Archive for Geek Stuff

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. That’s right, capital “F”, capital “U”.

And, running down the scorecard we see … wow. Four for four.  Great in baseball; not 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 already gone from retailing for over 240 bucks being given away for 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. Um, yeah.

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 instant information in an unobtrusive and pervasive way, the battery 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.

Stay tuned.

Geekback 2: Process Of Elimination

A couple of emails came in to point out that some companies actually showcase the horrid visuals that are part and parcel of using OLED displays in their new commercials.

I assume that their target market is graffiti artists, the glaucoma crowd, and the kinds of people who put spinning hubcaps on their cars. Ugh.

Amazon Fires A Turd

I have never used or even held an Amazon Fire smartphone, so I cannot pass any sort of first-hand judgement on the thing. I have, however, heard from numerous sources that it is a fairly weak entry into the game. Combine that with the fact that one month after being released the price has been cut from $199 to 99 cents, and I think it is safe to say that the thing is a bit of a turd.

That might not be news, but it does give me a free shot at an awesome headline and I am not going to pass it up.

Shop Now! Shop Twitter!

Twitter users were treated to an update to both their Terms Of Service and the Twitter privacy policy yesterday. If you aren’t on Twitter, or you are one of those incomprehensible souls that skips through TOS agreements without reading and/or just deletes them wholesale, here is the key takeaway: Twitter is moving into the world of online shopping. In a nutshell, they want to start enhancing their “promoted tweets” with links to allow one-click purchases of the items or services being advertised.

Personally, I think this is a decent initiative. Obviously Twitter needs to have a solid revenue stream to survive … keeping a major-league social network up and running takes a lot of resources and a lot of talented staff, neither of which are free. Yes, some people will bitch about this they way they bitch about advertising in any format, but those same people would bitch even louder if Twitter went tits up.

A few of the positives here:

The promoted tweets are fairly unobtrusive. They sit quietly in your timeline, period. They aren’t outsized pop-ups, overlays, hideous floating boxes with a minuscule close button, or any of the other annoyances that you increasingly see on mainstream media sites. And they are orders of magnitude better than the stupid Dickbar.

Twitter has a decent privacy policy. Unlike Facebook (which just outright sells your data) or Google (which sells your preferences) Twitter sells space in groups of timelines that match a set of client parameters without actually giving advertisers any information about individual users. Twitter also has a good record when it comes to standing up to unwarranted government demands for user data.

Twitter has excellent security. The endgame of “one click” shopping right from your timeline means that Twitter will take on the roles of both credit card storage and processing. Despite the protests of celebrities who are embarrassed by their idiot tweets (“My account was hacked!“) no Twitter account or server has ever been technologically compromised. Anyone who has ever had their account hijacked has given their password out, either knowingly to friends / acquaintances / personal assistants / whatever, or inadvertently via their own stupidity. If you are going to trust someone with your credit card info, you could do a lot worse than Twitter.

Pure convenience: Look, people shop online all the time. If Twitter and their advertisers want people to get on board with this, they are going to have to offer some compelling deals … it’s really they only way they have to overcome the inertia and reputation of the biggest online retailers (cough cough Amazon cough) with a new service. So if there is a deal on something I am interested in, why not give me a chance to shop without interrupting my workflow, having to pop over to another app, sign in to another service, and then come back to where I was? Convenience is king … if you can get people into the swing of this with some irresistible deals early in the game, it’s a pretty safe bet that they stick around in the future when the prices are equal and the only tipping point is ease of use.

It’s also worth noting here that Twitter takes the time to both update users on TOS / Privacy changes and to make sure the documents are in fairly comprehensible language. There are a lot of companies that put the onus on the users to find out when changes are made (Microsoft comes to mind), locate the changes for themselves (hey, look, it’s Microsoft!) and couch the whole mess in layers of nearly-inpenetrable legalspeak (wow, Microsoft again). Twitter generally tries to play fair – hopefully they see some sort of payoff from that policy going forward.

How To Speak Bloomberg

Your typical National EnquirerA couple of weeks ago there was a bogus story posted on the Bloomberg news service claiming that Apple will be releasing a 12″ iPad today … this according to “sources familiar with the matter”. This, of course, is one of the two go-to phrases that Bloomberg writers use when they want to publish random shit and see what sticks to the wall. Since Bloomberg has a mystifyingly deep reach into the assorted news wires and mainstream publications, it’s worth learning to recognize their main clichés and what they really mean.

