Marco.org • About ▾

I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Much of what we called ‘depression’ was really dissatisfaction, a result of setting a bar impossibly high or expecting treasures that we weren’t willing to work for.

Mitch Albom (via Casey Liss)

How to wash dishes in an office

  1. Stack as many dishes, glasses, and mugs in the sink as you can get to fit in it. Be sure to include as much leftover food as possible, especially if it came from the ocean. There should be no more than 1 inch of clearance between the top of the stack and the faucet’s opening.
  2. Saturate the sponge, then hide it somewhere in the middle of the stack.
  3. Pour coffee over the stack.

Soulver for iPhone, the iPhone port of my favorite calculation scratchpad, was just released. I’ve been beta-testing it for months (and may have bugged them into making it in the first place), and its beta version (“Sums”) was even in my First & 20 profile.

Soulver for Mac is always open on all of my computers — home, work, and laptop. It’s a calculator, a numeric scratchpad, and a simple spreadsheet all in one simple, fast, inexpensive program with almost no interface.

Nobody ever knows what it is, but everyone who sees me use it always asks, “Hey, what’s that?” And when they see what it does, they instantly download their own demo copy.

If you frequently perform calculations throughout the day, you need to try Soulver. If you like it, buy it. And strongly consider the iPhone version as a Calculator replacement.

There aren’t any good apps for that

I was recently on a trip and wanted to find a good Euchre game for my iPhone.

I bought all of them that looked remotely legitimate. (One advantage of App Store pricing is that you can generally buy an entire category of games for under $10 and delete the ones that suck without feeling too badly ripped off. I only had a few minutes before leaving the data coverage area, so I didn’t have time to do much research.)

I figured that I’d find one great Euchre game in the bunch.

Nope. They’re all terrible.

So I lowered my standards. Euchre isn’t as well-known as most card games. How about Hearts? A ton of people know how to play Hearts. It came with Windows for Workgroups 3.11.

There’s one passable Hearts game.

Of over 100,000 available iPhone apps, none of them is a playable Euchre game, and only one of them is a tolerable Hearts game.

Don’t get discouraged if your app idea is taken. (It probably is.) There’s still room in the App Store for high-quality apps and games to be made in nearly every category.

My favorite point in John Siracusa’s excellent Apple Tablet post is the focus on software. More than anything so far, this has gotten me excited about the mythical, still-a-figment-of-our-imaginations gadget.

This, in particular, is a reason for something like the Tablet to exist:

The “reconception” part comes in when you consider how many people really need the power—and the complexity that comes with it—of a desktop platform, and in what situations. As a computer geek watching the Chrome OS introduction video, it’s hard not to think about how much easier some people’s lives would be (hi Mom and Dad) if they could trade technical complexities they don’t care about for vastly increased simplicity and ease of use.

Apple has always been more in touch with novice users’ needs than most tech companies. Anyone who has ever taught a friend or relative how to use a computer from absolute zero can tell you that a few basic technical complexities are always the most confusing and difficult to learn:

  1. Click vs. double-click.
  2. Right-click.
  3. The filesystem — specifically, file locations.
  4. Window management and multitasking.
  5. Application installation and removal.

Of this list, Mac OS has only ever seriously tackled right-click. Apple’s mice and trackpads have never had right buttons, virtual right-click areas and gestures have never been enabled by default, and the OS and apps are designed to work completely (albeit clumsily) with only the primary mouse button. But novice users still struggle to understand and master the other four, and their user-facing complexity is nearly identical between Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.

While Apple has abstracted away much of the filesystem in the iLife apps, user inertia and market demands hinder progress on the others for general-purpose computer OSes.

With iPhone OS, Apple’s first chance to design a completely new interaction paradigm in a very long time, they tackled all five. As a result, iPhone OS is much easier to use than Mac OS for nearly everyone, most significantly for novice users.

But the iPhone OS’ suitability as a computer replacement is severely limited by its small screen size and limited input mechanics.

