You’ll have to excuse the forthcoming confusion but I think Siegler is using the wrong analogy to make his point. In any magic trick the purpose of the turn is to fool the audience into believing what’s happening on stage, to convince them that what’s unfolding before their eyes isn’t a magician’s simulacra but in fact reality. The prestige, where magic is concerned, is the byproduct of an effective deception. Siegler’s turn— Apple’s meticulous penchant for innovating through repeated iteration, isn’t deception: All those hardware refinements actually come together to create a phone that’s lighter, faster, larger, and more beautiful than anything before it. The difference this year is that the resulting prestige isn’t as effective. If anything, it’s hard to see in the iPhone 5 any difference between turn and prestige.
If I can empathize1 with any part of all these articles lamenting its writers disappointment in the iPhone 5, it would be the absence of any exclusive feature or experience that can’t be had on an iPhone that already exists. You can explain some of this simply as smartphones arriving to computing maturity. The issues that weighed down the original iPhone have long been addressed. The turns of each subsequent generation provided useful and desirable prestige-s: competent networking in the iPhone 3G, the gaming and processing advances of the 3GS, the photographic prowess of the 4, and a next generation2 user interface in the 4S. Each advancement introduced by each successive version of the iPhone were not only leaps in technology, but often unprecedented. All thanks— as Siegler argues, to Apple’s relentless attention to the turn.
The difference this year is that rather than selling us on the prestige created by its advancements in the turn, Apple took the stage and sold us the turn as prestige. Although every Apple keynote is filled with long and detailed accounts of its design and engineering efforts, this year’s keynote offered little evidence of the exclusive leaps in experience3 these advancements were supposed to provide. The iPhone 5 may be superior technically, but little about using it will feel unprecedented. Perhaps this explains why the presentation emphasized the design and engineering processes above all else. It’s uncharacteristic of Apple to tout how hard it works as an argument for why we should buy their products. Worse, it’s highly uncharacteristic of Apple to have as few and uninspiring4 reasons why all that hard work — most of which goes unnoticed, matters once the device is in our hands.
Where I differ from the aforementioned lament-ees is in the belief that this year’s lack of surprises, this year’s dissatisfying prestige, is somehow foreboding. The iPhone remains the best smartphone experience one can purchase, and this latest version keeps taking steps forward. Nor is this the end of Apple as the beacon of innovation. At best the iPhone 5 presents a difficult upgrade decision for 4S owners. At worst it’s a signal that priorities in hardware5 are, if not reaching a plateau, arriving to a golden age where performance gaps between successive generations of smartphones are narrow. If this is the case then Siegler’s argument is on the mark, despite the misplaced metaphor: the endgame is indeed in the turn.
Mike Monterio doing his thing on Twitter1:
The tweet may have Mike’s typical facetious cadence, but beneath that veneer his tweet speaks volumes2 about the dichotomy between the tech community’s dislike of patents’ ability to stifle innovation, and its dependance on patents to protect and defend those same innovations. This is the reason why I’m having mixed emotions about the outcome of this trial. I’m happy that Apple was successful in defending itself against Samsung. They had clear motives to do so and they obtained the verdict most would agree they— and Samsung, deserved. Yet I can’t help but worry that this case could set a precedent which, used in the wrong hands, has the potential to cause real harm to the industry.3 In the long run, will this trial end up causing more damage than it put a end to yesterday?
A Parting Gift
When Steve Jobs unveiled the original MacBook Air in January 2008, part of me believed that what he was actually pulling out of his manila envelope was not the world’s lightest and thinnest notebook but a promise. The mystique surrounding the original Air was always about what it hinted at as opposed to what it actually was.1 Each subsequent improvement to the line chiseled and refined that promise. Made it clearer, ever closer to reality. On that stage Jobs was talking about nothing less than the future of the notebook, and it took Apple little more than 4 years to reach it. Today it was Tim Cook’s turn to stand on stage and present his own vision for the notebook’s future, in the form of the new Retina MacBook Pro2. Yet Cook’s vision doesn’t hint — or even promise much; the difference between his vision and Jobs’s is that former is already the conclusion of the latter’s. The Retina MacBook Pro isn’t the next evolution of the notebook: It is the notebook utterly, nakedely, and fully realized. When he reached into that envelope in 2008, it’s not a stretch to imagine that today’s MacBook Pro is what Jobs was hoping would come out.
