Apple To Use Micro USB?

I mentioned back in September 2007 that cell phone manufacturers were looking to replace their varied connectors with Micro USB meaning most cell phones would use the same chargers and accessories. MacRumors points to a Reuters report that Apple has also agreed to go Micro USB in Europe, which presumably means the US as well.

I personally doubt Apple will just ditch the 30 pin dock connector in favor of Micro USB. I suspect Apple will either bundle a Dock to Micro USB adapter instead or add a Micro USB port next to the Dock connector. Among the many reasons:

  • The dock is essentially “USB+ Firewire + Audio + Video + other”. Take a look at the pinout. It’s much more complicated to get USB audio working than to read line out. For the intents and purposes the dock is as good if not better interface.
  • The dock connector has an extensive list of implementations including many accessories and car audio systems. “Designed for iPod/iPhone” is preferred by Apple over “Designed for mp3 players”.
  • The dock is a proprietary interface, Apple collects a licensing fee for its use in accessories.

Since the dock connector is really “USB+ Firewire + Audio + Video + Other”, a USB adapter is obviously cheap and easy to produce (they already ship a USB cable with all products). Hence I suspect there will be either a Micro USB adapter, or Apple will add the port to the bottom of the iPod/iPhone since Micro USB is very small.

There is still an advantage to having Micro USB. For one charging will become more universal across cellphones. This means car manufacturers, and even airplanes can offer Micro USB to let people charge phones easily via a single ubiquitous low powered interface.

It’s also more environmentally friendly since you’ll be able to buy your own separate higher quality power adapter. No more cheap bundled power bricks known for their phantom loads. Or just charge off your computer. You’ll also be able to use the same charger and accessories with more phones.

I’m glad to see this finally happening.

Edit [6/29/2009 @ 10:00 PM EST]: Pocket-lint says Apple stated to them it will be an adapter.

@font-face Hacks

I’m going to make a bold prediction on the night before a certain web browser is scheduled gets an upgrade. @font-face (MDC) will change web design, but not just for typography. As I suggested a few days ago, to use a font on the web it needs to sit on a webserver so the browser can download it, hence the website is “distributing” the font. Licensing for many fonts doesn’t currently permit this, making @font-face for fonts somewhat problematic and hard to use… at least today.

Cool Trick!

Rule #1 of Steve Souders popular book “High Performance Web Sites” is simply:

Make Fewer HTTP Requests

That said, @font-face can be essentially as an image sprite by creating your own font with the glyphs you want. Unlike image sprites they aren’t hacky in nature requiring tricky coordinates, nor are they obnoxiously memory intensive (and a drag on mobile devices). Firefox also loads fonts last, so you can be assured it won’t slow down the rest of your page. They also degrade nicely for devices that don’t support them.

Of course this changes webdesign to use simpler icons and pick 1 color per glyph… but there are some pretty interesting enhancements for example the ability to scale. Fonts are designed to resize much better than an image.

The other caveat is that this can make your markup slightly ugly. However it’s not so bad when your building something in JavaScript. Consider for example implementing Pac-Man. Rather than a dozen images, or some complex sprite you can simply move <em>p</em> around. You can have quite a few glyphs in 1 font file.

Of course you can also use <canvas/> or a data: url to embed images, but IE doesn’t support <canvas/> and only recently started supporting data:. IE has supported OpenType (not TrueType) fonts since IE 4.

I’d be curious if anyone actually implements this and how well it works in practice. It’s not a true replacement for image sprites, but for a few cases, such as simple icons, it could actually do the trick.

Um What?

This trick can also be engineered to work against the way the web traditionally works. For example, I could create a ROT13‘d font or any other encoding I imagined. This essentially lets you remap the way characters are on the page, and the way they appear. For example on the page may appear:

<span class="rot13font">rknzcyr@qbznva.gyq</span>
<small><strong>Note:</strong> Do not copy/paste my email address</small>

That looks like a totally invalid address, but with a ROT13 font, you’d know what it is… though if you copy/paste it you’re going to get the encoded version. (I could in theory course engineer some JS to ROT13 the string). This also could deter some spam bots, which lore says have found ways around JS munging.

Conclusion

Moral of the story: @font-face can be fun for more than just typography. Cult of Helvetica be damned… all you typography geeks.

Sitcom Homes On Google Maps

I always thought it would be fun to locate some classic TV locations and find them on Google Maps. Here’s some of the more interesting things I’ve found in my research. Each photo is a link to Google maps with the actual location should you want to pan around your favorite neighborhoods.

