Monthly Archives: January 2010

“Real” OS X Apps on the iPad, Are You Crazy ?!?!?

I’m posting this from my iPhone, so I can’t be bothered to name names, but trust me when I tell you, there are a lot of people criticising Apple for basing the iPad off the iPhone OS, rather than making it capable of running Macintosh applications by using a touch-enabled version of the version of OS X that runs on Mac desktops and laptops. I understand the impulse, but these people are either crazy, or they just aren’t thinking things through.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. There is just no damn way to profitably sell a device that matches the price, performance and portability of the iPad that also runs existing Mac apps. This will change in the future, but it’s just not something that can happen this year.

There are many reasons for this, but it really starts with the fact that modern Macs use Intel CPUs and Intel CPUs just aren’t as power efficient for a given level of performance as the ARM CPU in the iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices. So, an iPad that runs existing Mac apps would have to have an Intel CPU, and so would have shorter battery-life, which hurts portability. This could be compensated for with a larger battery, but a larger battery would be heavier, which hurts portability and add expense which would already be higher, because intel CPUs cost more than ARM CPUs.

So on the hardware side, price and weight are two strikes against an iPad that runs Mac apps, but that is only half the problem. The bigger problem is software. Mac apps are built to be run on fairly powerful computers that are capable of multitasking and which people use a mouse and keyboard to interact with. There are a few implications of this.

First, there is a good chance that existing OS X apps, designed to run on powerful hardware, would be both slow and power hungry on an iPad becuase acceptable performance and efficiency on a iMac or MacBook could be completely unacceptable on an iPad. This is on top of the inherent power-efficiency disadvantages of compatible hardware.

An even biggher problem is that the user interface would be ill-suited to the iPad. There are no apps for the Mac designed for the type of interaction the iPad supports. On the otherhand, there are hundreds of thousands of iPhone apps that will run on the iPad. They were designed for touch interaction, so their UIs are more likely to translate to the iPad, which is in many ways an iPhone with a larger screen, than UIs designed for mouse and keyboard interaction. Perhaps less obvious, but at least as important, developers of iPhone apps are likely to be futher down the learning curve for multitouch UIs than developers of “desktop” Mac applications, so they will likely be able to release versions of their apps that take advantage of the possibilies of the larger screen on the iPad than Mac developers.

Further, all of those apps were designed for a device that is even more constrained interms of power consumtion and performance than the iPad. If anything they should run better on the iPad the the iPhone.

I understand why people would like the iPad to run OS X apps. People conflate running Mac OS X applications with “openness” that we don’t get when iPhone and iPad apps all have to go through the iTunes App Store approval process. But let’s face it, an iPad than ran Mac apps would come into this world some combination of slower, more expensive, less portable (in terms of both weight and battery life) and with far fewer good quality multitouch apps.  I don’t think anyone really wants that, so rather than asking for it, lets focus narrowly on the real issue because while it may be unlikely that Apple opens the iPad to apps distributed through channels other than the App Store, at least it possible.  An iPad that ships in 60 days runs Mac apps and doesn’t suck is pretty much impossible.

Swiping at the iPad Anti-Hype: Mashable Edition

After months of speculation, much of it crazy, Apple announced the iPad, a sort of scaled up iPod Touch.  I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about the iPad, but a lot of the bigger tech web sites have already made up their mind that they have to do at least a few critical articles, so they have their ass covered just in case the thing tanks.  I’ve been meaning to do a blog post taking aim at the some of the stupider criticism, but instead, I’m going to bite off a little at a time.

For my first installment, I’ll go after Mashable, whose own contribution to the iPad-skeptic genre, The Anti-Hype: Why Apples iPad Disappoints, starts by going after Steve Job’s claim that it is the best way to browse the web:

It might be one of the best ways to browse the web on a mobile device, but laptop and desktop computers — even netbooks — are still better. Most current websites were designed to be experienced on those devices with a mouse and a keyboard. Maybe the mouse isn’t necessary, but you don’t have to pop up a software keyboard to type in URLs on a netbook or laptop. Even if you lug around the keyboard dock, it will be a tad awkward moving between the keys and the screen to interact. You’re sacrificing some usability for simplicity on the iPad.

Give me a fricking break.  Let me start by making one thing clear: Computers SUCK.  I hate them. When I say this, I don’t just mean that Windows PCs suck, which they do, I’m saying that Macs suck too (its true).   And to make another thing clear,  I’m saying this as someone who has been drawn to computers since I was 8 or 9.  Its not really a stretch to say that my first personal computer was a DEC PDP-11/34. So, given that computers suck, there is just no way that a laptop, desktop, or netbook can be the best way to browse the web forever.

