Tag » apple

Innovative laptop features from Dell

Given how much I post about Apple products, I really want to give kudos to Dell for the genuine innovations in their latest laptop. This Ars Technica article describes the cool new features of the Z600 laptop:

  • Completely wireless docking (screen, keyboard/mouse, audio) via a compatible wireless station. No need for an ugly proprietary dock connector. I want this.
  • Wireless charging via an induction stand. It won’t charge from your couch, but it’s nice to not have to deal with a cable.
  • Face-aware locking uses the built-in web cam to lock the screen whenever the user steps out of sight. If it isn’t annoyingly aggressive, this is super cool.
  • Always-on functionality to continuously fetch new mail. I wouldn’t use this (real-time is overrated), but clever nonetheless.
  • Gimmicky touch-strip on the side of the screen. Well, they can’t all be winners :)

All in all, a very impressive feature set that demonstrates real creativity. I hope Apple follows suit on some of these, especially the wireless dock.

Virtual Keyboards

Virtual Keyboards

This article about virtual keyboards on iPhone and Android is a good case-study of how seemingly small changes can make or break a design.

It also contains this brilliant idea:

[David Pogue:] “Although you don’t see it with your eyes, the sizes of the keys on the iPhone keyboard are changing all the time. That is, the software enlarges the “landing area” of certain keys, based on probability.”

For example, if you type the letter «N», the next letter is unlikely to be «H», but quite likely to be «G». Accordingly, the iPhone will increase or decrease the target areas of these keys.

Durable electronics


I watched the San Francisco premiere of Objectified last week. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a movie about product design (watch the trailer). I really enjoyed it, in particular for the interviews with some of my favorite designers (Jonathan Ive, Dieter Rams, Naoto Fukasawa).

I asked the folllowing question during Q&A:

Will we ever get to a world where products last 5, 10 or 20 years?

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, suggested that there is a difference between furniture and electronics. A high quality chair or table can easily last decades. Electronics on the other hand are simply vehicles for delivering the latest technology.

While I agree for the most part, I can think of the following counter-examples:

  • I’ve had my Nikon D70 for 4 years now, and have no particular desire to replace it. Newer cameras have higher resolutions and slightly better features, but I’m perfectly satisfied.
  • I have a first-generation iPhone, and don’t feel any particular need to upgrade. 3G and GPS would be nice, but I got most of the upgrade through the software update alone. The only reason I’ll get a new one this summer is that the hardware is failing on me (the mic has an echo).
  • If it hadn’t broken down, I’d be quite happy using my old 12″ Powerbook. With more of my computer usage moving to a super-efficient browser, I might actually use fewer computing resources now than I did back in 2003 (disclosure: I work on Google Chrome).

These three examples lead me to wonder if we might someday reach a state of “great enough” in electronics. This is different from “good enough”: I mean a state where the hardware is powerful and flexible enough that we no longer feel the need to upgrade for incremental improvements. At that point, we’ll want these devices to last longer than a couple of years.

So how do we incent manufacturers to make more durable products, when their business models depend on selling us new stuff? I can think of three alternative revenue streams, and Apple conveniently illustrates all of them:

  • Software. I got my iPhone software update for free, but I would definitely have paid for it (iPod Touch users did). I also spend money on iPhone Apps, from which Apple takes a cut.
  • Content. Apple sells music and movies through the iTunes store. Digital content is a perfect sustainable good, for which there is ever-renewed demand.
  • Services. Apple’s MobileMe services offers access to cloud storage, sync and access for a yearly fee. I get Gmail for free, but would pay for it if I had to.

Of course, Apple’s hardware margins still make up the bulk of their profits. However, as these other revenue sources grow in volume, the hardware might eventually become a loss-leader, as is commonly the case for new gaming consoles. At that point, we would expect them to shift to more durable, “great enough” hardware. (In the particular case of Apple, don’t hold your breath).

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Do you ever see us shifting to a world where electronic devices last more than a couple of years? And if so, how would that happen?

Bonus: check out the recently launched lastyearsmodel.org:

We love cool gadgets as much as anybody else. We just want to be thoughtful about the stuff we’ve bought. Even the most cutting-edge, tech-savvy geeks in the world are choosing to hang on to their phones or their iPods that still work just fine.

Also, thanks to  Noah and Matt  for discussing the ideas in this post with me.

Digital Album Art

Digital Album Art

Album art is perhaps the greatest casualty of the digital music revolution. Nowadays, a CD bought is quickly ripped and stuffed in a closet, or perhaps hung on the wall (as an aside, I really want some of those).

