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.


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.

The new iPhone Netflix app end of TV

The iPad had the Netflix app first, and it was amazing, but expected on the iPad with its large gorgeous screen. The appearance of the Netlix app (and Hulu+ app) on my two year old iPhone 3G is worthy of comment. First, aside from iPhone, no other piece of portable technology has weathered aging as well. It is currently updated to iOS 4.0 which makes it slow, but the incredible thing about it now is I have access to thousands of movies and TV shows. It works best with a good Wifi connection, and makes cable or satellite TV irrelevant. The only time I watch broadcast TV is to watch live sports -and this usually on network TV over rabbit ears. I tried to cancel DirectTV a while back and they halved my bill after begging me to stay. Despite this, the writing is on the wall. TV is over. It’s dead. So are movies in theaters.

iOS4 keeps the iPhone 3G relevant

The arrival of iPhone 4 has overshadowed the arrival of iOS 4. Many of us have held on to our iPhones despite quitting AT&T -this is a testimony to the greatness of the product in that previously, when I changed phones, the phones would be given away or put in a drawer or donated. The iPhone, when disconnected from AT&T, is still a wonderful device -more useful than the iPod Touch because of its great and handy camera. In fact, I call it my iPad Mini.

iOS4 promises multitasking to the iPhone 3GS and the most recent iPod Touch, but alas, not the iPhone 3G. What it does do after a long and convoluted updating process which included a period of time where I thought it was bricked, is make the device even more useful by offering folders which seen above during an App Store update, shows the folder contents with micro icons. When you tap on a folder, its contents show nicely just so:

This degree of intuitive folder behavior is …magical. The other thing that I love about the iOS4 update is the unified mailbox. All your mail accounts are consolidated in the unified box and organized by conversation thread!

The iPhone 3G is two years old, and even though it doesn’t multitask, the upgrades to the user interface and mail are worth it and keeps the device relevant. Even though I carry an HTC Touch Pro2 from Verizon, its days are numbered as I consider an upgrade to Droid X or the holy grail -the Verizon iPhone. The only other piece of technology that stayed in my pocket long after its release and freshness date was the Psion Series 5mx, which I reviewed before. When the Touch Pro2’s days are over, it will go into the dustbin.

BTW, this summer has been very busy, so apologies go out to regular visitors. I promise I will update this blog at least twice a week.

12 Things I Hate about iPhone

snc10194In no particular order, these are the things I hate about iPhone after using for 6 months. I have an iPhone 3G with unlimited maxed out data plan via AT&T. 

