Wednesday, March 21, 2007

iPhone: Is There Something Apple Isn't Telling Us Yet?

This month's Popular Science (April 2007) has a How It Works write up on haptic feedback for touch screens: the ability to "feel" a touch on an LCD touch screen.

The Phone that Touches You Back

Will the iPhone have this? One of the big knocks vis a vis "Smart" phones and PDAs that have keyboards is that you won't be able to type well with the flat, LCD touch screen on the iPhone because of no tactile feedback. If the iPhone incorporated this tech, and it's here already, seems to me one of the big knocks against it would be knocked out.


MacXword is now Black Ink from Red Sweater Software

It was officially announced today that MacXword, formally an Advenio product, has now been taken under the wing of Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater Software.

Why the transition? Well it needed a lot of love, and Stephan, who had started working on something new, thought it'd be better to spin it off into someone else's hands, someone with the time to devote to the product. Enter Red Sweater Software.

Daniel agreed to acquire MacXword a while back and has put a lot of new work into it, rewriting large parts and making it into a new application. Going forward, it should see new development and it's definitely in good hands.

People who donated to the "Save MacXword" drive will receive serial numbers for version 1.0 of Black Ink. All other owners of MacXword can upgrade to Black Ink for just $9.95 from the Red Sweater store. Check out Black Ink today!

Full press release: Red Sweater Announces Black Ink 1.0, Premium Crossword Solving Software

Daniel's blog post: Black Ink 1.0
Stephan's blog post: MacXword Becomes Black Ink


Monday, March 19, 2007

Is Adobe's Apollo the "Real Deal?"

Adobe has been working on freeing flash and web development from the browser for a while now, supplementing or even replacing rich web clients, and Apollo is their solution:
Adobe Systems is opening a new phase in the rich client wars, releasing code that could help developers change notions of what a PC interface looks like.

The company is posting early code and a software development kit (SDK) for Apollo, its runtime engine for web-like applications running on a desktop without a browser. Apollo launches at the end of the year.

We've seen the claim before. A 4GL-ish based system that will put software development in the hands of everyone, and Apollo is another of these, I think, but will someone get it right this time? I always wonder at claims something can make anyone a "developer." OK, it can make you one, but it doesn't make you a good one necessarily. Look at all the terrible flash-based web interfaces out there.

While conceptually similar to Widgets in Apple's OS X, and Windows Vista's oh-so-originally named Gadgets, Apollo goes a step further, Adobe says. It can run on the desktop, is capable of accessing data on the local hard disk, and of integrating with other applications - such as Adobe's PDF.

Adobe wants developers to build Apollo-based desktop applications using existing tools and expertise, such as Flash, Flex, HTML, CSS and AJAX.

This is probably one of the biggest risks around Apollo, that Apple and Microsoft, the owners of the desktop, are already doing something similar, though both are confined to their own respective "sandboxes" right now and Apollo isn't. There isn't anything to really stop, say Apple, from making it so Dashboard widgets can run outside of Dashboard. In fact, there is already a way to do it.

Apollo gives developers a way to customize the desktop, and move away from the cookie-cutter Microsoft-defined look and feel that's defined the PC market for 30 years. This could come in quite handy for banks, telcos and other brand-conscious organizations that want a customized interface to be the first thing users and customers see when working, instead of the Microsoft logo and standard Windows front-end.

Apparently, the Mac/PC user interface is dead, or at least a lot of people are trying to kill it, to make it disappear into the background, replaced by task specific UIs, all different and all branded.

I think to really see the potential benefits and uses of Apollo you need to watch this demo video. It shows some of the interactions between an Apollo "app" and a web site, in this case I think that rather than replacing traditional desktop apps, Apollo has the potential to create a whole new class of web-aware applications. While it won't make every web designer a software developer, it does potentially open up new ways for those of us that do develop software to build web-aware applications, and that could lead to a lot of new ways to present and manipulate data.

Read more: Adobe targets developers with Apollo
More information on Apollo: The Apollo wiki

(Note: I haven't actually had time to download and evaluate Apollo yet.)


