“Mobile” vs. “PC”?

In answering a reader question about Flash today, I linked to Adobe’s November press release and I commented:

Granted, Adobe says it’s abandoning Flash ‘only for new mobile device browsers while still supporting it for PC browsers.’ This is still a painful statement because [in part] … the distinction between mobile devices and PCs is quickly disappearing as of this year as PCs are becoming fully mobilized.

But what’s a “mobile device” vs. a “PC” as of 2012? Here’s a current data point, at least for me.

For almost two weeks now, my current primary machine has been a Slate 7 running Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and I’m extremely pleased with it. It’s a full Windows notebook (sans keyboard), and a full modern tablet. How do I slot it between “mobile device” and “PC,” exactly? Oh, and the desktop browser still supports Flash, but the tablet style browser doesn’t…

Since I’ve been using it (and am using it to write this post), let me write a mini-review.

I loved my iPad, and still do, and so I was surprised how quickly I came to love this snappy device even more. Here are a few thoughts, in rough order from least to most important:

  • It has a few nice touches that I miss on iOS, like task switching by simple swipe-from-left (much easier than double-clicking the home button and swiping, and my iPhone home button is started to get unreliable with all the double-clicking [ETA: and I never got used to four-finger swiping probably in part because it isn’t useful on the iPhone]), having a second app open as a sidebar (which greatly relieves the aforementioned back-and-forth task-switching I find myself doing on iOS to refer to two apps), and some little things like including left- and right-cursor keys on the on-screen keyboard (compared to iOS’s touch-and-hold to position the cursor by finger using the magnification loupe). In general, the on-screen keyboard is not only unspeakably better than Win7’s attempt, but even slightly nicer than iPad’s as I find myself not having to switch keyboards as much to get at common punctuation symbols.
  • I was happily surprised to find that some of my key web-related apps like Live Writer came already installed.
  • The App Store, which isn’t even live yet, already had many of my major apps including Kindle, USA Today, and Cut the Rope. Most seem very reliable; a few marked “App Preview” are definitely beta quality at the moment though. The Kindle app is solid and has everything I expected, except for one complaint: It should really go to a two-column layout in landscape mode like it does on iPad, especially given the wider screen. Still, the non-“preview” apps do work, and the experience and content is surprisingly nice for a not-officially-open App Store.
  • Real pen+ink support. This is a Big Deal, as I said two years ago. Yes, I’ve tried several iPad pens and apps for sort-of-writing notes, and no, iOS has nothing comparable here; the best I can say for the very best of them is that they’re like using crayons. Be sure to try real “ink” before claiming otherwise – if you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing. iPad does have other good non-pen annotation apps, and I’ve enjoyed using iAnnotate PDF extensively to read and annotate almost half of Andrei’s D book. But for reading articles and papers I just really, really miss pen+ink.
  • All my software just works, from compilers and editors to desktop apps for full Office and other work.
  • Therefore, finally, I get my desktop environment and my modern tablet environment without carrying two devices. My entire environment, from apps to files, is always there without syncing between notebook and tablet devices, and I can finally eliminate a device. I expected I would do that this year, but I’m pleasantly surprised to be able to do it for real already this early in the year with a beta OS and beta app store.

I didn’t expect to switch over to it this quickly, but within a few days of getting it I just easily switched to reading my current book-in-progress on this device while traveling (thanks to the Kindle app), reading and pen-annotating a couple of research papers on lock-free coding techniques (it’s by far my favorite OneNote device ever thanks to having both great touch and great pen+ink and light weight so I can just write), and using it both as a notebook and as a tablet without having to switch devices (just docking when I’m at my desk and using the usual large monitors and my favorite keyboard+mouse, or holding it and using touch+pen only). It already feels like a dream and very familiar both ways. I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back to a traditional clamshell notebook, ever.

Interestingly, as a side benefit, even the desktop apps are often very, and more, usable when in pure tablet+touch mode than before despite the apparently-small targets. Those small targets do sometimes matter, and I occasionally reach for my pen when using those on my lap. But I’ve found in practice they often don’t matter at all when you swipe to scroll a large region – I was surprised to find myself happily using Outlook in touch-only mode. In particular, it’s my favorite OneNote device ever.

