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Surprises

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This year starts with loads of surprises. For example it is the beginning of January – also known as the middle of winter around here – and we are having double digit positive temperatures, Celsius temperatures:

Dashboard weather widget displaying 12°C with a maximum for the day of 14°C

While it was a non-surprise that VAT in Germany rose to 19% to celebrate the new year, it was interesting to see my amazon notepad shopping basket which usually informs me of any price changes when opening it. It appears that those price changes are computed using the pre-tax price rather than the real price – as amusingly the price of one CD was lowered from €13,97 to €13,99, while that of another one was lowered from €17,97 to €17,97.

Amazon.de price change notification

But of course the biggest surprises were to be had with Apple at the Macworld Expo Stevenote. Everybody expected stuff like updates to iLife, iWork and perhaps some of the computers. But this was supposed to be big, so we got completely different stuff altogether:

Airport

Some new Airport base station to begin with – yawn. A due update I guess, but essentially boring. Being able to attach a printer, a drive or wired machines is nice, but that’s about it. Many people get routers with similar features with their DSL connection these days (unfortunately ours is one generation too old to be able to host a USB drive – grrrr).

TV

Haha, funny, not iTV but AppleTV it is! Or rather TV if your computer displays U+F8FF (down at the very end of the Private Use Area) as an Apple symbol – which probably only Macs will do out of the box. [I really wonder what made them use a name that nobody can write properly – I mean the average ‘journalist’ these days can’t even get comparatively simple words like iMac right…] I can see how this can be considered a neat-o addition to the home entertainment hardware. But that’s about it. In a household that sports a telly from the 1980s and with a computer that can be hooked up to it in less than a minute, I can find many better ways to spend 300 monetary units (particularly as the TV doesn’t even connect to such an old telly if I read the specs correctly).

From what I’ve read I am not entirely convinced that this AppleTV thing is an all-great and revolutionary thing. I guess we’ll have to wait until people actually use it to tell whether Apple really managed to pull of something cool here or whether it’s just OK. And does anyone else think that Mr. Jobs is a bit too fond of calling music and films ‘content’ and that he sounds a bit like a trash-electronics salesman when going on about ‘widescreen TV’? [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

iPhone

But the big news has of course be the iPhone. It’s still pretty much vapourware at this time, but certainly interesting vapourware. Personally I was surprised to see this happen. And while I’m not a mobile phone user, I think this is very interesting! Not because I feel the urgent need to drop a big bundle of cash with Apple as soon as possible to get one. But because it really looks like they did something different, something new, something simple, something reasonably stylish, something technically advanced.

Of course it’s too early to say whether the device is any good. Will the motion and proximity sensing really work as well as it looks in the videos? The whole finger gestures look brilliant (just the two finger scrolling on the current portables is excellent) but will the finger sensing work reasonably well for everything? And will it be really be good enough to compensate for the complete lack of tactile feedback? (I still think my 3G iPod’s usability sucks because you never feel when you pressed a button.) Will the iPhone scratch as easily as an iPod? (Mobile phones usually seem to survive 1-2 years in people’s pockets next to keys and coins before they start looking broken – as compared to 1-2 minutes for an iPod.) These questions can probably only be answered once the device is seeing actual use. Those are small details that will make the difference between brilliance and frustration.

And of course there are minor question as well: How well will it sync with my Mac? And with the computers of the big share of the market? How does it handle the entry of accented letters? Why exactly did they call the phone’s software OS X? (Not Mac OS X, right?) Could battery life just be a tiny bit too short to get people actually using the device to the best of its capabilites through a full day? Does the wireless access rock? And let you do library sharing? (I mean, come on, they must feel compelled to add that to the phone just to make laughing stock of some other portable music player). And so on. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

However these will turn out, I think it’s great to see that Apple are trying new things and thinking big while doing that. I can easily ‘wait’ some more months for updates to iLife, a new Spreadsheet or a zillion-core computer I won’t buy for that. A more concrete timeline on X.5 and its ‘secrets’ would have been good, though.

