lovehate: Macolytes Drool for The Apple Strudle... I mean Tablet

Is everyone heading down to the Great Outdoor Sports Equipment Supply Depot to get their backpacks ready for a three week stint in a line outside their neighborhood Apple Store to wait for the new iTablet? Have you borrowed your sci-fi geek friend's Dune-inspired Fremen suit so that you can filter your own urine and sweat and not give up your spot in line? Why are people so excited for a fragile 11" piece of vaporware?

I just don't get it. I do have issues which make me question why I would EVER want one of these rumored devices and, by extension, why anyone else would.

First Issue: iPhone OS - I can't imagine having a big screen version that merely echoes the functionality of an iPhone. The iPhone OS is neat, but if this device is going to replace a netbook, I have the feeling people will want to run more than one application at a time. Notice how the iPhone commercials never say "there are Apps for that." To promote this as a slogan would imply that you could run "apps" and not "app". A tablet will HAVE to get a better version of the iPhone OS if it's going to be used for anything useful whatsoever.

Second Issue: form factor - Why on earth would I lug around an 11" version of an iPhone/Touch. The iPhone fits in my pocket. I would have to buy some sort of European carryall to accommodate this funky new device to do the same things I do with a pocket-sized gadget. And while I admit that I sometimes wish I had a bigger keyboard on my iPod Touch, larger screen buttons won't convince me to switch. In addition, think of one of the most popular additions to the iPhone 3GS: video. Picture yourself holding an 11" slab up in front of your face to take a picture or shoot a video. And I can't foresee holding this up to my head to answer a phonecall.

Third Issue: price - A high GB iPhone, without a subsidy from a mobile provider, can cost upwards of $699. A 10" screen tablet would have to cost, being generously frugal, between $1000-$1200. Assuming there's Bluetooth with the new device, a funky iEar could be packaged with the device in order to allow a mobile subsidy to apply. Maybe a $100 belt clip could be sold as an accessory and it would look like you had a digital picture frame hanging from your waist. I have a tough time justifying a $300-$500 netbook when I can buy a full laptop for between $500-$600. Apple never does things on the cheap, and I can imagine this might the most expensive Strudel... I mean Tablet... on the block.

If a netbook was originally meant for someone who didn't need a laptop, but wanted to stay connected to the net in a slightly larger form factor, who will the tablet be for - someone who really doesn't need an Macbook but wants to stay connected? Because from what I can see, the Macolytes who would buy the tablet would also own the Macbook Air and Apple TV and the iPhone and a black turtleneck and a polished aluminum MacMini with an etching of Steve Jobs profile. The iStrudel doesn't replace anything except cash from your wallet with air.

lovehate: The Evolution of the Remote Interface

Every tech and gaming conference has some sort of new-fangled physical interface to control a console or your television. Companies roll out, with great aplomb, science-fiction device which allow us to wipe our hands over the screen to manipulate objects. They develop crazy motion sensors where flailing around like a spastic synchronized swimmer will allow you to control your game avatar to do something athletic or violent. They forecast the next phase of television remote controls where you can wave your hand in some funky Z pattern to change a channel or draw a sparkler-like O to bring up a menu.

In essence every new interface system is going to require me to work HARDER?

I'll reluctantly admit that we're probably years away from an affordable voice user interface or (dreaming) a thought-based interface, but does this mean we have to retreat backwards?

As a kid I had to stand up and walk across the room to turn the television on or off, turn the channel dial, or turn the volume dial. There was literally TRAVEL involved in flipping from Laff-a-lympics to the Krofft Supershow at 10am on Saturday morning. But I didn't know any different, and was more than happy to get the frequent flipper miles. Plus, I was fueled by the sugar of two bowls of Honey Comb and had to work off the rush somehow. Eventually the television interface became a row of channel-changing buttons to punch before the eventual evolution of infrared.

When GUIs demanded a point and click device, you couldn't ask for something less labor-intensive than the mouse. I circumnavigate a cursor around the screen by moving a lightweight plastic dome an inch or two and depressing a plastic panel by a couple of millimeters. Far easier than typing in "change directory" commands followed by obtuse strings of subdirectories, the mouse has embodied micromovements.

And even more micro is the effort required to change a channel in the infrared world. I can change a channel by pressing a button with my thumb. Let me repeat that - where I used to have to stand up and walk ten feet to television and crank a dial from the number 2 to the number 13, now I can change a channel by pressing a button with my thumb. Why the HELL do we want to make this more difficult?

