With only a few days to iPad Day in the USA, I believe we are on the brink of a summer of rosy Apples. So many announcements are waiting in the wings until Mr. iPad takes the stage that I think we will see great developments in the next three months.
This week the Wall Street Journal teases us with a brand new iPhone, likely to be announced at the WWDC in June. This is could be he 4G model, not to be confused with the 4G cellular network. WSJ says it could be a thinner and faster design. There’s a good chance that the new and upgraded iPhone operating system which will benefit both iPhone and iPad will be announced at the same time as any new phone. It might not yet be OS 4.0, although it is rumoured, but would certainly signify an advance on the current version released a year ago. Among the expected benefits of a new OS is some degree of multi-tasking.
May is earmarked, according to some rumours, for the long-awaited MacBook Pro updates, including new processors but, probably without cosmetic updates to the case. I’ve expected this news for the past two months, but presumably Apple decided it has enough on its plate with the the current bout of iPaditis.
Today Apple’s share price hit an all-time high of $237, taking the company’s market capitalisation to within a mere £50bn of Microsoft’s. With so much to come in the next few months, even ignoring iAd (“the next big thing”), Apple is definitely on a roll. Over the next few weeks the blogs and video sites will be alive with the sound of iPad boxes being ceremoniously unpacked. The PR benefit for Apple will be incalculable. It's not just a new Apple, it's a new genre. All the signs are that the iPad pre-ordering has been better than expected and we should get confirmation of this after the Easter Weekend. Tuesday’s opening price for Apple Inc. will be an indicator of the future. At the moment it’s the iPad that’s calling the tune.
(Note: The author has a small stock holding in Apple Inc.)
Australian manufacturer Crumpler makes some of the best and most practical computer cases around. But what a cheesy marketing philosophy and low-information catalogue. They spend too much time trying to be clever and too little providing real information and a clear choice for potential buyers.
Despite this, I've been a Crumpler addict ever since I first decided to try a messenger style bag as a replacement for my old backpack. My current bag is the Cheesy Chick 13in (yes, dreadful but what can you do?) which contains enough pockets and space to cope with a typical day out. The laptop slot includes a removable padded envelope-style wallet for the computer, but you can slide the machine out without first removing the envelope (useful at airports). The protection for the computer is good for a bag without rigid sides and there is a clear space below the computer compartment to act as a cushion if the bag is dropped.
The thing I like about the Crumpler range is the unimpeachable workmanship. The material is called Chicken Tex Supreme (which sounds like a nasty childhood illness but is actually very serviceable). The stitching is in contrast, matching the interior, and the inside colours are bright and attractive. My case is in charcoal with a vivid olive-green soft centre (see photograph, which is actually the Cheesy Tina 15in but looks identical to the Cheesy Chick). The carry strap is wide and comfortable and the weight of even a MacBook Pro is well distributed when the bag is cross-wise over the shoulders. The MacBook Air is barely noticeable.
The interior pockets include an outside, zipped organiser for pens, notebooks, mobile phone and small items, while inside the main compartment there are two large pockets, either of which comfortably accommodates the Sony Touch Edition reader. There's plenty of space for your MiFi router, a supplementary iPhone battery and a set of cables, including a MacBook power unit; even a sandwich and an apple.
This Crumpler style includes an unusual carry handle built into the back panel. It works, but causes the bag to hang at an angle because the centre of gravity is altered. With a messenger bag, however, you don't spend much time carrying it in your hand. One improvement I would like to see would be a slot on the back to fit over the handle of a trolley case when travelling. Many bags these days have such a slot and they are much easier to carry around airports when secured in this way.
These bags aren't the cheapest (the 13in Cheesy Tina has a recommended price of £99) and they aren't available at Apple Stores, remarkably enough. Lots of other computer stores stock them, however, and there are dedicated Crumpler stores in London and most major cities.
In a market stuffed with bags and carriers of every possible description, the Crumpler range is unique and worth checking out. First, though, you have to get your head round the infuriating catalogue and the ridiculous nomenclature. Get this description of the Cheesy Tina: "She aint no hag-bag. This high specs, Chickentex laptop glam pouch is strictly for the chic chick. Down the street you’ll stride, your chin upraised in that ‘too good for you’ look".
