June 17, 2011
When Apple debuted its portable digital music player that would interact with iTunes, it named it iPod. This left many scratching their head iPod? Why not iSongs or iMusic, particularly since Apple was almost exclusively focused on that content at the iPod’s debut. Over time, though, Apple added support for more media types to the device, including photos, videos and games.
Years later, Apple introduced the iPhone, claiming that it was the best iPod it had ever produced. In fact, the app that played back music and videos was called “iPod” to play upon the familiarity with the blockbuster portable device. This always seemed a bit odd to me, though – assigning what had previously been a hardware brand to software. Indeed, the metaphor fell apart when Apple introduced the iPod touch, and renamed the “iPod” app Music to avoid recursion.
Now, a decade after the debut of the iPod, and as Apple may finally leave the iPod classic behind this fall, it’s all becoming almost completely logical and consistent. Apple still has the fixed-function iPod shuffle, but the flagship iPod touch is indeed a container for many seeds; the floodgates have been opened completely with a rich app library. And the iPhone’s “iPod” app will disappear with iOS 5, being replaced with separate apps for music and video. This move signals that – as much as the iPod has been synonymous with music – its brand and capabilities have grown into things more consistent with its name.
Tags: branding, iPhone, iPod, music
February 20, 2011
The iPhone distinguished itself with a single home button for returning from an app to the launch screen. While its functionality may have been strained a bit as the platform has progressed. e.g., having to tap twice to bring up the app switcher, its single UI depression concession made a statement about minimalist simplicity that few platforms (webOS may be one example) have answered.
In contrast, Android launched with four major UI buttons (Home, Menu, Back and Search) and Windows Phone launched with three (Windows/Start, Back, and Search). Exactly how many – if any – buttons is optimal can be debated by user interface experts or considered personal preference. As is the case with much of what I consider Android variation, the media has jumped upon the tendency for different vendors to implement the Android button order in a different way, even in different handsets from the same manufacturer.
I don’t see that as such a major issue, but the Search button, in particular, always struck me as gratuitous. Yes, we know Google is a search company, but that doesn’t mean I need a search button omnipresent on my device. And I was somewhat disappointed that Microsoft followed suit (since, of course, Bing is really important, too).
Now Google, if not having so much seen the error of its ways, will give licensees the option to forego any and all buttons in Honeycomb tablets and presumably Ice Cream handsets. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Matias Duarte, a notion that buttons are trickier to place on a tablet versus a generally vertically oriented handset, or simple feedback from partners.
The drawback is that now, in addition to potentially having different button layouts, Android devices may now have different combinations of buttons and gestures for the same task. Regardless, these devices now have the potential to look cleaner and more streamlined because of the change. Perhaps that’s one of the liberties that Nokia will feel free to take as it balances its unique customization privileges against compromising the consistency in the Windows Phone ecosystem.
Tags: Android, buttons, differntiation, Google, IIce Cream, iPhone, Matias Duarte, Search, Start button, tablets, user interface, webOS, Windows Phone
September 11, 2010
Following a trend of relaxing restrictions in its app acceptance policy, Apple on Thursday announced that it would no longer ban iPhone applications written in other languages from its app store subject to certain provisions (which would exclude Adobe AIR). While Apple made a strong case as to the risks that third-party development tools made to the platform, I argued that, for many Flash developers, the choice was probably between using Flash or no app, as opposed to Flash versus Cocoa. And, of course, there’s nothing about Apple’s tools that prevent developers from making a bad app. The now more-transparent review process can be the point of quality control in either case.
In any case, it’s a win for Flash, and that means a win for Adobe, right? In its response to the announcement, Adobe reminds that Apple still does not allow Flash to run natively on iOS devices. No, the allowing of apps with the Flash cross-compiler is ultimately not the native Flash home run Adobe really wants. But, had Adobe kept in there, swinging away and pledging to continue to work with Apple to address the issues Apple has with Flash and the cross-compiler (regardless of the realism of that prospect), it would have a better story to tell now. It could have shared some level of responsibility in helping to convince Apple of the cross-compiler’s value (Adobe is, after all, an iOS developer), which opens up the the three (installed) bases of iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad to Flash developers.
But that’s not what Adobe did. In April, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch blogged that Adobe was moving forward from iOS. And in August, frustrated by the impasse, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen noted in reference to Apple, “They’ve made their choice. We’ve made ours and we’ve moved on.” Adobe was too eager to close the door when, clearly in hindsight, it had a chance to be reopened. Apple has cracked the door open to Flash developers a few months after Adobe decided it wouldn’t even drive them to the party.
