The (Increasingly Plausible) Miraculous Engadget (and Gizmodo) iPhone 4G

Okey-doke. I wish to call your attention to my final comment on the supposed iPhone 4G that someone found in a bar in the San Francisco Bay area:

“Who the hell knows? Maybe this really is the next iPhone.”

There have been three developments since I posted that piece late Saturday night:

1) Engadget triumphantly pointed to a blurry partial shape located way off in the corner of a blurry photo of a prototype iPad they published well before the latter’s release. They offered it as conclusive proof that their supposed iPhone 4G was the real deal, and not an Asian knockoff.

I think the only thing it proves is that Engadget was starting to feel the heat and were very, very (VERY) hopeful that they hadn’t just embarrassed themselves.

2) Over on Daring Fireball, John Gruber threw his cautious support behind this prototype, saying that he made a few phone calls and implying that he was able to get information that something like this phone had recently gone rogue in some way or the other.

And this got my full attention. I don’t know Gruber to be desperate for pageviews, nor in my experience has he been the type to be so eager to be “the guy” with a certain story that he wouldn’t perform necessary diligence.

Also — and this bit will become key in a moment — he acknowledges fuzzy areas in the story and tries to fill those gaps by explaining his reasoning, and provided at least a little bit of background on how he reached those conclusions. So this Daring Fireball post carried a lot of weight with me.

Finally,

3) Today, Gizmodo posted a hands-on feature article about this same iPhone 4G.

They claim to have had it for a full week. They weren’t able to boot it past the familiar “Connect to iTunes” screen (which is what you’d see if you’d found an iPhone that had been remote-wiped). They claim that this screen, at least, shows a super-higher-res display. The list of specifications (front-facing camera and better display) is in line with what we’d expect from a new iPhone.

Then they took it apart, and confirmed that it’s filled with Apple components.

Okey-doke. Given that they didn’t say “It has the same guts as an iPhone 3GS,” we have to conclude that this is indeed a rogue Apple iPhone prototype.

Interesting. On a number of levels.

Well, you now know about as much about this device as I do. The only thing I can add to the discussion is the complicated topic of “What are a journalist’s responsibilities with a story like this?”

I didn’t even really bother to look into Engadget’s story. I spent all day Sunday at the MIT Flea Market and frankly, I had better things to do than fire off emails and make a bunch of late-night phone calls to check into a story that looked like every other vague “ZOMG!!!! TOP-SECRET HARDWARE PROTOTYPE!!!!!!!” piece I’ve ever seen.

Instead, I wrote about what I thought about the story…chiefly because the phone looked like a knockoff and the story gave me the chance to get out my own counterfeit iPhone and talk about that subject for a bit.

My final opinion was incorrect but my thinking was spot-on. There’s a difference between a counterfeit (like my fake iPhone 3G) and a mere knockoff. A knockoff isn’t sold with the intent that it’ll survive side-by-side scrutiny. It’s there to fulfill someone’s desire to have something like the real thing. It’s aimed at the classic globalization fanboy: it’s not the features that they want…it’s the logo.

And this Apple prototype does indeed look like a knockoff. Remember what I said about the “design brief” of a knockoff? Every design choice is the answer to the question “How can we redesign this to make it way, way less expensive to manufacture?” This prototype is full of flat surfaces — easy as pie to fabricate — and studded with round switches that can be installed without any custom tooling.

The innards of this prototype appear to be genuine, based on Gizmodo’s dissection. But I still have some doubts about the case. This could be just a “carrying around” design, built to give the innards shape and form for human testing. It’s possible that Apple never had any intention of using it as the design of the actual consumer product. “We just need to slap this in an iPhone-like case so that we can test the electronics” is another reason to choose an “easy and cheap to build” design.

(Admittedly, “What changes can we make to increase Apple’s profits?” is another reason for “easy and cheap to build.”)

So what would I have done if this device had fallen into my hands and I were convinced it was genuine?

Honestly, I have no idea. I have obligations to my readers. I also have obligations to the concept of fair play.

I think the driving element for my decision would have been the fact that I’ve never really been interested in breaking a news story. The payoff for the reader is minimal with a story like this. Despite getting their hands on the phone months ahead of schedule, Gizmodo’s story is merely “Apple’s new phone will have a radical redesign and its big features are a front-facing camera and a vastly-improved screen. Which we all pretty much knew anyway.

But how well does all of this work? What are the tradeoffs of these new features? Is it worth the money for the upgrade? Does it change the nature of the device?

Et cetera. That’s what drives me. “Get there first” sites like Gizmodo and Engadget are doing important work, too; I’m not denigrating what they do. It just happens to be work that doesn’t particularly interest me.

Plus, I’d be gravely concerned about how I’d come into possession of this phone. Gizmodo’s story is very, very fishy and they need to be far more open about the provenance of the device.

Right now, they’re sticking to the story that

Step One: This phone was lost in a Redwood City bar;

Step Two: (nervous cough);

Step Three: They got it last week.

They need to fill us in about Step Two. A reader isn’t going to assume that it turned up in the mail one day in a padded mailer with no return address accompanied by an unsigned note reading “Big fan of the site, thought you’d be interested in this” printed in Comic Sans.

Did Gizmodo pay somebody for this phone?

Was this phone actually found in a bar? Or was it stolen from the Apple campus?

The second-most-serious question: did somebody steal it from the Apple campus with the intent of selling it to a news site?

The single most serious question: was Gizmodo in any way responsible for the theft of an Apple prototype?

These are all reasonable questions. Gizmodo really needs to address them.

What about Engadget’s piece on Saturday? I dunno. It doesn’t seem unlikely that they got wind of Gizmodo’s Monday feature story and decided to translate the thin information they had into pageviews while their photos still had some commercial value. The fact that they had clean, clear photos also invites me to wonder if the — let’s call him “The Lucky Bar Patron Who Found The Phone” — set up a little bidding war, and the photos were merely the overture to a financial battle that Engadget ultimately lost.)

I’m a little bit immune from this sort of stuff. Like I said, I’m not in the Shocking Breaking News business. In the end, I try to do what’s best for my readers. I once asked a VP an innocent series of questions that gave me a suspicion; a single leading follow-up question inspired him to blab that his software company was about to be bought by a Well-Known Industry Titan. Have you seen a face literally go ashen before? We were on the record and we both knew instantly that he’d just ****ed himself and his company.

