Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2012

Mid-2012 MacBook Air Review

David Pierce reviews the latest iteration of the MacBook Air, and it looks like a great update. Pierce did see a reduction of over an hour of battery life for lighter tasks, however. On the other hand, Engadget saw an improvement of about an hour compared to last year’s model.

Tweetbot for Mac

Mark Jardine has a sneaky photo of Tweetbot for Mac. It’s my favourite iPhone Twitter client, and it could become the best on the Mac for many people. I’m not sold on its design yet (for my money, Twitterrific feels more at home on OS X), but it’s going to be worth checking out.

Since Twitter is intermittently down, I’ve mirrored the image.


Racing legend David Coulthard speeds down a runway at 180mph and catches a high-flying golf ball in the passenger seat of his supercar.

Well, you weren’t doing anything today anyway, were you?

Selling Your Slots

Andy Baio writes for Wired on the growing unofficial UDID activation scene:

For a small developer, unauthorized activations are a lucrative business that’s likely worth the risks. UDID Activation publishes their order queue on their official site, which shows more than 2,300 devices activated in the last week alone. At $8.99 for each activation, that’s more than $20,600 in revenue, with $2,277 paid to Apple for the 23 developer accounts. Their homepage claims that more than 19,000 devices were activated so far, and that’s only one of several services.

That’s an enormous profit for what is very little risk. As many of the site operators note, Apple doesn’t police this scene. As noted at MacStories, this has created huge problems for developers:

The negative side-effect of spreading iOS betas to users who aren’t willing to treat them for what they are — betas — is, instead, a worrying amount of iTunes reviews for apps that can’t be updated for iOS 6 yet.

There are a number of apps that function poorly (or not at all) in iOS betas, and every June, a bunch of developers get one-star reviews from people who don’t understand the distinction.

Windows Phone 8

Two events in the same week: that’s how Microsoft does it. There’s a lot to unpack with this one. First off, Windows Phone 8 is getting a new core:

The biggest change in Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft’s transition to the NT kernel and related operating system elements — defined as the Windows Core. Steve Ballmer and company have been hinting at the change for months, but Microsoft is detailing this fully today. Windows Phone 8 will share the same kernel, file system, media foundation, device drivers, and parts of the security model from Windows 8.

This could be interesting, but the use of the same security as Windows is sure to raise eyebrows. I think it’s a misstep, but if it helps the platform expand, it’s probably in Microsoft’s best interests. Also, using the same core allows developers to more easily port apps.

Windows Phone 8 is (finally!) getting support for different displays, too:

Windows Phone 8 will support three resolutions in total: WVGA, WXGA, and 720p. Discussing the various leaks about Windows Phone 8, Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan confirmed to us that the company did have another resolution under consideration.

This will address a common complaint of the larger Windows Phone devices: since the screen is larger but it’s required to retain the pixel count of the smaller devices, the resolution was terrible. This is a big improvement.

There’s also an updated home screen, with a greater variation in the kinds and sizes of tiles that it will accept. Max Rudberg has an interesting idea on how this new home screen could gain a wallpaper feature.

Lots to unpack here. Windows Phone 8 looks like a huge improvement in most areas. But if you own a Windows Phone 7 device, you’re going to be sorely disappointed because upgrades won’t be offered:

Describing some of the latest hardware changes in Windows Phone 8, […] Sullivan explained that “the nature of the investment [in Windows Phone 8] is primarily in areas that are not exploitable by existing hardware.” […]

Instead, Microsoft plans to bring a new Start Screen interface to existing devices through a Windows Phone 7.8 software update.

That must be disappointing for the tens of Windows Phone users.

The Cost of Microsoft’s Surface Tablet

Nick Wingfield:

Let’s just assume for a few minutes that Microsoft’s Surface tablet is as delicious as Microsoft executives made it out to be on Monday night.

Does Microsoft then have any hope of competing with the iPad on price?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: noooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Introducing Statamic

Jack McDade:

We’re very pleased to be unveiling the result of many, many long days and sleepless nights. Statamic is a dynamic, flat file content management system that’s completely powered by static files. That’s right, there’s no database in between your application and your content. Your content is your application. Or at least, one of the core aspects of it.

This looks amazing. Porting my website to Statamic would kick my ass, but it would almost be worth it.

Microsoft Surface Allows People to Create

That’s the headline, and that’s Nick Bilton’s thesis in a nut, which he seems to think is revolutionary. What about the iPad, Nick?

The iPad, for all it’s glory, suffers from one very distinct flaw: It’s very difficult to use for creation.

I’ll bite. Why, Nick?

The keyboard on the screen, although pretty to look at, is abysmal for typing anything over 140 characters.

I’ve written 2000-word papers on it comfortably. But I’m weird like that. To each their own, and so forth.

Why else, Nick?

There isn’t a built-in pen for note-taking, either.

Are you kidding me?

