Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October, 2012

It’s the Browser, Stupid

Russell Beattie:

But despite all this, and despite using Android for weeks without touching iOS at all, I was pretty happy the other day when I needed to test something and decided to pull my iPad out of it’s hiding place. First because it’s silly to own a $600 device and not use it, but second I could now use the iPad again with fresh eyes, and see what it is that makes it so much nicer to use than my Xoom. […]

No, there’s only one area where Android falls really, horribly, undeniably short when it comes to the tablet form factor: The web browser. It’s the most fundamental tablet app, IMHO, and yet the web experience on Android could not possibly be worse.

This might be the explanation for the vast discrepancy in browser usage between iOS and Android platforms.

Introducing Circa

A brand new news app from a brand new team:

Instead of articles, Circa presents news as a collection of details about a story: the facts, stats, quotes, pictures, maps, and more. These are the full stories, not summaries; summaries tend to compress stories and therefore lose details. Instead, each story on Circa has the same details you’d find in traditional articles, but broken down into individual chunks of information that are much easier to consume. It’s the facts, without the fluff.

It’s presenting complex information as flash cards, which is an interesting approach. I feel, however, that this loses the critical function of good journalism: the ability to put these facts, quotations, statistics, and ideas into context. This app and service provides plenty of information, but misses the human element.

A Space Shuttle on the Streets of Los Angeles

The space shuttle Endeavour is on its last mission today, a 12-mile creep through Los Angeles city streets on a 160-wheeled carrier. It is passing through neighborhoods and strip malls, headed toward its final destination, the California Science Center in South Los Angeles.

If you’re any kind of a reasonable human being, you’ll switch this to the 1,280px-width format for these stunning photos.

Some may see this as the death of a massive human—pardon me for this—endeavour, but look at it another way: in 2012, a man ran in the Olympics with totally prosthetic legs and feet, another man broke the sound barrier by jumping from over 38 kilometres above the planet, a team of scientists from all around the world flung a car packed with science from Earth to Mars, and another team discovered a particle with similar properties to the Higgs boson. All this has happened in the past 10 months.


The estimation from the live coverage earlier today was that Felix Baumgartner did not break the sound barrier. However, the post-jump data now suggests that he, a human being aided by nothing other than gravity, hit a top speed of Mach 1.24 on his descent, before being dangerously spun by the counterweight of his giant brass balls.

A Loyal Apple User

The Macalope takes just two paragraphs to destroy the notion that some people buy lots of Apple products because the company has mystical religious powers:

Apple does not build products that satisfy a feature checklist. It does not pointlessly jam in technologies that have little practical application (see: NFC). While you might be able to buy products in the same category for less, you often can’t buy name-brand products in the same category for less and you can never buy name-brand products with the same high build quality and user experience. Further, Apple products generally provide a lower cost of ownership.

This is why people buy Apple products. Because they provide value at their price point. Not because Steve Jobs put the voodoo on us. If you’re not going to address that argument—which we’ve made about a billion times—if you simply have no comeback for that, then just stop writing about Apple.

It’s about a finer thing that cannot be expressed simply by features, or price, or “openness”. It’s a total package which is more whole than what it is comprised of.

Apple’s iPad Mini Event to Have Strong iBooks Focus

This iPad Mini thing fascinates me. It’s a long-rumoured Apple product that has a perennial “coming soon” component (like the iPhone Mini, Apple Tablet of yore, and iPhone of 2001-2006), except this year, it seems like it’s going to be a real product.

The structure of such an event would be difficult to create, though. To introduce refreshed iMacs or Retina 13-inch MacBook Pros alongside an iOS device would likely be messy1, but demoing a slightly smaller iPad would be boring.

Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web has heard from “multiple sources” that the event is going to have a strong iBooks component. This makes much more sense, and is definitely something Eddy Cue can demo.

Also, count on a confirmed shipping date for iTunes 11. I think it’s going to be launched alongside the smaller iPad model, with some unannounced features. Note how the demo in September didn’t include a thorough walkthrough of the whole app. Only the music browser, music store, and mini player were demoed, and nothing else has been shown on the iTunes 11 page on Apple’s website. Some sort of desktop iBook viewer might be integrated, alongside a better syncing experience, and more information about a Windows version.

  1. I still think there’s a chance a refreshed iMac would be introduced, just not at the event. Spec bumps don’t need a demo. A Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro would likely need some sort of mention in the keynote, though, so I’m not sure how this is going to play out. ↩︎

Party On, Garth

Charles Kenny, for Foreign Policy magazine:

Working 24/7 isn’t the road to prosperity, much less happiness, and there are numbers to prove it. In fact, across rich countries, it turns out there’s no close link between the average hours people put in at the office and how much they make. So go ahead: Take that vacation.

