Google’s New Stuff

It is the season for developer conferences. Two weeks ago I reported on Apple’s developer conference and Apple’s unveiling of the new Macbook Pro product line. Last week it was Microsoft developers conference and the unveiling of the new Microsoft Surface tablet. This week it’s Google’s developer conference where Google unveiled its own tablet called the Nexus 7. While Microsoft’s new Surface tablet competes in price and features with the iPad, the Nexus 7 is more in line with the Kindle Fire, priced at $199 like the Fire but outperforming the Fire in several areas. The Nexus 7 features a 7″ HD display made of strong Corning Gorilla Glass, a 1.2 MP front-facing camera, a quad core Tegra 3 processor, and a 12-core GPU that has gamers drooling. The Nexus 7 will be released later this month running the new Android 4.1 – Jelly Bean.

Google engineers also demonstrated Google’s futuristic augmented reality glasses at the developers conference, providing developers with the opportunity to purchase prototypes for $1500. And if that weren’t enough, Google unveiled a set top box called Nexus Q, which allows viewers to stream content from the cloud using their Android smartphone or tablet. Both the Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q set top box integrate with Google Play – Google’s new cloud-based media store providing music, books, magazines, movies, TV shows, apps and games.

Microsoft’s New Stuff

Last week I talked about all of the new Apple stuff announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This week it’s Microsoft’s turn. The big announcement, that many anticipated, was a new Microsoft tablet computer, named Surface. That’s right – the name was borrowed from Microsoft’s tabletop technology which will be getting a new name. Since Microsoft has traditionally stayed out of the hardware business, except for the Xbox, the failed Zune, and accessories like keyboards and mice, this announcement has caused quite a stir. The decision to make its own tablet suggests Microsoft’s disappointment with Windows tablets being manufactured by its partners, and puts Microsoft in direct competition with those partners. The first reviews of the Surface tablet are very positive; the devices do appear to be a cut above its competition. Of course, its biggest competitor will be Apple’s iPad. Surface offers some significant benefits over the iPad. The biggest benefit is its integration with Windows PCs and phones, and the inclusion of a fully functional version of Microsoft Office. Surface may be the first tablet to offer true productivity capabilities for business users. Surface also comes with a built-in stand and a cover that features an integrated keyboard. Covers come in a range of colors that automatically blend with the Surface display color settings.

Microsoft also announced its next edition of its Windows Phone OS – version 8. Windows Phone 8 will be INcompatible with current Windows handsets, as will be apps developed for Windows 8. So, if you are considering a Windows phone, you would be wise to wait a few months for Windows Phone 8 handsets, which are scheduled to roll out this Fall. Windows Phone 8 offers full integration with Windows 8 PCs and tablets. It also offers tighter security features that should please businesses. As we approach the release of Windows 8 across PCs, tablets, and smartphones, we begin to see Microsoft’s strategy unfurling, and perhaps a glimmer of hope for a company that has been steamed-rolled over by Apple and the world’s transition from desktop to mobile.

Apple’s News Stuff

Apple unveiled new Macbook Pros at its developers’ conference last week. The new Macbook Pros are thinner than current models and feature Retina displays that double the density of pixels for ultra-high resolution. The new Macbook Pros also boast Intel’s new quad-core i7, the new GeForce Kepler graphics card, and solid state drives, producing the best possible performance. Apple also announced that it has developed its own Maps app which will replace Google Maps on future generations of iOS on iPhones and iPads. Launching its own Maps app will reduce Apple’s dependence on Google, and will allow Apple to innovate independently, including providing its own turn-by-turn navigation feature and tightening up its integration with Siri. Apple is expanding Siri’s resources by allowing it to tap into sports data from Yahoo, restaurant info from yelp, and movie trailers and reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. Apple hopes that its mobile users will turn to Siri before resorting to a Google search. The new version of iOS will feature embedded integration with Facebook, providing the opportunity for users to post to Facebook from a variety of iPhone and iPad apps. Apple’s new direction includes partnering with other tech companies that excel in areas where Apple is weak.

Introducing the iPad

After months of speculation and anticipation, Apple’s latest creation is finally unveiled. Last Wednesday, with a packed amphitheater of journalists poised on the edges of their seats, Steve Jobs and colleagues showed off Apple’s new tablet PC, the iPad. Since then bloggers and journalists have been filling pages with there impressions of the iPad ranging from ecstatic to skeptical. Here’s a short overview of the iPad and the world’s reaction to its arrival.

The iPad is a 9.5 by 7.5 inch, half-inch-thin tablet PC, with an aluminum case, and a 10-inch LED multi-touch display. It has a custom-designed 1 GHz processor for high performance and a long 10 hour battery life.