But it wasn’t information that was going to be useful to my readers. Moreover, the collateral damage to this man and his company would have been major, and I have a conscience. So I reproached him a little and told him that I was retroactively taking that statement off the record. Which is technically not something journalists are supposed to do, but what the hell.

(This is why there’s often a third party in the room at all times during a briefing or a Q&A. Smart agents can flash a warning to the client before they say something they shouldn’t…and if it gets out anyway, they can start doing damage control immediately.)

Beyond the idea of not wanting to harm people needlessly, there’s also the ever-present worry that I’ve just become a pawn in a complicated game of internal company politics.

Oh, yes, I have stories about that as well. During Apple’s dark ages before Steve Jobs’ return, infighting and backstabbing inside Apple had reached telenovela levels. I frequently received anonymous leaks about how a certain Apple product was way behind schedule, or how a much-touted software strategy was losing currency inside the company and was probably going to be abandoned. I’d investigate this tip independently and would sometimes discover that the source of the leak was an Apple manager who wanted another manager out of their way, or who wanted to absorb that other project’s budget and personnel.

And then there are the leaks that are so flashy that I immediately suspect a Canary Trap. If you suspect that one of your employees is a blabbermouth, you hand him exclusive and eye-catching disinformation and swear him to secrecy. You fire him the moment you Google for “Dell is getting into the cybernetic laser attack duck business” and get more than zero hits.

Canary Traps are easier to spot, though: they fall apart as soon as you perform a little diligent legwork to confirm the details on your own.

Let’s get back to my original question: what would I have done?

We’ll never know for sure. But I suspect that I would have thought very hard and then gone with my first impulse: return the phone to Apple. If it’s been stolen, then Apple is the victim of a crime and the ethical answer is to side with the victim.

(Given that this is a new smartphone and not a mechanism for electrocuting any iPhone user who attempts to jailbreak their device.)

If I was told that this phone had been found in a bar…I would have assumed that it had been stolen from Apple. Same result.

And if the “finder” wanted some sort of fee for this device, then I would have brought law enforcement into the discussion. That kind of situation is so shady that no journalist with an ounce of sense would come anywhere near it. Even if you could get past the professional ethical dilemma and your ethical dilemma as a human being…look, smart people aren’t confused about how to react when someone tries to hand them a knife wrapped in a torn and bloody UPS uniform and asks them to hide it for a couple of weeks. I don’t mind these problems that you have to discuss with your editor. But I try to avoid the sort of problems that result in a conversation with a criminal defense attorney.

So. I say once again that Gizmodo has a lot of explaining to do. Even if they’re completely innocent of any wrongdoing, they need to resolve this part of the story.

The Miraculous Mysterious Engadget iPhone 4G

Either way, this is a great story that illustrates what journalism is like here in the jetboot age. A few hours ago, Engadget posted pictures of…well, something curious. It appears to be an iPhone of a design nobody’s ever seen before.

The thready story accompanying these photos claims that it was found in a bar in San Jose inside an iPhone 3G case. Supposedly it booted up at some point in this little opera but it’s now dark.

Hmm.

Well, there are two possible explanations for why nobody’s ever seen this kind of iPhone before.

Possibility A: It’s either an engineering sample or an actual production sample of a future iPhone…possibly the model that everybody’s expecting Apple to announce this summer. Someone was lucky enough to have their hands on one and was stupid enough to lose it in a bar.

Possibility B: It’s a Chinese counterfeit. It looks enough like an iPhone to pass, but like heavily-accented English, it really looks nothing like the proper original.

I have to get behind the second theory. I can’t believe that anyone this close to the development cycle would be this careless with an unannounced iPhone. I can’t believe that Apple would even let one of these outside of the building. I could believe that someone was able to sneak a photo of such a beast and get it out of the campus. But I can’t believe that such a phone would be completely naked of any sort of paper labels or other tags to identify precisely who would need to be drawn, quartered, and forced to use a Palm Pre for the rest of their lives as punishment for such a breach. I’ve seen plenty of sample hardware months before its release and whether it was a phone, a notebook, or an ebook reader it never looks 100% like a consumer-ready product. Even if the physical design has been finalized, there’s always some sort of paper label or hard engraving somewhere to make it clear that this thing didn’t come from no Best Buy.

And does this even look like an Apple product? Every Apple mobile device — from MacBooks to iPods, with iPhones and iPads in between — belongs to the same style family. To borrow a phrase you sometimes hear from patient art dealers on “Antiques Roadshow” when presented with a $5 thrift-shop Jackson Pollock: either the artist in question used a style, an eye, and materials that he’d never used before in any of his dozens of well-documented works…or else this is a knockoff.

But the big source of my doubt comes from my trip to China last summer. I had only wanted to bring home one specific souvenir: a counterfeit iPhone. I knew that China was the cradle of brilliant forgeries and I managed to pick up something brilliant.

My Chinese iPhone knockoff is on the left. My real iPhone is on the right.

I can point out that the counterfeit is ballsy enough to reproduce the Apple logo and all of the FCC boilerplate you’d find on a real iPhone…so the similar boilerplate on the Engadget phone means nothing.

But it was the experience of shopping for this thing that makes me think this phone is a fake rather than something more exciting. It just looks very, very familiar.

I met two new friends — expats who’d been living in the city for years — who knew precisely where to go and who had the language skills necessary for the negotiations. A fifteen-minute cab ride from my hotel near the Forbidden City took us to the Ladies’ Market; a discreet sign pointed us to a door that led to a vast room that looked like a big permanent flea market.

Name a phone and you could find a counterfeit for sale there. And iPhones were everywhere. Some of them were absolutely perfect. You could even turn it on and get fairly deep into the user interface before your “iPhone” got all open-sourcey on you. It was certainly good enough to fool someone who wasn’t at all experienced with the genuine article.

Many of the phones I saw weren’t nearly as good as the one I eventually bought. It was Heavily Accented Apple. The logo was right, the buttons were right…but it was a flip phone, complete with a very cool MacBook-style illuminated Apple logo. Or the Home button was squared instead of round. Or the back was flat instead of rounded.

