Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

 

iPhone Nano

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

So apparently September 10 is the day that new iPhones will be announced. And everyone seems to be expecting a new iPhone that is fully capable, the same size as the existing form factor, but maybe with a plastic back that is cheaper to make. This is foolishness. I am sticking with my original prediction for an iPhone nano, and what I’ve been seeing in the marketplace has only confirmed my expectations.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a number of young women carrying old Motorola Star-Tac type phones. Why are they doing this? Because existing phones are too big and unwieldy for them. iPhones have gotten bigger, and Android phones are ridiculous. But also, these women have taken to carrying iPad Minis in their purses. So they don’t feel like they need a full fledged phone on them at all times. They prefer the larger iPad Mini for app related stuff, and the phone they just use for talking and texting.

This combination, of an iPhone Nano, whose features mirror that of the original iPhone plus Siri, and an iPad Mini, tethered to the iPhone Nano, could be VERY attractive for many women. And it could be priced as free with a contract, or at $150 stand alone (with a corresponding price-drop for the existing iPod Nano). That would make the combination of a iPad Mini plus an iPhone Nano still cheaper than a single iPhone 5S purchased without a contract, and for a lot of people the combination is more compelling.

So that’s what I expect to see. Take a look at that iPhone Nano and figure on something maybe slightly thicker but looks an awful lot like it in every other respect. I expect it will be a HUGE hit.

 
 

Apple Maps, Search Engines, Siri, And The Command Line Social Network

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

So I’ve been giving a lot of thoughts to Apple Maps, and I have to agree with my friend Calzone, Apple has been taking it on the chin needlessly. He writes:

Yes, Apple Maps has issues, but someone needs to speak up about the upside. The issues, as I understand it, can be itemized very simply: (1) some satellite images are warped; (2) searching for locations by name is flawed and risks taking you to the wrong place. No one cares about item 1 — and even Google has had the occasionally funny happenstance with their satellite imagery, so woop-di-doo to everyone with their panties in a bunch over that. Satellite view is very useful on occasion (as a mountain biker I depend on it often), but hardly used as much as map view. And for item 2, yes, everyone cares about this. But I’d venture to say that nearly half of the critical navigation use cases for maps on the iPhone consist of the user entering an address, not searching by name. For the situations where you have to search by name, the workaround is simple: lookup the address first and then ask Siri to take you there. Apple will straighten this issue out over time, as we all know.

But the advantages for using Apple maps (as a user, not even regarding Apple’s corporate needs) are HUGE. Why isn’t anyone talking about these advantages?

Do you remember what it was like zooming in on Google maps and having to wait for the tiles to load? Do you remember zooming in and out and seeing blurry pixelated stand-ins while you waited for discrete zoom steps? How about those awkward in-between zoom levels? How about tiles that never refreshed and you were left with a map that was half zoomed in and half zoomed out? Or tiles that never loaded at all and all you get is a gray square? With Apple Maps, this is a thing of the past. The maps are INSANELY responsive. Zooming in and out is seamless and smooth. Panning is seamless and smooth. No more stutters, no delays, no dropped tiles. No fragmented imagery. No more waiting for something that eventually times out and then your connection sucks and you can’t get it back. Ok, part of that is me switching to Verizon instead of AT&T, but part is also Google’s stupid tech. I know this because I suffer the same some-tiles-that-never-load on my desktop computer even over a high bandwidth cable modem.

Do you remember walking around downtown somewhere, trying to find that bar five blocks over, and being lost… so you pull out your iphone, but north is on top and you’re walking south-east so you get confused about turning left or right at certain intersections. What did you do? You enabled compass mode so you could tell which way you were going. But now you need to zoom in or out again. Bam, compass mode would disengage and you’d lose your orientation again. Now that’s a thing of the past, just rotate freely and pinch to zoom in or out without losing your rotation.

Turn by turn? We got it now. 3D view (not even talking the flyover stuff here, just basic 3D view) kicks butt and pans really intuitively and helps give you a feel for the layout.

