October 5, 2007
Touched by the hand of Jobs
At YULBlog this past Wednesday, I got to hold an iPhone for the very first time — Boris’ one that he got in the States, and then SIM-hacked to get to work on the Fido/Rogers GSM network.
- This thing is breathtakingly small. It fits in the hand very, very comfortably.
- It’s incredibly elegantly designed. It’s a bit like a river-polished stone, seamlessly curved; the entire front of the device sits behind glass. The only surprise was finding out that the Home button is actually a physical button.
- The screen is gorgeous, with a very high pixel density.
- The “grammar” of the touchscreen and gestures is very intuitive.
- In some ways, this was like seeing a Macintosh in 1984.
- Boris has a very impressive Rolodex.
Of course, using the iPhone in this fashion means that you miss out on the one truly gotta-have-it feature, Visual Voicemail. When will Fido/Rogers get in on the action? Or will it take a new MNVO, say, like Videotron (piggybacking on other people’s networks) to bring this to the People?
September 5, 2007
GarageBand in your Pocket: Closer to Reality?
Just over a month ago someone at The Apple Blog wondered whether GarageBand would be retooled into a mini version for the iPhone (and now, the iPod Touch).
I think a basic 4-track recorder is do-able at CD quality, and 2-track at higher sampling rates. Obviously there isn’t CPU power to run virtual instruments and effects; nor is there enough storage space for the Apple Loops library. I imagine a basic click track or extremely simple pattern-based drum machine would be do-able, though.
The multi-touch interface would be well-suited to moving and manipulating audio clips (trimming start and end times, basic crossfades, setting loop points).
I’m sure that a range of dock-connector-based breakout boxes are possible, ranging from simple cables to a full 4-input, 2-output device with XLR mic inputs and phantom power, and maybe a supplementary battery pack for mobile recording.
Though the mockup above is just good old GarageBand cut down to fit on the iPod screen, I imagine you’d have to reinvent the interface almost completely to take advantage of multitouch and make the best use of the small real estate - i imagine more gesture-based commands, tapping a track to edit its parameters, double-tapping to edit a clip, drag to loop, etc.
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:23 PM
June 14, 2007
Keynote '07 Feature Bingo
Watched the new WWDC ‘07 Keynote address …others have commented on the content, but I noted some interesting things about the Keynote -powered presentation itself, that seem to indicate new features for the next version of the software — features you’d need something like Motion (in Final Cut Studio) to accomplish previously:
- “Sparkle” transitions
- “Blur out” title overlays
- Simple path-based or keyframe-based object motion
Of these, the object motion would be most useful, further blurring the line between presentation software and motion graphics; I wonder, then, if it would gain a timeline or keyframe editor.
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:54 PM
May 13, 2007
When Hardware Attacks
So the other day I’m merrily doing some remix work in Ableton Live when the mouse starts acting funny; it’s acting as if the button’s always pressed down. I presumed it was a Bluetooth issue, reset the mouse, but it didn’t go away. “Huh. That’s weird.” Tried a wired USB mouse. Same thing.
It was when I tried the trackpad that I could feel that there was something blocking the physical button from underneath.. then I noticed the odd angle that my MacBook Pro was sitting at…lifted it up to find that I’d fallen prey to the infamous MacBook Pro Battery Bulge issue. Thought I’d dodged that bullet, as Apple had published a battery-management software update some months ago, but I guess not. Thankfully there’s an exchange program, so it’s just a matter of bringing it in to my local CompuSmart.
I recently got Tracktion 3, an audio and MIDI sequencer with a uniquely uncomplicated interface; it seems to also be the first program I’ve seen with a truly scalable, vector-based UI. I’m still getting to grips with it, but it seems to do exactly what you’d expect it to do; it takes very little figuring out, and there’s extensive built-in help. The one thing that’s bugging me right now is that it doesn’t seem to want to talk to my Novation Remote SL controller, even though it’s advertised as supporting it. I’m sure there’s just some parameter somewhere that I’m missing, but it’s annoying when you want to just plug in and work.
