The Death of a Classic

4 09 2010

September, the turn of the seasons, summer to Autumn- a return to work or education after a well earned holiday- a new start. For Apple, the ninth month in the year signals the annual refresh of their beloved iPod range. The whole product line, from the Shuffle to the Touch, gets revamped, in time for Christmas. However, this year, there was a clear omission from the line up. An omission, which has been predicted by many for the last few years, of a product in the iPod family. This product was the forefather of the iOS offspring that we all know and love; a product which, played a central role in the recovery and revival of Apple at the turn of millennium. This product is, the iPod, or the iPod Classic, as it’s come to be known in recent times.

In an age in which we are moving towards multimedia touch screen based devices, the iPod Classic with it’s iconic click wheel, looks almost analogue. It’s antiquity is further confirmed by the fact that the Classic can’t gain passage into the Appstore; Apple’s walled haven. The iPod Classic’s only saving grave, being that it boasts the biggest capacity in the family. The slow decline and demise of the iPod classic was inevitable, given the success of it’s younger touch screen enabled siblings. However, it would be foolish to get swept away by the runaway success of the iPhone and iPod Touch, since both products originated from the Classic. As such, the original iPod generations should be looked upon with a warm nostalgia. The iPod Classic, which as indicated by the name, features a classic design, with the rectangular player sporting a metallic back, and the front being dominated by a screen and click wheel. A design, that has remained largely unchanged throughout it’s six iterations.

The player was first released back in 2001, by Steve Jobs to a relatively small gathering of the press, with the simple tagline- 1000 songs in your pocket. The first generation iPod featured a 5 gigabyte hard drive, 10 hours battery life and was the size of a deck of cards. Initially, the outlook was gloomy, with media reports claiming that Apple’s new device was too expensive and the lack of PC support meant that the majority of people were excluded. However, from there the popularity grew, as the iPod matured from generation to generation. PC support was added and the iTunes online music store was unveiled, allowing users to easily purchase and download tracks onto their iPod.

Incidentally, I remember my first iPod, a 3rd generation ‘white knight’. You could hear the hard drive whir as it processed the music, and the backlit display illuminated the inky darkness when I indulged in a late night music session. There weren’t any Apps, photos, videos or the internet. My iPod focused around it’s sole purpose; playing music. It was a faithful servant; a loyal companion, and like so many others, it started my affection for Apple products. The following year when my PC gave up the ghost, I turned to the Cupertino company, and purchased my first ever MacBook. The year after, I need a new phone, and once again, Apple was my first choice, and I became a proud iPhone 3GS user. If it wasn’t for my iPod, I would probably have a Nokia and another PC.

The iPod not only brought customers to Apple, but it started a cultural movement and the ‘i’ branding, something that has become associated with Apple. In our media saturated society, the iPod provided an enclosed, private environment, in which we could consume our music. The white ear buds that came with the device became almost a badge of honour and recognition between iPod users. In terms of the company, the iPod started Apple’s line of i products, iBook, iLife, iWork, iPhone, iPad. Each of these products, were given the ‘i’ prefix due to the iPod, and each, rather fittingly, focused around delivering rich media content to the customer, for their private consumption.

While you can still buy an iPod Classic from Apple, for the time being, the only remaining nod towards the original now lies with the iPod shuffle. The smallest sibling of the iPod family, is now the only one to bare the iconic click wheel, since the Nano was recently given the touch screen treatment. Overall, it’s sad to see the end of one of the iconic symbols of the early 21st century. The iPod was the catalyst for the products that we enjoy today- the iPod Touch, the iPhone and, one could argue, indirectly, the iPad. So, like all great classics, even thought it may be long gone, it’s legacy continue to live on.

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Welcome to the Social Epicentre

21 08 2010

We live in a world in which we have a dual identity, one in the real world and the other, on the internet, and for most this comes in the form of a Facebook or Twitter account. As well as this, there has been a rise in Geo location and the integration of this with the social sites, with the rise of services such as Foursquare. However, at the moment, all of these web and social services are failing to interact with one another. For example, I can check in with Foursquare, but then I can’t create a Facebook event using this Geo location data and invite friends to it, and I can’t check Twitter for related tweets about the location that I’ve checked into. In an attempt to bridge the gap between some of the social services, the Hotlist App  aggregates data from your Facebook account to populate the App with events and friends. From there, other services, such as Yelp and Twitter, provided additional information, which all contributes to a stream of relevant information that the user can use to their advantage.

