(You're reading all posts by Pete Mortensen)
About Pete Mortensen
Pete Mortensen is a design strategist for consulting firm Jump Associates and the co-author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, a book and blog that are significantly more interesting than you might initially think. Pete's particular Apple avocations are both around design--interface and industrial. Follow him on Twitter!
The paper-based comic book has been, for at least a decade, an absurdity. Each 32-page issue takes up a significant amount of space without delivering very much story. And the idea of taking a fat stack of them on vacation or a plane ride is as bad an idea as it appears on its face. Even more so than the novel, comics and electronic readers are a natural match. And the Mac now has a signature way to read comics in the form of ComicNerd, a new app from A Nice Cut of Tea and a Sit Down LLC. As the owner of a huge comics collection, much of it digitized at this point, I can state unequivocally that this is pretty much exactly what I’ve been looking for. And it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better.
I’ve been looking forward to the day that I could swap my MacBook for an iPad as a blogging tool. I can write nearly as fast on the tablet as I can on a real keyboard, and I also tend to take it everywhere, unlike the laptop. Until the last week, however, every blogging app I’ve downloaded for the iPad so far has been inadequate. The official WordPress client is just a disaster — I’ve literally never gotten it to work with Cult of Mac’s hosted account. BlogPress has broad compatibility but generates crummy posts that look like they were put together on a BlackBerry Pearl.
So it was with considerable excitement that I ponied up my $3 to download Blogsy, a new app that promises to be the MarsEdit of the iPad. Having used it for nearly a week, I’m extremely pleased. It has serious formatting capabilities, HTML and rich text modes, administration tools for your blogs, and built-in content import from Flickr, Picasa, YouTube and Google Images, not to mention a popover Web browser. Basically, it takes all of the multitasking inherent to blogging and turns it into a single app.
Special credit should be awarded for the app’s genius media layout mode, which involves tapping and holding on an image to convert it into a friendly alien mascot, then dragging the mascot to the exact location desired for the picture. Simple.
That’s the good news. Though I am blown away by the features and user interface of Blogsy, the software is still too unpolished to rely upon. Sometimes when I start it up, it claims my connection to the CoM home base is corrupted. Other times, it crashes while trying to save a draft, wiping out writing with no chance of recovery. It’s really not ready for heavy use yet. I look forward to its improvement, however. Once the bugs get worked out (and they add Tumblr support), Blogsy will become the platform of choice for on-the-go writers.
Until then, it’s a great novelty. I wrote this post in it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t post it, so I had to email it to myself to save the text.
Cult of Mac rated:
The entire Internet is aflame, at least by. The standards of your average Saturday night, on word that Boy Genius Report has gotten ahold of a strange pre-production white iPhone 4 loaded up with admin and field-testing apps and running quite nicely on T-Mobile 3G. That’s quite newsworthy, as no shipping iPhone supports the obscure 1700 MHz AWS band that T-Mo rolls in the U.S.
There are many number of ways of faking this — I still find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t take some serious pictures of the hardware in search of differences from the existing iPhone 4 if you actually had it in your hands — but the various software screens are fairly convincing, including a number of apps I’ve heard are used in testing, but that mere mortals like us never see.
On the one hand, it makes sense for Apple to expand it’s reach to as many standards as possible now, especially since AT&T will likely own T-Mobile unless anti-trust regulators hold up the acquisition. On the other hand, the intent of that deal is to convert all of T-Mo’s towers to LTE fairly rapidly. It’s interesting.
Have a look through the gallery and let us know what you think — I’m actually most skeptical of Apple Connect. Would Apple really copy pattern unlock from Android?
Late tonight, Amazon took the wraps off of Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, free services for network storage and playback of MP3s and DRM-free iTunes audio files. Just as Ed predicted. Anyone with an Amazon account can sign up for 5 GB of space, and then you just upload your music library for access through any Flash-based browser or a brand-new Android app. From now forward, any Amazon MP3 store purchase will automatically be added to your Cloud Drive and won’t count against your storage quota. Larger capacities are available at $1 per GB per year starting at 20 GB.
In almost every regard, it’s exactly like Lala, the totally amazing cloud music service that Apple bought almost a year and a half ago and then promptly shut down. The only difference is that Lala also offered 10-cent song purchases for cloud-only use (as opposed to downloaded for offline use). This makes it all the more ridiculous that Apple still doesn’t have a cloud music service released. We’ve been hearing for some time that the iTunes Locker will arrive any day to offer something comparable, but Amazon’s move shows just how much Apple has slow-played its move toward streaming.
It would actually be fascinating to see Amazon release an iOS client for Cloud Player to really hold Apple’s feet to the fire. My over-riding concern with what I’ve heard about iTunes Locker is that Apple wouldn’t even match Lala’s old ability to offer songs from your entire music library and would instead offer access only to iTunes purchases. With Amazon offering something this simple and successful, Apple will have to go all out. This is why real competition is a very good thing for Apple users — it forces the company to leap over its own bar, not just hit it. Moreover, it will mean pushing ahead even if terms with record labels aren’t perfectly favorable.
