Mac|Life - Blogs en In the innovation race, Apple has always been the tortoise <!--paging_filter--><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/02/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" />On Steve Jobs' birthday last week, Tim Cook tweeted a remembrance of his friend and mentor that summed up Steve's genius in just a few words: "Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right."&nbsp;</p><p>Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away Samsung was getting ready to announce its newest "next big things," the Galaxy S5, along with a couple of Galaxy Gears, a fitness tracker and some refinements to its TouchWiz interface.</p><p>The overlapping dates were a happy coincidence. The choice of quote was not. Cook was sending a message to anyone criticizing Apple for bringing up the rear in the smartwatch race: Slow and steady is how we win.</p><p>It's been the formula since long before Apple was the most valuable company in the world, and it'll be the one Apple follows after Tim Cook has handed over the reins to the next CEO. Apple's revolutionary products have rarely been something entirely new. I may be missing something, but the last time I can remember Apple releasing a product the world had never seen was back in 1993 with the Newton digital assistant.&nbsp;</p><p>And we all know how that turned out.</p><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/03/screen_shot_2014-03-04_at_11.33.42_am.png" width="620" height="328" /></p><p>Apple is as much a refiner as it is an innovator. If I had to pick one quality that made Steve Jobs a true genius, it would have be his ability to see how to make a product better, not just by adding features or flair, but to truly strip it down to its essence. And I'm not talking about the near-finished prototypes Jony Ive brought him; Steve could look at the biggest piece of junk on the market and extract its value.</p><p>Take the iPod. Before the big unveiling, Steve talked about the state of digital music, drawing particular attention to the Rio 800 and Creative Nomad Jukebox, which looked downright ridiculous next to the iPod's sleek curves:</p><p>"So, let's look at the landscape. The first thing, if you want to listen to music portably, you go out and buy a CD player. That's one way to go — about 10-15 songs — or you could buy a flash player, you could buy an mp3 CD player. Or you could buy a hard disk-based jukebox player...and that's where we want to be. And we are introducing a product today that takes us exactly there. And that product is called iPod."</p><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/03/screen_shot_2014-03-04_at_11.28.18_am.png" width="620" height="317" /></p><p>And then there was the iPhone keynote, where he took the Moto Q, Blackberry, Palm Treo, and Nokia E62 to task:</p><p>"The most advanced phones are called smartphones, so they say, and they typically combine a phone with email capability, plus they say it's the Internet — but it's sort of the baby Internet — into one device, plus they have these plastic keyboards on them. The problem is they're not so smart and they're not so easy to use.... What we want to do is make a leapfrog product that's way smarter than any mobile device has ever been and [is] super easy to use. This is what iPhone is."</p><p>Or maybe you remember Macworld 2008, when he introduced the world to the MacBook Air:</p><p>"We went out and looked at all the thin notebooks out there.... We looked at all of them out there and tried to distill the best of the breed of all of them. They generally weight about three pounds; they're about 0.8 to 1.2 inches thin; they're wedge-shaped.... The thickest part of the MacBook Air is still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ series."</p><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/03/screen_shot_2014-03-04_at_11.36.17_am.png" width="620" height="296" /></p><p>Even when the iPod mini made its appearance, the preceding slide showed a picture of the high-end flash market leader at the time, the rather inelegant Rio Cali. Time after time, Steve took existing products that had generated a small amount of buzz and turned them into innovative wonders.&nbsp;</p><p>On that fateful day in January 2007, Steve said it himself: "Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone." There was nothing necessarily new in the iPhone — an iPod, a mobile phone, and an Internet communicator — but Apple put them together in a revolutionary package.</p><p>It's not his ideas that made Steve so special; it's the execution. And no one knows that more than Tim Cook. When his picked that particular quote to sum up Steve's existence, he was reminding us all what it takes to be great: Patience. Perfection. Persistence.