The Basics

Category: Social

Last Update: 30 July 2010

Seller: Hotlist Media, Inc

Price: Free

Size: 1.2 mb

Version: 1.0

Requires: Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later

The Review

One of the key features that sets the App apart from other social services, is the level of integration that The Hotlist offers. On the most basic level, the App connects with your Facebook account so it can import friend’s details. From there, based on events in the Hotlist database, the App can provide reviews from Yelp, the girl to guy ratio and, probably the most helpful, Tweets from people at the event, which gives users an insight of the vibe of a venue without stepping a foot inside. The integration of this data, combined with your friends from Facebook, gives the user access to information that allow them to make better informed decisions.

The overall level information that the user can gain from using this App is staggering, however, the developers need to continue to expand the level of integration, with additional services, such as Foursquare. I understand that this will rely heavily on how open social services are willing to be when it comes to integrating their data into the Hotlist App, however the more relevant services that The Hotlist aggregates, the more useful the App becomes, since with more relevant and quality information, users can make better decisions.

Along with the integration and aggregation of external data, the App is also well stocked out with features, such as directions to events which exports to the Google Maps App. Users also have the ability to track their friends through both a profile page, which reveals additional information on the person, as well as a news stream that mentions when and where your friends will be.

At the time of writing, the App covers over 1.2 million venues across 86 cities, and the App encourages users to add venues through the database via a simple entry form. At the moment the coverage of events in England is mainly focused around the main cities, however over time, as the service matures, the coverage will spread as people add places to the database.

While the App has good features as well as the integration of your social data, the App would benefit from additional features such as push notifications, for when friends check into or create an event. At the moment, the user has to continually check the App to find out the whereabouts of friends and events. The Hotlist also lacks a settings page, that allows users some basic controls over the experience. On a basic level, users should be able to change the theme of the App, as I don’t think the bright orange header will appeal to all. A good example of user control over the user interface of the App, is the Google Mobile App, which allows users to change the colour of the header. If the Hotlist was to adopt a similar features, it would broaden their user base, since it allows users to tailor their experience. On a more complex level, another setting could help reduce the amount of data that the App downloads. One example of this, is when looking at an event profile, the pictures of all the people who are attending are downloaded. There should be a setting to turn this, and similar data intensive features off.

Conclusion: A promising app with a bright future that is heavily dependent on both users, since it’s up to them to add to the database, and the developer’s relationship with social services. As I mentioned before, it’s vital that the developers continue to integrate other social services into the App in order to ensure that the Hotlist continues to be ahead of the pack. As it stands, this is a good App, which integrates data  and services in a new and inventive way. With a few changes to the App, mainly the introduction of a settings page and regular updates, this could be a five star App.

Rating:

+ Integration and aggregation of data and services

+ Features

+ Inspired new approach to the social App genre

– Minor adjustments- settings page

Like The Hotlist? – You may like…

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Cloud computing: Is it already here?

21 07 2010

Cloud computing is a term that is banded about all too easily today, with many believing that the future of computing lies in the cloud. For those who don’t know what cloud computing is- the idea is that in the future we will have computers, or more likely smaller devices such as phones, that will be less focused upon hardware specs, such as processing power. In other words, the programs, storage and services that we will use, will be online and as such our data is no longer tied to a single machine- our information and data travels with us, and so the cloud metaphor is complete.

Online Services

The transition began along time ago, we just haven’t released yet, since it’s pretty likely that you are using many cloud services right now. One great example is, YouTube, which in it’s early days was a video dating site- a stark difference from the all encompassing video sharing site and broadcaster that it is today. Owners, Google, plan to continue the expansion of the site with the introduction of Google TV, in which YouTube will be at the epicentre. The service, that is set for release later this year, will provide users with a new layer of interface on top of their existing setup, with universal search for shows across the TV programs and YouTube.

Staying in the realm of television and video, our American cousins will be all too familiar with the great service that Hulu provides. The service is now expanding from just computer to the Playstation, iPad and other media centre services. No longer is the viewing experience constricted to the single screen, the television, people’s viewing experience can be moved from device to device, and all this is made possible with an online account- a simple username and password.

Online services aren’t just restricted to video, other such examples can be seen with Flickr, the photo sharing site from Yahoo!, and online streaming services such as Spotify and Grooveshark. The most starkly different function- from that of media and content providing services- is how people are increasingly moving and backing up all their data online, whether that be document, emails, photos- their entire digital identity and life. Service such as Dropbox and Windows Skydrive, allow people to upload anything to the web, and then access it anywhere they can get an internet connection and a web browser.

The rise of Apps

In terms of the iOS platform and the emergence of the app culture one could argue that this is signalling the future of computing and is part of cloud computing. Rather than our devices having fully blown programs, users are opting for bite sized experiences that are contained within a closed environment, which has been developed to fulfil a certain number of functions. As Steve Jobs said, people aren’t searching on their mobile devices; their opening an App instead. So rather than search for online food recipes, users are more likely to open up Epicurious.