There’s a certain culture, particularly within the tech industry, that’s obsessed with how many hours one puts into their job. Some people feel a sense of one-upmanship; that if they get to work at 8:00 in the morning and don’t leave until 10 at night, that it somehow makes them better, or more important, than those who stick to a 9-5 schedule.

I was talking with a colleague about the distinctly French attitude of working as little as is possible. They regarded that as lazy, and as a sign of weakness. I thought it was the smartest thing one can do. I love my job. I really, really do. But I prefer to spend as much of my time elsewhere as is possible, while still earning a living.


Totally awesome Toronto-based design firm Teehan+Lax have updated their infamous iOS interface Photoshop document for both iOS 6 and the iPhone 5, and it’s a huge improvement:

Those of you who have downloaded and used these files have probably noticed they’ve become quite bloated. As fast as our computers are today, they still get pretty sluggish when working in a document that contains tens of millions of pixels with hundreds of shape layers. This time around we focussed on making the file a bit more usable. It’s smaller in file size and has a reduced canvas making it quite a bit more manageable.

Their iPhone 4S/iOS 5 document weighs in at 46.5 MB, with a canvas size of 4,300 × 3,500 pixels. The updated document is just 38.4 MB, with a canvas of 3,000 × 3,000 pixels, yet it carries the same obnoxiously high level of detail that we’ve come to expect. This is still the absolute best tool to mock up a new interface.

Mark Your Calendars for October 23

In my speculative piece regarding the iPad Mini, I thought Apple would roll it out on October 26:

I think it’s scheduled to be announced at an event on October 17, with preorders starting on October 19, and shipping starting on October 26.

John Paczowski has the inside scoop (which has been yepped) that Apple’s event is October 23, so it looks that my schedule was about a week off.

But waiting until October 26 to begin preorders doesn’t sound right either. Their earnings call is the day prior, and they want something to talk about. Maybe they’ll keep preorders short, by beginning them after the unveiling, and they’ll begin shipping the new products on October 26.

The Second Leap

In light of Verizon’s recent ‘fuck you’ to their customers, this 2005 piece from Michael Lopp provides a good contrast:

[I]n all of these years of usage, I’ve never received a single IM spam. Not a single one.

Does this mean that AIM is secure? That they haven’t shared my personal information with telemarketers? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been eight years and I still consider my AIM account to be an invaluable communication resource.

The Magazine

Marco Arment has unveiled his Big New Thing after hinting at it over the past few weeks on Twitter: an entirely digital magazine, true to itself. In the foreword to issue one, he explains the concept of leaving behind the legacy of paper publication, while simultaneously avoiding the whiz-bang clutter that many magazines add to their iPad edition:

… The Magazine’s articles won’t be laid out separately for portrait and landscape orientations. Articles won’t have custom designs at all. You won’t see any infographics, slideshows, or interactive panoramas. These multimedia features can all be valuable, and they have their places in other publications, but not here.

The first issue looks stellar, and I can’t wait to see where this goes. At just $2 per month, and with two issues every month, it’s an inexpensive subscription for something very special.


Last year, I was quite critical of Apple’s then-current iPod Touch ad. I felt it lacked a certain x-factor of fun, or joy. Well, they’ve hit back in full force this year with a really fun ad for the entire line of iPods (read: that Apple cares about, meaning no iPod Classic).

The Verge Reviews the 2012 iPods

First up is Nilay Patel with the iPod Nano. Transcribed from the video review:

[The impression of it being a small iPhone] is carried over into the OS, which is called the ‘Nano OS’. It’s not iOS. And it’s strange: you can see that instead of rounded rectangles like on the iPhone and on the iPad, Apple’s using circles on the Nano to reinforce that it’s a different OS. Even the home button has a circle on it, which is truly strange.

“Truly strange”? I’d have thought it natural that the rounded square on the home buttons of iOS devices is a clear nod to the home screen icons, and likewise for the circle on the new Nano’s.

I think the new Nano looks strange. Not bad, necessarily, but unharmonious. The proportions and complex layering of design elements are an awkward fit with the rest of Apple’s product lineup. But, incredibly, they’ve managed to change it every generation. It’s their industrial design playground.

David Pierce has reviewed the new iPod Touch, and he questions the price of it:

But it all comes at a price: the touch is now $299-$399, depending on how much storage you get. There’s a lot packed into the tiny device, but is it worth the price when most of its competition, and many full-fledged smartphones, come so much cheaper?

