Supply and Demand

How can other tablets compete with iPad if they don’t have displays?

After the announcement of the original iPad most other major computer and mobile phone manufacturers announced plans to enter the touch-based tablet market. One year later and most of these rumoured devices are still nothing more than vapour-ware.

Apple competitors caught with their pants down…again?

Apple’s interim lead, COO Tim Cook, is responsible for Apple’s supply chain. His strategic, forward-looking management has enabled Apple to crank out millions of their revolutionary devices while the competition watches from the sidelines.

For example, in 2005, prior to the launch of the original iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple secured long-term flash memory supply agreements with component manufacturers, effectively cornering the global market on this essential portable-electronics part. At the time, everyone thought this move was in response to a shift towards using flash-based memory in all of Apple’s iPod lines. However, in hindsight, it is doubtful that Apple could have delivered the millions of iPhone and iPad devices without these long-term supply agreements.

Fast forward to 2011. At their January 18, quarterly earnings call, Apple announced that they have signed long-term supply agreements with three component manufactures for a total cost of $3.9 billion dollars. Analysts speculate that the investment is in small- to mid-sized LCD manufacturing and inventory.

Apple has cash to burn, and it looks like they are using that cash to corner the mobile LCD supply market.

This is how the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.

And so, where are the competitors to the iPad? Even if they get released to the public and there is any sort of demand for these devices, how will the competitors supply that demand? How will Blackberry or HP be able to enter or make a dent in the market with Apple tying up the supply-chain by pouring money into the pockets of component vendors? I don’t think there will be competition for the iPad. Not today. Not for the foreseeable future.

Tom Waits vs The Internet

Tom Waits has long been one of my favourite music performers. His raspy voice is unmistakable. His subject matter is at once universal and oddball. He can write rock, blues, gospel, ballads, and funhouse music with equal aplomb.

Readers of this blog know that it focuses mostly on things digital, but if there is one thing in this world that is antithetical to digital it’s the music of Tom Waits! Tom Waits is analog through and through. (Waits defies expectations though, so to confirm the previous statement I looked for him on Twitter — @tomwaits is obviously maintained by his record label or PR agency.)

L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres
L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres

Last night I went to a see Quebec City’s L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres perform Tom Waits at Calgary’s historic Grand Theatre. (Last night was the 100th anniversary of the first ever show at the Grand.) Their show is part concert, part vaudeville theatre, part mayhem. L’Orchestre pour all their energy into each arrangement, finding inventive ways to make music and channel the spirit of Mr. Waits.

The stage on which L’Orchestre perform is strewn with over 100 items (in truth, pieces of junk) from which they coax sound with [pullthis]the subtlety of a golf club striking a frying pan[/pullthis] (one of the “instruments”) or boxing gloves pounding a piece of wood (another). By the end of the performance the stage is in shambles, the performers spent, and the audience converted.

These days we are surrounded by all types of communication that are 100% digital: smart phones, the iPad, digital photography, digital music and video downloads, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, email. Watching L’Orchestre it struck me what a treat it is to see something so decidedly analog. It is a rare and precious thing to connect with someone who is beating out a frantic rhythm on a banjo with a fist full of dry spaghetti noodles; to be enchanted by two ladies in proper 1940’s dress tapping their spoons against absinthe filled tea cups; to hum along to a whiskey jug band, drunk on longing.

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One of my joys in life is getting away from modern city life and spending time in the wilderness (or even a park if I can’t get away for very long). Last evening I felt the same joy listening to Tom Waits as performed by L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres as I do when hearing the sound of footsteps crunching dry leaves, water dripping from a canoe paddle into a glassy lake, wood exploding from the force of an axe, or fire crackling in the moonlight with coyotes howling in the distance.

So here is my advice to you. Right now, before you do anything else: listen to some Tom Waits in iTunes (or better yet, on vinyl if you have some); visit L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres website or search for them on YouTube and watch something truly amazing (warning—not a replacement for seeing them live); or, stand up, turn off your computer, go outside, feel the sun on your skin, and listen to the sound of clouds forming or stars exploding in the universe light-years from where we are now.

