Life With Apple

By | Jul 6, 2010

Since getting an original iPhone in 2007, Apple has been slowly taking over my tech world in infrequent, large chunks, like climate change taking over an iceberg. My guess is by Apple’s sales numbers that I am not alone. Here’s why…

The iPhone was a revolutionary device when it came out. Calling it a cell phone was barely scratching the surface. I could surf the internet, get email, listen to music, watch videos and more. In essence, what I really had was a pocket computer. As newer versions of the iPhone came out with more features, I’ve been able to dispose of my mobile GPS, iPod, Archos, point and shoot digital camera, and even my laptop, which doesn’t come without some compromises, but sure saves a lot of luggage space when you consider the number of devices and related batteries and chargers.

Today the iPhone isn’t the only phone on the block that can do these things. Android phones (and others) are packing more punch these days, but I’m sticking with Apple simply because it’s what I know. It cracks me up to see the verbal wars that ensue over which devices are better, and the Droid/iPhone wars are a non-stop source of punk-ass dopes who wage endless war-of-words over processor speeds, screen sizes, blah blah blah. God help anyone if they’re looking for useful information in these immature tirades, mostly by idiots commenting on things they don’t even own or have never used.

The iPhone 4 has been getting a lot of press about the external antenna and how holding the phone “incorrectly” can cause reception problems. I’m no radio expert, but I have built crystal radios when I was a kid, and even more recently as an adult. An important part of making a crystal radio work is having the proper antenna setup, and one of the key requirements of a good antenna is that NOTHING should touch the antenna anywhere along its length. Doing so grounds the antenna and can severely impact reception. Why Apple chose to put the antenna on a metal band surrounding the phone where your hand (a great conductor of electrical energy) along with the rest of your body, can ground the antenna with great efficiency, is beyond me. I said this to my wife after Steve Job’s keynote address at Apple WWDC where he espoused the new antenna design. When I bought the phone, the Apple rep suggested the “Bumper” case, which surrounds the metal band around the phone with a plastic protector. Of course I bought it (like a sucker) because I knew there would be antenna problems (I’m an informed sucker). Even the Bumper case will decrease reception, because as I said earlier, NOTHING should touch the antenna, but this is very difficult to do when designing cell phone antennas, so the next best thing is to have a non-conductive material, like the plastic Bumper case, come between  you and the antenna.

So what do these antenna issues mean in the real world. Theoretically, reduced call reception and quality. Does it really? For me, no. I live in an area where cell phone towers are plentiful and I have strong 3G access everywhere. I’m not in a major metropolitan area, I’m in the country and that’s just how it is here. Frankly, I’ve travelled quite a bit and still have not had a problem. The only times signal strength was an issue was in very rural places like when I went to Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, and Oregon. In these places EVERYONE had cell phone reception issues. In Yellowstone, I got no reception on AT&T, while my wife managed to barely get a signal on Verizon with her Blackberry, and it was useless for making phone calls.

I have a friend I converse with regularly on the iPhone who says I break up a lot when we talk, and that I’m the only one with which this happens. He’s on Verizon with one of their smart phones and I’m on AT&T with the iPhone. Pretty damning evidence against the iPhone, but whenever he leaves me voicemail messages, his voice is breaking up. That can’t be MY phone that is the problem.

The bottom line, not an issue for me. I don’t know about you. Apple is supposedly issuing what many are incorrectly interpreting as a fix for the reception issue with the iPhone 4. But it’s not a fix that will improve reception. It’s a fix that will enable the iPhone to more accurately report signal strength. Better reporting of signal strength won’t actually improve signal strength. So this leaves me right back where I started and I don’t really care. I can still make all the phone calls I want.

The iPad is not a revolutionary device in the technical sense. It doesn’t do everything a computer can do. It doesn’t make phone calls, it lacks a keyboard and a mouse, doesn’t have a very big screen, no USB host. You can’t add memory, storage space or take photos with it. And it doesn’t do Flash. So why can’t I put this thing down? And it’s not just me. These things are flying off the shelves. Are we just turning into Apple drones, willing to accept anything Apple puts in front of us and sets at any price?

This is a tough one. I love my iPad. I do. I don’t know if I can adequately explain why. I was watching an episode of American Chopper the other day while surfing the internet with my iPad. I remembered Paul Teutul, hard-as-nails tough guy owner of Orange County Choppers, an elite custom motorcycle builder on which the show is based, wrote an inspirational book about business, based in large part on his life’s story. I tap the iBooks app on my iPad, do a quick search, find his book, download it in a few seconds, and I’m already reading it during commercials. My friend and rocket buddy Scott were camping the other week. We weren’t roughing it, just saving on hotel money. He had never seen Terminator Salvation. A few taps on the iPad, and we’re watching the movie on a decent sized screen. I brought the iPad along so I could read a book, but it turned out to be another source of entertainment. I was in the airport waiting for a flight. I was reading a book on the iPad, decided to check my email and then switched over to a quick game of Boggle. My wife was watching the Tudors TV show on Netflix streaming through her iPad.

