Monday, January 29, 2007

Google Maps: lack of international searches boggles the mind

Google Maps should beat the hell out of ViaMichelin, with its maps superimposed over satellite images (if you want them that way), and its searching capabilities. But when you try to use Google Maps to search for an address that isn't located in the United States, most of the time, you'll get no results. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Rien.

It's not that Google Maps doesn't know about the street you're looking for. When you navigate there, you'll find it. By hand. By dragging the map. But searching for it? Nope.

What the hell is going on here? Wasn't Google started by two geeks who didn't care about anything but creating the perfect search engine? Isn't Google still about searching? Isn't it Google's mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful"? Since then, of course, Google has ballooned into an entire economy of its own, and it's easier to list the services it isn't offering as of 2006. (Full disclosure: Mac Thought Crime is powered by Blogger, also acquired by Google.) But has the company lost its focus in the process?

And ironically, while search sometimes doesn't work at all, it also tries to be too smart.
What's wrong with ViaMichelin's way of categorized information? I fill in the street and the city, and – boom! It's there.

It's not hard. It's no harder than typing the entire address in one text box and letting the software find out what I meant. Especially if it finds nothing. Or when the address is ambiguous, unless you specify what each part stands for: is it a city, a street, or a country?

Looks like it's hight time Google adopted another slogan to complement its famous "Don't Be Evil" motto: "Don't Suck."


Friday, January 26, 2007

Palm nosedive continues with more naming silliness

Something was bound to happen, as there has been no name change, merger, acquisition or spinoff involving Palm for more than two hours straight.

The last time we checked, palmOne had acquired Handspring, and fearing that it would somehow end up controlling both the hardware and the software, spun off the OS into a new company, PalmSource. Then palmOne renamed itself Palm, for about the third time.

Now, Macworld reports that Access Co. Ltd., a company that had acquired PalmSource (and sold the PalmSource name back to Palm), is renaming Palm OS Garnet OS. In order to strengthen that brand, the phrase "Palm Powered" will be replaced everywhere.

To "Access Powered."

You can't make up stuff like this.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Widescreen Beatles Super Bowl iPod? I don't think so

According to AppleGazette, people predict that a widescreen iPod would debut, loaded with Beatles songs (similarly to the U2 iPod), either at the Super Bowl in less than two weeks, or at Apple's rumored February 20 event.

I don't think so.

Beatles? Maybe. Steve Jobs did play a lot of Beatles during his last keynote, so many suspect an announcement regarding the addition of Beatles tracks to the iTunes Store is imminent. Either that, or Jobs was just being, well, Jobs again, asking for forgiveness rather than permission, just like with that Eminem commercial earlier (or with the iPhone name later). It's hard to tell, but one would think the former version to be more likely, what with the decades-long Apple vs. Apple saga.

My problem is with the widescreen part. Apple has just announced a widescreen iPod: it's called the iPhone. One of the main selling points of Apple's upcoming cellphone will be being "the best iPod" ever made. Apple wants to firmly establish it as its new platform. Apple wants to sell a lot of it. And Apple sure as hell doesn't want to cannibalize its sales with a competing product.

The iPhone won't ship for another five months. What would happen if a product went on sale next month, offering an attractive subset of the iPhone's functionality, including its mulititouch user interface, presumably a hard disk, and no shackles tying it to an evil cellphone company?

How silly would Apple appear for announcing a product months ahead, only to upstage it with a competing product that ships immediately?

That's right. The iPhone could be close to DOA. It could pull a Zune.

Unless Apple has been working on a completely different widescreen iPod, with a seriously dumbed-down multitouch user interface, I don't expect a widescreen version until the iPhone has shipped, and its first-quarter sales numbers have come out strong. I'd rather expect either price drops with but cosmetic changes to the current form factor, or not even that much.

I'm not expecting a widescreen, phoneless iPod running OS X and featuring a lot of the iPhone technologies until the next Christmas buying season.

