Windows Holographic

21 January 2015


Hologram support in Microsoft’s Windows 10 software is universal, just like their new app infrastructure, which means that you can build once and use everywhere. Microsoft also pointed out that they’re working to help make this compatible with all kinds of emerging hardware on that horizon, including Oculus Rift, and Magic Leap – but they also revealed Microsoft HoloLens, a new in-house headset that will be available “within the Windows 10 timeframe.”

HoloLens is completely wireless, and features see-through lenses, spatial sound and advanced sensors. It’s designed to be a self-contained unit, and it has its own custom CPU and new Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) to work. It doesn’t even require a phone or computer to connect to wirelessly to work, and is meant to be completely independent.

The name is misleading. This is goggles-assisted virtual reality.1 Still, nothing wrong with that. Best VR I’ve seen in terms of placing objects in the ‘real world’, despite the limited demos. How can you not get excited about virtual reality Minecraft? The HoloLens eyewear doesn’t look too obtrusive either — think ski goggles. Alas, although not unexpected, no pricing or availability details were announced.

1 Granted, in the indeterminate future, the same frameworks will be able to make actual holograms. It’s disingenuous to advertise it like this is possible today, though.

The New 12 Inch MacBook Air

7 January 2015


The upcoming laptop is so thin that Apple employees are said to refer to the device as the “MacBook Stealth” internally. In order to reach that new level of portability, Apple not only slimmed down the trackpad and tweaked the speakers but the ports as well.

The upcoming 12-inch Air has the fewest amount of ports ever on an Apple computer, as can be seen in the rendition above. On the right side is a standard headphone jack and dual-microphones for input and noise-canceling. On the left side is solely the new USB Type-C port. Yes, Apple is currently planning to ditch standard USB ports, the SD Card slot, and even its Thunderbolt and MagSafe charging standards on this new notebook.

This laptop is going to be controversial. ‘Only Apple’ would have the bravado to reduce connectivity to one (new sized) USB port1 and a headphone jack. This isn’t just a boycott of industry standard inputs, which is the naive response from critics, Apple is openly forgoing inclusion of its own patented connectors, like Thunderbolt and MagSafe.

If this laptop ships as described, this is one of the ballsiest things Apple has done for years. Because you will power this thing through the USB port, you literally won’t be able to use an accessory whilst it charges. The rest of the redesign is pretty standard although I was disappointed by the appearance of the base. The speaker holes look ugly in the mockup and the trackpad is too close to the keyboard for my liking.

I may like the look more when I see it for real, so we can wait a bit before getting too angry. There’s no getting away from it. Stripping away all connectivity is a massive statement, especially if Apple kills off the old 11 inch Air when this is released.

1 Which, I bet, a lot of normal folk will confuse with a Lightning connector when this laptop hit shelves. USB Type-C is not common.

Workflow For iOS

3 January 2015

Workflow, App Store:

Workflow is your personal automation tool, enabling you to drag and drop any combination of actions to create powerful workflows.

Workflow includes over 100 actions, including those for Contacts, Calendar, Maps, Music, Photos, Camera, Reminders, Safari, AirDrop, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote, and iCloud Documents, to name a few.

I’m not sure what to say about Workflow. iOS places too many constraints on third-party apps for Workflow to ever fully satisfy what I want from an app like this. A forgiving mentality would say that this is the best implementation they could make within the system-imposed limits. I can’t think at that kind of level, though. Personally, I’m left frustrated that the app can only do so much. I don’t care that the reason for the shortcomings is outside of the developer’s control.

The only way an automation app will ever meet my standards is if Apple made it and created a plethora of integration points to enable complex interactions between apps. Given Apple’s lack of attention for Automator on OS X, I doubt that will ever happen.

Workflow caters for a slim slice of the user base that has no ambition of doing more. Frankly, Apple shouldn’t have featured this app in the way that they did. Novices will be lost — the app is too complicated for most people. For those who do understand it, once the novelty wears off, the app will fall into disuse once the walls are hit. A Mac (and/or a set of dedicated iOS apps) is better at all of the tasks Workflow can offer, simple as that. If you don’t have a Mac, then you’ll get lasting value out of Workflow.

