Saturday, April 16, 2011

Waiting For Apple & Google's Lovechild

There is nothing I like more than a shinny new piece of kit. Yes, I am a self-confessed gadget freak. But recently, there has been a dearth of excitement and tax offsetting options. Sure I can get a bigger screen, a smaller MP3 player and a higher res camera, but that's hardly moving the game on, is it ?

The iPad was my last fix, and nothing I've seen since really convinced me that it was worth parting with my (or my company's) hard earned shekels.

So, I got pretty excited when my better half turned up with the new 'Google laptop'. I could Google what it's called (oh, ok then, 'CR48' if you have to know..), but there's nothing on it apart from a single sticker with a number. Inevitably, I find myself comparing it to the iPad.

I reckoned it would be great - I've long thought about getting a notepad, finding the iPad too fiddly to use as an input device and my laptop too slow and heavy on my shoulder and on batteries.

But after a week, the CR48 is sitting there, because I can think of what I can do with it..

The good bits are that it starts when you open it (but so does my iPad), it has a nice matt finish and long battery life. It supports Flash. The keyboard is quite nice (although has a US layout), and hallelujah! it has cursor buttons (you know, up down, left and right, whose absence makes the iPad twenty times less useful than it should be). And of course, Chrome is my browser of choice. It's fast and the omnisearch form is so useful.

But that's as far as I can go.

The trackpad is annoying, since you can't tap it (there's a pressure click instead at its bottom edge), the video performance is lousy, so that explains why there's no HDMI out which even the iPad now supports. UPDATE: I found the flag to turn on the tap.

I've previously blogged about an inability to do anything without using Google products. I can't make a call with Skype, I can't open my Dropbox docs, I can't listen to music, I can't ftp, I can't grab a part of the screen. I can't even mail. (Haven't the Google guys seen JoliOS ?) UPDATE: Zoho offered a solution for some of these woes and the video performance, especially over rtmp seems to have improved after an OS patch.

What this device does is show how bad an idea using the browser as a paradigm for an operating system actually is. Ironically, most TVs now use browsers for their EPGs and many other functions, but the TV is a consumption device, not a productivity device. Another irony is that the operating systems for so many such devices are now developed using Google's WebKit.

Another factor, of course, is that the device is utterly useless away from a good broadband connection, and we still seem to be decades away from this in many places, including when roaming in central London where mobile data connectivity remains lousy.

More than anything, the device shows how apps have overtaken the browser and this should be an important message to Google who are hanging on to a vision that the rest of the world left behind five years ago (OK, you have apps, but they're really just web pages in most cases).

Now, if you combined the iPad and the CR34 you'd have something really interesting - touchscreen, great keyboard, Flash, good apps..

So, secretly, I'm tucking the CR34 into my bag alongside my iPad every night. I reckon if they got on and had offspring that would be just the perfect little device that I could offset against tax.