Tech coverage generally sucks, some just sucks worse… Silicon Valley & Parachute Journalism | Om Malik.
Category Archives: Stupid Tricks
User Experience Matters: Airbus A380 edition
The New York Times provides an illustration of why economic models that fail to give adequate weight to user experience often end badly (and expensively), in this article about the Airbus A380.
Are you paying attention, Clayton Christensen?
Apple stiffs iPad owners on RAM
New details of the iPhone 4 have me pretty pissed at Apple.
I’ve dismissed most of the criticisms leveled against the Apple iPad as clueless. The few I’ve been sympathetic to are things that can and likely will be fixed with a software update. There is, however, one thing that’s been bothering me, the iPad only has 256MB of RAM, like the iPhone 3 Gs.
Until I got my own iPad, the 256MB RAM limit was just an academic annoyance, but it quickly became clear that it was a chintzy move on Apple’s part. Mobile Safari on the iPad only lets you open 8 different “tabs” at once, but it often struggles to keep even a fraction of that number loaded. Often if I switch between tabs, it ends up having to reload the pages, which is slow. It’s even worse if I switch to another app and then back, then it often has to reload all the pages.
I put some of this down to the fact that it was the first release of iOS for the iPad, and assumed it would be improved any day by a software update (which has yet to materialize). A software update could only go so far though, since the larger screen size on the iPad would likely drive up memory requirements. And, of course, the eagerly awaited update of iOS 4 for the iPad would bring multitasking for third party apps, which would drive up memory requirements even more.
Well, now I learn that the iPhone 4 is confirmed to have 512MB of RAM, twice whats in the iPad (even though it has a smaller screen resolution). This comes less than three months after shipping the first iPad, and less than two months after shipping the iPad WiFi-3G model I have. I know that things move pretty fast in the tech industry, which is why I didn’t get bent out of shape when apple cut the price of the original iPhone by $200 only a few months after launch, but this really pisses me off.
The poor experience “multitasking” with Apple’s own apps on the iPad is the really my only big complaint with the device, and now its pretty clear that it’s likely that annoyance is going to extend to 3rd party apps when iOS 4 makes it to the iPad this fall.
“Real” OS X Apps on the iPad, Are You Crazy ?!?!?
I’m posting this from my iPhone, so I can’t be bothered to name names, but trust me when I tell you, there are a lot of people criticising Apple for basing the iPad off the iPhone OS, rather than making it capable of running Macintosh applications by using a touch-enabled version of the version of OS X that runs on Mac desktops and laptops. I understand the impulse, but these people are either crazy, or they just aren’t thinking things through.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. There is just no damn way to profitably sell a device that matches the price, performance and portability of the iPad that also runs existing Mac apps. This will change in the future, but it’s just not something that can happen this year.
There are many reasons for this, but it really starts with the fact that modern Macs use Intel CPUs and Intel CPUs just aren’t as power efficient for a given level of performance as the ARM CPU in the iPad, iPhone and other mobile devices. So, an iPad that runs existing Mac apps would have to have an Intel CPU, and so would have shorter battery-life, which hurts portability. This could be compensated for with a larger battery, but a larger battery would be heavier, which hurts portability and add expense which would already be higher, because intel CPUs cost more than ARM CPUs.
So on the hardware side, price and weight are two strikes against an iPad that runs Mac apps, but that is only half the problem. The bigger problem is software. Mac apps are built to be run on fairly powerful computers that are capable of multitasking and which people use a mouse and keyboard to interact with. There are a few implications of this.
First, there is a good chance that existing OS X apps, designed to run on powerful hardware, would be both slow and power hungry on an iPad becuase acceptable performance and efficiency on a iMac or MacBook could be completely unacceptable on an iPad. This is on top of the inherent power-efficiency disadvantages of compatible hardware.
An even biggher problem is that the user interface would be ill-suited to the iPad. There are no apps for the Mac designed for the type of interaction the iPad supports. On the otherhand, there are hundreds of thousands of iPhone apps that will run on the iPad. They were designed for touch interaction, so their UIs are more likely to translate to the iPad, which is in many ways an iPhone with a larger screen, than UIs designed for mouse and keyboard interaction. Perhaps less obvious, but at least as important, developers of iPhone apps are likely to be futher down the learning curve for multitouch UIs than developers of “desktop” Mac applications, so they will likely be able to release versions of their apps that take advantage of the possibilies of the larger screen on the iPad than Mac developers.
Further, all of those apps were designed for a device that is even more constrained interms of power consumtion and performance than the iPad. If anything they should run better on the iPad the the iPhone.
