14 April 2007

Blogger 2.0

Some people are getting re-posts of my older blog posts. As far as I can tell, this has started since I moved to the new version of Blogger. When I upgraded this blog to Blogger 2.0, I gained the ability to tag or label my posts. Very cool. I also lost my formatting in all 240 of my older posts. Not very cool. As a result, I'm going through my older posts one by one to manually fix the formatting and add tags/labels to the content. If I modify any one of my posts, either textually or by adding a tag or label, Blogger sees this as an update, and treats this old post, as a new one. I don't know how to get around this. Further, not everyone sees this behavior.

Bottom line: As I work through fixing up my older posts, you might get a re-post of old content. I'm not trying to spam you with re-posts, just trying to clean up my blog. I guess, with Blogger the adage, "You get what you pay for," applies. Maybe in the future I'll consider moving to MoveableType or something like that, but right now, that's not in the cards. Thanks for being patient.

12 April 2007

Apple Slips Leopard to Oct 2007

From Apple's Hot News web page:

Apple Statement
iPhone has already passed several of its required certification tests and is on schedule to ship in late June as planned. We can’t wait until customers get their hands (and fingers) on it and experience what a revolutionary and magical product it is. However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. While Leopard's features will be complete by then, we cannot deliver the quality release that we and our customers expect from us. We now plan to show our developers a near final version of Leopard at the conference, give them a beta copy to take home so they can do their final testing, and ship Leopard in October. We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we're sure we've made the right ones. [Apr 12, 2007]

This is interesting. Apple, like many companies often slip their release dates. Historically, however, Apple has only slipped a little on ship dates, but this slip, from Spring 2007 to October 2007, is the largest slip I remember. It's very uncharacteristic of the rhythm of shipping Apple has had over the last 5 years.

Leopard is certainly Apple's most ambitious OS release yet, so it stands to reason that they could have bit off more than they could handle. I'm sure this was further compounded by the additional resources needed for both the Apple TV and the iPhone. I also wonder what the "secret features" are that Jobs referred to in his last keynote. Some have suggested that this slip was to add unplanned functionality, but I don't get that sense. I tend to believe that this is just what it's stated to be, a resource issue.

There are 3 variables you can change when managing a project: scope (how big it is), resources (how much money and people you can allocate) and time (how long the project will take). It looks like Apple reduced their allocated resources for Leopard, and without a corresponding reduction in scope, they were forced to increase the time the project would take. I'm sure this is super painful for them, it always is, but not long from now, they'll ship and this will all be a distant memory. Personally, I'm glad I don't have to put up with all the rumor sites constantly suggesting that Leopard is just about to RTM. ;-)

Update: Best quote from our chit chat around the office here: "Woah. October? :( Stupid iPhone. I want my Time Machine."


I was just skimming through the Windows Vista User Experience Guidelines and while in the Design Principles section I came upon this title, and I just had to laugh:

There is a point where marketing ceases to be marketing and becomes information; relevant, valuable information. There's also a point where something, truly informational becomes marketing. Branding folks like to say that any interaction with your product defines your brand. Whether you are working on marketing or strictly informational stuff, it's important to pause and ask yourself, "What does this say about me?" Sometimes, it's that simple human question that's enough to help you know when you need to work a little harder to remove a subtitle.

11 April 2007

Hardware and Software

John Gruber writing on Apple's choice of AAC as the DRM-free format sold on iTunes, makes this interesting comparison:

Apple’s use of AAC in lieu of MP3 is analogous to the Mac’s switch to USB in 1998. USB was an industry standard that wasn’t taking off because PCs didn’t ship with built-in USB ports, which PC makers didn’t include because there weren’t many USB peripherals on the market, which peripheral makers didn’t want to build because there weren’t enough PCs shipping with USB ports.

Then came the iMac, whose only peripheral port was USB. (It didn’t even have FireWire.) All of a sudden peripheral makers had a reason to make USB gadgetry, and after that, PC makers had a reason to include USB ports on new PCs.

Hardware and software are the Yin and Yang of the tech industry. Some argue that one is more valuable than the other, but you can't separate them. You need both. Apple is one of the few companies in the position to capitalize on this reality. From a human computer interaction (HCI) standpoint, if we are going to move forward the interaction, this necessitates hardware advances. And who is in the best position to push forward hardware advances that are included by default? Apple.

The newest and perhaps most interesting HCI advances recently have been the result of great software and great hardware, together. The Tivo, Microsoft's XBox and XBox Live, Nintendo's Wii and Apple's iPhone and Apple TV are perfect examples of what amazing things can happen when great hardware design meets with great software interfaces. Additionally, from a purely experiential perspective, people feel better about laying down large quantities of cash for something physical rather than something that's purely intellectual property, as much as I personally value the later.

Fundamentally, where should you look for human computer interaction innovation? You should look to the people who can move forward the whole stack, and can integrate it fully, seamlessly. In the realm of personal computers, that leaves only one company: Apple.

