I queued for 6+ hours to be one of the first to buy an iPad 2 in the UK on Friday 25th March. Waiting itself was a more pleasurable experience than I had anticipated. The company was good and the atmosphere fun. We were of course ridiculed by passers by (who would probably not hesitate being first in the queue for a sale at Next). But when my time came I picked up a black 64GB/3G+WIFI iPad 2 and hurried out of the shopping mall, painfully aware that my iPad could be seen clearly through the white Apple bag, raising my chances of being mugged considerably. After spending a few days with the iPad 2 I have jotted down some initial observations…

• At first glance the form factor of iPad 2 looks very similar to it’s predecessor. But once held in your hands the differences become apparent. It feels implausibly thin yet both rigid and solid. The flat back makes it feel less awkward. I remember my first two weeks with the first generation iPad. It took a while for my wrists to get used to it’s weight and for me to work out how best to hold it. For someone purchasing an iPad 2 as their first tablet I suspect this would be much less of a factor. Although only a little lighter, iPad 2 feels more like an oversized Kindle than a first generation iPad.

• The overall experience is much improved by the increased CPU performance. There is no lag when flicking through pages of app icons and no noticeable redraw (AKA the chequerboard effect) when scrolling quickly through long Safari pages. Third party apps that were previously a little slow are also more pleasurable to use. Tweetmag and Zite spring to mind.

• The extra RAM greatly improves the multitasking experience. For example, a previously closed Safari tab rarely has to refresh itself when switching back to it.

• I purchased both the leather and polyurethane Smart Cover. The leather marks easily but feels better in the hand and smells better too. The polyurethane seems more durable but on reflection I think the leather case will have more character as time passes. If I had a criticism of the Smart Cover it would be that a few more magnets could have been added. Specifically a couple of magnets on the back of the iPad itself would have helped prevent the cover flapping around when folded back on itself when held one handed.

• The back of the iPad 2 is as vulnerable to scratches as the first generation model. I picked up a nasty scratch on my old iPad by placing it down on a coffee table that had a grain of sugar on it. Beware. Aluminium is no where near as durable as it sounds. I will be picking up a BOOKback ASAP.

• As widely publicised, the cameras are a disappointment if you intend to shoot stills. For Facetime and the odd video clip they are fine. I think Apple would have been well advised to remove altogether the ability from the Camera app to take stills.

• Battery life seems better than my first gen iPad. This may well be due to degradation with the older iPads battery. It has been heavily used since its purchase a year ago and charged/discharged almost every day since.

• A new dock is available for the iPad 2. But it is possible to use the old style dock. Inserting the iPad 2 into the first gen dock is a little tricky the first few times, but it becomes easier with practice. Once sat on the dock it looks fine. I will likely save myself some money and stick with the older docks (of which I have three).

• I occasionally use a stylus to take notes in apps like Penultimate and Notes Plus. There seems to be more drag when using the stylus on the iPad 2 screen. This makes it a less pleasurable experience. I am not sure why this is. Maybe a new coating on the glass?

• There are some potentially confusing changes to the Sound preferences. Because the iPad 2 can accept incoming Facetime calls, it has the ability to ‘ring’ much like a phone would do. By default the volume rocker does not affect the ringtones or other system sounds (incoming mail, device lock, calendar alerts etc). It only alters the volume the audio originating from video and music apps. This behaviour can be altered within the Sound preference pane.

The third beta of iOS 4.2 for iPad is now in the hands of developers. Here are a few initial observations…

1. Some of the more taxing animations (e.g., app switching), are smoother and glitch free.

2. The sound preferences bug has been squashed. However, a new one has been introduced. iBooks will no longer sync your position in an ebook between devices because iOS 4.2 won’t accept your iTunes password.

3. Video playback in Safari now acts as expected (BBC iPlayer now works etc).

4. Some changes have been made to ‘Airplay’. In previous betas, Airplay was available in any apps that used the systems audio/video playback GUI API’s. However, many have noted that the Airplay icon is now missing from the YouTube and Videos apps. Much of the commentary I have read seems to suggest that the reason for Airplay removal is pressure on Apple from content providers. I have a less sinister theory…

Until beta 3, the Airplay controls were visible in all media apps regardless of whether a compatible Airplay device (say an Airport Express of Apple TV) was on the same local network as the iPad/iPhone. However, beta 3 seems to check for AirPlay compatible devices. If one is present it shows the controls. If no device is found it hides Airplay from view. Which brings us to the YouTube and Videos apps. To the best of my knowledge the only device capable of receiving a video stream over Airplay is a second generation Apple TV. And there is a good chance that even they will need a software update around the time AirPlay is ready for primetime (Apple says November 2010). If the Apple TV is not yet advertising its Airplay video service over the LAN, I suspect iPads/iPhones running beta 3 will hide the Airplay controls in all potential video streaming apps (like YouTube and Videos).

5. The resolution of the default wallpaper (droplets on glass) has been increased. It now looks very crisp and sharp.

6. On a side note, new SMS alert tones have been added to the iPhone version of beta 3. Personally I think they are horrendous. But visit this link and make up your own mind… http://gizmodo.com/5662382/the-new-iphone-sms-ringtones

7. Safari’s GUI seems a little more responsive to me. Under 3.x and the previous two 4.2 betas I would often tap on the address bar only to have to wait a few seconds before the onscreen keyboard would slide up and allow me to type a URL or execute a Google search. Beta 3 solves this issue.

