.
    • I can load 2, perhaps 3 of these movies if I want to watch them away from the friendly confines of a wireless internet network (like when flying on an airplane). That leaves little space for music or other apps.

Without the ability to use a Micro SD expansion card, I’m stuck with loading a few movies, apps, and music files for my trips. Oh, I have a few other options; load the Standard Version (SD) movie format, which is far less in size, but then why buy a Retina display? I could use an expensive wireless hard drive, but the iPad won’t play iTunes purchases movies or music (Purchased MPEG-4 video and AAC music format – Apple proprietary) from such a drive – I’ve tried!  I could also buy an iPad with more memory – but that is another expensive option.

The iPad Mini 3 with 16GB of memory and a 2048×1536 resolution screen costs $399. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4” with the same 16GB of memory and a 2560×1600 resolution screen costs $349. It also has a Micro SD card slot that can handle up to a 64GB card. That’s 4 times the base memory, all available for content – no operating system files. Plus you can switch out the SD card – tailor a card with the content for specific moods or purposes and change them on the fly, accessible from the SD card slot on the side of the device.

Let me see – better resolution, the ability to add substantial memory (SD card prices have plummeted, a class 10 64GB SD card will now cost you less than $35), a growing ecosystem of movies, TV shows, and apps, and for less money! Hmmm, let me think about that one!

  • iTunes just keeps getting worse – I don’t know who designs iTunes, but he or she really doesn’t like me! The new interface with iTunes 12 (and now with 12.1) is confusing, frustrating, and is confusingly frustrating!

I work with computers every day and have for the last 25 or so years – I’ve even designed software interfaces. The rule of thumb is to make it simple to use. iTunes used to be, but someone sneaked into the kitchen and added needless complexity to the cookie dough.

The result is not user friendly; in fact is looks like someone us just trying to tick me off! Finding a movie or a song is more difficult than before. Why? Don’t look at me. And the competition is gaining. While Google Play or the Amazon Music store is not iTune’s equal, they are getting better. The apps still trail in number and quality – the most glaring proof is no Amazon Instant Prime app for Android (yet), but watch out, Apple. That sound you hear is their footsteps gaining on you.

  • Justifying the cost is getting more difficult: I know, I know, Apple is a premium brand and one must expect to pay more for a premium brand. However, have you looked at a Samsung Tablet, or the Amazon Fire HD? Others are producing high quality products that cost less and do more (re: my Micro SD rant).

With profits soaring through the roof and its bank account bursting at the seams, Apple is flying high right now. And while I fully support capitalism with all its warts and freckles, there is a limit to what people will continue to pay for a product not that much more advanced than the alternative. And while I am also not an Android acolyte, I enjoy seeing them succeed – competition is good for everyone.

Will Apple listen? The new larger-sized iPhone 6 proves that it can. With its superiority in hardware, operating system, and ecosystem fading, Apple needs to listen more.

When a Pebble is not a small thing…

It seems like everyone is rushing to create, design, manufacture, and market a “Smart” watch.  The GERD likes watches. He had one of those LCD watches back “In the day”.  You know the one you had to push the button to see the time.  So, the GERD’s been geeking on watches for some time.  In the last several years it’s been difficult to find a good digital (“less than Smart”) watch.  I define a good watch as one that has several time zones, a countdown timer, stopwatch, and a display that lists day and date; a nice look, comfortable band, and a size smaller than a dinner plate is also desired.

With the explosion of “Tiny Technology” in the last several years, the poor old watch was left behind.  Computers, tablets, music players, and Blue Tooth headsets have all grown in capability while shrinking in size.  Your average 7” tablet has far more computing power than the Apollo Capsule that took men to the moon.  Where is the technological evolution for the watch?

Enter the Pebble… an interesting name for a really big technological achievement.  Leveraging existing technology in an innovative package, the Pebble will push everyone else interested in claiming a piece of this growing market to be better.  I read about this new watch several months ago because it was a “crowd sourcing” effort.  The developers obtained the needed funding (within six days, the project had become the most funded project in the history of Kickstarter) and produced the first prototype.

