Archive for Visual Evidence

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

1959 movie poster for "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth"Did you read Verne’s classic when you were a kid? Imagined walking through those prehistoric jungles, seeing the first glimpses of battling dinosaurs and man-eating plants? It was cool when you were a kid … but like most sci-fi, especially period sci-fi, it comes off as pretty hokey when you get older and realize that there isn’t very much worth seeing under the surface of the planet.

Or is there?

One way to find out: The BBC’s excellent interactive web feature that lets you delve down to the very core of the planet. They did a bang-up job on this – take a few minutes today and take a look.

Brilliant.

It’s Not A Watch …

Today is the day. Apple makes their first foray into the world of personal luxury and fashion, earning them reams of text on fashion and style pages around the world. There is a nearly endless plethora of speculation about what we are going to see, learn, and – in the case of many people, specifically the style-challenged tech press – be shocked by.

But, when push comes to shove everything that comes down the pike today can be summed up in four little words:

It’s Not A Watch.

Now then. Before we go any further, a note on nomenclature. When I say “watch”, I mean a proper Swiss mechanical watch. Not some cheap-ass quartz-movement thing from a department store. Not some overpriced-but-the-same-cheap-ass-quartz-movement thing from a “designer label”. I mean a hand-built automatic watch, the kind of thing you invest a significant sum into and plan on having for your entire life. That’s what a “watch” is. And – much to the upcoming dismay of clueless media types everywhere – that is the market that Apple has their eye on with this product. Not ugly “smartwatches”. Not the Timex crowd, nor the Marc Jacobs or Fossil or Kate Spade crowd. Think about names like Omega and Hamilton and Tag and you have a much better idea of where this will all play out.

Where were we? Oh, right.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but the iPhone wasn’t a phone, either. When Apple first released the iPhone, a precious few people (thank you, thank you very much) realized that it wasn’t a phone at all. It was Apple swinging for the fences with an entirely new concept of computing … the idea that most of the data interactions you have don’t really require sitting down at a traditional computer and instead can be done in the palm of your hand. The “phone” part of the iPhone is just an app, and if you are like most people it is one of the apps you use the least. But calling it a phone made it easier for people to understand. And want. And use. It was just window dressing, a way to get the device in to average mopes’ pockets and ease them into the now-commonplace world of mobile computing. And that is the eventual end-game here as well. Call it a watch. Make it beautiful and something that people crave. Let them realize later that they are now into wearable computing and can’t imagine life without it. It works a lot better than trying to sell them on strapping a computer to their wrist.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it’s not a “smartwatch” either. If you have ever seen someone with a Galaxy Gear or a Moto 360 you will realize two things: One, current smartwatches are ugly as shit and two, they are horrible to use. That’s because the current idea of a smartwatch as a teeny tiny smartphone is horribly broken. Using a watch to do the things you do on your phone just makes the task, whatever it is, harder, slower, and more frustrating. Why would you wear something on your arm – and worse, something wretchedly ugly – just to make the things you do more difficult? Answer: You wouldn’t. Which is exactly why you have probably never actually seen someone wearing a Galaxy Gear. Or a Moto 360.

The solution? Take functions and abilities away from the device instead of trying to cram more in. You can tell by both the materials we have seen so far and by the vocabulary that Apple is using that they envision the watch as something that you interact with in passive ways. You glance at it. You feel a tap from it. You touch the face or the crown. But you never ever ever sit there and poke poke poke away at tiny elements on a tiny screen. If Apple maintains that mindset, and enforces some extremely stringent rules on the app store to keep developers from trying to cram busy smartphone apps onto a watch screen, it could be the breakthrough in bringing wearable computing to the teeming masses that has been eluding all of the other players in the game to this point.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it definitely looks like one. There is no denying the fact that the Apple Watch looks like high-end jewelry, and not like something that your early-adopter nerd buddy would strap to his wrist to tap out blog entries while waiting for a bus. And the wild differentiation in styles, from an obvious sport-activity device to an understated everyday quietly-elegant device to a full-on mega-priced personal luxury item means that Apple is targeting three completely different groups or watch wearers here.

The sport model is, I think, a panacea to the traditional tech and millennial crowd. Something that they can buy at a price that they understand, with a look that they will like, and a utility that is idea for their groovy active lifestyles. These are the people who already have sports bands, and it’s a market segment that is already measurable and ready to be entered. As for the edition model, well, that is for people who can drop ten grand or more on a whim and won’t really care if they have to do it again next year to get an upgraded model. They aren’t normal people – they are an alien group all on their own, and they will buy expensive things just to have, well, expensive things.