Furthermore, the rise of apps has positioned the iPhone and iPad as more than a iPhone- bordering on the functionality of a computer but with less processing power and defiened user experiences. Apple has noticed this and responded accordingly with the timely release of the iMovie App and the iWork App on the iPad, and soon on the iPhone, if the rumours circulating the internet are to be believed.

Chrome OS

This is one of biggest and most obvious steps towards a cloud computing future, from the company that lives and breathes the internet, Google. The traditional notion of the desktop with the standard icons is done away with and in it’s place, the operating system centers around the browser. As a result, local file storage and interaction is replaced with interacting with files from external sources. One such example of this would be, to edit a document in Google Docs and then save it online, rather than create it and save it on the computers hard drive. A similar stance is taken to other file types, in which the operating system gives the user the tools to view the file and edit it, through the use of an online services, but it doesn’t encourage the user to then save the file locally. As a result, the Chrome OS, while be mainly marketed towards netbook manufactures, since there is less emphasis on the overall specs of the machine, since the standard desktop is replaced with a browser, and the creation and consumption of media and files are handled on the internet, rather than on the machine.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how the big companies in the computing space, Apple, Microsoft and Google, adapt to meet this challenge, because right now, I don’t see any of them as set to dominate the area.

Microsoft have the most work to do, since they are a company that has always been based around  a users sitting down in front of a computer. Cloud computing, moves the user away from this classic depiction, and replaces it with a much more mobile lifestyle. In the mobile area Microsoft has struggled and as a result the windows mobile platform has struggled. They are pinning their hopes on the reboot of the operating system with the introduction of Windows Phone 7.

While Apple may have nailed it in the mobile space, with the brilliant iOS format,they are struggling with online services, such as mobile me, which needs a lot of work. The implementation of the rumoured upcoming streaming iTunes service will play a big part in how success the company is in this area.

Google does have a great array of online services, however they lack the usability and user experience that Apple is famed for. How well the Chrome OS is spread and accepted by users will play a big part for them.

What do you think? Which company is set for cloud computing? Is cloud computing even the future? Let me know in the comments below.





The iPad: A Revolution, but not as we know it…

15 06 2010

In terms of a revolution, perhaps one could argue that, to think of the iPad as a revolution in terms of the consumers, is to ignore what the iPhone and iPod Touch have achieved in the way people consume and interact with media. One of the funny things to watch is current iPad owners try explain why the iPad is revolutionary- I find this collegehumor video, crude I know, to sum it up perfectly. However,  I believe those who call the iPad, ‘just a big iPod Touch’, are being short sighted, for a number of reasons that I will cover of the course of this post.

Advertising

The biggest revolution that the iPad represents is in terms of advertising, especially with the introduction of Apple’s iAd. The importance of advertising on this platform was conveyed by Steve Jobs back in the April keynote, in which he quoted that ‘the average user spends about 30 minutes in apps everyday’, and if 10 ads were shown a day, across the 100 million iPod Touchs, iPhones and iPads, worldwide, then there were be a billion ads served up a day. Furthermore, Apple’s business strategy has reflected this as well, with the ban of Admob, Google’s advertising platform, from the iPhone OS and Appstore. Developers will be encouraged to incorporate iAd’s into their apps, since adverts will be easy to add in and the developer will receive 60 percent of the revenue.

For the consumer, the iPad will become an extension of the 360 degree world of advertising that we inhabit- you go out, see billboards, log onto the internet- see ‘tasteful’ pop ups and banners, turn on the TV, etc etc. In the case of the Television, it brings advertising into our sanctuary from the world, the home. However as soon as you leave the room, the advertising ceases to be effective and this is the key difference. The iPad not only brings advertising into the home, but into the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom- where ever you carry the device. Furthermore, iAd is going to allow advertisers to create content rich experience based partly on the information that it gains from your iPad, such as your location. An example used in the keynote was a Toy Story 3 advert, in which the user can watch trailers, purchase movie merchandise, download wallpapers and ringtones, and, using GPS, find out which cinemas in their area will be screening the film.

User Experience

With regard to user experience and usability, the iPad is definitely a revolution, in a market in which so many other companies have failed. The key to Apple’s success is that other tablets have been based around converting a fully blown operating system to work with hand and stylus input. As a result, the operating system becomes the main hindrance for users since the U.I is based around the point and click interface. A fully blown Windows OS does not take into consideration the unique situations that the touchscreen creates. Such as, when the user interacts with the interface, his/her hands will cover parts of the screen. Small icons and taskbars, while fine for the normal user, compounds everything that is wrong with adapting a fully blown operating system for the touchscreen platform- adding minor modifications and an onscreen keyboard is not enough. Meanwhile, Apple has upscaled their touchscreen orientated Smartphone operating system, the iPhone OS, to the tablet form factor.