In short, usability — Apple’s hallmark — has increased a hundred-fold. Google maps was practically useless for me. Really, it was. Apple maps on the other hand, is everything I ever expected from a mapping app and it’s obviously only going to get better. Google, their supporters, and the screaming anti-Apple banshee contingent can suck it.

Yes, Apple’s database needs some filling in, but much of the criticism has been based on errors Apple maps generates that in fact Google and other maps also generate. When I first saw people were having issues, I asked Apple Maps to show me the Tobin Bridge, only to have it show me a bridge in Kentucky. I assumed that this was a problem with Apple Maps alone, until a friend showed me that Google Maps also got it wrong/ Only Bing Maps got it right. (Bing Maps, in my experience, is the currently the best of breed in terms of mapping content, both in terms of knowledge and in terms of directions.)

So why do Bing and Google maps both have better databases? I think the answer is obvious: they are connected to search engines, which provide all sorts of address data to the search engine, which in turn feeds the mapping database. If Apple is really going to catch up, I’m afraid they are going to need a search engine of their own. There are a number out there worth buying (I wouldn’t try starting from scratch) and I’ll tell you my pick in a bit. But suffice it to say, Apple needs a search engine if they’re ever going to get Maps right.

So let’s spend a moment to think about an Apple search engine, and what it would be like. The first think it needs is to be ad free, and respectful of privacy. They should introduce it by saying that “you have a right to search without being tracked and having your searches sold to sleazebag marketers” or something like that. Then, I would say, “because we believe that things are better when they’re open, we’re opening the search algorithms to people who have an Apple ID. So if you’re on an Apple device, and you want to customize your search in some way, you can do that. Because open is better than closed.” Something like that, kick Google right in the nads.

Because if you really want to conduct thermonuclear war against Google, then you need to give their main product away for free. What’s good for the goose, all that…

The search engine they buy ought to be one that already works largely by text input. Sounds silly, but there is in fact a lot of clicking around on most search engines. I like blekko myself. Everything can be entered in on a command line kind of way. Which is important, because I think we’re all going to be using the command line quite a bit more, orally, by way of Siri.

Because Siri is the new command line interface.

And really, you want to be able to do everything via the command line. So the Siri API needs to be available to other apps, so you can make restaurant reservations via Siri while cruising down the highway. Or pay bills. Or rate the song you’re listening to and tell the world about it. Or tell everybody how much the traffic you’re stuck in sucks.

Or maybe not.

Maybe what you need is for Siri to have access to a command line social network that can handle all of these things by way of apps that reside on it. The command line social network, of course, is Twitter, and I’ve already described how Twitter should be making money by selling commands for apps to run on itself. I only wished I’d coined the phrase “command-line social network: when I’d written that piece.

So yeah, Apple would probably have to buy Twitter to make that happen. So they should do that too.

Such a combination of services would be powerful in the extreme. A search engine, customizable to your needs, and completely private, feeding information to a maps database, which is also feed by users with iPhones all over the world. An auditory command line, into which you can run social network apps via Twitter. And with Twitter, you also own the ultimate universal login. All integrated, making the database stronger. And none of it to sell advertising. All of it to make a better phone experience that you’ll want to buy and upgrade again and again.

So what am I missing here?

 
 

Apple Products Not Announced

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I couldn’t possibly be the only one struck by the new iPod nano, released yesterday, pictured here. The old nano was more or less square, and about the size of a watch face. In fact, it looked so much like a watch face that Steve Jobs on stage suggested that people might want to make watch straps for it. And they did, many of which would up being carried by Apple’s own store. It was an extremely successful product. When they last updated the nano a year or so ago, I asked a friend what he thought the update would be, and he responded “I can’t imagine, it seems perfect as it is.” And indeed, it’s hard to imagine improving on it.

The increased size is in no way an improvement. Yes it has bluetooth, which I was hoping to get in the previous form factor. But instead they made it rectangular, like for playing video. So what’s going on?