I Wish My Computer Could Do What My Phone Does

Using an iPad on a train

When I got my fist-generation iPod touch a couple of years ago I was instantly impressed with its power and capabilities. The main reason I bought it was to use as a remote for my Apple TV and iTunes (the Remote app had just been introduced). The more I used it though, the more I fell in love with the UI, interaction, and amazing games and apps that were being introduced. Two iPhones and an iPad later I am still constantly delighted when using my iOS devices.

Occasionally I wish that the my mobile devices could do things that my desktop and laptop computer can do:

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  • I wish Apple would release ScreenSharing and Terminal clients for iOS — the third-party apps I’ve used just don’t cut it — then I could access all my other computers, all my data, from anywhere. (See update described below.)
  • I wish iOS supported OpenVPN either natively or via a third-party app (or that our company would switch to Cisco).
  • [pullthis id=”documents”]I wish it was easier to manage documents in iOS[/pullthis].
  • I wish I could install fonts in iOS, particularly for the iWork apps. (Seriously Apple, what were you thinking!)
  • I wish iOS would sync music, apps, and docs over-the-air (the way iTunes and AppleTV 1G did) — I should’t have to ever plug my iOS devices into my Mac except to perform the occasional back-up. (Rumour has it iOS 4.3 will feature over-the-air syncing of photos).

I don’t wish I had USB connectivity or any such nonsense. Who wants a bunch of wires hanging around? (BTW, the dock is USB, just with a proprietary interface).

Using an iPhone on the street
Using an iPhone on the street

This past fall and winter I decided to start traveling with only my iPhone and iPad, and to leave my laptop at home. After several multi-day business trips and three weeks in Europe to visit friends and family for Christmas I have grown quite accustomed to using only an iOS device for all my computing needs, day in and day out. I survive just fine thank you very much, and there isn’t much I can’t do, computer-wise. On an emotional level, I actually feel sad when I see someone pull out their laptop on a plane (even more so if it is not a Mac) — they just don’t know what they are missing.

On my return from Europe post-Christmas I was shocked to discover how hard it was to actually sit down at a desktop or laptop computer. I now loathe to be tied to a desk while I work. I need to be fluid and mobile. I swear I get more work done on the train to and from work than I get done sitting at me work desk all day.

Also, now each time I sit down at my desktop, I find myself wishing it functioned more like my iPhone and iPad:

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  • I wish desktop apps were simpler. Had less clutter, and did what they do…better.
  • I wish my laptop had location-based services. For example, when I look at a map, I want it to respond to where I am at that moment.
  • I wish my Mac Mini and MacBook Pro would use less power! That’s an odd comment I know, since the Mac Mini is über-efficient as it is. But I just feel it in my soul that the scaled back, intimate experience of mobile devices is better for the planet.
  • [pullthis id=”moving-parts”]I wish desktop computers had zero moving parts[/pullthis]. Moving parts wear-out and break. Moving parts are noisy. Solid-state computing is bliss.
  • I wish my desktop screens were touch-enabled. Never underestimate the power that touch has to increase your engagement with content.
  • I wish all my iOS apps could run on my desktop computer.

Have you had a similar “desktop vs. mobile” experience. Will there be a place for desktop computers in the future. Will touch, voice, and motion input (e.g., Kinect) eventually render the keyboard and mouse obsolete. And if you can’t imagine the increased impact mobile technology will have on your life, can you imagine the impact it will have on the next generation? That is the future after all.

UPDATE (2011-01-29): On January 27, Splashtop Remote Desktop server for OS X was released. Splashtop Remote Desktop is an app available for iPad, iPhone, and Android that provides remote control screen sharing of OS X and Windows from your mobile device. Set-up of the OS X server and iPad version is easy, and the experience is great so far. It can be configured to resize the desktop display to 1024 x 768 to present at native screen resolution. An additional component installation on your Mac allows sound to be routed to the remote device too (even something Apple’s OS X Screen Sharing.app doesn’t do).

App User IQ

Are iPhone/iPad users smarter than desktop computer users? The Mac App Store has been live for a couple of weeks now, and many of the review comments defy explanation. Many Mac App Store users seem to be unable (or unwilling) to read the app descriptions, set-up procedures, etc. I’ve seen tonnes of comments (and low ratings) from people who don’t appear to even understand what the app is for. How thick can you get? I’ve seen this a bit in the iOS App Store, but not to the same extent. Which leads me to wonder, are mobile users smarter than computer users still tied to their desktops/laptops?

