The other night I had to take the MacBook into the Apple store to get it checked out after a toddler-related spill. I got there for my appointment and waited…and waited…and waited….

Killing time with my Android phone felt a bit weird. If I hadn’t needed to stay close to the Genius Bar I could have at least browsed the gadgets and played with an iPad or a newer laptop with a Retina display, or something. There’s only so long you can spend looking at boxes of headphones and cases for devices you don’t own. I briefly considered reading the new Flash comic book I’d picked up earlier in the day, but thought to myself, “Nah, I bet this isn’t supported here.”

Then I saw this on the wall:

Flash at the Apple Store

Well then, I guess it’s supported after all!

I’ve been reading a Slashdot thread where people who don’t and won’t use tablets argue over why they don’t count as personal computers, because they supposedly aren’t useful for anything except consuming media (not that they’ve tried, I imagine, except maybe the 2 minutes they tried typing on an iPad that one time in Frys or Best Buy and didn’t allow themselves time to get used to the onscreen keyboard), and therefore can’t possibly have any valid use case. (And besides, if we admit that a tablet is a computer, then Apple wins!)

You can certainly make a distinction based on form factor. You can maybe make a distinction based on OS, but then you have to define what makes a PC operating system and what makes a tablet/smartphone/whatever operating system, and things are going to get blurry when you look at, say, Windows 8.

You can sort of make a distinction based on whether you can develop and install your own software, but even that isn’t hard and fast. You can write code in an editor. Compiling is a matter of whether a compiler is available, not something intrinsic to the device itself. Installing software from outside the walled garden is easy on Android, not so much on iOS. (Incidentally, this is the main reason I’ve chosen Android over iOS.) Both have large software ecosystems that developers can contribute to and the average user can install from, which is what actually matters to the average user. (The funny thing is, I remember plenty of arguments about how hard it is to install third-party software on Linux where the counter-argument was that with apt-get, you mostly don’t need to.)

But a lot of Slashdotters are spouting gems on the order of “It doesn’t have a keyboard!” OK, neither does your desktop until you plug one in. Which you can do with a lot of tablets. Or “It doesn’t have a mouse!” – Really? Are you serious? They’ve merged a trackpad with a screen. “I can’t upgrade the parts!” Well, that rules out a lot of consumer-focused desktops, doesn’t it? “PCs have applications, tablets have apps.” – Is there really any meaningful distinction between the two terms?

Pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with your tablet. Hook it up to an external monitor. Or don’t, since the typical tablet already has a better screen than an SE/30. Now you’ve got a workstation, with no more hardware than you would have hooked up to your desktop box. Install an office suite, an image editor, a coding editor — heck, a tax program. At this point the key difference in what’s useful is which applications are available. Wow, I’m having a flashback to all those old Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux arguments.

And yet people insist that these devices are “only toys.”

I still can’t get over the fact that a tech discussion site like Slashdot is so full of neophobes…but then they’ve always been. Look back at the “who would want a touch screen?” debates from a few years ago, or the “wow, this iPod thing is lame” initial reviews.

There’s a bubble a lot of geeks live in where they don’t think about other people’s use cases or workflows. That touch screen debate was full of talk about arm strain from vertical monitors, not considering horizontal or handheld screens, and not considering touch as a complement to keyboard & mouse. (My two-year old wants to touch the screen on the desktop and laptop, and I keep having to explain that they don’t work that way.) There are people out there who consider GUIs to be useful only for opening multiple terminals. And let’s not even get started on the decisions driving Gnome 3, eliminating things like files on the desktop or the minimize button because who uses those?

I learned my lesson when the iMac came out and I thought it was ridiculous. Who would want such a limited computer? As it turned out, lots of people…because they wanted and needed different things from a computer than I did.

So these days, when I see a piece of technology I can’t fathom the use for, I try not to rant about how useless it is. Instead, I wait and see what other people come up with. Sometimes it really is useless (though even the CueCat found a second life as a scanner for LibraryThing), but sometimes the failure isn’t in the technology, but in my own imagination.

