Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tablet Wars

The tablet wars are running fast and furious, and we as consumers will be the winners.

The "big kahuna" is the Apple iPad. It's the one to beat, and it's a formidable opponent. But it, like all Apple products, is a premium (read: expensive) product.

Some will argue that it's worth every penny and, as an iPad owner, I won't disagree.

But with the "old" iPad 2 starting at $399 and the "new" iPad starting at $499, it's certainly not for everyone. Note that the "new" iPad with all of the memory and cellular connectivity tops out at $829.

Other companies have produced tablets with limited success. Samsung, Asus, Microsoft, RIM (the Blackberry people), Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more all have tablets. Oddly, they all seem to be in the same pricing ballpark as the iPad.

I have seen some low-end tablets that actually cost under $100, but they have significant deficits, such as small screens, short battery lives, no cameras or a combination thereof that make them undesirable for all but limited use.

So when Google came out with its new Nexus 7 tablet for $199 about two weeks ago, that changed the landscape dramatically.

The specifications for the two tablets are not the same, so a like-for-like comparison can't be directly made. For one thing, the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen and the Google Nexus 7 has a 7-inch screen. There are other substantive differences.

But, for essentially half the price of an iPad, one can purchase a remarkably good tablet that will meet the needs of a vast number of people.

What one lacks with a non-Apple device is, of course, the App Store, where Apple users may buy music, videos, apps (applications) and more. With the App Store having hundreds of thousands of apps and things to buy, it is the place where one can buy just about anything digital that one wants.

Google offers a competitor to the App Store called Google Play. While Google Play doesn't have nearly as many apps as the App Store, most consumers will be able to find the most popular apps in both, such as Angry Birds, Netflix and the Optimum app.

What I like most about the tablet wars is that it's now been made clear that quality tablets can be made affordable. This will encourage broader deployment of tablets, thus driving more apps and more reductions in prices as competition and volume increases.

There are fairly well-substantiated rumors that Apple will be coming out with its own mini-iPad that may compete with the 7-inch tablets already in existence.

All of this is good news for consumers and heralds new ways that people can benefit from more accessible computing. Fight on, tablet makers!

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 25 July 2012.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Have Bicycle, Will Travel

Transportation has changed dramatically over the years. Cars used to break down far more often than they currently do. Now, they're remarkably reliable.

But until you have a driver's license and access to a car, it's thought that you're pretty reliant on other people for transportation.

But this year, my children have discovered their bicycles — and a new freedom. As I've said before, sometimes the low-tech solutions work really well.

This year, my 7-year-old son finally mastered his two-wheeler. It's taken a couple of years to be able to go more than about 10 feet without falling over ... and the inherent disappointment that comes with that.

But this year, after only a few practices, he found his balance and you just can't stop him now.

On a recent ride with him, we started by going to the end of the block. Then he said, "Dad, let's ride to Main Street," which is about a mile away. I agreed. Once we arrived, he said, "Dad, let's ride to the library." I agreed again. Then he said, "Dad, let's get frozen yogurt." Hard to argue with that boy.

We always wear helmets and try to avoid the main thoroughfares. Thanks to all of the drivers who provide us with ample leeway whenever we're on the road.

Pretty soon, we're going to be riding to Compo Beach and Longshore for some of our family events.

My daughter, 14, probably has a busier schedule than either my wife or me. More importantly, she is participating in two programs at schools on North Avenue. Driving her there and back is sometimes problematic from a scheduling perspective.

So we recently suggested that she ride her bike back and forth, two miles each way via residential streets.

So one weekend day, we did a trial ride, including our energetic 7-year-old son. With a map in hand, we rode all the way to North Avenue, letting my daughter navigate and timing our trip so we would know how long to expect when the "real" ride came the next day.

On the day of her first trip, she happily left our home with plenty of time to spare. About 20 minutes later, we received a phone call. Her chain had fallen off of a gear halfway to her destination.

I picked her up, delivered her to her destination, then discovered a few things wrong with the bicycle, so I took it to the bike shop for some minor repairs.

Monday morning, she left our home again and about 30 minutes later, we received another call. We were prepared for another breakdown call. Instead, she called to let us know she had safely arrived at her destination. Her happiness was great to hear.

So, with both of our children having their newfound mobility, it's good to see them growing up. Next is to show them how to maintain their bicycles, inflate tires, adjust shifters and all of the things that bicycle ownership includes.

My son also wants me to make him a ramp so he can show me how high and far he can jump. It may take me some time before I am ready to build that ramp.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 11 July 2012.