Maybe I Don’t Want an iPad After All

I am nothing if not fickle. I think I’ve thoroughly demonstrated that in the past. But in case you’re not convinced, let me give you another little piece of evidence. For months now, I have wanted an iPad. Actually I’ve wanted one ever since they were first announced last year. But it’s only been a few months since I decided that I am definitely going to get one. I was sure of it. There was nothing else I wanted to spend my money on more than an iPad, and I was determined to save up for one.

Except that now I don’t think I will get one. I’m actually planning to get a Windows 7 laptop instead. Crazy, I know. It wasn’t that long ago that I’d pretty much decided that Microsoft was dead to me, and that I was planning to shift all of my computing over to iOS instead. But as part of that plan, my wife and I bought a Windows 7 desktop PC to hold all of our videos and pictures and stuff. And in using this new PC, I discovered something that I really didn’t expect: Windows 7 is actually really freaking good.

Of course, I have a Windows 7 PC, obviously. Why do I need to buy another one? Well, there are several reasons. In this day and age of mobile computing, I don’t really want to be stuck in one particular spot when I want to use a computer. I want to be able to sit on the couch, or at the kitchen table, or maybe on the toilet. But then, I have an iPod Touch. And that device can certainly do a great deal of what I want to do with a computer. But it can’t do everything. For example, this blog. It is technically possible for me to work on my blog on my iPod Touch. But it’s certainly not a pleasant experience.

Not only that, but it’s a little annoying to have to share a computer with somebody else. It’s not that my wife messes things up or anything. We each have separate accounts, so it’s basically like having two separate computers in that regard. But if I want to use the computer and my wife is already using it, I have to wait until she’s done. And vice versa, of course. So it would just make life a little easier if I had my own computer, and then we wouldn’t have to fight over the desktop.

This doesn’t explain why I would get a Windows 7 laptop instead of an iPad, of course. There are really three reasons why I would prefer a laptop to an iPad. First is value, second is versatility, and third is a physical keyboard.

Allow me to explain further. An iPad is not a horribly expensive device. The cheapest model costs $500, which is a substantial sum of money, but not an outrageous sum. But what you get for that $500 is a bit lacking when compared to a $500 laptop, at least depending on how you look at it. The average $500 laptop is considerably bulkier and uglier than an iPad, and it doesn’t have access to the iTunes App Store like an iPad does, but it is faster, more powerful and has a lot more storage than an iPad. So it’s a matter of what sorts of things are important to you.

That leads into my second reason, versatility. An iPad is a wonderful device, but it is somewhat limited in what it can do, largely because of the restrictions placed upon it by Apple, but also due to the form factor (which I’ll get to in a second). There are definitely advantages to Apple’s “walled garden” approach. You don’t have to worry about downloading malware from the App Store, for example, because Apple controls everything that goes in there. But on the other hand, if you want a certain program that Apple doesn’t want on the iPad for whatever reason, then you can’t have it. Or you have to jailbreak your iPad to get it. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish that I’d rather not get into. In any case, to make a long story short, if I want to have five different web browsers installed on my Windows laptop, then that’s my business. If I want to browse the web with anything other than Safari on an iPad, then I’m pretty much out of luck.

Then there’s the third reason: a physical keyboard. One of the major reasons I want something more portable is so I can work on my book and on my blog while sitting on the couch. I could conceivably do that with an iPad, but I worry that the lack of a physical keyboard would make it needlessly difficult. I could always buy a keyboard to go with my iPad. But why bother when I can spend less money and get a more powerful, more versatile device that has a built-in keyboard?

So there you have it. As much as I’ve wanted an iPad since they were first announced about a year ago, it looks like I won’t be getting one, at least for now. In fact, since I started working on this blog post, I have already picked out a new laptop. It is an Acer Aspire TimelineX AS5820T. It has an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 640 GB hard drive, a 15.6″ 1366 x 768 screen, is less than an inch thick, weighs less than 5 and a half pounds, and supposedly gets 8 hours of battery life, although I imagine that 4 hours is much more likely. And it was on sale for $600, which was nice.

I won’t be getting it in time to really say anything about it in next week’s blog post. But I do intend to write about it two weeks from now. I bought it directly from Microsoft, and Microsoft does something called Microsoft Signature, where they take all the crapware and bloatware off and replace it with useful programs. I’ve heard that it dramatically improves a computer’s performance, and I will make sure to tell you all about it two weeks from now. In the meantime, you can mull over what wonderful thing I will write about next week.

Tablets. Tablets! TABLETS!!! (Or, Why Is It Impossible To Compete With Apple?)

