HP loses the tablet battle, Apple victorious?
The CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Leo Apotheker, has announced they are killing off their tablet offering (the TouchPad) and their WebOS based product lines in general. From his statement: “The tablet effect is real and sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations.”
TechCrunch sum the announcement up like this:
But wait, then why is he exiting the tablet space after only a matter of weeks? Because when Apotheker says “the tablet effect”, he really means “the iPad effect”.
Put another way, “Apple, you win.”
And not just in the tablet space. Again, the largest PC-maker in the world is exiting the space. Think about how crazy that is for a second.
It is crazy, for a few reasons. The TechCrunch article goes on to detail internal wrangling at HP and their position in the tech market, and asks the question “does this make HP look foolish, cowardly, or smart?”
Fair enough. But what about the impact on the tablet space, and the effect on Apple? I own an iPad and I’m generally an Apple fan, so I don’t say this out of an aversion to Cupertino. No, my concern is that a near monopoly on tablet devices isn’t a good thing. The power that Apple now wields with it’s phenomenally popular mobile devices and software (iPhone, iPad, iOS) is becoming scary, and lack of competition is surely bad in the long term. If a big hitter like HP doesn’t have the stomach to take on Apple, who will?
The rebirth of animated GIFs: ‘liberation in constraints’
I’ve just enjoyed Anil Dash’s paean to the enduring art of animated GIFs.
I agree that the recent revival of the format has reached a whole new level of sophistication. I’ve been a huge fan of if we don’t, remember me for some time (the source of the image above). In taking a few judiciously chosen frames from a film, iwdrm creates something new, something distinct from the original film, yet still affectionately linked to it. It is not merely a video clip. It is not merely a fragment of a whole. I don’t think it’s overblown to say it has become something like its own independent art piece, something you might expect to see in a gallery installation. Have a browse of the site and you’ll see what I mean.
Full steam ahead, GIF artists. Show us what you can do.
The Email Charter: spread the word
It’s almost irresistible to go on a good solid rant here. When it comes to email, everyone has their pet peeves. But the Email Charter is a serious initiative, with the aim of bringing the swathes of time spent managing our inboxes under some kind of control.
I can sign up to the concept whole-heartedly, although I’d be interested to see how the finer points develop. For example, the second item:
Short or Slow is not Rude Let’s mutually agree to cut each other some slack. Given the email load we’re all facing, it’s OK if replies take a while coming and if they don’t give detailed responses to all your questions. No one wants to come over as brusque, so please don’t take it personally. We just want our lives back!
This combats the tendency some emailers have to fire off a long list of questions to which they expect an immediate and detailed reply, but it may also encourage its obverse, an equally bad habit. Too often I fire off a few short simple questions (“Where shall we meet? When?”) only to receive an answer to the one question most interesting/convenient the recipient (“My office?”). It’s maddening to have people pay so little attention to your messages, and it ultimately generates more email as the missing information must be queried again. Also, it’s a false economy: the recipient could’ve spent a fraction of the time wasted on multiple emails by simply doing a better job replying to the first one.
Allow me the luxury of adding a couple of extra peeves to the list.
Use a proper subject line. I regularly receive emails from people that are “replies” to an ancient and now irrelevant email I sent them weeks or months previously. (I suspect this is because many people don’t actually know they have address book functionality built into their email client, or consider it too much of a bother to use.) Subject lines should actually apply to the content of the email, or the ongoing thread. When the thread runs its course (in a timely and succinct fashion) it’s terminated. And when a new email or thread is started, use a proper, descriptive subject line that will make it easier to find the email later. So no “Hi!” or “This and that”, rather “Some suggestions for dinner” or “An agenda for the meeting”.