I suppose someone at Crumpler thinks this is all very clever and cool, even gramatical. Pity, because it tarnishes the overall impression and as far as I can see the bag is as unisex as you can get; I cannot imagine why it is considered by Crumpler as suitable only for female use and why they try to segment the market in this way. I continue to buy Crumpler despite their execrable and sexist marketing policy.
Finally I hit on the Empire Builder. It is billed as a briefcase but is in reality a very versatile overnighter, laptop case, carry-on bag and faithful travel companion. In the past six months it has served me on over ten excursions, including two long-haul flights, and I love it to death. It’s as near to my ideal as I think I’m going to get.
We've spent a lot of time discussing the ideal electronic device for reading books. Some swear by the iPad, others are convinced an e-ink reader such as the Amazon Kindle is the only answer. And a growing number of keen readers are perversely attracted to the iPhone or iPod touch as the always-in-your pocket solution. What you don't hear a lot about is reading books on a Mac or PC. Enter the new updated Kindle for Mac* application which, for the first time, adds double-column reading.
Strange, this: Research by Forrester last week showed that 35 percent of electronic book reading is done on a laptop, followed by 32 percent on a Kindle, 15 percent on an iPhone, 12 percent on a Sony e-reader and ten percent on a netbook. If you combine the netbook and laptop figures you have 45 percent of book reading being done on a computer rather than on a dedicated reader or phone/tablet.
Kindle readers rule the roost, though, because they do 66 percent of all their reading in digital form. In my case it's probably nearer to 99 percent.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the Amazon Kindle eco-system works on almost every computing and mobile platform known to man. Thanks to Whispersync, your Mac, your iPhone, your Kindle and anything else you own will be in sync. You can read a chapter here, a few paragraphs there and all your devices know precisely where you are up to.
Previously I've tried reading my Kindle books on the iMac or MacBook Pro and it wasn't the best of experiences. The text is clear enough, but to achieve a satisfactory line length it's necessary to run the app in a window rather than full-screen. That has changed in the latest version of Kindle for Mac and the two-column view (similar to that in the pioneering iBooks app) makes a world of difference. Now, with adjustable line length, font sizes and side-by-side columns, the app can be customised to fit a near-full screen window. There's also a handy full-screen button which hides the Mac menu bar so all you see is two pages of a book.
This is a revelation and makes reading on a computer completely viable for the first time. I even find that reading on my 24in Cinema Display is restful and thoroughly practical. While popular prejudice holds that a book must be held in the hand and at a reasonable distance from the eye, the new convention is that books can be read from a distance in the same way you watch a video. It just needs a bit of attitude changing, in the same way that reading on the iPhone is against convention but equally attractive.
My new 11-in MacBook Air with its 16:9-aspect screen is just about perfect for the Kindle for Mac app. Reading in double-column view with full-screen turned on is very similar to the experience on the iPad and it's just another reason why the Air is gradually edging out the iPad as far as I'm concerned. Truth be known, what I really needed from the beginning was a Mac netbook and now I have it.
The Kindle for Mac application is straightforward and has basic options including, as outlined here, the choice of one or two columns. There is a button for full-screen mode and a font menu which includes sliding scales for font size, words per line and brightness (it makes for more comfort to turn down the brightness when reading on a monitor or laptop screen). Finally you can choose white (black characters on white background), sepia (back on sepia) and black (white on black background). That's it, simple.
Unlike the software on the Kindle itself, there is no way of categorising books nor the ability to create folders (collections). All you have is the Home screen which shows the books that have been downloaded to the particular computer and an Archive button which takes you to your library stored on the Amazon server. You can delete books from the computer and they remain in the cloud; it's actually sensible to keep on the device only those books you are reading or intend to read soon. The collections facility on the Kindle device is extremely useful and I really don't understand why it is missing from all the Kindle apps for other platforms. I hope it will come in the next update with, ideally, synchronisation of collections between devices. On the Kindle, which I now use for library housekeeping, I have a collections for books to read, books finished and reference material (such as the dictionary or Kindle manual).
The unique selling point of the Kindle family is that you can read your purchases and maintain your library from all popular computer and mobile platform. I read regularly on my iPhone, on the Kindle and increasingly on my MacBook Air. If I decided to buy an Android tablet or a PC I could be sure that my library would go with me. When you are buying books that's a comforting thought. In contrast, when I used a Sony reader I spent nearly £500 on books which are now lost to me.
* Although I haven't tried the Windows version of the Kindle app I believe most of the above comments would apply equally to the PC app.