Xbox One has been revealed, and according to one slide in the launch it’s “Powered by the Cloud.” So Microsoft is as hip as it ever was.
Just like Sony is apparently doing with the case design of the PS4, Microsoft is getting rid of as many curves as possible, leaving Apple with all the RoundRects. I can’t help wondering if they didn’t try prototyping a sharp edged controller at some point in this redesign.
The most interesting technical point for me was that they’ve abandoned the Kinect’s Structured Light approach to depth-sensing and replaced it with a Time of Flight (ToF) camera, which is in fact a real thing and means that the device actually measures the time it takes for a light pulse to bounce off you and return on a per-pixel basis. Given that light travels amazingly fast, that’s an impressive feat. They don’t give specifications or resolution yet but it’s probably in the range of a centimeter or so.
The presenters strongly emphasised voice control in the presentation, which I’ve realised I will probably never be comfortable with until the software is better than humans at understanding speech (that’s a high bar to clear, but it will eventually happen). I want to mumble and run my words together, and I want to keep my goddamn voice down if I’m talking to my TV. How annoying will it be to have to hear someone in the next room declaiming “Xbox, watch movie!” – At least with Siri you can hold the phone close to keep from disturbing others (but you know you still sound like a twat).
The whole launch felt rather muddled and dull (although I only watched the first 20 minutes or so I am assuming it didn’t get better) and just made me wonder if we’ll see an alternative from Apple this year. Basically an Apple TV with a proper App store will be a far more interesting prospect for developers.
Recently I decided it was time for a computer upgrade, largely because I’m doing some Windows development and my 3 year old iMac, although still quite good, doesn’t quite have the 3D graphics chops to support the sort of work I’m doing. So I considered getting a windows box… for about 3 seconds, before caving and buying the latest & greatest 27″ iMac instead.
It’s rather schmick. Skinny, fast, quiet and yet it runs surprisingly cool. How they managed to properly ventilate this thing when it’s practically a slab of aluminium I do not know. For now I’m running it mostly in Windows/Bootcamp, with what appears to be full driver support for the NVidia GTX-680MX chipset, and doing all Mac related stuff on my older machine (to the right, see it’s like an inch thicker). Ultimately I’ll probably sell the old one as I don’t really need 2 machines, but for now it’s handy.
I also got a new desk to accomodate, since my old one was small and also remarkably weak; beginning to slump with the two machines sitting on it. Because it was a bit of a rush decision I grabbed the first reasonably sturdy (+cheap) one I could find, with a solid MDF top coated in white polyurethane (the only finish available). Apart from strength, the other appeal of this desk is that it’s actually a folding table, with no assembly required.
If you’re thinking about getting such a desk (or for that matter a glass one) consider first the issue of how well your mouse will work on such a glossy surface. I now have two Apple “magic” mice, seemingly identical (both model A1296), and yet only one can track accurately on this surface– the other doesn’t register movement at all. A Logitech optical mouse also totally failed to track. Basically you should make sure your mouse works when used on a whiteboard before choosing such a desk.
BTW, one of the improvements touted for the new iMacs is a less reflective screen, and I’m pleased to note that the difference is non-trivial (in this photo new iMac is on the right).
Ever since iOS 6 came out I’ve been very envious of people with newer iPhones than mine; mostly for that built-in panorama mode, as all the panorama apps I’d tried on the iPhone 4 were frankly garbage. But finally my 24 month contract ended recently so I was able to renew with a new plan + iPhone 5 (32GB).
Here’s two shots from right beside my secret low-tide paddle pool. Click to embiggen…
I can’t believe how smoothly the exposure variation is handled, like in this case even when the sun is in the shot.
Other things I note (compared to the iPhone 4):
- Significantly faster/more responsive.
- Headphone jack on the bottom!
- Extra vertical pixels seems to make the screen feel bigger all round.
- Gets slightly warmer with use?
- Blacker screen (well the black parts are anyway, which is good)
- Lighter and flatter (but not too much of either). And I actually like the fact that it’s physically taller.
- So minimal in form. I’m really liking the physical ‘fit and finish’ of the new iPhone design, although the fact that the volume buttons have the slightest freedom to rattle stops me giving it an A+ in that department. I’d really like the future iPhone to be indistinguishable from a thin black slab of cut glass (and just as waterproof would be nice).
- Front-facing camera is 4 times the resolution, for usable selfies (iPhone 4 is 640 x 480, otherwise known as potato resolution).