Oh, and there's another reason why it's difficult to imagine a widescreen iPod going on sale in Q1, 2007: apparently, parts of the iPhone software, notably the Notes app, aren't ready yet. And iPods also have notes. No demo of the Calendar application (another iPod staple) has been seen anywhere yet, either.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Will iLife or iWork be part of Leopard?

One of the already announced (and least impressive) features of Leopard will be being a "complete package," i.e. apps like Photo Booth, Front Row, Boot camp, etc. will be part of the core OS, not just something randomly available on some Macs, or something you can download as a beta.

However, that isn't much. How about integrating iLife and/or iWork deeper into Leopard, and discontinuing it as a separate product? How about free updates throughout the lifespan of Leopard?

Several rumors suggest that iWork will depend on Leopard technologies, and people speculate the same thing about iLife as well.

Apple has just had a billon-dollar quarter (in profits, not revenues), so it might as well write off the relatively small amounts of money these two packages make (both are sold at ridiculously low prices). In return, the Mac could become an even more attractive platform for switchers, and it could convince yet more of its installed base to switch over to Leopard.

As with rumors and speculation: we will see.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hey, Cisco, just stop being obnoxious!

A Canadian news source has some details on the Apple vs. Cisco case over the iPhone trademark.

Can Apple, for once, use the rumors defense? As in, everyone had known for months that Apple was going to release an iPhone, a fact that Cisco, a trademark squatter with nefarious intents, chose to willfully take unfair advantage of.

When 99 out of 100 people would associate the iPhone name with Apple, Cisco, in an obnoxious and childish ploy that amused only idiots, released some painfully uninspiring product by that name, so it could show it around in court, get some publicity, and try to force Apple into literally "being friends" and "playing with" Cisco.

While this defense would hold little water in court, and the whole affair is reminiscent of the old, legendary cheeky ways of Steve Jobs, who, at least according to the less-than-accurate iCon book, similarly failed to secure the Macintosh trademark in due time, let's just all agree that the iPhone name just belongs to Apple. I would be disappointed if Apple were to change it to "Apple phone," "MacPhone" or "iPod phone." It would be a shame.

Hey, Cisco's "iPhone" already got greater publicity than it ever deserved. Let Cisco sell the whole trademark to Apple for ten million dollars, and give its own pathetic excuse for an iPhone a real, serious Cisco-like name like "ONS 15310-MA MSPP."


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My first 25 random questions about the iPhone (updated with some answers)

  1. Is Bill Gates calling Steve Ballmer about now, asking him in a broken, nervous whisper, "We didn't do that Zune thing after all, did we? It was just an idea we dropped, right?"
  2. What processor does the iPhone have?
    Probably an ARM. But definitely not an Intel (according to Intel, and they should know).
  3. Will there be developer tools for the iPhone?
    No. Apple execs tell Gizmodo that, "like an iPod, it won't be an open system that people can develop for."
  4. Will iPod games run on the iPhone?
    Stupid question, sorry. As the OS is different, it's hardly likely.
  5. Can we say Apple released a tablet computer today?
  6. Why isn't the iPhone full of Spotlight search boxes? They could be really useful.
  7. What kind of Widgets can the iPhone run?
  8. How many pundits will announce today that Apple is no longer interested in the Mac?
  9. Does the iPhone have a clipboard?
  10. Does the iPhone support drag and drop?
  11. Can the iPhone squirt?
  12. Just about now, does Palm CEO Ed Colligan start feeling really stupid? And insecure?
  13. Will the iPhone display PDF files?
    Yes, though it won't open Office documents.
  14. Can the iPhone download things from the iTunes Store? Why not?
    Nope (see the same Gizmodo piece). I can see, by the way, why it's not so easy.
  15. What kind of OS X does the iPhone run?
    "Not OS X proper," say Apple execs according to Gizmodo. Looks like OS X has just been moved to yet another processor (though this is not Mac OS X, just OS X.)
  16. Is the iPhone GUI any indication for the upcoming Leopard look?
  17. How much will an iPhone cost without a contract?
    Looks like that simply won't be an option. Damn.
  18. Are all smartphone manufacturers looking at their screens just about now, with a blank stare, swallowing repeatedly?
  19. Can the iPhone do GPRS?
  20. Can you save files from iPhone apps? Can you access them from your Mac?
  21. What other phone functionality does it have? Voice dial? Alarm clock?
  22. What angle will bloggers use to ridicule the iPhone?
  23. Will the HD-based iPods become phone-less iPhones eventually?
  24. When will we learn the answers to about a million technical questions that are on everyone's minds?
  25. How many journalists are typing the words "Zune killer" somewhere right now?


