Finding the Good Stuff: Behind the Scenes Analysis

| Particle Debris

I’m going to present this first article without comment. That’s because I use Zinio for magazines, and I’m fairly happy with it. I don’t use Apple’s Newsstand. That may change later, but for now, I’ll simply direct you to Justin Williams and his observations: “On Magazines and the iPad.” Hint: make sure your clothes are fire retardant.

It seems that OSes are always on a roller coaster. First, we get something really good, but then the developers mess with it or load up too much agenda. It sucks. There’s customer push back, and the developers relent. Then the OS gets good again. One TMO reader commented that he thought Lion was Apple’s “Vista.”

It’s pretty early in the development cycle, but IDC already thinks Windows 8 will be irrelevant. As usual, I invite you to ignore the idea of whether or not you think the prediction will turn out to be correct and instead look at why IDC believes that now. “IDC predicts PC users won’t upgrade to Windows 8, tablet sales will be “disappointing.

Matt Burns opines that there are only two tablets in the running right now and only two price points: the $500 iPad and the $200 Kindle Fire. (He’s right.) If a company tries to shoehorn its product into this schema improperly, it’ll fail. And coming up with a tasteless name doesn’t help. Here’s his analysis of the new (ahem, slightly modified) Motorola Xoom, the XYBOARD. “Try, Try Again: The XYBOARD Tablets Make All The Same Mistakes.

Hollywood jazz

We’ve all be closely watching the missteps of Netflix and also wondering how Apple will do in its continuing negotiations with Hollywood for content. Recall that it wasn’t too long ago that Hollywood was experimenting with every possible retail sales channel: Blu-ray discs, discount DVDs at Wal-Mart, iTunes, Netflix, Redbox, its own ineffective efforts like Ultraviolet, and so on. It seemed like a silly approach until recently. Now, it seems to me that the goal was to determine which channels were the heavy hitters and then extract additional revenues from them. Here’s an assessment from none other than Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. “Netflix’s CEO Sees ‘Arms Race’ to Dominate Video Streaming.”

Many people don’t believe that Apple will launch its own HDTV. (A year ago, I was a naysayer also.) However, some writers are taking the opportunity to think things through. (Or at least collate and assess the rumors.) My current reasoning is that the very arguments against what I call the Apple HDTV (to differentiate it from the current Apple TV) are the underlying reasons why Apple will go for it. That is, if you don’t see why Apple would compete in this market, then you fall into the same doofus category as Apple’s potential competitors. It’s Apple’s trademark to catch the competition off guard. So, instead of arguing why Apple must fail, it’s important to analyze why they might very well succeed. I tried to do some of that on Thursday.

Apple HDTV

An outward sign that Apple’s competitors don’t intend to be caught off guard is the rollout of new TV environments. Google is working to fix Google TV, DIRECTV has just launched its long-awaited TiVo and now Microsoft is upping the ante with a new Xbox 360 TV update. If this whole Apple HDTV thing is just a silly rumor, then why are Google, DIRECTV and Microsoft working so hard at next generation TV products? Sure. Because they just love us to pieces.

Andrew Munn asks: “Why is Android laggy, while iOS, Windows Phone 7, QNX, and WebOS are fluid?” His post attempts to answer that question, and I’d say he succeeds. Hint: it has nothing to do with bytecode vs. native code.

You’ve probably heard that Google had tried to push out Google Wallet with Verizon, but Verizon said, “Whoa!” Dan Frommer has put together a spiffy piece that digs into the politics of the situation and explains why Google had to back off: “Why Google is bending to Verizon over Google Wallet.” My question is this: if Google is able to come to its senses after the kerfuffle, why can’t it seem to figure it all out beforehand and avoid the embarrassment? Technology doesn’t always have to trump smart, heads up diplomacy.

Kirk Hiner at appletell has put together an extensive list of all the Christmas related apps for iOS. “Whether using iPhone apps to spread holiday cheer at parties and gatherings or just decorating your iPad to enjoy the season, you’ll have plenty of great options. “Christmas apps and accessories for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch [updated].

Charlie Brown Christmas -5

Speaking of cool apps, one of my favorites is Art Authority from Open Door Networks, Inc. Version 4.5 for iPad now has a nifty new feature called “Art Like This.” If you have a favorite piece of artwork, this feature will find other pieces of art that are similar. You can read about it in the press release and see it in action with their video demo. If you haven’t checked out this terrific app, you’re missing one of the great ones.

Microsoft has been making some good moves lately, but Ben Bajarin doesn’t think the company has it together yet because it thinks too much like an operating system company. There’s no doubt that Microsoft’s work is cut out for it in 2012 as tablets soar even higher. Here’s his analysis: “How Microsoft Can Embrace the Post-PC Era.”