</p><p>The critics who are complaining about Apple's so-called lack of innovation just don't get it. The process hasn't changed. It's ingrained in its culture, and you can bet that Jony Ive and his team have studied every smartwatch and fitness band out there and learned what makes them tick. Apple isn't interested in getting there first; it only wants to carry the best product across the finish line. And if it never gets there, so be it.</p><p>It's the very opposite of what Samsung is doing. Sure, there may be a new generation of Galaxy Gears that look and act a little better than the one they replaced, but they're still no better than the Nomad Jukebox or Rio 800 were before the iPod. The only thing that's changed is that now everyone is trying to anticipate Apple's next move. Samsung, Google, Sony, and Qualcomm have all taken a crack at what they think is Apple's next idea, trying to beat Jony I've at his own game.</p><p>So far, nothing has come close. But something tells me a couple of them have already earned a spot in the iWatch keynote.</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; color: #0099cc; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis Apple Design Apple vs. Samsung Columns Design Jony Ive Rounded Rectangles smartwatch Steve Jobs Tue, 04 Mar 2014 19:31:08 +0000 Michael Simon 19476 at In Defense of the Samsung Galaxy S5's Awful Design <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u338318/2014/02/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>I could write a month's worth of columns on my distaste for Samsung. From its petty Apple-bashing ads to its shameless and slavish implementation of every good idea it sees, Samsung is unapologetically unoriginal, slapping its name on anything it thinks can make a buck. Many of its products have no discernible value, often created to fill a seemingly underserved niche and sold to unsuspecting consumers who think they're getting something better than they are: cheap, compromised smartphones with crippled processors, low-resolution screens, and tiny batteries that force consumers into decisions they regret for the majority of their 24-month contract.</p><p>But the Galaxy S is different. The clear flagship of Samsung's sizable lineup, the handset represents the pinnacle of the company's innovation and development, cramming the very best features into a portable, lightweight package. Year after year, each recurrent S phone has pushed the envelope of convention and expectation in its efforts to deliver a device that rivals Apple's lofty position at the top of the smartphone pyramid.</p><p>Which, of course, is to say nothing of its design. When the first Galaxy landed in June 2010, it looked suspiciously like a 2007 iPhone — so much so that Apple launched a lawsuit claiming rights to its "flat, clear, black-colored, rectangular front surface with four evenly rounded corners." But in reality, the similarities were even deeper than that: the shiny chrome bezel that peeked out from around the sides; the centered home button; the thin, curved backplate; even the elongated speaker centered above the screen was reminiscent of an iPhone. Argue all you want about Apple's sole right to make rounded rectangles, but it's hard to ignore that the Galaxy S was a complete rip-off of Apple's original design.</p><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/02/samsung-galaxy-s_620.jpg" width="620" height="600" /></p><p>But through five incarnations, the Galaxy S has become the cornerstone of the high-end Android market. While its giant display has gotten most of the attention — the 4-inch Galaxy S looks tiny now, but it launched the opening salvo in the Android screen wars — Samsung has carved out a very recognizable niche in the smartphone world. Some 200 million have been sold around the world and they're as easy to spot in someone's hand as the iPhone.</p><p>You see, most people don't buy smartphones based on specs. Sure, every new model has a feature or two that draws in buyers — touch ID, Smart Scroll, UltraPixels — but the majority of shoppers make their purchase based on what they've seen before. It's not so much of an Android vs. iOS battle; in fact, if Apple were to suddenly allow KitKat to be installed on the iPhone, I imagine market share numbers would stay largely unchanged. In a nutshell, the majority of high-end smartphone buyers are choosing their handset based on familiarity, not features.</p><p>This is why the iPhone 5c sales are lagging — it just doesn't look like an iPhone. It may be a fantastic handset with a great design, but people don't think of colored plastic when they go shopping for an iPhone. They want that unmistakable design that lets people know they're using one if the best handsets out there, something that doesn't &nbsp;even need a logo to be recognized; there have never been any discernible markings on the front of the iPhone (other than the home button), yet everyone instantly knows it's an Apple phone.