iCab for iPad

iCab for iPad is so staggeringly superior to mobile safari it’s almost embarrassing, especially when you consider that most of the ways in which it’s superior are obvious and essentially stolen from desktop safari.

First, you can press and hold on a link to download it (e.g. You can download PDFs and view them offline). You can launch downloaded documents in other programs. You can jump from page to page using tabs — remember those.

The Ui is brilliant. By default it uses some real estate fora tab bar, making life sooooo much better, but if you need the space, it offers full screen mode with subtly displayed controls tucked in the corners and edges.

I often wonder how close the iCab guy got to having his browser acquired by Apple in the Bad Days of IE5.1.

Oh, and it has a slightly customized keyboard that doesn’t suck.

$1.99 well spent.

Transmit 4

Not just the best FTP client, but the prettiest icon.

Panic has done it again — they’ve taken what was already the best FTP (et al) client on the Mac (or any other platform, seriously) and made it not only better but transcendently good. I have to agree with the review from Smoking Apples that the only FTP client that even remotely challenges Transmit is Flow (which I fell in love with instantly, and then abandoned because it’s simply too unstable), but Transmit has gone way beyond matching Flow’s features.

Three words: seamless Finder integration.

It’s hard to imagine how to add features to an FTP client to make a (non-free) upgrade release compelling, but somehow they’ve managed it. Aside from the above headline feature, my favorite new features are:

  • instant access to favorites via the global menubar
  • automatic inference of timezone differences (something I’ve wanted for a long time — but when I explained this to folks from the Dreamweaver team back in about 1998 they didn’t even understand the question: apparently administering servers in different time zones wasn’t a use-case they’d contemplated)
  • FXP (server-to-server) file transfer (Forklift‘s killer feature)

Attention to Detail

Apple finally released new Macbook Pros (and I had just resigned myself to upgrading my aging* MBP 2,2’s hard drive with an SSD and toughing it out for another year or two) and has been pointed out elsewhere they didn’t just swap in new CPUs and call it done. But, they also didn’t include quad-core CPUs for which many of us had been hoping.

The new features: audio over mini display port, enhanced battery life, flick scrolling, automatic switching between integrated and discrete GPUs, and the availability of higher-dpi displays on the 15″ model.

Dell (for example) appears to sell you a somewhat better specced laptop for about $500 less** (including 1GB of VRAM — vs. 512MB — and a really high dpi display) but in fact they’re offering a completely different CPU (1.7GHz 720QM vs 2.66GHz 620M and with correspondingly slower “turbo” mode) made with the previous generation fab process (45nm vs 32nm) and consequently offer nothing close to the battery life. Oh, and of course you get Windows 7 (I always choose the professional SKU when trying to price compare PCs and Macs; if you like crippleware, increase the price differential $100 in Dell’s favor). From what I can see the 620M offers better performance for typical tasks but slightly less for some highly threaded tasks, like 3d rendering — meanwhile, it has much better power consumption.

So, the typical “PCs are cheaper and better” view will be that Dell sells you a faster notebook for less money, while my take is that Apple doesn’t given you bigger numbers, but you get a better computer that runs longer between charges. Does anyone think Apple couldn’t have just stuck a quad core i7 CPU in if it had wanted to?

In a sense, Apple designs computers, Dell sells you boxes and lets you insert whatever parts you want (that will fit) — regardless of whether they make sense.

Interestingly, Dell’s site now lets you select among its insane range of models by picking components (e.g. Core i7) and then filtering out the offerings which don’t include that component. Which is like allowing customers to choose cars based on the kind of spark plug they use. Of course, that’s a step up from simply trying to guess which random product line might allow you to configure the computer you want.

Unfortunately, notebook prices aren’t dropping — at least for high end notebooks. If anything SSDs are pushing the prices back up again. My Macbook Pro 2,2 cost about $2000, its replacement will likely cost $3000 (with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM). My cheapest laptops thus far were the iBook G3 and G4 models (each around $1000) I bought when Apple’s pro offerings were scarcely superior in performance to their consumer models. (Note that both had discrete GPUs.)

On the positive side, my new Macbook Pro (and I haven’t decided whether it will be a 15″ or 17″) will be my only computer — no more desktops — so in a sense it’s saving me buying a Mac Pro, just as my last Mac Pro saved me buying a PC.