I didn’t see anything quite like the “iPhone” that Engadget is showing off. But it looks like the kind of thing I saw there in Beijing.

Toss a genuine iPhone onto the desk of a Chinese electronics manufacturer and say “Build me one of these.” He’ll be thoroughly unimpressed by the sexy curves and buttons. “This would be cheaper to make if it was flat,” he’d say. “And I have some stock switches that won’t require any custom case tooling.” With an eye on the bottom line, plans would move ahead to make something that’s 90% an iPhone, at just 20% of the cost.

That said…well, who the hell knows? Maybe this really is the next iPhone. But I think it’s more likely that the man who lost this “iPhone” might have been Major William Martin of the Royal Marines and not anyone associated with Apple.

CoWA Day 1: Jennifer Connelly’s Breasts

Power Girl convention sketch by Adam Hughes.

I’d had the iPad for more than a week before it truly became “mine.” I had it well before the release date, yes, but until I was done writing about it and demonstrating it on TV, it had to remain simply “an” iPad. If I were demonstrating the Mail app on live television and the whole world knew that I was trying to rent out a theater for a massive “Gossip Girl” season-finale viewing party…well, that simply wouldn’t do.

So when I got home from New York on Friday, I was finally able to replace all of its sample, demonstration, and test content with my personal data. At that time, I also officially changed its name to the one that had come to me in a flash sometime on Day Two of my testing.

I probably shouldn’t tell you what it is. The OS uses the name to identify this iPad to a network. But it’s a good one and I’m keeping it. However, after my first day at the Conference On World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I learned its true identity:

This iPad is Jennifer Connelly’s breasts.

See, I learned exactly what it’s like to be the star of “The Hot Spot,” “Career Opportunities” and “Mulholland Falls.” Everywhere I went — the speakers’ office, Monday evening’s party, and even during my panels — everyone was really happy I was there but it was the same story. It quickly became clear that while they liked me as a person, they mostly thought of me as the support and mobility system for two big, meaty, luscious things.

Namely, my iPad, plus the MiFi mobile WiFi access point that would let them see the Netflix streaming app in operation.

It didn’t help that when I was checking my schedule and mail before heading to my next panel, I’d be holding the iPad at chest-level, like the Statue of Liberty.

“Hey! My eyes are up here, fellah.”

No kidding. My first panel yesterday was about Twitter. The basic form of a Conference On World Affairs panel is for each of the speakers to talk for about ten minutes, and then the floor is opened up for questions.

Well before a time when there were no more questions about Twitter, someone raised her hand and asked “If there are no more questions about Twitter, could Andy tell us what he thinks about his iPad?”

I offered to talk to her about it after the panel was over.

There were a couple more on-topic questions. But soon enough, well, yeah…everybody just wanted to know what I thought about the iPad. So that was the last ten minutes of the session.

Next, I was on a panel about the disappearing middle class. I led off, spoke for nine minutes, and felt that I’d done pretty much OK for someone who isn’t an economist or a sociologist. Near the end, I’d used the iPad in front of me as an example of consumer spending. The point was that it’s fine to buy something like this for practical reasons, but buying it because “it’s what the cool people with money are buying” is self-destructive; I’d likened it to all of those people who bought homes they couldn’t afford because it would make them feel good about “living the American dream” or somesuch.

Later, a panelist who really knew the economics angle cold — he’s a columnist for The Financial Times — referred back to that comment. But he abruptly stopped in the middle of his thought.

“Do you keep that in a case, Andy?”

He’d caught me off-guard. It’s not customary to direct questions to fellow panelists during your 10 minutes. I’d been listening closely. Jurek Martin always leaves me impressed with his ability to speak plainly and powerfully. uBt I struggled to imagine how it fit into his remarks.

“I’m sorry…?”

“Do you just carry it around with you in your hands, or do you have to carry it in a bag? I imagine that might be inconvenient…”

And then I gave Jurek the usual answer: that yes, it’s big for a mobile device but no bigger than it needs to be…and that it presents no more problems than carrying around a book or a magazine. A fellow sitting in the front row stepped forward and handed Jurek his own iPad, snug in its Apple convertible case.

The iPad was a superstar on my first day at the conference. Not for the attention it got; for its performance. It underscored every positive impression it made upon me during the week when I wasn’t allowed to use it in public.

1) The battery life is spot-on. I was using my iPad from the moment I awoke at 8 AM to just before I sloped into a car to go back to my house at 8:30 PM. In between, if I ever had the slightest notion to do something with the iPad, I did it without any thought as to the need to “keep some battery in reserve for emergencies.” In the end, I still had 30% battery left…about three hours’ worth.

2) The iPad shone through in the “I need to write and publish something straight away, even though I didn’t plan ahead and bring a real keyboard” scenario.

I had imagined that it would. But yesterday was the first real-world test case. While sitting in the back listening to a panel, I checked my email and found an invitation to an Apple event on Thursday. I wrote about 500 words about it using the virtual keyboard, edited it, and published it to my blog. As I’d expected, I couldn’t type as quickly or as accurately as I can on my MacBook keyboard, but even with this little slate balanced between my knees I was typing fast and naturally.

It’s a perfectly usable keyboard. With the added advantage that when I don’t need a keyboard, it goes away completely. Big, big win all around.

3) The iPad is the perfect choice when discretion is important. You can only imagine how many different kinds of computers I’ve had in front of me at the Conference On World Affairs over the past 10+ years. Today, someone came up and told me he remembered all the way back to when I had a Newton Messagepad up there on the stage.

At the CoWA (and many other conferences) I don’t use a computer for slides. I just use it for reference. The screen keeps a rundown of the points I want to make, in their order, as well of a list of any names or data that I need to mention. I might also want to open a browser window and check on a fact or two.

Good stuff. But I don’t like using a full notebook up there. To the audience, it looks like I’m dividing my time between my participation on the panel and my Twittering about how awesome last night’s “Amazing Race” was.

The iPad is the first computer that scored tens all the way across the board. The screen is viewable from any angle; I can just keep it lying flat on the table and still read the screen perfectly. It has a big screen, so I don’t need to squint and hunt to find my place in my notes. And it’s fast and it’s powerful and has a big, typeable keyboard. So when another panelist spoke about the Citizens United case (the Supreme Court case that says “corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens”) I could pull up SCOTUSWiki and refamiliarize myself with it in a way that wouldn’t be distracting to anybody else in the room.