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Royalty hike could mute Internet radio

In a move that will only benefit the big record labels and further kill any chance of competition, Congress decided to hike the royalty rates for internet radio.
This month, a three-judge panel created by Congress to set digital music royalty rates decided on a big increase, retroactive to 2006, for companies that stream music over the Internet. The increase will apply not only to small broadcasters like Kaup, but also to major companies like Yahoo Inc. or Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and to Internet "simulcasts" of traditional over-the-air radio stations, which could see their royalty payments increase by millions of dollars under the new scheme. -- The Boston Globe

Want a real-world example? Here's what will happen to Soma FM, a small steamer available in the iTunes Radio Alt/Modern Rock list:
The Copyright Royalty Board has announced new copyright licensing fees for internet radio stations. The new fees are a staggering increase over our previous annual royalty rate of about $22,000 to over $600,000 for 2006. And the fees are even higher in 2007, based on our current listenership, they'll be over $1 million dollars for 2007! (Which is 3-4 times what we hope to raise in 2007). -- Soma FM

What you're seeing is essentially 3 guys, probably on the dole from record labels, essentially putting internet radio out of business. This is your government working for you... if you're a large, rich record company with a sagging business model that is. The only hope is to do what Soma FM suggests, write your rep in Congress using their provided link:
If you think this is unfair to internet radio, and you are an American citizen, you can send a letter to your congressman showing your support for internet radio. We already have the attention of Congress, so now you have to let them know you support internet radio and that royalty rates shouldn't be structured in a way that will put small webcasters out of business.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Quick Musings

I've recently added Quick Musings to the right sidebar. I'm doing Quick Musings, using Tumblr, sort of for myself, and for things that I feel like commenting on that don't necessarily warrant a full blog post. If you find my "quick musings" interesting, you can subscribe to Quick Musings directly, the feed is at the bottom of the list.

Tumblr is kind of cool. It's more or less between Blogger and Twitter. It's not exactly "here I am, sitting at my desk, and oh hey Jim just walked in" like a lot of Twitter posts seem to be, but it's geared more towards short posts. I've taken a liking to it.

My Tumblr page.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Big Picture: Apple's DRM is not a Monopoly

I'm really starting to get sick of all of this "Apple is the new music monopoly" talk and now that the EU seems to be interested in getting into the battle, it's getting even worse. EU takes aim at Apple over iTunes

European Union consumer chief Meglena Kuneva decided to get into the fray recently saying,
Do you think it's fine that a CD plays in all CD players but that an iTunes song only plays in an iPod? I don't. Something has to change.
The problem with this statement is that the CD to digital music analogy doesn't really work. When there were just CDs, your alternatives were LPs, and cassette tapes, and converting between the formats was lossy. All incompatible formats, and no other way to buy your music, there was no choice BUT to have all the CD players work the same to get CD quality music. Now, though, you can conveniently buy a music selection from the iTunes store (ITS), digitally, with DRM, or you can buy the same thing on CD and make your OWN digital copy without DRM and, if you want, without any loss of quality. Apple's store is really a matter of convenience, not of exclusivity of a format.

[Update: Meglena Kuneva apparently later backed off her charges saying "there was no reason to talk about legal action against the U.S. computer and technology company" and that she "merely wanted to raise questions." EU Commish backs off on Apple Why'd she do this? Because she probably realized she was being an idiot.]

Convenience is not a right. There is no law that says that everyone is entitled to the same music purchasing convenience. If you want to use the ITS, you purchase an iPod. If you don't, you can still buy the CDs, often for the same or less cash. No DRM, you're free to do with it what you will. If the convenience of downloading from the Apple store trumps the DRM they are required to use by the record companies, then so be it.

The thing is, it's not like major releases are only sold through the ITS and through no other venue. You do have options, you have the option of buying an iPod and purchasing your music both from the ITS and on DRM-free CDs. You have the option of purchasing a Microsoft Zune (they'd be so happy if someone did) and purchase music both from THEIR proprietary Zune-only store and on DRM-free CDs. Finally you have the option of buying an MP3 player from, say Creative, and still purchasing and ripping DRM-free CDs. Additionally you CAN make a CD using music purchased from the ITS, and rip tracks from it for ANY MP3 player, at a loss of quality, in just 2 extra steps.

The charges of an Apple monopoly just don't add up, especially when compared to the blatant Microsoft desktop monopoly of many, many years. No one requires you to buy an iPod, or music from the ITS. You are free to purchase any number of alternatives. Apple's dominant iPod and distribution system do not a monopoly make, not when you can still easily purchase a CD with the same material and rip it for your personal use, sans DRM and any loss in quality. I just don't see where Apple is forcing anyone to do anything, not when the consumer has plenty of equitable, but possibly less convenient, alternatives available.