My Tea Leaves Weren’t Completely Off

Three years ago (almost to the day) I declared that Apple’s relationship with AT&T was a hedge on Apple’s part – a way to get the iPhone to market while nationwide unlicensed spectrum becomes more stable.

While we have yet to see the large-scale benefits of our unlicensed spectrum, I’m relieved to read that – according to Wired – my tea leaves were correct.

“Jobs wanted to replace carriers completely instead using the unlicensed spectrum that Wi-Fi operates on for his phone.” – Christina Bonnington, Wired Gadget Lab

I’ve still a long bet on WiFi and unlicensed spectrum as our primary telephony channel.

Today, I see Republic Wireless‘s $19/mn unlimited everything plan as the major drive in mobile WiFi-telephony.

Restored: No Longer an iPad and iPod Touch Owner

Somewhere around 2004, I remember writing a post [1] about how I saw the need for more ‘internet-enabled’ applications. Essentially – software applications native to a desktop or laptop computer that sends and receives internet-based data. A simple example of this in the Mac world is Mail.app, or Adium, or Tweetie.

At the time I wrote the post, the wins seemed obvious to me;

  • local storage keeps information available even without an internet connection
  • local computing performance is always faster than server-based computing + network latency
  • a local application conserves bandwidth by transferring fewer and smaller assets, rather than entire web pages.

Still today, my workflow primarily consists of interactions with applications that live natively on my MacBook Pro and interact with assets on some server; Mail.app, Adium, TextMate, Sequel Pro, Quicksilver, Calibre, Skype. Web browsers are where I check things, confirm things, identify things. It’s not where I live and work.

So, I was a little surprised when I realized I rarely use any of the more than 2 dozen applications I’ve downloaded for the iPod Touch and iPad. And given a few quiet, idle moments the ones I had any interest in re-opening had some issue – Netflix asked for a password I didn’t have, iBooks nor Kindle had the book I wanted to read, and Music didn’t sync the songs I wanted, and Movies/Video didn’t sync over any video I was in the mood for. In the end I opened up the web browser.

This realization reinforced a sense of stuck and suck I’ve increasingly had with the iPod Touch, iPad, and Apple’s management of their iOS platform.

In that moment, I aborted my ongoing experiments with the iPad and decided to sell it. A sale I completed today.

As I was restoring the iPad to sell, I did the same review of the iPod Touch – noticing the bulk of my satisfying interactions were via its browser – I clicked ‘Restore’ [2].

Yes, this means I am currently sans portable digital media player, address book, calendar, etc [3].

I’ve taken a cursory look around for a new mp3 player – and the Sony Walkmans sound quite promising. Also, the more I investigate, the more the Nokia N900 seems like a really solid all-around device – even comes with Skype pre-installed. Though Nokia’s Ovi app market isn’t as mature as Apple’s App Store or the Android Market – I think I’ll be OK – the default browser is Firefox Mobile.

Add in something like a PogoPlug or TonidoPlug at the home base and the VirginMobile MiFi in my pocket and I’ll have browser-based access to my files and media.

No syncing. No apps. No missing something.

And no longer feeling restricted to Apple’s iOS universe – I feel restored.

Update 21 August 2010.
The most likely iTunes-replacement: Instinctiv. Super minimalist. Reads the pre-existing iTunes library. I love it. And that was before I noticed it’s in the Nokia Ovi store.

Elsewhere:

“My app library–littered with exactly 87 apps I used once and never touched again–now reminds me of a graveyard of defunct company logos from the dot com boom.” – Aaron Shapiro


1. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my archives or in Google – it may be lost to history.
2. It’s now syncing against Jen’s iTunes.
3. It also means I’m reviewing both Songbird and DoubleTwist as a replacement for iTunes.

What if You Forced Apple into the App Store?


The Architecture of Reassurance

If you’ll recall, back when the iPhone was first released, Steve Jobs declared the best way to build apps for it was to build websites.

To which John Gruber replied:

“If all you have to offer is a shit sandwich, just say it. Don’t tell us how lucky we are and that it’s going to taste delicious.”

Since then, Apple released the App Store, an iPhone Developers SDK, and has made “there’s an app for that” so popular it became its own meme.

And despite Apple’s restrictions – the $99 Developer registration fee, faxing your business incorporation agreements to sell as a business, only using Objective-C and Apple development tools, Apple needs to accept your app & subsequent updates – there’s huge demand for building native applications in the iPhone.

But there’s big money to be made selling native apps! Well, maybe [1].

All of Apple’s restrictions are disincentives to build native apps.

And I’m confident Apple knows it and is encouraging it.

