Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in January, 2007

Greg Joswiak answers some questions about OS X. In particular, it’s “optimized but full” and uses “considerably less” than half a gigabyte of the built-in flash memory – not incompatible with my previous guess of between 64 and 256MB.

“Optimized but full” probably means that most of what makes Mac OS X be, uhm, “OS X” is present – like the keynote slide, it means Cocoa, multitasking graphic GUI, animation, etc. Since most of Cocoa runs atop Carbon and BSD APIs these must be present also. However, Darwin/XNU and the whole IOKit are a little hefty for an embedded environment and no doubt a new, much smaller kernel and driver model were slid underneath. Direct Mach calls are certainly still used in some places but no doubt were recoded or faked out with a compatibility shim. And the BSD subsystem/command line tools will certainly be absent.

The Apple-hating crowd seems to be out in full array. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much people calling “liar” or “bullshit” on almost every sentence of the keynote, or of often barely literate commenters saying such-and-such decision or feature are “brain-dead”; at least not since the iPod launch. It’s certainly easy to tell in retrospect where Apple or Jobs have been wrong – sometimes even egregiously so – in past years, but calling this in advance is a little foolhardy. Especially in light of the ROI for recent investors.

I just found an interesting post over at the ever-interesting Language Log:

…But it’s important to note that these people are not lying, exactly. They simply don’t care one way or another about what the facts are, and this shifts their work out of the category of lies and into the category for which Harry Frankfurt has suggested the technical term bullshit:

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

So, while I don’t think Steve Jobs is lying about anything regarding the new products or Apple’s plans, he certainly is “deceiving about… his enterprise” in several places. And rightly so, as the competition’s watching and analyzing every word too. While as a developer I’m certainly miffed about all the secrecy, as a stockholder I approve.

Speaking of stock, here’s a nice quote from Jerry Pournelle:

If ever there were an indication that America has gone greedily insane and needs ways to curb the rapacious Trial Lawyers, the story of minority stockholder suits against Apple charging that in 1997 Steve Jobs manipulated options dates in order to keep key executives from bailing out has got to be it. The minority stockholders cleaned up because Jobs pretty well single-handedly saved the company; had he not done so, the stock would have become worthless. So in return for this, the stockholders let some contingency fee lawyers talk them into fronting for these suits. Any sane judge would throw all those out on the grounds of standing: “You weren’t damaged, so how can you sue for damages?”

pervas wrote:

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

(…)Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.


What about this?

This quotes the same story I linked to in my original post, but then basically says there’s no technical foundation to Jobs’ claims about the vulnerability of the phone network.

I’m can’t claim to be well-informed about the internal workings of the cellphone network. But I seem to remember reading that there are safeguard requirements for the 911 system at the very least. And even supposing that the Ars writer is right… most phones require certified apps. I’ve browsed a few developer pages for other phones and they emphasize that (for instance) Java’s ability to restrict access to some APIs is fundamental.

I think that’s about all one speculate before the device is actually out.

Posted by pervas:

Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

(…)Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.


What about this?


I’ve finally had time to look up Apple’s patent on embedding a camera inside a screen. Here’s the brief at New Scientist and here’s the original patent. Looks very interesting. For the current iPhone and screen technology it’s of course still in the labs; as you would usually have one camera sensor pixel for every screen pixel, or some submultiple even, to get iSight resolution (640×480; VGA) the screen would have to be double the size (or double the pixel density). But I don’t doubt this is coming in some future version of the device, and certainly it may make its debut in one of the laptops, where there would be only one sensor for every 4 or 6 screen pixels.

VGA is good enough for videoconferencing, but it’s barely 0.3MP when used as a camera. So it would still make sense to have the camera/screen facing the user and a higher-resolution camera on the back of the device. Two hi-res cameras, one on each side? Expensive. Moving cameras, twistable prism/mirror, zoom lens? Expensive and it would need moving parts… the iPhone is certainly a further design move towards having no moving parts at all, not even buttons if possible.

Speaking of moving parts, I’ve been told that practically everywhere it’s mandated that a phone’s SIM card be user-removable. I’ve checked the keynote and at the 39:20 mark Steve Jobs, discussing the top of the iPhone, says that there’s a “tray for the SIM card”. However, no opening, slot or door is visible. Sure, that might have been left out of the few prototypes – some reports say there are only a handful in existence. And the seam on the back of the device, between the black part and the metal, looks unusually wide; perhaps the phone slides apart there. If so, having a removable battery there would incur little extra cost, incidentally removing one of the objections that have been voiced.

In any event, much may change in the 5 months before the final model is in the stores, so I’d say both the doomsayers and the fanatics need to take a step back and relax for now.

