Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The tech circles I lurk in are gearing up for the big iPad 3 announcement which is expected some time this quarter. The big deal will undoubtedly be a quad-density retina display: though I’ve long been a doubter that the economics would work out for such a thing in 2012, there’s too much smoke around this rumor and I’ve finally given in and started believing it. Additionally, I’ll be incredibly surprised if there’s not a memory upgrade and some additional CPU cores thrown in for good measure1.

All in all, I expect it to be a worthy upgrade to the iPad 2. It will therefore be an extremely worthy successor to the first-gen iPad I happen to own.

But I’m just having trouble getting excited about it. I took possession of my iPad a little less than two years ago. Anyone reading this will remember what that time was like: it was a magical new product creating an entirely new market category. Several times, I said “It’s the best $500 I’ve ever spent”. And I meant it. I still do.

But that was two years ago. Times change. One year ago, my beloved iPad was made obsolete by the iPad 2. I didn’t see a need to upgrade because my iPad still ran fine and was still supported by the OS updates. Sure it wasn’t as fast as the iPad 2 (obviously), but it wasn’t slow by any means. So I kept the first-gen iPad and I was happy with it.

But that was a year ago. Times change. I bought the newest iPhone a few months ago. Man, that thing positively screams. And it has its own retina display, so it’s absolutely gorgeous to stare at. I use it constantly. In fact, I use it so much that I rarely pick my iPad up anymore.

While we’re watching TV and I want to look up an actor on IMDB? Before, I’d turn to my iPad…but now the iPhone is already in my hand. So I just use that. When I used to check Twitter on my iPad? Now I use my phone. Instapaper? iPhone. Google Reader? iPhone.

Yesterday, I was feeling guilty about not using the iPad very much so I decided to check Twitter on it: I was slightly shocked to see that the cached tweets were all from 22 days ago. It just does not get a lot of use.

And when I do use it? It seems astoundingly slow. I’m not sure if this is because I’m comparing it to the 4S (which, as I said, screams) or because the latest OS updates were written with the faster iPad 2 in mind and they didn’t give much thought to performance on the older models. It’s probably some combination of both.

One thing I do know is that apps have started crashing on it. A lot. My best guess is that it’s a memory thing: apps which were tested on the iPad 2 (which has double the RAM of its older brother) can’t handle it when malloc says “No!”.

This past week, Apple announced a new version of iBooks (featuring snazzy textbook support) and a new app called iTunes U. Both crash enough that they aren’t really usable. I assume they work flawlessly on the iPad 2.

But these are big flagship apps from Apple! They had a media event in NYC to announce them to the world! I read live blogs about them, fercryinoutloud! They shouldn’t crash on hardware made by Apple when Apple says the hardware is supported.

You’d think that all of this would have me champing at the bit for the iPad 3 just like I was for the iPhone 4S. But it just isn’t so.

Because $500 is a lot of money and two years isn’t a very long time. Something that cost $500 should still be really good two years later2. And this just isn’t.

Ultimately, two years later, Apple’s support of their first iPad is not a very good recommendation for spending another $500. Apple will need to offer a really compelling argument to make that seem worthwhile, especially without a reality distortion field to help out this year.

Otherwise, I’ll just wait for the iPad 4.3

  1. Of course, I was incredibly surprised that the 4S didn’t include a memory upgrade. So what do I know? ↩

  2. I’ll give it a pass for not being insanely great, as that’s a significantly higher mark. But my Macs stay really good for years. And my iPod Touch was really good for years. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask of the $500 iPad. ↩

  3. Oh, who am I kidding. I’ll probably be out there standing in line for the damned thing. I’m such a fanboy. ↩

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I spent a lot of time coming up with spoiler markup that would actually work on iPads. Then I never used it.

So this is it. Below is some spoil-filled text. Look at it with care.

There. What do you think about that?

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Claude Shannon. Charles Babbage. Ada Lovelace. Alan Turing1.

These are our new Newtons. They opened the door to the modern world that we are even now beginning to step out into. And James Gleick will introduce you to all of them as he tries to do for the science of information what he did in his fantastic book about chaos theory: introduce the interested layman to the world of bits, bytes, signal, and noise the same way that he showed us all how strange attractors work back in 1988.

It’s hard for me to judge how well he did since I actually know a [very] little about information theory (as opposed to knowing nothing at all about chaos theory that Gleick didn’t teach me). So a lot of the book was a bit of a boring re-tread for me. Of course, there were also things that were new to me in my far-less-than-academic understanding of information theory: Maxwell’s Demon was possibly my favorite of the “new things”.

So while I think he did a great job with “A History” and “A Theory”, I couldn’t help but feel that “A Flood” was given short shrift; since dealing with this flood is arguably one of the primary first-world problems that would be affecting his readers (I read this book on a Kindle overflowing with other un-read books, for example. And it’s getting worse). Sure, he talked about how many petabytes of data move across the Internet every day, and he mentioned twitter and filtering and such. But it was all a very “evening news” sort of treatment.

I don’t think there was anything new or useful for the sort of person who would be likely to pick up the book in the first place. There certainly wasn’t anything that will resonate with anyone in a decade. This section of the book has a very short shelf life.

I guess my ultimate feeling is that the book should have merely been “A History, A Theory”. It would’ve gotten another star from me in that case. As it stands though, I came away feeling that the last few chapters were just rushed fluff where Gleick didn’t really have anything to say. Those chapters stood in stark contrast to the rest of the book, of course, but they couldn’t help but bring the whole thing down.

  1. Though once again, Alonzo Church gets short shrift. I guess the lambda calculus just isn’t as sexy (or as understandable) as an infinite tape-reading machine.  ↩