By the end of this week when I install a couple of more apps, including the rest of my test C++ compilers, it will have fully replaced my previous notebook and my previous tablet, with roughly equal price and power as the former alone (4GB RAM, 128GB SSD + Micro SD slot, Intel Core i5-2467M) and roughly equal weight and touch friendliness as the latter alone (1.98lb vs. 1.44lb). Dear Windows team, my back thanks you.

So, then, returning to the point – in our very near future, how much sense does it really make to distinguish between browsers for “mobile devices” and “PCs,” anyway? Convergence is already upon us and is only accelerating.

Reader Q&A: Flash Redux

David Braun asked:

@Tom @Herb: What’s so wrong with flash that it should be boycotted? Have I been being abused by it in some way I’m not aware of? Also,does HTML5 have any bearing on the subject?

I’m not saying it should be boycotted, only that I avoid it. Here’s what I wrote two years ago: “Flash In the Pan”.  Besides security issues and crashing a lot, Flash is a headache for servicing and seems to be architecturally unsuited for lower-power environments.

Since then, two more major developments:

1. Even Adobe has given ground (if not given up).

Adobe subsequently abandoned Flash for mobile browsers and started shipping straight-to-HTML5 tools.

Granted, Adobe says it’s abandoning Flash ‘only for new mobile device browsers while still supporting it for PC browsers.’ This is still a painful statement because:

  • it’s obvious that ceding such high-profile and hard-fought ground sends a message about overall direction; and
  • the distinction between mobile devices and PCs is quickly disappearing as of this year as PCs are becoming fully mobilized (more on this in my next blog post).

2. We’re moving toward plugin-avoiding browsing.

Browsers are increasingly moving to reduce plugins, or eliminate them outright, for security/reliability/servicing reasons. Moving in that direction crease pressure or necessity to either:

I’m not saying Flash will die off immediately or necessarily even die off entirely at all; there’s a lot of inertia, it’s still useful in many kinds of devices, and it may well hang on for some time. But its architectural problems and current trajectory are fairly clear, and it’s been months since I’ve heard someone complain that certain people were just being unfair – Jobs’ technical points are on the right side of history.

The “You Call This Journalism?” Department

The Inquirer isn’t normally this silly, and it isn’t even April 1. Nick Farrell writes:

Why Apple might regret the Ipad [sic]

THE IPAD HAS DOOMED Apple, according to market anlaysts [sic] that are expecting the tablet to spell trouble for its maker. … Rather than killing off the netbook, the Ipad [sic] is harming sales of the Ipod [sic] and Macbooks… if the analysts are right the Ipad [sic] has killed the Ipod [sic] Touch.

This is just silly, for four reasons. Three are obvious:

  • The iPod Touch fits in your pocket and can be easily with you all the time. Nothing bigger can ever kill it, but only replace it for a subset of users who don’t need in-pocket portability. (Besides, even if all iPod Touch buyers bought an iPad instead, the latter is more expensive and so the correct term would be not “kill” but “upsell”.)
  • The laptop has a real keyboard and full applications. Nothing not full-featured can ever kill it, but only replace it for a subset of users who don’t need the richer experience and applications.
  • Even if it was killing the other business outright, which it isn’t, it’s always better to eat your own lunch than wait for a competitor to do it.

And the fourth reason it’s silly? Let’s be very clear: The iPad has sold 1 million units in its first 28 days. At $500-700 a pop, that means the iPad is becoming a new billion-dollar business in two months.

Nick, I don’t think “regret” is the word you’re looking for.


If you like reading just about anything on the web, including my articles, in a pretty nicely rendered plain format with no ads or other distractions, you might want to try out arc90’s Readability.

All you do is drag a bookmarklet to your bookmark bar, and then on any article-like web page you can click on the bookmarklet to turn this:


into this (with a few choices each for font, size, and margin):


This lets you gain a lot in readability when all you want to do is read the article itself with basic text and graphics rendered fairly nicely. You do lose a little formatting, such as colored text which I sometimes use in my articles’ code examples, but the overall effect is pretty nice.

