Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Saddle Up the Pono

June 7, 2012

“I feel like more than just a number.”

Neil Young, Computer Age, (track from the album Trans)

For many years, rock musician Neil Young has been highly critical over the move to digital formats. His beef is simple enough – the digital formats in use today lose too much of the music; MP3 for example only retains about 5% of the data from the original mix. Many people claim this is irrelevant as they can’t hear the difference, but to a musical purist like Young, they are missing something important from what he has created.

Recently he told Walt Mossberg, in an interview for the Dive Into Media conference, that his solution is an ‘iPod for the 21st century’: a new player and a new format that “some rich guy” would produce. He then revealed that he had been talking to Steve Jobs, just before he died, about such a device.

It was later revealed by his publisher, perhaps inadvertently, that the device would be known as a ‘Pono’ and Rolling Stone magazine have found that various trademarks, such as SQS (Studio Quality Sound), have been registered.

In an interesting development, when I pre-ordered the latest Neil Young album (on vinyl of course) I was sent a free, digital download track. It came in the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) format, which is open source and can handle 24-bit audio: the same resolution at which most bands record their albums these days.

My impression from the interview with Neil Young is that he’s not convinced that FLAC is quite there as the ultimate digital format. But no doubt the quest goes on and once again, Apple are the one to watch.


Hey Apple, where’s the e-paper?

February 2, 2010

Simon Jenkins writes in Friday’s Guardian:

“I am amused that each development of the e-book renders its pages more like print on paper. Its LED gets more like daylight, its page-turning more finger-friendly, its packaging more appealing”.

His point is that e-books seem to be trying to replicate the experience of reading a ‘real’ book, but in fact the comment about LEDs becoming more like daylight disguises an important technology issue and it is one of the distinguishing features between previous e-readers and the Apple iPad. That is, we have the e-book, but where’s the e-paper?

To date, the e-books that everyone has heard about have used electronic paper – essentially a black and white screen that replicates the optical properties of paper and is therefore easy to read. Vast research efforts have gone into this, particularly from UK companies such as Cambridge University spin-off, Plastic Logic. These displays can be read for long periods of time, in a variety of light conditions (without eyestrain), and use far less energy than conventional displays. This therefore means lighter batteries, a significant factor in the weight of any portable device. Whilst these factors were all meant to help an e-reader seem more like a book, they have also resulted in e-paper devices being more environmentally friendly devices than standard laptops, in terms of in-use energy consumption at least.

What’s interesting about the Apple iPad is that it is not moving in this direction. It features an LED backlit display and Apple seems to be gambling on the added interest of a colour screen to override any shortfall in readability (colour e-paper displays are not yet available commercially due to quality and design issues). As an e-reader its primary function seems to be dedicated to making Apple a major player in the electronic book market through its iBook service. In this respect I’m sure Apple will be successful and unless a colour e-paper product (or equivalent) comes along fairly sharp-ish it seems at least possible that their new device might kill the e-paper product category.

Forget ubicomp, think sofacomp

January 21, 2010

Just before Christmas I took delivery of a WikiReader a small, handheld device that has the entire contents of Wikipedia stored on it. It’s a simple little thing – basically a souped-up version of those little electronic dictionaries that have been around for years. Hit the search key, type in a search term through the touch-screen keyboard on the black and white, 7cm square screen and it will display a list of options for you to select the right Wikipedia entry.

I decided to road test the device during the family Christmas. Obviously Wikipedia is always changing, but it seems to be stable enough for most articles (and you can order updated memory cards). In fact, it was a massive hit and saw near continuous action on the sofa. Whenever anyone had a question about a TV programme that was on, or an actor on the screen, or a word they needed the meaning of, or details of a place they were reading about in the paper, the cry went up to ‘pass the Wikireader’. Based on this experience I think the company in question may have a bit of a hit on their hands.

All this has helped my thinking around the endless speculation about Apple’s iSlate. If the device turns out to exist and if it is some kind of all-in-one tablet that provides access to a range of multimedia – e-books, films, music etc – then it could have a real place on the sofa. Who wants to get off the chair and head upstairs to log on to use the PC or fish the laptop out of the briefcase? The iSlate will just sit on the arm of the sofa. In our house at least, the WikiReader has shown the way. The next step in computing is to the sofa.

