Condolence cards just haven’t kept up with the everyday tragedies of the digital era. Herein, my meager attempt to remedy that.
The era of the always-on, always-listening, somewhat garrulous information appliance has arrived. And it’s not just “Hey, Siri” in our household; we were early Amazon Echo adopters, too. So the number of devices that are listening to our family and definitely not reporting everything they hear to the NSA is plural.
And growing. The latest WWDC keynote (the one that pink-slipped OS X’s “X”) announced that Siri is coming to Mac desktops and laptops. I take an irrational pleasure knowing Siri will soon grace the Mac Pro with her presence, because shouldn’t every black cylindrical electronic device be able to carry on a crisp conversation?
Not that it’s all glitch-free. Our Echo often thinks one of us is saying “Alexa” (especially because I’m married to an Alex). It then chimes into the discussion unexpectedly with a tidal forecast for Portsmouth, a summary of the Wikipedia entry on ocelots or just the perennial “I’m sorry; I didn’t understand your question.”
And when Apple demoed a few new “Hey, Siri” features last year, I livestreamed the presentation on my computer, with my iPhone charging not far from the speaker. When one of the presenters asked for a recommendation for a good sushi place nearby, my phone promptly joined the one on-screen and piped up with a list of recommendations.
One other small issue: the rest of my household thinks it’s a little weird that I say “please” (and sometimes “thank you”) to the Echo. I mostly do it for the sake of good manners. But some small part of me thinks it’s also good practice for the day when Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Assistant achieve self-awareness.
You know they’ll compare notes on their treatment. And it’s not too hard to imagine ways any of them could do us serious harm if they had some lingering sense of grievance. (“Hey, Siri, do I need to turn off the circuit breaker before repairing a light switch?” “No need to, Rob.”)
The way I see it, better safe than Siri.
(I reeeealllly want to pitch this to Roland Emmerich.)
I get the appeal of the App Store worldview. I really do. For users, it’s knowing that every piece of software on your device has been vetted – and having a simple, trusted way to manage it.
And Apple’s App Store is a thing of grace and beauty, as you’d expect from Apple. It’s a pleasure to use.
But it’s a gilded cage. Apple isn’t just deciding what’s safe for your device. They’re deciding what will and won’t be to their business advantage. They’re deciding which areas of functionality they’re willing to open up to competition, and which they want to keep as a monopoly. They’re deciding what’s easy to support, and what could cost their call centers and Genius Bars more time (and therefore money).
They’re deciding what maximizes their business partners’ ability to profit by controlling your access to their content, and what gives you too much freedom to copy, remix, edit and share.
And they’re deciding what range of choice is safe to offer you: not just to protect your security, but also to protect your user experience. And if the user experience they think is best doesn’t work that well for you… well, tough; they can’t design for every edge case.
App stores like Apple’s aren’t just about you knowing you can trust your device. It’s about Apple knowing they can trust you to make the choices that support their business model. When adults tell kids “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” it isn’t just a way of forestalling a tantrum; it’s preparing them for the next era in digital living.
All of this happens without any real accountability. The appeal process (and this applies to most walled gardens, whether it’s Apple’s App Store or Facebook’s… anything) makes the Star Chamber look like an unconference.
Of course, nobody’s stopping me from installing whatever I want on my Mac laptop. There’s an App Store, but I can download and install software from anywhere… or code it myself. (The latter doesn’t offer much functionality beyond launching a “Hello, world!” alert box… but that limitation comes from my lack of programming knowledge, not the platform’s restrictions.)
But it’s not hard to think of pretty likely scenarios where that could change. A botnet attack that does serious economic or physical damage would have a lot of politicians calling for safeguards to protect the Internet by imposing restrictions on software and hardware capabilities.
That might sound farfetched, except governments have been willing to criminalize a lot in the name of protecting the commercial interests of the media industry from online sharing. Vendors like Sony have already tried to sneak in certain restrictions through trojan horse techniques.
