Friday, 31 December 2010

Where next for iPhone?

With the new year approaching, Cult of Mac invited me to speculate on what 2011 might mean for iPhone. Here's the article, originally published on Cult of Mac on 30th December, 2010.

Just six months have passed since the iPhone 4 launch, so it may seems a little premature to be speculating about its successor. But given the long lead times involved, you can bet that Steve Jobs’ A-team is already hard at it, toiling away in a maximum security lab, under his close personal supervision.

But where next for the iPhone? What can you add to the smartphone that has everything? With the growing competitive threat from Android, I think that Apple’s roadmap for iPhone in 2011 will switch from adding new features to product diversification, targeting multiple consumer segments and price points.

Instead of the iPhone 5, Apple will launch the iPhone Play and the iPhone Air. Here’s why…

The Android platform has two key advantages over iPhone: it offers consumers choice, and it offers handsets at entry-level prices. This gives Apple’s competitors a “price umbrella,” because the iPhone 4 is currently only competing at the high end, leaving the market for budget smart phones wide open. Apple attempts to address this by offering last year’s model, the iPhone 3GS, at a knockdown price. But who wants last year’s model? And besides, it doesn’t make you feel very good to buy a phone that Apple can hardly bring itself to promote on its own website.

Apple’s main advantage over Android is that the iOS platform is not fractured, with different screen sizes, processor speeds, UIs, etc. This benefits both consumers and app developers, who can be confident that their apps will run on pretty much any device. Therefore the way for Apple to differentiate its hardware is not in terms of system specs – these should be identical. Instead, I think Apple will focus on physical dimensions.

Adopting a super-slim wedge shape for the top-end model, in the style of the new MacBook Air, would create a phone that slips seamlessly into the pocket of a fancy suit, (albeit, this is hardly a sartorial consideration for Steve Jobs). Meanwhile, the entry-level model could focus on adopting the fun styling of the new iPod nano, bringing a choice of colors for the first time to the iPhone line.

For the mockup, I’ve called them “iPhone air” and “iPhone play”, because it feels like time to move away from the numbering scheme – especially since the two lines will need to differentiate. In terms of timings, my guess is it’s more likely that the iPhone play will launch in 2011, alongside the current iPhone 4. We might need to wait till 2012 for something like iPhone air.

Hope you like the mockups. Please note this is all just speculation, and is not based upon any sources or even rumors!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Top 10 reasons iPad is not a Mac/PC replacement

It has become fashionable to argue that the iPad is a laptop killer. Walt Mossberg kicked things off with his iPad review in March, and CNet's Brooke Crothers chimed in earlier this month.

As much as I love my iPad, and indeed all things Apple, I can't help thinking that this is crazy-talk. Sure, iPad is a great device for reading the odd e-mail and browsing the web, but when I hear people claiming it's all they need on their business trips, it makes me wonder how much work they really do when they're clocking up those frequent flyer miles.

iPad's lack of a physical keyboard and Flash support are the two shortcomings most commonly cited as differentiating it from a laptop, but these are just the most superficial and obvious shortcomings (although I accept that for some, the absence of Flash is an advantage rather than a shortcoming).

1. iTunes dependency
Put simply, an iPad can hardly replace a Mac/PC, when you need to connect it to a Mac/PC to turn it on (initially). At present, for setup, backup and system upgrades, you have no option but to sync with a Mac/PC.

2. No shared file system
The "Finder"/"Windows Explorer" is an essential component of a Mac/PC. But this feature is entirely absent on an iPad. In most cases, a file is only accessible from within the app that owns it. So, for example, to e-mail a document as an attachment, you must send it from the app that generated it, rather than directly from the Mail app itself. And if you want to download a PDF from Safari, to view later in another app, you're out of luck. It's also impossible to link between locally stored files, meaning iPad is currently useless to web developers, designers or serious spreadsheet users.

3. Limited document format support
iPad can do a reasonable job of viewing Microsoft Office files, but it is far from perfect. Oddly, support for viewing Apple's own iWork files is not perfect either. Apple has implemented a fraction of the formatting options that are available on the Mac version of iWork. So by amending a document on an iPad, you risk stripping away important formatting. In Pages, for example, paragraph borders and padding are missing. In Keynote, transitions on grouped objects are not implemented.

4. No file sharing
Options for transferring files on an iPad are limited to syncing via iTunes or sending via e-mail. MobileMe users may also use iDisk, and third party apps like Dropbox can help. But as yet, the simplest and most obvious solutions, such as regular file sharing via AFP for Mac and SMB for Windows are unavailable. Also missing is the ability to mount the iPad on your Mac/PC file system as a USB mass storage device to transfer files directly without having to use the cumbersome iTunes syncing method - even an iPod classic can do this!

5. Native file formats only
When opening MS Office or iWork files on an iPad, using Pages, Keynote and Numbers, the files must first be converted into a special iPad format, in order to appear in the relevant app. Consequently, in order to open them on a Mac or PC, they then have to be converted back. This is extremely cumbersome, and creates risks with version control, by duplicating files, rather than allowing you to work directly on a file on your iDisk or Dropbox.

8. Not extensible
Many have griped about iPad's lack of Adobe Flash support, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. iPad is not extensible in any way. Indeed, 3rd party developers are explicitly prohibited from developing shared frameworks, runtimes and libraries. So, not only is there no Flash, but no Java, no WMV, Silverlight, Apache, PHP, nor SQL. You can't even install your own fonts, which is a big shortcoming for a platform promoting graphics apps, such as Keynote.

9. No Terminal app
The Terminal app is one of the hidden gems of Mac OS X. Buried away in the utilities folder, it may not be very pretty, but if you learn how to use it, it can be incredibly powerful. Since iPad is based upon the same Unix as Mac OS X, (Darwin), it's a great shame that Apple doesn't provide us with a terminal app to take advantage of it.

10. Single-user only
While Mac OS X has excellent multi-user support, it is currently nonexistent on iOS, giving the operating system a strangely retro feel. In practice, this means when an iPad is shared in a household or office, everyone must use the same settings. No customization per user. No parental controls per user. No separating content per user. This isn't a problem on the iPhone, since phone are typically single-user devices, but the iOS should offer more on an iPad.

Please don't get me wrong, I love my iPad, and the recent developments in iOS 4.2 are very welcome. But let's be realistic, as yet, it's a long way away from becoming a Mac/PC replacement.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Economist on iPhone and iPad

For those who are interested, The Economist has just announced that its much anticipated iPhone and iPad apps are finally launching tomorrow - internationally. "Existing print or online subscribers will receive access to the full contents of each week’s issue".

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

iTunes web store and Android app

Update: it was just the Beatles after all. Ah well...

Yesterday's teaser on Apple's home page came completely out of the blue. It seems no one was expecting it. The teaser represents several notable departures from Apple's typical media management:
  • It only gives one day's notice, rather than a week
  • It's on their website, rather than e-mailed to selected journalists
  • It explicitly states it's about iTunes, rather than just hinting what it's about
  • It's happening at 10am New York time, rather than California time
  • Seemingly no media event ("Stevenote")
Some say that it's going to be the Beatles catalog, finally appearing on iTunes. While this is certainly long overdue, it would hardly be the kind of earth-shattering news that justifies the claim "you'll never forget." Any serious Beatles fans ripped their treasured CDs into iTunes years ago. Sure, maybe this will be an appetiser, but it's unlikely to be the entrée.

