LOT–Future Apple Offerings for Pros

I’ve written so often about my substantial qualms with Apple’s products that I probably should open a glue factory. The recent stories about Apple’s quasi mea culpa regarding the Mac Pro, and the anticipated new-form-factor iPhone coming this Fall/Winter, however, lead me back to the well yet again.

What is a Pro?

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs editThe rumors that have come out recently about the next generation of iPhone(s) highlight some substantial issues that Apple faces as it tries to bring out “Pro” branded products that are aimed at…well, who are they aimed at, actually?  Because it doesn’t really seem like they’re aimed at a certain class of “Pro.”

The new MacBook Pro, for example, introduces a gimmicky touchbar at the top of the keyboard.  It’s a thin and light computer, sure, but it maxes out at 16GB of RAM.  Which is a lot, but surely there are Pros who wouldn’t mind having more. You can’t have it, though.

The iPad Pros, too, are currently marketed as “Super. Computer. In two sizes.”  Clearly, Apple is feeling some heat from people using Surface (and Surface-clone, such as my Miix 700) devices–and liking them. And so Apple is trying to make the argument that the iPad Pro is the one device you really need.  Yes, they’re pretty tablets, and I know a handful of attorneys who use them, and don’t mind them, but I find them less than optimal. Which I’ll get back to in just a second.

Next Generation iPhone(s)

Every year, at about this time, there’re always rumors of what the next iPhone will look like. For the past 2 years, it’s been pointless to worry about because iPhones 6s and 7 look almost exactly like the iPhone 6, with the exception that the 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack, nor does it have a mechanical home button. Otherwise, they all look the same. Rumor has it that there will essentially be a 7s, which….*yawn*

In addition, though, there will be a special 10th anniversary iPhone …. 8? Who knows? But it will purportedly ditch the home button and side bezels altogether, and switch to an OLED display. Which plenty of Android phones have done already.  But this new iPhone will also apparently have dual front-facing cameras? (Or will all next generation phones have this feature? It’s a little unclear…) Which means better selfies, I guess.

Hardware is Only Part of the Equation

Revamping hardware, and putting in a few extra bells and whistles is all well and good, but at some point, the hardware melts away, and you’re left actually having to use the thing. You can have a Ferrari body, but if you put a Yugo engine in it, no one will want to drive it. To be fair, the processors Apple designs for the iPhones and iPads are not slouches. They are sprightly little things. But the operating system…? Ugh.

And this brings me back to why an iPad Pro (or standard) simply cannot be my “computer.” iOS 11, to be debuted at WWDC in a couple of months, is supposed to introduced a refreshed user interface. The design language we’ve been living with since iOS 7 is, in my opinion, an improvement over the language used through iOS 6. However, there are still a lot of annoyances. Not being able to put icons wherever I want, for example. Or the fact that we’re still using a grid of icons at all.

The issues aren’t just cosmetic. Siri is all but useless, serving mostly to amuse and argue with my kid.  The baked-in mail and calendar apps have improved, but they’re still not great.

File System

The most glaring issue, though, is the lack of an accessible file system.  My electronic file for any random case includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint docs; PDFs; jpgs, gifs, pngs, and tiffs;  and various audio and video formats. They all coexist happily in a special folder on my hard drive, which can be synced to remote storage.  But that folder can also be put on a thumb drive, which can be plugged into my Miix 700, and lo and behold, they’re all right where they’re supposed to be, easily accessible, easily worked with, and easily moved aside. I don’t even need access to the internet to work with them.

“Where are you that you don’t have access to the internet?” you might be asking. Well, courthouses, for example. While the Harris County courts have public wi-fi, it’s not secure, it’s slow, and it isn’t reliable in every courtroom. Montgomery County also has wi-fi, but I’ve had to ask prosecutors to give me their guest passwords to hop on it.

“Well, fine, wi-fi is for losers, LTE is where it’s at, anyway.” Sure. If you’ve sprung for the extra expense of getting the model of your device that includes an LTE chip. And if you’ve paid for the extra line on your phone plan. Even then, when you’re on the 18th floor of the Criminal Courthouse, in the middle of the brick, stone, and metal building, your LTE coverage is going to be unreliable. (This would, admittedly, be less of a hindrance in a place like Montgomery County, where you’re at most three stories in the sky.)

Using your phone as a wireless hotspot, too, would potentially be a solution, but anyone who’s done that can tell you how frustrating that can be.

Still: you can’t tell me it’s more convenient to access files over the internet than it is to simply pop a thumb drive into the side of the device.

Peripherals

The other area where the iPad Pro shows real problems acting as a “computer” is in its support for peripherals. The iPad Pro has one port: the Lightning port at the bottom of the device. My Miix 700 has three: 2 USB and one micro HDMI.  That means that if I want to plug my device into the courtroom’s a/v system (which is based on HDMI in most courtrooms in the Houston area), all I need is this $6.50 cable:

micro HDMI cable
Bog standard $6.50 micro HDMI cable.

By contrast, if I want to do the same with an iPad Pro, I need, at a minimum, Apple’s $50 lightning Digital AV Adapter.  Which, for what it’s worth, has terrible reviews. And you still need to buy an HDMI cable. (Theoretically, perhaps, you could order one of those $20-some-odd cables off Amazon, but they’re pretty skeezy.)  For what it’s worth, the Digital AV Adapter does allow you to charge your device at the same time you’re using video.

Not Trying to Sneer

The point of this post is not to say “neener neener Appl3 1s t3h suxxor” (I’ve written a few of those posts, to be fair). Rather, I’m pretty much stuck using an iPhone for the foreseeable future because it’s the least bad smart phone out there and it handles Exchange reasonably well. Since I’m stuck using it, I’d like to see it, and iOS, become better.