But the standard watch? That’s aimed at a market that is a complete crap shot. It’s a market with all the potential in the world, but also one that could crash and burn. This is where Apple is taking a risk – trying to replace quality traditional watches on the wrists of suit-wearing office folk, on golfers and cafe-goers, on the kinds of people who carry a high-end smartphone in one hand and a six-dollar latte in the other. It’s an all-or-nothing bet here. This is the market with the most room for growth, and also the market where the price shocks cause the worst hue and cry. Which brings us to …

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it will certainly be priced like one. Lots of people have tried to come up with an estimate of what the various models will cost. Some of them have been laughably inane. But when thinking about the prices that will be announced today, and about the reaction that is sure to follow, here are three bits of information that are worth having in the back of your mind.

Bit #1: Read this incredibly naive comment from your Average Tech Press Pundit about the cost of a stainless steel watch bracelet. If you don’t want to wade through the text yourself, the money quote is:

“… many of us are waiting for the official steel bracelets to be made available (at a hefty a la carte price of $79.99)”

Hefty. Eighty bucks is “hefty”. Remember that.

Bit #2: When people ask me about watches, I invariably tell them to forget the Rolexes and head towards an Omega. You get a brilliant piece of machinery that will last forever and with a history and heritage that you can almost feel every time you slide the thing onto your wrist. Of all the Omega models, the Speedmaster 57 is my favourite. Solid, understated, classic, elegant … it is everything a personal luxury item should be. If you do happen to have an Omega Speedmaster and you needed to replace the standard stainless steel bracelet, it’s going to set you back a minimum of $600. Not $60. Not $160. Six hundred. Now remember back to the “hefty” price in Bit #1 and you can see how this is going to cause rampant conniption fits among the tech (and probably mainstream) press.

Bit #3: Examine this handy chart of three different models of the Omega Speedmaster and the associated retail prices.

Omega Speedmaster 75 Prices

These watches are identical inside. Same movement, same inner chassis, same daily, same everything. The only difference is the case material. And the prices are literally an order of magnitude different. Is there $15,000 worth of gold in the gold watch? $20,000 worth of gold in the gold watch and bracelet? No, of course not. There is, however, a completely different market for the two variants, and they are priced as such.

Will the difference between the standard Apple Watch and the gold edition model be $15,000? Probably not. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the difference was at least eight grand. Maybe more.

In other words, get ready for the shitstorm.

Now. With all that in play, I will take a shot at the madness anyway. We already know that the Sport model will start at the previously revealed price of $349. If I had to make an educated guess, I say that the standard stainless model will come in at $699 with bracelet options that take it all the way to $1199, and the gold Edition model will start at $5999 and have bracelet options that push it to the $11999.

Yep. Hefty. But also very much in keeping with the market that Apple hopes to open up with this particular play. The press can scream and faint all they want … Apple only cares if they sell.

The more intriguing question is whether or not the two sizes of each model will be priced the same. I have a sneaking suspicion that for the Sport, they will be the same. Size in a smartphone is a choice based on function. Size in a wearable is based on your body, and at least at the entry level I don’t see Apple making body size a monetized commodity. In fact, I think that even the stainless model will have one price for both sizes, although the steel bands may be priced in tiers depending on the size of the case they match. And the gold one? Oh yeah, that costs more for the bigger case. Just because they can.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but yes, it is going to be sold like one. Not like a computer, not like a phone. This is something you try on, heft, have a personal interaction with before you plunk down your cash. And that might be the biggest challenge of all. Apple retail stores are not set up with this sort of shopping experience in mind. Apple’s retail partners – specifically the big tech stores like Future Shop and Best Buy are really not set up for this sort of thing. How this part of the equation plays out will be the most interesting part of the whole experiment.

The traditional watch experience is also why the case and bracelet combinations will be limited to the ones you see on the Apple web site right now. You can’t go buy a stainless Speedmaster with a gold bracelet – Omega knows that will look like crap and they just don’t make it an option. The same mindset will be in play here – Apple doesn’t want nasty-looking combinations out in the wild, at least to start, and is willing to tick a few people off to maintain a certain visual standard as the product hits the street.

