Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for September, 2012

Windows 8 Might Be Released Unfinished

Tim Culpan and Ian King report for Bloomberg:

Intel Corp. Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini told employees in Taiwan that Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 8 operating system is being released before it’s fully ready, a person who attended the company event said. […]

Microsoft is eager to get Windows 8, the first version of its flagship software designed for touch tablets, into computers next month to help it vie with Apple Inc.’s iPad during the holiday shopping season. Releasing the operating system before it’s fully baked is the right move, and Microsoft can make improvements after it ships, Otellini told staffers.

In related news, water is wet, and fire is hot.

RIM’s Kübler-Ross Update

Back in July, RIM was at stage one: denial. Today, they launched the third beta of BlackBerry 10 and new development hardware. But, as Dieter Bohn reports for The Verge, there’s a lot of work ahead:

That’s the current state of BlackBerry 10, but is it final? Probably not: RIM promised that there were still a few “surprises” in store. […]

RIM has a very difficult road to travel with BlackBerry 10: it needs to get a critical mass of apps by launch to even get a second look from consumers, let alone a first one. To prepare developers, the company has had to keep them up to speed by trickling out information about the next platform instead of unveiling it all at once with a big splash. That has made for a series of teases and hints, but not a complete picture of RIM’s mobile strategy.

Looks like RIM has skipped stage two (anger), and has gone straight to bargaining: “Wait for Q1 2013, because we’ll have a great OS then.”

It’s too bad, because there’s a lot of very interesting stuff in here. Bohn says that it’s a cross between iOS and Windows Phone, which sounds delightful in theory. In practice, I doubt it’s going to gain traction with developers or users, which is too bad. There’s a lot of good talent in Waterloo.

Update: More bargaining from RIM CEO Thorsten Heins:

He argues that BlackBerry 10 is going to have a chance to beat Windows Phone 8 out as the next platform after iPhone and Android. “We have a clear shot at being the number three platform on the market.”

From the number one smartphone on the market to “ehh, we’ll aim for number three” in just a few years.

“A Spot of Bother”

Samsung is finding itself in a spot of bother this morning, as a particular piece of HTML code has emerged that, when clicked, instantly resets the Galaxy S II — and potentially other Android devices running the TouchWiz UI.

You would be a horrible person to print out a bunch of QR codes that link to this, and stick them over existing QR codes on posters and ads. Don’t do that.

Apple’s Story to Tell

Matt Alexander, of the two-first-names club, explains beautifully why the months of leaks and specification sheets don’t tell the full story of the iPhone 5 experience:

The bullet points we had so sorely sought to decry from Apple’s announcements have been translated into a tangible experience that exceeds the bounds of the reductive “iterative” moniker. Looking only at the specifications, measurements, and renderings of the iPhone 5, it’s easy to force oneself into disappointment. But, upon hefting the device from hand to hand, seeing the improved color spectrum, and watching as once-slow apps now devour digital content, it’s virtually impossible to see the iPhone 5 as anything less than an amazing successor to the iPhone line.

There’s so much that I could quote from this. The entire article is excellent.

The Lightning Adapter

Rainer Brockerhoff has written an insightful piece on the new Lightning adapter’s relationship to other connectors, and why it’s just so darn clever. Interestingly, Brockerhoff speculates that the connector is not future-compatible with USB 3, owing to the lack of adaptability with that specification. Without knowing anything about the specifications behind USB 2 and 3, that sounds like an odd move for a new standard to last Apple the next decade or so.

Data Centres Waste Vast Amounts of Energy

It’s hard to fathom just how much energy this page has used to get to you. According to my analytics package, you probably found it through Twitter, which has vast arrays of their own data centres. My web host claims to offset their data centres with wind energy (a little bit of bullshit unto itself), which then went through miles upon miles of fibre and copper to get to your eyeballs. That’s a lot of power.

What’s surprising about this year-long investigation by the New York Times is that many of the servers in the world’s data centres go unused for long periods of time, despite consuming gobs of power. James Glanz writes:

A senior official at the data center already suspected that something was amiss. He had previously conducted his own informal survey, putting red stickers on servers he believed to be “comatose” — the term engineers use for servers that are plugged in and using energy even as their processors are doing little if any computational work.