To say that the iPad has set off a bit of a craze for tablets throughout the consumer electronics industry is a bit of an understatement. Just about every company under the sun has some sort of tablet in development in order to take advantage of this seemingly new market that Apple has opened up. Case in point: last week HP announced the HP TouchPad, a device that is clearly designed to take on the iPad. Even the name makes this clear. There are also a number of other tablets coming from companies like Motorola, LG, and RIM, as well as from other companies.

The proliferation of all of these iPad wannabes makes me wonder something: why is it so hard to compete with Apple? None of these tablets really seems like it’s going to be able to offer anything drastically different or better than what the iPad offers. Not only that, but none of them are even available yet. There’s a lot of talk going around the internets that these new tablets have all kinds of wonderful features that the iPad doesn’t have, but it’s entirely possible that the iPad 2 will be out before any of these competitors are available.

Right now, there are only 2 tablets available that directly compete with the iPad. These are the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak 7. (There’s also the Dell Streak 5, but that device isn’t really sure whether it’s a tablet or a smartphone. I’ve seen it marketed both ways.) Neither of these tablets are all that compelling in comparison to the iPad, mostly because they’re both running Android 2.2, which is an OS that’s designed for phones, not tablets. The true tablet version of Android has yet to be released, although it’s supposed to be on the verge of release.

(In fairness, iOS, the operating system that powers the iPad, also started out as a smartphone OS, but the difference is that Apple makes iOS and they optimized it for the tablet form factor, whereas Samsung and Dell just slapped a smartphone OS that somebody else made onto their tablets without making any major changes to it.)

So the iPad has been out for almost a year, and right now there are only two devices that really compete with it, and neither one offers a compelling alternative. A myriad of tablets are headed for release later this year, all with real advantages over the existing iPad. But as I noted earlier, it’s entirely possible that the iPad 2 will overshadow all of its competitors as soon as it’s announced.

Why have Apple’s competitors waited so long to come up with a compelling alternative to the iPad? After all, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Apple has dominated the market for MP3 players, largely in part because nobody has ever been able or willing to come up with a compelling alternative to Apple’s iPod line of MP3 players. And in the smartphone market, Apple is not the number one in terms of market share, but they do make more money off of their smartphones than any other player in this market. (No, I don’t have a link for that assertion. Feel free to prove me wrong.) ¬†And I would argue that Apple is also winning in terms of mind share. Ask any average person on the street what the first thing that comes into their mind is when you say “smartphone” and I imagine 9 out of 10 people would say “iPhone”.

It’s not as if Apple was the first company into any of these markets. There were MP3 players before the iPod, there were smartphones before the iPhone, and there were tablet computers before the iPad. But in all these markets, Apple has been able to take already existing products and make them better. And those companies that were there first are either scrambling to keep up (RIM, Microsoft) or have more or less given up (Creative).

It’s not like Apple’s products are perfect. All three of Apple’s core iOS devices have seemingly major flaws. Lack of support for Adobe Flash, no expandable memory, no cameras on the iPad… the list goes on and on. And yet, Apple keeps on selling millions of these things while their competitors flounder around like fish on dry land.

I actually think that the issue is price. This is ironic, because Apple has a reputation as a company who sells their products at a premium price. And I’m not saying by any means that Apple’s products are cheaper than their competitors. But in actuality, at least in the markets that Apple dominates, their products aren’t any more expensive either. In fact, I think you could say that when it comes to MP3 players, smartphones and tablets, there is no company that has achieved a more perfect marriage of quality and value as Apple.

The proof of this assertion comes when you look at the one major market in which Apple competes but doesn’t dominate. This is the market for laptop and desktop computers. Apple’s makes fantastic laptops and desktops, and yet their market share for these products is quite low. Why? Because Apple sells their laptops and desktops at a much higher price than most, if not all, other major PC manufacturers. Apple’s cheapest laptop costs $1000. It’s perfectly possible to get a decent Windows laptop for $500. I don’t know about other people, but if I was going to buy a laptop, I’d probably buy a Windows laptop, just because they’re so much cheaper. But if I was going to spend $1000 or more on a laptop, I’d definitely buy a Mac.

Now, of course all things eventually come to an end. There will come a day when Apple is no longer the dominant consumer electronics company in the world. I have no idea when that day will come. And I have no idea who will replace them at the top of the heap. But I don’t think it’s going to be soon. Because frankly, right now I’m not sure there’s a company out there who has any idea how to compete with Apple.