It's official: iPhone is the Next Big Thing

Wow. It's real. It's a smartphone indeed. It's also an iPod. And what few hoped or predicted, it's also a handheld computer, in the truest sense of the word. And it is called iPhone.

All in all, it seems to be almost exactly what I was secretly hoping for.

Here's where I wondered if Apple was going to add advanced input capabilities to an upcoming iPod:

If and when the touchscreen iPod becomes real, it could allow for an input area large enough to contain a QWERTY keypad [...]. And if the iPod gets a QWERTY, it may take on a completely new life with vastly expanded capabilities. Its software is quite advanced even today, and just imagine what could happen to the platform if its greatest limitation, its lack of input options, could be overcome...
(Apple files yet another weird hardware patent, Mac Thought Crime, November 17)

Here's where I speculated that Apple could revive the ailing PDA market with the iPod:
In what would be a small step for Apple, but a great step for the ailing PDA market, a new-generation iPod could sprout advanced PDA features any day, and take over the PDA market overnight.
(How the iPod could save the PDA without trying (too hard), Mac Thought Crime, November 21)

Here's where I pondered a scenario where Apple would turn the touch-screen iPod into a completely new platform, with phone capabilities:

[Scenario] 3. It's iPod 2.0, and it can do phones as well: Apple expands the iPod platform into a handheld computer, iPhone is just one application. OK, imagine this. Apple doesn't stop at putting video, games, calendars and some basic contact management on an iPod. Nope: Apple takes it all the way to the next level. With a touch-screen interface, the iPod could do anything. Apple could kick new life into the PDA market it created (though it wasn't Steve). It could consummate the mission of this MP3 player of truly evolving into the Next Big Thing. Oh, and it could also function as a phone. Let's dedicate one model to that. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the iPhone.

Odds: 9 to 1. I'd put in a larger number, but this is Steve Jobs we're talking about.
Wow factor: 300%. As in, "Holy @#$^%!!!"
(So iPhone equals iPod plus what? Mac Thought Crime, December 4)

Here's where I guessed (absolutely correctly) that Cisco may license the iPhone name to Apple:
Maybe Apple has sought a deal with Cisco about the iPhone name all along, and talks have broken down only recently. Or what the hell, maybe they haven't, and Cisco even allowed Apple to also use the name (without any announcements, of course). Maybe Cisco just wants to ride Apple's publicity a bit. Anything is possible, as far as we all know.

By the way, Apple does own
(Deal with it: Apple's cellphone is still coming, Mac Thought Crime, December 18)

And here are a few last-minute thoughts from earlier today that didn't turn out to be as clueless as I feared:
Touch-screen iPod, iPod phone, Apple smartphone, and the thing that makes Jobs more excited than the Macintosh did… How many things are these? Do they all exist? Or is it just one thing, grossly misunderstood?
(Confusing, contradictory rumors abound on Apple's new device, Mac Thought Crime, January 9)

I hope Apple is in a position today to become more like Sony, and diversify. Create new things. As in, mobile phones and PDAs. Apple-branded versions of these devices have been but a pipe dream for a long time, but not any more. The iPod phone is a given (though not necessarily at the Expo), and the iPod PDA is a possibility.

As it turns out, at least one of Apple's MWSF posters will tout the year 2007 (as does Apple's homepage). Will we see a(n unlikely) roadmap for the rest of the year, or will 2007 start with a bang? We'll see very soon.
(Will 2007 turn Apple into Sony? Mac Thought Crime, January 9)

But, of course, this was all mindless, idle speculation. What we have is an actual product that Apple has finally announced, taking up almost its entire two-hour MWSF keynote.

