Saturday, April 21, 2007

Palm to compete against own OS: well done, folks!

According to a Register story (Palm distances itself from Windows), Palm, Inc. is dropping Windows Mobile and adopting Linux.

In reality, it is likely that Palm will emulate its former stablemate, Palmsource (formerly the software arm of the company, which was spun off and then acquired by Japan's Access and is now focused on adapting features of the Palm UI for a mobile Linux platform). In other words, it will concentrate for its uniqueness on navigation, widgets, and other critical features of the modern mobile UI
So, allow me to recap some of this sad saga. Execs from a struggling Palm left to create Handspring. It made a hit, the Treo. But Palm owned the OS. Palm bought Handspring, so everything was finally in one hand. Palm could have started to be building the whole widget, just like Apple.

But it wasn't meant to be. Palm spun off its OS to PalmSource, then licensed it back. Then Palm decided to use Windows Mobile. Meanwhile, PalmSource (now part of Access) was moving the Palm OS (now known as Garnet) to Linux. So what does Palm do? Also try to move the same OS to Linux on its own, so it can reduce licensing fees.

Let me guess: when Palm is done with its new OS (and renames itself about three more times, to maybe to PalmTwo, Treo, Inc., and then back to Palm), it will spin off the new OS as well. Or maybe spin off the Treo. Yeah, I think that one is certainly in the cards.

Or, at least, it will sell the Treo name and license it back.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is Apple Planning iPhoto for Windows?



Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Honestly, I'm just sick of everyone in this stupid Edelman/PC Mag/Twitter story

This made news, I guess, because Twitter was involved. Do you remember the time when bloggers started explaining how they first heard of Twitter, and what the hell it is anyway? Me neither. You know, all bloggers have always known all about Twitter, so this is why they just started dropping its name whenever they felt the time was ripe. You know, me too. That Twitter. I'm not going to admit that I only got around to first reading about Twitter some three weeks ago. As a blogger, being well-informed is what I'm all about, and I always know about everything. Even if I don't say so.

Anyway, here's the story. Edelman PR is a company representing several tech firms. Its senior vice president Steve Rubel gets a free subscription to PC Magazine, and throws it in the trash. Tsk, tsk. Worse, he chooses to tell all the world about it via Twitter, even though his company routinely begs the editor of that very magazine in his trashcan if he could pretty please write about its clients.

I'm going out on a limb here, but my guess is that this may have been caused by Olympic-sized stupidity, and/or psychopathic tendencies that are not uncommon among senior vice presidents.

But anyway, PC Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jim Louderback learns this, and throws a hissy fit like I've last seen in fifth grade. He's taking his ball home:

Should I instruct the staff to avoid covering Edelman's clients? Ignore their requests for meetings, reviews and news stories?
I know Louderback meant this as a rhetorical question, but the answer actually exists: no.


Louderback is an editor. His job is to know what matters to his readers, and then instruct his reporters to write about those things.

I somehow doubt that many PC Magazine readers think along the lines of "I wish they stopped covering all the companies who happen to be the clients of that PR firm whose senior vice president wrote something nasty the other day."

Or is it just me?

Yet his childish rant goes on:
I did a quick search through my recent email, and found that over the past few weeks Edelman staff pitched me about news and new products from Palm, MarkMonitor, Mozilla/Firefox, Microsoft (hardware and Xbox),, Vulcan Flipstart and Dash Navigation. Heck, they even pitched me yesterday on the release of Adobe's new Creative Suite 3, which has to be relevant to at least some of the 11 million folks we reach across our magazine, web and video properties each month. And then I realized that this was probably just the callous act of a rogue Edelman exec, and it didn't necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the company. Still, it made me wonder. And in the future, if I'm on the fence, I'll probably be somewhat less inclined to take a meeting with one of Edelman's clients.
OK. So if it weren't for Edelman, PC Magazine would never have covered Palm, Microsoft or Adobe.


