Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tale of Two Tablets, two stores, and two sides of town.

OK, so here's the premise... in my typical fashion, two weeks ago I told my friends I was starting to research which Tablet Computer is the best choice for Christmas 2011, and I was going to go down to the two flagship showrooms and grill the professional sales force, and report back with some definitive insights. So after a few quick searches, and a few articles, I finally (two weeks later) headed down get the hands on experience.

Now just for historical context...
It is now 2011... the eve of 2012. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th. This year was the 100th birthday of the New York Public Library. The two southern entrances of Central Park had long since been established... Grand Army Plaza on the East and Columbus Circle on the West.

Two years ago, the media announced the final demise of the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) and since then virtually everybody has switched over to a High Definition Flat Screen.

Steve Jobs died this year.

The first iPod was released 10 years ago.

Born the 60's, coming of age in the 70's, I saw the hippies, the punks, the grunge, the hipsters, disco, hip hop... I spent HOURS as a kid playing Pinball... mastering the nuance of my favorite machines. (Paragon... Fireball... FirePower... ) I saw the first video games EVER... Pong, Texas Shoot Out, Sea Wolf, Space Wars, Space Invaders, Asteroids, etc etc etc.

I owned an Apple ][ computer, with TWO floppy drives (the old 5.25 inch vinyl disks, and I'd cut a notch w/ a toe nail clipper so I could flip them over and use the other side). The two Steves were legends... Jobs and Wosniak, Wosniak being the ACTUAL genius, the other soon to be forgotten to history as the "smoke and mirrors" guy. (ok, so much for predictions)

BTW: that Apple ][ went for about $1300... not including a monitor. We just used an old TV.

But I digress... here we are 2011. Eve of 2012. Christmas is 11 days away. This is the year of the Tablet.

I was once actually PAID good money to be an early adopter. Advertising execs hired me (via their IT department) to poke around on the latest gadgets and report back to them. Long since I've been out of that game. I'm practically AMISH these days. I wait until tech is stable, then wait two more generations until it comes down in price... then I make the purchase. Well welcome to 2011 (eve of 2012).

So right now there are two stable products in direct competition. No other tablets are really relevant... and as we will see, even one of these is hardly relevant. The two contenders are the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Apple iPad 2.

Cut to the chase... bottom line... Reader's Digest version...
... just pick one, buy it, and enjoy. Both products are essentially equivalent in functionality, in user experience, and in price. There is no WRONG choice here.

Want the nitty gritty... here's the chart and a decent article.
Galaxy 10.1 vs iPad2

So to cover the main concerns, if you want to chose between the two, only a few things matter.

BOTH are slim, light weight, and AMAZINGLY cool.
BOTH show movies in HD, photos, music, news, etc.
BOTH have BEAUTIFUL graphics displays.
BOTH now let you zoom in and out w/ your thumb and index finger in a "pinch" motion.
BOTH give that cool "flip of the finger" motion to scroll from page to page, including the nuance where if you flip faster, you will scroll faster and see "virtual momentum".
BOTH will take a day or two to get used to, a week or two to get the nuance, and inside a month you will probably have it down to second nature
BOTH go for between $500-$700

The hardware differences are VAST, yet from the end user's point of view, completely minimal. Does anybody really care??? The REAL difference is the Operating System. (iPad is 7 grams heavier... yes, the weight of seven paper clips... yet is about 1/8 inch slimmer. You GET me?)

So let's talk about quickly about Apple's image... and hypocrisy.
Let's just start with this, shall we?
Apple's 1984 commercial.
From DAY ONE, Apple kept tight control on their proprietary rights. Fair enough. They invented stuff, they want to OWN that stuff, and monetize that stuff. Let's ignore for one second that they actually STOLE the graphics user interface from Xerox (literally while the boss was out of the office, and a lackey let them in, and they downloaded the entire Xerox library of code). So how is it that this corporation who fiercely protects its proprietary rights and is attempting to dominate the marketplace... how are they seen as "raging against the machine"???

While Apple was building the Macintosh, there was already an "open source" community that was actually offering alternatives to the establishment. In fact IBM's first computers, and what is TO THIS DAY considered to be the "Windows Platform" is in really an open system. Apple IS the machine against which they are raging.

OK, this is getting far to long. Let me get to the main point, and describe my experience today.

