Microsoft’s R&D

PCWorld has a pretty interesting story on Microsoft’s R&D efforts. While Microsoft is viewed as an old technology company they aren’t done innovating. In many ways they remind me of AT&T in the Bell Labs days. It’s very possible some of the best research of the day is being done there, and we quite possibly won’t realize it for years to come, and will do so in some derived way.

The research and innovation methods of companies is always interesting. Big companies who invest big bucks with little guarantee of a payoff are the most interesting. We rarely hear/see much about them though.

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.

iPhone OS 3.0 Preview Next Week

Apple has an event scheduled for next week which is presumed to be a preview of iPhone OS 3.0.

Want/Expect:

  • Copy/paste – Duh
  • Push Notification – Apple promised this back in the fall and has yet to deliver. I suspect we’ll at least hear something about it. I’m hoping it will still happen, though I wouldn’t say it’s a guarantee at this point.
  • Email Search – Search would be insanely useful and is a critical link for heavy email users. I think it’s likely iPhone OS 3.0 will have search among some enterprise friendly features.
  • Home screen Update – The current home screen was never designed for managing a multitude of apps that is now common (it was designed before Apple had an API). I see an overhaul in the cards 3.0.
  • WebKit Update – A lot of work has taken place with WebKit/Safari. I suspect some new stuff will trickle over to the iPhone including a JS engine update.
  • Video – The iPhone camera is capable of making video, Apple just doesn’t support it via software. Apple may remedy this now. Jailbroken apps already support it.
  • Tethering – Bluetooth and USB. Very likely since this is additional revenue for AT&T.
  • MMS – Lots of user demand for it (though I don’t really get why). I suspect if this happens video recording support is inevitable.
  • Flash Subset – Either a true subset of flash mainly to allow playing of h.264 video. I still highly doubt we’ll see support to play VP6 simply because it will kill battery life quicker than most users would appreciate. It also needs the ability to disable so flash ads in Safari don’t impact battery life. Apple could also take the approach of having a YouTube like partnership with more video providers since all people care about is video anyway.
  • Tons of little things – Apple always does this. I don’t expect iPhone OS 3.0 to be any different.
  • Desktop Support – As I mentioned before, the ability to run apps on your desktop. Not really expecting this, but I’d like it.
  • Desktop Sync – Lots of apps would like the ability to sync with their desktop counterparts. Currently they have to do this via WiFi and it’s not a great experience.

Those are my top guesses/expectations from the user perspective. From the developer perspective I’d expect a few new API’s to go with whatever happens up above and perhaps a few small surprises. I think the next generation of iPhones is likely to be sporting a multi-core processor though I’m not sure if Apple will say anything next week that would effectively confirm that so they don’t kill any of the iPhone launch buzz.

Edit [3/16/2009 @ 9:40 PM EST]: Added Desktop Sync

AT&T’s Pogo Browser

You may or may not have heard about AT&T’s Pogo Browser. It’s a “3D Visual Web Browser” (make of that what you will). TechCrunch reviewed it a little while back. It’s based on Firefox (2.0.0.14 to be exact). It has some interesting UI for bookmarking, but other than that, I’m going to have to agree with TechCrunch. I’m really not very impressed.

The impression I’m left with is simply: why wasn’t this created as an extension?

WWDC 2008 Analysis

iPhone 3G

The Presentation

As usual I keep tabs on all the major Apple events using pretty much all the top tech sites that run “live blogs” and the like. This year none failed completely though I think they all were overcome with traffic at one point resulting in a failed load attempt. Not bad. This year I threw twitter into the mix. That was pretty interesting itself. Kevin Rose pointed out a decent audio feed. I did this in the background while I worked.

One thing I did note is that the parade of iPhone Apps got pretty painful after a while. Just wanted to yell out “we get it… cool apps built quickly… move on!”. For those who were following along at home, my predictions were mostly right (yay me!).

iPhone 3G

To me, this was really what the announcement was all about, and I’ll explain why a little later. The obvious big gain is the performance of 3G. This will win over a lot of people who just couldn’t imagine paying that much and surfing the web with EDGE. Another awesome addition is GPS support. It’s notable since geolocation is the “next big thing” [I should note update GeoLocateFox… I was ahead of my time]. I suspect there may be a few other goodies under the hood of this new iPhone that have yet to be revealed due to the suspected chipset. If Apple doesn’t unleash the full power, hackers will. Rest assured.

