The worm turns. And having turned, turns again.
Once upon a time, in the 1980s, I used Apple computers and wrote about them for publications in New Zealand and the USA. I was a fan.
By the time I went into business on my own in 1991, I simply couldn’t afford Apple. It was Windows, or stay in the corporate world (where Macs had been taken away from me anyway).
But I’d found that Office and Adobe publishing and graphics programs could work as well and sometimes better, in Windows. Not only that, but the general software environment was much richer than it was for Apple Macs. Windows machines were more cost effective and they still are. Earlier on they needed a bit more tweaking at times, but I’d become pretty good at that, by dint of circumstance.
Having had a foot in both camps, I was relatively impervious to Apple’s reality distortion field. Nevertheless, a couple of years ago I bought an Apple iPad. It was something really new, something I wanted and the ‘Apple tax’ didn’t seem to be quite as onerous as it was on Mac computers.
I really loved that iPad, though I always resented being treated as an idiot by the iOS operating system – being shielded from the ‘dangers’ of basic operations that would have made the unit much more useable, particularly in conjunction with my other computers.
I never used an iPhone, but instead bought an Android – for curiosity’s sake as much as anything. I’d fiddled around with Linux as a desktop alternative (it didn’t cut the mustard) and even owned a Linux netbook for a while. I was pleasantly surprised by Android, which had been developed from Linux. It was a refreshing change from iOS. For example, I could use standard Windows drag ’n drop to move files around and organise my device, instead of the appallingly clumsy and confusing iTunes. Sure, there weren’t as many apps available for Android, but there was nearly everything I wanted or needed and some were nicer to use on Android. Some weren’t, but the comparison was not as bad as Apple acolytes claimed and is no longer an issue for me. [Update: I've since replaced this phone, but stayed with Android. I now have a very nice Samsung Galaxy Nexus with the latest Android operating system.]
Having wet my feet, I followed up a few weeks ago with another Android device: Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, imported through a friend in America. Again mainly for curiosity’s sake.
After I got over the excitement of playing with all the cheap apps, my use of the iPad had settled down. Now I was using it 90 percent of the time for email, browsing and consuming media in one form or another. I had 50 million apps that did other things, but with a few honourable exceptions including iRealBook, TuneIn Radio, Home 3D and the MySky HDI app, they were mostly unused. For serious writing, spreadsheeting, graphics, design, research etc, my standard desktop and laptop computer were far more efficient.
Which is why I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that the smaller and lighter seven-inch form factor offered by the Nexus 7 might better suit the way I use a tablet. I was right: it’s way better than my iPad 1, and cost only a third as much. The Nexus 7 is faster, smoother and lighter in the hand. The OS and apps are designed so that text is very readable – often more so than on the iPad, which often forces me to read over-long lines of small type.
I know the newer iPads are much faster than my original model, but the size and weight are still essentially the same and the virtual keyboard is still awful. The Nexus 7’s text input, via the Swype keyboard, leaves the iPad for dead. (This is a good example of how Apple’s restrictive policies can limit competition and deliver mediocrity. Third-party system keyboards are verboten on the iPad. Almost all of the competing Android keyboards are better than the iPad keyboard.)
Where to now?
There’s a new mobile operating system for me to consider. It’s from Microsoft and it’s called Windows Phone. I really like the look of it, but I wouldn’t buy one. I forked out nine hundred dollars a few years ago for a snazzy Nokia E71 so-called smartphone, only to find I owned an orphan. App developers didn’t want to know about its Symbian operating system. The same could easily happen with Windows phone and I’m not going to be caught twice. Not yet anyway…
Good old safe but stodgy Microsoft is going through an uncharacteristically creative purple patch and is also about to release the new Windows 8 desktop operating system. It looks radically different, with a user interface that has much in common with Windows Phone. It’ll be on desktops and laptops and also on a new range of ‘Surface’ tablets which will be released later this month.
Windows 8 has a much better chance of succeeding than Windows Phone, because there is a huge base of existing Windows desktop users. Not all of them will be alienated by the radically new approach, and it is possible to bypass the new ’tiles’ interface and go back to a more familiar Windows screen. I’m not so sure whether Surface tablets will succeed, but I really like what I’ve read about them.
I do see Windows 8 and possibly Surface in my future, along with Android. Apple may not get another look-in.
But it’s early days…