Archive for the ‘iPad’ Category

IntoNow

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Apple, iPad, Smartpone
Tags: , ,

If you like Shazam or SoundHound, you might find another app, IntoNow, interesting. It listens to the sound from your TV and figures out what you are watching. It then presents you with various information relative to the program. I tried it last night and it handled the easy task of figuring out I was watching the Olympics. Among the information offered was current medal count. Supposedly IntoNow can also identify songs that are on TV. I haven’t tried that yet but so far this is one of the more interesting apps I have run across in the past few weeks. IntoNow for iPhone/ipad is free  so give it a try and post back with your thoughts.

At WWDC we got another chance to see Tim Cook in action. Steve Jobs was always the master presenter and many had wondered how Apple would fare with Cook at the helm of events like WWDC. This year’s event brought us iOS 6, OSX Mountain Lion, MacBook Pro with Retina Display and some minor updates to other Apple hardware. By the time it was all done I was in lust wanting the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I can’t wait for Mountain Lion or iOS 6. Why? Heck I don’t know. I’m sure, however, that it will be great.

As time has passed I realize I can live with my old laptop another year and Mountain Lion and iOS6 will be nice when they get here but I’m doing just fine right now.  You have to admire how great a show Apple puts on. It is polished and has enough hype to excite but not so much that you stop believing. All in all a masterful job and Cook is keeping the tradition alive.

When it comes to Tim Cook at WWDC a few things thing stood out. He didn’t try to be Steve Jobs. He didn’t say “insanely great” every other sentence. He was himself while at the same time being a long term Apple employee. He exuded the culture. He was calm and confident but dressed down. Without mimicking his predecessor, the feeling that great things were being shown emanated from him. Color me impressed.

Oh how Steve Balmer needs lessons from the Apple book on giving presentations. Shortly after WWDC, Microsoft called a meeting to introduce the Surface line of tablets. Balmer looked like a person with a losing hand trying to make people believe it was great. The sad thing is that the Microsoft announcement had more meat than Apple’s WWDC event. Some of the other presenters were pretty good. The point was driven home about seeking perfection in even the small things such as how the stand sounds when you close it. That, however, just served to highlight how important the master of ceremonies is at these things. Every time the event turned back to Balmer, it was like a chill fell over the presentation.  What was needed was a Steve Jobs clone telling me how insanely great this was and making me feel that my life was going to be different because of it. It need someone who could make me believe. Balmer made me lose faith. What is sad is that, in hindsight, the Microsoft announcement is major and has long term implications including putting pressure on Apple and Google. I’ll discuss why in later posts. This post is about form over substance.

One final thought involves the effect this has on the press. After WWDC the press was mostly positive. There was disappointment at no MacBook Airs with Retina Display and some discussion that the rest of the updated MacBook Pro line was a stop gap measure. All of this was done with what Apple would consider appropriate reverence and the tone was, overall, very Apple fanboy in nature. Compare that to the Microsoft Surface announcement which led to many skeptical articles with everything being dissected – power, RT incompatibility, product line confusion, display resolution etc. Where are the raves? It seems to come down to nothing more than the fact that Microsoft isn’t cool and Apple is.

This is certainly a belated post. I have been meaning to write it for many months but kept getting distracted. CES came and went with little that was earth shattering but a lot that was incremental. TV’s are more connected than ever while also getting bigger and thinner. Computers are slimmer and faster. The Macbook Air line is finally getting some serious competition but the pricing appears to be less than stellar. Here is a case where the Apple tax may be less than people suspect. SSD’s are slowly replacing hard drives and SSD speeds continue to increase. If you haven’t replaced your main hard drive with an SSD then you are in for a treat along with the concomitant blow to your wallet. Tablets are rushing forward. Vastly lower pricing should open tablets up to many more people and cause Android market share to surge. NFC is moving forward and uses are expanding. By 2013 I expect most top end smartphones will support NFC and that includes Apple.

There was, however, one area that brought a small amount of excitement – automotive. I have blogged before about Ford and their moves forward. There is a summary of the automotive announcements at Engadget so I won’t repeat a lot of it here. In general, phones, especially the iPhone, are being better integrated into automobiles and the move towards running apps on the automobile’s systems gets closer to reality. Right now most apps are proprietary but their numbers are increasing. Automobiles are getting more tightly connected to the web with the ability to send data between car and home. Back in 2009 GM and Ford announced that they intended to build Android cars. Here it is 2012 and we are still waiting but things are moving forward. The Chinese are there with the Roewe 350. Ford, GM, Mercedes et. al. are moving closer. In the end transparency of use and data will prevail and the automobile will merge seamlessly with the phone, TV and tablet.

