One week with the Apple Watch

Posted on May 1st, 2015 in Technology | No Comments »

As my recent blog post related, I am an early adopter of new tech, although not always a bleeding-edge one. When it comes to Apple gear, I never owned an iPod Classic, Mini, Nano or Shuffle and the original iPhone seemed tremendously expensive and wildly limited. My path to Apple-dom started with the original iPod Touch which was a gateway device to the iPhone 3G and every iPhone since then. I also bought the original iPad, although very late in the day, and every iPad since, bar the most recent iteration. Obviously I was going to buy an Apple Watch.

Pre-purchase

Once the prices were announced, it was equally obvious that I was going to buy an Apple Watch Sport. Discounting the not merely ludicrous but actually demented Apple Watch Edition range, starting at eight grand, I rather fancied the black Apple Watch with matching link bracelet but as that was nine hundred quid, I decided to go for the more reasonably priced Apple Watch Sport with black band. Looking at band sizes and my relatively slender wrists, it seemed obvious that the smaller 38mm version was the one to go for. I fretted briefly about the possibly better battery life and higher resolution screen of the 42mm version, but decided it would probably be too big and so I saved myself the forty quid difference.

When 8:00am on 10 April arrived, I already had my preferred item saved as a favourite in the Apple Store app on my iPhone and so I was able to place my order immediately and I got my email confirmation at 8:03am and a shipping window of 24 April – 8 May (nobody got an earlier estimate that I know of).

Later that day I went down to the Apple Store on Regent Street for a try-on and a demo. After almost no queuing, the perky young Apple-thing there showed me the 42mm version first and I was immensely struck by how small it was. I was relieved to notice that it did not jut out from my wrist by half a mile (some of the photos make it look very thick) but troubled by the way it didn’t dwarf my arm. The 38mm was fine, but I started to worry even more about accurately hitting touch targets on a screen that small. Then she showed me the leather loop with its graceful magnetic closure and I began to worry that I should have hedged my bets by buying a smarter Apple band to go with my Sport watch. This particular band however is only available for the 42mm version. I could have bought the link bracelet separately, but not the black one and the silver one costs more than the Sport watch itself. The leather loop was only £109 though. Maybe I should switch to the 42mm item? Of course, by this time, the delivery estimate was “June” so I stayed pat.

Arrival

On 24 April, I had already seen that my Apple watch was “out for delivery” so I tried to not start any long projects at work in order that I could instantly set whatever I was doing aside to play with my new device. Around 1:30pm, I nipped out for lunch, almost assuming it would arrive in my absence. By 4:00pm I was quite annoyed by its continued non-arrival. At 5:30pm, my office building was locked up for the night, so I waited outside until at 6:10pm I saw a UPS van apparently driving straight past. I flagged down the callow driver and retrieved my bounty.

The Apple Watch Sport is delivered in a narrow white plastic box in which the watch lies in repose at full stretch. Also inside the box is a longer band (or one half of a longer band), a magnetic charging cable and a USB power adapter which in the UK version is equipped with very nifty folding pins which snap up and down in a very satisfying manner. Setting the watch up first requires “pairing” it with an iPhone. The phone’s camera records an intricate swirling pattern on the face of the watch which mysteriously identifies it and then you need to wait about 15 minutes for information from your phone to sync over to the watch.

watch

Once on my wrist, futile dreams of a bigger version melted away. I haven’t tried on the 42mm version since, but the 38mm version now looks just right to me. And since with a skinny wrist comes slender fingers, I’ve had no trouble whatever with hitting touch targets on the screen. I still yearn for that impossibly elegant leather loop, but I’ve got a red leather strap and a black link bracelet coming soon, courtesy of this Kickstarter project at a cost of $150 the pair. Also, this cheap-and-cheerful “Night Stand” dock for bedside charging.

The sport band has proved tricky for some people to put on and take off. What works for me is holding the near side of the strap between my thumb and forefinger, and dragging the far side of the strap into place with my middle fingertip lodged in the hole. What’s neat is that if you password-lock the watch, it stays unlocked until you take it off your wrist, whereupon it locks again. Nifty!

