iPad and the tablet war

I was in the airport looking at tablets the other day. After a quick play on the new iPad I turned my attention to the competitors to see if they were worthy or not. Now I wouldn’t call myself overly techy, but I can find my way around most gadgets, but not one of those tablets could I turn on. Maybe they weren’t charged. Maybe they weren’t plugged in. Regardless of all that, it made me think that maybe the tablet playing field isn’t level. Apple have become ubiquitous with tablets. Is it because they are marketed and presented so well in so many shops, yet the competition are often bundled next to each other and won’t even turn on. Is it any surprise that people turn to the iPad?

I surrender

I blogged a couple of times about my fight with Apple, and in particular iPhoto. I just could not get it set up to work the way I wanted, which I didn’t think was particularly specialist and “out there” and indeed worked fine for me with other software such as Google’s Picasa. In the meantime I read of a variety of other Apple users’ experiences and noted a recurring theme: “Don’t fight the Apple way”. In recent weeks I’ve taken this advice on board a bit more and tried to fit into the Apple “eco-system” rather than try and tweak it to my needs. Irritating as it was to give up in this way, the results are so far promising.

iPhoto was the biggest irritant in my Apple experience. Ignoring the niggly bugs and occasional hanging, there was the big issue of being unable to easily and reliably share photo libraries across the user accounts of my wife and I. This was a showstopper for me and the only thing stopping me reverting back to Picasa was the effort involved in re-organising my photos from the iPhoto mess into meaningful folders. This is because iPhoto’s default settings mean photos are imported into a proprietary folder structure based on date and are almost unnavigable without iPhoto. I could go on about this but that would miss the point of this post. What is relevant is that my lack of action meant that I had a load of photos on my iPhone that I didn’t want to import just in case I ended up going back to Picasa.

Last night I decided enough was enough and just got on with importing my iPhone pictures into iPhoto, probably prompted by the near disaster of dropping my iPhone above a brick hearth and only just catching it before the crash. I’d worry about Picasa another day.

Frankly it was a revelation. It’s not like I’d not done this before, but I was reminded how beautifully simple it was to import, organise and edit. OK, so the facial recognition is a bit weak but otherwise iPhoto was on this occasion a real pleasure to use. I wanted to organise my photos. I was enjoying it for a change.

Does it still grate me that the underlying folder structure is going to be a real pain to migrate if and when I want to move away from “The Apple Way?” No doubt. Does it pain me to give up on the idea of a shared photo library? Absolutely. Am I overall a happier Apple user for conceding on these points and going with the Apple flow?

Honestly?

Yes.

 

Too much music, too many formats

I’ve been discovering a whole load of new music recently. Some of this is thanks to friends sharing their musical loves on Facebook, some is down to endless exposure to iTunes and the rest is down to the countless blogs/social media/websites/video channels that I come across day-in-day-out whilst sat in front of a computer. This is great and I’ll put up some of the stuff I’ve found later, but there’s just too much choice of format.

Back in the day *ahem* I was a vinyl fan. I remember the first album I ever bought was The Kids From Fame. I think it was a fiver from Woolworths and must have been the best part of 30 years ago. £5 for an album of 10 tracks, 30 years ago. Shocking value compared to the MP3 albums you can nearly-instantly download for a similar price today.

Or is it? The problem with music downloads is that whilst they are cheap compared with vinyl, cassette and CD prices of years ago, they don’t stack up so well against CD prices today. When CDs first came out – 30 years ago? – I’m sure they were the best part of £15 or so. Now you can get new releases for well under a tenner. So when I want a new album, I can buy the download for not a lot less than the CD and – unbelievably – sometimes more.

Why should I complain? Provided you have the space to store them, CDs are undoubtedly better value since irrespective of the better quality (that many of us won’t notice on our smartphones and MP3 players) they are physical, tangible things with nice artwork…and you can rip them to MP3 anyway. Why don’t I just buy CDs and shut up?

Well, I am now an impatient man. If I hear a great track on the internet, I want to buy it there and then. I don’t want to go to the shops or wait for Amazon to deliver it. Short attention span and no patience, you see? It’s not my fault, the internet made me this way. I used to be better, honest.

Even worse is how convenient iTunes is. I can be lying in bed browsing the iTunes store for music, give it a listen and buy it really rather too effortlessly. Moments later the music is on my phone ready for my greedy ears. Again, why am I complaining? Well, iTunes sells its music in AAC format with DRM. The long and the short of it is that I am limited to how many devices I can play the music on. Unlike CD players which will play anything classed as a CD, “MP3 players” are not all alike. Whilst Apple’s players will play MP3, not all MP3 players will play Apple’s AAC. “Yawn! Boring”. Maybe, but the point is that Apple charge more than most for music downloads with less versatility of when and where you can play them.

So, I end up browsing on iTunes to find music I like only to go to Amazon to find it on MP3 cheaper and then to prevaricate for days over whether I should pay more for the CD anyway. This is supposed to be fun.

The big issue is this is not really a big issue. It’s actually symptomatic of the convenience-age we live in where we want what WE want and we want it the way WE want it and moan about it when we can’t have it. To think Steve Jobs said “customers don’t know what they want”. Ha! Whatever.

Too much choice. Too many inconsequential things to worry about. Time to worry about something worthwhile…?

 

Just not feeling the love for Apple

It’s a few weeks in with the iMac. I love the Magic Trackpad and the way I can easily navigate in Safari and across multiple desktops. The synchronisation of Mail etc with my Google account is also doing what it should (mostly). However I’ve “got over” the fact it is a nice looking bit of kit, and it just sits on the desk much like any other computer would. The aesthetic was one of the main reasons for swapping from Windows PCs and I just feel a bit indifferent about it now.