If you’ve spent enough time within the iPhone (or iPad, iPod Touch) you’ll notice some very interesting inconsistencies between how native apps behave (especially Apple’s own) in contrast to Safari. Inconsistencies that make me think Apple would still prefer you just built web sites.

The biggest example:

  1. Load up a web page within Safari
  2. Click ‘+’
  3. Now click ‘Add to Home Screen’

You just put an item (a web page) that lives in Safari on your iPhone’s home screen.

If the web site publisher included <meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" /> in the header of the web page, it will display full-screen when you click it. Just like a native app.

Now, load up Music, Videos, Photos, Mail, or Maps and figure out how to put one of the items on your home screen.

Yeah, weird, huh?

Makes complete makes sense if Steve Jobs is true to his word – the best app for the iPhone is web-based one rather than native.

There’s no downside to releasing an SDK with all its restrictions and taking developers’ money. At worst Objective-C receives more attention, few more Macs are sold as development boxes, and the membership fees pay to keep Apple’s crazy restrictions in place.

Notice as well, that Apple still permits Javascript-based apps in their App Store.

It’s like we can’t take a hint.


1. In a recent survey of 100 iPhone developers:


33% earned of less than $250
52% earned less than $15,000
2%, $15,001-$50,000
1%, $50,001-$100,000
1%, $100,001-$250,000
1%, $500,001-$2,000,000

“But app developers want to make money, and Apple benefits most when they don’t. – Andrew Benton”

“Half of all [iPhone] developers will earn less than $682 per year.” – Tomi T Ahonen

In fact – Apple benefits from little to no app sales in the same way Google benefits from little to no AdWords clicks – no need to pay out.

Elsewhere:

“Apple is trapped by their original decision to shoulder the cost of free apps. They encouraged free apps and now they’ve got one band-aid on top of another — advertisements, in-app purchase, subscriptions — all trying to make free apps work for the App Store bottom line. ” – Manton Reece

Safari is Apple’s Middleware

“And, obviously, such a meta-platform would be out of Apple’s control. Consider a world where some other company’s cross-platform toolkit proved wildly popular. Then Apple releases major new features to iPhone OS, and that other company’s toolkit is slow to adopt them.” – John Gruber

Substitute “toolkit” for “website”. Now, remember when Jobs proudly announced:

“you can write great apps for the iPhone: they’re called ‘web sites’”

Giles Bowkett sums the situation up nicely:

“Geeks control the Internet because geeks built the Internet. We earned the freedom we have here. We earned it by creating something incredibly valuable and sharing it with millions and millions of people. What did we earn with the App Store? Did we build the App Store? Did we write iPhone OS? Did we design the groundbreaking hardware? Or are we just customers?…If geeks want the power to make any kind of decision in this situation, they need to get off their lazy asses and stop imagining that the world owes them a favor” – Giles Bowkett

The Apple iPad is an Ambient Information Device

Update 26 May 2010.
Video proof of my position.

iPad + Velcro from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

The keyboard + dock for my iPad arrived today – which marks what I’m considering the start of my actual evaluation of the device’s strengths.

The Apple iPad is quite comfortable in the dock, and both sit quite comfortably in the corner of my desk.

For a while, I had it play through my photo library. Then I let it sit on today’s view in the calendar. I found myself wanting to flip the faux pages in the Calendar. And more generally, I wanted to flip from photo slideshow to Calendar to Weather Station and back.

Overall, It felt quite comfortable in the corner of my eye, quietly reminding me where the day was at.

Like the clock on the wall and the thermometer out the window.

The iPad is an ambient information device. It’s not a competitor to laptops – it’s a competitor to the Ambient Orb the Chumby [1], and digital picture frames.

As has been discussed everywhere else, while scrolling through Google Maps on the iPad is a joy, more precise input isn’t. Reaching to the touchscreen then back to the physical keyboard is a flow killer. Ironically, when I set myself in front of the iPad to type, it felt like typing on a manual typewriter. Intimate and error prone.

With this in mind, the question is – what kind of apps and websites does the iPad bias?

Those presenting at-a-glance changes in data. Think of high resolution Dashboard widgets, like the ones Edward Tufte describes for the iPhone.

Today, we have iPad-compatible websites.

Tomorrow, with web sockets – we’ll see more websites like the Panic’s Status Board or Cultured Code’s Development Arrival board. A single page, continually updated, information dense, and communicates at-a-glance.

Extrapolating all the way out on this line – video, movies.

But unlike television – I don’t think the iPad actually wants to be continuously engaged with you [2]. If there’s any benefit to the limited capability of this first release – it’s that you should get back to work and the iPad is good with you doing so.

