Crystal Ball Watch 2011

It’s that time already (where did 2011 go?!)—time to see how my New Year’s predictions faired in the cold, hard light of reality.

Last year’s New Year’s predictions forecasted an unpopular Obama, an unraveling Europe, and a Verizon iPhone. And, surprisingly enough, we had an unpopular Obama, an unraveling Europe, and a Verizon iPhone. On the other hand, Fidel Castro hasn’t yet gone off to his villa in Hell, and the Bush tax cuts aren’t permanent—yet. Let’s see how I did:


  • President Obama, increasingly embittered by the political process and the Republican House, retreats from the public eye and rumors swirl that he will not run for a second term.

    More-or-less right: President Obama made a few speeches through the year, but for a politician that was elected based on his oratory, he’s made himself scarce over the past year. As his approval ratings have declined, the President has been trying to sell his unpopular policies to a diminishing office. But he’s made no bones about it: he’s running again.

  • The GOP won’t have a much better year. Their commitment to fiscal discipline will be continually tested, meaning that there will be plenty of difficult votes on spending in 2011.

    Right: Indeed, the Tea Party-backed GOP has been trying to be fiscally-responsible, but have not been able to do much to slow the rapacious growth of government.

  • Sarah Palin will continue to tease a run for the Republican nomination in 2012, but won’t actually commit to anything.

    Wrong: Sarah Palin is, mercifully, not running for President, and while she remains popular with the Republican base, her celebrity is fading.

  • The Democrats will once again learn the wrong lessons from their 2010 drubbing, and will embrace the far left instead of running to the center.

    Correct: Instead of moving to the center, the Democrats have decided that it’s time to stop pretending that they’re anything but a party owned by the left. Their supportive reaction to the Occupy movement and their embrace of populist rhetoric demonstrates foretell their strategy for 2012.

  • Redistricting battles will end up getting fought in court as the Democrats try to fight to keep as many Democratic seats as they can.


  • ObamaCare suits will be appealed, and will eventually end up on the Supreme Court’s docket. But because Congress will end up removing the mandates from the bill, the Supreme Court will declare the issue moot.

    Half-Right: The Supreme Court will take up the ObamaCare issue in three days of oral arguments this March. But despite Republican opposition, the GOP just doesn’t have the votes to repeal ObamaCare… yet.


  • The last vestiges of democracy in Venezuela will be cast aside as Hugo Chavez extends his emergency rule into a lifetime dictatorship.

    Correct: And even though the Venezuelan dictator is nearly ready to join Osama bin Laden, Mohammar Qadafi, and Kim Jong-Il in Hell, what will happen to the country he has plundered is still very much in the air. But it looks like Chavez will be the Venezuelan dictator for life—what little life he has left.

  • The conflict in Afghanistan will continue to be bloody and difficult. By the end of the year the conventional wisdom will be that Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam, and the future of the US mission there will be in doubt.

    Partially Right: As the mission in Iraq winds down, the mission in Afghanistan continues to drag on. But the media, ever faithful to Obama, has avoided turning Afghanistan into another Vietnam. But if the situation there continues to destabilize over the next year, it may become harder to sweep it all under the rug.

  • North Korea will continue to rattle their saber, but they will stop just short of provoking a full-scale war.

    Right: And now that Kim Jong-Il has shuffled off this mortal coil, and his son is (allegedly) in power, all bets are off for the future.

  • Iraq’s biggest problem in 2011 will be corruption rather than terrorism, and civilian casualties will remain low.

    Right, Maybe: So far Iraq has been relatively quiet, although now that the U.S. has pulled out, the country is once again in danger of flying apart. The fact that sectarian tensions are once again bubbling to the surface may mean that Iraq will be a hotspot once again. Let’s all hope the Iraqis will be able to keep a republic.

  • Fidel Castro will die, and Raul Castro will begin implementing policies similar to the glasnost and perestroika of the old Soviet Union in order to liberalize the Cuban economy and pave the way for a free-market system.

    If Only It Were True: Even though Cuba is very slowly liberalizing, it has a very long way to go.


