Tag Archives: Technology

Apple iPad Thoughts

The iPad has been launched!  Yes, it looks like a giant iPod Touch.  Unfortunate name (but then again, look at the Nintendo Wii).   But I think it looks great and I want one now! 

But I’ve read a lot of iPad hate comments out there on the web today.  It’s not a PC, my iPhone can do that, my netbook can do more, I can only run Apple endorsed apps, it doesn’t multitask, even, there are other touch PCs out there that are “better”, etc.

I still think the iPad will be a success because it will fill a niche and grow (and of course of all the Mac fanboys out there!).

Arguments

Let’s take the PC argument.  Yes, it’s not a PC.  But it’s not trying to be.  Apple would have discontinued its entire line of laptops and desktop PCs if the iPad was the only device you’d need.  But they haven’t.  I’ll still need to use a PC/laptop for advanced photo and video editing, or sound recording, etc.  No way Lightroom is going to run on the iPad.. yet…

How about the iPhone argument?  Yes, the iPad can’t fit in your pocket.  But neither will you try to fit a netbook in your pocket either.  I don’t think Apple intended it to be a mobile phone somehow.   Actually, if I had an iPad, I’d have to carry it in a small laptop bag/sleeve, and then, only for certain situations – like a video player for the kids on a long car or plane trip.  I’d still need the iPhone for day to day in your pocket commuting.   

Now what about netbooks?  Of course there will still be netbooks, just like how there are still Windows CE mobiles, or even other mobile phones even though the iPhone exists.  But the iPad will eat into the netbook market share.   Netbooks are really just for surfing the web and checking email.  The iPad can do just that, looks cooler next to your latte, and the price is quite competitive.  Just like how you didn’t see netbooks in cafes 3-5 years ago, I think people will be flashing these in cafes in 3-5 years time instead of netbooks.

Then there’s the comments that users will be stuck with Apple apps only whereas on a netbook you can run anything you like.  This is such a technology focussed argument, and not a user needs argument.  I think people have to ask what do they want to DO on their netbook, instead of what application do they want to run.  OK, there’s no or not much choice – you’re stuck with Apple Mail and Safari.  But who cares?  It works – I’ll still be able to check my email and surf the web and check Facebook and Twitter.   And then there’s Apple’s App Store.  I’m keen to find out what weird Windows application people find compelling to run on their netbooks that isn’t available on the App Store.

The argument should really be about lack of choice – but if you buy an iPhone/iPad – you’re buying one with the knowledge of how the platform works, and that you’re stuck with those choices.   But in my opinion, I’d rather an Apple endorsed and controlled App Store than thousands of free Linux applications that are not polished or easy to use or seemless.

Now, onto the multi-tasking argument.  Yes that sucks.  But I thought more about it.  Hasn’t anyone run so many Windows applications that the task switcher is 2-3 rows deep and the task bar is jammed with applications?   Is this manageable?  No.  Are there CPU cycles and battery life being wasted keeping all these applications running in the background when I only interact with one at a time?  Yes.  

What if CPUs came faster and faster (which they will), and switching from one application to another is nearly instantaneous – and it restored the last state of the last application?   Wouldn’t that “appear” to be multi-tasking?   I’m not a big buyer of the multi-tasking argument.  It’s not like I’ll be checking my email WHILE watching a video.  I’d want to watch the video.  Switch to look at my mail.  Then switch back to the video.  As long as the switching is very fast, it’s easy to switch between the applications, and video picks up where it was before, or applications or data can be downloaded in the background, I don’t really see the problem.  

Maybe the key is the effort required to switch between applications.  I guess that’s what the home button is for.   But I also know that on my Windows 7 laptop here, I often spend a while trying to find the application I want to switch to because I have so many running at once!  As far as I understand, the iPad will still allow Apple core services to multi-task in the background, so you should be able to get new mail notifications (and other notifications like Facebook ones?).   Maybe Apple needs a “recently used” list of something. 

As for other touch PCs that already exist that are “better” – well, again back to the iPhone argument – there are heaps of other mobile phones out there, but Apple managed to design one with the right aesthetics, right functionality (and right marketing) to make it work.  I’m sure they can do that again with the iPad.   Heck, that argument even works with applications and games in the App Store now!  There are usually multiple applications that do the same thing, but one usually sells much more than others.  It’s not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it 🙂

Shortcomings

I am disappointed that there’s no camera.  Why couldn’t they put a camera on it?  There are little cameras out there that have the iPad’s resolution of 1024×768.   Then you could use the iPad for video conferencing with your family or friends which would be awesome or PhotoBooth type applications. 

