Thursday, June 30, 2011

Everything that can be invented has been invented... maybe.

The patent office in 1899 told us that everything that can be invented has been invented. That was obviously patently false--if only they could have seen an iPhone. But now, as it may continue to seem, that it is hard to fathom any new inventions in our lives when it comes to personal electronics. Of course we could always reinvent the product categories we know and love now: our smartphones, laptops, mp3 players, tablets, etc. But what new personal electronic categories could there be?

Take, for instance, the iPad. Apple claims to have created a whole new class of device. And they'd be right. They essentially invented a whole new electronic device by reinventing a decades-old concept of the "tablet" computer. And now, we actually use them, and they have filled a void that consumers didn't even know they had. That's a fine example of killing off the stifling notion that we've already invented everything, as ludicrous as it may sound. But where do we go from here? What other needs could we have when it comes to the tech we carry from day to day? Specifically, what new category of devices need making? Or are we happy and problem-free now? Could this post use another pointless question?

Either way, I tell you, I'm still in the market for a good jetpack or magic carpet, but even that is something completely different...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Quit whining about Final Cut Pro X

No happy FCP X
With the release of the completely revamped version of Apple's flagship video editing software, Final Cut Pro, long-time professionals in the industry are acting like old grumps: resistant to change, complaining, and come on Grandpa, let's hear about the good ol' days while we're at it.

This is Apple we're talking about here. You know, the company who's goal it is to reinvent industries ... On a very philosophical level, this company is looking to make it's products more useable, adaptable and affordable by amateurs or professionals alike. When more people can use and understand a product, that makes it more of a success, regardless of how much of it's predecessor it leaves behind.

The new version of Final Cut Pro is not, however, an iterative build upon it's previous self. It is an entirely new piece of software. And regardless of whether or not this release had been an iterative build on FCP 7 (FCP 8?), the entire application still needed a complete under-the-hood rewrite. Among the necessary improvements included making Final Cut completely 64-bit (not easy), adapting it to work with Grand Central Dispatch (OS X's way of managing computing tasks among CPU cores), and switching its user interface API from Carbon to Cocoa. With this type of exhaustive laundry list, why not go ahead and rethink the entire thing?

Using the application, one can see that it borrows heavily from the iMovie way of doing things. From its interface to the managing of projects and media—everything is very iMovie-esqe. This type of editing workflow makes this a very compelling app for "prosumer" users, not the mention the price. At 300 bucks, anybody that can afford a Mac can afford this software. That means that these very capable video tools are available and attainable by the masses, which I believe is Apple's primary goal: make tools available that accomplish what 90-percent of people do 90-percent of the time. The elite 10-percent that need super-duper editing rigs? Stick with what you've got for now. Just because FCP X doesn't fit your needs, it doesn't mean FCP 7 has quit working. You might not be able to buy new licenses, and that's probably an error on Apple's part. But I would still keep an eye on FCP X as Apple adds more features and addresses the complaints that people have of this 1.0 release. And that's just it. This is a 1.0 release (or a 10.0 release to be precise). It's a brand new product.

The biggest complaints for the new release include the lack of multi-camera support, no support for RED footage, and the inability to import older FCP projects. Many have likened this new version of Final Cut to the switch a few years ago from iMovie HD to iMovie '08. During the switch, some features were broken as Apple focused on the ground-up rewrite of the application and entire video-editing experience. Revolutionary or not, that process has taken a little time to get used to, but it has proved well for the app over the past few years. Final Cut Pro X will be the same way. So for those up in arms about this new release, don't use it. Stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.

It's very simple. You cannot expect this release to fit right in to your mega-studio workflow. If anything, Final Cut Pro users should be excited over the fact that their applications aren't just sitting still and withering—the transition will take time for super users while Apple adds features and quells complaints.

As some customers have already said, FCP X is like Apple's "Windows Vista" of the video editing world. And I have to agree. Sure Vista had its issues. But is anybody complaining now about Windows 7 (other than the usual crap that wrong with Windows)? It's a process, and sometimes the upheaval of the old is essential to making the new. Break it down and rebuild...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Androids hate batteries

Robots need juice. No, not from fruit (well, according to this video, that's a possibility), but juice in the form of a stream of negatively charged particles called electrons. Put simply, our more popular mobile robots--Android phones--need batteries, and lots of them.

It's no secret of the companies manufacturing Android devices and the customers that buy them that the battery life of even the newest phones may have you anxious every time you must leave the house and your precious wall outlets. Let's face it, the Android phones shipping today, with all their horsepower, have at most a battery life to the tune of 4-5 hours. And that's still a theoretical. Real-life battery runs are about 1.5 hours when doing something processor-intensive like playing a game.