The Tablet is Apple’s chance at applying the lessons learned on the iPhone to a device big and versatile enough to be a low-needs user’s only computer, or to be the only computer that a power user brings while mobile (as Gruber suggested) instead of a laptop. It can be the computer that we buy our parents or grandparents without worrying that we’re signing ourselves up for years of painful tech support calls as they “lose” documents by saving them in the wrong folder, think they can’t save any more files because the desktop is full of icons, delete their browsers’ icons and tell us the internet is gone, keep five different antivirus products half-installed, and fill their RAM with programs they never Quit because they just close every window instead and don’t notice the tiny “running” dot in the Dock or know what it indicates.

That’s a powerful thing, if that’s what they’re going for.

The iPhone was almost that computer. With a bigger screen and easier text input, The Tablet could be it.

Tiff:

Marco got me my own kindle for Christmas.  The sweetest part of the gift was the message he hacked to appear when I opened it.  I love having a geeky husband.

This is what happens when I give electronics to people. They come pre-hacked. And with fully-charged batteries.

I maintain that giving Tiff her own Kindle was more of a present to myself so I could actually use mine again.

The reason there are few attempts to blow up airplanes is not because we have successfully restricted people from blowing up airplanes. It’s because not many people want to blow up airplanes.

Squashed

I saw my first real-life Nook yesterday on the subway. Initial impressions:

  1. The screen’s background color is slightly lighter than the Kindle’s, which is probably more pleasant.
  2. The touch-LCD area (which was off when I saw it) is distractingly reflective.
  3. The Nook is much thicker and chunkier than I expected. Its proportions made it look dated.

The biggest disappointment was the case’s attachment method.

The Kindle 2 has a patented side-clip mechanism that keeps the Kindle’s left side securely attached to the case’s midsection. It can’t accidentally fall out, never budges, and looks great.

The Nook doesn’t seem to have any built-in case-attachment method (at least, I can’t find any mention of one or any cases that use it), so it attaches with the old, dumb way that first-generation Kindle owners loathed: diagonal corner loops. These are failure-prone, clunky, and ugly. The bottom slot helps keep it in place better than having loops on all four corners, but it’s bulky and makes the whole contraption look even worse.

On most portable devices, cases are an afterthought, since they’re largely unnecessary. But ebook readers’ form factor necessitates a case for nearly all users — since they don’t fit in pockets (like phones) but also won’t have dedicated soft pouches in most bags (like laptops), carrying them without something to protect their front faces is impractical.

I wonder whether Amazon’s patent prevented B&N from using anything better for the Nook, or whether B&N’s team simply didn’t think it was necessary.

In related subway-gadget-spotting news, I saw a Nexus One today. I asked its owner about it, who ended up being a Google employee, and I got a great tour of its performance and capabilities. Impressions:

  1. The size and shape are excellent. I suspect we’ve seen our last mainstream-targeted Android phone with a hardware keyboard.
  2. The screen is gorgeous.
  3. It’s sluggish and jerky during scrolling and animation. There’s no excuse for that, given its hardware.
  4. I don’t like the font or the overuse of colors in the interface.

It’s nice enough that I’d love to have a $200-300 iPod-touch-like equivalent for experimental development, but very little about it would drive anyone who’s happy with their iPhone to switch.

Destroying perfectly good retail merchandise

A lot of people are talking about this story, which condemns H&M and Wal-Mart for destroying unsold clothing rather than donating it to a charity or simply throwing it away unharmed to accommodate dumpster-divers.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has worked in a retail store.

Many stores have arrangements to return any unsold or outdated merchandise to their suppliers for credit. With this arrangement, the stores take little risk, so suppliers can convince them to stock new or short-lived items. For items of significant value, like electronics, it works as you’d expect: the stores just ship them back.

But many items aren’t worth shipping back, so the stores and suppliers have a wasteful but effective arrangement: the stores simply tell the suppliers how many of each item didn’t sell, the suppliers give the stores credit for them, and the stores must destroy them.

When I worked at Staples briefly in college, we had to destroy most open-box customer returns of inexpensive items, like reams of paper and USB cables, and old versions of software (so many copies of Norton Security Whatevers 2002 when the 2003 versions came out).

