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Scott's Column
How To Compete With The iPad, Apartment Searching

May 1, 2010
By Scott Lewis

Now that the iPad is out and seems to be a success (as I predicted) I thought I would tell the competition how to compete with a slate style computer.

Last month my wife and I separated. This almost happened last year. I did some apartment hunting last year, and continued that this year. Being the geek that I am I did a very diligent search for an apartment. This month I will go through my process to find an apartment.

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How to compete with the iPad

It's the SOFTWARE!

The iPad will success because of the software, not the hardware. People want a comfortable device for what they already do. Surfing the web is easy with the iPad. Text entry is more than good enough for entering web site addresses or search terms. Add in the 150,000+ apps from the App Store and the iPad can't fail.

This is where Microsoft needs to re-think its approach to the tablet PC. Microsoft has not made it easy to develop for the Windows platform. That's right, I am a professional programmer and I write custom applications for my company that run on the Windows platform. But I don't know how to write an app for a Windows Mobile Device. That takes some extra work. I also don't know how to develop for the Zune... a portable media device. It also takes extra work. This is extra work on top of having knowledge of how to write programs using Visual Studio itself.

I don't think I am alone in this thinking. If it were easy to develop for the Zune then why are there only 12 apps. Don't tell me because nobody has a Zune. There are enough out there to justify writing the simple stuff just to play around. I'll bet it is easy to write a simple app for the iPhone.

How much harder will it be to write apps for Windows Phone 7? While we are at it... why two platforms? Why do we have Windows Phone 7 and Zune, each with separate software?

Apple's iPad is basically dumbing down the software. With the iPhone OS there will be no Photoshop, though I hope Adobe makes some form and a lite Photoshop specifically for the iPad. Apple released an update to the iPhone SDK (software development kit) that allows developers to take advantage of the iPad's screen size and other features.

Where is this from Microsoft? I remember a few years ago Microsoft created Expression Blend. This was supposed to be a tool that designers could use to build applications. Then they could pass it off to programmers to add the nuts and bolts to the back end. The files created by Expression Blend would work with Visual Studio. Oops! Why not have a beginning to end development tool to build simple apps for a simple interface.

Which leads us to... a simpler interface. If you have a full version of Windows on a tablet you are asking for trouble. That means some people will try to run all their Windows applications on it. And then you have heavy duty requirements and high costs. Oh.. and you need anti-virus software. Been there, done that!

What we need from Microsoft is a simple shell that allows simple apps to run. Microsoft needs to merge the Zune and Phone 7 OSes into one OS and offer a development tool that is easy to build some basic apps.

On a highly portable device people just want to launch simple apps that do what they need. Heck, put a simple app launching shell on Windows and lock out the guts of the OS. Hackers can have fun breaking the simple interface and use all of Windows, but they are a very small minority. Let them do it... in fact encourage it. It would be like Jailbreaking an Zune.

To make a successful tablet computer for the home market you have to dumb... er, simplify the software interface and make it easy for non-programmers to create applications.

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The Apartment Search

I recently separated from my wife and moved out. This almost happened last year, but did not. Now it has happened. Below I am going to go through my process to find an apartment.

It will be hard to keep this article flowing smoothly. I started writing it last year. Yet I only finished the search this year. Some things changed that effected my criteria for an apartment during this delay in moving. I will do the best to show you how I narrowed down the list last year. Then I will add in the revised search this year and tell you what apartment I have.

The Criteria

I needed to find an apartment that I could have my two sons stay with me as much as possible. I was looking for 2 bedroom apartments, but didn't feel the need for two bathrooms. Also, money is tight, so I considered large one bedroom apartments with a study if necessary. I quickly eliminated actual 1 bedroom apartments as too small to have my two sons with me. Also, I tried very hard to find apartments with garages... as I am an avid car nut.

The Highway

In the house, I lived a few miles from a major highway. The route to The Highway in the morning was a traffic nightmare (for San Antonio, save the comments Chip). It took at least 20 minutes to travel less than 4 miles in the morning. The reverse was true in the afternoon. It would take 20+ minutes to get away from The Highway during rush hour traffic.

