Apple’s vision of the iPhone/iPad… 23 years ago.
Aug 21st, 2010 by scaredpoet

Before cellular networks could even come close to providing high speed data. Before Color LCD and OLED screens were even close to being usable, much less common. Before touch screens were viable… Apple already had an idea of how these technologies would come together and change computing.

Considering the fine gadgets they’ve provided us with today, some people might not find this so amazing. But the interesting twist is this vision wasn’t dreamed up by Steve Jobs.

The year was 1987, and Jobs had actually been ousted by his own corporate board at Apple. At the helm was John Sculley, an individual Jobs had recruited to Apple from PepsiCo, ultimately clashed with, and ended up losing a battle for control of the company to. Unfortunately, Sculley didn’t turn out to be the management wunderkind the board believed him to be: his reign started a dark era at Apple where internal politics, aimless development projects and screwed up product lines may have nearly sent the company into bankruptcy.

And talk about narcissism! If you think Steve Jobs is eccentric, consider that Sculley wrote an autobiography, then made Apple buy a copy for every employee, to promote “excellence.”

But, one concept he DID come up with in 1987, and should probably at least get a little bit of credit for, is this tablet-like device… with a touch screen, integrated video conferencing and messaging, and access to a vast network of data that allows a user to search and retrieve all kinds of information.

Unfortunately with Jobs gone, there was no “i” in Apple at the time, and so it lacked a catchy name. Instead, this concept had the very un-cool title “Knowledge Navigator.” And while no tech conpany could build it in 1987, Sculley figured it would be commonplace around 2010, and even produced a video to demonstrate what it might look like.

For the record: I’m actually glad that current technology didn’t quite evolve this way. I’d be totally annoyed if my iPhone had this priggish, smug bowtied “assistant” constantly nagging me about my appointments and phone calls. And I also noticed something… the professor keeps this thing on his desk, and the thought never crosses his mind that this highly compact device can be picked up and taken with him. I guess nobody’s perfect.

Everything’s Amazing, and Nobody’s Happy
Jul 17th, 2010 by scaredpoet

In case you’re sitting there, annoyed at your balky iPhone, or otherwise annoyed by the challenges of modern technology, please watch the following video. It pretty much sums up what I’ve been thinking as of late:

The comedian is Louis C.K. and he’s VERY funny.

Silence those Vuvuzelas!
Jul 5th, 2010 by scaredpoet

The Vuvuzela. For some, it’s a symbol of revelry for the FIFA World Cup fans. For others, it’s a horrible bane on humanity’s existence. The beeswarm drone of thousands of soccer fans blowing away at these horns drowns out everything else. It’s even been parodied by Youtube, which now allows you add this annoyance to any video you like.

But not to be outdone, the Anti-Vuvuzelistas have come up with their own coutermeasure: a Vuvuzela filter. With a few days left to the World Cup Finals, Prosoniq has introduced VuvuX, a filter that specifically removes Vuvuzela pollution from audio:

The process used in VuvuX has been developed to distinguish between voice, Vuvuzela hum and background noise by applying pattern detection and tracking.

The website offers up some examples of filtered audio, using both a standard notch filter (with poor results) and the dynamic VuvuX filter (which sounds amazingly good).  Here’s another example of the filter in action:

Audio: vuvuxinaction (MP3 file, 512KB)

The good news: VuvuX is free! The bad news: the free audio plugin is only available for Mac users. Because, Macs rule.

But fear not Windows or linux users. An SDK exists for incorporating this filter into other software tools. And, a commercial implementation called NoVuVu for both Mac and Windows is available for just €9.95 (as of this writing, about $12.48 for those of us who call the sport “soccer”).

The i of the retina: Part 2
Jun 25th, 2010 by scaredpoet

Last week, I began a little experiment to test out the veracity of Apple’s claims about one of the new iPhone 4’s most touted features: the Retina display.  In particular, the claim is: “the Retina display’s pixel density is so high, your eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels.”

Well, after subjecting the previous iPhone model, the 3GS, to a little bit of optical testing, we here at the lab have managed to gain access to one of the new specimens and have repeated our tests.  And as promised, here are the results.

