A preview of the 11th Doctor Who

Last weekend the ABC screened the last of the Tennant episodes of Doctor Who (six weeks after the BBC… ahem) and while I wasn’t impressed with the two-parter, I am very sad to see David Tennant leave. The death of a Doctor is always painful to watch.

To ease the pain a bit, though, i thought I’d post the Preview trailers the BBC has released. The first one, released about a month ago, gives away the most in terms of spoilers – but even then it’s just the occasional face or word that indicates the villain – Weeping Angels, vampires, Daleks.

And the second one is fluff, mostly, without giving anything away… but it’s still good to watch.

I suspect “Geronimo” will be Matt Smith’s “Alons-y”. Which I can live with.

The next season is rumoured to start April 3, 2010 in the UK. Who’s looking forward to it? What did you think of the previews?

Privacy – On the internet, nobody knows your deep dark secrets

Last week Google launched it’s new social network Buzz, a souped-up Twitter-killer integrated into Gmail. And while the concept was largely praised by early-adopters and social media critics, initial privacy concerns sent a lot of people into a panic. One of the main issues was “auto-follow” – when you signed up, the people you email the most with your Gmail account are automatically added to your Follow-list, instantly giving them access to your public posts, shared Google Reader items and location information. For people such as this lady, who had emailed her abusive ex-husband, this was not the sort of information she wanted to give him! After only a few days Google changed that to an “auto-suggest” model much like Facebook does, and also addressed most of the other privacy concerns initially raised.

This got me thinking about privacy in this new age of interconnectivity. We’re spending more and more of our lives online, and leaving digital footprints everywhere we go. And especially now with the rise of the GPS-enabled smartphone – not only is what we do being documented but also where and when we do it. Buzz is perhaps the most powerful demonstration of that – doing a “Nearby” search on Buzz can reveal all sorts of things. On the weekend, I noticed that everyone in Box Hill was talking Chinese New Year, people in Altona were discussing the by-election, someone in Preston was recommending a florist for Valentine’s Day while in Oakleigh a man bragged about getting drunk with the boys to avoid spending time with the wife (weirdo).

I’m reminded of the somewhat prophetic words of Scott McNeally in 1999 when he was CEO of computer giant Sun Microsystems. “You have zero privacy anyway,” he said. “Get over it.” Eleven years later, we’re starting to find out exactly how true those words were.

To many, this is a disturbing trend. With more of our lives online, and often viewable by strangers, there’s a heightened risk of identity theft, stalking and other negative behaviours.
Parents worry about pictures of their children ending up on the internet. My mother runs a playgroup for children at our local church, each term she gets several enrollment forms with the “Do not allow photos of my child on the website” box checked. These are fully clothed children playing on swings at the local park, in public. I don’t see the need to worry about privacy there. Any pervert with a cheap zoom camera could take similar photos – and even then, where’s the harm? A worldwide network of dirty old men masturbating to… clothed pictures of children playing public? Sure, there’s probably a valid fear that a paedophile might develop an affection for a child that may lead to something more sinister – a low risk, but one that ticking a box on a form won’t prevent. The same thing can happen at the beach, the pool, the local McDonald’s or the bus stop.

Our willingness to put so much of our lives online makes us very easy targets for a growing, but oft ignored, form of crime: identity theft. According to SpendOnLife.com, with a reported 10 million victims in 2008 in the US alone. While 51% of identity theft is from having your wallet stolen, I suspect a large amount of ID theft comes from compromised technology. Mainly things like spyware or keyloggers on your computer, sensitive information sent in plain text over email (most people don’t realise the majority of email is unencrypted) or hacked systems (like when US Phone carrier T-Mobile’s servers were hacked a few years ago). This emphasizes, in my opinion, the need for selective privacy controls on our social media. Don’t tweet your address or phone number, don’t put them on any social media unless you’re sure it’s locked down and secure. Basic, simple rules we learnt in high school, but sadly there’s an older generation of computer users that don’t have that understanding because the internet is still new to them.

But while there are very real concerns about our increasing online presence, the openness that comes with such a public online life could bring some great things. I think this culture of sharing will bring people closer together a lot, giving us a better understanding of each other. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I’m constantly aware of what’s going on in the lives of friends I who, for various reasons, I may not see very often. So when we do meet up for the first time in months, we don’t have to ‘catch up’ – we already know what’s been going on – and can have fresher, more relevant conversations.

