Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May, 2011

Pulp for Mac

My favourite RSS reader got updated today. It now syncs with other installations of Pulp for Mac, and Pulp for iPad. $10 on the Mac App Store.

Twitter integrated into iOS 5 with MediaStream?

9 to 5 Mac:

So it appears that the pieces are starting to come together. It appears that Apple may include your Twitter social graph in [Media Stream].

Apple is obviously friendly with Twitter in its Ping social network and currently works with Facebook and Flickr through iPhoto. iCloud may be the act of tying it all together.

This is highly speculative, but if Apple were to launch some sort of Path/Instagram capability baked right into iOS, I can’t help but think they’d need a way outside iOS to access it. Both Path and Instagram generate URLs whereby anyone can view your photos. By contrast, both Ping and Game Center require iTunes or iOS 4, respectively, just to view a user’s profile.

Sadly, Apple’s success with both social networks and web integration has been poor. They currently operate two social networks: Ping and Game Center. Neither seem to be particularly successful, and neither has a web interface. On the other hand, Apple has done a sort of photo stream before, with iPhoto and web galleries. Publishing a web gallery requires a MobileMe account, but anyone (with access) can view it online.

Apple needs to do a few things to make an Instagram competitor successful:

  1. It needs to have decent uptime: remember when MobileMe launched? Don’t do that again.
  2. It needs to have a non-iOS way of viewing published photos: don’t lock people into the Apple platform. If they want this to be a big, cool thing that people will actually use, there needs to be a way for people to see the photos from whatever computer they’re using.
  3. It needs to integrate with current social networks: Instagram allows me to publish to a myriad of services, and Path has some great Facebook integration.
  4. It needs to be free: I’m not even considering paying $99 per year for what MobileMe currently offers, let alone a few extra little things. That said, if they can make MobileMe really, really awesome (iTunes library in the cloud, for instance), I may consider it.

WWDC 2011 Press Release

At the keynote, Apple will unveil its next generation software – Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS® X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®; and iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.

I am blown away that they would pre-announce what is going to be shown in the keynote. That is very unlike Apple. The only reason I suspect they did this is because they wanted to reaffirm that no new hardware is being released.

But then, a more Apple-like wording would change the iCloud part to say something like “an upgrade to Apple’s MobileMe offerings”, without mentioning the new product. Weird.

Windows Phone Mango

This looks amazing. I’ve long-maintained that this is my next-favourite phone OS, next to iOS. Mango is going to make it even better. Conversation view is better-integrated than in Mail for iPhone. The ability to link together mail accounts into groups of addresses into categories like “work” and “personal” is a great enhancement, too.

I still don’t like how Windows Phone 7 integrates many things into one big view, though. For instance, the new “threads” feature links together conversations with Facebook, Windows Live and text message into one big conversation. I like to keep those things separate.

Multitasking is much more visual than it is on iOS, and is more like WebOS with a card view of each application.

I hope the rollout process works better for users, and for Microsoft’s benefit. This is shaping up to be a fantastic OS.

Make Your Franklin

A collection of redesigned US 100-dollar bills. Some are serious, some are political and some are verging on NSFW. I’m partial to the Fermoyle/Evanston idea. Some of these are downright hilarious.

Free Ideas for Developers

Disclosure: some of these may actually be implemented, but I haven’t seen them.

Smarter Recurring Events

I am often creating events for the same thing, for the same time, in the same calendar and for the same duration, but on different (and varying) days. Instead of offering recurring events, why not allow me to drag a “template” of sorts from a sidebar into a day? This template could save whatever information the user chooses (title, start time, end time, alarms, etc), and it will prompt to fill in the blanks wherever needed (if the end time, for instance, isn’t in the template, it will ask what time the event ends at).

Clothing Store Accounts

I have accounts at various online clothing stores, yet none seem to save my sizes. Why not allow me to define my sizes in my account page, and only show me what’s in-stock in my size (and default to that when adding to my cart). A smarter implementation of this will take into account fit — if the store knows a particular brand of shirt will fit 1 size smaller than indicated, also show me those products.

Automatic Flickr Tagging

Flickr knows when and where I took a photo. But it also knows where and when other people took photos. Why not crowd-source tags? When I upload a photo with geolocation data that places it near the Eiffel Tower, it’s probably going to be a photo of the Eiffel Tower. It would be fantastic to provide a list of frequent tags in that area, and allow me to add those with one click.