Starting with the easy criticisms, netbook screens are too short, they don’t show enough of most pages.  What’s more, the trackpads and keyboards on netbooks are too small.  You have to make cramped movements to scroll, browse and navigate.  Notebooks and desktops are a little better.  You can fit more of the vertical page on the screen, and the mice and keyboards are a little bigger and more ergonomic, but just because they are more ergonomic doesn’t mean that they won’t still cripple you if you use them too much. I’m serious here. I have to ice and massage my hands to manage the injury from routine computer use, and I am not the only one.

So, now that we have that out of the way, we can talk about how an iPad can be better.  For one thing, you can turn the screen to whatever orientation is best suited to the page you are viewing, something you can’t do if your netbook or laptop screen isn’t tall enough.  For another thing, you can scroll, browse and navigate using more natural motions.  We’ll see how much better it is in practice, but really, it has to be better than using a damn mouse.

As to typing URLs on a virtual keyboard somehow being a downside to browsing on the iPad.  I won’t know until I try it, but I suspect that this will be turn out to be a complete non-issue.  It’s not like typing URLs and search terms is all that much typing.

The author of the Mashable piece then takes the opportunity to take another shot at Apple for not allowing flash on their mobile devices

Most importantly, the iPad’s browser does not support Adobe Flash, the foundation of rich media on the web today. Adobe is planning to make it possible for Flash developers to develop apps, but it won’t work on the web.

Yeah, sorry, I’ve been using an iPhone for two and a half years and I think I can count the number of times I’ve missed having flash on my fingers, and that’s been for restaurants and a few other sites that are too stupid to have a site that works without Flash.  I don’t totally hate Flash.  It can add greatly to what you can do on a web page, but face it, more and more of it is possible with javascript, DHTML and the Canvas element.  And the downsides for Flash are huge.  The amount of battery life it sucks on my laptop when flash ads are running in the background when I have more than a couple browser tabs open at one is scandalous.  I realize that other people have different needs, but this is my blog and as far as I’m concerned, the lack of Flash is probably a net-win (sorry Amit).

ARM vs Intel-lovers

Fascinating to see how myopic people are.  I was going through the forums on Ars Technica and came across a thread titled “why are upcoming ARM netbooks hyped so much? Noone wants ARM.”  The thread kicked off with this:

This is getting really silly. Why does the IT media seem so obsessed with hyping upcoming ARM-based notebooks? You’d think that the netbook manufacturers actually learned and took a few hints from their first few releases, most notabling that: the market at large wants to run full blown Windows on their notebooks. Linux is a niche and a small one at that. ARM CPUs can run Linux / WinCE / Android, neither of these 3 are “full blown Windows”, therefor ARM based netbooks are doomed to fail by default.

There were arguments both ways, but I was struck, again, by how invested some people get in defending their captors.  I ended up posting the following as a comment.

Noone” wants ARM? How about this, I know a bunch of people who don’t care if their netbook has Intel or Windows inside, because everything they use if for happens in a web browser. Cheap, compact, and long battery life? That’s something they actually want.

And don’t forget all the people in developing markets who either do no computing at all, or they are already ARM users because their primary access to computing is through a mobile phone. An ARM netbook would be a nice step up. Not that they have any particular affection for ARM, unless, of course, its made by a local ARM licensee.

As for all you “IT” guys who feel your pants tighten when you think about upgrading your ESXi cluster to some new Nehalems, there are guys who are responsible for more virtual machine instance hours in a day than you will be in your whole lifetime, swapping fantasies with guys who’se applications won’t run on the biggest, baddest Nehalem box, much less a long aisle of racks stuffed full of Sandybridges. Those guys, they are fantasizing about how much power and money they can save with assloads of systems build on upcoming high-volume, low-cost ARM SoCs. Those guys are going to put nine out of ten of you Windows-cleaners out of work if you cling to the old-way of doing things for too long.

And “chipguy,” don’t forget, Intel got its start in the microprocessor business supplying chips for desktop calculators. Read some Clayton Christensen. Modest beginnings have led to big things, and toppled old empires in the tech business again and again. No reason to think it won’t happen again.

Intel has to invest a lot of capital to hold on to its lead. I don’t know about you, but in the long run, I’d bet on a competitive ecosystem over a command-economy for the efficient allocation of capital.