Personally, I’m much more interested in the implications of “OS X” and the iPhone UI for Leopard. The zoom in/out gestures can now be seen as an evolution of the recently introduced control/scroll wheel zooming feature in Tiger. Couple that with higher pixel densitie, a fully resolution-independent interface and a larger trackpad on laptops (and perhaps a trackpad-like area on desktop keyboards or desktop mice?), and you’ll have easy zooming built into all versions of OS X/Leopard.

Still on the OS X topic, several people are swearing that the TV also runs OS X. While I’ve been unable to find any mention of this in either the keynote or Apple’s site, it would make sense. Unfortunately at the Apple booth at Macworld, people weren’t allowed to look at the configuration screen.

Messages from the future: iPhone unboxed. Also, from an idea of Peter Hirshberg‘s, Doc Searls wrote a news report from MacWorld 2008:

Apple introduces one-button iPhone Shuffle

The vast and adoring audience at Steve Jobs’ annual Macworld performance heaved a sigh of relief when the Apple CEO announced the radically minimal new iPhone Shuffle. The company’s first sub-$100 iPhone extends the iPhone line both a downprice and a downscale direction, beyond the $200 candy-bar-sized iPhone Nano, introduced last September.

When pressed, the iPhone Shuffle dials a random number from its phone book.

“Our research showed that people don’t care who they call as much as they care about being on the phone,” said Jobs. “We also found that most cell phone users hate routine, and prefer to be surprised. That’s just as true for people answering calls as it is for people making them. It’s much more liberating, and far more social, to call people at random than it is to call them deliberately.”


Jobs said in an interview that the iPhone is currently a closed system:

“You don’t want your phone to be an open platform,” meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider’s network, says Jobs. “You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn’t want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up.”

Makes sense, unfortunately. Still, I get the impression that selected applications may apply for inclusion providing Apple can verify them thoroughly. Hm.

Update: In another interview (registration required) he confirmed what I said above:

“You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers…

These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

This definitely mean’s there’ll be some sort of certification or verification program for selected third-party developers.

Let’s hope Apple has a non-cellphone, “OS X”-based tablet somewhere in the pipeline; that could be used as a development environment without spooking the cellphone providers, and selected/certified apps could then migrate to the iPhone…

Some updates in random order. No time to re-find URLs for them, sorry.

It seems pretty much certain that the iPhone (at least the prototype) uses an ARM processor. That said, much of the hardware – except that affected by the FCC certification process, not sure if that would include the “computer” parts – may still change in the next few months.

It’s now being said that Cingular isn’t helping Apple with iPhone pricing at all, meaning that those prices are the actual prices. Apple is supposed to handle support, too. I don’t know enough about cellphones to say much about that, but it strikes me as less restrictive than the usual abusive tie-ins.

Many people seem convinced the narrow black strip on the iPhone’s left side is a phone chip or SD card slot. It’s not. Now that I’ve finally watched the keynote, it’s clear (and Steve Jobs says so) that it’s the volume control. This means that the phone chip, and the battery, are built in. However, they should be replaceable with the same amount of care (read: a whole lot) as in the iPods.

Negotiations between Cisco/LinkSys and Apple about the iPhone seem to have broken down. Cisco says they’re suing, while Apple haven’t commented; but from all indications they seem to have decided that the Apple iPhone is sufficiently different from the LinkSys iPhone (which is a cordless/VoIP phone) that there should be no confusion. Apple seems to have entered an iPhone trademark request through a dummy company.

“OS X” seems to be a new generic term, with “Mac OS X” now being understood as “OS X for the Mac”. Makes sense. Birdies tell me the iPhone OS X (or whatever it’ll be called) has a different kernel, which would make sense if the ARM processor is used – embedded kernels should be very finely tuned to the hardware.

Phil Schiller is supposed to have confirmed that the iPhone will remain closed to third-party software. Some sources add the words “for now”. Apple ADC says people interested should contact them, which sort of confirms my theory that, for now, it’ll be invitation-only, like it is for iPod games.

Several reasons are being discussed for the closure. One, of course, is that Apple wants to ensure the UI quality of the system. Another one is that third-party software running on a cellphone must be isolated into a sandbox, to disallow them tampering with the phone hardware – disrupting US 911 systems or whatever. This is of course easier for phones that use Java apps, and it might be a reason for allowing only widgets on the iPhone. A third reason would be that releasing any developer kit might give away too much about the generic Leopard/OS X, which certainly isn’t beta-ready for now.

The new Airport Extreme now accepts any number of printers or hard drives over its USB port. meaning it’s a NAS server. I posted some months ago about inexpensive NAS being a necessity, and several such are being launched at CES, too. This ties in nicely to Time machine’s need for an external backup drive. Let’s hope it (or some future firmware for it) work with ZFS, too.