Other guesses include a new subscription service, or a cloud service. These seem implausible to me, simply because iTunes 10.1 was launched only last week, and another update would be required in order to push out these kind of feature.

So what could it be?

My money is on iTunes' finally opening up its ecosystem to support 3rd party devices. I've outlined this strategy before, which would be predicated on maintaining iTunes market dominating position, even as consumers move from dedicated MP3 players, of which iPod claims the lion's share, to smart phones, of which iPhone is one of many.

If this happens, we can expect to see a web-based version of the iTunes store launching, plus iTunes apps for Android, plus maybe Windows 7 Phone and Blackberry.

It may seem like a strange idea to provide iTunes on competitor platforms. Think of it as the "glass of ice water" strategy. It once seemed equally unlikely that Apple would give iTunes away free to Windows users. At AllThingsD in 2007, Steve Jobs explained it was like "giving a glass of ice water to people in hell." In fact, it's a beach-head into competitor territory - once people get used to using iTunes, their next gadget is more likely to have an Apple logo on it.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Mac Prediction's Greatest Hits

For those new to this blog, I thought it was worth recapping our greatest hits to date. Obviously, we don't always get it right, but this blog has had a pretty good track record of Apple predictions over the past four years - more so than most analysts that cover Apple. Hmm, why do I do this for fun, rather than earning a six figure salary on Wall Street? Oh, yeah, I hate wearing suits ;)

10.5 Finder, June 2007

Speculative mockup of a Finder window for 10.5 proved to be almost identical to the image that subsequently appeared on - right down to the document thumbnails used.

MacBook Air, January 2008

When Apple teased us with "There's something in the air" posters, we were the first to correctly call it. 9to5Mac even guessed that we were Apple insiders. Seriously.

5th generation iPod nano, May 2008

Two years before Apple launched the multi-touch 5th gen iPod nano, we published an almost identical image. Could Apple be following this blog?

iPad, April 2009

When most bloggers thought Apple's rumored tablet would be based upon Snow Leopard, we were one of the few to consistently predict a giant iPod touch - with a pretty accurate mockup published a full year before iPad's launch.

iPhone 4, March 2010

Our mockups were a little off on this one, but we nailed the name, when most pundits were guessing iPhone 4G or iPhone HD.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

New iPod nano - first impressions: where are the buttons?

I'm loving my new clippy iPod nano, (not least because, with a post on this blog over two years ago, I may have had a hand in designing it*). However, having road tested it for a few days now, I'm realizing it is far from perfect, and I rather wish that Apple had followed the ideas in my post more closely ;)

I use nanos for one thing, and one thing only. Running. I'm obsessed with Nike+. (I'm already at Black Level, which means I've clocked up over 3,100 miles). So I've put in quite a few hours of nano road testing in my time (385 hours, according to Nike+).

The nano has always been the only device really suited to using with Nike+. As any serious runners will know, iPhone and iPod touch are just too big, heavy and cumbersome. I had been hoping that Apple would integrate the Nike+ receiver into the new nano. This was not to be, and as you'll see from the picture above, it doesn't look pretty to plug the large receiver into this diminutive new nano. (No surprise they don't show you this image on

The great thing about the previous nano was the click wheel. It meant that you could pause and resume your workout without even needing to look at the display. Just let your thumb work its way to the bottom of the wheel and press. Equally, if you didn't like the song that was playing, you could cue the next song without any need to interrupt your run. And because of the complex combination of clicks and swipes required to end a workout, there was no risk of doing so prematurely.

Sadly, with the new touch screen nano, things are very different. Pausing a workout involves pressing a button to activate the display, waiting a couple of seconds for the screen to come on, and then looking at the display to locate a virtual button (because it's not a real button, you can't find where it is without looking). Resuming the workout involves looking at the display again, because the resume button is located quite closely to the end workout button - if you're not careful, you'll ruin your workout data with a careless tap.

All this matters, because when you're working out, you want to focus on what you're doing (running) not be fiddling with a gadget. Great user interfaces just seem to disappear, so that they enable you to perform the task without even thinking about it. The previous nano was like that. The new one will have runners fiddling on the sidewalk to pause their workout as they wait for the lights to change at a crossing.

It is ironic that in the same keynote where Apple was forced to eat humble pie and reinstate buttons to the shuffle, (effectively rolling back to the previous, much loved, design), they have taken buttons away from the nano.

In my original post, proposing a touch-screen shuffle, I positioned it as a shuffle rather than a fully fledged nano for precisely this reason - a nano needs buttons. Furthermore, the simple swipe and tap gestures I proposed did not require the user to look at the display when performing them, since they didn't involve precisely positioned virtual buttons. For what it's worth, I still think this would have been a better way to go.

On the positive side, the new nano is a great form factor for running, and the clip turns out the be very robust, and perfectly adequate for keeping the nano secure during an intensive run. My advice for next year would be for Apple to introduce four buttons around the bezel of the display. Then they'd have a practically perfect Nike+ companion.

* Note: I'm not saying I really think Apple took the new nano design from this blog - but I like the flatter myself with the idea that it could have influenced them.

Having used the new nano for a couple more weeks, I have more bad news to report. The clip is not as robust as I had previously thought, and has come detached more than once while I've been running. Fortunately, the ear bud cable has saved it from hitting the floor so far. Secondly, when the touch sensitive display brushes against damp clothes (which happens a lot when you're running), it is sometimes triggered accidentally - which can result in jumping between audio tracks (mildly annoying) and prematurely ending workouts (extremely annoying).

Sorry to say, but I've given up on my 6th gen nano. I really wanted to like it, but from tomorrow, I'll be switching back to my 5th gen version. As a point of interest, the 5th gen nano had two useful Nike+ features that have been removed from the 6th gen model: a month-to-view calendar, highlighting which days you worked out on, and a graphing feature that is actually better than the one on It'll be nice to have those features back again.

If you're thinking of getting a nano to use with Nike+, I recommend you try and find a 5th gen model - it's the best nano for working out that Apple ever made.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Prediction roundup for Wednesday's media event

It was over two years ago that MacPredictions originally predicted a tiny square shaped iPod with a clip and a multi-touch screen that displayed album art. The recent leak of an appropriately sized screen component and case make this now look virtually a certainty. If it does make an appearance on Wednesday, then I think I can honestly say, you saw it here first.

Then there's the new iPod touch. MacPredictions hit the nail on the head when we predicted that the new iPhone would be called simply iPhone 4. This may seem obvious now, but there were plenty of naysayers who pooh-poohed the name at the time. We were less accurate on our mockup of the new handset however, even though the image became insanely popular after it appeared on Cult of Mac and subsequently every geek site in the blogosphere. As it turned out, the iPhone 4 looked somewhat different, but I wouldn't be too surprised if Wednesday's new iPod touch turns out to be a dead ringer.

Finally, if the new iTV makes an appearance perhaps it will include a remote control like the one this blog predicted back in May, which was featured on Cult of Mac, and something rather similar appeared on 9to5Mac yesterday.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

iTunes for Android

With Apple's next media event scheduled for this Wednesday, attention turns to iPod and iTunes, which traditionally get their annual refresh at this time of year.

