Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Google's Eric Schmidt joins Apple's board

Apparently Eric Schmidt of Google has joined Apple's board of directors in what I see as a very interesting move. Of course, Apple's board of directors already includes some very big names including Al Gore, and of course Steve Jobs himself. Steve Jobs highlighted Google's innovation and Schmidt's experience as the main reasons for wanting to bring him on board to help Apple in the future.

I see this as a very positive and interesting move on Apple's part. Apple and Google have always had a good relationship - Google is the default search engine in Safari, Google searches will return iTunes Music Store links, and perhaps Leopard will have Google searches integrated into Spotlight.

The biggest plus I see to this addition to the board is for the future. Both companies are aggressively innovating and releasing new products and services. Google is starting to offer a wide range of office-like web applications, from Google Calendar to Writely and Google Spreadsheet. On top of that, they have a fantastic range of downloadable apps too such as Google Earth and Picasa. One complaint I've had is that often, Mac versions of these apps are slow to be released. Hopefully with Schmidt on board, Mac and Safari compatability with Google apps and services will arrive more swiftly.

Of course, one could argue that joining the board does not necessarily make much of a difference, but given that Jobs specifically cited Google's innovation as something he wanted for Apple's future, I see this as a very deliberate move. Look at what happened when Jobs joined Disney's board - Disney owned content on the iTunes Music Store skyrocketed.

But perhaps there's more to it than that. There's been recent speculation about Jobs' health (which I wouldn't take too seriously), and one thing is clear - Jobs can't forever be at the helm at Apple. Without a figure like Jobs leading the company, with his drive and his desire for perfection and innovation, Apple wouldn't be what it is today. Any potential successor to Steve Jobs would have to be one hell of an individual, and the likes of Eric Schmidt just might be the right type to fill Jobs' enourmous shoes should the need ever arrive. I'm not saying Schmidt will take over from Jobs, I'm just saying that when the time comes for Apple to face life without Steve Jobs, a very big name would have to fill his shoes, someone perhaps, like Eric Schmidt.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

'Snakes on a Plane' tattoos

Completely unrelated to Apple, but I just got back from watching 'Snakes on a Plane' at the local AMC here in Hong Kong, and much to my delight, the cinema was giving away free 'Snakes on a Plane' tattoos (you know, the fake, stick-on kind). I managed to get my hands on 3! I wonder if this happens everywhere? Check it out.

I apologise for the image quality and the flash, but at least it's visible!

Now I have to decide what to stick them on, and if the answer is my skin...when...?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Apple product placement in 'Miami Vice'

I just got back from watching 'Miami Vice', and whilst I won't comment on the movie too much, I noticed that it has followed the trend of such shows as 24, Sex and the City and many other films and TV shows by featuring Macs and glowing Apple logos. But it's not the fact that one often sees Macs in movies that amuses it me, it's who uses them. One common trend I've seen in numerous movies and shows is that the good guys use Macs, and the bad guys use PCs.

Miami Vice is a perfect example of what I mean (I'll try my best not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen the film yet). Jamie Foxx's character and the girl that Colin Farrell's character falls for both use Macs, and there are at least 2 scenes in which the back of either a Powerbook or a MacBook Pro is featured, which of course means a glowing Apple logo onscreen. But on top of that, the bad guys in the movie don't use Macs. There's one scene in which one drug dealer shows a video to his boss, and to do so, he drops a clunky PC notebook on the table. Interesting eh?

Now I'm pretty sure that Apple doesn't pay movies to feature their products, if anything it might be the opposite. So why does this phenomenon exist? Why do good guys use Macs, and bad guys use PCs? It could have a lot to do with the images and ideas associated with Macs. I would speculate, and this is probably especially true in Hollywood, that Macs and other Apple products have the cool and sexy factor not associated with other PC manufacturers or tech companies. So what better way of reinforcing your main characters then to have them use shiny, sexy Macs, and have the bad guys use ugly, dull PCs?

Just a fun little thing I noticed that I thought I might share. What's even better is that when I pointed it out to my best friend whom I was watching the movie with, I received a prolonged groan in response and was asked why I had to notice things like that. Who wouldn't?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wireless Mighty Mouse thoughts

This morning, I woke up to find a nice little package waiting for me - the Wireless Mighty Mouse that I had ordered. I've been using it all day now, and there are some things about it that I absolutely love, and others...not so much.

Out of the box
On opening the box, I found 3 small packages: one containing the manual, warranty and Software Install disc; the mouse itself, and finally, much to my surprise and delight, two Energizer batteries.

I skipped the manual-reading step (it's a mouse for heaven's sake!) and immediately popped the Software Install disc into my iBook G4 and installed the Mighty Mouse software. After it installed, I had to restart my computer. I then popped the batteries into the mouse, moved the slider into the 'on' position and paired it with my computer via Bluetooth - all of this worked seamlessly.