Using the Apple Watch

Reviews of the Apple Watch so far have centred on three main themes. Firstly battery life, which in my case has proven to be ample. In the seven days I’ve had it on my wrist, I’ve only run it down to zero once and that was on day one when it was delivered at 60% charge and I played with it almost constantly until midnight when it died. Every day since, I strapped it on my wrist somewhere between 8:00am and 10:00am and I’ve always had more than 30% left when I’ve taken it off sometime after midnight. The combination of the AMOLED screen and the wake-on-raise seems to work great.

That’s theme number two – wake-on-raise. Lifting my wrist to look at the time makes the watch come on. This works 99 times out of 100 for me and seems perfectly natural. I’ve almost never had an issue with it not turning on when I want, and the lack of a backlight means that it’s fine to give it a subtle glance in a theatre or cinema without a glowing column of light emanating from my seat and annoying other people.

Theme number three is trickier. What is it good for? Okay, let’s start with the obvious. It keeps perfect time and has a number of excellent options for watch faces all of which are customisable. I started with the “Modular” option but I really want the time to go in the big space in the middle, and this is not available, so for now I’m using the “Utility” face which is a bit smarter. For the time being, Apple is forbidding third-party faces, but this will probably come at some point.

watch faces

The key thing to understand about the Apple Watch is that it isn’t a computer on your wrist. Not really. It’s a companion to your iPhone and can’t do a lot without your iPhone there. That may seem limiting, and it is, but let’s remember that this is a first generation device. Just as the iPhone was once dependent on a computer running iTunes, but no longer has any need of such a thing, so I imagine will the Apple Watch develop more and more independence from the iPhone as the generations roll by.

It might be worth remembering just how limited the original iPhone was. The first-gen iPhone had…

  • No GPS, digital compass or gyroscope
  • No 3G (so no Internet while talking)
  • No front-facing camera (and only a 2MP camera on the back, with no flash and no ability to record video)
  • No voice control (not just no Siri)
  • A meagre 4Gb storage in the base model
  • And – unbelievably! – no third party apps. You could make calls, browse online and play music. That’s your lot.

Next to this, the first-gen Apple Watch looks pretty capable.

Here’s a quick list of some ways I’ve found it useful and some frustrations I’ve had.

Taking calls. Walking down the street, with my phone in my pocket, listening to a podcast or audio book (a very common procedure for me), I can now see who is calling by glancing at my wrist, so I can decide whether or not to take the call and if so how I should answer it. You can take the call on the watch, and yell into the back of your arm to talk to the other person, but I normally just click the button on my headphones. At first it seemed to me that if I did tap the watch to answer the call instead I had no way of transferring it to the phone. In fact “handoff” works the same way with phone calls as it does with other apps. Having answered the call on your watch, you should see the handoff icon in the bottom left corner of your iPhone’s lock screen. Slide up and you can transfer the call to your phone.

Walking directions are a great experience with the Apple Watch. The “taptic engine” taps me on the wrist to let you know a turn is coming and a glance at the watch confirms I am taking the right road. Now my podcast listening is no longer interrupted by spoken directions and I don’t have to dig the phone out of my pocket to make sure I’m going the right way. You even get different taps for turn left and turn right.

Another frequent situation for me is sitting at work, listening to something while my phone sits in its dock. Being able to stop and start the audio by sliding up the audio controls glance is very handy, and in general notifications work fine (a handy and discrete little red dot at the top of the display lets you know that unread notifications are present) although many are frustratingly limited. Facebook notifications come through for example, but there’s no way to get more information than so-and-so updated their status. Sometimes the opposite is true. Despite there being no dedicated Any.do watch app, when tasks fall due I can snooze them or make them completed straight from the notifications area of the watch. There are some bizarre gaps as well. There is no Apple Watch reminders app anywhere, but you can set new reminders on the watch and you will be notified when reminders fall due. You can’t see a list of current reminders anywhere however.

The watch UI is not always as intuitive as it could be. The digital crown works well, but I have to keep reminding myself to scroll using that rather than swiping with my finger. The side button is mainly used to access a ring of 12 favourite contacts. It isn’t possible to access this any other way, nor is it possible to program that button to do anything else. Holding this button down gives you access to shut-down options (hard to guess that) and holding it down again force-quits the current app (impossible to guess that). The other mode of interaction is the force touch which is used mainly as a sort-of right click. Force touching on notifications allows you to clear them all, which is handy, but once again very hard to discover by accident.