Also, I wonder if they should have included a stylus and hand writing recognition.  Maybe something that can be added on later, but I would imagine that would make the iPad excellent for note taking in lectures or meetings.  Did they even look at uni students and what they may typically need from a computer as a use case actor? 

The last thing that it’s missing is a memory card (SD/CompactFlash) and/or USB slot.  Then the iPad could make a dent in the portable media backup device market.  I could then leave the laptop at home on long holidays as I would be able to download photos from my camera onto the iPad.  Actually, if it had more than one, then it would open up being able to add additional memory to the iPad easily in the future.

Why would I buy one?

So why would I buy an iPad when I already have a laptop and an iPhone already?   For our family at home, we’ve transitioned one of our MacBooks into a nearly iPad role.  It sits in the kitchen, we look up recipes on it online, Wifey checks her email and Facebook, we check the weather and we surf the web on it.  That’s about it.  It’s a “kitchen” / family room computer.   It does take up some space with the keyboard, but an iPad that perhaps is docked onto the fridge or a kitchen wall would be ideal.  We could then undock it to look at photos or videos or surf the web on the family room couch if we need.   Actually, the iPad would be excellent as a kitchen computer.

Now, just to wait…

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Voice recorder

Old technology - a tape voice recorder

There’s something romantic and hands on about old analog technology.

My parents pulled out an old voice recorder or dictaphone to let the kids play with one day.  It definitely amused our 8yo daughter for a few days! 

At first she was recording some snippets of her talking, of herself singing or playing the piano.  She would then rewind it, and hit play.  I love the tape hiss, the uneven speed and small frequency range it has.   At least it made her experience that you can’t jump instantaneously to the beginning, and that the farther you want to rewind, the more you had to wait.   (Anyone remember high speed dubbing tape decks from the 80s?)

After a while, she discovered more clandestine uses for it – subtly recording my Wifey’s and my conversations. Sneaky!

The cutest thing was one night when she recorded ourselves reading a bedtime story.  She then shooshed me out her room.  I peeked in later and saw that she was replaying the story for herself and her cuddly night time toys!

Suggestion for the day – don’t let your kids grow up in the digital age without experiencing some older analog technology.   Other suggestions besides voice recorders – tapes, LPs, typewriters, old cash registers, etc…

How to share PC media to a PS3

One thing that’s great about the PS3 is that it is now DLNA compatible.  What this basically means is that the PS3 is able to play videos, music and display photos from computers or other devices that are DLNA compatible too.

For me, this means that I can store a whole stack of videos, music and photos on my PC, but be able to view them through the PS3 onto the big TV.   And if you have a wireless network at home, this can be all done without wires between the PC and the PS3/TV.

There are several ways of achieving this through DLNA, but I’ll explain how my home system is set up.

First you need a computer or device that stores the media.  For me, this is my home laptop.

But a laptop by itself doesn’t do much.  You need to install and run a program on your PC that will talk with the PS3.  For me, I’m using Windows Media Player 11.   Once you’ve installed it, run it.  It should look something like this:

Windows Media Player
Windows Media Player

Next you have to “allow” the PS3 to connect to Windows Media Player.  Make sure that the PS3 is on and it’s connected on the network successfully.   In Windows Media Player, select the Library -> Media Sharing option.    You’ll see a list of devices that are visible to your PC.   Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a way for Windows Media Player to show you which one is the PS3.  I had to “find” out which one it is by trial and error.

Media Sharing dialog box
Media Sharing dialog box

Note that you can change the “name” of your PC that the PS3 sees by clicking the “Settings” button.

Media Sharing - Default Options dialog box
Media Sharing - Default Options dialog box

Once you have done this, it’s time to check that the PS3 can see the PC.  For me, the PS3 automatically discovers the PC, but if this is not working, on the PS3 you can choose the “Search for media servers” option.

PS3 Searching for Media Servers
PS3 Searching for Media Servers

Notice how my PC Windows Media Player is discovered as “Dell Laptop” as was configured above.   Then you can navigate to the media on it like any other PS3 menu.   I normally browse by folders as my that’s how I organise my video files.

PS3 browsing Folders
PS3 browsing Folders

Now that we know the PS3 can see the PC, it’s time to let Windows Media Player know about the files you have to share.    On the Library toolbar, select “Add To Library”.   Alternately, press F3, or click the File menu and choose “Add To Library”.  You’ll need to select the location where you media files are.

