Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mac's iPad and other related musings, Part 2

And we're back...
This was a somewhat less depressing thought I had yesterday morning when I was walking to my morning train.

I am a huge fan of Palm's WebOS on their 2 new smartphones, the Pre and the Pixi. I've had a Pre since June and despite the fact mine is physically wrecked I still think the OS is great. I hope Palm makes more money so they can use better hardware and QA. But I was thinking about WebOS applications, being written primarily in Javascript and also the new gaming capable APIs which I believe are in Java for direct hardware access. Java is a desktop language...and Yahoo! widgets are written in Javascript. Unfortunately, Yahoo! widgets suck. I haven't really seen anyone using them out in the wild, and of course they're only available on the PC.

But what if it were possible to use certain WebOS applications AS widgets? The Palm Application Catalog could be extended to the desktop, and you could run the same games and utilities on both. I'd written an application to scrape the mbta_alerts twitter feed and show me if my train was delayed, wouldn't it be cool to have that on my computer and take advantage of the better network connection? This also creates a 2nd distribution channel for developers.

The way I read it, Apple's trying to put the iPad somewhere between a laptop and a device like the iPod touch. Unfortunately that space is currently occupied by netbooks. For all their shortcomings, they have one major leg up on the iPad: They are a real computer. So if Palm were to create a system which would allow their WebOS apps to run on real computers, they can not only grab desktop space but can also invade that contested area for lightweight applications running on lightweight computers.

As far as I know, no one's created anything that can run the same applications on a mobile device, on a low-power computer, and on a full desktop. Also, Palm has been pushing the idea of reliance on the "cloud", in WebOS devices information like installed applications, device settings, and contact lists are automatically synchronized to the internet. This capability is already there, wouldn't it be EVEN COOLER if you could log in to this desktop WebOS system and get all your installed applications?

Garsh, I hope someone at Palm is paying attention 'cause I totally want this now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mac's iPad and other related musings

MaxiPad. Moving on.
When I'd heard about Apple's tablet announcement, I thought it was a joke. Everyone wanted a Mac tablet. For YEARS I'd hear about people wanting Mac to finally make a tablet or a netbook computer. What they finally put out was an oversized iPod Touch with an extra chromosome and gimpier than Lt. Dan, and while the usual sections of the computing industry immediately engaged in fellating the device a lot of people were left scratching their heads. It has 3G but is locked to AT&T, it won't multi-task, you can't install your own software on it (App store only), you need an adapter just to get a USB port, it has no camera, no flash support, won't play widescreen video, I'd imagine it has no microphone as well, no video out either. So...what do I use this thing for?

Anyway, it did get me to thinking, which I guess is good.

Over the past few years I've been watching as most of the last generation of evil empires try to rescue their public image by adopting transparent processes, on the surface at least. As contrast Apple operates in complete opacity, under a shroud of darkness. Hidden away from the world in his dungeon fortress, Barad-dûr, Sauron -- I mean Steve Jobs -- steers Apple in his single-minded quest for domination. Or something. Honestly, do you know what goes on there, 'cause I don't.

This leads into my next thought. Over at Defective By Design (The anti-DRM folks who I love dearly), they made up some great posters for the iPad launch.

This tagline: Your computer is our computer, is a theme I've seen slowly spreading through the industry over the past few years. The players are beginning to realize the surest way to ensure continued profits is to execute control. On the other hand you can also ensure a measure of quality, as Apple demonstrated by the stranglehold they've kept on what hardware their OS will run on. Microsoft plays the side of the coin where they give the customers a measure of freedom, they want to control the industry more than the customers. I'm sure they have aspirations to get there eventually but they're gonna start at the top and work their way down. They've started with the driver signing requirements in Vista and Windows 7. For now you can turn off the verification, but you have to do it on each boot. This is already causing problems for a set of end users and spells certain doom for alternative Windows drivers. It also paves the way for increased hardware costs as manufacturers are forced to submit drivers for approval just so their hardware is compatible with Windows Future-Version. Virtualization software, which often uses system drivers to provide more direct access to system resources and better performance, will be effectively required to ask Microsoft for permission to compete with Microsoft as they product their own virtualization software. This seems like a tremendous conflict of interest. A few years ago Microsoft filed a patent for a method of building DRM control into an OS kernel, I think this is the first step towards that end.

Apple's interests, it seems, lay in squeezing their consumer base for cash. They've already begun teaching people to expect less capability for the same price. The iPad does less than an iPhone or iPod Touch and costs much more. The MacBook Air was a bad machine, and didn't even have an optical drive but cost more than any other laptop of similar capability. And they've been hiding configuration options on their OS since its inception. And as an amusing aside, one of the reasons cited for rejecting the Google Voice app from the the App Store was that having another phone application on the device might confuse their users. This is probably why all their hardware has rounded corners -- so their users won't hurt themselves by chewing the edges, because they clearly think people are that stupid.
Their recent patent is for displaying advertisements through the OS. The filing includes a flow chart for how the OS could determine when to play an ad, and it includes checking to see if the user has pre-bought time. That's exactly how it sounds...Apple thinks there is a strong possibility that sometime in the future people will be willing to rent ad-free time on their own computers. The patent also specifies that the OS could disable key features such as the mouse or keyboard except when prompting for interaction to make it impossible to not watch the advertisements. The only way this will work is if people accept the idea that what they have paid for is not theirs. That a computer is similar to the digital tuner box that TV companies will rent you and that your use of the OS is just a service you pay for.

Wow, I hope neither of these folks get what they want. I like being able to choose things about my computer, and I like the idea that I own it and can beat it into doing what I want provided I'm clever enough.

More upbeat musing coming soon.