I understand why people would like the iPad to run OS X apps. People conflate running Mac OS X applications with “openness” that we don’t get when iPhone and iPad apps all have to go through the iTunes App Store approval process. But let’s face it, an iPad than ran Mac apps would come into this world some combination of slower, more expensive, less portable (in terms of both weight and battery life) and with far fewer good quality multitouch apps. I don’t think anyone really wants that, so rather than asking for it, lets focus narrowly on the real issue because while it may be unlikely that Apple opens the iPad to apps distributed through channels other than the App Store, at least it possible. An iPad that ships in 60 days runs Mac apps and doesn’t suck is pretty much impossible.
Swiping at the iPad Anti-Hype: Mashable Edition
After months of speculation, much of it crazy, Apple announced the iPad, a sort of scaled up iPod Touch. I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about the iPad, but a lot of the bigger tech web sites have already made up their mind that they have to do at least a few critical articles, so they have their ass covered just in case the thing tanks. I’ve been meaning to do a blog post taking aim at the some of the stupider criticism, but instead, I’m going to bite off a little at a time.
For my first installment, I’ll go after Mashable, whose own contribution to the iPad-skeptic genre, The Anti-Hype: Why Apples iPad Disappoints, starts by going after Steve Job’s claim that it is the best way to browse the web:
It might be one of the best ways to browse the web on a mobile device, but laptop and desktop computers — even netbooks — are still better. Most current websites were designed to be experienced on those devices with a mouse and a keyboard. Maybe the mouse isn’t necessary, but you don’t have to pop up a software keyboard to type in URLs on a netbook or laptop. Even if you lug around the keyboard dock, it will be a tad awkward moving between the keys and the screen to interact. You’re sacrificing some usability for simplicity on the iPad.
Give me a fricking break. Let me start by making one thing clear: Computers SUCK. I hate them. When I say this, I don’t just mean that Windows PCs suck, which they do, I’m saying that Macs suck too (its true). And to make another thing clear, I’m saying this as someone who has been drawn to computers since I was 8 or 9. Its not really a stretch to say that my first personal computer was a DEC PDP-11/34. So, given that computers suck, there is just no way that a laptop, desktop, or netbook can be the best way to browse the web forever.
Starting with the easy criticisms, netbook screens are too short, they don’t show enough of most pages. What’s more, the trackpads and keyboards on netbooks are too small. You have to make cramped movements to scroll, browse and navigate. Notebooks and desktops are a little better. You can fit more of the vertical page on the screen, and the mice and keyboards are a little bigger and more ergonomic, but just because they are more ergonomic doesn’t mean that they won’t still cripple you if you use them too much. I’m serious here. I have to ice and massage my hands to manage the injury from routine computer use, and I am not the only one.
So, now that we have that out of the way, we can talk about how an iPad can be better. For one thing, you can turn the screen to whatever orientation is best suited to the page you are viewing, something you can’t do if your netbook or laptop screen isn’t tall enough. For another thing, you can scroll, browse and navigate using more natural motions. We’ll see how much better it is in practice, but really, it has to be better than using a damn mouse.
As to typing URLs on a virtual keyboard somehow being a downside to browsing on the iPad. I won’t know until I try it, but I suspect that this will be turn out to be a complete non-issue. It’s not like typing URLs and search terms is all that much typing.
The author of the Mashable piece then takes the opportunity to take another shot at Apple for not allowing flash on their mobile devices
Most importantly, the iPad’s browser does not support Adobe Flash, the foundation of rich media on the web today. Adobe is planning to make it possible for Flash developers to develop apps, but it won’t work on the web.
Netflix Discontinues Profiles: WTF
Like everyone else on Netflix, I got e-mail yesterday letting me know that they’ll be discontinuing their profiles feature. This feature allowed customers to set up separate DVD rental queues for other members of their household under one account, and let the owners of those queues rate movies and get recommendations separately.
We haven’t really used the feature, but I find the move baffling. One commentator suggested it was a move to boost revenue, because it might drive some users to create separate accounts.
That may well be, but in the process of doing so, Netflix is destroying the investment of any customers who made use of profiles and were in the habit of rating DVDs. Presumably these ratings will end up pooled for the whole account., which is likely to reduce the overall quality of ratings for each member of the household (imagine a mother who rented a couple of Kung Fu movies a month, and what will happen when that gets mixed in with the dozen of teen and action movies the rest of the household rents). It also seems to reduce the amount of aggregate information that their recommendation engine has to work with.
It’s puzzling why Netflix is willing to piss off its most dedicated users. Perhaps it is easier to do if they rent more disks and therefore drive up costs. It could also be that Netflix has concluded that the value of the ratings and recommendations is lower than many outsiders thought. It was assumed that users would be less likely to switch to another service because they were getting value from the recommendations derived from their ratings. In addition, new users would start to see immediate value for rating movies because of the vast store of ratings data from other users that Netflix had to work with.
I have to wonder if somehow it has something to do with their attempts to build a video on demand business.