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On Apple pulling the plug

This evening (UK time), Apple will do the one thing that you can expect them to do every year; have a big September event where they announce the next iPhone. All else is speculation, but it seems like a near-certainty that the new iPhone will be faster, won't have a headphone socket, and will look pretty much the same as the iPhone 6/6s (and therefore there will be a medium and "plus" size model.) There will probably also be new Apple Watch news.

The removal of the headphone socket is probably going to be the most interesting piece of news, because it isn't exactly clear why its being removed. Its unlikely that the phone will be so thin that it won't fit - there still needs to be a decent slab of lithium battery in there. A second speaker might well take its place, but thats about what is filling the space left behind – not why there is a space opening up there in the first place. About 6 months worth of controlled leaks means that the tech press has been debating it for a while now though.1 I don't buy the argument that its just a way to sell something; Apple's priority is selling more iPhones, not more accessories. So the interesting question at the moment is what its being replaced with.

Most of the commentary I've seen has been around the idea of a lightning port adapter; the idea being that the phone will come with a normal, wired pair of headphones that will plug into the only remaining socket, and if you want to use them with something else (like, for example, your Macbook) you will use a little lightning-to-3.5mm adapter. But that seems like a tiny annoyance that will be incredibly easy to lose.

My guess is that Apple's story won't be about taking away the socket, but introducing something new. And I don't think the "something new" is likely to be about a different kind of wire. A few months ago, thanks to a new interest in exercise1 and after discovering that normal headphones tend to fall out of sweaty ears while running, I bought a cheap pair of wireless headphones. I wouldn't particularly recommend them - they are a bit uncomfortable, the sound isn't great for music (but fine for podcasts), but what I would recommend is the idea of wireless headphones. Take away the cable that runs from your ears to wherever your phone happens to be — whether in your hand, in a pocket, on your desk — means taking away an annoyance.

So my bet is that the headphone-socket-less iPhone won't come with a different pair of headphones to plug into a different socket, but a pair of headphones to not plug into a socket. That is, they will probably plug into the lightning socket to top up the battery while on the go (similar to how the iPad Pencil charges through the Lightning socket), but won't need to be plugged in to use them. Charging off the phone would be a compelling feature on its own.

What I'm hoping is that they will come in at a price point significantly lower than the current £170 starting point for Beats wireless headphones. They don't have to be ultra-cheap1, but something like £60-80 feels like a good balance between adding genuine value to what comes in the iPhone box and a reasonably priced accessory to sell to people who are going to be using an older iPhone for the next few years.

But what I'm really hoping (wishing?) for is something that takes the bluetooth headphone experience of pairing and unpairing with different devices (which is a real pain in the neck) and making it simple to switch between iPhone, iPad and Macbook (and Watch). I personally wouldn't be bothered if it was an Apple-only protocol1; maybe something like a Siri button, or a way to listen to music on a Macbook while talking to Siri on an iPhone could be an interesting feature. But just a wireless system that lets me switch devices from the device that has a touchscreen/keyboard and mouse/usable UI instead of three buttons and a tiny LED. That would be very helpful.1

But if Apple are taking away a socket and expecting every iPhone user to replacing it with a different plug, I will be pretty disappointed.


For the watch, I'm hoping for something different; a new "Sport Plus" Watch "collection" that has built-in GPS (that will probably be a horrible drain on the battery), and the old Watch and Sport "collections" sticking around for a while longer. Not because of any kind of strategic vision or anything like that (although I have suspected since the parallel launch of a £259 and £5,000 with identical computers inside them that they aren't planning on any significant internal hardware shake-ups for the Watch line), but because I just got the original Sport model for a birthday present and I'd be a little bit sad if it was replaced with something I want more so soon. But thats really my problem, not Apple's…



  1. I wrote a post about it back in January, for what thats worth. I haven't seen much marketing around the wired Beats headphones since then though – but the wireless ones have had pretty prominent positioning in Apple stores.




  2. Well, an interest in not dying young that has expressed itself through trying to build a new exercise habit, which works out as more or less the same thing.




  3. My £15 bluetooth headphones are probably a false economy, but I find shopping for headphones at the best of times.




  4. Although it would be even more helpful for the wireless speaker we have in the kitchen that might be used by about 6 diffent devices in the household.




  5. Because of my employers' security policies, I seem to need to have admin rights for my work PC if I want to connect my bluetooth headphones to it for office listening, so my headphones are effectively Apple-only as I only use them with my phone and my laptop anyway.



"Is Data the new Digital?"

I wrote a blog post for the IPA about the kind of "data" that is really just information; insights, research, knowledge, facts, statistics, observations and so on, versus the kind of targetable data that relates to an individual, that you can plug into your systems and change what you say to that person.

