Posts Tagged ‘iPad’

 

iOS 4.2 – What’s Missing

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

So Apple has put up a new page detailing what to expect in iOS 4.2, which is the unifying os for the iPhone and the first version of iOS 4 for the iPad. It contains a number of features, including advanced picture taking, a game center, and printing.

So let’s take a moment to review what it doesn’t contain:

  • No integrated form of cloud computing. No MobileMe offering that would act as a cloud-based file manager. Every mobile device Apple sells should come with a free MobileMe account. Android essentially comes with this already (albeit for a price, your privacy). Apple should up their offering to compete.
  • No revamped file management overall. Even putting MobileMe aside, it would be nice if we could use Dropbox, or Google Apps to save our documents online from any app we want. As it stands, I can open a doc from an app, but I can’t save back out to the cloud from any app. Any sort of centralized file manager would make me happy, frankly.

It could be that no announcement along these lines has been made because it’s a surprise, which would be nice. I kind of feel like the iOS3 iPad has basically been a beta product, and that fixing the file management issue would bring it out of beta and into maturity. OTOH, given how many iPads they sold, I tend to think Apple likely disagrees, and may do nothing to fix the file management shortcomings. We shall see.

 
 

Dirty Pool

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I’m beginning to despise Google.

I started noticing that Google appears to have disabled YouTube when its embedded in a web page for mobile safari. Used to be that on the iPhone it would show a graphic of the video, and when tapped would open the YouTube app. On the iPad, it would actually play in the webpage, with the option to go full screen. As of now, so far as I can tell, nothing appears at all.

Please let me know in the comments if you’re experiencing the same thing. Just scroll down a few entries and tell me if you can see the video of me reading the Declaration of Independence on your iPhone or iPad.

It strikes me as awfully suspicious that they should do this simultaneously with launching the new mobile YouTube site. I’m guessing what they’re trying to do is to get you to log in to your Google credentials in your web browser so they can associate your mobile web surfing with your desktop web surfing. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google shut down the YouTube app altogether. In fact, I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

Google really is evil.

 
 

On the iPhone “Openness”

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Is the iPhone “open” or “closed”? In a sense it seems like a silly question. Clearly it’s both, the iPhone has a proprietary layer built on top of an open source core, FreeBSD. The fact that its API is published and that they let 3rd party developers write software for it makes it open as well, though not open source. Which is really the only critical difference between it and Android. Android makes the layer they build on top of Linux open source. But this really shouldn’t matter anyone other than network operators.

The real question is does Apple support open standards, and it’s hard to argue that they don’t. HTML5 is fully integrated, and developers are free to build HTML5 apps and have users install them with shortcuts on their iPhones and iPads. In fact, when the iPhone first came out, that was how Jobs wanted all development on the iPhone to occur. AT that time, the iPhone really was a closed platform since it had no public API to write native applications to it. But Apple changed direction, and now it’s hard to say that the iPhone isn’t an open platform in that sense.

But what about Flash? Well Flash is a proprietary standard, and Apple has no obligation to develop a Flash plug-in or executable for it. They do prevent Adobe from developing a version for the iPhone, but this is largely due to battery life and CPU issues. Which brings me to my next point.

Mobile devices have constraints that desktop devices do not. Constraints include battery life, storage, and CPU. An application that hogs the CPU, runs down the battery and eats up all your memory is going to ruin the mobile computing experience. And the party that will get blamed for that is the brand name on the device. Just witness the row over tethering. The iPhone has had tethering since iPhone 3.0 was announced over a year ago. iPhone tethering is available internationally, but AT&T forbids it. But who gets the blame for a lack of tethering in the US?

Apple.

Hence the App store, ostensibly. Apps which would ruin the mobile experience are essentially forbidden from being installed on the device. And that includes anything that would run down the battery quickly or hog the CPU. For that reason, runtimes are not allowed. This much I understand.

What I don’t understand is the censorship. What does stopping porno have to do with assuring a decent mobile experience? I agree that such apps are a stupid waste of time, that there’s more porno to be found using Safari than anyone could ever want from buying iPhone apps. But still, why ban them? It only creates confusion as to what the App store is about.

But what’s worse in my mind, what’s truly unforgivable, is the fact that there are no shortage of apps out there that have bad reviews not because people didn’t enjoy the app or anything, but because the app crashes or is buggy. That I do NOT understand. If Apple isn’t testing these apps to see that they work, to see that they don’t ruin the mobile experience, then what the hell are they doing? In fact the opacity of the App Store approval process is the only element of the iPhone ecosystem that truly is closed.

