Apple tablets smackdown

August 16th, 2010 10:53 AM
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!