Google adds to eBook options
By Stephen WITHERS
If you're into eBooks, the Australian debut of Google eBooks provides another source of supply for your Mac, iPhone or iPad. Or, for that matter, other platforms including Android and various ebook readers (eg, Kobo).
Google offers apps for Android and iOS, a web reader (that works fine in Safari and Chrome, and presumably in other browsers too), and downloadable files in ePub and PDF formats for use with ebook readers (using Adobe Digital Editions to handle DRM where required).
From a Mac user's perspective, the main problem is that there's no offline support in the web reader, and if you read a ePub or PDF eBook you'll miss out on the feature that synchronises your current page across devices. If you use the web reader and then open the same book on a tablet or smartphone, you'll find yourself at the right page.
Interestingly, Google isn't trying to squeeze out existing booksellers, who can sell Google eBooks through their web sites, along with whatever formats they already support. Google eBooks are sometimes cheaper than other electronic editions and sometimes more expensive.
At Dymocks for example, Dead Girls Are Easy by Terri Garey is just $0.99 as a Google eBook but $9.37 as an ePub. Conversely, Girl Who Spoke With Pictures by Eileen Miller is $39.95 as a Google eBook and $26.92 as a PDF.
In some cases, eg Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee, the Google eBook is actually more expensive than the hardback! It's $30.95 vs $24.99, although the latter is an online special and the in-store price is $8 more.
"Buyer beware" remains as good advice as ever.
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Has laptop design reached singularity?
By David BRAUE
Depending on where you are in your laptop buying cycle, you may or may not have noticed the recent announcements about 'ultrabooks', that extremely thin class of laptop that uses less power, replaces hard drives with solid state drives (SSDs), is made from aluminium, and for all intents and purposes looks and works exactly like an Apple MacBook air.
There's a reason for this, of course: the MacBook air has proved to be an incredibly popular addition to Apple's MacBook laptop range, which has been embraced even by many people who swear they are die-hard Windows enthusiasts. Longer battery life, nearly instant suspension and resumption of sessions, and a sleek design that's to die for have all contributed to the laptops' cachet – so much so that nobody's really been complaining about the removal of DVD-ROM drives.
Even big-name Windows laptop makers, who have in the past kept flooding the market with Blu-ray disc playing units toting massive screens and blink-and-you'll-miss-it battery life, are getting in on the ultrabook story.
Witness ASUS's new ZENBOOK, which I am told will ship this Friday at prices starting from $1399. Like Interestingly, that's $300 more than Apple's entry-level 64GB MacBook air, and $50 more than its comparable 128GB model; so much for the conventional wisdom that Apple laptops are overpriced.
Pricing aside, however, a look at the specs for the ZENBOOK reveal little difference to those of the MacBook air: there are 11 and 13-inch models with 128GB or 256GB SSDs, 5 to 7 hours' battery life, lots of USB, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The keyboard layout, chiclet design, trackpad, and general look and feel scream "Apple" – as do the designs of basically every ultrabook we've seen so far.
If blatantly copying Apple is as innovative as laptop makers can get these days, I'm forced to consider the possibility that the MacBook air has pushed the laptop market towards singularity – that theoretical point where design and functionality have reached their zenith, and where further improvement is simply unattainable.
There will be steady boosts in CPU speed and storage capacity, of course, as sure as the sun rises in the east. But if the main differentiator between the ASUS and Apple laptops is their operating system, where are manufacturers to take this ultrabook form factor next?
More importantly, is there still room in the market for their general-purpose laptop designs?
Will consumers continue flocking to everything-but-the-kitchen-sink units that must be tethered to the nearest mains outlet to power their souped-up GPUs, optical drives and extra-bright screens? Or will they steadily reject that kind of laptop for something that provides real mobility and a full day's worth of computing without gimmicks – in other words, a laptop that just Bloody. Well. Works?
Ultimately, price may be the thing keeping the old-style units alive, since quite a lot of people are happy to buy $500 laptops despite their having disgraceful battery life and questionable build quality that all too often ends in tears. But looks count for a lot – and if there's a higher tier of device hovering just out of reach above that magical $1000 price point, we have to consider the possibility that even low-end buyers will start saving up until they can get an ultrabook in their hands instead.
Fast-forward a few years, and there's only conclusion: every laptop will be – or, at least, look like – a MacBook air. Analysts certainly think so: IHS, for one, recently came out with a prediction that ultrabooks will account for 40 percent of all laptop shipments by 2015.
Unless, of course, someone – and, let's face it, in the laptop market that means Apple – does something radical to reinvent the whole idea of a laptop.
What else would you add to today's laptops? Or have we indeed reached laptop singularity?
