update: iPad’s cost/benefit bar set high by Hackintosh netbooks

Addendum: 3/30/2011 -as I await the arrival of my iPad 2, I can now look back at this post and chuckle. In the year since this post, netbooks have tanked as over 15million iPads were sold. While hackintoshing is fun for a while, the stress of upgrading the OS is not, and I sold the netbook, sans OSX. The Macbook Air covers the gaps left by iPad, and in fact, it is fairly rare for me to need a laptop when I have internet access via my iPhone or iPad. The iPad2 will be the 3G version on AT&T -I chose it because I want the flexibility of buying a local provider’s SIM card when I’m abroad. The thing is this -I don’t think that Apple will want to launch iPhone 5 this year, even though most contracts for iPhone cycle around the summer. It’s like giving gifts to a girlfriend -the timing has to be right and given too frequently, you beg for contempt.

If you want to know what the iPhone5 will look like, I think you can see it in both the iPad2 and more importantly the iPod Touch 4G. iPhone5 will be similar to both with metal back and thinner. It will also feature a 4 to 4.5 inch screen. If it is to keep it’s battery life while getting skinny, it will have to get wider and taller. iPhone4 won’t be phased out but will become the cheap phone.

FROM LAST YEAR JANUARY -MARCH, 2010

The iPad launch yesterday was not up to the hype -you needed the device to have time travel capabilities for people to be satisfied. That said, the question for this first adopter among first adopters is, “Where does this fit in my man purse?”

I need portable internet access for many reasons -I write a lot and am working on several research projects as well as need to keep in touch with a vascular team -the iPhone (now disconnected from AT&T) still serves as my primary email device because the HTC TouchPro2 that I have from Verizon has a maddeningly inconsistent email app that jumps between HTC’s beautiful interface and the horrible, ugly Windows Mobile 6.5 bones underneath. Despite this, the TP2 has earned a semi-permanent place because of the $30 app called WalkingHotSpot which will turn the TP2 into a Wifi hotspot.

I have a maxed out dataplan and tethering plan through Verizon, so I am just using the data that I have already purchased, just not for a Windows laptop but also for my iPhone which I can now use again for my golf GPS apps.

The middle spot between a big laptop (my 15inch Macbook Pro) and the iphone is the need to have a bigger screen than my iphone especially for iTunes movies and content, but at the same time having a keyboard, with at least 5 hrs of battery life. The netbooks do fill this niche in terms of hardware very nicely, but the software just isn’t there. I have become very used to iLife and iWork -thinks look prettier and works nicer through these than anything in the Windows or Linux environment.

The solution came in the form of Hackintosh. The Dell Mini 10v is a netbook which seems to have been designed solely for Hackintoshing. Hackintosh is a non-Apple computer made to run Mac OS X. This technically is a breach of the software license, but I own the computer and I own the shrink wrapped software license for this Hackintosh.

With this, I have a portable internet solution that goes 5hrs on battery, and more with the additional battery, all for a total of $400 bucks for the hardware. If you choose to go this route, you should buy the OS license.

The instructions are here: link.

This works nicely for now, because Apple didn’t have something that effectively served my needs in this space. Now they have iPad. We won’t be able to get our hands on one for 59 days, 89 if you want the 3G/Wifi version. Maybe my netbook days are numbered.

I’ll tell you why. The trackpad, designed by Dell, is one of the worst pieces of industrial design ever created by humans. Dell, after I ordered the netbook, took my money but didn’t acknowledge I even ordered the netbook until I spent two hours on tech support. It was only through the graces of a very nice lady in India, that I eventually got a netbook 10 days later than promised. The next OS upgrade to 10.6.3 may break the netbook again, requiring another round of hacking, which I used to enjoy, but not so much anymore. The 10inch screen is adequate, but I know, compared to the OLED screen on iPad, it will be like night and day. I see that a lot of people are giving up their netbooks on eBay, and this is most likely because the hardware being, well, not Apple.

So I wait, with my proverbial tent pitched outside our local Apple store.

iPad versus netbook -FIGHT!

iPad versus netbook, fight!

I am a mobile professional, I suppose. I walk a lot. As a vascular surgeon, there is a lot of downtime waiting for things to happen. Operations get booked, but the rooms have to be turned over. In these spaces of time, I endeavor to be productive. Time was, in the nineties, I had a marvelous pocketable computer called the Psion Series 5 (link) which allowed for mobility with a complete office suite. The internet was not yet ubiquitous and for what I wanted it to do, document creation, it was perfect. It allowed me to type out patient consultation notes from a corner of an emergency room and wirelessly print them out (via infrared port) to the ubiquitous HP computers around the hospital -I really think that I was the only one that used them. What it attained for me after three years of use (and three Psion’s used up), I had a bank of notes on patients which constituted a pocket EMR, indexed via the database. It let me print out very detailed notes often in 5 point font -I also had a terrible dislike of multiple pages which could easily be lost, much to the chagrin of older attending who became hopping mad at the small type sizes.

