James Scariati

Nick Bilton on Apple’s Secrets

Nick Bilton of The New York Times likens the ongoing legal battle between Apple and Samsung – in which Apple has revealed numerous prototype iPhone and iPad designs – to a magician whose trademark illusion was explained in public:

Back in the early 1930s, a magician by the name of Horace Goldin went to court to defend his signature illusion: sawing a woman in half.

Mr. Goldin filed a lawsuit against the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for using this magic trick in an advertisement and explaining how it worked. According to an article in The New York Times from March 1933, Mr. Goldin, who had won a patent for the illusion a decade earlier, asserted that the ad had adversely affected his ability to get people to see his shows.


Although the federal court threw out Mr. Goldin’s claim in 1938, the damage had already been done.

Although it’s an interesting analogy, I don’t think it really applies in the case of Apple vs. Samsung.

The whole allure of a magic trick is that you don’t know how it works; once that’s revealed, the “magic” is gone and the trick ceases to be entertaining. On the other hand, the fact that we’re now aware of some of the earlier designs that Apple experimented with has no bearing on the utility or the quality of the final products that we have today. Is my current iPhone worthless because I now know that Apple experimented with a version that resembled a large iPod Mini? Of course not. A magic trick, however, is worthless if you know the process behind it.

Also, don’t forget that Apple is the one that filed this lawsuit against Samsung – so it isn’t like they were unaware that their prototypes would be shown and discussed, or that they’re doing so against their will. Rather, as Jim Dalrymple speculates, they’re doing this intentionally in order to (if they win) prevent Samsung and other competitors from copying additional products in the future.


The Future of Computing

This bit in an article about Palm’s “Graffiti” language by Rob Walker caught my eye:

Probably what matters more in judging post-language touch-screen navigation — and this can be a litttle unnerving — is watching a toddler, too young to speak, but evidently hard-wired to swipe and poke, navigate a touch-screen device. No reference card required.

I’ve experienced this first-hand: my son, who is less than two years old, knows how to swipe back and forth between photos on my iPhone. And it’s not accidental or any kind of fluke; he very deliberately sticks out one finger and then moves it horizontally across the screen.

In fact, if we show him photos on our digital camera – which does not have a touchscreen – he tries to swipe those too, and seems puzzled when nothing happens.

Viewed this way, I don’t see how it could be argued that touchscreen devices aren’t the future of computing.

(Via The Brooks Review)

Apple to Advertise for Samsung

John Gruber on the recent UK court ruling that Apple must take out advertisements to “correct any impression” that Samsung’s Galaxy tablets copied the iPad:

I can’t figure out how Apple will play this one. They have to comply with the law, but, I just can’t see Apple paying for ads that even mention Samsung, let alone doing so in a way that absolves them of copying the iPad.

It’s a stretch, but maybe Apple spins the Galaxy Tab as an inferior product because it doesn’t copy the iPad? For example:

It’s official: the court has ruled that the Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn’t copy the iPad.

Sorry, Samsung – better luck next time.

It would even be reminiscent of those “Redmond, start your photocopiers” banners that Apple displayed for Mac OS X Tiger’s introduction at WWDC.

Data is Data

Word on the street is that AT&T will be charging extra to enable FaceTime over 3G in iOS 6:

The following error message appears for AT&T customers in iOS 6 when trying to activate FaceTime over cellular networks…similar to one given to AT&T customers who wish to enable data tethering under iOS. AT&T requires users to pay for a separate tethering data plan to enable that feature.

I don’t understand how this practice isn’t illegal. Quite simply, AT&T is charging you twice for the same data: once to simply have the data, and then again depending on how you actually use it. It’s akin to a gas station selling you gas for your car, but charging you an additional fee if you want to use that gas to drive on the highway in addition to local roads.

The funny thing is, if AT&T didn’t charge twice for features like tethering and FaceTime, they’d probably more than make up the difference in overage fees. For example, if I could use FaceTime over 3G on my existing data plan for “free,” I’d be more likely to surpass my monthly cap and incur an overage charge. But since they plan to charge separately for it, I simply won’t pay for it and won’t use it.

Digg’s Downfall

The Wall Street Journal reports that Digg is being sold:

Digg Inc., a social-media pioneer once valued at more than $160 million, is selling for the deeply discounted price of about $500,000, three people familiar with the matter said…Betaworks intends to fold Digg into News.me Inc., a digital media start-up that Betaworks launched in April 2011.

Sad. But while Facebook and Twitter certainly contributed to Digg’s downfall, the process really started earlier than that.

What made Digg so great originally was that everything was decided upon by the community: anyone could submit a link to a story, and everyone else could vote it up or down. Stories with the most votes were given the greatest prominence, and no individual users could act as “editors” to override what the community had decided. The end result (at least initially) was that Digg was generally filled with interesting, unusual content that you would never find from more traditional sources.

The problem arose when Digg tried to go more “mainstream” by making it easy for prominent news sources to feed their stories directly into the site. At the time that I left, you could even “import” recommended sources (like The New York Times) to read their stories. Consequently, the site became overrun with stories from mainstream news sources – which could easily garner tons of “diggs” by directing traffic from their huge existing audiences – while content submitted by individual users didn’t stand a chance.

Essentially, Digg became an aggregator of mainstream news stories – the exact opposite of its original premise. And at that point, there was no longer any value in it for me or, apparently, most of its other users.

(Via Daring Fireball)

Removing the Unnecessary, a Followup

In my article about Apple’s removal of sleep indicator lights from their machines, I wrote:

Apple is striving for an ideal where “state” doesn’t matter at all. They’re effectively already there with their mobile devices, and are in the process of getting there with their PCs.