Other apps work okay – when they work. Ordering a Hailo cab on my watch was smooth enough, and saved me getting up to fetch my watch from the other room. Despite some advance word to the contrary however, the watch does need to be within Bluetooth range of the phone to do anything useful. Being on a familiar wifi network is not enough. This really should be addressed sooner rather than later.

What’s more problematic is the slowness of many apps to respond. The genuinely useful-to-have-on-the-wrist bus checker app has never actually launched before the bus has arrived, despite half-a-dozen trials. Even on familiar wifi networks or in 4G areas, a great many apps take longer to load than the screen will stay on for, which is not a good experience. Hopefully a software fix which caches better or works more efficiently is coming.

I haven’t used many of the fitness functions yet. I get nagged to stand up once in a while but I haven’t done anything as foolish as go for a run yet. I imagine they work fine – although once again please note there is no GPS in the watch, so you still need to take your phone with you if you want to track your route. Replying to text messages works great, with the canned responses often appropriate and Siri working extremely well otherwise. And I still get a little living-in-the-future thrill from adjusting my Hue lights from my watch.

Overall, then for £300 and for a first-gen device I’m pretty pleased. The Apple Watch is attractive, comfortable, useful and fun. It still needs work, and in particular it needs to start developing independence away from the iPhone – for speed more than anything else – but it’s a terrific start and I’m very happy to own one. I’m already looking forward to the second generation model, which will be half the thickness, twice the speed, with a camera for wrist-based Facetiming, have its own onboard GPS and third party watch faces. And of course, by selling my first-gen model, I’ll get if for £200 off.

My Life in Tech – or The Unexpected Virtue of Apple-ness

Posted on February 27th, 2015 in Technology | 1 Comment »

Are you thinking about the Apple Watch?

Wait, let me start at the beginning.

motorola_memphis_mr2011997 was a vastly different time. Yes, email had been around for a while (I had my first email account at university in 1990) but the Internet wasn’t anything like the all-pervading force it is today. I accessed the Internet via a dial-up modem (which stopped other people in the house from using the telephone). I used it mainly to access bulletin boards like CiX, since the World Wide Web was in its infancy. I wouldn’t make my first purchase on Amazon until October 1998. I wouldn’t upload my first website until 1999. Paypal was a year away. YouTube was eight years away. Public access to Facebook was nine years away. Twitter was inconceivable. And my first mobile phone looked something like this.

The battery life was pretty good, and it made phone calls and sent new things called SMSes or “text messages”. Mobile phones had only recently stopped being the preserve of yuppies and had also recently stopped being the size (and weight) of housebricks. They were fairly expensive to own and to use, however, and so my wife and I ended up sharing this one. It wasn’t until 2000 that I finally got my own, which by now looked something like this.

nokia3310It was also in 2000 that I bought a PDA (personal digital assistant) for the first time. I’d been tempted by a Psion Organiser in the 1980s but I couldn’t afford one that was actually any good. By now, Psion was in decline and Palm was the new market leader.

Palm had introduced the original Palm Pilot in 1996. This digital calendar, phone book, eBook reader, notepad and calculator used a stylus to enter data via a simplified alphabet called Graffiti, but early models – although impressive for the time – were very expensive.

m100_bigWhen Palm released the Palm m100, I had to have it. It cost around a hundred quid, was powered by two AAA batteries and it had to be synced to a computer to get updated information on to it (a service called AvantGo synced and cached stripped-down web-pages for later reading on-the-go). It rapidly took over my life.

tungstenOver time, I went through several generations of Palms, culminating in the Palm Tungsten TX which finally got rid of the dedicated Graffiti area (which accepted input from the stylus but which couldn’t display anything), had a colour screen (320×480) and Wi-Fi – but still no cellular connectivity. I got mine around 2006 and its vibrant app development community meant there was precious little it couldn’t do.

Sony_Ericsson_K810i_front (1)I still had a mobile phone at this point which by now looked something like this. For a while, I had an MP3 player as well but later Palms which accepted SD cards eventually took over this role.

