Chromebooks: Not PC, Not Post-PC

Chromebooks are here and getting a lot of press, just as Netbooks did before them. But in a post-PC world the two categories have more in common than one might think.

For starters, let’s see where a Chromebook differs from the leading post-PC device:

Software

Chrome OS doesn’t approach the rich app ecosystem of iOS. This is further diluted when no Internet connection is available, as some apps require. The basics are there, but the beauty of post-PC—like the beauty of PC—is a wealth of third-party additions to make the machine “yours”. In this regard iPad’s versatility goes way beyond a Chromebook.

Privacy
Chrome OS is from Google. Let’s not pretend a primary function isn’t to gather data about you for sale to ad agencies. It lacks iOS’ easy user-controlled granularity of privacy settings per app, photo access per app, location access per app, etc., as well as default third-party cookie blocking, ability to reset device identity and more.

Hardware
Cheap hardware built to look like a “real” laptop. A major design goal is to beat out the cheapest Windows laptops while not appearing to be a tiny netbook.

Mobility
This is one of the tenets of post-PC, yet Chromebooks are bulky and heavy by any iPad standard. Further, battery life is no better than a “regular” PC notebook.

Netbooks are cheap PCs with small screens and cramped keyboards. They fizzled in the marketplace when it become clear they don’t offer the UX of a conventional Windows laptop. Meanwhile, Chromebooks are “regular” laptop size to avoid the netbook stigma, but remain cheap by ditching the PC OS for Google’s data-gathering tools.

There are many ways to cling to a familiar past while cheating the experience in an attempt to reduce cost and appear “new”. Netbooks and Chromebooks take different approaches but the result is the same: their UX is unlike the laptops they’re designed to imitate. In many ways Netbooks and Chromebooks are the ultimate skeumorphic design. Designed to look like the familiar laptop form we’ve known for 20 years, but in reality being no such thing.

If you want a laptop for its usability and legacy functions, by all means get one. Mac or PC, there are plenty of excellent choices on the market. But be realistic on either cost or functionality. If you’re not, then one way or the other you’ll be disappointed.

Who Wouldn’t Want…?

Over the last decade, as Apple has entered and dominated markets beyond computers, their competitors have attempted to compete via spec sheet. The strategy has been simple: find what feature consumers must want that the iPod, iPhone, MacBook or iPad lack, then supply it.

How does the competition determine a “missing” feature? They look to what Apple removed, and assume it was a mistake; that in fact everybody wants it. I expect the design meetings asked questions like this:

  • “Who wouldn’t want a card slot to add more storage?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want a replaceable battery?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want an FM radio?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want Flash?”
  • “Who wouldn’t want a hardware keyboard on their phone?”

In every case, new devices were cranked out touting these “advantages”, and failed to make a dent in Apple’s growth or popularity.

This is because what Apple supplied in exchange for the alleged deficiencies more than made up for them. To the point where many were not even considered deficiencies at all (most people never added storage, or carried an extra battery, and so on).

The good news is that the competition is mostly in line with Apple now. Apple’s changes are more or less given as norms, and this silly strategy is no longer attempted.

Wait, what’s that I just heard from tablet design rooms everywhere?

  • “Who wouldn’t want a physical keyboard dock?”

Translating Samsung’s attempt to discredit iPhone 4S

Following is a translation of Samsung’s distributed talking points about the iPhone 4S compared to their Galaxy series of phones. 

the AT&T version of the Samsung Galaxy S II has 42% more screen area and Sprint / T-Mobile versions of Galaxy S II have 58% more screen area than the iPhone 4S.

Ignore that screen sizes are all over the place, and rest assured the Galaxy is huge. Hope you have big pockets. And hands.

The Galaxy S II HSPA+ network speeds are at least 50% faster with AT&T 21 MBPS and three times faster with T-Mobile’s 42 MBPS than the iPhone 4S’s 14 MBPS HSPA network.

Our theoretical you-will-never-see-them speeds are faster than their theoretical you-will-never-see-them speeds. 

Galaxy S II continues to have the thinnest smartphone design 

We’re huge, but a millimeter thinner. 

