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The Slate of the Tablet

Apple NewtonThe tablet market is moving fast this year and it’s hard to keep up. So here’s the State Slate of the Tablet.

Apple iPad running iPhone OS

Since the death of the Newton a long time ago there have been rumors that Apple was developing a new tablet. Steve Jobs finally announced the iPad earlier this year which, in case you’ve been on an extended remote vacation, is Apple iPad theONbutton landscapeavailable now running iPhone OS. It is available in WiFi only or WiFi+3G, the latter being a smart choice to get the most out of the iPad (pictured). The iPad uses the same App Store as the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad can run iPhone apps but dedicated iPad apps look best.

We now either own one, want one or don’t know what it’s for. Personally I didn’t know what it was for, then wanted one and lined up on launch day to own one. I now know exactly what it’s for, which is around 75% of all my Internet and media consumption. The chances are that if a website doesn’t work on the iPad, I’ll find another website or better still, an app.

Limitations include the iPad’s lack of Flash support, no easily accessible file explorer and a beautiful screen which is difficult to read outdoors. Strengths include ten hour battery life, loads of great apps and the ability to enjoy good Internet content without having to trawl the whole Internet to find it.

PC tablets running Windows

Windows tablets have existed ever since the release of Windows XP Tablet Edition years ago. These early tablets were typically ultraportable laptops with touchscreens that swiveled to convert the device into a tablet. They used resistiveArchos 9touchscreens and required a stylus for input, or a very precise fingernail.

The current crop of Windows 7 tablets, spearheaded by the likes of the Archos 9 (pictured), are certainly far lighter than their ancestors but the weaknesses remain. Notably the resistive screens and stylus or trackpad input method. Unfortunately there are just too many aspects of Windows 7 usage that require precise interaction to allow tablets to really exploit the OS.

Multitouch gestures have been built into Windows 7 but as soon as you try using an application like Microsoft Office on a Windows tablet, it is beaten in usability by iWork for iPad which was created from the ground up for tablet usage. Battery life is also an issue on Windows tablets which mainly now use the Intel Atom processor. This is a very power efficient CPU but real life battery usage on these tablets tends to top out at 2-3 hours.

Android

The Google and Open Handset Alliance backed Android OS is making a big play for tablet market share. Or perhaps I should say lots of little plays, because like the Windows tablet market the Android one is made up of a gazillion of Dell Streakemerging models. Unlike the Windows market however, the Android devices we’ve seen so far are all running slightly different versions of Android.

Personally I feel that while Android will overcome the obstacle of fragmentation in the smartphone market, I believe it will greatly hinder the platform in the tablet market. Most users ultimately don’t care if they can’t run this or that app on their phone as long as the device runs a core set of important apps. With tablets it’s different because they are perceived as far more capable devices than phones due to their screen size. If a user tries to download an app which only works on Android 2.1 onto a 2.0 device she purchase that day, frustration will mount. The fragmentation of Android builds on tablets may hold back the rise of the platform if left unchecked.

In terms of actual Android tablet devices in the marketplace, we have seen the JooJoo come and be poorly received. That was the most high profile launch until the recent Dell Streak (pictured above), which is a small tablet and large smartphone wrapped up in a heavy, less than pocket friendly chassis. There was a ton of Android tablets announced at Computex last week running various builds of the OS, which seemed to reinforce the idea that fragmentation is the biggest issue facing this platform.

Palm Pre PlusWeb OS by Palm

HP recently acquired Palm and the jury is out on whether the HP Slate, which was due to be launched imminently running Windows 7, will be shelved in favor of a HP Web OS tablet. Those who have used a Palm Pre (pictured) or Pixi may feel that Web OS could be the foundation of a very useful tablet interface. We’ll just have to wait to see what HP has in store for us on this front.

Neil Berman

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Jun 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve Ballmer: Future PC competition will be from tablets, not Mac

I’ll admit I was pretty happy to hear that Steve Ballmer seemed to share my view on Apple’s strategy at D8 today. The Microsoft CEO declared that the PC’s biggest competition in three years from now would come not from Mac, but rather from tablets (he seemed to be making a reference to future evolutions of the iPad).

Nice one Steve, I’d love to think you enjoy theONbutton on a daily basis and that we’ve shared some IE9 screen real estate on the Windows 8 pre-Alpha we imagine you’re playing with on a mythical Core i7 ULV ultraportable. The reality, however, is probably just that you’re seeing things in a like-minded pragmatic, logical way.