As a result, the user experience is perfectly suited for the device, and if anything, the iPhone OS works better on the bigger format, however, Apple’s choice of the iPhone OS has large ramifications that just the user experience- it has defined the device. Like the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad is about consuming media, rather than creating- a key difference between the iPad and your computer. As Steve Jobs mentioned in his January Keynote, Apple was creating a new, ‘third’ category, between that of the Smartphone and the Computer and for that category to exist, the iPad would have to be better than the Smartphone and the Computer in key areas- such as consuming media- gaming, reading an ebook, viewing photos and videos, but also tasks such as browsing the web.

The computer is capable of both, consuming and creating media, but it lacks the extreme portability ( very few laptops can boast the 10 hour battery life of the iPad, while still being relatively thin and light) Furthermore, in terms of consuming media, the iPad has been specifically designed for this, after all- what better way is there to interact with content, than to touch it ? The iPhone and the iPod touch proved this and now people can experience the same thing on a grander scale. However, the iPad differs from the iPhone and Touch in a number of key ways.

The saviour of printed media?

First of all, the iPad has been touted as the saviour to printed media, by providing comicbook, magazine and newspaper editors the ability to create a rich and interactive experience for their target audience,  something that is not possible with print media. While, many of the content providers have produced stunning applications for their audience, they have yet to grasp the concept of a fair price point for their product. Apple should of imposed a pricing structure similar to that of the Appstore, because at the moment many of the ’emagazines’ etc are not a viable option for consumers because they are overpriced or the same price of their printed sibling. Until the content providers begin pricing their products more competitively, the ’emagazine’ format is unlikely to take off.

The tablet format

While the device shares many of the characteristics of the Touch, the bigger format of the iPad, in terms of size and processing power, means that app developers can create some truly unique and separate experiences, from that of apps created for the iPhone and iPod Touch platform. One great example of this is the iWork package that Apple created for the iPad, something that was not viable on the smaller format of the Touch and iPhone, works well on the iPad. The quality of apps that developers create, and how they take advantage of the larger screen, will help define not only, how successful the product is, but also in terms of the iPad being perceived as a separate device to the iPod Touch and iPhone

The larger screen format, immediately encourages people to share their content by passing or gathering around the iPad to show friends and family the latest viral YouTube video of a cat playing the drums or the latest holiday photos. The screen encourages people to consume media on the device, and more and more people are using a second screen while watching TV, and the iPad will be perfect in this role. The small screen of the iPod Touch and iPhone means people will glance at the device, rather than actually engage with content.

The future of computing

The iPad is signalling towards the future of computing in which computers will be less based around processing power and more focused around media consumption and cloud computing. The iPad also does away with the mouse and keyboard input, proving that it is possible to have an operating system without these two proprietary components. I expect that in a few years, the iPhone and iPad will merge as one product, with greater processing power, incorporating a form of resizeable touchscreen, or perhaps making use of projectors.

Would I recommend buying one?

No, not yet. The iPad is in it’s infancy and a first generation Apple product is never the finished article, and as such, the users are essentially beta testers for the second gen iPad. If anything, the new iPhone has told us more about where the new iPad is heading in terms of features. Next year, or possibly sooner (this is Apple after all), we can expect a thinner, lighter iPad with camera(s) for ‘facetime’ and the improved retina display. However, for those who are really itching for the latest slab of Appley goodness, or those with fat wallet, at least wait until September, to see how iOS 4 changes the experience on the iPad. As the months go by, the platform will mature, as the developers have longer with the device, and better apps start to get released. If you are still determined (Steve would be proud), you then of course have to consider whether to get a WiFi version or the 3G. If you plan on staying in the home- get the WiFi, but if you plan to roam away from the safety of your wireless router, pony up the extra cash and get the 3G iPad.

Your thoughts

I’ve had my thoughts on the iPad and now I want to hear yours. Is there room for a ‘third device’?, does the iPad represent the future of computing?, is the iPad revolutionary at all? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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What you need to know about 4.0

4 06 2010

Announced earlier this year, iPhone OS 4.0 is the next version of the software that will be powering iPhone, iPod Touch and, in September, iPad users. While the new iteration of the iPhone OS brings hundreds of incrementally changes, we’ll be focusing on a number of the more significant features that you need to know about.

