Jim Cloudman

When iOS Rules the World

July 9, 2015 Permalink

There’s two trends in technology these days that are flying somewhat under the radar, that I think are going to be hugely important 5-10 years from now. The first is that today’s smartphones have as much power as laptops did five years ago, and the second is the trend in responsive design & platform independence, both in web and native applications.

The first is important because the mid 2000’s was a tipping point in the amount of power the average person needed in their computer. As long as you don’t load your machine up with malware & bloatware, you can buy any computer today and have enough speed to do anything you need to do (that isn’t hardcore gaming). The second is important because it won’t be long until any new application can be used on any device in the same ecosystem. Apple has opted for more incremental moves toward this - the Mac can’t run iOS applications just yet - while in Microsoft’s world, every bundled application in Windows 10 is an upscaled mobile app.

And you know what? Those are better desktop apps than the desktop-only applications they replaced. As it turns out, mobile interfaces translate very well to the desktop. Making a mobile UI for an application mostly involves collapsible navigation and well-spaced UI elements, which have no really detrimental effects on the desktop. 1 So while there are plenty of good reasons that Mac apps can’t run on iOS, there is nothing really stopping Apple from attempting the reverse if they want to. Microsoft already is. One day, the apps will be the same no matter what the computer, with the same features and capabilities.

Add one more feature in: the ability of the mobile OS to plug into a dock, drive a desktop or laptop, and transform into a windowed environment. Toss in mouse and USB device support and now you’ve got a capable laptop, desktop and phone, all in one pocketable device. Hopeless dreams? Hardly. Windows 10 on phones will already have this feature. If you’re a casual user with a phone sporting this capability, there’s no real need for a dedicated laptop or desktop if your phone can do the job. Given that even a laptop dock likely won’t exceed $300 and the price of a new Macbook is north of $1000, who would think of getting one if they didn’t absolutely need it? 2

Taking this trend into account, Microsoft’s Windows 10 should serve it well here - it’s laying the groundwork for the future. Which they must do as well as they can - because this future likely spells Microsoft’s decline. Why? Because it gives Apple an opening to smash the dominance of Windows. 3 The iPhone is already strangling Windows Phone marketshare. If it could be a PC too, then I bet it would strangle the Windows desktop too. It hinges on the most basic question: what do people want? And right now, they care about phones more than computers, and they like iOS better than Windows Phone. If one of these things change, Microsoft will take away marketshare and mindshare from Apple. If not, then Apple will do that to Microsoft. From where I’m sitting, the latter seems to be more likely.

Of course, specialized uses - gaming, servers, old business applications from 1987 and the like - won’t easily be displaced by a revolution of small, cheap personal devices. However, Microsoft becoming the next IBM would be a rather sad decline. Nonetheless, as a technology enthusiast, I’m excited to see how this plays out.

  1. Except for finger gestures; those don’t translate well. But I hate those, and we could easily do away with them. 

  2. If Microsoft manages to properly communicate that fact to the public, that is. One hopes they’ll sort out their mixed-messaging issues by then. 

  3. Maybe Google can too. They have a problem, though, in that they can’t even get people to use their tablets, let alone their laptops or desktops. While it makes sense for iOS and Windows devs to develop apps that run on as many form factors as possible, Android devs don’t have much incentive to design apps to handle more than just phones. That could prove to be a big hurdle for Google. 

Xbox Music is now Groove

July 7, 2015 Permalink

Xbox Music is now Groove

Following in the tradition of Microsoft apps being renamed every year, the Microsoft music platform is now named Groove. In my opinion, it’s a much better name than most things Microsoft has done; Groove fits right in with rivals like Beats. And makes Google Play sound like it’s stuck in the Web 2.0 era.

Of course, knowing Microsoft, some European company with an iron hold on the trademark in Monaco or whatever will raise hell, and it’ll end up abruptly changing to OneTunes, or SkySound, or Windows Live Music Player Premium Edition 2015.

Because I just had to have cloud keys on my keyboard! Also, I wish every keyboard used Proxima Nova for its font and Pictos icons; this...

June 16, 2015 Permalink

Because I just had to have cloud keys on my keyboard!

Also, I wish every keyboard used Proxima Nova for its font and Pictos icons; this looks fantastic.