4) Carrying it around isn’t a hassle. Not in the least. Yup, you’re going to want to have a bag of some kind with you. I refer back to my earlier comment about the inconvenience of carrying books and magazines. I normally have a smaller version of my Indiana Jones satchel with me at conferences. The difference is that I’ve just deleted about four or five pounds from my normal load: My 1.5 pound iPad takes the place of a 5.5 pound MacBook plus its charger.

The most important point is that the iPad does a better job in this environment than a MacBook or any other notebook. I slide it out of the newspaper pocket of my bag, click the Home button, and it’s awake and ready to assist. When I’m done, I click the Power button and slide it back; no need to wait for the machine to Sleep or the hard drive to spin down.

And I don’t even think about battery life. So I use it all the time.

I can also use it in environments where a notebook — even a netbook — would be awkward at best or inappropriate at worst. Can you use a netbook while you’re standing up? Kind of. Sort of. Not really. But the iPad is just as handy when I’m waiting in line somewhere as it is when I’m sitting at a table. Only when you finally have a computer like the iPad do you realize how often you need to do something on a computer when you’re standing.

My review of the iPad was very positive. It was also very academic, thanks to the fact that the iPad was under house arrest.

I wish I could go back and add a whole new section to it, now that I’ve taken it on trains on spent eight hours in an airport and on a plane with it and a whole day at a conference. Lend someone an iPad for a day and you’ve got yourself an Apple customer for life.

A “Sneak peek into the future of the iPhone OS”?!?

Greetings from the Conference On World Affairs in Boulder, where I’ll be holed up all week.

But I wish I were free on Thursday. I just got an invite for a special event on the Apple campus on Thursday. Topic: the future of the iPhone OS. Image: the long shadow of a number “4.”

No way in hell thAt I can make it but I’ll be watching closely. We’ve all known that iPhone OS 4.0 was coming in the near future, I assumed that Apple would show it off during the Worldwide Developers Conference in the summer.

The timing here is interesting. There are two upsides to demoing 4.0 this early:

1) It can put a halo around the iPad. As far as i can tell, reviewers and the public have dinged the iPad over one serious issue: multitasking. That’s rumored to be a feature of 4.0. If Apple is in a position to commit to a date when that limitation will be eliminated, it’ll move a lot of people forward from the “maybe” pile.

(assuming that iPhone OS 4.0 implies an imminent iPad OS 4.0.)

2) Apple usually shows off new iPhones in the summer. If these phones are going to ship with 4.0, and the new os delivers a bunch of new, basic features (like, say, multitasking) then they’ll need to get the new tools in the developers’ hands ASAP. Showing their cards to consumers allows Apple to release all of 4.0’s information, tools, and training materials to the developer community and hit the ground running.

One question that’s uniquely relevant to the iPad: will an os update that adds new features to the iPad be a free download? Or will it be an App Store purchase?

[EDITED: Yes, the next os update for the ipad will be free. Thanks for the reminder, folks.]

New features for the iPod Touch typically come at a nominal price. Apple says it’s due to the sort of complicated bookkeeping that makes sense to people who are about 72% silicon; if they add value to product still in inventory, then that inventory becomes more valuable, and then Apple needs to…somethingsomethingsomething. They sidestep this issue by making the “new features” a separate product.

(Please don’t ask me why this doesn’t apply to the iPhone, which gets it’s updates for free. I’m in Boulder. It’s a mile up. There’s like nine oxygen molecules floating around and everybody has to share them.)

So IF there’s an iPad OS update, AND it adds something hugely useful like multitasking, AND it costs twenty bucks…how will folks react? Will they feel validated they they own a vibrant and flourishing platform where the hits just keep on coming? Or will they feel as though they’re being nickel and dimes just three months after making such a major purchase?

Screw it. If I can listen to Pandora while I work, I’ll be the happiest boy in all of Puppetland.

iPad and Multitasking

I talked about the iPad’s multitasking features in my Sun-Times review — in a couple of places, I think.

Here’s the most complete explanation, from the main piece:

The first problem should be put in air quotes. The iPad certainly does support multitasking. The iPod app plays music in the background of anything else you’re doing and if you download a movie from the iTunes Store, you can navigate away from that app and do something else during the time it’ll take to grab that 1 gigabyte file.

It’s just third party apps that can’t run in the background. Which presents a few annoyances, such as when I’d like to listen to music from a streaming media app while I work elsewhere.

Apple has removed background operation of third-party apps for sensible reasons: they say it makes any mobile platform less stable and kills the battery. I happen to believe that later this year, Apple will release an update to the iPhone OS that will introduce some form of third-party multitasking that avoids these problems. So I’m confident that in time, at least, this limitation will be lifted.

More of a problem: the iPad is, by its nature, a “one window” interface. You can’t open a movie and have it playing in a corner of the screen while you write. If you want to instant message people, it won’t be a little sidebar that you keep an eye on; it’ll be the whole screen. This is another defining difference between the iPad and a notebook. It’s the same amount of power, but applied with different intentions.

So it disappoints me to see commentators on TV today dinging the iPad for a lack of multitasking. A tech expert whose mission is to communicate tricky technology to civilian audiences can’t let that pitch go by with a flat “no.” You also shouldn’t offer a flat “yes” but at least the statement “the iPad OS multitasks” is technically correct. You’re there to educate. Which means that you don’t want people to come away thinking that (for example) iPod playback stops when you try to get your mail or fire off a Tweet.

I’m glad to hear the increasingly-loud rumors that Apple has figured out how they want to do third-party multitasking. A signature of Apple’s design philosophy is not to just fire-hose features into a product. They like to believe that if they add something, it contributes way more value than what its presence will cost the user, and that the feature is consistent with the “story” of this product. I’ve seen Android tablets with every kind of port and other hardware feature built-in. Mostly, their purpose is to be something that the marketers and the users can point to and say “See? Look what this has that yours doesn’t.”

Sometimes they actually enhance the device. Mostly, though, they’re like a third nipple. Good for conversation, but functionally useless.