We should bear in mind that such an evolution would not necessarily be a bad thing for Apple. I continue to believe that iPhone OS devices are a more profitable play for Apple than Mac. With the rumored update to Apple TV, which might see it reappear at $99 running iPhone OS, the company’s continued focus upon this operating system would give the App Store and iTunes even greater reach and profitability.

Of course this may all get turned shockingly upside down if Apple announces in its Q2 results that the iPad created a scintillating halo effect around Mac sales!

Neil Berman

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Jun 3, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Google TV: Out of control?

GoogleThe announcement of Google TV yesterday is exciting, both for TV addicts and those who want a full living room internet experience without using a dedicated computer.  After following an impressive press conference, the question in my mind is how a regular person will control this thing.

It looks like Google TV seeks to aggregate content from various delivery channels and offers the end user multiple options for viewing said content.  For example during the presentation a portal page for House was shown offering episodes from Fox HD, USA HD, Bravo HD, and online from Fox, Hulu and Amazon.

While this kind of optionality is great from the point of view that the market can choose which delivery mechanism it wants, I’d say that most people want to flop in front of their TV, press a button and watch their favorite show.  The idea of presenting a regular viewer with so many viewing options, might just end up being too much choice for a simple end user decision.  I think the platform will ultimately need to prioritize certain delivery channels, either through configuration by the user or through agreements between Google and its content partners.

Of course we have all of this choice today and power users would probably love what Google TV looks like today by offering these myriad options through one remote control and one interface.  Windows Media Center provides a similar service but without a usable TV interface for browsing the internet, unless you have a wireless keyboard and a large screen for viewing small text at a distance.

So definitely five stars to Google on this one from the likes of me, I just hope that it’s straightforward enough for the average consumer to control when it hits Best Buy on Main Street.

Neil Berman

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May 21, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

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Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton’s Flash HD video test: Hardware acceleration Mac vs PC

Flash has gained huge amounts of column inches in 2010.  This is mostly because of Apple’s current stance of not including it on the iPad while claiming at the same time that the iPad will be the best way to experience the Web.  Many commentators have disagreed with this statement because Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more widely adopted as an alternative.  Meanwhile as we also previously explained, Adobe is taking steps to use graphics hardware to accelerate Flash HD video decoding, which promises to allow smooth playback of content on computers with supported graphics cards.  The problem for Apple users is that due to the ongoing sparring between Apple and Adobe …continue reading

Mar 11, 2010 Posted by | Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AMD has a Vision for Main Street

AMD VisionApparently there are some people who get confused by computery numbers. Not you of course but they’re out there somewhere according to AMD, and said company is on a mission to ameliorate said situation.

So instead of Athlons and Turions, look for your next AMD computer to have a Vision, or at least a Vision logo denoting the relative capability of the computer. From what we know currently there will be a graduating scale of four levels, starting with just Vision, passing through Vision Premium and Vision Ultimate all the way to Vision Black…er, because something can be better than “ultimate” these days.

So I’m assuming that means you’ll be able to get Windows 7 Ultimate on Vision Premium and Windows 7 Premium on Vision Ultimate; you can see where this is going.

To be fair, I can appreciate the value of this for some consumers and it makes it easier to train store staff as well. But if average consumers can weigh up a 300hp 4.0 liter engine against a 120hp 1.5 when buying a car, I’m sure that a little marketing wizardry can teach them about computer horsepower as well.

Hopefully this will go away in a year or so…unless AMD fades away into obscurity sooner as a result of the ground it lost to Intel in the netbook and ultra-low-voltage laptop markets.

Having said that, AMD just announced it’s new thin ‘n light processors to keep Intel on it’s toes so here’s hoping this two horse race has plenty more distance to run. Remember competition drives innovation and feature development, which is great for consumers. You only have to look at the camera-less iPod Touch for proof of that.

Neil Berman

http://www.thenbutton.com

Sep 11, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Guides, Hardware, News, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Neil Berman published by PMI

So my recent lacks of posts can be explained by:

a) An unhealthy addiction to Halo 3, tinkering with the Windows 7 Beta and wondering whether the BSG finale would be lame or earth shattering finding – we now know

b) Feeling 24/7 ecstatic that the iPhone & iPod Touch will be getting stereo bluetooth.  Praise be!  Can’t wait to see the wireless cans Apple will hopefully release…where will all those soon-to-be-unwanted white wires go?

c) Writing a Project Management paper which PMI published today

The correct answer is the absent d) All of the above.

Today PMI (Project Management Institute) published my paper entitled “The Project Manager’s Three Critical Factors in Career Development” on their website at www.pmi.org.  The paper can be found in the Resources section in the Library under Leadership.  Hope you enjoy reading it.