Samsung Announces Fanless 12 Inch Laptop

31 December 2014

The Verge:

This Book 9 features Intel’s Broadwell Core M processor, so it won’t get you the blistering power of a Razer Blade or MacBook Pro, it’ll handle most desktop tasks without any real issue. And on the plus side, it’s fanless — something even Apple can’t yet say about its lightest laptop.

I think this announcement confirms that a fanless Retina MacBook Air is going to be a reality. The Samsung Ativ has a ‘Retina’ 2600×1600 display, reaches ultrabook levels of thinness and is indeed fanless, thanks to the Broadwell mobile CPU. Jake March posted that Apple will use an edge-to-edge keyboard design, though, which the Samsung product does not have. Rumours said early 2015 for Apple’s new Air … this ships early 2015 too.

Samsung Closes Stratford Flagship Retail Store

24 December 2014


Samsung has closed its high-profile Samsung Experience store in one of Europe’s biggest shopping centres.

“We regret to announce that we will be closing the Samsung Experience Store at Westfield Stratford City at the end of this year”, Samsung told CNET today. Photographs posted on Twitter by visitors to the mall in London show the shop already being dismantled.

Merry Christmas.

Reddit To Distribute 'Notes' To 950,000 Active Members

20 December 2014


reddit recently raised a round of $50 million where the new investors agreed to give back 10% of the shares they bought to the community in the form of a “cryptocurrency” that was to be “backed” by reddit shares. For legal reasons, it is unlikely we will make the cryptocurrency exchangeable for actual shares, since we are not a public company, and therefore it would be illegal to give shares to millions of people. Howevever, we are working on a legal strategy and I’m sure the cryptocurrency will be exchangeable for something of value.

Also, we used the word “cryptocurrency” originally, but a better term is “digital asset”, since in many ways notes will not be like a currency at all. For instance, we are not planning on letting users buy gold with the cryptocurrency (although we haven’t eliminated that possibility).

The asset will be based on blockchain technology. As I have said in many previous reddit comments, we are not committing to any particular protocol at this time, but our preference is either for colored coins or sidechains depending on the winds of the bitcoin world in the coming months (the bitcoin world changes very, very fast, and we want to be certain we pick the best technology).

So, 1/6th of Reddit users will randomly be gifted a ‘digital asset’ that will probably be exchangeable for something of value at some point in the future. Maybe. Reddit tries out some weird stuff.

Viticci On Twitter Apps And Twitter Cards

10 December 2014


Twitter Cards aren’t available to third-party clients over the API, which has forced Tweetbot and Twitterrific to come up with their own custom integrations to display tweet previews for web content. The result is that the timeline shown in these two clients will look different and out of place after you get used to the richness of previews in the Twitter app.

This isn’t completely true. Twitter Cards are implemented through metadata tags in the website source. All the information for cards are described by this information. The Twitter app crawls the linked URL to strip out this info and displays it as a ‘card’.

Whilst the Twitter API won’t expose the formatted data inline, there’s nothing stopping third-parties from crawling URLs themselves and accessing the same information. With a little bit of work, Tweetbot could mirror the ‘cards’ functionality 1:1. Twitter might balk at it but I haven’t seen anyone toe the line yet to find out. I don’t think there is a rule (yet) that prevents it.

The 100

1 December 2014

I was born in space. I’ve never felt the sun on my face, or breathed real air, or floated in the water. None of us have. For three generations, the Ark has kept what’s left of the human race alive. But now, our home is dying and we are the last hope of mankind. One hundred prisoners sent on a desperate mission to the ground. Each of us is here because we broke the law — on the ground there is no law. All we have to do is survive. And we will be tested: by the Earth, by the secrets it hides and, most of all, by each other.

I rarely comment or recommend TV shows, mainly because I’m a very uncool geek … outside of consumer electronics and PC gaming1. I do not appreciate things that most TV fanatics consider core prerequisites of fandom. I don’t care for Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost, Mad Men, Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

However, I have come to love The 100, pronounced ‘The Hundred’, which airs on the CW network in the US. Being a Brit, I don’t know what else this network does but it apparently has a reputation of airing mediocre teen dramas that care more about the exterior appearances of its cast than its storylines. I can’t comment aside from saying The 100 is not that.