  1. Keyboard – The lack of a physical keyboard is particularly hazardous for me. The predictive logic is fine for normal people, but as a physician, shooting a quick email becomes an exercise in Gotcha when medical terms and abbreviations morph into correctly spelled but wrong words. I know this can be turned off, but this causes just as many headaches as leaving it on. Apple wants you to go to an Apple laptop for any heavy keyboard work. 
  2. Battery Life -If you use it only as a phone, it gets through a workday. But if you use it as a smartphone, it barely gets through the day. Forget about an extended day, which is typical for me. This means carrying an external battery, cables, and adapters. I will gladly take some bulk for super long battery life. 
  3. Lack of Memory Expansion -flash memory is now dirt cheap. You can get 16GB SDHC cards for less than twenty bucks. This is mind bending when you look at the micro-SD form factor. There is no reason for the iPhone not to have this except for the fact that Apple does not like hatches and holes and excessive buttons, and it wants you to upgrade when you tire of the lack of memory. 
  4. No Copy/Paste -the lack of copy/paste is a philosophical decision on Apple’s part to avoid programs from contaminating each other via the clipboard. Every program runs by itself and tidily goes off when you turn it off. This fish bowl approach to tasking ensures that no program acts in a malignant fashion either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s Apple’s way of saying, “It’s a phone! Buy a Macbook for the heavy lifting.”
  5. AT&T -Not completely happy with it, but I guess it’s a compromise. If you had to marry someone, but you lived in a village in the mountains in the Balkans and there were only three available women, four if you didn’t mind the one with no teeth, a glass eye, and a goiter, you make the best of it. AT&T is the oldest one of the bunch with large bosoms and behind to match. Sure you fooled around with the youngest one (Sprint), but everybody else did too -her biggest fault was inconsistency and broken promises. The middle sister (Verizon), the prettiest one, was also the most controlling. The way she smacked her other sisters around and barked order about how she wanted things done her way was not appealing. So you settle with AT&T. I find strange things happening with the new 3G network out here in the hinterlands. I’ll get 5 bars and a 3G symbol one moment with clear reception, and I turn my head and I get 1 bar with an E (for the slower data connection), and the phone call goes kaplooey. It happens in my car, in my house, in my office, outside with no obstruction whatsoever -and it is the Great Plains with no significant geographic barriers. But the oldest sister doesn’t care so much of your demands, understands if you fool around with the other two, and when drunk, take a roll with the toothless, one-eyed one with the goiter (T-Mobile)-after all -she’s got you now for at least five years from iPhone launch. 
  6. No Bluetooth Anything -Polaroid recently asked TUAW (link) to post a generalized request to open up iPhone’s bluetooth for its portable photoprinter which works with just about every cheap-ass phone out there except for iPhone. This is a beef I have particularly when combined with complaint number 1 -no Bluetooth keyboards, no stereo bluetooth headphones with microphones, no Bluetooth printing, nada. Zip. Just the earpieces that go missing after a few days.
  7. No Easy Way to Organize Your Screens -Apple happily lets you have as many screens as needed for the Apps you download, but organizing them is a disaster if you have more than one screenful of apps (I have seven). If you do factory reset or something like it, all the apps are jumbled. It would be great if you could do it on iTunes and save these configurations. Or if the home screen gave you a link to your productivity apps, your games, your casual games, your deep strategic games, your games to show off the iphone with, and your games that you play for hours on end. Also your photo apps and music creation apps. 
  8. No Passthrough Internet -this is more AT&T’s fault than Apple’s, but I blame both since they got hitched up. You can with some phones, hook up your cell phone to your laptop and use its wireless internet connection to browse from your laptop. I did it a couple of times with my older Windows Mobile smartphones but it was a dodgy affair involving turning on and turning off various things and digging through control panels and hoping for a connection. It would be so wonderful to just attach the iphone and get it’s 3G connection as a connectivity option with no toggling or hoping. AT&T wants you to buy a separate data modem plan. 
  9. No Video Recording -I know you can jailbreak to get this feature, but I don’t want to jailbreak. I want it now, no excuses.
  10. Contacts choked -I have over 2000 contacts and also more via my Exchange connection to my office’s directory. This makes looking up contacts a frustrating affair as I wait often an interminable amount of time to look up a phone number. Absolutely unacceptable. Also, search is dumbfoundingly linear -you have to type the contact in the order that it was input. Sometimes, if I can’t remember a last name, I’m SOL. 
  11. No wordprocessing, no spreadsheet, no Filemaker database access -this is so basic, and so missing, but also related to all of the above -no keyboard, no multitasking, no copy/paste.
  12. No Flash, No WMV, no non-Apple media formats, No Java -this is cumbersome at best, and criminal at worst. I just don’t get it. Very few people use Quicktime anymore. I get the feeling that with Flash -Apple loses some control over the apps and games. 

This still doesn’t drive me away from iPhone because it really is the best smartphone experience. But I am not married to it, and will runoff with the next gadget that does fulfill my needs. And I got needs.

Nintendo DS versus iPod Touch/iPhone 3G

img_1309The struggle for the space between the hands is shaping up to be between the established Nintendo DS and the upstart iPod Touch/iPhone. What are the differences and what are the implications of the recently posted numbers for the iTunes App store -10,000 apps and games with 300,000,000 downloads? Where is Sony and the vaunted PSP? What is Microsoft not up to? 

snc10082Nintendo DS

The DS is a marvel of thoughtful design, and in its current manifestation as the DS Lite, it has wonderful hand-feel, two sharp screens, and a battery system designed for children -it’s supposed to go 15-20 hours between charges and is rated for 500 charges. We got G one through Amazon for 125. The cost of entry is modest, but it is the content that they get you with. The games cost on average 35 dollars for the new releases. You can get used games on-line and through local dealers like FYE for a modest discount. The games from Nintendo proper tend to revolve around their established universes of Pokémon and Mario. Other publishers publish in Nintendo, but it’s a mixed bag. Some are slapdash ports of their console games or PC games which don’t project well. Some are fossils of PC games made in the 1990’s with all the blocky graphics moved over to the DS -very lazy way to make easy money with a shiny cover with a 35 dollar price tag. You have to read the reviews, but not all the games get reviewed. The well thought out games are standouts with pretty and appealing graphics, compelling story, and engaging gameplay. The greatness of Nintendo is that it does allow for use of legacy cartridges from the Gameboy Advanced, but not from prior generations. The Gameboy Advanced SP is now available online for around 40-50 bucks -I got ours new two years ago for 75 dollars, and will take Gameboy cartridges going all the way back to Tetris from 1988. 

