Apple tablets smackdown

Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;

Everyone has many roles, and I have two that I am constantly struggling to balance: marketing director for KansasFest, and associate online editor of I enjoy bringing retrocomputing coverage to the normally enterprise IT-focused Computerworld, but my involvement in the Apple II community creates a potential conflict of interest that prohibits me from providing a reporter’s perspective on the annual Apple II convention. Fortunately, Computerworld‘s editors have worked with me to find ways to cover the event that don’t allow much opportunity for bias. In 2007, I wrote a pair of blog posts; in 2008, several photos from KansasFest appeared on while the event was in full-swing; and in 2009, over 250 pictures of Vince Briel’s four-hour Replica I workshop were distilled into a photo gallery.

The Computerworld features team and I need to be creative to find ways to showcase KansasFest without conflict and without repeating past formulae. Fortunately, when the KansasFest committee announced that the Apple iPad would be at KFest 2010, the features team was enthusiastically receptive to my pitch: comparing and contrasting this revolutionary device to Apple’s previous tablet device, the Apple Graphics Tablet. Though entirely different in function and purpose, the idea of putting these two “tablets” side-by-side was a fun and intriguing one. They gave me the go-ahead.

Apple Graphics Tablet and Apple iPad

An unlikely pairing approved by Computerworld.

The shoot took place at KansasFest late on Saturday, after we’d returned to Rockhurst University from a late-night showing of Inception. Loren Damewood provided the iPad, with Tony Diaz‘s graphics tablet nearby. Loren and I snapped several photos of the two that I then provided to features editor Val Potter. By the time I got home from KansasFest, her fresh eyes had revealed what my Inception-weary ones had failed to notice: I’d overlooked shooting several key features and angles. We had enough pictures for a photo gallery, but it would be a bit weak. Unfortunately, reuniting the two pieces of hardware for additional photos seemed impossible.

It took me awhile to realize the solution to this dilemma. Tony was making a week-long drive home from KansasFest with Mark Frischknecht, who had his own iPad. Maybe at one of their nightly hotel stops, they could do their own comparison? The pair were happy to oblige, and combined with some photos Tony had taken in March for an aborted Juiced.GS feature, and a few more pictures by Computerworld news editor and Mac aficionado Ken Mingis, we had everything we needed.

As with last year’s Apple-1 image gallery, the final story was published on what is for enterprise IT news the slowest day of the week (Friday) of the slowest month of the year (August). As a result, “Face-off: 1979 Apple Graphics Tablet vs. 2010 Apple iPad” has been getting some generous traffic, further aided by Slashdot.

But both Computerworld and /. readers include a number of detractors among their commenters: “They really thought it was necessary to compare two technologies that were more than 30 years apart?” or “where can u see the fun in this article? compare a dolphin with a dinosaur next time. they both start with d.” Fortunately, those who “get it” are more eloquent: “This is a quick ‘then and now’ look at how some things have changed and how others have remained similar, if not the same, in Apple’s design philosophy, user interface design, packaging, and marketing. Even without those aspects, the article still has nostalgic interest and value to those of us involved in computing since the 70s.”

The image gallery isn’t your typical post-KansasFest wrap-up — there are plenty of traditional sources for that — but it accomplished my dual mission of providing Computerworld with great, original content, and putting the Apple II before a larger audience than is normally possible. I’m open to any ideas of how I might continue to do so, whether it be for KansasFest 2011 or at any other time of year!

  1. It is a tough balance, but it seems like Computerworld is working with you. It’s obvious that the balance is hard. Perhaps widening your retro scope to include more “enterprise” comparisons would help neutralize the Apple II bias. Perhaps comparing early Sun Workstation vs Sun pre-Oracle and Sun post-Oracle would fit? How Sun cut it’s teeth making high powered primarily single-operator workstations and grew to mainframe like hardware. Some of this is covered, but not back to the mid 80s. There are some newer people that are just coming into the enterprise world without the luxury of history. OpenSolaris was at one time completely unthinkable, but now we’re horrified to find that Oracle wants to effectively re-hide it!

    Maybe some “where are they now” segments – especially ones that have gone on to still be players but unknown – such as the PowerVR 3d architecture that was going to revolutionize the world and failed spectacularly in the PC market but surprisingly ended up being the basis for the iPhone’s 3d performance (and this is after having spent time in the Dreamcast).

    The problem is the bias you have towards these loveable systems is possibly too narrow to appeal to a wider crowd. You’re fully aware as an associate online editor that “The Internet” is a harsh and vocal critic of both good and bad and they are never fair. If you can hit them in their weak nostalgic point or possibly provide information of benefit they might forgive you after they smack you down.

    Most importantly, work with your fellow Computerworld staff to ensure it fits the tone and message of Computerworld.

  2. Thanks, Rob. These are interesting ideas for features, but I was asking how to cover the Apple II for Computerworld, not how to accomplish the Sisyphean task of satisfying Internet trolls. I’m quite satisfied with the current reception retrocomputing articles receive on that site.

  3. Actually the intent wasn’t to please the trolls, but to give them a bridge from which to get some perspective. By widening the retro/historical comparisons, you can then have more freedom to operate – including Apple II.