When you were growing up, did you ever do that thing where you put empty crisp packets in the oven? (Under parental supervision, of course.)
Do it right and the packets would shrink to a fraction of their former size, leaving you with a tiny but ultimately pretty useless crisp packet.
For some reason, that's the image that came to mind when I first saw iPad mini, the latest addition to Apple's iPad range. It's like a normal iPad that's shrunk.
Announced on Tuesday, iPad mini has a 7.9" screen, making it a bit bigger than the iPhone 5 and a bit smaller than the 10" iPad 3 (could this now be called the iPad maxi, or does that sound too much like a feminine hygiene product?).
Introducing iPad mini is a logical move for Apple. Recent months have seen a number of high-profile 7" tablets hit the market, including Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and the Google Nexus 7. Anyone who wanted a smaller tablet simply hasn't had an Apple product to consider.
And there definitely is a market for these compact tablets. They can be useful for super-portable computing, because they're big enough to use productively but small enough to squeeze into an already-full bag or even slip into a suit pocket.
But with iPad mini prices starting at £269, Apple risks pricing itself out of a lot of sales. Those competing tablets both come in at £100 or so under iPad mini's base price. And they both have better screens - which is surprising when you remember that the big wow factor of the larger iPad is its incredibly crisp Retina display.
Of course, iPad mini is bound to still have Apple's legendary build quality, and will run the vast range of existing iPad apps. But it's not a guaranteed success.
One of the reasons the larger iPad has done so well is that Apple was the first company that got tablet computers right. There had been other attempts before, but nobody had created a tablet computer that was as stylish, practical, simple and genuinely useful as the iPad. (The same was true of the iPhone and its touch screen.)
But things have moved on since then. I don't think Apple can simply shrink its iPad, slap a big price tag on it and assume people will come running.
What's more, people who've already bought into the Apple way of doing things probably already have an iPhone or an iPad. Will they really want another touch screen device that's just a slightly different size?
I'm not convinced. If it was £100 less, Apple would sell out in moments. It would make a big dent in the tablet prospects of Amazon and Google. Yet at £269 it looks like an expensive gadget, and many businesses will struggle to justify it over its competitors.
How about you? Could you use an iPad mini in your business?
Over the last day or so a Samsung video has emerged that pokes fun at Apple and its customers.
It shows a bunch of people waiting in line outside a shop to buy a new mobile phone. To pass the time, they discuss the phone's exciting new features, like a connector that's 'all digital' and 'the coolest adaptors'.
The ad is clearly aimed at Apple, the tone is of friendly mockery, and it makes some good points. Many new iPhone features have been standard on Samsung phones for some time.
But around a minute in, one member of the queue reveals that - shock, horror! - he's not there to buy a phone himself. He's just saving a spot for his parents.
"Thanks for holding our spot," says his coffee-cup-clutching mum, while a bearded, grey-haired chap (dad, presumably) looks on with a benevolent smile.
The implication is clear: the iPhone is for oldsters. If you're hip, with it and under 30, a Samsung phone is way cooler.
Just a bit of lighthearted fun, or casual ageism? I can't quite decide, but in this day and age it seems patronising to suggest older people are behind the times with technology and have a tendency to make poor purchasing decisions.
We've mentioned before how research shows the stereotypical view of older computer users isn't very fair or accurate. Yet in the process of having a dig at its biggest rival, isn't Samsung needlessly reinforcing those stereotypes?
Watch the video here and decide for yourself:
Buying an Apple or Samsung phone
If you want to buy a new phone without a contract, you can order iPhone 5 on the Apple website (from £529). Samsung's Galaxy SIII is available from online retailers like Simply Electronics and Misco (£400 - £500)
A queue outside a London Apple Store for iPhone 4. (Image: Eddie Shannon on Flickr.)
