The iPad Mini – The Worm in Apple’s Core

The iPad mini was recently unveiled to the shock of few, but certainly the delight of many of the Apple faithful who, with outstretched arms and open wallets, welcomed the new 7.9 inch tablet into the world. It is beautiful, it is fast, and it is currently so hot that the surface of the sun is considering releasing a sex tape to stay relevant.

It also represents one of the biggest Apple missteps in years.

Now, let me make this clear. I love the iPhone 5 (though I prefer the Galaxy S3 in many respects), I would trade limbs for the any of the upcoming MacBook line, and I think that the iPad 3 and it’s mind blowing retina display is without competition the best all-around gadget on the market, and possibly the company’s greatest release on a purely technical level. I certainly do not hate Apple, and instead love them for how they force everyone to step up their game.

And that’s why I am tremendously disappointed with the iPad Mini. Since the original Kindle Fire received a great deal of mockery initially for being viewed as a “can’t afford the iPad, might as well settle” device, the small tablet market has become its own niche, no longer defined by the functions of the iPad. This is particularly evident by the quality of the Google Nexus 7, a tablet that’s versatility far outshines any limitations it is supposed to have. It’s also an idea that’s being carried on by the news of the upcoming Kindle Fire HD, which at its full price model is as statistically impressive of a 7 inch model as we’ve seen.

It would have once been impossible to imagine that a small tablet released by Apple wouldn’t storm a market set up to defy it like a bully on a fresh playground. Instead the visual we are left with after its initial unveiling is a timid child approaching with a drooping baseball cap feebly mumbling, “Hey guys…can I play?”

You can view the statistics and figures of the iPad Mini compared to its main competitors, and you’ll find that it is pretty much even, slightly better, or slightly worse in all fields. I like the super slim size and light weight of it to be sure, and of course appreciate its typical Apple beauty, but there is no one spec that jumps out at you as truly jaw dropping, or even noteworthy. Well, besides the price, which runs from $329 for the base model 16 GB with WiFi up to a 64 GB model with LTE capabilities for $659. This is compared to the Fire HD which is $199 for the 16 GB model, and the Nexus 7 which goes for $199 for and 8 GB and $249 for the 16 GB.

Now, you could justify the price of the iPad mini if it was indeed the top of the line, “Rolls-Royce” of  7-inch tablets. However, you just don’t get that vibe from the early word about the mini. The positives so far talk about what a great e-reader it is, its ultra slim design, and of course the benefit of the Apple app market which is far and away deeper than the Android market, and has apps designed more for a tablet in mind which Android is lagging on. That last point has been a the major defense of Apple since the announcement of the mini, as they have been feverishly supporting their price point to many different sources, with the main idea being that what you’re really buying here is the Apple brand and everything that comes with it, more than a product that can be easily defined by numbers.

But the question for consumers must be is that really still worth it? Can you justify using the word investment on what is still essentially a first gen product, that will no doubt be outstripped by a new model next year for the benefits of the tablet specific apps, and the Apple brand? Apple is touting that the mini is not a reduced and instead a condensed form of  the regular iPad, but ironically  in a market once created as a smaller alternative to the iPad comes an actual smaller iPad that finds itself in a field where that is no longer enough. The Google Nexus 7 was a game changer for 7 inch tablets as it proved that you don’t have to compromise for a smaller size, and that a cheaper tablet can perform on a high level for a reasonable price, with features and qualities unique to its model. It’s hard to say the same for the iPad mini which still looks and feels like a smaller iPad, but not a 7 inch iPad of its own.

In times gone by Apple would not have put up with competition in its domain and would have unequivocally released the 7 inch tablets to end all 7 inch tablets. While the iPad mini looks like a more than competent device that will no doubt perform at a high level, for the first time in a long time consumers have viable options to choose from when facing the prospect of going against an Apple device.

The only question is, will they test these new waters in mass, or blindly take the worm like the good little fishes Apple seems to think they are?

The CruxSKUNK Might Provide the Perfect iPad Keyboard

For a company all about upselling (just try to leave an Apple Store without being sold a case for your iPhone) Apple themselves haven’t done a great job of providing an accessory to fix the iPad keyboard dilemma.