8. Twitter for iPad issues still persist. I have come to the conclusion that the inability of the app to save its authentication state is a problem that can only be solved by an update from the app developer. It seems that under iOS 3.2 Twitter for iPad saves its state when home button is pressed and the app is closed. However, 4.2 introduces multitasking to the iPad for the first time. As a result the app is never shutdown (and the state is not saved) when returning to the home screen. The only situation where Twitter shuts down is when the operating system itself decides to purge the app from RAM when memory becomes constrained (which evidently happens often and does not trigger the app to save its authentication state).

9. The hardware slider switch continues to mute the device rather than locking the screen orientation a la iOS 3.2. The onscreen feedback overlay has now been changed to represent a muted speaker. Under the previous two betas Apple used the ‘muted ringtone’ overlay found on the iPhone since its launch in 2007. The speaker is far more appropriate for the iPad.

More to come…

Apple has now made the second beta of their iOS 4.2 update available to developers. I got some hands on time with the new update earlier today. Here are a few observations…

1. A new app switching animation has been introduced. It is a marked improvement over the original implementation which mimicked the iPhone. Switching apps feels quicker and smoother. The new animation seems to better convey the concept of switching between apps. Very nice.

2. Compared to Beta 1, general performance seems slightly better. That’s not to say that Beta 1 was a slouch. But some of the minor glitches have been ironed out.

3. Still no sight of Airplay compatibility with older Apple TVs. Boo!

4. A particularly nasty bug has been introduced to the Settings app. Selecting the Sound pane causes the app to crash. I have also seen it lock the iPad up completely on one occasion.

5. There are no improvements with some of the video playback issues in Safari (BBC iPlayer for example). The authentication issues with Twitter for iPad persist too.

6. Some subtle graphical changes have been made to the keyboard. Keys now seem to have more pronounced drop shadows.

7. Both Wifi and 3G networking seem more stable. Beta 1 had a tendency to crap out at least once a day, leaving the iPad with no connectivity. So far so good with Beta 2.

8. Airplay will now push audio to Airport Express connected speakers more reliably, with less stuttering and skipping. It now seems on par with it’s predecessor, AirTunes. I have not been able to experiment with video over Airplay.

9. The ability to manually configure cellular data settings on the device is back.

Recently I was able to get some hands on time with an iPad running the first beta of iOS 4.2. Here are some initial observations…

1. Folders are a god send. 6 pages of apps can easily be condensed down to a more manageable two home screens. Whereas under iOS 3.2 I am much more inclined to show restraint when installing apps, 4.2 is likely to encourage wild App Store binges. Good news for Apple.

2. Performance appears largely unaffected; a pleasant surprise given the iPads somewhat anaemic 256MB RAM. That’s not to say that everything with Beta 1 is plain sailing. Video playback is problematic in Safari. The more graphical RSS readers (Pulse and Flud for example) tend to crash on launch and Twitter for iPad refuses to maintain a persistent connection. All of these issues should be resolved when 4.2 goes primetime in November 2010.

3. The hardware orientation lock slider now becomes a mute button. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I am hoping that the final release of 4.2 steps away from using the ‘mute ringtone’ onscreen overlay to signal when mute has been activated/deactivated. A more appropriate overlay would be the one used in Mac OS X (the stylised speaker icon).

4. Activating the multitasking app switching bar when holding the iPad in portrait orientation feels awkward to me. Doing so on an iPhone feels much more natural because the device is designed to be held in one hand. Double clicking the home button on the iPad requires an intentional stretching of the hand so the thumb can reach the centrally positioned home button.

5. The changes to the signal stretch indicator bars on iPhones running 4.0 onwards have been carried over to the 3G iPad models in 4.2.

6. The ability to manually configure the cellular carrier settings on the device itself appear to have been removed. 4.2 Beta 1 seems to rely solely on the automatic carrier updates pushed from iTunes when syncing the device.

7. Mail.app plays nicely with Gmail. The left-to-right swipe gesture will now archive, rather than delete, a message. The old trash icon previously found on the right of Mails toolbar has now been replaced by Googles ‘archive’ icon (the very same one found in the Gmail tablet compatible web app).

8. Airplay can be found everywhere. Every app capable of media playback that I tried displayed the new Airplay icon next to the playback controls. It is possible to push any audio to a compatible device. It currently works with Airport Express, although the audio playback can get a little choppy. It doesn’t work with the soon to be replaced, older models of Apple TV. I will be pissed if Airplay compatibility is withheld from Apple TV early adopters purely to force sales of the newer model. The first gen Apple TV is capable of serving as an AirTunes client. I doubt there is a technical reason why it can’t also receive and play Airplay content. We will see…

9. The Calendar app loses it’s bright, saturated colour scheme in favour of a more muted iCal-esque tone.

A fantastic yet troubling article that details the battle against Conficker, surely one of the cleverest pieces of malware yet written. A worm that lays dormant on millions of Windows PC’s, silently awaiting instructions from its creator years after it was first discovered.

The Enemy Within

This man really cares about the details…

For many years I have suffered at the hands of the standard UK power plug. Bulky and unweildy, it makes a mockery of any attempt to travel light. I have yet to find a notebook case that copes well with the size and shape of it. As laptops become slimmer its design failings only become more obvious. Enter the ‘folding plug’; an ingenious space saving concept that us Brits can only hope becomes reality.