Monday, September 30, 2013

Wearable Computing, why I don't think Apple is making an iWatch

Here's some barely edited, off the cuff IT speculation for you:

So wearable computing has been getting some press recently and of course people are coming out of the woodwork to say that in a year or two Apple will release their wearable device and the market will take off.  While this is probably valid and it fits Apple's M.O. to wait for smaller companies to setup a space and make some gaffes, most of the speculation has been that Apple will enter the smartwatch space based on patent applications and  acqui-hires by the rounded-corners giant.  Recently some people have been reporting that Apple's interest may have waned due to consumers not buying into smart watches at all.  The space remains pretty stagnant and it's likely that the gaffe right now is to even get into it.

However I can't imagine why a company like Apple would go into smart watches to begin with, even if the market for them was thriving.

Put simply, the other half of Apple's mostly winning strategy the past decade and a half or so is to distill the experience of whatever product down to a few of the most useful and simple features, and them package that up in a way that's tightly integrated with the rest of Apple's offerings.  The key common ground with all their devices has been the iTunes platform, where they've spent massive amounts of money on development and licenses for music, movies, newspapers, books, games, etc.  The iPod started as a music player, and iTunes sold music.  Then they added pictures, and then stepped to video.  And then iTunes sold movies and TV shows.  With the iPhone the iTunes application became a sync hub for that media plus an address book backup and a mobile app store.  I think iTunes got into books a bit before the iPad came out, but it's pretty clear that a major use case for the iPad was as an eBook reader.  This has all made sense, but the idea of them making a watch does not.  Listening to music on your watch is no good.  You'd be running a headphone cable to your wrist, and you use your hands and arms a lot during the day.  It's clumsy.  The screen is too small for movie watching to say anything of reading a book.  You probably couldn't play games on it either.  So why would they abandon everything they've done and make a watch that doesn't play to their strength of an integrated ecosystem?

My theory is that if Apple does enter wearable computing it will be with a Glass-like device.  It makes more sense.  It's something that they can make look good, as a major criticism of Glass has been that you look like a doofus while wearing it.  They could let it bluetooth pair with your iPhone to access its media.  It's a superb platform for listing to music and I bet it'd be a pretty good reader too.  They could integrate it with Apple maps to provide a HUD.  Probably a dozen other things I can't think of.  It'll be the iEyes or i^2 or something.  This is of course providing they're even thinking about it, but they may just see wearables as a fad for now.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Horror Pre-Season: The Conjuring & Insidious 2

Alright, so I'm a bit late to the plate this year with the pre-season, but I have been watching movies.  While I anxiously await Ti West's newest endeavor, James Wan has proven he's one of the genre's best directors.

The Conjuring came out in July and I saw a lot of similarity between it and what Wan was trying to do with Insidious.  They're both stories about average families that move into a new house and begin experiencing a series of terrifying supernatural events they're unprepared for until in a last-ditch effort they call on the services of a paranormal investigator.  However The Conjuring remains much more rooted in reality than Insidious did, and by doing so avoids repeating many of the issues I had with the original Insidious.

The Insidious franchise deals with evil spirits that exist in a supernatural realm called the "Further" who aim to possess the living.  In its world there are mediums who can communicate across the veil and astral projectors who can send their spirits into the Further and directly interact with the spirits therein.  In The Conjuring there is no spirit realm and so the ghosts in its story are just behind our reality, sometimes manifesting in the darkness and gaining strength to affect our world by the fear of their victims.

So The Conjuring is the story of the Perron family played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor who move into a new house in the country.  Immediately after moving in the family is plagued by night terrors, the wife wakes up with odd bruises, things rattle, pictures fall, the family dog refuses to enter the house and is killed.  Until the family contacts Ed and Lorraine Warren played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  The two are noted paranormal investigators and conclude the house is haunted.  They discover historical records about a witch who attempted to sacrifice her children to the devil and then killed herself on the property, which has now been divided up into several plots which have all been haunted.  The witch possesses each family's wife and drives them to kill their own children, leading to the plethora of tortured spirits which haunt the house.

The movie is absolutely top-notch and very frightening.  Some of the most effective scary scenes being carried on the performances of actors freaking out at literally darkness with nothing in it at all.  The pacing is pretty good and Wan does a pretty great job balancing the haunting story with the possession plot and extra setting when some of the haunting begins to affect the Warren's home.  The only thing I can really think of that plays against the movie's favor is one or two moments of feel-goody "love and happy memories save all" stuff and a few instances where it was hard to grasp the internal layout of the house due to the heavy use of tunnels behind the walls in the climax.  But aside from that it's pretty damn great movie.  When I watched it the first time I had thought that it was pretty much another crack at the same basic thing as Insidious, just with a more Catholic and 70's angle, and on that note I found it pretty successful.

But then they actually made more Insidious.  Chapter 2 starts off probably a few hours after the original ended and goes from there.  Off the bat I'll disclose that out of both Insidious movies and The Conjuring this is probably my least favorite.  While it was fun to watch and had some good scares some of it just felt a bit flatter and already-trod.  Which I suppose is the issue with horror franchises, once you reveal what's going on your sequel either needs to provide something new or MOAR!  To its credit Insidious 2 doesn't try to pad around pretending there's still a mystery as to what's going on and it's story is much more of a continuation of the original than another Insidious.  However the tone never quite seems to match up, while Insidious and The Conjuring had great natural peaks and valleys to the tension Insidious 2 seems to be permanently ratcheted about halfway up, in this perpetual slightly strange haze.  The Conjuring had a similar sense of muted colors that I recall but for Insidious to adopt it after the original was so visually striking seems like an odd move. 

It also seemed like a lot of the makeup on the iconic characters from the first movie was somewhat lacking.  The guy with the slicked back hair was really imposing in the original but when he shows up here he just seems like a sickly dude.  This may be hinting that the characters are perceiving him differently since they know a lot more about the supernatural elements so he's not as threatening anymore.  The elephant in the room both makeup wise and story wise is the old woman that's taken possession of Josh's body at the end of the original Insidious and is now wandering around in a Patrick Wilson suit.  Without going too into detail on the twisted origin story of this installment's big bad, it's a bit trite.  I've seen the twist a few times before this and probably the only time it was really well done was the first time I saw it, which is unlikely to have been the first time it was done in horror/mystery.  There are definitely more interesting things they could have done with their setup, which was actually pretty good.  Also compared to the crazy chase through the Further in the original, the climax of this one is a  bit of a letdown.  It's over just a few minutes after they realize what needs to happen and it's decidedly un-supernatural.

All that said I wouldn't say it was bad.  The performances were decent and it was an entertaining movie, still better than the vast majority of the horror I watch.  Just comparatively it falls flat against its predecessor and The Conjuring feels much more like a spiritual sequel to Insidious.