What Would Steve Do?

I think the best way to honor Steve Jobs’ legacy as a visionary is to refuse to be content.

Why was the Mac such a success? Because of user discontent with computers at that time – and the existence of Macs is why Windows 95 was such a revelation to me, and why I love Windows 7. The same applies to music players, to handheld PDAs, to phones, to tablets. I love my Blackberry Bold Touch and I lust after a Kindle Fire, but they wouldn’t be worth lusting after if not for the iPhone and the iPad.

Discontent drives innovation, and stagnation creates opportunity.

I think that Steve Jobs understood this more deeply than many of the users of his devices. He created user experiences from start to finish – but he was always pushing the envelope. The intensity of Apple users’ fandom is testament to the value of those experiences, but it also in a sense created the same stagnation that afflicted the technologies obsoleted by Apple. It was Jobs’ genius that he refused to be content, even though his products created contentment.

Jobs created the iPad out of nothing, but suppose he hadn’t? Apple aficionados would still be happily using iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks. If some other manufacturer had created the tablet, Apple’s users would have dismissed, pointing out the many advantages of their elegant Apple products over such ungainly eyesores. Apple users have always been content with what they were given. Steve Jobs, alone, pushed the envelope, innovating not out of discontent by Apple users but by the discontent of everyone outside Apple’s fold.

That was a mighty burden and a challenge for Jobs, surely – one that I suspect he needed to maintain his creative output. After all, he could have easily milked the supply of loyal Apple fans endlessly without any real innovation at all. But it was his eye on the rest of us, still using Windows and Blackberries and Android, that pushed him onwards. It was our discontent with Windows 95, with our StarTacs, our Handsprings, even our mice and our monitors, that were the inspiration for his innovation and it was the stagnation of Microsoft, Logitech, Motorola, Samsung, etc that gave him the opportunity.

I think that without Steve Jobs, Apple risks that same stagnation. It’s already happened, in a sense, to the MacBook line and the iPod. And that’s ok, because Apple raised the bar, and could easily continue on autopilot on its existing product line and customer loyalty. It would then fall to another company to exploit that stagnation, and keep the engine of innovation moving forward. That’s Steve Jobs’ true legacy.

Are you content with your iPad? I’m not, even though I love it. And I think that there’s already signs that the next round of innovation is upon us. What better way to honor Steve’s legacy than to stay hungry for the next better thing, rather than the next same thing?

CES 2011: Waiting for Alienware M13x :)

Remember my earlier laptop angst? Well, I’m not exactly bowled over by the new Thinkpads just announced at CES, and the logic that we are unlikely to see a M11x R3 refresh this soon after the R2 refresh just a few months ago is pretty compelling (per this long thread at the NBReview forums). Plus, Sandy Bridge architecture is out now, and probably most importantly I’ve built myself a professional desktop rig (my long-standing advocacy for flex computing be darned).

And yet, Alienware has been teasing about something… “huge, exciting, skinny, [other superlatives], sexy” via email:

Could it be, an M13x?

Anyway, tomorrow morning we will find out. I hope it’s not just the M17x R3 which has already been leaked. Yawn… I’ll update the post accordingly… but I’m hoping for a 13-inch, sandy-bridge sibling to plug the hole in AW’s mobile line. Let’s see!

UPDATE: I agree mostly with this list of pros and cons of the M11x which hopefully will/won’t make it into an M11x R3 or a M13x.

UPDATE: Yup, just the M17x R3. On what planet does Alienware think “skinny” applies to this beast? I expect the M11x R3 sometime this summer, and maybe they will have an M13x by then as well, though if they give the M11x a better screen and Sandy Bridge, I’ll probably be sold on it.

a hackintosh for me, iphone applications for thee

I’m embarking on a hackintosh project because I want to dabble in some iPhone/iPod application development. This post is really a sort of notepad for some of the resources I am researching to help with this. The hardware is a refurbished Dell Mini v10, and I can report that it gets 2 fps (Dalaran) to 20 fps (out in the wild) playing Warcraft. 🙂

I was a moderately good citizen and snagged a legitimate copy of Snow Leopard off Amazon – the upgrade disc, mind you. The OSX installation guides vary but here are the main ones (slightly contradictory):

Mech Drew: http://osx.mechdrew.com/guides/

Gizmodo: http://bit.ly/ItgcC

Lifehacker: http://bit.ly/6sdVx

As far as learning how to do app development, I will use the courses on Apple ITunes University and also I bought this book.

unfortunately, none provide a simple way to add an OS/X install as a multiboot option. I used a freeware partition software to create a new 80 GB partition, so hopefully I can use that for OS/X but I’m really treading on new ground here. Ideally I can multi-boot into XP or Snow Leopard.