Open Ecosystem – Consumers can use the Galaxy S II to buy music from Amazon, Rhapsody, or a variety of other music services, as well as multiple cloud music services supported such as Amazon, Google Music and multiple video chat clients available for use including Google Chat and Skype. The Samsung Galaxy S II is not limited to a single manufacturer’s storefront or app store.

The iPhone uses the #1 music store in the world, Galaxy doesn’t. 

In short, until we add a cheap Siri knockoff and a few other features for which we’ll kipe Apple’s icon designs, just ignore the iPhone 4S.

Blowin’ in the Fan (with apologies to Bob Dylan)

How many tablet PCs must be built
Before people get that they’re wrong?
How many demos must Microsoft give
Propped up by their own dance and song?
And after a decade of failure in this
Do they know that we won’t tag along?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the fan
The answer is blowin’ in the fan.

How many years can an OS exist
Before its best days have gone by?
How many new paradigms can be shown
That much better methods apply?
And how many times to the well will they go
Before seeing it’s finally run dry?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the fan
The answer is blowin’ in the fan.

How many vendors were pulled on a chain
Building tablets unfriendly to hands?
How many failures and misguided tries
Were continued according to plans?
And when will they get the futility of
Shoehorning PCs into cans?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the fan
The answer is blowin’ in the fan.

(Inspired by this tidbit about a prototype Windows 8 tablet.)

HTC Acting President Wishes iPhones Were Less Cool

I brought my daughter back to college — she’s down in Portland at Reed — and I talked to a few of the kids on her floor. And none of them has an iPhone because they told me: ‘My dad has an iPhone.’ There’s an interesting thing that’s going on in the market. The iPhone becomes a little less cool than it was.

Did I say “wishes”? My mistake. Here we have a scientific study of a large population by an unbiased source that proves it.

The best thing about Apple’s win over Samsung in Germany

“The court is of the opinion that Apple’s minimalistic design isn’t the only technical solution to make a tablet computer, other designs are possible… For the informed customer there remains the predominant overall impression that the device looks [like the iPad].”

The above is from presiding Judge Johanna Brueckner-Hofman in her verdict.

Forget whether you think the tech world is lawsuit-happy. Forget whether you think this is a bad decision. Forget whether you think this is just Germany, and no other country will rule this way. Forget your Apple hate or Samsung/Android love. Forget all that.

Instead, remember the above quote.

It gets old seeing companies copy Apple so fully, and then claim they had no choice because there’s no other way to make whatever it is they’re making. Of course there is. We’re not talking a single function like a volume switch or camera button, but rather an entire product. If Apple used that lazy cop-out, the iPad would have been built like previous Windows tablet designs and failed miserably.

What Apple did was rethink what a tablet could be, and so could anyone else if they choose. It may then be a success or failure, but it wouldn’t be a copy. 

TVs Are Not Like Smartphones

Yes, there are a lot of problems that need to be solved, but the Macalope doesn’t really see where they’re that much bigger than the ones that supposedly were going to prevent the iPhone’s birth. Maybe it comes out for Comcast at first, like the iPhone with AT&T.

The AT&T iPhone was nationwide in the US, and used a global mobile standard (GSM) so Apple could roll it out in other countries. A Comcast “iTV” would only be regional in the US, and there is no global TV standard so that’s as far as it would get.

The carrier problem was one of control (i.e., dictating hardware, features and services), not getting to market. Apple got around the control with an AT&T exclusivity deal (and AT&T making a bold decision), and the rest is history.

The cable company problem is not about control of the hardware, but rather getting it to market. One GSM iPhone covers many markets across the globe, but for an iTV you’d need nearly as many models as there are markets.

I’m not saying the cable company issue is insurmountable, only that it won’t be solved the way the carrier problem was. They’re not the same problem.

Sony Tablet S Review

Even so, the Tablet S feels more competent than outstanding. For every nice
extra feature, there’s seemingly another that doesn’t quite work the way it’s
promised, sometimes within the same app. The performance, the screen, the build
quality are all good, but not great. The camera is just a mess, too

Yet another vendor releases a tablet before it’s ready, and uses weaker components to make the “iPad price” of $499.