- Makes me wish the lightning connector had been introduced 5 years ago with the first iPhone. It is so much nicer and I love the way it snaps into place. Annoyed at the crazy $35 price for the adapter needed to use old 3rd party devices.
- Nano-SIM. Seriously? SERIOUSLY!?! it’s like 1mm smaller than micro-SIM which Apple only just introduced with iPhone 4, and seems to be designed just to annoy phone retailers and complicate technology sharing.
- Home button really feels like the weakest physical link, I’m going to try not to mash it too much (the home button on my 4 is half dead).
- With the metal back I might have bought the white one, were there any display models to play with. Just for a change.
- Same old monophonic speaker cheat! It looks like stereo speakers at the bottom but the left one is actually for the microphone (or just dummy holes).
- Anodized aluminum is too delicate! I already have tiny scuffs and scratches from putting the thing in my pocket with keys. Again, I’m really looking forward to when an iPhone is a solid piece of glass– ie way less prone to scratches than coated metal. I never use phone covers so it looks like I’m just gonna end up scratching the hell out of this thing.
- Room for another row of grid aligned brightly colored square icons which I am getting royally sick of scanning through.
On the subject of icons, where the hell is the “auto-organize by category” option so I don’t have to think about which page I want to put my house hunting searching app on? I want other people to spend a lot of time carefully deciding how these innumerable technicolor gumdrops should be arranged so I don’t have to!
Here’s what my internet connectivity looks like when my machine is idle. Not particularly great but I get by:
Here’s what it looks like when Dropbox is uploading a large media file in the background:
And here’s what it looks like when Google Drive is doing the same:
That horrible 509 millisecond ping time (and it can easily get as bad as 1500 ms) ruins pretty much any attempt to use the internet on my entire network. Google employs tens (hundreds?) of thousands of talented engineers and yet the company deliver half-baked shit like this that feels like an intern developed it and didn’t even bother to test properly. Are the top developers just being paid just to use Google+ all day?
I’m really sick of multi billion dollar companies rolling out software that looks like it was knocked up in someone’s spare time.
Speaking of which, APPLE. Apple, for somehow finding a way to make iTunes worse, for never making iPhoto better than crap, for taking the dumbest elements of iOS and shoehorning them into OS X, for redesigning the AppleTV interface to be even less useful and sticking me with non-removable MLB and NBA tiles taking up valuable space on the homescreen when I live in Australia and hate TV sport anyway. For failing to come up with a level of organization for apps in iOS better the the useless homescreen folders. For making Airplay work with iTunes but leaving it out of Quicktime. What exactly are all your genius developers working on?
Even though I set this in iTunes:
Only the last 4 new podcasts are synced to my iPhone. Below you can see the list as it appears in my library and on my iPhone respectively.
I don’t know why it’s not working, I don’t know what the stupid dotty circle means (where are the tips on hover, Apple?), and I’m getting pretty sick of Apple fucking up iTunes and podcast handling.
I know they want me to use their podcasts app instead, but I hate it– it’s SHIT. I also hate iTunes 11. In fact I hate 90% of the application design Apple have done in the last few years, and am hoping against hope that it was all the fault of the recently ousted head of iOS, and that they will start releasing applications that aren’t confusing and crippled in the near future.
Fedex Santa knocked on my door and woke me up this morning to deliver my latest completely irresponsible purchase, the Nexus 7 tablet from Google (although the only brand marked on the device itself is Asus). I almost wish I’d shot an ‘unboxing’ video because actually opening the box took me forever, as it seemed that it was glued inside the colorful sleeve (it was just such a tight fit that it was harder to remove than the worst jam jar lid), but there are plenty of other people who captured the experience on camera.
This being my first departure from the Apple ecosystem in which I’ve resided these past few years, at this point I have no real opinion of Android, other than that it sounds like a pain to develop for (because of device and version fragmentation), but the fact that the Nexus 7 is going to effectively be Google’s reference tablet for the OS makes it seem the logical entry point for a curious newbie.
When I powered it up (I love that devices are shipped pre-charged as standard) my first thought was “Black screen, modern font, Metro ripoff!” and my second thought was “Hang on a minute, how the hell does it know who I am already?”
I guess it could have been set at the factory, since it was purchased using my Google account… but I don’t know where it picked up “intepid” from, as I don’t use that handle in association with any Google service I can think of. Spooky!
I haven’t really done much with it yet, but I have to say it seems like a very nice device for the price (US$200), and already I totally get the 7″ form-factor. I mean I love my iPad, and it’s likely to remain my tablet of choice, but reading in bed with it requires two hands, whereas the Nexus 7 seems light and small enough to hold in one (maybe not for long periods– we shall see). The Nexus 7 is to the iPad as a paperback is to a magazine.
