Why 2007 won’t be like 1993

The net is abuzz about the Apple iPhone these days and a debate is emerging in the days before its release. Some see the iPhone as following in the iPod’s success, quickly becoming a runaway hit. Others see the the iPhone as closer to Apple’s ill fated Newton. When first released in 1993, the Newton created a new category of device: the Personal Digital Assistant (coined by John Scully, the then CEO of Apple). The idea was that it could be a digital device that would replace the paper-based organizers that many professionals carried with them. It would keep track of your notes, contacts, calendar, and tasks. The Newton had two breakthrough features to make this possible. The first was handwriting recognition. You would write on it either by printing or using cursive handwriting and it would translate your handwriting into digital text. Second, it had “intelligence”: if you wrote “Lunch with Steve” it would schedule an appointment at the next noon slot with the most likely Steve; from your address book. I had one of the early Newtons; it was not the original MessagePad 100, but a later revision called the MessagePad 120. Nonetheless, it gave me a a chance to see what it was like in the real world. In concept it was a great idea. In practice it was hobbled by a few critical flaws:

  • handwriting recognition: I often have trouble deciphering my own handwriting, so how well can a handheld computer do? The Newton actually could do a reasonable job, but it was just too slow. Text entry turned into a write, wait, write cycle. It was not natural to use. I tried taking notes with it in college, but it was not practical.
  • speed: in addition to the slow handwriting recognition, the overall device was too slow. This was addressed in a later revision, the MessagePad 2000, but by then the Newton had already lost credibility with the public.
  • the public wasn’t ready: this device was ahead of its time, and people didn’t have enough faith in the advantage of digital storage to overlook the shortcomings. There was no desktop synching as in today’s world.

The iPhone is a totally different beast. In terms of functionality, it doesn’t really offer anything new. In fact, many of the biggest critics of the iPhone point out that there are plenty of devices that are capable of surfing the web, sending and receiving emails, playing music and video, etc.. I have one called the Palm Treo 700p. But that is not what is exciting about the iPhone. What makes the iPhone different is the interface (the same advantage that attracts users to the Mac). The iPhone simplifies these tasks and integrates them together in an elegant way. In addition, the substantially larger screen of the iPhone (as well as a full-fledged web browser) stands to make web browsing and other features much more robust than they have been on other devices. In essence, the Newton tried to define a new type of device and fell short due to several limitations. The iPhone tries to improve upon an existing category of device by addressing many current limitations. Will Apple succeed? We’ll find out at the end of the week.

I’m getting too old for this

So the iPhone will go on sale one week from today at 6 PM. And I won’t be getting one.

Oh, I’m getting an iPhone, but not at 6 PM on Friday. From what I’m seeing around the net, it’s going to be a madhouse at Apple/AT&T stores. And I’m just too old to be standing in lines for hours on end. I’ve got three mouths to feed.

Unless I can find a way to feed them while waiting in line. Hmm…

After buying your dSLR…

So you’ve just bought a digital SLR camera…excellent decision. You’ll enjoy the fantastic images it can produce, particularly once you learn how to take advantage of the various settings. Do you just accept what came in the package and be done with it? Of course not. While photography can easily blossom into an extraordinarily expensive hobby, there are a few key items that are worth purchasing.

  1. Get a lens filter – These inexpensive pieces of glass screw on to the front of your lens. Now if you accidentally scratch the front of your lens, you just have to replace the filter instead of the whole lens.
  2. Get an external flash – Most dSLRs come with an anemic built-in flash. An external flash allows you to use bounced light. Point the flash at the ceiling to light up the entire room and minimize shadows. For Nikon cameras, look at the SB-600. Canon users should check out the 430EX.
  3. Get a 50 mm prime lens – Prime lenses are the opposite of zoom lenses. They can’t zoom in or out, but they tend to be extremely sharp and can have wide apertures which are perfect for indoor photography where light is limited. There are great ones for Nikon or Canon cameras.
  4. Get a good camera bag – Make sure it carries your equipment comfortably and allows you to pull out the camera quickly. The easier it is to take your camera, the more likely you are to bring it with you.

Hardly working

When you work in a computer lab, an event like Apple’s WWDC can cause a serious impact on productivity. Here’s a chat from Monday.

Me: So, are you watching the WWDC?

Coworker: Um…nope. I’m…er….working…

Me: Yeah, same here. So which website are you not watching it on?

Coworker: I’m not watching it on macosrumorslive.com. I’m also not watching it on Engadget.

Me: Ditto. I don’t have them loaded into tabs that I’m switching back and forth between.

Coworker: Good, same with me.

Pathetic, no?

Safari now available on Windows

A beta version of Apple’s Safari browser is now available for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista. This is the default browser that ships with the Mac OS. Its strengths are that it renders pages attractively and quickly (Apple claims that it is faster than both Internet Explorer and Firefox). It looks a bit out of place on Windows due to its distinctive style, but appears to work pretty well. A potential weaknesses is that Safari has trouble using all the features of some of Yahoo and Google’s web software, though this may change with time as these sites are updated to take advantage of the new version.

For now, it’s worth a try, since it’s free. Download it from Apple’s website. Mac users can also try the new beta version. In early testing, it works well but appears to interact poorly with iChat.

Ready for the day

With a little effort Saturday night, I managed to dismantle my Reneka Techno espresso machine and wrench out the coffee boiler probe. Though it had only been back in the machine briefly, the corrosion had begun again. Out of curiosity, I left it in a bowl of vinegar overnight and it seemed to remove the bulk of the salts that had accumulated on it. I didn’t trust it, though so it was tossed into the trash and replaced with a shiny new probe.

Armed once more with my favorite vehicle for caffeine, I am ready to face a new day…and today is a big one. Today is the Apple World-Wide Developer Confernece, sort of like the Grammy awards for Mac users like myself. I’m looking forward to some good announcements from Steve.