Tag Archives: ipad

Three reasons why Microsoft should make its own Windows RT (ARM) Tablet

Rumours are flying that Microsoft will announce an own-brand Windows RT tablet on Monday.

No comment on the truth of these, but it would be a smart move.

Here are three reasons.

First, the OEM foistware problem. This has got a little better in recent years, but not enough to compete with Apple and its clean machines. The problem is so bad that Microsoft set up its own retail stores to sell  cleaned-up Windows PCs:

Many new PCs come filled with lots of trialware and sample software that slows your computer down—removing all that is a pain, so we do it for you! Every PC the Microsoft Store sells is put on a software diet and performance is tuned to run the best it can.

Microsoft addressed this in Windows Phone by imposing conditions on the extent to which OEMs can customise the user interface or embed their own software. It cannot do this  though with Windows 8 on x86. Manufacturing its own model is one of the few ways Microsoft can get Windows PCs that work as designed into the hands of consumers.

Second, the design problem. Few Windows PCs (if any) are as well designed as Macs or iPads. Manufacturers are geared towards low prices and frequent model changes rather than intensive work on every detail of the design.

Third, Microsoft wants to make a splash with Windows RT, the ARM version, and there is evidence that it is having difficulty communicating its benefits or convincing its OEM partners to get fully behind it.

This third is the biggest issue, which might drive Microsoft to compete with its third-party partners, and requires some explanation. Many people I speak to cannot see the point of Windows RT. This version of Windows 8 will not run x86 applications, so you cannot install any of your old software. Further, there is no way to install desktop applications, so software vendors cannot port their existing applications. They must create new Metro-style apps instead. So why bother with Windows RT?

This reaction is understandable, but unfortunately for Microsoft Windows 8 on x86 has no chance of competing with Apple’s iPad.

Yesterday I attended an Asus event in London where the company was showing its new range of Android tablets and Windows ultrabooks. It was not showing its prototype Windows 8 machines, but I was able to discuss the likely Windows 8 products, All but one is x86, and they will have Wacom digitizers,  which means they will work with a stylus like an old-style Tablet PC, as well as with touch. That will push up the price.

Worse still, these x86 devices, like the Samsung Slate on which I run WIndows 8 Release Preview, will not be enjoyable to use with touch alone. Users will find themselves running applications designed for keyboard and mouse: you can get them to work, but it is frustrating. These devices are not Windows reimagined, they are the old Windows plus a few new tricks.

Too expensive, too hard to use: Windows 8 on x86 is not an iPad-beater.

Windows RT on the other hand is more promising. This does have a desktop, but it will only run Office, Windows Explorer, and whatever other desktop utilities Microsoft chooses to provide. Office aside, you will be forced to use touch-friendly Metro apps most of the time. Microsoft can tune Windows RT by removing legacy components that are no longer needed, because applications which rely on them cannot be installed. You also get the power efficiency of ARM, so a long battery life. Finally, if Microsoft has done it right Windows RT should be more secure, since the entire operating system is locked down.

Windows RT is critical to Microsoft and if it has to make its own hardware in order to market it properly, then it should do so.

Microsoft, Windows 8, and the Innovator’s Dilemma (or, why you hate Windows 8)

One thing is obvious from the immediate reaction to Windows 8 Release Preview. Most of those who try it do not like it. It is a contrast to the pre-release days of Windows 7, when there was near-consensus that, whatever you think of Windows overall, the new edition was better than its predecessors.

Why would a company with huge resources and the world’s most popular desktop operating system – 600 million Windows 7 licenses so far, according to OEM VP Steven Guggenheimer – create a new edition which its customers do not want?

Microsoft under Steve Ballmer is a somewhat dysfunctional company – too many meetings, says ex-softie Brandon Watson – but there is still a wealth of talent there. Specifically, Windows President Steven Sinofsky has proven his ability, first with Microsoft Office 2007 which beat off the challenge from OpenOffice.org, and next with Windows 7, which if it repeated the disappointment of Windows Vista would have damaged the company severely.

