Burning at Both Ends

Any­one who has read this blog in the past (thanks, Mom!) knows that I’m a fan of Net­flix as well as the Fox Net­work show Arrest­ed Devel­op­ment. Today, Net­flix announced that it is going to be bring­ing back Arrest­ed Devel­op­ment in 2012 exclu­sive­ly to their stream­ing video ser­vice; firm­ly plac­ing them in the cat­e­go­ry of a pre­mi­um cable chan­nel. I’m also a fan of Apple and Ama­zon, who along with Net­flix, are busi­ness­es which rep­re­sent the future of the enter­tain­ment indus­try and media con­sump­tion, though in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent ways.

Jon Gru­ber stat­ed the oth­er day that he did­n’t think Net­flix was capa­ble of cre­at­ing hard­ware to sup­port an “end-to-end solu­tion.” I don’t dis­agree that there’s essen­tial­ly no chance Net­flix will move beyond the app busi­ness and into actu­al hard­ware1. But I dis­agree with the notion that Apple and Ama­zon are pro­vid­ing end-to-end solu­tions. In fact, what Apple and Ama­zon are real­ly pro­vid­ing are mid­dle-to-one-end solu­tions. That is, they take con­tent licensed from a stu­dio and serve it over their sys­tems to their hard­ware2. Net­flix, how­ev­er, is mov­ing to the oth­er end by cre­at­ing con­tent to serve on their sys­tems to some­one else’s hard­ware plat­form via an app. In doing so, they get a wider installed base with no hard­ware invest­ment (which no one oth­er than Apple has real­ly yet to crack; though the Kin­dle Fire from Ama­zon is just a week old).

Net­flix has dab­bled with being a stu­dio in the past, or at least a financier of inde­pen­dent film. Their fold­ed Red Enve­lope Enter­tain­ment—which backed some real­ly great indie films—was a wor­thy try, but com­pet­ed against some of their bread & but­ter con­tent providers. While that fact has­n’t changed much, the stakes have. When Net­flix made the deci­sion to close their Red Enve­lope Enter­tain­ment divi­sion, the Apple App Store had just launched and the iPad had­n’t even been announced yet. That land­scape has com­plete­ly changed, with pre­mi­um net­work HBO hav­ing a real­ly ter­rif­ic app now that lets sub­scribers watch their shows on demand. The abil­i­ty to watch Game of Thrones any­time, any­where has sure­ly helped HBO’s sub­scriber num­bers and I think this is what Net­flix must have it’s eye on.

The price of Net­flix’s stream­ing ser­vice puts in the range with HBO and now Net­flix has the killer con­tent which will com­pel fans to sign up if they weren’t already sub­scribers. Thus they stand a chance to gain sub­scribers at the expense of pre­mi­um cable providers like HBO, espe­cial­ly among the grow­ing num­ber of cable-cut­ters (you don’t need a cable sub­scrip­tion to watch Net­flix shows; you do for HBO’s).

So, which is a bet­ter busi­ness to be in between hard­ware and con­tent pro­duc­er? I hon­est­ly don’t know, but giv­en the night­mare of con­tent licens­es all these tech com­pa­nies are hav­ing to nav­i­gate, I have a good feel­ing that pro­duc­ing pre­mi­um con­tent might be more as appeal­ing as get­ting into the hard­ware game. Though the mar­kets for iPads is essen­tial­ly the same age as the mar­ket for stream­ing video apps on such devices, the play­ing field among stu­dios looks a lot more leve than hav­ing to tak­en on a jug­ger­naut like Apple’s iOS devices from scratch.

You’re move, Ama­zon.

