Friday, September 17, 2010

On the iPhone, pt1

If you are alive right now (I'd hope, you zombie) and somewhat tech-savvy, then chances are you either a) have a smartphone, b) want a smartphone, or c) at least know what the hell a smartphone is. And the device that has flipped the world upside-down and become an icon in mobile technology is, of course, the iPhone. If you're an iPhone owner, then chances are every time you switch it on, you recognize just how crazy-advanced it seems -- almost like its wrong to have control of it, like it was NASA-developed and should be locked away somewhere a secret government facility. Or maybe when you hold it, you can imagine an alien, say ET, having created it, and that it dropped from the sky from a passing UFO. Either way, one can appreciate such a capable device, and on the subconscious level, the admirable UI, usability, and phenomenal design and care put into it.
Of course, there are now many alternatives to the iPhone, with the Android platform really maturing, Blackberry remaining relevant, and Windows Phone 7 (or whatever it's called now) trying its best to catch up. All have new exciting features and usability, each trying their best to compete and advance the game. It's no secret though, looking at any of the offerings for any of the platforms previously mentioned (except for most of Blackberry's offerings that retain their traditional plastic keyboards), that newer devices all model themselves after the iPhone. In physical design, the all-touchscreen "candybar" device that Apple announced January 2007 was the most original, being dramatically different in shape and function, than any electronic gadget previously imagined. That's all without mentioning the fact that Apple had never ever, ever, ever made a phone before in the previous 30 years of its existence. 
Therefore, I think its important to acknowledge the success Apple had not only with its customers, but with AT&T to allow the first deal that separated the phone manufacturer from the carrier to allow Apple to have the freedom to do what it wants -- to create something extremely new and fascinating without being bogged down with restrictions.
In general, the introduction of the iPhone has altered the public's interpretation and anticipation of technology and the internet. Now that the bar is placed so high, people expect more from the products they purchase, possibly becoming even jaded enough to say, "If my phone can't do it, then why should I care?" Our phones can do more now than could have ever been previously imagined. The steady stream of information we receive day-in and day-out is exponentially increased by its accessibility. Smartphone owners "carry the internet" in their pockets, and it seems only natural to eventually depend on such a close and reliable source for practically any query that one can wonder.
But what is the next big thing? The phrase and idea that comes to mind is the notion that "everything that can be invented has." Surely we thought that our beloved Palm Treo couldn't have been improved upon that much. Now, as I record and edit HD 720p video on my iPhone 4, I'm beginning to ask the same question as to what's next. Not that I don't think that the iPhone could be improved on, but I'm wondering more along the lines of whether or not there is a better form-factor, user interface, or function regarding user input via a touchscreen or another mechanism for this catagory of device. The next step, I could only hope, would be mindreading. Screw voice recognition, how about thought recognition? Ever sat in front of the TV and just hoped that the TV automatically knew what you wanted to watch, then found and displayed it for your viewing pleasure? Maybe that's next?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

This is my new MacBook Pro

So, I've recently purchased my fifth MacBook, a Spring 2010 17" MacBook Pro, which replaces my former Summer 2009 15" MacBook Pro. Here's my actual first unboxing video ever:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Different take on the new Apple TV -- via Engadget

Here's an interesting look at the new Apple TV written by a Michael Gartenberg via Engadget. Instead of the complete revamp of the Apple TV that some people were hoping for, Gartenberg states that Apple is on the right track by keeping the product basically the same, not looking for revolution, but adding enough stuff to keep the product interesting while making it cheaper. Unlike the Google TV, which is being developed as a platform for applications, browsing, and hopefully to replace your cable box, Apple is not looking to replace either one; the timing is just not right for that. People won't buy into that complex a process for finding content. Not to mention, as Gartenberg says, its just really hard to accomplish. Apple is looking to replace the DVD player, not your satellite or cable box. Maybe, while revolution is certainly Apple's fortay in the market, the TV market as of now is not ready for the revolution that many techies are dying for.

via Engadget.

The latest Apple TV was released on Sept. 1, 2010 for $99.

Google TV is looking at a release date sometime later this year.

You can see my eariler post on the new Apple TV here.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

New Apple goodies aren't that goody Pt.2 -- The new Apple TV

For those that were hoping to finally cancel their cable or satellite subscriptions on the hopes that Apple's new Apple TV would revolutionize your home entertainment system, think again. Apple unveiled, along with its new iPod lineup, a tiny black box they call the new Apple TV. With many expectations and rumors about what exactly the updated Apple TV was supposed to be, I can comfortably say that what they announced this past Wednesday, Sept. 1 will be considered underwhelming at most.