Of course, some Android devices are better than others. I haven't been able to play with all of them, but it's safe to say that if you have a 4G Android phone, you're looking at maybe 2 hours of real-world talk time. That's a lot of (fruit) juice for a robot, especially if you plan on toting your robot friend on a long journey.

I look at this as a big problem for the future of Android phones in the face of ubiquitous 4G data and more powerful phone processors. And I feel this is an important discussion that is seemingly ignored by the media and those reviewing these products. Consumers looking for a new phone probably don't know about the energy problems plaguing these phones and are most often surprised when they realize that most of their day involves managing battery life.

Which leads to the next important point about user experience. The first thing a new Android user is told to do after buying their phone is to go on the Android store and purchase a task-killer app. As someone who spends most of the time on a iPhone, this just seems ridiculous. Not only do iPhones get spectacular battery life, but at no time does the user need to focus on managing background apps for the sake of battery life.

Not to sound like a iPhone snob, but when it comes down to what smartphone you'd feel most comfortable taking out and away from nearby energy sources, the iPhone wins hands-down. As a Nexus One owner and having extensively used various Droid devices as well as the Motorola Atrix, the future looks a little bleak for Android when battery technology has remained relatively idle and the new energy-hogging processors and 4G data bands look to chew your Android into a lifeless hunk of parts.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What is a "match" in iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is the first service of its kind. Slated to be released later this year, it will take your iTunes library, which is likely full of music ripped from CDs, and match those tracks to copies you can then download from the cloud to all your devices--for $24.99 per year.

That's all well and good, but seeing as how the battle between music label and pirate still wages, I wonder what in iTunes Match will be restricted once they actually flip the switch.

Obviously, the music industry doesn't want to make things any easier for thieves, and clearly, if you have tens of thousands of pirated songs in your library, no company in its right mind should ever give you legitimate copies of those songs for 25 bucks. So, it stands to ask, will there be any type of limitations on this new service?

Consider this: when you click "get info" on a song in your iTunes library, the summary tab shows what type of software was used to encode that track. Many pirated versions of songs will use third-party software and codecs that spit out numerous audio filetypes (LAME, FLAC, etc). But if you have used iTunes to rip a CD, it clearly states that iTunes took care of your cd-ripping duties and even shows which version of QuickTime was used in the process. So, iTunes Match--what exactly will qualify as a legitimate match? Only iTunes-encoded tracks? Or any ol' file type that gets stuck in your library?

As it stands, most people see iTunes Match as a way for pirates to legitimize stolen music—a way to convert anything downloaded from the Internet into pure and true, music label-endorsed tracks, all for about 7 cents a day. I personally hope that's not the case. And given that this seems like a perfectly reasonable and easy way to do so, we'll just have to see how Apple handles this. Above all, I'm just amazed that Apple has been given the green light for this service in the first place.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

WWDC 2011 predictions

WWDC event poster
Another year. Another Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Does that make this year's event any less exciting? Nope. With wild speculation in-tow, here's a run down of things we may see at the event led by Steve Jobs this morning. Some of these things are obvious at this point, and others come solely from the depths of my imagination. First, the obvious stuff: Lion, iOS 5, and the strangely pre-announced new iCloud service.

First, Jobs will give us a run-down of all the anticipated features previously discussed and available on Apple's website about the new product (full-screen apps, LaunchPad, Mission Control, Auto Save and Versions, etc...), and also possibly demo some new features we have yet to see.

There is a lot of noise about Apple distributing Lion through the new Mac App Store. I'm behind this prediction 100-percent. For years, Apple has dreamt about a world where they can finally kick physical media to the curb. They will still have disks available, but I think they will offer OS X Lion through the Mac App Store sometime this month, if not today.

iOS 5:
Second, Jobs and his colleagues will show the next version of iOS, and I feel that this will take up most of the presentation. The first of their demos will be on the system integration of third-party Apps throughout the operating system. As some stories have pointed out, Twitter seems to be one of the first Apps to have been given this ability, and a spokesperson from Twitter will come out and talk about how they were contacted by Apple to try out this new API for development. Then Scott Forstall, the VP of iOS software, will explain how this new API will allow for developers to add integrated features throughout the OS for their applications if the user has the app installed on his or her device. However, I think that there should be an option for the user to turn this off if he or she desires.

Remember when third-party apps, cut-copy-paste, and multitasking didn't exist on the iPhone? Well, we screamed and screamed about them, and one at a time they were taken care of. One of the last core things we power-users scream about is iOS's really crappy notification system. This year, I think Apple is going to change that.

It's execution will resemble a drop-down menu from the top of the screen, kind of like a combination between the iOS multitasking UI and the Android notification system. It will store all of your recently received notifications in an un-intrusive list so you can review them at your discretion.