[UPDATE] Finally got it working thanks to the helpful people at Mackie…It was a matter of setting some MIDI preferences…the Remote SL uses Port 2 and not Port 1 to communicate with the host program. (It’s always the last little thing, isn’t it?)
Posted by aj_kandy at 2:21 PM
February 18, 2007
Does the Internet know more about Star Wars than Africa?
On YouTube, searching for “star wars” pulls up a wealth of fan films, movie scenes, and that fat kid playing with his lightsaber. By contrast, the first clip about Africa is the music video for that Toto song. On the other hand, for still photographs, Africa does much better. The amateur pix posted to Flickr.com include over 250,000 images tagged under “Africa”— and they are startingly beautiful: a yawning hippo halfway underwater, a fat, gnarled Baobab Tree. Meanwhile, a search for Star Wars pix will just get you nerds. Advantage, Africa.
But things really get interesting when we look at the blogs and pocasts. Now, it’s true that Star Wars inspires hundreds of blogs and podcasts by fans comparing notes on the latest collectible toys. You can’t find as many blogs or podcasts from Africa— but the smattering of voices from across the continent are far more intense. In the “Paradise Lost” podcast, a white ex-pat from Zimbabwe interviews a man who’s spent 31 years working for the National Railways. In South Africa, a 24-year-old rape victim who contracted HIV talks about her dream of becoming a photojournalist. A tourist’s guide to Cape Town, South Africa recaps centuries of history in less than three minutes. And an aide worker in Uganda lets her frustration boil over after a hot day in a Sudanese refugee settlement.
Each of these voices added a little information and a lot of perspective: Putting them together was like scratching names and places onto a blank slate. I was starting to know what I didn’t know.
Dahlen links to journalist and blogger Rebecca MacKinnon. Her piece is well worth reading — when many North Americans feel a disconnect to the world outside their borders, can journalists improve the situation — doing better international reporting via citizen media, and connecting to local communities of interest — a necessity in the face of international bureau cuts from major news outlets.
Posted by aj_kandy at 1:06 PM
January 10, 2007
I talk, therefore iPhone
Yes, it’s the Prettiest Object Ever and we All Want One (unlocked, 3G version please…so I guess we’re really waiting for version 2.)
In the meantime, here are some random thoughts.
- Can you use it for data storage like regular iPods?
- Can you make its memory partition a bootable volume?
- Is there a dev kit for widgets and apps?
- Does it support stereo Bluetooth headsets?
- How do you change the battery?
- How durable is it?
- C’mon Steve, let us develop games for it…that use the sensors…can you say WiiPhone?
- When paired with a Mac, becomes a multi-touch graphics tablet / auxiliary display?
- Two words: Universal Remote
- Mobile iTunes Store
November 16, 2006
Even though the Zune project was headed up by XBox wunderkind J Allard, I can’t help but think they were focusing less on innovation and more on undermining Apple’s business model.
Here’s my design thoughts:
- For a device that plays video in a widescreen, as opposed to 4:3 format, it doesn’t really look easy to hold, as it seems biased towards holding it at the dial end. I can imagine lots of accidentally pressed buttons, or slipping out of fingers, or fingerprints getting on the screen end.
- It looks too much like a been-there-done-that iPod knockoff. Even those up-and-coming brands like Coby have much more style.
Here’s my branding thoughts:
- Microsoft is leading the next-generation console space at the moment with XBox 360. Why not leverage that mindspace?
- In doing so, why not leverage the XBox 360’s branding and design characteristics?
- Is the competitor really Apple, the 800-lb gorilla of mp3 players and downloads — or Sony?
- Sony’s edging up on Microsoft in the do-everything portable device space owned by their Windows Mobile market with a lot more style and cool. Witness the success of the PSP (games, movies, music, wifi) and the creeping success of the oddly identical Sony Mylo (Sidekick-style text chat, wifi, Skype audio, plus music and movies).
