Apr 292010

When I started Vaporwatch, I half-believed that Microsoft would actually release one of the breakthrough products it was “developing”. After all, the trick of announcing a product whose sole purpose was to deflate enthusiasm for competitors’ real products was just becoming too obvious and well-worn – even for Microsoft.

Well, now that Apple’s iPad has sold more than a million units in less than a month in only one country, M$ has decided to make me look like a genius by “leaking” to Gizmodo that it was time for Courier to give up the ghost.

I have to give them credit: Classic Redmond would have dragged the charade on for another year before burying it. Guess they figured spending another half a million on a “concept video” that had zero impact on Apple’s real product in the same space was wasteful. It’s not like Microsoft is any stranger to setting money on fire.  Aside from losing billions every quarter trying to push consumer electronics that no one wants, they periodically burn haybales of capital on some of the worst advertising in the business. Using that criteria, axing Courier qualifies as one of the most sensible marketing decisions Microsoft has made in the last decade.

So while the comment sections of Gizmodo are aghast with shock and mourn the premature death of a device that no doubt would have changed the face of mobile computing – even though it never had a corresponding presence in the physical universe – the sane among us knew there was a better chance of being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear in the same day than of the Courier seeing the light of day.

Apr 282010

I’d like to join the rest of the tech community in wishing Jason Chen of Gizmodo a safe trip. Prior to your departure, I’d recommend you familiarize yourself with the language and local customs of your destination. The first 2 seasons of “Oz” would be a good start. I’m glad to see you already displaying mastery of the local currency:

Best of luck, Jason!

 Posted by at 4:38 pm
Apr 132010

The Courier

As buzz was building to a crescendo about the Apple tablet that will eventually become the iPad, other me-too tablet announcements begin to trickle in. Not willing to let a superior product out of the gates before performing the trick they made famous, Microsoft begins “leaking” concept videos of a stylus-driven, dual-screen touchscreen tablet. You see, M$ has more than one vaporware tactic. Sometimes they’ll make a big announcement at a consumer electronics show a year and a half before their real product is slated to ship. Sometimes their corporate security periodically disintegrates, “revealing” products to eager tech sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, who unwittingly post their “scoops” while Microsoft laughs at the continued gullibility of tech media.

At companies that make real products, a leak like Courier would set off a nuclear device in the boardroom. Letting competition know the form factor, features or technology present in your forthcoming devices is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately for Microsoft, when these “leaks” hit the tech landscape, they usually don’t represent a design worth copying, don’t reveal any technical details about the product, and are immediately recognized by potential competitors for what they are. Much like the Wizard of Oz, the awesomeness of the apparition belies the nothingness of the reality.  So here’s what we “know” about the Courier:

September, 2009: Microsoft “leaks” an animated concept video of a tablet device known as Courier to Engadget. Despite the “concept” not having specs, price, OS, or release date (wouldn’t want to kill the enthusiasm with all that), the incredibly detailed animation, spanning 1:55, inspires commenter cries of “Microsoft is back!”, which I took as an incomplete blurt that ends something like “…to creating representations for which no actual product is intended”, since that is clearly their strength.

November 2009: A video detailing the Courier’s user interface is “leaked” to Gizmodo (hey, the wealth must be shared), because the more detailed the non-product, the more effective the “stopping power”. Engadget uses the curious term “advanced proof of concept”, which is usually reserved for products that “can be built” as opposed to those that “can be drawn”. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t seem to realize that no one buys their particular shovelful of bullshit anymore – except commenters on tech websites. A “Highest Ranked” comment on Engadget reads: “This isn’t a laptop without a keyboard, it’s a new device designed from the ground up to be controlled with a pen and multitouch gestures.” That one cost TMA a mouthful of coffee and almost a wireless keyboard. Engadget follows up with Steve Ballmer and pointedly asks about the device. His response, according to Engadget, is that “he swears he hasn’t actually seen it, but that it sounds like it’s something someone should make”.  Readers are left to decide for themselves whether the CEO of the company can really be so out of touch with its groundbreaking products or if the comment was just a really retarded attempt at coyness.

March 2010: Another Courier video is “leaked” to Engadget, showing how the device’s…animation…has evolved. Amazingly, even though 6 months have passed since the previous animation (which one might assume would go into the development of an actual product), the same absolute lack of details remain.

April 2010: Apple releases the iPad to extremely positive reviews. Despite being released on a Saturday, sales figures for the weekend top those of the original iPhone, indicating once again that in a market where people exchange money for actual products, Apple reigns supreme.

Apr 092010

1. That it allows free app developers to make money, which allows free apps to have richer content.

2. …that’s all I got.

No smart person can argue against “paying” for a free app through advertising – even for the worst quality app. I agree with people having to pay for an app with either with their wallet or with their attention, but not both.

Although it’s popular to characterize the app market as “a race to the bottom”, the App Store is still a free market. Pricing decisions, in the end, are made by the developers themselves. If a shop chooses volume over per unit revenues, that’s on them, just like in any other free market.  If the majority of developers were losing money in the App Store, there wouldn’t be 170K apps there. Apps that aren’t making money are either poor in quality or are not priced in a way that allows them to recoup the investment in them. Neither of these things are the consumers’ or the market’s fault. Any perceived “downward price pressure” present in the App Store economy does not justify iAds.

