The “pointless” Chromebook Pixel leads to a much bigger question

∞ Thu, 21 Feb 2013 · Comments

Google introduced the Chromebook Pixel today, a $1299 laptop that can run Chrome… and that’s it. It’s been rightly ridiculed – if someone has that much money to spend on a laptop, they’ll probably want to run advanced programs like Office, Photoshop, Visual Studio or play resource-intensive 3D games. In that light, the Chromebook Pixel is utterly useless, and consequently I don’t think it will sell particularly well.

However, there’s a much bigger question this apparently pointless device poses: why hasn’t anyone else made a laptop with a 2560×1700 touchscreen (note the 3:2 ratio)?

In other words: why is Google only the second manufacturer, after Apple, to create a laptop with a retina-level screen? Where are all the Windows OEMs?

To be fair, the OEMs aren’t entirely at fault. While the Metro interface in Windows 8 is designed to be scalable across a wide range of pixel densities, the desktop still isn’t. Most applications don’t play nice with the system dpi setting or ignore it altogether, so a 200+ dpi screen on a Windows laptop simply isn’t feasible.

There’s no doubt that high-dpi screens are the future. For most things apart from photos and videos – i.e. text – an IPS panel will be outperformed by a TN panel with higher pixel density (having used both a 4th-gen iPod touch and Surface RT). Of course, most high-dpi screens are IPS, so it’s really a no-brainer. After you’ve seen a high-dpi screen, you’ll never want to go back. And until the dpi reaches laser printer-like levels (600 to 1800 dpi according to Wikipedia) there’s still room to improve. 1080p smartphones like the HTC One are getting close.

All I can say is kudos to Google for having the balls to introduce a premium laptop, even if it may not be a very useful product (yet?). Hopefully it will push Microsoft to fix dpi scaling in Windows so high-dpi laptops can finally break out of the Mac niche.

iTunes “album only” tracks are now DRM-protected (update: they’re not)

∞ Mon, 24 Dec 2012 · Comments

Update 26 December, 12:12 UTC: You can simply rename the extension from .m4p to .m4a and the file will play fine. There appears to be no DRM at all. I have no idea why Apple would do this since many apps and devices don’t recognize the .m4p extension, which only leads to unnecessary confusion (and posts like this), but whatever.

I recently noticed, while redownloading some of my past purchases on iTunes, that a few tracks showed up as DRM-protected .m4p files, which was odd since iTunes had dropped DRM for music back in 2009. Plus I remembered that when I originally downloaded the files sometime last year, they indeed were all DRM-free .m4a files.

After buying some new albums a couple days ago and again ending up with an .m4p, I investigated a bit and found that these DRM-protected files all had one thing in common: they were marked as “album only” tracks in the iTunes store, which means that you can’t buy them separately without buying the whole album. All other tracks are unaffected and still DRM-free, however.

This change seems to have occured fairly recently, and without any news coverage or announcement from Apple. All reports that I could find in forums (Algoriddim, Logitech, Apple, Serato) and on Twitter (@talios, @talios) are from the last few weeks.

Hopefully this is just a temporary licensing hiccup that Apple will fix soon – and fix it they must, as the iTunes store is advertised as being DRM-free:

You’ll find more than 26 million high-quality, DRM-free songs on iTunes for just 69¢, 99¢, or $1.29 each.

Also, if you want Apple to do something about this, please help spread the word by upvoting this story on Hacker News or Reddit, sharing it on Twitter or tipping your favorite blog.

Continue →

∞ Tue, 19 Jun 2012 · Comments

Can’t tell if MG Siegler is just trolling again or really behind on facts, but hey, let’s break this down, just for fun:

This Surface doesn’t have to just match the price of the iPad, it has to be cheaper. Again, they’re playing catchup. Apple’s margins on the iPad are worse than their other products, but still good. There is some room to undercut them, but that’s assuming Microsoft is able to negotiate the same killer deals that Apple has on components. And this is one of their first forays into hardware. And it is their first foray into hardware of this kind.

The Surface starts with 32GB of storage, and the equivalent iPad is priced at $599. Now, Apple’s higher-capacity models have stupid high margins – the 32GB iPad costs $100 more than the 16GB version, even though the additional flash storage is less than $20 more (according to iSuppli), so there’s definitely lots of room for Microsoft to price the Surface competitively.

But – the Surface doesn’t even have to be cheap. Since it will only be sold through Microsoft’s online store and its less than 30 retail stores, it seems possible that it isn’t intended to be a mass-market device at all. Instead, it could just serve as a wake-up call to OEMs to build better hardware, similar to Google’s Nexus program. Don’t forget that the Nexus One back then really pushed Android hardware forward – it directly led to the much-praised HTC Desire.