All of these things can be done on other devices, like a laptop, but the iPad does it best. It does. The touch and finger gesturing that gets you all of these things on the iPad is so much better then pecking away at a keyboard and touchpad while the laptop’s processor cooks your leg. The iPad runs cool as a cucumber and the battery lasts forever (10hrs in battery time is a lifetime). I’m serious. I hammered away on that thing for three days before I had to recharge the battery. When Scott and I watched Terminator, the battery went from 100% capacity (after being in standby for a day) to 88%. The iPhone can do these things, but it has a small screen and not nearly the battery life. It’s the two things the iPad can do better than the iPhone.

Reading books is fantastic. I’m a reader again because of the iPad. I just want to pick it up and read and read. And I can with a terrific screen and a battery that refuses to die. Games are a blast. Playing pinball is soooo much fun.

The iPad draws complaints for what it is missing. Again, this largely comes from people who don’t own the device. I look at it this way: The iPad created a new category of device. Complaining that I can’t plug my camera into it is like complaining I can’t plug a camera into a blender. OK, that’s extreme but you get my point. It’s NOT  a laptop, nor was it intended to be. Apple already makes laptops and so do a host of others. This is something else. I don’t want to offload photos I took from a camera onto an iPad willy-nilly. Most of the photos I take are crap and I need to weed through them before showing them to people.  I am perfectly fine with loading the ones I want through iTunes. If you don’t, then get a laptop instead. That’s why we have them. I like the fact that I can shop for books and start reading right away. You can get Kindle for the PC, but I don’t want a keyboard attached to my book while I’m reading. I like a battery that doesn’t have me looking for a charger every day. I like a device that’s small but usable. The iPad feels “right-sized”.  I don’t use a laptop anymore and I don’t miss it one bit, because I found a new device in a new category that takes the best of a lot of things (like laptops, books, gaming devices) and combines them into one. I don’t care about what it doesn’t do. If I did, I wouldn’t be happy with anything. It’s what it does do that it does so well. The iPad is a great iPad.

The Mac computer is certainly NOT new, nor revolutionary. I’ve used Windows PCs exclusively for more than 20 years before switching to a Mac. The Mac’s interface seems outdated to me. I still struggle with not being able to do certain things in Finder and it’s kludgy folder and file navigation. If I’m saving a file in Windows from MS Word or any app for that matter, I can do pretty much anything I want in he file dialog window in Windows. I can delete, rename, copy and move files at will, pretty much anything I can do in Windows Explorer, as well as saving the file I’m working on. I can’t do this on a Mac. I can save a file, but if I happen to see a file that needs deleting or renaming while I’m saving, forget it. I have to save my file, then go back into Finder and navigate to where I was when I was saving the file and do my file work. That’s a big pain that I still struggle with.

What can a Mac do better? It performs better. I can’t emphasize this enough. The times I do go back to working on a PC (at work) is like watching paint dry. I know the paint is doing something when it’s drying, but can’t see it doing a thing. It’s a mystery. And I can’t do anything until the paint is dry. So it goes with Windows. I hear the hard drive chugging away on my Windows machine, keyboard input and mouse clicks seemingly ignored, while some mysterious process on Windows is sucking all sorts of processing power away from the tasks I need to perform. What the heck is Windows doing half the times I need to get something done? I swear the are a myriad of background processes causing all sorts of processing pollution on Windows machines. The Mac is just so much better at assign priority to system tasks and user requests. My Mac can be in the process of performing a complete backup and I can’t tell anything is going on while I’m working. It knows that when I click on something, to give my request top priority, and give me what I want. To heck with everything else. The result is that my Mac doesn’t skip a beat and I zip along with what I have to do. I’m telling you, I have 64bit Windows 7 Ultimate, the latest and greatest from Microsoft, running ON MY MAC and I can do direct comparisons. Here’s one stat:

1. Boot up time on my Mac with OSX Snow Leopard – 41 seconds.
2. Boot up time on my Mac with Windows 7 Ultimate 64Bit – 2:25 minutes.

No contest. Windows’ code base is a clunker no matter what kind of window (pun intended) dressing they put on it. Some of you may not know about the dark years over at Apple when Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in the mid 1980’s. Steve went on to form a financially UN-successful business venture knows as NeXT. The NeXT computer system was an overpriced no-holds-barred kick-butt computer system combined with an equally kick-butt operating system based on the robust and fast UNIX operating system. NeXT faded into oblivion, but the NeXTSTEP operating system did not. It sat quietly in storage while Steve again assumed the reins at Apple in the 1990’s. In the years following, the Mac OS would be replaced by OSX, which was largely NextSTEP re-written for the Mac. Today, OSX smokes Windows in performance, stability and security. You can throw more hardware at Windows to get it to run better, but they’ll just build a slower Windows. My Mac got faster with the latest OS update and took up less hard drive space. I never that with Windows.

So, individual results may vary, but so what? Don’t take it personally. It’s hardware, a commodity, a tool, and my experience is (mostly) subjective. Use what works, but if you’re undecided, I hope I’ve helped you here.

 

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