Nokia in an interview welcomed the iPhone competition. Curiously enough, a few days before they introduced a new cellphone while saying “this is a computer, not just a cellphone”. Maybe they’ll change their name to “Nokia Computer, Inc.”? icon_smile.gif

People are relearning in a hurry that the symbol can be typed (on my keyboard, at least) as shift-option-K; there’s no easy HTML equivalent though, so I had to make a new small image for showing it here. So, with the tv out, why didn’t they name it the phone…? Probably just to associate it with the iPod, a name they’d be ill-advised to change.

Hm. Did someone leak the iPhone design to LG? Or is it a case of “great minds think alike”? Not that you can say from just one photo…

Whew. Apple (formerly “Computer”) Inc. has managed to surprise almost everyone. Yesterday I sat up late reading comments and analyses, and there’s a bewildering array of information (and FUD) out there – and we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg yet.

First of all, there was no mention of the options issue, although Steve Jobs touched on it briefly in a TV interview afterwards, saying he was confident that it’s not an issue anymore. Investors seem to agree; AAPL stock soared over 7% during the day and gained a little more after hours. As the owner of a modest few shares, I’m very happy. Also, Jobs looked healthy and fit, and no mention was made of health issues or resigning/retiring, and we’ll hopefully hear no more of that. I guess he looked haggard lately because of all that secret twiddling away on the iPhone design…

My personal predictions didn’t fare well on the whole. Of course, like everybody I thought it’d be a Macworld (note lowercase “w”, sorry, must be some ReFlex to write “W” there) keynote, but it turned out to be an Appleworld keynote. So, no Mac news, no Leopard news, no iApps news, no .mac news. Except indirectly, which is of course also significant. Many people were disappointed with this, of course, and if I wanted to be superficial I could say so too; after all, here are two devices I’d never use myself (a phone and a weird TV interface thing), and my pet subjects weren’t even mentioned. A third device, the revamped Airport Extreme, didn’t rate a keynote mention; neither did the 24% price drop on the Airport Express; the general migration to 802.11n was glossed over very briefly.

On the software development front, there’s nothing new either; the only exception is a new document called “Introducing Dashcode“. No new Leopard seed.

So why all the uproar over a couple of consumer electronics items which should have been introduced at the neighboring circus, the CES? And where’s the Mac news?

I’m declaring myself disqualified to write much about the i, oops, AppleTV. As I’ve said before, I don’t watch TV much, and of course all the stuff like the iTunes store, or even PVRs, aren’t available here – and they’d probably sink fast if they depended on me as a customer – I don’t need or want to be “entertained” the whole day, or even at all when I’m home. To me the AppleTV looks like a huge non-portable iPod without a screen, and that’s it.

The iPhone looks a little more interesting, and I might even look into buying a second or third generation version of it. If it truly does have GPS, as some say (others say it uses less precise cellphone-based localization techniques), it will be very useful for trips. Even so, it remains to be seen how the service side of that will work out. Currently the iPhone is tied to a single service (Cingular), it won’t be out until middle of the year and the operating costs haven’t been disclosed, so it’s pretty much a limited-application, US-centric device, and will remain so until 2008 or even 2009. So I won’t talk much about the phone aspect either.

But when you look at the whole picture, it becomes much more interesting. If it were just a cellphone with a built-in iPod (or vice-versa), even Steve Jobs would have been hard put to spend nearly two hours demonstrating it. On the contrary, we really saw just the highlights, there was very little hard technical information, and the implications are far-reaching. Let me touch on some of those in no particular order.

The iPhone runs “OS X” (note the missing “Mac” in there). Yes, it’s an embedded version of Mac OS X, and it’s stripped-down to fit on the device. All the major stuff seems to be in there – generic application support (at least as far as Cocoa, WebKit and networking are concerned), high-end graphics support or a works-well-enough fake thereof, and of course a cutting-edge user interface. How much did they strip out? Details will have to wait until June, I’d say. Not even the exact processor type is known; people tell me an Intel processor was mentioned during the keynote, but Intel makes a huge range of embedded CPUs, ranging from legacy 80186s to brand-new Core 2 Duos. There’s also a huge range of supporting chipsets available. I suppose it uses an integrated GPU with some OpenGL support, but it needn’t be too powerful, since we’re talking about a comparatively tiny 320×480 screen here. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it used some as-yet-unreleased Intel chip.