Unless one of the world's most valuable companies is trying to mislead us all, Wednesday will see Apple unveil iPhone 5. The latest in its line of smart phones, the shiny, desirable object will almost certainly prompt long queues at Apple stores and deliver a surge in sales. Shareholders must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Rumours abound about what new features iPhone 5 will have, and some of the less outlandish suggestions seem pretty much guaranteed. We look at three top feature rumours and ask whether they'll really make a difference to how your use your phone. We've also rounded up some phones which already offer them.
Although smart phone screens have grown larger over the last couple of years, Apple has stuck with a 3.5" screen for its iPhone. Expect that to change for iPhone 5, which looks likely to offer a 4" screen that will be taller, yet no wider. It'll allow more space for apps, email, websites and maps, without making the phone harder to use one-handed.
Is it worth having?
Probably. A larger screen may appeal to existing iPhone users, and taller-but-not-wider proportions would keep the phone more pocket-sized and easy to work with one hand. However, big screens often mean reduced battery life, and can an extra half inch really make that much difference?
There are heaps of smart phones out there with bigger screens. But if you really want a phone with a large screen, why hold back? The Samsung Galaxy S3 has a huge 4.8" screen, which is certainly handy for viewing websites and documents. It costs around £450 to buy outright, or you can get it for £25 when you sign up for a £36 a month contract with T-Mobile.
Apple's range of iPods and iPhones uses a long, thin connector for charging and transferring data. But to keep the phone as small as possible, it looks like the company will move to a smaller connector with iPhone 5. This will frustrate existing iPhone owners, who will - presumably - have to ditch all their accessories if they decide to upgrade.
Is it worth having?
No. Engineering benefits aside, any change to the connector will simply spell inconvenience for existing iPhone owners who are upgrading. It also means none of the super-cheap iPhone cables you can currently find online will work.
Apple seems to take pleasure in forcing its own standards onto things like connectors, yet there's a perfectly good universal connector out there. It's called Micro USB, and you'll find it on many other handsets including the Nokia Lumia 800. This mid-range Windows Mobile handset is available for free with a £30 a month Three Mobile contract, or for £300 outright.
Today's smart phones are super powerful. Pretty much whichever one you buy is likely to have more than enough oomph for web browsing, playing games and so on. I've had an iPhone 4S for months and it's still snappy with no sign of slowdown. However, many experts expect iPhone 5 to come with a quad-core processor, which should make the phone faster when you're running several apps.
Is it worth having?
At the moment, there's little benefit because few apps require all that processing power. Fast forward a year though, and you might be glad of the power - historically, the iPhone's new features have only been fully exploited over time.
There's no shortage of quad-core smart phones on the market at the moment. The HTC One X is a monstrously-powerful handset that's received excellent reviews. It's free with a £36 a month T-Mobile contract, or you can get it with no ties for £419.
The big unknown with any Apple launch is, of course, which of the more outlandish rumours are true. Could we see a phone with a built-in chip that allows you to pay for things, fingerprint recognition ... or something that nobody has guessed yet? Find out on Wednesday.
Last week’s launch of the new iPad was met with the excitable coverage that inevitably accompanies any Apple product announcement. But beneath the hype, does the new iPad herald wider business adoption of tablet computers?
In November 2011, a study of IT adoption trends among UK small and medium businesses (SMEs) found 37% were using tablet computers. Another 37% said they were planning to purchase them.
So there’s a definite enthusiasm for and move towards tablet computers like the new iPad. And perhaps the emergence of cheaper competitors will accelerate this trend.
The real beauty of tablet computers is their portability. Their smart design, integrating everything into one neat, light panel, makes them ideal for use on the move.
They’re particularly useful for visual tasks, like running presentations or referring to spreadsheets, websites or designs when visiting a client. Many tablets let you take notes using a stylus or digital pen. Some will even convert your handwriting into type.
Tablet computers tend to cost the same as, or a bit less than laptop computers. But can you really replace a laptop with a tablet? And would you want to?