With that said I have been spending an unreasonable amount of time tinkering with the Windows 7 Beta and will post soon about the mainly good and not very much bad.  Darn it I can’t believe BSG is over…bring on Caprica!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Apr 1, 2009 Posted by | News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows 7 Beta Review

windows-7-media-center-viral-videosI’ve been eager to give the Windows 7 Beta a workout following the demos I saw at CES.

My living room Media Center PC was an ideal candidate.  It’s a three year old Pentium 4 which takes care of all our viewing, media and browsing needs on Windows XP Media Center 2005.  Microsoft has claimed that Windows 7 is a streamlined OS capable of running on lower spec hardware than Vista, it’s time to see if that’s really true…

Test environment

windows-7-performance-indexFor reference my PC is running a 2.93GHz P4 with 3GB DDR400 RAM, 500GB hard disk and a low end Geforce 7200GS.  Not the most scintillating system by modern standards and probably equivalent to a $250 purchase these days from the refurbished inventory of e-tailers.  The version of Windows 7 Beta I have is Build 7000.  I’ll refer to it as W7B in this article.

Installations never go smoothly…or do they?

Installation was initially nerveracking but ultimately painless.  Nerveracking because I had to split a live primary partition into two, to create a boot partition for the new OS.  Painless because once Linux GParted had done its partitioning stuff, Windows 7 Beta installed in superfast time, restarting a couple of times and then it was done.  I had backed up my XP partition to another drive just in case, but fortunately all went according to the masterplan and W7B automatically created a dual-boot environment for me.  XP booted just like before and I so was all set for my W7B test.

windows-7-desktopStopwatch at the ready

The first thing I noticed was a faster boot time.  This could have been due to having a fresh install so I initially reserved judgement on that one.  However now that three weeks has passed and I’ve installed everything I’m likely to for a while, the swift boot-up lives on.  It’s not a life changing improvement but in the region of ten seconds faster than my XP boot sequence once all startup items have completed.

Sounding off

All navigation elements were very responsive: Aero, widgets and snap-to-edge all performed well with no lag.  But then I noticed there was no sound.  W7B had found my motherboard’s SPDIF output but did not configure it correctly.  A quick internet search revealed the latest Vista drivers which duly solved the issue.  In fact I now get proper Dolby transmission and far more signal reaching my amp, which means having to apply less gain within the amp therefore achieving a better signal-to-noise ratio than with my XP setup.

Taskbar implemented cum laude

windows-7-taskbarTaskbar, oh glorious taskbar.  So much has been written of thee already, what can I add?  This really is a great addition in W7B, I can envisage how well it could work once the touch interface gets enabled on the full release.  Seeing thumbnail representations of an application’s open windows is a fantastic browsing aid.  Being able to jump into application functions directly from thumbnail menus takes everything a step further.  Best of all, the thumbnails are dynamic representations so if you are waiting for a window to complete a certain action you can hover over its taskbar icon to view its progress in the thumbnail.

CPU and Resource Management

Having an older spec PC presented a good opportunity to see how W7B would cope with average resources.  windows-7-resource-monitorIn the initial days following installation I noticed some frantic CPU and disk activity, which I traced to Windows Media Player cataloging my music and video collection.  Once that was done, CPU activity became XP-like whilst memory allocation was definitely smarter.

Like Vista, W7B was able to address all 3GB of RAM whilst my 32-bit XP build was never capable of this.  W7B also supports ReadyBoost so I threw in a 4GB SDHC card and dedicated the whole thing to the OS.  That’s a cheap 4GB at $10, although ReadyBoost doesn’t make use of flash cards in quite the same way as conventional RAM.  However the combination keeps my paging file to a minimum and I’ve not experienced memory crunches.

Windows Firewall

The versions of Windows Firewall built into XP and Vista were never taken too seriiously by the security fraternity due their inability to block outbound traffic.  So whilst others had difficulty reaching your computer, your computer could reach others…which is a pretty big risk given the amount of nasty malware out there.  The W7B Firewall changes all that with firewall rules configurable for incoming and outgoing traffic.  This could seriously hurt the likes of ZoneAlarm and others, who have thrived to date on the weakness of Windows Firewall.  I run ZoneAlarm on my XP partition, but I haven’t needed to download it for my W7B setup so far.

