Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Hands-on Preview

Dan Seifert, The Verge:

And, even though the Note 8.0 is a rather massive 210.8mm x 135.9mm device, you can indeed make and receive calls on it (the international 3G model, at least) with its integrated earpiece and microphone and phone app.

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all week, and I’ve been reading a lot of Forbes.

The False Burdens of Apple’s iOS

“iHKDesigns”:

So what about iOS? Does it have to be redesigned to stay pertinent? Well, seeing how many people buy iOS devices each quarter, I tend to think not. And people who expect iOS 7 to bring a complete redesign are going to be disappointed and write the “THIS TIME WE KNOW IT WILL REALLY HAPPEN APPLE IS DOOMED PLEASE BELIEVE US THIS TIME THE OTHER NINE TIMES WE HAVE SAID THAT IN THE PAST TWO YEARS WERE JUST MADE UP PLEASE BELIEVE US THIS TIME” articles. Apple hasn’t ever done that and I can say with absolute confidence that they won’t.

Point-Counterpoint

Ted Landau, for Macworld:

You may have essential apps on your Mac that do not exist for the iPad. You may not want your app choices to be limited only to what Apple permits in its App Store.

Still, for people who own both a desktop Mac and a laptop, I believe the day is soon approaching when most of them will give up their MacBooks for iPads. But the day when the iPad can replace every Mac is still not even on the horizon.

Shawn Blanc counterpoints:1

Which is why I think Ted — and anyone else who argues that the iPad cannot be a Mac replacement — is missing the point. The iPad isn’t meant to be a Mac replacement.

The iPad is a Mac alternative — and only if you want it to be.

Shawn’s points are really astute, but very subtle. Read carefully.

Joshua Topolsky Used Google Glass

Joshua Topolsky, of The Verge:

Human beings have developed a new problem since the advent of the iPhone and the following mobile revolution: no one is paying attention to anything they’re actually doing. Everyone seems to be looking down at something or through something. Those perfect moments watching your favorite band play or your kid’s recital are either being captured via the lens of a device that sits between you and the actual experience, or being interrupted by constant notifications. Pings from the outside world, breaking into what used to be whole, personal moments.

[Product director Steve Lee] goes on. “We wondered, what if we brought technology closer to your senses? Would that allow you to more quickly get information and connect with other people but do so in a way — with a design — that gets out of your way when you’re not interacting with technology? That’s sort of what led us to Glass.” I can’t stop looking at the lens above his right eye. “It’s a new wearable technology. It’s a very ambitious way to tackle this problem, but that’s really sort of the underpinning of why we worked on Glass.”

Of my questions and skepticism towards Glass, this has been my biggest. But it seems — at least according to Topolsky and the Google people — that reducing the friction in understanding information via technology actually improves the experience.

As I have mentioned many times previously, I’m still not comfortable talking to technology; this product probably isn’t right for me. But I’m more optimistic than I ever have been about it, and I’d love to give it a whirl.

A Summary of Today’s Attacks

Mat Honan, for Wired:

Customer service software provider Zendesk announced a security breach that allowed attackers into its system, where they could access data from three customers this week, Wired learned the the clients were Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr.

More on the Zendesk hack, from their blog:

Our ongoing investigation indicates that the hacker had access to the support information that three of our customers store on our system. We believe that the hacker downloaded email addresses of users who contacted those three customers for support, as well as support email subject lines.

The three customers they’re referring to are, per Honan, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr. The email addresses are probably going to be sold online to some spammer so they can offer you discount Viagra. Thanks, Zendesk.

Meanwhile, if you get your news from NBC.com, you might be interested to know that they succumbed to a Java vulnerability:

Brian Krebs, a former Washington Post reporter and well-known internet security expert who writes the blog Krebs on Security, told The Verge that the hackers inserted code into the NBC.com homepage. This caused visiting browsers to load pages from third-party sites that were compromised.

“The compromised sites tried to foist the Citadel Trojan, a variant of the Zeus Trojan,” Krebs said. The Zeus is a “sophisticated data theft tool that steals passwords and allows attackers to control machines remotely.”

You may want to seriously reconsider your need to run Java. At the very least, you should be using the Click to Plugin browser extension.

Schmiddty Predictions

Eric Schmidt, April 2010 (emphasis mine):

“The promise of Chrome and Chrome OS is that the devices that you give to your employees will have a two-second boot time, that they be completely disposable, and of course the price point is incredibly low.”

Maybe $1,300 for a browser looks like a low price point to you. Maybe you light your cigars with Benjamins. Maybe you’d like to buy me a condo in Midtown Manhattan.

