Archive for January, 2010


November 19th Chrome Launch

The same could be said of iPad.


Underwhelmed?

For the last 24 hours, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on the iPad. Although I believe the product will change our perception of personal computing, there is something that has been bothering me about it. I think Joshua Blankenship’s articulates my concern perfectly.

At its core, the iPad is a consuming machine, not a creating machine (at least in its currently presented iteration.) Yes, I understand there are quite a few of those 140,000 apps in the App Store that allow people to create and share, but only under very specific constraints. And not nearly on the level that I can with my laptop.


Derek Powazek’s Hits it on the head

What I Hope Apple Unleashes Tomorrow

I have no inside info, but I do have a unique perspective. I’ve spent my professional career doing basically two things: making websites and making print media. It’s my hope that what Apple unleashes tomorrow is the device that finally bridges the two.

For years, I’ve been hearing claims of a paperless society. What I hinted at in my last piece was exactly what Powazek hits on the head. Paper is needed because the web hasn’t yet made it obsolete. Digital media has it’s benefits, but hasn’t fully addressed the advantages that make paper so simple and ubiquitous.


✁ Maybe Not A Tablet, but we Could Use Some Paper

A couple weeks ago, John Gruber posted to his linked list a silly little piece from betanews criticizing the yet to be released Apple Tablet for a bunch of hypothetical shortcomings that will make it a dud. I don’t blame Gruber for not really taking Wilcox to task (since pieces like this are all too common nowadays) but I think this piece in particular is worth exploring a bit as to why Apple will very experience a different story starting next Wednesday. Wilcox begins his piece:

The rumored tablet will fall short of expectations, because they are simply too unrealistic. What surprises me most about the excitement and early analyst sales projections: No one is talking about addressable market.

Well perhaps those in the print and television media (as well as some analysts) aren’t talking about the things like this that matter (then again, when do they?), but I’ve read a ton online about this very concern. But, even if no one is talking about the subject doesn’t mean Steve Jobs isn’t thinking about it. I’m certain he is. I recall a New York Times article published only a few months ago where Jobs discussed marketability of Apple products and wrote off the Kindle from ultimately winning the hearts of the mainstream because it lacked “general-purpose.” While I have no inside knowledge of the eventual tablet, I do know that Wilcox is wrong to say that no one is talking about an addressable market for the i-whatever-they-call-it. But this isn’t the part of his piece I found provacative. He continues,

[The] Apple tablet — no matter how innovative — faces three distinctive market challenges: The greater desirability of smaller devices; overlapping functionality with devices above and below it; and functionality too limited without a physical keyboard.

I don’t disagree with Wilcox on these challenges, but my ultimate conclusion differs from his because he assumes that he’s hit upon a point that no one else has figured out. He also assumes that the current consumer electronic market today will be the same once Apple releases the tablet. As we know from recent history (mainly the iPod and the iPhone), Apple’s handheld products generally redefine their market, not try and fit into it. I don’t expect anything less on January 27th, if Apple decides to unveil a new portable device.

Don’t get me wrong, Apple has had products that haven’t lived up to the hype in the past, but these missteps were/are ambitious answers to problems that weren’t yet ready to be fixed.1 The introduction of the Tablet will be different partly because there are so many industries currently begging to be fixed and yet still provide a need.

Print media is the most obvious industry in need of such fixing and the one most analysts today predict Jobs is looking to transform in ways that the Kindle and other eReaders can’t. Such predictions are supported by reports that Apple is in talks with the largest publishing companies to get content onto the device. And it’s largely the change in traditional reading habits that has endangered the viability of print media — habits which Jobs discussed all the way back in January 2008.

‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,’ he said. ‘Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.’

This is largely doublespeak by Jobs, which he’s done before. Like any literate human knows, people read every day. They read documents at work. They read news articles emailed to them. They read blogs like this one. They read their typed meeting notes. They check their email. Reading in between the lines (sorry, pun), Jobs is really saying that what people don’t do anymore is read books, newspapers, magazines and other documents on paper.2

This doublespeak distinction is what I rarely hear others discussing in their commentary, and what I believe will ultimately overcome Wilcox’s 3 challenges so that Tablet becomes a success. I believe that most of the tech journalists covering the mythical Tablet don’t quite go far enough with their metaphor. What Jobs wants to do is not reinvent computing, not reinvent the book or newspaper, but reinvent the piece of paper.

If I were a betting man, I’d wager a couple stacks that Jobs wants to change not just the entire print media industry, but more generally the way people interact with information. The reason why Kindle won’t ever become mainstream is precisely due to this failure. Amazon hasn’t taken the metaphor of the paper far enough. Sure, you can download books onto the thing, but ultimately it has very few of the advantages of paper. The aesthetically pleasing and unique identities portrayed on paper through the use of layout, color, and font is almost completely missing. You can’t really jot down notes in the margin. You can’t really do anything on it except read books, and a few newspapers and magazines3 As a result, people see Kindle (and it’s cousins) not as a reinvention of paper itself, but instead a very expensive special use paper (like that damned glossy photo paper you pay 25 bucks for to give as a gift to your grandmother who doesn’t even know what a digital camera is).