The former Apple TV was already a slick device. Super slim, compared to other set top boxes with similar capability in the market, the ATV already had a gorgeous design that made anything else look cheap and dated. The new one, however, has dropped even more heft (and consequently more features), leaving something resembling a hockey puck one-fourth the size. On the back is a power jack, HDMI, digital audio out, and Ethernet, along with internal Wi-Fi for networking. Gone is the internal hard drive for storage, which eliminates the need to sync with your computer, rather being a completely streaming solution. Of course, the previous generation could receive streaming content just as well.

Besides physical design, the new Apple TV is not much different than what it replaces in terms of features. It adds only two: Netflix access for Netflix subscribers and AirPlay, which lets you stream media from other iDevices like the iPad. Other than that, the only thing Apple announced along with the new set top box is a different pricing scheme for movie and TV show rentals ($0.99 per HD TV episode, $4.99 per HD movie). The point is, nothing revolutionary here. And we've had a good three years since the first Apple TV to imagine all the great things this little box could bring to our TV sets.

I own an Apple TV -- the previous generation -- and must agree with Mr. Jobs when he says that customers love it. It’s definitely a great accessory to add to your home entertainment system, but I have always known it was underpowered and extremely limited in features. Apple knows that the only thing keeping the Apple TV selling and distinguished as a separate product than, say, a Mac Mini, is the remote-accessible front to the iTunes Store that can’t be found in any other Mac’s Front Row software. Front Row is the remote-based media navigation software included in every Mac, very similar to Windows Media Center in functionality. However, Front Row cannot access the Internet for content other than streaming iTunes Movie Previews from Apple’s website. Unfortunately there have been no reliable solutions to putting the Apple TV’s software on a Mac and also no real solutions to bringing the multi-functionality of a Mac to an Apple TV. However, with a few third-party solutions (ATV-Flash, Boxee), I've been able to squeeze a little more fun out of my set top box.

But even through these solutions, there has yet to be a Netflix app for the Apple TV. The only reason I can surmise that Netflix wasn't allowed on Boxee for the Apple TV would probably be for legal issues, but that I'm not sure about. So, with the advent of Netflix for the new Apple TV, its an enticing offer for customers that pay for it, but again, this is not revolutionary. In fact, this would be so very simple to bring to the previous gen. Apple TV with a simple software update. But I'm not sure that's going to happen.

I understand why Apple has made this new device. While admittedly a hobby to the execs at Apple, unlike the iPhone and iPad, the Apple TV wasn't meant for revolution. It was meant to get iTunes on your TV at a cheaper entry price of $99 instead of the previous $229. Granted, to accomplish that, some sacrifices had to be made. But given that the Apple TV hasn't seen anything real changes since it was released, I think most people were expecting a little bit more. I actually believed the rumors that the new Apple TV would run iOS and be able to run a lot of the different apps you find of iPhones and iPads. Amongst those: Hulu Plus, Netflix, Joost, and maybe even Facebook or Safari. I was expecting a complete revamp in the way Apple TV would be presented to the user: new UI and much more capability that could bring everything the internet had to offer to the "lean back experience" -- living room entertainment -- like how Google is trying to do with Google TV.

So what are we left with? Well, the new Apple TV is no show-stopper. It's smaller and cheaper, bringing a little more accessibility to internet content, but the emergence of a full-fledged online TV service is still far off. For now, we'll just have to sit and wait for the next guy to try their luck. Google's up next; maybe the Google TV platform can help bring this dream to fruition.

Friday, September 3, 2010

How useful is your CD/DVD drive anymore?

Every computer I've ever owned, except for a few classic Macs I've bought for novelty's sake, has all had an optical drive -- large and space-consuming. These drives are super slow in seek, read, and write speeds, about 5 inches in diameter (in laptops), and solely used for CDs and DVDs that at a maximum hold only 8.5 GB on a DL-DVD. Of course there are Blu-ray drives and discs of higher capacities that allow for HD video, but we haven't yet seen that technology adopted in every computer the way that CDs and DVDs had been. The reason is because the people who really care about Blu-ray either have standalone Blu-Ray players and/or a Playstation 3 for that functionality, and not many people connect their computers into their TVs except for specialized purposes. But the CD and DVD drive is becoming more and more outdated with each passing year, especially in laptops. Just as the floppy drive was eventually stripped from computers starting with the first iMac, optical drives too will see their end.