Better still, since it knows when photos were taken, this would work for events, too. If a bunch of people upload photos taken at a concert at a venue on a specific date and time, it knows about that event, and what tags people are applying to those photos.

Upgrade

Ben Brooks on an iTunes Plus-esque upgrade fee for iCloud:

I am guessing you will have to pay a one-time cloud upgrade fee on a song by song basis. Perhaps $0.30 a song, maybe less. Once you do that, those songs are available in the cloud.

This would make sense, but it’s quickly going to be expensive. If 10% of the hypothetical 1000-song library is CD-ripped, that’s $30. That’s only 100 songs, or about 8 CDs (using top-secret bullshit estimation). I have a lot more than 8 CDs-worth not purchased through iTunes.

Don’t Wake the Dragon, But Maybe Strike Up a Licensing Deal With It

Since the rumour mill has all but confirmed an upcoming revamp/refresh/reinvigoration of the MobileMe service, apparently to be dubbed “iCloud”, it would be a good idea to explore the problems they might attempt to solve with it, specifically with music syncing.

In recent memory, Apple has been rather slow to introduce necessary (or “necessary”) features to iOS devices; copy and paste, and multitasking are two of the more notable examples. But, as it has been said time and time again, Apple tends to implement these features in a more logical, more intuitive and better way than the contemporary best version. In the last few weeks, Amazon has introduced a digital locker, and Google just announced Google Music Beta. Both are cloud-based music storage solutions (marketing speak be damned). And now Apple seems poised to jump into this field with a service of their own.

The current crop of cloud storage spaces work beautifully for documents, bookmark syncing and photos, all of which tend to be formats measured in kilobytes or just a few megabytes. Music and movies tend to reside in libraries measuring several gigabytes. While I would like to be enthused about Google Music Beta, it requires the user to upload their library. A 1,000-song library, using Apple’s estimations, is about 8 GB. Assuming a typical home user will have a 1 mbps upload, this will take over 18 hours of solid uploading to initially sync their entire music library. That’s simply far too long. Any time music is added to or removed from your library, Google’s tool will automatically make the necessary changes in the cloud. It’s good that it’s automatic, but it still takes time. It’s 2011. Why does online storage have the same (in)convenience it did back in 1995 with FTP?

Amazon does a way better job. Any time you purchase a song through Amazon MP3, that song gets added to your Digital Locker. This also goes for movies and TV shows purchased through those Amazon services. And yet neither solution helps me much, because I am Canadian.

In fact, anyone outside of the US cannot appreciate either of these solutions. Neither Amazon nor Google sought licensing from any record label to begin their cloud locker services. You can argue ad nauseum about whether or not they should be required to get this permission, but the fact remains that they’re treading on their (lawyers’) interpretation of American fair use laws.

In summary, then, the current state of cloud music storage relies on American fair use laws and individual users to manually upload their music files. Wouldn’t it be nice to change that?

Unlike Google or Amazon, Apple sells digital music in 26 countries. Apple has a much greater advantage in ensuring that the service they provide will be available in all of (or a majority of) the countries the iTunes Store is available in. Conversely, Apple has a major disadvantage if this service were to only be available in the US.

How will this service work, then? Will the user be required to upload all of the individual music files they own, à la Google Music? This is slow and cumbersome, as established. Will all tracks purchased from iTunes automatically be made available in the cloud? This has the potential to exclude large amounts of a user’s library if that user has ripped music from CDs or purchased it from other services such as Amazon MP3 and Beatport. As an example, while I have a substantial music library, only around 500 songs in it have been purchased from the iTunes Store, significantly less than the number of CDs I’ve ripped.

It would be in Apple’s best interest to allow access to all songs purchased through iTunes by default, but also allow users to add their own music to the bucket. The problem, as ever, comes back to the record labels and local laws. Since Apple cannot determine whether or not you actually own the songs you’re uploading, they might be granting you storage of your enormous library of pirated music. This would, to put it mildly, displease the record labels.

It’s a tricky and complex issue. Not providing users with the ability to upload their own files is grounds for user dissatisfaction, but allowing them this ability will piss off the record labels. And when record labels get pissed off, ordinary people tend to suffer most.

LSTN 14

Some of these songs are actually pretty good, and you can’t argue with free. Includes Slow Motion by Panda Bear which is almost as good as I’ve heard. Two observations:

  1. The link goes to an annoying-as-shit Flash site. Here is a direct iTunes link (you need a US iTunes store account to download the mix).
  2. Four of the included songs are still in the old 128 kbps DRM-ed format.