“Destroy” doesn’t mean that everything needs to be completely obliterated — it just needs to be damaged enough that it’s not usable. So we’d cut the (perfectly good) USB cables in half, tear a bunch of the pages from the reams of paper, and scratch the software CDs with a box cutter. Then they’d all get thrown away. No part of this was negotiable with the managers. (I tried.)

Have you ever seen a book or magazine that said something along the lines of, “If you received this book without a cover, the author hasn’t been paid for his work”? That’s because book and magazine publishers have a similar arrangement with their vendors, except that the publishers often required in the past (not sure if it’s still true) that the store tear off and send back each credited item’s cover before throwing away the rest.

It’s all incredibly wasteful, but on some level, I can see why they do it: if the “get credit and destroy” system changed to “get credit and donate”, it would really become “get credit, say they were donated, then take them home and sell them on eBay”.

(A lot of retail mechanics are dedicated to reducing theft by their own employees.)

Given that Wal-Mart has a machine dedicated to punching holes in unsold clothing, and they sell nearly everything on consignment and take no risk of unsold stock, they almost certainly have a credit-and-destroy arrangement with the supplier of the clothing in this story.

It’s unfair to criticize these two companies for a practice that’s incredibly common in the entire industry, spanning nearly every product category and nearly every major retailer.

The wastefulness of this is disgusting, but I’m not sure who’s really at fault, if anyone. When you consider the entire story, rather than the narrow view presented by a sensational, low-information New York Times article, it’s hard to come up with a better solution that’s realistic, practical, and economical for the involved parties.

Dell goes pro with 27-inch UltraSharp U2711 WQHD LCD monitor (via superamit)

This is the first appearance of (in all likelihood) LG’s ridiculously high-specced new-iMac LCD panel outside of the iMac, and it’s promising: same panel (probably), matte finish, $1049.

I hesitate to buy another Dell monitor after the quality issues I’ve faced with my 2407 and the insane ugliness of the new bezels with their blue LEDs and beepy controls, but I’m looking forward to other manufacturers (hopefully with taste) making equivalent monitors with this panel.

I suspect the current crop of 30” monitors are not long for this world, and that they’ll be discontinued by most of their manufacturers in favor of new 27” monitors using this panel with almost the same resolution, much better specs, and a much lower price than any 30” model. Apple’s will probably be glass-only, but I bet we’ll be able to get a nice matte model from more vendors.

I tell people that if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. The very definition of ‘news’ is ‘something that hardly ever happens.’ It’s when something isn’t in the news, when it’s so common that it’s no longer news — car crashes, domestic violence — that you should start worrying.

Bruce Schneier (via charliepark)

Hell
Marco Arment, 2009
Light on charge-coupled device

Relative traffic levels.

(It was this that got Stumbled Upon. And this was my most-viewed page in December.)

How to post photos on the internet

Take a boring photo with your 50mm f/1.8 prime wide open, with a small sliver of your subject in focus. Leave large portions of the subject outside of the focal plane, regardless of how important or interesting they are.

Rotate the camera 30 degrees before shooting.

Square-crop.

Oversaturate or slightly desaturate. Tint red to look old. Under no circumstances should you apply a neutral white balance.

Blow out the highlights.

Add a very strong fake vignette.

Finish it off with a fake Polaroid frame.

For bonus points, overlay a pithy, emotional sentence, preferably about a failed romance. Ideally, the overlay should be in white Helvetica.

You’ll be popular in no time.

Alex Payne, in Don’t Be A Hero:

If someone is working at four in the morning, something is deeply wrong. Figure out what’s broken and delegate the work out evenly across your team such that it doesn’t happen again. Don’t pat your hero on the back for “pulling another late-nighter”.

This is one reason why, when looking for a job a few years ago, I didn’t consider working for any company whose job description implied (or stated) that I’d be expected to work extremely long hours regularly and not have a family life. Such companies are either run by “heroes” or expect to hire one. (Usually for the same salary as a nine-to-fiver and with a trivial equity stake.)

I resent the commonly held belief that this is an unavoidable part of “startup culture”. (It’s completely avoidable.) Such beliefs encourage workaholism, especially among young people, and cause poor-quality products, employee burnout, and high turnover.