Once I got the mouse working, I headed to System Prefences to configure it. In case you don't know already, the Mighty Mouse has a left click, a right click, a 360 degree scroll wheel (which can also be clicked) and it can be squeezed for one extra 'button'. The default settings are set so that clicking the scroll wheel launches Dashboard, and squeezing the sides invokes Exposé for all windows. I went right ahead and switched these round - tweaking the settings is incredibly simple.

Overall very nice out of the box, the Mighty Mouse was up and working in a few minutes.

Certain elements of the Mighty Mouse's performance are amazing, others less so.

The decision to replace the optical sensor with a laser one was definitely a great move. The Mighty Mouse's ability to track on various surfaces amazed me. I first used it on my wooden desk, no problems there. I then moved it onto my leg, it still worked flawlessly. But what impressed me the most by far was the final test I did. I took a transparent plastic DVD case and placed the mouse on top of it. It still tracked just as well as it did on the wooden surface. The thing works seamlessly on see-through plastic and glass!

The ability to run on one battery is a huge plus as well; it makes the mouse much lighter, which makes it easier to use for things such as gaming. Another cool feature that I applaud Apple for. The mouse's energy saving ability seems to be very advanced as well, and it manages to maintain flawless Bluetooth connectivity without draining the batteries.

Unfortunately, the Mighty Mouse is not without its problems.

First of all, I haven't been able to find a tracking and scrolling speed that feels both 100% accurate or comfortable; sometimes scrolling seems erratic, but most of the time tracking and scrolling is not really a problem. However, the right and left clicks need changing. The problem is, because there's only really one button, it is physically impossible to right click with your middle finger whilst keeping your index finger on the mouse. You can only have one finger on the mouse in order to right click, which feels very unnatural and it means that a large proportion of my right clicks end up being left clicks.

On top of that, the side buttons take an extraordinary amount of effort to activate. I have to squeeze the mouse quite hard in order to get the side buttons to work, and there isn't any way of increasing this sensitivity. I've also found the on/off slider very difficult to operate, it takes loads of effort to turn the mouse on or off. This might get easier with time as the slider loosens up a bit, but I'm not a huge fan of the slider switch on Apple's wireless mice.

Overall, whilst it has its problems, the Wireless Mighty Mouse is a purchase I'm happy with. The ability to track on almost any surface and to operate with only a single battery make the mouse incredibly versatile, and since I travel quite frequently, this is a huge plus for me. The ability to launch Dashboard, invoke Exposé or launch applications definitely increases productivity.

One thing I am trying to do is to use the Mighty Mouse to make drag-and-drop even more seamless than it already is. I want to use the scroll button to invoke Exposé for all windows, and the side squeezing buttons to invoke Exposé for the desktop, so I can use the mouse to drag things from my desktop to other open windows. This however is proving difficult, as it's impossible to click on more than one button at once! If anybody can teach me how to do this, or if anybody knows how to get a kind of drag-lock feature on the Mighty Mouse, I would be most appreciative! One thing I love doing is using Exposé to drag files between loads of different windows, but I want to be able to do this with my new mouse!

Monday, August 07, 2006

WWDC 2006 Keynote thoughts

The World Wide Developer's Conference has well and truly kicked off now that Steve Jobs and his team have finished giving the keynote. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, head on over to Apple's site and watch it.

Now, I'm not going to go through every single thing covered in too much detail, but basically what we got were the Mac Pro - the successor to the PowerMac G5, new Xserves, and a preview of some of the features of OS X Leopard. There was an absurd amount of competitor bashing, Dell got some stick, but Microsoft and Vista bore the brunt of the harshness. It seemed a bit excessive to me, but hey, it's an Apple event, it's their time, it's their moment of glory! But anyway, let's take a closer look at what we've been shown.

Mac Pro
It might look just like the PowerMac G5 on the outside (why change such a wonderful case?), but believe you me, on the inside, these are complete new beasts.

Sporting the new 'Woodcrest' Xeon processors, the Mac Pro has a far better performance per watt ratio than the G5s had. What this means is that a lot of the cooling inside the enclosure has been removed...which of course means that a lot more other stuff can be put in! The Mac Pro can include two optical drives, up to four hard drives (we're talking 2 terabytes of internal storage), four PCI Express slots, and a whole lot of other stuff. What's awesome about this system though, is that the standard basic system only costs $2,499 (almost $1,000 cheaper than an equal-spec Dell, according to the keynote), although by 'basic' I mean a quad 2.66GHz, 1GB RAM, 250GB hard drive monster, but it's FULLY configurable, which is fantastic! I've always loved the customisability of systems you buy off the online Apple Store, but this brings that to a new level. One standard configuration. Customise it any way you want.