Those who invested were the first to get the new product.  However, the “little Pebble that could” was beset by some initial difficulties – some failed to work at all.  The Pebble team kept working, making improvements and released its first mass produced version in Jan 2013.  In May 2013, the Pebble team released the full Software Development Kit (SDK) which allows third party developers to write programs for the Pebble – this is where the success or failure of this effort lies – without aggressive third-party app support the Pebble is a nice looking but expensive ($150) simplistic watch.

During a recent road trip the GERD got his Pebble on after a visit to a Best Buy near Malbis, Alabama.  Finding these little jewels at a store has been difficult – until recently Best Buy was the only retailer to carry them (AT&T recently announced they will start selling them as well).  You can get them online, but the GERD was hesitant to invest blindly in a new gadget with a history of problems.

I’ve been Pebbleing for several weeks now.  It has a great, easy to see and read display; setup was a snap and it linked to my Galaxy S3 without a hitch.  I love the alert – the watch vibrates (quite strongly) rather than making a sound for incoming emails, instant messages, clock alarms, or anything else you set up.  No sound to embarrass you in a crowd (like those annoying phone ringtones!)  Battery life is rated at 7 days between charges – I’ve seen nothing to dispute that although the GERD does tend to charge his gadgets frequently.

The Pebble downside:  It has a unique charging attachment, violating one of the GERD’s Gadget rules.  Don’t lose it or you will be buying another one.  The Pebble lacks of some basic watch functions; stopwatch, countdown timer, and multiple time zone support (although when linked by Blue Tooth to your Cell Phone it changes time as your phone does in new time zones; in a stand-alone mode, you have to manually change the time.)  Hopefully the third party app developers will come up with these functions, or the Pebble team will add them in a future software update.  Speaking of third party apps, at present there are only a few apps, my unscientific review found approximately 100.  Some of these are pure fluff (fancy watch faces), some relatively useful (Calendar, agenda, SMS list).  Go to the Google Play Store to look for yourself if you’re pondering a potential Pebble purchase.

Bottom line: I like my Pebble, but I want it to get better.  Pebble Developers – Add those basic watch functions and keep the third party app developers working nights and weekends and you just may show Apple and Sony a thing or two!

Did You Hear That?

There have been several technology bombs dropped in the past month or so. If you haven’t been paying attention, please allow me to summarize;

1. Amazon introduced a new line of Kindle products, including the very awesome Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ and 7″.

2. Apple introduced both the new iPhone 5 and the iOS 6, both also totally awesome.

I haven’t seen this many bombs since the last time I watched Saturday Night Live (well, those were just really lame jokes and we’re talking metaphorical bombs, but you get my point, I hope). The key here is that a little competition is finally taking place between Apple and Amazon.

While the original Kindle and Kindle Fire were fine products, there were some glaring shortcomings (limited, non-expandable hard drive space, no Bluetooth, etc). The new Kindle Fire HD’s memory is still not expandable, but has been bumped to 16 or 32 GB. Combined with the cloud storage available through the Amazon Prime service, this is very acceptable. The physical size of the 7″ Fire has always appealed to me; add the HD display, increased memory, terrific battery life, and the low price point of $199 or $249, and Amazon has me standing up and paying attention. $299 for the 8.9″ model is even more appealing. If i didn’t already own an iPad (or if I was independently wealthy) you would have to arrest me to keep me from buying one. I was very skeptical of their semi-Android operating system that acted primarily as a pathway to shop at their web site, but in practice this has proved a successful approach. I loath advertisements and the new Fire HD comes with advertisements (you can pay Amazon $15 to turn these off), but I find these unobtrusive and even sometimes helpful. I’m field testing my new 7″ Fire HD during my business trip to England this week. It makes an excellent tool to watch movies & TV shows, listen to music & audiobooks, and view the web.