Bloomberg Cliché: “Analysts expect …”

Actual meaning: Bloomberg writers all have back-scratching deals with assorted financial analysts. In this case, one of the writer’s analyst buddies really wishes whatever it is will happen, and thinks that by getting it in print there is some way that they can affect the situation and make it come true. As you might expect, this never works.

Bloomberg Cliché: “A source familiar with the matter …” or “Someone with knowledge …”

Actual meaning: The writer in question is taking heat from their bosses for not generating enough clicks with their stories. To boost the click-count and to the the management off their back, the writer has fabricated something with enough cachet, shock value, or buzz-worthiness to get quoted around the net as news … but not so much buzz as to have people remember it when it turns out to not be true. Ideally, it gets a storm of clicks in the first 48 hours and then is completely forgotten a week later … and hopefully they don’t run into some asshole who brings it up again on his hacky blog the day of the actual event.

Because that would, you know, suck.

Geekback – Blackberry Passport – September 24

I mentioned in passing that the new Blackberry Passport is a nice effort from a standpoint of physical design. It’s understated, business-like, and has a cool sort of industrial vibe that makes it stand out from the endless hordes of iPhone clones. In fact, it could almost be the template for an entire corporate gestalt, a design personality that Blackberry could build an entire visual branding upon.

Sadly, the key word in that previous sentence is “almost”. The effect is ruined by the inexplicable decision to slap their logo on the front. Your design is your logo, bozos. Get rid of that and someone up in Waterloo will have truly come up with a winner.

Blackberry PassportOn the plus side, it looks like there is no space at all for a carrier logo. This is a big step for Blackberry – until now they have always referred to the carriers as their customers. The carriers are just carriers – the people who cart around your handset and tap away on it every day, they are the customers. Not letting carriers brand your phone tells your real customers that you care about them (and their experience) first … letting the carriers slap their name on there is a tacit admission that you work for someone other than the people who ultimately buy your phones and pay your bills.

Process Of Elimination

Some of my regular correspondents have asked what we will be seeing on September 9th. Rather than let the goodies out of the bag too early, let’s come at it from the backside and talk first about what we won’t be seeing. Why? Because anticipation is fun!

We Won’t Be Seeing: Any iOS devices with curved screens (NOTE: See caveat here).
Here’s Why: Curved screens require the use of OLED technology, and OLED screens look like crap. Over-the-top contrast, colours that come in your choice of “garish” or “eye-searing garish”, and horrid amounts of colour-addition artifacts are the hallmarks of OLED. Say what you want about Apple, but one thing that is undeniably a part of the corporate DNA is a serious passion for image quality. Unless they have secretly invented some new process for making curved screens out of non-hideous display material, expecting OLED on an Apple device is like expecting douche lights on a factory-new Maseratti.

We Won’t Be Seeing: A wearable device that looks like this.
Samsumg Galaxy Gear
Here’s Why: If your wearable device doesn’t add anything to the mobile devices it is partnered with, and in fact makes it more difficult to actually use some of the the basic functions, then you have failed, and failed miserably.
Here’s Why, Part Two: It’s fucking ugly.

We Won’t Be Seeing: Giant iPhones with six-inch screens.
Here’s Why: Because giant phones with screens six-inches or larger are generally unusable and moronic. You want a screen that big? Get a tablet.

We Won’t Be Seeing: A giant 12-inch iPad.
Here’s Why: Because a 12-inch tablet would be even more unusable and awkward than a six-inch phone. I mean, really.

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.

iPhone 6 – September 9

The invite arrived today for the previously-rumoured-and-now-offical Apple event on September 6. The September events are the annual iPhone launches (and model refreshes for existing hardware) so it is no surprise that the iPhone 6 will be unveiled that day. There are two intriguing facets of this event, however, and they could signal that there is more in store that just the new phone.

Invitation to the Apple Event - September 9, 2014Thing One: Instead of Apple’s traditional “event” venues in San Francisco – the Yerba Buena Centre or the Moscone West –
this one is being held down in Cupertino. Twice in the past Apple has used the Flint Centre in Cupertino for product launches … once for the original Macintosh, and once for the first iMac. Two events, two revolutionary products. Is something in the works that will take that count to three-for-three?

Thing Two: Apple is building a custom building of some sort on the grounds of the Flint Centre. As of now, the thing is just a massive featureless cube and is surrounded with some serious security. What’s in it? Why is it needed? What will happen in the Cube Of Mystery that can’t be done in the main building?

Stay tuned through the week … there is much to discuss.

Glassholes No More

The buzz today out of Mountain View is that Google employees have been “unofficially” notified that Google Glass is being shitcanned.

Stay tuned.