Internet TV & Media Center

windows-7-media-center-internet-tv-guideEver since the touchscreen demo of W7B Media Center I saw at CES, I’ve been aching to try out the integration of Internet TV in the EPG.  Until now we’ve needed to open a browser, navigate to NBC’s website, find the news page, find the video page and then start streaming the news.  W7B changes this by putting content from nbc.com (and many others) right into the EPG so it’s accessible from within Media Center with the remote control.

The demo of this looked awesome and it’s just as good in my living room.  Content takes a little while longer to access than regular TV channels, but it’s a heck of a great feature and the integration is seamless.  News, concerts, full episodes are all available and free to access with occasional advertisements for some content.

Snap-to-side

windows-7-snap-to-sideThrowing a widow to the side of the screen results in W7B automatically resizing it to fill half the screen.  This makes comparing documents or images super easy.  Throwing to the top maximizes the window.  Again it’s easy to see how these small but useful enhancements will make life easier once the touch version gets released.

What’s needs work?

Hmmm…I haven’t found anything yet inherent in W7B which consistently fails.  My sound sometimes cuts out following a video call, which could be a driver issue.  My computer wakes from standby mode much more often than it did in XP, probably due to some strange service which I might not need to be running.  Skype is not yet fully compatible.  There’s also a registry fix out there for .msi installers which fail – I had an issue installing Office 2007 and when the installer failed W7B automatically downloaded the fix article from Microsoft’s knowledge base…finally intelligent context sensitive help has arrived.  After following the instructions in the article to update the problematic registry entry the installer worked.

A game-changer for Microsoft?

Apart from that the whole experience has just worked superbly and I’m happily running W7B as my everyday environment now.  The Beta version expires on August 1st, so perhaps this hints at the possible release timing of the full version.  Remember that the release version will hopefully be touch-enabled, so that will be a whole new ball-game, and from what I’ve seen so far Microsoft could hit a home run with this one.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 1, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Windows 7 Beta new features hands-on

If you tried to download the Windows 7 Beta yesterday you may have been part of the huge demand which overwhelmed Microsoft’s download servers.  Fear not, theONbutton is at hand with an exclusive video of many of the new Windows 7 Beta features to help you make up your mind…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 10, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple fortifies home offerings whilst competitors journey to the cloud

Apple’s keynote at Macworld 2009 this morning was surprising.  After rumors suggesting a possible iPhone Nano and much needed new iMacs, we were instead given an in-depth look into feature updates on largely non-web-service software and an updated Macbook whose battery design sounds as problematic for environment as its servicing does for remotely located owners.

On a positive note it’s great to hear that iTunes is going DRM-free and that the new 17″ Macbook Pro will be offered without a glossy screen, albeit for an extra $50.  The celebrity music lessons on GarageBand also sound cute.

For me there were two worrying trends in this keynote:

1.  Apple continues to concentrate on non-web-service productivity software when Microsoft, Google and the IT industry as a whole continues to press on towards online web services such as Microsoft Office Web and Google Docs.  Apple is missing out on extending its application reach to Windows users by doing this.  iWork.com seems to be solely an online document sharing facility for local iWork users.

2.  Apple continues to concentrate on extremely powerful computers in relation to the market as a whole; even its base Macbooks are far more powerful than mid-range Vista laptops (which are cheaper).  This makes me concerned that when (the apparently very fast) Windows 7 gets released the value differential between Windows and Apple laptops will widen further, as Windows 7 will run well on cheap low power computers.

Enhancements like geotagging in iPhoto are nice for the small user-base they serve, but they don’t really extend Apple’s reach into Windows homes compared to say Picasa which is on offer for both Mac and Windows (as well as Linux) platforms.  I can’t help feeling that Apple is moving further towards high power local computing which might not be recession-proof, whilst the market as a whole is gravitating towards a more inclusive low power cloud model which also happens to be more recession-friendly.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 6, 2009 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are Windows 7 pre-Beta success stories responsible for Atom notebook rumors?

Today’s rumors that HP is discussing the possibility of using Atom CPUs for notebooks as well as existing netbooks is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly we have not seen the Atom in any laptops with >12″ screens, but secondly and more importantly I think this could be an indicator of confidence in early Windows 7 tests.

We have already seen Windows 7 running on an Asus EEE PC, and early impressions of the next-gen OS have been extremely positive for a stage so early in the pre-release phase.

So what does it mean if HP really is talking to Intel about supplying the Atom for notebooks?