One caveat is that I have large-ish hands, and so can comfortably hold this thing in the palm of one hand. If yours are smaller you will go mad accidentally touching the screen with your thumb as you try to hold the device from the corner, since the bezel isn’t wide enough to allow a secure grip. Pictured to the right you can see the Nexus 7 sitting on the iPad, and although the former looks more streamlined you will quickly miss the generous bezel of the latter, which makes it a lot easier to keep your thumbs off the active display area. There’s a good reason Apple went with an outdated aspect ratio and an unfashionably thick frame.
- Regular google apps (gmail etc) are integrated beautifully (as one would hope!)
- I will probably never connect this thing to my Mac (except for dev purposes maybe). All my music is in iTunes and there’s no way I’m going to be bothered trying to work out how to get it onto a device which I’m rarely going to use for media playback anyway.
- The USB connector is Micro-B, slightly less common than Mini-B, which is mildly annoying because they are about the same size anyway. It just means you need to keep track of the cable instead of just using what you probably already have (although it is the same connector used by the Kindle).
- The rubberized back is quite nice and grippy, and means when you put it down you don’t have to worry about that tooth-edgy aluminium scraping sound you get from so many Apple products (plugging a USB cable into the back of an aluminium iMac is like nails on a blackboard).
- The Nexus 7 is a device you can be reasonably sure will get timely Android updates, unlike a lot of other cheap junk out there. Seriously it’s the fear of buying a device that’s superseded the moment it leaves the factory which has kept me away from Android and Windows Phone in the past. Lately Apple has become the only company that shows any real commitment to supporting the hardware it sells you (eg Microsoft/Nokia are selling Windows 7 phones right now that will not be upgradable to Windows 8, so basically you’d be an idiot to buy one.)
- You get a couple of freebies and $25 in Google Play store credit. I got to watch Transformers: Dark of the Moon for free, although it wasn’t until about 25 minutes in that I realized it was actually the movie that I was watching, and not a sequence of extended trailers for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It really is an unbelievably bad film.
- You’ll really miss having a physical home button. Again, this is a design decision that Apple made years ago, that at first seemed a bit weird (after doing away with physical keypads they couldn’t get rid of this last, dorky little remnant?) but turned out to be very sensible indeed. On iOS devices an app can never obscure the home button (since the home button isn’t even on the screen), and you won’t press it accidentally because it’s not even touch sensitive. I’ve already done quite a bit of swearing at the Nexus 7 navbar which I keep triggering unintentionally.
- Although the display isn’t quite as sharp as the new iPad’s 264DPI, it comes in close at 216DPI; perfectly acceptable to my shitty eyesight (and much sharper than iPad 1&2)
- The only camera is a front-facing one, so I guess it’s good for video chat and that’s about it. The smaller device size should mean that eye-lines won’t be too out of whack.
- New Macbook pro with Retina is expensive, but quite a nice machine. Disappointed that the whole line wasn’t refreshed though– hopefully within a year we will have “Retina” displays across the board.
- Apple’s new maps application with sexy 3D cities and turn-by-turn navigation looks sweet and has me looking forward to ditching the appallingly ugly, expensive and dysfunctional Navigon app (seriously fuck you, Navigon). It seems a long way from ready though, considering it’s scheduled for release in the next few months, and I wonder if Apple bit off more than they can chew by taking on worldwide mapping. Even if they succeed, the break with Google maps means no street view, which I’ll really miss.
- Still no 3rd party apps for Apple TV– that was a rumor I was quite keen to see come true.
- Still no Siri for iPhones older than the 4S.
- iMessage across all Apple devices makes sense, but the focus on this + notes and reminders makes it feel like Apple is dumbing down OS X a bit. I mean, wow reminders how incredibly innovative durrrrrrr
Here are 4 pictures taken with the front facing camera while holding the iPad in a comfortable viewing position using 4 different orientations. Note how crap the framing is in each one (and how the eyelines are way off for all but the bottom-right, in which it merely looks like I am staring at your neck rather than over your shoulder).
Compare these with Apple’s obviously bullshit sample pic from their website, in which the dude’s eyes look squarely out of the screen. Not only does the framing suggest he is talking to an iPad mounted just beyond arm’s length in front of him (on some kind of tripod on which the device is either perfectly vertical or tilted slightly forward), but his eye-line suggests that instead of looking at the face of the girl he is talking to he is instead staring determinedly at the tiny lens in the top of the bezel (ironically, the only reason to do this is to appear to be meeting her gaze).