So Apple needs to do two things, pronto. 1) they need to provide a clear set of guidelines as to what is being tested in the App Store approval process. That set of guidelines should be published somewhere on apple.com for everyone to see and understand. And 2) they need to stop censoring for content. If that means they need to open an adult section of the app store, so be it. But censorship can never be a black and white, open affair. Just look at the legal definitions for obscenity for an example.

I think if they take those 2 steps they can end this “open vs. closed” debate and put it behind them. But so long as the app store approval process remains opaque and broken, this openness question will continue to dog Apple.

 
 

File Management On The iPad

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

So I finally worked my way through John Gruber’s 7,300 word review of the iPad. What interested me most is that in all his lead-ups to the iPad, touting how it was a revolution in personal computing, the one thing that really stood out was that Apple had dispensed with the file manager. Managing files in the background was the wave of the future, Gruber proclaimed.

So isn’t it interesting that his principle complaint regarding the iPad in his review is… FILE MANAGEMENT! Basically, it would appear that the iWork suite of applications requires you to manually move files back and forth between your iPad and your Mac, mostly by means of syncing through the dock connector. Gruber is right that this is madness, and that the correct model is for the iPad to wirelessly keep documents up to date on iWork.com and even on your Mac at home, kind of like how Google Docs works today. Gruber also links to this good essay on the subject which is worth reading.

I just think at the end of the day that my original assessment of the iPad was right. It’s still suckling at the teat of iTunes, and for the iPad to grow up, it really needs to learn how to live in the cloud.

BTW, none of this means I won’t be getting one. I will be, as my old 12″ iBook is on its deathbed. I’m just waiting for the 3g versions as I think that that new data plan is pretty hard to beat, and will be a killer app on vacations and the like. Moreover, my wife had a co worker who brought one in to work and even my Android using wife was extremely impressed with the device. I’ll be sure to post my own review when I get mine.

 
 

Proud To Have Canceled My WSJ Subscription

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

So I canceled my Wall Street Journal subscription some time ago, shortly after they redesigned their website, which was shortly after Rupert Murdoch bought it. Canceling is probably the wrong word. Really, I just let my subscription lapse; I didn’t renew. I did this for the following reasons:

  • I HATED the new layout of the Wall Street Journal, a layout that was so complex and loony that it would regularly crash my iPhone.
  • They started giving their editorial page away for free, which was a major reason why I bought in.
  • I would only ever really read 5-6 articles a day in the WSJ, and I could get those by searching through Google while paying nothing.
  • NONE of the content I received, including the editorial page, was so unique as to be worth paying for. Generally speaking, I could get content of equal or superior quality that was free on blogs or advertiser supported on other websites.

Now I hadn’t specifically been proud of canceling my subscription until now, simply because it was something I’d given little thought to. I stopped subscribing to something, and reallocated those dollars in my budget. No big deal, certainly not anything to make a public deal about.

But lately, I’ve been feeling differently. To begin with, Rupert Murdoch has been making a giant public stink about how he wants to put all his content behind pay walls, how Google is supposedly stealing all his revenues, and other such nonsense. Frankly, I don’t feel comfortable financially supporting such silliness, but one could conceivably take the position that he’s just an old coot, and that when he passes on or retires his media properties will wind up in saner hands.

Also, word is that the Wall Street Journal is trying to charge something close to the paper subscription price for the iPad version of their publication. I’ve written before about why that approach is folly. So I feel good about not sending my money to people whose thinking about digital media is so badly clouded.

But then there’s this net neutrality thing that the Journal keeps harping on. Now I don’t mind honest disagreement on an issue, but I do mind demagoguery. And the Journal seems to have taken the position that Net Neutrality is some lefty Google hippie sort of conspiracy, and that right thinking people ought to oppose it on that basis alone. Hence wild and weird misstatements as to what Net Neutrality is by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. They also engage in name calling, referring to the proposals as “Network Neutering” or “Net Neut” for short. All in all, it’s disgusting, stupid, and particularly short sighted for conservatives.

So I’m going to fisk Holman Jenkins column in the Journal today. It will take some time, but it’s well deserved, and frankly, somebody has to do it.

Jenkins writes, in a column obnoxiously titled, “End of the Net Neut Fetish?” :

Hooray. We live in a nation of laws and elected leaders, not a nation of unelected leaders making up rules for the rest of us as they go along, whether in response to besieging lobbyists or the latest bandwagon circling the block hauled by Washington’s permanent “public interest” community.