I stumbled on The 100 due to a recommendation from my mum2, as the first series has been syndicated by E4, who will watch anything sci-fi. I was passively watching the TV with her when she showed me an episode off the DVR. I shrugged it off at first as most kids do when their parents tell them something is worth checking out.

I can’t remember the details but one day I was bored so I somehow circled back onto this suggestion, fully expecting it to not satiate my boredom one iota, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I was watching the fifth episode (not beginning with episode 1 shows how little my faith was in my mother’s recommendation) and — in retrospect — I’m glad I did. The middle of the series is where I think the show gets good.

The first episode is a pilot shot well in advance of the rest of the series, so it lacks any real depth. I can summarise the action for you in a sentence. One of the kids gets hit by a spear, a pretty girl gets bit by a giant eel, two boys have a hormonal standoff and another boy (one of the lead characters, Bellamy) starts bullying people around.

As an opener, it’s very uninviting. The only interesting bit is the small glimpse at the friction between members of the Ark, which foreshadows the power struggles that come later in the series. On reflection, it’s nowhere near as bad as my memories but that’s because I am now biased by my investment in the series. I can easily see how new viewers will abandon the show because of the mediocre opening episode.

That’s why I think I’m lucky that I — out of sheer laziness — started in the middle. It turns out Episode 5 is where most people believe the show actually gets good, although I think Episode 4 is sublime.

It’s almost inconceivable that this show goes from a cliche snake bite rescue to a public hanging in four episodes. Spoiler alert: someone gets killed at knifepoint and someone gets brutally bound and hung as a public display of ‘righteousness’. The contrast in character development, intensity and emotional attachment is crazy.

That’s enough digression. Describing The 100 is difficult. At it’s core, it’s a show about making hard choices where no option is all good. This show is about consequences and repercussions. The constraints of low oxygen, limited food and a myriad of unknown threats are merely plot devices that exacerbate the decision making opportunities. All the Grounders, Reapers and Mountain Men offer exciting action sequences but the meat of what makes me come back is the underlying cause and effect.

When people fight, they remain scarred and injured. When they get shot in the spine, the bullet paralyses them in one leg. When a good guy kills people, he goes mentally insane.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the setting. The futuristic nature (97 years in the future, supposedly) enables some pretty visuals and interesting situations. For the first season, it also creates some interesting juxtapositions between the situation on the ground (where technology is very much lacking) and the developed Ark. The Ark is a life of luxury when compared to the carnal survival culture of the people on Earth, but both parties are suffering in different ways.

It’s also worth noting that The 100 is fast-paced. Season 1 has 13 episodes and Season 2 will have 16. Stuff happens fast. Story arcs that I expected to last a series or more were resolved in a matter of episodes. There’s a middle ground between something being overplayed and something being rushed that The 100 executes so perfectly. The show changes drastically with Season 2’s new environments and much larger ecosystem, keeping it fresh. I love it.

The portrayal of romance is too often the weak link for such TV. Once again, The 100 delivers by not falling into the common trap of letting love triangles and jealousy engulf the entire plot. It needs to be included to be realistic: sexual love is part of being a teenager. The show uses the relationships and love interests to cause more conflicts and raise interesting moral questions. For example, Finn courts Clarke from the moment he lands … despite having a long-term girlfriend in Raven on the Ark. However, given the situation of uncertainty and doubts about ever seeing anyone from the Ark again, did Finn really cross a line? Naturally, Raven then crashes to Earth the very next episode to cause some awkward encounters.

In the first season, the story takes place in very few locations: the Ark, the camp, the forest. With Season 2, the world has grown to include many more areas as the characters are split up into several contingents, following the events of the finale. It becomes more complicated as a result, although this should only be a transitory cost.

Crucially, though, the show retains the core elements that define The 100. You soon find out how the Reapers, Grounders and Mountain Men are not so disparate and actually form an interconnected economy. They have scaled up the show from Season 1’s ‘base defence’ vibe elegantly indeed. The additional budget for larger sets and better visual effects are pumping out better stories each week in this new season.