Here’s what I think is going on. Apple is planning to release a watch, and probably an iPhone nano as well.

Let’s start with the watch, which I think is more likely. When Apple introduced the square nano and Jobs suggested it could make a nice watch, that was a trial balloon, to see what would happen. From my vantage point, it would appear to have been a successful trial balloon. Not only are there no shortage of watch bands for the nano, but there is now a newfound interest in smart watches, lead by the rather unbelievable success of the Pebble watch on Kickstarter, of which I am a backer. Clearly, there is an interest in a product like this.

One thing which struck me about the Pebble watch was this fact right here:

Android users can also receive Text Messages (SMS) on their Pebble. Unfortunately iPhone does not expose this data.

Now why would that be? My guess is that is because it’s being reserved for the actual Apple iWatch.

Tim Cook has repeatedly said that Apple would only enter a market where Apple can bring significant innovation, and which is large enough on a global scale to warrant entering. So can Apple bring innovation to the watch market? I think they can. Let’s try to figure out what features an iWatch might have:

  • Bluetooth Connectivity, to play music and stream content via the iphone which remains in your pocket, and display and dismiss text messages, calendar reminders, scroll through and view emails, and other items from your notification center
  • Local Storage to be an iPod on its own.
  • Airplay, to be able to send music out to boomboxes and the like
  • Front Facing Camera, to do Facetime over bluetooth to your iPhone
  • Accelerometer, for fitness and other items
  • NFC for payments
  • Apps, not native, but ability to interface to apps on your phone

There may be other things I’m missing. Such an item would be almost a must have for anyone currently carrying an iPhone. And even for people not carrying an iPhone, just as an iPod in a watch form factor, it would be an extremely attractive piece of electronics.

So how about the second criteria for entering a market? Is the watch market big enough for Apple to want to enter it? Well the global watch market is $46.5 billion annually. That looks big enough to me. My guess is we could see a watch announced, maybe even before the Christmas season. Imagine if that were the “one more thing” announced at the iPad mini/air event? It would be truly explosive.

The other thing that i think Apple will release is an iPhone nano. I use the term nano because it will be comparable to the iPod nano, same basic form factor. Analysts have been calling for Apple to release a cheaper smaller version of the iPhone since the original was released, and I think the new nano portends of its imminent arrival. In fact, I think the iPhone 5 was elongated precisely to make the newly coming iPhone nano seem just that much smaller. I suspect that this new iPhone will be more or less app free, namely it will run on iOS, but it will be more like the original iPhone, what you see is what you get. It will also work with the new iWatch, but more or less it’s target market is the price conscious android buyer, who never loads apps on their phone anyhow, and just wants something small, pretty and easy to use. This is not for the hard core Apple geeks, it’s for mom and dad. Or even for kids whose parents don’t want to monitor which apps they purchase. And it will eliminate any price umbrella that the iPhone currently provides.

I’m guessing the new iPhone nano comes out after the Christmas season, so as to not bigfoot on the sales of the iPhone 5.

And that’s it. Let me know what you think.

 
 

How Twitter Ought To Be Monetizing Itself

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

If you’re at all a technophile. you’ve undoubtedly read how Twitter is slowly shutting down 3rd party apps, contemplating inserting ads into the Twitter stream, and generally flailing about in a poorly thought out effort to earn money. Twitter, whose popularity soared due to the openness of the platform, has been eschewing their earliest adopters and cheerleaders who, chafing under Twitter’s new rules, appear to be heading to a competing service called App.net, which charges consumers $50/year for the service and intends to keep itself open for the use of 3rd party apps.

Now, I’m not claiming to be the smartest man in the room, but it seems to me that both parties are missing the boat. Yes, I get charging consumers for a service that they use, and that when the user is paying for the service, they can demand a certain modicum of privacy. But privacy is kind of BS on Twitter. Nearly everything happens in the open anyway, except for direct messages and hidden feeds (the point of hidden feeds being completely lost on me), and nobody seems to think that Twitter plans to sell these to anybody for anything anyhow.