I don’t want to be a part of any company that’s so poorly managed, or simply so cheap, that employees are expected to forego a healthy lifestyle. No job is worth that.

Dan Moren, nicely expressing my biggest concern with any Apple “Tablet” that even slightly resembles everyone’s guesses:

Wait, wait, wait. We’re talking about a revolutionary new device that will let you watch videos, play music, and probably even control your own squadron of death robots (not included), and I’m worried about something as mundane as text entry?

Well, yeah.

Text entry is the second-biggest limiting factor of the usefulness of different computing-device portability classes. (The biggest is size: how likely is it that you’ll have the device with you when you want to use it?)

This doesn’t apply to media players, so if that’s primarily what The Tablet is supposed to be (which would be disappointing, but not unlikely), they can get away with a low-usefulness, on-screen touch keyboard. But for The Tablet to be a useful general-computing device, text input needs to be faster and easier than what even the best on-screen keyboards have been able to offer so far.

Abstract City Blog: “And now for my personal 2010 weather forecast.” (via 2arrs2ells)

Google publicly and famously surrendered the integrity of its searches to Chinese repression in order to do business there, and never provided a good enough rationale for breaking its pledge to do no evil. We have no way of knowing what the company surrendered technologically in its efforts to break into the fastest growing Internet market in the world. If the deal involved giving the Chinese government some level of access to the Chinese activity occurring on Google—as a way of verifying that their censorship deal was being adhered to—then perhaps this access could have been exploited, leading to the security breach.

So it’s not that Google’s cloud computing technology is so easily hackable, it’s that Google’s misguided partnership with a repressive regime is so easily exploitable. My concern—for Google and for us—is that the reason they know it’s the Chinese government behind these attacks is because Google may have inadvertently given them the key.

Douglas Rushkoff (via azspot), giving an explanation worth considering.

Apple has become much more reasonable with their RAM pricing, but the hard drive pricing still leaves me wondering if the employee responsible for entering these values was laughing while doing so.

(For reference: $75, $100, $170.)

When I watch documentaries about the Vietnam War era in the United States, (tonight’s, ★★☆), I’m filled with both wonder and hopelessness: wonder at the sheer scale of the protests, civic disobedience, and government criminality of the time, but hopelessness that we still have all of the same problems today, systemically unable to prevent repeating the same mistakes in every generation.

We have new presidents executing new wars against new enemies. Our right-wing zealots condemn new protests as unpatriotic, and they discriminate against a new group of people on the basis of a different quality they were born with.

During this generation, these wars are likely to end in effective stalemates and this persecuted class of people is likely to gain equal legal rights and gradual acceptance by many of those formerly ignorant and hateful toward them. The wars will be seen as tremendous historical blunders in retrospect, and the memories of the intolerance will be a permanent embarrassment of our society.

It’s the same old bullshit.

And in another 20 years, the next generation will create their own war profiteering and intolerance, having learned nothing from us.

Bring up ageism and out comes it comes — it’s the one insult that’s considered socially acceptable. It’s like watching an old movie where women, blacks, Native Americans or Chinese were assumed inferior. Only it’s here and now, in 2010.

Dave Winer, who’s probably subject to more ageism than he lets on because the tech industry is particularly bad about it. I’ll be shocked if I can get a fulfilling programming job at the relatively young age of 40.

Because the thing that everyone seems to be forgetting is: who really cares about The Tonight Show? Like newspapers, vinyl records and having sex in the backseat of a car, it’s something that people think they like, mostly for nostalgia’s sake. It’s 2010! Late night network talk shows are no longer all that relevant—the ‘brand identity’ (sorry!) is negligible. Let Jay Leno go down with that sinking ship. This is a chance for Conan to work on a platform that’s based on how people are entertained today, not how they were entertained in the 60s.

Adam Frucci

Four years after we posted our first homemade videos to YouTube and they spread across the globe faster than swine flu, making our bassist’s glasses recognizable to 70-year-olds in Wichita and 5-year-olds in Seoul and eventually turning a tidy little profit for EMI, we’re – unbelievably – stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of having our videos be easily shared.