People thinking that Apple themselves will be adding prohibitive criteria of “too much advertising” as part of the app approval process are deluded, especially with the slew of new variables for notification Apple introduced as part of 4.0’s multitasking feature. It’s the market’s job to reward the $4.99 app developer who tastefully integrates advertising and punish $4.99 app developer who slathers ads all over the app.

My point is that there’s already a revenue model in place for paid apps: it’s based solely on the quality of the app plotted against its price. When Steve said “mobile ads suck”, my thought response was “isn’t that why you developed the alternative revenue model of paying for an app?”.

I think that’s what Steve meant when he said “It’s all about helping our developers make money through advertising so they can keep their free apps free.” If that’s the extent of iAd implementation, there is nothing but win. I personally didn’t get the impression from the presentation yesterday that iAds were limited to free apps.

If developers of paid apps use iAds, it drops a layer into the user experience that benefits only one party in the developer-consumer relationship. I have yet to see a model of advertising overlaid onto an already-purchased product that adds any value for the user; the very best models are successful if they don’t piss them off. If iAd implementation is not restricted to free apps, I don’t see anything in it for consumers, but a lot of opportunity to degrade the paid-app experience.

Apr 082010

Like a bloated lion, Microsoft waits for other, more innovative companies to launch products before waddling to market, bellowing the entire saunter from their shaded tree about how awesome their product is going to be. The idea being that competition would be discouraged from mobilizing and people who still hadn’t made a purchase decision would be frozen, waiting for M$’s entry. Sometimes they’d make it to market; most of the time they didn’t. Back in the days of Longhorn, an OS that was slated to succeed XP and was heavily promoted with fanciful technologies yet somehow never made it to market, this trick worked pretty well. It essentially killed innovation in the computer and consumer electronics spaces, but what the fuck, it made Microsoft money – or it least prevented it from flowing to its competition.

Nowadays, everyone in tech is wise to Microsoft’s vaporware bait-and-ditch tactics. Yet incredibly, the company continues to juice markets with nothing backing up their claims to enter them besides a “concept animation”. If there’s anything in the market that smells a little like innovation, you can bet Redmond will announce their better, more powerful version coming soon, soon, soon! Commenters in Gizmodo and Engadget spring their collective wood, actually expecting a product to be released in their lifetime. Think Charlie Brown, Lucy and a football.

As a public service to the community, TMA has decided to keep track of some of Microsoft’s “coming soon” technologies that, although are still very early in development, hasn’t stopped the company from showing off celebrity demos and producing very detailed animations of how their “products” will work. I call this service “Operation Vaporwatch”. Let’s start with Microsoft’s latest gaming vapor…

Project Natal

Jun 1, 2009: In a move no doubt intended to staunch the arterial bleeding inflicted by Nintendo’s Wii on the XBox 360, Microsoft unveils a super-advanced motion-sensing set top device with the code name Project Natal (as in Nepal, not dreidel). The device is announced with no ship date and no price, but plenty of fanfare. Its demo videos and celebrity endorsements are the talk of the 2009 E3. In a follow-up confirmation from Ballmer himself, Natal is to be released before the end of 2010. You read that right: 18 months from the product’s announcement. Try to think of a product in the tech space – any tech product – that gets announced a year and a half before its scheduled release. TMA immediately calls horse

Jun 3, 2009: In what TMA will later refer to as part of “the Wonka Factory Tour”, during which Gizmodo editors are walked through Microsoft’s product development centers in exchange for fair and balanced reporting, Mark Wilson and Matt Buchanan are treated to exclusive access to Natal’s 3D Breakout and Burnout Revenge demos. A “small PC and camera that simulates the final Natal rig” are used. One would assume the PC will not come with Natal when it does ship. No specs of said PC are divulged. Also missing is any photo or video of the actual gameplay experience – something that might actually mark the performance of the PC-enhanced units or – you know – build an actual buzz. Regardless, both editors rave about “immersiveness”. The resulting unbiased review is titled “Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible”.

June 2009 – Jan 2010: Redmond is overrun by crickets. Payload delivered.

Jan 7, 2010: According to a statement from Alex Kipman, Natal’s chief developer, Natal still exists and the add-on will consume a meager 15% of the XBox 360’s processing power, or in laymen’s terms 40 dB.

Feb 23, 2010: MTV clocks the lag between body movements and the corresponding on-screen output at 1/10 second. FPS games from 1995 point and laugh.

Apr 052010

Lets take a look at some of the wisdom injected into Mr. Thurrott’s impressions:

“The power plug is the bigger, uglier old-style plug, not the new small, square one you get with iPhone.

It’s because the iPad draws more charge. For that 10+ hour battery. Dickhead.

The box it comes in is oddly thick, given Apple’s penchant for thinness. Most of the box is just air, and that part is below the device. Weird.”

It’s the exact same thin: air ratio as the iPhone 3GS packaging. Dickhead.

