The Third Device


We all use phones/smartphones or laptops/desktops. But do we need something in between? A third device thats bigger and more powerful then phone but lighter and easier to use then a laptop.
I was searching for it for quite a long time. I’m a student and I live in Brighton, but study in London. That’s about an hour away on the train, so I spend at least 2 hours a day travelling. That’s a long time, time that I can use to do work, assignments and many other things.

The iPhone is a great phone, but it’s still a phone. I use it all the time, most of my email I manage on the phone. But when it comes to writing long texts or doing research on the web, it’s just doesn’t do the drill. I need something bigger and powerful. My MacBook and MacBook Pro are just too large and bulky to carry them around every day.
I thought that having a netbook might be the answer. Netbooks are small and inexpensive computers running full versions of desktop operating systems. There are some lightweight Linux distributions available, but they are still immature to use on day to day basics.
So I’ve got myself a netbook, MSI Wind U100. It has a typical netbook specs, standard Intel Atom CPU with 160GB hard drive and 10” screen. It comes preinstalled with Windows XP Home, but this model is fairly compatible with Mac OS X Snow Leopard.
When I got it I was really excited about small form factor. This machine is really small compared to MacBook. But I didn’t realise that the size was it’s biggest disadvantage. When I work on it for long time it’s really hurting my hands. Small touchpad is more like a torture device. At home I use always USB mouse with it just because it’s so uncomfortable to use the touchpad. But I never have to use mouse with any of my Apple laptops.
Another problem with it is battery life. Cheap PC laptops don’t have the luxury of Apple’s custom build batteries and they have to use standard round cells. This is very inefficient use of space, that leads to 2 types of batteries. Slim batteries that does not slick out from the bottom of the netbook, but have extremely poor battery life, or high-capacity batteries that provide good battery life, but stick out on the bottom of computer. That’s just a few of many issues with netbooks.
I thought that I would just have to live with all of those problems, until Apple released the iPad.
Why do we want mobile devices powered by desktop operating systems? They are optimised for powerful processors and keyboard and mouse input. Ultra-mobile computers have none of those features. If iPad was running on full OS X it will be sluggish and hard to use, imagine tapping on tiny icons and scroll bars with your fingers. It’s hard, very hard. When I had a Windows Mobile phone years back, long before the iPhone, I just could not press anything on it’s screen with my finger. Yes, it was optimised for stylus input, but stylus is very much like a mouse, precise pointing device. Fingers are different. You need to have big large buttons and multitouch to control touch screen computer. Mac OS X UI definitely does not fit into this category.
Furthermore, to get good user experience, mobile device must turn on and off fast, almost instant to be ready to use in any moment. Desktop OSs don’t have this capability thats why many PC manufacturers install second, instant-on Linux-based OS. But those solutions are limited and slow, plus users want to have consistent experience on their device. Having two separate operating systems is hardly consistent.
The iPad can do everything what I want from small mobile computer. But it also can do so much more. I think the biggest strength of iPad is one of it’s most criticised features, iPhone OS. It is fast, robust and easy to use, but most importantly, it is optimised for mobile use and finger input. Biggest limitation of the iPhone is it’s screen size. There is simply no way to run large sophisticated applications on tiny screen. Large scale iPhone would make a perfect tablet computer. Apple has proven it with their iWork suit for iPad. iWork is my office suit of choice on the Mac, it has very easy to use interface and can produce beautiful documents. iWork version for iPad shown during Apple event in January is so robust and powerful that it can’t even be compared to anything available for iPhone now. Yes, iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad are very similar in hardware, but large screen makes that much difference. And this is just a preview of what applications can be written for iPad, I’m really excited what independent developers will come up with. iPad has a huge potential!
Another advantage of using iPhone OS is the App Store. App Store revolutionised industry, it never was so easy to get apps on mobile device. Some people I know who find it hard to use full-featured computer, but they didn’t even need to read the manual for iPhone. It’s just so easy and intuitive to use. And with thousands of apps available now, I’m sure App Store will be a major selling point of the iPad.

Robust and easy to use operating systems in conjunction with a lot of powerful application will make the iPad my ideal mobile computer, the one I can take and use everywhere and still be productive. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, only one thing left to decide is what version to go for, with mobile broadband, or just Wi-Fi.

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