If it is not incompetence, then, what is it?

In this context, Clayton M. Christensen’s 1997 classic The Innovator’s Dilemma – When new technologies cause great firms to fail is a good read. Chapter one is here. Christensen studied the hard drive market, asking why sixteen of the seventeen companies which dominated the industry in 1976 had failed or been acquired by 1995, replaced by new entrants to the market. Christensen argues that these firms failed because they listened too much to their customers. He says that delivering what your customers want is mostly a good idea, but occasionally fatal:

This is one of the innovator’s dilemmas: Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.

Specifically, hard drive companies failed because new entrants had physically smaller hard drives that were more popular. The reason the established companies failed was because their customers had told them that physically smaller drives was not what they wanted:

Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late? Clearly, they were technologically capable of producing these drives. Their failure resulted from delay in making the strategic commitment to enter the emerging market in which the 8-inch drives initially could be sold. Interviews with marketing and engineering executives close to these companies suggest that the established 14-inch drive manufacturers were held captive by customers. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not need an 8-inch drive. In fact, they explicitly did not want it: they wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers. And their customers–in a way that was not apparent to either the disk drive manufacturers or their computer-making customers–were pulling them along a trajectory of 22 percent capacity growth in a 14-inch platform that would ultimately prove fatal.

Are there any parallels with what is happening in computer operating systems today? I think there are. It is not exact, given that tablet pioneer Apple cannot be described as a new entrant, though Google with Android is a closer match. Nevertheless, there is a new kind of operating system based on mobility, touch control, long battery life, secure store-delivered apps, and cloud connectivity, which is eating into the market share for Windows. Further, it seems to me that for Microsoft to do the kind of new Windows that its customers are asking for, which Christensen calls a “sustaining innovation”, like Windows 7 but faster, more reliable, more secure, and with new features that make it easier to use and more capable, would be a trajectory of death. Existing customers would praise it and be more likely to upgrade, but it would do nothing to stem the market share bleed to Apple iPad and the like. Nor would it advance Microsoft’s position in smartphones.

Should Microsoft have adapted its Windows Phone OS for tablets two years ago, or created Metro-style Windows as an independent OS while maintaining Windows desktop separately? YES say customers infuriated by the full-screen Start menu. Yet, the dismal sales for Windows Phone show how difficult it is to enter a market where competitors are firmly entrenched. Would not the same apply to Windows Metro? Reviewers might like it, developers might like it, but in the shops customers would still prefer the safety of iPad and Android and their vast range of available apps.

You begin to see the remorseless logic behind Windows 8, which binds new and old so tightly that you cannot escape either. Don’t like it? Stick with Windows 7.

Microsoft will not say this, but my guess is that customer dissatisfaction with Windows 8 is expected. It is the cost, a heavy cost, of the fight to be a part of the next generation of client computers. It is noticeable though that while the feedback from users is mostly hostile, Microsoft’s OEM partners are right behind it. They do not like seeing their business munched by Apple.

The above does not prove that Microsoft is doing the right thing. Displeasing your customers, remember, is mostly the wrong thing to do. Windows 8 may fail, and Microsoft, already a company with shrinking influence, may go into an unstoppable decline. Bill Gates was right about the tablet taking over from the laptop, history may say, but Microsoft was incapable of making the radical changes to Windows that would make it work until it was too late.

Give credit for this though: Windows 8 is a bold move, and unlike the Tablet PCs that Gates waved around ten years ago, it is an OS that is fit for purpose. Sinofsky’s goal is to unify the smartphone and the tablet, making a new mobile OS that users will enjoy while also maintaining the legacy desktop and slotting in to enterprise management infrastructure. I admire his tenacity in the face of intense protest, and I am beginning to understand that foresight rather than stupidity underlies his efforts.