Why so many devices? Obviously, I knew that objects existed which combined the functions of phone and PDA into a single device, but Palm Treos and Compaq iPAQs seemed somehow clunky to me, certainly physically if not in terms of software, and I’d got really used to my Sony Ericsson and my Palm Tungsten and didn’t really see a compelling reason to drop either.

I’d also stopped using Apple products since giving up being a graphic designer. At one point my desk at work had a Mac for Photoshop and QuarkXPress and a Windows PC for coding and I was running both of them off one giant monitor. Now, I was working from home and I’d scaled my home computer down to a laptop and relegated my Windows PC to the role of media centre. I’d played with iMacs and been impressed at how pretty they were, but Apple was a niche player as far as I could see, and I wasn’t in that niche.

It’s worth pausing just for a moment here to look at where Palm stood at this point. They were the market leaders in PDAs, largely because of the enormous variety of apps available. Even as far back as 2000, usability guru Jakob Neilsen had noted that what he called the “deck of cards form-factor” was far superior to the “candy bar” format of most “feature phones”. Palm was surely poised to dominate the fast-approaching smartphone revolution. Weren’t they?

Well, I might not have been using Apple products regularly, but I certainly sat up and took notice when Beaming Steve unveiled the original iPhone in June 2007. Clearly this was an amazing device, but as someone who’d never even owned an iPod, I didn’t have any brand loyalty to Apple and all I could see were the flaws. No 3G, which meant sluggish Internet, and you couldn’t surf and talk at the same time. No apps, so you couldn’t find nifty new software like I could on my Palm. No expandable storage. And – ouch – that price! When O2 announced it for sale to UK consumers in November, I just continued with my Wi-Fi Palm Tungsten and my T-Mobile Sony Ericsson candy bar phone.

However, when the far cheaper iPod Touch was announced in 2007, I was suddenly convinced, and got Deborah to buy me one in the States where she was visiting friends and send it home to me. I abandoned my Palm, downloaded iTunes and bought a bunch of CDs to rip in order to use it to its fullest. Suddenly my crummy Tungsten with its fiddly stylus seemed like Stone Age technology. But worse was to come for Palm.

foleoAlso, in 2007, Palm announced what amounted to a new category of devices – the Palm Foleo. This amazingly small and light personal computer had a full-sized keyboard and a 10 inch screen. Today we’d say it looks a little like a netbook and a little like a Microsoft Surface. What it didn’t have was 3G connectivity, but you could pair it with your Treo and download email on the go.

Apple should have been worried. Blackberry – who owned corporate-email-on-the-go at this point – should have been worried. But if you’re wondering why you never saw any of these Foleos in the wild, it’s because three months after announcing it – and before it had shipped a single unit – Palm cancelled the project altogether. From there, Palm spiralled into take-overs, functional divisions and ultimately irrelevancy as Apple seized the initiative.

When the refreshingly affordable iPhone 3G was announced in 2008, I needed no more persuading. My iPod Touch had become invaluable. I had “jailbroken” it so I could install apps, I was subscribing to a bunch of podcasts and listening to audio books, and I was sick of having to try and find Wi-Fi hotspots before I could check my email or browse the web. I paid off T-Mobile, abandoned my Sony Ericsson candybar phone and I was all-in with Apple.

The rest is pretty much as you might expect. I have bought every model of iPhone since – Apple products keep their value surprisingly well, so I can often very nearly subsidise the entire cost of the upgrade by selling the old model on eBay. I bought the original iPad, then fell in love with the smart cover on the iPad 2, then felt I needed the retina display on the iPad 3 and then finally wanted to get an iPad with a lightning connector, so I got the iPad Air. I didn’t get the iPad Air 2, as the only reason to upgrade that I could see was Touch ID, which is nice and all, but I’m saving up for…

The Apple Watch.

Okay, so – to be clear – this is almost certainly a bad idea. The first generation Apple Watch, like the 2G iPhone and the inch-thick 2010 iPad is likely to be a lavishly-priced prototype rather than the real deal. The inevitable Apple Watch 2 is no doubt going to be half the thickness, have twice the battery life and provide intimate massages on demand but – I can’t wait. I want to test this thing out, and I’m getting itchy. We’re told that it will be out in “early 2015” which has now been clarified to “April” (which I guess is early 2015, but it’s certainly late early 2015). If it goes on-sale Friday 24 April, say, that means we can expect an event of some kind week beginning 6 April 2015, so we should be hearing something around the end of March. (Updated to note – we learned yesterday, 26 February, that the event will be held on 9 March, which suggests a slightly earlier ship date.)