A similar situation plays out for netbooks. The metaphor of the computer has been taken too far, in this product category, leading to useage as a special purpose computer that does one thing great (portability) and nearly everything else not nearly as good as its larger siblings.

The way Apple interprets the metaphor of the product they release is what will set their new product apart from the rest, and why the 3 challenges Wilcox presents won’t matter much after the tablet is introduced. Revisiting these three challenges when switching the computer metaphor to the paper one, we see:

  1. The greatest desirability of paper is in its 8.5″ x 11″ form, not smaller form factors. Hence, if someone creates a product that allows us to interact with documents the way paper does (albeit a more advanced sort of paper), there will be no conflict here.
  2. Paper has always had overlapping functionality with the computer, yet it has never been fully replaced (even with the suggestion of a paperless society when I was in high school), which tells me that paper’s utility hasn’t been superceded and still has utility (l predict it has something to do with ease of distribution, and superiority when it comes to layout and design.4 ). If paper hasn’t been fully replaced by the computer even with many overlapping functions, perhaps such a conflict really doesn’t matter as much as Wilcox believes.
  3. Paper has functioned perfectly without a physical keyboard since the invention of the pen. The iPhone iPod have demonstrated that the keyboard isn’t the only paradigm in text input. Paper only reinforces this. This conflict will be resolved once we understand the input for the thing, which will be appropriate for it’s utility just as the scroll wheel and pen perfectly meld with their utilities.

I can rest assured tonight knowing that as long as there a means of input as good as the pen and that the product Apple shows us works as good as the paper, I’m sure the tablet will have no problem filling peoples’ expectations. But until Wednesday, let’s hold off predicting the Tablet’s doom.

I can’t wait ’til Wednesday.

  1. My take is that AppleTV, while not quite a failure, hasn’t yet revolutionized the television industry largely due to the fact that most TV viewers haven’t yet gotten so fed up with their current TV experience that they’re looking for a solution (Apple probably knows this, which is why they call it a hobby.) And the Cube was introduced before the small form factor of computers was something the mainstream was willing to pay premium for. []
  2. Funny that even those who do read on paper, print it from their computer because they so dislike the reading experience of the computer. []
  3. Periodicals on the Kindle hardly resemble the print counterparts. Pick up a paper New York Times and you know it. Read it on the Kindle, and it’s look is almost indistinguishable from the dozen or so other Newspapers on it. []
  4. HTML5 & CSS3 are closing the gaps, but most people use browsers today that can’t appreciate all of the goodness []

✁ Pastebot got me thinking

I purchased Pastebot the other day, and with Syncbot, its quite simply phenomenal. Using it got me thinking about how powerful it would be if the functionality were built into OS X. Like if there were a function key that would transfer whatever document or window in front of you to the iPhone (or let’s say a tablet). This would enable instant portability of anything you’re currently working on. I’m not talking about Instapaper type functionality that saves an article for later reading, but functionality similar to transfering from one screen to another (in a dual screen setup). That would be a killer app for my workflow.


✁ Did the Behavior of Mac Arrow Keys Change with Google.com’s subtle redesign?

I don’t generally visit the Google Homepage, since I’m usually searching via Safari searchbar. However, today I typed google.com into my address bar and saw something a bit odd.

As many probably noticed, Google.com has been sporting a subtly new look since the beginning of December. (It’s probably a testament to the strength of Google’s brand that I haven’t visited their homepage, their main service, in that long, yet still consider Google as one of the most prominent companies in my life.) What I didn’t realize about the new look at first is that it overrides one of the most pleasant simpletries of the entire Mac OS.

Throughout all of OS X, form input text entry behaves identically. The right and left arrows move the cursor one character to the right and left respectively. However, Mac OS elegance is demonstrated when you press the up and down arrows. They act as a home and end key of sorts, by moving quickly to the beginning and end of the text entered. This is not the way things work in the Windows world, and I am reminded of it all the time at work.

But since the homepage change, the arrow keys on google.com now behave exactly the same as they do on Windows (i.e. they do nothing).1 This extremely small change makes my visit ever slightly frustrating. It also makes me wonder whether Google has studied the effects of silly little changes like this on their market share.

What’s odd about this behavior is that it isn’t consistent across the entirety of google.com. When on a search result page, only the top search bar displays this behavior, but not the one at the bottom of the page. This leads me to believe that the change was merely an accidental over-thought, and not an intentional choice.

  1. You may be saying, who cares, but in the world of search, word order choice matters, which is why I constantly using the up/down arrows. Shift+ Up Arrow has become habitual when wishing to highlight all text. []

✁ Finally, A site of my own

For the last year, I’ve been managing several different websites for clients and friends, and it’s been a goal of mine to find some time for myself. After changing web hosts this weekend, I am now have a place of my own on the web.

One of my goals for 2010 is to create as much original and worthwhile content as possible, and perhaps share some interesting insights with readers. That’s a lofty goal since I imagine 95% of what I write and design is derivative. However, if I can be so lucky as to have the other 5% provide some miniscule value to me or my readers, I think this exercise will be worthwhile. I also am excited to see where this journey shall take me. I hope you will join me.