Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apple blocks ad-hoc distribution

So they want the iPod to be for games and doodads. I guess I am happy, because it means the Mac is more likely to stay open.


Get this:

The "Google Android phone", or T-Mobile G1/HTC "Dream" is out! Hooray! The supposed first shot in a war between the iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, Google's OS and hardware partners, and maybe Palm, Microsoft, or Symbian, I just don't see it. Why?

The phone doesn't have a headphone jack!

Are the people who design these things absolutely brain dead? How could a modern smartphone lack that. It doesn't even have a micro jack, like the Treo. No, it has a weird USB out. Of course, it comes with a proprietary-shape-USB-to-headphone dongle, but come on. 

 Competition is good news, but this isn't it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

iPhone app troubles

The Mac Web was ever vigilant and focused oh these many days, while the rest of the media busily told the public to fork out for private industry or else while they silently moved their 401k into Yuan. No, the worst of it all came when Apple "capriciously" ( bits blog) rejected iPhone App Store programs that infringed on a realm of functionality of unknown extent which Apple seeks to control.

Possibly, Apple is wholly hamfisted. They built an App Store and are now prone to adding programs to it without due consideration, and then, after a few days, deciding to take them down, but capriciously and suddenly, without much actual deep thought, and then staying quiet after being "caught" (for the tenth time.) This same Apple has thoughtlessly allowed an NDA binding iPhone developers to remain in effect, squelching online discussion. They simply forgot to remove it, and now unthinkingly leave it in place.

I reject these conclusions, though countless sites, many of which are held in high regard among the Mac cognoscenti, paint Apple in these outlines. No, let's look at what Apple intends to do to remain "on a roll", or, making hit products into brands that last through iteration after iteration, like the iPod, iPhone, and Mac.

Apple's App Store decisions are not random or unstructured, but rather they follow a predictable pattern.

Thus far, Apple has blocked applications of a certain niche. Those apps which intend to move users away from any conduit for information with pre-existing 1st party analogs (albeit of varying quality.) Podcasts, or GMail e-mail, for example, are "Apple territory", even if all the desired user functionality is not part of Apple's package. If someone wrote an MP3 playing application that used the information in (or iTunes mobile?), but presented it to different functional effect, you would be trespassing, so to speak. Indeed, the Mozilla Foundation claimed it was impossible to get Firefox working on Mobile OS X. I believe Firefox was dropped for iPhone because it would not have been promulgated via App Store, and Apple told them so.

Applications that provide wholly-contained entertainment, like a game, or information Apple does not mediate "out of the box" are left alone.

It is no coincidence that Apple's NDA issue is the same one that daunt so many Nintendo DS and Sony PSP software developers just getting started on a better version of the boot OS, but works so well to create siloed, non-background-process-demanding games. Apple, in their marketing and store policies, clearly emphasize a portable computing platform devoted to 1st and Apple-avoiding 3rd party productivity and media/information processing applications, and third party web applications and games.

In watching the crisis unfold, it struck me how often an App was removed after it was initially posted for some time. Moreover, by registering the app hash, and not precluding it from installation/execution via Ad Hoc (samizdat carbon paper copies of source code fed through the dock cable no jailbreak needed...) Apple has tacitly endorsed these apps continued viability.  Indeed, by adding them to the App Store at all, and/or banning so few so "capriciously", Apple publicized them. Apple bans them only to keep their realm of the user experience homogeneous, in the face of intense power user criticism. Of course, it is just these users who will Ad Hoc around the issue easily. Hmm.

Finally, only Apple among the console makers has an additional open-discussion general purpose computing platform it does not protect with similar restrictions. The Mac is a national forest. Mobile OS X is a kids playground, and the adults are making decisions many can't understand. (I don't think Photoshop is coming out for Linux on PS3 anytime soon you Net Yaroze refugees.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eco-architecture portends a return to heteronomy!

U herd it hear first:

It's also a return to fun!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Jobs is thin, effortlessly thin, it seems, as he has no present health issues, and is simply a beanpole by nature. Other people are like this; Obama, for example, or, at the extreme end of the spectrum, Manute Bol. He is really, really thin (I saw him in Penn Station), and he somehow managed to play NBA basketball.

