2010 – The year of the tablet

On Monday Apple finally sent out the invites  to their January 27th event – widely presumed to be about the RAT  (Rumored Apple Tablet). Because everyone and their dog is speculating about what the RAT  would or not would be i just like to point you to the summaries that I think most likely  are to be correct for most of their parts: Andy Ihnatko (from which i shamelessly stole the RAT acronym above) and John Gruber (Part I and Part II).

Whatever exactly will be announced by Apple (and even if they wouldn’t announce a tablet at all) i’m sure that 2010 will be the year of the tablet, as much as 2008 was the year of the netbook. Because 2010 is (finally) the year of the confluence of all the necessary technologies.

Let’s have a look:

Processors

RightNow there is a multitude of powerful (mostly multicore) processor platforms out there that consume very little power and are still able to en/decode HD video, driver large displays and do 3D-rendering and integrate WiFi / GSM. Most notable the Nvidia Tegra 2, Marvells Armada 510/610, Qualcomms SnapdragonTI’s OMAP and Freescales i.MX. Important: Practically all of them are ARM-based.

Displays

Touch-enabled displays are now available in all sizes ranges that are of interest for tablets: 5”, 7” and 10”.  There are two power-saving display technologies that are production ready in 2010: AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) and PixelQis transflective displays. They are somewhat complementary. While AMOLEds excel at displaying bright  images /video and are available at a reasonable price for 5” (and to some extent at 7” display sizes but practically out of scope for 10” displays, PixelQi’s transflective displays in their reflective mode are practically equal to e-ink displays wrt. display crispness and readability in sunlight (while still able to display video), and equal to normal LCD displays  in transmissive mode. They are right now manufactured in 10”.

OS

Open Source, Linux based, fast booting OS have also evolved to a quality  where they are mass compatible. Most notable Android (a Linux / Java Based OS) has been picked up by most mobile phone manufacturers and also gets traction in into mobile internet devices / tablets (see below). Other contenders are Google Chrome OS /Chromium, Moblin / Ubuntu Moblin Remix and  Maemo.

CES 2010

I ended my July 2008 blog post  titled  “Will Apple finally my dream e-reading /netbook device” with:

We’ll see. If not (Ed. Apple is building a tablet), hopefully somebody uses Google’s android to build such a device.

Fortunately, this is exactly what is happening and could be seen at CES2010. Partly by replacing Androind with another of  the OS alternatives  mentioned above. Forget the lame MS/HP presentation, the real action could be seen elsewhere and nearly everywhere (because of the confluence of the technologies i mentioned above).

So without further ado some pointers to my favorite exhibits at CES2010 (sometimes also other events)

10” devices

My personal highlight of CES2010 was NotionInk ADAM, a 10” tablet based on NVidia Tegra 2, PixelQi Display and Android

Notion ink ADAM

More about the device can for example be found here.

The PixelQi Display has also been shown integrated into a Lenov Idea Pad. The video below is especially interesting because it shows the two different display modes using the NYT Reader 2.0 app.

7” devices

MSI Wind has show prototypes of both 10” and 7” dualscreen devices. The video below shows the 10” version as the 7” version was seemingly non functional.

5” devices

Dell has shown the  Dell Mini 5, an Android based tablet running on top of a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

A device that is already in the market is the Archos 5 Internet Tablet which is based on Android and features an OLED display.

Set top boxes

The Quanta ebox is a slim set top box based on  Marvells Armada 510 chip

Boxee Box: The boxee box is based on the Nvidia Tegra2 and is going to be sold for below $200 by D-Link that won a best of show award at CES2010

Other touch devices

As an interesting side note, TouchRevolution showed off a 7” touch-enabled, android based platform integrated into a washing machine and a microwave

More videos can be found in my shared item feed.

A look into the (near) future

Back in the  July 2008 post i wrote:

For quite some time  i’ve argued that  the iPhone / iPod touch is right now my favourite e-reading device (see here, here and here) (Having extensively tested e-ink devices like the Iliad). Hence i drooled for a iTouch like device with a  7-9″ display.