Also to be included, according to reports like this one, is the automatic downloading of app updates. A feature I hope can be turned off if wanted, devices will now automatically update installed apps without the user have to manually tap each update and get thrown to the home screen.

I feel like we might see some UI element and stock app updates as well. Although I am unsure of what that might include, the old widget apps that haven't been touched since the first iPhone are going to either be fully fleshed-out or eliminated or combined into one stock-weather-contacts app. Some reports are saying that the messaging app might be updated. Lastly, I hope but doubt they will include widgets or other glanceable information on the lock-screen or homescreen.

The child of iTunes + MobileMe. It's obvious that we can't carry our ever-growing music and video collections on these tiny devices. The answer to that is storing everything in the cloud. The cut off for storage on iOS devices is 64GB—a sizable but still very limited amount of space. Not to mention, we also use these devices for all kinds of productivity uses, so the ability to have easily available, all one's documents and files in a sort of permanent off-site backup accessible from anywhere is nearly essential nowadays.

Now all these things can actually already be reproduced using and number of different services: Amazon Music, Google's new Google Music beta service, and also things like DropBox and Go To My PC. But still, most of us use and are stuck on iTunes. iCloud, I think is more like a single-source consolidation of all these services that will be functional and easy to use.

How will it be executed though? If you look at the pictures of the iCloud icon, it looks much like an iOS app button. This is kind of hard to imagine, but what if the iCloud service will be consolidated into like an app for access on the iOS platform? The user could pop open the App and browse and stream whichever files or media he or she owns stored in the cloud. The same service will probably work similarly on the desktop too. But hey, I'm no cloud networking genius...

As far as new gadgets go, I actually do think that Apple will release an updated version of the MacBook Air to go along with the release of Lion. It may not even be announced at the event today, but at least be available within the next week or so.

No new iPhone. Having read story after story saying Apple will not announce a new iPhone until Fall, I have to say, I'm thoroughly convinced.

And that'll be it. Now I can't wait until later this afternoon to see just how wrong I, and everybody else, was.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Windows 8: First impressions

Windows 8 Screenshot
Hooray for Microsoft. Their view of a Windows 7 tablet world nearly had me worried. However, coming from the labs for a surprising public demo this week was a pre-release of Windows 8. Apparently, Ballmer wasn’t lying when he gave some precursory remarks about upcoming Windows releases last week.

Albeit an interesting new release, my take from the demo is nothing short of Microsoft's attempt to embrace the tablet world without forsaking the traditional, legacy operating environment and applications we’ve been used to for some twenty-five years now. Does it pull it off? Meaning, is it just regular-old Windows with a sketchy touch skin on top? And does it make more sense to combine the flexibility of the desktop into a tablet device rather than build a completely separate tablet OS altogether? We can only know when the final build is released, but for the time being, let’s explore this a little more.

Before today, we all knew that Microsoft was working to make Windows support ARM-based processors. With that only foreshadowing what was to come, it seemed that they still had not learned their lesson that desktop operating systems do not fit on small, touch-based devices. Windows, as it is today, is simply too clunky and cannot compete on a functional level with touch-based products like the iPad or any recent Android tablet.

However, it looks as if they are trying their damnedest to get the best of both worlds for future Windows products. That’s right. We can assume there will be no separate operating environment called the Windows Tab for the tablet, as Windows Phone is to the phone.

In the demos, however, Windows 8 does act like like Windows Phone—live tiles and all—but it may not necessarily be based on the same code. Instead, it seems to be a layered system, where Windows still runs underneath (hopefully with some much needed tweaking and slimming down), but in the forefront you see a “Start” screen like never before. While looking a little like Windows Media Center, tiles are scattered across the screen, just as in Windows Phone. In this UI, you can have news and social media tiles, widgets and other apps all displaying information so you don’t have to fire up each particular application to get what you want—a design feature touted heavily by Windows Phone marketing campaigns.

Again, the system does run a traditional Windows desktop underneath, but the entire OS is said to be completely redesigned for touch input. If you have used a HP TouchSmart PC with Windows 7, then you know exactly how important this is.

Other things of note is a completely new soft keyboard, which seems to work quite well, and also the ability to run touch apps right next to mouse and keyboard apps. It’s hard to tell without using the product whether or not this has any realistic use. But from a technology-advocate's standpoint, it's good to see that Microsoft isn't afraid to try something new, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Only time and money will tell if this is the answer consumers and professionals are looking for.

What kind of codename is Windows 8?

I mean, really? What is so secretive about a name that the entire tech world is already calling your unreleased product?

A walkthrough of the design features of the soon-to-be replacement for your Windows desktops... possibly your tablets?