I’m sitting at home staring at the splash page on Apple.com and there it is, imposing its stunning beauty and inconceivable pairing of pixels and speed. Yet where I should be thinking “Here. We. Go!”, the voice in my head can only muster “This is it kiddo!”. Even if both exclamations can be exclaimed with the requisite combination of bravado and charm any cutting edge piece of technology ought to have, one hints at experiences unexplored and the other if what you tell yourself as you arrive to the last Christmas present tucked under the tree. There’s a sense of finality tied to its announcement. It’s hard to imagine how else to improve the Retina Display MacBook Pro. Imagining needing more than what it can provide today harder still. I doubt there’s someone gazing upon it and deciding that the amount of pixels and cores isn’t sufficient for his needs.3 Beyond the internal, how could Apple radically change the form factor next time around? It’s a topic I’ve broached at my weekly round table meetings discussing phones and tablets but it’s just as fitting in the case of notebooks. Although you can certainly toy around with materials for aesthetic means, I’m stretching my imagination thinking of ways Apple could design an even thinner, lighter notebook enclosed in some new impossibly dense and durable alloy, one that’s constructed of non-magical parts and makes practical and economical sense as a consumer good. That there will be new MacBooks in the future is guaranteed, but I question whether there’s any mystery about what they’ll look like.4 Common sense suggests that it’s all a matter of time until the price of the Retina MacBook Pro’s components become cheap enough to carry over to the rest of Apple’s notebook line. That and perhaps one more generation of kids growing up without physical media. Whether MacBook Airs become more powerful or the MacBook Pros become miniaturized is inconsequential. Simply imagine a line of suffix-less MacBooks who’s only differentiation are in the sizes of its Retina Displays and there you have it.
It’s hard to stay excited reading a book you already know the ending to. Worse, I wonder if it means I’m also losing a part of myself in the process. That part which accumulated all sorts of obscure hardware details, those that helped identify the difference between good computers and bad one and in which context. The geeky part of me that wondered where notebooks and desktops could go next, what kind of processors they would have, and which computer to suggest to a friend who sometimes makes movies, not always, but when he does those movies are always in high definition and he wants them to feel like feature films and otherwise he browses the web although lately he’s been eying some new video game that’s set to come out in the next 6 months. It’s the part of me who knows exactly5 what that friend needs. It’s that portion of myself that I never knew existed until I lay eyes on something like the MacBook Air or the first aluminium MacBook Pros. That part of me unfortunately, that collection of knowledge and interests, isn’t needed anymore.6 That part of me is caught in an undertow, drifting away slowly beneath the surface and out beyond the horizon, where other promises lay waiting to be discovered. I’m not sure I’m ready. I still like what’s on shore.
Does the existence of the new MacBook Pro - of the notebook itself, even matter anymore? After all, we live in a world where notebook and desktops have acquiesced to smartphones and tablets. The oft maligned P-O-S-T-PC era. While it was busy sketching the future of notebooks with the MacBook Air in 2008, Apple was also secretly plotting the entire future of computing with a then 6-month old iPhone and a yet unreleased iPad. As it turned out, the future of portables was actually no portables at all. This is the part that’s so disheartening for my generation (or me anyways): Finally we’re given a notebook so impressive and so ideal as to be beyond reproach, but that arrives at a time when its existence couldn’t matter less. Irony fit for Alanis Morissette.
What is the use of asserting one’s dominance when the war has changed battlefields? If you find yourself struggling or rationalizing to find the answers, perhaps it’s because the questions may not be about the future of notebooks, but about ourselves and how a generation of people who’ve grown with and understood computing through the form and design of desktops and notebooks can continue to do so in a future lacking them. Some are already agonizing over this and trying to delay, while others have learnt to embrace change. I’d like to say I had the foresight to see it coming, but the realization only hit me today. My gut accepts it. Maybe it knew all along, even as I awaited the same feelings of surprise and elation I’ve always awaited when new Macs were around the corner. Except today my experience unfolded on a computer no notebook could ever match.