It’s Not A Watch …

… but it has been treated like one by the teams that designed and built it. And that, I think, is why this will eventually succeed. Everything about the product feels like a watch. Even the vocabulary that Apple uses to talk about the smallest details – to the point of using the unfamiliar-but-traditional term “complications” for visual elements of the watch face display – hints that was never designed as a tech toy on your wrist. This was designed as a beautiful personal item that you will be proud to wear … and just happens to do really cool stuff.

That’s the disruption. It isn’t about making smartwatches that do amazing new things. The Apple watch will probably do less than any other smartwatch on the market. Possibly far less. This is about making a high-end watch that just happens to do a few things that no other watch can do … and how our perceptions of computing are changed again.

Love it or hate it, the iPhone made the “post-PC” era a reality. Apple hopes the watch can do the same thing for wearable data. It’s a risk for sure. But the possible rewards? Staggering.

Nutshell By Prezi

If you decided to try every new camera app that came down the pipe … well, you would fail. Miserably. There are so many camera apps released each day that you actually wouldn’t have time to test them all. By the time you gave even a cursory glance to each one released on a Monday it would be well into Tuesday and you would already be screwed because Tuesday’s big pile of camera apps would already be stacking up. Worse, the vast majority (and by vast majority I mean about 99.94%) of these things are either garbage, a rehash of something that has already been done to death, or (worse) both.

Honestly, your brain would probably explode about three hours in.

Ka-pow.

Screen shot from NutshellThe sad upshot of this is that when a cool or interesting new camera app actually does come along it is easy to miss it completely. Such is the case with Nutshell, which is a very cool – if poorly documented in one crucial area – new app that lets you bridge the gap between photo sharing and full-on videos to make quick and fun “vignettes” about … well, anything. The app uses a cool sort of stepping-stone time-compression technique that focuses on three key images in your story and offers animated text and sticker-type graphics to enhance your narrative. Best of all, the price is definitely right: This is a fully-featured app with no ads and no in-app purchases and it is 100% free. Lifehacker people, take note.

However – and this is a big however in the world of consumer-level apps – there is a crucial omission in the “get started” instructions that almost guarantees your first attempt will be a big pile of shit. Free apps generally get one use before the user decides to keep it or toss it away, and your first use of Nutshell. The instructions tell you to “take three photos” … something that most people would think allows you to take a photo, wander off, mess around, set up an new shot, take that pic, move on to the third, etc etc. But you aren’t just taking photographs. What you are really doing is marking “key frames” in an actual video. It’s not entirely obvious (although you figure it out after your first botched attempt … or maybe two) that you have to hold and move the camera BETWEEN the three photos in the same way you would when shooting a standard video.

Once the video is complete, the app then uses the three spots where you clicked “photos” as spots to highlight your subjects and add any text and graphics you wanted to include. If you hold your phone properly for the whole event the effect is startlingly cool, and really lets you tell an immersive little story in just a few seconds of video.

If you don’t keep your phone aimed and moved correctly, you get a shaky and disjointed thing that no one wants to see. At all.

The omission is probably understandable – albeit not excusable – because Prezi is a business software company, and generally deals with a world where customers are more invested in their software purchases and don’t make snap judgements based on a single use. Hopefully the gang at Prezi will fix this quickly, because this is an app that deserves to succeed.

One other caveat for anyone who is concerned about their privacy or data security: The built-in sharing functions use either a Facebook or a Google login, and while Prezi has what looks to be a decent privacy policy, the same can’t be said for the companies who provide those affiliate logins. However, Prezi has included the ability to save your video to your camera roll and share manually via whatever method you want so you don’t need to needlessly expose yourself unless you choose to. Kudos for offering alternatives that should please everyone.

Now that you have been tipped off to the little gotcha, why not download it and take it for a spin? It’s free, it’s fun, and once you figure out how to use it, it looks really really cool.

LEGO S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier

There have been an escalating thread of discontent running through the LEGO fan/collector/maniac/whatever community over the past couple of years. The hardest of the hardcore have been bemoaning the lack of big, show-stopping, intricate, massive, “wow factor” sets. The incredible Super Star Destroyer was released for the holiday season in 2011 and since then … nada.

Those people stopped their bitching en masse today. Boom.