I also think it will make us a more honest society. I want people to assume they have no privacy – if you have no way of hiding things, you will have nothing to hide. As blogosphere expert Jeff Jarvis puts it, “in the company of nudists, nobody is naked”. Too often, I think, our Real Life identity is more fragmented than our online profiles. We have our “This is me, when I’m at work” personality, our “When I’m out with friends” personality (often many such personalities, due to different friendship groups”, our “at home with the family” personality and so on. On the internet, we can keep that if we wish – but I think we’re moving towards having our one, “online self”. Social media aggregators like Buzz, Friendfeed and Cliqset do essentially that – gathering all your accounts and profiles (like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs and photo sites) together in one place. That will, I think, bring out our true avatars much more. Who we are online, will be who we are at home, at work, with friends etc. I see that being a great thing.

If you’re worried that that would mean your boss would see those drunken photos from your university days, don’t be. We’re all human, and the chances are your boss has similar photos that are just as embarrassing. That’s what Jarvis calls “mutually assured humiliation” – everyone knows everyone else’s dirty secrets. So they’re not secret anymore, and since they’re much the same as everyone else’s, they’re not so dirty.

We live in a world of lies and deceit. On the news, our politicians pretend to be perfect and above reproach but are inevitably revealed as human, with human weaknesses and fallibilities (my favourite of recent times is Mark Sanford, whose sudden six-day disappearance caused a media frenzy that  ‘surprised’ him). I hope the internet, through its openness, can turn around this culture of dishonesty. Most political indiscretions are picked up fairly quickly by the media – but when they’re not (our media is just as fallible and subject to corruption as our leaders) bloggers and citizen journalists can uncover them. But politicians have, I think, the most to gain from openness. Mistakes and imperfections are more endearing than facades of perfection. Consider the David Letterman sex scandal from last year. On his show, Letterman confessed to having slept with several women who worked for him on the show. What struck me about his confession was his candour: he says “I had sex”, not “sexual relations” or “was intimate”. He’s open. He’s honest. He never denied it, he didn’t try and hush it up, he just admitted what he did and got on with things. It was really well received. Audiences were quick to forgive him and his show didn’t suffer any noticeable slump. Dave emerged from the situation with little shame or guilt – the big mistake he made was not being honest and up front with his wife in the first place.

The more we share and are open with each other, the better we’ll be able to break down barriers in our society. It’s an experiment I’m trying – I’ve been toying around with Formspring.me for a few months now, which lets people ask you either anonymously or not, any question at all which you can choose whether to answer or not. The open question nature makes it quite interesting, particularly if you follow someone prolific and interesting like Marieke Hardy (I’ve mentioned before that I think she’s awesome, right? Also, that link’s a bit not safe for work). I’ve made lots of my stuff publicly available on my Google Profile including my Buzzes and posts from here. I feel free, and confident talking about nearly anything about me in the spirit of openness.

How open are you online? Are you worried about privacy, or like me do you look forward to a more open society? What steps should people take to protect themselves on this big bad internet? Let me know in the comments!

Google Buzz: Gettin’ Buzzy Wit It

With the recent launch of Google Buzz, I’ve been toying with it a bit when I’ve got the time. It’s different, definitely not what I was expected, but I think I kinda like it.
It’s a little bit Twitter, a little bit Facebook, a little bit FriendFeed. I used to look at Facebook as my semi-private “Internet Face” – my online profile if you will. But it was mostly private and closed in, and limited in terms of integrating external sites etc. Buzz does much the same thing but it’s a “Public Internet Face”. You can see what other people are doing, and than can see what you’re doing. Which is not to say you can’t keep things private – with everything you post you can choose to make public, or only visible to selected groups or individuals. It’s much more customizable than Facebook in that regard. And in terms of aggregating your online life, it so far does an excellent job.

Despite the over 9 million posts and comments (200 posts per minute from mobile phones), it’s still very early days. But just as Gmail was a slow start, Buzz looks like it could develop into quite a powerful tool. I’ll have to play around with it a lot more to truly get my thoughts on it, and I’ll post again soon when I’ve made my mind up.

In the meantime, check out the References for this post for a number of links with more information, and some interesting thoughts about Buzz and where it’s headed. Also check out my Google Profile – be my fwend?

Here are some initial things I don’t like, though, which should be addressed.

  1. Facebook integration. All it really needs to do is post buzzes to Facebook, but so far there’s no connection at all between the two. And that’ll be hard for Google – given Facebook has just recently said it intends to launch an online email service in direct competition with Gmail.
  2. For the love of god, please let me collapse buzzes. And comments should be hidden to begin with – if I want to read comments I’ll click the link, like in Facebook.
  3. Give us the option, if we wish, to keep things in chronological order. At the moment, when someone comments on another buzz, that buzz gets dragged back to the top of the page.
  4. Flesh out the Google Profile a little, yeah? Give people more prompters and ideas for what to put on the About Me page.

