Honeycomb Looks Already Outdated

Recently, there is a lot of talk about the Android version, named “Honeycomb” for tablets. A video was posted with some sneak peek of it.

The problem is that, to me, it looks already outdated. If you compare the look of the final Honeycomb with the pre-alpha of Meego, you’ll have the impression that the first actually came before (again, remember that this is the pre-alpha version and the final version, released last year, it a bit more polished).

The weird thing is that if you compare Android 2.2 running on a smartyphone with Maemo running on the N900, Maemo is the one that looks outdated.

Personally, as a software developer, if Meego keeps the Maemo tradition of not hiding the hardware from the developer, you can expect that Meego will have some crazier things running on it.

On the other hand, since Meego is being directed by Nokia, I kinda expect that the life of Meego will be hell (with my experience with multiple versions of Maemo).

Why the iPad matter

or “It’s not the change, but it’s the seed of it”

So Apple announced yesterday their new product, the iPad. Some people call it table, some people call it a big iPhone/iPod touch, some call it “balloon boy”…

But, in the end, it’s a game changer. Not directly, but it put the seed to change a lot of stuff.

If you had any hope PDAs would come back, well, forget it. Although most of the smart phones have PDA features, their small screen isn’t so good for most of the stuff the “real” PDAs do. The iPad big screen (compared to most smart phones), with it’s non-really-tiny keyboard (even being virtual) kills most of it.

The Kindle seems to be the first target of the iPad and Jobs even said the iPad wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the pioneer work from Amazon and now they would “stand on their shoulders.” Well, at the first look, it doesn’t look so much of a challenge:

  • Kindle costs about $230, the low entry level iPad costs $499 (almost twice);
  • The Kindle screen offers higher resolution (824×1200 vs 768×1024) and have a better ppi (150 vs 132.) And let’s be honest, when you’re reading a text, it doesn’t matter if the screen is gray scale or color, it’s black text over white background.

So, why the iPad affects the Kindle market? First of all, the iPad is not just a eBook reader: It also have a browser and email client and, althought Kindle also have a browser, it’s fairly limited. So, when you count that you have a small device that can do more than just read books, it may be worth paying twice for it.

In the very heart of the situation, though, is the fact that Apple is selling books. Let’s be honest, the Kindle is nothing more than a vechile to Amazon sell books without worrying about the logistics of sending a bunch of paper sheets with ink on them to a person somewhere in the globe. Apple iBook store will go head to head with Amazon on that and, after the 1984 fisasco, it’s image is somewhat scratched. And let’s not forget that Apple managed to convince a bunch of corporate luddites that music can be sold without DRM (even after selling them with DRM for a long time — I know, I was there when they switched.)

Small form, can connect on most WiFi networks… Sounds a bit like a netbook, doesn’t it. Well, not a first glance. A netbook like the Dell Mini 10, which comes with 160GB (10x more than the entry level iPad), 11.6″ screen (against a 9.7″ screen) may sound like an undisputed winner, specially when it costs $399 against iPad’s $499. But when you think about what people do with Netbooks, it mostly email, web and text editing. But when you add the latest Windows version, it’s price jumps to $520. And it can still go higher if you replace Microsoft Works (bundled) with the latest Microsoft Office.

Apple redesigned their iWorks suite to fit the small screen of the iPad. And they are offering each of the 3 applications (Pages [word processor], Numbers [spreadsheet] and Keynote [presentation]) for $9.90 each. So you can get a small office suite for about $30. Which is around the same price for the Dell Mini (although you’ll have to deal with a virtual keyboard instead of real one.)

And really, I don’t think the harddisk size actually matters that much. Most people that use a netbook for email, web and small editing really don’t go that deep into the 160Gb (which is mostly used by the operating system itself.)

Not saying that the iPad is a clear winner, but it has a nice place in the netbook market.

Wait, what? Telephony? What the hell!

Well, it’s one of the small gems hidden in the iPad. Together with the launch of the new device, Apple is releasing a new SDK, version 3.2. This version removes the restriction of VOIP applications.

Now think about it: You have a VOIP application that can run on your Wifi (and 3G) tablet and on your 3G phone (since the same OS runs on both iPad and iPhone/iPod touch.) This is big. With the price of a data transfer, you can talk to anyone in the world, anywhere you are. Old telephone companies must shiver with the prospect of landlines going to be canceled ’cause people won’t need them anymore.

(Edit) MID
MID (Mobile Internet Devices) is an area where Nokia pushed a lot. The N900 is the latest of that line of devices, which started with the N770 and, as far as I know, it’s the most famous (and successful) line of MID devices so far. Again, the iPad goes head to head against them and, due the screen size, I must say it’s almost a loss for Nokia.

On the other hand, if you remember that on every new series Nokia simply stop any support for the previous operating system (the N770 with Maemo 3 lost support when the N800 was launched and now the N800 with Maemo 4 is out of support with the N900 and Maemo 5), basically means Nokia shot itself pretty good in the foot. If only they cared about their older systems (the first iPhone STILL can get the new OS) they might had a chance. But too late.

So it’s all good?
No, not at all. The iPad, although (as I believe) is a game changer by concept, it’s new that big in the real world.