  1. This is the com­pa­ny that is rac­ing to dump phys­i­cal media, for one thing! []
  2. Note that, in the case of Ama­zon’s print pub­lish­ing, they are con­sum­ing the entire busi­ness between author an read­er. Now that is as much an end-to-end solu­tion as one could have, short of pro­vid­ing advances to authors. []

Getting iPhoto to recognize your updated iOS 5 device

It’s almost embar­rass­ing that I had­n’t tried trans­fer­ring my pho­tos off of my iPhone 4—running iOS 5— in near­ly a month since upgrad­ing. I sup­pose with the iCloud ser­vice, many users won’t ever have an issue with this. How­ev­er, Angela and I share a iTunes account and don’t real­ly care to have our pho­tos dou­bled on one anoth­er’s com­put­ers. She does­n’t care about my goofy Insta­gram pho­tos and don’t need to see the pho­tos of some office baby show­er. There­fore, we still back up our pho­tos on our com­put­ers man­u­al­ly via iPho­to, or at least we’d planned to.

When we plugged our phones into our com­put­ers today, we real­ized that the iPhone device or cam­era roll weren’t show­ing up in iTunes. Even check­ing the Image Cap­ture on the mac did­n’t show the cam­era. After some hunt­ing around, I final­ly found the solu­tion. It’s not one I would have ever thought to do and it real­ly strikes me as odd that Apple did­n’t ham­mer this out already with all the oth­er upgrades required for using iOS 5.

To get iPho­to to rec­og­nize your iOS 5 device, do the fol­low­ing:

  1. Eject your iPhone or iPad if it is con­nect­ed.
  2. Using Find­er and select the iPho­to Library file in the Pic­tures fold­er in your home direc­to­ry.

  3. Right click and select Show Pack­age Con­tents from the pop-up menu.

    The inter­nal fold­er struc­ture of the file is dis­played.

    Tip: It may be help­ful dis­play items in a list, as there are quite a few files in the iPho­to Library.

  4. (Option­al) Right click on the fold­er named iPod Pho­to Cache and select Com­press “iPod Pho­to Cache” from the pop-up menu.

    This will give you a back up copy, in case some­thing should go wrong. How­ev­er, this is an auto­mat­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed fold­er so you real­ly should­n’t lose any­thing.

  5. Right click on the fold­er named iPod Pho­to Cache and select Move to Trash.
  6. Recon­nect your iPhone or iPad to your com­put­er

    You should see the device appear in iPho­to, where you can import pho­tos and videos as with pre­vi­ous ver­sion of iOS.

    If you hap­pen to still have the con­tents of the iPho­to Library still show­ing in Find­er, you’ll notice that the fold­er you just delet­ed gets gen­er­at­ed using the new data­base struc­ture used in iOS 5.

Accord­ing to Roy­al­wise Solu­tions, this issue stems from a change in the data­base used by iOS ver­sions 2 through 4.3.3 is no longer used in iOS 5.0. Thanks to them for pro­vid­ing the details on how to fix this issue. Easy solu­tion but not some­thing most users are like­ly to fig­ure out on their own (I know I could­n’t, any­way).

Windows Explorer in Windows 8

I read this post on Improve­ments in the Win­dows Explor­er ear­li­er today with quite a bit of excite­ment. There’s a lot to learn in here about the thought process that goes behind the Rib­bon UI which was devel­oped at Microsoft and is final­ly reach­ing the Explor­er win­dow. I, per­son­al­ly, wel­come the changes and think it is great that they are expos­ing so many pow­er fea­tures but with the abil­i­ty to make the inter­face as min­i­mal as need­ed for some­one who won’t use them. As some­one who’s get­ting into more UX design, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to Rib­bon UI appli­ca­tions, this sort of stuff is invalu­able.

Gru­ber men­tioned it in an aside piece, point­ing out that Apple and Microsoft are real­ly diverg­ing in terms of UI design1. This is cer­tain­ly true when com­par­ing the (still in Alpha) Win­dows 8 Explor­er win­dow with the UI changes in OSX Lion. While it is fair to argue that Microsoft­’s UI is busy, I think Apple has gone a bit too far in the oth­er direc­tion. My largest gripe is that all the col­or has been removed from most icons, mak­ing it a bit hard­er to dif­fer­en­ti­ate one gray square from anoth­er. The rib­bon can be min­i­mized in any Rib­bon UI program—resulting in what are func­tion­al­ly just graph­i­cal menus. There is a tool (odd­ly, with a gray gear icon) in the Find­er which is “Per­form tasks with the select­ed item(s)” which gen­er­al­ly accom­plish­es the same task. Of course, it is just a menu and lim­it­ed to prac­ti­cal menus sizes (no dif­fer­ent than a right-click con­tex­tu­al menu at all).