Review: Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad, Windows

In the iPad era there is increasing demand for wireless keyboards that will transform your tablet into a productive writing machine. I have tried a number of such gadgets recently, including a bargain-price iPad keyboard case and an expensive Samsung keyboard to go with the Slate I have been using for Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Both keyboards work, but with so many annoyances that I rarely use them. The keyboard case works well enough, if you can cope with squishy keys and a tiny power switch, but adds so much weight and bulk to the iPad that it becomes like a laptop, and in doing so loses much of its appeal. The Samsung keyboard on the other hand has a quality feel but lacks a proper power switch, and I found the only way to prevent it powering up when in your bag is to remove the batteries, which is a nuisance. Further, there is some kind of design fault with the keys which can get stuck down; they pop back easily enough, but after a few times something snaps and I now have a key that slopes slightly.

Enter the Cygnett Bluetooth Keyboard, primarily designed for the iPad but which works find with the Slate and no doubt numerous other devices, and which is priced competitively considering it has hard keys and is rechargeable.


I found several things to like.

First, it has a real on/off switch on the back, something I value having experienced problems with Samsung’s soft power key.

Second, it is small, and will fit in the the top inside pocket of a man’s jacket or tucked into a flap in almost any bag or case. The longest side of the keypad is around 1.5cm less than the length of the iPad itself.

Third, it seems robust and the keys are pleasantly responsive.


Getting started was simple enough. Charge it using the supplied USB connector, and pair with the iPad or other device by depressing the recessed pairing key, scanning for new devices, and typing the code given.

I find I can get a good speed on this device, though it is a little cramped especially if you do true touch typing using all your fingers. Still, this is mainly a matter of practice and it is a big step up, for me, from the soft keyboard on an iPad or tablet. Another reason to prefer a physical keyboard is that you get twice as much screen space to view your document.

The keypad also works fine with my Windows 8 Slate, though it has Mac-style keys so no Windows key. Of course you can use Ctrl-Esc for this. There is a Print Screen key though, so from my point of view all the important keys are covered. There is no right Shift key.

One small disappointment: although it has a mini USB socket for charging, this keypad is wireless only. It will not work as a USB keyboard even if you use a full USB cable, rather than the charge-only cable supplied. A shame, because there are circumstances when a USB keyboard is useful, such as for changing BIOS settings on a Windows tablet.

The keypad also works with some Android devices. However I was unable to pair it with an HTC Desire smartphone, and I have seen reports of similar issues with other Android mobile devices. If the device prompts for a number to type on the keyboard, you are in business. If it suggests typing a generic code such as 0000 on the device, it does not work, though there may be a workaround of which I am not aware.

Another limitation: you can only pair the keypad with one device at a time.

Nevertheless, I like this keypad better than the Samsung keyboard which cost much more. Recommended.


Review: Digital Wars by Charles Arthur

Subtitled Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet, this is an account by the Guardian’s Technology Editor of the progress of three tech titans between 1998 and the present day. In 1998, Google was just getting started, Apple was at the beginning of its recovery under the returning CEO Steve Jobs, and Microsoft dominated PCs and was busy crushing Netscape.

Here is how the market capitalization of the three changed between 1998 and 2011:

  End 1998 Mid 2011
Apple $5.4 billion $346.7 billion
Google $10 million $185.1 billion
Microsoft $344.6 billion $214.3 billion

This book tells the story behind that dramatic change in fortunes. It is a great read, written in a concise, clear and engaging style, and informed by the author’s close observation of the technology industry over that period.

That said, it is Apple that gets the best quality coverage here, not only because it is the biggest winner, but also because it is the company for which Arthur feels most affinity. When it comes to Microsoft the book focuses mainly on the company’s big failures in search, digital music and smartphones, but although these failures are well described, the question of why it has performed so badly is not fully articulated, though there is reference to the impact of antitrust legislation and an unflattering portrayal of CEO Steve Ballmer. The inner workings of Google are even less visible and if your main interest is the ascent of Google you should look elsewhere.