1 Even saying that I’m a ‘PC gamer’ is a stretch. I play a lot of League of Legends and I used to play a lot of Starcraft. That’s my complete gaming portfolio. I’m very fanatical about very few things, across my entire life really.

2 Remember the part about me being an uncool geek?

Writing Aid App Preview Video

13 November 2014

I was lazing about at 1 AM1 so I finally got around to making an app preview video for Writing Aid. Following Apple recommendations, the video is very plain and basic. I demo the tentpole features of the app and end by showing the widget. The background music is from Onj Louis — honestly I picked it primarily because I didn’t want to pay to license something. It’s a decent, albeit generic, backing track.

I felt like uploading the video to YouTube was a smart idea. Obviously, it will be shown in the App Store when version 1.1.4 gets approved.

1 Advice: I’m not a good role model to follow. I should have made this video months ago during daylight hours.

Twitter's New Mission Statement

12 November 2014

Wall Street Journal:

Noto also read out Twitter’s new mission statement, which he admitted was a mouthful: “Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.”

“I struggle to read it every time,” Noto said.

Ignoring the weird PR crap and the alarming focus on revenue maximisation, the CTO himself ‘struggles to read it every time’. Isn’t that a good enough sign you should pick something else?

Landscape Lock Screen Concept By Jake Marsh

31 October 2014

Jake Marsh:

The iOS lock screen may appear simple and almost featureless at first glance, but it actually serves quite a few different functions, and adding landscape support for all of them is certainly a non-trivial task. Again, it strikes me this is likely the reason for not supporting this yet, given the almost certainly enormous complexity of this part of iOS’s codebase.

There is a lot of effort involved, yes, but it’s disappointing that Apple didn’t make the effort with the iPhone 6 Plus. It’s a bit hypocritical for Apple to expect third-party developers to go the extra mile and optimise app layouts, when it can’t dedicate the time to do it fully as the platform vendor.

The A8X In The iPad Air 2

22 October 2014

Daring Fireball:

But Geekbench only measures CPU performance — year-over-year, the iPad Air 2 is even more impressive in terms of GPU performance. Apple claims, “The A8X chip has an astonishing 2.5 times the graphics performance of the A7 chip,” and from what I’ve seen, that’s true.

The iPad is no longer following in the wake of the iPhone, performance- and specs-wise. It’s forging ahead. With 2 GB of RAM, it’s a year ahead of the iPhone (we hope) in that department. Performance-wise it’s fast enough to replace a MacBook Air for many, many people. The demos that Apple chose for last week’s event — the Pixelmator image editor and Replay real-time video editor — emphasize that. Those are performance-heavy tasks, and the iPad Air 2 handled them with aplomb.

The gap between the iPad’s hardware capabilities and iOS’ software capabilities grows further. Apple isn’t known for overspeccing their devices. There’s something we aren’t seeing yet, for sure.

Apple's October Event

16 October 2014

I think the Mac changes are good. Great, even. The Retina iMac is a technical feat of engineering and well priced, at that. You need to pay more than $2499, but I don’t think it is unreasonably costly considering the quality of display it includes. Whether the GPU can hold up to the task is another matter.1

However, on the iPad side, I don’t think Apple is deserved of any praise. The iPad mini lineup is a literal disgrace. On the low end, Apple is still selling the A5 Mini. The iPad mini 3 doesn’t even deserve a numerical designation. It’s exactly the same product with Touch ID. Not updating the internals at all is insane to me. One of the most compelling aspects of the 2013 Mini was the fact it was identical to the Air in performance, just smaller. That nicety is gone completely with this generation. Even Apple didn’t care for the thing, giving the new Mini only a fleeting mention on stage.

With the Air 2, it’s obviously difficult to make products drastically better every year. The Air 2 is an incremental improvement when I feel like it needed something spectacular. Don’t ask me what that amazing thing is, because I don’t know. The delta between the iPad 4 and the iPad Air 2 is really not that large, given the timeframe. In January, I said that “iPad hardware is outstripping the capabilities of the OS it runs”. With the A8X, that disparity has widened still. I continue to believe Apple will unveil a new split-screen environment for iPad multitasking soon and it is a real shame that it wasn’t ready for today’s event.

