Tag Archives: technology

The iPad mini

iPad mini white

I have this weird thing where I’ll keep a tab open for days, weeks, even months, if there’s something even potentially interesting that I can’t deal with right now, but want to do something with eventually. Before you ask, yes, I have heard of bookmarks, but ask any nerd and they’ll tell you they do a similar thing with their browser tabs. It’s not uncommon to have umpteen tabs open at any one time — and of all the stuff I have backed up, I’d be pretty devastated if I lost all my tabs. I could potentially get them back, but that involves trawling through days, maybe even weeks of internet history.  When you visit as many websites as I do, it’s hard to tell what you had open as a tab and what you were merely browsing out of curiosity.

But I digress. I’ve had two tabs open for close to a year now, and as much as I’ve wanted to write something substantial about the iPad mini, there just isn’t anything worth writing about. Not because the iPad mini is boring or anything, but because I just haven’t been inspired to write anything worth publishing. Because when it comes down to it, the iPad just isn’t as interesting as the HP TouchPad was, back in the day. WebOS was just so bad and so good at the same time, you know?

I’ve owned an iPad mini since it was first released around this time last year. It wasn’t my first tablet, but it is my first iPad. I honestly don’t have anything else to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but with the new iPad Air coming out riding on the coat tails of the iPad mini, I thought I’d take a moment to write about how I’ve been using it.

I think the most telling thing about the iPad is that it hasn’t replaced my computer. That’s telling because I see a lot of older, mature folk replace their clunky Dells with futuristic, touch-enabled iPads, even if they don’t run the same programs as their old computer used to. Why? I’m not sure, exactly, but at a guess, it has something to do with how intuitive Apple has made iOS (and then turned everything upside down with iOS 7, but that’s for another time).

But as much as I enjoy using the iPad, it hasn’t replaced my computer. If all I’m doing is light web browsing and catching up on my Instapaper backlog, then sure, I’ll pick up the iPad over the MacBook Pro any day; the iPad is lighter, has a much longer battery life, and lets me concentrate on one thing at a time, for the most part. It’s kind of like the Kindle, in that regard. For everything else, there’s the Mac: for switching between any of my umpteen open tabs, writing content into browser text boxes, and doing any other kind of serious work.

I tried writing one of the MacTalk daily news posts on my iPad mini one time, and while it was OK, the software keyboard really hindered the process by needing to switch between the various keyboards to access special characters. I could have worked around the issue by using a hardware keyboard or using an app that offered an extra row of characters, but that would have required a little extra preparation on my part, something I wasn’t able to do at the time.

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I didn’t even want to talk about cable management anyway…

I did, however, want to talk about the importance of taking a break. Yours truly, at MacTalk:

We all laughed at Qualcomm at CES earlier this month when they opened their keynote with three individuals who, for want of a better phrase, proudly proclaimed they were “born mobile”. And while they came across as completely bizarre, their message was sound, even though their delivery wasn’t: we’re now in a generation where people have screens in their faces all the time. If we’re not looking at our iPhone on the street, we’re looking at our iPad, on the bus. If not the iPad, then the MacBook Pro at work. Or the iMac at home. The LCD TV connected to the Apple TV and/or Mac Mini in the lounge. And even when we’re in bed, the screens don’t stop: maybe we have a Kindle. Or maybe we have the new-fangled iPad mini, and look at that before going to bed. And when we wake up, the first thing people do is check their iPhone on their bedside clock radio.

It’s scary how much time we spend connected. We invented things like push email to get our email delivered directly to all our devices, all at the same time. We invented push notifications so we could always know when people mentioned us on Twitter. There’s no denying that we live in a fast-paced world these days, and maybe you love that. But I want to stress the importance of taking a break every now and again — not just for your sake, but the people around you, too. Maybe it’s why everyone is ditching their iPhones and going back to dumb-phones. Or maybe why The Verge’s Paul Miller is currently spending a year away from the internet.

