Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in September, 2006

Re: Happenings

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Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

As I thought, Time Machine is starting to prompt manufacturers to begin offering affordable RAID backup systems…

Here’s one more such product from Maxtor. 1TB (500GB with RAID), gigabit ethernet, printer server and media server capability, all for $800. This is starting to get interesting…

Re: Showtime, sorta

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The codepoet has got right what I wanted to say about the iTunes 7 interface:

I do like how it looks as a finished product, but it doesn’t make me feel like I’m using a Mac at all. It looks like the new iTunes Store does, right down to the scroll bars and buttons.

The only reason for this that I can put forth is that they needed one unified interface for both Mac, Windows, and the iTS and we thus have this new concept. It’s interesting, and it’s not entirely unusable, but it’s kind of annoying to have this iconic Mac application turned into a bastion of wishy-washy cross-platform interface design, from a place of pure principle.

So, they tried to make something both Mac OS X-like and Windows XP-like, and at the same time abstract it out into a distinct iTS look. Which in turn was probably inspired by Dashboard widgets. If so, they’ve pulled it off quite well. At least in the main window; preferences and popup menus use the native UI, I suppose because users might get (more) confused.

On the other hand, this means that the new UI should not be used as a guide or inspiration for other applications. Or websites for that matter; I imagine Apple’s lawyers will be very zealous in their defense of the iTS theme/platform’s look & feel.

I just realized iTunes is slowly morphing out of being just another application; instead it’s becoming an emulator running the iTunes/Store platform. Inside a window, just like Virtual PC or Parallels. Interesting. (This paragraph actually surprised me while I watched myself typing it out icon_wink.gif.) I wonder if other hybrid desktop/web multiplatform apps will follow this course… not that I can think of any right now, hm.

Showtime, sorta

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So, the big announcement is past and I wasn’t too excited.

New iPods; OK; I’m still relatively satisfied with my 3G, 40GB device. The new Shuffle looks good. Finally a price point and size suitable for jogging, although I’ll probably buy it only when it grows to 2 or 4GB. The new Nanos look less scratchable now, but still, at the price points they’ll be available here for, don’t seem to be a good value for me. The large iPods do stuff I’m not interested in, like photos and video, and I suppose that they – like my current iPod – aren’t suited, speed and reliability-wise, to be used regularly as an external drive.

Games. I very rarely play any games on my Mac these days and I’ve never owned a console, so I can’t see me playing games on an iPod either. The positive part about this is that it shows that iPods are tending towards having some sort of developer API – I wonder if these were all ported in-house or if there’ll be a PodCode announced at next WWDC.

The whole movie hoopla leaves me cold. I watch almost no TV (we don’t even have cable), rent a DVD very rarely (under 10 times a year, or less), buy no DVDs, and wouldn’t know what to do with a TiVo. I suppose it’s all big news in the USA. The iTV thingy looks like it’ll boost Apple’s stock when it comes out, so I’m for it in theory…

iTunes 7 is about the only part of all this which I’ll use soon – in fact, I already gave it a try. The new UI looks quite good. All the Aqua is gone, the exception being the “traffic light” window buttons; the rest is done in muted plastic tones. Some people are decrying this as further dilution of the increasingly varied Mac OS X interface, but I’d say this is mostly dictated by iTunes unique position as a cross-platform application that looks the same on both Mac and Windows. In fact, a quick peek into the package reveals that all the UI elements are present internally – it uses no native widgets at all.

It may be subjective, or the new QuickTime decoders may have had some bits polished, but some songs sound better now. The left-hand column looks nice, though most of the items aren’t relevant to me. The two new alternate library views are somewhat wasted on me; I deliberately erase cover pictures to save on space, and this only helped me find two albums that had slipped through. I wonder whether the pictures must still be stored inside each track, and whether they still are copied to iPods that have no cover display? If so, I’ll continue avoiding them.

Finally, the iPod control screen looks good. I’ll certainly study the whole new UI to see if I glean any ideas for XRay II…

Re: Happenings

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I forgot to mention that now, for the first time, all shipping Macs have at least two CPU cores. Amazing. It also leaves behind with the machines I have available for testing, namely, an iBook (G3) which can still boot 10.0, a PowerBook G4, an iMac G5, and an Intel mini (core solo). So I need a dual-core 64-bit machine to round things out… hm.

I was reading over my own last and some other opinions on the net. Seems some people are expecting an Airport Express optimized for video… I’ve never used (or even seen from close-up) an Airport Express, but I’m not sure this would be all that interesting, or even possible within the current form factor. Wouldn’t it need a DVI or at least S-Video output, meaning a reasonable video card with all the DACs etc.?