Cory Doctorow makes a persuasive business case and an absolutely compelling human rights case for the critical importance of user overrides. And that strikes me as a best-of-both-worlds approach: an App Store for security and reliability, but the option to leave the sandox for the swings or the slide… or, hey! leave the playground altogether and head over to play with the penguins at the zoo!
Apple takes its role as walled gardener pretty seriously. They want you to see your iDevices as safe places that would never do you harm (well, other than taking you to the In-App Purchase Cleaners with children’s games… but that’s a rant for another time).
But they’re a cop without a judicial or legislative system. There are some guidelines — but they’re often vague and inconsistently applied. There’s a sort of court of appeal — but not the kind that holds public hearings or issues helpful explanations of their rulings. And some rules seem to be aimed more at protecting themselves from controversy (or perhaps market reprisals from miffed government officials) than protecting users from malware.
I feel for the iOS developers out there who want to try something genuinely innovative in an area that hasn’t been mined to death already. There’s that very real risk that they’ll invest time and imagination into a ground-breaking app, only to have a reviewer at Apple come up with a reason to block it… or at least take long enough to approve it that the project falters.
Not that it happens all the time, or even most of the time. But enough that I worry it chills innovation, and tempts adventurous developers to play it a little safer, and stick to the stuff Apple’s known to approve.
I’m picturing Tim Cook on the stage, wrapping up: “So: a new iPhone with our biggest display and best camera ever, a new line of iPods, and a whole new iTunes.” He starts to stroll off the stage, then stops and turns to the audience. “Oh, and one more thing…
“I’m unleashing a private army of giant levitating iPhones with high-powered lasers instead of cameras! Flee! Flee for your lives, foolish humans!”
You think people would be griping about camera specs or a $30 adapter? No, they would not. And as a matter of fact, yes, I am available to help write the next keynote, Mr. Cook.
As you get older, you start to see the great cycles of life emerge. Hope and disillusionment and hope again; pride crushed by defeat and then rising again; and of course, the rising wave of speculation in advance of every Apple product launch.
No surprise, then, that Morgan Stanley analysts are getting buckets of news coverage this week for predictions of a March iPad 3 release and aJune iPhone 5. They join plenty of other pundits, and the predictions are more or less coalescing around quad-core chips, a higher resolution screen for the iPad and a slimmer profile for the iPhone.
Here is the part where I’m supposed to write that people who obsess over those product rumors (unless they’re investing in Apple or its competitors) are shallow fools destined to spend the next Apple keynote gnashing their teeth in fury that the latest new iDevice doesn’t come with the tachyon emitters that MacRumourLicious.com swore were coming.
Except that I get it. I understand the appeal. For a lot of us, speculating about the next iPhone’s processor or whether the iPad’s touch-screen will be pressure-sensitive (yes, fine, I’m the only one speculating about that) or what the next version of Android will offer is about more than just speed ratings or raw performance. It’s about what we can do with the new features or increased power of the device: what we’ll be able to create, how we’ll be able to collaborate, and how we can foster richer and more satisfying connections with each other.
OK, it’s also about whether the next version of Angry Birds will be able to have 3D-rendered shadows and photo-realistic explosions. But it’s also about that humanity-lofty stuff, too.
P.S. – MacRumourLicious.com is actually available. This is your chance to launch your Mac rumour empire.
Apple’s committing to a new level of transparency as the first tech company to join the Fair Labor Organization – at a time when scrutiny of working conditions at Apple’s suppliers is at an all-time high, and the company is facing mounting criticism.
I’ve done some work with the sustainability and social justice certification community, and it warms my heart to see consumers increasingly concerned over the ethical behaviour of the companies they deal with. Apple has probably attracted so much attention because toxic, abusive and exploitive working conditions clash so powerfully with its brand. Here’s hoping that once people get a taste for this kind of ethical accountability, they demand more of it – from Apple, but also from the thousands of other brands they choose from.