So you see, maybe it’s not about cable management or the importance of cleaning your Mac at all. Whilst those things are both important in and of themselves, it’s the underlying premise of both that’s the real message here, the need to turn off. Think. Read a book — an actual book, not one that you’ve just purchased and downloaded with Amazon’s wonderful one-click purchase system, which instantly pushes the book to your eReader of choice. See what I mean?

It’s actually something I’ve talked about before:

Think about it: when was the last time you went without staring at some array of pixels for some amount of time? If you’re not looking at your computer, you’re looking at your phone. Or playing with your iPad. Using a digital camera. And so on, and so forth.

The question then becomes: where and when do we draw that line in the sand and say: “hey, I just need a moment to myself.” A little alone time, time away from Twitter, time away from Facebook, time to just sit, think, and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?

Not even thinking about anything in particular. Just the chance to have a little down time every now and again. The chance to get offline.

Paul Miller is doing without the internet for an entire year. Strange, for a technology writer, but he’s writing about it at The Verge, where his Offline series of posts are always bring up an interesting point from the disconnected world.

And he’s not the only one. In this ever-connected society we live in, people are leaving their iPhones behind. It’s not that they don’t find 24-7 access to the internet inconvenient or anything, it’s just that, well, it can be a burden as much as it can be a blessing. Using your smartphone to find any information on anything is great and all, but you know what’s even better? Having time to yourself where you’re not staring at some pixels, no matter how pretty they may be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually very appreciative of being able to look something up quickly, fix something wrong with a server in a different state, or whatever else. It’s great to be able to have that constantly connected access in the fast-paced life of today. We may not have flying jetpacks or hoverboards like sci-fi movies predicted, but we do have these pocket-sized devices that mean we’re a moment away from the collective knowledge of humankind, devices that can connect us instantaneously to someone on the other side of the world. But sometimes, just sometimes, that can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Being constantly switched-on, being constantly connected is a chore when all you want to do is do the exact opposite.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe you know someone that goes on hikes for days at a time. Someone that spends a lot of time, not necessarily alone, but away from technology, away from those pretty pixels. Maybe they take a day away from technology every week. Maybe they have a policy of doing as much exercise as they do sitting down and playing computer games. These are all good things, to be sure, but what if they’re not for me?

Maybe then, the answer to this business of switching off, of taking a break, is not to do less interaction with technology, but to do more of the other stuff. In my opinion, a big part of the problem is how much time we spend doing technology-related things — leaving precious little time for the other things, the non-technology stuff. Somewhere along the way, we lost our balance — if you seem to be spending your entire life in front of the screen, maybe that’s because you are. The solution then, is simple: do other stuff. Get the balance back.

I don’t make many New Year’s Resolutions. But if I were to make a resolution, right now, it would be to simply read more books. I mean, I have a Kindle for a reason, right? (And I’m talking about the book-reading reason, not the “I’m an avid technology enthusiast” reason.) I didn’t read many books in 2012; one book on Kindle, maybe a handful of paperbacks. I want that to change in 2013.

Read more books. I can do that.

Spotify and Me

Spotify launched in Australia around a month ago, during which I was able to give it a red hot go. I wrote on MacTalk about my experience with the all-singing, all-dancing streaming music service:

On the face of it, Spotify is brilliant. Who doesn’t want a music collection the size of the iTunes Music Store for free? All the big names are on-board: Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony, Warner, and so on. Spotify means that anytime you want to listen to a track — be it something that you’ve just Shazam’d or something you heard on the radio a few days ago, you can open up Spotify, search for your track or artist of choice, and listen to their music, completely free of charge.