Have I drunk the cool-aid? Has this Apple fan-boy defected to the other side? Do I ask questions on a blog site that no one can answer? No, no, and probably. The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 introductions that followed Amazon’s big day was just as impressive; I’ve not laid hands on the new iPhone yet, but by all reports it is a thing of beauty. iOS 6 is proving a good update (maps issue aside), and has made the existing iPhone 4S even better.

My point is not that Amazon is beating Apple or the other way around; my point is that the competition is getting closer, and that’s good for all of us tech-heads. The more Apple and Amazon compete, the better the products will get and the lower the price will be.

The next anticipated technology bomb to be dropped is the projected release of the new Apple Mini-iPad. IF this happens, pay particular attention to the price. I bet a friend of mine a soda of his choice that the price of a basic mini-iPad will be less than $250. Actually, I believe it will be $199 or close to it. Why? To compete with both the hardware specs and price point established by Amazon. Did you hear that? To compete with an established product – something Apple has not needed to do for some time – never in the field of tablets.

I think Apple will drop a sizable weapon for mass distribution when it introduces the mini-iPad. Apple will feel the need to compete and when highly successful, very competitive companies like Apple and Amazon compete head to head, we are the ones who win. Stand by, the fuze on that next technological bomb is ticking…..

Apple or Android – I’ve used both

The GERD loves a good discussion amongst those who disagree (read: argument), as long as it’s done with respect to all involved (that leaves out Politics!).  Few subjects inspire such a heated discussion as Apple versus Android.  “I have an iPhone, I have a Droid“, how about having a cool drink and sitting in the shade for a moment!

For the purpose of simplicity, let’s limit this discussion to media devices and phones. Having used the iPhone, the HTC EVO, iPads, and Ice Cream Sandwich-equipped tablets, allow me to say something very pithy, very wise, very GERD-like.  What’s the big deal? (sounds very Jeffersonian, doesn’t it?)  As is almost always the case, it comes down to what YOU like best.  Apple is a very mature system.  For phones and tablets the operating system (iOS 5, soon to be iOS 6) works very well.  Apple’s innovative App Store is a terrific place to find tested and approved applications that are low cost and, in most cases, very useful.  Updating the operating system is effortless, as is updating the apps.  iTunes is great – music and movies and TV shows (oh my!).  Apple set the standard that everyone else is trying to copy (sorry Samsung, didn’t mean to use the word “copy“).

I’ve used Apple products, iPods mostly, since 2003.  In the last few years I’ve graduated to iPads, iPhones, and my Apple Mini (a superb mid-level computer).  I like Apple products – some may call me a “fanboy” (term used to describe “a passionate advocate and promoter for Apple operating systems and hardware”), but I like things that work.

But wait, I also used the HTC EVO for 2 years, and liked it!  I have and use the Asus EEE Pad TF-101 (I love the optional docking keyboard – I wish Apple made one for the iPad).  I have a Samsung Galaxy Player (the big 5″ one), and it’s a great media device.

While Apple may be compared to a buttoned-down solid-colored shirt that looks great with a striped tie, Android is that comfortable pull over that looks really cool with jeans and an old pair of sneakers.  You have to work a little harder with Android devices – updating is not easy.  The Google Play Store has matured in look and content.  However, you can find, shall we say, suspicious-looking apps (“Pocket Girlfriend”? Really?).  If that’s what you want, oh well.

Bottom line: For media players and phones, the inexperienced user should stick with the Apple iPhone and iPods.  They are easier to use, update, and understand.  A drawback is that any song purchased on iTunes is in a protected format (AAC) that only works on Apple devices.  You can convert them to MP3 format, but not easily.  However, if you stick with those Apple devices, you’ll have no worries.  If you are more experienced, or more adventurous, you can be very happy with an Android phone and/or media device.  As I have already said, it comes down to what YOU like best.  After all, we still live in a semi-free country!

ImageNext Time: Why didn’t the GERD get the New iPad?