IMHO, it is more likely that Apple will enter the netbook market with a typical apple twist by not doing another scaled down version of a notebook, but a device that is dedicated for optimal support of the typical tasks a netbook has to support in a home and car enviroment.: Surf and read on the web, watch video, control your home entertainment systems etc.  This device should be the best device for couch surfing as well as showing video to your kids (or let them play casual games) while being in the car.

Ever since the Newton, Apple had technology for this kind of devices and it is more or less a yearly rumour that the Newton 2.0 will finally ship. But this time i think the chances are better than ever.

We’ll see. If not , hopefully somebody uses Google’s android to build such a device.

While being wrong 2008 wrt. to the timeframe (i basically made wrong assumptions about the power consumption of  Intel ATOM and LCD displays),  i still very much believe in the scenario of an optimized device for mobile entertainment at  home (e.g couch surfing) and in car setting.

This already resonated in my “Why Times Reader 2.0 is important” post from May 2009:

For the curious: My dream eReading device has for years been an Apple media pad. Right now my specs for this device read as follows: around 1.5 pound (hopefully lighter), beefed up iPhone OS (or better dual boot, full OS at a premium price), 7 – 10” display,  wi-fi 801.11n  plus 3G, all app store goodness, bluetooth for external keyboard connectivity as well as all other bluetoothy things, plus a PixelQi multitouch display.

The exiting thing : everything except the PixelQi display is available right now, the PixelQi schedule will allow for a WWDC presentation (or a launch at the traditional september special event).

So  what i am hoping for and why?

I’ll try to do it along the lines of my introduction and the CES review.

Processor / Platform

I  think that is safe to bet that this device(s) will be the first Apple device that will incorporate some benefits of the P.A. Semi acquisition Apple made in early 2008. P.A. Semi was a fabless chip designer  specializing in low-power processor design based on ARM CPU cores. As said above all processor alternatives that i mentioned above are also based on ARM CPUs.

Since 1.5 – 2 years are a typical time frames for the the scoping of a design to a production quality chip /platform that can be mass manufactured i think we are on the safe side for that. It is also safe to assume that the platform of the tablet includes the benefits of the long term license deal with Power VR for das 2d/3D graphics as well as video de/encoding . So IMHO the paltform to be used within the table will be feature /performancewise be at least comparable to the Nvidia Tegra 2 plattform.

Displays

As argued above the display technology most likely depends on screen size of the device(s). For 5” it definitely will be AMOLED, for 7” AMOLED is a likely but pricey choice and for 10” it will be either regular LCD or a PixelQi display for the following reason:

As we have seen in the PixelQi videos above, the display seem to be ready for the market. But i remember that they said last year  that touch-enabled displays that would not suck (e.g. take away too much contrast) would be more in the June/July 2010 timeframe. So if the the tablet is going to be delayed until June lets hope that this will be the reason.

May be some of the Apple patents with regard to display technology (e.g. integrating touch and display layer in order to come up with a thinner device etc.) will be incorporated.

OS / Applications

I’m  sure that the OS will be more twisted toward  iPhoneOS  than  to Mac OS X. The main reason for that is that there definitely will be an app/content store for the device(s) and that the devices will definitely be no general purpose computers. But i’m also quite sure that the OS will be not be  identical to the current iPhoneOS. It definitely will support multi-tasking and the User interaction will be different / enhanced. It is also quite clear that there will be the possibility to pair a physical keyboard (most likely a bluetooth keyboard at least with some of the devices.

I’m also quite sure that (some) of the devices will incorporate technology / features from the Apple TV and will more or less be Apple TV 2.0.

Line Up

10” device

I think it is a fairly safe bet that the device to be unveiled on Wednesday will be a 10” tablet. And by 10” i also mean 9.7 or 10.1 ”. The device will basically have the functionality as described by Inathko and Gruber.  PixelQi display would be nice, but most likely it will be a regular LCD display.