Con­text menu in the OS X Lion Find­er, or, as I like to call it: the pud­dle of gray blocks

The Win­dows 7 Explor­er dia­log is sim­i­lar­ly sim­ple, with a menu-ish tool­bar pro­vid­ing some con­text-sen­si­tive tools along the top. This inter­face looks a bit like Inter­net Explor­er 8, but that is still dif­fer­ent enough to most Win­dows pro­grams that I think many users just nev­er got used to the con­trols. In IE, the main pur­pose is brows­ing. Hid­ing set­tings, etc. aren’t need­ed most of the time and I’d wager many users don’t even know about them. How­ev­er, I think any­one using a file man­ag­er is often look­ing to do more than just browse those files.

Windows 7 Explorer
The rel­a­tive­ly stripped down Explor­er inter­face in Win­dows 7

Win­dows 8—assuming that many of these fea­tures don’t get stripped out or watered down by some larg­er com­mit­tee (as has hap­pened to Win­dows releas­es in the past; thus Vista)—seems to try to cater to both casu­al users by way of the col­lapsable Rib­bon and even the Metro UI (which will pre­vent many users from even see­ing the Explor­er win­dow) as well as to pow­er users who think that reduc­ing the num­ber of clicks to show hid­den items from five down to two is awe­some. Try­ing to have it both ways may very well not work, as is too often the case.

But, right or wrong, the Find­er in OSX Lion is still going to be near­ly as lousy after Win­dows 8 as it was when OS X first launched2. At least the Win­dows team is will­ing to lis­ten to crit­i­cism and make some dras­tic changes.

  1. Fair to point out that Gru­ber did­n’t men­tion any crit­i­cism of either, though if I had to place mon­ey on where his pref­er­ences lie, I’d go with Apple. []
  2. There seem to be near­ly as many Find­er replace­ments for OS X as there are Explor­er replace­men­t/add-ons for Win­dows. How­ev­er, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of the $40 Path Find­er real­ly sug­gests how cum­ber­some Find­er can be. []

On Jobs’ Retirement as CEO of Apple

I’m an Apple fan and as much as I’d like to write some­thing on Steve Jobs’ retire­ment, the Inter­net is pret­ty much already filled to the brim with rumi­na­tions on the top­ic. If you do choose to read a piece on this, I sug­gest MG Sei­gler’s piece at TechCrunch. It sum­ma­rizes why Jobs’ leav­ing is broad­er than just a tech news piece and delves into what is next for Apple.

I will sum­ma­rize why this mat­ters to me: Apple was formed a few months before I was born and Jobs retired on my 35th birth­day. I have grown up with Apple in a very real sense. From play­ing “Ore­gon Trail” on an Apple ][ to car­ry­ing a device ripped from a sci­ence fic­tion nov­el as my phone, these devices have real­ly mat­tered to me. The atten­tion to detail in them and the amount of vision it took to get them in my hands has always been phe­nom­e­nal. The fact that so many oth­ers are tak­ing note of this change in lead­er­ship means that they meant a lot to all of us, regard­less of what com­put­er of phone we use. It was always so much more than just that.

Printing in iOS With Your Old Printer

The fea­ture that I (and I’m sure, many) was most look­ing for­ward to in iOS 4.2 was print­ing. Apple adver­tised this as one of the main fea­tures and, hav­ing used Bon­jour to con­fig­ure many a print­er in the past, I looked for­ward to actu­al­ly being able to use it. Bon­jour is Apple’s near­ly-zero con­fig­u­ra­tion util­i­ty for shar­ing resources (most­ly print­ers) among com­put­ers on a net­work. It is one of the best exam­ples of Apple’s it just works mot­to. If you’ve nev­er tried to con­fig­ure a print­er on a net­work then you can’t real­ly appre­ci­ate the spe­cial lev­el of Hell from which this lit­tle tech­nol­o­gy saves you.

Not hav­ing any print­ers makes my iPhone sad.

