Monday, March 19, 2012

The Emperor's New Clothes - a "New iPad" Review in a "Post-PC World"

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I love gadgets and usually am an early adopter of the latest and greatest toys that tech companies produce and I often share my opinions about these devices with the world. I bought the original Kindle, the Kindle 2, the Kindle Fire, all generations of the iPhone, various Droids, the Xoom, the original iPad, the iPad 2, and now… the new iPad.

IMG 4202

When Apple did their big announcement on March 7th, I immediately went online that afternoon, pre-ordered one in the largest configuration (WiFi+4G 64GB), and it arrived yesterday afternoon. I am not going to repeat the benefits and new features of the device, since they've been aptly covered by Walt Mossberg and many others. And the new screen with its super-high resolution is really stunning.

Instead, I wanted to put Tim Cook's claim that this is now a "post-PC world" to the test and decided to set up my new iPad without connecting it to either PC or Mac and use my iCloud backup of the old iPad 2 to set up the new iPad.

Restore from iCloud

To prepare for the migration from my iPad 2 to the new iPad I made sure that I had previously upgraded my iPad 2 to the latest version 5.1 of iOS and also completed a backup to iCloud over my Wi-Fi network at home on the previous day.

I also should probably say at this point that my home Wi-Fi network is 802.11 g+n and my home is connected to the Internet via a Verizon FIOS connection at 50 Mbps. Therefore, running SpeedTest or similar apps on iPhones or iPads typically report latencies of only 64ms, downstream bandwidths of 17-18 Mbps and upstream bandwidths of 16-17 Mbps on the home Wi-Fi network. So by any means, this is not a slow network. One would think that this is the ideal environment for iCloud to shine in a "post-PC world".

After unpacking the new iPad and attaching the cover I started it up, connected it to my home Wi-Fi network, and entered my Apple ID to connect to my iCloud account. As expected, the iPad offered me the choice to restore from iCloud or to restore via iTunes on my computer. I elected to put the iCloud Restore to the test.

To my initial great delight, the iPad showed a download progress bar, and after a short period of 2-3 minutes proceeded to restart the device, show another progress bar underneath the Apple logo, and completed the whole process in about 5 minutes.

Or did it?

When the iPad came back from its reboot, all my apps were in their usual places, but every single one of them had an empty progress bar underneath. And then I was greeted with a rather unspecific message that said "Restore Incomplete":

ICloudRestore

Not only did the message not inform me of which apps or what data I would be missing, it also left me with the uneasy feeling that this was perhaps not restricted to just apps, because it said "Some items could not be downloaded".

I was still optimistic that all the apps would now quickly download and I could start using my new iPad soon. However, as it turns out the entire process of restoring all the apps from my iCloud backup took more than 3½ hours. Given that I have about 22GB of apps on my iPad and the available network bandwidth mentioned above, the process should have taken less than half and hour!

4G LTE Activation

The next step was to activate the new high-speed 4G LTE data network option. Based on my poor experience with AT&T activations in the past, I decided to go with Verizon this time around. Furthermore, I was looking forward to using the iPad as a mobile hotspot, and presently only Verizon is offering that feature at no extra cost.

After entering all my credit card data and choosing the 5GB data plan, the iPad informed me that it would take up to 15 minutes to activate the new data plan. What really happened after about 5 minutes, however, was that I got the following "Data Plan Activation Failure" message:

IMG 0064

A second attempt to "Try Again" just produced the same message after a several minutes of no information and no progress bars. On my third attempt I then got this rather interesting message about the need to "reprovision" my device:

IMG 0065

I followed the steps prescribed in this screenshot and was soon greeted my another cryptic message - this one more surprising than all of the others before, because I had not touched the SIM card slot at all and so the card was most definitely still there:

IMG 0066

Indeed, after another 15-20 minutes or so, the problem disappeared entirely on its own, the iPad finally connected to the 4G network and also properly activated the data plan. As a next step I wanted to see how fast the 4G network really is…

4G LTE Performance

Living on the Boston Northshore, I've always had network coverage issues in certain rooms in my home, so for this test I went to a window in the attic facing in the direction of the closest cell phone towers and was rewarded with 3 out of 5 bars of LTE signal strength. I ran the trusted old SpeedTest app and to my great delight found downstream bandwidths of 17-18 Mbps, which is indeed as fast as the Wi-Fi connections at my house. Network latency was a bit poorer with 117ms vs. the 64ms on Wi-Fi, and upstream bandwidth was much lower as expected. By comparison, on my iPhone on AT&T's HSPA+ network in this area (which now also shows up as "4G" on the iPhone, even though it is technically just 3G) I get downstream speeds of 2.8 Mbps and upstream speeds of 1.1 Mbps with a latency of 181ms. So these LTE speeds are indeed about 6 times faster than typical 3G speeds and that is quite impressive.

