Replying to John Battelle

I replied to John Battelle’s question “Is Apple’s iWorld the Web”

If everyone at FOOcamp managed to mix up the AppStore and Apple’s congtibution to the open web so badly, it has me questioning who are these smart, eclectic people and who pays their salaries.

I am an ‘Apple person’. I have drunk of Windows (in about 8 flavours), Solaris, HP-UX, Ultrix, IRIX, Linux and BSD (and about a dozen of their popular WMs) and time and time again the only solutions which slake my thirst for both power and experience are ‘Designed in California by Apple’. This happened with the Mac, with Newton, with Mac OS X and most lately with iOS.

Be very clear, John, iOS is most definitely the best way to experience mobile and, with the iPad, I am committed to the hype that it is the best way to experience the web as a whole.

What your peers at FOOcamp seem to be conflating is the development and hosting platform (which will forever remain the domain of Mac, Windows, Linux etc) and the consumption platform. The needs of a developer cannot be met by these lovely lustworthy devices which pave the way for the industry to copy. But equally, we cannot forever expect our tech-illiterate cousins and grandparents to forever maintain a machine capable of advanced software development and multiple-core computation when they only want to surf the web for last minute holiday deals and funny pictures of turtles.

What I find most startling hover is how much power and credit you have given Apple. There are billions of devices out there. About a billion iPods and 100 million iOS devices. This is a tiny percentage of the market at large yet the media and your smart and eclectic peers waste so much breath on the underdog – and Apple still is the underdog – with so much unreasoning hatred.

You are giving Apple mindshare and heartshare where it lacks marketshare.

Sent from my iPad off the coast of Algiers (037.3127N, 002.4932E)


Just a quick heads up. Due to an impending vacation, this blog and my email address and twitter ID associated with it will be for all intents and purposes dead for the next two weeks. If you want to get in touch, try my email address. If you don’t know it then, tough tootie!

(of course there will be times when I’ll post surf and pick up stuff but don’t rely on emails from me being read or being replied to)

Going Live

LiveNet is a project by Mencap to help “children and adults with learning difficulties and their carers to use ICT to improve health and wellbeing, gain access to information, connect with their community and help achieve their full potential”

OpenLiveNet aims to involve the wider tech community in Northern Ireland in the production of some of these solutions by providing MenCap with some much needed technical expertise, some development muscle and to provide something of a “many hands” approach to the aims of the project as well as much needed awareness in the wider community.

What’s the end goal here?
The creation of user interfaces and software which are easily learned, provide meaningful feedback and can help provide an improved quality of life for individuals with learning difficulties and their carers. Such as (but not limited to) these:

  1. new models for web-based social network creation, interaction, identity and privacy
  2. mobile apps which will help with development of independence, communication and personal safety
  3. touchscreen applications to help with communication, creativity, learning

This project, plus my interest in the presentations by Jesse Schell at DICE 2010 and Jane McGonigal at TED were a primary influencer in my ideas for Alien Salvage. The company, which I announced a few days ago aims to create experiences which align with much of this – with the additional remit of compelling design for the wider community as well.

For OpenLiveNet we still need some technical experts and development and design brains to help shape the future. There is a commercial angle on this and savvy individuals will be able to see the opportunities here. If you’re interested, enter your details on the OpenLiveNet page or drop me a line.

The first meet-up I plan to hold in July if you’re interested.

Immersion in a device

I bought an iPad on April 17th

On May 24th, I sold the 64GB iPad to a friend for a little less than what I paid for it. He since bought two more iPads (one 3G). But I missed the iPad and couldn’t quite say why at first.

On further reflection, I realized that iPad offers fresh functionality: Immersion. I find there are fewer reading distractions, and content is better presented than on a laptop and browser. I’m more focused and retain more of what I read. For reasons not easily explained, I find myself more thoroughly reading iBooks than defaulting to the skimming I sometimes do with physical books. Part of this immersive experience is the technology, but also how iPad is used. Apple’s tablet is a sit down and focus device, as much because of size and shape as screen and user interface. The totality — physical design and software benefits — is immersion.
On June 10, I bought another 64GB iPad.
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iPhone. 4.

1. iPhone 4

It cannot be doubted that the new design for the iPhone is lovely. While some may prefer the curved aesthetics of the 3G/3GS, I preferred the flat back of the original iPhone and the iPhone 4 seems to hark back to that instantly recognisable design. The buttons are a welcome change from the rocker though I have to wonder who the + and – sign will appeal to (but more on that later). The fact the unit is thinner is not quite as amazing as some might make out – the 3Gs was curved and tapered towards the edges. When you eliminate some of that curve, then it’s not a considerable amount of space being removed – pretty standard for a year’s worth of development.

It’s a lovely design, surprisingly small and explains why the iPad fits so much battery into it’s design as they are, for the most part, the same hardware.