In contrast to the rude health of Apple's Mac, iPhone and iPad businesses, Apple's leadership in music is looking shakier than ever before. iPod sales have been flagging. Optimists would argue this is not a problem because it is symptomatic of the cannibalization of the music player market by the smart phone market, and iPhone sales are more than compensating for any dip in iPod revenue. This is certainly true, however, it hides a longer term uncertainty in Apple's business, since the smart phone market is fundamentally different to the music player business that it is replacing.

In the music player business, Apple enjoys a massive market leadership with its iPod line. As a result, they have also been able to dominate the music download business. However, despite the iPhone's success, it seems unlikely that Apple will ever be able to dominate smart phones in quite the same way. And as music downloads are increasingly being consumed on smart phones instead of dedicated music players, this presents a serious challenge to the dominance of iTunes.

Apple may choose to accept a long term decline in their market share for music downloads. After all, their almost monopolistic control of this market has become a little embarrassing, and sometimes limits their ability to negotiate with record labels who are often inclined to favor smaller rivals in order to level the playing field.

If, however, Apple is reluctant to relinquish their music market share without a fight, then one suprise announcement that we can expect to see on Wednesday will be iTunes for Android. This may seem an unlikely prospected, but if you cast your mind back a few years, iTunes for Windows would have seemed equally unlikely. It is a strategy that Steve Jobs has jokingly referred to as "a glass of ice water for people in hell". Give users on a competitor's platform a taste of how much better Apple products are, and they'll come back for more. iTunes for Android could be Apple's beachhead into the heart of Google's territory, leveraging their famed halo effect to take the battle to the new enemy.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Possible October "deathgrip" fix - speculation

I suspect that Apple is working on a contingency plan if antennagate doesn't blow over by the time the Free Bumper offer expires at the end of September.

This contingency would involve laminating the stainless steel band (or using some kind of polyimide varnish). However, since this is a significant change to the production process, it's not going to be ready until October. So they couldn't announce it at Friday's press conference, because it would impact short term sales of the current model.

Come October, if I'm right, they could offer a solution whereby current iPhone 4 owners can bring their phone in to an Apple Store to get its steel band laminated (or varnished) free of charge - although this process will inevitably require the phone to be off site for a few days, which will mitigate the number of users who take Apple up on the offer.

The delay of a couple of months will also give Apple time to evaluate if the media storm blows over. If, by mid-September, users have come to realize that this really isn't a major issue, and sales remain buoyant, they'll mothball their lamination/varnishing plans.

The above is only speculation, but it's much more plausible than Steve Jobs's "Eminem bandaid" theory ;)

The psychology of Antennagate

How groupthink, availability heuristic, nocebo and hypnosis have created a reality distortion field that is casting an unfair spotlight on the world's finest smartphone.

The blogosphere is charged with speculation that there may be a fundamental design flaw with the new iPhone 4, and yet on Friday, Steve Jobs took to the stage to argue that there were not any serious problems with the device. We have Jobs's word against that of a hoard of angry bloggers. They can't both be right, so what is going on?

It might seem reasonable to take the "no smoke without fire" approach, and conclude that thousands of angry bloggers can't all be wrong. There must be some truth to the allegations. After all, even Whoopi Goldberg had a tantrum with hers.

But to argue that thousands of bloggers can't be wrong is like arguing that thousands of lemmings can't be wrong. As James Surowiecki explains in The Wisdom of Crowds, large numbers of people tend to make better decisions, but only when those decisions are arrived at separately. When each member of the group is influenced by the others, they tend to coalesce into single viewpoint, steered by those who cry loudest, rather than those who think smartest. Or in other words, they succumb to "groupthink".

When you pit Steve Jobs, recently recognized by Fortune Magazine to be the smartest CEO in tech, against a hoard of bloggers who may have fallen victim to groupthink, it's a tougher call to determine who is right.

During Friday's press event, it was clear that Steve Jobs was furious - he seemed to be working really hard to maintain his composure as he took a skeptical bunch of tech journalists through the data, that evidently supported his argument. There isn't a real world problem with the iPhone 4. Groupthink can explain why so many people erroneously think that there is, but it doesn't explain where the idea originally came from.

I think Jobs hit the nail of the head when he said that they inadvertently put a bullseye on their phone. In launching the iPhone 4, Apple proudly highlighted how the stainless steel band around the device also functioned as an antenna system. Upon reflection, they would have been better advised not to draw people's attention to this. After all, this is a feature, but not a benefit. The benefit is the compact form factor of the device. In their desire to highlight the cleverness of their industrial design, they inadvertently handed a stick to their enemies to beat them with.

The iPhone 4 has a black line, clearly indicating the reception weak spot on the lower left-hand corner of the device. While all phones have week spots - it's an inevitable downside to having the antenna integrated into the body of the device - Apple have put a black line on theirs, which effectively is saying "x marks the spot". They had also made a great deal of noise about the antenna being revolutionary and new.

Consider that for months before the release of iPhone 4, people had been complaining about dropped calls on the previous iPhone. However, this was blamed upon the (long suffering) AT&T network. The release of iPhone 4, with its revolutionary antenna design and x-marks-the-spot weak spot, gave the moaners a new scapegoat. Suddenly, dropped calls previously blamed on AT&T were being blamed on antennagate - even though AT&T's actual data on dropped calls indicates no meaningful increasing in dropped calls for the new device.

This is an example of what psychologists refer to as the availability heuristic. Simply put, this is our tendency to favor explanations that are easy to recall, or to put it another way, "if you can think of it, it must be important". The availability heuristic is what makes some people scared of flying, because media coverage of rare events such as plane crashes make us believe that they are far more frequent than they actually are. In a similar way, when you're using your iPhone and you encounter a dropped call, you're going to blame it on AT&T if that's what the media has been blaming recently, or you'll blame it on antennagate if that's the media's new pet peeve. And of course, if, like in Whoopi's case, that dropped call came at precisely the wrong moment, you may chose to communicate your frustration through the media, further increasing people's awareness of the issue, and thus further increasing the salience of this explanation.

So, groupthink explains why so many people could be wrong, and the availability heuristic can explain where the idea came from and how it propagated. But there is one final ingredient to the psychological cocktail, that explains how the scale of the problem has become so out of proportion. Nocebo.

Nocebo is the evil twin brother of placebo. Everyone is familiar with the positive effects that patients sometimes experience from sham medicine, if they believe it will do them good. Nocebo is the other side of the same phenomenon, where patients experience negative side effects of a sham medicine, simply because they believe that they should experience them. It's a kind of self hypnosis. And like any kind of hypnosis, those who are most open to suggestion are most vulnerable to it.

And this brings us back to that black mark on the side of the iPhone. In an early response to the emerging media-storm, Jobs personally responded to one customer e-mail by saying "don't hold your phone that way." The problem with this instruction is that our unconscious mind does not process negative operators. The hypnotic message is clear: "hold your phone that way." The black line greatly exacerbates the problem. If you tell someone not to hold their phone in a way that grips the black spot, they'll find it almost impossible not to. Quite quickly, it will seem like the only way that they can hold their phone. Derren Brown built an entire career on this phenomenon.

And so, like the nocebo effect, where a fake pill can cause very real side effects, a very minor problem with the iPhone's reception can become a very major problem, when the user's attention is drawn to it.