Some recent linkblogging. (Thank you, StumbleUpon)



Scott Pilgrim

Comic-Con International is rapidly approaching, and you know what that means: it means I’m thinking about mobile computing again!

Right now, I’ve got a G1 Android-based phone, and Katie and I share a MacBook. The G1 is showing its age, and it would be nice to have a second computer to do things like manage photos with while traveling.

So. Options.

1. Upgrade the phone. I’d like to stick with T-Mobile, but unfortunately after being the first network to take a chance on Android, they kind of dropped the ball on high-end Android phones. It looks like they’ll be getting the Samsung Galaxy S as the Vibrant, which might solve that problem. (Downside: no camera flash, no physical keyboard, both of which are in the Galaxy S Pro — but I don’t know when or even whether it’ll show up on T-Mobile’s network!)

Also, this doesn’t solve the photo management problem…and if I get a touchscreen-only phone, it’ll really slow down typing until I get used to it.

That and the rumored launch date for the Vibrant is July 21: the day before Comic-Con! That’s not the best time to try to get used to a new device.

2. Get a tablet. As much as I love Apple’s laptops and think that tablet PCs are a great idea, I can’t get behind the iPad. I don’t like the walled-garden approach where Apple gets to choose what you’re allowed to install on your computer. As for other platforms, Windows and Android tablets don’t seem to be comparable just yet.

In short: not gonna happen this year.

3. Get a netbook. I keep coming back to this, don’t I? Last weekend I checked out the selection at Fry’s and Micro Center, and decided on several things:

  • Never, ever buy a netbook without trying out the keyboard first! I found one that was so bad that I’d rather type on my phone for an hour than this netbook.
  • Smaller is better (up to a point). There’s no point in getting a large netbook when I could get a more fully-functional small notebook.
  • A lot of netbooks have truly awful trackpads.
  • While I’d rather get one with Windows 7 than Windows XP, it’s not critical. (Vista, however, is right out. Not that I saw any Vista-based netbooks…)
  • I like the Splashtop instant-on mini-network OS. It’ll be sufficient for 90% of what I’d be doing with a netbook.
  • A big chunk of that other 10% would be photo management! Or at least pulling photos off the camera and uploading them. Managing stuff within Flickr should work.
  • Most netbooks are still above my personal “Oh, just buy it and get it over with” price point, which is $200. MicroCenter had two, one of which was the one with the horrible keyboard, and one of which had Windows XP, didn’t have SplashTop, and had a mediocre trackpad. I really had to think about whether it was worth it or not.

Even so, It’s going to be hard to justify a netbook and a newer phone, and if I have to pick one, it’s going to be the phone. At this rate, by the time I decide to go for it, a tablet may actually be more practical!

DC Comics has launched a digital comics program, starting with the iPad/iPhone and the Playstation network.

And by launched, I mean launched. As in, you can download the app and buy comics right now.

I’m really looking forward to the day when they expand this to more platforms (desktop PCs, Android and Windows–based tablets, etc) and start reaching into their back catalog. I’ve griped about the lack of Golden Age Flash reprints before, and the Bronze Age is also virtually invisible in reprints (though at least with comics from the 1970s and 1980s, you can usually find the back-issues at a reasonable price).

I haven’t had time to read all the interviews, but I’ll definitely be reading them tonight:

Jim Lee at Microphone at DC Editorial.With Jim Lee so heavily involved in this project, I can’t help but think of a moment at WonderCon this year. Saturday was the day of the iPad launch, and the Apple Store in San Francisco is just a few blocks from the convention center. Jim Lee was conspicuously missing from the DC Editorial panel. He showed up partway through the panel and stood in the Q&A line, where he planted a few questions…and then pulled out the brand-new iPad that he had stood in line for that morning!

Sadly, judging by ComiXology’s new releases, DC hasn’t brought Flash to the iPad just yet. But I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Update: Comics Alliance has another article I won’t have time to read just yet, on why this is a big deal.

Cross-posted at Speed Force