Don’t use email as a file system. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, how this one makes me angry. I should get out more, I know, but really, the world would be a better place if we got this sorted. I know a lot of people would disagree with me on this. After all, with the current push to cloud storage — which has been popularised for email for many years by Google — there is a big incentive to simply throw all your mail, files, media, whatever into a big bucket in the cloud (mixed metaphors, I know) and rely on sophisticated search to find the items you need. But I’m a believer in retaining (at least some of) the now quaint tradition of an organised file structure. The reasons are many and too complex to go into here, but as regards email the practical upshot of this chuck-it-in-a-bucket approach is that people simply lose things. Constantly. (If I had a pound for every time I heard “Could you email me that again? I can’t seem to find the one you sent …”) If you need to keep important messages and attachments, save them to your hard disk (or Dropbox-style cloud storage drive) in a suitably named folder/directory. At the very least, use a folder-based system in your email client and move messages out of your inbox and into the appropriate folder as soon as you’ve acted on them.
Okay, that feels better. It’s good to get that lot off my chest.
Will Lytro really start a photographic revolution?
Despite getting caught up in the excitement and pure wow-factor of the Lytro camera previews currently getting a lot of attention on the webs, I’m suspicious of the hugeness of the claims, and I’m struggling to figure out what it is they will actually deliver.
And the claims are fairly nebulous at times. They call the images “living pictures”. Techcrunch writes that “Lytro is developing a new type of camera that dramatically changes photography for the first time since the 1800s”. Watch the Techcrunch interview with Ren Ng (Lytro CEO and founder) and you’ll hear talk of “camera 3.0” and light-field photography.
And then Ng makes this statement:
Light-field technology enables something like a Lytro camera to take all the information about the light flowing into the camera … The definition of it is the amount of light traveling in every direction in every point in space … You can sort of picture that light field and all the directions flowing into the camera …
Whoa! That’s some pretty impressive sci-fi shit going on there. All the light? Every direction? Every point in space? Suddenly I’m thinking about the film Deja Vu and its spacefolding technology that (apparently) records all of human existence as a constant video stream — imagine an infinite number of CCTV cameras in the sky. Amazing! Freaky! Preposterous!
What we actually see on the Lytro website are some fairly impressive (but more down-to-earth) demos of a new kind of ‘focus-independent’ photography. The camera captures all objects in focus, and the user can click in an image to pull focus between foreground and background objects. (Try it out on the image below.)
This is pretty amazing stuff, but it’s not sci-fi, it’s not Denzel Washington snooping through people’s homes or preventing ferry disasters with a magic all-seeing eye.
I’m not trying to say that Lytro are intentionally misleading us; this is all pretty standard publicity hype, and they don’t actually lie about anything. All the talk about light-streams, points in space and 3D, however, do seem to point at a bigger picture (oops, pun definitely not intended) that the current demo web images don’t deliver. Putting it simply, it all seems to be about focus and depth of field. Ng talks about 3D capabilities, but how much of this can we eventually expect to see? And what about other data? Will the camera also capture a range of luminance and exposure data? What about the resolution? If it’s really just about depth of field, then it’s a great gimmick, but not a revolution.
Thanks, then, to The Economist’s Babbage blog for taking a step back and putting Lytro’s product in perspective, locating it in a wider trend towards computational photography, of which there are many existing examples, such as high dynamic range (HDR) imaging.
The basic premise is to use multiple exposures, and even multiple lenses, to capture information from which photographs may be derived. These data contain a raft of potential pictures which software then converts into what, at first blush, looks like a conventional photo.
So really, it’s all about the data and the algorithms. As ever, in trying to report on and market complex technological developments, the media and the tech companies themselves chop the big picture into manageable chunks, and flog them to us via attention-grabbing headlines and shiny gadgets. What’s changing is that our photos need no longer be one frozen set of pixels, but a potential mountain of data from which dozens of radically different images can be generated.
By all accounts Lytro could play a significant part in getting an entirely new photographic product to the consumer. But let’s not get too fixated on one new product. The revolution, if it exists, is that computational photography is now entering the mainstream. It’ll be interesting to see how the trend develops.
Apple and the TV rumours: how does this fit the ‘bigger picture’?
Another day, another Apple product rumour. This one has been circulating for a while, and the latest instalment updates the thread with anonymous comments by an alleged former Apple executive.