I decided to read the biography of Steve Jobs. Because it was Steve Jobs’ biography, it seemed appropriate to use iBooks. This was my first experience downloading and reading a large book in iBooks. I had previously used iBooks for a number of PDF files so I was familiar with the program and I viewed it positively.

The book itself was fascinating. I give it an A-. It is extensive and comes across as balanced. The main downside involves keeping track of timelines. When the author covers Jobs’s romantic life, the timeline being discussed overlaps the timelines previously covered. I wish there had been a graph showing how the events from different areas of Jobs’s life lined up. Other than that it was an enjoyable and informative read. I won’t cover what was in the book. Buy it and read it. The author did a better job than I ever could.

One of the themes in the book was Jobs’s obsession with creating a consistent and cohesive user experience. Here is where I ran into a problem with iBooks. As mentioned above, the book was an interesting read. I got engrossed in it one day and found the battery on my iPad running low. I decided to charge the iPad and continue reading on my Macbook Pro. Imagine my surprise when I found out you can’t read an iBook on a Macbook Pro. Had I bought the book through Amazon and used the Kindle app I would have been fine. There are Kindle apps for iPhone, iPad, Android (tablet and phone), PC and, yes my dear readers, Macs. Apple needs to fix this immediately. It runs counter to the Apple philosophy and strikes me as glaringly inconsistent. While I think it would be in Apple’s best interest to release iBooks for the PC (but not Android), it is absolutely necessary to at least release it for OSX i.e. Mac. Right now I am advising everyone to stick with Kindle. There are too many reasons to want to be able to read a book on your laptop or desktop computer.

Reading the biography reminded me of my days selling Apple computers. It was 1978 and I was a graduate student in the physics department at Louisiana State University. To earn some extra money, I had taken a part time job at a small store called The Computer Place. It was a lot of fun. We sold Apple II and Commodore Pet computers and later added the Atari 400 and 800 with the Apple II being the big seller. I still have the old Apple II Red Book owner’s manual. I learned the rudiments of Basic, Pascal and Lisp while playing on the computers and solving customer problems. It was a time when the games that came with the Apple II were named Breakout and Star Trek. Only later would Apple be contacted regarding trademark and copyright violations. One Saturday I was trying to answer a customer’s question and was stuck. I decided to call Apple. Steve Jobs answered the phone. He was cordial and answered my question. What that question was I don’t remember. I do remember being impressed that Jobs was there on a Saturday and that he had answered my question as if I was a big time customer. That’s the only contact I ever had with Steve Jobs and it was a very short and minor moment but a fond memory just the same. Little did I know then that I would later be involved in a Silicon Valley startup, Cypress Semiconductor, and have my own up close and personal set of experiences with an intense and focused CEO i.e. one T. J. Rogers. However, that, as they say, is another story.

Steve Jobs may be gone but his influence continues. The latest sign is Adobe’s announcement that Flash is dead. OK, the actual comment in their blog post says they will no longer develop Adobe Flash for mobile platforms. In reality this means that Flash will die. Mobile platforms are reaching dominance so exiting the mobile market will effectively kill Flash.

Steve hated Flash and its absence from the iPad and iPhone is the root cause of the announcement of Adobe’s exit from the mobile Flash market. This is a big victory for Apple. The lack of Flash on iOS devices has been one reason to pick Android. It can be very frustrating browsing a web site and not begin able to view content due to a lack of Flash support in iOS. However, sites will almost certain shift to HTML5 so it is only a matter of time before Flash is irrelevant.

I’m back home and connected. Yeah! My kids are happy since World of Warcraft now works well. I’m trying to catch up and realized I haven’t posted in several days. Next week won’t be any better since I will be heading to Houston for a behind the scenes tour of Mission Control. I hope that trip is as much fun as I expect it will be.