Now, of course, Adobe is resuming work on the Flash cross-compiler for iOS. But can you imagine if Microsoft was so quick to shrug its shoulders when trying to advance its platform? “Sorry, guys. Mobile’s been a tough nut for us to crack. Android seems to be getting pretty popular now, though, so maybe you should consider casting your lot with that.”
Tags: Adobe, cross-compiler, Flash, iPhone
April 29, 2010
Today, while Apple and Adobe were trading barbs, Verizon Wireless launched the Droid incredible, although it seems some who pre-ordered may still need some time to receive. I tried the handset for a few days before it met an untimely demise that was not the fault of the handset.(Sorry, no pictures. I already sent it back to HTC.) From its specifications, the Incredible is a very close cousin of the Google Nexus One (also created by HTC), and adds HTC Sense, which is a positive for the most part. This new revision of HTC’s overlay includes the Leap task switcher, which fills the screen with small previews similar to Exposé for the Mac (and has me wishing Apple would implement Exposé for the iPhone once it can multitask.)
One of my favorite features of the Droid Incredible is the 8 megapixel camera, which is the first one I’ve used that takes acceptable indoor photos assuming the subject is relatively still. The Droid Incredible is about as thick as the iPhone 3GS, but has a removable battery. The back cover removal process, though, isn’t as slick as it’s been for other HTC devices. The optical trackball on the devices bottom works well and I still prefer Android’s dual navigation features to, say, Palm’s sole reliance on the touch screen. (At least Apple makes placing the insertion point easy with its loupe.)
Unlike the original Motorola Droid, the Droid Incredible has no keyboard, which means you must use a software keyboard. In horizontal orientation, this works fine, and Android’s autosuggest feature is helpful. But in portrait mode, the 3.7” screen is still not wide enough for comfortable typing.
Now, with new text entry-acceleration methods such as Swype and ThickButtons (which I was hoping Apple would open the door to in iPhone 4.0), one can improve speed, perhaps dramatically. But the vanilla text-entry experience in portrait mode is better on the iPhone. It’s also why, as far as Android devices go, I still favor the original Droid. For, as poor as its keyboard is, I still prefer it to having an on-screen one.
Since CTIA, it’s been hard to get excited about any Android handset with the EVO 4G coming this summer. The 4.3” screen should do wonders for soft keyboard typing in portrait mode, and that of course is but one of the superphone’s extensive features. The key question, particularly with Android’s middle of the road battery consumption and potential addition of Flash, is for how many hours during the day you’ll be able to use those features.
Tags: Android, Droid Incredible, HTC, iPhone, motorola, screen width, Verizon Wireless
Steve Jobs lays out six reasons why Apple is not supporting Flash in one of his rare direct communiqués on Apple’s Web site. Jobs says that Adobe has portrayed Apple’s reluctance to a business decision but that the reasons are mostly technical. The essay reveals it to be somewhat of a mixture although it boils down to semantics. Reasons such as impact on battery life, performance and optimization for touch are mostly technical. Jobs also notes that Adobe has not shown Flash running well on any mobile device.
As I noted in my Volume Up column for CNet yesterday, “Until now, for all the controversy about the iPhone’s lack of Flash support, it’s effectively given Apple a directional, rather than actual, disadvantage with respect to competitive phones.” The column also discussed how, according to NPD (my employer), only 14 percent of those who are not interested in the iPad cite Adobe Flash as an inhibitor.
The first reason given, openness (and I think there is more debate to how open Flash is, or is becoming) is a mix of technical and business reasons. And the last reason, the one that Jobs says is most important, is about attracting the best and perhaps exclusive apps to the iPhone. That’s more of a business consideration than a technical one, although I would argue that most (or at least smaller) Flash developers interested in using a cross-platform tool are not using it instead of Apple’s tools. They are either using Flash or not supporting the platform. Furthermore, there are plenty of uninspiring apps created with Apple’s tools.
While the essay lays out what is a rational argument, there are several instances that could be interpreted as Jobs, who has noted that he believes in karma, sees the turn of events as a natural consequence of the companies’ courses. In the first paragraph, he draws the contrast,[t]he companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products.” In other words, Adobe left Apple behind. And later he notes how Adobe hasn’t embraced changes in Mac OS, “Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.” That said, it has come to light on Twitter that some of Apple’s own apps, including iTunes and Final Cut Pro, are still Carbon, and not Cocoa, apps.
