Apple Irony

Apple is again running a new clever and contrite ad on cnn.com involving two ad spots synchronised.  It pans Vista because of apparent remaining glitches a year after release and users downgrading to XP.

I thought I’d head over to apple.com to see if they had any other amusing ads.  I went to this page, only to be presented with a Quicktime upgrade window that hung IE7…

Kudos to Apple on their CNN Advertising

Today, I saw this clever advertising on CNN’s website.

Of course it may not be there when you click that link.

Essentially they had the PC/Mac characters in one flash movie on the right, talking about (and looking up at) the flash banner across the top of the screen, including changes to the top banner caused by actions of the PC character is the side movie.

Microsoft Surface: Over-Due, Over-Priced, Over-Done, Over-Hyped, Totally Unavailable

It’s this year’s Origami and years from surfacing.

I’m sorry, but I’m simply not going to get on the wow bandwagon.  I’ve even had an IM debate with a friend already this morning.

The fact is that there really isn’t any NEW innovation in this, where NEW means “wow I had absolutely no idea this could be done today” or “this wasn’t available a year ago”.

I’m a Microsoft fanboy most of the time, but the answer to the following questions are all “no” so I’m just going to find myself bored and at the same time amused at all the hype that’s going to come out of this.

  • Can I have one today?
  • Does it cost the same as a computer + projector + sensors + table or even close?
  • Can I get it the way I want it in terms of colour, size, form factor?
  • Can I use my existing computer with it – like dock my tablet into the side and so just purchase the table/projector/sensor combo and install some software?
  • Does it have an intuitive interface?  Easy to learn yes; immediately intuitive, no – completely breaks UI standards with different apps having different drag semantics.
  • Is this the first time Microsoft has shown this technology?
  • Can I get one this time next year for the same price?
  • Can I get the runtime and build my own?
  • Is there an SDK?
  • Does my credit card or other existing devices work with it directly?
  • Is there a consumer-friendly kit for making my existing devices readable for placement on the surface?
  • Can consumers get one at a reasonable price with three years?

Do I want one today as my coffee table?  YES, if there’s an SDK.

Over-Due

I could play space invaders on a coin-op machine in a pub about two decades ago.  Why did this take so long?  Microsoft admits starting on this in 2001 – why did it take until now?  If anyone is thinking “But… <insert whizzing technology> wasn’t available….”, stop right there and think if you are acting on blustering belief or considered application.  Even on the 1990s space invader table, you could have had useful applications with that level of graphics.  Considering Microsoft did Zune and Xbox so fast, and everyone up to Bill Gates authorised a team, what took so long?!  I’m not saying it could have been done back then, though I could have justified US$10K at that point – more like 2000 perhaps.  Actually, those paying attention know that Bill Gates has shown this kind of technology already, and it was a while ago, so why is everyone acting like bread could only be sliced today?  Calm down!

Over-Priced

Apparently these devices will cost $5K to $10K US and the END of 2007?  Why?!  Makes it sound awfully delicate to put one in a restaurant if it costs that much to replace.  Does everything in the furniture market have to be so over-priced and unavailable?

Over-Done

Many people aren’t quite as fixated on technology stuff as some of us, so this all looks so cool, but it has been demo’d prominately by Bill Gates before.  It feels overdone because it has been on the cards for such a long time and this announcement (mostly consisting of consumer experiences) carries zero promise of availability to consumers and an extremely low chance of a consumer getting to interact with one.

It’s not surprising that all the sophisticated demoes are for brands that have the money to invest in these things: casinos and telcos.

Everyone is so into this that they fail to notice that the demos are done by people that have been using it for a long time and have learnt the drag semantics.  The demos are so far baked that they all have their differing ideas for what dragging does and how the UI goes.  WPF can be used to break years of Windows UI consistency, and this new UI is a whole new UI that screaming excitement but hasn’t been given to anyone to really standardise or play with.

Over-Hyped

Oooo, Ahhhh, so when can even a developer get one at a reasonable price?  Is news really that slow, and everyone really that bored that they think this is really that innovative? 

“How can you say… or not be excited by…” – because I already asked myself the questions above, the first time I saw a Microsoft demo of the technology months ago.  Everyone seems to be acting like a kid in a candy store, but they haven’t yet realised that all the candy is made of promotional cut outs, because someone hasn’t yet finished developing the candy and their pocket money wont be able to afford this kind of candy for quite some time.