No worries, It’ll be there when you need to know what time it is.

Comparing the iPad to a wall clock also explains why a) it’s not redundant to have both an iPad and an iPhone and b) why traveling with the iPad is a little silly.

ELSEWHERE

“The iPad looks and feels like a massive photo frame—and that’s how you should design for it.” – InformationArchitects.jp

  1. The Chumby prefers Adobe Flash-base apps.
  2. Amazon’s Kindle rewards a lengthy, continuous engagement.

I’d like to suggest Apple license ‘Frustration Free Packaging’ from Amazon. Just like they did w/ 1-Click Checkout.

Apple iPad – First Impressions

My iPad arrived on Saturday, and as I mentioned in my iPad Prediction post – the Apple iPad does feel like the third attempt at Apple TV. And like all third installments of sequels – it continually risks becoming a parody of itself.

Since the iPad is a member of the iPod family of products (including iPhone & Apple TV) it is tethered to iTunes. The first thing my iPad asked for was to be connected to iTunes. This means the iPad will always be a peripheral – never a first-class, stand-alone computing citizen. This inherently makes a very powerful technology suddenly less useful than any laptop, Amazon’s Kindle, or a portable DVD player. It also provides a clear path for competitive devices. Even in the universe of the computing peripherals – the iPad’s intended use is closer to a wireless printer than a Wacom Tablet.

“iTunes is a crazy way to connect something as powerful as this device to local resources. A nightmare. Whoever thought up this way of doing things hates users” – Dave Winer

When I pre-ordered the iPad, I hypothesized that the Hackintosh‘s days were numbered. As soon as I saw Jen importing and uploading photos from the digital camera to Facebook, I knew I was wrong. While a tablet computer would be great for that – I just listed 3 things the iPad doesn’t do.

The iPad-as-Kindle-killer is complete nonsense. The Amazon Kindle still owns the physical ebook reader niche. The iPad is twice as heavy as the Kindle (24 oz vs. 10 oz) and more than 2 inches wider (7.5 vs 5.3). These differences mean the iPad can’t be comfortably held and used with the same hand 1.

” [iPad] is still large and not portable by any stretch of the imagination. You won’t be grabbing for your iPad every time you’re headed out.” – Adam Kmiec

The iPad’s screen is worthless in the sun. Hell – the iBooks application isn’t even installed by default. Once installed the iBooks’ wooden-bookshelf-as-UI is a hint that reading an ebook won’t be at enhanced by the iPad’s computing power and digital capabilities.

Just a book.

With pages.

The iBooks app doesn’t even support annotation – unlike the Kindle for iPad app.

I don’t get the sense that Amazon is concerned – their acquisition of Lexcycle gave them eBook readers on 5 platforms and they seem more interested in providing access to digital libraries than worrying about the merits of specific devices.

Personally, I’m much more interested to see web-native offerings like the ibis reader and Monocle take off. This is partly because the majority my eBook library (like my mp3 library) isn’t sold in stores – so it’s not accessible in the Kindle app nor iBooks app and partly because I think there’s lots of interesting things that can be done with ebooks & ebook readers that I’m not seeing yet.

“The book of the future is already here. It’s been here for about 15 years. It’s called The Web.” – David Weinberger

Like the eBooks app, the UIs of the Calendar app, Contacts app, and Notes app all contain the lamest, and most useless aspects of their real-world counterparts (Calendar is a book, Contacts has bookbinding stitching down the middle of the screen, and Notes has torn pages in fake leather folio with side pocket).

It’d be one thing if these apps didn’t have digital buttons throughout the faux physical UI – but they do. Reminds me of a time when TVs were covered in wood paneling. It reminds me of a paper I wrote in college on how plastics were first used to emulate other materials because the fabricators didn’t know anything else. It remind me of Microsoft Bob. God, it reminds me that the iPad, like the iPod Invisa is a parody of the iPod.

That’s all before anything is clicked to cause a giant digital keyboard to slide up and cover half the screen.

“Despite being faithfully designed to look and work like a real-world object, the Calculator app hasn’t made any progress. It hasn’t advanced technology. It hasn’t made anything more useful or created new interaction models.” – Marco Arment

Also like the eBooks app – I expected iWork-for-the-iPad to be installed default – or at least heavily promoted in the setup and experience – not at all. It makes me think Apple doesn’t believe this is anything more than a really big iPod Touch – with a slightly more usable keyboard and better web experience.