Leaving aside Google then, describing the success of Apple alongside Microsoft’s colossal blunders makes compelling reading. Arthur is perhaps a little unfair to Microsoft, because he skips over some of the company’s better moments, such as the success of Windows 7 and Windows Server, or even the Xbox 360, though he would argue I think that those successes are peripheral to his theme which is internet and mobile.

The heart of the book is in chapters four, on digital music, and five, on smartphones. The iPod, after all, was the forerunner of the Apple iPhone, and the iPhone was the forerunner of the iPad. Microsoft’s famous ecosystem of third-party hardware partners failed to compete with the Ipod, and by the time the company got it mostly right by abandoning its partners and creating the Zune, it was too late.

The smartphone story played out even worse for Microsoft, given that this was a market where it already had significant presence with Windows Mobile. Arthur describes the launch of the iPhone, and then recounts how Microsoft acquired a great mobile phone team with a company called Danger, and proceeded to destroy it. The Danger/Pink episode shows more than any other how broken is Microsoft’s management and mobile strategy. Danger was acquired in February 2008. There was then, Arthur describes, an internal battle between the Windows Mobile team and the Danger team, won by the Windows Mobile team under Andy Lees, and resulting in 18 months delay while the Danger operating system was rewritten to use Windows CE. By the time the first new “Project Pink” phone was delivered it was short on features and no longer wanted by Verizon, the partner operator. The “Kin” phone was on the market for only 48 days.

The Kin story was dysfunctional Microsoft at its worst, a huge waste of money and effort, and could have broken a smaller company. Microsoft shrugged it off, showing that its Windows and Office cash cows continue to insulate it against incompetence, probably too much for its own long-tem health.

Finally, the book leaves the reader wondering how the story continues. Arthur gets the significance of the iPad in business:

Cook would reel off statistics about the number of Fortune 500 companies ‘testing or deploying’ iPads, of banks and brokers that were trying it, and of serious apps being written for it. Apple was going, ever so quietly, after the business computing market – the one that had belonged for years to Microsoft.

Since he wrote those words that trend has increased, forming a large part of what is called Bring Your Own Device or The Consumerization of IT. Microsoft does have what it hopes is an answer, which is Windows 8, under a team led by the same Steven Sinofsky who made a success of Windows 7. The task is more challenging this time round though: Windows 7 was an improved version of Windows Vista, whereas Windows 8 is a radical new departure, at least in respect of its Metro user interface which is for the Tablet market. If Windows 8 fares as badly against the iPad as Plays for Sure fared against the iPod, then expect further decline in Microsoft’s market value.


Tablets will be bigger than PCs. Are you ready?

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook spoke at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference yesterday; Macrumors has what looks like a full transcript. Do not expect hot news; there is little or nothing in the way of announcements. It is interesting though as a recap of how Apple sees its future: iPad, iPhone, iCloud, Apple TV, maybe some future huge acquisition financed by its cash pile.

This is what stands out for me:

From the first day it shipped, we thought that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market and it was just a matter of the time it took for that to occur. I feel that stronger today than I did then.

I agree. The reasons are similar to those that caused laptops to outpace desktops. Mobility and convenience trump the better computing value you get in a desktop PC. Note: we still use desktops, and both desktops and laptops will continue to sell, but in smaller quantity.

Although you can list numerous reasons why tablets are not good enough – no keyboard, small storage capacity, underpowered for cutting-edge gaming, not really expandable, favourite apps not yet available, and more – none of these is sufficient to prevent the tablet taking over in the majority of cases.

You can have a keyboard if you want; build it into the case. Storage is increasing all the time, and we have the cloud. Graphics power is increasing all the time. Most people are happy to sacrifice expandability for the simplicity and reliability of a tablet. If your favourite app is not yet available, it soon will be; or else an equivalent will appear that replaces it.