Look, even proponents of Net Neutrality like Techdirt and yours truly think that giving the FCC free reign to regulate the Internet, particularly when congress never gave such authority to the FCC to begin with, is a bad idea. It is good to live in a nation of laws, and procedure matters. But that isn’t to say this battle is over, not by a long shot. Congress clearly has the right to regulate the Internet as it is almost by definition interstate commerce. What is required is what I believe was always required here, for congress to pass a law.

This was the reassuring message yesterday from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals aimed at the Federal Communications Commission. Bottom line: The FCC can abandon its ideological pursuit of the “net neutrality” bogeyman, and get on with making the world safe for the iPad.

This is Jenkins’ basic thesis: that the FCC should spend its time on wireless spectrum issues. Frankly, I think the FCC should be disbanded or otherwise scaled back by quite a bit, but it’s a different issue to me.

The court ruled in considerable detail that there’s no statutory basis for the FCC’s ambition to annex the Internet, which has grown and thrived under nobody’s control.

Correct. A law would need to be passed.

Winning was Comcast, which transgressed the commission’s arbitrary “net neutrality” boundaries when it—oh, about a thousand years ago—slowed a certain bandwidth-hogging application used by a handful of antisocial customers.

It seems like ancient history now, but BitTorrent—a program used to exchange everything from TV shows to motorcycle shop manuals, often in violation of copyright laws—gave rise to one of the two episodes hugged to the breast of the net neut campaigners. The other was the now-thoroughly forgotten Madison River episode of 2004.

Shorn of these two incidents, the dread behind the net neut campaign would lack a single talking point from the real world. As it is, these exceptional cases actually prove the rule: Competition is more than enough to keep providers honest in delivering consumers access to the content they want. An iron curtain of Internet censorship at the hands of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon et al. is not about to descend.

He’s talking about Bit Torrent here, which isn’t so much an application as a protocol (there are many Bit Torrent clients out there). To call Bit Torrent users “antisocial” only reveals the extent of Jenkins ignorance and contempt for learning about his subject matter.

Bit Torrent works by taking a very large file, such as a video file, and breaking it up into millions of tiny pieces, and spreading them around to thousands of clients. Each client then exchanges the various pieces they received with each other, until everyone has a complete copy. You can read a more detailed description here.

The point being, Bit Torrent only works in a social atmosphere. In fact, it works better the more people are using it. Which is precisely why it works so well for downloading popular pieces of content, but is terrible for finding esoteric content enjoyed only by a few. Bit Torrent is the precise opposite of antisocial. It is, in fact, hypersocial.

But let’s take Jenkins at what he really meant, that it’s an activity engaged in by people who dislike the current social order with respect to copyright. By that measure, using Bit Torrent is a form of protest, of civil disobedience. Yes, I know that most people think of the civil rights movement when they think of civil disobedience, but that was well before my time. I think of violating the speed limits, particularly when they were 55 MPH everywhere we went. NOBODY obeyed those limits. Highways were a scene of mass civil disobedience. But back then, Republicans and conservatives didn’t call those people “antisocial”. They called those people “voters” and courted them with a provision in the Contract with America.

Today, copyright laws are an unreasonable length. Effectively, there is no free content that was made in the age of recorded audio and video. As a result, prices are driven up in the world of paid content, since there isn’t anything but paid content. Consequently, entertainers and those who work in the industry make obscene amounts of money. There is absolutely no historical precedent for the highest paid people in a society to be its entertainers but that is what we have today. The use of tools like Bit Torrent constitutes a massive protest against the entire industry and the laws they purchased, particularly the Sonny Bono act and the DMCA.

A better approach for the likes of Jenkins and other conservatives to take would be to propose 20 year copyrights, and an immediate revocation of any copyright for a work published over 20 years ago. Such a law would still leave plenty of room for great artists to grow plenty rich, but would end such absurdities as “Bowie Bonds” and companies like Disney re-releasing for “limited” times movies that were made generations ago, movies that have long since been part of our common cultural heritage, movies that were paid for and generated profits for their true creators well before most of our births.

It may seem like a digression, but these things are all interconnected. And besides which, that isn’t where it started, “oh, about a thousand years ago”. Net Neutrality as a movement started when Ivan Seidenberg accused companies like Google and Vonage of “chewing up his bandwidth” calling them “freeloaders” and the like. He implied that he may have to start blocking or impeding certain websites that didn’t pay Verizon for an “enhanced” delivery service. Vonage replied at the time correctly, “They want to charge us for the bandwidth the customer has already paid for.” Yep, that’s exactly what they wanted to do. Read my analysis at the time, back in January of 2006 here.