When I first started out, I wasn’t so sure about Spotify, either as an iTunes replacement or as a standalone music ecosystem. I had my doubts about how Spotify could work for me, especially with such a heavy emphasis on the social and music discovery (and it’s not just because I have what some would call an extremely varied music taste, either). The fact that Spotify prioritises the social aspects of music over some of the intelligence of iTunes should give you some idea as to whether Spotify will work for you. Maybe the world doesn’t need to know you love listening Carly Rae Jepsen as much as you do, (which is exactly why there’s a Private Session feature). You can share tracks, artists, albums, or playlists to pretty much anywhere you can think of. There are still things that irk me a bit about the service, such as the fact the range of metadata is paltry, no, basically non-existent, in comparison to iTunes. You don’t get play counts in Spotify, Last Played info, number of skips, or any of that kind of information. It’s basically just track name, artist, time, and album. That’s it.
But you know what? Not having all of that metadata is strangely liberating, too. It means I don’t have to worry about meticulously keeping my library organised, or worry about album art, because Spotify does all of that for me. I get that Spotify isn’t for everyone — if you’re into very specific music genres or particularly obscure stuff (you hipster, you), maybe Spotify isn’t exactly what you’re looking for in a streaming music service. But hey, that’s what the 30-day trial is for, right?

At the end of the day, I’m not sure whether I’ll continue with Spotify or not after my trial is up. It’s a great service, and there’s a lot to love. Being able to look up and play almost every artist I can think of is extremely, extremely cool; it innately satisfies the desire for instant gratification everyone seems to have these days, and perhaps for that reason alone, means that Spotify will be hugely successful. On the other hand, I miss my metadata and my smart playlists terribly. Having none of that info in Spotify is a pretty big blow to how I’ve been listening to music in the past.

Earlier this week, I cancelled my Spotify subscription. As it turns out, I did miss that kind of metadata more than I might have originally let on. The thing is, I rely on play counts to tell me how much I “like” certain music. Last played information, combined with play counts, tells me how long it’s been since I’ve listened to heavily-played tracks in my library, like Call Me Maybe. I’m convinced that Smart Playlists are the best thing since sliced bread, and losing them in Spotify was too much of a compromise, seemingly for the advantage of music availability and discoverability.

Which is kind of a shame, because there’s lots to love about Spotify Premium. Having the biggest music library accessible wherever you have a data connection is nothing short of amazing, and it comes in ridiculously handy forms: a few friends wanted to listen to a song, and instead of looking it up on YouTube, I simply opened up Spotify, put in the artist name, and there it was — because if nothing else, isn’t technology supposed to make this kind of stuff more accessible to people? Isn’t technology like Spotify meant to lead to greater enjoyment of the things you love the most, i.e. music?

I liked how Spotify because it scrobbled to Last.fm on mobile. I liked how having Spotify on my phone meant I didn’t have to carry around all the music I wanted to listen to. I liked (in part) how Spotify was all about the social — sharing music to others, listening and subscribing to playlists others had made, and even all the discovery features to help you to discover new music. In the end though, paying $12 a month for those privileges didn’t seem worth it to me, especially as I started listening to my own music within Spotify towards the end of my subscription. I mean, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having the largest music library, literally at your fingertips?

Thankfully, there’s good news. The difference between Spotify and Rdio is that Spotify has a free tier, too: for exactly nothing, you can use Spotify as a preview of whether you’ll like a new album by an artist, or if you’re just looking to play a song that you don’t own and don’t want to go track down. You don’t get access to the mobile version of Spotify on the free version nor any of the ofline features, but that’s not a big deal when you’re listening to local files you own, anyway. Plus, I don’t mind syncing music to my device even though it takes up precious megabytes. All this means that Spotify on the desktop still manages to satisfy that “instant gratification” drive I have when it comes to music — I can still listen to any song I want to, just with a short ad interspersed between tracks.

In fact, just the other day I opened Spotify to listen to a Pink song I had heard before but didn’t own — after playing that a few times in Spotify, I acquired a copy and now it sits on some 68 plays in my iTunes library.

If you haven’t given Spotify a go yet, you should. It’s a good service with many neat features — it’s just that for the way I personally listen to music (i.e. going for the overplay with one, two, or a whole album at a time and swapping between artists and albums I love), Spotify and Me just weren’t meant to be.

And I think I’m okay with that.

TVs are all awful

tl;dr – Your 1920×1080 TV takes a 1920×1080 signal, chops the edges off it and then stretches the rest to fit the screen because of decisions made in the 1930s.

via mjg59 | TVs are all awful.