Tablet are fun to use, at least initially. If you’re not used to using a fast, intuitive touch screen then your first days with a tablet can be really enjoyable.
However, when it comes to processing power, laptops have the edge. The latest iPad has heaps of power by tablet standards, but it won’t hold a candle to many laptops. Still, for everyday tasks that may not matter. You won’t notice a great deal of different when browsing the internet or using email.
If you’re considering buying a tablet, think carefully about how you plan to use it. Typing on a touch screen can be awkward and may even be harmful. At least one study has found tablet users have a higher potential for neck and shoulder discomfort.
“It’s best to avoid typing for any length of time directly on a tablet computer,” warns back pain therapist Diksha Chakravarti. “It’s better to use a peripheral keyboard and stand, and remember to take regular breaks to stretch.”
A real bonus for tablet users is that the battery life of these slate-type devices tends to be much better than that of laptops. Your typical tablet computer’s battery will last more than twice as long as your average laptop’s.
This is partly due to the lower power demands of the solid state storage tablets rely upon. They also have other components specifically designed to minimise power use.
One of the trade-offs for this efficiency is in storage space. Tablets are able to hold much less data than your average laptop. Using cloud-based storage can make up the shortfall.
Indeed, tablets and cloud computing are natural partners. Touch screens lend themselves well to navigating web-based applications and you can get a whole host of business tools designed specifically for tablets.
What’s more, because these tools are hosted online (in the cloud), they put less strain on your tablet’s own storage capacity and processing power and are generally more secure, because the data isn’t stored on your easily-stolen tablet.
If you currently rely on a laptop as your main computer, replacing it with a tablet is probably not a good idea. Although tablets are super-portable and enjoyable to use, you’ll miss your laptop’s power, storage capacity and keyboard.
However, as a mobile device to complement your main desktop or laptop computer, a tablet can be ideal. Used in combination with the right cloud-based applications, it can seriously increase your productivity.
Over the years, new types of computer have come and gone. Remember the ultra-mobile PC? Or the Amstrad E-m@iler? I wonder why Alan Sugar never mentions that on The Apprentice. And whatever happened to tablet computers with rotatable screens, built-in keyboards and a stylus for writing on the screen?
But every now and then, something comes along that does change things. And at the end of last year, a piece of news suggested that one new kind of computer is having a real impact – both at home and in the workplace.
Apple’s iPad reigns supreme in the UK tablet computer market. It accounts for almost three-quarters of all tablet sales. And perhaps most impressively, it turns out that Apple is selling more iPads than Dell is selling laptop computers.
Given that Dell is one of the world’s biggest computer manufacturers (the company claims it ships over 10,000 systems a day), that’s astonishing. And it strongly suggests that long-term, the iPad – plus other tablet computers, should anyone start buying them – could have a huge impact on what sort of computers we use and how we use them.
People are embracing the iPad enthusiastically, swapping full-spec laptops for the thin, light, super-easy-to-use Apple gadget. Who can blame them? No long waits while it starts up, no fiddly keys or buttons ... just a touchscreen anyone can use, plus thousands of apps.
It’s not a stretch to say that 2012 could see tablet computers establish themselves as the mobile computing tool of choice. Unless you need a full-size keyboard, it’s becoming more difficult to see what benefits are offered by traditional laptops for typical on-the-move tasks like checking email or reviewing documents.
Just ask the companies which sell netbooks, the small, cheap, low-powered laptops that just a few years ago were poised to reshape the PC industry. Things don’t look great for them: sales have slumped 40%. Blame is being laid at the door of the iPad.
The argument stands up: to many people, netbooks are just compromised laptops. If you can’t type comfortably on the keyboard and you have to squint to see the screen, a tablet computer might well be a better option.
What’s more, machines like the iPad are developing fast. Will the combination of impressive hardware and versatile apps persuade more people to swap their netbook or laptop for a tablet?