Damian of OK Go on their record label’s stupid insistence on prohibiting embedded playback of their new video. (via Merlin)

The subway stopped next to this for a while this morning. I was amused that we were nonchalantly sitting in the middle of the East River.

…any legislative moves with this Democratic party and this Republican party are close to hopeless. The Democrats are a clapped out, gut-free lobbyist machine. The Republicans are insane. The system is therefore paralyzed beyond repair.

Andrew Sullivan (via azspot, dalasverdugo)

Do something compelling. There’s a trillion people writing blogs that need something to write about. There are magazines hungry for content. There are hundreds of thousands of people bored on the internet wanting something to look at or do. For the most part, people have exceedingly low standards on the internet. But, I think people are hungry for better. Make something better. People will notice.

Frank Chimero 

…I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.

Paul Krugman (via azspot)

8 minutes on Obama’s first year, by Lawrence Lessig:

An analysis of what’s really accounts for the failures of this past year, and why regardless of your politics, you should be pushing for real change.

(via dalasverdugo, everyone)

Sure, it weakens campaign finance laws, but the campaign finance laws were broken to begin with. They were more like a string of fenceposts rather than an actual fence. They won’t stop much—but might make you slow down enough to check you didn’t accidentally run into a pole. And maybe, once in a while, somebody careless would get snagged on a loose nail. If a few of those fence posts fall over, I won’t cry. The fence sucked.

Squashed: Free Speech, Corporate Speech, and Corporate money 

Tiff wanted a Pictionary party for her birthday, so we went all out and actually got an office flip-chart easel. This was our testing session.

What bothers me isn’t the vandalism, but that the expansion attempt — really, a spelling correction — is, itself, misspelled.

How ironic that smug Democrats in the Administration refused to allow the single payer, medicare-for-all option to even be considered as a possibility for America. They declared it off the table, pushing a “public option” plan that was quickly jettisoned by an Administration happy to cut deals with the drug and insurance lobbies. The result is a massive mess difficult to understand with shrinking public support. It was hung like an albatross around the neck of Martha Coakley, the loser in the Scott Brown race. If the Obama Administration had embraced the single payer option — some type of which is in place in every country that does have universal medical coverage — it could have ignited the Democratic grassroots and educated the public. Instead, the health care debacle has become a massive political train wreck, and Barack Obama’s Democratic Party is pinned in the wreckage.

John Stauber (via azspot)

If you announce a good idea a year before you can implement it, you had better be the only company in the world that could implement something that customers will think is a ‘good enough’ version of what you promise. ‘Good enough’ plus ‘cheaper’ or ‘for sale sooner’ is how the world got stuck with Windows.

Matt Deatherage, with an excellent point that I’d say is also critically important for the iPhone’s success now that there are some “good enough” Android smartphones for Verizon’s network.

Subpixel considerations for AMOLED screens

The alternating red/blue PenTile subpixel pattern, as described here, interested me when considering AMOLED-specific design tweaks for Instapaper’s text view.


The Nexus One’s AMOLED screen displaying black text on a white background.

Most significantly with OLEDs, power consumption is greatly reduced when displaying black or very dim colors, so a dark layout option is even more beneficial than with LCDs.

Another consideration is that the blue subpixels have the shortest lifespans, a problem that has always plagued OLEDs and is one of the biggest reasons they’re still rarely used.

To save power while maximizing sharpness and pixel lifespan, green text on a black background may be an ideal choice.


#338800 text against #000000. I mixed in some red to mute the color a bit.

Instapaper in 2010: Now with the finest visual stylings of the Apple II.

No, we can’t

Thomas Friedman:

The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.

In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary — the economic stimulus — and what he aspired to — health care — by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The president seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilize “the people” to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show. And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as president was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary.

No, that’s not why most of our support, hope, and engagement has disappeared. It was another, bigger problem that did it: everything we had Hope™d for has either not panned out, been compromised so far as to be unrecognizable, or seemingly been forgotten.