What wasn’t surprising but still makes me sad is that Apple is still firm on its route of forcing their own stuff, and their own stuff only, down your throat. What about playing non-QuickTime content on their video player? AVI files? External subtitles? Any subtitles? (I mean this can be done in QuickTime but Apple never seem to have bothered to give us a good UI for it or to distribute subtitled video).

January 10, 2007, 0:18

Comments

Comment by gummi: User icon

With the new Airport Extreme; I going to buy it and switch my home network to the draft 802.11n spec. knowing that it will just work. There’s a couple of nice functions I would find useful, through my ISPs ADSL modem, for streaming the most popular video formats to my TV. So in addition, the prospect of adding a networked HD to the setup that pools all my entertainment appeals to me. Anyway, there’s probably lots of good reasons to have a networked HD that can send and receive files with huge bandwidth… :)

What about playing non-QuickTime content on their video player? AVI files? External subtitles? Any subtitles? (I mean this can be done in QuickTime but Apple never seem to have bothered to give us a good UI for it or to distribute subtitled video)

…because it’s most useful for people who use unorthodox — non-Apple — methods to obtain and preserve entertainment. I guess we’ll have to wait until they open up a German or French iTunes movie store to see how they handle subtitles.

With the iPhone, I didn’t have an intellectual or product/fetish based hard-on for it, compared to the release of the first iPod. Then again, my I use my mobile about once or twice a day and I’ve stopped using my iPod.

I do wonder how it would behave in my pocket, its resilience and the possibility of using different SIM cards to switch networks. It’s awfully expensive considering one has to make a contract for two years with a cellular company to obtain one, but I guess that will not matter so much for some people. Like the first iPod, I’m going to see what revisionB brings before I even touch/test the thing. If they bundle a good SIP client then I might just go gaga for it, because I could use it at home with my VoIP service.

January 10, 2007, 10:32

Comment by ssp: User icon

Re Airport stuff:

Well, I don’t see the point, but I don’t really need it. I doubt that the bandwidth improvement will be significant in a useful way. Not only because of the technical limitations (how frequently is an 54MBit network significantly faster than a 11Mbit one in practice?) but also because our network isn’t used at speeds above that of the DSL line or the occasional iTunes library sharing anyway – both of which very comfortably fit into 54Mbit.

It looks like the new Airport thingy supports modern stuff like 801.X, though. Don’t really know how that works and what the significance is, but from what I’ve heard that’s a ‘good thing’.

Re Formats: It’s still a fact that most of the video files in existence cannot be played by QuickTime, that if you want to rip a DVD for a friend it’s most likely to work if you’re going for an AVI file and that if your Windows using friends make their own movies, those will most likely come in some AVI format as well.

Re Subtitles: I really don’t think this should be about iTunes Movie stuff coming to Europe only. Not only could there be subtitles for the deaf in those files - or for people who just like to keep the subtitles running, there could also be multiple sound tracks. As crappy as DVDs may be, a single one of the usually contains those as well as multiple sound tracks (and possibly even extra commentary tracks). Doing that seems to be perfectly possible in QuickTime from a technical point of view. And if you consider yourself a global company serving a global market yadda yadda yadda you should certainly run, not walk, towards using that.

Re iPhone: It’s amazing, less than half a day after the presentation even my flatmates already new about it. Apart from a small iPod or two they’re not into the Apple stuff. Healthy media coverage, that! While I still think the iPhone is a great concept, looking around me and my friends, I doubt we are in the market for this stuff. The market I’m talking about here is the €0 + contract market. And if someone is really wanting to waste money it’ll be €50 or €100 + a contract.

The iPhone’s price tag however looks like that for ‘smart’ phones. I don’t even ‘get’ normal mobiles, and I certainly don’t ‘get’ their ‘smart’ siblings. They seem to be aimed more at the super geek / show-off executive crowd.

That isn’t to say that I won’t drool over the shiny iPhone and its new UI concepts when the time comes. But it certainly won’t be because I ‘need’ – in any sensible way of the word – such a device.

January 10, 2007, 10:55

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