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What does Reset Network Settings in iOS do?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 25, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsIf you’ve experienced networking issues with your iPad or iPhone, you may have called Apple for support. Many times they recommend that you “Reset Network Settings.” But, what exactly does this operation do? Let’s explore.

What’s included in this Reset Network Settings process?

This is a complicated answer and how it affects you depends on several factors. What this process does, in addition to resetting a bunch of locally stored device settings on the iOS device itself, it also deletes network settings stored in your iCloud Keychain. If you have only an iPhone and own no other devices (i.e., no iPads, no Macs, no iPods, no Apple Watches, no Apple TVs, nothing else), resetting these settings will likely work just fine for you.

However, if you own or use multiple Apple devices and these devices participate in iCloud Keychain, things can get complicated… very, very complicated. The “or use” statement is the one that makes this process much more complicated. If you have a work Mac computer that’s hooked up to your Apple ID and is participating in iCloud Keychain, performing “Reset Network Settings” on an iPhone can become problematic for your work computer. How? First, let’s find out more about iCloud Keychain.

iCloud Keychain

What is iCloud Keychain? This is an iCloud network service that stores sensitive passwords and credit card information in a secure way. This iCloud service also lets multiple iOS, MacOS, tvOS and WatchOS devices participate and use this data as part of your Apple ID. If you own multiple Apple devices, they can all share and use this same set of sensitive data without having to enter it individually on each device (convenience).

Your iCloud Keychain is specific to your Apple ID which is protected by your Apple ID login and password. The iCloud Keychain was created as both a convenience (all devices can share data), but also secure in that this data is protected behind your Apple ID credentials.

When you “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS (or possibly even MacOS, tvOS or even WatchOS) device and your devices participate in iCloud Keychain synchronization, a “Reset Network Settings” can cause networking issues for all of your devices. Why?

The iCloud Keychain stores WiFi access point names (SSIDs) and passwords. Not only that, it also stores credit cards that you might use with Apple Pay (this becomes important later). When you run “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS device, it will wipe all access point SSIDs and Passwords from your iCloud Keychain.

You might be asking, “Why is this a problem?” This will become a problem for all devices participating in iCloud Keychain. All of your Apple devices share in using this SSID and password data from your iCloud Keychain. This important to understand.  Because of this level of sharing, it only takes one device to learn of an access point for all Apple devices to use that network when in range. For example, if you bring your Mac to a convention and log it into an access point at the convention, your Mac logs this access point data to the iCloud Keychain. Your phone will immediately pick up on this new access point addition and also connect to that access point using the newly stored password as soon as it finds it… automagically.

Likewise, it only takes one device to wipe an access point and all devices lose access to it. It’s a single shared location for this networking data. One device adds it, all can use it. One device deletes it, all devices forget about it. Is this a good idea? You decide.

Reset Network Settings and Multiple Devices

Here’s where things get complicated with iCloud Keychain. If you are having network troubles with your iPhone, you might be requested by Apple Support to “Reset Network Settings”.

If all of your MacOS, tvOS, iOS and WatchOS devices participate in iCloud Keychain and you actually perform “Reset Network Settings” on your iPhone, it will wipe not only the current access point, but every access point that every device is aware of. It returns your network settings on iOS (and in iCloud Keychain) to a clean slate to start it over. It does this to try and clear out any problematic network settings. It also deletes known access points from the iCloud Keychain. This wipes access to this data for ALL of your Apple devices, not just the one you performed “Reset Network Settings” on.

What this means is that every device participating in iCloud Keychain will lose access to ALL access points that had previously been known because they have been deleted as part of “Reset Network Settings”. If your iOS device knew of all access points, they will ALL be wiped from iCloud Keychain. This means that every device will immediately lose access to its current access point. It also means that every Apple device you own must now be touched to reselect a new access point requiring you to reenter the password for that access point… On. Every. Apple. Device!

For example, I own two Macs, two iPads, three iPhones and two iPod Touches. A “Reset Network Settings” from a single device means I will need to go and manually touch 9 different devices to reconnect them to WiFi after a single iOS device performs a “Reset Network Settings” operation. It requires this because every device has lost access to even its home network which means no access to iCloud Keychain… which means, touching every device to get them back onto a WiFi network.