I hope the nature of Mac App Store reviews improves over time. Ignorant, childish, offensive, and off-topic reviews are a huge turn off (I’m referring to you YouTube).

Visualization: Beautiful Data

Visualization: Beautiful Data

I characterize myself as a visual person who loves analytics. Occasionally I go on visualization binges, consuming every infographic, visualization, and cool presentation I can find. Some of my latest joys…

Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling is a passionate and charismatic presenter. He obviously cares about numbers and makes understanding large concepts easy, and fun.

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes, an update to his classic Ted talk

David McCandless

David McCandless VisualizationDavid McCandless finds patterns and connections in data that most people might miss. His graphic visualizations are aesthetically simple, but conceptually powerful.

The beauty of data visualization Ted talk

Microsoft PivotViewer

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Microsoft never does anything cool. PivotViewer is a powerful tool for viewing large datasets, especially image based ones. I haven’t seen too many real-world implementation, but a few proof-of-concept deployments point to PivotViewer’s potential.

http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/

PivotViewer sample app using NetFlix data

Wordle

Wordle isn’t new, but it is fun. Pull text in using several useful methods (try pulling in your Delicious bookmarks) and get a word-cloud you can customize the look of.

http://www.wordle.net/

Visual Thesaurus

I fell in love with Visual Thesaurus last year during the re-architecting of istockphoto.com. See relationships between words. Find better words. Learn new words. Great for vocabulary creation in IA, and for word-geeks.

http://www.visualthesaurus.com/

Visual Thesaurus VocabGrabber is similar to Wordle — semantically more powerful but less pretty.

http://www.visualthesaurus.com/vocabgrabber/

If Web Browsers Were Celebrities

Aparently I am currently using the Samuel Jackson 5.0.3 browser.

http://walyou.com/if-web-browsers-were-celebrities-infographic/

BeeDocs Timeline 3D

BeeDocs TimelineI’m going to use BeeDocs to map a product development roadmap. Export to PDF, movie, or Keynote. Importers built-in for some Apple apps, as well as a CSV importer. Applescript-able too.

http://www.beedocs.com/

10 Free Data Visualization Tools

A good resource linking to open tools you can use to build visualizations.

http://edelmandigital.com/2010/12/06/10-free-data-visualization-tools-2/

Google Charts/Interactive Charts/Visualization API

I occasionally use Google Charts. Simple and easy to use.

http://code.google.com/intl/en/apis/visualization/interactive_charts.html

The URL of the homepage of this site as a QRCode generated by Google Charts:

Visual Complexity

visualcomplexity.com

Wow. I haven’t even begun to explore the library of projects demonstrated in Visual Complexity—a collection of network visualization apps. Founded by Manuel Lima, Senior UX Designer at Microsoft Bing.

http://www.visualcomplexity.com/

RAMA (“Relational Artists Map”), for example, maps relationships between bands using last.fm data. A fun way to explore music. Using RAMA I found The Concretes, a swedish band that I am listening to right now.

http://rama.inescporto.pt/

Processing

Processing is an easy to use programming language and environment for building data-driven graphic applications. Awesome for visualization. Processing is the engine behind a lot of the examples at Visual Complexity

http://processing.org/

[pullshow id=”magic”]

I just this very moment discovered that a related project, Processing.js, lets you run your Processing code in any HTML5-capable modern browser using the tag and javascript. (Traditional Processing apps required Java.) “[pullthis id=”magic”]It’s not magic, but almost.[/pullthis]” I guess I know what I an doing this weekend. Geek-time.

http://processingjs.org/

My related Delicious bookmarks

http://www.delicious.com/asphotographics/visualization

http://www.delicious.com/asphotographics/infographics

Pros and Cons of Digital Magazines

Project

The office was abuzz this week with the launch of Virgin Digital Publishing’s iPad-only Project digital magazine.

“Have you seen the new Virgin app?” one of my staff said, holding our research iPad.

He held up the iPad and flipped through a few stories.

“It’s pretty cool. They’re trying to make content interactive, and include video in the layout,” he gushed.

“Like the web?”, I asked.

Later that same day, my boss was looking at Project, and was a bit unimpressed by the clunky and unintuitive feel of the interface.