Now to the techie stuff. I was flying today and the conversation turned to how things should work vs. how they really work. Of course the initial topic was about flying. I was working through approach procedures using a new autopilot. I fly a Cirrus SR22 equipped with Avidyne R9 avionics. Recently the autopilot was upgraded from the STEC 55X to the Avidyne DFC-100. This is a big upgrade. The STEC understood rate of turn (from a turn coordinator), altitude (air pressure sensor), course error (from Horizontal Situation Indicator), and GPS course. The new autopilot receives input from the GPS, Flight Management System and the Air Data Attitude Heading Reference System. In other words it knows just about everything about the airplane and its condition. It even knows flap position and engine power. The end result is a vastly superior autopilot. Sequencing is automatic (most times – see below). You can put in a flight profile and the plane will fly it including climbs and descents. The operation is very intuitive and a great example of intelligent user interface design. If you are climbing at a fixed IAS (Indicated AirSpeed) and set up to lock onto a fixed altitude the IAS button is green to show it is active and the ALT button is blue to show it is enabled but not locked. When you get to the desired altitude the ALT light blinks green and then goes steady green when locked onto the desired altitude. I could go on and on about how great this is and if you have questions just ask.

Now to more specifics about interface design. When you use the DFC-100 autopilot to fly an instrument landing system, ILS, approach, it is very automatic. If you punch VNAV, vertical navigation, you can  have the autopilot fly the entire procedure including the appropriate altitudes. When the radio signal of the ILS is received and verified correct (all automatic) the system shifts to using the electronic ILS pathway to the runway. So far everything has been very automatic. If you exit the clouds and see the runway you disconnect the autopilot and land. The problem comes when the clouds are too low to see the runway even when you are close and down low. This is a very dangerous time. At the critical point the plane is 200′ above the ground and there is little margin for error. If you don’t see the ground you execute the missed approach. This is where the great user interface breaks down. If you do nothing the autopilot will fly the plane into the ground. In order to have it fly the missed approach the following must happen. After the final approach fix, but only after, you must press a button labeled Enable Missed Approach. At the decision height when you are 200′ above the ground you must either disconnect the autopilot and start the missed approach procedure manually or shift from ILS to FMS as the navigation source and press the VNAV button. I can hear people, including pilots, asking me what the big deal is. The big deal is that this is when you really want the automatic systems looking over your shoulder and helping out. If you forget to shift from ILS to FMS the plane will want to fly into the ground. That’s a very bad thing. The system is still great. Even at this moment it is much better than the old system. I am not saying I would want to go back. I am saying it could be better and that this operation doesn’t fit with how seamless the autopilot’s operation usually is. What the system should do is automatically arm the missed approach. I see no reason for this to be a required manual operation with the potential to be forgotten. The pilot should select the decision height at which the missed approach will begin to be executed. When that point is reach, if the autopilot has not been disconnected, the autopilot should start flying the missed approach including VNAV functionality. That includes shifting the navigation source from ILS to FMS automatically.  The result would be increased safety since the system wouldn’t be requiring command input from the pilot at a critical moment.

The discussion above relates to what I have been covering in this blog. As computing systems improve and move into every area of our lives, issues like the one above will pop up. Everything about the DFC-100 is vastly superior to the old STEC. The issue is consistency of use. As our computing systems get better and better user interfaces, minor inconsistencies will appear to us as big annoyances. Look at the iPad. If you think of it as an eBook reader that lets you view mail and surf the web it is an awesome device. If you look at it as a fun device with simple apps and games it is awesome. As soon as you want it to be your main computer, things like the lack of a user accessible directory structure become big. Compared to the old Newton or the PDA, the iPad and the iPhone are major advances. However, with this new capability comes raised expectations. Developers don’t get to do great things and then sit back. As soon as users get comfortable with the new, next great thing they begin to find annoyances. One of Apple’s strengths has been minimizing these annoyances but even on the best devices they are there. Consistency of user experience is a big deal. Getting there is tough. My point is that small details matter. How the icons look, how smooth the scrolling is, the animation when actions are taken are all small things that matter. One of the reasons for the success of the iPad and iPhone has been this consistency and sweating the details when it comes to the user interface. As we merge devices and functions in the post PC world it will be critical that these disruptions, the non-transparent use scenarios be identified and fixed.

Firemint has announced a dual screen capability for Real Racing 2 HD which uses AirPlay mirroring in iOS5 to show a race car on your TV (via Apple TV) while status information is on your iPad. The iPad acts as the controller. This is a bit similar to what Nintendo is showing at E3 for their Wii U. However, what I don’t see is multiplayer. Also, the iPad is running the game. Apple TV is just acting as a display device. This isn’t as complete as where Nintendo is heading but I see no reason it can’t be. Apple just has to make the Apple TV a gaming platform. Come on Apple. The hooks are there.