</p><p>That's why <a href="" target="_blank">that whole Olympics kerfuffle</a> was so ridiculous. Even if officials had followed through on Samsung's apparent demand that athletes surreptitiously cover up the logo on the back of their iPhones, it wouldn't have mattered. Every one of the 30 million viewers would have known the moment an athlete snapped a pic with his or her 5s. It's the same with the MacBook Pro on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show desk — Apple products don't need a logo plastered all over them to be recognized.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="/files/u338318/2014/02/sm-g900f_copper_gold_01.jpg" width="620" height="620" /></p><p>Just take a look at the Mac Pro. The only logo you'll find is an assuming one around the back above the port bay, yet its design is already iconic. When it makes its way into its first summer blockbuster, no one will wonder who makes it.</p><p>And that's what Samsung wants to achieve, at any cost. Even when it was copying Apple, its motivations were clear: to build a phone that's just as instantly recognizable. These days, the Galaxy S looks nothing like the the iPhone (though the S5's reduced curvature is beginning to echo Apple's shape again), and if nothing else, the past few revisions have proven that Samsung has no desire to deviate too much from its signature look that it introduced with the S3: a large, somewhat symmetrical handset with a strong screen-to-body ratio, a slightly bulbous camera and a trio of physical buttons.</p><p>In fact, when those <a href="" target="_blank">fake Sonny Dickson images of the larger iPhone 6</a> made the rounds a couple of weeks back, more than a few people remarked that they looked a bit like the Galaxy S4. With its 5.1-inch screen and perforated back, <a href="" target="_blank">the S5</a> may be over-the-top and garish — especially in that god-awful gold color — but it's unmistakably a Samsung Galaxy S phone. It's the most recognizable "phablet" around, and anyone who builds a large-screen phone these days, be it Apple, Motorola or LG, needs to step delicately around Samsung's design to distinguish itself.</p><p>And that's worth more than any attack ad.</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; color: #0099cc; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis android Apple Design Apple vs. Samsung Columns Design Galaxy S5 Rounded Rectangles Samsung Tue, 25 Feb 2014 21:54:39 +0000 Michael Simon 19415 at Steve Jobs' Eye for Design Isn't What Apple Misses Most <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>For years we've been trying to figure out what Steve Jobs meant when he dropped this juicy nugget to Walter Isaacson while being interviewed for his biography:</p><p>“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."</p><p>The sad part is, we may never truly know. It could have been a TV or a TiVo-like set-top box or a cloud service able to be beamed from our iOS devices to any screen we choose, but whatever he had dreamed up, there's one thing we can pretty much bank on: We would have seen it by now. Whatever negotiating needed to done would have been wrapped up and all the dotted lines would have signatures on them. But instead of gushing over the latest revolution in our living room, a report last week by the <a href="" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal</a> suggests that Apple is still struggling to come to terms with any of the major players in the cable TV game:</p><p>"Apple's latest approach is far less ambitious," the paper wrote. "Instead of asking for full current seasons of shows, it is asking programmers for just the most recent five episodes of current-season shows — the standard for video-on-demand services in the TV industry, a person familiar with the matter said. Apple is also proposing to disable fast-forwarding on shows for three days after they air, which would protect TV channels."</p><p>Now, none of these apparent compromises are deal-breakers from an innovation standpoint, but after negotiating for several years, it would seem that Apple is in no better position to call the shots than it was when we first started hearing about its fabled television device. And that's just not the way Steve operated.</p><p>This was the man who convinced an industry of skittish music executives that Napster could be monetized. During a time when record labels were turning the screws on digital music to protect their content, Jobs convinced them to take the biggest gamble of all: breaking up albums and selling songs a la cart for a less than a buck apiece. No matter the artist, no matter the track, they would all be one price: "Stairway to Heaven" would cost the same as "Ice Ice Baby" or "Macarena."</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/02/steve_jobs_original_ipod_620px.jpg" width="620" height="300" /></p><p>It still sounds crazy, but the iTunes model transformed the industry, singlehandedly reversing its steady decline and changing the way albums are released and artists are marketed. Today, the iTunes Store is a legitimate business of its own, ranking in the top 25 percent of the <a href="" target="_blank">Fortune 500</a> (based on revenue calculations by the remarkably astute Horace Dediu).