In America, even the genetically-predisposed cannot swim against the tide of sedentary jobs and unnatural food, though, and journalists are no different. Everyone is fat. Many journalists are probably jealous, on a deep level, of Jobs' lean yet un-muscular, and now-uncommon, look.

His unknown level of adherence to pescetarianism, or veganism, or a vegetarian diet (avoiding meat doesn't get an ism around here), the strain of cancer and recovery, and his natural thinness (compare him with Wozniak in every photo from 1977 until now) make Jobs unusual. Being different and hard to figure out, and then refusing to do publicity outside of product launches or corporate business, means most of America, happy to be serenaded by an iPod know little about Jobs, or even Apple.

In the media though, Jobs' thinness, admittedly a mostly unexplained and at times visibly jarring phenomenon, becomes a means of alienation. He gets to be thin without trying! Twists of logic are made to accommodate the strangeness of Jobs' physique.  If he had cancer, which made him thinner, he must have it again, as he is still thin now. These observations take on a lot of added heft, pun intended, for most readers, who have ready-to-go psychological and cultural templates for Others like Jobs. Suddenly, a man who manages to remain thin must have cancer, or something wrong, to look so different.  

Apple the company, which is the "reason this matters" and is "why we write about Jobs' health", is then swirled into the mix, an alien itself. Again, Jobs and Apple are somewhat to blame. A cultivated mystique surrounds the company and generates serious free marketing. Failing to comment for the press is un-corporate in America. Apple is difficult to cover, as it is an opaque operation appears  choreographed press shows. The company, and thus Jobs, demand that each media outlet find an angle that differentiates them from a sea of identical coverage, and so reporters go searching. 

Naturally, this has led them to Jobs and his health. Now that each outlet has reported and commented on the matter, and found no other as compelling to the market, it has become a staple after each event. The level of hysteria in the coverage is too high, though, for it to be a simple matter of readership. The higher each source ratchets the pressure within its walls to "figure out what makes this guy tick", and not cover what Apple is doing, is rewarded, because the audience shares the journalists' seeming alienation from Jobs, and thus the true workings of his company. 

It is not that the truth cannot be found about either, because Jobs seems unwilling, but occasionally can be forced, to go on the record about his health. The company is actually relatively transparent these days, because of its size, and usage of commodity parts. The truth is actually something that the audience, of media and readers, necessarily cannot understand, given their alienation. Any story confirms itself because it simply must be true, or else 

Now let's see how they run things.

To make a point below an explicit one:

The high-paid (really highly, top 0.01) Analysts you read about who say yesterday was an evolution are idiots. The revolution was last year. Yesterday they beheaded the old king in the town square and everyone cheered, or whatever. The carriers have reached "peak control" of the wireless spectrum, and that little mic is it for them.

The "iPod market" is meaningless if you are including Touch, excluding iPhone, including iTunes Store, excluding App Store, etc.

As an aside, a flip-RIM just came out. Making proprietary hardware and software advantages commodities worked so well for Microsoft in the internet era!

Really hard to fit inside with armor and swords

The iPod Touch gained an external speaker. Jobs described the speaker as really only for personal use in a quiet environment, and demonstrated that it failed to cut through noise well during his CNBC interview. This marks the first instance of a Jobs-led discussion of Apple products that talks down a hardware feature. (Software is his land for mea culpas and both dimensions are usually a hype-fest.) Truly, he seems to be right. I see literally no reason for the speaker to exist, save for accentuation of a gaming experience when one lacks headphones. Apple irons these vanishingly useful features out usually.

Why all the work, then, to get the speaker in?

Apple iPod Headphones with Remote (once known as "the ones with the iPhone that I wish worked on my iPod) now work with all iPods. Indeed, the mic-in even works, though Jobs only confirmed this for the Nano. He ignored the ability for the Touch, which can leverage the App Store and lots more control surfaces, to accept and store audio recordings. Attending to the Nano is one thing, but the sin of this omission is really striking, as Jobs usually only neglects to discuss features when he is asleep.

Why the studious ignorance?

Because, as Lil Wayne says, Wayne isn't Weezy, Weezy is Wayne. The iPod Mic Clicker is a hard trojan horse to cram into, but OS X Mobile isn't for iPhone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Apple Did

The iPod event did what every September iPod event does. Makes Christmas a competition between last year's Apple hardware in a million guises, all just catching up, and something new from the company itself.

