Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Misdirection

Monday, September 24th, 2012
CSSquirrel #100: Misdirection

One word that comes to mind when I think of today’s guest star, Faruk Ateş, is passion. Anyone familiar with his Twitter account or blog might find, from time to time, passionate zeal about many things. Including Apple.

I’m not convinced a company sitting on dozens of billions of dollars of cash needs apologists. I’ve got it on good authority that they’re doing OK. But that doesn’t stop Apple fans (which today Faruk is representing) from swarming to the company’s defense at a whiff of criticism.

So I’ll clinch my butt cheeks tightly as I proceed to criticize.

The iPhone 5 is out. Along with it came iOS 6. And along with that came some interesting software changes. To put it mildly.

Let’s clear things out first. The iPhone 5 is a great, top of the line, modern phone. It’s an unbelievably light and thin piece of gossamer and wonder that represents just how crazy technology is these days. I’m not daring to imply otherwise.

But despite that, it’s also something of a catch-up phone. With the exception perhaps of its surprisingly lightweight and thin physique for a phone with its feature-set, the phone isn’t exactly sporting anything revolutionary. Yes, Tim Cook made it a point to tell us how awesome it is, really pumping it up. Which he should, because that’s his job. But he may have overstated how unprecedented the iPhone’s many new… for it… features are.

Does that make it a bad phone? Heavens, no. It’s a thoroughly impressive, gorgeous, modern phone. But it’s now part of a pack of modern phones with comparable feature sets.

Which is great. I like healthy competition.

What is less great is a few changes to the software that phone (and other iPhones, like my own 4S, that have been updated to iOS 6) have brought upon us.

Exhibit A: the new iOS Maps.

There’s probably a great reason they decided to replace Google Maps with their own self-made app. I’m thinking it involves buckets of cash and super-valuable user data. Also, it’s no surprise that the honeymoon days between those companies ended about twelve seconds after Android was introduced to the world.

But it’s shocking that Apple, who so carefully crafts experiences as mundane as removing their products from the packaging, dumped such a thoroughly substandard replacement with so many glaring errors upon us.

Dylan and I talk about this in detail during our inaugural Squirrel and Moose podcast, in case you want to hear more on that topic. But in short, it’s disappointing, and it’s not the Apple I’m used to seeing, and I’m glad that at least some of the loyal Apple followers are admitting that this is a misstep.

Because no matter how well you dress it up, a turd is a turd.

Despite how public and loud the dissatisfaction is with iOS Maps, iOS 6 presents us with something far worse that we should be paying more attention to.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the new App Store. Read that. Please. Take a gander. Heck, if you’ve got an iDevice of some sort, go look at it yourself. Use it. Try to find new stuff. Having problems? Yeah…

This just doesn’t make sense. It’s not helping the users, it’s not helping the third party developers. It’s just bad. If you want to find a new app, and you aren’t specifically looking for something by name, have fun finding anything that isn’t a best-seller.

I’m not sure how this helps Apple, or help the iPhone user experience.

Apple is a big, rich company with lots of smart, talented employees. These missteps, and there’s plenty this time around, are so uncharacteristic that it’s baffling. Especially at a time when the competition is so strong. I’ve had an iPhone for years now, but despite its sparse app landscape I’m beginning to think about picking up a Windows Phone the next time I upgrade. iOS 6 isn’t helping convince me otherwise.

The iPhone 5 is a great phone, an evolutionary device even if it’s not a revolutionary one. It’s sold millions, and will sell millions more. But iOS 6 is a step backwards, a devolution if you will. And if Apple doesn’t double down on fixing their blunder, they’re going to run the risk of simply being one of many great smartphone makers instead of being the great smart phone maker.

[Update: Here's a new post by Jared Spool talking about iOS6 Maps and the opportunity it provides us to show the value of (and need for) investing in quality content in websites and apps.]

The Year of Hyperbole

Friday, March 4th, 2011
CSSquirrel #82: The Year of Hyperbole

For a man who lives in the heavily hyped, increasingly referenced post-PC era, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.

The iPad is an amazing device. The quality of experience you have when using one borders on the luxurious. Although I personally feel it’s better suited for consumption than production, it’s clear that it can serve the latter task. (I’d prefer some better multitasking support in that regard, however.) Browsing the web with one is a dream (until you hit a flash site), and watching videos feels like a guilty pleasure. Having seen the announced changes for the iPad 2, I can only assume it will build on the experience.

I’ve been recently planning on getting some sort of non-desktop computer. Despite being a tech-heavy individual, the only portable computing device I own is an iPhone 3G, which is a slow and devoted servant that doesn’t quite meet my mobile computing needs. I’ve strongly considered laptops, but would prefer less bulk. Netbooks seem like the right size, but once I get there, I start to think form and function… and after my experiences with the iPads of my co-workers, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that a tablet would serve me far better, most of the time. For my budget, purchasing one is a non-trivial expenditure, but it’s increasingly one I’d like to make. And since the current crop of tablets largely don’t feel right to me other than the iPad, I’m thinking that my money will be going to Apple. (I admit to interest in HP’s TouchPad, but haven’t researched it enough to know if it’s going to be a worthwhile contender.)