2. FaceTime

FaceTime is a curious beast. It runs over a normal cell call while (currently) routing the video data over WiFi which means that video-conference call over any distance will end up being pretty much the same as a normal voice call. Hopefully it will use your free minutes locally but it will also not be cheap calling internationally. I would hope that someone will take the FaceTime specification and make a compatible app that permits data-only calls. I have a feeling that with the reductions in cellular download limits and the statement from Skype that they’re going to be charging for Skype-Skype calls over 3G, we’re being nickel-and-dimed by our carriers and services.

Will I use FaceTime? It’s looking unlikely as I’m no longer sure who will have an iPhone 4 that I also want to have “face time” with?

3. Retina Display

This will be welcome as I do use my iPhone for reading eBooks – something I have not used the iPad for (bizarrely). Anything that improves the quality of the text is welcome but I’m also not going to stress out about it. It’s not what I’d consider a killer feature. The unit allegedly has a better graphics chip which is going to be needed to push those extra pixels and it shows that ‘iOS’ is moving towards resolution independence faster than the Mac.

4. Multitasking

One of the most demanded features and remaining one of the most controversial. Proper multi-tasking is only going to be enabled for Voice Over IP, Music Streaming Services and Location Service updates. While these are indeed awesome, I would have also included a voice recording option as well. Being able to record a meeting while doing something else is an extremely useful feature and some apps, like Audiotorium, really need it – I would assume there are some VoIP supporting features which could enable this. The other multitasking bits and pieces, like local notifications and ‘background task completion’ offer 95% of what people really want with multi-tasking.

All in all, I welcome our new multi-tasking masters.

5. HD Video Recording

The camera in the iPhone 4 is meant to be much better but I still have one serious issue with the camera in the iPhone and that’s the soft-button for taking pictures. This is a pain in the butt especially when there are three buttons on the device in almost the right place which are all unused when taking pictures.

iPhone Camera Softbutton Unused buttons

Would it be too much to ask that while the Camera app is running to make those useless buttons actually do something? Like control zoom or maybe take the picture? At the moment I feel like I need three hands to work the iPhone camera – two to hold it, one to actually take the shot. And god forbid you should want to take a picture of yourself (while in a bar, late at night, with drunk friends), it just makes life difficult managing that soft-button.

What else is notable?

The storage is the same as the 3GS. 16 or 32 GB versions. It seems odd they didn’t upgrade to 64 GB but I think it’s because they’re finding that in iPod touch and iPad, people are trending towards the 32 GB version anyway. It seems to be some sort of in-pocket-storage sweet spot. Google and HTC should take note.

It’s rumoured that the iPhone 4 has 512 MB RAM rather than the 256 MB RAM found in the 3GS and iPad. That’s going to make a difference for Safari which often has a forced reload when using some memory-hungry pages.

Also, the range of acceptable frequencies is interesting. Compare the 3GS to the iPhone 4. I have no idea what this means (though I entertained the idea that the iPhone 4 would support 3G service on T-Mobile USA opening the door to another GSM carrier in the US but it seems to be more related to Band VIII (W-CDMA 900) in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Venezuela. I’m no specialist when it comes to mobile telecoms obviously but that one little item of difference looks like it’s been added to increase worldwide compatibility. I can’t see the iPhone breaking away from AT&T soon (and it’s been said many times that Sprint/Verizon would not have such a good network with 20 million iPhone users on it).

iPhone 3GS iPhone 4
UMTS/HSDPA 850, 1900, 2100 MHz 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz
GSM/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz

There’s some more stuff but it’s all NDA’ed at the moment and I’ve not seen anyone else talking about it. So I won’t.

Pre-order starts today for the iPhone 4 but rumours indicate that the white model is going to be severely constrained. As I leave in three days for my family holiday and won’t be back until July, I won’t be pre-ordering even though I do see an iPhone 4 in my future. Arlene, in contrast, doesn’t find it desirable – but this is something she has dithered about over the previous 3 generations on iPhone and I reckon this will be the same. It’s a solid upgrade and it’s interesting what they chose to concentrate on. There’s no real difference in the hardware ‘features’ and someone will always think another phone is better because it has an FM radio or a built-in TV receiver but those sorts of niche features don’t remotely interest me.

Are you planning to get the new iPhone 4?

The State of the Union

“The ancient Greeks did not write obituaries, instead they asked only one question of a man (or a woman): ‘Did he have passion?’ – Serendipity

It was pointed out to me recently that I’m not currently practising what I preach. The exact words were to “walk the walk while you’re talking the talk”. This was not always the case.

I started Crucible Design in 1996, prepped Cimota as a IT consultancy in 2002 (it was my original exit plan from Nortel), started Mac-Sys in 2003 and started Infurious in 2005. I still do a little for Crucible Design (via Lategaming – just book sales and the very occasional blog post) and I still own Mac-Sys. Cimota morphed into this blog and I resigned from Infurious last year due to a conflict of interest.