So what’s the gist of the speculation? In brief: Apple might launch it’s own line of TVs. And, to be clear, we’re not talking here about the existing AppleTV product — the little black set-top box — but actual television sets with (depending which rumours you listen to) some combination of iTunes and current AppleTV functionality built in.
I’m not concerned here with probing the history of the rumours or the validity of individual claims. I’m much more interested in how something like an Apple endorsed TV fits into their big picture.
Why would Apple produce a product like this? The current AppleTV has always been considered a fairly minor product, once branded a ‘hobby’ by Steve Jobs, and even considered a commercial failure by many. Me, I love the AppleTV, and it’s unfair to brand it a failure. It merely seems that way when compared with its outrageously successful siblings (iPhone, iPad, et al). I am very impatient to see things get going with the platform, though. (Why on earth is it taking so long to get some serious functionality or third party apps off the ground? It’s embarrassing the way Apple is lagging behind competitors like Boxee and Plex. But I digress.)
Even with the sluggishness in the development of the AppleTV box, it still seems inevitable that it will follow some kind of iPhone-esque trajectory — major software updates, apps, all that. With the launch of the AppleTV 2 the decision to move to streaming-only and build the system on iOS suggests as much. It points to expanded functionality and connectivity, and surely the temptation to open another app store goldmine will be just too much to resist. But all this can be done with the existing AppleTV box — what would be gained by producing essentially the same product with a flat screen monitor bolted on?
One reason could be that TVs sell better than set-top boxes. Everyone needs a TV, but fewer people are interested in plugging in yet another box, especially if the little box ostensibly only offers them a new way to rent films. The considerations are complex here, and I’ll admit I do not have figures and research to back this up — I’m really just speculating. But it seems a no-brainer that — long term — most consumers would respond better to a big shiny flat screen than a largely mystifying little black box. What’s more it would place Apple more firmly in people’s living rooms. It would be a high profile, politic way of showing consumers, manufacturers and content providers alike the seriousness of their intent in the arena. The arena in question being content provision — films and TV programmes. That’s where the big money is to be made, and fits Apple’s bigger picture in a way that simply flogging shiny flat-screens does not.
So what about this bigger picture? Apple don’t just plug holes in the the tech market. Many tech companies — and manufacturers in general — will find a gap that could be exploited and try to plug it with their product. They shift boxes. The boxes don’t need to be related, they don’t need to play nicely together, they don’t need to be part of a broader scheme. But all of Apple’s major products do fit into a scheme. The Mac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS, OS X, iLife, iCloud … all of them fit a pattern of connectivity, a hub for our digital lives. The dream is to have them, and all their descendants, playing and talking happily and effortlessly together, forever, in the iCloud. (A dream that’s tremendously appealing, but also a little scary. But more of this another time.) What would an Apple television add to the dream that the AppleTV box doesn’t?
In the recent WWDC 2011 keynote speech, mention of the AppleTV box and it’s integration with iCloud was sketchy and underwhelming. Even though the intention to bring AppleTV into the fluffy iCloud universe is surely there, there’s still no guarantee it will happen.
I’m really not making any full-blown predictions here. It feels unlikely that Apple will release a television, but if it does happen, I’ll be surprised yet delighted. I may even buy one. But it seems that — unless it’s backed up by upgraded software and app store integration — it would never be a ‘real’ Apple product, merely a luxury, hobby product akin to the current AppleTV box. In fact — going with the feel of the thing again — even if they do launch an AppleTV app store, I’m not convinced an Apple television set would be anything like a classic, enduring Apple product, in the iMac, iPod or iPhone mould.
As always, the far more interesting questions surround this bigger picture. What will Apple do to the delivery of video, TV and film onto our devices and into our living rooms? Will they ‘revolutionise’ the industry, the way the iPod and iTunes has with music, the way the iPhone has with telephony and mobile computing?
UPDATE, 26 August 2011 Interesting article on thenextweb.com about the rumour that Apple is developing “new technology” for TV distribution: “Is a lot of this based on just conjecture? Absolutely. But it sure would be nice to see Tim Cook announce at some point in the near future that the Apple TV isn’t just a hobby anymore.”