Where does this leave us? If the causes of antennagate are more in the mind than the antenna, does this mean that Apple is off the hook? Maybe not - it wouldn't be the first time that groupthink has resulted in disastrous consequences. America's failure to anticipate Pearl Harbour is widely blamed on groupthink. As is the current economic crisis. In comparison, antennagate would be a relatively trivial example. But that doesn't make it any less of a problem for Apple. On Friday the company attempted to address the issue with the facts. But facts aren't very useful when the problem is a psychological one. The issue needs to be addressed at an emotional level. A good starting point would be for Apple's PR team to read Drew Westin's brilliant book, The Political Brain, which provides a convincing account of how Al Gore lost a presidential election, while Barack Obama won one. Apple needs to become less like Gore, and more like Obama if they want to win back the hearts and minds of the blogosphere.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

iPhone 4 reception issues and spoon bending

This phenomenon of people sending their home movies of iPhone 4 reception issues to impartial reporters Gizmodo reminds me more than anything of Uri Geller and spoon bending.

Geller, if you recall, used to make frequent TV appearances where he would empower people at home to bend cutlery using nothing more than their minds. Thousands of kids (of all ages) across the country would phone in, claiming that they too were able to bend a spoon with their minds, (when in practice, the application of manual force was the explanation that best matched Occam's razor).

While there may be a drop in reception in certain conditions: if you hold the phone in certain ways; if you have particularly sweaty palms; etc., I suspect that for most users, in most contexts, this is not a problem. And since, in sensitive reception areas, simply moving the phone as you pick it up can have an effect on signal strength, making an evidence video for Gizmodo needn't be much of a challenge.

But if there isn't a real problem, how do we account for the fact that so many people are sending in video evidence? Are they all crazy, like the physics-defying spoon benders?

Well consider this. In order to make one of these videos, you need to own an iPhone 4, and in order to be in possession of such a device this particular weekend, you need to have either found one "left behind" in a bar, or have been willing to stand in line for hours, just to be the first to own a phone that will be freely available in a few weeks time.

Draw your own conclusions.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

PCs are not trucks. They're gas stations.

I love listening to Steve Jobs. If that makes me a "fan-boy" then so be it.

Much of his genius is as a technology visionary, but there's more to it than that. There's his flair for PR as well, which is lazily referred to by hackneyed journalists as his "reality distortion field". In practice, this means that you need to take care to separate the candid visionary stuff from the carefully crafted spin.

Maybe that's why Kara Swisher was glowering so disturbingly throughout her moment of fame interviewing Steve Jobs at this week's All Things D conference. She didn't want to let Jobs get away with anything, like the time he said people didn't want to watch videos on MP3 players, only to release a video iPod 12 months later. Or the time he said that tablet computers were a gimmick for rich people, only to release the iPad a couple of years later. Steve Jobs's answers are always factually correct, but he can be the king of misdirection when he chooses.

In a wide ranging discussion this week, Kara, Walt and Steve touched on many fascinating topics. Jobs illustrated how he has mastered his temper, learned to take a breath and then deliver a devastating, targeted blow in response, as Gizmodo and Flurry now know to their cost. Goodness only knows what kind of retaliation is heading Google's way, but I wouldn't take Jobs's remark that "just because we are competing with somebody, doesn't mean we have to be rude," at face value. Sure he won't be rude, as he politely lobs a grenade at them.

But perhaps their most interesting topic of conversation was the future of the PC, and the potential for tablet devices, like the iPad, to replace it. Job's take on this was that the age of the PC is almost over, (and in this context, by "PC" he includes Macs too.) Jobs argues that for most users, they will increasingly be replaced by mobile devices like iPads and iPhones. PCs will still be around, but they'll be like trucks - only driven by those who really need that kind of heavy lifting.

The next day, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer, who was also at All Things D, was asked to comment on Jobs's prediction. He argued that Jobs's vision was a little self-serving, given that he had lost the battle over PCs, and was now heavily invested in mobile devices. Ballmer was equally self-serving, however, when he went on to define any digital device that does not fit into one's pocket as a PC.

Having used an iPad for several weeks, I am now convinced that it could replace the PC in many contexts, but there is still something about Jobs's prediction that doesn't ring true - at least not yet. If a new generation of computer users are going to forsake PCs and Macs in favor of iPad's, what are they going to do the first time they switch on their new iPad and find it is insisting on being connected to iTunes before you can start using it?

This is not a facetious question. It is hard to see how an iPad can replace a PC when it has so many dependancies upon PCs. Photos can be viewed on an iPad, but must be managed on iPhoto. Music can be played on an iPad, but smart playlists can only be created on a PC. Videos and songs can be purchased on an iPad, but can only be backed up on transferred to an iPod or iPhone via a PC.

You might say that these are just small details that can be addressed over time, but they are indicative of an underlying approach to the iPad OS, modeled as it is on the iPhone OS, which makes the assumption that it is a companion to a PC, not a replacement. Far from becoming trucks, this positions PCs as gas stations that are essentially for filling up iPads that are out and about on the roads.

Next week, at Apple's WWDC conference, Jobs looks set to unveil a major overhaul of their cloud-based MobileMe service, which is rumored to be moving to a fremium model. Doubtless services for iPad, including a new MobileMe iPad app, will be at heart of the new offering. And MobileMe me looks like the most promising solution to remove iPad's dependence on the PC over time. But it will be a while before Apple can be rid of that pesky "Connect to iTunes" launch screen. The PC looks likely to continue to perform the function of gas station for a while longer, before it finally fulfils Jobs's vision and becomes a truck.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

New Apple Remote with Multi-Touch and Bluetooth

Here's a fun idea. To coincide with the anticipated launch of Apple TV "Take 3," we can expect the launch of a new Apple Remote. The current model, sports a spiffy new brushed metal enclosure and one additional button (separating "Play" from "Select") but it is otherwise identical to the original Apple Remote, launched way back in 2005. It's based upon infrared, which feels increasingly outdated in a Bluetooth world, and while it sports far fewer buttons than competitor remotes, it still seems to bristle with buttons when compared to an iPhone, iPad, Magic Mouse or iPod shuffle. Its fiddly form factor is also arguably one of the weaker aspects of the Apple TV user experience.

With Engadget reporting that Apple TV Take 3 will be based upon the iPhone OS, we can assume that multi-touch and an accelerometer will be at the heart of the new experience. This suggests an entirely new approach to the remote control - a kind of hybrid between an iPhone, a Magic Mouse and a Wiimote - which we've mocked up above, for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Apple versus Adobe

What does it mean? Who is in the right, and who is going to win?

At first glance, the high profile skirmish between Apple and Adobe appears to be nothing more than two big corporates fighting hard for a competitive advantage. But both parties are arguing that their positions represent more than just naked ambition. Apple claims to be safeguarding the interests of their users, while Adobe claims it has the moral high ground, as if the right to use Flash is akin to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

At the heart of the argument are two dichotomies:
  • Devices versus content
  • User versus developers
Devices versus content

Put simply, Apple's vision is one of proprietary devices accessing content in open formats, whereas Adobe is arguing for open device platforms accessing content in proprietary formats. In this respect, there's certainly a lot of self interest going on in both camps.

Apple makes the vast majority of their income from selling devices, (they've long argued that they make little money on selling content, seeing this as a means to an end in making their devices attractive). Open device platforms like Android are a threat to Apple because they commoditize innovation (often Apple's own innovation, such as multi-touch), making it widely and cheaply available and taking value out of the market, and market share away from Apple, as a consequence.