So here’s my reimagined Zune, if it came from the XBox division, hence, Xune. The graphic (click above for larger version) is a mash-up of an iPod Nano touch wheel, XBox controller buttons and the body is mostly a Sony Mylo. This is:
- Primarily a gaming device - carrying the brand of XBox to the pocket - like PSP, it could be a very ‘lite’ version of the original XBox, maybe based on a customized variant of Windows Mobile
- Following that thought, this would be a great way to carry the XBox Live Network with you in your pocket. Have a minigame that connects to a larger massively multiplayer game online, for instance.
- Secondarily a music and media device - putting Windows Media Center in your pocket - but following open standards as well as their own PlaysForSure DRM model.
- Easy to hold in both hands for watching movies, small enough to be pocketable to listen to music
- slide-up screen has keyboard for email, chat, lite PDA functions, and text chat in XBox Live
- WiFi for accessing networks, MSN voice chat, Skype (?) etc. Supports Bluetooth and wired headsets for phone functions, doubles as XBox Live voice chat headset etc.
- Like PSP with PS2, or GameBoy Advance with GameCube, can serve as a special controller for XBox with screen (via cable or Bluetooth?)
September 15, 2006
Grab bag in lieu of posting - fear not, I’ll be back soon.
- One of my predictions came true - the iPod Games Store. Now something for the Mac, please.
- iTunes 7 got a darker, more sober makeover with a “black glass” highlighting that matches what we’ve seen in Front Row and iTV. I guess this is the new “Apple consumer media” look.
- What’s that USB port on the iTV for? iDVR, I hope.
- Note to Microsoft’s J. Allard: Brown? Really? I didn’t know that those UPS bar code scanner pads were so hip with da youts that they want that look in their imitation iPods.
- Alexander Probst, writing at Roger Black’s new group blog, has pronounced that Zinio-style e-magazines are the future of the Web. He is, of course, writing from the year 1994. And ow, white serif type on a red background? Are you guys trying to kill my retinas? (Attribution corrected - thanks, Rob Hunter)
- News to me: those Videotron digital cable decoders have shrunk from 1U-rack-server size to a weensy thing about the size of a box of chocolates. So how come there’s still never anything good on? Doesn’t Moore’s Law apply to television programs as well?
- Wired: Reason 3 and MOTU Digital Performer 5. Tired: Logic Express 7. Expired: My demo license of Live 5.2. Cute kid, great interface, it coulda been a contender, but it’s still more of a live looping performance tool and not entirely DAW-like yet.
Posted by aj_kandy at 6:06 PM
August 7, 2006
Apple and games
Recently, Lionhead Studios founder and legendary game developer Peter Molyneux called upon Apple to get serious about gaming, noting the lack of coordinated efforts to provide APIs and other developer-friendly tools.
He’s got a point, but there’s also the vicious cycle of market share to blame for disinterest. The Mac is a great development platform, but its market share, while rising, is still nowhere near the Wintel mark. The current gaming economy demands hits to stay solvent, so only previous WinTel million-sellers get ported, a year later.
Apple did itself a disservice by discouraging games on the Mac early on, to distance it from the “fun” Apple II, seemingly forgetting that game availability spurred hardware sales, not the other way around.
That said, more games are finding their way onto Intel Macs. Apple’s own Boot Camp lets you run Windows natively, so it’s as good as an equivalent PC for gaming. Just this week, Toronto’s TransGaming announced Cider, an engine for game developers that apparently bundles or emulates key Windows APIs to speed the porting process.
Those are both good solutions, but as Molyneux says, what could Apple do to encourage developers to consider OS X as a native development platform? I say: emulate.
Discussions of what approach Apple should take to bring games back to the Mac take several forms:
- Apple should develop a console / handheld using a stripped-down version of OS X.