The primary issue is and always was that Comcast, Verizon, and their brethren, want to sell “unlimited” Internet access, but don’t want to have to charge for it. They want to be able to sell a false bill of goods. So rather than do what wireless companies do and charge differently for peak and off peak, rather than metering their customers or capping their usage and selling their plans as such, they’d like to sell you unlimited service that isn’t really unlimited. Anyone with a normal sense of justice would be offended by that, a group that evidently excludes Holman Jenkins.

But secondarily, Comcast, Verizon, and others are also in the business of selling content, or rather, access to content. They benefit from the jerry rigging of our copyright laws, the precise laws that so enrage so many people, who go online to engage in civil disobedience and hypersocial activity by using tools such as Bit Torrent. They fear people ditching their cable TV, as I have done, and acquiring content over the Internet alone, whether legally or illegally. This is precisely why they are colluding, illegally I believe, to prevent cable tv shows from being sold to people online who have not already subscribed to cable or satellite service, a scheme euphemistically called “TV Everywhere“.

If Jenkins wants to argue that these laws are a good thing, then he should by all means do so. But to argue that supporters of Net Neutrality are just a bunch of antisocial conspiracy theorists who have no cause to be worried about what their ISPs are up to is in plain contravention of the facts.

Back to Jenkins:

And here’s the really good news: The decision comes just as the FCC, at a cost of $50,000 per page, has put the finishing touches on its vaunted “broadband plan,” which inevitably discovers that only the FCC’s strong arm can save us from falling behind Albania in the race to a wired future.

That plan will now need rethinking (indeed, needs to be rethought in the direction of the circular receptacle). The agency should be thankful, because it actually has much more important work to do.

Laws such as a Net Neutrality law ought to be written by congress, not an unelected body. Here we agree.

We make no predictions about iPad sales, but the device surely heralds two things for the overlapping, archaically defined worlds where the FCC’s regulatory edict still prevails. First, it promises a flood of new demand for mobile and fixed broadband capacity. Second, it presages the utter obliteration of the distinction between print and electronic media.

The iPad does not portend the obliteration of the distinction between print and electronic media. It portends the destruction of print media alone, in much the same way that the lightbulb portended the destruction of the candle. See here for detail.

To both ends, the last thing the FCC needs to do is regulate the prices and services of network providers, since competition is doing a fine job of that, thank you. Faster than anybody might have expected, fixed and mobile are becoming competitive substitutes for each other. Ask any iPhone user who goes back and forth between WiFi and AT&T’s 3G network. Ask Abilene Christian University, which gives every student an iPhone and is building Wifi hotspots all over town and campus to share the load. Ask Line2, whose voice app lets iPhone callers bypass AT&T’s cellular network.

For that matter, ask Sprint, which apparently isn’t going down without a fight—it’s rolling out the nation’s first WiMax phone, on a network originally conceived as an alternative to fixed broadband.

I hate to descend into name calling, but after reading that one has to assume that Jenkins is either joking or a technological ignoramus. 3G maxes out at a speed of 14 megabits per second download, which is about the slowest speed available on a cable modem today. But good luck actually getting that speed on any cellular network today. Moreover, and this really shouldn’t have to be said, simple physics puts a cap on the amount of bandwidth that is available in any area for any given amount of spectrum. But there is no such limit using cable or fiber, because one can always lay more cable or fiber. One cannot lay more spectrum.

Again, the problem here is not that the FCC is needed to regulate prices and services, but rather that cable companies engage in truth in advertising. If they want to sell unlimited service, then it had better actually be unlimited. If they wish to sell a capped service, then by all means do so. But don’t sell a capped service as unlimited, and don’t sell something that attempts to modify Internet Protocol as if it’s the Internet.

So rather than focusing on new excuses to mess with network providers, the FCC should tackle two duties unambiguously before it: Figure out how to liberate the nation’s wireless spectrum (over which it has clear statutory authority) to flow to more market-oriented uses, whether broadband or broadcast, while also making sure taxpayers get adequately paid as the current system of licensed TV and radio spectrum inevitably evolves into something else.

I don’t disagree that freeing up more spectrum is a good thing. The best thing would be to stop regulating it at all, allow owners to buy and sell it like property, remove restrictions on what it can be used for, while reserving a large chunk for average citizens to use in their homes for wireless networking and the like.