What Apple gave us today with the Retina Display MacBook Pro wasn’t a whole new vision of the notebook. It was a memento, one last hurrah. A parting gift.
This Isn’t Fun Anymore
This isn’t fun speculation anymore. This has mutated from harmless wondering and hoping for something new from Apple into “reports” and “confirmations” and other false truths about a product no one has even seen yet.
Reading Marks talk about it, I’m beginning to wonder if he can read into my mind.
The question I’ve yet to see answered1: How is a 4 inch iPhone going to significantly2 improve upon the experience of the current 3.5 inch version? The 16:9 perspective ratio is being thrown around as a boon for video watchers but I don’t see that as the imperative driving Apple to go out and place large orders of 4 inch displays.
My suspicion is that it doesn’t. Hence my incredible skepticism in regards to these rumors.
Defining “Retina Display”
Hold a small-print book at arm’s length. Notice how it’s hard to read the text. Now bring the book up to a few inches from your nose. Notice how much easier it is to read now. Clearly, if Apple is defining a “Retina display” as “one where users can’t see the pixels” then any discussion of whether a given display qualifies or not needs to take into account the distance between the screen and the user — and that differs according to the device. An iMac on a desk, a MacBook in your lap, and a hand-held iPhone all have different viewing distances.
So, how do we determine how small a pixel has to be to be bordering on invisible?
Fantastic, well researched article by Richard Gaywood back in March 2012. As he explains, the specifics of a “Retina” quality display can differ wildly depending on the specifics of how that display is viewed.
An excellent - and relevant, refresher in light of recent rumours.
Four Point Wishlist for the iOS Music App
Some of which will also inadvertently improve iTunes
Try as I might to find some, there’s little hope of iTunes getting any better in the foreseeable future. I’ve accepted this reality and for the most part, except when using the iTunes Store, I can ignore OS X’s media closet/abyss. Instead, I’m almost exclusively using the iOS Music app for music playback and while perfectly serviceable, I do think there are a few improvements Apple could make to the app. Unlike iTunes, improving the Music app shouldn’t require a Herculean effort, so I’ve pared down this wishlist to four simple and achievable alterations.
1. iTunes Match Streaming
At its launch, the appeal of iTunes Match lay in the possibility of finally leaving my iPod Classic behind. Even after Apple started offering 64GB iPhones, I always needed to carry my Classic around if I wanted to have access to my entire music library on the go. The twenty five dollars I spent signing up for iTunes Match seemed like a steal: A pittance in return for an iPhone with unlimited music storage. Unfortunately, each song you listen to using iTunes Match within the iOS Music App is purpose defeating-ly downloaded onto your iPhone. I know it’s not due to some technical constraint: You can listen to songs simultaneously as they download from Apple’s servers and iTunes Match on my Apple TV only allows streaming given that the Apple TV as no physical storage capacity. Why allow streaming on one but not the other? Worse still, there’s no efficient way to get rid of your songs should you inadvertently fill your iPhone’s capacity using iTunes Match. The quickest method I’ve found is to delete each artist one by one until you’ve cleared enough space for the next album you’d like to play. Tedious at best, you’d think there’d be a simple and obvious way to avoid all this hassle. Oh yeah…
If it’s a matter of not using up a user’s data cap, why doesn’t Apple add a “stream over 3G” toggle in the Music settings, as it does for iTunes Store purchases. Worried about running out of data? Turn it off. Worried about running out of tunes to listen to on the drive to work? No worries.
As it stands, the inclusion of streaming on iOS devices is going to weigh heavily on the status of my iTunes Match subscription come fall.
2. Podcast Subscriptions
I’m don’t want anything fancy, only the ability to automatically download the latest episode of shows already in my iOS music library. Push notifications to let me know they’re available would be nice as well.
Instacast may already be fulfilling my needs in this regard, but I’m starting to feel I’m not its intended audience. I don’t make use of most of its features, even basic ones like links to show notes or its various playback speeds. All I want is to always have the latest episode of my favourite podcasts available as soon as they are released. I don’t see why the Music app couldn’t handle these basic needs itself.