Tablet benefits? Cost, no flappy screen, light and small, designed for ease of use, reliability of an appliance versus a computer for starters.

In itself, the move from one type of computing device to another is no big deal. The reason this one is such a deep change is because of other factors. I will list three:

  • The lock down

    Pioneered by Apple, this is the idea that users should not have full access to the operating system on their device in almost any circumstances. The lock down is a cost and a benefit. The benefit: resilience against malware, greater reliability. The cost: loss of control, loss of freedom, handing over even more power to those who do have full access, primarily the operating system vendor. Where UEFI secure boot is enabled, it is not even possible to boot to an alternative operating system.

  • The store

    Hand in hand with the lock down is the store, the notion that apps can only be installed through the operating system vendor’s store. This is not a universal tablet feature. Apple’s iPad has it, Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 on ARM has it, Android devices generally let you enable “unknown sources” in order to install apps via a downloaded package, though sometimes this option is missing. Further, both Apple and Microsoft have schemes whereby corporates can install private apps. Still, the consequence of the lock down is that the ability to install apps freely is something which can be tuned either way. Since store owners take a cut of all the business, they have have a strong incentive to drive business their way.

    I have never believed Apple’s line that the iTunes store is intended as a break-even project for the convenience of its hardware customers.

  • The operating system

    I am at risk of stating the obvious, but the fact that most tablets are iPads and most non-Apple tablets are Android is a monumental shift from the Windows-dominated world of a few years back. Can Microsoft get back in this game? I am impressed with what I have seen of Windows 8 and it would probably be my tablet of choice if it were available now. The smooth transition it offers between the old PC desktop world and the new tablet world is compelling.

    That said, this cannot be taken for granted. I watched someone set up a new Android tablet recently, and was interested to see how the user was driven to sign up for a variety of services from Google and HTC (it was an HTC Flyer). Devices will be replaced, but accounts and identities are sticky. Users who switch devices may face having to move documents to a different cloud provider if they know how, re-purchase apps, figure out how to move music they have purchased, re-buy DRM content. A big ask, which is why Microsoft’s late start is so costly. At best, it will be a significant player (I think it will be) but not dominant as in the past.

    Late start? Did not Bill Gates wave a slate around and predict that it would be the future of the PC back in 2001:

    "So next year a lot of people in the audience, I hope, will be taking their notes with those Tablet PCs … it’s a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

    Right idea, wrong execution. Microsoft tried again with Origami, the ultra mobile PC, a device that was so obviously flawed that everyone knew it would fail. My belief is that Microsoft, helped by Apple’s example, has a tablet concept that works this time round, but nevertheless the history is discouraging.

    One reason for the relative failure of the Tablet PC and the complete failure of Origami was price. Microsoft’s business model depends on selling software licenses, whereas Apple mostly bundles this cost into that of the hardware, and Android is free. Price of the first Windows 8 tablets is unknown, but could again prove to be a problem.

    Interesting to debate; but however it shakes out, Windows-only is not coming back .

It follows that as tablet use continues to grow, both business and consumer computing are transforming into something different from what we have become used to. Considering this fact, it would be interesting to analyse affected businesses in terms of how ready they are for this change. It would be fascinating to see companies ordered by some kind of tablet readiness index, and my guess is that those towards the bottom of that hypothetical list are in for a nasty shock.


Apple iBooks Author aims at school textbook market, but beware the lock-in

Apple claims to “Reinvent Textbooks” with the introduction of iBooks 2 for iPad, along with an accompanying free authoring tool for the Mac.

iBooks Author is already in the Mac App Store and I had a quick look. It is template based, so the first thing you do is to make your choice.