Second: Under its media ownership hat, admit that such regulation, which inhibits the merger of TV stations with each other and with newspapers, is disastrously hindering our nation’s news-reporting resources and brands from reshaping themselves to meet the opportunities and challenges of the digital age. (Willy nilly, this would also help solve the spectrum problem as broadcasters voluntarily redeployed theirs to more profitable uses.)

This is utter uselessness. They’re old broken business models. It’s all moving to the Internet and devices like the iPad. And increasingly, writers will become freelance anyway, because who the hell needs Rupert Murdoch to be their publisher? I certainly don’t. And if columns like this one from Holman Jenkins are what results from “editorial discretion” then I can certainly do without that as well.

Now let’s get to the best part [emphasis mine]:

Alas, like all federal agencies that pretend to be brave when they aren’t, there’s a reason the FCC beats up on Comcast—because it’s easier than taking on the entrenched political interests (i.e., members of Congress) who never tire of having a foot on the neck of broadcasters and publishers back home in order to extort favorable coverage. This week was not the first time—or the second time, or third time—that the courts have rebuked the FCC for inventing authority over the Internet out of its hookah. Maybe now the agency will get the message and turn its attention to the regulatory morasses it actually has jurisdiction over.

See, now THERE IT IS, at least from a conservative perspective. For years, media ownership was limited by making spectrum artificially scarce to broadcasters. This artificial scarcity gave the government all the excuse it needed to impose “fairness” upon broadcast media to ensure that alternative opinions went unheard. This benefited politicians, who could use the gatekeepers of news and information to the public to work for them. The exchange was that congress would keep the medium scarce, limiting competition and in exchange broadcasters would give the government and those in power glowing coverage. It basically worked well for about 40 years. During that time, Democrats held congress pretty consistently.

With the repeal of the fairness doctrine, that edifice began to crack. Now the likes of Rush Limbaugh could bring to the forefront news that was buried on the back pages and was not being covered by the more prominent mainstream media. Cable TV provided another crack in the edifice, giving people a choice in news channels. It should be no surprise that during that time congressional elections became competitive once again.

But the genie was really let out of the bottle with the advent of the Internet. Now, we have a vibrant diversity of opinion again, and people question their government from the left and the right. Voter turnout is up, and people are more engaged in current affairs. None of this suits politicians, of course, who would like nothing more than to put the genie back in that bottle. Which means, of course, having a gatekeeper to influence.

Like it or not, that gatekeeper is your broadband provider, your cable company (DSL does NOT count as broadband in any colloquial or modern sense of the term). Your cable company got to be a gatekeeper by bribing local officials into giving theme exclusive deals. In other words, they’re coercive monopolies. That’s why Comcast is changing their name to Xfinity. Because their customers LOATHE them. And the only reason why customers buy from a company they loathe is that they are in a coercive relationship.

If you want to avoid Net Neutrality type regulations, bust up the coercive monopolies, starting with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. In the meantime, congress should enforce Net Neutrality the way they enforce GAAP, by saying in essence, “The IETF decides what Internet Protocol is, and if you’re not in compliance you’re not selling Internet, and you can’t say you are.” End of story.

 
 

Does Apple Get The iPad?

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

The most glaring flaw if not outright contradiction about the iPad was the fact that it seemed to be designed as a device on which to consume content, but not one on which to create or upload much content, email excepted. To that end, iPhoto was reduced to a photo gallery, and Garageband was not ported to the iPad. What’s more, it only had a dock connector port as it only data port.

The contradiction, of course, was in the existence of iWork for the iPhone, which is obviously designed to generate content. So too for the paint program that was demonstrated at the iPad unveiling. But these were all add-ons, not included with the iPad out of the box. So Apple seemed to be saying that for most people, the iPad was a consumption device, though for some people, they could create using it should they so choose.

The problem with this is that the world is no longer divided between content creators and consumers and Apple of all companies should have realized that. Apple built the entire Mac OS around the idea that consumers should be creators. But with the iPad, they seemed to assume that most consumers would use the device solely for content consumption, outside of the occasional document creation need. But this was fallacious.

Almost immediately, among the most common complaints were that one could not hook a camera or SD card up to the iPad. The reason why someone would want to do this is obvious: who wants to blog about their vacation and not be able to upload their photos and/or video clips? The lack of a USB or SD card slot was a major omission on the iPad, and a primary reason why I was not considering buying one.