Also, undercutting Apple here also means undercutting their own OEM partners. Those guys must already be pissed off at the prospect of this device. And getting into a price war with Microsoft will only piss them off even more. Maybe this drives more of them to Android in the tablet space.

Wait… in case that Microsoft succeeds with the Surface by undercutting everyone, it should suddenly worry about OEMs jumping ship to Android? Sure, they definitely don’t like Microsoft entering their turf, but what options do they have?

By the way, who was that guy again who always shits on Android OEMs for not making any money?

At least Android is free (sort of — coincidentally, most OEMs pay Microsoft to use it). Windows is not free. OEMs will be paying Microsoft to directly compete with — wait for it — Microsoft.

Cluster, meet fuck.

Still the same point, just worded more, ahem, nicely. As he points out correctly, most OEMs also pay Microsoft license fees to use Android, so what’s the difference? And again, what other choice do they have? Oh right, these issues are to hard to explore, let’s just assume it’s all fucked up and throw in some swearing.

And a number of people have remarked about how good this new Surface looks. I don’t know, I look at it and still see the same mistakes that other OEMs that aren’t Apple make. It looks like a big Playbook. Dark. Lots of ports. Blocky. Vents.

So being dark means it looks bad? Lots of ports is bad (are you kidding me?). Blocky, and like a big Playbook. Seriously?

Oh and by the way, those vents are on the Pro version. With Intel Core i5 processor. I heard the iPad is running an ARM processor, like the Surface RT, which doesn’t have any vents.

Warning: Now it gets really interesting, if you will.

Then you add the keyboard and it looks like… a goddamn PC.

I heard Apple sells a keyboard for the iPad too.

While, again, I think the keyboard thing is a smart thing to try to sell units, I have a feeling that in the long run, it will be a burden.

Of course, Apple’s keyboard is no burden.

Does typing on software keyboards suck? Compared to physical keyboards, yes. But the idea should be to reinvent the method of input (see: Siri, for example), not tack on an old one. It’s a crutch. It’s baggage. The only way to move forward is to throw it away.

So, because physical keyboards are much better than software keyboards, they are somehow crutch and baggage?

And yeah, Siri is so much better at text-input than typing.

Again, it looks like a goddamn PC. It’s a keyboard and a screen.

Again, I heard Apple sells a keyboard for the iPad too.

The real problem is with “Surface for Windows RT” and “Surface for Windows 8 Pro”. These sounds like fake names I came up with while drunk last night. But they’re real. I double-checked.

Obviously, “the new iPad” and “MacBook Pro with Retina display” are much better.

But they’re also different sizes, different weights, have different displays, different inputs, different release dates, and run different OSes — and thus, different apps.

Cluster, meet double fuck.

Again, some issues worth exploring, but no, let’s just throw everything together, conveniently ignore some facts (Metro-style apps run on both Surfaces, while legacy apps are obviously only compatible with the Pro version with x86 processor) and assume it’s all fucked up.

But hey, at least Surface for Windows 8 Pro comes with a pen. To quote a guy I once met, “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”

Like, you can throw away the stylus if you want. But it’s actually useful, you know, and even more accurate than those for the iPad.

Some UI design updates in iOS 6

∞ Mon, 11 Jun 2012 · Comments

I’m not going to regurgitate all the new features in iOS 6. You can read up about them on Techmeme, in case you haven’t followed Apple’s WWDC keynote. Instead, here are some observations about the user interface (all images are pulled from Engadget’s liveblog):

  • The cartoonish white status bar, which harkens back to the old iPod days, is gone, replaced by a blue-gradient version which uses the same grey icons of the black/transparent status bar.
  • The menu bar is no longer glossy, but just a smooth blue (or white, similar to the iPad) gradient.
  • Context menu buttons (?) have lost their gloss as well.
  • The App Store and iTunes apps have gotten major redesigns.

This is all I could gather from the screenshots available now. It seems that iOS 6, while not as major an update as iOS 5 or even 4 from a technical standpoint, is the first attempt from Apple – disregarding the iPad, which is another device – to clean up and improve on the original iPhone’s UI design, instead of just adding new features.

∞ Wed, 18 Apr 2012 · Comments

After reading up on all the back-and-forth (I’d recommend Ars Technica and LiveSide for a quick overview of the situation), it seems pretty clear that this is not some random rumor; both The Verge and Mary Jo Foley are hearing that current Windows Phone devices will not get updates to Windows Phone 8.

I mean, if that was not the case, Microsoft would come out with an official statement to clear up the confusion and reassure (potential) buyers, right? But they aren’t.

∞ Tue, 17 Apr 2012 · Comments

Not sure I like this. I was a beta tester for the Android version, but an update promised for early April never arrived, and I didn’t get any emails announcing the change either.

Anyway, Pocket is definitely much improved design-wise, and I can understand the reasoning behind the new name. However, the main list view in the new Android app lags when scrolling, and there’s no clear visual indication anymore whether an article has been saved for offline-reading or not.

