Long Bets

January 31, 2007

Long Bets "is a public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake." An example -- a bet between Ray Kurzweil and Mitch Kapor -- "By 2029 no computer - or 'machine intelligence' - will have passed the Turing Test." On a completely unrelated note, Brian Eno's username on the site is "poptimist." Ha!

Throwing digs at Digg

January 31, 2007

Something tells me I could make a living by doing nothing more than coming up with witty, smart-ass comments to all the crap that makes it to the front page of Digg. It's a veritable gold mine of ignorance and FUD just waiting to be torn apart.

The Age of Nutritionism

January 28, 2007

The Age of Nutritionism. "The story of how basic questions about what to eat got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and journalism." A long and wonderful article by Michael Pollan -- I implore all of you to read it.

Shaun Inman has released Mint v2.0

January 28, 2007

Shaun Inman has released Mint v2.0. I think we all know how much I like this package, but $19 to upgrade (2/3 the original price)? Seems a bit steep to me, especially when you consider that most of the new features are either revamps of existing Peppers or are things for which I have no use. Any of you upgraders out there care to tell me if you can now use wildcards to filter your referrer feed?

Apple's "iPhone," the good and the bad#

I don't have too much time to bang this out, but I really wanted to do a cursory run-through of the "Jesus Phone" (as it's being touted in some circles) while the need for it was ripe and before I let myself get mired in all of the other things that have kept me from this site for the last few weeks. Time permitting, I'd really like to revisit this and want to do an in-depth analysis of where I think all of it is ultimately headed (i.e., the revolutionary effect this product will likely have on how we interface with computers for the next few years).

I've been staring at the screen for quite a while now, just trying to figure out where to begin, which points I want to touch on, and how I want to organize this. Screw it, I'm just going to give myself a cut-off time and start writing; please forgive me for any resulting sloppiness.

I'm not sure there are too many people out there who are more blown away by the iPhone than I am. Yes, there are a lot of other Mac pundits championing its niceties, but very few with the intimate gadget knowledge I've garnered over the years (and fewer still with my effervescent passion for this sort of thing). With that in mind, it has taken all of my willpower to not respond these last few weeks as many of these less-than-informed people wildly speculated and attempted to predict what shape the iPhone would take when it finally emerged. To be fair, no one knew, or could have predicted1 what was ultimately delivered yesterday, but some of the stuff being thrown around as plausible was just ridiculous.

For example, there was a very strongly-believed rumor that the device would come with both GSM and CDMA radios. Huh? Or, even now, after it's been announced, some people are wondering why, if it's GSM only, they went with Cingular instead of T-Mobile? Well, besides the obvious point that Cingular has a much larger customer base than T-Mobile, Cingular also has a legitimate 3G+ network up and running (I speak to the whole EDGE/3G thing below); it's likely T-Mobile won't have any such network until at least 2008 (unless they strike a deal with, you guessed it, Cingular). All of me wanted to put on my Gruber hat and publicly call out these peddlers of nonsense, but alas, I have no balls (err, I mean I didn't have time ;).

OK, with all of that out of the way, let's start diving in to this new reason for living. Regardless of all the faults I've found with the iPhone, I still can't help but to think of it as kind of like the holy grail for all of my nerdier predilections, at least insofar as where I know it's capable of going and where Jobs wants to take it. It quite simply obliterates the competition. To put it as succinctly as I can hope to: Apple just took over the mobile space with vaporware. There is no competition and to say that this device is better than such and such device is really kind of selling it short.

All of Apple's hard work aside, let's not forget that every other player in this space has been effectively incompetent. There isn't a single one of us that hasn't cursed at our phones for doing this or that wrong, or for not doing it at all. Lord knows I've spent a healthy part of the last ~10 years doing that very thing (and loving every second of it :). Apple deserves all the praise to come, but it should also thank the very industry it's about to destroy for making it so easy; they could have come out with half the features they did and the industry would not have looked the least bit better.

The good

Multi-touch interface

Does this really require discussion? One simply needs to watch the demo videos on the iPhone page (or, better yet, the demo by Steve during the keynote) to understand that a sea change is upon us. Very, very cool, and not unlike the multi-touch interface demoed by Jeff Han at TED 2006. This is the future folks, welcome.

Patents

Steve noted that Apple has filed 200+ patents related to the iPhone. He's obviously not playing around — he knows that if their multi-touch interface gets the protection they're seeking, they will be untouchable in the mobile space for years to come. Outside of corporate, it will be very hard for Palm, RIM, Samsung, etc., to convince people that generic QWERTY/T9/SureType technology is the "sexier" way to interface with their devices (typing practicality be damned!). As below, I'm not completely sold on multi-touch (at least not in all situations), but if it's half as practical (again, in some situations) and ‘fun' as it seems to be, then I'm afraid everyone else is just going to look stupid. Something tells me that all the other players hawking their wares at CES this week are feeling a bit uninspired after yesterday's announcement.

