I previously wrote that you should choose what’s best for your needs – of course you also need to bear in mind whether it’s likely that those needs will change over the life of the technology in question and if so, what impact that might have on your selection process. As an example, Apple is about to release the new iPhone 4S. This model has an improved camera and now supports HD video – features already available on competitors’ products. The 4S will also have Siri, Apple’s new “intelligent assistant” – voice recognition software that also interprets what it’s being asked.
So if you think over the lifetime of your next cell phone contract that you might be able to make use of this technology, then that would certainly influence the decision-making process even if you’re not quite sure how it might work. Similarly, if you use applications on your phone that synchronize with your desktop, then the operating system on your next phone is likely to be the same as your current device’s (but perhaps in a later version). As an example, I use a neat application called Billings Pro Touch on my iPhone. It synchronizes to my desktop iMac and to my laptop and enables me to record the time I spend working with clients and have it available to me when I get back to the office. It’s pretty clear to me that when my cell contract expires, I’ll be staying with Apple.
There are other applications with similar features, some of which run on both Android phones and on iPhones. Overall, it comes down to personal preference plus comfort level with the support you’ll receive for the operating system as well as the application.
It’s a similar picture when considering a new PC, although there’s now the added complication of whether a tablet should be considered. If you want a desktop system, there are many manufacturers of Windows systems to consider – Dell, HP and Acer being the leaders in this market. Apple has the Mac Mini, the iMac and the high-end Mac Pro in the desktop space. For laptops, there’s the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro from Apple, plus a huge raft of netbooks and laptops to choose from in the Windows space. Apart from the operating system, there’s the screen size to be considered (also a factor in desktops, if you’re thinking of buying a new monitor, too) – from 10″ netbooks to 17″ desktop-replacement laptops that weigh in around 5 to 6 kg.
So if you’re thinking of a desktop, your first decision should be Windows or Mac – do you run applications that must run on Windows? If so, Macs are generally out of the picture (unless you run a Windows virtual machine on one – you see what I mean about a minefield??). Then it’s a matter of how much is the budget – good, solid Windows business class systems can be had for $700 – $800 (without a monitor); the new model of Mac Mini starts at $599 (again, without a monitor), while there are cheaper Windows systems available at retail stores. I normally tell my clients to plan for a 4-year lifecycle for computers – so consider whether that $400 system at Best Buy or London Drugs is really the bargain it appears to be.
The same holds true for laptops – for example, a netbook is light and easily transported. They generally have 10″ screens and a low-powered processor (to extend battery life). Their downside is that it’s often challenging to run more than one application at a time; similarly, the smaller screen can make it difficult to read complex information like a spreadsheet. Larger laptops can have better quality screens, more processing power and more memory to help run more applications – so give thought to how you will use the system before you go and spend your money.
And as I mentioned above, now there are tablet systems in the mix. As well as the iPad, there are now a number of Android-based systems out there (including the new Amazon Kindle Fire). My colleague Bonnie Sainsbury is gathering information to blog about her experiences with a tablet from the Taiwanese manufacturer ASUS. It’s often thought that tablets are more for content consumption (e.g. watching videos, reading e-books, and so on) that for creation, though external keyboard docking stations certainly can change that perception, as Bonnie can attest to.
Go and visit retailers who offer displays of the systems they sell – Future Shop, Best Buy (both members of the same family), London Drugs and the Apple stores (as well as retailers like Simply Computing and the aforementioned Future Shop) all offer the opportunity to “play” with their various offerings. The quality of responses you receive to your questions from the store employees will of course vary – but at least you’ll have the opportunity to get a feel for how the technology might work for you. And if you’re still not sure, talk to an independent expert.
Des Dougan is Principal of Dougan Consulting Group, which provides technology support services to small businesses in the Metro Vancouver area. Des has over 30 years experience in the computer business and can be contacted here and via @ddougan on Twitter.