See as beautiful a device as the iPad is, its on screen keyboard doesn’t exactly lend itself to any use more urgent than internet browsing. This severely hinders many of the features the wonder tablet can offer. Apple, along with several other companies, offer Bluetooth keyboard accessories, but the results of trying to use one are often awkward and make enjoying using your iPad more burdensome than need be. Some companies like Belkin, Zagg, and Kensington have tried to get around this problem with keyboard/case hybrids that turns your iPad into something that closer resembles a laptop. Reactions and results are mixed on those hybrids, with many of them still coming off as awkward, causing severe limitations in mobility, or worse just plain cheap.

Where others have failed in resolving this problem, though, an unlikely savior, with an unlikely name for a savior, may have emerged from the funding fields of Kickstarter.

It’s called the CruxSKUNK (what?) and it may succeed where other, similar products have failed by using some of the same product synergy Apple is so fond of themselves. That’s because, when you put your iPad into the case, the entire unit is made to resemble a Macbook Air in weight, looks, and feel. The metamorphosis is genuinely impressive, as is the keyboard itself which features nice large type-face, full keyboard set-up and range, and a nicely thin base (6mm). Aesthetically, it is the most immediately pleasing case of its kind on the market.

But the CruxSKUNK isn’t trying to get by on its looks. Instead the real beauty of this case is its hinge that lets the user place their iPad in a variety of positions to suit their needs. The idea is to provide the perfect set up for watching movies, working on documents, or playing games all without having to remove the case. After seeing the video of the CruxSKUNK in action, its hard to believe that they haven’t achieved just that. If you do need to remove your iPad, however, the Crux also allows you to do so without much in the way of hindrance.

Currently the CruxSKUNK has already well exceeded its revamped $90,000 goal, with over $191,000 dollars earned and 20 days still left to go for funding.  The only available backing options left range from $155 for a CruxSKUNK and nice leather carrying sleeve, to $1500 plus for 10 cases and 10 sleeves. Obviously, that’s not cheap when compared to some of the competitors on the market. However, since the main complaint of those competitors is how cheap their actual products are, you ultimately have to ask yourself if your need for an iPad keyboard case is truly great enough to warrant going for the top of the line. If it is, even in its pre-production phase, the CruxSKUNk appears to be just that.

Amazon Looking to Rekindle the Tablet Wars with the Kindle Fire 2

It’s looking more and more like the launch of the Google Nexus 7 tablet is just the start of a firestorm about to hit the affordable tablet market. Appropriately then, Amazon is looking to jump back into the fray by fighting that fire with one of their own.

According to rumors first started by a report in the China Times, Amazon is looking to start production early on the Kindle Fire 2, possibly aiming for a release as soon as this summer. While details are sparse on the upgraded Fire, the word is that Amazon’s Taiwan partner Quanta has received the go ahead to start production on what could possibly be a few different models of the Fire. While all of the models are currently being predicted to retain the original Fire’s 7-inch screen (with the base model retaining the $199 price point), most likely the different units will feature increasingly larger storage capacities and work off an increasing pricing structure similar to the  Nexus 7. There’s even word going around that the most expensive unit of the three will include a built-in camera and 4G capabilities. It’s also hard to imagine that even the base model of the new Fire won’t include a faster processor, better screen resolution, and a longer battery life if it looks to keep up with the standard Nexus 7.

I know a few people that own the original Kindle Fire, and the general consensus that you get from them is that “it does what I need it to do,” That’s a far cry from the original mission statement of the Fire when it was still marketing itself as a rival to the iPad at a much cheaper price. Since then, the smaller, cheaper tablet has established a market of its own with the Kindle Fire being seen as the fore bearer, and even the front-runner, of the new line. Considering, though, that Apple, the company whose iPad helped kick off this new war, is allegedly looking to release their own smaller tablet, the big question is if Amazon would do better holding off and seeing what the industry’s giant is going to bring to the table first before jumping the gun with this 2nd generation Fire. Otherwise, the novelty and name power they launched the Fire with in the first place may not hold up if a rushed product that is only meant to compete with the newest kid on the block eventually turns them into another face in the crowd.