A taste of the Sony e-reader

October 29, 2009

We’ve had a Sony e-Reader around the office for a few months now and we’ve used it from time to time to read a few heavyweight pdf documents on long train journeys. But it is only in the last few days that I’ve really got my teeth into it and used it to read an entire book.

Firstly, on the positive side, there is no doubt that it has saved me lugging around seriously heavy chunks of paper on a number of trips. The e-ink screen is good and after years of squinting at laptop screens when I inadvertently end up in a sunny window seat on the train, this is a real joy to read in bright light. It’s also pretty readable in low light. The ability to be able to zoom in on a particular page is also excellent.

Less positively, the page refresh is on the slow side, maybe a second, and this has a noticeable affect on your reading. I also found that the inability to thumb through a book or flick easily from one chapter to another became annoying after a while. You can do these things with the device’s various buttons, but it’s just not as intuitive. I’d also like to be able to scribble notes on pages which is a feature that’s only just been added to the new version of Sony’s device. As a Mac user I was also a bit annoyed that it took several months before Sony had a Mac OS version of their eBook library software.

Sony, of course, are not alone. Indeed, the launch this month of an international version of the Amazon Kindle has generated a lot of newspaper reviews (including an unusually excoriating one by Lynne Truss in the Sunday Times). Some even think these devices will be this year’s Christmas hit. Booksellers Barnes and Noble have got in on the act with an exclusive device called The Nook, which has just launched in America.

More interestingly, Spring Design have announced a dual screen device that has an 6″ e-ink screen area for book reading and another, smaller, LCD screen for Web surfing. The idea is that as you come across hyperlinked items in the book or report you are reading you can click and be taken (on the second screen) to the item in question. This points towards making e-books a different, more interactive experience to the traditional book (which has been much discussed in publishing circles).

Looking at these devices though, I have to say, I think there’s a huge, crisp, perfectly formed piece of fruit about to drop on this market. At the moment it doesn’t officially exist. It’s the Apple tablet and I suspect that will be the Christmas hit. In 2010, that is.

Landfall for 3G iPhone?

May 30, 2008

Intense rumours are sweeping the Net concerning news of the next version of Apple’s iPhone which will feature 3G mobile telephony. This has brought to light one of the odder websites of the world: Import Genius. This is a software service that tracks various real-time registers of the movement of shipping containers into the US and allows (paying) customers to keep an eye on their competitors’ supply movements. According to a CNN news story the Import Genius site has registered a large number of shipments for Apple labelled simply as ‘electric computers’ since mid-March. This appears to be on top of their regular shipments of desktop computers.

Looks like Christmas has come early for some lucky people.

Why Apple still hasn’t given me what I want

February 5, 2008

Air, the new, super-skinny, size zero girl on the Apple catwalk is certainly impressive⎯lightweight and razor thin. And, judging from the coverage, it certainly looks as though it got the horde of press at the MacWorld conference into a breathless state. Frankly, it being Valentine’s month and all, I’d love to fall in love, but…

I just can’t. It’s just not what I had in mind when there was lots of talk at the end of last year about Apple’s new ultra-portable. What I was dreaming of was something small, rather than thin. A gadget you can slip into a small bag or even a large pocket. I’m not bothered about having a truly full-size keyboard, built-in Web cam or a dazzling 13.3-inch LED screen. I just want something truly portable.

I suppose, if I’m being honest, I never got over being ditched by Psion.

Google goes crowdsourcing for an iPhone ‘killer’

November 16, 2007

I recently mentioned the rumours surrounding the possible release of a Google gPhone which would be in competition to the Apple iPhone. It appears that this is not going to happen now, at least not in the sense of a distinct, hold-in-your hand, physical product.


A summer romance? Geeks and unlocking the iPhone

October 31, 2007

Apparently, Britain is about to be hit by a two-week media barnstorm in anticipation of the long awaited launch of Apple’s iPhone on 9th November. Given the long dark evenings and the autumnal wet weather we probably won’t be witnessing the camping-out-in-sleeping-bags and sharing-of-thermoses outside retail stores that happened in America this summer when the product was launched. But there may be other reasons why the UK won’t be quite as head-over-heels in love with the iPhone.