This is an old and established model of game consoles going all the way back to Atari -make modest profit on a discounted console and make coin on licensing of the games, and Nintendo certifies and manufactures all the cartridges. Cartridges allow for a deeper level of play than minigames -which is the new word for arcade games. The problem is unless you’re a kid on vacation -who has 20-40 hours to complete Pokémon Diamond or Call of Duty (on order -am on vacation). The minigames -the arcade style games, still cost 25-40 dollars, but are the most sociable -Mario Party (on order) is supposed to allow you to play with up to 8 players from a single cartridge -and this is the neat thing about the DS -it does allow for you to have one cartridge and share among several players -which promotes the purchase of more Gameboy’s in multi-sibling families. We got our second one through a generous friend who sent G this handsome blue one.

iPod Touch/iPhone/App Store

 I believe that the combination of iPod Touch and App Store is the future of gaming and all portable entertainment. When you get an iPhone or iPod Touch, you have instant connection to the App Store which now features over 10,000 games. Apple vets these -very controversial in the geek-o-sphere, and the result is that the Apps pretty much work as advertised on the iPod Touch or iPhone. Because Apple limits the exchange of data between programs -allowing only one program to run at a time, it makes the system “locked down,” safe, and stable. The Apps are inventive, useful, and above all FUN. They are also much cheaper than buying cartridges. Many games are FREE, and most are 0.99 to 10.00, and you get very accurate reviews from actual users in the App Store. There is no need to drive to a store. My home has WiFi, as does my place of work, and this ubiquity of data-pipes means the iTunes store is ubiquitous as well. 

My favorite games include Field Runners (reviewed earlier), and Flick Bowling. Apple’s Texas Hold ‘Em game is a good time sink. The great thing is that G and J both like the iPod Touch games and find them easy to learn and play, engaging, and easy to put down. The games take up a few megabytes at most and this means you can have hundreds of games on your iPhone without slowing it down -unlike the programs for Windows Mobile. Apple has pulled off a Trifecta -it owns the game box, the store, the TV (I watch most of my movies and TV via the iPhone), and the critical mass needed to move the market. It has created an ecosystem for capitalizing the exchange of content by making it easier to get this content for the average user -it takes a great deal of geekwork to get pirated free content, and a lot less effort for grabbing fun at $0.99 at a time legally. 

Did I mention that with iPod Touch, you can load Fring -it lets you make telephone calls over a Wifi connection via Skype. How cool is that?

Bye Bye Sony and Windows

Sony has failed repeatedly in its history by trying to create a stranglehold on media standards -the Betamax, the MD Disc, the Memory Stick, Universal Media Disk (UMD), and Blu-Ray. I include Blu-Ray because high speed internet has rendered Blu-Ray obsolete. Apple is beginning to offer more of its content in HD, and the storage is now cheap enough that you can have a library of HD content in your living room. The iPhone’s display is gorgeous and basically is the same as watching a 50 inch screen at 15 feet -try it for yourself -when you walk away from a large screen TV to normal viewing distances, it’s basically the same as holding an iPhone at arm’s length. The problem for Sony is that it perseverates on making overpriced, overly complicated items that few deep pocket geeks enjoy. The Playstation Portable is a jewel -beautiful to hold and see -and it’s completely impossible to watch movies and TV shows on it without serious geek effort. Playstation -fuhgeddaboudit for now -it’s a compelling buy in about two years when they go bust, if you want to invest weeks learning how to play their games. The games cost 30-60 dollars!

Windows and Microsoft have failed with their Windows Mobile platform when at every moment until about three years ago, they had their feet on Apple’s neck. The WinMo phones are a bust -they crash and run very slow. It’s takes a computer science degree to buy third party programs for it and load it on without gumming up the phone with installers and other detritus. They make simple things difficult and annoying. X Box 360, which I don’t have, appears to shine compared to the usual Microsoft offerings, but is caught in Microsoft’s web of mutually intersecting interests and complications. The games also cost a lot compared to free or $0.99. 

Apple -the last person on the island

The first year of Survivor was the most compelling -afterwords, it became unwatchable. The weird guy who was the final survivor made some brilliant moves to be the last one left. This is what has happened with Apple and will be Steve Jobs’ legacy. It realized that people respond to things that are easy to use and fun to play. The iPhone has only one big button and two smaller ones. The content is ubiquitously available through the web. For most students, iPod Touch also allows for true web access previously available only on laptops. The iPhone can be turned into a serious scientific calculator, a golf yardage machine, a GPS device for the car, a musical wind instrument (Ocarina), a level, a beat box, a game machine, and an infinite number of other things that for me represents the culmination of all the future stuff I used to see on sci-fi movies growing up. It’s also managing to sell a lot of laptops during a major recession. 

Nintendo DS

The deep games -the ones requiring gigabytes of memory, are Nintendo DS’s strength. The iPhone has some content like Zork and other adventure games from the ’80’s and 90’s. What Nintendo must do is realize that WiFi is ubiquitous and unlock the DS’s capabilities. You should be able to get a widget you can plug in to download and play content and games from the web on your DS. Put Outlook on the DS along with Facebook with a keyboard for an adult version. It’s only a matter of time before Apple puts out a larger screen version of the Touch with more solid state memory and a 24 hour battery life. 


at a one year low, like everything else

at a one year low, like everything else