For me, it was even more complicated than the mere hassle of setting up WiFi on every device. It wiped known access points created by my employer on my Mac which were put into my iCloud Keychain… access points where I didn’t know the name or passwords. Thankfully, I was able to recover this data from another co-worker’s Mac and get back onto my corporate network. Otherwise, I’d have been down at my IT team’s desk asking for them to fix my Mac… and all as a result of performing “Reset Network Settings” on my iPhone.

Horrible, horrible design.

Avoiding This Problem

Can this problem be avoided? Possibly. If you turn off iCloud Keychain on your iOS device BEFORE you perform “Reset Network Settings”, it may avoid wiping the data in the iCloud Keychain. I say “may” because after you take the device out of iCloud Keychain, then reset the network settings and then rejoin it to iCloud Keychain, it may propagate the differences at the time the device rejoins. Hopefully, not. Hopefully, the newly reset device will ONLY download the existing data in the iCloud Keychain without making any modifications to it. With Apple, you never know.

The secondary issue is that removing your iPhone from iCloud Keychain may remove stored credit cards. This may mean reentry of all of your credit cards after you have “Reset Network Settings” and after you have rejoined your device to the iCloud Keychain. This may also depend on iOS version. I just tried removing iCloud Keychain, then performed “Reset Network Settings”, then rejoined iCloud Keychain and all my cards are still intact on the device. If you’re on iOS 11 or iOS 10, your results may vary.

Why is this a problem?

First off, I don’t want to have to go touch many devices after a single device reset. That’s just stupid. Second, removing the device from iCloud Keychain to perform “Reset Network Settings” will wipe all of your current credit card data from the device and likely from the iCloud Keychain. Third, Apple needs to fix their shit to allow more granularity in what it wipes with “Reset Network Settings”. In fact, it shouldn’t even touch iCloud Keychain data. It should wipe only locally stored information on the device and then see if that works. If that doesn’t work, then wipe the data on iCloud Keychain, but only as a LAST RESORT!

I understand that Apple seems to think that wiping all network data (including what’s in iCloud Keychain) might solve “whatever the problem is”, but that’s just a sledgehammer. If what’s stored in iCloud Keychain were a problem, my 8 other devices should be experiencing the same issue as well. It’s basically, stupid Apple troubleshooting logic.

As I mentioned, disabling iCloud Keychain may unregister your credit cards from your device (and from the Keychain). I know this was the case in iOS 11, but in iOS 12 it seems to not require this any longer. I definitely don’t want to have to rescan all of my credit cards again onto my iOS device to restore them. It takes at least 30 minutes to do this with the number of cards I have to input. With the Apple Watch, this process is horribly unreliable and lengthy. It can sometimes take over an hour diddling with Bluetooth timeouts and silly unreliability problems to finally get all of my cards back onto the Watch (in addition to the iPhone).

Such time wasting problems over a single troubleshooting thing that should be extremely straightforward and easy. Horrible, horrible design.

Representatives and Suggestions

If you’re taking to an Apple representative about a networking problem and they suggest for you to “Reset Network Settings”, you should refer them to this article so they can better understand what it is they are asking you to do.

Neither Apple Support, nor will any of your phone carrier support teams warn you of this iCloud Keychain problem when requesting “Reset Network Settings.” They will ask you to perform this step as though it’s some simple little step. It’s not!

Whenever Apple asks me to perform the “Reset Network Settings” troubleshooting step, I always decline citing this exact problem. Perhaps someone at Apple will finally wake up and fix this issue once and for all. Until then, you should always question Apple’s troubleshooting methods before blindly following them.

How to disable iCloud Keychain

To disable the iCloud Keychain on your iOS device, go to …

Settings=>Your Name=>iCloud=>Keychain

… and toggle it off. Your Name is actually your name. It is located at the very top of settings. Once toggled off, it will likely unregister your credit cards stored on your iOS device, but I guess it’s a small price to pay if you really need to reset these network settings to your restore networking to 100% functionality. Of course, there’s no guarantee that “Reset Network Settings” or jumping through any of these hoops will solve this problem. There’s also the possibility that “Reset Network Settings” could still screw with your iCloud Keychain even if you disable it before performing “Reset Network Settings”.

With Apple, your mileage may vary.

How to Reset Network Settings

Settings=>General=>Reset=>Reset Network Settings

If you own multiple Apple devices and they are using iCloud Keychain, don’t perform this step first. Instead, disable iCloud Keychain first (above), then perform this step. If you only own one Apple device, there is no need to disable iCloud Keychain.