Apple Computer

Did the name change really surprise anyone? Given the online banter, it must have. Why? This has been a long time coming and there's no reason to resist it. The change only makes official that which we've known for a few years now: Apple is a consumer electronics company (you know, like Sony used to be).

OS X

From Obviously the iPod is dead, which I penned almost 2.5 years ago: "oh, just imagine an OS X-based mobile phone." The fact that the device runs OS X (notice that they didn't say Mac OS X, which is a bit telling for at least a few reasons) is probably the biggest deal for me, and surely others as they come to realize (as Apple starts to push) what a mobile computing device is truly capable of given the resources. While this is obviously a stripped-down, optimized version of the OS, one can conclude that the end goal is to have these devices run Mac OS X proper at some point.

As far as I've been able to gather, Apple has closed the device to third-party developers, but I'm sure this policy will change in the future (either at Apple's hand or by others acting on their own accord). However, if Apple remains adamant about not opening it up to outside developers I think they are making a fatal mistake. Again though, I seriously doubt this is going to be the case. It's not really a "smartphone" (or whatever next-gen name you want to ascribe to it) if you can't put your own software on it. PalmOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, etc., all allow this sort of thing; in time, Apple will too.

Safari

The fact that this thing runs Safari is remarkable, but I wonder if what Steve showed is really how people want to interact with a web page on a 320x480 screen. Yes, it's cool that WebKit will lay the page out on the mobile screen just as it would a regular monitor (though this is really nothing new), but that doesn't mean it's easy to use/navigate. I think the last thing I want to do when visiting a web page is zoom around all over the place trying to find what it is I want to read (the Maps application is obviously the exception). Some are heralding this interface + browser combo the end of WAP, but I think they're getting a little ahead of themselves.

Moreover, and as discussed more fully below, the device is EDGE only. I pity the poor soul who tries to visit nytimes.com on an EDGE connection through a browser that identifies itself as non-mobile (i.e., the web server serves up the usual, non-‘mobilized' pages).

All of that said, one thing that isn't getting much airtime is the idea of resolution-independent layouts; this device + interface could be the first system to usher in, and legitimately use, this inevitable technology (e.g., Leopard will support it, see "Resolution Independence" section).

Form-factor

I think it's perfect. Perhaps a bit tall/long, but overall I think it's pretty spot-on. As ever, the wonderful SizeEasy offers usable comparison options (115x61x11.6mm) and Jason has done some real-world comparisons using a cardboard mock-up.

Symmetry

This is probably a love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing, but I am absolutely smitten with the fact that the device is about as symmetrical as can be.

3.5mm headphone jack

Obviously this is a prerequisite for anything that "includes" an iPod, but in case you didn't know, the mobile phone industry has been very, very reluctant to offer a 3.5mm jack on its devices. I've never quite understood this. Sure, they want to sell their proprietary headphones (or at the very least, their proprietary 3.5-to-whatever converters), but at what cost? I can almost guarantee that the addition of such a "feature" to a device would attract more people to the phone than the lack of such a feature would force people to buy a converter. I digress. Let's just say that the 3.5mm jack on the iPhone is a required plus and move on.

The not so good

I hesitate to call this section "the bad" because it's hard to tell how these things are going to play out in the long run. That said, the following comments are my best guess.

2.75G

Why on earth did they go with EDGE? If this was two years ago, then OK, but you're going to release a last-generation data standard on a next-generation device in mid-2007? I don't get it. Not only does Cingular have a healthy 3G+ network in place, but there is a paucity of good phones for it — this is low-hanging fruit Apple. True, 3G eats up battery juice like Gators bowl over Buckeyes, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have been included (and you'll notice that that wasn't Jobs' excuse either). The inclusion of Wi-Fi is nice, but it doesn't make up for the fact that outside of an open wireless network you're left to poke along at dial-up speeds. This shortcoming acts as a strong deterrent for me, and will likely be a deal-breaker for those outside the US.

To preempt those that will write in to tell me that Jobs said that they plan to add 3G stuff in the future, let me say this: who cares? I mean, of course they will. That's not the point. The point is, it should have been added this time around. EDGE looks dated now and has for a while; I can tell you it's not going to look any more attractive six months from now.

Cingular exclusivity

I don't think anyone agrees that this is a good idea, but it was probably the only option for Apple. After shunning the MVNO path, Apple had to make some concessions.

This exclusivity also begs the question: will there be a radio-less iPhone? In other words, will they fill the gaping hole in their iPod line, namely a widescreen iPod, with this device (sans Cingular)?