Again, I suggest three toggles within the Music settings:
- Automatically download latest episodes when they become available.
- Download podcasts over 3G.
- Notify me when new episodes are available.
3. Song “Queue”
I love to hook up my iPhone to my work stereo but given that I work in a communal space, my co-workers will frequently have requests for a particular song or artist. Though I’m more than happy to oblige, there’s no efficient way to keep track of everyone’s requests without having to actively remember them. I could create a playlist1 but it’s cumbersome and often times I don’t get enough requests to warrant creating and managing an entire playlist. It’s usually the case that in the middle of album X someone will be reminded of a specific song from album Y and want to hear it but then want to continue listening to album X afterwards.
The solution I envision is to create a “mostly” invisible playlist that acts as an active queue of songs. You’d be able to add songs to the queue using a gesture, button, or long tap from the list view of your songs as you browse. You can add as many songs as you like, and after each one plays, the Music app clears them out of the queue. When the queue is empty, the Music app returns to the last song you were listening to before you added a song to the queue(useful in cases like above).
I described it as a “mostly” invisible playlist because although it needn’t be user facing most of the time, I could envision cases where you’d want the ability to clear a queue that’s gotten to long or that you no longer want to use. Maybe it could be listed among your playlists as “Queue”, if only for the purpose of deleting some or all of the songs contained within it.
This is perhaps my wildest “improvement” seeing how it’s the only one that’s tied to a specific type of use. The addition of a “Queue” to the Music app is probably not broad enough a feature to warrant attention. Yet I can picture a solution similar to what I’ve described being really practical not only in crowded work environments but also at parties or for people who like to create one-of mixes on the fly.
4. More Input on Genius Recommendations
Until your library gets to a certain size and diversity, Genius playlists work as advertised. But if you’re like me and your tastes are diverse and vast, then you’ve probably noticed that our tastes are difficult to decipher for the Genius algorithms. The problem is that those algorithms work off the metadata that’s provided with your tracks. As the size and variety of your music library expands, the limited amount of metadata available to Genius isn’t sufficient enough to hone in on what exactly you have in mind when you invoke it. The metadata isn’t scalable and the results frequently start seeming more like a genre “shuffle” playlist. This is especially true if your metadata is incomplete or not specific enough. You can see this best when looking at the ready-made Genius Mixes. Those that seem best curated, in my case, are from genres where track metadata is very specific (“neo-soul” songs), the pool of tracks isn’t too large (video game soundtracks), or happen to include many tracks I purchased from the iTunes Music Store directly(I’ve collected an impressive Jazz album tab). Conversely, my Genius mixes created for “indie-rock”, “alternative”, and “folk” are all over the place, precisely because the metadata available is too broad or there’s simply too many tracks to choose from. What’s missing from the Genius algorithms is my input. I’d love a way to marry its math to my tastes, so it could know that when I select “Metal Heart” by Cat Power to lead a Genius playlist, I want to listen to sad piano tunes and melancholic lyrics specifically and not “contemporary folk” songs in general.
Although I have specific solutions to my other wishes, I’m a bit at a loss with this one. The Genius algorithms seems to be dialled to “good results most of the time for most users” and I wouldn’t want to suggest a fix that only improves my needs and ruins everyone else’s. Perhaps there could be an advanced preference pane where you can set some example pairings for the Genius algorithms to base themselves on. Or a toggle that, when activated, allows Apple to closely monitor your play history 2 so it could infer patterns from your normal usage. I also like the idea of integrating Genius recommendations more tightly with your song ratings, something akin to Netflix’s recommendation system. I’m weary however that this would be to difficult implement on top of the existing Genius architecture. A rating system also demands active participation, which doesn’t exactly fit the “every user” mantra.
Look at it this way: Any improvements made to Genius on iOS will surely be passed onto iTunes as well. The prospect of that alone should be enough incentive for Apple to dedicate time to improving it.
