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Cheap laptops.

Here’s a piece by Gartenberg (on Engadget rather than his own blog) on the topic of “netbooks”. Basically he reckons the success of Small, Cheap Computers™ is down to the “Cheap” part of the it rather than anything else, and i’m inclined to agree. There are a lot of people who just need a computer “to get on the web” and if it handles the odd bit of word processing too then that’s a bonus. Of course these consumers will plump for the cheapest suitable device they can find. If the success of netbooks was really about the compactness and portability of the machines, they’d still be 7-9″ (screen size) devices but they aren’t. Netbooks are getting bigger and bigger.

Home video entertainment.

The other day i was trying to make space for some new DVDs in our living room cupboard but failing miserably. No matter how i re-arranged the boxes, i couldn’t squeeze more in there – not while those videos (yes, VHS video cassettes) were in there too. It was then i decided that since i watch videos even less often than DVDs (which is rarely) i really ought to throw them out. I could replacing those films i still like with the DVD version very cheaply these days and my storage woes would be solved (albeit temporarily).

Sat there amongst piles of plastic boxes, it was obvious that DVD didn’t replace VHS solely based on quality issues – the transition was also about convenience. Yes, DVD offers a better viewing experience, allows addition of “extras”1 and is slightly more robust and reliable medium (no more tapes get chewed up) but in the real world it also offers great convenience – you don’t have to sit and wait for the thing to rewind and the discs take up far less of your home’s precious storage space. I was then struck by the realisation that this is where Blu-Ray falls down. Blu-Ray offers the superior viewing experience over DVD (though you need to buy a new HD telly to truly enjoy the improvements) but that’s about the only benefit. It’s no more reliable or robust, offers no space-savings and is generally no more convenient than DVD. Then of course there’s the reasonably high-price of Blu-Ray players and discs, somewhat exaggerated with the state of the economy at the mo. It is not difficult to see how easily Blu-Ray could fail.

Oh, and by the way, i fully expect it to fail, for there is a medium that offers HD-quality content whilst also offering new conveniences (such as, say, not needing to use up any of your home’s precious square-footage at all). The name? Well, there isn’t one yet. Not a standard one anyway. But if i say “Digital Downloads”, “Video on demand” or “Movie Streaming” you’ll get the idea: Movies via the net. Certain to be used in every home long before Blu-Ray is.

Though DVDs will reign for a very long time yet. Never underestimate Man’s capacity for convenience.

Update: While i was busy committing this brain-dump to the web, it seems Bob Cringely has gone and written something very similar. If you’re too lazy to read it, he basically sticks with the need for an expensive HD telly being the reason Blu-Ray ‘ll fail. Of course I agree but I maintain that “convenience” plays a large, if not a larger, part of it.

  1. I note the much-touted choose-your-camera-angle options (“Multi Angle”) that we were promised in “future” DVDs never really materialised. Save in a few porn vids, of course. 

WWDC round-up.

Yes, yes, yes. We can all see that I’m very late with this one. Apple’s annual WorldWide Developers Conference (WWDC) ran 8-12th June and here am i two weeks later only just writing about it. So in web-terms this is ancient news. We all know1 what Apple announced in their Keynote a fortnight ago so i won’t repeat the details but i just wanted to share my thoughts on some of the announcements…

Snow Leopard

The next major upgrade to MacOSX – 10.6 or Snow Leopard – will only cost a paltry $29 (though i guess in the UK we’ll be looking at £29, rather than a true USD-GBP currency conversion). Presumably this cheap update is partly because the upgrade will mainly be bringing just “under the hood” improvements and partly because Apple want to get everybody using the same system software. Why would they want the latter? Well, it might net a few hardware sales (10.6 will only run on Intel Macs) but if Grand Central (etc) works well then every owner will be very excitedly telling the world how much quicker their Mac just got. How much faster than Windows it is.

The other interesting titbit about Snow Leopard is that it will introduce a new version of Quicktime – namely Quicktime X – and that this version drops the pay-for QuickTime Pro option. I haven’t seen this made explicitly clear by Apple themselves but it does look like the Pro options will just become part of QuickTime. Which is nice.