“It’s a bit buggy and hard to use,” he said.

“Like the web?”, I asked.

In art school, I had a history professor that taught me one very important thing—the old medium becomes the content of the new medium.

I’m not sure how that’s relevant here, but it sounds cool.

Where was I? Oh yeah, new mediums. The iPad, as much as I love it (you should buy one if you haven’t already), is not a new medium. It’s a new package for a medium we’ve had for quite some time — the internet. It’s a great package, a tactile package, but not more than that.

[pullshow id=”appification”]

Taking older mediums (pre-web mediums) like books, magazines, or television and trying to port them to the internet, or worse, to a mobile app, just doesn’t make sense. [pullthis id=”appification”]We abandoned magazines and newspapers for the internet years ago, didn’t we?[/pullthis]

If it is not hyperlinked, social, real-time, user-generated, and ubiquitously available, does it have a place in our lives today? Does a general interest magazine, produced by one of the richest men on the planet, with more artifice than art have any validity?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for experimentation (R&D is my job). I’m all for pushing the boundaries and coming up with new ways to use a medium. Or coming up with new mediums. But content is king, and traditional magazine content is just not that relevant anymore.

Publishing now

Prior to the launch of the iPad, a group called Bonnier released a video detailing the research they’d been doing to bring magazines into the digital age. Mag+ was the result. (Appropriately, Popular Science+ was the first Mag+ published when the iPad was released.) The interface in the Mag+ prototype was refined and the concepts well thought out. Editorial content was given priority over interface artifice. At the time, it seemed as though tablets would provide a fresh and interactive way of navigating content — a much needed improvement over the age-old and not-so-intuitive keyboard and mouse.

When the iPad was released, the digital publishing revolution never really happened. E-books and digital magazines just didn’t hold the prominence that people thought they would. Sure, I’ve mostly eliminated my printed magazine purchases in favour of viewing them digitally (mostly to save paper and space), but, in general, people aren’t using the iPad (or their smartphones) to view statically produced content (even it is multimedia). They are using their devices to stay connected to the internet and all the dynamic and social content it contains.

The iPad (like the iPhone before it) did change the way people interact with content, but that content primarily comes from the web, not traditional media vendors, like Virgin. I’m going to make a completely un-scientific estimate and say that 95% of the text and video content people are interested in today comes from user-generated articles, blogs feeds, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

Bonnier have recently announce the next phase of their digital publishing research, News+. Similar to Mag+, News+ promises to bring newspaper publishing into the digital age, packaging the news in a format that makes sense in the mobile, ubiquitous computing age. Content will still be packaged and curated by the media vendor, to “filter out the din of the web”1, but will update throughout the day as stories change. You will be able to share comments with authors and other readers. Again, it looks promising, but I can’t help but think that this is effort is too little, too late. Or even a bit misdirected.

[pullshow id=”uber-aggregator”]

As digital citizens we know where to find content that meets our interests. We have friends, networks, people we follow on Twitter, and blog feeds we subscribe to. We don’t need another source of content. We need a better package for the personalized content we are interested in. [pullthis id=”uber-aggregator”]We need an über content aggregator, with the ability to get content from any source, filter it, and present it in an interactive and meaningful way.[/pullthis]

Qwiki, a beta multimedia information aggregator, is a step in the right direction. It mashes together text-based wiki content, photos, and videos and presents them in an interesting audio-visual format. But it’s more like an encyclopedia of knowledge than a source for real-time information.

Real-time aggregator tools and apps do exist today. One of my favourite apps, Reeder for iPhone and iPad (in combination with Google Reader), let’s me create a taylor made constantly updated feed of information from multiple sources and consume it whenever and wherever I am. Likewise, the iPad app Flipboard streams content from Facebook and Twitter activity, organizing it in a topical multimedia magazine format.

Unlike Project, the experience of these apps is great and the content is, well, mine. Like the web.

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1. http://vimeo.com/17148059

Digital is the new film [re-published]

(AS: This entry was originally published as an article on iStockphoto in 2005. At that time, the debate over digital photography vs. film photography was just about over. I wanted to capture my thoughts on the transition and how I saw photography evolving. I think I was spot on when I said the future of photography lay in the “dwindling gaps between you and I”—i.e., photography will be a pervasive part of how we communicate and relate daily on a personal level.)