No Price, No Date, No Apps

Jesus Diaz is superlatively impressed by Microsoft’s Surface:

If Microsoft delivers—which means that the price and the battery life should be competitive with Apple’s offerings, and that keyboard lives up to its billing—it has a real chance of stopping the seemingly unstoppable Apple empire. Or at least slowing it down.

The title of that post, by the way, is “Microsoft Surface Just Made the MacBook Air and the iPad Look Obsolete”. So impressed, then, that he believes it renders two existing platforms obsolete because it combines them into one. It’s a completely different approach to the contemporary tablet market.

But very few convergent devices are good at everything they do. In fact, they tend to be mediocre at many things, instead of many devices that area good at one thing each.

MG Siegler isn’t convinced, either:

Two years ago, I think this thing would have been pretty competitive. Today? Color me very skeptical.

First of all, for everything Microsoft did show off yesterday they left out some of the most important details. Namely, the price and the release date.

For all the Apple-esque keynote stuff yesterday (secretive invitations, no details, emotional design videos during the presentation), they left out the one thing they should have copied: instant availability. I like the Surface a lot, as I suspect many people do. All we want to know is how much it’s going to cost, and when we can get our hands on it. Right now, it’s just a production sample.

Update: ZDNet says that the ARM version will be available with the release of Windows 8, which the latest rumours say is happening in October. If that’s true, why unveil the tablet now? Why not sit on it until a release date for both it and Windows 8 can be confirmed?

Microsoft Surface Tablet Announced

This thing looks great. The shell is magnesium, and it looks like it’s incredibly well-designed. There’s also a neat built-in kickstand, and a sweet magnetic cover with a keyboard. There are two versions, though: ARM and Intel. The Intel version looks like the one that has more features, yet it’s the one I wouldn’t have. Due to the high-powered processor, it needs to have fans and cooling vents.

Also, the ad that The Verge embedded sounds like it’s a Transformer trying to kill me.

Readability by the Numbers

Shawn Blanc sorted through all the information that has been released publicly about Readability’s recently cancelled payment plan, and it doesn’t look good. Me? I’m proud to be an Instapaper customer.

A Week with iOS 6

Chuck Skoda has written the thing I would have written if I didn’t feel encumbered by this pesky NDA. On Siri:

Clearly a big deal to Apple, the humble virtual assistant is more valuable for users than ever. First up is sports. You’re now just a phrase away from stats, scores, rosters, and schedules. I’m not qualified to comment on whether this is a strong offering of sports information, but the few questions I asked were answered as expected.

Annoyingly, Siri does not yet support Formula 1, the only sport I care about. What they do have works as advertised, and is decent if you care about football, or football 1.

On the new store apps:

[T]here is an “Update History” item that let’s you peruse the release notes from previous versions of the app. This gives good context for the activity of the developer, and is a welcome change.

This is a really subtle thing that I enjoy. Not mentioned is the ability to continue playing a song sample in iTunes while browsing other sections of the store, and a similar history feature.

On FaceTime over 3G:

iOS 6 brings FaceTime calls over the cellular network with no tricks. This is a good boost to one of the great features of the iPhone, but only on rare occasions have I wanted to use FaceTime while away from WiFi. It doesn’t seem like the ideal way to communicate while out and about. It’s bound to come in handy sometimes, but it likely won’t come up every day.

I can think of very few situations where I wouldn’t have WiFi access, and wouldn’t feel like a fool for using FaceTime outside. It’s not bad of a data hog, for short calls. As I found out earlier this week, it uses about 3.2MB per minute. It’s pretty smooth over my 3G connection, but I imagine AT&T customers should stay clear of this.

On Mail:

Finally, and I mean finally, you can insert a photo or video attachment directly into a message. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve typed half an email only to remember that I need to start in the Photos app if I plan to attach an image to my message. This ranks as one of the most significant changes for me since copy and paste.

It’s weird that Skoda mentions copy and paste, and yet hasn’t realized that attaching photos midway through a message has been possible by the same means since iOS 3. In fact, due to the way attaching photos is buried in a popover menu, I still find it more convenient to use copy and paste.

Skoda’s post is a great summary of what has been updated and tweaked. I think it’s an update that addresses a lot of remaining concerns without introducing a lot of new features. It’s great.

  1. See what I did there? ↩︎

Busting the iOS 6 Transit Map Myths

Andy Baio separates the facts of the iOS 6 maps app. This caught my eye:

Apps can enable directions support by setting the type of directions they support, a geoJSON file specifying the map regions they support, and uploading it to iTunes Connect. Developers can specify a category (Car, Bus, Train, Subway, Streetcar, Plane, Bike, Ferry, Taxi, Pedestrian, Other).

This is very clever. Instead of relying upon one built-in transit directory, apps can be tailored for what they do best.

Why would Apple do this, though? Is this a fair tradeoff for separating from Google? As explained on the Cocoanetics blog, getting that data is a giant pain in the ass:

[N]obody knows the extent of the secret deals that were made to keep Google out of certain markets. Those same deals would probably also make it impossible for Apple to get at this data. In a way Apple has to be thankful to Google for testing the waters and uncovering how difficult it is to get worldwide coverage on a voluntary (and free) basis.

