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Apple's Next Multi-Touch Products

Shortly after the Apple Store opened back home, my mom and I were in the mall and we stopped in.  One of the things I showed her was the first generation iMac with LCD screen.  I adjusted the screen to be a comfortable angle for us both to look at it, and started to show her around the desktop.  While pointing to one of the icons on the Dock, my finger accidentally tapped the LCD screen which caused a little ripple around my finger as can happen with an LCD when you tap at little too hard.  My mom noticed the ripple too, an her eyes instantly lit up, "Can you just touch the screen?"  she said.  "No," I said, "not quite yet."  That simple experience was enough to convince me that touchscreens are the next big thing in modern computing; on the same order of the mouse and the graphical user interface.  On June 29th, Apple will release the iPhone, their first product with a touchscreen since the Newton.  So the question is, what will be Apple's next Multi-Touch product?

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Microsoft Surface-like Hardware Described in 1999

The other evening I started reading Wayne Westerman's doctoral thesis on "Hand Tracking, Finger Identification, and Chordic Manipulation on a Multi-touch Surface" which was written in 1999.  Dr. Westerman went on to found "FingerWorks" a company that manufactured and sold a multi-touch tablet called the iGesture and several other multi-touch products based on technology created by Westerman and Dr. John Elias.  In one section, Westerman describes different methods for detecting multiple finger touches on a surface, and I literally laughed out loud when I read this almost perfect description of Microsoft Surface:

Another approach is to place a camera under a translucent tabletop and image the shadow of the hands [81, 110]. Unfortunately the bulky optics under the table will limit portability and leg room...

p. 38 of the thesis, or p. 68 of the PDF document

Strictly speaking though, Microsoft Surface doesn't look for shadows of the hands, instead near infrared lights are mounted under the surface as well as cameras which pick up the reflected light from fingers in contact with the translucent top.  But still, his point about limiting portability and leg room are dead on.  Westerman doesn't go as far as to call it a big ass table, but he does describe more limitations of using cameras to detect finger touches.  And remember, this was written way back in 1999.  Also, many of you might be interested to know that a few years ago, FingerWorks was purchased by Apple, and I have no doubt that Fingerworks technology is in the iPhone and will probably be in a muliti-touch Apple tablet computer or multi-touch Cinema Display within a year or two.

Leopard Features Wishlist


At this year's WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs gave a preview of 10 new features in OS X Leopard.  So far, my favorite is definitely Quick Look.  Not having to load Word or Excel just to make sure it's the file I'm looking for will be such a huge time-saver.  After watching the whole keynote, I got to thinking about what features I'd like to see in OS X.  Read on for my little list:

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Tivoli NetWorks: Radios with Wi-Fi, maybe AirTunes?


Since my very first entry here, I've been waiting for someone, anyone to come out with a compact high quality speaker system that works with AirTunes.  Today Gizmodo broke the story of NetWorks and NetWorksGo, two new radios from Tivoli Audio with built-in Wi-Fi.  It seems these devices will definitely be able to stream internet radio over a wireless network.  But I'm really hoping that these devices will work with AirTunes.  That will enable all us iTunes users to seamlessly play our music on the device without installing any additional software.  Of course one limitation of using AirTunes might be that pausing or skipping tracks from the device might not be possible.  However, that's probably an acceptable limitation for most people.  I'd also love to see a device like this based on the iYiYi, that would just be the best of everything.

Digital Music and the Environment

Cnet News has a great article on the environmental benefits of transitioning music from CDs to digital files, something I wrote about here.  So far, it seems things are getting worse before getting better.  From the article:

there's no noticeable decline in the number of physical CDs found in landfills. While music fans are buying fewer CDs at record stores, they are buying more blank recordable CDs to burn their own discs from music acquired digitally.

Also it seems as though a fair number of MP3 players are ending up in landfills as well, where they can release some pretty nasty chemicals.  As much as I sometimes feel toolish for babying my iPod, this sort of makes it seem worth it.  I still think the transition to digital music will benefit the environment in the long run, even though it may take longer than expected. 

Digital music no environmental cure

Microsoft Week Round-up

Ok, Microsoft Week ran a little long.  Here's a roundup of all the recent Microsoft related entries:

  1. Zune for Windows Mobile
  2. Microsoft, Zune, and hardware partners
  3. Zune Finally Installed!
  4. Zune Software Installer Needs Improvement
  5. Bill and Steve: The Historic Interview
  6. Microsoft Should Do More Hardware
  7. Microsoft SyncToy, best damn Backup app for home users I've ever used
  8. Microsoft Gets on their Multi-Touch Love with Surface
  9. Windows Home Servers

Zune for Windows Mobile


The iPhone is set for release on June 29th, and it will probably enjoy a huge amount of press attention.  If Microsoft is working on a version of the Zune player software for Windows Mobile, they should try to release it on the same day or the day before.  If done well, Zune for Windows Mobile would give anyone with a Windows Mobile smart phone or PDA a great media player experience.  And if available as a free download, it would be a great way for Microsoft to ingratiate itself with Windows Mobile smart phone users, especially those who might consider buying a iPhone.  By releasing the download with the iPhone launch, Microsoft could potentially piggyback on the iPhone's press and enjoy a great deal of coverage.  Stories on the iPhone could easily mention: "Apple iPhone is on sale today for $499.  But if you already have a phone that runs Windows Mobile, Microsoft has a free download of its Zune music player for you."