Sony Gathers Journalists in a Room for Over Two Hours to Show Them Other People’s Videos

You know that bit during the middle of the WWDC keynote where Apple asks a few developers to demo their apps? The bit where everyone in the audience checks Twitter, and the people at home use the bathroom? This was two hours of that.

There are “Family Guy” jokes that end quicker than this keynote did. This was only succinct if measured on a geological time scale. There are archaeologists in the process of digging up the remains of the beginning of the keynote to study historical life. While this was theoretically the PlayStation 4 announcement, they failed to show any hardware (aside from the controller), didn’t offer a price, and vaguely gestured at a release date. There are Android tablet announcements at CES which have more details than this did.

“We’re About Defining the Future of Productivity, Entertainment, and Communication”

Jason Pontin of MIT’s Technology Review has a good interview with Steve Ballmer, revealing just how out-of-touch he is. Consider his responses to this straightforward series of questions (Pontin’s questions are italicized):

I understand Google’s vision for the future of computing. I know what Apple stands for. I used to understand what Microsoft stood for. I no longer know. What’s your vision for the company?

This question quintessentially is a question of altitude. So, in this context tell me what Google and Apple stand for, and I’ll give you the equivalent.

Google stands for indexing the world’s information in a useful fashion. That’s their claim to planetary utility. Steve Jobs said Apple made insanely great devices for consumers. That altitude.

At that level of altitude, I’ll give you the slogan, and then I’ll sort of put just a little meat on it. We empower people and businesses to realize their potential. And to expand, I would simply say we’re about defining the future of productivity, entertainment, and communication. In the new world, software is going to have to come in kind of an integrated form — or at least a well-designed form that includes cloud services and devices.

I didn’t understand any of that. I don’t think I’m stupid; I just think Steve Ballmer doesn’t understand what consumers want because he’s been in a board room for too many years. He appears to think of moms and dads like CEOs of a household. And Ballmer talking about design is laughable.

How the World Looks Through Glass

This video, part of Google’s new Glass rollout page, exemplifies everything both right and wrong with the product. It allows you to capture moments in a way that is far more immediate than a regular camera ever could. But, in the year of opt-out, it’s an intrusive way to view the world. You may not mind a pervasive user interface in your eye, but I don’t see this as a product I want to use.

There’s also an etiquette question. Right now, it’s quite obvious when you’re taking a photo or video. What happens when there’s a video camera on someone’s face that may or may not be recording at a given time?

Hands-On With the HTC One

I’ve long maintained that HTC is the only Android phone maker that actually cares about design. Part of it is because they cop quite a lot from Apple (I guess they’re trying to get their money’s worth), but there are some genuinely clever ideas here. The “Blink” home screen feed is a very clever take on what a home screen can be, and the “Zoe” camera mode.1

It’s a fairly massive phone, but it’s the best Android phone you will be able to buy. Probably.


  1. Short for zoetrope, presumably, and not to be confused with her, or them, or this↩︎

New York City MTA Graphic Standards Manual

Joe Clark:

I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual ever since Triborough managed to do so. This style manual, written by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda for Unimark, is the sword in the stone of transit wayfinding manuals.

The absolute exquisite standard for transit signage. Via John Gruber and, since he linked it, the 94 MB PDF download is a bit slow (but, oh my, is it worth the wait).

Apple Hit by Hackers

Apple PR, in a statement to The Loop:

“Apple has identified malware which infected a limited number of Mac systems through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers,”

Hackers are certainly getting a lot of mileage out of that vulnerability. Reuters reports that Apple was hit by the same group that targeted Facebook last week:

Facebook revealed on Friday that unidentified hackers traced to China had staged a sophisticated attack by infiltrating its employees’ laptops, but no user information was compromised.

Also revealed in the past few weeks were attacks targeted on the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. All of these have come from China; specifically, according to the Times, an office tower in Shanghai:

While Comment Crew has drained terabytes of data from companies like Coca-Cola, increasingly its focus is on companies involved in the critical infrastructure of the United States — its electrical power grid, gas lines and waterworks. According to the security researchers, one target was a company with remote access to more than 60 percent of oil and gas pipelines in North America. The unit was also among those that attacked the computer security firm RSA, whose computer codes protect confidential corporate and government databases.

If you want to see one of these hackers at work, The Next Web has a screen recording of just that. It’s fascinating, albeit scary, stuff.

Update: Contrary to Reuters‘ report, it appears that the Facebook, Apple, and Twitter malware originates in Eastern Europe, according to Bloomberg, not China.