Continue reading

Things You’ll Love About Firefox 3.5

For the upcoming Firefox 3.6 release: go here!

Firefox 3.5 is around the corner. For those who don’t pay attention to development here’s the big features worth checking out. There are lots more, but these are my favorites:

User Centric Features

Private Browsing – Officially it’s called “Private Browsing” but most know it as “porn mode”. Simply put once you turn on the feature nothing about your browsing is saved to your computer until you turn it off. No browser history, cookies, cache, no passwords, download list. Great for shared computers where you may not want the next person to know where you shopped, what you bought etc.

Faster JavaScript – Everyone is doing it. Firefox 3.5 now ships with TraceMonkey which uses a technique, called trace trees to add just-in-time native code compilation to SpiderMonkey, the JS engine in Firefox. Bottom line: faster JavaScript makes JavaScript powered sites like Gmail way faster.

Faster Awesomebar – The awesomebar is a fast way of browsing the web, but the UI can sometimes get a little sluggish. Some awesome work has been done to optimize it for better performance. Faster UI = better browsing experience.

Better Awesomebar – The Awesomebar got a few enhancements including autocomplete for tagging, which is extremely handy as well as editing tags on multiple bookmarks at the same time.

Undo Closed Window – We’ve all done it before. Now you can undo a closed window just like a closed tab.

Drag Tab To New Window – Previously you could drag/drop to reorder tabs. Now you can drag a tab off the tab bar to move it into its own window. This may sound trivial but it actually makes organizing tabs much easier.

Video/Audio – Firefox 3.5 supports the new HTML5 <video/> and <audio/> tags. Specifically it supports Vorbis in Ogg containers, as well as WAV with support for more formats expected in the future. I’ve discussed open video before and suggest learning more about how important this is there.

SSL Error Pages Suck Less – The error pages shown when there is an SSL error were pretty tough on users since they didn’t display anything helpful. The new error pages are a bit more helpful. The bug implementing the changes has tons of details on the changes.

Geolocation – Simply put a website can (if you allow it) gather information about your internet connection and using a location service (provided by Google by default) will calculate your location. No more needing to constantly type in your zip code, or city name to get local information. For privacy you need to explicitly allow it. Geolocation is in a word awesome.

New Icon – Well, it’s not really new. It’s “refreshed” I guess. It’s not a huge change, but it does look really sharp, especially in more modern operating systems that use larger icons like Mac OS X. Alex Faaborg has it on his blog in various sizes for you see.

Developer Centric Features

Web Workers – My personal favorite is web workers. Essentially its background processing in a separate thread for JavaScript. No more locking up the browser’s UI because you need to do some complicated JS calculations. I’ll leave it to the documentation linked above for examples. Very handy stuff.

@font-face – Designers have long been frustrated with the lack of font options on the web. They often resort to using images and flash as a way to expand their font options. With @font-face it’s now possible to use custom fonts and reference them via css. There is however the issue of licensing of fonts used on a webpage since the font file itself is accessible via a web browser.

Native JSON Enough said. Native JSON is fast. var obj = JSON.parse(someJS);

Cross Site xhrxmlHttpRequest() has ushered in a new era of JavaScript. It’s not however without some serious limitations. One of the most obvious limitations is that you can’t use it across hostnames. Until now.

There’s more cool toys, but these are my favorite.

Still not convinced of all the new stuff? Check out this demo, then look at the source behind it. It’s pretty impressive.

Data Center Power Consumption

It’s hardly a secret that there is a serious demand for saving power in data centers. In a recent Times Magazine article:

Data centers worldwide now consume more energy annually than Sweden. And the amount of energy required is growing, says Jonathan Koomey, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From 2000 to 2005, the aggregate electricity use by data centers doubled. The cloud, he calculates, consumes 1 to 2 percent of the world’s electricity.

To put that in a little more perspective, the 2009 census for Sweden puts the population at 9,263,872. Sweden’s population is just slightly higher than New York City (8,274,527 in 2007) or the state of New Jersey (8,682,661 estimate in 2008). Granted Sweden’s population density is 20.6/km2 compared to New York City’s 10,482/km2 or New Jersey’s 438/km2. Population density is important since that says a lot about energy consumption. Dense populations require less energy thanks to communal resources. I still suspect the average Swede uses less electricity than the average American anyway. All these numbers were pulled from Wikipedia.