I picked Contemporary, whereupon the authoring screen opened and I started to make some edits. If you divide Desktop Publishing (DTP) tools into those that are more oriented towards longer books, and those more oriented towards shorter but more graphically rich titles, then iBooks Author is in the former category. You can write the text in Pages or Word, and then import to iBooks Author. You can also add images, charts, tables, hyperlinks, and a variety of widgets including HTML, Keynote presentations, 3D models and more. The format of some of the widgets seems to be Dashcode, as used by the Dashboard in Mac OS X; certainly that is the case for the HTML widget.


I got a bit stuck on one point. I did not want the astronomy images in the template, but was not ready with an alternative. However I could not delete the image placeholder. It seems that the templates are somewhat restrictive.

Once your work is ready you can preview it. This is interesting. In order to preview, you attach an iPad, open iBooks on the iPad, and then select it in iBooks Author. A nice touch: the book appears on the iPad marked Proof.


There is also an animation as the book opens. In the grab below, you can spot the busy icon: this is because the smart cover disappears automatically so you have to grab it on the fly.


What about publishing? You can export your work in one of three formats: iBooks, PDF, or plain text.


Apple emphasises the licensing agreement right there in the Export dialog. You can only sell your book through the Apple iBookstore. Note also that the book is only for iPad. You cannot read it on a Mac, let alone on an Amazon Kindle, unless you choose PDF and make it available for free.

Here is the agreement in more detail:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

I exported the book in iBooks format and took a quick look at the contents in an editor.


On a quick look, it seems to have a lot in common with a standard epub, but is nevertheless a proprietary Apple format.

Finally, a few observations. I have no doubt that eBook usage will grow rapidly in education as elsewhere, and the iPad is a delightful device on which to read them, though expensive.

I do have nagging concerns though. In typical Apple style, this is an only-Apple solution for authors or publishers who need to charge for their work. Does it really make sense for schools and colleges to recommend and use textbooks that can only be read on Apple devices? Of course publishers can repurpose the same underlying content for other formats, though they will have to be careful how they use iBooks Author to avoid falling foul of the licensing clause quoted above.

Is there no way to reinvent textbooks without an Apple tax and locking knowledge into proprietary formats?

Users petition Asus over locked bootloader in Asus Transformer Prime

The new Asus Transformer Prime TF201 Android tablet is winning praise for its performance and flexibility. It is driven by NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor and can be equipped with a keyboard and dock that extends battery life and makes the device more like a laptop.

All good; but techie users are upset that the bootloader is encrypted, which means the kernel cannot be modified other than through official Asus updates.

A petition on the subject has achieved over 2000 signatures. Detailed discussion of the implications are here.


Why do vendors lock the bootloader? One reason is for support, since it increases the user’s ability to mess up their machines. On the other hand, most users who hack to this extent understand what they are doing. This comment from the petition stood out for me:

We understand that custom firmware cannot be supported by ASUS, but we consider that it is our right to customise our devices in any way we wish: once bought, the Prime is our property alone to modify if we choose.

This is something we have taken for granted in the PC era, but the tablet era is looking different, with locked-down devices that give vendors more control. The success of the Apple iPad suggests that most users do not mind if the result is a good experience. It is a profound change though, and one that makes users vulnerable to vendors who are slow or reluctant to provide updates.

An Apple iPad Christmas

The Apple iPad had a stunning Christmas – at least, it did in my part of the world.

A key factor was that EA Games decided to offer a range of classic board games adapted as iPad apps for 69p ($0.90)  each. So for less than the cost of a takeaway pizza I downloaded Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Risk.


The games are not perfect – Scrabble accepts all sorts of odd words and US spellings, for example – but they are official licensed versions, nicely implemented, and a lot of nostalgic fun, which is the idea after all.


Trivial Pursuit supports in-game purchases for extra questions, so that could work out more expensive eventually, but nobody could complain about the value.

It is not quite the full board game experience, with wine spilt on the pieces, junior tipping over the board in disgust, and game abandoned early because it is time to visit grandma, but the changes are mostly for the better.