Open standards for content, on the other hand, are good news for Apple, since they add value to Apple's devices by enabling them to interoperate with other platforms. Contrary to received wisdom, Apple has been a consistent promoter of such standards. Mac OS X supports more file sharing standards than any other client OS. iPod's early success was in part due to its support of MP3, when competitors such as Sony were promoting proprietary forms. And today, with their use of H.264 video and AAC audio, they are continuing this tradition. Apple's visionary development the WebKit project has been pivotal in driving the adoption of web standards for mobile devices through the industry.

Users versus developers

From Adobe's perspective, however, things look very different. Flash was an early pioneer of interactivity online. Open standards for content, such as HTML5 and JavaScript commoditize this innovation, eliminating the need for the Flash plugin. But Adobe is not really concerned with end users, since this is not where they make their money. Adobe monetizes Flash by selling expensive authoring tools to developers. In the past, a key benefit to developers has been the ability to "write once, run anywhere". In other words, if you develop using Apple or Microsoft's tools, your app will only work on one platform. If you develop in Flash, it will work on all of them. Apple's new found truculence has undermined this proposition.

So who wins the moral argument?

While developers are important to a platform, at the end of the day, without users, there is no platform. It is all about the user. They lie at the end of the value chain, and it is therefore their behavior that will shape the entire market. This leads me to favor Apple's argument over Adobe's, since Apple is concerned with the needs of the end user, while Adobe is concerned with the developer.

If we were to test the argument in Adobe's moralistic terms, their position seems fairly weak from the end user's perspective. No user has ever been forced to use an Apple product, after all. If you don't like Macs, you can use PCs. If you don't like iPod, there are Zunes. If you don't like iPhones there are any number of other choices. However, users are forced to use Adobe's products all the time. If you want to watch the BBC iPlayer or Hulu, you must install Adobe Flash and Adobe Air. If you want to deal with the government, you're going to need Adobe Reader.

As such, the "moral" argument, if there is one, is surely on Apple's side. Adobe's argument simply amounts to offering developers a cost saving at the expense of locking in end users.

And who will prevail?

Ultimately, this battle will be won or lost on end user sentiment, and right now things don't look good for Adobe. If Flash was so important, then the iPad wouldn't be.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

iPhone 4G running iPhone OS 4.0

Last week's preview of iPhone OS 4.0 gives us more clues of what to expect from the new iPhone 4, (or iPhone 4G, or iPhone HD, whichever you prefer). The v4 home screen now looks very similar to that of the iPad, and if John Gruber of Daring Fireball is right about double resolution displays, we can expect the icons to be similarly spaced out as well.

We've mocked up how we believe it would appear on a 600 x 900 display. Of course, the great thing about double-resolution is that apps not yet adapted to take advantage of the iPhone 4's double density display can simply run in a pixel-doubling mode, (i.e. at half the resolution).

We've also made a couple of minor corrections to our iPhone 4 mockup: moving the volume to the left-hand side, and moving the antenna to the bottom. Thanks to the many people who picked up on these errors from the previous visuals.

As usual, these mockups are just speculation, for fun. Any suggestions/corrections, please send them in.

Click on the screen mockup for a full size render.

Google versus Apple ≠ Standards versus Proprietary

Over the last few months, Apple and Google have switched from being brothers in arms to mortal enemies. The media frames this battle as one of Google championing open standards, with Apple as the proponent of locked-down proprietary technology. But despite their fiery feud, the similarity between the two companies is striking.

For years, Google has championed open standards, and this position makes perfect sense. After all, Google depends upon the openness of the Web: if developers were ever to abandon HTML in favor of a proprietary format like Flash, Google would no longer be able to serve its search results.

Open standards are also important to Apple: they played a critical role in the company's much celebrated comeback from near collapse in 1997. Back then, everyone wanted to use Windows applications. The Mac was not Windows compatible, and therefore it seemed doomed. But the Internet came to the rescue with two killer apps: e-mail and Web. Since these were based on open standards, rather than proprietary Microsoft technology, it didn't matter whether you used a Mac or a PC. Suddenly, Apple was back in the game.

In other words, open standards saved Apple and made Google possible. But now, Apple is pushing proprietary App Store apps instead of the Web, and Google is pushing Android marketplace and (stunningly) this week even the Flash plugin.

So what is going on?

Small companies tend to like standards, because they provide an opportunity to compete on a level playing field with the big guys. But when a company grows sufficiently large, proprietary technology becomes attractive, because it locks in customers and locks out competitors. This is what Google's idealistic founders and much of the blogosphere describe as "evil".

But the motivation behind the promotion of proprietary technology is not always evil. Standards may be great for technologies that have already become obvious, mainstream and commoditized, like file sharing, word processing and movie streaming, but they'll never be at the cutting edge of innovation. There are two reasons for this: it is difficult to achieve an industry consensus around a new idea, and there is little incentive for businesses to invest in public domain innovation.

So new ideas, like Apple's multi-touch interface, tend to emerge from proprietary vendors instead. Over time, if these ideas become popular, other vendors develop alternative implementations, and eventually industry consensus will coalesce around an open standard. Which is precisely what happened when the Web replaced proprietary forerunners like AOL, MSN and CompuServe. This is essentially how intellectual property has always worked. Innovators get a temporary monopoly to reap the rewards of their hard work, but eventually, their innovation enters the public domain, so that everyone can freely benefit from it.

With this in mind, the issues underlying the battle between Google and Apple become clearer. Superficially, it may seem like Apple is the villain, pushing proprietary technology, while Google champions openness, but they have far more in common than that. Both companies want the Web to remain open and standards based. Without it, iPhones and iPads would be impossible (we'd still be locked into Windows) and Google would not be able to deliver its search results (we'd still be stuck in AOL's walled garden). But both companies are dependent upon proprietary technology to give them their cutting edge. Apple's proprietary technology is obvious for all to see - you can hold their gadgets in your hands. But don't forget all the proprietary secrets hoarded at the Googleplex. Let's be honest, Google are not about to share their search engine algorithms any time soon.

So, both companies depend on underlying standards, but the proprietary layer they build on top of those standards is where the innovation lies, and where they derive their income. Google and Apple's fight is over who will control this proprietary layer. Both companies recognize that what is proprietary today will be a standard tomorrow - you have to make hay while you can, and then move on to the next innovation. This is in marked contrast to Microsoft, who still seems to expect to earn income today from yesterday's innovations. The underlying open standards of the Internet that has put pay to that "evil" aspiration. It hasn't worked for Microsoft, and you needn't worry about Apple or Google attempting it any time soon.

Monday, 5 April 2010

iPhone OS 4… and iPhone 4?

Well - Apple hasn't wasted any time. With the blogosphere still twitching from the iPad launch, they've dropped another invite-bomb on us, (although MacPredictions was obviously not on the guest list!)

As the image from the invite (above) clearly shows, we'll be getting a sneak preview of the iPhone 4.0 operating system on Thursday 8th.