I do wish the spirit of experimental hardware was more vibrant at Apple. It doesn't make sense anymore, but a Nautilus Mac Book Air or some real tablet or PDA appliances would sell to me. It's all about volume, yes, but I am still waiting on a real Cube replacement.

More on Chrome

Chrome is not yet out on the Mac or Linux, but it uses WebKit, according to Google, because the Android team suggested it. Apple Safari is the exemplar unified WebKitted browser, phone to desktop.

It seems, with the page-as-process, memory-intensive methodology behind Chrome, that Google has chosen a different route. Has Google made a browser, freighted with a V8, that cannot be ported from one desktop platform to another with ease?

Is this demonstrative of Google's inability to to compete with Apple, which performed the porting trick, across architectures, not APIs, with whole OSes? I know the Google OS lives on the web, so it is platform-independent. That phrase presupposes platforms. It is turtles all the way down otherwise. Google's Chrome elephant cannot stand on hardware alone.

iTunes 8

iTunes 8 is something that I have less understanding of than its iPod partner.

Wireless sync is something that seems obvious to add, only because it is obvious, not because it is a good idea. It is bound to be extremely slow (Shuffles aren't getting wifi), slaughter the battery of the iPod requiring it to be, er, plugged in, add components, weight, and cost to a devicethat  sheds them as often as possible, and be prone to user error. 

More esoterically, a household of three or four people and iPods syncing will clog most consumer routers such that the internet slows. I know the iPods aren't going out over the net and taking "lanes on the highway", but lots of consumer wifi routers don't do well with more than a few simultaneous clients, and WiFi iPods are a significant addition.

iTunes 8 could get subscription plans in which a monthly fee gave one access to the iTunes library. I would definitely pay for such a thing. The Jobsian assertion that people like to own their music is less true than it was when the iTMS opened. The idea of being one's own radio station, but paying extra to take the tracks out of the booth, isn't nearly as alien to consumers as it was at the start of Apple's music project. 

Not coincidentally, Apple has also sold millions of devices that could never hold all of the music that many people have come to own, one way or another, but would do a bang-up job of tuning into the "Jukebox in the Sky." If my Mobile Me is already in the cloud, the conceptual and technical work seems to be underway. Indeed, Eddy Cue was given control of the Mobile Me division ostensibly to "get it working right." I think that was done because interoperability with the iTMS (from presentation to billing) became vital.

Better smart playlists, UI tweaks, and a revisit of the "what do we do with this?" team to the left pane could also be in order The visualizer is supposed to get some killer new options, but SnoCap is still the best, and that is like forty years old so we'll see if I care.

New iPods

Apple will introduce their new iPod line today. 

The size and scope of the iPod ecosystem of late has led to reliable leaks of case prototypes and so on. The form factor of Nano v.3 looks to be like the original version, but with more screen and less plastic. It is predicted to be roughly the same thickness. Unless it doubles in thickness, this dimension is unlikely to be problematic.

Some are hoping for the end of the scroll wheel on the Nano.  Case prototype leaks accommodate a wheel, and all in the same location, too, so such a change has a vanishingly small chance of occurring. An all-screen Nano is still some time away, my rational mind tells me. 

My hope and speculation, though, is that a virtual scroll-wheel, enabled by a multi-touch motion, possibly only available in a certain area on the Nano, will allow for an all-screen device. I doubt this will happen. If it does, it will signal a line bifurcation, into Touch and Classic, just as the iPod was so cleaved

Apple cannot cede the commodity MP3 player market as it does in PCs. Apple is dominant in mobile music, and must compete in all volume markets. Apple may create markets, say for $300 full-screen Nano-sized devices, but it cannot neglect the $100-$250 market. Apple has said the Mini was and Nano is its largest seller. Besides the obvious advantage of selling a lot of profitable players, Apple must control this segment to give itself economies of scale, and defend walled iTunes kingdom.

The iPod Classic will probably get cheaper and thinner. The former is to differentiate it from a suddenly cheap iPhone, the latter just a guess because Apple does that kind of thing.  The 80GB may even get the axe, replaced by a 160GB that fits into its case, and costs the same. I doubt will see a more capacious iPod. First off, it seems pointless, but that might just be me. I haven't read that any larger drives exist in 1.8in, either. Apple always gets first crack at the Toshiba ones, and also seems to be able to keep a lid on their PR, so who knows? More colors or a (Red) tie in have me uninterested.

