The last 48 or so hours in the tech world have been pretty interesting- 3 of the biggest companies have had pretty significant public showings of new products and services. While I pre-emptively wrote about Facebook’s mail announcements yesterday, here’s what Google and Apple had to reveal as well;
Facebook – A Modern Mail Service
So Facebook didn’t quite announce a rival to Gmail and Hotmail as everyone predicted… or did they? You can now still register for a ‘@facebook.com’ address once your account receives an opt-in invitation, but this new service will focus on convergence of SMS, Email, IM and other current messaging platforms rather than going head to head with existing providers. The existing concerns remain about Facebook, privacy and email, but guess we know what FB poached that Google Wave dev for now, huh?
Google – The Nexus S, Gingerbread, NFC and Chrome OS
Although Facebook’s revelations largely overshadowed what was going on at the Web 2.0 summit, Google’s CEO had a few almost-groundbreaking things to share with the community. Firstly, he demonstrated Android 2.3 AKA Gingerbread on an unannounced phone many summise to be the elusive ‘Nexus S’ from Samsung. We can’t confirm either way since branding was concealed although a special hardware component was explicitly mentioned – a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip. This lead in to what will no doubt be a key feature of the new OS, set to release in the next few weeks, as it enables ‘bump-to-pay’ transactions. Seems like this will be another area where Google and Apple are racing to get a cutting edge technology into consumers’ hands first.
Chrome OS, that bastard topic largely relegated to the background by Google’s more prominent Android, was also given a clear purpose by an offhand comment by Eric Schmidt- it is for low cost keyboard devices. Which rules phones and tablets out.
Apple – iTunes News…?
Apple threw its hat in the ring this week as well teasing an unforgettable iTunes-related reveal on Tuesday. However this hype sizzled out as soon as it was revealed that the Beatles catalogue would be coming to the popular e-store. The Beatles? Who cares. Everyone who gives a damn will have ripped their CDs, bought their audacious USB collection or pirated the stuff by now.
Luckily this was dispelled with the also predicted and highly anticipated iTunes Cloud, Streaming, iTunes Pass, 90sec previews and a redesigned client.
The war for the internet, ad revenue, market share, hearts and minds is very much underway and at this very exciting time in history I dare not call a winner. Especially since likelihood suggests that even if there is one, there won’t be for long. Microsoft is notably absent from this week’s festivities- no doubt working on getting all those missing features into Windows Phone 7.
I had a chance to play with Samsung’s flagship tablet, the Galaxy Tab, today. These are my preliminary impressions, but on the whole was not impressed. Although I’m generally a fan of Samsung I don’t like their Galaxy line a whole lot and this device didn’t do much to change that.
First off it runs Android 2.2, stretched to the machine’s 1000×600 resolution. You can see the result above. While not awful, it’s obvious why Android phones are capped at WVGA. Things look off center and although the display is very impressive, the OS never seems a good fit for it.
Performance, however, is what really lets down the Galaxy Tabr. As the above video shows, the browser is not that responsive and locked up in my few minutes of testing. Things are generally sluggish and, combined with the OS design issues regarding tablets, doesn’t offer as polished an experience as the iPad does.
If I were to praise the Galaxy Tab for something it would be the build quality. The thing feels solid and while the display doesn’t pack as many pixels as its Apple cousin, it does cram them into a smaller display. Pixel density is tight and makes the device look gorgeous. However it feels too heavy. The actual weight is less than the iPad’s, but for the size, feels a tad excessive.
My brief toying with the device also raises an interesting question- when would someone use a Galaxy Tab? It’s smaller and more easily portable than an iPad but still doesn’t fit in a pocket. On the other hand though it packs the same Android build as you’d find on a phone. If you’re thinking of buying this trinket you probably already have a phone and so why you’d double up I don’t know.
