I don’t like Apple. They bring out a music player that locks you into its own online music store and its own music format. They bring out a smartphone, but control the software that goes on it. And so too the iPad, where developers have to have their “apps” approved before they go in the store. Maybe I’m just an aging idealist, but for me that goes against the punk ethos of the people who opened up the internet for ordinary users, with a philosophy that recognised how openness and freedom would promote collaboration and innovation.
So when it came to buying a tablet I was always going to opt for something running an Android operating system. OK, I know that Google is just as much an evil, profit-grabbing monolith as Apple. But at least Android is open for developers to make and sell their apps as they please without a bloke in a suit running the rule over them (although this may be changing).
So when the Motorola Xoom, running the Honeycomb version of Android designed for tablets, came out, I was an early customer. Which possibly was a mistake.
I bought it largely so I could read newspapers online. Most of their websites are cumbersome creatures: Thousands of stories offering little guidance on which to read first, and which to ignore. The website of my own paper, The Telegraph, often offers four or five versions of the same story – wire versions, updated wire versions, and one written by a correspodent. What I really want is an editor to take me through the world’s news, page by page, telling me what to read, just like they do in the paper version.
And having watched a colleague in Kabul read The Times on his iPad, it looked as if that is exactly what a newspaper app does.
The only problem is that Android versions seem to be very slow in arriving. I have the FT one, but that looks designed for phones. And an unofficial Guardian one, which also lacks any of the functionality of the tablet. I want to be able to leaf through The Telegraph and The Times on my tablet. But no sign yet, despite assurances that they are coming soon.
However, in many other ways my Xoom has displaced my laptop for much of the rest of my consumption of the web. And it’s down to some very neat apps.
Newsr is a beautifully designed way to keep up with my RSS feeds. To be honest, if I was going to manage the feeds, I’d probably switch back to my desktop computer. But to sit and read my Google Reader feeds, and maybe tweet the odd link, this is a simple and intuitive way to do it
Tweetcomb, by the same developer, is a very neat twitter client and streets ahead of the other ones which still seem to be for phone-sized screens
Pulse shows the power of the platform although is a bit too US-centric for my needs. It gathers feeds from a variety of news sites – from Fox News to The New Yorker – into a single app
The YouTube app also demonstrates just what a great platform the Xoom provides. But, there are still too few apps, compared with the thousands for the iPad. Most are still designed for smartphones, and have yet to be optimised for the tablet. And there’s another major catch here in Pakistan – I can only get the free apps, the paid-for ones are blocked, presumably because of the country’s non-existent copyright controls.
I have no idea about the hardware inside the thing, but as a whole the Xoom is fast enough and seems rugged enough to cope with the demands of my bumpy life. The iPad may have a better battery life, but as long as the Xoom lasts me four or five days at a charge – then who cares about the odd hour here or there?
Overall the Xoom has showed it has got what I need. I’ll always need something with a keyboard for writing. But a tablet is now so much more convenient in so many ways for reading and consuming the web that I will just have to wait for the developers to catch up and provide the apps.