  • Battery life should skyrocket, if the netbook crowd can be used as a benchmark.  My Wind gets over five hours in real-life usage and the only significant additional power drain on a notebook is a larger screen…but they also offer more real-estate for housing a larger battery.  Could full working-day battery operation from a large-screen laptop become a mainstream reality?
  • The concept is good news for organizations with a mobile/flexible-working workforce and a thin-client infrastructure.
  • Many consumers may only need low processing power as we move towards a web-based services computing model (eg. web-mail/photo/music/productivity apps).  They might trade notebook HD movie editing capabilities for longer battery life in real life usage…however this would require a sea change in marketing tecniques where high power specs aim to sell a life-changing experience.  It is probably a ‘Greener’ sell though, which could lead to Atom-based notebooks being more fashionable that more energy-hungry models.

Time will tell if anything comes of this, but when I put together the early Windows 7 success stories with rumors of HP talking to Intel about the Atom then it does all start to come together…in my hopeful mind!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

iMac Sales Plunge, Apple Slashes Refurb Macbook Air to $1,149

It’s been a week that Apple fans will want to forget.  NPD reported that Apple sales for November were flat year on year whilst Windows PCs gained 7%, iMac sales collapsed by 38% whilst Windows desktops fell only 15% and Apple announced that the company will stop attending Macworld after the 2009 show.  Apple laptop sales rose 22% compared to 15% for Windows laptops.

mb-air

What does this mean for Apple?  Most likely something needs to be done…and pretty fast.  Apple has responded by slashing prices of its refurbished models, a move likely aimed at removing the carrying costs of old inventory.  Macbook Airs are available for $1,149 on Apple’s US website at the time of writing.  Deep reductions are offered across other lines as well and online stores are offering serious discounts on new models.  After a while this discounting could erode the premium perception of the brand and hurt Apple retail store sales, which are typically made at full price.

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

Netbooks captured the the public's imagination in 2008

This may be a short term band-aid to improve working capital, but Apple needs to look deeper at its product line and offer models at prices which relate to the current economy.  The company has been too late in coming to the Netbook market, which exploded with colossal growth this year following the arrival of the Asus EEE in late 2007.  Apple needs a Netbook quickly, and it will need to compete with the quality of the MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One and Asus EEE range, which all sell for around $300-400.

Steve Jobs said that “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.”  Well Apple might have to learn how.  Five hundred dollars is now premium Netbook territory as prices have been falling throughout 2008.

I expect that if Apple enters the market they would choose the $600-800 range with a couple of configurations.  They need this because Macbooks are no longer the coolest laptops to pull out of your bag…Netbooks are.  A glance at the Amazon bestseller list shows Netbooks occupying slots which Macbooks used to live in. 

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

The MSI Wind Netbook was one of the most hotly anticipated products of 2008. Can Apple introduce its own competitor to stop the rising Windows sales?

Whilst Macbooks used to be the laptop of choice for Manhattan coffee shop outings, Netbooks now get the curious admiring looks.  In an America looking to downsize cars, energy usage and spending, Netbooks are the Prius of today’s laptop showroom.

Clearly the slowdown in the economy has affected Apple as a seller of premium products.  It also seems that Apple’s negative advertising campaign throughout 2008 against PCs may have not had the positive sales effect Apple was hoping for.  In fact the plunging iMac sales figures indicate that Apple might have done better through a positive campaign promoting the benefits of the iMac compared to Windows desktops.  It may be that consumers simply were unable to identify a positive value of spending the extra bucks on an iMac, which is a classic outcome of a negative advertising campaign, unless the competing product is seen as truly worthless.  Clearly not the case in this instance as iMac sales plunged 23% more than Windows desktop sales.

Whilst I think Apple will pull through, it needs to revitalize its line-up to be attractive in today’s economy.  And hopefully that revitalization effort will give us reasons to buy Macs, instead of reasons not to buy PCs.  I want to want Macs for good reasons, not because I’m told the competition is bad.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 18, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asus EEE 900 vs. HP Mini-Note 2133 mini review

It’s been just six months since the launch of the first Asus EEE PC and the sector has exploded. The original UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) name has been supplanted by Microsoft’s ULCPC (Ultra Low Cost PC), Intel’s MID (Mobile Internet Device) and various manufacturer led acronyms – MSI’s forthcoming Wind is actually an abbreviation of WiFi Network Device.

Screen sizes and storage space have increased, but in most cases so have price tags. Asus itself is a case in point, with its recently launched EEE PC 900 offering a nine inch screen and up to 20GB of onboard storage but a hefty $549 sticker price. The majority of the hardware on the inside is similar to the 701, but the increased screen real estate in a similarly sized package makes web browsing and general working more manageable.
Unfortunately the keyboard feels the same size as the original, which I struggle with after a few months of daily use. It’s fine for occasional emails etc but for more consistent work I make too many typos with it as my fingers sometimes land on two keys at once.