Photo of the LEGO S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier

The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier set (LEGO 76042) is 3000 pieces of pure awesome. It will be available for your gift-giving (or self-gifting) pleasure on March 1, 2015, but you can get it two weeks early if you are a LEGO VIP member. You can also power the rotors and add navigation lights by adding the LEGO Power Functions battery box (LEGO 88000), M-Motor (LEGO 8883), and Light kits (LEGO 8870). And really, after dropping 350 bucks on the model itself you would be a fool not to put down another fifty and make this a true showpiece.

It’s worth repeating: Wow.

CODA 1: If you don’t want to plunk down the 350 bucks and you happen to have 23,000 of the appropriate bricks hanging around, you can make this yourself. This set was inspired by a home-built – and much more massive version – created by an Average LEGO Joe as part of the LEGO Ideas initiative. He designed it using the awesome LEGO Digital Designer software … if you ever wanted an excuse to download the program and start playing around, this is definitely it.

CODA 2: While the great unwashed masses might see $350 as stupidly expensive for a box of LEGO, this is actually a really sweet deal. The amount of bricks you get, the hours of building fun, the playability and display value are all well above other sets of this ilk and in this price range. This set is also going to be an excellent investment – if you have to means to buy one or two extras and put them away as sealed boxes, do it. The Super Star Destroyer was released less than four years ago at 400 dollars and now that the set is retired unopened boxes are fetching upwards of 900 bucks on-line … it’s more that safe to assume this set will equal or surpass that with ease.

Jeffrey’s EXIF Viewer

Ever needed a quick and dirty way to take a look at the EXIF data embedded in a photo? Take a peek at Jeffery’s EXIF Viewer – it works with damn near any photo format and includes all of the EXIF fields, something that a lot of so-called “pro” photo suites don’t do. Even better, it’s browser based so there is zero overhead and zero system investment so you can use it when you are away from your own computer or on a mobile device*. If you can get at a browser or any sort, you can get access to the guts of your photo data.

Serious kudos to Jeffrey Friedl for providing a decidedly awesome tool. You definitely want to keep this one in your bookmarks.

*There are oodles of EXIF apps for most mobile platforms, but I have yet to see one that gets as deep into the data as this web tool.

Jake

He was such a good boy.

Stupid world.

DSC_0004_2.JPG

iWhat?

So. Apple is going to add a wearable device to their iOS family today. But Tim Cook’s vow to “double down on secrecy” was more that just boastful talk, and no one seems to have even the faintest idea of what the thing is going to be, do, or look like. So the absence of any real data, let’s take a look at what the competition (and in 66% of these examples, the word “competition” is being used incredibly loosely) is doing and how that might relate to what we see in a couple of hours.

Samsung Galaxy GearExhibit 1: Galaxy Gear

Look. If you were to make a laundry list of all the things a wearable/smartwatch shouldn’t be, the Gear would probably rack up a perfect score. To wit:

  • It probably shouldn’t be useless without being connected to a second device at all times.
  • If it is connected to a second device, it should do more than just parrot that device’s functionality.
  • If it does parrot the functions of a second device, it shouldn’t make those functions more difficult to perform.
  • It shouldn’t be fucking ugly.

And, running down the scorecard we see … wow. Four for four.  Great in baseball … got so much in consumer devices.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Samsung has released 6 different models in the last 3 months and all of them have quickly gone from retailing for over 200 bucks being given away free with the purchase of another device or service.  Oops.

And did I mention that it’s fucking ugly?

Motorola 270, er, 360Exhibit 2: Moto 360

This is a much better effort. If nothing else, it’s a nicely understated design – something you wouldn’t actually feel like a glasshole for wearing in public. Sadly, it fails on a couple of key points. One, its fairly huge. It looks like a nice watch until you actually put it on your wrist … and then, unless you are the local neighbourhood barbarian, it looks like a Giant Tech Bangle. Er, fail.

Worse, the batteries need to be charged up at least twice a day, something that is an unpardonable sin for a wearable. Wearables have to be constant and unobtrusive. If you have to actively interact with the thing for either basic functionality or (worse) to manage it’s systems, you are looking at a device that ends up in the bottom of a drawer fairly quickly.

As an aside, someone should also tell Motorola what “360” really means. For some odd reason the designers couldn’t deal with placement of the display drivers and optical sensors without cutting into the face of the device, leaving that odd chord of dead space at the bottom of the display. Worse, their marketing people then photoshopped a complete face into the device in the marketing materials, so pictures on the web site and in the packages they hand out to the media show something significantly different than what the device really is. I guess the more accurate name of “Motorola 270″ was already taken. Oops.