Even though I’m increasingly sitting in the pews, however, I’m still not ready to drink the kool-aid with Apple’s more enthusiastic supporters.

The comic today, featuring Faruk Ateş as the stand-in for Apple lovers everywhere, pokes fun at the hyperbole surrounding the iPad 2 and hints at some of my reservations regarding our alleged post-PC era. To listen to some of Apple’s more outspoken fans speak, this device is ushering us into some sort of golden era where we’ll recline on couches like ancient Romans, being fed grapes as we laugh about the old days where typewriter-like devices called computers chained us to desks.

We’re not in a post-PC era, folks. We’re not entering one, either.

We’re not witnessing the first automobile in an era of horse-drawn buggies. We’re in an era of cars and trucks looking at the first motorcycle.

Why?

Because the iPad and all other tablets are personal computers. Period.

Although they vary in form from a desktop computer, so does a laptop or netbook. This is just a more extreme change in form, with the keyboard disappearing altogether. But if my mother owned an iPad instead of her desktop computer she’d be using it for the same thing: checking email, browsing the web, watching and sharing videos of cats and sending me messages on Facebook asking me if I’m wearing warm-enough clothes and eating properly.

How she’d interact with the computer would be novel for her, admittedly. And to an extent, where she could do it would also be somewhat novel, but as a person who’s used a latop frequently she’s not going to find the iPad used in too many spaces she already hasn’t had computer access.

Now, for me, if I owned an iPad, I’d use it for much of (but not all of) my home computer experiences. Watching videos. Making notes or casually browsing the web, figuring out where I last saw an actor on a program I’m watching on television. But it won’t replace my desktop altogether just like the motorcycle didn’t make the truck obsolete. Complex graphics-related tasks, multitasking the many programs I use in my daily job, or any situation where I need two monitors to do the same task all represent situations where the iPad wouldn’t be the idea computer to use.

These sort of use-cases are far from ordinary. Most people, like my mother, don’t need a desktop over a tablet. I agree 100% with this assertion. But I’m going to argue that the iPad and its ilk are evolutionary products, not revolutionary ones. What Apple did was take a preexisting form factor for the computer (albeit, a largely unused one) and make it hotter and more relevant. Apple changed the public’s perception on what is a desirable form for their personal computers, they did not create a different category of device that replaces a computer.

Let’s celebrate the iPad 2. Let’s celebrate tablets. But let’s also recognize them for what they are. Personal computers. In this regard I agree with John Gruber. I don’t know what revolutionary device will replace the computer; however I bet that we’ll fail to predict it, will initially fail to recognize its impact on society and application, and that it will completely change our world.

The iPad’s impact is big. But it isn’t the kind of impact I’ve seen people describing it as.

As a parting request: Apple and any other tablet manufacturers out there… please, please, please unchain the tablet from the desktop. Let me activate and sync and use my tablet without any need for a laptop or desktop computer. Only then will tablets be practical replacements for desktops in a home.

Comic Update: Webcast, Interrupted

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

I’m going to get flak for this one.

Today’s comic features Stephanie Sullivan, Faruk Ateş and the Squirrel embroiled in a classic conflict of tribe in a setting that might be a bit familiar for Apple fans with some history under their belt.

Let’s lay it out on the table: On September 1, Apple announced some devices so small you could swallow them whole. I think they also promised to re-release a book about a duckling, although I might have lost some critical details there. Apple was so jazzed about this event that they made sure to provide a live video stream for their millions of fans to watch, “based on open standards”.

Excited people enjoyed the quality of this stream; some, including Faruk, made sure to rub this in with comments like: “Hey Flash people! I’m live streaming HD video at 30 fps and my CPU is at 10-15%. TAKE NOTICE.”

It’s clear how much a fan Faruk isn’t of Flash with later tweets like: “@dstorey  That’s why I disagree: I think there’s plenty of people advocating HTML5 because of its Open Web technology aspect, Flash be damned.” (Edit: I’ve learned that I completely misconstrued what Faruk meant here, which was HTML5 rocking for it’s own sake, irregardless of Flash. My apologies.)

I bet that video stream was great. I also didn’t see it, and not for a lack of interest. The reason I didn’t is that viewing it required you to be watching on an Apple device, complete with Quicktime, an Apple plugin, using HTTP Live Streaming which is an Apple streaming protocol that may someday grow up to be an open standard but is far, far away from that.

Firefox on my PC was politely told to go jump in a lake when I tried to view said stream.

Let’s make this clear: vendor-specific device, vendor-specific plugin, vendor-specific streaming protocol. What, exactly, is “open standards” about this stream?

I understand the concept of tribe. Apple makes good products, and it’s worth celebrating their successes if you’re a fan. But in this modern, Internet-centric world, I abhor the concept of walled gardens. The Open Web we all celebrate, that many of us castigate Flash for apparently opposing, it doesn’t belong to any single company, including Apple. It doesn’t matter how slick their products are, how good their intentions, we can’t rely on any single vendor.