The Nest… Cooler Than You

Growing up in Texas, I can tell you that many of the conceptions about the Lone Star state range from the completely false (everyone rides horses and owns guns…err…maybe just rides horses), to the begrudgingly true (for PR sake, let’s go with everyone drives pickup trucks). The one aspect of the great state of Texas that is undeniable, however, is the intense, blinding heat that they get in the summer. Anywhere from 100 to 110 is considered pretty standard, and you’re pretty much forced to deal with it as complaining about the heat is a surefire way to get a “Hot enough for ya?” out of even the most scholarly of natives.

However, from stocking up on Walmart shorts (what a deal!) to raiding the local HEB for some good ole Blue Bell Ice Cream (sorry, getting nostalgic here), every Texan still desperately looks for ways to try to beat the heat. The most popular answer to this question has long been a good central AC unit, because as they said in “Dogma”:

Yet since my time back home, the one innovation in this field I seemed to miss out on is The Nest. Developed by the ex-senior vice president in charge of the iPod group, Tony Fadell, and former iPod software engineer Matt Rogers, the Nest is a smart thermometer that is capable of learning your heating and cooling needs while providing input on when you are able to save on energy costs via a handy leaf icon that lets you know when you are at an optimal setting. You can also use your smartphone or computer to change the temperature setting while you’re away to adjust for inclimate weather, and also view a readout of your energy settings to learn how your settings effects your energy bill and how you can modify it accordingly to save in the future. And of course, since it was developed by former Apple employees, it’s incredibly sleek. Its look is straight out of a sci-fi movie and has the appearance of the kind of invention a James Bond villain would use to cool down his volcano lair.

The design of The Nest isn’t just for eye candy, but rather is meant to alert you to the fact that while other lesser thermostats may have similar features, the Nest really is the complete package. Texas-based energy company Reliant Energy has apparently realized this also as they recently announced their plans to stock the Nest thermostat and offer it to anyone who signs up for the Reliant Learn and Conserve Two-Year Plan.

While The Nest is available at Lowes, Home Depot, Apple stores and Amazon, there’s no denying the major boost that a direct partnership with one of the nation’s leading energy companies can have for the company, especially one that’s based in one of the most prime markets for central air units.

Also, the fact is that the more you see of The Nest, the more you realize you need one. Sure, it’s another accessory that’s bringing us closer to the Cyberdyne world of machines running everything, but with glowing reviews from publications like The Wall Street Journal (“Suddenly, I can’t imagine my home without a Nest”), to CNET (“The thermostat of the future can restart an industry”), I’ll accept my fate at the hands of technological overlords as long as my last days are spent at an intelligent (and cost-cutting) level of temperate comfort.

i’LL See You in Court

Assuming the Mayan calendar got it all wron, and we’ll all live to see 2013, then Apple’s got a day in court to look forward to.

As ruled by Manhattan judge Denise Cote, on June 3rd, 2013 the tech giant will be called forward to respond to the allegations that it helped to orchestrate a coalition of major book publishers (including MacMillan, Penguin Group, Hachette, HarperCollings and Simon & Schuster) in order to set a mandate that any publisher who sold their books via iTunes would not be able to sell them for a lower price anywhere else.

Where the monopoly accusation gets tricky is the idea that any possible coalition that may have been formed was potentially done with the intention of breaking up the stranglehold monopoly that Amazon held on the eBook industry at the time. Apple’s official statement on the subject treads incredibly close to supporting this theory when spokesperson Tom Neumary said at the time of the accusation:

“The launch of the iBookstore in 2010 fostered innovation and competition, breaking Amazon’s monopolistic grip on the publishing industry. Since then customers have benefited from eBooks that are more interactive and engaging. Just as we’ve allowed developers to set prices on the App Store, publishers set prices on the iBookstore.”

For an official statement, it’s pretty gutsy. In fact, it reads to me more like the title of OJ’s book (“If I Did It“) than it does an outright hands in the air denial.

Nevertheless, as HarperCollings, Simon & Schuster and Hachette have all settled out of court, its down now to MacMillan, Penguin and Apple themselves to face the Deparment of Justice accusation next year.

The ramifications of this future decision will obviously be far-reaching if Apple is found guilty, but even an innocent verdict raises the uncomfortable question of whether or not a tech giant just got away with a business crime under the basis that it was for “the greater good.”