Archive for September, 2012

 

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?

 
 

Phone

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

If you’re wondering what this is about, watch 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.

 
 

Never Forget

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

what we lost, who we lost, or that we lost

UPDATE:

I don’t mean to gloat, but some of my words from last year seem awfully prescient now:

I’m going to go ahead and predict that iran will roll up influence across the Arab world after each of these Arab countries disposes of their dictator. While the Iranians have the good sense not to attack the US directly, they don’t have the good sense not to try and start WW3 by nuking israel. The result of this will not be good. Particularly since we’re broke. We don’t have the money to rectify this mistake, even if we had the will, which we most certainly do not have. The best we can hope for here is that the Iranian roll-up of the Middle East doesn’t start WW3, and that we have enough new energy sources to bring online within the US and Canada that we will be able to safely ignore the middle east for some time.

 
 

Rob Sama Grand Plan – Tax Rectification Act/Amendment

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Rob Sama Grand PlanSo it’s been a while since we’ve added to the Grand Plan here on the samaBlog. And I’ve had this notion ruminating in my head since the Obamacare decision came down. But I haven’t had the spare cycles to devote to writing this until now. So excuse me if this seems a few months late.

So the Roberts Obamacare decision comes down to this: the power to tax as expressed in the 16th amendment to the Constitution is unlimited, and any objective that cannot be met by using any of the enumerated powers can be coerced of the citizenry by means of the tax code. So while the commerce clause doesn’t give congress the right to compel people to buy insurance, the tax code in effect does.

It goes without saying that this interpretation of Congress’ power to tax, an interpretation which contradicts Supreme Court rulings from the time of the 16th amendment’s adoption, grants effectively unlimited powers to Congress to compel or outlaw whatever behavior it so chooses, so long as it is clothed in the power to tax. Anybody with half a brain can see how such a power is incompatible with the idea of a free society, and can and likely will lead to abuse in the future. And so we ought to propose the tax rectification Amendment, which would read more or less as follows:

The power to tax is limited to raising revenues to enable the federal government execute the enumerated powers given it by this constitution. Congress may not, under any circumstances, require abusive or excessive taxation, or taxes which are which encourage changes in the behavior of the citizenry.

I am not a Constitutional scholar, and I would be open to better wording from someone who has been trained in the art of such things, but you get the drift.

The problem with such an amendment, of course, is that it would not just invalidate Obamacare. It would lay waste to much of the tax code as it currently exists. I am in favor of such destruction, but it seems to me that many in congress are not, especially on the Democrats’ side of the aisle, given their proclivity towards Obamacare (and telling people what to do generally). And so should the Tax Rectification Amendment be rejected, we shall motivate those who differ from us by exercising our newfound powers under the Roberts decision, and enact the Tax Rectification Act. The Tax Rectification Act, of course, is just a series of punitive taxes against hot button cultural items that are adored by the SWPL crowd. I came up with a few ideas off the top of my head. Surely by the time the new congress takes power, we can come up with a mile-long list that will infuriate the left. But here’s my start for now:

  • 100% tax on organic produce
  • $1,000,000 annual excise tax on food trucks
  • $1,000,000 annual excise tax on any restaurant or food establishment that does not serve meat
  • $2,000,000 annual excise tax on any restaurant or food establishment that does not serve animal products of any kind
  • $1,000,000 annual excise tax on every institution that performs abortions. Couple with a $10,000 excise tax on every abortion performed
  • 500% sales tax on any sticker, flag or other item sold with a rainbow on it
  • $10,000,000 excise tax on every motion picture produced in the United States
  • $1,000 excise tax on bicycle helmets
  • $500/lb excise tax on the production and sale of tofu
  • $100 excise tax on every bumper sticker produced
  • $1,000,000 annual excise tax on medical marijuana dispensaries

I could go on, you get the drift.

But you object, and exclaim, “But Rob, I despise Obamacare as much as you. But I enjoy some or many of these things on this list too. I watch movies, and eat at food trucks, and ride a bicycle..” To which I say: you’re missing the point. The point is not to actually put all these things out of existence, but rather to tell those on the other side that we are willing and able to use this new fangled power in crazy ass ways to destroy the things that you hold most dear. And that the longer you wait on ratifying the Tax Rectification Amendment, the more likely you will reap irreparable damage to those you hold dearest. So Join with us and pass the amendment. Yes you lose Obamacare, but you also gain the assurance that we won’t tax the accouterments of the SWPL lifestyle just out of spite. Indeed, it is designed to give those on the other side a newfound appreciation of why limited government is a good thing. And such an appreciation will only have good consequences over the long term.

 
 

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.