Isn’t technology fantastic?

Wherefore art thou, iPhone? (Part I)

Alternate title: iPhone 4 review. ‘Cos this is what this is.

It’s just a phone, guys.

Aha, but you see, dear reader, that is where the distinction ends. It’s a phone, but it’s also a gateway to the Internet. An incredible communication device. An excellent media player. A brilliant email client. And even a capable games console.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the iPhone 4.

As I stood outside T-Life Northgate, eagerly lining up for the midnight launch of the most anticipated smartphone yet, some Optus-reseller employee comes up to us. After a short chat about mobile telco’s (there is no comparison between Telstra and Optus, especially in Tasmania), he decided to give us a sneak-peek at his stores’s demo unit. A couple of hurriedly-tweeted TwitPics later, some Angry Birds launch-time speed tests between the 4, a 3GS and a 3G, and not a few “oohs” and “aahs” at that gorgeous retina display, and our iPhone 4 lust hit fever pitch.

That last hour was the longest hour of my life. But it was cool, because I got to spend it chilling with some very cool Apple camaraderie – who provided an ample supply of entertainment, gummy bears, and decent conversation. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After what seemed like an age (but in reality was only five hours) I was second into the store, behind the very nice man who had provided my night’s transport – I felt I owed him that much, at least. Out again not 20 minutes later, one 32GB iPhone 4 in hand, I was the first out – beating the first guy in by mere seconds. The front half of the line (which by now spanned more than 100 people, easily) applauded me as the first to emerge from the T-Life gauntlet, and I was the first person in Tassie with the Apple’s most highly-coveted offering so far.

Bringing it home later that night (or early that morning, as the case was) and setting it up from the comfort of my own bed was an absolute joy. Downloading my most frequently used apps, setting my email, Twitter, Facebook, IM accounts – the first thing I noticed was how much faster the thing was. Downloads, installs, any operation at all, just flew along. Sheer unadulterated speed oozing from every animation, every transition, every app launch, every fast app switch. And no keyboard lag!

Early the next morning I took out my cut up SIM (that I had converted from a mini-SIM to a micro-SIM the night before with my handy-dandy SIM cutter), and put in the official micro-SIM that had been provided as it had been activated and was ready to go. No dramas there.

Spent the whole of Friday babying the thing – the whole experience wasn’t as “wow” as it was when I originally got an iPhone almost two years ago now, but it was still a worthy upgrade (thanks in part to iOS 4 suffering serious performance issues on an iPhone 3G). Again, speed was the most noticeable thing here – the phone was markedly more responsive. It kept me entertained through dull Games Physics lectures, and was an excellent public-transport companion thanks to the small music selection I had synced on earlier that morning.

The camera is nothing short of amazing. The colours of any photo just “pop”, and it’s nice to finally have a camera that has an autofocus that actually works – which means macro photos are now able to be taken without any of that blurriness the 3G camera exhibited. While I haven’t yet used the video camera for any serious purpose, I’m sure the opportunity will eventually arise.

While the screen is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever laid eyes on (if I had a girlfriend this sentence would read differently), to be honest you have to be looking pretty hard to notice the difference in everyday things (typing out messages, – maybe it’s because I’m using it with an anti-glare screen protector (which sacrifices screen clarity for a more matte look [as opposed to the glossy]), or maybe it’s because my eyesight is absolutely terrible. Either way, the difference is figuratively night and day when placed to a previous-generation device like the iPhone 3G or 3GS (as they have the same screen). Text is one of the things that benefits the most from the much higher pixel density and improved screen tech (IPS vs traditional TN) – increased contrast and no more jagged edges means text is now clear as, well, crystal. The new font is a welcome change as well!

Technologically, it’s very impressive – the best mobile display on the market paired with an impressive (but not exhaustive, Apple aren’t known to have features for the sake of it) feature list, and one of the best smartphone platforms on the market today? A winning combination, indeed.