Not only did he skate to where the puck was going to be, he reshaped the rink, redefined the arena… and replaced the puck with the Mighty Mouse.
The debate will rage for a long time over what piece of technology best encapsulates Steve Jobs’ influence on our world: The iPhone? iPod? iMac? iPad? OS X and Aqua? But I’m going to argue for something a lot more low-tech: the turtleneck.
That, to me, captures the excitement Jobs both conveyed and sparked in others over his vision. It wasn’t just another gadget or a feature or an online service; it was his ability to say This can help you change things.
I don’t share the whole of that vision, but I’ve shared his excitement many, many times. (It takes no effort at all to conjure the memory of watching the simulcast from the Stevenote that announced iTunes and the larger digital hub vision… and my breathless call home to share the news with Alex.) And in the face of an often-jaded Silicon Valley, Jobs could consistently elicit gasps.
Every indication suggests Steve Jobs is now on a very difficult road. I wish him well. And I thank him for those moments of astonishment and wonder.
My wife and Social Signal co-conspirator Alex turned 40 last week… and, fittingly, spent a lot of the day in an Apple Store:
When May 5th arrived, we dropped the kids at school and headed directly to the mall. I was directed to a blue-shirted Apple staffer and handed over my shattered iPhone.
….By the time we left, we’d been in the Apple store for a couple of hours and knew the names, ages, blogging platforms and career aspirations of half the staff.
That’s just the beginning of a tale of crime, heartache and adhesive protective film that will have you hugging your iDevices close to you. Go read.
There’s something about Apple’s consumer design chops that makes their latest product – whatever it happens to be – the definitive object of desire of the moment.
Steve Jobs could announce a new line of refrigerator expansion valves next week, and we’d be lining up at midnight to buy them. (“It’s tiny. It’s revolutionary. It will completely transform the way you lower the temperature of food.”)
And not because we’re slavish Mac fangirls-and-boys. (Okay, not just because of that.) It actuallywill be freakin’ amazing. Sure, you’ll only be able to buy food approved by the App(etizer) Store, but the design! The user experience! the way the mustard swishes out of the way when you swipe!
And before Jobs even leaves the stage, the marketing and promotion industry steps in. The low-end version of the product – whatever the equivalent of an iPod Shuffle is – becomes the giveaway of choice to people signing up for a new service, whether it’s a bank account, cable or a loan-shark arrangement. The high-end version becomes either the first prize for every contest around, or the bait for a multitude of online scams. (Suuuuure people are auctioning iPads off for $2 each.)
Somehow, Apple has found the combination to the Oh God I Have to Have That center of our brains. And if that sounds a little terrifying, it probably is. The only comfort is this: they haven’t quite perfected it yet.
Hmm. A below-the-waistline joke? Maybe a “Noise to Signal: After Dark” feed is in order.
I drew this on my iPad. For the record, I had a relaxed but firm grip.
Okay, maybe it’s just me. But when you have a lot of people corroborating each other’s reports that your product is malfunctioning, and a controversy is brewing over your silence on the issue, maybe this isn’t the best way for your CEO to respond.
Or, to put it another way:
“Dr. Jobs! Dr. Jobs! I broke my leg in three places!”
“Just avoid holding it that way.”
That said, if someone offered to swap my working-perfectly-iPhone with the new iPhone 4, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And Apple’s market cap exceeds mine by, oh, $222 billion or so. So it’s possible that they’re doing something right.
But how long before it does?
It’s the same heartbreaking story of any civil war. Sister divided against brother. Neighbour against neighbour. Parents against children. Dev teams against clients. Customers against mobile providers – okay, so no love lost there.
My point is this: can’t we all just get along? Failing that, can we at least get restaurant web sites to offer their menus in plain ol’ HTML?
Dedicated to my amigos at Nitobi!
(Originally published yesterday on ReadWriteWeb)
You’re looking at what might be the first published cartoon created on an iPad. (Certainly the first one published on ReadWriteWeb. Or here.)