05 April 2007

Great by Default

The Future Parc at the Cebit trade fair in Hanover, Germany is a place to showcase future technologies. I didn't go, but two of the products I read about caught my imagination and got me thinking. Here they are:

Tobii Technology's eye tracking system

It's one thing to use multi-touch to move things about on the screen, but it's quite another to simply look at something, and have the computer recognize where you are looking and move your pointer there. A blink or a tap on the keyboard and you've clicked. I'd love this technology simply to review how folks use software. It's hard to tell, but it doesn't look like the "device" is that intrusive for installation in regular computer displays. In fact, Tobii even sells eye tracking hardware to OEMs that can, "provide eye gaze point, eye/head position and pupil size data. ... There are no external cameras or lightning units. ... The user does not need to "do" or "wear" anything and can move freely. Tracking is fully automatic and high accuracy can be relied on regardless of glasses, contacts, eye colour, age, ethnic background or light conditions."

The Fraunhofer Institute's Face Finder

The Face Finder is a system that can find faces, human faces even in low lighting conditions and then recognize if the face is angry, happy, neutral, sad or surprised. Of course they say this could be used for targeting advertising (an original business plan, I know...) but I think there's potentially a broader application in terms of simply recognizing when it's appropriate to "interrupt" a user. In my opinion, computers should keep things quiet when we are "in the groove" in order to maximize our effectiveness. This kind of technology seems a great fit for answering the, "Is it okay to notify the user event x just occurred?"

Both of these inventions require a computer with a video camera or some sort of hardware video device. I don't know if you could build an eye tracking system with only one iSight video camera, or even if the video camera installed on my MacBook is sufficient quality for something like Face Finder, but every new Mac that ships with a built in video camera makes for more fertile soil in which innovations, just like these can sprout, grow and even take root.

One of the things I've always loved about Apple hardware is that you can't order a "stripped down" version of any Mac. How long has Apple included FireWire standard with every Mac? More recently the Apple remote is "default equipment" with any Mac and a built in video camera comes with any Mac that includes a screen. By keeping the "lowest common denominator" experience so feature rich, Apple is able to create experiences that simply start at a higher level. Both Apple and their developers can assume a certain quality of system that Windows developers fundamentally can't depend upon. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons it's always so exciting to be a developer on the Mac platform.

It's never too late to start! :-)

04 April 2007

Google Desktop vs. Spotlight

Over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Scott McNulty has a review of Google Desktop for the Mac version 1.0. If QuickSilver were not enough, may this provide Apple the substantive reason to improve the speed and responsiveness of Spotlight. Please.

03 April 2007

Classic Apple

When Apple announced the iPhone, I signed up for "more information" and gave them my email address. Today they sent me this:

On so many levels this is classic Apple.

Update 1: The graphic I uploaded from the email I got from Apple has misteriously disappeard. I'm guessing it's some copyright issue, but I recieved no notice from Apple or Google, just that the graphic was gone. Interesting.

Update 2: Looks like I'm too paranoid, the picture is back. Must have been just another blogger bug.

02 April 2007

Apple: Confidence vs. Protectionism

Today Apple announced that all songs from EMI will be available free of DRM (digital rights management) limitations. In the past it was like this for EMI music on iTunes:

  • $0.99/song
  • $10.00/album
  • AAC at 128 kbps
  • All music with DRM (only playable on 5 computers, can't burn in same playlist over 7 times, only playable by Apple applications or devices)

    Starting in May 2007, all EMI music will also be available as follows:

  • $1.29/song
  • $10.00/album
  • AAC at 256 kbps
  • No DRM

    This affects not only music but music videos. From the press release:

    iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song. All EMI music videos will also be available in DRM-free format with no change in price.

    Famous business man, Warren Buffett once said: “In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats’.”

    "In days of old, a castle was protected by the moat that circled it. The wider the moat, the more easily a castle could be defended, as a wide moat made it very difficult for enemies to approach. A narrow moat did not offer much protection and allowed enemies easy access to the castle. To Buffett, the castle is the business and the moat is the competitive advantage the company has. He wants his managers to continually increase the size of the moats around their castles.

    When looking to purchase a business, Buffett pays careful attention to a business he understands not just in terms of what the business does but also of “what the economics of the industry will be 10 years down the road, and who will be making the money at that point.” He is “also looking for enduring competitive advantages.” This, in a nutshell, is what makes a company great: the width of the moat around the company’s core business."

    Apple has decided that the enormous moat it has in DRM is not as valuable as making customers feel unlimited by their technology. This is like Apple sending forth from its impenetrable castle and scheduling a battle, say next month on the open valley, Apple against everyone, all sportsmanship like. This kind of courage and confidence is something unique indeed. So what of Buffet's moats and competitive advantage analysis? I think it still holds, it's just that Apple's sustainable competitive advantage is their deep trust in the inherent value of their products and the experiences they provide. Almost no one has that these days.