Deep-dive review: For the iPad Pro, smaller is big

Over the last few years, Apple’s mobile product cycle has revolved around “bigger and thinner.” Now that mantra has been flipped on its head by Apple’s latest releases — the 9.7-in. iPad Pro and the 4-in. iPhone SE — that emphasize the notion that smaller might just be better. First up is the new iPad Pro, which Apple unveiled on March 21st. This iPad Pro starts at $599 (vendor price), $200 less than its larger 12.9-in. sibling. I’ve been an iPad user from 2010, when it first shipped; the 9.7-in. screen has been a hallmark of the iPad since it was introduced by then-CEO Steve Jobs. Since then, the screen has undergone numerous revisions and improvements, most notably, adopting the Retina display technology that first appeared on the iPhone. This latest model not only gets many of the architecture advances from the larger iPad Pro — such as an updated processor and a new, much-improved speaker design — but also a better camera and what may be the most advanced display Apple has shipped. That’s no small feat considering how advanced the larger iPad Pro was when it was announced last fall. Second verse, almost the same as the first This particular model is officially known as the 9.7-in. iPad Pro. Built around a 2048 x 1536-pixel Retina display, it weighs just 0.96 lbs. and is 6.1mm thick. It borrows some features (such as the camera system) from the iPhone 6S, and comes with all of the advances that made the 12.9-in model so compelling: a custom 64-bit A9X processor with an M9 coprocessor, as well as a graphics system that’s twice as fast as the iPad Air 2 it replaced; a four-speaker setup that automatically shifts higher frequencies to the top speakers and lower frequencies to those at the bottom, no matter which way you orient the tablet; a Smart Connector for attaching accessories and for providing power and data without physically plugging anything in; and Apple Pencil support. (This last involves dynamically switching to 240 scans per second for low-latency onscreen drawing with the Pencil, along with palm- and finger-rejection technology to avoid inadvertent input while sketching or taking notes.) The particular model I’ve been testing is a 256GB version in silver and white with Wi-Fi and cellular/GPS capabilities, priced at $1,029 (without the cellular/GPS, it costs $899). I’m glad 256GB of storage is now an option — I like to have with me my entire library of music as well as all of the video projects I have worked on; it’s like a digital life resume. (A similarly configured 12.9-in. iPad Pro is now also available for $1,229.) While, on the whole, the iPad looks pretty much like the iPad Air 2, the cellular model sports a new look. The back side now has antenna lines like the iPhone instead of the black plastic patch Apple used on previous models of its tablet. This gives the rear of the iPad a much cleaner look.

Why even Google can’t connect Cuba

When President Obama said in Havana last month that Google would be working to improve Internet access in Cuba, I wondered what Google might do in Cuba that other companies could not. Today, Cuba is an Internet desert where only 5% of trusted elites are allowed to have (slow dial-up) Internet connections at home, and a paltry 400,000 people access the Internet through sidewalk Wi-Fi hotspots. These hotspots have existed for only a year or so. Also, some 2.5 million Cubans have government-created email accounts, but no Web access. I spent a month in Cuba until last week, and I was there when the president spoke. I’m here to report that those government Wi-Fi hotspots are rare, slow and expensive. While in Cuba, my wife, son and I spent about $300 on Wi-Fi. In a country where the average wage ranges from $15 to $30 per month, connecting is a massive financial burden available only to a lucky minority with private businesses or generous relatives in Miami. And this is why I think the possibilities of what Google might accomplish in Cuba are misunderstood. It’s not as if Cuba would have ubiquitous, affordable and fast Internet access if it just had the money or expertise to make it happen. The problem is that Cuba is a totalitarian Communist dictatorship. The outrageous price charged for Wi-Fi in Cuba can’t possibly reflect the cost of providing the service. The price is really a way to restrict greater freedom of information to those who benefit from the Cuban system. m.2 SSD shootout: PCI Express blows away SATA and M.2 in throughput testing For the better part of a decade now, the traditional interface for hard drives has been Serial ATA Read Now The strange Wi-Fi card system is also a tool of political control. In order to buy a card, you have to show your ID, and your information is entered into the system. Everything done online using a specific Wi-Fi card is associated with a specific person. The Cuban government allows people to run privately owned small hotels, called casas particulares, and small home restaurants, called paladares. The owners of these small businesses would love to provide their guests with Wi-Fi, but the Cuban government doesn’t allow it. Nor does it allow state-owned restaurants, bars and cafes to provide Wi-Fi. Google is connected to the global Internet through satellite networks. Cuba is connected to the Internet by an undersea fiber-optic cable that runs between the island and Venezuela. The cable was completed in 2011, and it existed as a “darknet” connection for two years before suddenly going online in 2013. So here’s the problem with Google as the solution: The Cuban government uses high prices and draconian laws to prevent the majority of Cubans from having any access to the Internet at all. The government actively prevents access as a matter of policy. It’s not a technical problem. It’s a political one. In other words, Cuba doesn’t need Google to provide hotspots. If the Cuban government allowed hotspots, Cubans would provide them.

How IT teams navigate unlimited vacation policies

ake as much time off as you’d like, so long as you get your work done. That’s the idea behind unlimited vacation policies — a workplace perk growing in popularity among U.S. companies, particularly those in technology fields. This model is attractive both to employees, who cite it as a valuable benefit, and companies, which stand to save big money by switching to it. Some 45% of respondents to Computerworld’s 2016 IT Careers survey said that unlimited vacation time would entice them to change companies. This ranked far ahead of any other work-life perk, including paid sabbaticals, extended parental leave and on-site childcare. Businesses benefit, too, by avoiding the administrative costs associated with managing employees’ vacation time — not to mention the financial liability associated with employees’ accrual of unused vacation time, which typically must be paid to an employee in a lump sum if she leaves the company. The average vacation liability for U.S. companies amounts to $1,898 per employee, according to an analysis of public companies’ 2014 SEC filings conducted by advisory firm Oxford Economics on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association. [ Further reading: Efficiency hacks for IT: 6 tips for getting things done ] But while those reasons alone may be good enough for some companies to consider the switch, it doesn’t work everywhere, according to Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Companies that have successfully transitioned, he says, foster a workplace culture in which management trusts employees and vice versa, with clear two-way communication about expectations. These characteristics are even more important within IT departments, which must navigate unique challenges: IT teams need to make sure that technology projects still launch on time and that help desks stay staffed year round — all while affording their employees equal opportunity at time off.

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