Lost Type Foundry

The Lost Type Co-Op is a Pay-What-You-Want [t]ype foundry, the first of it’s kind. Users have the opportunity to pay whatever they like for a font, you can even type in ‘$0’ for a free download. 100% of funds from these sales go directly to the designers of the fonts, respectively.

Free font sources always leave me wanting. They tend not to include multiple weights or styles, fail to contain special characters and have horrible kerning data. That said, I wish them all the best. “Highlands” and “Liberator” both look fantastic (though the former suffers from a lack of lowercase characters, numbers and punctuation).

Unsolicited Redesigns

Inspired by Tim van Damme’s recent unsolicited redesign of Instapaper for iPad and Marco Arment’s response, Lukas Mathis explores why he finds unsolicited redesigns to be an uncomfortable matter:

The original designers probably invested weeks or months into a design. They may have years of experience with the subject matter. At most, I’ll invest a few hours. They know a lot more about the requirements, about the constraints, about how the product is actually being used, about implementation details that could limit what features the design can offer, about the business situation, and a ton of other things I simply have no idea about.

As always, a fantastic read.

Flawed Typefaces

Paul Shaw:

Eric Gill designed the 1 in Gill Sans without a flag, thus making it virtually indistinguishable from I or l. Monotype resolved this disaster in the days of machine composition with an alternate flagged 1. But it was not included in the digital version of Gill Sans. One solution to this problem was to substitute a 1 from another sans serif face.

Remember Microsoft?

The Macalope:

Winotaur: Face it, this is a key strategic move that makes Microsoft the leader in VoiP. We own the market now. Because we just bought it. See how that works?

In This Article, a Feature That Allows for Speedy Uploads is Shown to Be Technically At Odds With the Terms of Service

From Wired:

The FTC complaint charges Dropbox with telling users that their files were totally encrypted and even Dropbox employees could not see the contents of the file. Ph.D. student Christopher Soghoian published data last month showing that Dropbox could indeed see the contents of files, putting users at risk of government searches, rogue Dropbox employees, and even companies trying to bring mass copyright-infringement suits.

This is probably overblown. In a nut, Dropbox promised that private files were inaccessible by other users, or by Dropbox. This is technically untrue: private files must be accessed by Dropbox in cases involving a subpoena, and the service’s deduplication backend is technically allowing access to private files. This is potentially a far-reaching claim.

The man who filed the FTC complaint is Chris Soghoian, who previously created a Northwest Airlines boarding pass generator, and recently published a series of emails exposing a smear campaign conducted on behalf of Facebook.

I Don’t Work in a Museum

How tightly organized should I be? Enough to pass a white glove test? No. That’s not going to happen, and imposing that ideal on myself is actually counter-productive. So, I stay organized enough to achieve my goals.

I’m similar, but I clean on a constant basis. At the end of the day, it looks like I’ve accomplished barely anything, but I know that the work I’ve produced has been carefully filed away.

It’s interesting to see how others work. I fall into the clean-workspace-clean-mind kind of flow. There’s nothing wrong with a messy desk, but if I see receipts from years ago, I start to get twitchy. That’s not right.

Apartment in a Box

From Fair Companies, via Metafilter:

When Christian Schallert isn’t cooking, dressing, sleeping or eating, his 24 square meter (258 square feet) apartment is an empty cube. To use a piece of furniture, he has to build it.

Genius. Watch the full video – it’s a beautiful space.

The Humility That Comes From Being Hated

Moby, on his new album:

There’s an aesthetic theme, which is cities at two o’clock in the morning. Not cities packed with people going out to clubs and dancing but desolate, empty streets. It’s off-putting but there’s a strange comfort to it as well, that desolate urban environment.

On his drug-fueled days:

Ketamine’s such a waste of time drug. All you do when you’re on ketamine is go: ‘Oh, I’m on drugs. I don’t feel good, I don’t feel bad, I’m just on drugs…’

On moving to LA:

So it’s the weirdness of LA, the warmth in January, and the fact that it has that egalitarian thing because rent is cheap for a lot of people, so anybody can live there.

That last one reminded me of one of my favourite Andy Warhol quotes:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke and, just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the president knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

Great interview. Moby’s new album is out on May 16, which you can listen to here, right now, and you can pre-order physical stuff too (tip: it’s far cheaper to go through the “local store” links outside of the US).