Add To Library dialog box
Add To Library dialog box

And then you’re done! Here’s an example of what the So You Think You Can Dance Canada folder looks like for browsing:

PS3 showing thumbnails of videos
PS3 showing thumbnails of videos

Sometimes I find I have to restart the Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service in Windows to get the connection or new media files to be added correctly, but it mostly works with no problems.   Once in a while, I also find video playback a bit choppy, but after checking CPU usage on the laptop, restarting the service and stopping any network hungry apps, it’s all OK.

But overall, it’s one way, and a way that works for me, to share videos from the PC (where they are stored) to the PS3 (where the big screen TV is located).

Review: AirPort Express

A few years ago, I made myself a mini project to try and convert all our CDs into a digital format, like mp3s.  Why?  Imagine having all your music accessible immediately, at your fingers, never having to find a CD again.  It was a nice dream and I got part of the way there.

So, fast forward to today – I have gigs of music stored on some external hard drives.  But what now?

Listen to them on my laptop or through headphones on my laptop?  That’s not I wanted either.

I want to be able to listen to my music on my home stereo!!  But how?

There are many products and solutions out there that try to solve this problem.  For Father’s Day, I was fortunate enough to receive (with a little hint), an Apple AirPort Express!  Yep, no socks or ties – a piece of technology – w00t!!

Unboxing the AirPort Express
Unboxing the AirPort Express

The AirPort Express is a little box sold by Apple.  But what does it do?  Many things, but the thing that attracted me was that it basically is a “remote” speaker for your computer.  I’ve put it near my amp, and plugged the audio out of the AirPort Express into the stereo.  Then, by the magic of iTunes, wifi and some Apple technologies, it appears in iTunes as a “remote” speaker that I can output music to.  You’ll read that it enables you to “stream” audio from iTunes to an amp or speakers connected to the AirPort Express.

So, now I can play all my music that is on my laptop, and the sound comes out of my home stereo.  Not bad 🙂  Works fine as long as I want to control my music from my laptop/computer.

So here are some thoughts:

It’s SMALL!  Yes, upon unboxing the AirPort Express, I was surprised by how small it is.  It’s basically the same size as the power adapter for a MacBook.  Cool.

The AirPort Express
The AirPort Express

It looks SIMPLE!  It follows Apple’s simple yet stylish design philosophies that drive the iPod, MacBooks, etc.  I like how it’s white and smooth.  I like the power plug IS the device.  No extra wires to contend with.  I like the absence of buttons so I can leave it behind my stereo without needing to fiddle with it.  All the configuration is done remotely on a laptop (but see below for some problems I ran into).

It does so many things!  Too many maybe.  Via software that you run on your laptop/computer, you can configure the AirPort Express to be:

  • A wireless bridge – if you want to connect wired ethernet devices to a wireless network.  I could’ve connected the Tivo into this maybe.
  • A wireless access point – if you want to add wireless capabilities to your network.  I didn’t need this as I already have a wireless router.
  • A print server – if you want to connect your printer directly on the network.  Would be good if you want to share a printer between multiple computers.  I might try this one day as we currently share a single USB cable.
  • A set of remote speakers for iTunes – if you want to be able to play music in iTunes and get the sound to be output via the audio jacks
Ports at the back
Ports at the back

I like the selection of jacks (ethernet if you want it to be wireless bridge, or a wireless access point), USB and analog stereo or digital stereo.

I like how you can decide whether it should join your existing wireless network or set up its own.

I would have liked an RCA plug and digital connection to be included.  I have optical inputs in my amp, but I now have to buy a separate cable.

I did run into a problem in setting it up though.  When I used the AirPort Utility on my Dell, it could not connect to the AirPort Express.  I didn’t bother investigating much, because wifey has a MacBook, and it worked perfectly on there.

Also, I’m now frustrated that iTunes is the only officially supported player.  I use Foobar2000 and Media Monkey to organise and play my music on the laptop.  With a bit of Googling, I’ve found these two things that could help:

  • AirFoil – http://rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/ – exposes the AirPort Express as a sound output to Windows, basically allowing you to output all sound/music from Windows and Windows applications to the AirPort Express.  Neat 😉  I guess I could even play games and hear the sound through the AirPort Express 🙂
  • AirPort Express remote speaker plugin for MediaMonkey – http://emilles.dyndns.org/software/out_apx.html – let’s MediaMonkey output its audio to the AirPort Express.

The main drawbacks I see to the AirPort Express is that the music has to be controlled through a computer.  What if I turn off my laptop?  What if I’m sitting in front of the stereo and want to play something?  I’m lucky for now that the laptop is in the same room as the stereo, but if they’re not, then what?

Luckily I’ve also setup my laptop as a Media Server for my PS3, but that’s a story for another time…