One thought: this is another example of how well a tablet substitutes for physical things. A book, a board game, a photo album: the iPad is a better replacement than a PC or laptop, easily passed round, long battery life, no flapping screen, and a more natural user interface.

I am not sure what are the economics of selling games at 69p, but no doubt EA has drawn the graphs. Currently EA 69p games occupy four of the “Top Paid iPad Apps” category slots in the UK store.

Of course I am interested in the big picture. Looking at user reviews of Android equivalents like Monopoly I get the impression that there are more bugs, partly because EA has a dedicated iPad verson for these games whereas the Android versions are universal across multiple screen sizes, and partly because there are more OS versions and hardware differences to accommodate.

What about other tablets or new entrants to the market like Windows 8 in 2012? Prising users away from their Apple devices will not be easy, though I still think Microsoft has chances if it plays to its strengths in business applications.

Running Windows on an Apple iPad

I love the convenience of the iPad but there are times when I miss Windows apps. It is not just for work; there is nothing on the iPad to rival Jack Bridge, for example.

The solution is to run Windows on the iPad via remote desktop.


Most versions of Windows have remote desktop built-in, though you do need to install a client on the iPad. I have tried several and settled for the moment on Mocha RDP. If you tap the up arrow at bottom right, you get a toolbar which controls the on-screen keyboard, extra keys useful for Windows, and a menu with options including a macro of pre-defined keystrokes. It even works with my cheap iPad keyboard.

The downside of this approach is that Windows needs to be running somewhere on your network. However Mocha RDP supports wake on lan, so you can turn it on remotely; note that this normally needs to be activated in the PC BIOS.

In my case I already run a Hyper-V server, a free download. I have installed Windows 7 on a VM (virtual machine), so it is always available.

The iPad also supports VPN (Virtual Private Network), so given a decent broadband connection I could connect to Windows while out and about. Alternatively there are systems like LogMeIn which do not require a VPN, though you have to install the LogMeIn agent on the target PC.

The general approach makes a lot of sense to me. Technically it is a hybrid thin/thick client approach. An iPad or other tablet is smart and has its own local apps and storage, but does not attempt to provide the full capabilities of a PC or Mac. When you need that, you can log into a remote desktop.

It is another example of how the mobile revolution is making us rethink how we do computing. The thin client concept is nothing new, but it is only now that it is becoming compelling for users as well as administrators, giving them the convenience of a tablet as well as access to rich applications like Microsoft Office.

Microsoft no doubt has its own plans for combining tablets with desktop-as-a-service. I would guess that it involves Windows 8 on ARM; but it will take some effort to tempt users away from their iPads.

Review: my bargain iPad Bluetooth keyboard from a Chinese market

During my recent visit to Beijing I went along to the Hong Qiao market. It was quite an experience, with lots of fun gadgets on display, mostly fake but with plenty of good deals to be had.


I did not buy much but could not resist an iPad Bluetooth keyboard. I have been meaning to try one of these for a while. The one I picked is integrated into a “leather” case.


The packaging is well future-proofed:


Of course I had to haggle over the price, and we eventually settled on ¥150, about £15.00 or $24.00.

It comes with a smart 12-page manual, which you will enjoy if you like slightly mangled English, though there are some small differences between the product and the manual. A power LED is described in the manual but seems not to exist. The manual makes a couple of references to Windows and in fact the keyboard does also work with Windows, but there is nothing silly like a Windows key and this really is designed for the iPad.

No manufacturer is named, which is odd as the vendor insisted that it is “original”, though the box does say “Made in China”.

The design is straightforward. The iPad slots in to what becomes the top flap of the case. Open the case, and you can set the iPad into an upright position for typing. The lower flap of the case has a magnetic clasp, which works fine. It is a bit of a nuisance though as it gets a little in the way when you are in typing mode. You cannot fold it back to tuck it out of the way.

image image

I noticed a few blemishes in the case; possibly I had a second-grade example.


But I have not found any technical problems.