How the new MacBook stacks up versus the XPS 13

March 16, 2015 Permalink

Apple launched a new MacBook last week, and I was faced with a choice: switch to the MacBook, or keep my current laptop. I could still return my laptop, so the choice should have been an easy one, given how great the new MacBook is as an ultraportable laptop.

Though it was an unexpectedly easy decision, it wasn’t in favor of the MacBook. I decided to keep my new Dell XPS 13.

“Crazy talk!” you say. “The MacBook is so thin and light! And the battery life is awesome! And look at that Retina screen, on an 11-inch laptop! And it’s fanless!” Yes, all true. And yes, Dell has a terrible, and deservedly so, reputation for reliability. Despite all this, I’m happy as hell with my laptop.

So am I crazy? I don’t think so. Let me compare the two.

  • The MacBook is thinner than the Dell XPS… by a whole 2 millimeters between their thickest points. More substantially, it’s a little under an inch narrower in width. The biggest difference is that the Dell is 12 ounces heavier than the MacBook. The use of carbon fiber sure didn’t help Dell a whole lot.

  • What the XPS’s slight increase in bulk gets you, though, is a stunning screen. The screen goes nearly edge to edge like that of a smartphone, and that extra inch of width gives you the screen size of a 13-inch laptop. The base model’s markedly lower-res than the MacBook, but this one is the 3K, 3200x1800 screen with over 280ppi to the MacBook’s 226ppi. It’s really something special.

  • Whereas the MacBook uses Intel’s ultra-low-voltage processors to enable a fanless design, Dell went with the more conventional chips used in the updated MacBook Air. That gives you more power. For web browsing, you probably won’t notice; Apple could have put a modern netbook chip in their laptop and most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference. I sometimes run Visual Studio on this thing, though, and I’ll take a fan in exchange for some more speed.

  • Anandtech did better testing of the XPS’s battery life than I can, and they saw great results from it, particularly with the entry-level screen model. I’m not seeing the amazing numbers they are from my limited use, though. I blame Windows 8 for this, as we’ve seen the MacBook Air get hours more life under OS X than under Windows. However, I’m rarely far enough from a power outlet for that to matter to me - indeed, it could be that I’ve almost never let the battery fully cycle.

  • The MacBook infamously has one port, though it’s a nice one. The XPS 13 has two “old-school” USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort, and a full SD card slot. Nice options to have, particularly if you want to use a good mouse, not the crap available with Bluetooth like Apple’s miserable Magic Mouse.

  • Not that you’ll need to, as the trackpad is actually good.1 That’s a revolutionary thought on a Windows machine, where even on Microsoft’s Surfaces they’ve typically sucked. Of course the MacBook’s is likely more accurate, but it’s also a “Force Touch” design with has simulated clicks. The Dell has a physical click to its trackpad, and I like it.

  • Similarly, the keyboard on the Dell is the conventional scissor-switched one that’s worked so well for Apple in the past. As a fan of mechanical keyboards, I’m reasonably sure that I’d like this more than the MacBook’s extremely shallow keys. Not having tried them I could be wrong though.

  • The soft-touch coated palm rests are more comfortable for typing than cold aluminum would be. It’s also translucent and prevents the carbon fiber frame it covers from being gaudier than a gold MacBook. I like the effect, something I don’t usually say of anything involving carbon fiber.

  • There’s no spot to put your finger to lift the screen when closed. Will PC manufacturers ever learn? It’s annoying as hell to need to use your fingernails to open this thing.

  • As far as the reliability goes: I’ve noticed no quality issues with the machine. You may have some difficulty with crapware if you buy from Dell. Don’t buy from Dell. Microsoft stores will banish all of that from your machine for no extra cost - indeed, the mid-range model is $100 cheaper than Dell’s own pricing on their site.

So overall, I have some quibbles about the design of the XPS, but overall I really like the compromises they’ve made, and the innovations they’ve managed. A MacBook with the screen and port selection of the XPS 13 would have made me think twice, but as it is, I like this better.

  1. The Verge and other sites says it stinks, but I don’t see what they’re talking about. I’ve had no trouble with it at all, except in Sublime Text, or possibly on content-heavy Google Chrome pages… like The Verge. This wouldn’t be the first time Google Chrome has made Windows look like crap. 

