Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2013

How Ballmer Missed the Tidal Shifts in Tech

The fallout and responses to Steve Ballmer’s departure have begun. First up, a great article from David Pogue, New York Times:

It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand why Microsoft missed these tidal shifts: It’s always been a PC company. It helped to create the PC revolution, its bread and butter was the PC — and so of course the company kept insisting that the PC was the future.

The Windows-everywhere approach favoured by Microsoft was never going to succeed. The massive sales of tablets have proved that consumers are more interested in finding a simple way to browse the web and check their email than Windows provides.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to Retire Within Twelve Months

Huge news out of Redmond today; not sure how I missed it:1

Microsoft Corp. today announced that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer has decided to retire as CEO within the next 12 months, upon the completion of a process to choose his successor. In the meantime, Ballmer will continue as CEO and will lead Microsoft through the next steps of its transformation to a devices and services company that empowers people for the activities they value most.

Ballmer has been a controversial, huge figure in tech. Whatever his missteps have been, I’ll miss him for being a livable buffoon. Maybe this will allow Microsoft to adopt a much more unified strategy, though.

  1. Oh, wait; I haven’t had any internet access for about 24 hours. ↩︎

AnandTech’s Nexus 7 Review

Par for the AnandTech course, this is probably the most comprehensive review of the Nexus 7 you’ll read. And it looks like one hell of a strong product. Yes, the iPad still has vastly more software built specifically for it, and yes, there are some teething issues with the Nexus’ touch layer; overall, however, it’s an excellent piece of hardware. I’m not keen on the 16:9 display, but I would love to see the panel (in a 4:3 ratio) in an iPad Mini.

Apple Buys Embark

Jessica Lessin:

Apple Inc. keeps snapping up mapping companies.

The latest: Embark Inc., a small Silicon Valley upstart that builds free transit apps to help smartphone users navigate public transportation.

You may remember Embark from their catchy-ass promo video; I certainly did.

Between this and Apple’s acquisition of Hopstop, I’m probably wrong with regards to their prospects of adding transit directions to Maps. I didn’t think it was probable before, as Google spent years trying to get data deals with major cities; now, I think it’s extremely likely that public transit directions are coming to Maps.

With any luck, bicycle directions are next on the list, too.

London & Amsterdam

The slow rate of posting this week combined with the odd times (if you live between, say, Portland and Halifax) is owing to two conditions:

  1. I’m in London and Amsterdam this week, and
  2. It’s the middle of August, and there isn’t really any news of note in the tech space.

Another reason, I suppose, is the relatively poor connection here. But that’s not a problem; London is vast, and I’m barely scratching its surface with twelve-hour days.

London Underground, Waterloo station. Canon Rebel XSi, 40mm pancake; edited in Aperture.

This post’s link goes to the Flickr set where I will post photos upon returning home.

Butterick’s Practical Typography for the Web

Via John Gruber comes this fantastic web-based book about how to set type specifically for pages on the web. While some typographical rules are pretty much universal, the web demands a comprehensive set of rules of its own; Butterick has delivered just such a guide. Tremendous.

Despite his (and others’) recommendations, however, I’m probably going to keep using 13-pixel Neue Helvetica here, because I am a terrible human being.

Easy on the Hooptedoodle

Elmore Leonard passed away today. In 2001, he wrote one of my favourite guides to writing:

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I still refer to this — in particular, this quote — from time to time. Leonard was a true great, and his influence on contemporary writing is profound.

David Miranda, Schedule 7, and the Danger That All Reporters Now Face

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian:

[David] Miranda was held for nine hours under schedule 7 of the UK’s terror laws, which give enormous discretion to stop, search and question people who have no connection with “terror”, as ordinarily understood. Suspects have no right to legal representation and may have their property confiscated for up to seven days. Under this measure – uniquely crafted for ports and airport transit areas – there are none of the checks and balances that apply once someone is in Britain proper. There is no need to arrest or charge anyone and there is no protection for journalists or their material. A transit lounge in Heathrow is a dangerous place to be.

A Gold iPhone

MG Siegler, TechCrunch:

It’s entirely possible that Apple decided to keep the focus on white and black (again, silver and slate) for the high-end model, while choosing more playful colors for the lower end. But some people, bored of black and white, may have opted for the 5C simply to add some color to their iLives. So the gold iPhone 5S (with a white front plate, one would assume) would seem to be a decent compromise in that scenario.

This is the most compelling argument I’ve heard yet for a gold iPhone. I certainly trust Apple’s taste, but remember that the gold iPod Mini was the shortest-lived colour for any iPod model. It, however, was far less subtle than the rumours surrounding this model.

Far, But Far From Far Enough

Pia Gadkari, BBC:

A crowdfunding campaign for the Ubuntu Edge smartphone has set a record for raising more money in pledges than any other such venture.

The London-based developer, Canonical, has generated $10,288,472 (about £6.6m) in pledges, passing the record set by Pebble smartwatches last year.

But with six days of its campaign left the company is far from reaching its funding goal of $32m.