I thought it would be a good idea to get an apartment on the other side of The Highway. Traffic to The Highway from the other side is negligible. It takes about 5 minutes to get to The Highway from a similar distance on the other side. When I am not shuffling my boys to school I could save 15+ minutes off my commute to work.

First Search

Having decided to look on the other side of The Highway I found 6 apartments to look at. I am a car nut so I would prefer an attached garage. I was looking in the $800 - $1,000 price range.

I narrowed down the list from online research at Rent.com & Apartment Ratings.com. Each apartment I saw was more than adequate for my needs. Each apartment had a single feature that stood out above all the others. For instance, one (and only one) apartment included free maid service once a month. How cool is that? Another apartment had a great built-in desk that would make a perfect place for my desktop computer. The only apartment I liked that had only 1 bathroom was also the one with the largest living and dining rooms. The one bathroom apartment was also brand new. Very cool, especially if I plan to stay for a very long time (which I hope will be the case). I managed to visit 4 apartments on that first day, all seemed perfect. I rejected the remaining two just driving around the areas.

Second Search

I was a little apprehensive about being 8-9 miles from my boys. It could be a mild burden on them if school drop off became an issue (I would have to drive though the traffic for school drop off). I decided I should look at apartments on the same side of The Highway. Back to Rent.com and Apartment Rating.com. I found 4 apartments within 4 miles of the house, and even closer to their schools. Traffic would be a pain, but my boys are worth it. I also went to see one more apartment on the other side of the highway I missed on my last outing.

Among the second set of apartments I rejected 3 outright. One did not have Time Warner, and required AT&T UVerse. The other had a floor plan that just did not work for me. But two remained. One was located right between my sons' two schools. This would be perfect for taking them to school in the mornings. This apartment was also the only apartment that had a clubhouse with a pool table (I sold my pool table last year to help with bills).

At this point in time I decided to go with the apartment with the pool table. I imagined getting donuts or breakfast tacos and playing pool for a couple of hours each Saturday morning. Maybe getting more residents into it and making it a social gathering. After all I will be on my own and ready to start a new life. This apartment had a number of features going for it. It was the most conveniently located for chauffeuring my boys to school, it was the largest 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment, it had the pool table, it had a free car detailing area (car wash), and it had available detached garages. It was also the second lowest priced apartment and included a washer and dryer in the unit, something that would be very helpful when I start my life over.

Second Thoughts

I decided to look over all the information I saved. I saved the floor plans from all the online searching of all the apartments. I looked over the spreadsheet I created to compare apartments on features and price (which is where the floor plans were as well). While reading my notes in the spreadsheet I was falling back into the same trap. Each apartment had one thing none of the others did, except now I was looking at 8 apartments when I combined all the apartments from both searches. I fear writing off something I will regret, so the spreadsheet still had all the viable apartments (in my price range).

The Garage

Here is the issue with the garage. If I get a classic car I want it garaged if possible. However, if I have a detached garage for a classic car, I will not be able to rationalize the garage as part of the apartment. I will always think of it as a fee to store a classic car.

The apartment with the pool table was $895. The apartment with the maid service also had a Laundromat on site, which would work for me until I could buy a washer & dryer. Tempting, but this apartment was about 3-4 minutes further out of the way from the rest of the apartments on the other side of The Highway.

I started putting more emphasis on the attached garage. This will feel very much like part of an apartment. I decided to revisit the spreadsheet. If I want to find a new "home" and hope to stay I should look at apartment complexes that offer attached garages, even if I don't get one right away. The newest apartment, which is the large 2 bedroom/1 bathroom place has attached garages available. They were over $1100 with an attached garage, but without the garage they were in my price range.