Came out of the subway at Columbus Circle. The South West Entrance to Central Park. The statue of Christopher Columbus standing here since 1892, and the monument to The Maine (remember The Maine) since 1911. The Time Warner Center has been here for a decade, replacing the old New York Colosseum. I walk in the big main entrance, go upstairs two escalator flights up (paste the now defunked Boarders Bookstore... talk about irony)... up to the Samsung Flagship Showroom. It's BEAUTIFUL. Glass walls looking out over Columbus Circle and Central Park... tables set up w/ the tablets, sections on the side with the new Flat Screens, Laptops, Home Theater Systems...

Three freak/nerds at the main doorway to welcome me in. All wearing the nice Samsung clothes, ties on the gentlemen... but the tattoos and matted thick hair and unshaven faces gave away their freakish nature. (all good... I'm FINE with that). I should have stopped right there and stated my case... "I'm here too look at your Galaxy 10.1, ask a few questions, and then head across town to the Apple Store... now SELL ME your product !!!"

Nah, I walked by them, and headed to the table and poked around on the several Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets that were on display. Spent a good 10 or 15 minutes getting a good idea of what was there. Mind you, I don't have Android ANYTHING right now... so I'm completely naive. Was able to pull up videos, pictures, web... found my OWN YouTube vids... assumed FB would work (didn't want to punch in my FB password on the demo unit).

Now here's what I want to talk about... this is THE FLAGSHIP STORE... at Columbus Circle, NYC... looking over Central Park... just upstairs is Jazz at Lincoln Center. This is the BIG TIME.

So I look around the store... not a lot of customers there. Mostly Euro-tourists. Some kids poking around on the Tablets or checking out the Home Theaters. No hustle, no bustle. The few workers (besides the nerds at the door) were more interested in surfing the web, or checking their FB accounts.

I looked over at the Samsung rep next to me, he was about 19 years old, native New Yorker from The Barrio... he didn't acknowledge my presence, was just poking around on a tablet. So I said "Can I ask you a few questions? First of all is the easy one... I'm thinking about buying a few of these for my family, but next I'm going across town to the Apple Store. Why should I buy the Galaxy instead of the iPad?"

OK, softball... should have a list of 10 reasons at the tip of his tongue. He was clueless. "Uh... do you like Android?" I said, "I don't know... I don't use Android." "Uh, well, if you like Android, well this runs Android... other than that... well, they're kind of the same."

DAMN KID... at least give me the sales pitch.

So I say "I have a camera in my pocket... I just shot a few pictures outside. Can you show me how to put them on this tablet?"

He said "Uh, we don't have a cable that connects to your camera. I think you have to go through a web site or something."

I repeated "Or something? Really?"

He said, "Yeah, maybe something like Snapfish."

OK, so he's useless. I pull over the Asian kid. I ask the same question. He's FAR more knowledgeable... which isn't really saying much. He said, if you plug this into your home computer with the USB cable, you can just drag and drop your pictures into the picture folder."

I said, "So it just mounts like an external hard drive? Doesn't launch some sort of iTunes app? I can just drag and drop? I like that... can you SHOW ME THAT?!?"

He says, "What do you mean?" I say, "well can you plug this tablet into a computer that's running Windows 7, and show me that it mounts like an external hard drive, doesn't launch some proprietary app, and lets me drag and drop files?"

He says, "Uh, well this unit is connected by a security device. And besides, we'd need a computer to show that."

I say, "Yeah, but this is a really basic feature. This is your main show room... in Columbus Circle... in New York City. In fact right there is a whole section of Samsung laptop computers on display. Can't you show me how you can connect this tablet to one of those computers, and move files to it?"

Him, "Uh, let me see." Talks to security guy... like this never ever came up before. They break out the special key, unhook the device, and we walk over to the laptop section. Unfortunately, the security device USB cable isn't standard, so he has to go into the back room to find a USB cable.

Meanwhile, one of the (apparently) main nerds who was manning the front door (remember the freak/nerds who welcomed me?) comes over because clearly something weird was going on. He seemed sort of flabbergasted that this guy left an unsecured tablet in front of me, while he went into the back room to look for a cable... he grabbed the tablet and held it until the guy came back from the back room. So twenty minutes in, I got to see that a Galaxy Tab running Android (Honeycomb 3.1) does mount as a hard drive and lets you drag and drop files. NICE! I like that !!! How about THEM Apples ?!? :-)

Next two questions, them I'm outta here. "Can I use this as a GPS?" "Sure, if you get the 3G version." "But under no circumstances will I be paying a monthly fee... so can I use the Galaxy Tab as a GPS without a monthly fee?" Answer, mostly accurate... "No."