I’m struggling to think of a smartphone with similar specs for $300, as just about every smartphone is around $500 unsubsidized. Yes, you can buy a carrier-subsidized phone, but you are paying full price for that phone with your 2-3 year contract. A $50+ bill every month simply isn’t viable for large swathes of people.

I agree with Pierce that the $199 last-generation Touch isn’t really a good compromise. But I think there is a market for a $300 iPhone-without-the-phone.

Writing With Miles Davis

Aaron Gilbreath:

It’s difficult to characterize music in simple, sweeping terms. Davis explored numerous styles in a catalog that spanned decades; change defined him as much as his Harmon mute. But in the 1950s he started moving away from the early bebop of his mentor and band mate Charlie Parker to explore a leaner sound. Rather than squeezing as many notes and changes into solos as possible, Davis dispensed with clutter and ornamentation and pared his mode of expression down to one defined as much by the notes and phrases he played as by the silences left between them.


iPad Mini Oddities

With all these crazy rumours going around, it must be time for a new Apple product. First up is 9to5 Mac researcher Sonny Dickson has posted convincing photos of an iPad mini to Instagram. It’s worth noting that he hasn’t posted any photos of the front of the device he’s obtained, which leads me to believe that it’s some sort of mockup device. Also, the model number on the back, A1416, is the current model number for the 10-inch iPad, and I doubt Apple would carry that model number over to a new line.

Charles Arthur of the Guardian has some significantly more likely information, aside from this:

Industry sources indicated to the Guardian that they do not expect to see 3G-capable versions of the iPad mini. That would allow Apple to produce it comparatively cheaply and to limit the top price of the product, while retaining mobile broadband connectivity for its pricier iPad line.

I would be extremely surprised if Apple doesn’t offer a cellular-capable version of this new iPad eventually. Perhaps they won’t offer it initially, similar to the approach they took with the first-generation iPad, but I’d expect one soon.

Arthur also wrote up this interesting rumour:

Sources also indicated that they expect Apple to refresh the iPad line by following up the introduction of the iPhone 5, which is 4G-capable in the UK through Everything Everywhere’s 1800MHz network – and from next September with Three – with revised versions using the same 1800MHz 4G chip and the new connector.

This might answer my speculation regarding a refresh of the currently-available iPad lineup. I wrote:

A new iPad has also showed up in a developer’s logs with an A6 chip. This is, I believe, the next generation of 10-inch iPad, but its “3,6″ designator suggests that it’s a relatively minor update. Like I said, I doubt they’d update the 10-inch at the same event with an A6 chip and Lightning connector, but it’s possible.

And, with the Guardian‘s report, it seems more likely now than when I wrote that on the weekend.

The Hidden Radio

Three years of development, a million-dollar Kickstarter campaign, and a year of waiting for the backers, among which Shawn Blanc is one:

At best it sounds a bit like a cheap boombox. At worst it sounds like a muffled, cheap boombox.

According to Blanc, it sounds bad, has connection issues, and isn’t as easily adjustable as originally portrayed in the initial campaign. Disappointing, I’m sure, for all of the backers who will be receiving their Hidden Radios over the next few weeks.

Stage Four: Depression

RIM is adhering to the Kübler-Ross model:

Research In Motion is not likely to launch the much-anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system software until March 2013, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek asserts in a research note. To date, the company has only said it expects to debut the first BB 10 devices in the calendar first quarter.

“We had hoped for a January launch but now see a March launch as more likely,” he writes. That would mean no sales of the next generation phones in the February quarter. “Also, our checks point to a tough November quarter, with replenishment rates decreasing as channel partners are cautious on holding RIM inventory. We think the business uncertainty means parties are unlikely to acquire or license from RIM until BB10 launches.”

Hipstamatic’s Lost Year Searching for the Next Killer Social App

Austin Carr has the fascinating inside story of Hipstamatic’s struggle over the past year for Fast Company:

Hipstamatic’s journey over the past year has been tumultuous, to say the least. As Fast Company has learned from speaking to more than a dozen players involved, Hipstamatic has wrestled with ever-growing social competition, internal tensions, and a lack of product vision–not to mention juggling acquisition interest and worsening term sheets in a post-Facebook IPO world.

Oddly enough, Hipstamatic is one of the only apps of its kind with a solid, simple business plan. They charge for the app, charge for add-ons, and have past partnerships with a variety of third parties. But the app seems to have entirely stalled. It’s a tool, not a network.

This is a three-part series, the first part of which is available today.