At the moment we don’t really know what kind of money we’re going to have to plunk down. Apple has said prices will start at $349 which probably works out as something between £279 and £319 when you factor in VAT. But is that for the watch, and then your choice of strap is extra? Or do all the combos on the Apple website represent different SKUs? And if they do, will you be able to also buy extra straps? What does $349 get you? The stainless steel model or only something in the aluminium “Sport” range? Just the luminous plastic strap, or something fancier like the Link Bracelet or the Milanese Loop? Will it be out in the UK in April, or do we have to wait? (Ominously, the US Apple web site says “Coming early 2015” but the UK Apple web site says “Available in 2015”.)

And when it is finally available, what do I want? Previously, it was an easy choice (“the black one with the most storage, please,”) but this is a fashion accessory and Apple has provided a bewildering array of possible options. My skinny wrist probably means the 38mm model is the one to go for (even though that means fewer pixels, not just a physically smaller screen). I would ideally like the Black Stainless Steel model with the Link Bracelet, but I’m not paying £700 for the privilege. If the Watch Sport range is the only one which is remotely affordable, then I guess it will have to be the Space Grey Aluminium with Black Fluroelastomer band. The 18 carat gold models are clearly meant only for demented millionaires, in which category I do not alas qualify – some estimates put the price as high as $20,000!

And if it is US only, I may be looking into one of those services which provides you with a US postal address and then ships the goods on to you. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Let There Be Light

Posted on October 31st, 2012 in Technology | 1 Comment »

The website Kickstarter has been coming in for a bit of a, well, kicking recently.

On its face, it seems like a marvellous idea. Launched in 2009, it’s a crowd-sourcing platform, initially focused on creative or artistic enterprises but increasingly with a heavy gadget and especially iOS bias. In case you don’t know, here’s how it works.

I am an inventor, artist or other creative individual and I have thought of a thing. Ideally, I’ve reality-checked it, prototyped it, got it to the point where I can explain it, demonstrate it or pitch it. If I knew that there were 10,000 people out there who would all pay $50 to buy one, or come and see it, or download it, then I would know that the income would be there to justify a full production run, or staging it, or producing it. But I don’t have the funds right now to start that process, making me somewhat stuck.

Enter Kickstarter. You describe your project and set levels at which people can invest. Back the project for $50 and when it’s ready, you’ll get one, or a ticket, or a download. If I get enough people promising their money by the deadline, then credit cards are charged and I get the cash to start making my dream a reality (after Kickstarter gets its cut) and then pretty soon you should get what you’ve paid for. If not enough people invest, then nobody pays anything and I’ve done some pretty useful market-testing which may be enough to convince me to abandon the project.

I’ve got at least one really excellent product through Kickstarter – my Zooka Wireless Speaker bar which connects to my iOS device (see?) by Bluetooth and amplifies my music or video soundtracks. But I’ve also got carried away once-or-twice. “Wow, shooting 360 degree video on an iPhone – that is so cool. Here’s $40!” (Six months later) “Why has somebody sent me this useless piece of plastic in the post? What? Shooting 360 degree video on my iPhone? When would I ever want to do that?”

But that’s not the worst problem with Kickstarter, not the problem which has forced the site to substantially change its rules recently. With my Zooka, I plunked down my money and some months later, I received the speaker bar I wanted in the mail. Just like shopping on Amazon, if Amazon’s warehouse was on Mars.

But Kickstarter is not a shop. You aren’t buying a product, you are investing in an idea that might eventually turn into a product, but equally might all go up in smoke.

Kickstarter’s biggest success in terms of funding to date has probably been the Pebble. This smart watch with an e-ink display pairs with your iPhone, so with your phone in your pocket you can see who is calling you, get calendar alerts, see email messages and so on. It launched in April 2012 with a funding target of $100,000 and has actually raised over $10m, but despite an estimated ship-date of September 2012, so far no-one has actually got their $99 watch yet. And they may never.