You already can watch video stored on you’re iPhone and ipod Touch on a big screen, using either a 3rd Party Dock or a special viideo cable. Right now forwarding the signal to an external display is restricted to the playback of the video. All interaction is on the device only (which makes sense for devices like the iPhone).

This changes with the 10” tablet. As said above i expect that AppleTV functionality will be incorporated into the devices. This means that you will be either able to use  a  Front Row like interface on the device itself and / or more likely use an iPhone or iPod touch with the  Apple Remote App. I also expect a dock with gigabit network connectivity, maybe an enclosed 2.5” drive for additional content, eventually DVR and TV-Tuner capabilities and an IR port for a regular Apple Remote. This dock will eitehr come directly from Apple or from a third party provider.

5”  device

The current  ipod Touch is basically the equivalent of the 5” devices mentioned above.  Since the current Zune as well as the Nexus one are already using  AMOLED  displays i think it is a save bet that the next generation iPod touch will have an AMOLED display.  For me it is an open question if the device will have a 5” screen or if the economies of scale wil dictate that the screen is the same size as an iPhone.

May be the chosen route  is to keep the iPod Touch form factor as it is and to touch enable the successor to the iPod classic, using a greater display and a harddrive.

7”  device

Most likely either a 5” or a 7” device will be developed by Apple since there is not enough potential for diffentiating between the two devices. But may be they will go the MacBook Pro route and offer the same functionality with two different display sizes.

Set-Top Box

If Apple is interested to continue it’s Apple TV hobby, the logical consequence is to strip the 10 inch tablet of the display and use  the other parts to build a tiny and shiny Apple TV 2.0. This box can easily be sold for around $200 it may go as low as $150.

Final words

I think it is unlikely that all this devices will be introduced next week, but i would be very much surprised if at the end of the year the line-up wouldn’t more or look like sketched above.

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Update weekend – some progress

This weekend, i finally took some time to start the long overdue upgrade steps for the mac mini, the apple tv and the network. Partly due to the fact that i caught a mighty cold and wasn’t able to leave the house for too long.

The following steps were planned:

  1. mac mini should receive an upgrade from a 60GB to a 500GB SATA disk,
  2. the Apple TV an upgrade from the 40GB to a 160 GB IDE drive as well
  3. as an upgrade from 2.2 to 2.3 and finally
  4. a Netgear GS108T 8-port Gigabit Switch should be installed.

Due to the cold and unexpected problems with step 2 i was only to complete step 1 and 2. The first attempt at step 3 failed and i am postponing it until some real reason emerges for doing so.

To summarize:

Step 1 was time consuming but all in all easier than expected. Backup was done with Xupport, and OWC’s installation video proved helpful for disassembling and assembling the mini.

I now have MacOS X 10.5.5 server running on the mini (with a handpatched frontrow added to the lineup) and am now able to host all the music, images and videos on the internal drive, freeing up the external drive for backup purposes. And being able to shut it off most of the time, which is helpful because it makes to much noise for constant operation in a living room).

For step 2 i tried various approaches (e.g. this one at awkwardtv.org) for partitioning and factory restoring the unit. All the different attempts didn’t work. The awkward.tv version at least resulted in a drive that was recognized, but the factory restore failed. This might be due ti the fact, that i patchsticked the original drive with atvusb-creator (and had other things done to the OS prior to the update). Does anybody know if atvusb-creator causes problems with subsequent updates?. In a final try i not only dd-ed the EFI and recovery partition but also the OSBoot partition to the new drive. This worked and i was able to see the 144GB free n the ATV.

After downloading the 2.3 update to the update the first try to update the firmware via the ATV OS crashed. Since i already downloaded the .dmg for a new patchstick, i’m now wondering if it is more efficient to update via the shell (ssh access was the main reason for the patchstick)

Right now the mini hosts the main iTunes library and the ATV synchronises via 801.11n (not too fast but also not too slow). Since all our computers (as well as the Airport Extreme) now host a Gigabit interfaceand i recently had the Ethernet cabling upgrade d to CAT7 the final step is to install a Gigabit Switch. The GS108T looked like a good compromise between price and functionality/features. It is also used by the networking team at my wife’s company.