First, a general overview of the iPhone 4 screen:

Obviously the above image is a greatly scaled-down view.  To see the whole thing, you’ll want to click here (sorry, slow-internet users).  Right off the bat, you hold this phone in your hand and you see a HUGE improvement over the previous display.  For the most part, the 3GS screen isn’t that bad when you look at it alone.  It does a pretty good job of doing what it has to do to deliver a decent image.  But the iPhone 4… wow.  Just… wow.  It’s incredibly crisp, and puts the previous generation screens to total shame.

Is it like holding a sheet of paper in your hand, like Apple claims?  No, not exactly.  Paper still has a better crispness to it.  But, this screen is still pretty damned clear.  And at least to my eyesight, Apple is right: I couldn’t make out individual pixels.

But, what about our little friend, with the much bigger eye and the much better eyesight?

Well, he’s been waiting for this moment. 🙂

The lab was set up as before: the camera fitted with a 60mm macro lens, and mounted at the closest distance it would focus (0.2m).  And here’s what it saw:

Again, this is reduced.  Here’s the full size version.

Long story short: yes, the Canon with the nice macro lens can still see the pixels on the new display.  But, that doesn’t really tell us much.  How does the new display stack up to the old one?

Let’s compare.  Here’s a reduced-size, side-by-side image of the Calculator app icon on the 3GS (left), and the iPhone 4 retina display (right):

And here of course, is the full-size image.  But even from the reduced image, it’s blatantly evident: there’s a BIG improvement between the old display and the new.

To drive the point home, here’s a pixel-for-pixel closeup:

Apple’s hard technical figures are spot-on: there’s effectively a 4:1 pixel increase in the new display over the old one, and the resulting improvement is significant.  In fact, it’s actually pretty hard to go back to using the previous-gen display after playing with the new one for a while.

Realistically and objectively though, is this alone worth the upgrade?  For some people, I would argue yes, particualrly if you use your iPhone a lot.  The new display is easier on the eyes, and has a nice vibrance to it.

On the other hand, a casual user might get the same wow-factor from looking at the new screen but wouldn’t quite benefit that much.  At the very least, there aren’t any iPhone apps as of this writing that absolutely require the better screen.  Though, that may change in time.

I certainly would wait until after the current waiting-line hysteria has died down.  It should be clear to any reasonable that until the lines start to dwindle as the early adopters finally get their gadgets, the chances of getting one in the immediate future if you haven’t already are slim.

As with the previous screen test, a gallery of test pics can be viewed after the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »
A few words to the iPhone masses…
Jun 24th, 2010 by scaredpoet

If you’re out there standing in line for an iPhone, or freaking out over alleged iPhone 4 defects, I have a few things to say.

Don’t panic.

This is the fourth time this cyclical hysteria has happened. It never fails. In the end, the blog posts about it die off, the bloggers and “analysts” get bored and find some other shiny thing to speculate about whether x chip was manufactured incorrectly or not or whether x company did their launch right, no massive recall of “defective” iPhones ever occurs, and yet somehow the vast majority continue to use their iPhones just fine.  Life goes on.

Soon, there will be tales  of people who’ve exchanged their iPhone 4s a half-dozen times or more after finding some teensy quirk that drives them OCD-crazy, and don’t get the hint after the 9001st exchange that their expectations on hyper-perfection will simply not be realized. I guarantee it: this happens every time and ends up amounting to nothing. Though, it might take a bit longer this time around for exchange unit inventory to populate the stores.

I think the best advice anyone can give people who are waiting in line, obsessing over defects, or doing any of the other classic iPhone-launch-OCD behaviors, is to just relax, and chill a bit. All these lines that have formed, and most the complaints about network performance tend to ultimately rest on the fact that so many people are obsessing about this particular piece of expensive metal and glass. At the end of the day, it’s just not that important.

And if you’re one of those people who are about to fire back with “WELL FOR A $599 DEVICE IT BETTER BE PERFECT!!” – then you’re exactly the demographic I’m talking to. You’re parting with hundreds of dollars and you’re incredibly stressed over it. Is itworth $599 and all this hassle to not be happy?

It took me being separated from my iPhone – and having no mobile device to speak of – for a week and half to come to that realization. It’s amazing how being unplugged for a while resets your mindset, and helps you be way less stressed over things. The iPhone is an amazing tool and I still wouldn’t prefer to leave it behind, but I’m not not going to let it rule my life, nor will I deprive myself of sleep to stand in an outrageously long line and probably (not) get one.

Relax.  You’ll get your iPhone in good time.  There are more important things in life.

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