* Aging in the sense that it is dented all over and the power cord no longer rests flush in the socket. My only real issue with it is that 3GB is no longer enough for a development/3D box and it’s not beefy enough for some games.

** I won’t bother linking you my configuration or the model I picked since one of Dell’s cute tricks is essentially generating a different price model per customer based on how you get into the website, which is a brilliant way of dissuading me (for one) from ever buying anything from them since I always suspect I’m being screwed. It’s actually even dumber than coupon codes.

It’s the battery life, stupid

I was impressed with the iPad’s battery life, which I found to be even longer than Apple’s ten-hour claim, and far longer than on my laptops or smart phones. For my battery test, I played movies, TV shows and other videos back-to-back until the iPad died. This stressed the device’s most power-hogging feature, its screen. The iPad lasted 11 hours and 28 minutes, about 15% more than Apple claimed. I was able to watch four feature-length movies, four TV episodes and a video of a 90-minute corporate presentation, before the battery died midway through an episode of “The Closer.”

Walt Mossberg, in his review.

Speaking of video: Apple asserts that the iPad runs 10 hours on a charge of its nonremovable battery — but we all know you can’t trust the manufacturer. And sure enough, in my own test, the iPad played movies continuously from 7:30 a.m. to 7:53 p.m. — more than 12 hours. That’s four times as long as a typical laptop or portable DVD player.

David Pogue, in his review.

I can’t believe that two other high profile reviewers didn’t even mention battery life. The iPad could dispense crisp bacon and protect you from alien attacks and it wouldn’t matter if its battery life sucked.

That’s essentially the one item which was open to doubt, although Apple’s record with battery life claims is pretty good (most of their unibody machines have outperformed their claims in reviews, although of course battery life tends to degrade over time — my first generation Macbook Pro’s battery life started at around 3h normal usage with new batteries, and is down to about 2:30 on this, its second).

I do wonder how long it will run Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars which can suck my iPhone 3G’s battery dry in nothing flat.

Claims that the iPad is more about consuming media than creating it need to be taken with a grain of salt — it hasn’t shipped yet! There’s good reason that for some creative applications (e.g. 3d sculpting) it may prove superb. And I foresee third-party cases with integral bluetooth keyboards.

Apparently my iPad is going through customs… Argh.

“It Screams”

iPad Product Shot from Apple's Website

It’s powered by our own silicon. The 1GHz Apple A4 chip. It screams.

Not sure if that was Scott Forstall or Steve Jobs (Engadget’s live blog left that out). I’m assuming this is some kind of ARM license using PA Semi power management. Hell, I’m a software guy.

0.5″ thick, 1.5lb, 9.7″ screen, runs iPhone apps at native or double resolution without rewriting, 10h battery life (as in playing video!), one month of standby time (!!).

SDK out today. (I wonder how long it will take Unity iPhone to support it?)

Addenda

$499! Not often does Apple blow my expectations on price (at least, in a good way). And I assume from the lack of earnings guidance that their margins on this are just fine.

Some more tech specs: 802.11b/g/n (in case you were wondering); no SD card slot (sigh — the black lozenge you see in some product shots is the volume control); battery is 25Wh*, 1024×768 screen resolution; the WiFi model appears to lack GPS; VoiceOver screen reader is listed under accessibility;

Note: * I can’t find similar stats on the iPhone’s batteries, but for comparison my 15″ Macbook Pro’s battery, which is fairly new, has a capacity of around 55Wh. This makes the 10h playback figure plausible. After all, the motherboard for this thing is probably not much bigger than the iPhone’s, so there’s a lot of space for battery in that case.

Some back of envelope calculations: my 15″ Macbook Pro — pre unibody — has a 60Wh (when new) battery and an 85W power adapter, which is a ratio of 4/5 and realistically yields 2.5h of usage (Ars Technica’s review showed a bit over 3h in real-world tests, but I tend to be harder core than most users, e.g. I run 3d modeling and rendering software and do a lot of compiling — both spin the hard disk much more than web surfing and editing text); the iPad has a 25Wh battery and a 10W power adapter, which is a ratio of 5/2. Divide 5/2 by 4/5 and you get 3.125. Multiply that by 2.5 and you get roughly 8h of usage. If all I’m doing is playing video from my hard disk (vs. a DVD) or the web I’d say the MacBook Pro would get 3.5-4h pretty easily, which multiplied by 2.5 gives you well over 10h. So I’m guesstimating 7-8h will be the “realistic” usage figure, and 10h will be doable if you’re just watching video. It should be noted that Apple has not been wildly unrealistic in quoted battery life in the past, and many reviewers found the unibody notebooks outperformed Apple’s claims. Time will tell of course, since there’s no freaking way I’m not buying one of these puppies.

