When the iPhone was introduced in 2006 it was presented as three revolutionary devices in one: an iPod, a Phone, and an Internet Communicator. These functions have since grown, and blurred, to mean media device, communication device, and information access device.
This was indeed revolutionary, a remarkably effective and intuitive convergence of key functions. And while the included camera was arguably a fourth important function, at the time it was not revolutionary, with mobile phone cameras already ubiquitous.
But with the continual improvement of small sensor camera technology and accompanying software and interface development, the smartphone camera has become revolutionary, obviating the need for a traditional camera for the vast majority of consumers. This initially secondary function has become a key element in defining the iPhone as a truly convergent device.
As declining camera sales clearly reflect, the smartphone camera is indeed killing the point and shoot market, and even impacting the DSLR market. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one that you have with you, and that is always the one on the phone in your pocket.
This trend will continue as phone camera quality improves with each generation, there being an inverse relationship between phone camera quality and discrete camera sales. At a certain point for each user, the iPhone camera became, or will likely soon become, good enough. For me, that point was with the iPhone 5, the unparalleled convenience and connectivity simply outweighed any image quality advantage of a dedicated camera in nearly every case.
And of course, this utility is renewable, with each bi-yearly device upgrade guaranteeing cutting edge capability. This capability, convenience, and utility, in the hands millions of iPhone users, is truly a remarkable feat of convergence
Additional content channels are slowly but surely appearing on the Apple TV. As others have pointed out these channels are likely being developed by the content providers themselves. This 'invitation only' SDK for content providers is a logical step, a move toward the creation of an ecosystem but short of a full public SDK that at this point seems premature.
The popularity of the Apple TV increased dramatically as the device metamorphosized from a 299 device with on board storage to a 99 streaming box. I expect the 99 price point to remain, along with the inherent processor and storage limitations, and basic interface paradigms.
For the near future, I think the Apple TV will remain effectively as-is. Any open SDK would surely encompass gaming, and any dual screen (iPhone and TV) or gesture recognition solution seems inelegant and unlikely. I can see the case for a whole-hog iTV, a dramatically simplified no-box solution with integral FaceTime, killer audio, and big screen gaming. But for now, I think the current Apple TV will remain and it's development will follow along the current trajectory.
But as the number of content channels expands the existing remote interfaces feels increasingly tedious and limiting, the lack of a global search function increasingly glaring.
The fundamental interface question is focus - eyes on screen or eyes on remote. Via simple directional and hierarchical physical buttons, the click remote allows user focus to remain entirely on screen, a quintessential element of at least the traditional the living room experience. But the current iOS remote interface seems an opportunity squandered—easy keyboard access a poor trade-off for the elimination of orienting physical controls, occasionally requiring a glance down to a nearly blank device screen in hand.
There has been speculation of a new class of touchscreen remote, something the size of an iPod Nano. I don't see the case for this. This would suggest some type of on remote interface, but given the limited screen size this would surely be a tedious experience. Concerns of cost and convenience seem to eliminate any remaining appeal (does anyone want a dedicated single use device that they need to charge regularly?). The iPod Nano is a backward looking concession to a faded market. I don't see Apple introducing a new touchscreen device that offers a poorer experience than an iPhone or iPad. The interface is best on the big screen and/ or on the iOS device that you (most likely) already have.
The current paradigm of included click remote and expanded control via iOS app works, and ensures that the $99 price point can remain. But if is Apple is serious about voice recognition, Siri, in combination with global search would be a boon to content discovery and selection.
If technical limitations (primarily batter life, and to a lesser extent cost) can be overcome, voice control via a low power Bluetooth click remote would allow far more control without added complexity and allow focus to remain entirely on screen. Conversely, an enriched iOS app experience, something similar to the iTunes or App store interfaces and allowing similar fine grained levels of control, would allow expanded control via an on remote interface, the big screen remaining dedicated to content. Siri would also play a part here.