If it’s that innovative, then why does it take companies with deep pockets to get it rolling and drive the price down?

So why has it been announced today?  Well, I’d guess it’s probably because it has been incubated for 6 years, and it would almost be embarrasing not to announce something, especially after Bill demo’d it a while ago already, plus the reality that if some money isn’t made back on the work, it will just end up getting dropped or developed at a cheaper cost by a start-up or hobbyist somewhere (if there’s isn’t one already doing it?)

Of course, all hype (good or bad) adds to the discussion, so even if you don’t agree with anything I’ve said, it will create the opportunity for more people to talk about Microsoft Surface (which is currently 1000s of fathoms far from surfacing).  I haven’t included a single link in here, because it’s all over the Web today and it certainly doesn’t need any help from me 🙂

Does Microsoft have the Silverlight bullet?

Its prey is the Flash player (and possibly the design application). Flash is everywhere on the desktop.

Having said that, Macromedia would not (and still Adobe doesn’t) let ISVs distribute the player for mobile devices – end users have to dig on the website for it themselves. Device manufacturers can however, come to a bundle arrangement. Despite this, mobile applications like FlashThemes (a great animated theming application for Pocket PCs which is a today screen plug in), and FlashThemes Pro (it’s bigger brother that takes over the today screen) are thriving.

This is stuff FlashThemes can do today on mobile device with flash!

FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile

Why am I mentioning mobile devices?

Microsoft says this is a “cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivery the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the web”, but apparently nolonger cross device?!

In fact, let’s look at the FAQ on the Silverlight website…
Q:”Which devices will be supported?”
A:”Device platforms are being considered based on customer feedback”

Microsoft showed WPF/E (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere), now “Silverlight”, over a year ago running on a Pocket PC device with the Windows Mobile OS. I was interested.

At least it’s cross-browser and runs on other platforms… OK just one – it supports Mac with Safari… but wait, not with Opera.

Want more WOW starts now? Go to the Silverlight website. Tell me it looks wicked awesome with that immersive cyberspace 3D stuff. Um… no. It’s based on a subset of WPF which only includes 2D support, so that video you saw is bogus. It’s a little like buying Windows Vista Basic and finding out you don’t get that one Flip 3D trick you saw on the TV commercial.

Well, at least it’s free, so it should be easy to distribute. Probably a Windows Update if Microsoft wants to get it out there quickly. If not, then it may be harder to proliferate. The new (and good) security in Windows Vista means that you need to elevate to an admin user to install it, which may present a barrier for adoption. When Flash came along years ago, lots of consumers were merrily running 95/ME/XP as admin users and it was very easy to install Flash.

The new website sadly presents the same tired-looking demos. Where’s the Microsoft equivalent of Flash (the design application, not the player)? The site mentions tools like those in Expression Studio and Visual Studio (which seems more like marketing for those tools) – there doesn’t seem to be any specific tool add-ons to make the design experience work. This is not surprising given that Visual Studio will not have designer support for the full WPF platform (released last November, alongside Vista) until probably this November.

If Microsoft really wants this to be the Silverlight bullet, it needs to have this running on mobile devices to make it permeate every aspect of the new consumer age. This means having it run on Symbian based devices. Take PhoneThemes.

PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a Symbian Series 60-based phone
PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a SmartPhone form-factor device running Windows Mobile

This is an animated theming application and DRM-protected distribution platform for mobile phones (Windows Mobile-based PDAs and phones or Symbian-based phones). It doesn’t use Flash and it can now run on even the older Symbian 40 Series devices.

Can Microsoft make Silverlight work on these devices and make an Adobe killer? Given the spin about video interaction they are singing, it’s unlikely these devices will hold up performance-wise. That makes it a race with new devices. Microsoft needs to get behind its device manufacturer partners and allow ISVs to distribute (or at least link in the installer from the web) before Adobe does a deal with someone like Nokia that wipes out Silverlight before it’s properly lit.

Media whoring over today’s shooting in the US

I knew something had happened today – I saw the headline on cnn.com

I went to watch CNN on TV – the live news conference with the police chief at Virginia tech was just starting.

Questions asked (by reporters from undeclared news companies) included:
‘Can you describe the scene?’ and ‘Was it execution style?’

There’s the asking of questions that everyone is thinking but too afraid to ask, and there’s these kinds of questions – they serve no useful purpose at all. Those and the accusatory ones about campus authorities. I’d be the first to question the organisational prowess of some educational institutions, but this is not the forum for that. These guys have a campus police force.