If anyone has any words of wisdom or advice, please do let me know! This isn’t for the faint of heart, clearly.

Will the Apple tablet be a Kindle killer?

Apple’s announcement today of it’s new iPad tablet system (alas, not named Newton 2), running iPhone OS and featuring a 10″ multi-touch screen – doesn’t strike me as the Kindle killer that everyone is making it out to be. Yes, it will definitely be an ebook reader and will have licensing agreements with textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill and the behemoth book chain Barnes and Noble. But at a price probably around $1000, it will be four times as expensive as the Kindle, and despite the glorious full color multi-touch screen, will still not be as easy to read as elecctronic ink technology.

The price point matters – iPhone and iPod dominate their respective segments, but only because they provide tremendous functionality and design at the same price point as their competitors. Meanwhile, Mac computers remain relegated to niche market share, because they are such a poor value. The Mac OS operating system is innovative but for fundamental computing tasks – office work and online – most users are OS agnostic at best (Word is Word; Gmail is Gmail) and biased towards what they know (ie, Windows).

For the iPad to compete against Kindle – which has a huge marketshare lead and truly is to books what the iPod was to music, despite e-readers from Sony being around for years – it needs to compete on price and functionality. And there’s no way that the average person is going to be willing to read a 400-page book on an LCD screen.

I think Apple knows this, which is why it is courting the textbook market, the gaming market, and also putting iPhone OS on the device to keep it compatible with the universe of apps from the App Store. These add value to the device in the sense that they keep it a general-task device and not a single-purpose one. But in doing so they are competing against their own products – I bought an iPod Touch myself for less than $200 and I can run any app on it that the iPad will, and most are designed for a small screen so what’s the advantage of 10 inches? And why pay 4x the cost? Conversely why spend $1000 for a iSlate when you can drop a few hundred more and get a full-featured macbook? Or spend the same amount of money and buy a full-featured Windows laptop? Or spend half and get a netbook running Chrome OS, or a new Pine Trail netbook which can play real games like Warcraft?

Textbooks and other digital documents can certainly be made more innovative and hyperlinked and interactive on the iPad, but that media revolution will not be confined to Apple’s garden. And it’s a guarantee that Kindle v3.0 is going to incorporate color e-ink and a touch interface (though probably not multi-touch). Any new innovations in content delivery and integrating media and text will be just as exploitable by laptops and netbooks in particular.

And there are amazing new display technologies coming out – including color e-ink and hybrid CD screens, which will let other manufacturers build devices for ebook reading and media consumption at a fraction of the cost of what Apple can. I think that Apple has learned the wrong lesson from it’s success with iPod and iPhone and will end up doing everything poorly rather than a few things well.

UPDATE: Steve jobs dismisses netbooks, saying a netbook is “not better at anything! It’s just cheaper. But it’s not better at anything.” Shows how little he understands about netbooks. And he claims the iPad’s on-screen virtual keyboard is a “dream to type on” – yeah, right.

gaming in the cloud

Brian drew my attention to this:

Just announced at this year’s GDC, OnLive is an on-demand gaming service. It’s essentially the gaming version of cloud computing – everything is computed, rendered and housed online. In its simplest description, your controller inputs are uploaded, a high-end server takes your inputs and plays the game, and then a video stream of the output is sent back to your computer. Think of it as something like Youtube or Hulu for games.

The service works with pretty much any Windows or Mac machine as a small browser plug-in. Optionally, you will also be able to purchase a small device, called the OnLive MicroConsole, that you can hook directly into your TV via HDMI, though if your computer supports video output to your TV, you can just do it that way instead. Of course, you can also just play on your computer’s display if you don’t want to pipe it out to your living room set.

When you load up the service and choose a game to play (I’ll come back to the service’s out-of-games features in a bit), it starts immediately. The game is housed and played on one of OnLive’s servers, so there’s never anything to download. Using an appropriate input device, be it a controller or mouse and keyboard, you’ll then play the game as you would if it were installed on your local machine. Your inputs are read by the plugin (or the standalone device if you choose to go that route) and uploaded to the server. The server then plays the game just like it would if you were sitting at the machine, except that instead of outputting the video to a display, it gets compressed and streamed to your computer where you can see the action. Rinse and repeat 60 times per second.