Network Problems and Quick Fixes

In my most recent case of being prompted to “Reset Network Settings”, my phone’s Wi-Fi calling feature simply stopped working. I first called T-Mobile and they referred me to “Reset Network Settings” (based on Apple’s documentation) and they also referred me to Apple Support. Because I already knew about the iCloud Keychain problem from a previous inadvertent wipe of all of my network access points, this time I opted to turn off iCloud Keychain before attempting “Reset Network Settings.” Suffice it to say that “Reset Network Settings” didn’t do a damned thing, as I full well expected.

In fact, I tried many options prior to “Reset Network Settings”. These included:

  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi calling
  • Joining a different access point
  • Restarting my Comcast modem
  • Restarting my network router
  • Restarting my Apple Airport
  • Restarting my phone
  • Hard restarting my phone
  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi
  • Dumping Sysdiagnose logs and digging through them
  • Killing and restarting the Phone app

I tried all of the above and nothing resolved the issue. No, not even “Reset Network Settings”.

I recall reading a year or two back that sometimes Airplane Mode can resolve some network connectivity issues. I’m not sure exactly what Airplane Mode actually does under the hood in detail, but it appears to modify a bunch of configs and disable all networking including Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and anything else that performs networking.

Once Airplane Mode was enabled, I allowed the phone to sit for 30 seconds to make sure all components recognized Airplane Mode. Then, I disabled Airplane Mode. Almost immediately, the phone’s menu bar now says ‘T-Mobile Wi-Fi’. Wow, that actually worked.

If you’re having networking problems on your iPhone, try enabling then disabling Airplane Mode instead of “Reset Network Settings”. At least, it’s worth a try before resorting to disabling iCloud Keychain followed by “Reset Network Settings”.

iOS 11 vs 12

The first time I experienced my issue with the iCloud Keychain and “Reset Network Settings”, I was using iOS 11. I’m firmly of, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” This means, I haven’t tested this on iOS 12 to see if Apple has changed their ways. It’s very doubtful they have and very likely this problem still persists even in the most current version of iOS.

Design Rant Mode On

Apple seems to be under the delusion that we’re still living in a one-device-ownership-world. We’re not. We now own Macs, Apple TVs, Watches, iPhones and iPads that all rely on their multi-device services, such as iCloud Keychain. To design a feature that can wipe the entire data shared by multiple devices is not only the very definition of shit software, it’s also the very definition of a shit company that hasn’t the first clue of what the hell they’ve actually built.


If this article is helpful to you, please leave a comment below.

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How to format NTFS on MacOS X

Posted in Apple, computers, Mac OS X, microsoft by commorancy on June 2, 2012

This article is designed to show you how to mount and manage NTFS partitions in MacOS X.  Note the prerequisites below as it’s not quite as straightforward as one would hope.  That is, there is no native MacOS X tool to accomplish this, but it can be done.  First things first:

Disclaimer

This article discusses commands that will format, destroy or otherwise wipe data from hard drives.  If you are uncomfortable working with commands like these, you shouldn’t attempt to follow this article.  This information is provided as-is and all risk is incurred solely by the reader.  If you wipe your data accidentally by the use of the information contained in this article, you solely accept all risk.  This author accepts no liability for the use or misuse of the commands explored in this article.

Prerequisites

Right up front I’m going to say that to accomplish this task, you must have the following prerequisites set up:

  1. VirtualBox installed (free)
  2. Windows 7 (any flavor) installed in VirtualBox (you can probably use Windows XP, but the commands may be different) (Windows is not free)

For reading / writing to NTFS formatted partitions (optional), you will need one of the following:

  1. For writing to NTFS partitions on MacOS X:
  2. For reading from NTFS, MacOS X can natively mount and read from NTFS partitions in read-only mode. This is built into Mac OS X.

If you plan on writing to NTFS partitions, I highly recommend Tuxera over ntfs-3g. Tuxera is stable and I’ve had no troubles with it corrupting NTFS volumes which would require a ‘chkdsk’ operation to fix.  On the other hand, ntfs-3g regularly corrupts volumes and will require chkdsk to clean up the volume periodically. Do not override MacOS X’s native NTFS mounter and have it write to volumes (even though it is possible).  The MacOS X native NTFS mounter will corrupt disks in write mode.  Use Tuxera or ntfs-3g instead.

