Apple TV, iPhone

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So, Mister Jorbs showed off the new Apple TV and iPhone yesterday. Although I followed everything live on Mac Rumors Live, I did not have time then to collect my thoughts, so I’m doing so now.

First off: Apple TV. My personal opinion: yawn. I can see it as a great product for someone who does not already have a media setup, but in my life, it has no place. Back when the Mac Mini running Front Row was the hip new thing, I got one as a little media center. Like the Apple TV, it plugs into the TV and pulls music, podcasts, movies, and videos from iTunes running on another machine. It also plays DVDs and, most importantly, allows QuickTime plugins (as well as other video players) so that various other formats of video can be watched: AVI, DiVX, Xvid… you know, all the formats that non-Apple-purchased downloaded television shows come in. So the Apple TV is pretty much a crippled Mac Mini that only runs iTunes. Apple is smart in that it locks people into purchasing TV shows and movies from them, but unless you want to spend the time converting downloaded content to H.264 or MOV, then you have no other content.

Second: iPhone. I am very intrigued and may just get one because my Treo has seen better days. The interface has to be the most advanced touchscreen around. I may be wrong, but I think this is the first released product with a multitouch screen. I think, at present, they’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with the thumb-and-forefinger “I’m crushing your head” to zoom things in and out. I would totally want one of these things, except I’m hesitant over a few things…

1. It’s not just a “version 1.0″ product, but one that utilizes several never-before-seen pieces of technology. On the other hand, I do trust Apple. I got one of the original 17” PowerBooks, and although it has been replaced (fairly painlessly and free) once, it’s still been a great machine. Also, this iPhone has been in development for 2-3 years, which I hope is enough to shake out the bugs. Steve has been using it as his phone for some amount of time, and I can’t imagine that his anal-retentiveness would let any obvious design defects slip through.

2. Cingular. I was okay with Cingular in OC, but their network in Portland was pretty crappy when I first came up here. Maybe it got better over time, but I switched to T-Mobile because of it and never looked back. I’d rather stick with T-Mobile, but even if the iPhone was an unlocked GSM device, it sounds like some of the features (e.g. “visual voicemail”) are dependent upon special features of the Cingular GSM network. I’ll go Cingular if I have to, but I’m really interested to see reviewers like Gizmodo get a prerelease one and then decide to see what happens when they stick their non-Cingular SIM chip in.

3. Is it OS X or isn’t it? There are conflicting reports about whether it runs OS X, an embedded variant of OS X, or something that just looks vaguely like OS X. More specifically: is it an open system that 3rd party apps can be installed into or not? There are conflicting reports about this, too. I like the Treo because I have several applications in there that Palm never dreamed of when they first released the thing: a specialized engineering calculator that I use for work, a database specifically designed for shopping lists, and IRC client, an RSS feed reader, a ton of games, etc. If the iPhone is closed, I’d be giving up quite a lot of the functionality I have on the Treo. My gut feeling is that with Apple’s strict take on quality and user experience, the application space will not be open, or will be open to a select handful of 3rd party application/game developers. Because of the nature of embedded operating systems, quite often a broken app can bring down the whole system. An embedded OS has to be lightweight, and often, things like memory management (that is, separate virtual addresses for each process, etc.) are scrapped because they’re too intensive–and these are the very same protections that prevent a rogue desktop computer application from crashing the whole machine. Apple won’t want their phone getting a reputation of crashing a lot just because hobbyist developers write bad code. So either they’re running a processor that’s good enough and has access to enough memory that a bad app won’t crash the device, or they’re only going to allow specific applications (that, likely, you’ll have to pay for, just like you pay for games on the current iPod.) The loophole in this is “widgets.” The phone has Safari and, consequently, some form of WebKit. Widgets are, effectively, pre-packaged web pages with HTML, images, and JavaScript. By design, they can’t crash your computer in much the same way that viewing a web page won’t crash your computer. I can see Apple allowing anyone to write a widget for the phone. They’re secure and the cost-of-entry is cheap, both for Apple and for 3rd parties. Apple doesn’t have to do much to include the Widget parts of Safari. 3rd party developers just need some HTML and JavaScript and don’t need to wrap their brain around a crazy new API. If we’re lucky, Apple will include Java, too. They already have it as a freebie for including Safari, so why wouldn’t they allow it?

So those are my first impressions. Although I’ve been doing some crazy JavaScript stuff recently, I’m going to beef up a bit more on Widget programming. If I get an iPhone in June, I really need Sudoku on it. Whether that’s through a web page or a widget, it has to be there. In semi-related news: the current Sudoku on the iPod really rather sucks. Using the scrolly wheel to traverse the grid and select a digit is the only real interface available, but a poor one indeed.

Posted in: Dear Diary Gadgets

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