  • The US economy will improve, but much too slowly. Unemployment will remain high, only retreating to around 8%.

    True: Unemployment has retreated—but much of the decline is due to people leaving the workforce. The endemic level of unemployment is both an economic and a societal disaster that we will be dealing with for a very long time.

  • The Bush tax cuts will be made permanent, and while President Obama will complain, he will still sign the tax reductions into law.

    Wrong: The tax cuts were extended, but have not yet been made permanent. And while Obama campaigns on raising taxes for the rich, he still signed off on extending the Bush tax cuts.

  • The Eurozone will face collapse as the fiscal crisis in nations like Greece and Portugal tug at the Euro’s foundations. Germany will refuse to bail out European banks and will threaten to leave the Euro.

    Right and Wrong: The first sentence was right on the money, as we’ve seen in the last few months. But Germany has (thus far) gone along with bailing out the debts of the countries on the periphery in order to keep the Eurozone afloat—but they will not be willing or able to do that for very long, especially if a large country like Spain or Italy starts failing.

  • The Chinese economy will begin to slow, stoking fears of another worldwide economic panic.

    Not Yet: There are serious concerns about China’s economy, but they haven’t yet manifested themselves as serious worries yet. The world seems more concerned about the situation with the Euro.


  • The iPhone will come to Verizon, and will sell like hotcakes. The next version of the iPad will also come to Verizon, and will be accompanied by a major push by Apple to get the iPad into the business market.

    Correct: I got this one right, but it wasn’t that bold a prediction…

  • The battle between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS will continue, but the Verizon iPhone will put a serious dent in Android’s growth.

    Wrong: Android continues growing like gangbusters. But don’t think that means that Android is “winning.” Apple does not compete based on market share, they compete based on making the best products and making the most money selling them. On that front, Apple remains the key player. Given that Apple is using the 3GS to try and compete in the entry-level market, they are not ceding anything to Google. Android’s growth seems to be more driven by people trading in their dumbphones or featurephones for smartphones—just try and buy a cellphone that isn’t a smartphone these days, it’s not easy. And most of those cut-rate smartphones that the carriers are pushing run some variant of Android.

  • The SyFy Channel will stop airing real science fiction.

    Correct: SyFy has a few decent shows that arguably qualify as science fiction (I’ve heard Warehouse 13 and Eureka are good), but is basically a dumping ground for B-movies, shitty reality shows, and wrestling. NBC/Universal have completed what former channel head Bonnie Hammer started in killing what made the network unique.

  • Global warming hysteria will officially jump the shark after 2011 sees record cold temperatures.

    Correct, Sort Of: Winter 2011 was miserable, and Summer 2011 was not the scorcher that some were predicting. But despite even more leaked emails demonstrating that “climate science” has become an echo chamber, global warming hysteria has not gone away. That’s because global warming is less about science than it is about creating a quasi-religion, complete with all the trappings.

  • SpaceX will successfully dock a Falcon capsule to the International Space Station and will announce that they will be ready to bring tourists to the ISS before 2016.

    Not Yet: But it looks like they will dock with the ISS early in 2012, and that 2016 date might be optimistic, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

  • The 3D movie trend won’t save Hollywood from declining box office figures and their own creative stagnation.

    Correct: Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy knows no ends: now they’re re-releasing the same old crap, but this time in 3D! Kids, the extra D in the re-release of Star Wars: Episode I is for an extra dose of disappointment…

Wrapping Up

So, I didn’t do too badly on my predictions, although a lot of them were fairly obvious even back then. What I didn’t predict is notable: I wouldn’t have thought that this year would have seen the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Mohammar Qadafi, and Kim Jong-Il. I would not have imagined that the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit dealer would lead to a wave of revolution that would remake the Middle East. I wouldn’t have imagined in December 2010 that Newt Gingrich would have been a front-runner for the 2012 GOP nomination (albeit briefly).

And sadly, I wouldn’t have predicted that Steve Jobs would leave us, even though it wasn’t that great a surprise. Genius is often fleeting.

