iPad early adoption: a risk too far

Steve Jobs wasn’t kidding when he said that the “technology road is bumpy”.

Those familiar with my initial thoughts about the Apple iPad won't be overly surprised if I waste no time in doing a little more "Apple-bashing", since the army of iPad early adopters are already reporting major hassles with their shiny new devices.

Don't get me wrong, I do have sympathy for those who rushed out to get their hands on the iPad the very first weekend it went on sale, only to find in many cases that its wifi was iffy, to say the least. Others have complained it takes an age to charge it up. But although I'm sympathetic, they were always likely, like any early adopters, to pay a price to be first with iPad bragging rights.

Just like the early adopters of the iPod, who went up in arms when Apple dropped the price from $599 to $399 within weeks of it going on sale, the purchasers of iPad 1.0 should keep in mind the words of Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, when he attempted an apology of sorts back then. As Jobs said, had those iPod buyers been "in technology for 30-plus years", like him, they would have a better understanding of how the "technology road is bumpy", and appreciate that "this is life in the technology lane".

Perhaps he will make a similar statement to appease the customers who have flooded Apple's discussion boards to complain that their iPad is struggling to get a strong wireless signal, despite other devices nearby working normally.

"I have rebooted the iPad three times, doesn't help. My MacBook is running on the same wifi network just fine. Not spending $500 on something I can't even use. It's going back tomorrow," said one user on a forum.

But I'd be surprised if Jobs gets embroiled in such "petty" complaints about his beloved tablet. Talking about early sales figures which showed that Apple managed to shift 300,000 units on the first day of the gadget's release and has sold another 500,000 since, he said: "It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world. It's going to be a game-changer."

Sweat sensation

For those with complaints about the device, it may feel like far less of a game-changer (though I suppose they can always play games on the thing even if they struggle to download books and audio, or surf the net, the purpose for which the device was primarily intended).

Nor are they alone. Buyers of the third-generation iPod Shuffle were staggered to discover that a device marketed as small and light enough to be ideal for gym workouts would break down spectacularly, should any sweat get near the headphone jack. As one of hundreds of commenters on a bulletin board wrote of the debacle: "I would have been SHOCKED if Microsoft was boneheaded enough to have released a product for exercise that was obviously not tested for its primary intent. For Apple, it is inexcusable."

So what does Apple have to say about the iPad wifi issue? Will it be able to do a software patch, or will it have to recall the faulty devices? You'll have to ask the company yourself. I asked what its response was to all of the third-generation iPod Shuffle failures a while back, and the press office failed to respond to my two emails and a phone call.

It seems that because I don't exclusively peddle positive messages about Apple and its gizmos, the company won't talk to me.

Compare and contrast: when I called Microsoft recently to ask about its thoughts on open source in local government, the company hooked me up with its national technology officer within hours. Yet many of the Apple faithful still call Microsoft the Evil Empire!

Anyway, as far as the iPad is concerned, the niggles over wifi haven't changed my mind: I still don't want one. As one commenter on my recent article wrote: "A completely stupid device . .. it's just a fashion statement if anything. It's really not competition for any other device . . . so the makers and supporters say, 'Oh, that's because it's a revolutionary new device' but I say '. . . that we didn't need.' "

For the sake of balance, another commenter said: "I love my new iPad. It's only $500, people, use it for what it does and not bash it for what it doesn't."

Damn, I've failed already.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.