This phone will be unlocked and you will be able to use it on T-Mobile (and other GSM carriers throughout the world). How long it will take for someone to figure out how to unlock it is anyone's guess, but it will happen, and presumably the only thing you'll miss by being on a network other than Cingular is the "visual voicemail" feature.

Anathema to Apple is the idea that the carriers should dictate what their device can and cannot do (I still can't believe the Motorola ROKR ever saw the light of day), but heretofore that's exactly how it has always been and I don't think the significance of the fact that Apple was able to reverse that custom can be overstated. Is this a bellwether for the entire industry? Probably not. The funny thing is, it doesn't really matter either way -- it's going to be years before other device manufactures catch up to the iPhone, if ever.

It's not a BlackBerry

As revolutionary and sexy as the iPhone is, it doesn't look like it's going to handle e-mail too well. Sure, it has a "rich" text e-mail client and some interoperability with Yahoo! Mail (who cares?), but, umm, it doesn't look like it's easy to type on. I think it was especially telling that during the keynote Jobs typed with his index finger and not two thumbs, despite the fact that the display has a full QWERTY keyboard. For those of us for whom e-mail is as important as voice, this may very well be the deal-breaker.

Name

While "iPhone" sounds like the obvious name for this device, the fact is, it's so much more than a phone — it's a Mac. How about "Mac Mobile," "iMobile," "iLife Mobile," etc.? If this device ultimately morphs into what it's capable of becoming (read: your life in your pocket), then "iPhone" is going to seem a bit stale rather quickly. I think Jobs will change the name sometime in the near future (perhaps sooner than later given that Cisco sued Apple over the name earlier today; yes, they were in negotiations, but for whatever reason the deal fell through).

The whole thing immediately conjures up "iTunes" in my mind and how dated that name now sounds (truthfully, I always thought it was a bit limiting) in light of everything else the iTunes client/store now manages/sells (e.g., music videos, movies, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.).

Non-replaceable battery

While this sort of thing has never really affected me (i.e., I've never held on to a phone/iPod long enough for any type of battery degradation to begin), I know that others will definitely be put off by this, especially in light of the fact that they are going to be paying $500/$600 for the device.

Price

Yes, it's a widescreen video iPod and a phone and a Mac and…, but, Apple is still going to have a hard time pushing these to Joe Public. I've read that phones over $500 represent less than 1 percent of the phones sold in the US, and I'd bet that even that number is a bit high. Frankly, outside of myself, I can't say I know too many people who have paid over $500 for a phone (hell, most don't even know that phones can cost that much). Moreover, I've never paid $500 to a carrier for a US phone. All of the plus-$500 phone purchases I've made have been for unlocked phones shipped from other continents.

Except when looking in a mirror, I'm afraid I just don't see the market for something priced this high, especially when you consider that you have to be with Cingular (this alone will cost carrier "switchers" $100+ to get out of their current contracts) and that you have to sign a 2-year agreement. We'll see how it all plays out, but I don't think it's going to be a runaway success across the board — it's currently overkill for most people who don't yet realize that they need to be so connected — it will sell out for a few months as all the crazed fanboys (*cough*) satiate their nerdy desires, but after that, if the price doesn't come down, sales may be a bit stagnant.

Accessories

Sure, some accessories are OK and expected (e.g., mouse, etc.), but an Apple Bluetooth headset? I think Apple needs to be careful about just how many pots it puts its hands in; Sony's wounds are too fresh and relevant to dismiss. Advice: leave things like Bluetooth headsets to companies like Aliph, makers of the Jawbone.  :)

Non-mentionables

  • How fast is the processor?
  • Who makes the processor? Lots of uncertainty out there about this one. My best guess is that this hasn't been fully decided yet, but it's probably (or is going to probably be) ARM.
  • Is the flash storage expandable (i.e., SD, etc.)?
  • Will it be able to handle Word/Excel attachments? I'm sure it will handle PDFs without issue.
  • VOIP? Highly doubtful given the Cingular tie-in and most certainly not if they eventually get permission from Cisco to use the iPhone name.
  • Can it be used (not bought) without a mobile plan from Cingular?
  • How does .Mac fit into all of this? Does it?
  • Games? This hardware is just begging for some innovative stuff.
  • No OTA syncing? Huh? That will change; there's just no way to justify it.
  • What is the estimated standby time?

  1. Not to toot my own horn, but within my personal (read: non-Internet) circle, I did come to believe that the device would be something between a sub-notebook and a smartphone, a UMPC of sorts.   

I said it's great, to be, a Florida Gator!

January 08, 2007
Gators are National Champions!!!

Everyone said it couldn't be done. And what happened? We owned Ohio State. Period. Just completely shut them down. Even more impressive, we're now the first team ever to hold both the national basketball title and the national football title at the same time.

You've really done us proud guys -- thank you!

I swear, between this and Apple Claus' keynote tomorrow, I don't quite know what to do with myself.