Monthly Archives: November 2012

On Dave’s Solution to “Bandwidth Poverty”

Today, Dave Wiener describes the “bandwidth poverty” in NYC, where most people are stuck with asymmetrical cable internet connections (as are most people in the US). His solution isn’t laying more fiber, it is blanketing the city with WiFi.

Dave is a smart guy, but I’m going to dismiss this as another example of his “bandwidth ignorance,” like his initial dismissal of the network neutrality issue years ago.  (This isn’t to fault Dave, he’s just concerned with different parts of the “stack.” The abstractions that Dave works with are grockable, but like most abstractions, they start to leak.)

  1. WiFi hotspots have limited range.
  2. This isn’t actually a bad thing, because it limits the amount of interference between hotspots.
  3. It means though that there will have to be a lot of hotspots.
  4. Unfortunately, there are already a lot of WiFi hotspots in Manhattan.
  5. Unfortunately there is already a lot of interference among WiFi hotspots in Manhattan.
  6. Interference limits the reliability and overall throughput available through WiFi hotspots.
  7. What is going to connects all those new hotspots to the Internet?  It’s still probably going to come down to getting fiber to places that don’t have fiber already.
  8. Who is going to do it? Google?  Ok, just remember, their interests don’t always align with those of individual users and consumers.
On the other hand, a really big, managed WiFi build out might render many of the existing WiFi hotspots unnecessary, which could reduce the interference issues. Of course, in practice, many/most of them would probably stay in use.

I’d love to find a solution, but I don’t think we can rely on any big companies to bring it on their own. Citizens needs to come together to put pressure on policy-makers, who either need to make it a public utility, or need to manage competition among private companies in a way that works better for citizens.


Today, John Gruber linked to a blog post on Apple’s design problems, with the comment “Best list of where iOS needs serious work that I’ve seen.” It may well be, but I’m having trouble getting past the second item in their list:

Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping.

I have no idea where this person is coming from, but they seem to think that these are things that iOS users need to interact with on a regular basis. They aren’t.

Apple’s solution to the problem of poor mobile device battery life isn’t to make it as easy as possible for users to manage device power consumption, is to ship devices with good battery life without placing a burden on the user.

Their proposed solution of a thematic or geofenced grouping of relevant settings, is a band-aid over a problem the user shouldn’t have to worry about in the first place.

On Apple moving Mac from x86 to ARM

Blomberg is reporting that Apple is considering moving the Mac computer line off of Intel x86 CPUs to in-house developed ARM CPUs. I have my doubts.

I’m sure it is true that they are considering it, but that doesn’t mean it will be happening any time soon. They considered moving to Intel for the better part of a decade, on and off and they didn’t make their move until their old CPU choice, the PowerPC line, had fallen behind and showed no signs of recovering.

For the time being, Intel seems to be on the right track. No one offers a faster or more power-efficient desktop/laptop CPU. Intel was apparently slower than Apple would have liked in driving down power-consumption down or graphics performance up, but they seem to have changed their tune. They’ve accelerated their pace of GPU performance improvement, a move that some have attributed to Apple’s demands. They’ve also become increasingly serious about low-power chips for both mobile devices and “ultrabooks” (Windows version of the MacBook Air). Also, given that so much of their market these days are low-margin, low-price windows PCs, I’d think they’d be eager to have the opportunity to keep a customer who can afford to pay a premium to get the best Intel has to offer.

It is true that Apple does have its own in-house chip-design talent working on ARM CPUs, and it might make sense to leverage their efforts over more of Apple’s product line, but right now, Mac volumes are really a fraction of the iOS device volumes, so it isn’t clear it would be a big win, especially since their laptops and desktops currently occupy and performance and power-consumption envelope that is significantly different than iOS devices.

In the long-term though, I think it is pretty likely that Apple move off of Intel. I think that in many ways, the writing has been on the wall for Intel for a long time. Their competitive position has been eroding, and the pace is going to accelerate if they fail to get some major mobile-phone and/or tablet design-wins in the next year or so. It will be further hastened if high-performance ARM CPUs start putting pressure on their margins and volumes in the server-space.  At some point, Apple will have to switch horses, and if they time it just right, they might actually gain some competitive advantage by weakening competitors who are less-prepared and less able to abandon Intel.

I’ve never been great at estimating when the inevitable will finally come to pass, but I can’t imagine it will be less than 3 years before Apple would make such an announcement, and probably more like 4-6 before they have to.

In the best light

Microsoft may have, um, borrowed a lot from Apple in designing their own Microsoft Store retail experience, but beyond the superficial similarities are important differences.

To give but one example, I found browsing on the Surface RT to be slow, halting experience. Microsoft seemed to be blocking some of the websites I tried to visit and redirecting them to their own home page, but even when the sites weren’t blocked, they were slow to load. Some of it could have been a software issue, but I think a lot was related to the WiFi network in the Microsoft store, and the speed of its connection to the Internet.

Apple knows better. The WiFi and Internet connection at their store is speedy, allowing them to show their products in the best possible light, and it worked, the iPad Mini and iPad felt snappy when browsing the web. The Surface RT felt sluggish.


Just below the Surface of Windows RT

I went to the Seattle Microsoft Store this weekend to check out the Surface RT. I was already skeptical that anyone should buy the Surface RT. After using it, I no longer have any doubt: Buying a surface RT would be foolish.

The Surface RT is a Windows product from Microsoft. I think people will expect it to be like an iPad that runs Windows applications, and they are going to be disappointed to find that it really isn’t. Even so, I assumed it would well executed.

I was surprised then, when I actually used a Surface RT, is that even the Metro/Modern UI experience was sub par. The hardware was very nice. Many things were smooth and speedy with the UI, but many things were not. Lots of the built-in apps took a lonnng time to launch. Rotating the screen involved a considerable delay, made more apparent by jerky animation. In the 10 minutes I was using it, I had (built in) apps exit unexpectedly more than once.

Microsoft makes a big deal about the keyboard cover. I found it harder to type on than an on-screen keyboard –I constantly had to check to make sure my fingers were over the right keys. I tried to rely on the autocorrect, as I do with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, but it was not up to the job.

People should see for themselves if they have the chance. I did, and learned that Microsoft’s execution was worse than I expected. I really don’t know what they were thinking. They needed to bring their “A-game.” Maybe they did, if so, their A-game is a lot of flash, and not much substance. It feels like demo-quality, rather than a finished product from one of the largest software companies in the world.

Keep an eye on this

What do these two news items have in common:

1. Brazilian Newspapers withdrew from Google News and only saw a 5% decline in their web traffic. At least that’s what they say, they obviously have a vested interest in downplaying the impact. Meanwhile, a number of European papers may be close to making a similar move.

2. In an management reorganization at Apple this week, Eddie Cue was named Vice President of Internet Software and Services. Previously, Cue played an important role in the creation of the iTunes Music Store, including difficult contract renewal negotiations with entertainment companies in ~2009. As a result of the changes, Siri and Apple Maps are now part of Cue’s responsibilities.