Category Archives: gadgetlust

The Widescreen Obesity Epidemic

Suddenly, all the beautiful people in Hollywood have become fat — or so you would think from watching TV recently. For it seems as though most of the shiny new widescreen TVs out there are still showing old, lo-res signals meant for a tube that just isn’t that wide. So those expensively toned bodies we’re all used to fetishizing on TV are now being stretched about a third wider than they were before. It’s a little like the opposite of the new slimming feature included with most new HP digital cameras.
The sheer prevalence of this phenomenon leads me to believe that the pundits decrying the insufficient resolution of the “near-dvd quality video Apple is offering with its new iTunes video store are sorely mistaken. If anything, the rise of MP3s and digital music have shown that when it comes to deciding between fidelity and convenience or cost, people will take the easy way.
Update: As yet further proof that I have no original thoughts, this same idea appeared on Slashdot earlier this year. I had no idea.

Apple. the ROKR phone and what it means to lead

In the week or so since the joint Motorola and Apple announcement of the new iTunes-enabled ROKR phone, the knives of the early adopter bloggers and tech pubs have been out. If you haven’t been following the coverage, a quick summary: the ROKR phone is basically a typical Motorola phone, with the addition of an Apple-supplied interface for playing MP3s and iPod-like integration with Macs and PCs through iTunes.
As far as I can tell, the criticism breaks down basically as follows:

  • It’s an ordinary-looking phone, and doesn’t reflect Apple’s typically brilliant industrial design
  • The experience of using the phone is largely typical Motorola — underwhelming.
  • Apple’s iTunes imposes an artificial limit of 100 songs, even if the phone’s hardware can store more.

I’m not one to be an apologist for Apple, and I’m the first to say that this phone isn’t for me. It’s uninteresting, crippled, and I’d rather visit the dentist than be forced to use a Motorola mobile phone interface. But I do think it’s useful to consider this phone in the context of how companies bring new products to market. Consider the following:

  1. MP3 players have been widely available on mobile phones for over a year.
  2. Despite their broad availability, customers tend not to use them very much.
  3. No one, including Apple, knows for sure why this is. Some possible reasons:
    • Is it too hard to transfer music onto your mobile phone?
    • Are phone interfaces for playing music not good enough??
    • Do customers prefer simpler devices that do one or two things well over more complex devices with multiple functions?
      • A number of industry watchers see increasingly capable mobile phones as the greatest threat to the iPod franchise and margins

Apple is probably pretty confident they can solve the interface and transfer problems — that’s largely what made the iPod such a success. But *if* there is a real customer preference for single-purpose devices, that can be pretty hard to overcome.
So if you’re Apple, you have a number of unanswered questions. How do you start to figure out the answers? By putting a real product on the market that you can learn from. And most importantly, do it quickly (before the your competitors) and cheaply (without having to engineer a whole new device). Focus on the problems you can solve, avoid cannibalizing your existing products as best you can, and partner with a company that can do the things you’re not good at.
Hence, the ROKR phone. If their experience with that phone reveals that a better interface and PC integration is the key to opening up a whole new market for music-enabled phones, you can bet that Apple will start to invest more — up to and including the entire experience of the phone, from hardware design to the phone interface. But to get to that point, they have a lot to learn first.
If the ROKR doesn’t fly — Apple learns that there’s not a burning need for MP3-capable mobile phones — they can think of it as cheap insurance. Better Apple invests a small amount and fails, rather than not trying at all and watching a competitor disrupt the whole iPod business.

Frustrating around the edges

I’ve had my PowerBook G4 for about two years now, and overall, it’s been fantastic — the best laptop I’ve ever had.

Recently, though, I’ve been attaching more and more peripherals as I set up more of an official home office… and things aren’t working so well at the edges.

My setup includes:

  • Viewsonic 201mb monitor (1600×1200)
  • Lacie Bigger Disk (firewire)
  • D-link bluetooth USB card
  • Logitech external mouse
  • Apple bluetooth keyboard

The following problems seem to be unrelated, but collectively are driving me completely crazy:

  • Probably one out of every two times I connect the external monitor to the laptop, a thin line of fluorescent pixels appears at the top of the display, and gradually gets worse until the entire screen is shaking. I can fix it by disconnecting and reconnecting multiple times (often 4-5x), and once it works, it works for days.
  • The la cie drive seems to be causing random crashes when it’s being accessed. It’s bringing down the whole computer, and requiring a restart. Seems to be more common when playing music.
  • I have the mouse, bluetooth adapter and printer all connected through the monitor’s built-in USB hub. Every once in a while, it won’t power any of the peripherals. The only thing that seems to work is just disconnecting and reconnecting multiple times.

Has anyone else experienced any of this?

Creative or not? The 2x Mouse

One of the nice things about working at a big company is that when things break, you’re usually not the one that has to fix them. So when one of the buttons on my mouse stopped working recently, I went down to Brian‘s office to see if he had any new optical mice lying around.
Brian handed me a new one, in a shiny green plastic package with “2x” emblazoned prominently on the front. Can one mouse really be two times as fast as another? Is there a de facto “1x” mouse speed? What if it went too fast?
One is left wondering if someone in the marketing department decided that they could get people to upgrade to a faster mouse. I’ve never had anyone I know complain about a mouse being too slow.