But what I do love, is how the mobile version is truly social. I just had a look at Buzz through the Maps app on my phone, and I can see where people have posted their buzzes – a few scattered around me, increasing a lot the closer you get to the city. This has huge potential. The other day when we got Melbourne’s Wild storms, it seemed everyone at work was glued to a radio giving me constant updates on where it was. “The rain’s hit Sunbury! 30 billion millimeters!” they’d scream, thinking I cared. Now, we don’t need to suffer through talkback radio – imagine searching for “rain” on Buzz, and limiting it to a 20 km radius in the last 10 minutes. You’d see the little speech bubbles popping up around you and you know where it is. I’m sure that could be useful, or more to the point a useful use could be made of that feature. (Note: search isn’t – to my knowledge – available like that yet. But I’m sure it will be eventually, it’s the sort of innovation Google’s famous for).

Anyone else using Buzz? What’s your profile page, and what do you think of it? Are you fed up with social media yet?

What I love, though, is how the mobile version is truly social. I just had a look at Buzz through the Maps app on my phone, and I can see where people have posted their buzzes – a few scattered around me, increasing a lot the closer you get to the city. This has huge potential. The other day when we got Melbourne’s Wild storms, it seemed everyone at work was glued to a radio giving me constant updates on where it was. “The rain’s hit Sunbury! 30 billion millimeters!” they’d scream, thinking I cared. Now, we don’t need to suffer through talkback radio – imagine searching for “rain” on Buzz, and limiting it to a 20 km radius in the last 10 minutes. You’d see the little speech bubbles popping up around you and you know where it is. I’m sure that could be useful, or more to the point a useful use could be made of that feature. (Note: search isn’t – to my knowledge – available like that yet. But I’m sure it will be eventually, it’s the sort of innovation Google’s famous for).

Virginity – a gift to give, take, lose or sell?

It seems society still loves a bit of hymen. When Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said in a magazine article that he would tell his daughters that virginity “is the greatest gift that you can give someone”, he whipped media commentators other politicians into a frenzy. Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard misinterpreted the comments as a blanket statement directed at all women: “Australian women want to make their own choices and they don’t want to be lectured to by Mr Abbott.” And while I’m sure that’s true – nobody wants to be lectured by Mr. Abbott – it’s not the point. Tony is well within his rights to give whatever advice he likes to his own children. But I do have to wonder – is it good advice? Is virginity really all that special and is it something we should just lose, or give away?

I took a look at 43things – an interesting social website for listing your goals, how you achieved them and whether it was worth doing – at the various virginity related goals. “Stay a virgin until marriage” has 35 people that Want To Do It, and only one that said it was Worth Doing. By contrast, “lose my virginity” has 1,299 people that Want To Do It – 768 of whom listed it as a 2010 resolution and 817 people have said it was Worth Doing. On the sex-crazed internet, I suppose that’s to be expected somewhat but even if the numbers are skewed somewhat I still think it’s an indication of attitudes among young, tech-savvy people. The majority of reasons listed for why users said they wanted to hold onto their virginity were religious: “Staying virgin until marriage is one of my promise to God, i hope i can keep this one until i got married.. because for me it is sacred, and it is not a sin when you do it after you’ve blessed by God.” writes one advocate of god-based virginity. “Sex outside of marriage has painful and dangerous consequences……but inside marriage it is one of Gods most sacred gifts” writes another.

I think that like so many things that are done “because God said so”, the importance placed on virginity is probably a result of old-fashioned, misogynistic attempts to control and subjugate women, and demonise sex as a dirty thing that should only be done for procreation. After all, more often than not when talking about virginity it’s about female virginity – hence why Miss Gillard saw Abbott’s comments as directed at all Australian women. For some reason men have always placed a high value on virgin women – whether offering them as sacrifices, promising that heaven is full of them or insisting that girls are chaste until their wedding night. Why? What’s the big deal? I don’t know. I don’t see the appeal. My guess, though, is that there’s perhaps three or four underlying reasons. Firstly, men want to know that any child is definitely theirs, because otherwise they’ll bunk off like arseholes and not stick around to support it. Not so much a big deal in these days of DNA testing, but historically I guess it was an issue. Then again, men love to be explorers. For some guys, no doubt, being the first man to explore that uncharted territory is an achievement for them to celebrate – every man has a little bit of competitive spirit in them. And speaking of competition, men don’t like to be compared. If your wife has never had any other partners, you won’t hear “Well I’ve had better” after sex. And of course there’s scarcity – since virginity is a ‘once-off’ (when you’ve lost it you can’t get it back) it’s unique. Rarity always increases value. I think all these reasons have, over thousands of years, led our patriarchal society to place undue importance on keeping women chaste until marriage.