In any case, while there are still fundamental differences in Apple’s and Adobe’s motivations, and the note portrays Apple as trying to move toward the future, one comes away thinking that there could be more room for the companies to work together if Adobe could overcome these technical limitations and is serious about making Flash a credible way to develop great mobile experiences.
Tags: Adobe Flash, Apple, cross-platform tools, developers, iPhone, karma, openness, Steve Jobs, Thoughts on Flash
April 28, 2010
So, it looks as though Lenovo wasn’t the global PC maker that would up with Palm. Instead it was Palm’s Silicon Valley neighbor HP, which has been dipping its toe in WinMo waters for the past few years. WebOS will help diversify mobile offerings from the computing giant, which faced the prospects of facing tough software differentiation under Windows Phone 7 — a dilemma from its PC business that it likely had no desire to repeat in the handset space
Palm gains access to HP’s vast R&D resources, global distribution and corporate clout while HP gains instant entry into the carrier portfolios of three of the four major U.S. carriers as well as an increasing number abroad. In the post-iPhone world, it’s clear that major PC companies need to have a serious play in the handset market. WebOS is an elegant, powerful operating system, but its performance continues to need help and Palm did not have the bandwidth to focus on suddenly hot tweener devices years after the fall of the Foleo and months after the rise of the iPad. WebOS may appear in HP smartbooks such as the Compaq Air’Life and perhaps even down the road as an embedded pre-boot environment. This seems to be a good fit from a technology and product offerings perspective.
There’s more to come on this story, to be sure.
Tags: AirLife, Android, HP, iPhone, Palm, smartbooks, smartphones, Windows Phone 7
April 13, 2010
Its hard-line stance against Flash (how come no one ever talks about Apple banning Silverlight as well?) notwithstanding, there have been steady signs that Apple is being more open to different kinds of apps that once perhaps would not have passed muster in its iTunes app store. Examples include MapQuest competing with Google Maps and Slacker, Rhapsody and others offering alternatives to iTunes purchases (although really representing “coopetition”). Indeed, if Apple is, at its heart, a platform company as Steve Jobs says, then that’s the way it should be. And both Apple customers and the company benefit.
Regardless of why Apple approved Opera mini, it is an asset to the platform, perhaps a parting gift to first-generation iPhone users stuck on an EDGE network. Due to its proxy architecture, Opera mini is much faster than mobile Safari. It also offers great Web site fidelity, and (somewhat less efficient than in the desktop version) tabbed browsing, but can’t work around the prohibition of Flash content. On the other hand, it doesn’t use the universal pinch and zoom gestures, and there are times I wish it allowed greater levels of zoom although I found the text to be quite readable. It’s somewhat counterintuitive that Apple allowed this “commodity” browser – so widespread in its availability on not only smartphones but many feature phones – onto the app store. But I’m sure customers won’t be complaining.
Tags: App Store, coopetition, iPhone, Opera mini, Safari
April 2, 2010
The iPhone was really something of a talking dog. It was so amazing that Apple had brought such functionality to something that was so omnipresent that it was relatively easy to forgive the cramped interface and incessant swiping that sometimes seemed required to get things done. In a form of geek noblesse oblige, advanced users accepted these limitations understanding that it was part of the platform’s overall gestalt that brought new users into the smartphone ecosystem.
But you’ll find less of that feeling of compromise with the iPad. Yes, technically the iPad is very similar to a large iPod touch. But it is also an unbound iPod touch – unbound by the constraints of screen size, limited battery life, cramped keyboard, and a user interface that lacks some of the efficiencly boosters Apple has now implemented.
As I noted in a recent Laptop Magazine article, I put the iPad closer to a notebook on the smartphone-notebook continuum in terms of functionality and usage scenarios. And yet, the iPad is not a netbook, nor do I think it aspires to be one even though at least some of the tasks — most notably, e-mail and Web access — can be managed pretty well on it. But a BlackBerry handles e-mail pretty well, too. Furthermore, I think it would be the wrong path for Apple to try to make the iPad more netbook-like; this would work to the detriment of the device experience and would of course risk cannibalizing Apple’s Mac business. So far, the lack of multitasking is even less of an issue on the iPad than on the iPhone as you’re far more likely to be engaged with the device as you use it, and there is less need to have geolocation apps running in the background. Lack of Flash is being addressed by video providers — perhaps even Hulu — working on their own iPad apps.