Hence i’m looking forward to install it  after christmas.

Stevenote – What’s in for me?

Yesterday’s Stevenote brought a number of announcements. As somebody who bought his first Apple computer (an Apple IIe) in 1984 and over the last years switched back to a mainly Apple setup at home (2MBP, 1 Mac mini, apple tv, Airport Extreme, iTouch, iPod 4G, iPod nano 1G), these announcements are definitely worth a closer look (I’m going to quote Apple PR texts from Apple’s website in order to have a quick description for those of you who haven’t followed or read about the keynote yet ;-), but i’m using the chronology of the keynote.

Time Capsule — wireless backup for all your Macs

overview_timecapsule_20080115.pngApplePR: A backup appliance that works seamlessly with Time Machine to automatically and wirelessly back up everything on one or more Macs running Mac OS X Leopard, Time Capsule combines an 802.11n base station with a server grade hard disk in one small package. “Bring Time Capsule home, plug it in, click a few buttons on your Macs and voilà—all the Macs in your house are being backed up automatically, every hour of every day,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. When it ships in February, Time Capsule will be available in models featuring 500GB and 1TB hard drives for $299 and $499, respectively.

As somebody who just bought an Airport Extreme in December and two 160GB local USB drives for backing up the MBPs via TimeMachine, i’m very unlikely to buya TimeCapsule soon. I might have considered buying one instead of the Airport Extreme.

Hopefully this also means that TimeMachine is also going to be used with an AirportExtreme without playing tricks and all the other bugs that plague AirportExtreme Users are gone, especially the regular freezes that i a numerous others are experiencing on a regular basis.

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 New software update enhances revolutionary iPhone

ApplePR: iPhone Software Update 1.1.3, a free software update available today via iTunes 7.5 or later, brings significant new features to iPhone. After installing the update, iPhone customers will be able to automatically find their location using the redesigned Maps application; text message multiple people in one message; create Web Clips for their favorite websites; customize their home screen; and watch movies rented from the new iTunes Movie Rentals right on their iPhone.

See below.

Major software upgrade available for iPod touch

ApplePR: With the installation of this major software upgrade, the best iPod becomes even more: the world’s best Wi-Fi mobile device. The upgrade—available from iTunes for just $19.99—adds five more great mobile applications to iPod touch: Mail, Maps, Stocks, Weather, and Notes. It also includes such new features as Web Clips, a customizable home screen, and the ability to watch iTunes Movie Rentals on iPod touch.

I’m personally not that excited about that firmware update. Most things are already available as 3rdParty apps on my iTouch 1.1.2 (more on this in a separate post). The only interesting thing is the enhanced mapping app. And i guess that the Skyhook Wireless Hot-Spot based triangulation is not available outside North America, at least it sounds like that. Hence no or only little additional value to non-american customers.

In no way i’m going to trade Books, iPhysics, Python, and all the other 3rd Party Apps i’ve installed to this firmware upgrade. Especially since i (like most others) have also installed the 1.1.1 versions of Mail, Maps, Stocks, Weather and Notes.

That Apple wants to charge a whopping $19.99 for this apps, and especially making this update free to iPhone customers while iTouch customers have to pay IS JUST RIDICULOUS. I understand that they want to test their software purchase through iTunes before the SDK is generally available, but there must be other ways.

The reactions on the various live blogs indicate, that i’m not alone with this opinion. Maybe SJ has to take a similar approach to the iPhone price reduction uproar ;-). Meanwhile i’m happily using my 1.1.2 iTouch

But what puzzles me most is the following:

The wording above does not indicate if they separated the firmware upgrade from the applications. If they didn’t separate it, this would mean that all further firmware updates would have to be payware also (including the update needed for the SDK). But then Apple would fragment the not existing market for iPhone / iTouch Applications.

Could somebody clarify this issue?