A Crumbling Hardware Empire
Nintendo often draws comparisons to Apple in regards to both’s desires to tightly control hardware and software. Except the motives for doing so are entirely different. Apple creates best of breed software used on best of breed hardware because they want to offer the best computing experience to their customers. The experience is what they sell to consumers. Although Nintendo unarguably does have best of breed software, those game IPs are only a vehicle for selling high margin, lacklustre hardware.
You can see Nintendo’s intentions manifest themselves in all sorts of ways: the average (read cheap), build quality, how essential accessories are always sold apart at a markup, their continued reliance on outdated (read cheap), physical storage media or technologies, and incremental hardware upgrades that seem more trendy than meaningful. The DSi XL and 3DS stick out as example of the latter. Coupled with the insatiable demand for their games, Nintendo built itself an empire on volume commodity game hardware. The earning reports corroborates this, as the blame for the loss seems to fall squarely on the slumping sales of Wii and DS hardware, rather then any particular underperformance from its many first party titles. Unfortunately for Nintendo it seems there is someone out there creating best of breed gaming hardware. Hardware which customers are evidently finding more appealing. And history says best of breed hardware is not a space Nintendo can compete in. Nor have they had much success - or interest it would seem, with online services, the one space their entire industry has long ago decided is the future of gaming.
Very sensible people propose that Nintendo transform into Sega and being licensing out their IP. There are myriad reasons why that would be a good decision. I’m reminded of what people suggested, and Apple flirted with, in the late 90s when it was struggling. Maybe that’s the comparison we should be studying.
AirPlay Enabled Displays
Harnessing AirPlay’s potential
Let’s say your iPad has replaced your laptop. Let’s also say you replaced your iMac or Mac Pro with a MacBook Air. With incredibly useful wireless technology like AirPlay, wouldn’t [it] be nifty if you could not only send a video or audio signal from your iOS device to an Apple TV, but also directly to any Mac or Thunderbolt display?
Alex Knight, making a case for an AirPlay enabled Thunderbolt display, something I’ve been whole hearted endorsing since last december, the heart of which I’ll reprint here for you:
Imagine iOS applications that not only mirror their screen views to external monitors, but that are able to display two separate views used simultaneously to enhance an experience. For instance, imagine how a simple application like iA Writer for iPad could be improved by such duality. While the iPad’s screen itself could be used to display an enhanced virtual keyboard with a numerical row and quick buttons for various Markdown syntax, the text editing field could be shown on the external display, much like its OS X counterpart. This is but one simple example. Picture how something more complex, like iMovie, could benefit from two dedicated screen.
The iPad showed how iOS could blossom with a larger screen, imagine what it could do with an even larger secondary one? The trick here is not to imagine how using AirPlay could transform iOS software into desktop applications, but how AirPlay can act as a portal to new and richer iOS experiences.
Imagine if Shawn Blanc could not only use his iPad as his laptop, but as his desktop too? That’s revolutionary.
The iPad as the right kind of camera
Neven Mrgan, on the iPad 3 and photography:
Any iPad with any lens may be just too physically awkward to make a good camera. But, there’s something to be said for a device that can shoot and then immediately process shots and footage. The iPad is too big to shoot with; the iPhone is too small to edit on.
If Mrgan’s comments seem to echo the general attitudes towards the iPad camera, I’d like to suggest that our critique of the iPad as a lousy device for capturing images stems from the wrong perspective; that while an iPad may indeed be a terrible replacement for a consumer point and shoot camera, it may in fact be an ideal choice for certain kinds of photographers.
Of the many cameras I’ve had the luxury of owning, my favourite by far was the Mamiya RB67. A sturdy, mechanical camera from a bygone era, the RB67 is a workhorse professional camera that, amongst its many other qualities, created stunning images thanks to its superb optics and use of larger medium format film. But perhaps my favourite feature of my RB67 was its large, waist lever viewfinder that was invaluable when composing some of my favourite landscape images. Compared to most eye-level viewfinders, using my “RB’s” viewfinder was a much more comfortable, even contemplative, photographing experience. To be sure, the RB67 wasn’t an ideal camera for every photographer. Its considerable heft and relatively slow shutter mechanism certainly wasn’t ideal for capturing an elusive moment or carrying around all day in the streets. But for landscape and portrait photographers, where images are often carefully staged and envisioned, the practicality of the RB67 and its large viewfinder can’t be understated. This is why digital landscape photographers are so keen on using the increasingly large LCD displays that can be used to capture imageson most modern digital SLRs.