The US Department of Energy does have data on power consumption and capacity as well as forecasts on consumption and production. The obvious downside in the data is the reliance on coal, oil and gas which have environmental impacts as well as political impacts and costs (we know about the instabilities of the oil market). This is why companies with lots of servers like Google are looking very carefully at power generation alternatives such as hydroelectric and solar.

We all benefit from data center efficiency. Lower cost computing is a big advantage to startups and encourages more innovation by removing price barriers. It’s also an advantage to the general public since the technology and tricks learned eventually trickle down to consumers. We already are seeing more efficient power supplies, some even beating the original 80 PLUS certification.

Perhaps if we started tracking “performance per watt” in addition to “watts per square foot” we’d be looking at things from a more sustainable perspective.

Data center capacity and consumption is pretty interesting when you look at all the variables involved. Growth, power costs, facility size, technology available, even foreign politics play a role in what it costs to operate.

WWDC 2009 – OS X 10.6, iPhone 3GS, iPhone OS 3.0, MacBooks

I had the Apple WWDC keynote going in the background as I always do so I can follow the madness as it happens. Overall not terribly shocking. The biggest surprise just came a few weeks earlier than I thought.

MacBook/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air

So the big news in the MacBook world is that they are getting rid of the removable battery in the 15″ model in favor of the 17″ style non-removable battery. A little faster, SD card slot (I guess some people really care about this), and finally going to officially support 8GB RAM across the board. In my opinion supporting 8GB RAM is the biggest improvement. RAM limitations seem to be more problematic than CPU limitations. With Snow Leopard (see below) heavily taking advantage of multiple cores and 64 bit computing, extra RAM won’t just be a luxury, it will be a requirement. There is a reason 4GB is the minimum RAM across the board now. I said months ago they needed to do this.

The MacBooks are also “green”, energy star compliant, etc. etc.

The one downside I see is that the MacBook and MacBook pro line is being blurred quite a bit. The real difference at this point is the graphics chipset. For average users the MacBook will be more than enough. If you’re a power user, the MacBook Pro will be your laptop. With Snow Leopard taking advantage of the GPU for computational purposes, having a good GPU is just another performance boost.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Mac OS X 10.6 as John Grubber aid might be a tough sell to consumers. It’s not very feature packed, at least as far as users are concerned. Most of the changes are under the hood geared towards taking advantage of modern hardware, removing cruft from years of API and design iterations. That’s not going to easily convince consumers to spend $129. As a result for Leopard users it’s $29 (family pack for $49) . That’s a good decision as explaining the advantages of rewriting the Finder in Cocca to an average user won’t be easy. I think the biggest actual feature it has going for it so far is Exchange support, which I don’t think will do too well outside the business world, which was never Apple’s strong point.

On the technology side, I welcome our 64 bit overlords. GrandCentral and OpenCL should really help make software faster, and take advantage of the hardware. This will hopefully spur some innovation. The downside of course it that working the GPU for basic application performance will compromise battery life. Right now it’s easy to conserve battery life by avoiding games which tax the GPU to save battery life. I don’t really know if having lots of apps tax the GPU is really going to help or hurt in that regard, or if there will be a level of user control (turbo mode). My only concern is if the GPU is doing extra work, and isn’t well optimized for power savings, this could get troublesome.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is also Intel only. The PowerPC is officially dead now. Kinda stinks for PowerMac G5 users whose computers are still pretty speedy and were expensive, but it’s essential to keeping development sane and forward moving.

Apple’s pricing of Snow Leopard is also going to speed adoption and let developers focus on developing software for 1 OS on one architecture as opposed to multiple OS versions on 2 hardware architectures.

iPhone OS 3.0

Lots of new features, developers have lots of ideas in the works, ships June 17th. Free for iPhone users, $9.99 for iPod touch users. No surprises.

The only interesting software notes are that TomTom will be releasing a turn-by-turn directions app. I expect this to be rather popular as long as it’s not too expensive. There’s also a “Find My Phone” feature for MobileMe customers that is pretty much the “locator” button on your cordless phone and emits sound regardless of your iPhones settings. Kinda handy, useful if you frequently misplace your phone.

Also interesting is AT&T won’t be supporting MMS next week when iPhone OS 3.0 launches. They will start supporting it later this summer. Tethering is also still in the works. This is sure to upset many people. According to Boy Genius Report the MMS delays are due to administrative issues, while the tethering issues are due to the plan still being in development, though I’m guessing they also have concerns about network capacity in NY and SF.