So I was rather pleased to note that Apple has recently put an iPad “camera connection kit” on their web page as a future product (it doesn’t seem that you can order one yet). The connection kit comes with two adaptors, one for an SD card and one for a USB slot. One can’t help but think that the existence of such a product amounts to a mea culpa on the part of Apple, a recognition that the iPad should have come with these slots integrated in the first place. I would think it’s very likely that future versions of the iPad will come with these slots integrated.

I would also think that the existence of this camera kit will mean that Apple will provide some sort of rudimentary editing software as well, at least enough to crop photos and remove redeye, and to truncate video clips and adjust sound levels. Perhaps they will be released when the camera kit actually goes on sale.

One also can’t help but notice that by releasing a USB adaptor, Apple has in effect created the opportunity to hook all manner of devices into the iPad. It will remain to be seen what is done with this ability.

In any event, I still wish the iPad had an integrated camera. And frankly, I’m an IM addict, so some sort of multitasking for IM is still a must for me. But with the camera kit for the iPad, I can for the first time really see myself wanting one to take with me on vacation.

 
 

Gruber and the iPad

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

So I’ve been relatively skeptical of the iPad, but not to the point of entirely dismissing it. I think it’s a neat device, but I do see some issues with it. But I think my approach has been reasonable. What has seemed less reasonable is the approach of John Gruber, who seems to have gone off the deep end in his defense of and ecstatic reaction to, the iPad.

Now I don’t mean to pick on John here, he certainly links to some people who seem to have iPad euphoria even more acute than he has. But what interests me about Gruber is that he’s generally pretty spot on regarding computing matters, so his euphoria surprises me more than a bit. In fact, the things he’s been linking to recently embody the contradiction I see. Allow me to show you a case in point.

John links to this engadget piece in which they ask engadget staff for a paragraph or two of reactions to the iPad. He seems surprised that all but one of the reactions are either negative or offer grave reservations regarding the iPad. So I read through the reactions and found myself agreeing with this bit by Richard Lawler:

Media playback capabilities, e-reader and gaming functions are shiny and good looking, but where’s the substance? I’d like to avoid the transcoding necessary to play back media on my phone, enjoy the wide access and support that I have using a PC to browse the web or create content and hopefully have a dollar or two left in my pocket afterward.

Allow me to translate that for you:

I want to be able to play the pirated media I get off the Internet in the formats that they come in without having to translate the files into different formats first. I pirate content because paying for every piece of content I consume will quickly bankrupt me. Therefore, I’m just not interested in buying a piece of hardware for which I either have to pay exorbitant prices for content, or which can’t play my pirated content without making me jump through countless hoops first.

Clearly, the need for players that will flawlessly play every format of video without issue isn’t lost on Gruber, who proceeds to link to a bit about a new alternative to the VLC player for the mac. The need for such a player is moot if you’re buying all your content from Apple. But nobody does that, hence the need for VLC and other media players on the mac. To my knowledge, no such players exist on the iphone. I’ve looked.

I believe that what’s going on here with respect to Apple is a misunderstanding of what drove the original popularity of the original iPod. I believe that Apple thinks that it was tight integration with iTunes, and an iTunes store, that drive popularity of teh hardware device. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Two things drove the popularity of the iPod:

  1. The iPod’s innovative circular scroll wheel enabled one to easily search for individual songs in a library that may contain thousands of songs. Every previous attempt had been cumbersome and ineffective. However, this innovation wouldn’t have mattered a wit had it not been for #2.
  2. The iPod played non-DRM MP3 files, whether they be ripped or pirated. In effect, it had the ability to play everyone’s pirated library of music in its entirety. Had Apple attempted to release a device that only played DRM enabled songs bought over iTunes, I believe that they would have found the iPod to be a hobby much like the AppleTV has become, much like the iPad may well become.

The principal difference between the mac and the other devices that Apple produces is that the mac gives you the flexibility to do what you want, to consume everything you want, without jumping through serious hoops. None of the other devices Apple sells allows for this. Apple lucked out with the iPod in that pirated music converged on a single format, the MP3, before competing formats like Ogg Vorbis could get traction.

But in the world of video, no convergence has taken place. As a result, what we need are not devices that play only a few formats, but devices that can handle whatever is thrown at them without blinking. Had the AppleTV been able to do this, I may well have had them hooked up to my televisions instead of mac minis. Had the AppleTV been built to handle any and every type of video available on the Internet, I suspect it would have become more than a hobby for Apple.

But the format issue is just one of many. Gruber and others seem to believe that the iPad is meant to be a whole new way of computing into the future. I’m afraid I don’t see it that way, and I really don’t think that Jobs & Co. see it that way either. Most notably, the iPad syncs. In other words, it requires you already have a computer to sync it to, to back up your files, to grab your photos and music and even movies. In other words, it’s a giant iPod touch.