So, in September, when I saw the Kickstarter campaign for the LIFX WiFi LED light bulb I was excited but also cautious. When we bought our new flat, we had all the wiring and lighting redone. We had hoped to get dimmable bulbs everywhere, but of course, we also often wanted one bulb operated by two switches and (apparently) you can’t have two dimmer switches operating one bulb or the fight each other and then your house burns down (or something). So we have several lights which are operated by one dimmer and one (or more) on-off switch. Workable, but not ideal.

The LIFX bulb solves this problem at a stroke. These LED bulbs can each be set at any brightness – and any colour!! – and you control them from your iPhone. Neat, huh? Of course, they’re expensive – around £50 each, and for our whole flat we’d probably need at least eight, maybe more.

So, after some discussion, I theorised as follows. Committing to buying eight bulbs now means that by the time they eventually show up (supposedly around March 2013), I may have less enthusiasm for the project, or have found another solution. In that time, various problems may or may not come up – the bulbs may be dim, or unreliable, or the software flaky or who know what. WiFi LED light bulbs may end up being a “thing”, they may go mainstream or they may not. If they do, then in time the price will come down and the technology will improve. If not, I’ve bought a lemon.

Shortly after I decided not to invest, LIFX was one of a number of Kickstarter projects identified as being particularly likely to be problematic in articles such as this one from Reuters. Now Kickstarter has substantially changed the rules making it harder for pure “vapourware” products to swallow up large sums of other people’s money as they evaporate away.

Having mentally shelved the WiFi LED light bulb project, I was most startled when all over my favourite blogs and websites two days ago I saw an announcement from Philips that they had an essentially identical product called Hue which would be available exclusively through the Apple Store the next day.

The price is basically the same – £50 per bulb, £179 for the “starter kit” containing three bulbs and the “bridge” which connects them to your home WiFi network (the LIFX version doesn’t need the separate bridge which is neater and tidier, but may make initial configuration more fiddly). The bulbs are sleeker without the heat-dissipating fins which make the LIFX bulbs look a little odd, but they’re only available with Edison Screw E27 fittings, so if you have bayonet or downlight fittings, you need an adaptor. But crucially, you can go into the Apple Store and pick them up right now, today and put them in your home (but not buy them online, yet, for some reason). [UPDATE: You can now buy them on-line.]

So I stopped off at Ryness to buy some B22-E27 adaptors and then took myself to Regent Street, walking out of the Apple Store minutes later with a very handsomely presented box. Installation couldn’t have been much easier. Like WPS WiFi systems, the bridge has a physical button on it, so you connect it to your router with the cable provided and then push the button to connect it to your iPhone. Instantly I had full control over all three bulbs.

The software is a little clunky at present (LIFX’s software looks more fully-featured, but of course it doesn’t actually exist yet, so…). In particular, it is very focused on using colour from images to create lighting effects (or “scenes”) which is surely a niche application. Nonetheless, after a bit of messing around, I was able to create some suitable presets, such as a dim warm glow in the bedroom for going to sleep, or a nice bright clean light for reading in the living room. I was even able to create a single button to simultaneously dim the light in the TV room, and turn the light next-door off (for fear of it casting a reflection on the TV screen). Three bulbs is not of course enough, but as a proof-of-concept, I’m sold. We’ll give it a few more days to see how we get on and then stick a few more in.

If you turn a bulb off at the wall, you can’t then turn it back on again with the app – you’ve cut power to the WiFi electronics – but if you then turn it back on again, it returns with a standard warm glow and near maximum brightness, which means it’s always possible to override the tech if need be. A good solution.

Are they remotely worth the price though? Well, being LED bulbs they should last around 15 years. An old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, costing maybe £1.50, will last about six months. So you can easily spend £40 over a 15 year span. Of course, who knows if WiFi will even exist in 2027, but at least I’m not going to be chucking my £50 bulb in the bin this time next year. They’re also energy-efficient, drawing less than 9 watts of power, while creating the equivalent light of a 50w incandescent bulb.

For completeness, a Halogen bulb will last twice as long as an incandescent bulb but might cost twice as much. An LED bulb without the WiFi-ness will cost around £25-£30 and will presumably last as long as the Hue bulbs do.

Why I bought an iPad – and you shouldn’t

Posted on January 19th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

So I bought an iPad. I seem to be going through the following three phases with new technologies, to the irritation of my friends who ask me for advice about these things.