“At the end of that process, what we found was our data center had a case of the measles,” said the official, Martin Stephens, during a Web seminar with Mr. Rowan. “There were so many red tags out there it was unbelievable.”

The Viridity tests backed up Mr. Stephens’s suspicions: in one sample of 333 servers monitored in 2010, more than half were found to be comatose. All told, nearly three-quarters of the servers in the sample were using less than 10 percent of their computational brainpower, on average, to process data.

It’s One of Those Days, Isn’t It?

Dan Farber writes for CNet:

Apple’s first ads for the iPhone 5 have surfaced, featuring the voice of Jeff Daniels, also known as Will McAvoy, the fictional news anchor of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show, “Newsroom.” It’s unlikely Apple hired Daniels because of his 1994 starring role in “Dumb and Dumber.”

Ah, yeah, I noticed that too. Nice joke.

Daniels character on the show is a flawed, mercurial TV news man who at heart wants to change the world, a description that could have been applied to Steve Jobs in his domain.

Wait, you’re doubling down on this? This is a serious analysis of the reason why Apple chose Jeff Daniels to provide the voiceover, other than because he has a good voice?

Daniels’ McAvoy is idealistically dedicated to getting as some form of truth, and Apple to some form of perfection in its products.

Stop it. They hired Jeff Daniels because his voice sounds good, he’s clear, and because he has great comedic timing. That’s it.

Hold Me Closer, Betteridge

Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.

Apple never releases a perfect product. There are always shortfalls to be improved. My MacBook Air does not have an IPS screen, and the Thunderbolt Display it connects to lacks a headphone jack, despite having speakers. These shortcomings are obvious to anyone who has used these products. But, critically, these do not significantly impair the usage of the products for their intended tasks.

Maps is one of those rare products from Apple that’s noticeably lacking in its core functionality. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as good as the Google Maps it replaces1. There are only a handful of products from Apple where this has been the case—MobileMe would be another example. This product regression combined with the launch of a new iPhone has sent the fingers flying on keyboards around the world, predicting that Apple has begun its downward spiral of doom (cue ominous orchestral hit).

In my naïveté, I had assumed that my morning read of the New York Times would be spared from this. But then I hit the opinion pages, and Joe Nocera has to go and spoil that with his piece “Has Apple Peaked?” Well, with Betteridge at my side, I’d like to answer that. Let us dig in:

If Steve Jobs were still alive, would the new map application on the iPhone 5 be such an unmitigated disaster? Interesting question, isn’t it?

In his first sentence, he invokes the “If Steve were alive” trope, which is a good indication that this piece is going to be rife with ill-argued premises. We need an equivalent to Godwin’s Law for Steve Jobs’ ghost.

As Apple’s chief executive, Jobs was a perfectionist. He had no tolerance for corner-cutting or mediocre products. The last time Apple released a truly substandard product — MobileMe, in 2008 — Jobs gathered the team into an auditorium, berated them mercilessly and then got rid of the team leader in front of everybody, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs.

According to John Paczkowski over at All Things D, the Maps team is under lockdown, frantically fixing bugs.

The three devices that made Apple the most valuable company in America — the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad — were all genuine innovations that forced every other technology company to play catch-up.

But were they perfect? No.

No doubt, the iPhone 5, which went on sale on Friday, will be another hit. Apple’s halo remains powerful. But there is nothing about it that is especially innovative.

Apart from the unfathomably precise production processes which result in a lighter and thinner body, completely custom silicon, reversible charge/sync cable, and crazy levels of miniaturization, sure. Nothing innovative.

I suppose what Nocera is referring to is the lack of obvious new-ness. The new iPhone doesn’t use a radically different industrial design language, and therefore doesn’t scream “hey, I have the hot new product.” Which is a problem for only the most shallow among us.