This design is a bit of a departure for Apple, graphically speaking. We haven't seen this sort of bold, abstract typographic layout since the early packaging of Mac OS X. Clearly, in terms of branding, Apple is planning to major on the number 4, which gives further credence to the prediction we made last week that the new iPhone would be called simply "iPhone 4". The blue background is another departure for Apple, and could hint at a whole new visual style for iPhone 4 marketing.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

iPhone 4 - A+ update with aluminum unibody enclosure (mockup)

Two things have become apparent in the smart phone sector over the past few months. Android is here to stay, and Palm is not.

But the demise of an erstwhile foe does not afford Apple the luxury of cooling their heels. Android continues to gather momentum, and while it lacks iPhone's content and elegance, it is starting to match Apple's offering in terms of features.

It is therefore critical for Apple to leap ahead of the competition once again this summer, with the launch of their forth generation iPhone. Steve himself is reported to have promised Apple staff at a town hall meeting that it would be an "A+ update". But what can we expect from the new device? What's left on the to-do list? (Actually "to-dos," or tasks would be a great start).

Firstly, let's get the name out of the way. Since this phone will be the 4th generation, and it will be running the 4.0 OS, the odds are it will simply be called iPhone 4. (It's unlikely to be called iPhone 4G, since it won't support 4G mobile networks, and this whole "3GS" thing is getting unwieldy, and more like a complicated Sony product name than an elegant Apple one).

Secondly, enclosure. I was never a fan of the iPhone 3G enclosure - to me it's always looked tacky. The use of plastics is eminently practical in terms of signal strength, but they look terrible, and feel cheap in the hand. It seems likely that Apple will find a way to introduce an aluminum unibody enclosure to the iPhone 4, tying into the look of the rest of their mobile range. From a marketing perspective, it would be wise to key into the look of the new iPad and MacBooks, and from a sales perspective it's key for iPhone 4 to be a clearly radical departure if it's going to generate sales from previous iPhone owners.

Perhaps we can also finally expect to see that elusive front-mounted camera. And given that the iPhone OS now supports multiple resolutions, a higher resolution screen is also eminently possible. Perhaps we'll even be able to pinch and zoom the icons on the Springboard. A higher resolution screen also makes dashboard widgets for the default Springboard screen more likely - it's hard to believe that Apple will sit by while Android and Windows Phone 7 Series are enjoying this feature.

So, for what it's worth, MacPredictions presents this entirely speculative mockup of the iPhone 4. Hopefully it will give those of us in the "rest of the world" something to different to think about while all you Americans are enjoying your shiny new iPads next week.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Dashboard for iPad

Kevin Fox (via Mac Rumors) has made the insightful observation that several apps are missing from the iPad visuals on, and that what all the missing apps have in common is that there is an equivalent Dashboard widget for them in Mac OS X. He therefore concludes, (convincingly in my opinion) that Apple is keeping a few more surprising up its sleeve for the iPad launch, and that one of them is probably Dashboard for iPad.

This would be a smart move on Apple's part. There are already thousands of Mac Dashboard widgets in existence for Mac OS X, and since they're written in HTML/CSS and JavaScript, they don't need to be re-compiled for the iPad's ARM architecture - they can just run out of the box. So the barrier to entry to developing a Dashboard widget is much lower than that of a fully fledged iPhone app, and it is likely to prompt a mini-renaissance in widget development. This is great news for the iPad, and good news for Mac users, who should also see the benefit.

Of course, the question is, how will Dashboard be implemented? As a stand-alone app, as a part of the Springboard app (home screen), or as a system-wide resource that can be accessed while another app is running in the background. The latter scenario is obviously the one most favoured by those hankering for any conscession towards "multitasking" (or more correctly, running multiple apps concurrently).

It's plausible that Apple may implement Dashboard as a system-wide service to be invoked in front of the active app. After all, the neat thing about Dashboard is that it's one process, which is running multiple gadget threads - so it can be implemented in a way that's pretty efficient in terms of processor cycles. However, the downside of this approach is that you might inadvertently trigger the Dashboard when you're in the middle of some other task - like playing a game.

I think it's more likely that Apple will introduce Dashboard as a part of the Springboard (home screen). While you can scroll from left to right to access Spotlight and the icon grids, I suspect that you will access Dashboard by scrolling down. And since Springboard remembers your state when you return to it, this means that you could have Dashboard appearing as your home screen every time you turn your iPad on.

The final touch would be to enable Mac users to sync the Dashboard widgets on their Mac with their iPad. Nice.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Comment: WIRED Magazine is leading the retreat of the publishing industry from the Web

Was I alone in being baffled by reports of the magazine industry getting hot under the collar about Apple's revenue model for the App Store, and renewed excitement about Adobe's Flash and Acrobat Reader? All this fuss seems so pointless when the future of digital publishing was already solved way back in 1990 with the invention of the World Wide Web.

I should declare an interest here. I run a Web design and build agency. I believe in the Web and I always have done. This might seem like a strange thing to say - like believing in the merits of breathing, eating and sleeping. The benefits of the Web are so self evident, and it has been adopted so widely that you would think that the technology hardly needs advocates.

But apparently this is not the case. This month, WIRED Magazine's UK edition declared that HTML is a "clunky" language. Their US Creative Director Scott Dadich is instead advocating a proprietary format for the iPad version of WIRED magazine, based on Adobe's Flash, Air and PDF technologies, which will apparently enable them "to retain control of the quality of the product in a way we weren't able to do with HTML". This is wrong in so many ways.

It is shocking and ironic for WIRED Magazine to reveal such an ignorance for the Web, and what it represents. HTML is not a "clunky" language*. It is a clean, simple, elegant document format that introduced two key concepts: hypertext and interoperability.
  • Hypertext revolutionised the written word with the concept of hyperlinks (otherwise known as "links"), enabling words within a passage of text to link to text on separate pages, within separate documents stored on separate servers in separate geographies.
  • Interoperability means that you could read any page on the Web with one piece of software - a Web browser. Gone were the days of not being able to read Mac files on a PC, Word files in Word Perfect, or whatever.
Without these two key developments, the web would never have taken off, and Google would never have been possible. For everything that is wonderful about the Web today, we must thank HTML.

Newspaper and magazine publishers recognised the Web as a disruptive technology that represented both an opportunity and a threat. They could see that writing on the Web was the writing on the wall for print-based publishing. It threatened their advertising sales, and circulation revenue. Plus, the democratising nature of the web meant that editors would be forced to come down from their ivory towers to occupy the same media as amateur bloggers. How ghastly.

So, reluctantly, magazines and newspapers set up their websites, usually in the form of a second rate version of their print publication. The mediocrity of these sites meant that they largely failed to attract an audience and advertisers. Few sites dared to charge subscription fees, and those that did tended to adopt a "freemium" model where much of their content was free, but some content resided behind a paywall. And that was it. They waited, watching their print circulation dwindle, and hoping for a salvation that would never come.

Then, one day, Steve Jobs uttered the word "iPad", and the slumbering publishing industry twitched back to life. Was Steve going to be their knight in shining armour, dashing to their rescue as he had done for the music industry, when he saved them from Napster? The simple answer is "no". While Apple is somewhat interested in selling digital books, they have shown no interest in creating a digital magazine store. But of course, publishers are welcome to create their own iPad Apps if they wish.

Adobe, on the other hand, is in the same boat as the publishing industry. Their business is predicated on propriety locked-in formats such as Flash and Acrobat, which have increasingly become redundant as HTML has gone from strength to strength. With the advent of HTML5, there will soon be no need for Flash, as users increasingly adopt modern HTML5 capable web browsers like Safari and Chrome.