— Sent in by everyone in my Twitter feed.
UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that if you visit your Cloud Drive through Mobile Safari, it is possible to play back audio on an iPhone, but only one track at a time through downloads. Hardly a useable solution, but an interesting trick nonetheless.
Now, far more useful is that you can also play back video loaded into the Cloud Drive on an iPhone, so long as it’s in a format Safari supports (preferably H.264). Amazon isn’t making a big deal out of video yet, but there is definite potential here. Especially if the geniuses at VLC or Plex figure out how to pull down a stream from your Cloud Drive…
Way back in the early days of the App Store, an early hot property in the store was Podcaster, a simple utility that allowed users to browse, subscribe to, and download podcasts to the iPhone. It was very useful, both for finding new things to listen to on the go, but also for eliminating one of the key reasons for unnecessary and redundant syncing to a computer.
Naturally, Apple had it removed. Then it came back as RSS Player a few months later. And got stripped out again, in both cases for providing redundant functionality, an absurd claim, as Apple’s built-in iTunes app is only capable of searching for podcasts — subscriptions aren’t allowed. Fortunately, Apple has finallycome to its senses and now allows podcasting apps to be installed on non-jailbroken phones again, including the original Podcaster. Better still, the choices have multiplied, which brings us to the stellar subject of this review, Instacast.
This $1.99 app (a price I happily paid), approaches phone-based podcast management exactly the way I would like it. Its sole focus is on subscriptions rather than individual files. It uses a simple search mechanism that was able to track down every podcast I wanted to track. It also offers recommendations for popular series. You can also subscribe to any podcast you currently have loaded onto your iPhone. Rather than downloading these podcasts immediately (a potential nightmare), Instacast snags episode descriptions including links to either download or stream any given podcast. Piece of cake.
But the simple power of the app only becomes clearer with longer term use as you build out your library. It implements the increasingly-standard swipe down to refresh gesture first seen in Tweetie. This pulls down descriptions for any newly released episodes within your existing subscriptions and adds them to the existing queue. I have only synced my iPhone once since I downloaded Instacast, and that was to install iOS 4.3.1. I’m actually strongly considering deleting my podcast subscriptions from iTunes.
Now, the app isn’t perfect. Though the UI is fairly intuitive (usually through borrowing conventions of Twitter/Tweetie and Reeder) it has a few oddities, including an easy-to-miss play button, no on-screen volume controls, and no obvious way to delete a downloaded episode (you have to mark it as read). I assume such issues will be resolved in the near future, and the positives definitely outweigh the disadvantages.
In short, Instacast fixes part of a problem of both the iPhone and iPad: much as Apple has defined a new class of mobile computers that doesn’t rely on a desktop or laptop for full functionality, the company has also pushed administration of such devices onto desktop and laptop devices. It’s impossible to boot up an iPad for the first time without syncing it to a computer, and neither machine can install its own software updates without a tether. While this attitude is understandable for firmware and OS updates, it makes no sense for podcasts and other kinds of content. The longer I use Instacast, the more it feels like I’m finally cutting the cable.
Cult of Mac rated:
As we noted earlier, the weekend’s silliest headline came courtesy of hair product Jon Bon Jovi, who ranted to the Sunday Times of London that “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.”
This statement is astoundingly ignorant. The iTunes Music Store is easily the most popular record store in the history of the world, having sold more than 10 billion songs in its eight years of existence. One can decry the very notion of digital distribution. It’s impossible to argue with business that big.
Moreover, when iTMS hit the scene in April 2003, it was a godsend to record labels. After all, Apple didn’t invent digital distribution of music. They invented legitimate digital distribution. Napster had hit the scene a full four years previous, making it possible for college students across the country (myself included, briefly) to readily share reasonably high-quality music files with one another over the Internet in simple fashion. As soon as Shawn Fanning flipped the switch in 1999, the music business needed to change itself or disappear.
For years, it chose to disappear, waging costly legal battles with Napster and its near-relatives Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, Gnutella, Kazaa, Morpheus, and LimeWire. Hilariously, the Recording Industry Association of America’s belief that they could sue file sharing out of existence did little but spur its growth and, more critically, its innovation. BitTorrent, the radically distributed and difficult-to-trace open file sharing protocol, hit in 2001, arguably a few years before it would have arrived had the record companies reached a deal to distribute music legally through Napster. Also, Metallica.
It was into this mix that Steve Jobs arrived. And with him, the record industry finally changed. A little. They finally signed on with a legitimate way to purchase music over the Internet, for just 99 cents a song. And it was revolutionary, driving unprecedented volumes and moving a lot of iPods in the process. But, like Bon Jovi, the record industry has a short memory, and immediately began demanding to sell songs for more money on iTunes, as well as demanding a higher percentage of revenue from each tune, even though, at 70:30, they were already doing better than a typical margin at a record store.