The NGP: Not Gonna Purchase (Unless It Costs Less Than $400)

I have not been shy about expressing my appreciation of the iPad on this blog. Despite my limited experience with it, I would be willing to say that it’s one of the most powerful and incredible devices I’ve ever had the privilege of playing with. I am almost 100% positive that the iPad 2 will be the next big technology purchase I make. But of course, there are always bigger and better things just beyond the horizon. And so I’ve already found myself thinking about what I’m going to save up for after I get an iPad.

One of the strongest candidates is something that doesn’t even have an official name yet. Instead, it has a code name: the Sony NGP, which stands for Next Generation Portable. Clever, huh? In any case, the NGP is more or less the follow-up to Sony’s previous portable gaming system, known as the PSP, or Playstation Portable. The PSP came out all the way back in 2005, so it’s definitely a bit long in the tooth. I only just bought one last summer, and being a father of young children, I don’t get much time to actually play video games anymore, so I haven’t actually used it a ton yet. But I like it. It’s clearly technology that’s almost 6 years old now. But there’s definitely some good games available for it.

In any case, the NGP is a beast of a machine. I don’t necessarily want to bore you with all of the technical details, so here’s a link where you can find out more if you’re interested. Here’s the quick summary: quad-core processor, 960 x 544 5″ OLED display which is also a touchscreen, multi-touch touchpad on the back, a gyroscope for motion sensing, cameras on the front and back, 3G connectivity, etc. Basically, if you can pack it into a handheld device, this thing has got it.

Not only that, but the games should be great too. If you read last week’s post, you would know that I’ve got a thing for Nintendo’s exclusive franchises like Mario and Zelda. Well, Sony’s stable of exclusive franchises is no slouch either. Already Sony has announced that games based on franchises like Killzone, Uncharted and Resistance are coming to the NGP. Killzone and Uncharted are definitely two of my favorite video game franchises, so I’m very excited about that.

There is one little concern that has yet to be answered by Sony that could have me writing a much angrier blog post in a few months. That, of course, is price. As I just said, the NGP is a beast of a machine. And I’m afraid that it’s going to have a beast of a price to match.

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but I think the ideal price point for this device is $300. If you read last week’s post, you know that I spent a great deal of time railing against the $250 price point of the Nintendo 3DS. So why would I be okay with this device costing $50 more? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. First of all, the 3DS is notably inferior to a competing device that costs less. The NGP is considerably more powerful than any other handheld device either currently on the market or slated to come to market in the near future. Therefore it is logical for it to cost more than other competing devices. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if pricing it lower than competing devices would actually make some people wonder what was wrong with it. That, and, the lower the price, the more money Sony would lose on each one.

Second, although $300 is indeed more than the cost of the 3DS, it is considerably less than what this device could and probably will cost. As I believe I’ve already mentioned, this is a beast of a machine. It is entirely likely that Sony would lose money on each one sold even if they sell it for $600. Now, Sony has already said that the NGP will cost less than $600. Which is good, because the Playstation 3 cost $600 when it came out over 4 years ago, and it was obvious from consumer reaction that it was priced too high. If $600 is too much for a home console, then it’s definitely too much for a handheld console.

But even $500 is way too much. At $400, I would probably try to buy one, but I’m not sure that many other people would. I really think that $300 is the magic price point that they have to hit if this thing is going to be a success.

I can already hear the inevitable question, though. Why, if Sony would lose money at $600, would they ever sell it for $300? In fact, it’s actually quite common for video game consoles to be sold at a loss. The thinking is that by taking a loss on the actual console, you can flood the market with your console and then sell more games, which of course are ridiculously overpriced. So that’s where the real money is.

Anyway, it will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the NGP over the next few years. The PSP certainly wasn’t a failure, but it definitely wasn’t as much of a success as Sony hoped it would be back when it first launched in 2005. The thinking at the time was that the PSP would be able to do something that no other handheld console had been able to do: dislodge Nintendo from the top spot in the portable video game market. At first, it seemed inevitable that Sony would dominate the portable market as thoroughly as they dominated the home console market (and count me among those who thought the Nintendo DS was doomed right from the start.) But Sony overpriced the PSP and didn’t support it with enough good games, and the DS went on to dominate like the various Game Boy consoles had before it.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter what a console’s market share is. All I care about is whether or not it has good games. So let’s hear it for good games on both the 3DS and the NGP.

You Expect Me to Pay HOW MUCH For This?