Look, if Apple were going to make this thing into the new standalone device, then they shouldn’t have built it to sync to a desktop mac or PC. Rather, they should have built it to integrate with the cloud. Buy a MobileMe type of service with it, have it automatically save everything you do with your account online, and then be able to log in from a mac or PC or a terminal somewhere and grab your files and do other things with them. But this machine doesn’t do that. It looks like it still needs to be brought back to nurse at the desktop’s teat. Which means the iPad isn’t weaning us off of desktop type guis at all. In fact, I tend to think that if you bought an iPad without owning a desktop first, you’d be totally lost.

And those objections exist even before we consider the fact that it can’t do video chat, or any other type of chat in the background while you work on other things, or anything else in the background for that matter.

So count me among the people who think that the iPad is interesting, but who have some serious reservations regarding it. I should hope that Apple would figure it out though, because the iPad hardware does seem seriously cool as shit. It’s obviously not too late, but if Apple waits forever eventually others will figure it out.

Here’s to hoping Apple figures it out too.

 
 

A DRM Rant

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

West coast samaBlog correspondent Calzone sent this missive in from the field. I thought you should read it:

I was reading The Economist, who like so many other reporters over the past week, chose to focus on the promise of the iPad to reinvigorate the dying print industry. Of course, the DRM question you posed is crucial to their notions of any such reinvigoration.

I can’t speak for all consumers, but this one says: ‘enough!’

I don’t give half an anorexic rat’s ass what happens to the content publishers. Really, I don’t. The internet genie is out of the bottle and it ain’t going back in. Millions of bloggers are perfectly happy to provide their analysis and opinion on current events FREE of charge. With the exception of a handful of boutique news outlets, the media do not add significant value to the reporting of current events. Certainly not enough value to pay for it. It was hardly enough value to stomach putting up with ads.

Here’s a thought experiment: the average consumer subscribed to one or two newspapers. Now that you can essentially get any newspaper delivered via the internet, let’s be charitable and assume people were willing to pay for their news. It’s reasonable to expect that the average consumer nationwide will gravitate to one or two newspapers from around the entire world. Maybe three or four. Over a short while, it’s also reasonable to expect that the result of that would be that there are maybe 3 major viable alternatives for each of the three or four papers a person subscribes to. The market ends up supporting a max of about 12-16 major papers nationwide. So even if the iPad or any other device is some kind of savior to the print industry, I wouldn’t count on it to be a panacea for your company.

But it’s worse than that. We don’t want to pay for your content. Reuters and AP newswires are good enough. Local, decentralized reporting is good enough. PBS and BBC are good enough. For in-depth analysis and opinion, we’re going to go straight to the authors we care about and can afford. That means we’ll mostly gravitate to blogs we can read for free. Maybe there’s a market for premium blogging ala Salon.com. But I sure ain’t gonna pay the Boston Globe or even the NYT for access to their columnists. Dream on. The best columnists end up WILL going indie, or at most migrate to something like Salon.com.

Consumers are fed up with endless cable bills and phone bills. We’re already paying THROUGH THE NOSE for access to media over cable and for having the flow of bits in and out of our homes and devices. The Subscription Economy is already at its limit; in fact, it’s past it. People are actively seeking ways to circumvent paying what they currently pay for both content and connectivity. The average US household budget simply cannot sustain the content utopia envisioned by those who seek to be content gatekeepers and middlemen. There are far too many middlemen as it is between me and the producers of content and they all want an ongoing piece of me each month. Bit-schelppers are charging WAY too much for too little and trying to charge more for access to specific content types, while content producers and publishers are tying to find ways to make even more obscene gobs off the content they distribute than they did when it wasn’t digital.

So back to the iPad.

If the point of the iPad is to provide a platform that primarily gives for-pay access to locked-down reading material, then fuggedaboutit, I don’t want one. The last thing I need is to PAY to buy into a platform that requires me to PAY more just to read stuff. I’m happy to PAY Apple for a mobile computing platform that’s as capable as my MacBook Pro, that I can install my own software on, that I can use to download stuff and consume the stuff I download, that I can use to copy and paste content and remix content to my heart’s content, that I can use to save ‘clippings’ of stuff that interests me, and yes, that I can use to SHARE stuff I’m interested in, copyright or not, with my friends just like I can share newspaper clippings and pages or share books.