I know Shamus is distracted right now but I can’t wait to see what he thinks.

let the world be your PC

ok, anyone who watched Dennou Coil will immediately recognize where this is headed:

Although the miniaturization of computing devices allows us to carry computers in our pockets, keeping us continually connected to the digital world, there is no link between our digital devices and our interactions with the physical world. Information is confined traditionally on paper or digitally on a screen. SixthSense bridges this gap, bringing intangible, digital information out into the tangible world, and allowing us to interact with this information via natural hand gestures. ‘SixthSense’ frees information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer.

The SixthSense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant like mobile wearable device. Both the projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user’s hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques. The software program processes the video stream data captured by the camera and tracks the locations of the colored markers (visual tracking fiducials) at the tip of the user’s fingers using simple computer-vision techniques. The movements and arrangements of these fiducials are interpreted into gestures that act as interaction instructions for the projected application interfaces. The maximum number of tracked fingers is only constrained by the number of unique fiducials, thus SixthSense also supports multi-touch and multi-user interaction.

The thing is a project at the MIT Media Lab and can be built for $350 in off-the-shelf hardware. And just to make the obviousness of it all even more so, compare the following:

sixthsense08denmo coil 1

I posited in this slideshare presentation on the future of the Web that mapping a virtual layer on top of reality would be “web 4.0”. I think i may have been more right than I realized.

the iPhone is NOT a netbook, Mr. Jobs

Steve Jobs confirmed what I have long suspected: he has no clue at all what a typical consumer’s usage-model is for their personal computers:

A recurring question among Apple watchers for decades has been, “When is Apple going to introduce a low-cost computer?

Mr. Jobs answered that decades-old complaint by stating, “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk.” He argued instead that the company’s mission was to add more value for customers at current price points.

However, he gave a more nuanced answer to the question of whether Apple plans to jump into the “nascent” market for netbooks, essentially restating his comments on the question from last week at the Macbook introduction in Cupertino by saying the company was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

At the same time, he noted that the company already had a powerful entry in the category: the iPhone. (By that standard, Apple is already the dominant netbook manufacturer by orders of magnitude.)

The idea that the iPhone – sexy and cool as it is – is equivalent to a netbook is laughable. But what’s the real implication of Job’s comment? Is the iPhone a computer? If it’s a netbook, then yes, but it’s also sub-$500 in cost and therefore by Jobs’ own standard, “a piece of junk”. If the iPhone is not a computer, but a phone, then how can it be a netbook?

What IS a netbook? In essence, a small but full-fledged computer, weighing 3lbs or less, with full wireless capabilities and a real, physical keyboard. The gold standard is the Asus EEE, which has the added feature of a solid-state drive, which in my opinion is the must-have feature that provides power economy for all-day computing as well as boosted performance. The key however is that the netbook must be fully-functional, ie it should be able to run any software that the user desires. This idea behind a netbook is to be able to connect and compute anywhere. Since the iPhone is a locked-down device which only runs permitted applications, it can not and never be a true computing replacement. On my EEE, I can run MATLAB for scientific calculations, write a paper in Microsoft Word, edit my website templates, pay my bills, and even do an impromptu podcast. On the iPhone, you can only do what the pre-approved apps in the Apple software store permit you to do.

Now, it must be noted that Google’s Android platform – which is now officially open-source – does provide full-functionality computing. The only difference between an Android phone and a netbook will be the keyboard, and it’s not hard to imagine a simple keyboard-cum-case being developed that slots the phone in if you really need traditional typing ergonomics. Apple makes a nice device but it’s way out of its league here in even comprehending why netbooks matter, let alone it’s absurd claim to already be making them. Nice phone, though.

The Napkin PC

I love this concept:

Napkin PC

The Napkin PC design closely resembles a Napkin holder, combining multiple touchscreen devices within a collaborative network. Digital pens allow users to draw on these touchscreens just like they would on a napkin.

The design talks about collaborative work, but imagine instead if these were used in a single-user context instead. It’s almost the complete deconstruction of the PC into slices. One could imagine each being powerful enough to run a couple of web apps, so you might have one set aside on your fridge to rotate photos from Flickr, and another with an alarm clock and email app, for next to your bed. Another in the shower for watching streaming video or NPR audio, and one on your desk for notetaking. Manufacture the “napkins” cheaply enough and you have ubiquitous computing.