One Note for Mac

A couple of months ago, I came across and wrote about Microsoft's OneNote application;

I was digging around the applications that came with a recent work upgrade to Office 2013, and came across OneNote, which I thought might have been interesting. Until I noticed;

OneNote is available for Windows, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Symbian.

So, an application for "free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration" (interesting) that I can't use on my 'main' computer (effectively useless, unless I want to use it through a browser.) Lets suppose that Microsoft have a killer app in the pipeline – what are the chances that they will make a Mac version out of the gate? Seems unlikely.

Well, since then Microsoft released OneNote for Mac.

It seemed like fortuitous timing – it happened that on the same day, my work email moved from Lotus Notes to Outlook, so I'm hoping that a few of my daily pain points around email will disappear (and the inevitable new pain points won't be as bad…) And, having also recently upgraded to Office 2013 a few weeks before, I've got plenty of new tools to play with. So, I've installed OneNote on my own laptop, my phone, and my iPad. (Naturally, I've also installed the new Office apps too – although I haven't yet had a reason to have a proper play and figure out if a 365 subscription is worth my while.)

What am I going to do with it though? Currently, my 'notes' system revolves around a combination of nvALT (Mac), Notepad++ (PC), Nebulous Notes (iPhone/iPad) and a Dropbox folder to tie it all together. The only catch is that its very much text-based – so the idea of a system for 'richer' notes is appealing. (For example, taking notes during a meeting, where I can easily separate out action points from points I want to reference etc.)

The first thing that appeals about OneNote is the free-form-ness of it. More than any other application that comes to mind, it resembles the way I like to use a paper notepad – but without the limitations of space that a paper notepad clearly has.

The second thing that appeals is the idea of collaborative working – I'm a fan of the idea of personal information management, through notes, wikis etc. My biggest frustration with Office documents is the 'read only' message when you ry to open a document that someone else is using. The idea of being able to store my own notes on, say, ways to use a piece of software we use at work that others can also add to is very interesting to me.

So, first impressions – now that its cross-platform, it has become a lot more useful. From a first glance, it looks interesting. (And seeing the icon on the IFTTT page is very encouraging.) So, I'm going to be looking out for ways it might be helpful – whether that means taking a laptop into meetings/presentations, or using a phone/iPad for note taking and then the desktop version for organising/formatting etc. I'm not sure just yet. But worth a whirl...

…except – irony of ironies – my PC version (that is, the non-free, paid-for-by-my-employer version that is part of Microsoft Office, that Outlook is peppered with links to) doesn't work. Or at least, it doesn't work with OneDrive (presumably disabled to keep 'work stuff' under work's control) or Sharepoint (not yet activated while the IT guys deal with the rest of the Outlook/Exchange/Sharepoint transition – I'm hoping…).

So now, in a complete reversal of my previous position, I'm able to make full use of it in a 'personal' capacity (on my own computer, my own phone, and my own tablet), but not in a 'professional' capacity on my work hardware. For a piece of software which, as far as I can see, would be much more valuable to me in a work context than a personal one.

Microsoft's troubles are starting to become a little clearer to me…

Creative Computers

Creative Computers

Its been clear for years that the 'desktop' PC is in decline – the world has chosen the laptop form factor, which can be used anywhere, rather than the more powerful, economical and desktop-bound devices.

But is there a more interesting trend that the one place most laptop users aren't interested in using their computers is sitting at a desk?

 

Chromecast coming to the UK soon?

Talking about the future (or lack of) for Smart TV, I said;

Today, a typical household might have;

  • TV (well, probably a couple — but ignoring secondary screens for the moment to try to simplify the picture…)
  • TV service (cable/satellite/terrestrial) - probably a separate set-top box (given that over half of the UK pays for subscription TV service.)
  • PVR (eg. Sky+/V+) for recording broadcast TV - two thirds of the UK have one (probably built into the TV set top box, or possibly as a separate VCR-like box — probably not built into the TV.)
  • DVD player/Blu-Ray player for watching pre-recorded films/video.
  • Games console (55% of households) — mainly for playing games, but often used to access online video services.
  • Some sort of dedicated 'Internet video' device (might be an Apple TV, Now TV, Roku etc. Might be a connected PC. Might even be more than one.)

Those last two are somewhat different to the others. 98% of UK households have a television set, and if you have a TV then you have some sort of TV service (whether free or paid.) If you have a PVR, then its probably come from your TV service provider, bundled with the package.

DVD/Blu-Ray players are another 'must-have' – whether its a low end DVD player, cheap enough to throw in with your supermarket shop, or a high end, high definition player to watch your favourite films in the best possible quality.

But games consoles – while popular – aren't for everyone. If you aren't interested in games, you probably don't have one in your house, and if you do you probably aren't too interested in the 'additional' features it offers – like watching online video.