As for the actual functionality, well quite frankly I just keep coming cross stuff that it doesn’t really do that well. Sure, it’s nice that the iLife suite is so well integrated and I can just drag a picture from iPhoto straight into an email, but that’s such a small inconsequential feature compared to the awful way my photos are now stored on my Mac. I realise I can change the way iPhoto imports pictures but then this is at the expense of simplicity. It seems that the Mac “it-just-works” model is fine and dandy if you’re happy with the way “it just works”, but if you’re not, you’re stuck with something hopelessly limiting.

Take the drag and drop from iPhoto to Mail. It only works from the – forgive me if I have the wrong terminology – Event (thumbnail) view. If I’ve opened up the image or I’m editing it I can no longer drag into Mail. Daft.

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous way iPhoto handles the image library. My wife and I both have a user account on the Mac. We both import photos into our Home directories. So far so good and quite slick with iPhoto, but this creates an iPhoto library for each of us. If I want to view pictures in her library or vice versa then it is nigh on impossible. I have been on innumerable forums about a solution and even spoken with Apple who could not help solve what I see as a fairly fundamental requirement of a “home computer.” Picasa handles this effortlessly.

[UPDATE] – Whilst doing some more comparisons with Picasa I noted that iPhoto now “owns” my photos and I cannot edit them in Picasa without first copying them. Even closing down iPhoto first gives me this problem. Talk about restrictive. Very poor.

I’ve also had issues with people not receiving emails and/or attachments that I’ve mailed from Mail. Another long call to Apple and the solution was “you could use another email client.” Astounding.

I do like the simplicity of the App Store for getting new programs and the Mac implementation of Windows Remote Desktop is neat too, so it’s not all bad. It’s just really not as good as I expected. I wish I’d bought a Windows PC and with the money I’d saved bought an iPad too. Ho hum…

This Apple tastes sour

For some years I wanted – desired – an Apple computer. I’ve never had any beef with Windows PCs. Without too much fuss or kerfuffle they’ve “just worked”. My last Windows PC  – an XP Home model – has only recently retired after getting on for 8 years good service (I say retired; it has actually found service at my Dad’s house, who was still running Windows 98!).

The problem with my Windows PC was not a problem with Windows. It was simply that the hardware never really looked anything other than utilitarian. I even experimented with custom cases to try and get somewhere close to that magic Apple look, but fell way short of getting a computer to look desirable.

Odd shaped Apples

That’s not to say I’ve always wanted an Apple. My Uncle – still an Apple fan – had a Mackintosh many moons ago. It just looked like an ugly little box with a ridiculously small screen and really didn’t excite.

The iMacs from the early part of this century then started to get my attention. I used to work at a magazine printers and we had a whole suite of them, but only for the creative team of course. That was the point of Apple, was it not? No chance of us mere office staff having such a cutting edge machine. Nope, Windows for us lot.

Looking back at those garish all-in-ones with the ridiculous circular mouse makes me suspect it was merely curiosity to know what they were all about rather than a desire to own one. Still, this is where the Mac versus Windows debate began for me.

Temptation

It wasn’t until the “angle poise” iMac came out that I really sat up and took notice. Here was a computer that looked the badger’s nadgers, to coin a phrase from my University days.

I confess I don’t quite love it as much as when it came out, but it’s still extraordinarily striking. It was at this point that I thought about changing allegiance from Mr Gates’ Windows to Jobs’ Apple, based solely on the design, the image, the desirability of a computer of all things. Sad perhaps, but true. But something stopped me…

How much?!

Apple computers were – are – stupidly expensive compared to a Windows PC. I understand why a like-for-like spec costs more for an Apple than a Windows machine. Sat in front of a new iMac typing this it is clear to see money has gone into making a mighty fine piece of kit. Until now I could never quite justify that extra cost.

Which brings me back to present day. Yes, I now have a brand new 21.5″ iMac. A fab year’s ownership of an iPhone 4 really made me think that if Apple’s computers were as good as their handsets then they must be worth paying a premium for.

The good…

It looks the business, it really does. I plumped for a Magic Trackpad which makes it a pleasure to browse and flick between web pages, photos and…anyway, I won’t go on about the good stuff because that’s pretty well documented elsewhere and much of it is true. What I will say is that the quality and implementation of the hardware is fantastic.

…and the bad

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the software. Maybe, once upon a time, Apples did “just work”. In my brief experience I’m gutted to report that simply isn’t the case. I bought into the concept – the marketing – spouted by Apple. I liked the idea of programs all being designed to work seamlessly with each other. I was sold on the promise of ease of use. I didn’t mind buying into the Apple way of working. The iPhone had impressed me, so the iMac would too, right?

I’m writing this after having spent an insufferable amount of time trying to resolve stuff that is simply not rocket science, so why can’t my Mac do it?

  • Not being able to forward attachments to a non-Apple computer
  • Not being able to have a shared iPhoto library that “just works”
  • Bug-free operation doing basic tasks like viewing my photos

I’ve been on countless forums and even resorted to calling the Apple support line – something I’ve never had to do with a PC. After one particularly lengthy call I did just about get a confession from the Apple staff that I may have stumbled upon a bug. He even suggested using another (non-Apple) piece of software. This is not what I bought into.

Early adopter?

Maybe I’m suffering from early adopter syndrome, having jumped into the deep end with OSX Lion which has not, to be fair, received universally good press. Maybe things will get better. I hope so, because the good stuff about my Apple experience is great. I may even witter on about it another time and another day. In the meantime it’s disappointing to say my first taste of the Apple has been a bit sour.