Now these machines are no slackers, these new chips are server chips, and pack quite a punch. They are all dual core, and EVERY Mac Pro has two of them, effectively making every single one a quad core system. Each core can reach frequencies of up to 3GHz, and finally, like the G5, they support 64-bit. On top of that, these things have massive 4MB L2 caches and 1.33GHz frontside buses. The internal buses on the Mac Pro also clock at 25GB/s, which is sweet, it's always nice when your internal components can communicate to each other at those kinds of speeds :).

But in summary...these machines are monsters, and I can't wait to test one out. The Xserves are very similar in their configurations, and I don't wanna spend too much time talking about them.

Instead...let's talk about...

Now the first thing to point out is that I am confident that we have not by any stretch of the imagination seen all that Leopoard will have to offer. Steve Jobs very conveniently pointed out that there are a lot of 'Top Secret' features in Leopard that haven't been revealed yet, because they don't want Microsoft to 'start their photocopiers' too early :P. So expect many more features, probably at Macworld. But let's take a look at what we have been shown in Leopard, because a lot of it excites me quite a bit.

64 bit support and Core Animation
A couple of treats for developers here. Leopard will support 64-bit apps up to the UI level, instead of just at the Unix level as was the case with Tiger. This means that 64-bit and 32-bit apps can run side by side, natively. This should open up a whole new level of applications for systems like the Mac Pro. Core Animation is added to the OS as well, which allows developers to develop animations and interactive sequences with far greater ease. I will admit to not knowing very much about this aspect of OS X, but I expect this addition to bring a lot more eye candy at the very least. I'm not a developer though, so I won't spend too much time writing about things I don't fully comprehend.

Time Machine
This is absolutely insane. There are backup solutions. There is date recovery. There are cool interfaces. This is all three of those. On crack. Built with Core Animation, what Time Machine does is it automatically backs up your system to a hard disk or to a server, and recover things that may have been lost in the past. Nothing special right?

Think again. Just check out this interface.

It's really difficult to explain just how cool this is. Time Machine allows you to actually go back in time and restore your system to the state it was in at some point in the past. What's even cooler is that you can restore individual folders, files or parts of applications to past states, whilst keeping the rest of your system the same. You can even do Spotlight searches into the past within applications like Address Book. This is far too cool and amazing for me to explain, you really just have to watch the keynote and check it out on Apple's Time Macine site. The kinds of situations and uses for Time Machine they describe are absolutely spot on. From finding that's disappeared from a folder you know it was in, to recovering data you unintentionally saved over, or to recover important photos, contacts or files, Time Machine's interface just makes all of this look easy.

All I'm wondering about is how much extra hard disk space this is all going to take up.

Now if you've ever used Linux, you'll know that many distros have multiple virtual desktops that allow you to keep different windows and different applications in separate desktops. A great way to reduce clutter when multitasking. This is one of my personal favourite features of many Linux distros.

Now this has come to the Mac, with a whole new interface. You have the standard four desktops, and you can put different applications and different windows in each desktop, but the interface that Apple has implemented looks phenomenal. First of all, you can move between desktops, or 'spaces' with hotkeys, and you can tile your desktops in an Exposé-like fashion. You can also rearrange their order. But what's even better is that a) clicking on any application in the dock will take you to the 'space' that it's in, and on top of that, when you are viewing all of your spaces at once, you can click and drag applications and windows from one space to another - that is a great feature. I love Exposé, and this seems like a natural addition to it.

If you use Mail a lot, like me, it's about time we got an update. Three major changes to Mail were demostrated: a) 'Stationery', b) The addition of notes, and c) To-Dos.

Stationery sounds like a cool addition; this essentially gives you a bunch of templates (think Pages and iWeb) that allow you to send really good-looking HTML emails that you can customise. Whilst this is eye-candy more than anything else, what this might do is make it very evident when somebody is emailing you from a Mac. Gone could be the days of boring looking emails with attached photos at the bottom. If asked how your emails look so professional and so nice? The simple answer would be 'I'm a Mac user'.

Notes is a cool addition too. Basically you can take notes within Mail instead of having to email stuff to yourself. You can imbed things such as photos, PDFs and the new To-Dos within Notes, and there's a special mailbox for these. This is cool, because since so much information these days is exchanged via email, it'd be nice to be able to take notes within the same application.