 

Law Office Technology — Surface 3

Microsoft Surface 3
Image from microsoft.com.

Well, this comes out of absolutely nowhere, but Microsoft has just announced the Surface 3.  Not the Surface Pro 3, but the Surface 3, and it could very well solve a lot of problems and could be hugely successful. It also could make OEMs such as Dell very upset.

The Surface Pro 3 is an eminently capable device, running a Core i3 at a minimum. Starting at $799, though, without a keyboard, it isn’t an insignificant technology purchasing decision.

Surface 3 Price and Specs

The Surface 3, however, starts at $499, and while it doesn’t have a 12″ screen, it is nonetheless a very tempting device that will probably cover everything a tablet user needs to be productive.  It has a 10.8″ screen, has a 1920 x 1280 display (9:6 aspect ratio), and uses Intel’s latest Cherry Trail-based Atom processor (x7-Z8700) instead of a Core.  The base model has 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, and for $100 more, you can get 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.  It has a USB 3.0 port, as well as a micro SD slot and a mini display port.  And, for a limited time, it includes a free 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which is an interesting decision, considering that it was believed that only devices 8 inches and smaller would get the one-year-free Office 365 license.  (I’m of two minds about the Office 365 scheme. On one hand, it’s not a bad value in general, and the argument has always been that buying Office 2013 outright will cost approximately $300 anyway, and you’ll just have to do that again when Office 2016 comes out–you’re just spreading the cost out on a yearly basis.  But there’s something that rubs me wrong about the free one-year license; it isn’t as good a value as I got when I got my Venue 8 Pro last year and it came with the full version of Office 2013, no subscription required.)

The tempting price comes with some caveats: just like with the Surface Pro 3, you will need to buy the Type Pad ($130) separately.  More vexing is the fact that you also need to by the stylus separately ($50), which was also a requirement with my Venue 8 Pro, but it comes standard with the Surface Pro 3 (of course, the SP3 doesn’t come with Office, so there are always tradeoffs). It’s obvious at this point that I think that a stylus is essential, so the price of this device should really be thought of as $549 and $649.  At these price points, while they are a titch higher than ideal, they are still intriguing when compared to similarly spec’d iPads.

Surface 3 Compared to Other Options

Dell makes the Venue 11 Pro, which, unless a hardware update is in the works, uses last year’s Bay Trail Atom chips. It also has a lower resolution screen (1366×768), and starts at $429 with less available storage (32GB) though upgrading to 64GB is a minor cost bump (it’s an extra $30).  Getting a full-HD screen brings the price up to $499, but it does come with 64GB of storage in that configuration.  There’s really no reason to buy the Venue 11 Pro, though, when the Surface comes with a newer processor, and the Microsoft stylus is in my opinion quite a bit better than the Dell Active Stylus. (They’ve made a lot of improvements to the pen, and are now on Rev. A03.  It’s perfectly usable now, but it still isn’t quite as nice as Microsoft’s stylus.)

ASUS has announced the Transformer Chi line of devices.  The Chi t100 is a 10.1″ device, and starts at $399, which makes it an intriguing option.  Like the Dell Venue 11 Pro, however, it sports last year’s Atom chips, and it includes only 32GB of storage.  A 64GB option starts at $449.  However, while the active stylus (which, in screen shots appears identical to Dell’s stylus) is sold separately, it includes a keyboard, which is a nice touch. The screen resolution is also quite stout at the price point, coming in at 1920×1200.  If you’re looking instead at machines in the 12.5″ range, Asus also makes the Chi t300 which starts at $699 running the new CoreM processor.

All in all, though, the Surface 3 is a strong competitor to this segment, which may ruffle some OEM feathers.  Nonetheless, it is a very welcome surprise.  Preorders will start shipping in May, and it will be interesting to see if this summer brings a Surface Pro 4 to the table.

Law Office Technology–Hold Out a Little Longer

IMG_4409I spend a lot of time thinking about office technology, and how the advances in computing will impact my ability to practice law more effectively. Though I am apparently in the popular minority when it comes to making active stylus support a mandatory consideration when it comes to tablets, the promise of being able to take notes on my computer by hand while talking to a client and having those notes being accessible at any time is something I have been wanting since the earliest Tablet PC days in the first part of this millennium.

When the first iPad came out, I was deeply disappointed that it did not support an active stylus because it appeared to be ideally suited for people who still rely greatly on handwriting for work: namely, attorneys and doctors.  It was about the size of a legal pad, and could easily fit in the crook of your arm.

Perhaps the heft of the original iPad made it, in actuality, prohibitive to be a killer note-taker (Microsoft’s original Surface Pro, weighing in at a couple of pounds, would tend to suggest that is the case), but the substantial strides in making computing thinner and lighter suggests that those constraints no longer apply.  Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, for example, has been surprisingly popular (relatively speaking), and the 8″ mini tablets (like the Dell Venue 8 Pro) have been very intriguing as well.  (With the most recent stylus offered by Dell, my DV8P is a very nice note-taking productivity machine. Finally. For now. Until it stops working again.)

Which is perhaps why rumors abound that Apple is finally getting on the active stylus bandwagon.  I don’t expect Apple to suddenly make a tablet that also runs a full-blown OS X after spending a few years criticizing Microsoft for cramming two operating systems into one device, but it simply makes sense for an iPad “Pro” to at least offer the possibility of supporting an active stylus.

All this is to say, there are a lot of changes coming to computing this year, and I will be talking on this page about some of those changes from time to time. One thing appears to be certain: with so many changes in the pipeline, right now is probably not the best time to purchase computing equipment unless it’s on sale.