The Apple Watch Edition's Upgrade Dilemma

February 25, 2015 Permalink

The Apple Watch Edition's Upgrade Dilemma

John Gruber:

I say I'd bet against upgradeability simply because it'd be so unlike Apple. But, the whole idea of a solid gold $10,000 watch is also unlike Apple. We're in new territory here. And I do wonder why Apple called out the modular design of the S1 on their technology page. Why does this image exist? An "upgrade" would probably require new sensors and antennas and battery too -- more or less replacing everything inside the watch case.

I highly doubt Apple would actually open the thing up and change out the guts of these watches. It seems far more likely to me that Apple would "upgrade" the customer's watch by swapping the old watch out with a new one for a fee of, oh, $600 or so, and then recycle the old one. 1 If they were going to swap out cores, then they’d have to make sure that every core they designed going forward was compatible with old watches. I don’t see Apple constricting their design team like that just to preserve the scuffed-up golden shells of old watches.

Another option might be to charge an even more exorbitant amount, like $15000, and then offer anyone who buys their watch free, lifetime upgrade swaps. Do that, and nobody who pays that much for an Apple Watch will want to ever consider any other competitor, because they can always have the best watch for free. Given that such people tend to be famous or influential, locking those people in might be pretty great advertising.

  1. They would probably first place the watch on a scale, to see if you've somehow scraped gold off of it. -

Malicious Google Play apps (may have) hosed millions of Android handsets

February 4, 2015 Permalink

Malicious Google Play apps (may have) hosed millions of Android handsets

Researcher Filip Chytry:

Each time you unlock your device an ad is presented to you, warning you about a problem, e.g. that your device is infected, out of date or full of porn. This, of course, is a complete lie. You are then asked to take action, however, if you approve you get re-directed to harmful threats on fake pages, like dubious app stores and apps that attempt to send premium SMS behind your back or to apps that simply collect too much of your data for comfort while offering you no additional value.

These apps have been pulled from the Play store, but other unknown apps are out there, and causing real users real headaches.

It’s true that you can get some very affordable phone plans with Android phones which are impossible to ignore. However, I’m glad that iPhones are very resistant to this sort of thing because of their heavy restrictions and sandboxing. If I ever saw a full-screen Lyft ad upon unlocking my phone, I’d probably hurl the phone into the ground like an angry Scot!

Amazon in Talks To Buy Some of RadioShack's Stores

February 4, 2015 Permalink

Amazon in Talks To Buy Some of RadioShack's Stores

John Gruber:

This sounds like an interesting way for Amazon to dip its toes in retail on the cheap, but the problem is, most RadioShack locations are kind of crappy. Dingy little retail boxes. Every location would need a lot of work just make it look nice.

They don’t need to make them look nice. Amazon was never that great at product quality - the Kindles are cheap and the Fire Phone is unwanted. What they excel at is service quality, and they don’t need fancy locations and spiffy aesthetics inside to pull that off.

I saw some speculation on Twitter as well about the limited size and space of the stores. I don’t think that’s a problem either. Amazon would probably sell some Kindle and Fire stuff out of them, but I don’t believe these would primarily be stores. That’s what Amazon.com is for, and that has to remain Priority #1. I think these places would be service centers, offering a live person to fix your broken Kindle and to receive your product returns in a hassle-free way. You don’t need lots of floor space or storage space for that.

Herp Derpsum

January 29, 2015 Permalink

Herp Derpsum

When Lorem Ipsum placeholder text is just too understandable for your purposes.

Search Tip for Windows 10 Users

January 24, 2015 Permalink

You know how in Windows Vista, 7 or 8 you could hit the Windows key and immediately start typing the name of an app to find and launch it (like Spotlight on OS X)? Well, in Windows 10 you’ll find that doesn’t work. Turns out they’ve moved it into Cortana, which is fired with Win+S.

Also, for those who only know the Apple world: Cortana on the desktop is not like Siri in that input and output are both audio-based. You can type your search parameters or questions into it, and the responses are displayed, not necessarily spoken to everyone around you. (I actually haven’t figured out how to get it to speak responses - I think it’s broken; unsurprising for a beta - but I don’t really want that anyway.)

Hopefully they map the Windows key itself to Cortana. I always liked that you could fire the search with a single key - something you couldn’t do on a Mac.