We wanted universal health care, and nearly all of us took that to mean a tax-funded, single-payer system like nearly every other advanced country in the world. I don’t think many “young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots” pre-election-Obama fans would recognize the current effort, renamed from “universal health care” to “health care reform”, as remotely accomplishing what we had in mind. We’re told to accept this massive “compromise”, which does little but further entrench and amplify nearly every problem with the health care system, because it’s the best we’ll do for the next few decades.

We wanted definitive action to be taken to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We know it’s not as simple as everyone just flying home one day, but we wanted a firm, near-term timeline for withdrawal. The few administrative actions on this front, so far, haven’t been promising.

We wanted an end to legislative and regulatory corruption from lobbyists and the revolving-door pattern. Nothing significant has been done about this except last week’s Supreme Court decision that made it worse.

We wanted the criminal injustices perpetrated by the Bush administration to be recognized and prosecuted. That was judged to be too politically expensive and was quickly forgotten. If we did that, Obama would have a difficult time getting his other major policy goals accomplished.

We wanted comprehensive Wall Street reform. Our hopes haven’t quite been completely crushed on that front yet, but something tells me they’re about to be.

For the campaign of Hope, we’re not seeing a lot of encouragement from the leader or the legislative majority that we elected. The campaign of “yes, we can” has resulted in an administration of “no, we can’t.”

Blaming all of the federal government’s problems on the leader of the executive branch who has only been there for a year is short-sighted and misplaced. But to us — the people who largely got him elected — he was largely promising to fix not only specific policies and issues, but some of the dysfunctions that cause the government to be so corrupt, inefficient, and ineffective. But so far, we’ve seen almost no results for almost every major issue. It’s hard to keep our hopes up for long when all we’ve seen is repeated disappointments, compromises, and giveaways.

Maybe we’re frustrated with ourselves for incorrectly believing that one executive election would be able to do anything we considered significant. Like getting duped by a salesman, we’re more frustrated not in the unfulfilled promises, but in ourselves for believing them.

We’ve been taught that our government, ostensibly a representative democracy, is effectively neither. We’re powerless. We’ve had the civic engagement beaten out of us. Friedman’s assumption that we think our job is done is condescending and incorrect. We’ve been shown by all three branches of the federal government that they’ll do whatever they want regardless of popular opinion, that common sense and the people’s best interests don’t matter, and that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.

I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.

Saul Bass (via davidkaneda)

David Cole’s post today (via Meaghan) is incredibly clever. And not just because he mentions me in the middle.

I love his points, and I think both web content producers and game designers can learn a lot from this simple, effective, thought-provoking piece.

Happy birthday, Tiff!

Well, your article is the freshest on this laudable topic. I agree with your conclusions and anxiously await your upcoming updates. Just saying thank you will not be enough, for the fantastic lucidity in your writing. I’ll immediately subscribe to your feed to stay informed of any updates. Delightful work and much success in your business endeavors!

A comment on this blog post, generated by a spam bot, trying not to sound suspicious. I love it.

In regards to the iPhone, where I can compare my use of Instapaper, the [Kindle’s] screen really makes a big difference for extended reading. But the biggest advantage is the Kindle’s lack of any good use other than reading. When I pick up a Kindle, I read.

5typos.net: My Kindle 2 review (before the reality distortion field)

This is one reason why I love reading on the Kindle, and one reason why reading (with or without Instapaper) works so much better on anything else, including the iPhone and hopefully tomorrow’s thing, than on a general-purpose computer: the setting and flow of computer use don’t force (or, usually, permit) the focus needed for meaningful reading.

Democrats (at least in bluer states) talk a good game at election time, and sometimes put through legislation that looks like change, but a closer reading always reveals the work of lobbyists at play.

History Unfolding: Towards the Gilded Age

When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I [thought] of it. I said: Well, it’s the first personal computer worth criticizing. So at the end of the presentation, Steve came up to me and said: Is the iPhone worth criticizing? And I said: Make the screen five inches by eight inches, and you’ll rule the world.

Alan Kay (via azspot)

iPad envy, by Dave Walker.

This is why the iPad doesn’t make phone calls.

I made a life-size cardboard iPad and some paper sketch templates for Instapaper interface design.