(OK, the device formerly known as iTV, and now referred to by an unpronouncable Apple symbol, also got some spotlight.)


With the iPhone, Apple did not deliver on the expectations of the market or even the fans: it delivered on the wildest pipe dreams of its most rabid fans.

Who could have realistically expected all of these (in one device):

  • A handheld device running OS X? (Note how it's not called Mac OS X.)
  • A phone at that, with truly spectacular and innovative features?
  • A multitouch interface with some incredibly intuitive input methods?
  • A widescreen iPod with 320 x 480 pixels of screen real estate?
  • An entirely new, future-proof platform that can be extended indefinitely by software updates?
  • A beautiful and futuristic user interface, with elegant, smooth animations and transitions?
  • An almost non-Apple-like, cool, futuristic, yet elegant industrial design?
  • Such a tiny form factor?
  • Proximity, light and acceleration sensors?
This is just all too good to be true.

So, did Apple screw it up?

Of course, I'm still hyperventilating from the effects of the Reality Distortion Field. But let me try and approach the iPhone a bit more objectively.

In October, I posted a list of requirements for a smartphone I'd buy. Let me revisit that list, and see how the actual iPhone stacks up:

1. Give me a QWERTY – Done!
Apple does include a virtual QWERTY keypad on the iPhone. (How it will handle accented characters, copying, pasting, etc., remains to be seen. These can mean a lot.)

2. Let me work with files – Don't know.
There's very little information available on Apple's iPhone site. Even elementary things are missing, such as what processor the device will use. My second requirement isn't addressed either, but my bet is that we'll soon find out. Anyway, I would be surprised if the iPhone couldn't sync its files with a Mac (or a PC). However, it looks as though iTunes will be the main vehicle for syncing. (Note that the iPhone is also PC compatible.)

3. No artificial quotas, please – Probably done!
This was my request:
I hope iPhone will ship with plenty of flash RAM. But whether it's 128MBytes or 2GBytes, I want to be put in charge of how I use it. If I want to store a million SMS messages and no sound files, I don't want some silly quota that caps the number of text messages at, say, two hundred.
I guess iPhone's version of OS X isn't interested in such quotas. But we can't know for sure.

4. Let me save my text messages – Don't know.
SMS is handled by an iChat-like application. I saw no hint of any ability to save transcripts, but perhaps it's done automatically. Again, we'll see.

5. Don't make me use the touch screen – A big 'No,' but maybe it's all good
Almost the entire iPhone user interface is based on direct manipulation of screen objects, much more so than any device before it. This flies directly in the face of what I wished for, i.e. that a keypad and some controls should be able to suffice for any actions. However, maybe it's all for the better. I just want to be able to perform most operations, like typing and sending an SMS by one hand, and without moving all around the map all the time. I'll have to see an iPhone in person before I can decide.

6. I want a browser with multiple windows – Done!
'Nuff said. A big thumbs-up.

7. Multitask, and honestly, too – Done!
Apple is very emphatic about this feature.

8. Nothing should take more than three keypresses – Don't know, not really.
This is what I wrote:
Menus are all the rage, and Apple adores the iPod's limited number of buttons. But still, going into a freakin' menu so that I can change playback volume is a bit of an annoyance. On a cellphone, I need to be able to start typing an SMS after two keystrokes. I need to be able to locate a contact and place a call in two seconds (e.g. by entering a search mode, and selecting the contact by typing an initial letter or two of some of its contact info). I know Steve Jobs has probably fired people over the number of any extra keys, but there should be just enough of them to let me access any function in a few seconds.
My, oh my… The iPhone has only one button! The horror…!
But let's see the demos on Apple's iPhone page.

Calling: this requires a bit too many taps for my taste. I'd tap "Phone," the "Contacts," and then tap-search for my contact. I need additional taps to place the call. Maybe this can be quicker, and it's certainly not horrible. Without trying it myself, I have no way of knowing even whether this is the best way possible.