Since that time, I have tried to replace the venerable Psion Series 5 with something more modern, but nothing would replace it. It had the ability to turn instantly on and instantly off. Battery life was basically infinite as long as I had a ready supply of double A batteries. Litihium cells would routinely last over 40 hours or about a month. I tried using various Palm and Windows mobile PDA’s with keyboards, but was terribly disappointed. The Palm Treo came close with a workable thumb board, but by this time, I had joined a practice that had a fully evolved EMR which required a full PC.

The attempts at mobility then moved to laptops and sub notebooks, and more recently netbooks. It’s ironic that Psion marketed a small sub notebook called the netbook, possibly the best portable computer of its day, but soon quit the consumer electronic category. The problem with all laptops was that there was no instant on. The wait for bootup was inordinately long, and it precluded the jotting ideas down as they came up. The other thing with regular notebooks was the battery life. Even with 3 to 4 hours, it wasn’t possible to go a whole day without recharging or shutting down and replacing with a spare battery -more stuff to carry.

The netbook brought a lot to like to the table initially. As a minimized laptop running on a low energy chip (Atom), it offered better battery life with lower costs. The 8 inch screens soon grew to 10 inches and now 12 inch netbooks are available. The downside was you got what you paid for. The keyboards were often cramped and the screens were too small to see your work. What was worse, the manufacturers could not effectively shrink the trackpad down to anything workable and various awful to terrible trackpads were released. The video which offered the promise of turning the devices into cheap portable iTunes viewing station, would slow down and skip frequently, and HD video is not possible. The final straw is that they ran Windows XP, which was fine for 2005, but now serves as a constant reminder that you are running something pretty shabby.

As a workstation, I tried using a netbook and found it to be just a smaller, less capable sub notebook, poorly suited for any hard work. Running our EMR off Citrix was a chore for the tiny Atom processor and I pretty much gave up using it to blog because of how small everything was. Funny thing was even with the pocketable Psion, touch typing was a breeze, and not being able to turn the machine on with a touch of a button was a really problem.

Even loading the Mac OS X onto the netbook -called hackintoshing, resulted in an inferior experience. The OS is designed to work in a 15 inch screen -it’s barely usable on a 13 inch screen, and forget it on a 10 inch screen with a balky touchpad. The netbook pictured is a Dell Mini 10v which was discontinued recently and was touted as the most easily hackintoshable netbook.

With arrival of iPad, everything has changed. Now we have a very portable computer with a 10 inch screen with the capability of instant on. Email is not only a breeze, but a joy to look at. My calendar which is coordinated by my scheduler over Microsoft exchange is also a wonder to behold. The device is fast, and the Citrix client for it works well enough (needs some improvements) for what I do.

In particular, when I am out and about between operations, I have to find an open computer and get onto my EMR. Now, I can access it right where I stand. When I’m at home fielding a phone call from another physician or a patient, I no longer wait for boot up times, but go straight to the Citrix app.

The keyboard on the tablet is fine for quick emails and texts, but not suitable for longer missives. This blog entry was composed on the Pages app using the keyboard dock, but I also have a wireless bluetooth keyboard that I can use for it when I’m not at home. The netbook and its spare battery lays under my bed, waiting for a reason to be turned on -mostly it’s to go to Flash heavy websites which the iPad won’t run.

The other killer app is Papers -this allows me to organize my journal articles by Pubmed entry metatags with direct access to the PDF’s. All the papers I need to read are handy, and again, its a pleasure to read PDF’s on the iPad. My main Mac (a 2007 MacBook Pro) runs Papers and will wirelessly sync all the journals so my iPads will stay current. Yes, I bought two iPads because I liked the first one so much. Having two is the only way to multitask currently.

Why would you want two -well if you’re doing work with one, you can have the other one stream a live Yankees game over the MLB app, or a Netflix DVD, or a movie you bought or rented on iTunes. You might want to listen to all the NPR pieces you missed that day over the NPR app. Or have access to every episode of LOST via the ABC app.

The final killer app for the iPad is the Kindle app, which will kill the Kindle slowly. Amazon is wise in taking a wide broadcast approach to distribution. The Kindle, which is wonderfully light and has an always on 3G connection (which you can use to do light browsing), is available as an app on iPad and all your Kindle books show up wonderfully. The book light is no longer necessary. The only place the Kindle has an advantage is in direct sunlight -the iPad would not display well pool side.

I’m eagerly awaiting the camera dongle to transfer pictures from my cameras. All the photo processing software on my iphone works great on iPad, and new iPad versions roll out daily. That is the other part -the App store updates nearly hourly with some new technological wonder. The games are immersive and just funner than playing on iPhone or the Nintendo DS. Gratification is instantaneous.

The iPad is not the first tablet, just as the iPhone was not the first smartphone. But like iPhone, it redefines the category and raises the bar to a very high level. Love Apple or hate it, this kind of innovation spurred the creation of Android and even Microsoft is abandoning Windows Mobile, that instrument of suffering. Using the iPad is transformative. It makes the internet more accessible. It makes work joyful. It allows me to express myself even more fully, and that is what technology is meant to do.