And yeah … 16 GB is a joke.

1 Obviously, the GPU can power it but is it noisy? Do the fans go ballistic if you try and do basic tasks, churning through 14 million pixels?

eBay Now Ships Goods Internationally, Sellers Only Pay Domestic Postage Fees

16 October 2014


The Global Shipping Programme is an easy way for business and private sellers to reach millions more buyers with minimal changes to your current processes. This new programme is designed for sellers who don’t currently offer international postage on listings.

The Global Shipping Programme works by automatically showing international postage costs on your eligible listings to prospective buyers in other countries at no additional cost to you. Your items will be available first to buyers from selected EU countries and later in 2014 to buyers in selected non-EU countries.

I can’t comment on whether or not this is bottom-line profitable for eBay, but I do know that this is spectacularly executed. I haven’t written something on this blog for a week1, but this cold-call email compelled me to write.

Obviously, eBay drives more bids, more sellers and more money to flow through its service by encouraging international postage, but that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s the execution that is genius.

As long as a seller shipped domestically before, almost nothing changes in the workflow to participate in this program. eBay takes on the responsibility of not only shipping the items, but also calculating the various regional prices. eBay manages customer information and sends the seller a proxy domestic address, just like a normal domestic auction. The seller posts the package to eBay and eBay ships it to its final international destination.

This means the seller only pays domestic shipping charges to eBay. eBay recoups its expenditure through the additional P&P costs that the buyer is already used to seeing.

In fact, the process is so transparent that eBay can (and is) automatically enrolling sellers into the scheme without being obnoxious. eBay isn’t asking the seller to take on any additional responsibility, so there’s no penalty for the seller to be part of the scheme.

The efficient reallocation of resources here, where eBay is pooling individuals to take advantage of its economies of scale in distribution, is just sublime. This is what you call an elegant product change.

1 I’m sure that will change later today.

Apple Watch To Feature On Cover Of Vogue China

10 October 2014

The Business of Fashion:

Apple organised a high-profile dinner for 250 fashion insiders, co-hosted by Azzedine Alaïa, Marc Newson and Jonathan Ive. But the guest of honour was the Apple Watch, several versions of which were displayed in a case right in the middle of the dinner venue, a space normally used as Mr Alaïa’s showroom. On their way out, guests were given exclusive images of the product, shot by Davis Sims and styled by Karl Templer, the very duo behind the Apple Watch’s fashion editorial debut on the wrist of Chinese supermodel Liu Wen in Vogue China.

The photography is nice, but notice how every picture shows the Apple Watch from a top-down perspective. At no point do the shots show the side of the device, where the thickness is noticeable. It concerns me a little that the photographers made a seemingly-conscious effort to conceal the depth of the Watch. On the flip side, the post also includes an interview with Vogue China’s editor and she seems to love how it looks …

Apple To Announce New iPads And Macs On October 16th

4 October 2014


Apple has a few more new products to unveil before the year is out, and it plans to show them off in a couple weeks. Sources tell Code/red the company will hold its next special event on Thursday, Oct. 16 — not the 21st. Headlining the gathering: The latest updates to its iPad line, along with those new iMacs that 9to5Mac told us about earlier this week. Also: OS X Yosemite. Given the breadth and spectacle of Apple’s September event, this one will be a more laid-back affair held at the company’s Town Hall Auditorium in Cupertino, without any mysterious white structures and awkward one-song concerts. Apple declined comment.

Unlike the September event, which had a ‘theme’ linking the announcements together, this October event is more like a hodge-podge of miscellany. Not that is a bad thing, but there’s nothing standout that I am avidly waiting to see announced due this month.

The new iPads seem lacklustre in terms of hardware — Touch ID, anti-reflective screen coating, A8. I’m hoping Apple will demo1 its split-screen multitasking implementation for iPad, although I fear they may save that for next year to show off alongside the 12.9 inch iPad.

1 “Demo” … not necessarily release immediately. 

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