I’d welcome a chance to further probe this device but as it stands the Galaxy Tab doesn’t impress. Its Android OS seems tacked on and the performance felt far from polished – perhaps as a result. Also while it’s still hard to define what the iPad is actually for, that is a more difficult question for Samsung to answer as the overlap between tablet and phone is even greater here. Ultimately you get a smaller, more buggy device than Apple’s offering, and, for $999AUD outright, it just doesn’t compare favourably to its only other real competition in the market (iPads start at $649AUD). My argument for a full OS on tablets still stands, by the way.
Based on today’s experience alone, I’d recommend passing on this one. When the kinks are ironed out and a more suitable version of Android is available this could be an exciting proposition but sadly that’s not what’s currently on offer with the Galaxy Tab.
The guys over at PC World published an article a few months ago outlining why Windows 7 shouldn’t go on tablets. I paid little mind to that, considering Steve Ballmer confirmed tablets with Microsoft’s desktop OS would be releasing before Christmas. However it seems like the software giant has since decided to cede to this curious contingent of the tech-o-sphere and release Windows Embedded 7 Compact as MS’s de facto tablet OS. Umm… can I say no thanks?
What’s really wrong with the iPad and the Android based tablets coming out now is that they aren’t fully fledged OS’s. iOS’ hidden filesystem takes the cake but there are a million more little things that hamper productivity and make basic tasks beyond looking at web pages more of a pain than they should be. Grabbing an image, cropping it, throwing it in a blog post like this and then publishing the thing is a trial. Then there’s the issue of file type compatibility, needing separate native apps to make the web usable.. etc etc.
Then there’s actual application compatibility. Think of the suites of programs; full versions of CS5 and Office, libraries of games and so forth that can run on Windows. They could all run on a tablet with Windows 7. They currently cannot on iOS or Android, and, from the sounds of things, won’t on WE7C either. A cut down OS is even more limiting when you start to think of the situation in these terms.
Android-equipped phones are trickling out all the time. I’ve had my eye on the Droid X and the Desire HD for some time too, desperately wanting to jump from the iOS camp as I am. One thing that I’ve noticed and is constantly disappointing is the resolution. Why does the Desire HD, with its glorious 4.3″ screen still only have a 800×480 res? Turns out that’s Google’s fault.
Only in reading the hype surrounding the pending release of Gingerbread / 2.3 did I notice that Android caps its resolution at WVGA (800×480). Wtf Google? Why in the world would anyone want to impose a software resolution cap on an ‘open source’ OS? I’m taking a purely topline, superficial look at this. It must make technical or business sense to someone but as I see it this bizarre, deliberate choice is having two important consequences;
1) There is nothing with Android to answer iPhone 4′s ‘Retina Display’. The Desire HD is a good phone but there’s nothing HD about it. In fact, it has the exact same number of pixels as the original Desire, the Droid X and just about any other semi-recent Android phone. That this was mandated by software available is sad enough. However the greater tragedy, I think, is that the cocky PR bastards at Apple get to keep parading around their incremental screen improvement, beauiful as it may be, as the best thing since 256 colours.
2) Android needs a new version for tablets. 3.0, whatever it’s called, is billed as the ‘tablet version’. Why is this necessary? Vendors are steering clear of Google’s OS for their tablet offerings in the short term since it’s just not up to snuff. Of course this is in part due to the less-than-great multitouch implementation currently built in, but it also has to do with the res. WVGA tablets just don’t work- Telstra T-Tab or Optus My Tab anyone? I laugh knowing that in those cases resolution is the least of the abismal devices’ problems but they still serve to illustrate the point.
All I can say is I hope Gingerbread comes out this week and I hope it removes this cap. It’s an inexcusable oversight – Google, get it fixed. It’s still a shame that even if we get so lucky we will have to wait for the next generation of ‘droids before we get something rivalling Apple’s overhyped, pretentiously named but ultimately breathtaking iPhone 4 screen. A tremendous shame, actually.
I can’t think of a better caption for this, so there you have it..