All this to say that my experience with my RB67 colours my perception of the iPad as a camera differently than most. Where people picture someone awkwardly holding out an iPad at arm’s length trying to keep up with their frolicking children in frame, I imagine instead standing at the end of long beach with my iPad mounted to tripod, feet wet from the tide, watching the life of the ocean unfold before me on a large, clear -and hopefully retina, display. Even if the iPad 3 might never be as practical a camera as the iPhone, I still believe it could be a better camera than its smaller sibling in specific situations and for certain types of photographers. If the new iPad’s optics are similar to the iPhone 4S, as Mrgan suggests in his post, I’d have no hesitation recommending it - or future iterations, to many photographers not only as an image editing device but as an image creating device as well. It won’t be for everyone and it’ll be a long while - if ever, before the pictures it produces reach the quality of medium format film (for displays and small print sizes, that probably doesn’t matter much anyways), but I can’t imagine I’m the only landscape photographer having used a medium or large format system that isn’t excited - or least intrigued, by the prospect of using an iPad with a Retina Display and a quality image sensor as a camera you’d use much in the same way as a Mamiya RB67 or Hasselblad. Combined with the countless software possibilities to be explored on iOS and the App Store, I don’t see why the iPad couldn’t succeed as a camera if only we focus a little more on its strengths as a camera, rather than its more obvious weaknesses.
Finally, one thing that’s crossed my mind if Mrgan’s predictions of an improved camera and more powerful image editing software pan out: How will Apple illustrate those points in - assuming they create any, promotional images and videos. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Apple would want to show iPad 3 users going through the whole process of image production solely on the iPad. iPhone and iPad commercials often relay on the emotional power of friends and family to demonstrate their technology, so I wonder how they’d portray people taking images with the iPad, especially given the awkward nature of using it for candid photography most frequently found in images of family vacations and the like. The iPad 2 cameras had previously only been shown in ads as FaceTime enablers, if only because the iPad 2 camera was too shitty for anything else. Supposing the iPad 3 has a camera equal to the iPhone 4S and exclusive and powerful editing software, it’ll be interesting to see how they demonstrate and emphasize that through their advertisements.
Tim Cook on the Apple TV
Tim Cook, speaking about the Apple TV at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference:
So, with Apple TV however, despite the barriers in that market, for those of us who use it, we’ve always thought there was something there. If we kept following our intuition and kept pulling the string, we might find something that was larger. For those people that have it right now, the customer satisfaction is off the chart. We need something that could go more main-market for it to be a serious category.
Nothing new to learn here. Indeed, my Apple TV is probably second only to my iPhone in satisfaction and enjoyment of an product I own.1
Cook again, on preserving Apple’s culture:
We should stay extremely focused on a few things, rather than try to do so many that we did nothing well. We should only go into markets where we can make a significant contribution to society, not just sell a lot of products.
I don’t want to run wild with Apple Television (iTV?) rumours, but something stood out for me reading this article. First, it’s all too easy to read the first quote and decide that the iTV is in fact the main-market product that could turn Apple’s television business into a stool as large as iOS and the Mac. Too easy.
But reading the second quote and thinking about both together, it seems that an Apple Television set has no role in what makes the Apple TV great and has no relevance to Apple’s culture. Even in our wildest fantasies about an iTV, the revolutionary part isn’t the display or even the display in conjunction with the Apple TV software. It’s just the software.
So if I play ball with Apple’s philosophy of wanting only to make significant contributions to society through their products, it would seem that focusing on growing the Apple TV’s content library and developing relations with distributors will make much more of an impact than some expensive LED display ever could.2 Access to better, cheaper and more diverse ways of enjoying their favourite content is what’s truly going to stoke the fires of the main market crowd and draw them away from cable providers.
That’s the significant part. 3