Anyway, they got what they wanted again, but still they rant and whine about devaluing music or killing the romance of the art form. Generally, they resent that the vast iTunes library has allowed indie bands to get more attention than they ever were when major labels controlled distribution. And those indie labels are doing great now (see what Merge Records has accomplished with Arcade Fire and Spoon), as are some of the independent record stores that thrive off of their albums.
Honestly, at the end of the day, the Web’s arrival in the early 1990s was a sign that all media would eventually be delivered differently than it previously had. It was obvious that early. But the entrenched media covered their eyes and their ears and hoped things could remain the same. And now that an inevitable reality of digital music, video, books, and periodicals have arrived, everyone wants to get mad at the one company that’s actually helped figure out how to make record labels some money in the last decade. Whether they like it or not.
In short, JonBon: “This Left Feels Right” killed music. Steve Jobs is the one who helped you profit from that murder.
The Sunday Times Magazine: LITD: Jon Bon Jovi, 48, rockstar (paywall)
Luke Renner, the founder of Fireside International, reached out last week to let us know about a very worthy program he’s running that could use Macs to do a whole lot of good. His organization has started the Caribbean Institute for Media Technologies (CIMT), a center that aims to teach journalism and multimedia storytelling skills to people in Haiti, in order to help educate “Haiti’s next generation of journalists, filmmakers, authors, and spokespeople.”
Specifically, the school has just received a huge collection of Rosetta Stone language training software, which is fantastic, except for the fact that it only runs on Intel Macs, and the school only has older PPC machines. If the school can pull together 11 Intel Macs, new or old, they can launch the program in earnest and repurpose the PPC towers to an additional center they’re planning to build.
Making a difference in Haiti is important to me, particularly since the catastrophic earthquake of last year. I also love seeing Macs help kids learn how to make a difference in the world. It’s a worthy cause. By all means, get on it.
The broad application of Apple’s new App Store subscription guidelines to everything from magazines (sensible) to Kindle books (questionable) to Readability (delusional) to Tiny Grab and possibly DropBox (downright silly) could end up being the single-worst business decision the Cupertino Colossus has made in the last decade, for one very simple reason: it seeks to maximize App Store revenue at the expense of making iPhones and iPads the most attractive hardware platforms on the market. Getting 30% of Readability’s revenue cannot possibly justify the risk of making the iPad sell a few hundred thousand fewer units.
Picture from EQueue
Friends, Romans, Applefans, I come to bury hard drives, not to praise them. The evil that poor technologies do live after them, and our good files are oft interred with their ashes. So let it be with hard drives.
Look at your MacBook Pro. It’s beautiful, no? Bright screen, thin body, buttonless trackpad, carefully engineered ports, MagSafe power port… it’s a master-work. Except for one thing. It carries a vestigial organ that all-too-often reveals itself to be the ruptured appendix of computing: a hard drive.
Yes, for all of our wonderful computing progress (spaghetti ports to USB; mobile dual-core processors, DDR3 DRAM, insanely fast GPUs), the lowly hard drive continues to exist based off of approximately the same technology it was back in the 1970s. Spinning magnetic platters with read/write heads, saving our entire digital lives in the process.
And while they have many wonderful qualities (massive storage capacity, more so than anything but TAPE; extremely low cost), they also have a fatal flaw, which is that they break and they break hard. Platters get warped, spindles get loose, heads get misaligned, and suddenly your computer stops working and you lose the project you’ve been slaving over for the last few months (see my wife’s recent calamity for evidence and a little solace in the iPhone).
Fast Co.Design has a very interesting Apple history artifact posted up today: the birth of the Mac, as told by Jef Raskin, the late founder of the Mac project. Jef’s son Aza wrote the piece and provides scans of the original document if you’re into authenticity instead of legibility.
It’s worth noting before you dive in, which I highly recommend, that Raskin’s vision for the Mac was very different from what Apple actually produced once Steve Jobs took over the development team. Raskin wanted the most unified hardware and software imaginable. One screen, one keyboard, one processor, one memory configuration, no expansion slots, one box. Oh, and he wanted a printer built into the box.
He also wanted to get rid of all modality in a computer. So, for example, if you started typing, the word processor would open and capture what you were typing (rather than having Clippy note that you’re writing a letter). A lot of that stayed in, but Jobs made it much more powerful and, ultimately, diverse and fragmented a platform than Raskin ever envisioned (see the Canon Cat for that).
As Aza Raskin notes, his father’s philosophy is much closer to what’s going one with the iPhone and the iPad. After all, you can have any iPad you want, so long as it comes in brushed aluminum.
This item of controlling appearance is quite significant: for example it is impossible to write a program on the Apple II or III that will draw a high-resolution circle since the aspect ratio and linearity of the customer’s TV or monitor is unknown. You can probably promise a closed curve, but not much more. You cannot promise readable characters, either. Therefore, a predictable, documentable system must be entirely under Apple’s control. LISA is Apple’s first system to allow us to design in context, without depending on chance for the all-important visual aspects of the computer’s output.
Well said. And one of the few places Jef and Steve really saw eye-to-eye, in the long run.