Introducing iTunes Movie Rentals


ApplePR: Available today with the free download of iTunes 7.6, iTunes Movie Rentals allows customers to rent movies for as little as $2.99 and watch them on their Macs or PCs, all current generation iPods, iPhone and Apple TV. Featuring movies from all the major movie studios—20th Century Fox, The Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Lionsgate and New Line Cinema—iTunes Movie Rentals is expected to offer more than 1,000 movie titles by the end of February, including over 100 titles featuring stunning high definition video with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Movies can be rented directly from a widescreen TV using Apple TV.

This definitely looks very intersting to me. Whenever possible (i.e. we understand the language sufficiently) we watch movies in the original language, mostly meaning english. Unfortunately i’m located in Germany so officially i can’t purchase or rent movies.

Let’s see if the good old iTunes gift card workaround is working for rented movies too :-) Until now i only used it for music because there was no / little price difference between buying a movie on iTunes and buying the DVD and ripping it using HandBrake. This is now different.

Apple announces new software for Apple TV; lowers price to $229

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ApplePR: Available as a free automatic download later this month, the new software announced today lets movie fans rent movies on the iTunes Store directly from their widescreen TV. With iTunes Movie Rentals and Apple TV—and with no computer required—customers can effortlessly rent movies just by clicking a button on their remote. By the end of February, they’ll be able to choose from a catalog of more than 1,000 titles, including over 100 titles in stunning high definition video with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. DVD-quality iTunes Movie Rentals cost just $2.99 for library titles and $3.99 for new releases. High-definition versions are just one dollar more with library titles at $3.99 and new releases at $4.99.

Since my apple tv turned out to be an iBrick for me (because of this problems hooking it up to our flatscreen), this was the most interesting announcement. definitely will try the update, if only to test if the apple tv will now work with the flatscreen and i finally can follow the original plan of hooking up the apple tv to the screen and turning the mac mini into a server only role.

But definitely not without making sure that the old, hacked appletv 1.1.2 setup will still work. I guess i’ll combine the upgrade with an upgrade from the 40GB drive to a 160 or 250GB drive).

Introducing iTunes Digital Copy

ApplePR: Twentieth Century Fox and Apple today announced iTunes Digital Copy for iTunes, which provides customers who purchase a DVD of a Fox movie title with an additional Digital Copy of the movie. The iTunes Digital Copy can be transferred effortlessly to iTunes and then viewed on a PC or Mac, iPod with video, iPhone or on Apple TV—just like a movie purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store. In fact, the first DVD to debut with iTunes Digital Copy is being released in stores today. It’s the Special Edition DVD premiere of the Family Guy “Star Wars” parody, “Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest,” and the first of many more to come.

Since i guess that these DVDs will not make to Germany (or any other region2 country) soon, right now i don’t care. If they’ll make it and they spare me the manual ripping and save me time without being to expensive i’ll car. But only then.

Apple introduces MacBook Air—the world’s thinnest notebook

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Apple PR: Apple today introduced the world’s thinnest notebook: MacBook Air. It measures an unprecedented 0.16 inches at its thinnest point while its maximum height of 0.76 inches is less than the thinnest point on competing notebooks. In addition to a stunning 13.3-inch LED-backlit widescreen display, MacBook Air offers a full-size and backlit keyboard, a built-in iSight video camera for video conferencing, and a spacious trackpad with multi-touch gesture support, letting users pinch, rotate and swipe. The new notebook is powered by a 1.6 GHz or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4MB L2 cache, and it includes as standard features 2GB of memory, an 80GB 1.8-inch hard drive, and the latest 802.11n Wi-Fi technology and Bluetooth 2.1. Starting at just $1,799, MacBook Air begins shipping in two weeks.

MacBook Air is a hallmark of engineering and definitely a nice one. Prices are ok. I applaud the green route Apple is taking. RemoteDisk is interesting but no more, the battery life sounds good, but i guees that the battery is not exchangeable, or is it. SSDs are definitely too expensive for the mainstream right now. Like most I guess i wouldn’t miss the fixed ethernet port, but this may be different in corporate settings. Multi-touch gestures are not impressing right now.

But since our MBPs are just a little over a year old, buying one is not an option.