Still on the hardware, the iPhone will come in 4GB and 8GB varieties. Of course they’re talking about the flash memory capacity here (or is it a tiny hard drive?), and no mention is made of built-in RAM and boot ROM. I suppose RAM needn’t be too large – 256MB sound good to me. For comparison, I believe the iPods have 32MB. The OS and the applications would be stored, probably in compressed form, along with the songs/pictures/videos, but it wouldn’t use more than 10% of that. As with the CPU, Apple has been careful not to talk about exact capacities.

So will Leopard be officially released as “OS X 10.5”? Well possible. It seems safe to say that the iPhone OS is some sort of “Leopard Lite”. The user interface looks like the Finder has been stripped out and Dashboard put in its place, with every widget running maximized (to coin a term icon_smile.gif). In fact, Steve Jobs showed that widgets are supported, which makes sense. Widgets run off JavaScript and WebKit, with lots of underlying Cocoa help, so they’re relatively lightweight. Even Safari and Mail could be turned into widgets once you put more direct support for their UI into Cocoa, so I presume that’s what Apple did. So is the recent release of the Dashcode beta a coincidence? Time will tell… for now, no word on whether Apple will allow random developers to do iPhone apps, or whether there’ll be an invitation-only selection process like they’re doing with iPod games. This year’s WWDC promises to be even huger than the last two, mark my words; I certainly intend to be there. Estimates of Leopard’s actual release date vary wildly from February to June, although April/May was my personal bet before the keynote; now, my feeling is Leopard and the iPhone will be released on the same day. Perhaps around the end of May; delivering early is part of the new Apple not-only-computer philosophy.

You’d think the rumors of a Tablet Mac would have died by now, but people are still calling for one. But the iPhone is sort of a Tablet Mac; I can well envision a second or third-generation device with a 9″ or 10″ screen, and a more mature gestural interface. This would need more advanced screen and battery technology than what we have on the market now, but next year it’ll be another story. Would Apple just turn the screen around on a MacBook and require users to use a stylus, or keep the current UI which is designed for a mouse+keyboard interface? Of course not; that’s why current Windows-based tablets remain a niche product. The new multi-touch UI looks just like what the doctor ordered.

My feeling is that the whole gestural interface, multi-touch screen, animation-centered philosophy will percolate back into mainstream OS X/Leopard and that what we’ve actually seen was a preview of one UI mode in Leopard; perhaps the Simple Finder/kiddie mode, at the very least the Dashboard interface. Why did the Finder seen at the WWDC Leopard preview look just like the ho-hum old one? Perhaps it’s destined to be an optional install for traditionalists. At this point I think we should try to extrapolate what the iPhone interface would look like on a large screen. Imagine the entire palm rest on a MacBook turned into a multi-touch interface. Optional keyboard? I doubt even Apple could pull that off, but it’s not impossible.

Looking back at Apple’s recent patent filings much of what we’ve seen was already revealed, especially the multi-touch part. Is the iPhone really made of that radio-transparent ceramic, and is that the secret of the supposedly smudge-free surface? If so, a larger tablet version is just a matter of time. One item which stayed in the labs was the screen-as-camera patent; that might be the reason the iPhone doesn’t (yet) have a second camera in front for video chatting.

No new iPods were announced for a good reason: the iPhone now is the high-end iPod. Look for future iPods, except for the screenless ones like the shuffle, to become iPhone Lites; at first in styling, later in hardware platform.

Regarding market share, Apple is looking for 1% of the global cellphone market next year, which seems to mean 10 million devices sold. However, as with the original iPod, that’s not the right point of view. The iPhone competes more with the current “smart” phones, of which 6.5 million were sold last year. Even supposing those figures don’t change, and nobody migrates to the iPhone, it still seems reasonable to assume Apple will capture half or more of that market. I suppose the competitors are already tearing their hair out at this point. Read Bill Gates’ CES keynote transcript just a day before for some chuckles:

…mobile phones. This is an area where we’ve made tremendous progress. This year we have some of the hottest selling phones in the marketplace, and the cool thing for me about those phones is it’s not just about phone calls, although we do that great, it’s not even just about e-mail, since that was the next round of things people wanted to be able to do, but it’s also about IMs, it’s about movies, it’s about TV, it’s about music, it’s about connected entertainment on my phone.

So the features we’re delivering in these exciting products are bringing that to market. If you think about Cingular’s Blackjack from Samsung, Cingular’s Treo from Palm, the T-Mobile Dash from HTC, and Verizon’s Motorola Q, those four alone are leading, cutting edge designs that are driving tremendous market share advances for Windows Mobile…

Talk about instant obsolescence…

I known there’s much more to talk about, but this post is already too long. The upside is, we’re looking at lots of “special events” over the next months, each (hopefullly) with its own little stock boost.

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