My Morning Purchases

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Between the hours of 8:30 and 8:45 this morning, I bought two things:

1) Breakfast, consisting of a wheat bagel and a Diet Coke. Purchase price: $1.74.

2) An iPad. Which cost me more than the breakfast.

People have been asking me “So which iPad are you planning on buying?” and I still don’t know how to answer, even though I’ve actually bought one now. I’m not anywhere near the average consumer.

So instead, I’ll tell you what I think about the two major variables in this sort of decision. You’re in on the ground floor at $499. Where should the rest of your money go? Is it even worth buying a better model?

I think the first thing you should spend money on is additional storage. The iPad is going to be one hell of a great content device and my experience with my iPhone tells me that although you can make any amount of storage work, a mobile device pays the greatest dividends when there’s a good chance that answer to the question “Gee, I wonder if I have that file or content with me?” is “Yes.”

This is an especially big deal on a device like the iPad, which comes with a big, gorgeous screen. 16 gigabytes is useful. It means that I can cautiously put a movie or two on it, and maybe a vodcast subscription, and sure, I can have a couple of photo albums on there so long as I don’t go nuts. But 64 gigs means I can throw media on there with the reckless exuberance of a dancing hippie who doesn’t know that the Rolling Stones have hired Hell’s Angels as event security.

It also means that when apps like AirSharing and Evernote come to the iPad, the device can truly be that one electronic file folder that contains every document or scrap of research you’ve touched in the past month or will ever want to lay your hands on.

Put it this way. I’m in a coffeeshop and writing this on Lilith, whose 500 gigabyte hard drive contains just about everything I’ve created and everything that’s ever caught my eye online. If it suddenly occurs to me that what this blog post needs is right here, right now, is a statue of George Washington regarding a lesser public sculpture, I don’t need to hit the Internet for just the right image or head home to my desktop:

Thomas Ball's statue of George Washington, in Boston's Public Garden. Sculpted during the Civil War, it was the country's first equestrian statue of the first President. Photo by me.

So get as much storage as you can afford, I say.

Onward to the 3G question. I’m starting to wonder if 3G is going to be terribly important. “Internet everywhere” is impulsively attractive, but do you really need mobile broadband? New England is practically lousy with free WiFi. There’s so much radio traffic here that it interferes with the migration patterns of many local bird species. As I entered the coffeeshop this morning I passed by a whole family of wrens, shivering in little Bermuda shorts and wondering what the hell happened.

And if you already have some sort of device that can share its mobile broadband connection — a phone with an app that turns it into a mobile WiFi base station, or a MiFi — the question’s of moot.

Still, Apple and AT&T are offering a sweet deal on the data connection: $29 for a month of unlimited traffic, with no contract or ongoing commitment required. If you want mobile broadband this month, you buy 30 days of mobile broadband. Done.

As a MiFi owner, I’m more interested in the 3G model’s GPS features. Live navigation on a pocket device is lovely. But what can we do with it when the screen is THIS big? What happens when this live, interactive map is flat on a table where three people can peer at it and make suggestions? What kind of car app is possible, when there’s enough screen real estate to deliver a lot of information in a concise and uncluttered way?

If you’re truly seeking my advice, and your funds are limited, I say give the 3G model a miss and put that extra $129 into additional storage, or an important accessory.

If I were an ordinary consumer, I bet I’d be opting for the 32 gig WiFi model, with the wireless keyboard and the desktop dock as no-brainer addons. I think those two accessories will have a bigger impact on my use of the iPad than 3G and GPS. I’d want to own the 64 gig one, but we’re trying to economize in this scenario.

Of course, if I truly were an ordinary consumer, I’d be patient and wait to see what the reviews have to say about the iPad. It’s a rare person who can afford to pre-order a $499 thing sight-unseen. I think most of the folks who are rushing to pre-order the iPad are folks like me who have pre-existing plans for theirs.

What did I actually get? Oh, the top-of-the-line model: The iPad 3G with 64 gigs of storage, due to ship a few weeks after the WiFi-only iPad.

My decision was influenced by factors that would never apply to a regular consumer. iPad 3G, or the WiFi-only model? By one way of thinking, I needed to buy both. I need to have one in my hands on April 3 (meaning: the WiFi edition) but I’ll also need the 3G model because I’m writing a book about the iPad, and the 3G model has unique features.

Damn. I remind you that I am a freelance journalist in a rapidly-collapsing print market. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll have an Apple loaner on April 3. I don’t know for sure, mind you. But you need to place your bet before the betting window closes and no matter what I bought, I definitely wanted my pre-order to be near the head of the pack in case models were in short supply.

So I went with the 3G. I did hesitate a bit over the “accessories” question before completing my order. Ultimately, I didn’t buy any.

I already have the Wireless Keyboard and that’s the only accessory that I consider to be a slam-dunk. I don’t wanna drop an extra hunnert bucks, only to discover a month later that the folding easel I keep my iPad in makes Apple’s $29 desktop stand irrelevant, and that I almost never see the benefits of an extra $29 charger.

Why might that be? Because apparently the iPad can charge from its USB sync cable. This is just conjecture, but I imagine that the only thing the 10-watt brick can do is charge it faster. My office is already lousy with USB wall chargers. If it takes twice as long to charge it via USB — I’m just making up a number, here — how likely is it that I’ll actually take advantage of that extra time?

[Edit to clarify: you do get a 10W charger with your iPad.]

There was another factor at play: for the love of God, I was already spending $829, before tax, on this thing. I’m being paid more than $829 for the book so please, shed no tears. Nonetheless, to a freelancer, that kind of an expenditure is like a deacon hearing people whistle in the church. It fills me with a secret sorrow.

All I can tell you is that when I arrived at the coffeeshop, something made me order the 75-cent can of Coke instead of the $1.69 bottle of juice…

Rollup to iPad

Yes, everyone at the press event needed a shot of their own site on the iPad.

Until Friday, when the release date for the iPad (April 3) was finally announced, all of my iPad-related projects were hovering in Fantasyland. It was great. There would be a lunch, great ambitious plans would be made, and the meeting would end with a mutual chuckle and an acknowledgement that really, the project wouldn’t make any great leaps forward until we knew the ship date and had some idea of when we might get our hands on an actual iPad.