The Now
I currently work as the “Network Facilitator” for Digital Circle, an ERDF-funded collaborative network developed by InvestNI. It’s work that I enjoy, that I find challenging and that I think has some lasting value.
My Digital Circle contract ends in March 2011 so I’m now with little over 9 months to figure out what to do next. It’s not clear that Digital Circle’s funding will be renewed (due to reduced budgets in Northern Ireland) and it’s also not clear to me if the real time benefits of my work in Digital Circle really have the economic impact necessary to support the funded activities. [1]

The Next Thing
This is a tough one. I have big dreams and I know I can’t do all of them. I’d like to put together a user experience consultancy because I’ve been a UI/UX bigot since I first studied Human Computer Interaction at the University of Ulster, Jordanstown back in about 1995. I’d like to pursue my interests in Augmented Reality and Alternate Reality Games. I’d like to work in ‘gamifying’ mobile Healthcare and e-Learning because I find the subjects fascinating. I like working with groups of developers around projects like Open Data because I enjoy the potential benefits to the wider society. I have considered politics and also attempting to form a ‘think tank’ policy organisation for technology and media – both roles I think I could do well.

I have also considered changing tack and getting out of the technology space and that’s what prompts this musing and considerations. I am resigned to the fact that I will never have the time nor the attention span to devote to becoming a programmer (that is assuming I even have the talent or intelligence) and develop wondrous concepts for the iPhone and iPad, devices which have fired my imagination for over three years now. I think the most compelling career in the western world must be that of a software developer. These talented individuals are literally making the stuff of dreams on touchscreen devices and I am frustrated at how little of it sticks in my head. At WWDC this week I cannot count the number of times I have been inspired and then been frustrated that I cannot create these works of art which I dream about. I instead spend my time giving ideas away to startups and developers who cross my path. My work has been very enjoyable in many ways and this blog, though sometimes controversial, has provided a lot of catharsis along the way (and it is obvious that I write for me, not for others as I honestly have no idea if anyone reads it). Doing this work is not without its perils: being out in public can make you a target. And that causes the stress and uncertainty that one would expect. In all it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

I have to wonder what it is that I really enjoy, what is my passion.

Opportunity exists in many shapes and forms and the philosophy espoused around ‘passion’ comes from Aristippean philosophy:

Aristippus propounded a philosophy that was based upon the human reaction to pleasure and pain through sensation of the world. Pleasure, he thought, was the test of right perception, while pain was the warning of error. It was the goal of every man to seek pleasure and to avoid pain, and human understanding of the good was directed by the correcting influential sensations of pleasure and pain. Thus, men should seek what is pleasurable and thereby learn what is good. For Aristippus, this would lead to right moral behavior, as wrong behavior would inevitably bring about pain, while right behavior would result in pleasure. For some later Cyrenaics, and for the Aesthetes, this could be interpreted as advocacy for heightened sensual experience. And, as every man was the judge of his own sensations and had his own peculiar natural tendencies and gifts, each man would tend to find this heightened experience in the cultivation of his passions, for they were expressions of his basic nature. The goal, then, was to “Know thyself,” since that was all that could be known.

In this development of the Cyrenaic philosophy, the passion is the personal, internally generated, inherent urge of the individual, which finds satisfaction when pleasure is achieved.

If a person has no passion, then he has failed to identify this most important part of his own being.

As opposed to chasing ‘pleasure’, I interpret (much as the Serendipity screenwriter did) that pleasure comes from pursuing your passions.

As I have responsibilities, I must turn my consideration to what to do next. It would be unwise in the extreme to gamble on the project being renewed in the current economic climate and therefore I have to put in place some plans in the event that I am not able (or perhaps even willing) to continue in my current role. Which of my many and varied passions would I follow and which would give me the most pleasure and, perhaps more importantly, which would keep a roof over my head.

I welcome thoughts, observations and criticism.

[1] Economic impact in this sense is a measure which is made up of statements from individuals and companies who have received some benefit in the activities of Digital Circle. It’s difficult to get this kind of validation from the digital media industry which is a constant source of frustration, not only for me but also for the teams who lobbied for and pieced together the project. Click to return

Why the iPhone still is #1 for business

At DevDays last week, Dermot Daly replied to a question about ‘other mobile platforms’ by saying that the amount of money changing hands on iPhone is enough for most people to consider but the important point is that the falloff in money when you go to other platforms is so severe that they’re not work considering yet unless you already have a customer who’s willing to pay for the effort i.e. if there’s not enough money in iPhone then there’s definitely not enough money in any other platform.

But you also have to look at the engagement. Hyper-local review site Yelp state they have 32 million unique visitors from all sources and only 1.4 million of them were iPhone users which sounds tiny. But those 1.4 million users were responsible for 27% of Yelp searches, they make calls to businesses once every 5 seconds and nearly a million people used Yelp’s iPhone app to find directions to businesses in May.

So aim for deep engagement, aim for people to carry you around in their pocket, make it easy for people to use you and they will use you.