What a long, strange year it has been—and who knows what 2012 may bring… but that won’t stop me from making another set of predictions for the next year…

Steve Jobs RIP: An American Icon Is Gone

There are, on rare occasions, people of brilliance and insight that forever change the world around them. Ford. DaVinci. Einstein. Disney.

Add to that Steve Jobs.

Even though he only lived to 56 years, Steve Jobs changed the world forever. Not just the world of technology, but the way millions of people across the world communicate. He took the personal computer, which had been a utilitarian appliance, and made into into a work of art. That would have been enough for many, but Jobs went even farther. The iPhone transformed the industry. The iPad took an idea that had never quite worked and made it into something extraordinary.

There may never be another like Steve Jobs for a very long time: but the impact he made on technology and culture will live on. He wanted to change the world, and he did.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs, and know that your vision will live on.

Crystal Ball Watch 2010

Every year I make a bunch of predictions for the coming year, and each subsequent year I note just how far off I was. And this year is no exception.

Last year’s predictions ranged from politics to technology and everywhere in between. It’s hard to believe that last year at this time the iPad was just a rumor, Democrats were crowing about the popularity of their health care plans, and 3D movies weren’t yet an overused gimmick.

Let’s see how my prognostications actually matched the reality of the past


Prediction: President Obama’s popularity will remain mired below 50% throughout most of the year.

Verdict: Correct. The health care debate and the BP oil spill sapped Obama’s popularity, and he never really recovered from either. Obama’s approval rating went underwater right along with the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and his low popularity contributed to the GOP gains in November.

Prediction:The Democrats will lose more the 40 seats, putting the GOP in control of the House.

Verdict: Correct. The GOP gained over 60 seats in November, which was more than they gained in the 1994 cycle. The GOP’s gains in the House were substantial, and bigger than I would have predicted.

Prediction: In the Senate, Democrats will not fare much better. Majority Leader Reid will lose his seat, following in the footsteps of Tom Daschle. Chris Dodd also loses his seat to a GOP upstart. Same with Blanche Lincoln.

Verdict: Not quite. Harry Reid kept his seat, thanks to Sharron Angle being an even worse alternative in the eyes of Nevada voters. Chris Dodd resigned before his inevitable loss, and once again the Tea Party nominated a candidate that was simply not electable. On the other hand, Blanche Lincoln lost handily, along with several other Democratic incumbents. But the GOP didn’t take the Senate, even in a year that gave them a clear opportunity to do so. You can have a fire breathing conservative candidate who can win—see Rand Paul. But being a fire-breathing Tea Party candidate is not in itself enough, and it certainly doesn’t make up for being a complete and utter basket case—see Christine O’Donnell.

Prediction: The health care bill will be signed into law, and will be a major albatross around the necks of Democrats.

Verdict: Absolutely correct.

Prediction: The Democrats, rather than moving towards the center, will lurch left as the “netroots” convinces many in the party that the reason for the 2010 defeat was because the party was insufficiently “progressive.” The Democrats will end up in the same position the Republicans were in a year ago.

Verdict: Partially correct. The Democrats wisely divorced themselves from their own positions of the past 10 months and tried to run as centrists. But many “progressives” wanted them to run to the far left—convinced that the reason why health care was so unpopular was because it was insufficiently socialist instead of too much so. Now even Barack Obama’s positions are becoming indistinguishable from his predecessor, and the “netroots” are not happy with it.

Prediction: But Republicans should be wary as well. They will have won not on their own laurels, but because of disgust with the current Congress.

Verdict: Again correct. The GOP had better not get cocky in 2011.

Prediction: Cap and trade will be DOA as Congress gets increasingly worried about the political backlash.

Verdict: Again, correct. Cap and trade was even more politically poisonous than health care, and for good reason.


Prediction: The protests in Iran continue in fits and starts, weakening the foundations of the regime. The Iranian government continues to brutalize its own people, while the West does little of consequence to stop them.

Verdict: Iran has been much quieter than I would have expected: the regime has brutalized the opposition to the point where widespread protests aren’t gaining traction. Every year I predict that the regime in Iran will be weakened to near collapse—and every year it is less a prediction than a hope for something better for the Iranian people.