We've already seen the beginning of the end in optical storage. Small laptops like the MacBook Air and netbooks all do without, because they must in order to make the product work. That is the point: computers like the netbook still work, having lost only marginal functionality while gaining much greater portability and room for other components. We can do just fine without an internal CD drive, especially now with numerous other portable storage options and the advent of internet delivery services for downloadable content, whether it be movies, music, or software. And for that reason, I hardly ever use my Superdrive on my MacBook Pro. Sure, I rip the occasional CD and DVD and install the occasional game, but I can also usually find any content I need off the web. So, while the usefulness of that space-hogging drive diminishes, the desire for that space to be replaced with something else increases. Why not a larger battery? How about an extra hard drive? More input options? Apple has been very public that they don't see much a future in Blu-ray, so I only see it as a matter of time before they finally scrap the SuperDrive, which has been standard and unchanged in their computers for almost five years.

Being a Mac laptop user, I eagerly await the day when Apple takes the standard SuperDrive out of their portable devices and replaces it with something -- anything -- that I might use more than twice a month.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Apple goodies aren't that goody Pt.1 -- The iPod nano-er

Is it just me, or was the recent Sept. 1, 2010 Apple event kinda hit and miss? The new shuffle? We appreciate that buttons are back. The new iPod touch? Thats cool -- Apple’s fully embracing the front-facing camera and pushing Facetime (which we’re still waiting to see on the iPad). The new iTunes 10? It’s okay. But did anyone else shrug when Steve Jobs introduced this year’s Apple TV and iPod nano?
I’ll start with the nano. I understand that Apple, as well as any modern devices company, feel the need to go more compact. But I’m pretty sure that a product already described as “nano” is probably tiny enough. Even so, I applaud Apple for trying even harder to finish ahead in the race for smaller form-factors: engineering in such a tiny space is mind boggling and can only be appreciated when you hold something like the iPod nano in your hands and think, “Wow, how did they do this?” But come on! The nano was already measured in millimeters! It could have already easily been lost amongst seat cushions or swallowed. As of today, however, Apple made it even smaller.

Steve Jobs came out on stage and said that they at Apple had pondered how to make the iPod nano even better. With a healthy respect for the engineering talent at Apple, I have wondered on many occasions just how anything so finely detailed like an iPhone or iPod could get any better. Steve’s answer to that was, as usually always is, that it has to be smaller. Smaller, huh? Did I mention that I’d lost one in the couch cushion already? In order to replace that one, now I have to buy one even smaller? I wouldn’t mind as long as I could still count on the same functionality of the previous generation. And like any sane person would assume, an updated product would undoubtedly pack new functionality to accent previous features, right? However, it seems the tiny square touchscreen that is the new nano is missing a few things.
Apparently, this little beauty (they always are at least beautiful) does not do video. 
For a few years now, from the introduction of the iPod Video, mobile video has been a mainstay in the promotion of mobile digital media devices. iPhones and iPod touches, Sony Walkmans, and Microsoft Zunes now all support high-quality video playback. And as of yesterday, so did the iPod nano. But the tiny touch-screen square they call the iPod nano today has been stripped of those previously touted features: not only video playback but also video recording. Last year, September 2009, Steve Job’s pulled the ol’ “one more thing...” trick out of the hat to introduce video recording on the iPod nano. And though last years event was relatively uninspiring, I believe that was and still is the epitome of the nano’s engineering, not to mention its domination in market-share. But now it’s gone, with only a new glossy square touchscreen to shine back in our disbelieving faces. Really though, I don’t mind the touchscreen on the nano; in fact, I believe going touch is the most logical next step. The entire time I was watching today’s unveiling, however, I couldn’t help but scream that it should have been at least twice the size -- a rectangular shape the same dimensions as last year’s screen. Take the previous nano, get rid of the click-wheel, make the screen multitouch so that at least three rows of icons could be displayed, and then put video playback on the device so we can turn the thing sideways and watch a movie! But what do I know? I’m no engineer.
The bottom line: the new nano looks like an updated iPod shuffle. It has lost too many features -- video capabilities and screen real-estate -- to be declared “better” than its previous generation. I appreciate the more technologically advanced and versatile user interface that a touchscreen provides, but on this device it comes at a higher cost than I’d be willing to pay.