As you may or may not have noticed, I am a big fan of video games. I own well over 100 video games, and I own every single current video game console out there. My introduction to video games came when my parents bought my brother and I a Nintendo Entertainment System when we were little kids. I have pretty much been a Nintendo fanboy ever since. Sure, there have been times when I’ve been a little less enthusiastic about Nintendo than at other times. But all in all I’ve remained pretty faithful over the years. After all, I’ve owned every single Nintendo console that’s ever been released except for the Game Boy Color, and that includes the Virtual Boy (and two different versions of the Game Boy Advance).

However, I’m starting to wonder if my days as a Nintendo fan are numbered. Not only that, but I’m starting to wonder if Nintendo’s days as a major player in the video game industry are numbered. You see, Nintendo has a new console coming out in a couple of months, the Nintendo 3DS. As you might have gathered from the name, it displays images in 3D, and it’s one of the first devices to display 3D images without needing special glasses to see them. It also has a 3D camera, so you can take 3D pictures and show them off. It’s got some other nice features too. It’s definitely a nice video game console, but aside from the 3D, it doesn’t really do anything that other devices (namely the iPhone/iPod Touch) don’t already do.

So you would think that maybe it would be pretty cheap, right? At the very least, cheaper than the iPod Touch, right? Well, you would be wrong. Nintendo is for some reason pricing this thing at $250. You can get an iPod Touch for $230.

I really am having a hard time understanding the logic behind this thinking. I mean, the 3DS is decent, but it’s really not spectacular. It’s not as powerful as an iPod Touch, and it’s more expensive than the base model of the iPod Touch. Oh, and that model has 8 GB of storage, whereas the 3DS only has 1.5 GB of storage. Granted, the iPod Touch isn’t specifically designed to be a video game console like the 3DS is, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a ton of good games for it. Plus, it can do so many other things that the 3DS can’t do, or at least can’t do as well.

Now, obviously I haven’t actually used a 3DS, so some of this is going to be assumption, but I think it’s pretty good assumption. One of the core features of the iPod Touch is the ability to store music on it and listen to that music. The 3DS will, I believe, have this capability as well, but it’s unlikely to be as good as on the iPod Touch. For one, the 3DS only has 1.5 GB of internal storage. That’s not going to hold very many songs. The 3DS does have an SD card slot, but that’s still kind of a pain. Plus, the iPod Touch syncs with iTunes, making it easy to transfer music to and from the device. The 3DS doesn’t have anything like that.

I could go on at great length about all of the things that make the iPod Touch superior to the 3DS, but the biggest factor to compare is games. The 3DS has three things going for it in this regard: 3D, physical buttons, and Nintendo’s exclusive franchises such as Mario and Zelda. Only two of those things actually matter to me. 3D is just a gimmick. I really have no interest in playing games in 3D. I would definitely check it out if I had a 3DS. But I’m not going to pay $250 for 3D.

As for physical buttons, this might require a bit of explanation if you’re not a gamer. The iPod Touch has no physical controls for controlling gameplay. All of the control is done on the touch screen. There are quite a lot of innovative games that use touch controls to great effect, but traditional games designed for some sort of controller are hard to adapt to a touch screen. For those sorts of games, physical buttons are definitely superior. But again, they aren’t worth $250.

So finally we come to the last advantage the 3DS has: Nintendo’s exclusive franchises. As a long-time Nintendo fanboy, this is why I will eventually buy a 3DS. But even Nintendo exclusives are not enough to make me pay $250 for an underpowered and gimmicky console. I can wait until the price drops.

Plus, the $250 base price is just the beginning. I also need to buy games, and this is where the iPod Touch has spoiled me. Games on the iTunes App Store usually cost $1-$5. $10 is just about the highest price you’ll see for a game on the App Store, with one exception. (That would be Chaos Rings, which normally costs $13. I bought it when it was on sale for $7.) 3DS games, on the other hand, are likely to cost $30-$40. Official pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but considering that’s how much games for Nintendo’s current DS system cost, I can’t quite imagine that games for the 3DS are going to be any less.

And ultimately, this is the problem. I already own an iPod Touch. And my iPod Touch does way more cool stuff than a 3DS will. So why in the world would I spend $250 on a 3DS when I already own something better?

The most frustrating thing about this is that nobody seems to care. At IGN, which is pretty much my sole source for video game news and information, most of the editors have already pre-ordered a 3DS. Now, from a professional standpoint, I would expect them to, because it’s their job to keep up on what’s going on in the video game industry. But all of them seem to think that $250 is a perfectly reasonable price point for the 3DS. Obviously, I disagree. So I’m going to vote against it with my wallet. I just hope that more Nintendo fans join me.