Prediction: President Obama launches further military action in Yemen to try to remove al-Qaeda.

Verdict: Covertly, this may be happening. But the conflict in Afghanistan is continuing to be the major flashpoint in the world.

Prediction: A major economic collapse in the EU shakes the foundation of the Euro.

Verdict: The Greek fiscal crisis fits the bill, and the contagion continues to spread across the Eurozone. The once unthinkable idea of a collapse of the Euro remains a distant possibility, but it gets closer as more and more countries in the Eurozone continue to see their economies decline.

Prediction: Gordon Brown faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, causing the him to call new elections in the UK.

Verdict: Indeed, Gordon Brown was defeated by the charismatic Conservative David Cameron in May. But the Tories fell short of a majority, leading to the first hung Parliament since 1974 and eventually to a coalition government.

Prediction: The situation in Afghanistan remains unsettled, but the addition of U.S. troops helps calm some of the tensions.

Verdict: This year has been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan for US and coalition troops and the country remains unstable. The addition of more troops does not seem to have substantially calmed the country, and it’s uncertain whether the Obama Administration will have the political will to continue to try and stabilize the country over the long term.

Prediction: Iran will come closer to testing a nuclear weapon, and will likely have the capability of doing so by the end of 2010.

Verdict: Had it not been for the Stuxnet worm—which was almost certainly the product of Israeil or Western sabotage—Iran might have been much closer to a working nuclear weapon. But Stuxnet actually appears to have worked in slowing down Tehran’s progress. It sounds like the plot of a bad thriller novel, but Stuxnet was probably one of the most ingenuous covert weapons ever used. Whoever came up with it deserves a medal.


Prediction: Unemployment will remain high throughout the year as discouraged workers reenter the workforce. This will be a huge political problem for the Democrats in the 2010 cycle.

Verdict: Indeed, this was true. Unemployment continues to flirt with double-digit levels, and may not go down that much in 2011. Not only was this a political problem for the Democrats in 2010, but the human cost of this kind of endemic unemployment is far too high.

Prediction: The price of gold and other hard assets will continue to skyrocket on inflation fears, leading to a mini-bubble in asset prices.

Verdict: I keep hearing all those advertisements telling people to buy gold: consider me a skeptic. Perhaps gold and other asset prices will continue to climb at a steady rates, but the risk of a bubble is still very real.

Prediction: The government will continue with bailouts of major companies, despite President Obama’s focus on debt reduction.

Verdict: The bailout culture didn’t reach the fever pitch of 2009, but it was still alive and well in 2010.

Prediction: The national deficit will continue to skyrocket as Congress is unable to restrain spending.

Verdict: Predicting this was as obvious as predicting that the sun would rise in the east…


Prediction: Apple will announce their tablet in early 2010, with a 10-inch touch screen and optional 3G wireless through Verizon rather than AT&T. The tablet (probably not called the iSlate) will have a major effect on the e-reader market, although Amazon will counter by making Kindle content available on the new device. Critics will complain that the price point is too high, but the device will sell like hotcakes anyway.

Verdict: Of course, Apple announced the iPad in early 2010, with a 9.7 inch screen and 3G wireless through AT&T. But Verizon is already selling the iPad, and it’s likely that a version with built-in Verizon 3G will be coming in 2011. And Amazon has been selling Kindles like hotcakes, along with selling books on their Kindle app for the iPad. The iPad is the hit device of the year, and for good reason—Apple priced it very competitively and helped to define the market.

Prediction: E-Books will begin to outsell physical book copies.

Verdict: Not quite true yet, but within a few years this could be a real possibility.

Prediction: The reality TV show craze will finally, mercifully die off as people get sick of the them.

Verdict: If only…

Prediction: Web series will continue to take off from being largely low-budget affairs to being more like regular TV shows. Shows akin to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog will receive much critical acclaim and will begin to supplant conventional TV.

