Friday, 24 May 2013

Microsoft's Compatibility Mistakes

TL:DR Microsoft should have broken compatibility between tablets & desktops, and kept backwards compatibility between XBoxes instead.

I was surpirsed when I first heard Microsoft were going to do a full Windows 8 tablet. I had been expecting Microsoft to follow Apple and Google by developing tablets based on an up-scaled version of their phone OS - Windows Phone 8.

This was before Windows 8 had been released. We'd seen images of the Metro interface and John Gruber of Daring Fireball was saying that Microsoft should do a Metro only Windows 8 for tablets.

At the time I disagreed. Having the full OS seemed like a no-compromise solution and another step towards a single OS across all devices.

Having now used Windows 8 tablets, I was right first time; Microsoft should have used Windows Phone 8. The first thing they should have released - a 7" ARM based Windows Phone 8 Tablet, with a stylus, optimised for OneNote - a single screen Courier.

I want to try the Windows 8 desktop on a 7" device but there's no way to use the desktop at this scale, unless you file your fingers into points, so why bother with it?

While using Windows Phone 8 on tablets would break compatibility with desktops, it has decent Office support and would have encouraged developers to try the platform, which would have boosted the phone app store.

Meanwhile Windows 8 on desktops has not gone well. I don't know if it's possible to make a desktop OS with great touch support, but they could have moved towards it in a more sensible way.

Imagine a Windows 7 desktop with both live tiles and regular icons, full-screen Metro apps but with the normal Windows 7 task bar at the bottom. Beyond the first level, the Windows 7 start button isn't great for touch, but with some tweaks it could be OK.

So, in the case of Windows tablets, Microsoft were wrong to keep compatibility.

Now, they have made the opposite mistake - they have dropped compatibility where they really, really needed it.

In 2001 Microsoft released the original XBox. At the time Microsoft were best known for office PC software, although with the addition of a 3DFX card, you could also play games other than solitaire. It took a lot of time and money for XBox to gain traction, but today the XBox 360 is more popular than Sony's PS3.

This is partly due to Sony's decision to use an unusual architecture and expensive hardware in the PS3. The fact that PS3s are unable to play PS2 games could also be a factor. (The first PS3's had a PS2 inside - they weren't really backwards compatible, they were two consoles in one). By contrast, most original XBox games could be played on the XBox 360.

Since they were first launched both XBox 360 and PS3 have added features and now as much home media centres as games console. This is why both companies invested billions of dollars to win customers.

XBOX ONE was announced this week. It will not be backwards compatible with the 360.

I have no doubt that the PS4 and it will sell well this Christmas, but imagine all 360 games worked on the ONE. Imagine if, for a few pounds, you could download hi-res tecture packs for 360 games running on the ONE.

If Microsoft had done this Sony would be out of the game. Wii U is struggling, Android doesn't have the power (yet), the Steam Box is the dark horse in this race..

Microsoft could have dominated on consoles the way did the PC market in the 90s.

I know the technology isn't trivial, but here are two examples where Microsoft got compatibility wrong - if only they had done the reverse...!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Unofficial State of 5by5

As a PC and Android user, Hypercritical was the best thing ever. Siracusa is a fan of Apple, but the only one I have ever heard who can convincingly explain that it's in spite of the problems with Apple. Windows is still my first language and Android is superior to IOS in many ways, but I have some idea why Apple is so popular.

The Talk Show by comparison was, and is, pure Apple propaganda. Gruber is a militant Apple apologist. He accuses others of twisting stats to put Apple in a bad light, while he does it to show that Apple are a perfect company with perfect products. If Apple are doing as well as Sony did in the 90s, why does he need to defend it?

Before Gruber dropped the mic and walked off 5by5, Dan challenged some of the stuff he came out with; made him defend his position - and that's what Gruber does well. The new Talk Show is a circle jerk. When your co-presenter that just agrees, there's no drama.
Build and Analyze was mostly dumb. When Marco wasn't advertising himself, his apps, his magazine, and Apple products generally, he would slag off other products - frequently ones he had never used. I stopped listening to B&A a few weeks before it ended. Marco had run out of interesting things to say long before that.

I was an avid (and occasionally livid) listener to these shows. What used to be required listening, no longer exists.

I tried Amplified with Jim Dalrymple. Some people have a face for radio. Jim has a voice for writing. I enjoyed the episodes I listened to, right up to the moment where, out of nowhere, he yelled with laughter right into the mic. It wasn't even that funny. I can imagine that sort of laugh being an effective method of getting attention in a noisy envirnment like a busy bar, but one thing it definitely doesn't need is to be amplified.

I listened to the last Ihnatko Almanac, the one about Andy switching to Android. Andy is listenable (except when he does accents) and I looked forward to hearing an interesting discussion on the relative merits of the two main mobile OSes. Instead I got Dan repeatedly talking about how it was a big shock that an Apple Guy had changed phones.

Apple fans traditionally cried that if only people would try Mac they would love it. Maybe sometimes the same applies in reverse? Dan's question about using Android with a Mac doesn't make any sense in 2013. He needs to spend more time with his Nexus 7.

I also tried listening to The Frequency #100. Maybe this is meant to appeal to a wider audience than tech shows, but I find it tedious. Haddie may be a lovely person, I don't know, but repeating everthing Dan says using slightly different words, or worse, the same words with a stupid voice, is totally pointless, irritating, vapid, brainless, annoying. Then they blew noise makers. Dan must believe there is some on-air "chemistry". I don't get it.

It was a good idea to split The News from The Frequency, but it has the same format, so it's pointless. Dan should read the news on his own (no Haddie) with his own comments or read comments from Reddit or other blogs.