One thing that puzzles and disappoints me, though, is the lack of search boxes, both in Phone and iPod modes. I'd expect the inventor of Spotlight and the famed iTunes search box to do something about this. I mean, what if I only remember someone's first name? I need to go through my entire contact list to find him or her. The Treo may have beaten the iPhone in this.

Music: at least there's a separate volume widget that's always present in vertical mode, so you don't have a proliferation of menus.

SMS: accessible by one touch, but the demo doesn't show how to start a new conversation (rather than continuing an old one).

All in all, some quick-access features are impressive, while others may seem a bit lacking. And we have too little information as of now. This one also goes undecided.

So there you have it, iPhone has at least four of my eight requests covered. Another three look promising, and two are a bit worrying. But the iPhone also redefines some concepts, so these points may not even all apply to it.

In any case, one thing is certain. I will get one. And if I could get one today, I would get one today. I'd stand in a queue till midnight.


Confusing, contradictory rumors abound on Apple's new device

Sometimes rumormongers, leakers and analysts get it all mixed up. For example, before the release of the Cube, many took whatever details they had and arrived at the conclusion that the Power Mac would get a new cube form factor. Few suspected a new Mac besides the Power Mac.

Maybe something similar is happening with the new mystery product Apple is now expected to release today. Maybe it isn't an iPod phone after all. Maybe it isn't a touch-screen iPod either.

Maybe it's both. And maybe it's neither.

To me, the hyping of the entire year 2007 suggests the emergence of a new platform from Apple. Maybe Apple didn't go out of its way and designed a new, scaled-down OS for handheld devices. Maybe Apple simply decided that now it's time for an ultra-portable Mac, in a subnotebook or handheld form factor, that is capable of running a (more or less) full version of Mac OS X.

We don't know. But… Touch-screen iPod, iPod phone, Apple smartphone, and the thing that makes Jobs more excited than the Macintosh did… How many things are these? Do they all exist? Or is it just one thing, grossly misunderstood?

Okay, we will see.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Beware the wrath of Motorolas and Nokias, oh Apple!

The New York Times thinks that Apple will release a very smart phone tomorrow, more like a pocket computer.

"Apple is about to touch off a nuclear war," said Paul Mercer, a software designer and president of Iventor, a designer of software for hand-helds based in Palo Alto, California. "The Nokias and the Motorolas will have to respond."
Well, yeah. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the Panasonics, Pioneers, Sonies, etc. to respond to the iPod challenge.


Will 2007 turn Apple into Sony?

Damn. One of the real reasons why I always wanted to write a Mac blog was so that I can publish Macworld Expo predictions and speculation. However, this year is difficult. There are already way too many shoo-ins, too much speculation, and a general cornucopia of rumors, predictions and wishes.

But anyway, these are my pre-expo thoughts. As this post will have a very short shelf life, I'm not bothering with links or references. Use Google at your own discretion.

What's given

iLife '07
can't just be merely inferred from a pattern, it's been leaked brutally (by iWork will almost certainly receive an update, too. Leopard and iTV are the rare things that Apple pre-announced, so some details will certainly follow. Of these two, the iTV doesn't create that much buzz, though it's yet another non-Mac product from Apple with a GUI and an OS of its own, and should thus warrant great interest as a significant player in the diversification of Apple.


I think Leopard's Top Secret features are perhaps the most eagerly anticipated items in the keynote. Leopard will certainly be a developer's delight with Objective-C 2.0, Core Animation, greatly enhanced developer tools and other killer features, but the consumer appeal of the new OS itself may be lacking a bit in comparison to earlier Mac OS X upgrades, especially in light of the slower update cycle that debuts with Leopard (which will ship after an almost two-year wait over Tiger). By the way, I don't think Leopard will ship any earlier than the spring deadline Apple announced. It just doesn't seem ready yet.