Fucking gems, Paul. If you read the bottle, it’ll tell you not to try and double up the dose you missed.

After the devastating critique of Apple’s power brick heft and packaging weirdness, he concludes that “Anyone who believes this thing is a game changer is a tool. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.”

Don’t apologize, Paul. To people who know tech, your first impression is pretty much the same as the 2nd, 3rd, 56th and last impression people have of you. In the pantheon of “people who get paid to write shit about tech”, you’re a caricacture – on a good day. You’re a shill for fail. At least you could be like Lyons and throw a laugh in once in a while.

Apr 032010

I’m usually not in line for 1st gen Apple products. It’s not that I don’t think they’ll be great; it’s that after having the desktop, laptop, smartphone and set top box categories covered, I just don’t feel the need to line up for products that don’t fill an obvious void.

I came around on the iPad roughly 2 weeks before SJ’s presentation, when it became obvious to me that a tablet computer from Apple was going to be a big deal. I followed some developers’ blogs and heard the cool stuff they were planning for the device. Then I saw Jobs’ presentation. The device’s implications for how we consume content was going to be big.

The pre-launch reviews on Thursday from the Pogue/Ihnatko/Mossberg Apple trinity were as swoon-tastic, as you’d expect. Apple also expanded their review unit program to a couple of other publications, with a couple of surprises. Bob Levitus (Houston Chronicle) and Stephen Fry (Time Magazine) got “Lifetime Appreciation” units (I assume Stephen got his before Time announced their iPad magazine pricing). Ed Baig from USA Today got the generic newspaper unit; Xeni Jardin from Boing Boing repped the edgy, hip publication. Tim Gideon from PC Magazine got one, a move I like to call “Smell the Glove, Bitches”. Some dude from theroot.com also got one. I can only assume some kind of Wonka lottery was held and he won.

So like several other mortal Apple bloggers, I bit the bullet and pre-ordered in mid-March. UPS taunted me up until the morning of April 3rd, showing my unit in China when I went to bed on the 2nd. But in the wee hours, my iPad made its way through Customs at EWR. Brown came through for me, as I imagine it did for Ballmer and Bezos when they read the reviews.

Dateline: 10:09 AM: Fistpump

Hello World! I own your face!

There’s about 10,000 other blogs who will rattle off the specs of the iPad, so I’m not going to go through the effort of copying and pasting someone else’s work. I’m going to assume you’re up on the device and likely lost if you happen to be reading my blog.

Here’s some of the things that surprised me about the device:

1. The keyboard. I hope to explode some freetard’s head by saying this: I can type 90% as fast on the iPad’s on-screen keyboard as I can on my MacBook or on an Apple wireless keyboard. I suspect some of this is because the keyboards are spaced similarly. What I do know is that the biggest obstacle for me – and a lot of people – to have the iPad serve as a laptop replacement is the quality of the keyboard.

2. Native Apps. There’s a few apps that showcase the iPad’s potential. Because I’m kind of a science nerd, I downloaded The Elements (it’s huge; be patient). Suffice it to say, if I had this app in 1988, I would have aced Chemistry. The intro song alone is worth the price of the app. It also showcases how absolutely stunning the iPad’s IPS screen is. Netflix was good enough to get me to reactivate my cancelled account. It is liquid awesome.

2b. Non-native apps. In the “slight frustration” column, 30 of the apps I had on my iPhone would not transfer to my iPad because they were not Universal (which in this case means runs on the iPhone/iPod Touch and the iPad). I had assumed that all apps would run in “1x” or “iPhone-sized” mode right out of the box on the iPad. Not so. Out of the ones on my iPhone 3GS (approximately 1 metric shitton of apps), 1Password Pro, Facebook and 2Do are the ones that currently work for me.

–UPDATE 4/8: What I previously attributed to an issue with apps transitioning from the iPhone to the iPad was actually caused by Pogoplug. Long story short: having your iTunes Library (where your synced apps are) reside on a Pogoplug-connected drive is asking for trouble. If anyone knows a way to consistently make this work, I would love to hear about it in comments. Anyway: mea culpa. All apps I have downloaded from the app store or have since synced from my iTunes library (since i moved it locally) have successfully run in “1x/2x” mode.–

I assume a flood of apps will be updated in the next 48 hours to run on the iPad. Some developers may use this as an opportunity to optimize the program for the iPad’s additional real estate and possibly add features. It will be up to individual developers to decide if, when they make their apps compatible, they will charge anything additional for additional functionality.

3. The battery. I didn’t bother to charge the device before whaling on it, because I do not possess one ounce of restraint. The battery showed 92% pre-whaling. Starting at 10:30am, I commenced downloading a couple pages of apps (which I would argue chew through battery faster than video), and basically ran through every downloaded  or transferred app I could shove onto it. It’s 8pm now, and it’s still showing a 35% charge. I’m not going to say I ran this thing bumper-to-bumper running video the whole time, and the device did slip into sleep a few times, but for my use case, the battery performance was well into “holy shit”.

As I paw the iPad more, I’ll be sharing my observations/frustrations/snarky commentary with my tens of readers.

 Posted by at 8:09 pm  Tagged with:
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