The new website is pretty ridiculous. Article headings are way too big, with way too much padding, and placing controls in fixed bars along the top and bottom of the screen… seriously? Just put them in a sidebar and stop wasting space.

But here’s the real bummer:

Once a user starts using us, they use us for years. From a business perspective, having a user pay $2.99 up-front, once, and then use the app for 4 years doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Translation: They’re going to sell subscriptions. Or worse. Seems like the recent explosion in free-to-play/freemium titles that constantly milk people for cash has “inspired” Nate Weiner.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like Pocket (or Read It Later) since I prefer saving the complete webpage over text-only. I will continue to use it. But this sudden change in strategy, essentially screwing over all your earlier customers, is not nice.

∞ Tue, 17 Apr 2012 · Comments

I like the differentiation between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. It’s easy – normal people will just have Windows 8, while professionals and power users get Windows 8 Pro. Basically, Windows 7 Home Basic and Home Premium have been folded into Windows 8, and Professional and Ultimate into Windows 8 Pro. Makes sense.

Technically, there are two more versions – additional “local language-only” editions for China and a few other emerging markets (similar to Windows 7 Starter, I guess) and an Enterprise edition that is essentially the same as Pro, just as in Windows 7 – but most consumers won’t ever hear about them anyway.

By the way, this is really awesome (emphasis mine):

It [Windows 8, the normal version] will include […] the ability to switch languages on the fly (more details on this feature can be found in this blog post), which was previously only available in Enterprise/Ultimate editions of Windows.

Being a German-born Chinese (or German with Chinese roots, whatever), this is a welcome addition. Changing languages really isn’t a power-user specific feature, and the whole implementation in Windows 7 Ultimate felt more like an afterthought to create an artificial selling point (all language packs were permanently shown on the Windows Update page, for example).

Still, the Windows RT branding for the ARM version is confusing. WinRT stands for Windows Runtime, which is the new API for Metro-style apps, so Windows RT stands for… Windows Runtime as well?

I think what Paul O’Brien suggested on Twitter is really smart. Keep the “Windows 8” name in front, and then name the various versions Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Tablet, and Windows 8 Phone. The last one would also solve an issue with the current Windows Phone branding, in that many people refer to it as “Windows” instead of “Windows Phone”, as it becomes pretty awkward when you want to say “it’s a Windows Phone 7 phone”. Maybe this doesn’t make sense with Windows 7 – Windows Phone 7 is just too different from its desktop brethren to call it “Windows 7 Phone” – but with Windows 8 adopting Metro, “Windows 8 Phone” seems completely natural to me.

∞ Sat, 14 Apr 2012 · Comments

Of everything’s that’s been written about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, I find Amit Runchal’s take to be the most thoughtful and realistic (it’s a bit older now as I’m still catching up on the news I missed while working on this website design). Especially this part:

Instagram isn’t an app for Facebook. It becomes a part of the phone, in the same way that the native camera app is for the iPhone. But it’s not just a camera app. In the world of Facebook it’s an order of magnitude better. It’s not about megapixels. It’s not about filters. It’s an entirely different way of thinking about the camera app. Sharing could be built in. The camera is the feed and the feed is the camera.

Exactly. That also occured to me earlier, when I watched Google’s Project Glass concept video. When the guy takes a photo, he doesn’t have to bring up a dedicated menu to share it; instead, two buttons pop up immediately after snapping a picture: share to Google+, or cancel. It’s an entirely different interaction process. The user doesn’t have to consciously decide “I want to share this photo” anymore, which implies that not sharing is the default action. With the Project Glass concept, however, sharing becomes default.

I think that’s a huge opportunity, as it completely reimagines the way people think about photos. It’s part of the appeal of Instagram, which allows one to share photos in real-time, something that isn’t possible with traditional cameras. But Instagram is only a third-party app right now; installing – and using – it instead of the built-in camera app in the first place still constitutes a huge barrier to sharing photos “by default”. The solution:

But a camera that pushes everything to Instagram? A camera that is Instagram?

It might seem ridiculous, but I think it’s a brilliant idea. Suddenly, the $1 billion price tag doesn’t seem high anymore. It would be a paradigm shift, just like the shift from analog photography to digital, which eliminated the step of having to select which photos to keep and print out (anyone still remember those times?). With digital photography, you could just keep every photo, and have them all available for viewing at anytime. Now, with sharing by default, you don’t have to pick and choose which photos you want to share with your friends anymore; it just happens automatically, requiring little to no user interaction.

You won’t need to organize your photo library anymore. It all happens in the cloud, where your photos are automatically uploaded, tagged, and become sortable by date, arranged in a timeline-view… the potential for a Facebook phone that does this is enormous.