The Incomparable has some great shows, and hopefully 70decibels have some good stuff.  But once I get up to date with Roderick on the Line, I'll be looking for some new tech shows from 5by5.

I hope Dan realizes that a daily news and chat show drains focus and resources (time and attention!) and goes back to weekly shows with interesting hosts.

How about a Windows 8 show? Dan has experience with older versions of windows, but a weekly show which introduces him as a new user to Windows 8 would be interesting and allow him to compare with other OSes. Maybe run it as an 8 week experiment?

The same applies to Android. If Dan wants to criticise Android, thats fine, but do it better. Spend time on-air using and comparing with IOS. What works? What doesn't? What would be good for IOS?

I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to get hosts for these shows, and this would challenge Dan to articulate why he now uses Apple. In the meantime, back to Supertrain...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Dear Museums: Touch Screens Are Not Enough Any More

So, I went to the Science Museum for the first time last week. While I was there I saw a few  really awesome exhibits including the Apollo 10 capsule which travelled around the moon and back with three men inside. 3d Imax cinemas are great too, but having to pay extra is bound to deter some visitors.

The thing that struck me most when wandering round several of the galleries is that many "interactive" exhibits are little more than touch screens.

There was a time, about five years ago, that touch screens were still something of a novelty. Back then having a touch interface made the content more immediate and the experience more futuristic. How quickly things change.

Today, I have no desire to walk from one terminal to another, queueing sometimes, to view information that I can access from almost anywhere on a phone, PC or tablet.

To ram this point home - the basement of the Science Museum is currently home to Google sponsored "Web Lab". While nicely put together, about half of the exhibits here are being used/controlled/enjoyed by "online visitors" and therefore can't be used by real people who are in the museum.

I expect the touch screens will soon be replaced with mobile tablets and AR apps, but really museum need to find ways to take advantage of their physicality and the shared experience if they are to stay engaging relevant.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012


What is it?

A theme park style stage show featuring characters and situations from the video game PORTAL and PORTAL 2. The game features portals, Chell, robots, GLaDOS, amazing stunts and possibly cake. Similar to "Cirque du Soleil", only enjoyable.

Location:   Las Vegas, Universal Studios, Disneyland?


7 similar looking female stunt performers / traceurs / acrobats.
Several circus cannons
Bungee ropes
Mechanically controlled set.
360 degree experience - portals appear all over the auditorium.
Animatronic GLaDOS
Portal lighting/special effects inc smoke, mirrors and holograms.
Script (prequel to PORTAL 1?) by Ricky Gervais
Voice acting by Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and/or Karl Pilkington.
Music by Daft Punk.

Cameo appearance by Gordan Freeman?

Extras: Combine soldiers

Budget:  $25M

This is a one off fee to develop and build the first set. After that we can replicate it at theme parks around the world for a fraction of the price.

We'll time the launch to coincide with the release of PORTAL 3.

Shows will only last 15 minutes so we can process more customers. With the right merchandising we can break even in 2 years. After that it's all profit.

The following youtube video gives you an idea of how some aspects of PORTAL live might look. 

Portal: No Escape (Live Action Short Film by Dan Trachtenberg)

Duck Soup - Mirror Scene

Batman Live - Part 1

If you are interested in making this happen contact

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Farewell Hypercritical

I'll tell you when I started listening to podcasts.

Hypercritial number 1. It's weird how lucky I got. I was trying to put my finger on why Apple makes me angry and I thought, what better way to learn about why Apple is a terrible thing, than a podcast dedicated to the things that make Apple imperfect?

Nearly two years later, I have a much better idea why I dislike the soul cruching machine of pre-fabricated magic (tm) that is Apple Inc.

It's been a very tough few weeks for Apple fans.

Apple's shares have tanked, the iPad mini is too expensive and awkward to hold in one hand, the iPad three has been dumped like a ginger-haired step-child and now Hypercritical is ending. On the up-side Build and Analyze is also ending.

Meanwhile on Hypercritical
 John Siracusa and Dan Benjamin made a great double act. Throughout nearly 100 episodes I have had to re-examine my personal beliefs in the face of Siracusan logic. I don't always care as much as about the tiny details and niggles, but I always found his opinions were based on valid observations. Although he prefers Apple, he is by far the most platform agnostic host on 5by5 and the Hypercritical shows were better as a result.
As a substitute for Hypercritical I recommend Roderick on the Line. I suspect that if John Roderick and John Siracusa ever met they would either:

a) cancel each other out, and annihilate each other, like matter and anti-matter.
b) Make a pretty good podcast.

Please God, (or Dan Benjamin), please make it happen.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Apple have dropped the iPad 3

With hindsight, it's obvious why Apple stopped numbering their iPads.

In March Apple announced the "New iPad"... the one everyone (except Apple) calls the iPad 3.

This week they announced a 10 inch iPad with a lightning connector and improved processor/graphics. Everyone is calling this the iPad 4, except me: I call it the iPad 3s.

In fact, Apple are advertising this latest device as the "iPad with Retina Display". This is rather confusing because the iPad 3 also has a retina display.

However, there's no need to worry, because you can no longer buy an iPad with a retina display,  30pin dock connector, underpowered cpu etc... in other words: Apple have dropped the iPad 3.

It doesn't take an Apple Genius to see what happened.

Apple "had to" release an updated iPad in March. Let's be charitable and assume there were technical issues that meant it was under-powered. The point is, Apple knew in advance it was a stop-gap device.

The evidence? They didn't call it the iPad 3.

They didn't want to drop a device called "iPad 3" while they are still selling the iPad 2. So they called it something else.

I hope the millions of The New iPad (3) owners appreciate that. But don't feel bad - you got the limited edition iPad. And you could always buy the iPad 3s as well.

Nice work Apple.