Now? Yeah. Things…have changed.

»•«

To answer an increasingly popular question: no, I don’t have an iPad. I’m up against a real deadline, too. On the morning of April 4, I leave for a whole week at the Conference On World Affairs. If I have an iPad in my hands, then it’ll be one hell of a great opportunity to test the iPad in a very tricky and critical environment.

I’ve yet to find a computer that works exceptionally well during a trade show or a conference. It’s a bit like selecting a piece of gear for a lunar expedition. Size, weight, power requirements, the parameters of what I need to get done during my time on the surface, and usability in a hostile environment all come into play.

A full notebook can serve any function I could possibly need. But I often leave my room at 8 AM and don’t return until after dinner; that’s a lot of stuff to be toting around all day. The battery only lasts a couple of hours, so I’ll need to bring the power brick and hope that I can find seats near outlets. And in many scenarios — like sitting on a panel — a big laptop isn’t exactly a discreet way to take or access notes.

A netbook? It’s tiny and light and has a four or five-hour battery, so we’re off to a good start. They keyboard is tiny and no fun to work with, though, and even a Hackintoshed one probably won’t run the sort of software I need. As for the iPhone, it lives at the intersection of casual nonchalance and emphatic power, but I certainly can’t write anything with it. And I’ve tried and failed to use it to host the various notes and cheat sheets I often rely on when I speak. It’s just too small.

So as a consumer, you can imagine how keen I am to test out an iPad in this kind of environment. A big screen on a slim device that runs a modern OS and exciting apps, which weighs a pound and a half and is an inch thick, with ten hours of battery life and a wireless keyboard that I can touch-type on? Gimmegimmegimme.

If it works. Which is still an unknown. Again I remind myself and the world that I have more experience with the iPad than almost anybody outside of Apple…which only means “I played with the work-in-progress for a half an hour at the media event in January.”

If I don’t board that plane with an iPad…I would surely be the saddest little boy in all of Puppetland. On one of my first panels of the Conference, I will be distracted by a familiar glow in the crowd. I will lean into my mic, interrupt whoever’s talking, and say “You, in the eleventh row…is that an iPad? Um, can I see it?”

Pathetic, I know. But that’s what’ll happen.

Let’s not even contemplate such a thing. The iPad will go on pre-order on Friday. If thousands of people with no particular mandate from an eager readership will have them on April 3, then so shall I. The worst-case scenario: I simply go to the Apple Store early that morning and look for a bleary-eyed person who looks as though they’re too exhausted to keep a firm grip on their iPad. See, kids? There’s a solution to every problem if you look hard enough, and tell your driver to keep the engine running.

»•«

In the meantime, I’m preparing for the iPad. I’ve already bought my first two hardware accessories: the Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Pogo Sketch stylus.

Apple's bluetooth Wireless Keyboard.

I liked this keyboard the moment it was released. I thought it was v.v.cool. My fellow Americans, I did feel lust in my heart and I wished to own it. But here’s the thing: the main selling point of the Apple Wireless Keyboard is that it’s small enough to travel with. Any computer I’d be traveling with would also, you know, have a keyboard built in.

So I didn’t dare live the dream. Ah, but in January it became something I needed. Nay, I was now practically obligated to buy it because it works with the iPad.

(But for good measure, I bought it with Amazon Associates credits instead of real money.)

I’ve had it set up with my iMac. It really is a lovely keyboard. Photocopy your notebook’s keyboard, scissor out just the bit with the keys, and there you have the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The keyboard deck itself is stupid-thin, but it’s all made out of aluminum so I think I can throw this into my laptop bag (or my Stylish iPad Envelope) with a certain fearless elán. I’m also pleased to find that it’s a handy alternative to my big Logitech diNovo keyboard when I’m podcasting. It frees up space on my desk for the microphone and a recreational beverage.

Sometimes my first instinct about a product misses the point. I think that’s what happened with the Pogo stylus, though I hope the official scorer will credit the company with an assist.

When it first came out, it was absurd. The whole point of the iPhone was that you didn’t need a stylus. Using a Pogo was like buying a 60″ HDTV and then projecting 8 mm movies onto the screen, or something. Its only possible selling point, as I saw it, was that it let you use your iPhone or iPod Touch in cold weather without taking off your gloves. Even there, you’d probably look at the original price tag ($25) and decide that cold fingertips would help to build character.

Things have changed since then. The price is $15 and there’s a new Stylus model that has a pocket clip, but that’s not the big deal. Now, there are a whole bunch of great drawing apps for the iPhone.

I bought the Stylus at an Apple store on Sunday, with no sense of urgency. I had time to kill, so I moved on to a restaurant in the mall and started fiddling with a drawing app while I waited for my burger. It arrived ten or fifteen minutes later. I’m not sure how long it was. I had become engrossed in sketching, and my food got a little cold before I finally dug in.

Autodesk's SketchBook...my fave drawing app.
A five-minute doodle. Look, I didn't say I was a GOOD artist...

Apps like Autodesk SketchBook (my favorite drawing app) are fun even when you’re just using your fingers. But it’s a different experience when you have a stylus in your hand. The business end is thinner than a fingertip, so it’s much easier to see what you’re drawing. Plus, I stopped painting with my fingers a long time ago. I think it ended right around the day I came home from school with yellow paint inside my nostrils and my Mom yelled at me. Drawing with a pen in my fingers feels more intuitive and natural.

I do have a simple complaint about the Pogo Stylus: you don’t get a little cap or something to protect the drawing end. C’mon, guys. Even an 89-cent Paper Mate ballpoint comes with a cap.

But I can’t even remember the last time I got so engrossed in a drawing that I lost track of the clock. It was another huge win for the iPhone in general. If there’s a single feature that elevates the iPhone from the rest of the pack, it’s the way that it urges and enables me to maximize the amount of time I spend thinking and doing and creating, each and every day. I’ve got ten minutes while I wait for a burger to arrive, three minutes at the post office while as a clerk explains the concept of a “forever stamp” to the unenlightened, six minutes waiting in the subway…it all adds up. I leave the house with my iPhone in my pocket, and I come home with new photos, new drawings, a few tiny things written, many pages of books read, and a better sense of the news of the day.