Verdict: Not quite yet, although there are web series like SyFy’s Sanctuary that crossed over from web series to cable TV. But there isn’t an online show that’s been a true widespread hit… at least not in 2010.

Prediction: “Steampunk” will go from a small subculture to the next major popular phenomenon. Things like home canning, writing letters on fine stationery, and Victorian styles will become increasingly popular.

Verdict: No, not even close. The “steampunk” subculture remains just that.

Prediction: The death of the newspaper industry will not stop, even though many papers start
reconciling themselves with the digital world.

Verdict: Newspapers continue to struggle with the digital world, and traditional newsprint is still in deep trouble.

The Final Word

Once again, there were some hits and some misses in my predictions last year, Many of my predictions were fairly obvious even back in December: the Democrats’ political misfortunes were widely predicted even a year ago. The rumors of an Apple tablet were rampant. And my usual predictions on Iran were once again not quite as prescient as I would have hoped.

But all in all, not a bad set of predictions, even if there were some stinkers there. Shortly I’ll be posting some predictions for 2011, and a year from now we’ll see if my crystal ball remains clear or is stuffed with crap…

The iPad Experience

I’ve had about a month to play around with the iPad, Apple’s long-awaited tablet computer. The iPad seems to engender more controversy than any other gadget I’ve seen. People seem to either love the iPad or absolutely hate it. After playing around with it, I’m firmly in the “love it” camp. The reason why the iPad provokes such strong reactions seems to be because it’s such a revolutionary device—here’s why.

Grokking the iPad

One of the reasons why the technical elites seem to look down their nose at the iPad is because it’s not intuitive what the iPad really is. The iPad is not a laptop replacement. Yes, it replaces many, if not most, of the functions of a laptop, but it’s not designed to replace a primary computer. The iPad has to be connected to iTunes before it can be used the first time. The iPad isn’t the right device if you want to use Photoshop or write a thesis—although it can edit images and has a decent word processor. It is what Steve Jobs said it was back in January 2010—it is a device that sits between a laptop and a smartphone/iPod.

The critics argue that it’s just an oversized iPod touch. In many ways they’re right—but that misses the point. The iPod touch is a fantastic gadget, and it sells like hotcakes. It has a huge base of users. So when Apple says in regard to the iPad that “you already know how to use it” they are absolutely right. Coming from an iPod touch or iPhone to an iPad is basically seamless. The only learning curve comes from getting used to the larger virtual keyboard. And it is that vastly expanded screen space that makes the iPad different. Calling it a bigger version of the touch ignores what being a bigger iPod touch entails—it opens up new uses for the device.

For example, watching video on an iPhone is possible, but painful. The screen is just two small at 3.5 inches. But on an iPad, watching video is a dream. The iPad’s screen is naturally suited to it in a way that the iPhone’s is not. The same is true for web browsing. The iPhone browser is great, but when you expand the screen real estate to the size of the iPad, web browsing becomes much more natural.

That’s what makes the iPad so ineffable. It’s hard to describe the feeling of sitting on a couch with an iPad and just surfing the web. It feels incredibly natural. It’s completely effortless. That’s the advantage of the iPad: it takes the familiar touch-based interface that millions already know and loves and gives it much more room. Handling it in the store doesn’t give the full experience—the iPad is a device that isn’t instantly intuitive, but once you understand it and get a feel for it, you just get it.

Giving the Deskop the Finger

Here’s where the revolutionary part comes in. The iPad is the future of computing. That’s not hyperbole, it’s based on the nature of the device.

Since the late 1970s, computers have all followed the same basic metaphor. You have arbitrary files in a hierarchical file system. Graphical user interfaces all tend to use “windows” representing applications that are controlled with a pointing device. There’s a “desktop” underneath where files and application shortcuts can be saved. When Xerox PARC came up with this metaphor in the 1970s it was revolutionary. Everyone, from Apple to Microsoft to Linux, copied that metaphor.