IMG 0092

Next I wanted to put it to the real test and download an app over 4G. I picked Infinity Blade II - one of the new apps that were just recently released and optimized for the new high-resolution "retina" display. Imagine my surprise when I got the following message on my screen:

IMG 0087

The astonishing thing about this is that Verizon advertises their LTE network with the words "Verizon 4G LTE means real-time responsiveness. Apps. Games. Movies. Seamless streaming". And even though I just signed up for a 5GB data plan they are not letting me download a 791MB game? I could certainly understand the need for a warning message that would advise people that this game has a certain size and ask them if they were sure they wanted to download it over LTE. But to not allow them to download it at all makes little sense.

Similarly, as has already been mentioned in various other blogs it is not quite understandable why FaceTime would not work over the LTE network:

IMG 0093

More specifically, there is no technical reason for this arbitrary restriction. As I now have an iPad 2 and the new iPad, I was easily able to turn on the Personal Hotspot feature on the new iPad, create a Wi-Fi network from it, then connect my old iPad 2 to that Wi-Fi network an successfully make a FaceTime video call to Europe from the iPad 2. So the LTE network is easily able to carry the data traffic for FaceTime.

So it seems that while the new iPad does indeed shine technologically on the LTE data speeds as well as the beautiful screen resolution, the whole "post-PC world" hype is to a large degree bogus and it will take quite a while until even the new iPad can be used to its full power on the LTE network.

Some will probably argue that the "post-PC world" meme is not just about smartphones and tablet becoming untethered from computers and directly connecting to the cloud. The idea is supposedly that you can now do certain things on the tablet that required a computer just a few years ago. However, if you look at what the best-selling applications on tablets actually do, then you quickly find that 95% of them are games and the remainder are mostly social media apps or consumer-level tools for editing photos, videos, or organizing personal to-do lists.

For example, while the iPad versions of iMovie and iPhoto are certainly impressive and give people the ability to edit their photos a bit, they are at best useful for hobbyists and when you look at the features available they simply cannot even being to compare to the state of the art of professional photo or video editing tools that exist on computers today.

Summary and Clarification

Just to clarify, I really enjoy using iPads, and continue to believe they are great media consumption devices. I love to read books on them. I love to read magazines and newspapers on them. I even watch the occasional movie or play a game. And for all these purposes, the improved screen resolution of the new iPad as well as the 4G LTE network capabilities are fabulous improvements.

But for any expression of creativity, for software development, for photography, for cinematography, for journalism, blogging, marketing, science, engineering, architecture, … in other words for any serious work … tablets are somewhere between mediocre to useless. For all of these fields the PC - be it Windows, MacOS, or Linux based - has been and will be the essential tool of any creative mind. Therefore, I firmly resent the hubris of people proclaiming this to be a "post-PC world".

The reality distortion field

It is amazing to see the efficiency of the Apple PR machinery at work and how all major newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the NY Times are praising the new iPad and giving its launch such huge coverage. And all the bloggers are doing their part to extol the virtues of the new features by endlessly repeating the same mantra: "insane Retina screen resolution, faster GPU, 4G LTE, same long battery life".

Apparently the reality distortion field is alive and well, even after Steve Jobs has passed away.

But doesn't anyone see that the emperor is wearing nothing at all?

Postscriptum

P.S. Kudos to Joe Brockmeier of ReadWriteWeb for publishing a critical article last week on what we lose in a "post-PC" world.

P.P.S. For comparison purposes, I also set up my wife's new iPad yesterday and in her case used iTunes on her MacBook Pro to install it, activate, it, and restore the backup from her old iPad 1 via the computer. The entire process worked seamlessly with none of the errors I encountered and was completed in about half an hour. She was happy to read her email, go on Facebook, and play Boggle on her new iPad in no time, while I was still waiting for hours for my "Restore from iCloud" to complete…

1 comment:

Peter Barnet said...

When one's end goal is Boggle, we can be a happy post-pc camper with a new iPad. :-) I concur all the way.