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What Will It Take To Match The iPad?

The year 2010 does look like the year of tablet computing, especially after the iPad changed the course of history with its release not too long ago. Already we're seeing "iPad killers" hitting the market, although how well these will do against Apple's latest brainchild remains to be seen.

But what DOES it take to stand up to the iPad? Many are expecting the darned thing to flop at the market after its rather underwhelming debut (and after the Internet began buzzing about a rumored "iPad mini," to be named the "iTampon").

Then again, it's Apple we're talking about. It's marketing ideas are more than enough to make up for the iPad's many limitations. And I'm willing to bet if you ask people about their choice of tablet/e-readers, one of two people are going to want one with an Apple logo at the back.

I just read about the latest e-reader to hit the market, the ASUS DR-900. The DR-900 is ASUS's first-ever e-book reader, and most of its bells and whistles are meant to shine where iPad's fall short. But is it enough to woo e-book fans?

Networking, check. The DR-900 has both Wi-Fi and 3G. And it's got enough battery life to let you read 20 average novels when wireless is turned off.

Storage, so-so. It only has 2 to 4GB worth of storage, but comes with an SD card slot.

Form factor, disappointing. I doubt anything's going to match up to the iPad's sex appeal anytime soon, but ASUS could have at least tried to make the DR-900 ergonomic. All of its buttons are on the right and bottom-right sides, which obviously favors right-handed e-book fans.

Another problem is its feature set -- it looks to be much more powerful than the iPad. That may seem like a good thing, but when you have to price your product any higher than the leading device in the market, you're 99% doomed to fail.

So yes, it's likely to be priced lower than the iPad -- although we don't know much about pricing and availability at this point.

We'll have to admit, Apple really knows how to corner the market with a so-so device. It'll be interesting to see other tablets, tablet-laptops, and e-readers try to enter the already-saturated market and knock the iPad off its lofty pedestal, and believe me, there'll be lots before Fall rolls around.

My (Rather Reluctant) Take On Chrome OS

Google released the Linux-based Chrome OS a few days ago, to a largely mixed reception. Many pundits were quick to dismiss it as "unimpressive" and "underwhelming." It this a bad thing? For Google, it doesn't really seem to matter.

The Chrome OS is a revolutionary new operating system that pretty much relies on cloud computing for 99% of its work1. A Chrome OS netbook doesn't have a hard drive -- it only has a non-volatile flash drive that processes data. All your documents, programs, and applications will be based on the cloud -- and this means a slew of pros and cons when compared to the way we currently do things.

Chrome OS Pros:

#1 - No hard drive.
That means you don't have to backup your files -- everything will be stored on secure servers on the cloud. That also means you won't have to worry about viruses and other malware infecting your system.

#2 - Speed, speed, speed.
Chrome OS netbooks can startup at a super-fast 7 seconds, which means you can start working in the amount of time it takes you to turn on the TV. The fastest Windows systems take at least a minute2.

#3 - It's open-source.
That also means it's (... well.. kinda') free.

Chrome OS Cons:

#1 - Needs an Internet connection to survive.
That means when the Net connection conks out (which happens more than you think in this part of the world), you'll be left in the dark.

#2 - No installing of third-party software.
You can't, for instance, install video games. There's enough entertainment on the Internet, you might argue, but this is still a pretty limiting feature for most of us.

Google doesn't seem to mind the mixed feedback -- it would seem that most pundits see Chrome OS as Google's attempt to take over the computing world3. That's actually missing the point -- Google isn't out to beat Windows. At Chrome's infancy, Google is very likely out to start by dominating the Netbook market4, since Chrome OS's features seem more geared towards portable computing than anything else.

The way I see it, as it stands, a Chrome OS netbook would make an OK second computer -- one you could bring on business trips and such. Chrome OS won't officially be out until next year, meaning Google's simply letting the community take a more active part in developing it.

But no matter what Google's intentions are, there's no doubt that Microsoft is on its toes right now. Google Apps has already scored a noticeable dent on Microsoft Office -- will the Windows OS line be next?