Phase one: anticipation. “Have you heard about X? It looks really interesting.”
Phase two: dismissal. “I’m not planning on buying X, for the following reasons.”
Phase three: purchase. “I’ve just got myself an X.”

In the wake of, at the very least, Palm Pilots, the iPhone and Blu-ray, the Apple iPad followed the same rather predictable pattern. On its first release, I was fascinated by the unveiling of this “breakthrough”, “magical” device. The leverage which Apple was able to achieve by releasing a tablet computer which on launch day was able to run hundreds of thousands of apps specifically designed for the touch interface I thought was staggering. But as clever as the idea was, as slick as the implementation was, and as desirable an object as it was, I really couldn’t think of where it could fit in to my existing lifestyle.

I’m a slave to my iPhone 4. It contains my calendar (shared via Google with my work colleagues and across several computers), it’s the only camera I’ve used in years, I check my email on it with neurotic frequency, I read books and newspapers on it, I walk around London staring at the map, and travel on the tube listening to podcasts and audiobooks on it, I’ve got three stars on every level on Angry Birds and I’ve achieved all the achievements on Plants vs Zombies. It also make phone calls. Given that I’ve already shelled out for this device, which slips into my jacket pocket and which I always have on me, why would I want an iPad?

Well, I’ve also watched a number of movies and TV shows on my iPhone, typically on long train journeys. With the iPhone 4’s super-duper high-resolution “retina” screen, this isn’t too bad at all. But it’s not exactly ideal, even if you find a comfortable place to sit and a convenient way of propping the phone up. Even while promising my friends I wouldn’t be buying an iPad, I mentioned that if I was habitually making long plane or train journeys, I might reconsider. Well, I’m flying to Brisbane at the beginning of February, and then to Moscow almost as soon as I get back. I recently took the train to Birmingham and back and Stockport and back on consecutive days, and I may have to revisit both locations – Birmingham maybe quite frequently. What clinched it was seeing a 64Gb 3G model going on eBay for the about price of the regular wi-fi only model (not quite sure how this was achieved, but I didn’t get a box of used pinball machine parts for my money, so I assume it was all perfectly legal). Okay, I thought, I’ll get it now, load it up with games, movies and TV shows for these long journeys and if I get back from Moscow and find it’s gathering dust in a drawer, I can sell it and I should get back at least as much as I paid for it.

Why am I even thinking about selling my new toy? Because only an idiot would buy a new iPad in January. The original iPad was announced on 27 January 2010 and was available for sale (in the US) on 3 April. At their recent quarterly earnings call, Apple confirmed what we all knew already – that an iPad 2 of some kind is in the works. With a regular pattern now established of iPhones announced in June and iPods announced in September, Apple is sticking to an annual product cycle. So the new iPad will likely be announced in a matter of weeks, if not days, and will be available in a couple of months. If you’re considering buying an iPad – wait!

What might such an iPad 2 bring with it, to tempt me away from my new toy? I imagine there’ll be a be at least two out of the following four: a speed bump, a slimmer design, a longer battery life and an increased capacity at the top end. None of these is much of a dealbreaker for me. It’s fast enough and slim enough, the battery life is stunning and 64Gb is spacious compared to my 32Gb iPhone 4 (and I’ve kept all the audio on the iPhone and put all the video on my iPad which effectively balances the load).

A front-facing camera seems likely, as Apple continues to push FaceTime, although I regard a rear-facing camera as less likely and certainly less useful. Who the hell is going to try and take holiday snaps with an iPad, or use it as a barcode scanner? Fucksake. The Internet is also all a-flurry with reports of an iPad case which seems to include extras slot for an SD card, or a USB device or an extra dock connector. I don’t really care about any of these.

I’m chiefly using my iPad to consume video – on trains or in bed – and so I care most about how this kind of content looks and sounds. Let’s take sound first. The iPhone has two identical-looking grilles at the bottom edge. To the confusion of some users, one is a mic and one is a speaker. Try covering one with your thumb while playing music to see which is which. The iPad has a similarly-positioned speaker. Holding the device with the home button at the bottom, the single speaker is on the bottom edge, towards the right. This is fine if watching video in portrait mode (which almost nobody does), but in the more usual landscape orientation, with the button at the left (which is how my Jack Spade case prefers things) all the sound comes out from the left. I’d dearly love stereo speakers, one on each side. Of course, if I were watching video in portrait mode, I’d want the speakers to be in the long sides instead of the short sides, so we’d actually need four speakers, triggered by the accelerometer. As far as I know, no such innovation is planned. Bah!