Why NTFS on Mac OS X?

If you’re like me, I have a Mac at work and Windows at home.  Because Mac can mount NTFS, but Windows has no hope of mounting MacOS Journaled filesystems, I opted to use NTFS as my disk carry standard.  Note, I use large 1-2TB sized hard drives and NTFS is much more efficient with space allocation than FAT32 for these sized disks.  So, this is why I use NTFS as my carry around standard for both Windows and Mac.

How to format a new hard drive with NTFS on Mac OS X

Once you have Windows 7 installed in VirtualBox and working, shut it down for the moment.  Note, I will assume that you know how to install Windows 7 in VirtualBox.  If not, let me know and I can write a separate article on how to do this.

Now, go to Mac OS X and open a command terminal (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal.app).  Connect the disk to your Mac via USB or whatever method you wish the drive to connect.  Once you have it connected, you will need to determine which /dev/diskX device it is using.  There are several ways of doing this.  However, the easiest way is with the ‘diskutil’ command:

$ diskutil list
/dev/disk0
   #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
   0: GUID_partition_scheme *500.1 GB disk0
   1: EFI 209.7 MB disk0s1
   2: Apple_HFS Macintosh HD 499.8 GB disk0s2
/dev/disk1
   #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
   0: GUID_partition_scheme *2.0 TB disk1
/dev/disk2
   #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
   0: Apple_partition_scheme *119.6 MB disk2
   1: Apple_partition_map 32.3 KB disk2s1
   2: Apple_HFS VirtualBox 119.5 MB disk2s2

 
Locate the drive that appears to be the size of your new hard drive.  If the hard drive is blank (a brand new drive), it shouldn’t show any additional partitions. In my case, I’ve identified that I want to use /dev/disk1.  Remember this device file path because you will need it for creating the raw disk vmdk file. Note the nomenclature above:  The /dev/disk1 is the device to access the entire drive from sector 0 to the very end.  The /dev/diskXsX files access individual partitions created on the device.  Make sure you’ve noted the correct /dev/disk here or you could overwrite the wrong drive.

Don’t create any partitions with MacOS X in Disk Utility or in diskutil as these won’t be used (or useful) in Windows.  In fact, if you create any partitions with Disk Utility, you will need to ‘clean’ the drive in Windows.

Creating a raw disk vmdk for VirtualBox

This next part will create a raw connector between VirtualBox and your physical drive.  This will allow Windows to directly access the entire physical /dev/disk1 drive from within VirtualBox Windows.  Giving Windows access to the entire drive will let you manage the entire drive from within Windows including creating partitions and formatting them.

To create the connector, you will use the following command in Mac OS X from a terminal shell:

$ vboxmanage internalcommands createrawvmdk \
-filename "/path/to/VirtualBox VMs/Windows/disk1.vmdk" -rawdisk /dev/disk1

 
It’s a good idea to create the disk1.vmdk where your Windows VirtualBox VM lives. Note, if vboxmanage isn’t in your PATH, you will need to add it to your PATH to execute this command or, alternatively, specify the exact path to the vboxmanage command. In my case, this is located in /usr/bin/vboxmanage.  This command will create a file named disk1.vmdk that will be used inside your Windows VirtualBox machine to access the hard drive. Note that creating the vmdk doesn’t connect the drive to your VirtualBox Windows system. That’s the next step.  Make note of the path to disk1.vmdk as you will also need this for the next step.

Additional notes, if the drive already has any partitions on it (NTFS or MacOS), you will need to unmount any mounted partitions before Windows can access it and before you can createrawvmdk with vboxmanage.  Check ‘df’ to see if any partitions on drive are mounted.  To unmount, either drop the partition(s) on the trashcan, use umount /path/to/partition or use diskutil unmount /path/to/partition.  You will need to unmount all partitions on the drive in question before Windows or vboxmanage can access it.  Even one mounted partition will prevent VirtualBox from gaining access to the disk.

Note, if this is a brand new drive, it should be blank and it won’t attempt to mount anything.  MacOS may ask you to format it, but just click ‘ignore’.  Don’t have MacOS X format the drive.  However, if you are re-using a previously used drive and wanting to format over what’s on it, I would suggest you zero the drive (see ‘Zeroing a drive’ below) as the fastest way to clear the drive of partition information.