Not unlike a giant, thin and sleek iPhone, the iPad has the same button and port configuration as an iPhone, and runs all of the iPhone apps at a larger, higher resolution. It also runs software specifically designed for it including Apple’s iWork word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. The iPhone OS and interface that runs on the iPad has been updated to take advantage of the large display.

The iPad has most of the features of an iPhone 3GS including an accelerometer, Assisted GPS, Bluetooth, portrait or landscape viewing modes, and a software keyboard. Users can purchase a regular external keyboard which connects to the iPad dock. The iPad can then act like a notebook, utilizing the touchscreen in place of a mouse. There is also an optional case that doubles as a stand for convenient movie viewing, and laptop computing.

The iPad connects to the Internet over Wi-fi networks or over AT&T’s 3G cellular network. Unlike the iPhone, there is no subscription plan required. Two prepay options are available. One provides 250 MB for $14.99/month. The other is unlimited data for $29.99/month. Users are free to use the iPad exclusively over Wi-fi to eliminate monthly fees altogether.

Wi-fi-only models of the iPad range in price from $499 to $699 depending on the size of the hard drive, while iPads that support both wi-fi and 3G start at $629 and run up to $829. Wi-fi only models will be available at the end of March with Wi-fi+3G models arriving a month later.

What distinguishes the iPad from previous Windows-based tablets is the user interface and software. The iPad comes instantly out of sleep displaying the home screen. Swiping across the display reveals pages of applications. Apples implementation of the multi-touch user interface looks very elegant, intuitive, and easy to use. While the iPad runs all iPhone software, it’s large hi-def display will serve some applications better than other. Movies, books, newspapers, magazines, and photos look beautiful on the iPad display even at extreme angles. This makes it easy for two or three people to view simultaneously. Maps and GIS applications are sure to be popular on the iPad. Games will take on a whole new aspect viewed on the iPads large display and controlled via the accelerometer. Apple’s iWork software supports more productive activities while the Web browser and social network applications provide user’s favorite online activities. Without doubt, software developers will be using the iPad’s software development kit to design many applications that take advantage of the iPad’s unique form factor. There should be many more enticing apps available by the time the iPad hits the market.

The reviews of the iPad are mostly favorable, with some well known silicon valley journalists practically gushing over it. However, there are points of dissatisfaction as well. The iPad has no camera, and is unable to function as a phone over AT&T’s network. The iPad does not support multitasking to the level where multiple applications can run in multiple windows. So when switching between applications, the user must always return to the home screen and relaunch the application. The iPad does not support Flash, so some Web content will not be viewable. The iPad is extremely limited on ports. Besides its headphone jack, it has only its one Dock connector for connecting to a PC. Perhaps the largest concern expressed over the iPad is it’s lack of open standards. It appears that all media content on the iPad will be locked down with digital rights management. Movies, television programs, books, magazines, and newspapers will have to be purchased from Apple partners. DRM is the norm for ebook readers like the Kindle, and video services like netflix. However, an iPad-like tablet based on Google’s open Android or Chrome OS platforms, could garner a fan base of users who feel Apple commands too much control over its users.

No matter what level of success the iPad achieves, its impact on the market will be considerable. While the iPad doesn’t have enough power or features to compete with regular notebook computers, it is likely to make life difficult for ebook readers like the Kindle, and netbooks. It’s lower-than-expected price, is already causing other tablet manufacturers to drop their prices in order to better compete when the iPad hits the market. Just as 2008 was the years of the smartphone, and 2009 was the year of the netbook, it is likely that the iPad will make 2010 the year of the tablet.

Back in the Saddle Again

Singing Cowboy
I’m back! With a new job and a fresh outlook on life. I have moved from teaching Computer Lit in the Computer Science Department to directing a new Program in Interdisciplinary Computing. The goal of the program is to discover common computer skills across various disciplines at the university, and develop courses to teach those skills. I will remain involved in computer literacy/fluency as an author and developer, but now my area of research will extend into discipline-specific skills – computer fluency for professionals.

This evolution towards interdisciplinary computing only makes sense. Computing, and computer programming are no longer activities only pursued by computer scientists and engineers. Professionals in every discipline are leveraging computers and technology in their daily activities. Apply computing skills to work in every discipline produces new innovations and leaders in the global marketplace. For college students to innovate and lead, they must gain a deeper understanding of computing and how to apply it in their field. It is up to colleges to see that students graduate knowing a LOT more than Microsoft Office.

Students are ready to be challenged in this area. Typical college intro computer courses do not challenge today’s students. While learning higher level computer skills and computer programming is hard work, new teaching methods that are goal-oriented, and collaborative in nature, can engage our students. I am looking forward to dedicating my work to discovering what needs to be taught and how to successfully teach it. Follow my weekly progress on this blog. Also check my Web sites (teachtechnology.biz, www.pic.fsu.edu) for course descriptions and materials.