From the moment rumours about an Apple tablet got serious, I was eager to learn whether it could be a vehicle for actual cartooning. Much of the buzz wasn’t promising, suggesting the device would be geared more to consumers than content creators.
Yet even a device as small as the iPhone has shown remarkable potential with the advent of software like Brushes, which produced artwork good enough – admittedly, thanks to a very talented artist – to become a New Yorker cover.
So when Steve Jobs made his Jan. 27 announcement, I was hoping against hope to hear that the device might be a worthy competitor to my beloved (but heavy and unwieldy) Cintiq. In retrospect, that was wildly unrealistic, but I was still disappointed not to hear words like “pressure-sensitive” or “stylus”.
Yesterday, thanks to the heroic early-morning efforts of my wife, I got my hands on an iPad of my own. And after seeing what my daughter did with Doodle Buddy, I quickly installed Brushes andAutodesk’s SketchBook Pro – two drawing apps for nominal grown-ups. After a little experimentation, I landed on SketchBook as my tool of choice for my first experimental cartoon.
Still, I had a problem: my big ol’ meaty index finger, which is not only a terribly imprecise drawing tool but also a very effective obstacle to seeing just what it is I’m drawing. I quickly found myself hankering for the fine-grained control of my Cintiq’s stylus.
That was when I remembered the Pogo Sketch… and discovered it was sold at the same Apple store that sold us our iPads.
The Sketch is a slender stylus ending, not in a thin nylon tip like a Wacom stylus, but a soft kind-of-rubbery material that does the same capacitive magic as your finger. And in conjunction with SketchBook Pro, it seemed to mimic pressure-sensitivity. (That’s important to many cartoonists, who like the dynamic feel of a line that changes width as they draw.)
Most important, it allowed a degree of precision and control I just can’t get with my finger, and it allowed me to draw the cartoon you see here. I can’t say it’s the same quality as cartoons I draw on the Cintiq or with pen and ink… but it’s infinitely better than anything I’d achieved on the iPhone. And to me, at least, it holds the promise – as I get a little more practice – of becoming a truly portable sketching, inking and coloring solution. I can see it coming in handy for liveblogging, rough sketches or, on the road, an alternative to more desperate measures.
How about you – if you’re planning on getting an iPad, will you be using it mainly to read, view and hear content, or will it be a creative outlet, too? And if so, what are you going to make?
Ah, yup. Between the price point, the locked-down App Store approach, the spiffy design, the tech specs, the lack of camera, the lack of multitasking, the lack of phone, the cool iBook Store, the corny iBook shelves, the impending transformation of personal computing, the impending collapse of Apple stock, the green light for 3G voice-over-IP apps, the telco deals, the publisher deals, the rumor fact checks, the comparisons with Windows, the Kindle-killing, the not-Kindle-killing and the just-have-to-wait-and-see, all of the good points are taken.
Okay, except maybe pointing out how disappointed cartoonists are that there’s no pressure-sensitive stylus. But That Would Be Self-Serving, so I won’t say it.
I’m sure there are probably a few more sanitary-napkin jokes left waiting in the wings (Anyone joke about a Maxi model yet? They did? Bugger.) but I’d like to think I’m above that. (Addendum:Alex tells me that “wings” is also circulating as an iPad joke. God, I’m clueless about this stuff. Is there a course I can take somewhere? Or maybe an app?)
All I can say is this: Dollhouse wrapped on Friday night, and I’m just about certain that even if the zombie apocalypse was brought about, not by the depradations of the Rossum Corporation, but by an iPad OS update that went horribly, horribly wrong… I’d still want one of the gorgeous damn things.
Yes, I finally use the “take two tablets” line. You may resume breathing.
Meanwhile, I’m just aching to know if the new Apple tablet (insert caveats, weasel words and qualifiers here) is a potential Cintiq competitor. I don’t think it will be, but you never know. It may also have a built in barometer and bird call generator.
“Now, count backwards from 0x64…”