But it's the final addition that really excites me - the To-Dos. Adding the ability to make any mail message or any line in a Note a To-Do (think iCal-style To-Do lists) could increase productivity a LOT! How many times have you gotten an email asking you to do something, and then jotted that task down somewhere and forgotten about it? I know I have a few outstanding email tasks as we speak. So this could be very useful. But what's best is that this is SYSTEM-WIDE! So any To-Do you make in Mail will show up in iCal's To-Dos, and vice versa. And developers can build this into their software, which would be a very useful feature in a lot of productivity software such as FileMaker Pro. I approve wholeheartedly. I still would like a way of using different kinds of flags, so I can flag certain emails as ones that I want to reply to, and others as emails containing important information. I've wanted this kind of feature for a long time...and it still seems like I'm not gonna get it.

iChat has been GREATLY improved, with some amazing additions. The most significant of these are to video chat, which is good, but unfortunately, until (or unless...rather) most of the people I know switch to Macs, it's going to mean that not everybody will get to experience all these wonderful new features, which is the only drawback to iChat (which isn't its fault, obviously).

Photo Booth's fun effects have been added to live video chat, which could make for hours of timewasting. But more significantly, iChat Theatre has been added, which allows you to show off Keynote presentations, iPhoto slideshows and more within video chats, whilst you talk people through them. Provided you have enough bandwidth, this could really revolutionise instant messaging and videoconferencing. And I use that word 'revolutionise' very rarely, but seriously - if more people used Macs, iChat would be the greatest thing ever.

iChat also lets you add a backdrop to your video chat, to make it look like you're chilling out in the Bahamas or anywhere else. The backdrop can be either an image or EVEN a video. This and the Photo Booth effects could really be quite fun.

Dashcode, a widget and general development tool has been released officially. I actually picked up a copy of this when it was leaked earlier, and it's pretty cool. If you know some Java, this is a really powerful tool for building widgets very quickly.

But the coolest addition is Web Clip, which basically lets you take any section of any webpage and make it a widget, which will update that piece of the webpage in real time. An AWESOME idea, great for doing things like keeping up with web comic strips, tracking activity or eBay auctions, watching webcams, and many other things. What's cool about this is that a lot of sites have really useful info in a very small space, which one might check regularly. But more often than not, the rest of the page is filled with useless junk and ads. Web Clip is the perfect solution! I like it, and it might make me use Dashboard much more frequently!

That's it!
Lots of other stuff was shown off, including improved Universal Access, particularly VoiceOver, and Spotlight and iCal have been improved too. But whilst these changes are good and cool, I don't want to go on and on about these in particular. If you're interested, check them out on Apple's Leopard page for the details.

So that's Leopard and the new Mac Pro. I can't wait till to see what remaining features there will be, and as soon as it ships in Spring, I'm definitely going to pick up a copy.

All in all a good keynote. People have been moaning about how there wasn't an iPhone or new iPods, but this is the WWDC! Developers don't care about iPods! If there are new iPods and even iPhones on the way, expect them to be rolled out in a different way. It's high time we had a new iPod, but a developer's conference is not the time to be talking about music players. They kept it about the hardware and operating system. Good stuff.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

WWDC 2006 Banner

Whilst harmlessly browsing Digg earlier, I happened to stumble upon this image, which is apparently a banner being set up for the World Wide Developers Conference, which kicks off on the 7th of March:

Most of the icons there are familiar-looking, and any secret ones are probably still covered by those black pieces of cloth, but there are some obvious additions. I haven't quite been able to decipher all of them...but the DVD with the big black X on it is clearly the logo for OS X Leopard, I would think. It's much darker than I thought it would be, but nonetheless it looks good. There's also a very noticeable '64-bit' icon, the same that Apple used when the G5 was released. This isn't entirely surprising, as Intel's newly release Core 2 Duo chips support 64-bit processing, but this probably means we're going to see at least one Mac with these chips in them. Not entirely surprising perhaps, but exciting nonetheless!

Some of the logos I just don't recognise. If anybody knows what they are, do let me know! These would be...(roughly from left to right) those 4 little spheres, the green ball with the part-border under the black MacBook (and the orange one above the Xcode hammer, and the blue under the 64-bit icon), and the orange thing above the Java cup. These...I don't quite recognise, but I don't think they're anything new, as they look quite familiar. I just can't quite figure out what they are; for example, it took me a while to recognise the Quartz Extreme logo above the Finder logo on the right.

But if this is anything to go by...Leopard was expected, but also expect at least a Power Mac (Mac Pro?) that looks more or less the same, but with new Intel Chips that support 64-bit. But, Robert Scoble claimed on the bottom of one of the entries to his blog that Apple will unveil a 'dizzing' amount of new products at the WWDC. To quote him exactly:

"Speaking of Apple, they are readying a dizzying amount of new products. I wish I could camp out at an Apple store during the World Wide Developer Conference on August 7th. I wish I could say more, but that'd get me sued by Steve Jobs and I don't need that kind of heck right now."

Exciting stuff eh?