1 OK, I just picked that percentage figure out of the air.
2 OK, that's probably not true, but it sure feels like a full minute (sometimes two, even).
3 OK, who doesn't know that yet? Dumbass.
4 OK. OK. They're out to take down Windows. You happy now? Geez.

Amazon Kindle Goes Global -- Well, Almost

Amazon did a great job getting us on our feet when it recently announced it was coming out with an international version of the Kindle electronic book reader. Readers outside the United States have long wanted to get their hands on the most popular e-reader today, and it would seem that the wait will be over in October 19. Well, for most of us, at least.

Possibly the biggest buzz-kill of the season, Amazon surprisingly isn't offering the international Kindle in some of the biggest markets in the world -- Canada, China, New Zealand, South Korea, and (you guessed it) Singapore. Readers around the world have e-mailed Amazon asking for an explanation, but all Amazon could say is that they're working to make the international Kindle available in all countries down the line.

Adding salt to the wounds is the fact that Zimbabwe, with its million-percent inflation rates, are getting the Kindle. What gives?

There are two major hurdles to offering the Kindle in a particular country -- the first are local publishers, who may argue the Kindle may be stepping on some touchy copyright issues. The other reason are the local carriers, who need to offer AT&T's WhisperNet service to reach Kindle users -- and this might take a bit of negotiation.

In most countries, local publishers are saying they're not the ones holding things up.

I'm an optimist, and I like to think that this is just the first of many stages in which Amazon plans to make the Kindle available to the rest of us. I'd like to think that Amazon is really negotiating with Singapore's carriers, and I'd like to think that I'll still have the chance of getting my own Kindle before Christmas.

Let's just hope Amazon gets moving soon, before Sony and other rivals move in with some new stuff before them.

Shaky September For Google

September wasn't very nice for Google and its users. Just yesterday, Gmail was hit with its second outage in the space of three weeks, and while this one wasn't as bad as the one that hit on September 1, it's enough to make many of us question whether doing everything the Google way really is a good idea.

Google is pretty much the industry leader of cloud computing, where people can access Office applications and save their work on the Internet. It's a largely more accessible and more cost-effective business solution than, say, Microsoft Office. The success of Google Apps in the past few years has enticed other players in the industry, including Microsoft, to develop their own cloud-based offerings.

But now that even Google is having trouble keeping its servers up indefinitely, it's confirming what most skeptics are worried about -- that if Google goes, so does all your work.

I myself am not that keen about the cloud. I think I've written before that I'm not really that confident about leaving my work on the Internet and being stuck whenever I'm offline. Sorry, but I'd much rather do it the old-fashioned way.

Speaking of the old-fashioned way, Google's new offering, SideWiki, is also coming under fire. Back in the day, bloggers enjoyed the way people would comment on their writings. But SideWiki, an application that Google Toolbar users can use to comment on certain websites, might be intruding on something bloggers consider sacred.

Of course, Google plans to rule the Internet unconditionally one day. SideWiki is apparently a means of gathering information from certain sites, through viewer commentary, to accomplish that end. Naturally, bloggers aren't happy with the idea that comments that would otherwise have been posted on their sites instead end up in Imperial Google's index.

But that's okay -- it's probably only a matter of time before spammers take to SideWiki and flood it with so much useless information that Google will have to take it down. But if Google does find a way to filter out the ne'er-do-wells, THEN SideWiki just might be something to watch.

Apple's Big Announcement -- Steve Jobs Is Back

Some people expected a new camera-packing iPod. Others expected an Apple e-reader. Still others expected the rumored Mac Tablet. What they got yesterday was even better than all of those combined -- Steve Jobs was back.

Gasps were heard when Jobs walked onto the stage in Apple's press event yesterday, and the standing "welcome back" ovation lasted for a good full minute. Jobs appeared in his traditional black mock turtleneck sweater and jeans, and looked like he was as happy as everyone else to be back where he belonged -- onstage.

But eventually it became clear that cancer has really taken its toll on the Apple head honcho. He had lost a lot of weight, and his movements and speech were softer and more measured. At the beginning of his talk, he explained his condition, which has been kept under wraps for several months -- he had recently undergone a life-saving liver transplant, and was very thankful for the generous young individual who donated his organs after passing away.