And yet, as Adrian Shaughnessy remarks in his excellent piece about the future of album art:

There is an undeniable sense of completeness when music comes with handsome packaging and engaging graphical material.

Luckily, there are also promising signs that alternatives will emerge in the digital world. Apple’s CoverFlow technology, which they acquired from a shareware developer, brings back some warmth to your iTunes library, and the iPhone has it too (scroll to the bottom). The labels are apparently interested as well, though I’m worried that they’re going to come up with something horribly kludgy. There’s something nice about the constraint of an album cover.

However, I’m most excited by physical representations of digital album art. David from Ironic Sans suggests a Digital Jewelbox, basically an LCD screen that displays the artwork from the currently playing song and acts as a remote control.

My all time favorite is Michael Kennedy’s i-Deck prototype. I love the retro-gramophone look, and the way the album art is displayed on the “cd”. The i-Deck has a physical charm that is impossible to match with pure software, and I would pay a lot to have one of these in my living room.

iPhone roundup

iPhone roundup

The reason I haven’t posted this week is that I was lucky enough to attend Steve Jobs’ keynote at MacWorld on Tuesday. My entire group camped out the night before (we we’re second in line!)… and of course I ended up sleeping for 12 hours straight last night. While the iPhone has already been extensively dissected on the web, I wanted to post some thoughts and a round-up of relevant links.

Being at the keynote was an incredible experience. Jobs is an amazing salesman, and you could just see the sparkle in his eyes as he revealed his new baby. His demo was perfectly polished, with a strong consistent message (“5 years ahead of any other phone”) and lots of nice one-liners (“and boy have we patented it”). He had phone conversations with Jonathan Ive and Phil Schiller in the audience. Eric Schmidt made a guest appearance (we all clapped extra hard), as did Jerry Yang from Yahoo and Stan Sigman, the CEO of Cingular (whose speech was awful). It all concluded with a live performance by John Mayer.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the product itself is fantastic. As a designer, I’m most intrigued by the touch screen user interface, which has tremendous potential for novel interactions. Something as simple as unlocking the phone becomes a slick swipe, and don’t even get me started on the zooming gesture. The industrial design is beautiful as well, with a huge high-resolution 3.5 inch touchscreen and only one button on the front face (one too many, if you ask me). It’s not tiny, but it’s very thin. All in all, a very very nice object.

Now of course it isn’t perfect. Here are my gripes:

  • No tactile feedback I’m very worried that the keyboard will be hard to use. The early reviews say that the error correction software helps, but I could still see it being clumsy. My only hope is that Jonathan Ive put enough work into it as to make it useable.
  • No proper Gmail integration I don’t think I can live without the fantastic Gmail mobile client. While they’ll hopefully get it working on the iPhone in time for the release, I’ll be torn between seamless Gmail integration and seamless OS integration (including fancy touchscreen interactions).
  • No third-party apps Apparently, the software is locked down. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.
  • No wireless sync Apparently, it won’t sync wirelessly with your computer. I have to believe this will change in time for the launch.
  • No detachable battery Given the roughly 1 day of battery life, it would have been nice to be able to pop in a spare battery. I know I’ve done it on my blackberry before.
  • No flash The only cameraphones that produce even remotely useable pictures at night are those with an LED flash. While we’re at it, 2 megapixels is going to be pretty standard by the time it launches.
  • A couple of unfair complaints I’d like to say that 8GB isn’t enough if you expect to store videos, pictures, music, etc… but I’d feel a bit snide given that it’s a lot more memory than any other phone, and anything bigger would have made it bulkier, more expensive and more power hungry. I’d also have liked a GPS, which would have enabled even more innovative applications.
  • Price point By the way he led up to it, I expected Jobs to announce a price point lower than current smartphones, something like $399 for the 4GB version. It has a lot of features, but $600 is still a lot of money for a phone. I also wonder how much it will cost without a new contract (I’m already with Cingular).
  • June?? WTF? Despite all of the above, I would definitely have bought one if they’d been available. I guess the FCC made that impossible, but still disappointing.

If you haven’t overdosed on the iPhone coverage yet, below is a list of links to give you a good overview of the product.

Concerto Table

The Concerto Table is shaped like a grand piano and integrates an ipod. Witty.

Apple Patent on virtual surround sound

Apple patent on virtual surround sound. Imagine an iPod Hi-Fi that would instantly provide surround sound when you placed it in a room.

Apple Keynote Bloopers

Apple Keynote Bloopers, a video of keynotes gone awry…

tags: , ,
2006-2-25-3:24 PM #

via: Don't remember...