I would have liked to entitled this post R.I.P. iTunes but I really do love my iPad and intend to keep it for awhile despite the horde of competing Linux based tablet devices that will soon be available. Credit for inventing the defining product must go to Apple, as it historically has before. I bought the iPad (and before that the iPod Touch) knowing full well that it would be tethered to iTunes for its lifetime. After nearly a year, I do not regret those purchases but I truly look forward to the Linux based tablet devices and the freedom afforded by not being tethered to a clumsy non-intuitive piece of desktop software.
Several manufacturers have announced tablets that will run on Google’s Android OS. Hewlett Packard will soon release a tablet featuring Palm’s WebOS. If you are not already aware, both of these operating systems are Linux based. It would not surprise me to see others and, of course, Microsoft could come out with some tablet running a version of Windows. If not, Microsoft will at least file complaints about violations of their “intellectual property”. It appears that 2011 will at last be the “year of Linux”, although not as a desktop distro as the Linux advocates have imagined. Does it matter? Many enthusiasts believe that tablets will replace desktops and laptops. Some even envision schools passing out tablets instead of textbooks.
The difficulty with Apple’s iOS is Apple’s unwillingness to open the devices’ file systems. Apple tightly controls what goes into and what comes out of the Apple products. Firmware upgrades can only be done via iTunes. Data input for many apps is done with iTunes. It’s usually not difficult but the user is required to have iTunes on his/her PC. Linux users are challenged as there is no Linux version of iTunes. Technically advanced users will “jailbreak” their devices to overcome some of these restrictive Apple policies. Jailbraking an Apple device will install the Cydia app. Cydia is sort of a rogue app store allowing the installation of apps not acceptable to Apple. The downside of jailbreaking is that the device cannot be upgraded without losing the jailbreak benefits. The user must wait until hackers figure out how to jailbreak the current release of the Apple firmware. This can be weeks or even months and there is little assurance that the loosely knit jailbreaking teams will continue their efforts.
Some apps do have the ability to connect with external servers such as Dropbox, thereby allowing data to enter the device via an Internet connection. The GoodReader app has a built-in webserver. Not only will it connect to Dropbox and other servers, it can connect directly to shared folders on network connected PC’s. Any filetype that the Apple device natively accepts will be viewable or playable in GoodReader. In my Goodreader I have several mp3 recordings of verbally read short stories. They are short audiobooks. While I would prefer to listen to them as bookmark-able audiobooks, I have yet to find an audiobook app that will connect to a local server. In the meantime Goodreader gets the job done. Before spending the $2.99 for this app, you might want to visit their website at goodreader.net.
Of interest to book readers, another remarkable program is Calibre. Calibre is not a device app but is a server for ebooks with (free, donationware) versions available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Calibre will load your ebooks into your Kindle, Nook or other device via USB. It will convert most popular ebook filetypes into that needed by your specific device. It also features a web based content server. On your Apple device all you need do is to open the web page with Safari. Select your ebook from your collection and it will open in iBooks. Most ebook readers are Linux based tablets. If you don’t have a stand-alone reader there are many apps to choose from including Nook and Kindle. Some critics have said that the ebook apps on tablets are “killers” of the dedicated devices. I can assure you that the serious reader (I’m married to one) will opt for the feather-weight hand-held with an e ink display.
Available hardware specifications from the major manufacturers indicate that most will be worthy competitors of the Apple products.. Their success will depend on available apps, pricing and, as discussed in this post, open operating systems. I am looking forward to my untethered tablet later in the year. The choice will be difficult.