The screen seems a bit brighter than the 701 and fills the (slightly larger) lid nicely, with the webcam still preserved. Looks and build quality haven’t kept pace with the competition however, as we segway into the HP Mini-Note…
…which is one of the best looking laptops money can buy.

Powered by a range of VIA C7 processors up to 1.6GHz it sounds at first like it will outperform the EEE’s 900MHz Celeron, but user testimonies indicate that the Mini-Note often gets stuck in the slow lane.

When I tried it out running Vista it was actually pretty decent, loading apps quickly enough for general usage. In fact if you write a lot and have limited multimedia requirements, then the Mini-Note is a fair choice because the keyboard is absolutely awesome.

The keys are large, almost as large as a full size laptop, and I was able to type fluently from the get-go. The trackpad is responsive too and although the buttons are oddly placed on either side, this makes the pad’s area larger and is not a problem if you tap-to-click.

The looks, screen quality and overall usability beat the EEE and the whole thing seems better constructed too, if larger, whilst pricing is similar. The Mini-Note starts at $499 for a Linux build, compared to $549 for the Linux EEE 900. The top of the range Vista Mini-Note model sells for a not so appealing $749.

Unfortunately for both the EEE and Mini-Note, their respective Celeron and VIA processors have a tough time managing multimedia applications fluidly. This is forgiveably in the $299 EEE 2G, but less so in a unit costing around twice as much.

Overall the HP Mini-Note and Asus EEE 900 have strayed away from the original EEE ultra-low-cost concept and are competing with budget laptops but offering limited power. Of course these machines are all about portability but other models due out soon may offer a better balance…

Speaking of which, we will see MSI’s Intel Atom-powered Wind in June. With an 80GB hard drive, ten inch screen and rumored six hour battery life under Windows XP, I’d wait to check out the Wind before handing over the plastic on either the HP or Asus just yet.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

May 18, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

XP extended to at least 2010 on Asus EEE style computers

Michael Dix’s announcement on Thursday that Microsoft would now offer Windows XP Home until at least June 30th 2010 tells us one thing: the Redmond giant is getting more sensitive to its little customers.

The message behind the April 3rd statement seems clear: Microsoft is nervous of losing a whole market to Linux and Google-apps-cloud-style computing. That market is what Dix called the ULCPC (Ultra Low Cost Personal Computer), which includes the amazingly popular Linux-powered Asus EEE, Everex Cloudbook and forthcoming models rumoured to be on the way from Acer and HP amongst others.

In the past I think Microsoft might have just said, ‘our current platform is Vista, make your hardware better‘. However on this occasion market forces led to the creation of a more viable option. Most EEE buyers are probably happy with the price/power/battery trade-off in the unit. I know I am. Would I pay another few hundred bucks for a same size, same screened EEE with enough power to run Vista? No way.

So Microsoft will now continue offering XP Home to OEMs of ULCPCs for the next few years. Good decision, and well done for responding to customer opinion. Dix said there is no intention to extend the sales period similarly for other XP versions. In any case, Vista sales have just reached one hundred million licenses so I would not expect the other versions to get a further extension.

Microsoft’s statement was swiftly followed by Asus announcing that they would start selling an XP-powered EEE on April 9th, priced at $400. The specs are believed to be identical to the existing 4G model, only this time some of the nice bits, such as the webcam, are more likely to work out of the box with applications like Skype. According to Laptop Magazine, XP boots in 40 secs on the EEE. That’s pretty quick for XP. Asus is going to sell bucketloads of these.

A few weeks ago Microsoft reinstated support for certain legacy file formats in Office 2007, following requests from the user community. I would expect that users of those legacy formats (mainly Office 97) are already strong candidates to move to OpenOffice or Google Docs. Perhaps this reversal from Redmond might keep them on side for a little longer.

Is there a trend emerging here? Perhaps the giant is feeling like some dwarf’s are getting taller.

Neil Berman
www.neilberman.com

Apr 6, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, News, Software | , , , | 1 Comment

iPhone Exchange Policy

For months iPhone has been the coolest device on the street. Everyone wants one, but so far they have scared corporate IT managers who see them as a security hole in the network. But those IT managers have faced a growing problem over recent times: it’s called user pressure.

That’s because many iPhone owners are well-heeled business types who want to swap out their work Blackberry. However in most enterprises it’s difficult to exchange a Blackberry for a smartphone which doesn’t support Exchange.