In rolling out a new operating system for the iPhone 5, Apple replaced Google’s map application — the mapping gold standard — with its own, vastly inferior, application, which has infuriated its customers. With maps now such a critical feature of smartphones, it seems to be an inexplicable mistake.

Didn’t we go over this?

And maybe that’s all it is — a mistake, soon to be fixed. But it is just as likely to turn out to be the canary in the coal mine. Though Apple will remain a highly profitable company for years to come, I would be surprised if it ever gives us another product as transformative as the iPhone or the iPad.

Apple has regressed on Maps, therefore the company is doomed to failure. See, Nocera? This is easy. Out of curiosity, why do you doubt that they’ll be able to transform another market?

Part of the reason is obvious: Jobs isn’t there anymore.

Sigh. Here we go.

It is rare that a company is so completely an extension of one man’s brain as Apple was an extension of Jobs. While he was alive, that was a strength; now it’s a weakness. Apple’s current executive team is no doubt trying to maintain the same demanding, innovative culture, but it’s just not the same without the man himself looking over everybody’s shoulder. If the map glitch tells us anything, it is that.

First of all, all of Apple’s maps-related acquisitions were made while Jobs sat in the CEO chair. They’ve been working on this for a while.

Second, this is a lazy rhetorical device:

If Steve Jobs were Apple, the company would have gone out of business before his body was in the ground. They are not one and the same. Sure, it may be a reflection of him, and he unquestionably was its visionary who was ultimately responsible for so many of its great products, and its remarkable success. But Apple is not Steve Jobs, nor vice-versa.

Stop bringing out the ghost of Steve Jobs. It’s lazy, and it’s meaningless.

Any other reason Apple is doomed, Joe Nocera?

But there is also a less obvious — yet possibly more important — reason that Apple’s best days may soon be behind it. When Jobs returned to the company in 1997, after 12 years in exile, Apple was in deep trouble. It could afford to take big risks and, indeed, to search for a new business model, because it had nothing to lose.

Fifteen years later, Apple has a hugely profitable business model to defend — and a lot to lose. Companies change when that happens.

There is absolutely some truth to this. Apple won’t bet the company on products at this point. But the cool thing is that they don’t have to. They have over a hundred billion dollars in the bank, and they’re going to experiment like crazy with it. How do I know this? Because they’re already doing so.

The new generation of MacBooks has completely new battery technology. Apple is beginning to put the highest-resolution displays in their notebooks. They’re continuing to use the iPod nano as their industrial design sandbox. And, yes, they’re building their own mapping software.

Nocera continues:

Now it is Apple’s turn to be king of the hill — and, not surprisingly, it has begun to behave in a very similar fashion. You can see it in the patent litigation against Samsung, a costly and counterproductive exercise that has nothing to do with innovation and everything to do with protecting its turf.

I think the designers and engineers who created the iOS user interface would beg to differ.

And you can see it in the decision to replace Google’s map application. Once an ally, Google is now a rival, and the thought of allowing Google to promote its maps on Apple’s platform had become anathema.

Or, perhaps they saw handing control of a feature of their OS to a competitor as bad for business.

More to the point, Apple wants to force its customers to use its own products, even when they are not as good as those from rivals.

Now Nocera is just trolling. There’s no citation for this, no explanation, and no context. Nocera just threw this sentence in there, hoping nobody would notice how unsubstantiated it is.

Of course Apple would prefer you use its products—they are a business after all. I haven’t seen any stories about how they “forced” anyone to use them. But, hey, I must only be reading Apple zealot websites, like Hacker News and Digital Trends.

Even before Jobs died, Apple was becoming a company whose main goal was to defend its business model. Yes, he would never have allowed his minions to ship such an embarrassing application.

Oh, stop it already.

“Oh my god,” read one Twitter message I saw. “Apple maps is the worst ever. It is like using MapQuest on a BlackBerry.”

When I’m looking for hard-hitting technology-related commentary, I turn to @thompsonplaid.

Articles about how doomed Apple is are easy to write, and they make for quick advertising clicks. But I’m a little surprised that the New York Times would stoop to such a level. It’s shameful.