So, despite this, I was upset that Apple had all but canned print­ing in the final release of iOS 4.2. Oh, sure it works with a hand­ful of new HP print­ers. How­ev­er, I was­n’t real­ly inter­est­ed in pur­chas­ing a fan­cy new print­er when I have an old HP that works just fine, thank you very much. I am hold­ing out hope that this is a mat­ter of not releas­ing the fea­ture until it real­ly does just work. Regard­less, it seems like a half-baked way to put a fea­ture out there. I had even told friends that they should con­sid­er buy­ing an iPad because print­ing would becom­ing soon. I’m not look­ing for­ward to explain­ing the rest of the sto­ry to them (as they are not real­ly techies and are like­ly to sim­ply blame me).

For­tu­nate­ly, there are a cou­ple of nice mac util­i­ties that can at last bridge the gap for our house­hold (an OS X com­put­er which is on and shares a print­er): Fin­ger­print by Col­lo­bos and Print­opia by Ecamm Net­work. I down­loaded a copy of Fin­ger­print (free sev­en day tri­al which allows you to ensure it works with your net­work & print­er). Open the appli­ca­tion, select my shared print­er, and then print from my iPhone 4.

That’s it.

The Fin­ger­print util­i­ty win­dow. Not real­ly much else to show here, actu­al­ly.

Zero con­fig­u­ra­tion. It sim­ply uses Bon­jour to tell my iPhone that there is a print­er avail­able. I select that print­er and set the num­ber of copies I want. All oth­er set­tings are just the default for the print­er (so, no grayscale print­er, for exam­ple). I can also save to my desk­top or Drop­Box fold­er in .PDF file for­mat, which is great for sav­ing and shar­ing things which I don’t real­ly need tp keep a hard copy. Fin­ger­print even includes the capa­bil­i­ty send it your print job to iPho­to, which is a nice touch. In fact, that is how I trans­ferred all the iPhone screen­shots for this post.

Note: Appar­ent­ly, Print­opia does all these things as well (minus the iPho­to bit) for a cou­ple of dol­lars more, so I chose Fin­ger­print. How­ev­er, Print­opia is nice in that it is added to the Sys­tem Pref­er­ences pan­el instead of being a sep­a­rate appli­ca­tion.

The print­er options screen and print­er selec­tion screen once Fin­ger­print is run­ning on any machine on the same net­work.

Fin­ger­print is $7.99, which is a lot cheap­er than a new print­er and eas­i­ly worth it for our house­hold to have this fea­ture. The appli­ca­tion has in-app pur­chas­ing and licens­ing if you decide to pur­chase and they accept cred­it card or Pay­Pal.

We still do print things from time-to-time and hav­ing that abil­i­ty on our iPhones (and iPad, some­day… right, dear?) is awe­some. Because Apple may nev­er release this for just any old print­er. They real­ly aren’t known for sup­port­ing lega­cy hard­ware, after all.

Here’s a video of how sim­ple print­ing in iOS is, once it works:

Print­ing in iOS 4.2 using Fin­ger­Print from Jason Cole­man on Vimeo.

iPhone for the Deaf

deafmac.org on the WWDC keynote by Steve Jobs yes­ter­day:

The “one more thing” from Steve Jobs was some­thing we all expect­ed – video call­ing on the iPhone 4. What was not expect­ed was how it put Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage users in the spot­light, at the very end of the Face­Time video.

Of every­thing in the (near­ly two hour) pre­sen­ta­tion, this caught my atten­tion the most. Most of the exam­ples of how Apple thinks iPhone 4 own­ers will use Face­Time were every­thing you’d expect (except for that; you do that that on your own time). How­ev­er, show­ing a con­ver­sa­tion tak­ing place over the phone in ASL was a mov­ing way to show­case how this phone can real­ly do some­thing no oth­er can.

Will the iPhone 4 be the first cell phone that sup­ports com­mu­ni­ca­tion for the hear­ing impaired with no con­fig­u­ra­tion or third-par­ty appli­ca­tions?

Who’s on Top for the Race to the Bottom?