But I don’t think it’s right. I think virginity is largely insignificant these days. One’s First Time is significant, of course – it’s a developmental milestone, a marker on the journey of personal growth. But virginity itself isn’t a “special gift” – usually, it’s quick, awkward and slightly painful. As Jessica Valenti writes in her book The Purity Myth, “I fail to see how anything that lasts less than five minutes can have such an indelible ethical impact”. Virgins are, by definition, inexperienced. When given a choice between a partner who’s been around the tracks a few times and can show me a wild ride, or a first timer with no idea what they’re doing, I’ll choose the wild ride thanks, and make it a double. Sex is a journey of self-discovery that should be celebrated, not shamed and avoided. Women – and men – should have their first time when they are comfortable, with whoever they’re comfortable. Placing undue significance on the event only puts more pressure on the participants, which rarely makes for good sex. It stands to reason – the more sex you have, the more you’ll enjoy it. So let’s stop worrying about the first time. I wanna see a world where the 500th time is significant. When people choose to give their 1000th time to the right person.

As some media commentators have suggested, notions of virginity are closely tied to marriage and Abbott’s comments were seen also as an endorsement of waiting until marriage. How the hell are you supposed to know if someone’s right for you, until you’ve shagged them? Face it, sex plays a huge role in relationships these days. How many marriages are ruined by cheating husbands, frigid wives or vice versa? If couples don’t test their sexual compatibility before signing up to have and to hold till death do they part, they’re ASKING for a divorce. Try before you buy is critical. But the same logic applies whether you’re waiting for marriage, or simply “meaningful relationship” – What’s the difference between having sex a week before your wedding, compared to on the night (except that a week ago you were sober and hadn’t spent the whole day in insanely pointy and uncomfortable shoes making boring small-talk with relatives you barely know while struggling to breathe in a dress that’s three sizes too small)?

Try before you buy isn’t something teen-writer Alexandra Adornetto condones, when she writes in The Age that her “problem with casual, random sex is that while it might be physically pleasurable, it cannot possibly be meaningful or allow for personal growth.” Actually, Alexandra, it can. That’s one of the many beautiful things about sex – it gives you a moment, whether brief or long, where you can connect on a very deep level with your partner. But she’s right – not all sex involves a melding of two souls into one. And nor should it. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake isn’t a bad thing, and if we try to turn every sexual encounter into a spiritual awakening then we’re going to be very sorely disappointed. Alexandra also sees a direct connection between casual first times and “damage” she feels will inevitably occur afterward. I wonder how well documented or lasting this damage is? Alexandra has turned the debate on virginity into a debate on casual sex.

As long as you’re mentally and emotionally ready for it, and you use protection, and do it with someone you trust and will treat you with respect I don’t see that it matters when or two whom you lose your virginity.

On the notion of virginity being a sacred, ‘special gift’, I think Marieke Hardy (Disclaimer: I have a slight crush on her) said it best in her blog on ABC’s The Drum:

I lost my virginity (I shall use that idiotic V plate term when you hold a gun to my head) at a relatively young age to an absolutely wonderful boy with whom I was tempestuously and passionately involved. I don’t regret a moment of it, nor do I feel in that submitting to a beautifully awkward and momentarily painful experience left me with nothing left to “give” a suitor (limping along with merely a personality and mind to offer potential husbands, the shame of it).

This article is deliberately incomplete. Throughout this piece I have ignored a problem that would appear to be at the very center of the discussion, a critical question at the heart of the matter. What, after all, is virginity? Do we stick to the traditional, Oxford definition of penis-in-vagina sex that leads to orgasm? Surely that completely sidelines oral sex and digital penetration – are they less significant acts than PIV sex? Are gay couples necessarily virgins? Surely a young lesbian needs a “special gift” to give her beloved wife – I mean, partner? But I’ve deliberately not addressed that question because it’s largely irrelevant. Virginity is an abstract concept, imposed by grumpy old men thousands of years ago that holds no relevance today. So just as worrying about virginity is pointless, so is defining it.

What do you think? Am I way off the mark? Is there some importance to virginity that I’ve overlooked?

Razzie Awards and Why Transformers 2 Sucked


The 2009 Razzie Award nominations are in, and over-hyped sequel Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen has been nominated for 7 awards, including Worst Picture. The RAZZIE awards are the flip side of the Oscars – while the Academy Awards strive to acknowledge good films the Razzies acknowledge films that shouldn’t have been written.