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New Canon C300 a breakthrough in features and pricing for filmmakers
By David HAGUE
Over the last couple of years, professional camcorders have become smaller and smaller, belying the idea that for a camera to be serious, it has to be big and shoulder mounted. I have mentioned the new models from Canon and Sony in particular over recent columns (and reviewed them in Auscam magazine and online) and Panasonic are now also playing the game.
Late last week however, in a world first, Canon did a simultaneous worldwide announcement of the new EOS C300 / C300P camcorder that is aimed squarely at filmmakers. Also announced was a range of complementary lenses.
Priced at a modest (for this type of camcorder) $17999 – body only – the C300 is a breakthrough in that it combines all of the best of a top of the range dSLR complete with a 35mm sensor, and the best camcorder you can possibly imagine.
As well as the lenses announced, the EF version of the C300 can accept the full range of Canon EF lenses giving a huge boost the versatility of the beast. And of course, the PL version has a standard PL mount.
The file format Canon has chosen to use is MXF (which oddly is not supported by Apple’s Final Cut Pro X) and sprints along at 50Mbps. Twin CF cards are used for storage and HDSD-SDI, gunlock, timecode and XLR are all built in.
There is even an iPad app supporting remote operation.
There were no models at the announcement to play with, but we did get to see some actual footage shot by world famous producer/director/cinematographers who assisted Canon in the design process. Those results are stunning. An example by Laforet called “Mobius”, a 10 minute short story (in 720P) can be seen at the Auscam Online website.
The C300 should be available in Australia starting late January.
It will be interesting now to see if Sony and Panasonic follow suit.
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Bankers go bonkers for the cloud
By Ian GRAYSON
Cloud computing is gaining traction in many parts of the business world. Now it seems poised to revolutionise banking.
In every discussion about how the cloud is changing business computing, there's usually agreement that some areas are still off limits. One of these has been core banking systems.
Sitting at the very heart of a financial institution, the core banking system is responsible for recording transactions and maintaining customer accounts. Without it, a bank would not be in business.
Because of the critical nature of the system, there has been broad agreement that a bank would never consider shifting it to an external, cloud-based platform. It's all just far to important.
But it seems you should never say never. According to a recent Gartner survey of CIOs in the financial services sector, an increasing number are considering shifting their critical systems to the cloud.
The reason, it seems, is flexibility. Rather than needing to spend serious wads of cash on maintaining complex in-house core systems, those funds can instead be invested in creating new services for customers.
According to the experts, cloud-based core banking systems can be more quickly adapted to support new opportunities - and bankers are pretty excited about it.
New applications can be bolted on as required, greatly enhancing performance without having a detrimental impact on the number-crunching core. Want to offer a new loan product? Get it to customers in weeks rather than months (or even years).
For customers, the result should be more flexible banks with ever improving portfolios of products and services.
Cloud banking. Wouldn't that be something?
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Sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t let you watch that
By Adam TURNER
Why would I want Apple and Siri to control my television?
When it comes to buying televisions, I’ve always felt the right approach is to find the best picture quality you can afford, with plenty of HDMI inputs, and then let your set-top boxes do the heavy lifting. It’s the closest you can come to future-proofing such an expensive and significant purchase.
Most of us can’t afford to chuck away our television every few years as we do our other gadgets, especially if that old television is still going strong. It’s much cheaper and easier to upgrade your Blu-ray player or media player every few years to gain access to new internet-enabled features.
Now there’s renewed talk of an Apple Television. Not the little Apple TV streaming media player, but an actual Apple-branded television. The big selling point seems to be integration with the Siri interactive voice system already available on the iPhone 4S. Apparently we’re ready to yell at our televisions when we want to change the channel, although Siri would blush if it heard some of the things I shout at my television.
I’m not convinced that an Apple-branded television is such as great idea. Apple’s unofficial motto for its just works products is “Trading liberty for convenience”. That’s obviously a sacrifice that many people are prepared to make considering the success of iGadgets. But what sacrifices will we be expected to make for the convenience of a television with built-in access to Siri and the iTunes ecosystem? I wouldn’t be surprised it only featured HDMI inputs. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t even include digital TV tuners and found some way to stop you hooking up a Blu-ray player. Apple has no interest in letting you access content that doesn’t put money in the Cupertino coffers.
Of course there are plenty of ways for Apple to squeeze money out of other content. Think about possibilities such disabling ad-skipping, personalised targeted ads and even retrospective digital product placement into your favourite shows. It sounds a little paranoid, but all this stuff is technically possible and just waiting for a company like Apple to win it mainstream acceptance. In two or three years time, Apple will start withholding new features from old models and you’ll be expected to buy a new Apple television just like you keep buying new phones. Apple might even aim for some ind of subscription model, similar to a smartphone plan. I think can’t of anything Apple could offer that would entice me to make such a Faustian deal.
If you hand Siri control of your internet-enabled television, you may as well throw away the remote and chain yourself to the couch. Tune in, sit down and shut up, Apple knows best.
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