Sure, if you're part of the Wii-Fit cult that has to jog enough to power a grist mill in order to get your Mario Brother avatar to do jumping jacks, I suppose you're excited about a channel-changing calisthenics regime. But if you're like me, and you're thumb hasn't developed a repetitive strain injury, fight for simplicity. Don't let the Interface Interfaith Believers make waving and running an expectation for home electronics control. Until I can affect electronics by the power of my mind, my thumb'll do just fine thanks.

thinglets: The Threat of Technology to Music... 26 Years Ago

As I was growing up a piano/keyboard player, Keith Emerson was a god to me. (See a wicked live solo piano wank circa 1970 if you doubt)

In expanding on my previous few posts about technology killing music, I am not-so-subtly reminded of the fact that the rumored demise of musical integrity has been greatly exaggerated.

lovehate: The "i" meets the "mart"

I've never been an Apple fanboy. Sure I kinda liked my Shuffle and I really like my Nano for allowing me to take video podcasts on the go. I do covet the iPod Touch and will probably pick one up within the next couple of weeks. And seeing that it mildly bothers me that iPhones are going to be sold at Walmart, I can only imagine what the Mac fanboys (and girls) must be thinking. Their world of brick-designed polished aluminum and stylized high end merchandise is going to be hocked under the "Have a Nice Day" octogenarian greeters of the uberdiscount leviathan.

Quite simply, Apple has made their continued mark on not only being ahead of the curve in terms of product design, but also on a "cool" factor that created a perceived higher class of gadget and computer buyers. Apple had a group of dedicated apostles willing to pay twice as much for hardware and the same price for music... even while it was held ransom through DRM!

The marriage of the "Holy Grail" product of the "i" prefix with the bargain basement of the "mart" suffix will drive Apple to common highway instead of the toll roads. The first time the acolytes of the Cult of Jobs see an iPhone on sale for 144.44 with the "Always" placard next to it, their hearts will die a little inside.

It's not that I don't understand the marketing angle and the potential cash to be made, but will I ever be able to take the Mac/PC ads in the same vein again? When I think of Justin Long now, will I envision Warren Cheswick in a blue apron making minimum wage?

Okay, look... I know that other Apple products have been available at Walmart for years and the shine hasn't come off the devotees. But along with the Walmart news comes the rumor that iTunes is going DRM-free. After years in the clouds, Apple is coming down to earth. What remains to be seen is if Apple can catch the even larger market of people who would never pay a premium for gadgets. Let's face it, consumers can get cell phones these days for next to nothing and pay as they go. Will bringing the iPhone into suburbia convince the $47.77, no contract buyer to spend $200 with a three year commitment? I'm guessing this is what Apple is banking on.

Maybe the "elite" market is getting tapped out in this economy. Maybe the days of techies paying $3000 for a Macbook that parallels the processing abilities of a $1000 PC laptop. I don't believe Apple is hurting by any means, but I do think they are hedging their bets. My only remaining question is do they have another landmark product on the horizon. We've been seeing a regular pattern over the last few years of Apple rolling out new models of devices that basically do the same thing - kind of like the auto industry... though I don't think an iBailout's in the works.

Is there a future for another portable media device/phone in Apple's future, or is it just model tweaks for the next five years? I have no doubt there is something up the sleeves of the development teams in Cupertino, but the last time there was something completely unknown that was rumored as different and "groundbreaking" Michael Kamen's was pimping It/Ginger - ultimately the Segway. And while the Segway was cool, it certainly wasn't the revolutionary product it was cracked up to be.

The proprietary has met the ordinary. The MOMA has met the dormroom poster sale. The Ferrari's available at Budget Rent-a-car. The "i" has met the "mart"... and the late adopters will carry their new AT&T contract in a plastic basket with a package of Twizzlers, a sweater made in China, and an impulse-buy horoscope scroll.


thinglets: The Dymo Disc Painter

dymo disc painter

I'll be the first to admit that I am far more likely to just store things on hard drive now that GB/$ ratio has become so low. That said, while I would have coveted the Dymo Disc Painter five years ago, it's still very cool. 600dpi custom disc painting in 60 seconds. If I knew someone who was still burning binders full of discs, this would be my holiday present for them. Unit is $280 and additional cartridges are $40... if only it was five years ago, this would've saved me a lot of ruined discs due to label glue degradation... and, as an added bonus, it kinda looks like a toilet on your desktop.