And as for Twitter’s plans, well they seem even more silly. Maybe some mathematical genius has a means of mining people’s snarky comments for information on the perfect ad to serve up to that person and the exact right time. But it seems more likely to me that they’ll just creep people out in an uncanny valley sense, rather than successfully serve up ads people will click on.

No, the value in Twitter is in the fact that people are connected on the thing, and it can serve as a universal login for other services. So if I were running Twitter and looking for revenue, that is where I would look.

For example, let’s say I could send the following tweet:

@friend $5 Hey buddy, here’s the money I owe you

And have the money move directly from my account to my friend’s account via Paypal or Dwolla. Is that worth something? What would Paypal or Dwolla or someone else even pay to own the dollar sign command on Twitter?

Or how about this?

@friend Hey buddy, lending you Game of thrones on kindle. K http://cl.ly/083y0b3x280I

Or maybe this:

@friend Hey Buddy, here’s that movie you wanted to borrow from me. I http://cl.ly/3Q1O1m3G3r02

So why does this work? Because for iTunes or Amazon to offer services like this, they need to build a social network of their own. Apple tried that with ping and it didn’t work out. Part of why these things never work out is that people don’t trust retailers, and so they give them email addresses that they use for retailers alone. Thus when you let Game Center rape your address book looking for your friends, it finds virtually no-one, because nobody gave their personal email address to iTunes.

But if you connect your Twitter account to Dwolla, Amazon, iTunes, Dropbox and who knows what else, you enable all the benefits of social networking without having to recreate the wheel each time, and without having to share more than you really need to with the retailer, or even the person you’re trying to share with.

Twitter could charge companies for access like this either by transaction or just a flat rate per year. And they could auction off single or maybe double letter combinations for use as commands, such a $ for sending money. And in that world there’s no reason to limit how third parties access and display Twitter for people. In fact, the more varieties there are, the better.

There’s probably zero chance of Twitter changing course at this stage. But I always thought that was the real potential for Twitter, a single interface for connecting and sharing. That’s where the economic potential lies. The tweeting itself is just a fun sideline.

 
 

Verizon FIOS Is A Big Giant FAIL!!!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Woke up early this morning to find my Internet service was down. Ahh yes, it’s Verizon FIOS. Called a tech support number only to have a voice prompt menu attempt to diagnose my router for me. Eventually got through to a human who told me that this was a planned outage for maintenance!!! He was apologetic on the phone, and said that they usually try to do those while people are sleeping. I told him that I’m paying for 24/7 service, and that he owed me a credit. He said he couldn’t handle it, but would transfer me to billing, which he did. And then Billing actually told me that they couldn’t handle my request, because THE OUTAGE AFFECTED THEM TOO! Somehow, it didn’t stop the tech support guy from looking up my account however…

You know, there are people with night tech support jobs who work from home, for whom 24/7 service is a matter of absolute necessity. How dare they think they can just turn the Internet off on their customers, without recompense or even A LITTLE WARNING!!!!

Thank god I have a wireless hotspot from Clear. That is how I’m posting this now. But shame on Verizon. I will be calling back later to demand my credit. You should too.

 
 

Mobile Me Gallery Alternative

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

So I’m still using Mobile Me as my online photo gallery. I like it because it integrates with iPhoto and because frankly, I trust Apple with my IP. Never been a huge fan of FLickr, and I don’t trust Yahoo not to shut down Flickr like they tried to shut down Delicious. I’ve been thinking of using the photo gallery feature in Dropbox, but doing that requires putting the photos on multiple places on my HD, in the iPhoto library and in the Dropbox folder.

If anybody has any suggestions I’d like to hear them. Otherwise I suppose I’ll give the Dropbox gallery a shot.