An admirable goal, but I never thought it would make it; $32 million is an enormous lump of money. This, if anything, demonstrates that even a feature checklist as long as a horse’s *bleep, rooster crowing* simply isn’t compelling for a broader public.

The Limits of Google’s Openness

More on the Google/Microsoft/YouTube app shitshow, from Microsoft’s David Howard:

It seems to us that Google’s reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can’t give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting. The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it.

Them’s fightin’ words.

Cue Nelson “Ha Ha”

This is just too perfect. Jonathan Geller, of the Boy “Genius” Report, a few hours ago:

In line with our earlier exclusive report on Apple’s plans for its iOS 7 beta software, we can now confirm that the final beta software release for developers will take place next week.

*sound of a needle scratching on a record, followed by a sad trombone effect*

Beta six was just released. I love to see BGR get stuff wrong; my endorphin levels are superb, thanks in part to BGR consistently scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Google Blocks Microsoft’s New YouTube Windows Phone App

Tom Warren, the Verge:

Microsoft’s recently released YouTube application for Windows Phone is being blocked by Google. In a statement issued to The Verge, Google confirms that the application has been blocked for violating the terms of use. Despite the two companies collaborating on an app based on HTML5, Microsoft’s app is still breaking YouTube’s terms of use.

That’s right: Microsoft and Google built an app together, and Google blocked it for violating their Terms. I think my mind is about to touch the void.

It’s the Production Line, Stupid

Another stellar post from Craig Hockenberry, regarding an iPhone equipped with a larger display:

Basically, Apple creates a pipeline that produces devices at an amazing rate. And it’s a finely tuned machine with a lot of inertia. You don’t just walk in and say, “Hey, let’s change the screen!” Doing so would throw that machine out of balance: a new screen means that some of the components (like the headphone jack) don’t change, while others would (the case, for example.)

Wanna hear my crazy-as-shit idea?

An iPhone with a bigger display is real. It’s happening eventually. But to keep both the aesthetics of the product in check, and to ensure it stays pocketable, the bezels are tiny. Apple has filed patents for putting both a camera and speakers behind a display. As for the home button, the whole display pivots to click, like the trackpad in a MacBook. An iPhone’s display which uses the same pixel dimensions as the iPhone 5 but at the density of a retina iPad is only slightly larger than an iPhone 4S is overall, so an ultra-thin bezel would keep it pocketable.

It’s a crazy idea, but wouldn’t it be amazing?

Customer Acquisition and the Entry Level iPhone

Ben Bajarin, Techpinions:

To analyze Apple correctly we need to understand how the hardware plays into the software which plays into the services. Therefore we look at an entry level iPhone as a way to acquire new customers Apple finds valuable. I make this point specifically because I don’t believe a customer who just wants a “cheap” product is the kind of customer Apple wants or one that adds any value to a computing ecosystem. I say this because these customers don’t spend much if anything in app stores. These customers just want the cheapest data plans possible. These customers are unlikely to spend money on additional services, etc.


MG Siegler responds to the iOS 7 design update on the iCloud.com beta:

The problem is that it makes OS X (even Mavericks) look even more out of place now.

I disagree. I think OS X has looked very neutral since Leopard;1 iOS, on the other hand, is only beginning to look neutral with iOS 7. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t see something like this as more “in place” than the current OS X interface. I wouldn’t mind seeing OS X in Helvetica Neue, though, as retina displays encroach further into Apple’s lineup (it would make this site look at home, after all).

  1. Aside from the encroachment of linen, leather, etc. in the Lion days, all of which Mavericks removes. ↩︎

Cheap as in Computing

Lots of smart points regarding the design changes in iOS 7. First, Craig Hockenberry:

The visual simplification of iOS has led directly to a simplified implementation. As every developer knows, the less work your app does on a mobile device, the better it performs. It’s a lot easier now to make an app that feels fluid and uses less CPU and GPU resources.

Interesting take. iOS was already smooth, with scores of developers who had an appreciation for responsive and fluid applications. For that to be made easier for developers will produce an improvement for end users; put another way, if already have such a focus on an application’s performance, that will be magnified in iOS 7.

Hockenberry on Twitter:

Production time for iOS 7 icons is much lower, but doing design concepts takes A LOT more time. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy.

Think stylized, idealized, and simplified — all at the same time. Take a look at the difference between Xscope icons on iOS 6 and 7.

Then this, from Jeff Rock:

[W]hen I saw iOS 7 for the first time, I knew that all those techniques I’d developed over the last five years were toast. Background textures, text shadows, beloved one-pixel, pure-black, half-opacity, outer glow blend layers. A Dropbox full of custom-built iOS component PSDs. All bound for the virtual landfill.

It’s a brave new world of interface design. Apps which use the stock UIKit components will look refreshed on iOS 7 — certainly to a greater degree than apps using standard UIKit components in previous versions.

But apps which are more customized are going to have to consider an entirely new design language. Old apps will look, well, old on iOS 7; they’re too heavy and too dark for the bright, white language of updated apps. Luckily, Craig Hockenberry did some research into how many developers plan to update their apps for iOS 7. Spoiler: almost all. This is the kind of thing Apple can get away with. The development community surrounding iOS is extremely and uniquely strong.