The real big thing here is that the phone is now much cheaper with a much more reasonable amount of storage on board. $299 for the 16GB model and $199 for the 8GB model. This is substantial for a few reasons. Besides obviously saving some cash, it makes the phone suddenly a possibility for people who would have never shelled out the original sticker price.

AT&T’s pricing looks to be $30 for unlimited data. The cheapest Voice/Data combo you could do would be $69/mo. That’s $10 more than it was for the first generation. Presumably that will help curb the cost of the massive 3G upgrades they are doing and subsidizing the iPhone’s hardware costs.

iPhone Apps

Pretty impressive demos from the screenshots I’ve seen. I’m really interested in more basic stuff should I get an iPhone. SSH, FTP, Email that doesn’t suck. I’d prefer to read/write office docs, but I guess I can always use something like Google Docs, which I’m sure will support the iPhone at some point if it doesn’t already.

Rather disgusted that I haven’t seen anything really change in terms of Application distribution or licensing. Apple is still very prohibitive of what it will allow. Don’t hold your breath on Firefox or Java anytime soon.

Apple will let you distribute Apps for free (how kind of them), but you still need to pay $99 to provide a free Application:

Standard Program $99
The Standard Program is for developers who are creating free and commercial applications for iPhone and iPod touch.

How about no charge for Applications with an OSI approved license Apple? Seems fair. No charge, and you get more software to make your ecosystem look more attractive.

Strikes me as pretty lame that a developer needs to pay $99 so Apple will let others use software for free.

  1. Disable download/install functionality.
  2. Charge $99 to distribute applications, even if they are free.
  3. Profit!

MobileMe

I was wrong regarding the use of MobileMe. Sadly it still doesn’t seem to fit the bill for something worth $99. Google provides most of the functionality pretty nicely. I suspect Google Calendar will get some iPhone sync love in the near future. In my opinion would have been better to just partner with Google and offer something really awesome and let Google monetize it. I suspect they didn’t do this because of the whole Android thing.

Jailbreak

Jailbreak is far from dead. The SDK isn’t open enough to kill off Jailbreak. Expect it to live on an coincide with Apple’s efforts for some time to come.

Mac OS X 10.6

Damn you NDA… would someone start leaking the goods 😉 . There’s some basic info out there, but nothing really juicy yet.

Photo Courtesy of Apple

WWDC 2008 Predictions

And the a tradition continues. Here’s my predictions for WWDC 2008. Steve Jobs will announce the following:

iPhone 3G

Well duh. At this point if it’s not at least announced, Apple’s stock is going to tank. There’s a ton of stuff to back this up including AT&T telling employees not to take vacation in the near future. And mystery shipments of presumed iPhones. I’ve got a good idea what the technical specs will likely be.

AT&T Subsidy

AT&T will likely subsidy the new iPhone when purchased with a 2 year contract to help lower the price and encourage more people to buy it. This is looking even more likely as the economy declines and potential buyers may now be more hesitant.

.mac to become me.com and mobileme.com

.mac will finally die and be replaced with me.com and mobileme.com. I suspect mobileme.com will be free for iPhone users. me.com may be paid if Apple does it in-house, or free if they contract the functionality out to someone like Google (which is likely).

Mac OS X 10.6 Insights

I don’t think we’ll see it until at least late 2009, more likely early 2010, and I doubt Steve will suggest any faster of a timeline. Remember after 10.3 the plan was slower OS releases. I suspect it will stay that way. I don’t think Apple likes the idea of two Mac OS X branches, the mobile and desktop one. I suspect 10.6 will be an effort to “unify” the platform at least from a marketing perspective. Starting from WWDC 2008 onwards I suspect a “Mac OS X powered phone” will be more common branding. Again Apple’s goal is to sell computers. Using the iPhone as a method to sell the desktop experience is pretty obvious. But what does that mean for the OS? Likely a lot of focus on things like Sync, the future of tech (64bit, multi-core, intel) and blurring the distinction between phone and computer. I don’t think we’ll see much more than a little eye candy and some buzz words considering we’re not far from Leopards release. Just enough to get the press talking about it.