Wallpapers

Finally, we have the ability to slap a bit of colour on our homescreen. Users can pick from a number of set backgrounds, or take one from the photo library. However, we believe that users will have to be careful about which wallpaper they choose, as quite a few wallpapers look downright ugly when integrated into the iPhone OS and act as more of hindrance as they clash with the colours of the app icons.

Want to see the full set of backgrounds that are shipping with 4.0? Click here

Multitasking “We weren’t the first to this party, but we’re going to be the best” – Steve Jobs

Once upon a time, the power of multitasking was restricted to those who were brave enough to go against the mite of Apple and jailbreak their devices- iPhone OS 4.0 changes this. But there’s, a catch- it’s not multitasking as you know it- it’s done the Apple way, so don’t expect a fully blown multitasking experience. To conserve battery life, Apple have created protocols which are the only ways that apps can run in the background. As a result, all apps which take advantage of this, will have to be updated, so for awhile, most users will only be able to run a handful of apps in the background.

Folders

The update allows users to create folders to store applications inside. This feature will be welcome amongst users with a large number of apps as the number of pages will be dramatically cut down. Each folder can contain up to a maximum of 8 applications and software will attempt to assign a name to the folder based on the genre of the apps you put in the folder.

Game Centre

This is Apple’s take on essentially ‘an xbox live’ experience for the platform- I don’t know too much about this at the moment. I can assume that people will create an account- or use their iTunes account, to create a username. Applications can then upload your data and high scores to one central area and the Game Centre will be able to connect you to users for online games.

iAd

This is Apple’s response to admob- the mobile advertising company that Google snapped up from under the noses of Apple a few months back. If you’ve ever noticed in app advertising, then the chances are, you’ve encountered an advert served up by admob. Apple plans to get in on the action, with the introduction of iAd, which will allow advertisers to create media rich experiences to advertise their products. One mock-up example that Apple presented in the keynote, was an advertisement for the new Toy Story movie. The user clicked on the smaller banner at the bottom of the screen, and they were taken, to a homepage, from which they could view trailers for the upcoming film, hear sound clips from the characters, download wallpapers and ringtones for their iPhone, and, using Google maps, find which nearby cinemas will be featuring the film. Steve Jobs was keen to express that clicking on such adverts, would not take them fully away from whatever they were doing. All adverts feature an ‘x’ button, which when pressed, returns the user to the application that they were using. I believe that iAd is going to play an important in shaping how advertisers promote their products to their target audience, and I will be discussing this further, in an upcoming post about the iPad.

UPDATEDiAds goes live on July 1st. 60% of revenue will go to developers.

iBooks

That’s right, the iPad has access to the iBookstore, and so will iPhone and iPod Touch users. You’ll have the ability to download iBooks onto your device and read while on the go. Those luck enough to have an multiple iDevices, such as an iPad and iPhone, will notice that bookmarks will sync across the two devices.

Conclusion

The new iPhone OS is shaping up nicely, and as far I can tell, you can expect it to be released on the 7th of June, at the WWDC10 conference,(see update below) where it is expected that the new iPhone will be revealed.

Despite this, I can’t help be feel that the core user interface of the iPhone OS has not really changed since the original, and as a result, each feature, almost feels, ‘bolted on’ to the OS. I think that by the time 5.0 is rolling round, Apple should be thinking about revamping the whole OS. Furthermore, I felt that the notifications aspect of the OS really needed updating, especially since the introduction of multitasking. The notifications overlay on top of the U.I, completing disrupting whatever experience the user was having before, they then have the option to dismiss it, or acknowledge it, in which case, they are yanked out of whatever they were doing. Apple should follow the example of Android, which takes a different approach when it comes the notifications. On the Google platform,the user is discreetly notified of incoming notification, via an icon on the top ‘taskbar’. The user can continue you to do what they are doing, or pull down on this- called ‘a blind’ which reveals more information about the new notification, and from there, the user can click on it, if they want to see the content of the new notification.

UPDATED: Apple have changed the name of the OS to iOS4 and released a Gold candidate of the software to developers today- the words from Jobs ’21st of June’ and iPhone 4 to go on sale 24th of June

So what to expect?

ipad Owners – You will receive the 4.0 OS upgrade in September. Expect further OS enhancements specifically tailored towards the device.

iPhone 3GS Owners and third generaton iPod Touch users (32gb and 64gb from late 2009)– You will recieve the full 4.0 experience when released 21st of June

iPhone 3G Owners and second generation iPod Touch users (late 2008)– You will receive a cut down version of the 4.0 experience- no multitasking for you

iPhone G1 and G2 and first generation iPod Touch usersSorry, no upgrade to 4.0 for you.