Thou Shalt Have No Other Tablets Before Me

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...
Steve "Moses" Jobs

Update: The legal situation has been clarifiied, though it doesn’t affect most of the points at issue here.

This is what Apple effectively said to all of Europe this week, raising fears the the world’s biggest technology company has totally lost it.

Apple claims that a rival product, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, infringes its “design rights”, and that therefore we shouldn’t even have the choice of buying one. A German judge has agreed that there is a case to be made. Apple sought the injunction in Germany, analysts suggest, because that country has a lot of its own design-based industries so the courts are more likely to sympathise with the plaintiff, and trade rules are such that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 cannot now be sold anywhere in the EU until the issue is resolved – with the exception of the Netherlands, where such a case is already under way.

So does Apple have a case? Well the Galaxy Tab is superficially similar to the iPad. But that’s because they are both tablet computers with touch interfaces. The iPad is certainly a great example of such a device, but Apple didn’t invent it. They are both devices that run operating systems originally designed for phones, but “make a phone bigger and take out the phonecall part” is hardly patentable design. There is nothing illegal about trying to compete. In fact our entire economic and social model depends on the idea.

And under the skin of course they are fundamentally different beasts. There are some components that are absolutely identical, yes – but often because those components were designed by Samsung. They cannot run the same software, so the Galaxy Tab is in no way passing itself off as an iPad. Yet Apple’s case seems to be based mostly on the fact that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks a good bit like the iPad 2. It doesn’t even apply to the original 7″ Galaxy Tab.

The real reason why the are out to stop you getting your hands on a Galaxy Tab 10.1? Because it’s too good. Because by a lot of measures, it’s a better product than the iPad 2. it’s significantly lighter for one, which makes a huge difference in a tablet device, plus it has a larger yet sharper screen. What make this abundantly clear is that Apple are trying to do the same to Motorola‘s Xoom, also tipped as a serious rival.

Though these are good products, I still prefer the iPad as an experience. Apple’s total control over hardware and software does lead to a refinement that Android devices never will quite attain. The main reason I would still choose to buy an Android tablet is Apple’s restrictive practices. Now it seems, Apple are restricting the market so that I have no choice but to accept their restricted products. If they ruled the world, the person who built a better mousetrap would find no one beating a path to their door except the police.

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QWERTY keyboard layout - homes keys - Start po...

So let’s see can I do this and cross the street at the same time… OK, no collisions thus far. Bicycles are the worst. Silent and deadly. Like woodlice.

Yes I’m blogging while walking again, using my phone’s thumboard – that is, a keyboard the right size for typing with your thumbs. This time though I’m in an urban environment, which is even more stupid. (Please do not try this at home. Richard is a trained stuntgeek.) Of course we’ve all entered text while walking, on our phones. Some of us have also tried it using the handwriting recognition on a tablet PC, which works pretty well. In terms of speed though the thumboard beats both hollow. It takes two hands, but if you’re texting on an ordinary phone the other hand is idle anyway. Or should be.

So though thumboards may be perceived as unfeasibly cramped they’re actually more useful than the larger keyboards you’ll find on things like netbooks, which are still too small for touch typing but too wide to be used like this. They’re a great invention and deserve a bit more respect.

But back to the local colour. I’m walking via the campus, site of my undistinguished but enjoyable academic career. Those four years seemed to go on forever, yet somehow I could still never find time to study. The place has expanded almost out of recognition since then, and hoardings up now promise that when complete it will be the largest school of engineering in Ireland. Shame, I preferred it as a university.

He may be a geek folks, but he’s still an arts grad.