But here's what bugged me... I said "are you sure?" He said, "Let me check..." Did he go to a supervisor, to a Samsung Wiki, to some definitive source of information? No, he went to and typed in Galaxy Tab 10.1 GPS. For THIS I came down to the flagship store?!?

Well before I left, I stopped by the nerd/geeks at the door. Turns out I should have just started with them. They were the guys who knew the products, knew the nuance, new what was what. There IS a USB connector offered by Garman that allows your Galaxy to act as a GPS. Otherwise, even without the G3 network, if you are in a WiFi hotspot (basically anywhere in NYC) you are likely to get a damn good idea of your location... but once you're outside the city, you need 3G and a monthly contract to figure out where you are. Also discussed a bit about development (something the floor guys were CLUELESS about). You can EASILY develop on the Galaxy, with just a USB cable, or your wireless network, or the Google environment. (Again, try that on Apple)

During this whole time (almost an hour), there was not a single SALE made in this Samsung show room. Just tourists poking around, and me asking easy questions that sent up red flags.

OK, walk across town to the main Apple Store in Grand Army Plaza... the OTHER main entrance to Central Park. No views of the park from here... Apple Store is under ground, inside the big glass cube, down the spiral staircase.

WOW!!! Maybe TWO THOUSAND people bustling all around the store. People lined up in a maze of ropes waiting for... well I don't know WHAT they were on line for. Red shirted "geniuses" pre-emptively asking people "can I help you... do you have any questions?" Though it was sometimes hard to get their attention, as they seemed to be waving people over form one table to another to show them some other device. And keep in mind, there are now FOUR Apple Stores in Manhattan... Grand Army Plaza (in front of FAO Schwartz), B'Way and 65th (there abouts... upper West Side), 14th Street and 9th, and NOW Grand Central Terminal. Each one equally as bustling.

The guy next to me got the attention of a sales rep, and she pleasantly gave advice and recommendations, and promptly sold him two iPads w/ extended warranties... each coming to about $750. She disappeared for a few minutes and returned with his iPads in the boxes, and a nifty Apple shopping bag (kinda like a knapsack).

She then happily turned her attention to me. I knew I was not gonna get to plug an iPad2 into a Win 7 PC, but I asked what would happen. She assured me, all communications to the iPad2 go through iTunes. You don't get folders, it doesn't mount like a flash drive, you are always "inside" iTunes.

When I asked her how I move my pictures from my camera to the iPad, she happily asked me to wait for a minute... and returned promptly with the solution... a usb adapter that would accept my HDSD card.

As with the Galaxy, the only true GPS functionality comes with a contract and monthly fee. Unlike the Galaxy, they DON'T offer a GPS add on device.

Development? Well apparently that's a whole other story. If you want to develop for the iPad, you need to upload your apps to Apple's central brain-tank... and if they're OK with what you're doing, they will allow you to download your own app onto your own device, and see if it works. Yes this IS the machine they were RAGING AGAINST !!! Keep in mind, Apple has been known to "brick" their devices. Yes THEIR devices... even though you bought it... if they don't like what you are doing with it, they will send the sliver bullet through the air waves and turn it into a door stop.

And finally, I really need to add the final feature... FLASH. Since Steve Jobs doesn't like the content that is being delivered by some people who use FLASH technology (ahem... porn), he decided to cripple the iPad. The iPad runs FLASH perfectly... but it will ONLY run FLASH when it is streaming content from YouTube. Otherwise, FLASH will not run. You paid for the device, but HE gets to decide (from the grave) what you do with it.

So there it is. Two very similar devices. A few technical advantages for each. Mostly the exact same functionality. Galaxy runs Android, is open source, allows drag and drop, allows easy development, and allows you to run Flash and watch porn. iPad runs iOS, is proprietary, does not allow drag and drop, needs to go through Apple's central office for development, and does not run Flash except for YouTube.

Neither can run as a GPS without a monthly fee, though for a one time purchase, you can get a GPS adapter for the Galaxy.

People are CRAMMED into the Apple Store, grabbing the knowledgeable staff and making purchases hand over fist. Inventory is FLYING off the shelf. Samsung store is staffed mostly by flunkies and a few knowledgeable managers, and is mostly empty to the point where you can hear crickets chirping... no sales to be seen.