Several publishing companies have demoed their vision for electronic magazines. In every case, they have essentially been the same thing: repurposed print layouts in PDF and Flash, with embedded video, which can only be browsed in a linear way, like an old fashioned magazine. Hardly visionary. Worse still, since Flash publications are locked into a binary, proprietary format, the core principles of the web - linking and interoperability - are broken. I can see why this model is appealing to editors and art directors, since it gives them a kind of control that simply doesn't existing on the Web: precision layouts, undivided reader attention, and user feedback restricted to a few stately "Sir!" epistles on the letters page. Heaven forbid that their pristine PDF pages should be tarnished with messy hyperlinks and user generated content.

But that boat sailed a long time ago. The Web is already a fact of life, and publishers can't afford to hide from it, cowering behind Adobe's back. They need to respond to it. They need to be bold. There is no rule that says how a Web page should look. Scott Dadich is a very talented designer - if he believes that WIRED's digital publication should look more funky, then he should focus on their website. With HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, there really is no limit to what is possible. And if publishing is not sustainable without revenue from subscriptions, then it is time to start looking for ways to charge users for content - on the Web, not on iPad apps or Adobe abominations.

True publishing visionaries will embrace the Web - not avoid it.

* albeit, it has been used in clumsy ways in the past, but the days of table-based layouts are now long-gone.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

News Flash: Apple to launch iPad solution for magazine and newspaper publishers

One feature of Apple's hotly anticipated new iPad that has gone largely unnoticed is that, in addition to the iBook Store, Apple is bundling an application for magazine and newspaper publishers that enables them to distribute their content as well. Periodicals can be richly formatted, including video and color imagery, taking full advantage of Apple's multi-touch interface. Publishers may choose to distribute their content for free, or charge for single issues or subscriptions. What's more, Apple will not be charging an agency fee - publishers may keep all revenue for themselves. These electronic magazines will be built upon an open standard, which means content developed for the iPad can be easily accessed on other devices.

Newspapers and magazines are hesitant about adopting this technology, however. One source said "I don't know, it just seems too easy, too obvious somehow. There's got to be a catch. We prefer to do our own thing. We got our guys in the studio to put together this great mockup in Flash. Neat huh?"

Apple's new solution for magazine publishers will be called Safari, and is expected to ship pre-installed on every new iPad.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Why is Steve Jobs shopping at The Gap for his new gadget?

Some supporters of creationism argue that any gap in the fossil record undermines the evidential basis for evolution. So if no fossil has been found that is a perfect fit between homo sapien and neanderthal, they argue that no link exists. The irony is that when such a specimen is eventually found, there are two new gaps - two missing links where before there was one.

And so it is with Apple's new iPad. During Steve Job's presentation for the iPad launch, he showed a slide with a mobile phone on the left, a laptop on the right, and a gap in the middle, and raised the rhetorical question of what should go in the gap. He then argued that Apple's competitors had attempted to plug this gap with netbooks, only to reject this solution. The netbook is apparently not the missing link. Instead, Jobs argued, anything that plugged this gap would have to do some things far better than either a mobile phone or a laptop. With his highly polished showmanship, he then revealed the iPad as the true missing link to plug this gap.

This argument is built upon four questionable presuppositions:
  1. There is a continuum of device types, with phones at one end and laptops at the other;
  2. There is a gap in this continuum;
  3. There is consumer demand for a product to plug this gap;
  4. Netbooks try and fail to meet this demand.
I am not at all sure that any of these presuppositions are correct, and I don't think that Steve Jobs really believes them either. This part of his presentation sounded suspiciously like post-rationalization. After all, this is not the way in which Jobs normally thinks. He's not one for market research and gap analysis. As Leander Kahney explains in his excellent book, Inside Steve's Brain, Jobs looks at himself in the mirror and asks himself what he wants: "Almost everyone else takes the opposite approach: they develop new technologies and then go in search of problems for these technologies to solve."

When the iPhone was announced, from day one it leapt onto the world stage as a fully formed, perfectly conceived product. To look at it was to know that you wanted it. There was no need to hesitate and ponder what it was for. No reason to come up with excuses for why you needed to buy one. It was so obviously right. The iPad, in contrast, looks like lots of fun, but it is far from clear what it is for, and why you would want one.

The iPad is a rare example of Jobs launching a technology, rather than a product. Like George Mallory who famously ascended Mount Everest "because it was there," Jobs has built the iPad because it was possible, rather than because there was an obvious need for it. He had this beautiful new multi-touch operating system, and he wanted to put it to the test and see what could be done with it on a larger device.

This does not mean that the iPad is doomed - it just means that it is not being launched into the world fully formed. When the Mac was first launched, it too did not initially seem to have a purpose. It was only with the subsequent advent of desktop publishing that the true potential of a graphical user interface became apparent. And so it may be with the iPad. Some killer apps may come along that turn this technological novelty into a mass-market desirable product.

And this brings us back to Jobs's supposed gap. It's an example of the well-constructed spin that is sometimes referred to as Steve Jobs's reality distortion field. But even supposing we do accept his presuppositions, then like the creationist's analysis of the fossil record, we might point out that Jobs's new chart, with the iPad neatly plugging the gap between mobile phone and laptop, has merely created two more gaps. What product plugs the gap between phone and iPad? What product plugs the gap between iPad and laptop?

In other words, the gap argument fails the reductio ad absurdum test. Doubtless Jobs knows this. He just couldn't resist working on this fun new toy, and seeing what was possible. And I must confess, I can't wait to play with it myself.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Are Apple feeling the pressure? - New pressure sensitive touch screen technology

The BBC yesterday reported on a new technology developed by a British company called Peratech which has developed a "Quantum Tunnelling Composite" technology for an entirely new generation of pressure sensitive touch screens, which enables a "third dimension" in user interface design.
Intriguingly, the article states:
"In January, Japanese touch-screen maker Nissha also licensed the approach from Yorkshire-based Peratech, who make the composite material QTC.
However, as part of the licensing agreements, Peratech could not reveal the phone, gaming, and device makers that could soon be using the technology to bring pressure sensitivity to a raft of new devices."
Now what company with a notorious taste for secrecy do we know that may be interested in touch screen technology and 3D user interfaces? Hmm...

Oh yeah, and by the way, did I mention - quantum frickkin physics!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Like men, iPhones supposedly can't multitask. Who cares.

Beware the echo chamber of the blogosphere. If you listen to too many geek-blogs, you might get a skewed perspective and end up spending a fortune on ads with indecipherable headlines like "multi-multitasking" .

Nokia currently has an ad running with the headline "multi-multitasking," and an extremely busy screenshot of many windows open and crammed into a small mobile phone display. At the tiny size of these windows, any text is rendered unreadably small, and thus the contents of these windows are incomprehensible.

The term "multi-multistasking" is not the most user friendly, and the accompanying image serves to illustrate all of the problems associated with enabling multiple applications to run concurrently in a compact handheld device.

Since this image and headline reveal such an evident shortcoming in the product category, it may seem like an odd approach for Nokia's marketing bods to take. One might wonder why they don't instead focus on some of the advantages of smart phones. The explanation lies in their paranoid desire to differentiate themselves from Apple's iPhone, combined with a bad habit of spending excessive time reading geek blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget, (full disclosure: I confessed to being guilty of this same addiction).