I’ll keep trying Readability out, especially on smaller-than-desktop screens, to see if it’s a keeper. So far the overall effect is pretty nice. Thanks to James P. Hogan for the tip, even if the link his page gives is broken.


Note: If you’re using Mobile Safari (i.e., iPhone or iPad) you’ll need to do a little bit more work because that software doesn’t currently support dragging the bookmarklet to its bookmark bar. Fortunately, there’s a workaround:

  • Find the Javascript code. I just made the bookmarklet on a desktop browser and copied the code from there to an email to myself (some things are faster with a keyboard and mouse). Alternatively you can inspect the HTML using HTML Viewer right on the same device as Mobile Safari and cut-and-paste from that.
  • In Mobile Safari, make a new bookmarklet.
  • Edit it, and paste the Javascript code as the URL.

As has been true since the early Mac days in the 1980s, Apple products and SDKs make every piece of functionality either super easy if it’s supported, or super painful if it’s not. :-)

Pre-emptive snarky comment: Yes, I know some people will retort that Microsoft and Linux products are better, because at least they consistently make everything super painful all of the time… but I think that’s only half true.

Links I enjoyed this week

C++ and C++0x

C++0x Core Language Features in VC10 [Visual C++ 2010] (MSDN)
This is the VC++ team’s overview, side by side with the previous release. Includes handy links to the C++ committee paper numbers.

See also Scott Meyers’ C++0x feature availability tracker for gcc and VC++, which is fairly up to date although it primarily represents the compiler versions and features that Scott has exercised personally, not necessarily the latest compiler or all features that are actually supported.

Other interesting stuff

Ars Technica Reviews the iPad (Ars Technica)
Here’s a good example why I often like Ars reviews better than those at other “gizmo” sites (you know who you are). Whereas lots of other sites climbed over each other to be the first to breathlessly post reviews based on using the iPad simulator rather than having real hardware in hand and actually using the device they’re reviewing, Ars waited until their reviewers could report based on actually using the device personally. What a refreshing idea!

Of course, to make it a no-brainer purchase for me, it still needs a stylus and OneNote.

Links I enjoyed, and iPad musings

Appetizers: Three cool links

The Design of Design by Fred Brooks (Amazon)
Yes, a new book by the Fred Brooks. Started reading it in Stanza on my iPhone today…

A Turing Machine (aturingmachine.com)
I’m in love. This is my favorite computer ever. I so want one.

The Evolution of Visual C++ in Visual Studio 2010 (VS Magazine)
A summary of what’s new in VC++ 2010, from the C++0x language and library features, to concurrency runtime and libraries, to faster and more accurate Intellisense (running the EDG engine), and more. All I can say is that VS 2010 is available imminently…

Entree: My favorite link this week

What the iPad Really Is (Michael Swaine, Dr. Dobb’s)
Swaine gets it. The iPad is a “read-mostly” and “anywhere” device.

That’s why Steve Jobs is correct that this segment between notebooks and phones exists, and that serving that segment expands the market rather than competing directly with either neighboring segment. The tablet, spelled with “i” or otherwise, mostly doesn’t compete with desktops and notebooks (except for users who only do read-mostly stuff) or smartphones (except for users who need a bigger screen); it complements both. I’ve been using Windows convertible tablets off and on for years for this part of my computing life.

For my tablet needs, the iPad as launched had only two disappointments. The killer piece of missing software was a OneNote equivalent, and the killer piece of missing hardware was a stylus – really, because I want to finally have a real paper-notebook replacement. My convertible tablet/notebook has these covered, but maybe if a dedicated tablet can match this part too it can take over the “tablet segment” for me and I can go back to a notebook that’s a dedicated notebook. We’ll see.

Incidentally, now with Netflix (if it’s not a 4/1 joke) and Hulu and Flickr and ABC joining the burgeoning flood, it looks more and more like “iPad, iPad everywhere”