Finally, in this last reference, I learned the difference between the wholesale pricing model and the agency pricing model. When it comes to eBooks, that’s turning out to be important and bears on the investigation by the European Commission as to whether Apple was involved with major publishers in eBook price fixing. This is the kind of article I love. It explains the industry, the conventions, the finances and the possible motivations for why companies do what they do. You’ll be a wiser eBook reader after you read: “Understanding the EU’s antitrust inquiry into Apple’s iBookstore.” It’s not as dry as it sounds!


Image credit: iStockPhoto

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Ross Edwards

Probably a good opportunity to mention that I’ve been fiddling with the Xbox update and it’s actually really good.  I’m not talking about the aesthetics—it basically makes the 360 into a Metro device visually and interface-wise, and I have no opinion on that pro or con, other than that I like to see someone innovating a UX instead of copying Apple.  But when I say the update is good, I mean in terms of some of what it brings to the table.  One thing is that it has expanded codec update capability.  So far it doesn’t seem to have the additional codecs ready to install, but the mechanism is at least there now, offering hope that it might really be the One Media Player That Can Play Them All.  (Apple has made it clear with the ATV2 that they are taking a different approach, discarding all legacy video support and forcing people forward on mostly H.264-only.) 

Also, the update crushes a number of persistent bugs that the 360 had for far too long, including incorrect aspect ratio displays for H.264 files.  You used to have to fiddle with display and stretch settings, but now all files play in exactly the right ratio every time.  It seems like a small thing and yet most media players still don’t do it—heck, even the misbegotten but universally integrated DLNA standard doesn’t do it.  Apple doesn’t have to do it because they don’t do legacy video support in their first-party software.  But down the line we’re going to have this expectation that we can watch what we want whenever, and things like video file formats and such are going to be archaic.  Right now, the 360 update has brought us closer to that, while ATV2’s iOS hasn’t advanced par.  There’s also some better framerate support, integrating more cleanly with things like the Samsung 120hz TV modes.  I suspect there are more undocumented fixes that go toward boosting “set it and forget it” UX refinement.  It’s as much like Apple as I can ever remember Microsoft behaving.

So far there’s still no 6-channel sound support except for WMV10 files and physical DVDs.  One suspects the new codec management system will finally solve that at some point.  And there’s still no support for DV-AVI or MKV files, which again they should finally be able to push us software support for.  They won’t support blu-rays for the same reason Apple doesn’t, but they don’t have to if they can push digital video file support to true PC-equivalence.  Anyone has been able to get a microPC or a Mac Mini for a video server and get superb performance, but the trick has been getting that performance out of a cheap, instant-on A/V appliance.  ATV2 does well in this category but I think the 360 just took a narrow lead over it and the PS3.  The various DNLA options trail far behind—and with the rumor that the PS3 will be locked down to DLNA output only, this might be turning into a two-horse race.


One TMO reader commented that he thought Lion was Apple?s ?Vista

I kinda’ feel bad about that too, but let me explain.
WinXP was OK. Not great but good enough for many. MS came out with Vista and there were howls of protest. The interface was weird. People couldn’t fin the tool the needed. It was continuously asking for security clearance to do something. It was a royal pain and everywhere I worked skipped it. One even had a policy. We could help staff with problems with their personal systems unless they were Vista. Lost in all this were the improvements that weren’t visible. It was more stable. It was more secure. All of that was swamped by the howls of protest about how annoying it was. Then Win7 came out. It kept the back end improvements but smoothed out the interface and compatibility issues. At work I use Win7 and it’s pretty good, for Windows that is.

Lion came out and Apple touted all of the interface improvements and changes. Indeed I thought it was just a cosmetic upgrade until Apple posted their “250 improvements in Lion” page, or whatever it was called. Looking that over I discovered a bunch of improvements on the back side, sand boxing inSafari and for Apps for example. There’s a lot to like in Lion. However when I peruse the forums here and elsewhere all I see is how Lion broke this person’s critical app. How that person just turned off most of the features. I see article after article about how to make Lion do what you want to. How to work around Autosave how to find this tool that is now hidden, how to disable some change because it’s so annoying.

There’s a lot to like in Lion. I’ve not upgraded yet because I have critical apps that I don’t want to risk. More importantly by the time I get a new MacBook next spring I’m hoping Lion .2 or .3 will be out that smooths a number of these issues. That will be Apple’s W7. Different, lots of cool things, but not as problematic as the .0 incarnation. Like you said, I’m just seeing this as a low point in an overall good track record. OS 7.0 went through the same thing

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