Laptop makers certainly are worried. You can tell, because the big players are rushing to release ultrabooks, another type of computer which is like a netbook but thinner, more powerful and much more expensive.
These sleek machines have enough punch to replace your desktop computer, but are designed to start instantly and be small enough to take anywhere. They look great, they perform well and – although they can be expensive – they’re finding a spot in the market.
But hold on – guess who makes the most successful ultrabook. Yep, that’s right: it’s Apple again, this time with the MacBook Air. This is the computer which pretty much defined what an ultrabook should be – and it certainly represents what other ultrabook manufacturers aspire to.
Put aside the ultrabook vs. netbooks vs. laptops vs. tablets debate. The real story might be Apple itself, and whether it can take a much bigger slice of the business IT market in 2012.
I've just lost a brilliant, inspiring potential sales director. Here I am, a hot startup in the search space with tons of VC backing, an emerging market and offering a great salary and significant stock options and I lose to a huge American corporation.
Aren't big corporations supposed to be terrible to work for? Aren't they supposed to be nasty to their people and only attract second raters?
The corporation in question in this case is Apple. As an ardent Apple fan of four years (since the first MacBook Air) I can't even get bitter and twisted over this loss. I actually found a worthy competitor. And for the first time in my life I actually didn't mind coming second.
Steve, you did a brilliant job of being clever more than once. Everyone is allowed to be clever once, few achieve it. But Steve, you did it time after time after time. iMac, Air, iPod, iPhone, iPad.
It's in the team. Steve was a talent magnet. And a generous one to boot. Some of his key people had stock options in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. Many middle managers are millionaires.
Whilst he was clearly becoming sicker over that last year he was neatly handing over the responsibility of the business to trusted lieutenants – the likes of design genius Jonathan Ive and logistics genius Tim Cook.
What you have bequeathed us Steve is not only brilliant products (you have to try the iPhone's new artificially intelligent assistant, Siri, it’s incredible) but a world class example of how to run a business that is capable of repeating success through talent acquisition.
What was it Lyndon Johnson said? "If you recruit someone who is better than you then you conclusively prove you are better than they." So true.
You can play solitaire on your iPad too... (Image: bark on Flickr.)
It’s impossible to deny that the iPad has been a real sales success. Apple sold 9.25m of them in the last quarter alone. It might only be a matter of time before iPads become another piece of equipment that people bring to work – just like their mobile phone.
But is there a place for the iPad in your company?
The iPad’s usefulness as a business tool has been questioned, not least on this very blog! But for many, it’s proving to be a revolutionary device. It’s easy to hold, easy to transport and easy to use.
It uses the same operating system and interface as the iPhone, and doesn’t bother with conventional input devices like a mouse or keyboard. You just tap, swipe and drag your fingers on the screen.
Part of the iPad’s success is certainly down to the wide availability of apps. You can download nearly 100,000 of them, covering every category from entertainment and media to productivity and business.
It’s these apps that really enable you to make productive use of an iPad in the workplace. Here are some specific scenarios where you might want to consider using an iPad:
Software like Apple’s Keynote lets you import and edit PowerPoint presentations, and you can even hook it up to a monitor or projector (if you don’t mind buying an adaptor from Apple).
There are also applications available that will let you do ‘virtual presentations’ – so you can show your presentation to people on the internet.
There’s a built-in calendar and address book, so it’s a good replacement for a paper planner – and the larger screen means it’s easier to read than your mobile phone.
You can also choose from a range of apps to manage your tasks, monitor projects, share files, read and post items in social networks and more.
You can even use it as a point-of-sale device (like a till). Other companies are using iPads to replace printed manuals, and some schools are using it in place of stacks of books.
There are lots of other ways the iPad can be used for business. Are you considering using one in your company as well? And if your company doesn’t own its own iPads, would you be happy for staff to bring in their own? Leave a comment and let us know.