Finally, the 'internet video device'. If you are interested in streaming films, setting up a Netflix subscription etc. then you're probably interested enough to get something to let you watch it on the big screen. But that's not 'mainstream' – if you're not interested in gadgets, you're probably not interested in finding the best box for your requirements. And even if you are, you might not be sufficiently motivated to go and spend the best part of £100 (or, to put it another way, more than a Blu-Ray player).

Which is what makes Google's Chromecast such an interesting device. At just $35 in the US (about £21 equivalent), it plugs into your TV (and a power supply), connects to your home wifi network, and lets you stream video from your smartphone/tablet to your TV screen.1

And its UK launch is rumoured to be soon

For YouTube and Netflix, this is probably going to be great news (they are already supported in the US, and both go for a general strategy of ubiquitous availability.) Whether the UK's TV players will be bringing iPlayer, ITV Player and 4OD (especially the BBC) is what will be the make or break.

…Which leaves Sky. Their Now TV) box is just £9.99, and is being marketed as a way to access Sky's (subscription) TV services without a satellite dish. But it also has apps for iPlayer, 4OD, Spotify, Vimeo and a number of other online services – Netflix and YouTube conspicuous by their absence.

The thing is, these are two very similar pieces of technology with clearly very different functionality; one for putting online video on your TV, the other for giving you TV through online video. And while the price is low enough to make getting both quite affordable, there is the issue of having 2 spare HDMI sockets in your TV set.

But, for those not interested in shelling out for a Smart TV or sticking a games console into their living rooms, this should be an interesting and cheap way to get some online video onto their TV screen.

  1. At least, thats the illusion. In practice, the mobile device just tells the Chromecast what video to stream and where to pull it from – the phone doesn't actually do the work, which means its free to find the next video you want to watch.

"Save" vs "Sync"

"Save" vs "Sync"

There is a peculiarity that the floppy disk icon is still the standard symbol for 'save', despite being obsolete technology. But there is a broader issue going on – because the action of "saving" is quickly becoming obsolete too.

How often I use the buttons on my TV remote control

MyTVRemote.jpg

Makes me think that the future of TV remote controls is going to be more like this;

Transient

...and less like these;

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient

Because occasionally – very occasionally – I need to do something that the buttons on my TV remote don't let me do, which is enter text into Apple TV (generally when searching for something specific in YouTube.) When I need to do that, its easier to get my iPhone out and use the Remote app.

Transient

I should point out that I've actually got one of these 1, which since setting up, I have never actually used. Because its more effort to get it from whatever dusty corner its ended up in than to enter text on an annoying left/right/up/down controller, navigating around an on screen alphabet.

  1. although with a slightly different 'special' keyboard layout.

"Men with very troubling issues"

John Gruber;

Heads-up displays and augmented reality are coming, no doubt. But a lot of the people who are excited about it today seem to be men with very troubling issues.

Just watch the video.

I'm sure that there are dozens of ways that this kind of technology will be able to improve people's lives. But it seems that we aren't yet at the stage where the people selling the tech are looking at improving normal people's lives. (It feels like there is something very telling about the fact that the user of the AR tech in this video drives a Ferrari — not a symbol of engineering or style, but of ostentatious luxury and wealth.)

If the applications being touted are things like this, is it any wonder that people find the idea of Google Glass a bit creepy?

Windows 9: The operating system formerly known as Windows 8.1

Paul Thurrot recently shared some of what he's been hearing about the next big Windows release — codename "Threshold".

Some interesting stuff about "Metro 2.0", and the first major "vision" announcement since Longhorn, but the bit I found most interesting was;

Windows 9. To distance itself from the Windows 8 debacle, Microsoft is currently planning to drop the Windows 8 name and brand this next release as Windows 9. That could change, but that's the current thinking.

This strikes me as a dangerously bad idea. So much that I just can't believe that it might happen.

Firstly, a big difference between an '8 to 9' upgrade and an update/service pack is the price. If the tainted 'Windows 8' brand is ditched, will it still be free, as previously reported? Seems like something that would be very likely for a point release, but would be setting a revolutionary precedent for Microsoft. (Unless they were to move to a 'free software, paid support' model – consumers get to run the latest version for free, businesses pay for ongoing support etc?)

But the bigger issue – is this really addressing the problem? Microsft had a problem with Vista, which it addressed by making Windows 7 a significant improvement. If Windows 9 does turn out to be a rebadged Windows 8.1, then it risks turning the "Windows 8" problem into a "Windows" problem.

And, if the future of the Windows device really is something more like the Surface than the traditional laptop form factor, that becomes a big problem.

My Windows Weekly cohost Mary Jo Foley notes that Update 1 will be tied, schedule-wise to Windows Phone 8.1 and that both releases are a step towards that future when Windows and Phone are combined.

Lots of marketing moves that make total sense. My worry is whether the company that didn't see the problems they had with Windows 8 before they released it will be able to fix them for the next release and restore the confidence of PC buyers.

Its not like the people selling PCs have enought to worry about. Even Intel looks like its hedging its bets.