12 April 2011

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

Seven months back, I said (in relation to the iPod Touch): I won't forget my promise to discuss the Apple thing. Later. Watch this space. Well ... I did forget ... despite being reminded at intervals by readers with irritatingly long memories. Today, several different currents have come together and persuaded me that I really ought to keep my promise and thereby eradicate my conscience pangs. So...
I'm not, to be honest, an Apple fan. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I won't rehearse them here ... other people love Apple, and I am happy for them. But I have the Touch because one particular institution had a fit of enthusiasm for them, dished them out to the world and its live in friendperson (I happened to be in the room at the time) and then did nothing whatsoever to follow up.
I heard an industry commentator say, at around the same time when I was writing that previous post, that “Apple doesn't innovate; it takes what is already there and shows how it can be made better”. I'd agree with most of that sentence, but would change the last word: Apple takes what is already there and shows how it can be made more beautiful. The Apple Lisa made Xerox PARC's desktop metaphor WIMP* beautiful but other products made it better. (Windows, at first, made it neither good nor beautiful.) The iPod was a more beautiful, not better, MP3 player. The iPhone is a more beautiful phone, the iPad a more beautiful tablet computer, and the iPod Touch a cross between the two. None of them is (in my personal opinion; other opinions are available) the best example of its genre ... but each of them is the most beautiful.
So ... given that I have so little enthusiasm the Touch as a computer, and the institution which supplied it seems unable to think of any actual use for it, why do I keep it and even carry it?
The answer is: Janos Barkai's Symbolic Calculator app.
It's not Maple or Mathematica, but it's the closest that a slim, pocketable handheld device currently gets to that idea. It costs 99¢, which makes the economics a little bizarre ... I have a $400 platform running a 99¢ program. Would I actually buy a Touch on this basis? no, I wouldn't ... if the device dies, or is broken, or is lost, I shan't replace it. But having been given one, I happily carry it as a convenient symbolic algebra calculator.
Only close to a power supply, though ... out in the wilds, the battery life is too short (lasting less than two of days under intensive use, even with all communications switched off) so then it's back to pen and paper.

*Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer

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