From a computer science standpoint, it makes sense. From a user’s standpoint, it doesn’t. The desktop metaphor is just not that intuitive. For example, take the task of trying to find a picture from vacation. Is it on the desktop? Is it is ‘My Documents\My Pictures’? Or did it end up in ‘C:\Program Files\Some Application\Some Arbitrary Directory\Timestamp\Vacation Photos’? Various operating systems have tried to make it easier to find files, but it can still be a pain.

The iPad jettisons that whole metaphor. There’s no “desktop” on the iPad, just a space for applications, and only applications. If you save a picture to the iPad, it’s in a common repository and nowhere else. All the videos are in the video application, all the music is in the iPod application. The user never thinks of interacting with “files” stuffed into a hierarchical file system. That file system is there, underneath everything, but it’s been shrouded from view.

And, most critically, there’s no pointing device. The benefits of multitouch interfaces are obvious. And the iPhone OS that runs the iPad was built especially for multitouch devices. Microsoft’s efforts shoehorn multitouch into Windows 7 have failed, because there’s a fundamental difference between an OS designed for touch and one designed for a pointing device. Apple understands this, and has designed the iPhone OS to be built for multitouch and nothing else.

The old desktop metaphor made sense back when it was invented and used. But it no longer makes sense for a device like the iPad. What makes the iPad so revolutionary is that it proves the desktop metaphor is no longer required. The touch metaphor has replaced it, and the touch metaphor has much more potential for innovation than the desktop metaphor did.

What about Freedom?

The critics say that the iPad isn’t a liberating device—you’re stuck playing in Apple’s sandbox when you use it. That’s only half true. Yes, the App Store requires you to play by Apple’s rules and Apple’s rules alone. But there’s a good reason for this, and even then the App Store is not the only thing that makes the iPad shine.

First there’s the issue of iPad apps. Apple has gotten a lot of heat for their policies on how apps are approved and how they may be created. Some of it is admittedly deserved. But the purpose behind these rules is valid: Apple wants the iPad to just work. Right now a user can install any iPad app without fear of crashing their system. There’s no need for installers—every app is in its own self-contained sandbox. There’s no need for uninstallers—when you get rid of an app it goes away completely. There’s no fear in adding apps to the iPad in the way that many users fear adding apps to their computers. Apps can be disposed of quickly and easily. To the user, this is liberating. The iPad is a computer than no one fear to break.

Yes, that means that developers must follow Apple’s rules. And yes, Apple has admittedly been less than consistent in how they enforce those rules. But the rules are not arbitrary. They are to control the platform, but not just to the benefit of Apple. This walled-garden approach benefits users as well.

The iPad is not a closed ecosystem though. Remember when Google announced their Chrome OS project? The tech world swooned at a tablet that did nothing but run web apps. Think of the iPad being a version of that tablet with an additional proprietary app store bolted on. The iPad can run any given web app, and it runs them well. The same technology that powers the iPad’s browser also powers the browser for Android devices. And Google’s Chrome. And the new Blackberry 6 browser. That means that the iPad is part of a huge meta-platform that can run web apps that run across just about every device out there. Web apps won’t necessarily replace native apps—at least not yet, but they do give developers virtually unlimited freedom.

Screw Flash

But the iPad doesn’t run Flash! So what?

I’ll be blunt. Flash is a pile of crap. I don’t miss having Flash on my iPad, because I don’t even use Flash on my desktop. The Mac OS X version of Flash is slow, buggy, and annoying. I have Flash content blocked by default on every one of my computers, and virtually never unblock it.

Flash is old technology. It belongs in the scrap heap with Java Applets and Microsoft’s Active X. The future lies in HTML5, a completely open standard not controlled by any one company. Flash is a dead man walking, but Adobe has yet to figure that out.

Now, I could be wrong. Maybe Adobe will get Flash working so well on Android that Apple’s devices will be at a competitive disadvantage because they won’t run all the great apps written in Flash.

And maybe a naked Angelina Jolie will parachute into my backyard with a suitcase full of $100 bills.

Flash is a dying platform that’s being quickly overtaken by better and more advanced technologies. Steve Jobs is right to chuck it out. The App Store does not need a bunch of slow, buggy, third-rate apps that depend on Adobe’s notoriously slow development cycle when Apple updates iPhone OS. Apple’s been down that road before, and they’re not doing it again.