Hooking up the raw disk vmdk to VirtualBox

Open VirtualBox.  In VirtualBox, highlight your Windows virtual machine and click the ‘Settings’ cog at the top.

  • Click the Storage icon.
  • Click the ‘SATA Controller’
  • Click on the ‘Add Hard Disk’ icon (3 disks stacked).
  • When the ? panel appears, click on ‘Choose existing disk’.
  • Navigate to the folder where you created ‘disk1.vmdk’, select it and click ‘Open’.
  • The disk1.vmdk connector will now appear under SATA Controller

You are ready to launch VirtualBox.  Note, if /dev/disk1 isn’t owned by your user account, VirtualBox may fail to open this drive and show an error panel.  If you see any error panels, check to make sure no partitions are mounted and  then check the permissions of /dev/disk1 with ls -l /dev/disk1 and, if necessary, chown $LOGNAME /dev/disk1.  The drive must not have any partitions actively mounted and /dev/disk1 must be owned by your user account on MacOS X.  Also make sure that the vmdk file you created above is owned by your user account as you may need to become root to createrawvmdk.

Launching VirtualBox

Click the ‘Start’ button to start your Windows VirtualBox.  Once you’re at the Windows login panel, log into Windows as you normally would.  Note, if the hard drive goes to sleep, you may have to wait for it to wake up for Windows to finish loading.

Once inside Windows, do the following:

  • Start->All Programs->Accessories->Command Prompt
  • Type in ‘diskpart’
  • At the DISKPART> prompt, type ‘list disk’ and look for the drive (based on the size of the drive).
    • Note, if you have more than one drive that’s the same exact size, you’ll want to be extra careful when changing things as you could overwrite the wrong drive.  If this is the case, follow these next steps at your own risk!
DISKPART> list disk
Disk ### Status Size Free Dyn Gpt
 -------- ------------- ------- ------- --- ---
 Disk 0 Online 40 GB 0 B
 Disk 1 Online 1863 GB 0 B *
  • In my case, I am using Disk 1.  So, type in ‘select disk 1’.  It will say ‘Disk 1 is now the selected disk.’
    • From here on down, use these commands at your own risk.  They are destructive commands and will wipe the drive and data from the drive.  If you are uncertain about what’s on the drive or you need to keep a copy, you should stop here and backup the data before proceeding.  You have been warned.
    • Note, ‘Disk 1’ is coincidentally named the same as /dev/disk1 on the Mac.  It may not always follow the same naming scheme on all systems.
  • To ensure the drive is fully blank type in ‘clean’ and press enter.
    • The clean command will wipe all partitions and volumes from the drive and make the drive ‘blank’.
    • From here, you can repartition the drive as necessary.

Creating a partition, formatting and mounting the drive in Windows

  • Using diskpart, here are the commands to create one partition using the whole drive, format it NTFS and mount it as G: (see commands below):
DISKPART> select disk 1
Disk 1 is now the selected disk
DISKPART> clean
DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.
DISKPART> create partition primary
DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.
DISKPART> list partition
Partition ### Type Size Offset
 ------------- ---------------- ------- -------
* Partition 1 Primary 1863 GB 1024 KB
DISKPART> select partition 1
Partition 1 is now the selected partition.
DISKPART> format fs=ntfs label="Data" quick
100 percent completed
DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.
DISKPART> assign letter=g
DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.
DISKPART> exit
Leaving DiskPart...

 

  • The drive is now formatted as NTFS and mounted as G:.  You should see the drive in Windows Explorer.
    • Note, unless you want to spend hours formatting a 1-2TB sized drive, you should format it as QUICK.
    • If you want to validate the drive is good, then you may want to do a full format on the drive.  New drives are generally good already, so QUICK is a much better option to get the drive formatted faster.
  • If you want to review the drive in Disk Management Console, in the command shell type in diskmgmt.msc
  • When the window opens, you should find your Data drive listed as ‘Disk 1’

Note, the reason to use ‘diskpart’ over Disk Management Console is that you can’t use ‘clean’ in Disk Management Console, this command is only available in the diskpart tool and it’s the only way to completely clean the drive of all partitions to make the drive blank again.  This is especially handy if you happen to have previously formatted the drive with MacOS X Journaled FS and there’s an EFI partition on the drive.  The only way to get rid of a Mac EFI partition is to ‘clean’ the drive as above.