Tags: Apple, iPad, iPhone, netbooks
January 29, 2010
While they clearly add value to Apple’s products, it doesn’t appear as though Apple is too enamored of the emerging category of devices that use Wi-Fi to imbue products with capabilities they were never designed to include. Examples include Novatel Wireless’s MiFi (and Sprint’s 4G Overdrive by Sierra Wireless), the Tivit product for serving free over-the-air mobile digital television to Wi-Fi-capable devices, and the AirStash SD card-based server-in-a-stick.
Take the oldest of these, the MiFi, which helped pioneer the category. It’s become somewhat of an in-joke among iPhone users that the MiFi is the best way to address poor AT&T cellular coverage. It is a great accessory for iPod touches and MacBooks, particularly given that Apple doesn’t offer integrated 3G on its notebooks. Yet, you won’t find them at the Apple Store even though I’m sure Sprint or Verizon would be happy to have the Apple Store sales machine pumping them out to affluent customers. Perhaps it comes down to a contractual agreement with AT&T that Apple can’t offer products by rival carriers, but I doubt it.
Tivit is an even more interesting example. It would appear to be a great companion particularly for the new iPad, turning it into a large-screen mobile television perfect for, say, cars while avoiding taxing of the AT&T network. But it also stands to cannibalize Apple’s iTunes TV download business and, unlike MiFi, requires client software. I’m sure the iPhone and iPod touch are high on the target client list; we’ll see if the software passes Apple’s approval process.
This got me thinking about Apple’s continued reluctance to put Adobe Flash on its iPhone OS-powered devices, including the iPad, where its absence challenges the credibility of Apple’s claim that the iPad provides a better Web experience than a notebook. What if someone created a device, or an app for a device such as the MiFi, that would transcode Flash on the fly, similar to the way the Skyfire browser for Windows Mobile works. Would Apple block it, assuming it could? It could be some developer’s covered wagon ride to Apple’s touted gold rush.
Tags: AirStash, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, MiFi, PANs, Tivit, Wi-Fi
September 11, 2009
There was much rejoicing as Apple approved two applications that enable on-demand song streaming to the iPod. Following the approval of the Spotify app, a companion to the European music service that provides free on-demand listening on PCs but requires a subscription on the iPhone, Apple approved the Rhapsody app, which also requires a subscription to deliver tracks on demand.
The latter approval was especially meaningful since subscription services in general have historically berated the a la carte model (even as they warm to it) and there was that unpleasantness a while back regarding Real’s now moot attempts to get its rights-managed tracks onto the iPod. It’s a good thing Real learned its lesson about not trying to circumvent DRM.
But that’s all old news, and now some are heralding Rhapsody’s arrival on the iPhone as a fresh beginning tor subscription services. I disagree. Like Michael Gartenberg, I believe in the potential of streaming music to connected devices, but see services such as Rhapsody stuck between the rock of well-crafted Internet radio offerings such as Slacker and Pandora, and the hard place of a la carte purchases. Yes, sometimes we all want to hear a specific song, but there are even cloud-based options for that that don’t require a subscription. And if Real Networks is waiting for the carriers to figure it out, good luck.
Having Rhapsody on the iPhone, like having it on Sonos, is a great value-add for Rhapsody subscribers — an even better value-add than having the Sirius XM iPhone app is for those subscribers. I’s a good retention play. But it doesn’t solve the fundamental problems these services have and I doubt it will signficantly help expand the subscriber base (On the other hand, at least it won’t lock subscribers in to one portable device.)
Meanwhile, the iPhone and iPod touch gain more sway as the most flexible pocketable digital music consumption devices, with their integrated and third-party apps bringing together local music, network music, Internet radio, Slacker, Pandora, Deezer, YouTube music videos, Sirius XM, and now Rhapsody (among others). If you’re a Rhapsody subscriber, you’re going to pay your monthly fee for bits anyway, but now you also get to fork over a couple of hundred to Apple for its atoms whereas before an Apple music player was probably out of your consideration set.
I’m sure Real Networks wishes it hadn’t gone this way as Rhapsody has to adhere to several limitatoins on the iPhone such as lack of background playback and an inability to sell a la carte tunes through Rhapsody, but the popularity of the iPhone probably forced its hand.
And so the rich get richer.
Tags: iPhone, music subscriptions, Napster, Real, Rhapsody, spotify, Zune