Thanks

 
 

Apple TV

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

So Apple has been apparently trying to make the AppleTV device a substitute for having to get a cable TV subscription. That’s a good idea I suppose. I believe I’ve discussed this before, but let’s review my thoughts on the matter again.

There are only three kinds of television that need to be streamed, or viewed live. Those are news, sports and weather. You can put live game shows like American Idol into the sports category. Everything else, basically, can and should be viewed on demand. Streaming takes up an inordinate amount of bandwidth, and all the filler shit that has to go in between shows and whatnot costs a lot of money and provides value to noone. Finally, nobody cares much about channels anymore, except as a way to find the programming they want to watch.

So here’s what Apple ought to do. Offer a cable type subscription online. Let it stream news, sports and weather channels. That should be a manageable feat over IP. Then, offer network and cable tv shows for either a fixed fee or a per hour watched fee, giving fees over to those parties who provide the programming. That is, assuming they can get the programming.

Apparently, the content companies are afraid to piss off their current distribution channels by offering their content online, either directly themselves or indirectly through a service like AppleTV. So here’s what Apple ought to do: accelerate their life and death decision by threatening to develop identical programming themselves if they won’t get on board. As we all know, most cable television programming sucks anyhow, and it simply can’t be that hard to replicate it. And with Apple’s cash reserves, they should easily be able to replicate any show on any network, and do so without making any real difference to Apple’s bottom line.

The networks totally lack original programming as it is. Look at all the Mad men knockoffs, Playboy Club and Pan Am. Give me a break. If the networks feel free to knock each other’s shows off so readily, then surely Apple can do the same. Except that Apple’s shows will undoubtedly be better. Which would you rather watch, another overhyped documentary on the History Channel, or an Apple produced history documentary that is even toned and gives you the opportunity to learn something? Just saying…

 
 

Bitcoin and the NSA

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Bitcoin utilizes something called elliptical curve encryption in its processes. I remember back in the day, attending Bob Hettinga’s “Digital Commerce Society of Boston” meetings, and hearing this discussed then That was about 15 years ago now. I’m not a cryptographer, but from what I remember, elliptical curve encryption offered extraordinarily strong encryption without requiring an extraordinary amount of processing power. It was envisioned at the time that this method of encryption would be extremely useful in mobile devices.

My question is simple: Has the NSA broken elliptical curve encryption yet? And if they have, would they have it within their power to destroy Bitcoin?

If the NSA has broken elliptical curve encryption, they surely wouldn’t announce such a capability. But it does mean that if the US Federal Government wanted to, they could crush Bitcoin in seconds flat, inflating it beyond measure. By doing so, they would announce to the world that they can break elliptical curve encryption, but maybe that would be worth doing in certain circumstances.

But put aside the NSA for a moment. Theoretically, there is also what I would call the MC Frontalot problem as well. In his song, Secrets From The Future, he writes:

You can’t hide secrets from the future with math.
You can try, but I bet that in the future they laugh
at the half-assed schemes and algorithms amassed
to enforce cryptographs in the past.

The point being, that even the best cryptography today is likely to be broken, even by brute force, at some point in the future. So my question is, how is the Bitcoin development community planning to work around the MC Frontalot problem? Physical currency gets recalled and re-issued with new anti-counterfeiting measures added periodically, but what’s the equivalent for Bitcoin? I assume somebody has already asked this question, but I thought I’d ask it here in any event.

BTW, I have a new Bitcoin tip jar in the sidebar. Thanks in advance to anyone who hits it.

 
 

Happy Easter – Amazon And Adobe Air

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Happy Easter everyone!

So it being Easter, I though I’d play Handel’s Messiah, only to find I didn’t in fact own it. So I went to Amazon.com to buy a copy, since they tend to be slightly cheaper than iTunes. So far so good, I bought the album, and I’m listening to it now.