Annoyances and Caveats

MacOS X always tries to mount recognizable removable (USB) partitions when they become available.  So, as soon as you have formatted the drive and have shut down Windows, Mac will likely mount the NTFS drive under /Volumes/Data.  You can check this with ‘df’ in Mac terminal or by opening Finder.  If you find that it is mounted in Mac, you must unmount it before you can start VirtualBox to use the drive in Windows.  If you try to start VirtualBox with a mounted partition in Mac OS X, you will see a red error panel in VirtualBox.  Mac and Windows will not share a physical volume.  So you must make sure MacOS X has unmounted the volume before you start VirtualBox with the disk1.vmdk physical drive.

Also, the raw vmdk drive is specific to that single hard drive.  You will need to go through the steps of creating a new raw vmdk for each new hard drive you want to format in Windows unless you know for certain that each hard drive is truly identical.  The reason is that vboxmanage discovers the geometry of the drive and writes it to the vmdk.  So, each raw vmdk is tailored to each drive’s size and geometry.  It is recommended that you not try to reuse an existing physical vmdk with another drive.  Always create a new raw vmdk for each drive you wish to manage in Windows.

Zeroing a drive

While the clean command clears off all partition information in Windows, you can also clean off the drive in MacOS X.  The way to do this is by using dd.  Again, this command is destructive, so be sure you know which drive you are operating on before you press enter.  Once you press enter, the drive will be wiped of data.  Use this section at your own risk.

To clean the drive use the following:

$ dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/disk1 bs=4096 count=10000

 
This command will write 10000 * 4096 byte blocks with all zeros.  This should overwrite any partition information and clear the drive off.  You may not need to do this as the diskpart ‘clean’ command may be sufficient.

Using chkdsk

If the drive has become corrupted or is acting in a way you think may be a problem, you can always go back into Windows with the data1.vmdk connector and run chkdsk on the volume.  You can also use this on any NTFS or FAT32 volume you may have.  You will just need to create a physical vmdk connector and attach it to your Windows SATA controller and make sure MacOS X doesn’t have it mounted. Then, launch VirtualBox and clean it up.

Tuxera

If you are using Tuxera to mount NTFS, once you exit out of Windows with your freshly formatted NTFS volume, Tuxera should immediately see the volume and mount it.  This will show you that NTFS has been formatted properly on the drive.  You can now read and write to this volume as necessary.

Note that this method to format a drive with NTFS is the safest way on Mac OS X.  While there may be some native tools floating around out there, using Windows to format NTFS will ensure the volume is 100% compliant with NTFS and Windows.  Using third party tools not written by Microsoft could lead to data corruption or improperly formatted volumes.

Of course, you could always connect the drive directly to a Windows system and format it that way. ;)

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What is it about tablets?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california, computers, microsoft by commorancy on January 15, 2010

Ok, I’m stumped.  I’ve tried to understand this manufacturing trend, but I simply can’t.  We have to be heading towards the fourth or maybe fifth generation of tablet PCs, yet each time they bring tablets back to the the market, this technology fails miserably.  Perhaps it’s the timing, but I don’t think so.  I think the market has spoken time and time again.  So, what is it about this technology that make manufacturers try and try again to foist these lead balloons onto us about every 6 years?

Wayback machine

It was in the early 90’s that Grid Computers arguably released the first tablet (or at least, one of the very first tablets).  Granted, it used a monochrome plasma screen and I believe that it ran DOS and Windows 3.1 (that I recall), but these things flopped badly for many different reasons.  Ultimately, the market spoke and no one wanted them.  It’s no wonder why, too.  The lack of keyboard combined with the size and weight of the unit, the need for a pen and the lack of a truly viable input method doomed this device to the halls of flopdom.  Into obscurity this device went along with Grid Computers (the company).

In the early 2000s, Microsoft+Manufacturers tried again to resurrect this computer format with XP Tablet edition.  This time they tried making the devices more like notebooks where the screen could detach from a keyboard and become a tablet.  So, when it was attached, it looked and felt like a notebook.  When detached, it was a tablet.  Again, there was no viable input method without keyboard even though they were touch screen.  The handwriting recognition was poor at best and if it had voice input, it failed to work.   XP Tablet edition was not enough to make the tablet succeed.  Yet again, the tablet rolled into obscurity… mostly.  You can still buy tablets, but they aren’t that easy to find and few manufacturers make them.  They also ship with hefty price tags.