Let’s be clear, I loved Transformers 1. It was a cinematic masterpiece, bringing childhood memories to life in spectacular computer-generated form. The plot wasn’t amazing, but it didn’t have to be. Just seeing a Optimus Prime on the screen, and watching him transform into a truck was jaw-droppingly nostalgic. That’s all Transformers 1 needed to be, but like a magician at a children’s party after a while the magic becomes tedious and start to notice the extra bulky sleeves. So while Transformers 1 could get away with eye candy (both the Transformers and Megan Fox), Transformers 2 couldn’t. It needed something more – a story. Something to engage a now bored viewer.

In many respects, that’s the problem with all sequels – the first film creates such an impression that come the next film the shoes are too big and hard to fill. But you have to at least try. Revenge of the Fallen doesn’t just repeat the formula from the first film (great action + great CGI + average dialog + boyhood memories + ok plot = wow), it strips away most of the good bits and leaves the movie totally unbalanced. Excessive action + great CGI + pointless exploitative motorbike scene – great dialog  – engaging plot = epic disappointing fail.

And could Hollywood stop pandering to the 13-year old boy market please? How about an action/sci-fi film for the 25+ age group, eh? Yes we like hot girls and hot guys but this it the age of Redtube, if we want skanks we can find them for free. If we’re paying money for an action movie, show us action. It’s great that you’ve found an attractive woman to star in the movie, but unless she’s playing a tramp don’t dress her up as one.

Marc Fennel, film reviewer for Triple J radio gave what I think is the best review of T2:RotF which he described as “the comedy event of 2009” and “a craptastic spectacular from the Land of No Logic”!

Transformers 2 got the following nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Megan Fox, also nominated for Jennifer’s Body which is also horrible), Worst Supporting Actress (Julie White, the ditzy stoned mum), Worst Remake/Rip-Off/Sequel, Worst Director (Michael Bay) and Worst Screenplay.

Transformers 2 was joined by Will Farrell’s sci-fi comedy Land of the Lost which also had seven nominations, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra which had six nominations.

Which films did you hate in 2009? What did you think of Transformers 2?

The iPad Part 3 – The Competition

Having looked at the good things and the bad things about the iPad, I’m now going to look at the market as a whole and see where the threats are going to come from. One of the best things about the iPad is that it got out there first. And while there are plenty of Tablet computers on the market or on the way, only the iPad is really finger-friendy, light and portable while still being reasonably functional. And at the moment, there really isn’t anything that competes with the iPad.

You have to remember, too, that this is a new market – it’s not the established tablet market, because the iPad can’t compete on features. Again, it’s an appliance – a media consumption device. A glorified e-reader.

So let’s compare it with the dominant King of e-readers, the Amazon Kindle. In it’s own right, it’s a fantastic device. The impressive e-ink screen mimics an actual book and has no backlight, so it’s very easy to read and doesn’t hurt the eyes. But it’s even more limited than the iPad – it can’t run apps, it can’t play movies or music. It’s just a black and white book/newspaper reader. That will change though – we already know Amazon is looking to implement apps capability for the Kindle, but even then it is starting from scratch. The iPad appstore has over 134,000 apps (80,000 of which are fart apps and Duke Nukem soundboards). Colour e-ink has been developed in working prototypes, so a Colour Kindle won’t be far away. Amazon will have to dramatically slash its price, though, given how severely limited it is compared to the very cheap iPad. The key strength of the Kindle is that it’s backed up by Amazon’s massive library of over 400,000 ebooks – but since the iPad can read Kindle books anyway, that advantage is gone. And while the iPad is ridiculously ugly, theKindle is oh so much worse.

Microsoft is touting it’s Windows 7 operating system as beingoptimised for tablets, and while the interface on Windows 7 is finger-friendly, many of the applications you use on a daily basis aren’t. Things like web browsers and email clients all have small menus rather than big, finger-sized buttons. And because most Win7 tablets are more like stripped-down laptops, with all the hardware you’d expect like cameras, wired ethernet, and an array of usb/video/networking ports they tend to be heavy and expensive. The big advantage they do have, however, is stylus support and handwriting recognition. It remains to be seen if the iPad has a sensitive enough screen to be used for writing or drawing.
The most hyped up Windows tablet coming out this year is probablythe HP Slate. Details are sketchy, but it’s believed to be have a 10” multi-touch LCD screen, a 1.8GHz processor (compared to the iPad’s 1GHz), and that’s about all we know. It’s due for release “Sometime in 2010”, and has a stupidly massive frame.
And then there’s smaller, almost unheard of companies like ExoPC and Archos who are have released or are planning to release mini-tablets, like iPads but with all the features of Win7.