One surprise when fake-“using” the cardboard iPad: I can use the whole keyboard with just my thumbs, holding the iPad in the air. And I can use it surprisingly quickly. My assumptions about input limitations may have been premature.

Loosely organized initial thoughts on the iPad

A lot of writers and journalists are expressing disappointment in the iPad because it didn’t live up to its insane hype. What’s most interesting to me is how unsurprising most of the launch was.

Most of us had some crazy ideas. John Gruber wanted Apple to reinvent mobile computing. I wanted Apple to reinvent portable input mechanics and novice usability. I think a lot of other people wanted Apple to reinvent the laws of physics.

In reality, none of this happened. The iPad is effectively a giant iPod Touch, which itself is effectively a data-app-only iPhone.

The revolution that we already had

Nothing about the iPad is obviously revolutionary, but it didn’t need to be: the iPhone OS and iPhone hardware are already revolutionary.

Apple already reinvented John’s mobile computing and my input mechanics and novice usability in 2007 with the iPhone. We’ve had the truly magical and revolutionary product this entire time, but we take it for granted now, and we’ve forgotten how awesome it already is.

Very little was keeping the iPhone from taking a much larger role in people’s computing lives. One of the biggest factors holding back iPhone app practicality in certain areas was screen space, and that was just dramatically expanded with the iPad. I would have been just as excited in advance about the Tablet’s potential if Apple had officially told us months ahead of time that it would be a 9.7”, 1024x768 iPod Touch. (Although they’d capitalize it as “iPod touch”.)

The problem with the iPad is that, since it’s not much more revolutionary than the iPhone, it’s going to be a tough sell in the press and among most of the gadget enthusiasts that were fueling the hype.

Portability and input

Apple didn’t do anything revolutionary with the iPad’s input methods. I guess they just decided, “We’ll do what we can with the limited input mechanics that make sense here, and accept that a regular computer is still going to be best for many tasks.” It’s exactly what the iPhone did, and that seemed to work out.

Its portability is interesting and slightly problematic. Like a Kindle, you’ll bring it in a bag, not a pocket. It won’t always be with you, and one-handed operation will be impractical.

Compared to a laptop, the iPad will likely be a better device for content consumption and games, and an acceptable substitute for light productivity and entertainment. Laptops are mediocre for consumption, especially of long text.

It’s going to be clumsy and impractical to type on it with anything but your thumbs unless it’s resting on a flat surface, but your neck won’t allow you to sustain that for very long. Its keys are large, like a physical keyboard, but you likely won’t be using it as one. If my cardboard model is accurate, I suspect that it will be used mostly as a giant thumbs-only keyboard. This will be acceptable for writing brief emails and entering small text snippets, but I suspect nobody’s going to be writing nontrivial documents or blog posts without the external keyboard.

The iPad is almost the same size and weight as the Kindle DX, which I think is too large to use on a train unless you’re seated. (In addition to the difficulty and discomfort in holding the DX one-handed, doing so on a crowded train just looks ridiculous.) So the iPad is not going to be incredibly useful on the New York subway, but it’ll be great on commuter rail.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think the iPad is meant to leave the house very often. But it’s going to be great on the couch, and even better on airplanes — the unconscientious person in front of you can lean their seat back without hitting it.

Who’s buying it?

There are many fewer potential iPad owners than potential (and current) iPhone owners. One basic reason is that it’s a lot more money (now). But nearly everyone can justify having a phone — the only question is which phone, and it’s easy for people to rationalize spending a bit more money for the really nice one. The same rationale applies to iPod Touch owners: they’re already buying a portable music player, and the iPod Touch is just the medium- to high-end choice.

But few people can justify having a tablet. One of the only reasons for a regular person to buy it is if it could replace their need for a laptop, but that’s not going to be the case for the vast majority of laptop buyers. Most laptop owners use it as their only computer, and there are very few buyers for whom an iPad, as we know it today, could serve in that role. (Does it require synchronization with iTunes out of the box before it becomes usable, like an iPhone?)