And if some psycho at the same Edelman, a PR firm that no PC Magazine reader has ever heard of, says something nasty, the magazine will stop covering all these companies.

Here's the slogan of PC Magazine: the independent guide to technology.

If I were a subscriber, I'd cancel now.

And Twitter about it.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Europe: a fragmented market for the iPhone, despite EU-wide carriers

According to AppleInsider, Vodafone is seen as the most likely European carrier for the iPhone. So, Europe will have a single iPhone carrier, just like the U.S., right?

Wrong. In Europe, Vodafone is not a company, it's a brand. In some countries, Vodafone Group Plc. has subsidiaries, in others, it has affiliates, and in yet others, only partners without any ownership affiliation. According to Wikipedia, Vodafone is present through partners only in as many as 12 of the 27 EU countries!

How fast will Vodafone get all these companies to launch the iPhone in their respective markets? Unless Apple bitches and moans and threatens the world's largest telecom company into getting its act together, there can be several-month differences between introductions in different member states, as has been the case with many cellphone launches. (One I have been experiencing, waiting for months in frustration, was the Sony Ericsson P910i a few years ago. The Hungarian launch came months after the UK and German introductions.)

The EU isn't a single telecom market yet: it's actually 27 separate markets, with their own separate national telecom authorities. This is supposed to change after this summer, but the iPhone will most likely still need 27 approvals.

Worse, the 27 Vodafones and Vodafone partners are very separate entities who don't really talk to each other. Yet another personal anecdote: when I moved abroad, I asked Vodafone if I could transfer my two-year subscription to the Vodafone in my new home country. Of course not.

Apart from the brand, there's very little in common between the different Vodafones in the EU. Terms, prices and services vary greatly. I wonder how Apple will manage.

So should Apple choose another carrier? Nope, my post wouldn't be much different if, say, T-Mobile were the most likely candidate. It's not a Vodafone problem, it's an EU problem.

Just think about the iTunes store. I'm not sure if everyone knows, but 12 of the EU's 27 member states still have no access to the store. (It's a different 12 from the countries without a Vodafone affiliate, so no, it's not a pattern.) Establishing a single European market is a great endeavor, and the EU has come a long way, but there's still a lot of distance to cover.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Do Apple's Final Cut intro videos contain synthesized speech?

Apple has just released Final Cut Studio 2. The package is jaw-dropping. My favorite is the all-new Motion, with 3D capabilities and a vast array of other additional features.

While watching the introductory videos of all the various components of the Studio, I noticed something strange about the voice-over. At first, I thought, "Damn, who is this new guy? Something is bothering me about him." There was something strange about his intonation. And then I realized what: it very closely followed some pre-defined patterns. Upon further thought, I've made a wild guess: that guy probably isn't human.

Decide for yourselves, but if that's synthesized speech, it's pretty damn impressive. It sounds 99% human. It could be passed off as human. It's a huge improvement even over Alex, the great new voice coming soon to Leopard.

If it's just some guy who does voice-overs for a living, I apologize. But if not, I'm speechless.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Apple to rethink scrolling and mice?

Two of Apple's hardware patent filings have made the news this Friday.

The first, discovered by AppleInsider, describes a new Mighty Mouse design that ditches the problematic scroll ball, and lets the user switch between a "traditional" (cursor control) mode and a "pan/scroll" mode by adjusting the position of the fingers holding the mouse. In the latter mode, mouse movement would translate into scrolling, and the pointer would not move.

It may sound like a nice idea at first, but it has some serious problems. First of all, while the current two hand positions that let users choose between "right" and "left" clicking are fine by me, apparently some users find it confusing. I'm not sure if introducing yet other hand positions for switching between yet other modes is a good idea.

The "scrolling mode" itself also leaves me scratching my head. It's nothing new: many traditional scroll-wheel mice have such a mode which you can enter and exit by pressing the scroll wheel. I use such a mouse at work, and I hardly ever use that feature.