The Touch might get really interesting, but I actually think nothing will be done to it tomorrow. The invitation to the event was definitively old-interface in style. Perhaps this was only to avoid spurious iPhone hype, but the Touch is so much an iPhone, that it simply incurs trickle-down from that product line. The Touch will get a price cut, sure. Maybe it will get some colors and a curve like the current iPhone, but I see Apple sticking with the mirrored back as a differentiator. 

What would be a very effective move, politically, would be some Apple Accessory love, like a really good sheath that has a D-pad and some buttons. The company wants to make the iPhone/Touch a mobile gaming competitor. The industrial design of the hardware is not conducive to this. Every game company gives guidance to coders, and reliable operation, through their industrial design. Nintendo may have revolutionized mobile gaming with the DS, giving developers an incredible, unprecedented, canvas, but even they included hardware control interfaces. Apple cannot now add buttons, of course, but they could achieve a soft-standardization with a good sheath. "Fit this if you want, stay playable without it...", and all that.

If Steve Jobs looks unhealthy, I will be sad, for myself, as he is a living hero of mine, as well as for the world. Decades more of Steve Jobs influence on Earth can, I believe, be quite beneficial for the human race. 

This week since Wednesday

Seven people right now from various places who are musically linked to my roommate, Paul, are crashed here as I type. All nice.

My friends broke up, but the female half still wanted to throw her long-planned surprise party for her now-ex. I was asked to host, and did. It turned out to be an excellent party. Conversive, free and bounteous. Lab-tube jello shots were a highlight.  I was left with a mess, of course. The tidying was simple, no one had "been a retard", in the words of my roommate, so cans and bottles, scraps of paper, balloons, and emptying the trash, pretty much did it. The birthday boy graciously came by to mop.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I'll have more later. For now, this is a lot like Chrome, isn't it?

What I think of "Google Chrome"

The new Google browser has everyone atwitter, of course. Most sites give it a passing grade, welcome added competition, and believe Chrome is a good way for Google to get a foothold on the desktop. 
The mainstream business press continues to misunderstand what is going on at Google. Forbes wonders if it will be a Google product that "finally sticks" and lives up to the "hype." The hype, of course, being non-existent. Google released the browser, and the world talked about it for them. Get over the fact that the internet lets it seem like something is being hyped when it is merely extant, and being discussed. Just because Google has bought less than ten pages of print advertising in its entire existence does not mean when people talk about it, they must be the ones getting paid, or why would they? Google is not your father's GM, and intensity of orchestration does not equal volume anymore.

I did click a Google text ad to get to Chrome, just for fun. When I searched Google for "chrome" and did not find their browser in the top ten results (at the time), the enclosed, yellow shaded paid slot at the top was bought by Google itself. It is nice to see the index is still doing no evil, even if the company and/or public have messily conflated that with the will of the corporation.

Other shreds of "hype" included an oddly-leaked comic book theoretically intended to explain Chrome "for everyone." Like all Google attempts at marketing, it was prosumer-ish. Too technical and long-winded (40 pages!), but effective as a framing device. For the people who fix the PCs Microsoft's "Knowledge Workers" use and read Slashdot, the dot-com 2.0 crowd, and other avid browsers, it was a compelling thought piece. 

Of course the near-monopoly of Internet Explorer is detrimental to web app performance. Welcome to 1999, blogosphere. (Adobe and) Microsoft want to lock people into plugins, drive up hardware sales, and freeze out non-commercial web standards bodies. This has been true forever. (Flash and) IE were ubiquitous, I argue possibly even helpful, in an era of slower connections and processors, to popularize the internet with dynamic content. (I am a lifelong Mac user and truly shudder at the thought of that paradigm, don't get me wrong.)

As I said, I'm a Mac user, so I don't even have Chrome. I could run it in Parallels but I don't want to. It uses WebKit and has an anti-interface that defers to the content. I prefer a less obsequious browser, and Apple Safari, also WebKit-based, has a consistent user interface, and almost every feature of Chrome. The nightly build of Safari is often spectacularly fast. 

I like two things about Chrome and only Chrome, though: V8, because Apple hasn't shipped their equivalent yet, and the full text search of the history. The latter is vaguely possible with Spotlight, but Google's version is better.