Launching a $500 tech device that very few people can justify purchasing, in a recession, isn’t going to lead to a ton of sales. Maybe it will sell at a similar rate to the MacBook Air. I don’t think it will be considered a failure, but I also don’t think it will ever be as big of a hit as the iPod, the iPhone, or the Mac.

App economics

App development for iPad is less enticing than iPhone app development for most developers since the installed base is starting from zero and is likely to grow more slowly. Apps that require an iPad, or only work well on one, won’t see anywhere near the sales levels that iPhone apps achieve.

This may be a good thing: a $500, non-mainstream device can probably command more reasonable software prices. It probably won’t be as much of a chart-based roller coaster as the iPhone App Store.

But Apple set a fairly low precedent today by iWork’s apps being $9.99 each. It’s going to be difficult to sell an iPad app for above $9.99. How easy it will be to sell an app in the already difficult iPhone pricing zone of $6.99-9.99 remains to be seen.

That said, it’s going to be unlikely for any iPad apps except the most popular few to sell below $2.99 and make any noticeable amount of money for their authors.

I’d be thrilled if the iPad edition of Instapaper sold one-tenth as many copies as the iPhone edition, and I think that’s optimistic. Would you put in another 50-100% of development time to increase sales by 10%? (I’m going to, but that’s because I’m that kind of guy. I just spent months hacking the Kindle edition of Instapaper that’s used by almost nobody and makes almost no money, simply because I wanted to use it myself and I wanted it to be awesome.)

App design

I suspect that we’re going to see a lot of shovelware: apps that are technically iPad-native, but haven’t done much interface work at all to differentiate from their iPhone editions. For some apps, this will be sufficient. But for most, they’ll look strange and dramatically inferior to apps that are properly adapted to the iPad or designed for it in the first place.

Tonight, I recompiled Instapaper as an iPad app. It took almost no work, and the app works in the simulator with complete functionality and very few visual bugs. (See? There was a reason to use proper autoresizing masks in your iPhone apps even if you didn’t think you’d ever need them.)

But everything except the reading screen looks ridiculous. To complete the proper iPadization of Instapaper, I’m going to need to redesign almost every screen and much of the navigational hierarchy, maintaining both editions in parallel for the indefinite future. That’s a lot of additional expense that most app developers, even those for whom “expense” is simply measured in their time, are unlikely to undertake.

As a result, and especially since the iPad is unlikely to be as financially compelling for development as the iPhone, I expect truly great iPad apps to be rare.

Like the pricing, this would be a mixed blessing: it’s not great for iPad users who will be disappointed by the 139,000 shoddy app ports, but it’s great for the relatively few developers who produce high-quality software.

The Kindle

The iPad is not killing the Kindle. See Marc’s post for a lot of great reasons, especially the price difference.

Many people — myself most likely included — will continue to prefer the Kindle’s e-ink screen for long text reading.

Physically, the Kindle — being a much smaller device than the iPad — fits much better in many bags and winter-coat pockets and can be used single-handedly when standing on a crowded subway.

And the Kindle’s battery life is so great — it can run for weeks of casual use with wireless turned off — that you can usually not pack its charger on trips. I can’t say that about any other gadget, and I almost certainly won’t be able to say that about the iPad.

And finally…

I’m sure much of this will change over time, especially since I haven’t seen or used an iPad in person. I’m definitely buying one. I suspect it’s going to have a difficult time becoming mainstream, but it may not need to be. Mine’s going to be useful to me even if they never take over the world.

Never came so close to crying from an xkcd comic. (via)

I know, [the iPad]’s not everything you dreamed of…but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. … And that doesn’t mean that virtually all of the problems listed couldn’t be solved with a little innovation. Or by buying a few accessories. It doesn’t come with a keyboard. It doesn’t come with a microwave either. And you’re going to have to use your own subway to get it back from the store and your own scissors to get it out of the box. O woe! And it will cost all of 500 dollars—that’s almost the price of a bottom of the line laptop! You could get, like, two Zunes for that price!

Dan on this asinine piece

For years we’ve all held to the belief that computing had to be made simpler for the ‘average person’. I find it difficult to come to any conclusion other than that we have totally failed in this effort.

Fraser Speirs: Future Shock. Read it. It’s awesome.

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