The unit is supplied with a micro USB cable for charging. It did not take long to charge and I think was already half-charged when I purchased.

Here is a closer look at the keyboard itself.


Once charged, you turn on the power and pair it to your iPad by pressing the Connect button. I had a little difficulty with this until I discovered that you must press down until you feel a distinct click, then it goes into pairing mode. If you then go into the iPad’s Bluetooth settings you will see the keyboard as an available device. Connect, and you are prompted with a code. Type this code on the keyboard to complete the pairing.

The power switch on the keyboard is impossibly small and fiddly to use. If you know how small is a standard micro USB socket you will get the scale in this picture:


So can you just leave the keyboard on? The keyboard claims a standby time of 100 days, so maybe that will be OK, though the manual warns:

When you are finished using your keyboard or you will be required after the keyboard to carry, so don’t forget to set aside the keyboard to switch the source OFF, turn off the keyboard’s power to extend battery life.

Note: When you normally using the keyboard, or if you are not using the keyboard and didn’t turn off the power switch, please don’t fold or curly, so you will have been working at the keyboard, it will greatly decrease you using the keyboard.

I think this means that turning it off is recommended.

Now the big question: how is it in use? It is actually pretty good. I can achieve much faster text input with the keyboard than using the on-screen option, and it is great to see your document without a virtual keyboard obscuring half the screen.

The keyboard is the squishy type and claims to be waterproof. In fact:

It is waterproof, dustproof, anti-pollution, anti-acid, waterproof for silicone part

according to the manual, as well as having:

Silence design, it will not affect other people’s rest.

which is good to know.

The keyboard has a US layout, but shift-3 gets me a £ sign and alt-2 a € symbol so I am well covered.

There are a number of handy shortcut keys along the top which cover brightness, on-screen keyboard display, search, iTunes control, and a few other functions. There is a globe key that I have not figured out; it looks as if it should open Safari but it does not. There are also Fn, Control, Alt and Command keys, cursor keys, and Shift keys at left and right. Most of the keyboard shortcuts I have seen listed for iPad keyboards in general seem to work here as well.

Learning keyboard shortcuts is one of things you need to do in order to get the best from this. For example, press alt+e and then any vowel to get an acute accent, press alt+backtick and then any vowel to get a grave accent, and so on. Finding the right shortcuts is a bit of an adventure and I have more to discover. Not everything is covered; I have not found any way to apply bold from the keyboard in Pages, for example. I would also love to find an equivalent to alt-tab on Windows, which switches through running apps. There is a Home key which you can double-tap, but then you have to tap the screen to select an app (unless you know better).

I am pleased with the keyboard, though given the defects in the case and irritations like the tiny power switch it is not really a huge bargain. I find it thought-provoking though. Is iPad + keyboard all I need when on the road, or have I just recreated an inferior netbook? The size and weight is not much different.


Unlike some, I do still see value in the netbook, which has a better keyboard, a battery life that is nearly as good (at least it was when new), handy features like USB, ethernet and VGA ports, and the ability to run Microsoft Office and other Windows apps.

I am also finding that while I like the iPad keyboard for typing, the integrated case has a downside. If you just want to use the iPad as a tablet, the keyboard gets in the way. Maybe a freestanding Bluetooth keyboard is better, like the official Apple item, though that means another item kicking around in your bag.

In the end, the concept needs a little more design work. Having a keyboard in the case is a good idea, but it needs to be so slim that it does not bulk up the package much and gets out of the way when not needed. Perhaps some sort of fabric keyboard is the answer.

Incidentally, if you hanker after one of these but cannot get to the Hong Qiao market, try eBay or Amazon for a number of keyboard cases that look similar to me. Look carefully though; I noticed one by “LuvMac” which lacks a right Shift key, causing some complaints. Mine does have a right Shift key; perhaps it is a later revision.

Hmm, I have just realised that the lady on the stall forgot to give me a receipt or warranty …