These two methods of control could coexist, expanding the baseline level of control while providing a new but familiar iOS interface, all while maintaining existing price points.
Cameras as surveillance devices have been around for quite sometime. But since the mobile device market has erupted in the last five years, many new startups have been building cameras as wireless accessories to mobile apps. Webcams, like the original iSight, were large and bulky objects compared to the almost invisible FaceTime camera's on newer iMacs, MacBooks and iOS devices of today. While companies like Dropcam and Withings have been selling stand alone webcam hardware, coupled with web and mobile apps for viewing your streams online, its seems that there is a potential convergence of existing hardware and specialized software that can be beneficial to users, as well as create effective business models for these startups.
Being a first time parent and a little obsessive about new technology, I have invested in two Dropcam devices. Having started with the first one in the living room, I decided to buy a second one for the bedroom to maximize coverage of the apartment. With my obsessive surveillance on their website dashboard and free iOS app, I realized that the entry/foyer/study/corridor/vestibule between the living room and bedroom lacked coverage.
Despite moving the cameras around a bit to maximize coverage, I concluded that I needed another Dropcam on my desk, next to my iMac in the vestibule. However, this third camera however would have set me back another $150. After spending $300 on two devices, I wasn't sure if I wanted to be this heavily invested in one company's hardware. Noticing the almost invisible FaceTime camera on my iMac, I wondered, what if…?
Dropcam provides a free app to view security streams, but could they build an app to use the idle camera on your home computer as a Dropcam device? This could be a very cost effective solution for the end user, and a compelling addition to the Dropcam ecosystem. There are apps available where this is already possible, although Dropcam could likely provide a comprehensive solution by coupling their stand alone hardware with the capability of existing products into a unified surveillance dashboard. Dropcam may have already considered this approach, but as a customer, I would welcome the option.
Based on video previews of Windows 8.1, I recently wrote a short piece on the newly added Wallpaper Persistence and it's effect in organizing and spatializing the OS.
Now, having used the update for some time, it's clear that this effect is even more apparent—and important, than it seemed at first blush.
By allowing boot directly to the desktop, the desktop itself now truly appears as the base layer, the space in which all OS elements live. Desktop icons are, as they have always been, above the desktop.
The tiled Modern UI now also effectively functions as a desktop overlay (as I had always thought it should). Desktop icons simply disappear when the Modern UI is triggered, a simple and effective solution. Desktop icons and windows, as well as the tiled Modern UI start menu, are now effectively hierarchically equal, side by side overlays, as opposed to hierarchically ambiguous, separate UI's as they were in Windows 8.
When a Modern UI applications is launched an animation is triggered in which the tile flips outward and expands to fill the screen, suggesting that Modern UI applications live in a another layer above the tiled Start Menu. This does help maintain orientation, but the connection here is fleeting.
Notification overlays (low battery, Windows Update, etc.) work as well as they always have, the horizontal stripe making it intuitively clear that action needs to be taken before proceeding. This recalls the experience of unwrapping a well packaged garment, where you must remove the cardstock band to access the item inside.
Additionally, Modern UI apps still feel significantly overscaled on a large external monitor (My real world use of Windows 8, and 8.1 has almost exclusively been on a 24" 16:10 monitor). Defining a max Y height could improve the experience, focusing content toward the center of the screen vertically, while reducing certain elements (images, body text, etc).
I expect that Modern UI apps are not seeing heavy use on laptops and even less on desktops. Combined with Surface RT's slow sales (and Windows tablet sales as a whole?), Modern UI apps are likely not gaining the screen time that Microsoft had hoped. The strategy of a hybrid OS, leveraging the existing Windows user base to promote exposure to and development of Modern UI apps, may be failing. Lack of users begets lack of developers begets lack of users, ad infinitum. Improving the experience of Modern UI apps at larger screen sizes is a necessary step to reverse this trend.