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 3GS is the new hardware. New insides, same classic exterior. Faster (though no exact specs on hardware) OpenGL|ES 2.0, 7.2Mbps HSPDA, 3 MP auto-focus camera. The camera supports 30 FPS VGA video with audio. There’s also a digital compass, voice control, improved battery life, and data encryption. $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB. $99 for original 8GB model.

This is pretty much what was expected. I think the biggest feature is the camera. The digital compass will be handy for a few people, but for most it will be a pretty meaningless thing.

Until a significant market share is using the 3GS, I question how much developers can take advantage of the extra performance without making their apps useless to the 3G and original iPhone users. This might be a limiting factor.

The bigger news is Apple is keeping the 8GB iPhone 3G as a lower cost option. Apple had to keep the original 3G iPhone on the market to keep growing users during the current economic recession. This is good for growing users… but bad for those who want to keep the user base on the bleeding edge. Those new 3G users will be locked into contracts for 2 years. That means at least 2 more years before the iPhone 3G starts to fade out, not 1 more like most were expecting. I think for many people, the 8GB iPhone 3G is actually the better buy.

Scorecard

  • √ iPhone OS 3.0 Announced (100%) – I was right. Announced, release is next week, GM seed released today.
  • √ iPhone v3 Announced (100%) – I was pretty close here too. Faster, 32GB capacity, better graphics, video support, no radio as many suggested. I said 50% chance of dual cores. Looks like still single core.
  • √ Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Announcement (85%) – Right again. September release.
  • √ Lots of demos (99%) – Right, wish I wasn’t. These just get in the way.
  • X Steve Jobs Appearance (65%) or mention (90%) – I’m surprised of no mention at the end. Not really surprised he didn’t appear.
  • X iLife / some other software upgrade 60% – Didn’t happen.
  • √ MacBook Update – I thought this was more likely for July/August in time for the “back to school” season. I didn’t think they would use WWDC for this announcement. It makes sense for Apple to start now given Snow Leopard being released in a few months. More people on faster laptops with more RAM the better.

Overall not bad. More accurate than previous years.

WWDC 2009 Predictions

As tradition goes, here are my predictions:

  • iPhone OS 3.0 Announced (100%) – Notice I said “announced” not released. Apple last released iPhone OS 3.0 beta 5 on May 25th. I’m suspicious that they won’t just go from beta to final on developers over the course of 2 weeks. I’d expect some sort of release candidate to sit in between. I think we’ll get a solid date. I’d put the odds of a 3.0 official release being available at about 50%. “Public Beta”? It just seems odd for Apple to go from beta to release like that. Apple did release an iTunes upgrade featuring 3.0 compatibility. Mixed messages? Yea. But a GM release seems a little unlikely.
  • iPhone v3 Announced (100%) – Apple will announce the iPhone 3rd Generation. Faster CPU, 50% chance of dual core or larger architectural change, better graphic capabilities, video support, more memory, more storage, same form factor. I think we can realistically see up to 32 GB capacity. Better (3MP+) camera. Battery life improvements will be minimal at best. The iPhone 3G sold well enough with its battery life making the pressing factor CPU performance. I’m also skeptical about radio as audio can be delivered somewhat low-bandwidth over EDGE or 3rd party FM adapter. Also radio/CD combos never really sold that well, and rarely were offered on mp3 players (notably never the iPhone).
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Announcement (85%) – Apple will announce the expected release date down to 1-2 month target for Snow Leopard, solid feature set, preview the latest version and provide new builds.
  • Lots of demos (99%) – Apple seems to love to parade developers on stage to show off their apps. Expect to see tons of iPhone 3.0 apps, perhaps even some “look how much faster/better my app is on Snow Leopard” presentations.
  • Steve Jobs Appearance (65%) or mention (90%) – Legend has it Steve is expected to return to Apple at the end of the month in full capacity. I fully expect him to appear in person before the media to prove he’s looking healthy. There is a decent shot he’ll make some sort of cameo appearance at WWDC 2009. It’s also possible he’ll demo something at a soon to be announced event for a hardware refresh in July/August. I think he’ll at least get a mention and official confirmation he’s coming back at the end of the month.
  • iLife / some other software upgrade 60% – Apple likes to bundle upgrades to any of it’s less notable software products into larger announcements so that they get some media attention “also announced was…”, even if it’s a footnote. Because of that, I think there’s a notable chance they will announce some upgrade.

It’s mainly a software event, so I don’t expect any more hardware than iPhone 3.0. I think overall it won’t be as explosive as last year when App Store launched. Then again… Apple may have a trick or two up its sleeves. We’ll know Monday.