My Tablet

by Eric Schwartz
from the AmiTech Gazette, January 2013

Well, so far we've made it through the last year and all its talk of disaster and apocalypse, either global or fiscal, at least until the next thing pops up. I'm here, and hopefully most of you are too, so we'll call it a win for now. At least there are a few things in the world of Amiga stuff.

A beta release of the SDK (software development kit) for MorphOS 3,2 was put out, which indicates the 3.2 version of the OS itself is on the way, hopefully sooner rather than later. Exactly how this relates to planned support for wireless networking, Mac Powerbook 3D graphics, the SAM 460 board, or G5 processors is unknown, but it seems likely at least one will be covered.

DiscreetFX keeps pushing back the official opening of "Project Metropolis," an Amiga-and-friends on-line app store, currently set for the end of February. I have no idea if such a thing is viable, but it's at least an idea with merit as one of the bigger hurdles in doing any commercial Amiga-family software in this day and age is getting small developers from all over the world exchanging software and money with a small customer base also all over the world. A centralized app store intermediary should make it easier for the developers to do their thing without needing to worry about the commerce channel while the customer would (hopefully) be more inclined to buy software if they don't need to be concerned about what country they're attempting to send a payment to. I don't think it will ever be like other "app stores" where nearly everything is available for just a few bucks, but if it can do for Amiga pay software what a repository like Aminet (and Fred Fish before that) did for Amiga freeware and shareware, it can't be too bad.

As some of you already know, I am now part of the "Tablet crowd," being the reasonably proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note, running Android 4,1 (AKA Ice Cream Sandwich). Like most similar systems, they are designed around the concept of ease-of-use and touch screens above all else. To that end, the OS is pretty easy to use, though the linux roots of Android do allow the user to dig a little bit deeper, with things such as file managers, task managers, and the like, which I understand thanks to my years-slash-decades of desktop computer experience. I don't have a lot of experience with Apple's iOS devices, but I kind of suspect that level of control is probably hidden from the end user, as it's easy to mess up if you don't know what you're doing. I don't always know what I'm doing on this new device, not in small part because I like to fly by the seat of my pants, especially when a piece of technology is not difficult to deal with. One thing I would wish for is a more standard means for shutting down software. As it stands, the official method is to hit the "back" button on the "main" screen of the app you wish to close, which conceptually is like backing out of the front door of a building, and expecting it to disappear. Other buttons might take you back to your "desktop" or "workbench" or whatever Android calls it, but they leave the program you left running in the background, eating up memory and even CPU time. Other applications (the app store app comes to mind) require the back button to be hit once for every page you've jumped to since opening the application in the first place. Sometimes it just seems easier to just pop back to the desktop and use the task manager to quit the program (which warns of a risk of errors for doing so). To me it's a counter-intuitive and inefficient methodology in what otherwise seems rather well-designed, and a standardized "quit" button would be welcome. Perhaps it's in or coming to a future update, or I just haven't learned the better way yet.

For any complaints I might have, the tablet is a technological marvel, especially for what amount to a fancy toy for many. To give an example, the device can be set so it won't shut off if you are simply looking at it. It does this by using the built-in camera to tell if your eyes are pointed in its direction. I look at stuff like that and think "holy crap we're living in the future!" It reminds me of years and years ago when I had my first Palm PDA, and found out you could transfer files to other devices by pointing them at each other (for several seconds), which provoked a similar feeling. Using bulky computers with keyboards and mice and wires seems pretty archaic when compared to what is essentially a working representation of those little info pads everyone passed around in the various Star Trek series. It probably won't be much longer before the line separating "smart" devices and "real" computers blurs out completely, as the phones and tablets get more powerful (mine already gives any other computer in my home a run for its money specs-wise) and the bigger machines take on more and more operating system paradigms from the small devices (for better or worse).

It's interesting to look back on all the things various Amiga incarnations tried (and failed) to be the ground floor on, such as TV set-top media devices and operating systems that provide the same user experience on a phone as on a desktop computer, which seem almost prophetic now, even if they looked more undesirable or crackpot-like then. Kinda tough to start a new tech trend if your name isn't "Apple," then or now.