This kind of tabloid journalism has seeped into mainstream news reporting and it is sickening.

Even CNN has gone down hill. News anchors stand infront of tacky looking multi-screen displays and ask these kinds of questions. The fundamental issue is that these news anchors don’t come over as representing the concerned voice of a nation (though they do their best to spread it on with a thick knife with an acid edge), but often as egotistical people who seem to be trying only to beat down the interviewee (or put them on a pedastal as seems to fit the mood) and raise interest in how good the show is. It stinks of insincerity. I’ve watched UK TV news go the same way.

This is not every journalist of course; just a handful. However, the fact that they are not taken to task makes me think that their ‘showmanship’ must be bringing in the bacon for the network.

In relative terms, horrible things happened in Virginia today and it’s a definate loss for the related family and friends. Systems will be improved. Sensationalising it and chipping away at the campus authorities will not bring back those people and will not necessarily even help avoid future issues.

UPDATE (Apr 17): To check up on this story today I read the most recent CNN article. It included a link to “watch how quickly these guns can be fired, reloaded” after the paragraph talking about a doctor’s quote regarding the number of bullet holes! It did not include a link to the gunman’s ‘vitriolic’ note which may have shed some light on why this happened and how to prevent it. I turned on CNN: there was the live broadcast of a Virginia Tech service going on (presumably to share the moment with those who could not attend), only to hear announcers commentating during the ‘moment of silence’ to talk about a guy being helped out of the service – why must they commentate on everything?

Shatner video phone mad cow

Rogers in Canada recently announced their video phone call service on their new HSDPA high speed wireless network (with very limited coverage and even disclaimers that service make be intermittent as the network is built out).

HSDPA offers huge mobile data possibilities but video calling is the vehicle that (sadly, and clearly not learning from Three’s failure in the UK) Rogers has chosen to use because quite frankly, it’s really hard to figure out how to convince consumers to spend extra money on a new network investment.

They had William Shatner (who is Canadian – and why can’t the Canadian media resist the urge to tell everyone about someone being Canadian every time they sneeze) show up to do some kind of tongue-in-cheek launch event.

However, in a seperate media interview (and I’m paraphrasing/remembering here) he talks about science fiction become reality – bear in mind that they only had voice communicators on Star Trek, vs. say Space 1999 – but then started to go on about how text messaging was not a very warm way to communicate with people, etc. I think he was trying to say that video phone calls were much more ‘in-person’ and friendly but didn’t specifically say that as far as I remember, and remember sheep need to be herded.

I was wondering if Rogers executives were cringing at Bill’s words though. The point of having a celebrity is that it lends some persuasion to influence all those susceptible people out there. Now, imagine how much money Rogers makes from text messaging, and now Bill has told lots of people that text messaging is bad, and yet this new service is only available around Toronto…

I didn’t get to see the full media launch video, so hopefully, for Rogers’ sake, not many people will get to see this ‘mad-cow’ (see Boston Legal), i.e. confusing media clip. Yeah, OK… the texters are addicted so Rogers is safe, but it was a little like watching Denny Crane put his foot in it.

My kingdom/PS3 for a Wii?

I got a PS3 on launch day, but it came with an opportunity cost other than the cash. I (for the first time) slept overnight in my car – well from 2am to 7am – a month before to get my pre-order in. That wasn’t the cost, and it beat sitting outside in a chair or tent like most people had to in near-zero temperatures. The EB Games store I went to knew how many of PS3s and Wiis they’d be getting and I had to choose between the two systems, so I went for the PS3. That was the choice.

Since last November I haven’t seen a Wii in stock anywhere and yet I’ve been bombarded with the Nintendo commercials. Don’t they realise they’re wasting money given that it’s hard to convert ad time in to sales when there’s nothing to buy?

Nintendo is notorious for under supplying. I don’t care what they say; I believe it’s a strategy to keep demand up. It also hurts the accessory partners.

Most stores I’ve contacted (and trust me I have a list of all the relevant store’s phone numbers from my PS3 pre-order adventure) either have no idea when they’ll get their next shipment, or have a date that keeps slipping.

Would I trade a PS3 (or more) for a Wii? Well, no. My 1080p screen (to get the best PS3 and XBox 360 experience) will no doubt stick it’s nose up at the Wii’s graphics, but I’d like to have one because 1) I’m a gadget junkie so I have all the others, 2) the controller concept and games seem like fun & 3) one gets to get off the couch.