Apple’s stock is down (edit: whoops, now it’s up), which means this is almost certainly a home run. The last time the share market endorsed an Apple product launch this way it was the iPod.

Apple's iPad features thoughtful design, as usual
Apple's iPad features thoughtful design, as usual

My takeaway points:

  • The only ugly thing — the home screen screenshots. Those icons are just way too far apart.
  • The large bezel is going to be useful when holding it, unlike the iPhone which is small enough to hold by its sides.
  • Portrait mode for keyboard actually makes sense given the tendency of developers to festoon everything with toolbars.
  • This is a bookreader we can love. Anyone who thinks transmissive screens don’t work for reading presumably doesn’t spent most of their day coding on a computer and surfing the web. It’s a matter of what you’re used to, and I’ll take a full-color backlit display with no refresh lag over e-Ink any day.
  • It has a physical keyboard option. Apple can so learn from past mistakes.
  • It runs iWork, and it runs it well. Give me Coda and I can basically live on this sucker — for me, this may kill the notebook computer. Viva la desktop!
  • What do we know about the A4? Dual core?
  • By number of games available, iPhone/iPod Touch is the biggest gaming platform in the world. It’s also ahead of the Wii and DS in terms of critically acclaimed games (go check!) It’s possibly number one in terms of number of units in use too — but a lot of iPhones and iPods aren’t used for gaming (Correction: a little research shows that Apple had sold around 34M iPhones as of 2009 Q4; as of 2009 Q1 they had sold 37M iPhones + iPod Touches, of which 17.4M were iPhones; since the ratio of iPod Touches to iPhones appears to be – if anything – increasing, we can guesstimate the total platform size to be at least 70M (37/17.4 x 34 is roughly 72); Nintendo’s total worldwide sales of DSx as of 2009 Q4 were 113M, so the DS is still in front in total sales, although iPod + iPhone has outsold the DS since they were launched), while Nintendo had sold By introducing the newfangled concept of backwards compatibility into the game platform market, Apple has given Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft much food for thought.
  • iWork apps will be for sale individually in the App Store. I suspect Apple might want to set some precedents for pricing here — pricing them insanely low will suck air out of the market for more expensive non-enterprise third-party apps. (Edit: they’re going to be $10 each, which seems like a nice balance, and fits right in with the more serious iPhone apps out there.)
  • I wonder if one reason for making this an iPhone OS device and not a Mac OS X device is that iPhone still has a shot in the enterprise, while the Mac will never get very far.