First of all, it’s the lack of multitasking, which is, let’s be honest, a stupid move by Apple. It have the power to do so, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like buying a Ferrari and going all around on second gear. The only hope is that, at some point, Apple releases an OS that it’s capable of multitasking properly (if not, it will have to be jailbroken.)

Second, it’s the centralized model around the iTunes Store. As an old user of it, I thought it was really amazing that I could get music easier than pirating it. But it’s not all roses about it: I was living in Australia and the Australian Store, although selling the soundtrack of “Across the Universe”, didn’t have the full version of some albums: Most of them are only complete (2 discs and all) only in the US store. And, worst of all, there is absolutely NO WAY of buying ANYTHING in Brazil. This is completely stupid. And you can believe some more stupidity may come, like not being able to buy some books in the original language due your region (or worst, no books at all.)

Third, no Flash. Oh wait, that’s actually a good thing. ;)

(Edit) Fourth, the lack of ports. For everything you need to connect on the iPad, you’ll need a converter. A huge mistake here. Imagine if that came with a simple video output. BLAM! Install Keynote and you have a nice presentation tool to carry around!

I really believe the iPad is the start of a new generation of computing devices. I want my PADD and walk around the Enterprise with things to show to the captain. But the centralized model Apple insists on pushing may do more harm than good (well, maybe not at their home.)

(Edit) In case you’re asking yourself “so, he means I should get one or not?” the answer is “no”. I’d like to get one myself ’cause I’m a gadget guy (I walk around with a phone and an iPod touch, sometimes I carry my N800 with me, I have a Palm T|X in a box, a GPS thingy somewhere and just thrown away one of the first iPaq models ’cause it was not working anymore) but I’m pretty sure I’d save the money to buy something else. At the same time, as it’s the first iteration of such line of devices, I guess it’s better to let the people with huge piles of money to buy it right now and wait for the next generations. Unless, of course, you have huge piles of money or is a gadget guy (with some money to spare.)

Mitter, Maemo, Identi.ca and the Future

When I started Mitter, my plan was to create a client capable of updating my Twitter status using my N800. Since I could carry it everywhere because of its small size, it would be perfect. And I could do that using Python and PyGTK (PyHildon, but it’s almost the same thing.) My plan was quite simple: write a client small enough but capable of using multiple interfaces. That way, I could write the starting code without using Maemo and later just convert it. It may sound a little bit weird, but first I needed the network bits in place and then, later, I could just plug the interface. Even as today, I still have to fight the network layer (mostly because I didn’t made good plans about all that and a little bit because Twitter changed since I started the project [mostly the limits and user behavior].)

A few weeks ago, Mauku, the Maemo client to Jaiku (the micro-blogging platform now owned by Google), announced that they will have support for Twitter. Now users have an option to update their Twitter status in their N770, N800 and N810. Basically, Mauku did was I was trying to do for a long time.

And all that around a time when Twitter is under, let’s say, “attack”. Users are getting annoyed by the Fail Whale (the message shown when the services are down), although the situation improved considerably in the last month or so (but still, the little glitches, like followers disappearing without any good reason, still happen from time to time.) At the same time, competitors in the Micro-blogging arena are emerging. While Jaiku is another service in the same model of Twitter, it’s now closed for new registrations and you need an invitation to create an account there. Identi.ca, an open source competitor, suddenly appeared and seems capable of “stealing” Twitter users.

So, what are the plans in the future of Mitter? At this point, honestly, I don’t know. What I would really like to do is completely split the network bits from the main application, so you could plug networks are easy as you can plug interfaces today. There is an experimental (although completely functional) status update for Facebook on a separate branch. The reason it’s there is because I didn’t find a way to split the network layers properly. If such split was something easy to do, you could post to facebook, Twitter and probably Identi.ca.

The fact the Identi.ca have it’s source open is something that really compels me. And, by that, I mean that the next fail whale I see I’ll stop using Twitter and move to Identi.ca.

And what about Maemo? Well, since the interface is still plugable, it’s just a matter of writing it. My current problem with the Maemo platform is the environment. Installing Scratchbox is a pain lately, due:

  1. I have a MacBook now and PyGTK development on it is pain. Most visualization tools are slow or behave badly (or, at least, weren’t so pleasurable to use.)
  2. PyGTK on Macs is slow and buggy (either the X11 version or the Quartz version.)
  3. Scratchbox insists in breaking every now and then.

I think the last point happens a lot ’cause Scratchbox virtualizes the Maemo environment (an ARM processor.) So, any small changes on the host operating system makes it behave badly. Also, the fact that Nokia decided to create their own widget set based on GTK instead of doing something like the Windows port does makes things harder. I’d love to write it in PyGTK and not having to deal with the conversion to PyHildon.

All that sounds good and all, but you must remember that I’m just one guy. Although Deepak helped me a lot with fixes to the PyGTK, it doesn’t increase the count that much. And he (and so I) have a lot of other projects going around. If we go for another interface and another network code, it would be really hard to maintain such beast.

I don’t want to stop working with Mitter. But, at the same time, things are less compelling in this space for now. Maybe if I really managed to split the network and make it generic enough to work with all the current micro-blogging options, but there is not enough manpower for that at the moment. The best I could do is fix the current Twitter network layer and then start looking at a way to split that.