I accomplished (okay, “accomplished”) all of that in crumbs of time that otherwise would have gone to waste. I don’t get that sort of effect from other phones…least of all from Android devices. If there’s a signature advantage to iPhone’s apps, it’s that you’ll want to use them.

Android apps tend to stop short of being both productive and engrossing. Most Android apps come with a cost: an overall clunky user interface. How motivated am I to draw a picture of the parking lot outside my table? Not very. How much trouble am I willing to go through to do it? Not very much. With an Android drawing app, I’d sigh and end the activity the second or third time I drew a little bit too low on the screen and accidentally activated its Search menu. If it had been a Nexus One in my pocket on that Sunday, it might have occurred to me to draw something with a sketch app but I probably would have just used it for simple distraction: as a way to avoid thinking.

The iPhone can be just as effective as an Android phone as a catalyst for thought-avoidance, of course. That’s not how it usually works, though.

»•«

My iPad prep work continues apace. Right now, I’m trying to get my hands on a case or a cover. I’m also trying to line up as much iPad software as I possibly can. The iPad will be released on a Saturday and that’s significant because the CBS Saturday Early Show goes out on Saturday, y’see. Which means that there’s an excellent chance that on the morning of April 3, I’ll be on TV trying to contain my opinions to a smooth four or five minutes of live television. I’m hoping to have a bunch of apps on “my” iPad that won’t be on any of the others being shown off on TV that same morning.

I should mention that The Early Show’s studio is on the same plaza as the Fifth Avenue Apple Store (its big, signature glass cube is only twenty yards away) and my segments usually go out live at about 7:30 AM. It’ll be a total zoo out there. Every specimen of Our Kind Of People will be on full display, excited about getting their hands on the iPad. Needless to say, I can’t wait. I’ve never been at an Apple Store for a release. Usually I need to be up all night writing so I’ll have plenty of stuff online on That Special Day.

I’m 10% sure that I should wear my tuxedo, as though it’s the Oscars and we’re on the red carpet.

I’m also 10% sure that if my segment is at 7:30 and the store won’t allow people in to get their iPads until 9 and I have a working iPad in my hands, I’d probably better wear shoes that are comfortable for running…

Apple Tablet Week: Tech Rehearsal

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Pardon me a moment, folks. Just doing a little bit of tech rehearsal for tomorrow.

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I bet you can tell from all of this that I did indeed finally get into San Francisco safely. Late, but safely. My hotel is in the financial district and I’m sorry to say that the only viable option for dinner was this:

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Yes, I know. But I didn’t have dinner and I was pretty famished. Chiefly, I just wanted to two-liter Coke for tonight and tomorrow morning:

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You know. Just Daddy’s Morning Medicine.

Ah.

Great! The system seems to be working fine. The system in question is the combination of hardware, software, and meatware that I’ll be relying on to liveblog from the Apple Event.

I’ll have my Dell Mini 9 hackintosh in my lap, running MarsEdit:

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…And my MiFi in my pocket:

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…And my Nikon Coolpix with an EyeFi card in its SD slot:

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…Which means that I can be adding stuff to a blog post and every time I think I have another good chunk of information and thoughts, I can click the “Update” button and it’ll be added to what I’ve already got.

And every time I take a photo that seems useful for the narrative, I can just press two buttons on the Nikon and it’ll be sent to my Flickr account. MarsEdit has seamless Flickr integration so it’ll be a snap to have live-ish photos in this bloggy thingy as well.

Yes, this whole post has been a “live fire” test, to see how quickly I can write, take a photo, embed it from Flickr, and keep going. Also, to start training my fingers to press the Play, then Menu buttons on the camera…then Up, then OK to set the “protect” flag on the shot I want. This is what cues the Eye-Fi to upload that specific image to Flickr.

Looks good, so far.

One last test upload, and then I’ll click “Send to Weblog” and see if this all worked:

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Push the button, Frank…

Apple Tablet Event hits “Doonesbury”

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Oh, good heavens. It looks as though Garry Trudeau is doing a whole week’s worth of strips about the Apple Tablet event this week in San Francisco.

To clarify: one of the most popular strips in the world is doing an entire week’s worth of comic strips about an event in which a rumored (rumored) consumer product might (might) be shown off for the first time.

I think we now need to create a new word for “hype” that only refers to the sort of buzz that an Apple product can generate. At this stage, the only way for the Apple tablet to get more press would be if it got into a car crash after its wife beat it with a golf club.

Incidentally, that thump…thump…thump you’re hearing is the sound of Microsoft’s CEO pounding his head against his desk over and over again. You did a heckofajob with that CES keynote, Ballmie…

I Hereby Put Apple On Notice

Okay. So I closed my eyes, put my hand on my heart, commended my soul to God, and booked a flight to San Francisco in three weeks.

“Oh, dear,” was my frontmost thought after my credit card had been charged.

I’m not used to gambling like this. Apple hasn’t announced any sort of event for the last week in January. If there’s an event, there’s no assurance that I’ll be invited to it. If I’m invited to it, there’s no assurance that it’ll be the world’s first look at an Apple tablet device. If it’s a Tablet announcement, there’s no assurance that I’ll get a private briefing and a little one-on-one fondling time with the thing. And that’s what would put this trip squarely in the “It’s my job to attend this event” category.

If none of this happens? I can certainly get some work done in the city. And it’d be nice to record a MacBreak live in the massive steel-and-glass TWiT Towers Studio And Resort Complex. I’m still surprised that Leo convinced the San Francisco Board Of Supervisors to tear down the Transamerica Pyramid and its adjoining block to make way, but hey, more power to him.

Time was ticking. We’re nearing the crucial day when the burden of desperation shifts and airlines stop sweating about selling all of these unsold seats and begin salivating over how much they can stick it to a business traveler who clearly will pay almost anything to be somewhere in four days.

I think I timed it almost just right. $239 (including taxes and fees) is certainly the lowest airfare I’ve ever found from Boston to San Francisco. They’re nonstops, they’re on the carrier that has almost all of my miles, and the plane was so underbooked that I got aisle and window seats without any trouble.

Still, it was an expensive morning. I also booked my flights for the Conference On World Affairs in April.