But as he said himself, "But I'm vertical, and I'm glad to be back."

Later on, Jobs gave one of his signature keynote speeches, unveiling the new iPod. The 8GB version could hold 2,000 songs, 7,000 photos, and up to 8 hours of video -- the 16GB version could hold twice those numbers. And taking its cue from the latest iPod Shuffle, menus and song titles can also be spoken, letting users navigate the iPod without looking at the screen.

What's more, the new iPod now comes with the highly-anticipated camera, which is capable of recording VGA (840x480p) videos at up to 30 fps. Video-editing is also possible, with 15 special effects built into the software. The 8GB and 16GB versions should sell for around $149 and $179 respectively.

There was still no word about a "Mac Tablet", and Jobs basically dismissed the idea of an Apple e-reader to compete against Kindle at a later interview. The response at the stock market was also muted, closing at only a fraction of a percent up from the previous day.

But hey, we're just glad he's back.

Nokia Makes Fashionably Late Arrival At Netbook Scene

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia is about to make a splash at the Netbook scene with its own offering, the Nokia Booklet 3G. They may be a little late in elbowing into the Netbook industry, what with the market getting more and more saturated by the month. But there are many reasons to love the Booklet 3G and what it potentially offers.

#1 - The good. The Nokia Booklet 3G has all the makings of an HD media player. It has a 10.1-inch widescreen (which I'm sure can handle 1280x720p without a problem) and packs HDMI. You can play Hi-Def movies on your flatscreen whenever you want to.

Oh, and Nokia claims that this little baby will have a 12-hour battery life. Nokia has been known to create phones that are tough as nails and can last longer than most celebrity marriages, so this alone makes the Booklet 3G a good draw when it comes out.

#2 - The better. I'm more of a "function" person than a "form" person, which is why the Booklet 3G is so attractive to me. I've noticed that most Laptop and Netbook makers on the market today still have one fatal flaw -- they don't exactly know what their customers want when they're on the road.

Naturally, Nokia is different -- it's been a mobile phone industry leader for over a decade, and it knows the ins and outs of what their people want.

#3 - The sexy. Of course, a little "form" won't hurt at all. The Nokia Booklet 3G has a 2cm thick frame, a glass screen, a sleek aluminum chassis, and an island keyboard. Some people call it the Macbook Nano they've been waiting for.

What also makes Nokia's move into the Netbook market interesting is that it "seems" to have beaten Apple to it. Mobile phone sales have been disappointing over the past year and a half, and is expected to decline even further this year -- but Netbook sales are expected to double.

I tend to wonder whether the guys at Apple are slapping themselves on the forehead after this bit of news came out. It'll be interesting to see what they'll come up with in retaliation, but for now, we'll just have to wait till the 2nd of September, when Nokia will announce the Booklet 3G's price and availability in Stuttgart, Germany.

Will Banning Texting While Driving Really Solve The Problem?

After a recent study that showed drivers are 23 times more likely to figure in a car crash when texting, US lawmakers are scrambling to ban the activity altogether. But will legislation really solve the problem? As early as now, there are already several questions about the move:

#1 - Just how easily can law enforcers catch drivers in the act?

It's fairly easy for motorists to hide the fact that they're texting, and law enforcers might not spot violators at a glance. They'll probably need more sophisticated technology to enforce the law, such as high-speed cameras -- or simply hope the driver is dumb enough to do the act in an untinted car, or with the windows down.

#2 - Will legislation really kill the habit in the long run?

While reading up about the recent study, I've come across several blogger comments that went this way:

"Really? They spent millions of dollars to prove the obvious?"

"I can't believe they spent all that money to prove what everybody has known for several years."

"Where do I sign up to get money to conduct studies? A few million will do just fine."

It's easy to think that anyone with enough common sense will know that texting while behind the wheel can put themselves in danger, but obviously this isn't the case. Banning the act may discourage some errant drivers, but will it discourage enough?

#3 - Will driver education be a more cost-effective solution?

