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27 January 2010 @ 12:00 pm
Reality check  
(Edit2: Oops, guess this got long enough that i should cut it...)

I find the media coverage of the iSlate, or whatever they choose to call it (oblig. "if it even exists") a bit baffling. (I've also heard the name "iPad" suggested, but for some reason that name keeps making me think that it ought to come with a stylus called the "iTampon.")

In general, i am both amazed and frustrated by Apple's ability to whip up a media frenzy over pretty much nothing. Not that they don't produce decent devices, but they seem to have gotten the process of transforming their products from a simple piece of hardware into the zeitgeist's platonic ideal of what that kind of device should be down to an art. (Although even Apple is not 100% immune to failure.) This is also certainly not a circumstance unique to Apple products. Blizzard performed the same trick with World of Warcraft in the MMORPG sphere. It happens quite often with video game consoles, but at least in that arena the console generations provide a built in reset switch.

This process usually annoys me at least a little every time it happens, but more so with Apple just because they are so good at it, and because they get such a wide audience for their spin machine. As Penny Arcade pointed out, it must be hell to compete with Apple. Any product released in competition with an Apple device must not only be equal in every regard, it must also noticeably exceed it in at least one area in order to get any significant media attention after release. The media tends to emphasize this running up to the release with "Will this be the X-killer?" type reporting. Needless to say, something that has 90% of the functionality at half the price or half the functionality at a tenth of the price isn't worth talking about. I'm not in a position to know if this unnecessary hurdle actually hurts competition or not, but it definitely seems a little unfair.

For the iSlate in particular, i find the idea of tablet PCs a bit odd. A smartphone i can understand, because it's pretty much a computer you can stick in your pocket. A laptop is a computer that's small enough to carry with you but large enough to provide almost everything you get with a desktop. A tablet isn't small enough to fit in your pocket, but it doesn't have a real keyboard or as large a screen as a laptop. It's been pointed out that it makes a little more sense for women who usually carry a purse around with them anyways, or i suppose people who carry a briefcase around with them all the time or something like that. But for at least 50% of the population i think either a smartphone or a net/notebook would make a lot more sense. (And for those enamoured of the touchscreen part, there are already touchscreen equipped notebooks out there.) Perhaps it will turn out that typing on a virtual keyboard on a tablet will feel as natural as typing on a real keyboard, but i kind of doubt it.

But in any case, as much as all they hype confuses me, i can't deny that the media frenzy exists. I've been seeing reports of it (or rather rumor and speculation) on Google News, on Slashdot, in various other news feeds, and even on TV. So i went to Wikipedia to check out the iSlate article to see if the actual announcement has already happened or if it's scheduled for later today. (I have this naive hope that once that's over with the rampant reporting will stop, though realistically i know it will take at least a day or two to die down to a low roar.)

What really surprised me is that the article has been nominated for speedy deletion! I can kind of see one person being overly pedantic about the fact that it technically hasn't been announced yet, but checking the comments i was surprised by the number and vehemence of the arguments that there shouldn't be any articles about it until there's proof that it exists. More reasonable people pointed out that the media speculation about it definitely does exist, and it would be arguably worth having an article just about that even if it turns out that the Apple conference today is about something totally unrelated. There are Wikipedia sections about Martian invasions that never happened after all.

This of course gets to the heart of one of my big complaints about Wikipedia as it currently works. The focus on "notability" and the belief that the editors on Wikipedia are best able to judge what is and is not "notable." I would certainly approve of a news site choosing not to talk about the iSlate, though i can also understand why they all do. Once a certain critical mass has been reached there's too much potential money involved to be the one guy who doesn't have anything to say about it. (And i also realize that clicking on the occasional article myself, even if it's just to scoff at the craziness of it all, contributes to the "problem.") But once the meme is out there in the wild it is Wikipedia's responsibility to include it, at least if they want to maintain their status as _the_ encyclopedia of the web. There are two things you go to an encyclopedia for, to learn a moderate level of detail about a subject you already have a cursory knowledge of, and to find out about something you've never heard before. (The reason you _stay_ of course is link hopping.) The second case usually occurs because you ran into a reference to something in some other medium and thought "WTF is that?"

Edit3: In summation

If some friend of mine mentions a local band they went to see it would be really nice if i could go to Wikipedia and look up some info about them. (But i probably can't, "local band" = "not notable.") If someone mentions an author who has professionally published at least one book i really ought to be able to look them up on Wikipedia and at least get a bibliography. (I may not be able to, it depends on how many books they've published and how popular the subject is with the admins of Wikipedia.) If something is getting mentioned repeatedly in the national news and even seems to be significantly affecting Apple's stock prices there's really no excuse for someone saying "WTH is an 'iSlate'?" and not being able to find at least a blurb about it on Wikipedia. I'm glad that calmer heads (or possibly just inertia) seem to have prevailed in this case, but it's troubling that it was even a question to begin with.

Edit1: And now they apparently have announced it. And it _is_ called the "iPad." ... i guess they're going by the Nintendo philosophy that even if people are making fun of the stupid name, at least they're talking about it? =P
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Ambermaggiedacatt on January 27th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
So, um... it's a giant iPod Touch. Am I missing something?
DonAithnendonaithnen on January 27th, 2010 11:39 pm (UTC)
I think that's the most charitable way of looking at it.

Alternately:
It's a Macbook Air with no keyboard, a totally locked down OS and a tiny hard drive.
It's an eReader except twice as expensive, not easily readable in daylight, and has a batterlife measured in hours rather than weeks.

The best explanation i've heard for how it might do well, and it's a very cynical and kind of elitist idea, is that there is a large population of people who've gotten used to their iPhones/iTouches but are uncomfortable with the idea of using a "real" computer. Now they have the option to use something that's almost as powerful as a "real" computer, but without all the confusion and decision making involved in using and maintaining a "real" OS. It all "just works."

So kind of another level of the sliding scale of ease of use from MacOS to Windows to Linux?
Ambermaggiedacatt on January 28th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
Well, it's the same cost as my Kindle DX. But yes, with less battery life and without e-ink. :P It's an e-reader for video? They don't even advertise a PDF viewer, so it's clearly not meant to be too much of an e-reader competitor.
Squidceph on January 28th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
Using it as a PDF viewer was my first thought, though. The multitouch screen would be fabulous for zooming and for scribbling down notes. An e-reader that can replicate paper's size and ease-of-notetaking is way high on my wish list.
Ambermaggiedacatt on January 28th, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Yeah, the Kindle DX is disappointing for note-taking. In fact, right now you can't annotate PDFs at all, which is way lame.