Rumors suggest an updated GUI, though nobody knows whether this change (if true) would only be skin deep, or it would add new behaviors or change existing ones. I guess the iTunes look (i.e. gray window borders without textures, flat, matte scroll widgets, and a shiny 3D selection highlight among others) will become more widespread, at least this would be the least surprising development (and certainly a welcome one over the brushed metal look, though not necessarily suitable to replace current non-textured windows).

If the look and feel change, I certainly hope for the following:

  • Hopefully, it won't be such a radical change that all icons, buttons and other custom graphics of third-party apps would need to be redone in order to avoid looking out of place. This was the case with the switch from Platinum to Aqua, and the transitional period wasn't pretty. Platinum icons on Aqua backgrounds looked decidedly horrible.
  • I hope pinstripes will be gone for good.
  • The ability to select a neutral gray color scheme (unlike the blue-biased Graphite theme) would be good for graphic designers.
If changes go beyond looks, I'd like to see a revamped Dock with some hierarchy or grouping of the countless random objects that thrive there. And, of course, many hope for the return of a spatial Finder, or at least the debut of a simply better one.

I've been thinking a lot about the "top secret" features, and have considered various theories on why these have been kept secret. The official explanation has been to prevent premature copying by Microsoft, but many wondered what Microsoft could have copied in the few months between the WWDC and Vista's debut other than looks – and this has certainly helped the "new GUI look" rumor gain momentum.

However, I don't think Apple's fear of the Redmond copycats necessarily involved Microsoft looking at Leopard features in August and squeezing them into Vista in two months' time.

Instead, this is what I think this "fear from copying" might have involved:
  • Announcing even difficult-to-copy features seven months before shipping, rather than only two months ahead, would give Microsoft five more months to catch up with these in a Service Pack release of Vista. Apple has bought itself five more months of market lead on these (still mysterious) features.
  • Microsoft isn't the only company that copies Apple. With the advent of the so-called Web 2.0, rich web interfaces abound, and many Apple design trends already surface on new websites. Today, web applications sometimes approach the functionality of desktop apps, and their development and distribution can be very fast.
  • Most likely, though, I suspect that at least some of the "Top Secret" features have something to do with as yet unannounced products, both hardware and software. Just one example: I think .Mac will be seriously revamped (the updated webmail client may be a hint of some progress going on behind the scenes), and just about everyone agrees that Dot-Mac sucks. The complaints have been going on for so long (and have yet to be addressed by Apple) that I'm sure something is happening by now. Oh, and of course, the iPod phone and the touchscreen iPod wil both use some extra tie-ins with Leopard.
Macs updated? Yawn…

Some Mac models will likely be updated. Eight-core Mac Pros do sound cool (c'mon, eight freakin' cores), even though the OS won't support them really, but come on, when did that particular problem stop Apple from releasing new pro hardware?

But frankly, who cares? If 2007 is going to be a great product year for Apple, I'd really like to see new things. Apple calls just about all of its years "great product years," with "exciting products down the pipeline," but these usually merely signify updated laptops, desktops and iPods with elegant, minimalist designs.

I actually hope that Mac updates will be a minor part of the keynote, or they may not even make it into the keynote.

Sonification ahead?

I mean, sure, it's great if the Mac Pro receives yet another update and gets even faster (prompting Phil Schiller to announce with genuine enthusiasm that "this is the fastest Mac ever," as if we were somehow expecting Macs to get slower every year), but still: there's only so much enthusiasm incremental updates, or even new form factors such as the Mac mini can create. I hope Apple is in a position today to become more like Sony, and diversify. Create new things. As in, mobile phones and PDAs. Apple-branded versions of these devices have been but a pipe dream for a long time, but not any more. The iPod phone is a given (though not necessarily at the Expo), and the iPod PDA is a possibility.

As it turns out, at least one of Apple's MWSF posters will tout the year 2007 (as does Apple's homepage). Will we see a(n unlikely) roadmap for the rest of the year, or will 2007 start with a bang? We'll see very soon.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year from Mac Thought Crime

Wonder what Apple's up to…