It occurred to me that it’s not just the indicator lights on the physical hardware that Apple has removed; OS X Lion also includes an option to hide the indicator lights for running applications in the Dock (though they’re still toggled on by default).

Much like how it shouldn’t matter whether your computer is “booting up” or “waking from sleep” – it should just be ready – it also shouldn’t matter whether you’re “launching” an application or “switching” to it. This is already the case on iOS, and Apple is in the process of bringing the same concept to the Mac as well: proper OS X Lion applications restore their state upon relaunch, erasing the distinction between whether an app is already “running” or not (and thus making the indicator lights unnecessary).

The difference with the Mac is that the process takes much longer because all pre-existing applications have to be brought up to date; iOS had the advantage of being a brand new system, so it could be designed like this from the start. Since OS X isn’t quite there yet, Apple took the pragmatic approach of making the indicator lights optional, rather than removing them entirely before all (or at least most) Mac apps supported auto-restore.

There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that the indicator lights will disappear for good one day – and we’ll find it amusing that we not only used to keep track of which apps were running, but had to manually (!) quit the ones we were done with!

David Pogue on the Nexus 7

The headline of David Pogue’s review of the Nexus 7:

A Tablet to Rival the Leader

And the page title:

Nexus 7, Google’s New Tablet, Seriously Challenges the iPad

Great! So how does he conclude his review?

Until then, the iPad still makes a far more compelling total package (hardware, software, store).

Where “then” is an undefined point in the future at which the Nexus 7 “maybe” becomes popular enough to attract developer support:

Maybe once it becomes popular, people will finally start writing decent apps for it, and more movie and music companies will come to the Google Play store.

Again, nothing against the Nexus 7 – it does seem like the best Android tablet to date – but ending your product review by conceding that its main competitor is still “far more compelling” doesn’t jibe with the premise in the headline.

Joshua Topolsky on the Nexus 7

Joshua Topolsky, concluding his review of the new Nexus 7 Android tablet:

While Google’s new OS and latest app initiatives are very, very good, Android on tablets still suffers from an incredible lack of developer support. Mainstream apps like Twitter have yet to be updated to an appropriate tablet-friendly design, while others, like Pocket, seem to be slightly optimized but not working 100 percent correctly. Some apps simply aren’t optimized for the tablet in any way…

But then he states:

There are still issues that need to be addressed — particularly around growing the tablet app footprint and expanding content offerings — but I don’t think those are deal breakers.

On the one hand, the Nexus 7 does look like the best Android tablet yet, and certainly the highest-quality tablet compared to others in its price range.

But the whole review emphasizes specs – size, weight, display quality, storage, battery life, etc. – while glossing over what you can actually do with the device. Sure, there are some cool new features of Android 4.1, and the latest versions of the built-in apps look very nice – but the complete dearth of tablet-optimized third-party apps is written off.

I’m not saying the Nexus 7 (or any Android tablet for that matter) has to have hundreds of thousands of apps in order to be useful. But when something as major as Twitter doesn’t even offer a proper tablet experience, you’re kind of not even in the same league as an iPad, no matter how nice the device itself is.

Microsoft’s Surface-level Event

Danny Sullivan on Microsoft’s “hands-on” Surface tablet event:

I asked one of the Microsoft guys if we could try the keyboard with the Surface he was holding, one that wasn’t on. Nope. Why not? He just kind of shrugged and said he didn’t know.

What the hell? You’ve dragged 100 journalists out in the middle of Los Angeles in the afternoon (with LA traffic, imagine crawling slowly on broken glass), made a big deal about this keyboard on stage and no one can actually try it? To see for ourselves how well it works? Yeah, that wasn’t encouraging.

So, at this “hands-on” event, there were no specific announcements regarding price, release date, or battery life – and no one was permitted to test the Surface’s detachable keyboard, its headlining feature. Put another way: we have no definitive information on any aspect of the device that would actually let us determine how it stacks up against the competition.

Now, I understand why Microsoft does this: it creates the appearance that they’re competitive before they actually have a shipping product. But it also just makes them look desperate: the Surface clearly isn’t ready yet (it crashed or otherwise misbehaved multiple times on stage), and they haven’t even made basic decisions about it (like how much it will cost).

Removing the Unnecessary

Ben Brooks has a great theory about why indicator lights have been gradually disappearing from Apple’s products:

I think removing lit indicators is Apple’s way of saying: stop worrying about the state the device is in and start using it.

Definitely. Apple is striving for an ideal where “state” doesn’t matter at all. They’re effectively already there with their mobile devices, and are in the process of getting there with their PCs.

If you think about it, what’s the purpose of indicating a “state,” anyway? It’s to let you, the user, know that certain actions or tasks have to be performed in a different way – or maybe can’t be performed at all – because of the nature of the state that the system is in.

Mac laptops have traditionally had a sleep indicator light to inform you that you can simply flip the lid open to start working, as opposed to sitting through a lengthy boot process when the machine is fully turned off. Nowadays, that distinction doesn’t matter: SSDs cut boot times down to mere seconds, and OS X Lion automatically restores whatever apps and windows you had open before you last shut down.

So what difference does it make to you whether the computer is technically “booting” or “waking from sleep”? That distinction has been reduced to a mere implementation detail that no longer affects how you actually use your machine, and thus the sleep indicator light has become unnecessary.

Removing the overhead of technical implementation details in order to improve the user experience: that’s been Apple’s mission since the beginning.