My annual Denver travel is always a Big Lose. Traditionally I arrive in Boulder with barely enough time to change clothes and make it to a mandatory reception, and my flight home on Saturday requires me to be on my way to the airport at an hour of the morning normally associated with the full half-hour extended director’s cut of the Magic Bullet infomercial.

I got off a little light this time: nonstops in both directions and an early-ish arrival on Sunday. I’m on the redeye flying home, but that comes with a payoff. The Boston Comic-Con is that weekend, and landing in Boston at 11 AM allows me to catch a few hours of the show and then get dinner with an artist friend who’s coming into town.

It’s a little scary to witness how easy it is to spend money these days. Just last night I was tempted to just go to Chipotle and grab a burrito for dinner. Simple math kept me home with a can of Chicken With Dumplings soup. Yes, $1.65 is a lower number than $6.70. I ended the day up $5.05 and feeling slightly proud of myself.

But after 45 minutes with this blasted computer I’m down more than a hundred times that!

Why stop there? I could buy a couple of TVs! An X-Box! Once I’ve maxed out my credit card, I can hit my bank’s site, move more money around, and keep spending until I haven’t a penny left! Hey, doesn’t eBay sell cars?

(Whew.)

Boy, am I glad that my reckless spending is generally limited to an occasional book or DVD. Being a compulsive spender these days is as big a problem as being a compulsive gambler who lives next to a casino. Complete financial ruin is available to you at any hour of the day or night.

So my flight to San Francisco has been confirmed. The money’s gone. The ball is now in Apple’s court.

If they don’t hold an event in San Francisco during the last week of January on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, well, I gambled and lost. Fair enough.

If they hold an event and it has nothing to do with the tablet (“The iPod Shuffle: Now Two Grams Lighter”) I will be Miffed.

If they hold an event and it’s about the Tablet and it takes place on Monday or Friday…

…Well, I’ll probably have to take the Steve Jobsbruin and Steve Wozbearnak that I made at “Build-A-Bear Workshop” off of my dresser, that’s what. Let that weigh on your heads, Apple.

In any event. I will very likely have plenty of free time during my visit (Jan. 26-27-28) and a San Francisco Tweetup will almost definitely happen. Venue suggestions are welcome.

iPod Nano Fifth Gen…Quick Demo Video

Fifth-Gen iPod Nano..taken to The Outer Limits!!! from Andy Ihnatko on Vimeo.

iPod Nano…taken to the Outer Limits!!!

Specifically, my regular comic book shop, located on Moody Street in Waltham. Apple’s latest iPod Nano arrived today and though I haven’t exactly put it up on the test bench yet, I thought I’d take it out for a quick spin and check out the video features.

A complete review will appear in the Sun-Times tomorrow, But some initial notes:

  • This is a “fun camera.” Set your expectations accordingly.
  • The camera lens is close to the edge of the Nano and it’s veryeasy to block it with your finger.
  • A snap-judgment: the camera is hopeless in dim lighting. I shot some very basic video in my office. The lighting was very bad, sure (late-afternoon on a rainy day, two medium-sized windows, no artificial lights). There wasn’t enough light to read by, but it was nothing that a standard Flip camera couldn’t handle; the flip would have cranked up the gain on the image sensor and produced grainy, but perfectly viewable, video. The iPod Nano’s video was mostly impossible to make out.
  • You need to manage your storage carefully. I unpacked the Nano, hooked it up to my MacBook, and did the same sync I do with just about any music player: I filled it up to within a whisker of its capacity. Imagine my shock when I discovered that I could only record about two minutes of video. Then imagine my embarrassment when I realized that I really shouldn’t have been shocked. Note to self: leave a gig or two free if I intend to shoot lots of video with this thing. Videos seem to take up about fifteen megs per minute.
  • The audio quality is pretty impressive, considering this little pinhole the mic has to listen through. Raise your voice, though, and there’ll be some ugly clipping.

But this is all quite preliminary. More to come next week.


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First Flight: Final Cut Express (Part 2)

Damn. In iMovie, I can just tap the spacebar and see what the final video will look like. In Final Cut, I have to “render” the edit first…though I can scrub through it in the final video window.

Okay, well, if I’m going to sit through a render, I might as well make it worth it. I want the intro voiceover to go over the first bit of the first clip. I drag the audio file into the viewer and release it into the “Insert” hopper that pops up…it’s one of the several options available.

Awesome. Final Cut Express is already saving me time and more importantly letting me make the video I want to make instead of knucking under to iMovie’s limitations. The existing clip scoots over to the right in the timeline so that it doesn’t begin until the audio ends. The spot where I start talking in the clip comes after several minutes of ambient car noise. So now, it should be easy to merely extend the video clip backwards so that the video starts with the voice-over, and I start talking inside the car almost as soon as the v/o ends.

Hooo-kay, I know in the video that the tool I want is one of the three or four in the tool pallete next to the timeline. It uses what I assume to be classic film-cutting terminology…each tool icon depicts a Moviola-style pair of film reels in various postures.

I guess wrong on my first try so I go back to the tutorial video series. Ah! Okay, I want the “Ripple” tool. In the video, it’s described and shown as the thing you use to extend a clip so that it starts or ends in a different place.

Mmmm…no. It seems like I’m on the right track, but no. As it is right now, the 90-second voice over plays, with no accompanying video. Then the video kicks over to me inside the car, and I immediately start talking. I want to grab the left side of that clip and stretch it all the way back to the start of the voice-over so that the video begins 90 seconds sooner, but I still don’t start talking until the v/o is done.

What happens instead is that I still have no video until the end of the voice over…but now the video starts 90 seconds later. Damn and blast.

What the heck is wrong? Is FC stamping its feet because the video I want to extend is the first video clip in the whole thing?

I give up on logic and just randomly try the other editing tools. Ah! Okay. The fact that there was absolutely no video to the left made me think “extend the clip to the left,” ie, use the Ripple tool. In fact, I needed to use the “Roll” tool, which extends a clip by stealing time from the clip next door.

I was thinking “There is no video there to the left.” Final cut was thinking “There is indeed video to the left. It is a video of no video.”

Very Zen.

But it makes some sort of sense. My bad.

Now let’s render this clip and see what I did. I hope the audio is synced. Push the button, Frank…

“Estimate time: About 15 minutes…”

(Sigh.) Okay, breakfast.