- Apple should create a stronger competitor to DirectX.
- They should license DirectX from Microsoft.
- Buy their way into the market by acquiring a company like Nintendo.
Buying their way into the field: Doable, but no immediate upside for the company. Most of Apple’s software hits have come from acquiring other companies - OS X itself from the acquisition of NeXT, Final Cut from Macromedia, Motion via Prismo Graphics, Cinema Tools from FilmLogic, Logic Pro and GarageBand via Emagic, Shake from Nothing Real, etc.
Apple’s strategy is either to acquire best-in-class tools to integrate into the OS or its suites, or to shut down the PC version and get its userbase to migrate to the Mac.
I don’t know that buying a game development company (or even a tools company) really fits this pattern, but hey, Halo sold a lot of XBoxes, didn’t it?
If they were to go this route, I can think of a few candidates: Nintendo, who are becoming more Apple-like day by day; EA, for its kajillions of name-brand franchises and licenses, and/or SquareEnix — after all, Final Fantasy would be a great crown jewel, and the Apple-Disney connection would be solidifed via Kingdom Hearts.
An Apple console or handheld is almost assured, as long as it provides a niche advantage that plays to current strengths. Sony’s having a tough time hyping PS3, XBox 360 is selling only middle-ish (esp. in Japan), but Nintendo’s Wii is succeeding with a leaf from Apple’s old playbook: eschewing technical superiority for better gameplay and a new interface paradigm.
How would Apple fit into this space?
Consider that the economics of the console space is a razor-and-blades model; Apple would have to do the opposite. They never incur a loss on hardware; in fact they charge a slight premium, but give away lots of software for free.
Current rumors project set-top boxes for movie rentals and video iPods with 3D-capable chipsets; it’s not a stretch of the imagination to see games as another sales channel in the iTMS - either for play on the desktop, TV set-top or a handheld. Of this, more later.
Improved OS X APIs: Probable anyway with Leopard, but not in the coherent way Molyneux suggests. I don’t see this as their focus right now. It would require them to be much more open about OS changes and to engage in dialogue with the game development community; that’s a lot of leak potential and culture change for le grand pomme.
Licensing DirectX: Nuh-uh. It’s completely un-Apple-like to hand over a key piece of the OS to another company. Look at the gap between Windows Media Player on the Mac vs. its Windows counterpart, or how MS is subverting its own PlaysForSure OEM partners with its vertically-integrated “iPod killer”, Zune.
So how does Apple make money with gaming? How do they differentiate themselves in the market from the behemoth PC gaming horde, and the fragmented but still billion-selling console scene?
The answer lies in what Apple has always done: by solving problems end-users, not developers, face; and going after niches competitors ignore.
The problems Mac gamers have relate to availability, price, and compatibility.
- It’s really hard to find a decent selection of Mac games at retail, which is part of the vicious circle that drives most major Mac developers to sell online. I can’t help but think that piracy eats into this as well.
- I’ve seen Mac games sell for as high as $70 in stores, even when they’re ports of year-old PC titles.
- Changes to OS components (like QuickTime or OpenGL) can break some games.
- There’s always going to be some great title out there that’s only available for the PC, or for one particular console.
So how do they solve these problems? One word: Emulation.
I believe Apple should get involved in the open-source MAME project - the Multi Arcade Machine Emulator which runs on several platforms - and base a new iGames service on the core code. They can give it critical funding, hire some of the developers, pay them full-time to work on this while ploughing fixes and new developments back into the open-source versions. From this, iGames emerges: a polished gaming / purchase / downloading / management app along the lines of iTunes.
Apple’s experience in negotiating and licensing content for the iTunes Music Store would serve them well. Just as iTunes proved there was a market for legal MP3 downloads — and reactivated lots of dormant back catalogue and “long tail” micro-sellers for record labels — iGames could bring the current underground market for illegally traded arcade and console ROMs into the daylight, improving quality, availability and playability all-around.