As any geek will tell you - the iPhone's achilles heel is its inability to multitask. The argument goes that whereas other devices let you run as many apps as you like, with iPhone, Apple restricts you to one app at a time, and this is a problem. This argument is erroneous on three counts: 1. the iPhone does support multitasking, it just doesn't allow third party apps to run in the background; 2. this is a deliberate design decision on Apple's part - they chose to disable it, rather than struggling to enable it; and most important of all 3. if this is such a shortcoming, why is the iPhone so insanely popular and why are all the other handset manufacturers perpetually trying to ape it?

The fact that the iPhone does not support background applications is not a shortcoming, it is a deliberate design decision. Apple judges the improvements in battery life, performance and user experience (associated with restricting background processes) to be of greater value to the majority of users than the ability to run multiple third party applications at once. Of course, they make an exception to this rule for certain of their own key applications: such as the Phone app (you need calls to come through when you're in a different app) and the iPod app (you want to be able to listen to music regardless of whatever else you're doing). And the result is a phone that is perfect for the vast majority of users - and the tiny subset who would prefer shorter battery life, poor performance and multi-multitasking are free to go buy a Nokia... or better still to jailbreak their iPhone and "multi-multitask" to their heart's content.

Nokia are not the first to mistake Apple's design decision for a weakness. When Palm launched the Palm Pre, they put multitasking at the heart of their marketing campaign. 12 months later, the product is all but forgotten. Interestingly, the one company that can always be relied upon to faithfully copy Apple's ideas is at it again. The word is that Microsoft are removing the ability to run applications in the background from Windows Mobile 7.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The real news on Wednesday will be how Apple decides to pitch the new device

By now, we have a pretty clear picture of what's going to be announced at Apple's media event on Wednesday this week. Steve Jobs's "latest creation" is essentially a giant iPhone. And that begs the question - do people really want to carry a giant phone around with them? Will we really carry two iPhones in our purses? Or will the man-sized phone languish at home, reserved for nocturnal web surfing?

The truth is that whatever Apple announces this week, it is sure to sell out initially, as fanboys, like myself, rush out to purchase the new new thing. But with today's record quarterly financials disguising Apple's diminishing iPod sales, and iPhone competitors beginning to form a line, there's a lot riding on this latest announcement.

What we should really be looking out for in Wednesday's presentation is not the specs of the new tablet itself, but how Steve Jobs decides to pitch the device. Jobs is a brilliant strategist, with a remarkable combination of vision and pragmatism. It was his "digital lifestyle" strategy, first announced during the 2001 MacWorld keynote, that set the agenda for the next decade of consumer electronics. Few realised at the time how influential and prescient that speech would prove to be. Its ramifications went far beyond the products he announced on the day. The digital hub strategy spawned numerous innovations, including the iPod, the iTunes Store, iLife and the iPhone, leaving larger competitors like Microsoft and Sony struggling to keep up.

Rumor has it that Jobs believes this is the greatest thing that he's ever been involved with. My tasting notes for those who wish to truly savor some vintage Jobs - don't get too hung up on the details of the device itself - pay closer attention to the spiel. We know what Jobs wants to sell us. What we don't yet know is why he thinks we'll want it. And that's the key. Jobs's spiel may once again provide an illicit glimpse of the future.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Are a whole bunch of our predictions about to come true?

It was 11 months ago that this blog first proposed the idea of a tablet computer based upon the iPhone OS. 10 months ago, we published a visual of it, that was picked up by numerous blogs around the world.

There were those who scoffed back in April 2009, arguing that the Apple tablet would run Mac OS X, not the iPhone OS. But over recent months, the rumor mill has come around to MacPrediction's way of thinking.

Another prediction that this blog made a couple of years ago also looks set to become reality this week - with the imminent arrival of iWork Touch and iLife Touch.

Plus, we've speculated about the introduction of a notification screen as part of the home screen of the iPhone OS - with the extra screen real estate of the new iSlate, this is likely to finally become a reality.

Finally, two years ago, we proposed a re-brand for the iPhone OS, to clear up confusion with Mac OS X, and clarify that it runs on more devices than just phones. This prediction also seems likely to come true next week.

Apple has always referred to both their Mac and iPhone OSs as "OS X," but contrary to popular belief, they have never describe the iPhone OS as "Mac OS X". It seems that Apple uses the brand "OS X" to refer to Darwin, the Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 5 layers of their OS, plus various other libraries such as the QuickTime media layer. On top of this, they have two different flavours of windowing system - the one which runs on Macs, which is currently called "Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard," and the other, which runs on iPhones and iPod Touch, and soon the iSlate/iPad, which is informally referred to as the iPhone OS. It really is high time they gave it a proper name. Maybe with version 4.0, and the new tablet, it will finally get the name it deserves.

If all of the above happens next week, this blog is throwing a party, and you're all invited ;)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Introducing the all new iSlate with Magic Touch

Take a sheet of letter paper and fold it in half. You're holding something about the size of Apple's new iSlate. Imagine that scrap of paper is a beautiful, shiny combination of glass, aluminum and plastic, weighing about 10 ounces. How does it feel?

The first thing you'll notice is that, unlike the iPhone, you want to hold it with both hands. And this presents a bit of a problem. You don't have a hand free to touch the screen.Your thumbs are resting on the edges of the device, and are not long enough or manoeuvrable enough to reach the middle. Your fingers, however, are idly stretched across the back of the device.

And this gives us the clue we need to suspect that there's some truth the rumors doing the rounds that Apple's working on a multi touch surface for the back of a new iPhone. But perhaps it's destined for the new tablet, instead (or as well). More than just a gimmick, this all-new input method would enable users to interact with the device without moving their hands from its sides. It also has the benefit of enabling you to use the device without obscuring the screen with your hands.

How would it work? Some gestures, such as scrolling and swiping will be easy, because precise positioning is not essential. But what about tapping buttons and entering text? I think the way this will work is that when you tap and hold, a cursor will appear on the screen (or the text magnifying loupe when you're over text). This will persist until you release your tap, enabling you to be more precise in your positioning before you finish your tap. The cursor icon would probably look like a circle, rather than an arrow - which would be more fitting with the accuracy of a finger, relative to a mouse.

The neat thing about this approach is that it doesn't require any major changes to the existing input method of the iPhone OS - and so all three devices: iPhone, iPod touch and iSlate, could run on the same system, regardless of whether they have multi touch on the reverse. I'm going to take a guess and say they'll call this system "Magic Touch."

While this solution might seem a little too "out there" for a finished product, if you do a little experimenting with that folded over piece of paper, I think you'll realise that this could work. And your accuracy would be pretty good anyway, because it turns out you can intuitively judge a position on the back, relative something on the front.

There is even a prescident for Apple taking this "front and back" approach in a design. The original iMac G5 had its power button positioned directly behind the power light on its front. In order to hit the power button, you had to grope around the back of the device in order to hit it. But the thing is, you didn't grope - you intuitively found it, because the power light on the front guides you hand to the spot on the back. Apple's design team frequently reprises successful concepts from earlier products in this way.

Note: This article is just speculation based upon rumor. The original touch sensitive casing rumor was put about by Goldman Sachs analyst Robert Chen, and related to the iPhone, rather than a tablet.