Friday, November 11, 2011

Amazon's, Apples and Google's ... oh my!

    Tablet, eReader or just move some stuff around for a while? That is the question.

    A while back I was trying to decide to whether to develop for Android or iOS/osX. I have since decided on the latter. Not for any altruistic reason, mainly because I just like the way Apple products work. Then, when I wasn't looking, Amazon introduces the Kindle Fire. A "sub" tablet like device intended for media consumption. The competition on the field seems to be getting better.

    Since my initial decision to learn Xcode I have started to setup my "development environment". Not just the software I use, but my workspace as well. A few surprises have struck me in the way I work. First, I have decided that whenever possible I will get the electronic version of any book I buy. I already have more books than my house can store in any reasonable manner so this was an easy choice.

    What I haven't counted on is the way I access such material. I have the Kindle app on my Android phone and my MacBook pro. I have purchased a couple of books (in Kindle format) to help me learn Xcode and Objective-C. What I didn't count on was how inconvenient it was to have to switch from my Xcode screen and my Kindle application. I really like running the Amazon Kindle application full screen as it get a full page view that is easy to read at a glance. What I need is a way to move my eBooks off of my desktop that I am also trying to do work on. The screen on my Android phone is just too small to get the job done. What to do?

    I have a few of options to play with, but neither the time nor money to explore every possibility in practice. So, as I usually do, I research the problem to death until I can find a solution that will work for me.

    Solution #1:
    Use a USB to VGA adapter to setup a second external screen, rotate it into portrait mode and just leave it for things like the Amazon Kindle application or viewing PDF's. Since the frame rate of USB video is usually unusable for gaming (with I rarely do anyway) it would be just for simple documents or web pages. This would free up my desktop and still allow me to easily have my eBooks open at the same time.

    Solution #2:
    Get an eReader.

    The Amazon Kindle Fire looks to be a great choice, at least at first glance. The problem is that I know it can do so much more than Amazon will allow. So, I will probably end up rooting the darn thing to make it do more. I will spend so much time on that I won't get any real work done. Also I am not sure how well the display will look in direct sunlight.

    The Apple iPad or iPad2 is a great choice and I would get one today if they weren't so expensive. After using an iPad2 that a co-worker has purchased, I really like it. I just can't justify spending that kind of money on something I won't be doing my primary work on. Call me cheap, but I don't think I would take it to work either. I would be in too much fear of scratching and/or breaking the thing.

    Getting a "real" Android tablet is also out of the question. The ones that are worth anything cost as much as an iPad2 but Android just isn't refined enough yet to compete for a quality user experience. Besides their cost, the sheer size and weight are a major deterrent. Some of these feel like a laptop with the lid flipped over.

    Of course, there is also the basic $79 Kindle eReader from Amazon that would do the job. In fact it's currently the forerunner of the eReaders I am looking at. It's cheap, reliable, small and light weight yet large enough to "look" like a real book. However it is in black and white, so color pages may or may not display correctly. My wife currently has a Kindle 3G (the one with the keyboard) and has many medical books on it. While images look just fine most of the time, there are those rare occasions when you get an error like "image size to large" or some such. While not a perfect solution, I could just as easily toss it in the car and read it when I am my lunch break and not worry to much about damaging it. That alone makes it a very attractive option.

    Solution #3:
    This one will require a complete re-arangment of my work area. You see, I currently use a "Henge Dock"( ) which stands up my MacBook pro on end when docked. That means the lid is closed and I use an external display, hence Solution #1. Basically I would drop the dock, and go back to plugging in and unplugging some four or five connections every time I leave my desk with my laptop. The dock is great for just grab and go. When I return I just drop the laptop back in and I am ready to go. Easy peasy.

    Of course, this is also the cheapest option as I do not have to purchase anything else, but would do away with my dock that I have already spent $60 on. This is actually the most complicated option really. Mainly because I have a smallish work space as both me and my wife share a room that we both use as an office. It's not cramped, but doesn't really leave room for expansion either.

    However, since it is in fact the cheapest solution, and the holidays are coming up fast, I think it will be the one I at least try first. Who knows, maybe Santa will be nice this year.

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