The lack of Flash isn’t a glaring omission from the iPad, it’s a feature. The web will embrace HTML5 long before Apple feels the need to embrace Flash. If Adobe were smart, they’d be embracing HTML5 too. There are enough good and innovative developers at Adobe that they could do it if they’d stop staring into the rearview mirror.

Welcome to the iPad World

The iPad is a revolutionary device. It is just as polished as Apple’s other offerings, and being based on mature technologies, it’s more polished than a first-generation product normally is. It’s a device that once used quickly becomes indispensable. The critics tend not to understand it, and keep trying to compare it to devices that are not comparable. Just like the original iPhone, the critics will end up owning one or more of them in a few years.

The iPad is the future of computing. The desktop metaphor is no longer the only game in town. Apple is betting their future on the idea that computing will become less about desktops and laptops and more about small devices connected to the “cloud” of internet-based applications. And just like the iPhone, Apple has taken a product that hadn’t yet had a breakout devices and created something that will have everyone else scrambling to catch up. Even if Apple somehow fails (and the one million iPads sold in a month say that’s not going to happen), they have left their mark on the industry. Look at the iPad. That’s what computers of the future will look like.

iPad: The Biggest Tablet Since The Monolith?

So, Steve Jobs has bestowed the iPad upon the world. This is the device that a lot of tech-heads have been predicting for years: the almost-mythical Apple Tablet. This thing’s been predicted before even the iPhone.

What’s In A Name?

The “iPad” moniker was a bad call. Yes, it’s already the butt of jokes. Yes, it falls in line with “iPhone” and “iPod”, but it’s too close to the latter. But then again, a rose with any other name would smell just a sweet, right? Even if the rose sounded vaguely like a feminine hygiene product.

Flash In The Can

I’ve heard plenty of moaning about the lack of Flash. This shouldn’t have been a shock. Apple does not like Flash. It’s proprietary. Flash on OS X performs terribly. For a lengthy take on why the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad will likely never support Flash, see John Gruber’s piece on Apple, Adobe, and Flash.

The other big question is why does the iPad need Flash? To view video — it already does that, and with better performance than Flash. Yes, it doesn’t view all web video, but as Apple’s multitouch devices continue to proliferate, I’m guessing a lot of sites will abandon Flash rather than abandon those devices. (And yes, that includes the porn sites that are probably the reason many want Flash on the iPad…)

To play web games? For one, Apple offers plenty of games through the App Store. Not only that, but many Flash games wouldn’t even work on a multitouch device — especially anything that needs keyboard input. Flash games would suck on multitouch devices.

For ads? The fewer obnoxious ads, the better.

For more interactive web pages? The real solution would be to embrace open web technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. Those technologies aren’t controlled by one company, unlike Flash.

Winners And Losers

The biggest losers in all this could very well be Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony. They’ve all heavily invested in e-reader devices, and the iPad makes a lot more sense than those devices. E-Ink screens are nice, but if the iPad makes for a good enough reading device, it won’t matter.

The saving grace for them is that they have the opportunity to create their own reader applications for the iPad. (I’m guessing that both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble reader applications for the iPhone will work on the iPad.) I’m guessing that Amazon sells the Kindle hardware at a loss, in the hopes of making up the difference in book sales. Does Amazon care whether they sell books on the Kindle or the iPad? Probably not. The question is whether Apple cares that third-parties are selling books on their platform. I’d wager they don’t care — Apple isn’t in the publishing business, they’re in the hardware business.

The winners are probably publishers. The iPad gives them some great opportunities to have e-books proliferate in the same way that multitouch apps have. That’s a win for an industry that’s facing some very bad times.

Looking Ahead

Apple is heavily invested in multitouch, and the iPad is just another example of that. It’s an opportunity to fundamentally transform computing. These devices abstract away old concepts like file systems and a hierarchy of folders. The old metaphors can finally be swept away: no more folders, no more mouse cursors, no more file managers, not even windowing systems. This is the face of 21st Century computing: and Apple is setting the trend.

