Steve Jobs responds to GCN's iPad coverage, while Mac faithful howl

Lab Director John Breeden II attempts to clear the air after a column questioning battery life claims for the new Apple iPad draws the ire of the Mac faithful. Along the way, Steve Jobs writes to back the claims.

My column last week on the new iPad’s IPS display drew a raft of invective from the Mac faithful, who seemed to feel I had treaded on sacred ground for daring to question the 10-hour battery life claims made by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the iPad’s rollout.

While preparing my response, I also heard from Jobs himself, who personally, and politely, reiterated Apple’s assertion that the iPad will run for 10 hours on a single charge. The iPad has yet to be released, of course, so the jury’s still out, but Jobs’ personal note does, I think, lend credibility to the claim.

As I was finishing this column, I e-mailed him to say that I didn’t mean to imply that he was lying during his iPad presentation, as several people accused me of in their comments. People make presentations written by marketers all the time that are not 100 percent truthful, and it doesn’t make them liars. I used the normal, publicly available e-mail address for him, not any of the special ways we press folks can sometimes get access. I figured that would be the end of it.

Surprisingly, in about two hours, Jobs responded. You could tell it was him, too. I suspect that people must scan that e-mail box and forward certain things over to him. There was even a typo in the reply, as if he were in a hurry. I had also mentioned that one of the comments submitted to my original article had been signed with his name.

Jobs’ response: “Sorry, [it] wasn't me. And, yes, we are getting 10 hours in 1.5 pounds.”

A brief response, but he was extremely nice about the whole thing. Heck, even taking the time to write back when I know he has plenty of other things to do makes him a good guy in my book.

Now, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, saying something at a press conference is one thing. But Steve Jobs, the person, communicating with me directly and saying that he has witnessed the battery life claim himself raises the credibility level a lot. I told him I looked forward to testing it out in the lab soon. And I’m more hopeful than ever that Apple really has done something special with their new tablet.

(It’s also worth noting that Jobs actually uses the iPad — at the bottom of the e-mail was the tagline “Sent from my iPad.” Nice to see he walks the walk, too.)

Interestingly, Jobs’ was the most polite response I’ve gotten in this whole thing.

Mac users tend to go a little overboard when it comes to fan-boy fanaticism; I’m kind of used to it. When I reviewed the original Apple iMac and gave it an overall grade of, gasp, A-, they created the johnbreedensucks.com Web page, which, the last time I checked, no longer existed.

But I really didn’t think they would go to the walls this time. I made it clear in my article that I don’t have an iPad, and was basing my opinion on years of testing devices in the GCN Lab aimed at the handheld market. If Apple truly has some amazing new technology that lets a 1.5-pound unit drive a power-hungry IPS display for 10 hours, then I’ll be the first to sing their praises.

Battery-life testing in the lab is actually one of the simplest things we do. We load up a movie clip and set it to constantly repeat. We set the screen brightness and sound levels at 80 percent. We disable wireless if a device has it, check to make sure power is at 100 percent, then pull the plug and start the timer. We repeat this long process three times and take the average for our final score, although most of the time all three results are in about 10 seconds of each other. What we end up with is close to a worst-case scenario look at battery life.

In recent years, battery technology has gotten better. Take the Sony Vaio netbook, which weighs in at 2 pounds, 14 ounces. It was able to run under our battery test for 4 hours, 30 minutes. That was bested by the Toshiba Mini NB205-N210 with a runtime of 6 hours, 17 minutes.

The current battery life record holder for full size notebooks is the military rugged Panasonic Toughbook 30, with a runtime of 6 hours, 14 minutes. But that is an 8-pound military model, and a lot of that weight, besides the armor, comes from its huge batteries.

I wrote the aforementioned column because several government folks e-mailed me asking about the IPS display on the iPad. There are sites worldwide (I even found two in Thailand) that are questioning the wisdom of putting IPS into any portable device, especially one that is only 1.5 pounds. And I have to say that it’s certainly a gutsy move on the part of Apple. Although IPS offers better image quality, it’s a power hog.

On the flip side, if we are getting notebooks of different sizes breaking the six-hour barrier, then it’s possible that the iPad could go for 10 hours. I have my doubts, just as I doubt it’s going to be a sunny and warm February day here in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. But it’s possible. When iPads are actually out, we hope to test them and find out. I’ve already said exactly how the test will work, so it should be an easy process of refuting or proving our prediction. And really, I’ll be happy either way. Either I’m correct and I can say “I told you so” in capital letters to the Apple attack dogs, or we’ll have some really cool new technology to play with that could really revolutionize the portable market – and I’d freely admit I was wrong.

But I did want to respond to some of the comments made on my last column. First off, I never said that the iPad used fluorescent backlighting, as many comments claimed. What I said was that in the 2010 LCD monitor roundup I was working on, one company, instead of going to LED backlighting, decided to keep its older fluorescent layout and use an IPS display. This let them create a fantastic display at a low price. The only tradeoff was higher power consumption, something people using the new ViewSonic VP2365wb probably won’t care about.

And the folks (mostly on that Pravda for Apple page) who suggest that I’m somehow in the pocket of Microsoft because I had the audacity to question battery life specs should probably read the most popular article for all of 2009 published by GCN.com. Surprise, it’s my review of Windows 7, which won’t be hanging on any walls over in Redmond, I would guess. When that review came out, people accused me of being in the pocket of Apple. With all these imaginary bribes I’m getting, I think I’ll go out and buy a better imaginary car. Something yellow, I think.

Oh, and to the funny guy who posted that I was selling an HDTV on Craigslist for cheap and left my office phone number as the contact, well, I know I should be mad, but that one actually made me laugh. At least I know they read my Christmas column about trying to buy a new TV amid all the holiday hoopla.

On a final note, I had planned to start this column by – clearly facetiously, I assure you – comparing the reaction to my doubts about battery life claims to the response you’d see from other so readily ridiculed statements: Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy; Lutherans can’t get into heaven; and sending money to Nigerian princes, deposed or otherwise, is a great investment. But it turns out that Hitler has already gotten himself on the wrong side of the Mac faithful. He hates the iPad in this YouTube Video. Let’s get him!

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