Skipping Pebbles

“Smart” watches — wrist watches which integrate with your smartphone’s notifications and information — are the new hot category of product, apparently. One of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever was for the Pebble, which has finally begun shipping. The Starfish was a star at Macworld, if for the wrong reasons. And, lest we forget, Apple is rumoured to be developing their own watch. Despite their popularity, however, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to buy a smart watch.

I would wager that most people carry their smartphones in their pockets, which means that the current time is in your pants, as are your notifications. It’s has become socially acceptable to check your email, make a phone call, or read your tweets while you’re walking down the street. The watch has therefore taken the role of a functional accessory; there are other ways of telling time, but none classier than a beautiful watch.

The most stylish watch has long been one with an analog face. Digital watches mostly remain aesthetically-challenged, and aren’t suitable for wear with anything higher-end than a hoodie. While the design of the Pebble isn’t ugly by any means, it simply lacks the refinement and class of an analog watch. Everything from the materials to the craftsmanship are made evident with a Tissot, or a Breitling, or an Omega. They signify a refined taste (and a high credit limit) on behalf of the wearer, and a digital watch can’t compete with that. Neither, I suspect, can a smart watch.

There are other issues, too. While a glance at one’s wrist is arguable more acceptable in a meeting than a glance at a phone display, it’s still signifies a lack of focus and a desire to be elsewhere. I barely need to mention that neither is acceptable when you’re on a date, lest the person across from you think you’d rather be somewhere else.

When Nilay Patel reviewed the Pebble for The Verge, he explained the use situation rather well:

Any incoming notification will quietly buzz the Pebble and light up the screen. Frankly, it’s great — being able to see who’s texting, emailing, or calling you without looking at your phone changes the entire dynamic of being connected. The upside is obvious: only reaching for your phone when it’s something important means you reach for your phone much less often. (I particularly enjoy screening calls from my wrist.) The downside is that it’s harder to simply ignore your phone and let messages stack up while you focus on something else; having the Pebble buzz your wrist for every email and text means you’re hyper-aware of your inbox at all times.

Is reaching into your pocket a little less worth the hundred-odd dollars for a Pebble? That’s up to you to decide. Maybe Apple (or another company) can convince me that there’s a reason looking at my wrist is better than reaching into my pocket. As far as I can work out, however, it allows distraction in a decidedly unclassy way. I’ll skip it.

Addendum

It strikes me that I framed this the wrong way. Rather than make a prediction of what I may or may not like about a future technology, I should instead have established that I dislike the Pebble of today for those reasons. In a nut, then, it’s possible that I may purchase a smart watch in the future, but it needs to overcome the stigma associated with that category of products.

Online Content Producers Timeline

D’Arcy Norman:

I’ve been thinking about the Posterous shutdown, and about previous large-hosted-service shutdowns, going all the way back go Geocities. I think I’ve been so deep in the host-your-own-stuff world that I haven’t been seeing the larger context. Just because I host my stuff, and just because most of the people I know host some (or most) of their stuff, doesn’t mean that the rest of the online population does the same thing. But, how far out of whack are my feelings about the commonality of people managing their own stuff?

I’m not surprised that more people don’t host their own stuff, to their eventual disappointment. Tumblr is down frequently enough that it’s a liability to host anything but the most perfunctory information there. Due to their funding structure, Facebook and Blogger (owned by Google) have inherent privacy issues. It would be nearly impossible to build a decentralized version of Flickr, for instance, or Twitter, and experiments to that end have failed.

Part of the problem is the technical tedium of setting up a server, a domain name, software, and a database. People don’t want to set things up — they just want to go. Zero configuration is what’s required to gain traction in managing their own content. Even then, it’s unlikely that people will want to. No matter how much we bitch and moan about the demise of hosted services, we’ll keep using them.

Professional Grade

Shawn Blanc:

I believe Apple wants to improve iOS [by] removing some of the friction and frustration currently experienced with iCloud, maps, and more. And I also believe Apple wants iOS to be seen as a professional-grade operating system, worthy of “real work”.

Last year, Apple improved their hardware in the most incredible ways. This year, it’s all about software.

Google Will Open Its Own Stores by the End of the Year

Seth Weintraub, of the Google arm of the 9to5 franchise:

An extremely reliable source has confirmed to us that Google is in the process of building stand-alone retail stores in the U.S. and hopes to have the first flagship Google Stores open for the holidays in major metropolitan areas.

They should make the façades out of glass, and put some bare wooden tables in there.

This is a really smart move on Google’s part, though. I know where I’d take my iPhone if I dropped it; where do you take a malfunctioning or broken Nexus device or Chromebook?