Unfunny Junk

Nate Anderson, for Ars Technica (emphasis his):

Charles Carreon, the lawyer representing user-generated content site FunnyJunk in its battle against “The Oatmeal” creator Matthew Inman, has now filed suit against Inman. Not on behalf of FunnyJunk, it appears—Carreon is the listed plaintiff.

And that’s not all; the lawsuit mentions both Inman and the charities for which he has been raising money after Inman publicized FunnyJunk’s initial $20,000 demand letter.

That’s right: Carreon is personally suing Inman, the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Cancer Society. This guy just won’t stop digging.

It’s Called Progress, Folks

Garrett Murray:

The reality is, if we want thinner and faster and more amazing computers we have to sacrifice easy repairability and it’s a tradeoff most people are willing to make.

In a similar vein, yet a different context, the Macalope:

Success requires focus. That pretty much sums up why Microsoft hasn’t been very successful for a long time, and why Apple has.

And also Nick Chaves (via Gruber):

Do we imagine that such progress is achieved through the kind of Luddite thinking that leads people to value “hackability” over never-before-achieved levels of precision and portability?

Easily the Most Idiotic Thing I’ve Read All Day

Josh Constine, for that vile place that is TechCrunch:

Tweets past, present, and future now show their exact number of retweets and favorites instead of showing “50+” if they pass that count — a move that could promote vanity and competition on Twitter.

Vanity? On Twitter?

However, the exact counts could make people feel like they have no influence when they see they’ve received two retweets while someone else got twenty thousand.

If you received two retweets before today, your count would also show “2”, because this change only applies to fifty retweets/favourites and greater. If you’re comparing yourself to someone with 20,000 retweets, you’re off to a bad start because that person is probably Justin Bieber.

But now it’s more important than ever to remember it’s the quality and thoughtfulness of what you tweet, not the RTs and FAVs that really matter.

How about the quality and thoughtfulness of what you write, Mr. Constine?

Constine seems to have a recurring beef with vanity on the internet. Earlier this week, he wrote a piece about the ability to tweet and update a Facebook status from Notification Centre:

Why read about someone else when you could write about yourself? Soon the “Tap to post” to Facebook and Twitter buttons announced at WWDC today will appear in iOS and OS X Mountain Lion’s Notifications centers so you’ll always be just a swipe away from sharing. But that means you won’t have to visit Facebook or Twitter where you collide with what others create, diminishing the ambient intimacy they offer and turning them into ego-driven broadcast channels.

Josh Constine is reminiscing about a Twitter that never existed (one of “ambient intimacy”). Has he forgotten that the original Twitter prompt was “what are you doing?”

On Breaking Out the Podcast App in iOS 6

Cody Fink, over at MacStories:

AppAdvice made note that Podcasts, iTunes U, and Audiobooks have been removed from the iTunes app in the iOS 6 beta, sparking thoughts that Audiobooks could find itself reintegrated into the iBooks app, while Podcasts become its own thing.

Placing podcasts in their own app would be wonderful, but I suspect a large number of people would be annoyed by yet another icon on their home screen that they can’t get rid of (see also: the kerfuffle over Newsstand, and the recent annoyance about Passbook).

Google/Amazon Name Grab

David Winer:

An example. Google doesn’t intend to share .blog and it will only be used to point to Blogger sites. If you have a Tumblr or WordPress blog, you can’t have a .blog domain. Here is the public listing of Google’s application. 

The purpose of the proposed gTLD, .blog, is to provide a dedicated Internet space where Google can continue to innovate on its Blogger offerings. The mission of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated domain space in which users can publish blogs. All registered domains in the .blog gTLD will automatically be delegated to Google DNS servers, which will in turn provide authoritative DNS responses pointing to the Google Blogger service.

Don’t be evil.

In a bit of schadenfreude, Amazon has applied for a .search top level domain.

Microsoft and Samsung Try Out Apple’s Secret Sauce

Brian X. Chen for The New York Times:

Microsoft sent out invitations to the event on Thursday without saying a word of what it was about. In the past, it has been transparent with the topic of the event, like updates on the Windows Phone 7 platform or news about Windows 8. At the very least, they’d brief reporters on background just so they’d know what to expect, or usually there would be some loud-mouth engineers eager to spill what they’ve worked on. But this time, Microsoft’s employees and press relations team stayed mum. […]

“Dear Microsoft, you can’t pull this last minute presser in LA with zero context,” complained Peter Ha, the managing editor of TechCrunch, on Twitter. “$$$$$ for us. Blowback could be severe if dumb.”

With the benefits of secrecy come the falls. Apple is no stranger to rumours that don’t pan out, for example, and Peter Ha’s tweet summarizes the difference between Apple and Microsoft’s strategies. Apple has four product events every year, maximum: March, WWDC in June, October, and an optional January one. Microsoft has about double that.