/ 6 March 2011

How Apple keeps us taking the tablets

On Wednesday Apple released the second version of the iPad. Pardon me while I yawn: I know it’s rude to do it in public but what the hell? iPad 2 is thinner – down from 13,4mm to 8,8mm, if you please. (Who was it who said that you can never be too thin or too rich?) It’s faster too, courtesy of a dual-core A5 processor. And it’s got two cameras, no less, one front and one back, plus a gyroscope. If that doesn’t make your head spin, the news that iPad 2 is 15% lighter than its predecessor definitely will.

And – get this – for a mere $39 extra you can get a magnetised polyurethane cover which switches the device off when you lay it on top! Oooh: and the cover also cleans the smudge marks left by your greasy fingers on the touchscreen! Now I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: a subculture which thinks this stuff is hot news must be several bits short of a byte. And it’s hard to disagree.

On the other hand, there is the unpalatable fact that Mr Jobs’s ability to lure so many otherwise sane people on to his product-upgrade treadmill has made Apple the second most valuable company on the planet. And that’s definitely news. The logical next step for Apple fans will be to have their salaries (plus bonuses, naturally) paid directly to Steve Jobs, who will then supply them with regular kit upgrades plus food coupons in return.

Fast imitation cycle
The technology industry’s appetite for trivia never ceases to amaze one. Over in another corner of the forest, HP and RIM, two companies which are trying to play iPad catch-up, are sniping at one another. RIM’s device is called the BlackBerry PlayBook, while HP’s effort is called the TouchPad. They have different screen sizes but in some respects seem remarkably similar. “The BlackBerry Tablet operating system”, says Laptop magazine, “certainly looks as if RIM may have taken a page out of the webOS [ie HP] playbook.” For example, “both tablets render open programs as cards that you can easily swipe through for multitasking, and you can close apps using both OSes by swiping them off the screen”.

The magazine asked both companies for their reactions to these observations. “It’s a fast innovation cycle and a fast imitation cycle in this market,” said HP’s Jon Oakes, snootily, “so … we’ll keep innovating … and those guys hopefully will continue to see the value in it and keep following us by about a year.”

Stung by this, Jeff McDowell of RIM pointed out that “cars over time end up looking a lot alike because you put them through a wind tunnel, and when you’re trying to come up with the best coefficient to drag ratio, there’s one optimised shape that gets the best wind resistance, right? Well, when you’re trying to optimise user experience that juggles multitasking, multiple apps open at once, and on a small screen, you’re going to get people landing on similar kinds of designs.”

In other words, as American technology commentator John Paczkowski put it: “Our iPad challenger is more original than your iPad challenger.”

Neither man commented on the really interesting aspect of the story, namely that neither company had yet managed to actually ship a tablet, though both are coming real soon now.

Two bald men arguing over a comb
While all this was going on, Apple and Microsoft were squabbling about capital letters. A while back, Apple attempted to trademark the phrase “App Store” — the name of its online store of downloadable programs. Microsoft objected, arguing that the term was too “generic”. (This from the company whose main products are Windows, Word, Office and Excel.) On Monday last, Apple struck back. “Having itself faced a decades-long genericness [sic] challenge to its claimed Windows mark,” it sniffed in a court filing, “Microsoft should be well aware that the focus in evaluating genericness is on the mark as a whole and requires a fact-intensive assessment of the primary significance of the term to a substantial majority of the relevant public.

“Yet, Microsoft, missing the forest for the trees, does not base its motion on a comprehensive evaluation of how the relevant public understands the term App Store as a whole. What it offers instead are out-of-context and misleading snippets of material printed by its outside counsel from the internet and allegations regarding how the public allegedly interprets the constituent parts of the term App Store, ie, ‘app’ and ‘store’.”

If this reminds you of two bald men arguing over a comb, then welcome to the club. You don’t have to be obsessive to work in the technology business, but it sure helps. – guardian.co.uk