More Addenda

  • “You can use any bluetooth keyboard you want, instead of Apple’s keyboard dock. You could use the case/stand with your existing bluetooth keyboard.” from Ars Technica’s hands on.
  • “You cannot use a bluetooth mouse, however.” (Pity.)
  • “The case itself is some crazy soft rubbery microfiber material that no Apple rep could or would identify.”
  • Another thing that bugs me — the on-screen keyboard doesn’t include numerals and punctuation by default. If I’m willing to press more carefully, can I have a more normal keyboard please? Probably they’ve done the usability-testing and found out the way they’ve done things is actually better.
  • I’m not crazy about iPad as a name, but thinking on it, I do think it’s better than Canvas which might have been too artsy. It makes sense that iBooks is the bookstore, so calling it an iBook wouldn’t work.
  • “iBooks will use the ePUB (sic) standard, a free and open book standard” from MacWorld’s coverage (by the way, MacWorld and Ars Technica pretty much failed abysmally in their live coverage, I ended up following the announcements on Engadget).
  • The Wikipedia entry on the EPUB format already lists the iPad as a platform supporting it. Heh. Web: 1. Books: 0.
  • “Reading a book on an iPad isn’t necessarily going to be that much better — a whole lot better; it will still be in black and white. The Kindle still represents a good vehicle for people who only want an e-reader.” That’s some industry analyst named Gary Purdy quoted in the NYTimes article on the launch. Um — books that are in color (or greyscale, even) will, um, look a whole lot better. I can (I’m guessing) make notes in my textbooks, which is a whole lot better. And of course, it’s not one more damn thing. Once again, it’s reducing the number of things we need to lug around and recharge and sync, not increasing it. Let’s say you’re a total power-user road warrior… The iPad weighs about as much as a spare laptop battery. Would I rather have another 2h on my laptop or another 10h on an iPad? Hmm.
  • Love it, hate it, or despise it: the AT&T data plans offered for the iPad are unmatched by Verizon or T-Mobile (at least right now), so while there’s nothing technically stopping you from using competing plans, you’ll pay through both nostrils for them.
  • My wife just pointed out we can switch over to our Google Voice numbers, and have calls go to work and home, and voicemail go to our email. We don’t need no stinking cell phones.
  • According to John Gruber (via Twitter) “When you connect iPad to your Mac or PC, you get a file system mount point with “shared documents”, for interchange with iPad apps.” So that’s how

Nintendo, et al, be afraid. Be very afraid

In-game screenshot from Chinatown Wars on the iPhone
In-game screenshot from Chinatown Wars on the iPhone. This is from iTunes, but having played the game on my very own iPhone I can testify it looks at least this good.

I’ve been trying to buy a copy of Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS for some time (you’ve probably gleaned that I’m a huge GTAIV fan). I just found out it’s been available for the iPhone (for $10) since last week. This underlines the deficiencies of the DS and the strengths of the iPhone as a platform (and, obviously, this extends to the iPad).

  1. I can’t find a copy of Chinatown Wars for the DS anywhere — even though it is the best reviewed game for the DS ever — and I didn’t want to order it online (instant gratification and all that). And, in the end, I don’t tend to use my DS much.
  2. I just got it for $10 vs. considerably more for the DS version ($20 at Walmart, for instance).
  3. I bought the iPhone version in large part because I fully expect it to be upgraded to run on the iPad, and possibly get a price hike (after all, while it’s debatably the best implementation of Chinatown Wars on any platform right now, it won’t even be debatable when it’s running on the iPad.
  4. And yes, it runs jim dandy on my nearly two year old iPhone 3G. Which means it will run better and smoother on the 3GS, let alone an iPad.

So, to recap:

  • Apple has introduced the idea of a games platform that’s a real OS that gets upgrades with backwards compatibility, which Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, et al have conspicuously failed to do despite having ample opportunity. (Indeed, Sony’s new PS3 dropped all backwards compatibility with the PS2.)
  • Developers can make some trivial changes to an iPhone title and it will run at full resolution on an iPad. Or they can do nothing and it will still run at near full-screen size on an iPad. By comparison, the PS2 ran PSX apps no better than a PSX did, back when Sony still paid lip service to backwards compatibility.
  • This goes back to Apple’s underlying business model — they make money on the handle and let everyone else sell blades. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have their hands in developers’ pockets, so of course they want you to buy everything over again. Oh yeah, and aside from Nintendo (who are into Apple’s old model of selling overpriced, underpowered hardware) they lose money on those handles. My guess is that Rockstar makes as much or more from a $10 iPhone sale as from a $20 DS sale.
  • The App store may annoy developers of desktop apps who can click “compile” and release their software five minutes later, but it’s blissfully cheap, easy, and pleasant compared to trying to become a (proper) Nintendo, PS3, or XBox 360 developer.
  • The iPad may not be the best games platform in terms of, say, raw graphics capability, but it’s probably Good Enough. I for one would rather have a game console I can carry with me than a more graphically capable one that I have to leave at home. My XBox 360 is currently in the bedroom, which is its third location in the house. Just moving it from one room to another is a pain in the ass, and where-ever it is, I want it somewhere else.
  • Incidentally I believe that if you own an iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, you can run one license of a game on all three. Sony? Nintendo? Microsoft? My wife and I share an iTunes account and in fact we run one license of some games on both our phones (we’d actually happily pay for the extra copies, but we don’t have to, and in fact there’s no way for us to do so).