Modes are bad. I've been conditioned all my life to using the mouse to point; now I'd be supposed to use the same motion for scrolling. To me, the concept of moving the mouse for anything other than moving the pointer is totally alien. It's like using the steering wheel to shift gears.

When I scroll, I expect to have my mouse remain stationary. And I don't want to readjust my hand position every time I want to scroll. So thanks, but no thanks.

I think all Apple needs to do is, really, just fix the damn scroll ball, so that it works and keeps working. Perhaps a new design should avoid the use of moving parts. But how would that be possible?

One idea that Apple was toying with (and filed a patent for) was the rotary wheel mouse, which would have featured an iPod-like wheel on top of a mouse. The patent application itself starts by dissing traditional scroll wheels in order to establish the superiority of the proposed solution. Ironically, its arguments also stand valid against the scroll ball solution Apple eventually adopted:

the user must scroll, pick up a finger, scroll, pick up a finger, etc. This takes time and can be an annoyance to a user. In addition, because a portion of the wheel protrudes above the top surface of the mouse, inadvertent or accidental scrolling may occur when one of the two buttons is activated.
The rotary wheel would have allowed lengthy, continuous scrolling, without lifting a finger. Note how neither the Mighty Mouse nor the new "dual-mode" mouse can do that.

So what was wrong with the rotary mouse? Simple: it would let you scroll either only vertically or only horizontally, just like traditional scroll wheel mice. This is probably why the idea was ditched, and the omnidirectional scroll ball emerged as a solution. At least for the time being.

Incidentally, this is why I don't think today's other hardware patent filing, the one about yet another iPod-esque rotary wheel put on a keyboard, is going to go anywhere.

I think rotary wheels are on their way out anyway. Looks like the iPhone won't have one, not even a touch-screen implementation featured in yet another patent filing. And I think it's a safe bet that the iPhone's interface will eventually, over the next three or four years, trickle down all the way to the iPod nano.

So, I think Apple should go back to the drawing board if it wants to dump the scroll ball. I have some suggestions, and I'll post them soon. Stay tuned!


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Is the desktop dead? You wish!

Paul Graham says Microsoft's dead. I think his statement is a bit premature, but in essence, right: while still hugely profitable, Microsoft has become yet another big dumb company that matters less and less. The once fearful software dinosaur keeps (admittedly) playing catch-up to Apple's software innovations, and just about every new endeavor it attempts ends up as a humiliating failure.

But according to Graham, the main reason behind Microsoft's demise is... the death of the desktop. Ouch.

Everyone can see the desktop is over. It now seems inevitable that applications will live on the web—not just email, but everything, right up to Photoshop. Even Microsoft sees that now.
He links to Snipshot, a web application with basic image editing capabilities to prove the Photoshop point.

While impressive and useful in some circumstances, I'd be hard-pressed to find that app anything more than a novelty today.

So is Graham a Photoshop power user? Here's his background:
Paul Graham is an essayist, programmer, and programming language designer. In 1995 he developed with Robert Morris the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. In 2002 he described a simple Bayesian spam filter that inspired most current filters. He's currently working on a new programming language called Arc, a new book on startups, and is one of the partners in Y Combinator.
OK. I'm a bit tired of visionaries and web programmers pronouncing the desktop dead.

I'm a bit sick of platform-independent enthusiasts, including subcontractors I've worked with throughout my career, dismissing very legitimate usability and performance concerns. If the work you do involves several files, complex and quick actions, and a thousand clicks per hour, nothing comes close to a dedicated desktop application.

So let's talk again when someone develops a web-based version of, say, iLife. And yes, it does need to include optimized scrolling and full-screen slideshows in iPhoto, recording in iMovie, DVD encoding and burning in iDVD, and all the rich user interface features such as Exposé, multiple windows, drag and drop, immediate feedback, and acceptable performance. It might be possible in five years, but honestly, would it be worth the hassle?

Remember how television was supposed to kill the cinema? The desktop isn't going anywhere either.