All these news types, text book publishers and other publishers are seeing stars suddenly. ZOMG, the iPad is going to do for print what iTunes did for music. People will pay! Dream on. Sure, if I owned an iPad, I would probably buy a good novel to read on the plane. It’s money I would have otherwise spent at the airport bookstore. I would use the iPad to go read blogs and free news. But I’ll be damned if you think I’m going to have an NYT subscription just so I can read your paper in near-full broadsheet quality with fancy fonts. Shit, I’ll just grab the abandoned copy of the paper I found on the seat here in gate 4B and read it old-skool. The digital revolution is NOT about recreating a literal virtual model of analog content.

But that’s the crux of the problem with the iPad. Sure it’s gorgeous, sure it’s fast, sure it’s magical. But if it’s gonna basically be useless without paying for content subscriptions, it’s doomed among people like me. Even more so if content is going to be restricted by DRM or other protections (like password protected PDFs) preventing me from doing what I want with it, or if said content will expire 3 days after buying it.

As you said, this business model is bearable on the iPhone, because its primary function is to be a great phone. We can overlook such shortcomings. We can pretend that it’s ok to impose restrictions because AT&T is trying to protect its fragile network. But that is not to say that we haven’t always been hoping and pining for a day when such restrictions would be lifted. We ALL want the iPhone to be more open. We just live with it because we’re willing to make that sacrifice to have an iPhone. But let’s be clear: it IS a sacrifice and we all feel it and know it, and we all half-expected that model to eventually go away, not become more widespread.

In the end, what will happen is that content producers will have at most one degree of separation from content consumers. There will be stables of premium creators. Reputable places where consumers can find content of a certain quality, frequency, degree, and persuasion. People will be willing to pay for access to those creators. There will be far more who are independent and connected directly to their consumers, whether ad-supported, totally free, donation-supported, or pay-walled. Reuters and other primary and open sources of news will live on, and big networks, like CNN will live on and help support them. Current headlines and raw news will remain ad-supported/free and widespread.

Try as it might, Apple’s desire to be a primary gatekeeper for all content will ultimately fail if it also tries to regulate that or take too big a cut. Long term success for the iTunes App Store model can only come with opening the floodgates and taking a modest cut from those who do charge and requiring no money from those who don’t. The iPad is either going to adapt to that reality and become a viable platform, or it’s going to try to impose the restricted authoritative vision Apple has and doom the iPad to expensive toy of the month.

No, the iPad itself is not really expensive, what makes it expensive if the cost of ownership. I think few or none of us are interested in seeing the razor blade / printer ink cartridge business model being applied in every single possible market marketers can come up with.

 
 

Questions for Steve Jobs Regarding the New iPad

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

  1. You’re offering the iPad in two flavors, one with 3G and the other with WiFi only, each in a variety of memory sizes. I have an iPhone, so I already pay for an unlimited data plan. I’m wondering, will I be able to tether my iPhone to my iPad and thus only need to buy the WiFi iPad? Just when will tethering be made available for American customers? If I lived in some third world country that allows for tethering, would your answer be different? Will European customers be able to just tether their iPhone to their WiFi iPad?
  2. So I noticed that you’ll be selling books in ePub format. According to Wikipedia at least, there’s a method of enabling DRM on ePub files, but it’s optional. Are you planning on enabling DRM on the books you sell? After your previous essay decrying DRM, I would think you’d be loathe to introduce it to this new medium. After all, it took a herculean effort to convince the record labels to ditch DRM. Where do book publishers stand on this? Has your position changed at all?
  3. So the iPhone/iPad OS doesn’t have a file manager, which is fine in the iPhone, but I’m unsure if it’s fine on the iPad. For example, say I downloaded a video legally over bit torrent that is encoded as a wmv (example here). Will I be able to move that video onto my iPad to watch it? Will alternative video players such as the VLC player or the Mplayer be available to decode videos that Quicktime cannot, at least not natively? And will I be able to load files into the ebook reader that weren’t purchased from Apple? Say, classic works that are in the public domain?

It’s sad. I’ve wanted a netbook type of thing for a while now, and have been waiting for the ARM netbooks to come out. And now Apple seems to have made some really cool hardware that’s super fast (although it’s missing a camera for video chat, which I really want), but it’s unclear if the software is open enough to warrant buying it. I suppose the answers to my questions will become clear enough over time, and perhaps my concerns will be alleviated when Apple changes carriers (this should be a great opportunity for T-Mobile to poach iPhone subscribers). In the meantime, I think I’m gonna hold off on making a purchase.