  1. Contrary to the suggestions of some pundits, I’m not saying that Google Maps is perfect, just that it’s often better in real-world use than Apple Maps. ↩︎

New iPhone Ads

Apple has released three new ads for the iPhone 5, plus one for their new EarPods. Two observations:

  1. The voiceover sounds like Jeff Daniels.
  2. In my iOS 6 review, I wrote that “Apple [must have] also clearly forgotten about the Cover Flow view when the Music app is turned into landscape”. The “Physics” ad (linked) displays Cover Flow, so apparently, they have not forgotten.

iPhone 5 Teardown

iFixit’s annual iPhone teardown has just finished, and there are a few items of interest. The first thing of note is that the new iPhone appears to be significantly more serviceable than any previous iPhone (or iPod touch, for that matter). This is good for users who like to diddle with their phones—warranty be damned—but it’s also better business sense for Apple. Easier-to-repair phones means fewer full replacements, and, indeed, it appears that Apple will be doing screen replacements again instead of simply handing over a new device.

iFixit’s teardown also reveals that the counterweighted vibrator has returned after being replaced with the much, much nicer oscillating motor in the CDMA iPhone 4, and the 4S. The oscillating motor feels more like a strong pulse to me than the weak rattle of the counterweighted motor, and I’m not sure why they would return to the latter.

There’s a lot of very high technology in this tiny package. It’s mind-blowing to think that these components would require a giant computer just a few years ago.

Kickstarter Is Not a Store

In response to a number of recent high-profile issues, Kickstarter is changing their rules for hardware products:

It’s hard to know how many people feel like they’re shopping at a store when they’re backing projects on Kickstarter, but we want to make sure that it’s no one. Today we’re introducing a number of changes to reinforce that Kickstarter isn’t a store — it’s a new way for creators and audiences to work together to make things.

It’s hard to make that distinction. Yes, you’re merely betting on a product’s success, but you are doing so with the expectation that you will receive an example of it in the end. It’s crowd-sourced venture capital, but with a product reward instead of a financial one. That’s what makes it feel like a store.

Apple Says iOS 6 Maps App Will Get Better

John Paczkowski got a statement from Apple for All Things D:

Apple urged patience. “Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service,” said spokeswoman Trudy Miller. “We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn-by-turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”

Translation: “Is it too late to slap a ‘beta’ tag on it? Oh, it is? Well, if you stop whining, we’ll approve the Google Maps app.”

I swear this will be the last maps-related thing I post today.

Update: The Beard says that Google hasn’t submitted a standalone app.

Abusing Emoji in iOS and Your Mac

Zach Holman:

I don’t know about you, but my computer is a dick. It keeps not doing all of my work for me. What a piece of shit.

So what better way to show our affection to your hunk of metal than to rename it as a literal steamy pile of shit?

Turns out Terminal can render emoji, too, because there’s nothing better than typing sudo chmod 777 followed by a picture of a hamburger.

Twitter Cuts IFTTT’s Balls Off

Ash Furrow:

I just got an interesting form email from the CEO of IFTTT, which read, in part, as follows.

In recent weeks, Twitter announced policy changes* that will affect how applications and users like yourself can interact with Twitter’s data. As a result of these changes, on September 27th we will be removing all Twitter Triggers, disabling your ability to push tweets to places like email, Evernote and Facebook.


It’s certainly the kind of move we’ve come to expect from Twitter.

Way to deliver that “consistent experience”, Twitter. You certainly are making your users happy by reducing the services that Twitter can be used with.

Garmin Updates Their iOS Apps

Speaking of maps, Garmin has added public transit and Street View, both of which are critically absent from iOS 6’s new Maps app. It’s Garmin, and they know cartography. Sadly, it’s $40, and that’s the current discount price.

Stripe in Canada

Sheena Pakanati of Stripe:

Starting today, Stripe is publicly available for use by any individual or business based in Canada. It’s the exact same Stripe that we offer in the US: instant approval, all major card types accepted, the ability to accept payments from anyone in any country, and simple, flat pricing, without monthly fees.

This is so great.