Apple’s changed that now and kudos to them for listening to their customers. iPhone now supports push email, calendar and contacts from an Exhange Server via a licensed Microsoft ActiveSync client. iPhone’s user experience remains intact because email is handled by the cellphone’s regular email interface. Many of the industry’s security concerns have been addressed and there’s now a remote wipe facility.

Apple has also opened up the iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit) so third parties can write real applications for it. This means we could see virtual remote access clients from the likes of Citrix, VMWare and other companies to allow users to go straight into their office network. Who knows, maybe Microsoft will even release a version of Office Mobile for iPhone. The operating system is an optimized OS X with Touch enhancements to the Cocoa interface, so ports of regular Mac software could be coming soon.

iPhone is now a real contender in the corporate email battle and it could be the first Apple product to do well in mainstream US companies. Why? Not because it’s good to type on or has an established history (Blackberry and Windows Mobile win easily). No, it’s simply because users will want it. They will demand it, as they have been doing so far…the difference now is that IT departments can actually deliver a solution. Like Windows Mobile, that solution comes right out of the Exchange Server rather than routing through an additional Blackberry message server, so the service delivery has less infrastructure points of failure.

Of course just because the functionality exists doesn’t mean that companies will buy it. But if I was the head of RIM marketing I would be pretty scared right now. Apple clearly means business for the first time, and the users will be on their side. If they can get the pricing right then the competition is in for some tough years ahead.

Now where’s that iPhone drawing I was doing with the slide out keyboard…?

Click here to see if iPhone can survive a Maine Coon mauling.

Neil Berman
www.neilberman.com

Mar 9, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, News, Software | , | Leave a comment

Market Share: Who’s winning and losing in Windows vs Mac vs Linux; IE vs Firefox

Ten thousand choices. Ten thousand opinions. What do my last ten thousand page hits tell us about our Macs on Safari and Vistas of people Fire-ing Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer vs Firefox:

Is Firefox really challenging IE’s market share?

In a word, yes. 31% of the page hits came from Mozilla’s Firefox, with 61% coming from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. That is a staggering statistic, given that IE is shipped in the vast majority of all computers sold. The other players – mainly Safari and Opera – fought it out for the remainder. I have started using Firefox myself on my MacBook after getting frustrated with Safari’s compatibility issues with some sites.

The figures for Mac and Windows Firefox take-on are similar on each platform, with around 30% of each user group Fire-ing the Apple and Microsoft offerings according to my stats. Firefox seems to have the Linux visitors well under its wing with almost 90% coverage.

Windows vs Mac:

Is it war?

Yes and no. In 2004 the W3C internet activity stat for Mac usage was just under 3%. My last ten thousand page hits registered 5.5% Macs and over 90% Windows. So from a global perspective it’s no…or at least it’s a very very slow war.

From a regional perspective, the story is different. For North America the page hits registered as 10% Mac and 83% Windows, for Europe this dropped to 6.5% Mac vs. 86.5% Windows, whilst in Asia over 94% of the hits came from Windows PCs.

We know that Apple lost the corporate sales war a long time ago. So the North America stat suggests that Mac penetration as a home computer in the region is pretty strong. This is probably the one market where an Apple vs. Windows war is now on, albeit contained within the upper end of the price range. Europe seems to have a decent amount of Mac users, although they are almost equalled by Linux hits at over 5%. In Asia, Windows appears to be almost unchallenged.

Linux:

Is it a viable alternative?

Yes for sure, and with hit products like the Asus EEE taking the market by storm the amount of Linux users should be rising. From my last ten thousand page hits though, only 3% were Linux users. It will be interesting to see if this percentage grows as more products are launched with Linux distros. The Everex Cloudbook is due to go on sale tomorrow.

Neil Berman

The data in this article is based upon page views registered on this site as tracked by Google.

www.neilberman.com

Jan 24, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Microsoft, Software | , , , , | Leave a comment

Asus EEE PC Review


Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news, including details of the Asus R50 UMPC

After weeks of low supply, the Asus EEE PC has finally appeared. I spent some eagerly awaited quality time with the small, cute and cheap 4G model.

UMPCs: When size does matter

Next to a regular ultraportable the Asus EEE PC is noticeably smaller. It´s also thinner, most likely due its lack of optical or mechanical hard drives. It does however still manage to pack in a VGA output, Ethernet port and 3 USB 2.0 connectors without needing a port replicator.

The screen is also smaller than most ultraportables at seven imches, the same size as Samsung’s Q1 series. However in the case of the EEE this seems to be to keep the cost down than anything else.