There was one other apartment that did attached garages. And the layout is really cool... for a car nut. Your apartment is directly over your own garage. You don't have to worry about banging on your neighbor's head, or having a noisy neighbor above or below you (the buildings are all two stories). And there was storage room in the garage. There was a 4 foot section in front of the car parking area, and this extended behind/below the stairs leading up to your apartment. This would be the perfect place for my roll-away tool chest and stand up compressor. Unfortunately this was also the AT&T UVerse apartment, and I really prefer Time Warner Cable with their Road Runner service.

Price

I have mentioned some of the prices, here are all the apartments and the rent price I was offered:

Description Size Rent Garage
Pool Table & Car Wash Area 1126 sq. ft. $895 $75 Detached
Brand New with 1 Bathroom 1082 sq. ft. $954 $1098 w/ attached
AT&T UVerse 1022 sq. ft. $990 w/ attached
Cheap w/ attached garage 992 sq. ft. $830 w/ attached
Maid Service and Laundromat 1046 sq. ft. $940 $100 Detached
Built-in Desk & Tennis Court 1018 sq. ft. $920 $100 Detached
Second Best Rating 1050 sq. ft. $905 $75 Detached

If we compare the apartments that offer detached garages you will see the monthly cost is between $970 & $1,040 with the garage. Or I could live with UVerse and be right in the ballpark with an attached garage.

The Finalists (from last year)

I really liked the top three apartments listed in the table above.

If price was not an issue I would pick the brand new apartment. Lots of living space because of one bathroom works perfectly for me. Notice this 1 bathroom apartment has the second highest floor space. The apartment with the pool table does have the best feel for a social opportunity. The UVerse apartment was very nice. I liked the storage space in the garage. I also remember the closet in the master bedroom, it is very long. I joked with the woman that showed me the apartment about how I could fit a bed in it for my brother (if he should have to come live with me). The unit did not have a dedicated pantry, however. It just used cabinet space.

Starting Over (this year's search)

All the above was written last year, now for this year. I got back on the apartment web sites and started looking for apartments I might have missed before... only looking at apartment with available garages. I will eventually want a garage... attached or detached.

I eliminated the UVerse apartment from above. I have installed two flat panel TVs in my house since last year and I love it. The UVerse apartment's floor plan left no place to mount a TV.

This time around I was not searching alone. My wife and I decided it was appropriate for me to move out. We informed the kids and they were excited to help me pick an apartment.

I found a half dozen apartments worth looking at that I did not see last year. I took my youngest son to the 2 bed/1 bath from above, and he liked it. They were still under $1,000/month without a garage, and they only had units left that did not have a patio. In place of the patio they put that area inside the apartment... making the square footage large... all in the living room. In fact, that put the living room at 23 feet long. I could easily section this to be a study and a living room. This was still my favorite. However, the fitness center was very the smallest facility of all the apartments i saw.. last year and this.

I took my oldest son to a brand new apartment (new this year). They had only been open for 3 months. They had two floor plans worth looking at. A one bedroom with a study, and a 2 bed/2 bath. This apartment complex included a half basketball count indoors across from a very well equipped fitness center. To top it off they had a media room with a forward projection screen complete with Blu-Ray. My youngest son said this was his favorite... even without seeing it. He loves basketball.

All the other apartments just paled compared to the two best from last year... and the brand new one from this year. My favorite is still the favorite from last year. I didn't remember it until I revisited them, but they have granite counter tops with deep stainless sinks mounted under the granite. They also included crown molding and the overall impression was of a high end apartment.

The brand new apartment was smaller (992 sq. ft. vs. approximately 1200 sq. ft. with the patio on the inside). I asked my oldest son if he wouldn't mind that I would have to put a desk in the second bedroom if I got the smaller apartment. He didn't mind.

The Final Decision

In the end the basketball count and media room made it for my sons. So the amenities did the trick. I still think about how I would setup that larger apartment, but that is not important anymore. My sons are the most important thing and I want them to want to come over as much as I can get them.

Next month I will cover moving out and my starting over... I call it Life 2.0.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. I expect to include at least one thing about Life 2.0 in every column for a while. Next month I will tell you how I furnished an apartment for less than $1100. Hint: Craigslist!

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