Stephanie’s (sarcastic) comment on Twitter sums up the problem the celebration of this streaming video represents: “Hey, not only have we created the most awesome walled garden, but now we want to push you to a single browser—ours!”

Is that the open web we want?

I don’t want to go back to ten years ago where I’d have to load up a specific browser, or worse yet, use a specific brand of computer, in order to access or use the content of the Internet. Heck, I don’t want to have to load a specific plugin (Flash, Quicktime, Silverlight, take your pick), especially in an ecosystem where vendors are creating devices that aren’t compatible with each other’s plugins. It doesn’t matter if the devices are in a slick glass case or blueberry-colored. I just want my web to work, regardless of who made the website, without a single vendor controlling the pipe.

Comic Update: Ugly

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Today’s comic features the Internet in all its glory. It also guest stars Eric Meyer, and briefly addresses the topic of applesauce.

I’m tired of web-fed vitriol. I’m guessing that in the seventh century, people managed to find a lot of things to get really worked up over; but it seems that in the 21st century the Internet is providing an unparalleled opportunity for us to fight like wildcats over the most pointless of issues, like which of two different mega-rich corporations are the victim in a publicity battle.

I know for a fact that there’s a heaping dose of irony here, considering my own foray into the Apple vs. Adobe mega-battle that seems to have taken over my Twitter feed. But after some pretty reasonable tweets from some pretty reasonable people, the scales have fallen from my eyes.

Eric Meyer said it best a few days ago: I am, however, not very well equipped to hate a company nor the people who work for it. This will likely make me a bit of an outcast. Again.

This insight was followed up by the equally human insight from Jeff Croft: All one has to do is meet a few people who work for a company like Adobe or MS to realize how absurd it is to ‘hate’ them.

I disagree with certain actions on the part of either company in this “battle”, and in some cases, my opinion gets pretty strong. But I disagree even more with the increasingly acidic banter that this is fueling among developers, fanboys and media outlets. Everyone’s entitled to their two cents, but I’ve hit my fatigue point. I just don’t want to hear it anymore. Especially when it goes from reasoned discourse to saber-rattling antics.

So instead, let us meditate on the Internet’s true purpose: lolcats.

Comic Update: Mr. Flash’s Very Bad Day

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Since we are living in the Year of Our Lord Twenty-Ten, today’s comic is so far behind the news cycle that I might as well be discussing the Wars of the Roses if I’m trying to be relevant to current events. Starring Adobe Flash and the Apple iPad, my illustration references a product announced an entire thirteen days in the past (gasp!).

If you can remember that far back into the past, you might recall that the iPad is something to the effect of an iPod Touch nega-Mini, being simultaneously some sort of multimedia super-nexus and entirely incapable of fitting into your pocket. I’m not sure yet if I have a need for a device guaranteed to break my neck while I try to watch adult action films on it. But I’m sure at this point that the iPad has for all extents and purposes killed Adobe Flash.

Right? I’m sure I read that in the Wall Street Journal somewhere.

No? My bad.

As it turns out, Flash shares that quality with Mark Twain wherein the reports of its death are doubtlessly greatly exaggerated. It remains to be seen if the iPad will sell like hotcakes (my bet: it will) but even if it does some people might have forgotten about these little devices we have around the house called desktop and laptop computers.

Remember those?

Well, they still have browsers that can install the Flash plug-in. And if the immortality that Internet Explorer 6 is experiencing is any guide, there’s no reason to believe that Flash is going anywhere anytime soon. Plenty of cartoons, online video, and video games are still being churned out onto the web via Flash.

I’m debating if that’s a pity or not.

When I first started tinkering on the web as a programming platform, my initial tenuous steps into interactive nonsense was with Flash. Over time, the shine of it dulled, and I found my way to the wonders of JavaScript. Thanks to the envelope-pushing features of HTML5, much of what once required Flash is now quite doable with no plug-in. But there are some tasks, including complicated animation, wherein Flash is still the idea authoring tool. I can’t help but feel sorry for the likes of the Brothers Chaps, who’ve toiled over products like Homestar Runner, only to have it not render on the coolest mobile devices since the portable toaster.

I’d rather not have a situation where a given browser decides for me what content I will or won’t view on the Internet. As a consenting adult, I’m pretty sure I have the decision-making power to do that myself. However, the fact is, Apple has made that decision, and likely won’t back down from it, and more devices like the iPad will continue the trend.

If I were Adobe, I’d be looking into how to transition the Flash authoring tool from something that outputs only SWF files into something that produces pre-generated Canvas/JS/CSS code. A sort of interactive Dreamweaver on steroids. That would allow the thousands of developers that use it to painlessly transition into a post-plugin era while still making use of their tool of choice.

Of course, until either Adobe cries uncle or all browsers get on the same page in regards to HTML5 feature adoption (like which video codec to use), all that devices like the iPad are doing for me personally is creating a situation where I have to stuff even more code into the same video on a page; if I want my clients’ videos to show on all available browsers and devices, that is.

That said, I’m not really attached to Flash. If I can get my videos and other rich content without it, then good riddance. Which is, allegedly, what the iPad’s move is leading us towards (or, more cynically, towards iTunes purchases of video content).