What’s more, iGames could be a sales conduit for iPod games. In theory, future iPods could run a subset of MAME or even cellphone game software; in Japan, Namco had versions of 3D-intensive Ridge Racer and Starblade running on Sharp cellphones years ago, so a new iPod should be at least as capable.
The long-mooted Apple set-top box is another conduit; presuming the deal with Hollywood to offer online movie rentals goes through, it’s a natural complement to an all-in-one media box.
For game studios, it’s a great way to get revenue from previously moribund product lines, and a way to reach untapped audiences (like the Wii) or niches (long tail, again).
For end-users, it means hundreds, if not thousands, of classic games available on the Mac overnight - possibly for as little as $0.99 each, purchased safely online, with guaranteed compatibility. No more hunting on scary spam sites for obscure ROM files that possibly don’t work correctly, or are missing a segment, etc.
What’s interesting is that with a “known” target platform on the Mac - any number of emulated arcade or home consoles - experienced programmers can even write new games for them, and maybe offer them up for sale or free trial download through iGames…spurring a new game industry much as MySpace made garage bands millionaires.
March 29, 2006
Things I hope are in Adobe Creative Suite 3
The new Intel Core-powered Macs have been very well-received by the buying public: those iMacs and MacBook Pros are just flying off the shelves, by all current indications.
Professional Mac users are taking a wait-and-see approach, though. New Intel Core-based pro workstations probably won't be out till summer, and most professional apps haven't been rewritten or recompiled as Universal Binaries.
Among these are some of Apple's own Pro apps - Final Cut Studio is supposed to ship as Universal this month, and Logic Pro was a little late out of the gate, too. Large audio-visual and music applications like Propellerhead Reason are also delayed, or, like Ableton Live, available in beta form only.[Update, March 30: Apple released Universal versions of its Pro apps the the day I wrote this!]
The biggest barrier to pro adoption is, of course, the 800-lb gorilla of the industry, Adobe.
In a refreshingly candid blog post, Adobe engineer Scott Byer writes about the difficulties of switching programming toolsets. For Macintosh development, they use Metrowerks' CodeWarrior, which according to most tests, compiles cleaner, faster code than Apple's native compiler, XCode, particularly for large object-oriented apps like Photoshop or Illustrator.
But for the moment, XCode is the only way to get apps into Universal Binary format. Switching toolsets also means changing debugging and QA practices, which is costly and time-consuming, so it's quite likely that we're not going to see a fully native CS3 until 2007. In the meantime, the suite seems to run fine, albeit slower, using OS X's Rosetta "translator" for PowerPC-compiled applications.
With this extra time before CS3 appears, maybe Adobe can address some interface inconsistencies between Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign:
- How about putting that Palette Dock from Photoshop into the other apps?
- How about putting the Glyphs palette from InDesign and Illustrator into Photoshop? For web designers who use special characters or dingbat fonts, this is a godsend.
- In fact, how about InDesign-style type controls in all three apps (paragraphs, character, and user-definable style palettes?)
- Whatever happened to plain old pattern fills, like diagonal lines? I mean, MacPaint had that.
Readers, any other ideas?
March 24, 2006
Game Designers aim at winning Nobel Peace Prize
According to CNET, game designers Will Wright (The Sims), Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Cliff Bleszinski (Epic Games) and Harvey Smith (Deus Ex) are proposing a concept based around networked handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS, which would, through the course of play, blend from online to real-world meetups, in a variation of the "flash mob," in order to accomplish socially constructive tasks.
I think it's a wonderful idea, one which harnesses the competitive nature of gaming and the multiplicative power of networks...I am reminded somewhat of the final scene in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, where a literal mass movement of young women, connected and educated through their samizdat copies of the electronic book The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, save the world. Life imitates art...
Posted by aj_kandy at 11:04 AM
March 10, 2006
Things I Hope Are In Mac OS X 10.5
Call me an early adopter.