Safari 4

Version 4 of Apple’s web browser lost it’s beta label at the WWDC and the most noticeable change was that the tabs are back underneath address bar. Phew. Sadly the progress indicator still doesn’t indicate progress. Boo.

iPhoneOS 3.0 / iPhone 3GS

The WWDC Keynote also saw the release of iPhoneOS 3.0 and a new bit of kit for it to run on – the iPhone 3GS. But you knew this of course. I don’t think there’s a web-connected human being on the planet that didn’t. Anyway, the 3GS is pretty much a refinement of the 3G (itself a refinement of the original iPhone) so there’s no radically changes outwardly but the internals have had a decent upgrade, with Apple claiming – and most early reviews agreeing – that the device is now twice as fast.

It is clearly the best iPhone to date but there are a couple of niggling disappointments for me. Firstly, the 3GS doesn’t include a flash for the new 3megapixel camera. Yes, it supposedly deals with low-light situations better than the previous model but we don’t all live in Californian sunshine, Apple. C’mon, stick a little flash on the thing. My other complaint is that the new Spotlight search function in OS3.0 does NOT search inside SMS messages. What?! The one thing i’ve wanted for years now on a mobile phone is the ability to search through the thousands of texts i keep. Now Apple provide a potential solution but balls it up. I really hope they “fix” this with an update soon.

So will i finally myself an iPhone? I’m not sure. It’s definitely the most tempting iPhone model yet but i’m a tight Yorkshireman and paying £800-900 for a phone (even though it’s in installments) would be painful. I might wait and see how much Apple charges for new iPod Touch (which i’m sure will be announced within next 3 months or so) and what features from the iPhone 3GS it gets. If history is anything to go by, we might see a 64GB Touch which might make the 32gb (the capacity i’d get if i was to buy an iPhone 3GS) model a bit cheaper.

MacBook Pro

The most surprising news at the WWDC Keynote was that the MacBook Pros got updated. Apple’s high-end laptops now all sport the non-user-serviceable battery that promises to last 7 hours (the one the 17-inch MBP introduced), have new higher gamut screens, upped CPU speeds, larger hard drives and 4GB DDR3 RAM as standard (and will now expand to 8GB across the board).

In addition, the 15-inch model loses its ExpressCard opening but gains a slot for SD cards. Adding an SD slot still strikes me as very “un-Apple” and i’m curious as to why they’ve added it. Strange. Anyway, there’s also a new low-end 15incher that doesn’t have the dual graphics cards – instead it just sports the onboard graphics that the 13″ aluminium MacBook does.

Of course, that 13″ aluminium MacBook is no more. As-of the WWDC Keynote, it became known as the 13″ MacBook Pro. And to ensure it is worthy of the new Pro moniker it gets a firewire port, the SD card slot and backlit keyboard as standard along with the other MBP updates (screen, battery, cpu, etc). The Pro moniker strikes me as a little odd given that it’s graphics aren’t as good as the 15- and 17-inch. But then maybe that’s why they’ve intro’d the low-end 15 incher?

This also means that now the only MacBook is the white polycarbonate number, which got an unannounced speed bump shortly before the WWDC. So we’ve sort of taken a back-step. Sort of. And all this unusualness has led some to speculate that this means the “MacBook” will become the oft-rumoured Mac Tablet-esque device. I really doubt that however. The re-naming of the 13″ aluminium notebook is, i guess, i recent reactive decision forced by the state of the economy rather than a something that was always on the books. Otherwise surely it would’ve just been a 13-inch MBP from the start, no? Something “big” like the introduction of a tablet device will have been in planning for a long-time – there would have been no need for this re-shuffling of monikers to fit a tablet neatly into the line-up. If the tablet is coming, it is coming separately – either suffixed like the MacBook Air (MacBook Touch, perhaps?), or a new category altogether (iPad? iTouch?).