Apple has always been an organization with a point of view, an organization with a philosophy about the products that they produce and the experiences that those products impart. With the previewed design of the new Mac Pro I believe that there is one guiding philosophical approach at work—lightness.
Lightness has long been a hardware pursuit at Apple, with each generation doing more with less, more simply, and more intuitively. Each generation of device has been lightened and focused, extraneous and outdated elements purged, unnecessary details eliminated. iPod leads to iPod Mini leads to iPod Nano. Accessible battery with meter (button and LED's) leads to sealed battery with meter leads to sealed battery without meter.
Each change moves a step closer toward the ideal device, the device that recedes and integrates, leaving only it's essential function. At first these changes are uncomfortable—progress generally is.
Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent, and more polarizing, than in the design of the new Mac Pro. The product is an answer to a question that no one asked; how do you make a powerful workstation as small as possible? And more importantly, why make a workstation as small as possible.
Even in a desktop computer, there are tangible benefits to reduced size; reduced expansion leads to reduced product size leads to reduced material costs, reduced packaging size, reduced warehousing and distribution costs, and reduced environmental impact—doing more with less.
But these reductions require trade-offs, trade-offs that to many users will not make practical sense at first, and to some will never make sense. But in the relentless pursuit of lightness these trade-offs seem obvious, even inevitable.
Time will tell if these trade offs are prescient, overly ambitious, or a misstep (this is certainly Apple's lowest risk product line with which to experiment). But as history has proven, the most influential products are often answers to questions that no one asked.
The transition between the desktop and tiled environment in Windows 8 is a full-screen state change. Visual elements are unique to each, creating a transition that is jarring and disorienting.
As seen in this Windows 8.1 preview from Microsoft however, an incredibly simple and seemingly effective solution has been introduced; persistent wallpaper. By allowing the use of identical wallpaper in both the tiled and desktop environments, elements in each now inhabit the same virtual space suggested by the wallpaper image.
This simple change introduces a hierarchy to the OS and adds an orienting sense of depth; desktop and tiled elements alike now appear above the same wallpaper.
Of course, the preview video shows an utterly clean desktop, devoid of any icons or open windows. But nonetheless, persistent wallpaper can only be seen as a usability improvement to an inherently conflicted and complex operating system.
Source: WindowsVideos YouTube Channel
The Surface tablet was a significant step for Microsoft, a meaningful shift to the company's business model, a genuinely innovative form factor, and at least in terms of hardware design, impressively well executed. But Surface is flawed....for my use it's just too large for a tablet and too small for a laptop.Read More
Stepping out last weekend on what seemed like a sunny spring day, I dressed light and encountered windy New York streets, overcast in the shadows of high-rises. As I crossed the streets for a few sunny rays to warm me up, I thought, I needed a weather app that understands my behaviors and preferences. Not the temperature, not the wind speeds, not the percentage of rain or shine. There is an entire category in the App Store for weather apps telling you pretty much the same thing.
I use a handful of these apps through out the day. Check the Weather, Today, Dark Sky and most recently Forecast. They all have some usefulness. Check the Weather and Today have similar functionality. Dark Sky, and its sister web app Forecast, offer great inclement weather predictions but mostly just present significant amounts of data through nice animations. Siri, with Yahoo's weather data, makes an attempt to answer "Do I need an umbrella?" Swackett makes a recommendation and tells me what kind of jacket or hat to wear, or that I should grab my sunglasses on the way out, but seems to be more interested in selling me different clothing styles and ads (admittedly an interesting revenue model).
What I need is an app that asks what the weather is like for me, and learns from my responses. Is it chilly? Did I wear a scarf? Did I use my umbrella? These questions can be asked based on the hyperlocal weather at my location. As it learns over time, the app could suggest what I should wear based on my past behaviors. It may not get it right the next time I step out on a deceivingly sunny but chilly day in New York, but whats most important is that its learning what's best for me, rather than simply repackaging commonly available weather data. What about the missing data....me!