The iPad is just another device, one of the first in a long series of devices. It’s likely to be extremely popular, and is very well designed. But ultimately, it reaches beyond that: this is about redefining the way we use computers. Apple has paved the way, and while others are trying to catch up, the iPad proves they’re still running one step ahead.

UPDATE: John Gruber observes a point I missed: Apple now makes their own blazingly-fast mobile processors. Apple’s acquisition of chipmaker P.A. Semi seems to be paying off. Apple is a hardware company at its core, so designing their own chips is a wise move.

Ruining The Experience

I was one of the first suckersearly adopters to get the iPhone. And it truly is the best smartphone out there, bar none. No Blackberry or Windows Mobile phone comes close.

And even though the iPhone 3G is faster and thinner, and has GPS, I’m not sure about the upgrade. It’s not the phone, but the way in which AT&T and Apple are ruining the iPhone experience that’s keeping me away.

The first iPhone could be activated at home. The process of buying a iPhone was easy. No in-store activations meant that even on the first day, there was no problem getting through the line. You brought the phone home and could connect it to AT&T’s cellular network from the kitchen table. It was a great experience, and made the iPhone the easiest phone to buy.

That won’t be the case with the iPhone 3G. Instead, it’s back to the old in-store activations. That means that it will take 10-12 minutes per person to activate the new iPhone. No leisurely unboxing for buyers, but a lot of waiting. The first day will be brutal if people will have to wait for activations.

A 3G iPhone is a long awaited device, but if Apple and AT&T can’t deliver the experience that they did with the first iPhone, they’ll have a harder time capturing the same magic. With the data plan for the iPhone 3G being $10 more per month, a $199 iPhone, while still cheap, isn’t quite the deal it would seem.

The iPhone is moving into the corporate world, but sadly, the prices and the efficiency of getting service is starting to look a bit too much like the other commodity smartphone vendors out there, not like the Apple experience we’ve come to expect.

Another Convert To Pages

Glenn “Da Blogfaddah” Reynolds is another convert to the world of iWork ’08 and Pages, Apple’s answer to Microsoft Office and Word.

I’ve been using Pages since it came out, and I love it. It isn’t perfect, but it’s somehow much more natural than using Microsoft Word. For one, it’s a Universal application so it runs much faster than Word on my Intel Macs. It’s also just more intuitive in a way that Apple’s apps tend to be in comparison to Microsoft’s applications. It isn’t something that’s easily quantifiable, but the way the program works just seems to involve less fighting to get what you want in comparison to Word. Using Word always ends up being a battle between what you intuitively want to do and Microsoft’s chosen way of doing things. Pages (and the rest of iWork ’08) doesn’t have that problem.

I’d guess it has a lot to do with the software engineering styles of Apple compared to Microsoft. I have a feeling that Apple either does more human interaction testing or has software developers with a better instinct for how people use software. My guess is that it’s the latter more than the former. User testing is great, but unless you “get it” in terms of application design, it often gets lost. Apple doesn’t go for the feature bloat that Microsoft embraces—which means that iWork doesn’t have some of the features of Office, but that the features it does have work much more intuitively than they do with Word.

Keynote already makes PowerPoint look like an amateur’s toy. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth presentations were designed with Keynote, and even though the message may be questionable, the presentation is amazing. It looks like the rest of the package is following Keynote’s lead in becoming more than adequate replacements for their Office counterparts.

Pages has gone from a decent page-layout program to a perfectly workable replacement for Word. In fact, I’ve done all my word processing with Pages, converted them to Word, and no one has been at all the wiser. That includes using Pages to work on law review articles with massive amounts of tracked changes.

iWork costs a pittance compared to Office. In fact, Keynote alone would be worth the $79 cost of the package for anyone who does presentations on a regular basis. The fact that it comes bundled with a worthy Word replacement and a decent spreadsheet app makes it even better. It isn’t quite an Office-killer, but since Microsoft is removing Visual Basic support for Office 2008 it may be just the opening that Apple needs.