Steve Jobs

No, a new version of Steve Jobs wasn’t announced at the Keynote but there were many rumours before WWDC that Mr Jobs may turn up and do the Keynote, or at least a part of it. Unsurprisingly that didn’t happen. Given that we were fairly certain the event was going to be about iPhones and Snow Leopard (yes, the Mac updates came as i surprise to yours truly) and neither of those are revolutionary (of course they’ll be labelled as such in marketese but i’m talking in a more proper sense of the word), so i was quite sure Steve wouldn’t turn up. He could leave the “boring” stuff to the underlings. No, he’d save his return for something big. Something with more spectacle. And like the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone before it, something he’d conceived and wanted to proudly reveal to the world himself… Something with a 10-inch touchscreen perhaps?

  1. If you happen to have been living under a rock for the last few weeks, there are some other round-ups of the WWDC from The Registerarstechnica and daringfireball

On the Joggler.

I’ve been meaning to write about the O2 Joggler for a while now, as when i first saw the TV ad it made me stop what i was doing and pay attention. The ad was not particularly clever or witty or exciting but it was intriguing. Clearly an O2 advert (Sean Bean’s dulcet tones, etc) but it no mention of minutes, texts, treats or sims, rather some magical family organiser – and hardware at that. I had to learn more about this device.

o2 joggler

O2’s product page was able to confirm my suspicions that the thing was more than a glorified calendar (it can show photos, play music and videos, provide news, weather and traffic updates, etc) but it left me asking more questions than it answered. There was no (and still is no) detail. No detail. How am i to get excited about something without detail? Alas, i had to resort to trawling the web where i was able to find a few previews and a couple of “hands-on” accounts. And that’s when my dreams were shattered.

I had hoped that the Joggler might be the answer to my techie-household-prayers – a digital-photo-frame-esque computer that i could have sat in the kitchen/lounge/bedroom and just pick-up whenever i wanted to quickly check the web. A low-power, always-on device that’d save turning on the proper computer when you’re in a rush or the query isn’t urgent enough to warrant getting off your fat arse. But it’s not to be. It appears that O2 have placed so many limitations on the device that it’s almost pointless…

You can check the news – as long as you like your news to be the latest 10 headlines from Sky News.

You can check the weather – as long as you like Sky News Weather forecasts.

You can check for traffic problems – as long as you like to know about traffic issues from across the nation, rather than those that might affect your actual journey.

You can connect to your computer for multimedia – as long as you’re not using a Mac or Linux.

You can play music from your library – as long as that isn’t an iTunes library.

You can get SMS reminders of events in the calendar sent to your phone – but you can’t create or edit events via SMS from your phone. Only via the web or on the Joggler directly.


The silliness of these limitations is further exasperated when you discover that the Joggler is just a re-badged OpenFrame. That being a device which can do the things you want. Like choose the source or sources for news feeds, and a million other things.

Yep, O2 could’ve had a money-spinner here but sadly they’ve restricted their sales by restricting their product. I’m afraid the money-spinning will belong to the first company who releases an OpenFrame-based product that allows the user some customisability. Just pray that company isn’t first waiting to see how well the Joggler does.

El Reg’s review of the Joggler can be seen here. It highlights many of the same problems that i have – but remains a reasonably positive review despite them. Perhaps i’m just a grumpy bastard then?

PS. Where does the name Joggler come from? My guess is that the marketing genii at O2 have combined “juggle ” and “jogger”. As-in, it helps you juggle family life and it’s a memory-jogger. What do you reckon?

Update: Just discovered which was offering a £1000 bounty to anyone able to circumvent O2’s restrictions. And it looks like someone has. I look forward to seeing how this progresses…

Another idea taken.

I’ve been beaten to creating the LED lightbulb, a decent set of cable identifiers and now a “shell” for the 3rd generation iPod Shuffle. As soon as i saw the latest iPod Shuffle i knew there’d be a market for a “jacket” that added controls to the body of the button-free MP3 player (I’d certainly buy one). Alas i failed to turn the designs in my head into reality before Core77 pointed out the Scosche tapSTICK

Scosche tapSTICK

Just slot your 3rd gen Shuffle into the back of it, and voila you have a tiny-though-not-quite-as-tiny Shuffle complete with buttons and the freedom to use whatever headphones you like. Excellent.

Obvioulsy the tapSTICK isn’t as pretty as the device i’d invented in my mind’s eye but at least you can actually buy it…