New Desktops / Laptops

I don’t think Apple plans any desktop/laptop announcements just yet, I suspect they will hold off until August as tradition. At that point pretty much all of Apple’s computer lines are due for a major overhaul. I suspect the MacBook Pro may be the first to experience a major design change. Apple desperately needs a mid-range tower to build more market share as the Mac mini is under powered and the Mac Pro is very expensive. If anything is announced I suspect it will be just that.

Special Guests

No idea who the special guests will be. If the new iPhone is based on Atom, I suspect an Intel Exec. Other than that, really don’t know. Likely an iPhone developer or two will make an appearance during the iPhone Apps part. No clue on musical guest.

So there you have it. We’ll see Monday what I got right.

iPhone 2nd Generation

So more is coming out about the next iPhone, which we all know is going to be 3G. Someone found evidence of it in the recent update to the iPhone SDK. The SGOLD2 chipset will be replaced with the SGOLD3, which supports 3G networks (as we all expected). Looking at the specs some interesting things come out:

  • ARM 926 CPU capable of running up to 312 MHz – This isn’t that much more than the existing iPhone which is said to be underclocked to preserve battery life. Don’t expect much change here.
  • 5 Megapixel camera support – Capable, but don’t expect to see 5MP. I suspect it will be upgraded to 3MP and no higher to conserve costs.
  • MPEG4 / H.263 hardware accelerator – Sigh, no H.264 support. That’s a bummer. Apple could still use hardware support via another chip.
  • Support for video telephony, streaming, recording and playback – I wonder if Apple plans to utilize this. Video telephony could work over 3G networks (AT&T already did it with an LG CU500v). But it would require a potentially reworking the location of the camera on the phone.
  • 3G upgradeable with WCDMA coprocessor – Very interesting since this could allow Apple to offer the iPhone on CDMA networks, though the largest (Verizon) is going to become LTE a varient of GSM. That’s the largest CDMA network in the US. Still CDMA support will be needed for Japan.

Walt Mossberg initially said this is going down in 60 days, but now he’s retracted that statement. I still think a June timeline sounds about right. WWDC 2008 is June 9-13, 2008. Sounds about right.

LG CU500

LG CU500Tonight I replaced my 2+ year old LG vx6000 with a LG CU500 [Amazon]. Family plan upgrade time.

I haven’t had too much time to play with it. Perhaps later I’ll take a few test photo’s outside in daylight (if it’s not raining) and see how they look, and perhaps upload them.

I first setup bluetooth between my Mac and my phone, just paired them up. Took about 10 seconds. Then tried to do the same with my Thinkpad. Took about 2 minutes, thanks to slightly more confusing software (never did either). Next task was to transfer a picture from the phone to the PC. After about 20 minutes I had no success on my Thinkpad, kept being told “Sending Cancelled” by the phone. Went over to the Mac, and it took no more than 15 seconds.

Everything is easier on a Mac.

I haven’t had to much time to play with it, but here are some initial impressions:

  • WOW!!!
  • Call quality seems very clear. Good indoor reception.
  • Seems like stronger vibrate mode than the vx6000, or maybe mine just got tired after so long.
  • 1.3 MP camera is surprisingly good… will need to purchase a memory card (MicroSD) tomorrow.
  • Recording video’s is super awesome… again, will need that memory card.
  • Bluetooth on Mac: sweet. Bluetooth on Thinkpad: ugh (see above).
  • Mp3 player looks pretty solid, again need memory card, though this is a feature I’m not really that interested in.
  • Menu’s very well laid out, organized, clear.
  • Build quality seems exceptionally good. I’ve held a couple of them now, and all are rock solid.
  • Comes with travel charger, rather than one with a stand… prefer the stand on my desk, no option to buy that. Hooking up the cable is more cumbersome than slipping it on the stand.
  • Apparently supports 3GPP, so a movie could be saved to the memory card… note: buy memory card.
  • No voice dialing (though is that really so critical?)
  • Buttons on the side are pretty slim and take some getting used to… not good for gorilla’s who use cell phones.
  • Bright vibrant screen, great looking case, again, great build quality.
  • Photo’s have EXIF data! Unlike the vx6000, which was a drag.