Now let’s talk about the screen. What made the iPhone 4 a must-purchase for me, more than anything else, was the astonishing screen. The original iPhone, and the first two revisions had a screen resolution of 320 x 480. Given the size of the screen, this works out as around 163ppi (pixels-per-inch) which was relatively high for 2007. The iPad has a resolution of 1024 x 768 (so it’s a little squarer than the iPhone screen) with a pixel-density of 132ppi. Given that one typically holds a larger screen further away, the iPad screen tends to look as good if not better than the iPhone screen, and obviously feels more spacious, having more physical room and more pixels.

“Native” iPad apps obviously tend to take up the whole screen, but apps originally designed for the iPhone sit in an iPhone-sized oblong in the middle of the screen, unless or until you tap a little 2x button in the corner of the screen, whereupon the iPad doubles all the pixels, so you get a 960 x 640 oblong taking up most of the 1024 x 768 space available, but all looking rather blocky. The iPhone 4, released after the iPad blows all of this out of the water. It already runs at double the resolution of previous incarnations, with older apps looking blocky (but no worse than on the old models) and newer apps written to take advantage of the whole 960 x 640 space, with its eye-watering 326ppi.

Amazingly, even after the recent software update, bringing to the iPad iOS 4 features such as multitasking, unified inbox, folders and so on, full-resolution iPhone 4 apps still run at the old resolution on the iPad, which is a horrible and pointless compromise. I can only hope that this will be corrected before iOS 5 comes out, presumably in June or July. The eye-popping screen of the iPhone 4, and the convenience for developers of a screen resolution exactly double (or half) that of another model has led many pundits to the conclusion that the iPad 2 will also come with an upgraded display – 2048 x 1536 which would work out to 260ppi.

But it’s not pixel-density which is going to be the issue here. 2048 x 1536 is over three million pixels, which is a staggering amount. All MacBooks sport 1280 x 800 pixels (about a million pixels). The 21.5” iMac has a 1920 x 1080 screen (about two million pixels). Only the very top-end 27” iMac has more pixels, and then only just – 2560 x 1440 which is about three and a half million pixels. Those who imagine that a 2048 x 1536 screen will be found on the iPad 2 are imagining that – without sacrificing battery life, speed and all-important responsiveness – about the same number of pixels found on the 27” screen of a top-end $1700 desktop will be found on the 10” screen of a $500 tablet. Some very significant breakthroughs in processor speed and efficiency will be required to bring this to pass.

And if it did – what would we use it for? All of Apple’s “HD” content on iTunes is 720p – 1280 x 720 pixels. This doesn’t quite fit onto the iPad, but video content scaled down generally looks okay. On the proposed iPad megascreen, 720p content floats around the middle or is stretched out to fit – and scaling up makes content look blocky. True HD is 1080p or 1920 x 1080 pixels. Today, that only really means Blu-ray. Remember, no iTunes content is currently available at this resolution – the file sizes would be much bigger for only a small visible increase in picture quality. And yet even images at this size would have to be scaled up, or float around in the middle of the 2048 x 1536 screen.

Given all the foregoing, I don’t think a 2048 x 1536 iPad is likely. I can’t rule it out, of course. No-one expected a 326ppi resolution from the iPhone 4, and Apple is certainly prepared to push the envelope. If they do it, I’ll probably upgrade. If not, I’ll probably stay put or even sell my existing model. So far, my assumptions have been pretty much correct. For watching video, it’s great (and if, like me, you have a big networked hard-drive with lots of video content on it, then the Air Video app is a must). I do use it and prefer it to the iPhone to read Kindle books, or The Times newspaper (there’s no Guardian iPad app yet), or flip through RSS feeds (I like Reeder). Given the choice, I’ll use the iPad to check my email or look at my calendar. But when, as today, I go for a meeting without it, I’m perfectly happy to do all those things on my iPhone.

Meet me back here when the iPad 2 is announced…