After buying it, it encouraged me to load it onto Amazon’s new cloud music service. In also suggested loading my entire music library there with the use of an uploader tool. I thought that sounded like a fun experiment, so I proceeded to download and install the uploader. Upon watching it install, without permission, it began t install Adobe Air. Now maybe somewhere in the tiny terms of service it said that this was an Air app, but it certainly wasn’t billed as any such thing. I forced the installer to quit and deleted any files I could find from Adobe Air and the Amazon Uploader I could find.

If Amazon, a company which believes itself to be a software company, can’t be bothered to write native apps for one of the largest computing platforms out there, or even be bothered to notify users that the app they’re about to install isn’t native, then they really don’t deserve my business.

After I was done downloading Handel’s Messiah, the Amazon downloader app wanted me to download a new, upgraded version of the downloader. I declined. I declined because they lost my trust.

Try again Amazon. You can certainly do better than that.

BTW, I’m blogging this on my iPad using an app called Blogsy. It’s what the wordpress app should have been from the get go. I would highly recommend it to anyone who blogs with an iPad.

 
 

Bitcoin and Amazon

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Bitcoin. I was introduced to it by listening to the EconTalk podcast on Bitcoins. Russ Roberts, the host, touched on many important issues regarding Bitcoins, but in my opinion, missed on some others. I want to think out loud on the blog about some of those issues today.

So for those who are unfamiliar, or too lazy to click the links above, Bitcoins are an alternate online currency, whose units are limited, and whose distribution is completely decentralized, unlike previous attempts at online currencies such as beenz or flooz. What this means in practicality is that nobody can inflate currency. Bitcoins are generated at a rate of 50 every ten minutes, and will stop being generated once there are 21 million Bitcoins in circulation, which are divisible down to 8 decimal places. By downloading the Bitcoin software and leaving it running on your machine, you enter into lottery to receive the 50 Bitcoins generated every ten minutes. So you can either get Bitcoins by waiting to win the lottery, or by trading goods or services for Bitcoins. By all accounts, the Bitcoin system is cryptographically sound and hacker proof.

So what’s the point?

Well, there are a few major points that hit me immediately. The first is that this is in essence, the world’s first fiat currency that literally cannot be inflated (Is it even appropriate to call this a fiat currency, since it’s not decreed by force? Can we even call it a paper currency?). This represents an enormous achievement. The second thing that hits me is that in a world of high inflation, this may prove to be a valuable currency worth using, a thought not lost on Russ Roberts or on the creators of the currency. The third thing that occurs to me, that was not at all touched on in the podcast, is that the existence of such a currency proves an enormous threat to Paypal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and every bank that makes money on ATM fees and checking accounts. It is, to put is mildly, completely insane that 17 years after the creation of the world wide web, we still pay fees to these types of companies to electronically move money around for us. Arguably, if we had a congress or federal government that did its job, they would have already developed a digital, cryptographically sound currency for us to be able to exchange electronically by now, but we don’t. Regardless, it is this last thought that really makes me think that Bitcoin may have legs.

When you go shopping at a retail establishment, you have likely noticed that many stores try to get you to use cash under a certain dollar amount. Moreover, most retail establishments, but particularly the ones that sell high-ticket items, really try to direct consumers to use their debit cards over their credit cards. This is solely because of the difference between the fees generates when using the debit network vs the credit card networks. Imagine if your will, how much money a company such as Amazon spends on credit card fees. Amazon could allocate a tiny portion of that to Bitcoin development, and the long term rewards would be enormous. Moreover, they could operate an exchange for Bitcoins to existing currencies, one that would be much cheaper and more easily accessible than the current solutions, which charge exorbitant fees or use existing systems such as Paypal to conduct the exchange. Amazon could simply enable merchants to accept Bitcoins, and offer dollar exchanges for flat fees, and potentially initiate a tidal wave.

So the Bitcoin thing has really got my wheels turning. You have a real online currency, with real incentive for major retailers to back it and get out from under the credit card companies. This thing potentially has legs. So i’m going to blog my thoughts about Bitcoins in a few blog posts. I’m sorry if this sort of thing bores you.