Microsoft, Zune, and hardware partners

Even with all my installation problems, I'd still argue that after iPod/iTunes, the Zune and Zune Software has made the greatest contribution to the digital audio player landscape.  While Zunes may not be flying off the shelf now, Microsoft is known for slow and steady improvement, and I wouldn't be surprised if within a few years the Zune is healthy competition for the iPod.  As I discussed in my entry about Microsoft's strategy, Microsoft likes to create platforms but let hardware companies sell the actual devices.  With the Zune, Microsoft wisely made the player, software and online store itself, in a uncharacteristically Apple-like move.  However Microsoft could eventually do something Apple never would: let other hardware companies make devices that are compatible with the Zune platform. When and if the Zune establishes itself in the market and in the hearts of consumers, Microsoft should seriously consider allowing other hardware companies make Zune compatible devices.

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Zune Finally Installed!


Woohoo, I was finally able to install the Zune Software! I've played around with the app just a tad, and so far I like it a lot more than I thought I would. It's clean, snappy and attractive. Read for a short rundown of the installation problems, and some quick ideas of how the installer might be able to avoid this problem in the future.

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The $199 Laptop from Asus I want NOW


The $199 Asus EEE 701 laptop may just give the OLPC's XO a run for it's money.  Set to be available in August, the EEE reportedly will run Windows XP or Linux and has handy features like Wi-Fi and a webcam right above the screen like a MacBook.  I also read that the EEE will have a built-in SD card reader, but I haven't been able to verify this.  Honestly, the EEE is pretty much the device I've been waiting for: an inexpensive laptop for web browsing and blogging.  Here's the spec list from Asus:

CPU & Chipset: Intel mobile CPU & chipset
OS: Linux/ Microsoft Windows XP compatible
Communication: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet; 56K modem
WLAN: WiFi 802.11b/g
Graphic: Intel UMA
Memory: 512MB, DDR2-400
Storage: 4/ 8/ 16GB Flash
Webcam: 300K pixel video camera
Audio: Hi-Definition Audio CODEC; Built-in stereo speaker; Built-in microphone
Battery Life: 3hrs (4 cells: 5200mAh, 2S2P)
Dimension & Weight: 8.85 x 6.5 x .82~1.3 in, 2lbs

It's amazing how just by making a laptop lightweight and cheap adds to
usefulness and versatility of a laptop.  Read on to understand what I mean.

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Zune Software Installer Needs Improvement


I was in the middle of writing an entry about the Zune, when it occurred to me that the iPod attracts so much attention, it seems hardly anyone realized that the real competition isn't the iPod, it's iTunes.  After all, without iTunes the iPod is just sleek paperweight.  I thought if anyone wouldn't overlook the importance of making a great music jukebox and music store, it would be Microsoft with all it's emphasis on software.  So I began downloading the Zune software to check out how it compared to iTunes.  The first thing the installer does is check for updates.  Huh?  I just downloaded it, how could there be updates?  Somehow though, there are, and it has to download them.  This on top of the time I spent downloading the installer.  Finally it finishes with the updates, and I get this lovely "Installation Error" message above.  Wow.  There's a link on the screen so I click it which instructs me to dive into Windows Event Viewer to try to figure out what happened.  Double Wow.  This is where the average person would just give up.  I've been using Windows since forever, installed countless applications, and this is the first time I've had to look in Windows Event Viewer to troubleshoot an installation.  Also I've used every version of iTunes since version 4, and I've never had any installation problems.  Now, I don't own a Zune, I just wanted to try out the program, which you'd think would be something Microsoft would want to encourage.  But this experience has been totally disappointing and frustrating.  I even found myself getting annoyed at the language on the help page:

Use the information in the Date and Time columns to locate the events that were logged for MsiInstaller during the time that you could not complete the Zune software installation.

Are you kidding me?  When "I" could not complete the installation?!  It's the Zune installer that couldn't complete the installation, and somehow I'm getting blamed.  The copy should read more like "during the time when the Zune software installation failed."  Microsoft really needs to work on Zune software installation experience and try to keep from blaming users for their software problems in help documentation.  I'm going to work on installing it again tomorrow, even though it really doesn't deserve another chance.

Bill and Steve: The Historic Interview

Check out the historic interview of Bill Gates and Steve Job from the "All Things Digital" conference, courtesy of Gizmodo.com. I was shocked at the number of times I laughed out loud while watching these interviews. Both Bill and Steve came out huge winners in this interview.

Microsoft Should Do More Hardware

Microsoft should ship more hardware! There I said it. I’m not saying Microsoft should become an all out hardware company, but its made great such contributions with the XBOX, Zune and now Surface that I wish they would do more products top-to-bottom. Microsoft’s typical strategy is to create software platforms, but the actual products are sold by hardware companies. This has a lot of advantages for Microsoft, and it creates opportunity for the hardware companies, which is good for the industry as a whole. But the strategy also has some downsides especially in the early stages of a new device or market.

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