Withings ActivitéExhibit 3: Withings Activé

Now we are getting somewhere. Run back up to the “checklist of fail” – where the Galaxy Gear batted 1.000, the Withings dances through with aplomb. It adds new and useful functions to your existing device, it provides useful information in an unobtrusive and pervasive way, the batter lasts for a year, and its absolutely gorgeous.

This is a device that you would want to wear all day, every day, even if you didn’t know what it did. From top to bottom, this is a winner.

Exhibit 4: Apple Something-or-other

No idea. At all. But you take a look at the three notable entries above, the chances are a extremely high that it will be a lot closer to the Withings Activé that either of the unusable mutts that Samsung and Motorola have coughed up.

Blackberry Passport – September 24

The gang up in Waterloo sent out this cryptic invitation yesterday:

event-three-up-1Very secret. Very mysterious. What could it mean?

It means the launch of the Blackberry Passport, that’s what it means. Make no mistake – the Passport appears to be an extremely nice device. If you are well and truly welded to the idea of a physical keyboard, then this is about the absolute best solution for a pocket computer that will still let developers and users offer up a proper touch-screen experience. It might be a tad too large for easy one-handed use, a bit too wide and pointy to be pocketable, but those are quibbles. This is a solid piece of hardware.

Blackberry PassportIn fact, if Blackberry hadn’t been rendered moribund by short-sighted stubbornness at the top (I’m lookin’ at you, Mike) and this phone had been released 4 years ago, there is a very good chance that Blackberry might still be a relevant player in the mobile devices game. Even now, this might have a decent impact … but not if it gets lost in the shuffle of big releases from Samsung and Apple in the first half of the month.

So why the secrecy? You want people thinking about and talking about this device now. You want people interested in trying (and buying!) this device before the new new handsets from the biggest two players in the game hit the stores … it almost seems that Blackberry has given up on anyone who has moved to another platform, and is content to target their existing users.

Memo To The Waterloo Posse: When your pool of existing users is in the shrinking single-digit percentage of the market, that might not be the greatest strategy. You need to make noise about this, and you need to make it now.

Canada Day Ramblings, Part 2

Truth be told, I am not a Blue Jays fan. I like baseball, but my team is the Tigers. Grew up with the Tigers, love the Tigers, will be a Tigers fan until they shove me into a shallow grave.

Except on Canada Day.

Blue Jays, red shirts - it's Canada Day!I’m always ready to cheer for the Toronto nine on birthday of the nation simply because they bust out the awesome red-and-white togs and top it off with the big maple leaf on the cap. The Jays had to fight for years to get a home date and afternoon start time on Canada Day (major league baseball then, as now, was particularly brain-dead when it comes to the fact that Canada is not some small town in Iowa) and it’s only right to give the team their due for doing it right.

NBC’s Bullshit-Laden Entirely Contrived Panic-Inducing “Sochi Personal Electronics Hacking Exposé” Is A Journalistic Embarassment

Sorry about the rather unwieldy headline, there. But really, there was no other way to approach this. Brian Williams of NBC – who used to be a real journalist and should definitely know better – put together this breathless report from Sochi that shows personal electronics being remotely compromised with malware and accessed by crackers within minutes of landing at the airport in Sochi. In the video you see a phone being “automatically” being taken over as soon as they turn it on, and two brand-new Macbook Pros being compromised just by turning them on at the hotel and leaving them running for an hour.

It’s the kind of thing that is frightening for average computer users and will get lots and lots of clicks and links and shares and oh my god this is awful what will we do?!?!

Except that the entire thing is a self-created and purposely staged sham, verging on a complete fabrication.

If you watch the unedited video, the whole thing is actually laughable
. Instead of the phone “automatically” downloading malware, the reporters followed an URL to an unknown site and then installed the linked software themselves. Whether or not it was even (as claimed by their security “expert”) malware is debatable, since they never actually said what the linked file was. And the Macbooks that were “remotely accessed while just sitting there”? They manually opened a file that was attached to an unknown email. And bypassed the system warnings telling them not to open it.

The whole thing is a farce. But you will see dozens and dozens of links to it today. Because that is what tech “journalism” has been reduced to. Fabricated bullshit laced with fear, in a sad and desperate attempt to get a few clicks.

Shame, Brian Williams. Shame.