The real competition for the iPod is from a tiny, little-known Californian company called Google. As proven by the Google Nexus, Motorola Droid and upcoming HTC Bravo, Google’s Android operating system is an impressive rival to Apple’s iPhoneOS. While it hasn’t got the quantity of available apps – only 24,800 – almost all the top-used iPhone apps are available on Android. The only thing I wish my Nexus could do is listen to Audible books, which is likely to be supported early this year. Google is the only company with the resources, finesse and reputation to make a product that can take on the iLove that Apple has. Google is massive, it’s everywhere and for the most part, everyone loves it. And we love Google not because of its marketing efforts – Apple reigns the marketing world – but because of its simple, open, friendly deliver-what-the-user-wants philosophy.
Android’s a great platform for tablet-style devices because, like the iPhoneOS, it’s designed with fingers in mind. Unlike Windows Mobile, it doesn’t require a stylus for using tiny menus and buttons. Unlike Windows 7, it’s not bloated and resource-intensive (despite Win7’s huge advances in those areas over previous versoins). And most importantly, apps developed for Android share its finger-friendly interface.

There are no tablets running Android yet, but a lot are being developed. Perhaps the big weakness with Google’s open philosophy is that too often the hardware companies will let them down. For example, HP is making a version of the Slate for Android – but they’re building a keyboard onto it. That’s not a tablet, HP, that’s a netbook. However companies like Acer, Asus, HTC and Dell have some very worthy looking devices, most tipped for release this year. They range from stupidly small (the Dell Mini 5 has a 5” screen, half that of the iPad and only 1.3” bigger than my phone) to the same as the iPad (10”). Perhaps the most highly anticipated will be from MSI, with a much more powerful processor and graphics capabilities than the iPad for a similar price.

What I’d love to see, though, is Google teaming up with Amazon to create a colour Kindle-style device based on Android. The device would be able to play video, multi-task, have a camera and integrate with Amazon’s ebook store.

It will be interesting to see how the future plays out with Apple and Google, I think these two companies will revolutionise how we interact with information and the world around us. Tech site Gizmodo recently did a comparison of the Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo empires, illustrating how many markets those companies are in competition with each other. Both Apple and Google are innovative, have good brand recognition and have products that are ubiquitous and high

Will I buy an iPad?
No. I’m a gadget freak, a geek, a nerd but most importantly I’m a tinkerer. I like going outside the mainstream and pushing the boundaries. Apple won’t let me do that. I completely agree with tech personality and Google FanGirlGina Trapani who said “iPhone’s for Sheep; Android’s for Geeks”.
When iPhoneOS is available on hardware made by other manufacturers, allows multitasking and allows me to get apps that Apple hasn’t approved, then I’ll consider it.
But I can can see why other people will buy it. And I’m glad Apple’s bringing portable, flat, paper-like devices a step closer. In fact, that’s why I want the iPad to sell really well. If the iPad takes off, and all the other companies start thinking “Wow, we need to get in on that action” – the technology will advance dramatically, the price will drop, and we’ll start seeing some really cool stuff.

The iPad Part 2 – The Bad

Having given a quick summary of  what I like about the iPad, now it’s time to talk about what I’m not too thrilled about. And with such an over-hyped product, there’s no shortage of “faults” and weaknesses. But I will point out, that the vast majority of things I don’t like about the iPad are geeky, nerdy things. Things that won’t bother your everyday Joe Blow, and things that iFanboys will hate me for saying.

The first, of course is obvious: It’s Apple. I don’t say that to be a hater – I have a lot of respect for much of what Apple has done over the years. It’s innovative “dumb it down” approach has brought smartphones, laptops and mp3 players to the masses and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately though, only one Apple product really offers anything to geeks, and that’s Mac OSX. And even that’s because it’s based on a free, open-source operating system (linux) that Apple charges a shiteload for. You see, the problem with the iPod, iPhone and iPad is control: in using those devices you surrender all control over what you do on them to Apple. And as long as you’re doing basic, simple things, that’s great. But try using a different web browser on your iPhone. You can’t. Because any third-party web browser gets rejected from the Appstore because it “duplicates the functions of the iPhone itself”. And we all know what happens when you force people to use your web browser until it’s everywhere. So, can’t use a more powerful email client, can’t use a different SMS style, can’t use Google Voice or another voicemail system. You also can’t tether it to your computer (tethering is when you connect by bluetooth or usb to your phone and use it as a modem, for example if your home internet cuts out or you’re on the road). There is no sensible reason for this. Being able to use Opera Mobile on an iPhone wouldn’t worsen the iPhone’s sales, it’d boost them. Running Firefox on the iPad won’t make the iPad less secure, it’ll strengthen security. But Apple needs everything you do on your device to be approved by Steve Jobs, so bad luck.

