In case you haven't noticed, I've been absent for a few weeks. My wife and I just returned from a 15-day cruise from Dover, England to Barcelona, Spain via Belgium, the Atlantic coasts of France, Spain, and Portugal, and then up the Mediterranean side of Spain to Barcelona. It was an amazing trip, and as always there were things I noticed during my travels that pertain to my work here at TUAW. Here are some thoughts from the trip:
Apple almost always announces new products while I'm on vacation. If you ever want to know when Apple is going to announce new products, ask me when I have a vacation planned. It never seems to fail; I've been out of town for a number of important keynotes. Due to the length of the trip, I was unable to order an iPhone 5. If I order one now, it will probably arrive while I'm on a business trip in a couple of weeks. Sigh. Maybe my local Apple Store will have one in stock...
iPads everywhere. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, but the number of iPads I saw on this trip was just amazing. It wasn't just people on our ship; I saw iPads being used by locals in just about every port of call, both for work and for pleasure. One odd observation was just how many people were taking photos or video with their iPads. That caused me to shake my head in amazement one day when I saw a fellow passenger aboard the MS Marina holding her iPad over a railing on the ship in high winds, shooting video. I was sure that I was going to see an iPad going for a swim in the Atlantic...
iPhones everywhere. Apple's tablet isn't the only device that seems to be gaining universal ubiquity. On previous trips, it seemed like there were a lot more Samsung and Nokia phones being used. This year, iPhone 4 and 4S models were just about everywhere I looked. Sure, I still heard the default Nokia ring tone on occasion, but more often than not I'd hear a familiar iPhone tone and glance over to see someone at a sidewalk café picking up a call on an iPhone 4.
Faster and more convenient shipboard internet. OK, this is going to be of interest only to those of you who enjoy cruising, but I found the internet to be much faster than it was on the same cruise ship last September. During our trip, the cruise company -- Oceania -- had contractors busily adding new Cisco wireless access points all over the ship, making some "dead zones" on the ship suddenly perk up with five arcs of Wi-Fi. While that helps out the Wi-Fi connectivity, it has nothing to do with the satellite link that all shipboard devices must communicate through. It appears that the better download speeds were due to the company blocking streaming video. Of course that means that I missed my daily cat videos, but it was worth it to have most of the other sites appearing much more quickly. One other nice touch -- an unlimited internet plan instead of needing to purchase minutes.
Better secure Wi-Fi in more places. I've always been somewhat dubious about using Wi-Fi hotspots in cities, although a lot of travelers pride themselves on not purchasing the expensive shipboard internet service and waiting until they get to a port. I noticed that in a number of restaurants/bars that we visited on shore, not only was there free and fast Wi-Fi, but the systems were secured with WPA 2. Customers had to ask for the network name, user ID and password; that's a refreshing change from the disturbing (in my mind) open networks of the past.
I'm still waiting for ubiquitous, fast and cheap worldwide internet, but it's awesome to see that solid progress is being made in making it easy to connect quickly even while at sea. The trip also showed me just how much of an impact Apple's devices are having on the people of the good planet Earth.