I attended a discussion panel recently at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). The event was part of the Exposure 2005 photography month activities. Post-secondary photography educators from four universities and colleges in Alberta and British Columbia discussed the future of photography education with respect to analog and digital photography. The panel and participating audience members touched on several thoughts I have had about the digital revolution. The following essay is a distillation of those ideas.

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Photography has always been closely tied to technology. [pullthis id=”technology”]The reliance of the medium on relatively complicated mechanical devices and physical laws is both a blessing and a curse.[/pullthis] Through photo technology the artist achieves results not traditionally possible with more direct creative methods or simpler tools. Yet, freedom is not complete. The result is constrained by the limitations of the box, a hole through which light is focused, and the recording surface. The possibilities, though vast, are nonetheless finite. There are no purely conceptual photographs or photographers.

We are living in an exciting and turbulent time in which the technology of photography is in rapid transition. Digital image making has all but eclipsed 180 year-old analog processes. How we make photographs, even what we define as a photograph, has changed. Our conception of what photography means to our daily lives, and to our future, is in flux.

The obvious diametric comparisons of digital versus film are inconsequential. Questions which we can pose about the nature of photography Now are much more exciting. Rarely is a society afforded the opportunity to see change coming and to analyze its affect as it happens. The sheer number of images produced each day by digital means is staggering to some. Consider the countless frames of video and surveillance also recorded each day and the awesome quantity of produced images becomes almost unfathomable. Photographs have ceased to be objects and have become information.

Concerns of quality versus quantity obviously arise. Has the proliferation of digital photography resulted in an overall reduction of aesthetic quality? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Yet, consider the heated debates about the quality of 35 mm photography at the time of its introduction. A new kind of accessible and portable photography was born. Digital imaging continues to democratize photography. So, is this (temporary) loss of quality bad for the art? I say no. Quantity is the new quality. More is the new aesthetic.

 

digital-is-the-new-film-drawing

More than one photographer, on contemplating the transition from analog to digital, has remarked that with a sparse number of frames loaded in a film camera they tend to work slower. They think more before they release the shutter. Along with ideas and concepts, the act of taking the photo, and then later painstakingly crafting a print, drives the process. The work is in the front end.

Working with a digital camera is a different experience. Not from a technical or mechanical perspective (though this may be true too) but from the point-of-view of the process. Look, shoot, review, delete, repeat. Working digitally does not have to be like this, but inevitably it is. Likely more time is spent correcting, editing, cataloguing, and publishing than is spent shooting. With digital the work is in the back end.

Once created, the digital image leads a much more dynamic life. In the wild it will be copied and transmitted electronically, and be viewed by numerous individuals across the globe. The result of the digital image’s ubiquity is that we as individuals and as a society are becoming more visually literate. With digital photography, being able to read the image is more important (and more challenging) than being able to create the image.

[pullshow id=”literacy”]

Direct comparisons between analog and digital should be avoided lest we widen the gap between the two camps. Yet change is upon us and the aforementioned differences between analog and digital are exactly the reason for that change. In the past—in the analog world—visual literacy meant being able to read one image, being able to decipher its signs and symbols in order to derive meaning from various dyes and crystals on paper. In today’s digital world, with the multitude of images continuously created, transmitted, and then all but forgotten, [pullthis id=”literacy”]visual literacy is about seeing patterns in the pixels, dots and bytes of many images at once or over time[/pullthis]. Meaning and quality lie in understanding the effect of seeing tens of thousands of images each day and in decipher the mass of information.

Analog will never completely disappear. The analog aesthetic will go in and out of style. Photography historians will analyze the evolution of the medium ad naseum. Photographers will meditate over their art, film camera in hand, finger hovering over the shutter button, waiting.

And digital will be the future—at least until the next revolution. Soon the prevalence of the digital image will make the medium so common place that it will cease to impress. Innovation will falter. Photography will degenerate into a baroque display of surface and illusion. The next revolution won’t be flat. It will be about space—not the frontiers of the heavens, but the dwindling gaps between you and I. The next revolution will be multi-dimensional—architectural. Digital photography’s current popularity is a signal that it will inevitably be in decline—perhaps soon. But that is another discussion.