Ben Dyer of SellerDeck has been keeping an eye on how IT firms price their products. And he thinks we could all learn something from them.
Technology companies have been responsible for some innovative pricing ideas. So, if you're struggling to price your product - whether it's technology-related or not - can you take some inspiration from them?
Recurring revenue rocks. Working for a software company, I know all too well the challenge of selling items that are one-off purchases. The upside is an injection of hard cash. The downside is that your sales team has to convert a fresh batch of prospects, every month.
One alternative is to aim for recurring revenue with a subscription model. You can charge a monthly fee to people who use your software, offer bolt-on extras like support and upgrades. Customers like this pricing model because the monthly cost is low, and it gives you the ability to predict the growth (or decline) of your business.
Another option is to give your product away. This sounds mad, but can lead to huge growth.
It's called the 'freemium model'. The idea is to get people using a basic version of your service, then upsell more advanced features.
The freemium model only really works if your product has tiered levels and it doesn't cost you much to set up a new customer. It's a science all to itself - I recommend checking out Chris Anderson's blog and excellent books, Free and The Long Tail.
At the recent iPad 2 launch, Apple's Steve Jobs revealed that the company now makes more money from 'post-PC' purchases (iPods, iPhones, iPads) than from its traditional computers. One reason for this is the rise of third-party apps which run on Apple devices. Apple takes a slice of each one sold.
Apple has successfully blended the upfront payment and recurring service models. I would argue theirs is the best example of this type of pricing on the market. Most impressively, Apple has even managed to keep the initial payment high!
Amazon has taken a different approach with the Kindle, its electronic book reader. These come in two parts: the software, which is free for almost all platforms (including the iPad), and the hardware.
The rationale, of course, is that most of Amazon's Kindle revenue comes from selling ebooks for people to read on the device. That's the company's fastest growing product range.
Amazon has been smart and reactive. The Kindle isn't a rival to iPods and iPads. It's complementary - so Amazon can grow its revenue too.
What could you learn from IT companies about pricing?
Add a keyboard and perhaps your iPad will be more useful. (Photo: Stefan Evertz)
It's hard to deny that the iPad 2 is cool. And if you weren't one of the crazy enthusiastic punters who queued up last week to get one, demand for Apple's new gadget means that if you want one, you're probably in for a bit for of a wait.
Maybe we should all use that time to step back and ask: is the iPad actually much use for business? And, for that matter, do other tablet and slate-type devices like Motorola's Xoom or Samsung's Galaxy Tab really deserve a place in your company?
I don't own an iPad, nor any other kind of slate or tablet computer. A few years back, I used Toshiba's M200 Tablet PC as my main work computer, but although it was one of the best laptops I've ever had, I rarely used the tablet features (you could fold the screen over and use a pen to write on it).
Sure, there's a big difference between Microsoft's clunky attempt to adapt Windows for a tablet device - which was running on that computer - and Apple's super-slick interface. But ease-of-use alone is not enough to establish the iPad as a must-have business tool.
The business applications I've seen for the iPad so far have been limited. I've spotted people at events using them to sign people up to mailing lists. And I can see how they'd be useful for people who need access to information but are on their feet all day. iPads could replace clipboards in warehouses, dentists' surgeries and the like.
But what about the sort of repetitive business tasks you take care of every day? Writing letters and emails. Running accounting software. Accessing your customer relationship management system.
For these sorts of jobs, my distinctly un-glamorous netbook (a cheap, cut-down laptop) is far better than an iPad. Here's why:
In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems that the only advantage that slate devices offer is that you can use them standing up. If there's a desk or space where I can sit and type at my netbook, it's the better option. Although, to be fair, I won't look as cool.
What's more, a netbook like mine is cheap. Figure £250 or so for a very capable netbook, compared to £399 for the entry level iPad.
Is it just me who can't see the point of the iPad for businesses? Do you use one in your company? Leave a comment and let me know.