Anyway, there are two other products I’d like to see from Apple.

The first might be a RAID network/backup box, but done right. Think Xsan for the home… maybe stackable modules to add any reasonable number of drives.

The second would be something in between an iPod nano and the Airport Express. An inexpensive (under $80) local controller, with a headphone jack, plugged into AC but with an iPod-like screen and controller to allow you to stream any playlist from a central music server. There are some boxes like that on the market, but they’re expensive and more geared towards connecting to an amplifier. Instead, think of something that could be mounted on a each threadmill in a gym, or at each table in a restaurant.

Not that I think these are too likely to happen, but who knows?

Happenings

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Things seem to be moving along well. Here are some random observations.

As I thought, Time Machine is starting to prompt manufacturers to begin offering affordable RAID backup systems. First out there was the D-Link DNS-323, which has 2 SATA drives and a gigabit network interface, and now there’s the Iomega UltraMax (no URL yet), 2 SATA drives and USB/Firewire interface. At WWDC I actually looked for such a product but couldn’t find anything suitable; they were all too large, too expensive or both. Time Machine without RAID means putting all your backups into one basket, so expect lots of better and less expensive backup drives to show up before or at next MacWorld Expo in January 2007.

The 64-bit iMacs are just out, as well as speed-bumped Mac minis. The timing on this is significant. There’s the mysterious “showtime” event announced for Sept.12, the initial day of Apple Expo Paris – and also the final day of IBC Amsterdam, the “content creation” conference. On the end of the month Apple will be present at Photokina. Of course this means that the upgrade are not significant enough to be presented at these events; rumors are flying about what media-related products will be announced. I suppose that movie sales over the iTunes Music Store is pretty much a given, although that’d a pretty unexciting, US-centric, thing by itself.

I suppose that the putative iPhone might be counted under “media”, as everybody seems to expect a phone-capable iPod instead of a music-capable cellphone under that name. While I’m a happy owner of a 3rd-gen iPod – by coincidence bought in Paris shortly after Steve Job’s last Apple Expo keynote 3 years ago – I can’t see why I would want a cellphone built into it. Or a PDA; I bought the original Palm Pilot when it came out and couldn’t get used to that either.

Should Apple bring out a product that might be classified as a “phone”, as a stockholder I seriously hope it’s not a me-too cellphone/music player/PDA. Just look at the restrictions that have so far hampered world-wide deployment of the iTMS. Combine that with the hundreds of technical and regulatory circumstances that govern cellphones in the various countries, and it’s a recipe for disaster; just check out what happened to that Motorola/Apple phone. So, hopefully, Apple will bring out something pioneering and generally usable – perhaps involving new wireless and VoIP technologies.

The iMac announcement also has deeper meaning. With the new 64-bit chips supposedly running faster at the same price point, it’s mostly a question of chip availability to convert all the line. I seriously expect all Macs to be 64-bit capable in January. Converting the iMacs at this time also means that more developers will have extra time to port their apps, if necessary. When Leopard comes out sometime between January and March a surprising number of applications will be ready for it.

Update: Apple has patented a “multi-functional hand-held device” that purports to:

… include two or more of the following device functionalities: PDA, cell phone, music player, video player, game player, digital camera, handtop, Internet terminal [and/or] GPS or remote control.

The patent covers:

Touch Screen, Touch Sensitive Housing, Display Actuator, Multi-Functionality, Form Factor, One-Handed vs. Two-Handed Operation, Footprint/Size, Full Screen Display, Limited Number of Mechanical Actuators, Adaptability, GUI Based on Functionality, Switching Between Devices (GUI), Operating at Least Two Functionalities Simultaneously, Configurable GUI (User Preferences), Input Devices, Pressure or Force Sensing Devices, Force Sensitive Housing, Motion Actuated Input Device, Mechanical Actuators, Microphone, Image Sensor, Touch Gestures, 3-D Spatial Gestures, Perform Action Based on Multiple Inputs, Differentiating Between Light and Hard Touches, Example of a New Touch Vocabulary, Speaker, Audio/Tactile Feedback Devices, Communication Devices (wired & wireless) and Change UI Based on Received Communication Signals.

…all that’s missing is a biological signal sensor and a recreational pharmaceutical dispensing device, to make this the functional equivalent of the “Joymaker” Frederik Pohl wrote about in his 1965 book The Age of the Pussyfoot. I wonder if that counts as “prior art”…?

It’s here, and about time. Hopefully I’ve fixed all known bugs and incorporated most reasonable suggestions…

…now back to XRay II. icon_wink.gif

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