Here are the specs:

Technology: Patented RadialPrint™ Technology, dedicated CD/DVD printing direct to disc* as it revolves.

Resolution: Fast 600 dpi (two nozzle passes), Normal 600 dpi (eight nozzle passes) and Best 1200 dpi (eight nozzle passes)

Speed: DiscPainter CD and DVD labeler has three quality settings--Fast, Normal, and Best. Printing speed increases with higher quality settings, increased ink density settings and complexity of design. Times range from 30 seconds (simple text/design and Fast mode) to three minutes (more complex design and Best quality)

Compatibility: Prints on all inkjet-printable CDs, DVDs (full sized) and mini discs with four print settings: 120 mm hub printable, 120 mm non-hub printable, 80 mm (mini) hub printable, and 80 mm (mini) non hub-printable.

Ink Density: Nine ink density settings for precise ink control on matte, glossy, or colored inkjet-printable discs.

Ink Cartridge System: Full color printing with single cartridge system (one included). Prints about 100 discs with one cartridge based on "Normal" print quality and ink density setting "5".

lovehate: The Gates of Seinfeld

The hordes of yea and naysayers hurling their two-bits in about the latest Gates/Seinfeld Microsoft ads have, if nothing else, provided more coverage for the OS giant than almost anything in recent years. And the fact that it may be half good and half bad is at least half better than most of coverage during that time.

It's curious that media critics seem to realize the ads are no different than most other huge companies but... more on that later.

It's the so-called tech experts and bloggers that seem to have the most analysis invested into the most detailed minutae of these spots. On "This Week in Tech" last week, gdgt's Ryan Block performed a deconstruction on the first ad that made the entire spot into an allegory about the "common man's" experience in an Apple Store. On this week's TWiT, John C. Dvorak wondered why the hell Microsoft wasn't "selling" something with such an expensive campaign. Today CNET is reporting that critics are abuzz over the fact that the third installment of the ads will NOT feature Jerry and Bill and, as such, this constitutes a surrender to the bad press and a radical shift in the campaign. Of course further in the article it is revealed that Microsoft actually announced this shift last week and that the dynamic duo would return.

All of this proves one thing: no one is talking about "how bad Vista is" anymore.

Let's get back to how these ads are no different than any other mega-sized company. When was the last time you saw a Nike ad that talked about the new sole design technology or comfortable insoles or crazy grommit technology advancements for the laces. My usual Nike experience is watching someone running in slow-motion while an intended inpsiration passage in read in the background by a famous athlete while a slow string pad crescendos in the background. When was the last time you saw a Coke or Pepsi commercial that talked about the drinks themselves and not just about "wanting to buy the world a Coke" or being "part of the Pepsi Generation". Every McDonald's ad essentially says one thing: "Hey look! We're McDonald's. Try and not be dragged here kicking and screaming by your kids."

Huge brands do not have to sell product, they simply have to sell the brand. The point/counterpoint Apple commercials always have bullet point features that help to explain the great features of Macs because, simply, most people do not have a Mac, most people have not seen a Mac in operation, and most people, if they're going to switch, NEED to be sold on product AND brand but the fact that you will be paying between 30-50% more for an equally-powered system.

A used car lot often has a loudmouth talking a million miles a second trying to explain everything they've got and are selling at lower than everyone else. Commercials from the big automakers show cars whipping around long sweeping mountain curves with techno music pumps up the jam and, if you're lucky, you may get a chromakey blurb or two at the bottom with a logo at the end.

Videogames will often show a bunch of cutscenes strung together with a grandiose synthesized orchestral score. Gatorade will be similar to a Nike commercial with less talking and a lot of orange sweat. How much can you say about potato chips without talking about the thousands of migrant workers that got paid 25% of minimum wage to harvest your Wavy Lay's? How many ads for financial establishments don't include a young or retired couple sitting across from a suit smilling and nodding their heads while words like "easy", "friendly", and "future"?

I'll be the first to admit that these Microsoft ads are clever while not brilliant, and I'm not trying to be an MS Apologist 3.1, but the inner Samuel Beckett in me could not help but revel in the absurdity of the first ad's punchline: "Just wondering, are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cakes so we can just eat them while we are working?" That the agency behind this was brave enough to make it (as every other big company's ads) about nothing, makes me love not the ads themselves, but the mindset that acknowledges the quirky, the bizarre, and the just plain ridiculous still has a place on television. And if anyone spends too much time sitting around WTF'ing their television while these spots are playing, maybe they'll understand when Godot appears.

gates robot