There are other ways to make people kick the habit, such as through better driver education. Insurance companies can give bonuses to drivers who take special "don't-text-while-driving" courses, and gear such benefits towards teenagers, who don't get many breaks with insurance companies to begin with.

Seriously, I love texting technology -- while we're waiting for some real city-wide Wi-Fi technology to roll around, it'll have to serve our needs to stay in touch. But at some point, we'll have to realize that the most important thing to do is to keep our eyes on the road.

Is Palm Being Smart Or Unprofessional?

The Palm Pre had the unusual advantage over its competitors when it first came out, when users found that the new smartphone could actually sync itself using Apple's popular iTunes software. Naturally, it didn't evade Apple's radar for long, and the next iTunes update stamped out the possibility of syncing with the Pre.

Palm's next move was enough to make me raise an eyebrow. The latest software update to the Pre once again lets users sync their media with Apple's iTunes platform. When pressed for comment, the guys at Palm said what they did was completely legal -- when the Pre connects to a PC, it sends out a USB signature that's similar to the one assigned by the USB Implementers Forum to Apple devices.

What's more, they claimed that Apple was misusing the iTunes USB foundation by making it respond only to devices with Apple's assigned USB codes.

Hmm, okay. I think that's called "the way we do things around here."

Seriously, Palm may need to up their legal position a bit -- the USB Implementers Forum states that a device's USB code must match the USB ID given to its manufacturing company. Palm has already approached the USB industry standards group with their plans to make the Pre work with iTunes. So far, the group hasn't commented on the matter.

As usual, the blogosphere is divided on the issue. There are some who say Palm is doing the smart thing, since it's working around legal loopholes to its advantage, the same way Apple has done in the past. On the other hand, there are some who say that what Palm is doing is very unprofessional, and that they seriously should reconsider their position if they want to stay in the competition.

There's no doubt that the Pre has won some loyal followers, and Palm is hanging in there for a while yet. But this latest move seems to me like Palm's in a worse position than many think, and the company is resorting to even the dirtier tricks to get a leg up on the industry.

I doubt this move will make a dent in Apple's user base, which is why I'm confident that it'll get stamped out by Apple yet again, very soon. If you ask me where I stand, I'm naturally with Apple on this one. I don't intend to come across as a "hard-a**" for intellectual property rights, but that's the way it should be.

Finally -- A Standard Charger For Mobile Phones

I've written a few times about how Google's products seem to assimilate many technologies into one, even if they may seem perpetually locked in beta stages. Google Voice bundles all your phone numbers into one, and Google Wave will (potentially) bundle everything we do on the Internet into a single application. With yesterday's development in the mobile phone industry, I'm beginning to wonder whether all this "bundling" is becoming a trend.

Two days ago, the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturers struck a deal with the European Commission to come up with a standard charger. It will have a mini-USB port and be usable between different brands of phones. To us consumers, that means no more drawers full of useless mobile phone chargers.

Taken at face value, it's obviously a good move -- not only do manufacturers enjoy lower packaging and manufacturing costs, but the world will also benefit from considerably less electronic waste. The Commission and the companies that made the agreement are confident that the new charger will be available by 2010.

What's surprising about this move is that Apple, which has enjoyed considerable success licensing its Dock Connectors to accessory makers, also signed up for the agreement. We all know how Apple can be pretty touchy with intellectual property. It leaves me wondering whether Apple's going to make a total switch to the mini-USB charger, or offer one in addition to its Dock Connector or maybe a mere adapter.

Is it just me who thinks Apple has something up its sleeve with this? :)

Then again, I have a feeling many of the other mobile phone companies -- which include powerhouses Research In Motion, Nokia, Samsung, LG, and Sony Ericsson -- would have been more reluctant to sign up for the agreement if Apple hadn't.

As usual, most of the reader commentary I saw on this topic turned into flame wars between Apple fans, Internet trolls, and everyone else...

In any case, I'm sure the furor will die down once this "standard charger" idea makes its way to other digital devices, such as laptops, digital cameras, and netbooks. There's just one problem with the idea though -- what if you have to charge two or more devices, each with different wattage specs, at the same time? You can't manage with one, right?

I jest.