I’ve been watch­ing some of the events around Wol­fram Alpha late­ly with some inter­est. I had a copy of Wol­fram Math­e­mat­i­ca in grad. school1 and have always felt some­what in awe of the sense of raw pow­er one gets from using their soft­ware. It’s so open and end­less; it is real­ly more like a frame­work or even an oper­at­ing sys­tem than most one-trick pony appli­ca­tions we know and use. So, this morn­ing I see that Wol­fram has priced their iPhone app for Alpha at $50. Stephen Wol­fram thinks pret­ty high­ly of him­self and his com­pa­ny also thinks quite high­ly of their soft­ware, right?

I agree with John Gru­ber that this a good idea and good for the app store, in gen­er­al. And based on my expe­ri­ence with Wol­fram, they’re just the com­pa­ny to do this and won’t be both­ered if they nev­er break the top of the app charts. Giv­en the rel­a­tive­ly high price2 of their desk­top appli­ca­tions, it actu­al­ly seems quite cheap. It’s not as though Math­e­mat­i­ca ever broke any sales records com­pared to oth­er desk­top soft­ware. Most folks have nev­er even heard of it, I sus­pect. Alpha is a nice inter­face for a handy ser­vice, but I nev­er got the impres­sion this is meant to be a Wikipedia com­peti­tor for the aver­age user; it’s a pro­fes­sion­al appli­ca­tion for peo­ple who want dis­tilled, unbi­ased data at their fin­ger­tips.

I think part of the issue with the stick­er shock at $50 is that that is prob­a­bly the aver­age that most folks spend on desk­top appli­ca­tions. That’s even high if you don’t ever buy any­thing from Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple, frankly. But when it comes to mobile plat­forms3 — and the iTunes App Store, in par­tic­u­lar — that seems to be way above the aver­age. But here’s the catch: Wol­fram does­n’t intend for this to an appli­ca­tion for the aver­age user. It is meant to be an app for pro­fes­sion­als who need access to data.

As I work for a com­pa­ny which also pro­duces pro­fes­sion­al soft­ware for a fair­ly lim­it­ed audi­ence (infra­struc­ture engi­neer­ing), I can attest that high prices are the norm for pro­fes­sion­al soft­ware which is sole­ly intend­ed for pro­fes­sion­al set­tings. In the struc­tur­al group at Bent­ley, I think the low­est priced appli­ca­tion we sell is about $1,8004. Just ask any ama­teur pho­to­graph who bought what they thought was a fan­cy cam­era only to learn that Pho­to­shop cost even more than their cam­era! There are gen­er­al­ly alter­na­tives for folks who just want to tool around. Pro­fes­sion­al soft­ware isn’t for them and it is going to priced accord­ing­ly.

There are plen­ty of prece­dences for pro­fes­sion­al soft­ware on mobile plat­forms cost­ing much more than $5 or even $50. My wife’s phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal data­base — Lexi-Comp Com­plete — is about $300, for exam­ple. I imag­ine that’s more than most iPhone users spend on all of their apps and their phone, com­bined! But that’s the point. The phone here is a plat­form to have this sort of data handy, not the end in of itself, which just has the capa­bil­i­ty for fan­cy wid­gets. And this is the real pow­er of such a device as a plat­form; much like when a com­put­er was just seen as a fan­cy type­writer instead of what all it can actu­al­ly be.

If the iPhone is to be tak­en seri­ous­ly as a mobile plat­form, then we need to get away from some notion that all appli­ca­tions should be cheap wid­gets.

  1. Hell, I had the t‑shirt. []
  2. A new copy of Math­e­mat­i­ca 7 is about $2,500. Though it is only fair to note that Alpha is not just some mobile ver­sion of Math­e­mat­i­ca; it is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tion. []
  3. Oh, the irony. This is the same plat­form where folks rou­tine­ly pay 50% more for a 30-sec­ond, low qual­i­ty ver­sion of a song they already own just for the priv­i­lege of using it as a ring tone. []
  4. And it goes way up from there. This past week­end, at Bar­Camp, I must have been the only per­son in the room who did­n’t so much as blink when some­one men­tioned a soft­ware price which includ­ed as much as five zeros. []