A follow on from the control issues is a key feature of the web: flash. “A revolutionary device for browsing the web”, says the iPad press release. As the good folks at Adobe (who make Flash) have pointed out,not exactly. The vast majority of the internet uses flash – whether for streaming video, fancy menus, advertising or online games. But iPods, iPhones, iPads – none of them can run Flash. Not because of Adobe – Adobe WANT their product on all mobile devices, iPads included. Adobe have been trying to get Apple to include Flash support for years, but Apple refuses to. And they haven’t given an explanation either. Some say flash is unstable, buggy, crashes too often – well, I’ve never had a website crash, from Flash or anything else. Some say that mobile devices aren’t powerful enough for flash – which is bollocks. Flash works great on the Nexus One, as proven in this video, and the Nexus has the same processing power as the iPad. It’s true that a lot of Flash will, in many ways, be replaced by HTML5 – an open, standardised Rich Media format.
I will concede that this could also be a good thing – part of the reason HTML5 hasn’t been widely adopted (apart from the fact that it’s still being developed, but parts are in final beta) is because web developers haven’t known there’s a need for it. If you’re a web developer making games playable on the web, you don’t care that iPhone users can’t play them. If people want to play games on an iPhone, there’s thousands of downloadable apps for that, and if you want them to play your game you can write it for iPhone. But on a desktop, you can play fllash games. On a tablet, you’d want to be able to play them. So there’s now a NEED for web developers to factor that in, and move on to HTML5. Again, though, it’s Apple trying to control how the internet works, and how we surf the net – which is only a good thing until they do something bad.

It’s not a phone – so why can you only do one thing at a time! It’s got more speed and power an old laptop, but it can only run one program at a time. I can’t browse the net and have a twitter app open at the same time? I can’t write an email while running a chat client? It makes sense (I suppose) to limit multitasking on a tiny phone, but on the iPad it’s a glaring shortcoming. Multitasking is a natural way of doing things – we humans are always multitasking, we shouldn’t be restricted on a lifestyle device like the iPad.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could go on holiday for a few days, leave the laptop/netbook at home, and in the hotel room fire up Skype and see your brother and new baby niece in video chat? But the iPad has no camera, either front facing or on the back. Sure, it has a retarded port that you can plug accessories in (once they’ve been developed, of course), but that’s an extra thing to pack which defeats the purpose in the first place!

No USB port
As usual, Apple is trying to force us to use their proprietary connector for everything – instead of using an industry standard like micro-usb for example. This means that your existing webcam, USB speakers, external hard drive, printer, or keyboard won’t plug in. Oh sure, you can plug Apple’s adaptor in, and then plug things into that – MAYBE – but again that’s more crap to lug around with it, and it’s inconvenient and ugly.
Speaking of ugly…

It’s Ugly
Seriously, we’re used to stylish, glamorous products form Apple. This looks like an uglydigital photoframe. Look at the massive frame around the screen:

That massive frame around it looks horrid, in my opinion. The screen SHOULD go right up to a few millimeters of the edge of the device.

It’s not a lot of things – and nor should it be
It’s easy to compare the iPad to a desktop computer or a laptop and say “Well it sucks, because it hasn’t go this, that or the other thing”. Seriously, it’s damn easy – look I just did it up above. But that’s not what the iPad’s about. As I said in part 1, the iPad is an appliance. It’s not a laptop, it’s definitely not a desktop. It’s an appliance – a digital toaster, if I can invoke Battlestar slang. Journalists won’t be writing articles on this, authors won’t write books on it. You won’t make videos – apart from simple Youtube style vids – and you won’t use the iPad to do graphic design. This is not a replacement for any device you use now – except possibly a netbook, but even then probably not. This is for Mums and Dads, to leave on the coffee table. And for an hour or two on a weekend, Dad will read a book or Mum will flick through a magazine. Or while they’re watching TV, they’ll think of something to look at on the net, pick it up and while watching tv they’ll surf the net. And of course there’s Home Shopping at 3am when you see that  practical weight loss device you can just pick up your iPad, go to the website and order it. Order one for your wife, too, if you think she needs help. You’ll go interstate for a work function, and you won’t need to lug a huge laptop around. You’ll take your iPad to stay in touch with your office, your family. You’ll watch a few videos and catch up on the latest episode of Survivor 53: Adelaide.
And that’s also why I come back to my point about this being a stepping stone device. It’s the first model, first generation – the  initial iPod was unbelievably limited. Future versions WILL have multi-tasking (even if that’s just cos this is likely to be Steve Jobs’ swansong). They WILL have cameras, and standard ports, and they’ll get really cheap until they’re as ubiquitous as the iPhone. They will always be under Apple’s dictatorial thumb, because Apple is a conventional corporation, but other companies will step up on more open platforms.