The lid can actually accommodate a couple more inchesof screen space and the resulting look is of a laptop from the mid 1990s with a wide screen border.

The keyboard is also a shrunken affair but is surprisingly easy to use. I was able to type lines of text accurately without any need to acclimatize. This will depend on finger size but I was pleasantly surprised. For such a thin laptop the keys also have a positive feel with a decent amount of travel.

The EEE PC has a traditional trackpad which has a separated section on the right hand side. Using the media player this section controlled playback volume. The trackpad was fairly responsive to movement but less so to taps, although it is usable. There´s only one button, like a Mac, but improving on Apple’s design the left side of the button gives a left click and the right side gives a right click (thanks for the pointer Neil). Great idea and works well in practise.


In comparison to competitors, the EEE dwarfs the Fujitsu U810 (above) and Sony UX380N (below).
These both have smaller screens and keyboards also, as well as oddly placed mouse control, to the extent that they are really for emergency use in my opinion. Samsung´s Q1 has the same size screen but an almost impossibly small thumboard, although for desk use you could always add an external keyboard. All three competitors are far more expensive than the EEE PC.
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Latest: Click here to read the CES 2008 laptop and UMPC news
The colored EEEs are now available, click here for photos.

It’s cheap, but can I actually use this thing in real life?

Switch on the EEE and it boots quickly (I counted 24 seconds) into a home screen with big icons and tabs. It looks ultra easy to use and find what you want.


In this regard it’s similar to the iPhone home screen. But then I always thought the iPhone home screen looks simple because it only has a few preloaded applications. The EEE is similar, with limited applications it’s easy to give everything a big icon. I expect most owners will never add any applications anyway, as much of what you need to get going is included right out of the box.

The EEE ships with internet, office and media playback software sitting on top of its Linux operating system. The look and feel is overtly Windows XP and when I was using the file explorer I actually had to do a double-take to check I was not using an early shipment of XP preloaded EEEs.


Following years of anti-Microsof sentiment from some corners of the IT community, it is somehow ironic that Windows has become so popular that competitors either mimic it or allow users to run it on their own environment to attract switchers.

Using the internet browser will be straightforward for most owners, with the exception that some sites optimized for Internet Explorer may not work properly. I occasionally find this on my Macbook and Nokia tablet with their respective Safari and Mozilla browsers. Similarly the office software is not Microsoft Office so again there may be compatibility issues if you are trying to share files with MS Office users, although some common file formats are supported. The media player is also less friendly than iTunes or Windows Media Player but is usable nonetheless.

All of this of course results from the low cost of the EEE. Building a Linux system is much cheaper than building a Mac or Windows system. Unfortunately file, application and peripheral compatibility is where you ultimately pay for this. So make sure that whatever you want to do is Linux compatible before you purchase your EEE. The alternative is to either install Windows (which can be done by running the installation from an external drive), or wait for the Windows preloaded version to be released. Of course this will have a cost implication and if you then want to run Microsoft Office then this is another $150 as a home user.

The EEE PC 4G’s lid houses a webcam. This is missing from the cheaper models in the range, but a fantastic feature to have if you can afford a higher end EEE. The quality of the camera is on a par with similar devices in other laptops. Every laptop should have one of these!

EEE owners are likely to take their units around with them due to the small sixe, so how is it likely to stand up to road use? First impressions are that the EEE seems well built with an assuringly solid looking hinge mechanism. Apart from this and the keys, the EEE is pretty low on moving parts. There are no mechanical hard or optical drives to break in transit so some risk associated with traditional laptops is not present in the EEE. Of course it is still vulnerable to failure like all electronics, but hopefully Asus’ choice to go for a solid state drive will save many a users’ data on a bad day.

So is it the bEEE’s knEEE’s?

If you’re a light, or adventurous, user then don’t let my compatibility comments put you off. For mobile corporate users running thin client software this is also a winning solution. It’s the middle tier of users I think are likely to struggle. These are the people who want to do funky things now and again and might not have the knowledge to do it quickly in Linux. If you’re one of these people then you may prefer to wait for the Windows version.

If on the other hand you’re happy with EEE’s preloaded goodies or are a Linux lover then this is the IT bargain of 2007. Expect other companies to follow…

May 2008 update: Read the Asus EEE 900 vs HP Mini-Note 2133 comparo here.

Jan 2008 update: As predicted above, others have followed. Read about Everex’s $399 here.

See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.
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To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

For details of the new Asus R50 UMPC, click here.

The colored EEEs are now available, click here for photos

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Dec 9, 2007 Posted by | Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

   

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