I've used OS X as my main Mac operating system since 10.0 and haven't looked back. I didn't have a huge investment in legacy OS 9 (aka Classic) apps, so it was easy to make the jump.
Since those early days, when OS X seemed a lot more like its parent OS, NeXTStep, the Finder became slowly more Mac-ified, the rough edges were polished, the underlying system grew more stable. I (touch wood) haven't had any serious crashes -- the kind that bring your computer to a grinding halt -- in years.
This summer, developers will get an extended preview of 10.5 Leopard. Details are scarce, but one persistent rumor is that the Finder is going to get a major makeover. Here's my wishlist, if that's true.
- Multiple Workspaces. While you can achieve this on the cheap now by merely creating multiple accounts on one Mac and using Fast User Switching, or by using some alpha-quality shareware, it would be cool to see this implemented officially, with the ability to switch workspaces using contextual menus, an Exposť-like keystroke and a "hot corner" of the screen.
- Make Finder more like Path Finder. Rewriting it all in Cocoa for speed, bringing back the NeXTStep Shelf as a place to "stash" aliases while dragging and dropping through nested folders, alternate-line shading in list views...
- Can we have an option to turn off drop shadows? Please? That whole pseudo-3D thing is so 1999. Ableton Live-style flatness seems much cleaner.
- And if you have to use 3D, why not just really emulate a 3D space - progressively blur, scale and lighten stacked windows the farther they recede into the background.
- In my opinion, the Dock shouldn't overlap items on the Desktop, ever. How many times have I had to hide it manually to click on a file? It's so annoying, I use Finder window navigation instead.
- For those Windows switchers: give them their Windows Explorer-style tree view. Sometimes MS does something right...
- On that note, does anyone use the Services menu? It would be nice if contextually active services were available from contextual menus instead -- like being able to mail a file by right-clicking on it.
- Let us run widgets on the Desktop as well as in Exposť!
- Speaking of the Dock, I wish I could tear it off and reposition it at will (especially on different monitors), align it to corners, and in general, replace the kludgy folders-in-the-dock workaround with Folder Tabs, the way they used to work in OS 9.
- Speaking of the Desktop, how about the option to "hide the Desktop" like we had in 10.0?
- My PowerBook is smart enough to remember the orientation and placement of multiple monitors in different locations - when I'm at home or at the office, for instance. So why can't it remember locations in the sidebar of the Finder? If there's one folder I always have bookmarked there, why isn't it persistent? Grey it out if it's not present, but don't make me have to recreate it every time....
What are your wishes for 10.5?
August 26, 2005
Tapecasting from my Amiga...
View the world's leading gadget weblog through the retro lens, as they review the latest in shoulder-mounted mobile phones, GPS receivers the size of a TV set, hot new TI calculators, the amazing Amiga 1000 with its 4096 colors and animation capabilities, the first-ever consumer laser printer and - bonus! - "tapecasting."
Illustrated with 16-colour bitmaps and radical ASCII art, it's the cutting edge as it used to be.
Seriously though - hard to believe how far we've come in only twenty years: the kind of tech we casually keep in our pockets today outpowers all the computing power and data storage in the Apollo space program. (And today's space shuttle, too, which still operates to 1975 design standards.)
Excuse me, I have to go buy some wraparound reflective sunglasses and Ocean Pacific T-shirts now.
Posted by aj_kandy at 5:57 PM
March 30, 2005
camera buying advice
I've just about had it with me old HP 315 digital camera. It's insanely slow, it's horrible in low light, the contrast sucks, the resolution is low, there's no optical zoom, I get all sorts of fringing artifacts and the images are usually full of noise.
I'm looking at two options: a compact, pocket-sized camera, or an SLR / SLR-like camera, maybe even with swappable lenses (like the Canon EOS Digital Rebel). The minimum true resolution should be 4 megapixels.
So gimme your recommendations!