Origami

Then, later in the mid 2000’s came Microsoft with Origami.  At this time, Origami was supposed to be a compact OS, like Windows CE (although CE would have worked just fine for this, don’t know why Origami really came about).  A few tablets came out using Origami, but most computers that loaded this version of Windows used it in the microPC format.  Since the Origami version of Windows was a full version (unlike CE), it was a lot more powerful than computers of that size really needed and the price tag showed that.  Sony and a few other manufacturers made these microPCs, but they sold at expensive prices (like $1999 or more) for a computer the size of a PDA.  Again, no viable input method could suffice on the microPC tablets and so these died yet another death… although, the microPC hung around a bit longer than the tablet.  You might even still be able to buy one in 2010, if you look hard enough.

Netbook

Then came the Netbook.  The $199-299 priced scaled down notebook using the Atom processor.  This format took off dramatically and has been a resounding success.  The reason, price.  Who wouldn’t want a full fledged portable computer for $199-299?  You can barely buy an iPod or even a cell phone… let alone a desktop PC for that price.  The Netbook price point is the perfect price point for a low end notebook computer.  But, what does a Netbook have to do with a tablet?  It doesn’t, but it is here to illustrate why tablets will continue to fail.

Tablet resurrection

Once again, we are in the middle of yet another possible tablet resurrection attempt.  Rumor has it that Apple will release a tablet.  HP is now also pushing yet another tablet loaded with Windows.  Yet, from past failures, we already know this format is dead on arrival.  What can Apple possibly bring to the tablet format that Microsoft and PCs haven’t?  Nothing.  That’s the problem.  The only possible selling point for a tablet has to be in price alone.  Tablets have to get down to the $199-299 price tag to have any hope of gaining any popularity.  Yet, Apple is not known to make budget computers, so we know that that price point is out.  Assuming Apple does release a tablet, it will likely price it somewhere between $899 and $1599.  Likely, they will offer 3 different versions with the lowest version starting at $899.  Worse, at the lowest price point it will be hobbled lacking most bells and whistles.

Even if Apple loads up the tablet with all of the bells and whistles (i.e., Bluetooth, 3G, GSM, OLED Display, iTunes app capable, handwriting recognition, voice recognition, WiFi, wireless USB, a sleek case design, etc etc) the only thing those bells and whistles will do is raise the cost to produce the unit.  The basic problems with a tablet are portability (too big), lack of a viable input device, weight and fragility (not to mention, battery life).  Adding on a hefty price tag ensures that people won’t buy it.  Of course, the Apple fan boys will buy anything branded with a half bitten Apple logo.  But, for the general masses, no.  This device cannot hope to succeed on Apple fan boy income alone.

Compelling Reasons

Apple has to provide some kind of paradigm shifting technology that makes such a failure of a device like the tablet become successful (or whatever Apple cleverly names its tablet device).  If the tablet is over 7 inches in size, it will be too large to be portable.  Utilizing OLED technology ensures the cost is extremely high.  Putting a thin case on it like the MacBook Air ensures that it’s overly fragile.  We’ve  yet to find out the battery life expectancy.  So far, this is not yet a winning combination.

So, what kind of technology would make such a paradigm shift?  The only such technology I can think of would have to be a new input device technology.  A way to get commands into the notebook and a way to drive the interface easily.  Clearly, a multi-touch screen will help.  The iPod is good in that regard (except that you can’t use it with gloves).  But, if you want to write email, how do you do that on a tablet? Do you hand peck the letters on that silly on-screen thing that Apple calls a keyboard?  No.  That’s not enough.  Apple needs a fully phonetic speech input technology that’s 100% flawless without any training.  That means, you speak the email in and it converts it perfectly to text.  Also, you speak in any conversational command and the computer figures out what you mean flawlessly.  This is the only technology that makes any sense on a tablet.  Of course, it will need to support multiple languages (a tall order) and it needs to be flawless and perfect (an extremely tall order).  It will also need to work in a noisy room (not likely).

Can Apple make such a shift?  I don’t know.  The hardware technology is there to support such a system.  The issue, is the software ready?  Well, let’s hope Apple thinks so.  Otherwise, if Apple does release its rumored tablet without such a paradigm shift, it could be the worst stumble that Apple has made since the Lisa.

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