More to come: in Part 3 I look at the competition for the iPad, and the future for tablet devices.

The iPad Part 1 – The Good

It’s hard to be a geek and not feel compelled to talk about the iPad. Steve Job’s latest creation Apple Computer’s latest creation, a very big iPod, was announced on Thursday after months of hype and media speculation. The build up to this was incredible – as much driven by fanatical Apple-lovers as by marketing. And the rumours about this device have been about  for nearly ten years.

There’s been plenty said about the iPad, but these are some of my favorites:

“Wouldn’t it be good if Apple could shrink this down in size to fit in your pocket?”

“Did you ever wish your iPhone was bigger and didn’t make phone calls? Then this is for you!”

“Yo mama so fat, she uses an iPad as an iPod.”(That one has a little sister: “Yo mama is so fat; she can fit an iPad in her pocket.”)

And of course, the  UnNews page is brilliant: “Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs put an end to weeks of speculation by unveiling Apple’s latest technological masterpiece – an extra-large iPhone designed specifically for giants, trolls and other large humanoid creatures.”

So, here’s my thoughts:

The Name.
iPad. Seriously. C’mon. That’s the BEST you could come up with? You didn’t have any women on the “Name deciding” team, did you, Steve? Surely the first thing you did, having decided on “iPad” was to Google Bing it? Didn’t you see that  MadTV sketch from 2007?

Within hours, Twitter was full of jokes poking fun at the name, with iTampon going straight to the  number 2 trending topic worldwide. Of course the  Uncyclopedia jumped in on the act, as did  just about  everyone  with a  copy of  Photoshop.

Am I the only one who thinks the “i” prefix is so 2003? iPod, iPhone, iBook, iMac, iTunes, iLife, iWork, iDVD, iPhoto, iMovie, iChat, iTheater, iStumbler, iCal, iSync, iArchiver, iCab, iWeb, iCan’tBelieveIt’sNotButter…. move on. Find a new theme. Stop tying yourself to one moment in October, 2001 when you started to make sales.

But despite all that criticism, I don’t actually have a better alternative.

The Good.

The really really really really awesome thing about what Apple’s done? They’ve gotten the ball rolling for other tablet manufacturers to lift their game. Futurists, sci-fi writers and geeks have  for long time envisioned a world where flat, paper-like devices are  as common as, well, paper. And the touch concepts that have been recently introduced to mobile phones and now the iPad are an early stepping-stone to that. While the iPad uses a conventional LCD display, new devices (like my Google Nexus One) use OLED screens which, as  this preview from Sony shows, are unbelievably thin and bendable.
So the technology is there, has been around for a while but nobody’s really come along and made it marketable. Nobody’s made it cool for non-geeks. And that’s what Apple does best – simplify, and dumb-down computers for the masses.

It will sell. It will sell LOTS. It will mainly sell to Apple’s core market – iFanboys. The people who buy iPhones because they’re made by Apple and so they have to have one (see MacBook Wheel). Popular gadget site  gdgt.com already has three thousand users who have marked it “Want”.

But it will also sell reasonably well to everyday ordinary people, who want to read ebooks or watch Lost on train to work, or in bed. It will sell very well.

It’s cheap. Surprisingly cheap. Un-Applelike cheap. The basic version, without mobile internet (just your home/work wifi) starts at USD$499 – so about AUD$600. By comparison the Amazon Kindle (black and white, just a book reader with no apps) costs only AUD$300.

It won’t sell as much as the iPhone. You NEED a phone. You WANT an ebook reader. You NEED to be able to listen to music, you WANT to surf the net on the toilet. Because the iPad isn’t a tablet pc. It’s not a computer. It’s not must-have gadget: it’s a big iPod. It’s an appliance. It’s something
you buy as a handy way to do a few simple things. It does not replace any existing device you have now, except possibly a netbook.

At the moment.

In five years time, it will though. Because in five years time, it will be bigger, lighter, thinner and most importantly: do most of the major things it currently can’t do.

More to come later: in part 2 I take a look at what’s not so good about the iPad.