Talking to someone in real life who won’t make eye contact is disconcerting at best; add into that low quality video, slight lag and the “I’m yelling so you can hear me” voice and Facetime becomes the least useful iPad app I have. Until someone works out how to mount the camera in the middle of the screen I really can’t see it being comfortable to do face-to-face video chat with a large tablet.
WWDC Update: Oh look they’ve doubled-down on the fakey bullcrap with the iOS6 preview site by showing Factime in landscape orientation, which really is impossible to use in real life.
The fact that almost everyone has a smart phone now means that QR codes are not actually a terrible idea, even on a website (eg a lot of apps show QR codes on their websites so you can take a picture of the screen with a smart phone to go directly to the app store and install).
The codes become a lot cuter when you customize them, as this overly complicated tutorial shows you. In a nutshell you can just plonk an image in the middle as long as it isn’t too big, because QR codes (can) exploit a high level of redundancy for error correction.
If I needed to make a business card I would definitely use this technique.
It’s remarkable that even at 20 times normal speed the movement is only barely perceptible.
I first noticed the effect when the mini-microscope I was using to check out the tiny RGB pixel elements started wandering across the screen of its own accord. Turns out it’s not unique to this model, and likely is common to most modern touch screens– it’s just something I never noticed until now.
Note that this does not mean that the screen is frictionless; merely that the coefficient of static friction is negligible– static friction is the effect that (normally) allows us to place one thing on top of another and find it where we left it the following day. By nearly eliminating static friction these screens avoid the problem of sticking/jarring motions as you drag your fingertip across the glass.
It’s all about the pixels :)
Here’s a screen shot of my (plenty large) 27″ iMac screen, with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, overlayed with a red rectangle representing the pixels in the new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 display. Hard to believe but a screen capture from a new iPad won’t even fit on a screen that people generally see as ‘huge’.
Of course the new display is only 10″ diagonal as opposed to 27″, so those pixels are less than half the size of those of my iMac, resulting in a pixel density around 260ppi. This will make for a rather splendiferous reading/browsing experience, and also bodes well for future Mac releases.
UPDATE: I bought one! Just the base 16GB Wifi, because it will rarely be needed outside the house and I am not interested in keeping movies on it. Click on the image to see a full resolution screen grab of this blog entry as viewed on the new iPad, in all it’s megapixelly glory.
Now that a respectable amount of time has passed, here’s a few things I really hope someone at Apple takes the opportunity to change direction on. I mean, everyone has mentioned that Steve could be fickle, so maybe you could just imagine he changed his mind at the last minute about a couple of ideas…
- Please lose the faux leather/paper stuff!
If you’d asked me to predict which company would revive this horrible UI trend, I would never have predicted it would be Apple. People want their iPad to look like an iPad, because iPads are sexy and modern and make you feel like you’re in Star Trek. Seriously, Microsoft are doing better work than you in this area right now, by focusing on typography rather than pretend stitching and torn paper edges.
- Please stop trying to merge OS X and iOS! They are different, complementary even, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to try to make the PC itself “post PC”. Microsoft is clearly heading this way too with Windows 8, and you don’t want to be like them, right? I for one really do want to quit an app when I quit an app, and it’s annoying enough that I can’t do this on the iPhone. Also, the launchpad screen looks really dumb on a 27″ display.
- If you want everyone to come play in your cloud please at least offer some general storage, ie bring back iDisk, with at least 2GB space for free (and 5GB doesn’t seem like a stretch)
- Please make Apple TV actually useful. It’s so affordable and tantalizingly close to being useful it’s annoying. I mean, it’s a small solid state puck with HDMI out, a minimalist remote and Wifi, so not being able to stream from non iTunes sources is a real pain. I really don’t want to have to jailbreak the thing (+ I can’t right now because the recent update hasn’t been properly cracked yet). And if you’re not going to make it useful at least get the pricing on your movie rentals down, because $7 for a movie that I have to watch within a 48-hour window and download using bandwidth I still have to pay for is a rip-off.
- Please lose this god-awful “Save a version/Duplicate and Revert” crap in Lion. It’s confusing as hell and totally unnecessary.
You could still support versioning behind a classic Save/Save As paradigm, ie the one that everyone has learned for the last 25 years or so. Someone obviously wanted to redefine the way we save documents, and Steve was obviously on board with it, but I think it’s one of his crappier ideas, if only because it is so half-baked in its implementation.