Yes, the normal web in Safari looks fantastic in the iPad. So much better than the iPhone. Highlighting my position that – generally speaking – web apps provide a much better experience on the iPad (and iPhone) than native apps. Even without @font-face support, the iPad highlights how typographically poor most websites are – a noisy jumble of tiny type and randomly arranged imagery, not optimized for reading on any device. Even so – the Web is a more consist and fulfilling experience than the iPad app store. Which feels not unlike an Apple retail store – if you don’t know why you’re there, you won’t find anything and you’ll be surprised at the price.

While I’ve already said the iPad won’t replace the Kindle – what do I see the iPad replacing?

The DVD entertainment systems inside minivans, the desktops & handhelds & paper forms around the neighborhood clinic. If ‘genetic technicians’ still drive between farms in rural America inseminating cattle – I can see the iPad replacing the pinhole-ridden plat map riding shot gun. With the right app, I can see the iPad replacing point-of-sale systems in boutique retail shops (like sales/service oriented ones like salons and auto sales). Less eBooks – more ePaperwork.

For me, I’ve had this vision of a device just outside my peripheral vision that would cycle through my favorite photos & images from iPhoto, provide an at-a-glance view of what my daily schedule looks like, something I can watch PeepCode screencasts on while writing code, watch Netflix or TED in the backyard, etc. This notion of a glorified digital picture frame is how I imagine the iPad will fit into my world – I’ll know once the dock arrives.

Lastly, the iPad started me on a re-work of my home network to make everything (files, media, ebooks, etc) accessible in the wherever I am and whatever device I’m using.

“So I see the iPad as a Bizarro Trojan Horse. Instead of importing soldiers into the kingdom to break down its walls, in this horse, we, the people, are stuffed inside and wheeled into the old walls; the gate is shut and we’re welcomed back into the kingdom of controlling media that we left almost a generation ago.” – Jeff Jarvis

Update 28 April 2010:
The 2 year old points at the iPad sitting next to the iPod Touch and declares, “Mama. Baby.” Seems like the most obvious declaration that the iPad isn’t anything new or different. Just supersized.

Update 1 May 2010:
Continuing on both the iPad-as-Apple-TV-v3 and iPad-as-Periphal frames, the iPad has replaced my laptop when I’m watching the TiVo. That feels very comfortable – in a way the Kindle does not. Putting the iPad down to watch the ‘big’ screen is easier (and more satisfying) than putting the laptop down.

Update 4 May 2010
I’ve been reaching for my iPad more than the iPod Touch primarily because of Fitts’s Law. Makes me wonder if Apple had started w/ the iPad and scaled down to accommodate the price of the touchscreen components.


1. The tagline for the iPad on Apple’s is ‘The best way to experience the web, email, photos, and video. Hands down.’ The second sentence implies you’re going to get tired of holding it.

Prediction: Apple’s Next 2 iPads: iPad iChat & iPad One

When the first rumors of the iPad began circulating – I immediately dismissed them on the grounds it wasn’t clear to me how a tablet fit into Apple’s deliberately simple product line.

I’m still not convinced it does.

It could be argued there’s enough space between the iPod Touch and the Mac Book for another product – but it could be easily argued the $400 – $900 is actually a black hole for consumer electronics. Too costly to be considered disposable, too cheap to be elite.

Enter the Apple iPad.

Aimed squarely – if awkwardly – at that price point.

Awkwardly – because the iPad is, essentially a stretched iPod Touch. Or more accurately – a stretched iPhone without the phone part. With a higher price point of both. (There’s an interesting argument in thinking of the iPad as Apple TV version 3 – but that’s for a different post.)

In addition to awkwardly straddling a space between Apple’s product lines – the iPad’s currently announced feature set feels simultaneously too little and too much. The combination of the open Web and constrained App Store at the software level and free WiFi and subscription-fee AT&T at the hardware level continues to feel like a conflict of intention.

So I predict Apple will quickly extend the iPad family by this time in 2011:

  • iPad iChat: webcam1, microphone, no AT&T – just WiFi, $699. This would finally fulfill The Future’s promise of portable video phones. Only WiFi because AT&T wouldn’t want to risk their 3G network stability. This would also be the Kitchen computing device – hang it on the wall, talk with extended family while making dinner, or voice control the playback of a NetFlix streaming movie, etc.
  • iPad One: only App Store, no web browser, no WiFi – just AT&T, $399. Think of this as Simple Finder as a distinct device. The complexity and unknowns of the ‘raw’ internet completely removed.

Elsewhere:

“All this argument over whether the iPad is too simple — if anything it’s probably still too complex.” – John Gruber, Daring Fireball

1. According to CrunchGear, the current iPad already thinks it has a webcam anyway.