</p><p>And it was all due to Steve's brilliant negotiating. As former RIAA head Hilary Rosen recalled: "The shift came about above all because of the sheer willpower of Steve. His sheer charisma and his intensity absolutely made a difference."</p><p>If there's anything missing from Apple today, it's that quality, the ability to sell a radical idea. Senior VP of Internet Software and Services Eddie Cue is supposed to be that guy, the one who convinces uncertain TV execs that they'd be foolish not to follow Apple's lead. But with all due respect, he's no Steve Jobs. We got <a href="" target="_blank">a glimpse into Cue's and Jobs' negotiating skills</a> during the eBook trial, and let's just say there might not have been a lawsuit had Jobs not intervened.</p><p>A week before the iPad launch, Cue was still trying to wrap up an iBooks deal with publishing giant HarperCollins. It wasn't going well. HarperCollins and its parent company, the Murdoch-owned News Corp, were balking at Apple's proposal to set prices higher than Amazon's rock-bottom rates and secure its usual 30 percent cut. After a couple of savvy email exchanges, Steve turned a skeptical client into a partner and a set of onerous terms into a win for Apple.</p><p>This gem sums it up: After several back-and-forths, Jobs plays his trump card, outlining a set of doomsday scenarios for HarperCollins if it was to ignore the proposal, capped off with a trademark Jobs quip:</p><p>"Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see any other alternatives. Do you?"</p><p>Two days later, HarperCollins was on board.</p><p>It's not that he was a bully (though he certainly could be). It's that Steve could see every angle of the negotiation. He knew the concerns of the other party and he found a way to alleviate them, downplaying the risks while accentuating the potential positives.&nbsp;</p><p>He convinced Hollywood to loosen its stubborn grip on physical media. He sold Pixar to Disney without relinquishing creative control. He persuaded AT&amp;T to sell the iPhone without any of the usual carrier bloatware or branding. He got Bono to do a TV commercial, for chrissakes.</p><p>Steve will always be known for the brilliant designs he left us: the Mac, the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone. But Jony Ive and Craig Federighi are more than capable of walking in those footsteps. What Apple doesn't seem to have is someone who can craft a deal as well as Jobs could.</p><p>And that could be what's holding up the next revolution.</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; color: #0099cc; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis Apple Design Apple TV Columns Design Rounded Rectangles Steve Jobs iPad iPhone iPod Mac Tue, 18 Feb 2014 23:03:01 +0000 Michael Simon 19356 at What the 'iPen' Patent Can Tell Us About Apple's Next Idea <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>Through my tireless efforts to find new and interesting topics with which to entertain you each week, I happen across lots of patents. Some are absurd, many are dull and dense, but for the most part, the one thing they have in common is that they're nearly impossible to extrapolate.</p><p>There have been loads of exciting Apple patents over the years that have made headlines and got us all talking, but few have them have ever really panned out — countless concepts that have never made it out of the laboratory. In fact, I can't think of single one that actually foretold a shipping product (at least not in any real or concrete way).</p><p>That's just the way the system is structured. Any idea that can be properly explained through a series of crude diagrams and impervious rhetoric can be patented, and if the Samsung court battles have taught us anything, it's that logic is applied later. In Apple's case, most of its recognizable patents have actually surfaced after we've seen the product; for example, the patent for Touch ID didn't appear until November (several weeks after the iPhone 5s landed), despite being applied for in March. And original iPhone patents were still being awarded years after its release.</p><p>Still, they make for fascinating reading. At the very least, it's a peek into the Cupertino development process, a rare chance to see what the company is working on between revolutions. For example, in December, Apple was granted a patent for a "<a href=";Sect2=HITOFF&amp;d=PALL&amp;p=1&amp;u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&amp;r=1&amp;f=G&amp;l=50&amp;s1=8,603,574.PN.&amp;OS=PN/8,603,574&amp;RS=PN/8,603,574" target="_blank">Curved touch sensor</a>" that consists of "depositing and patterning a conductive thin film on a flexible substrate to form at least one touch sensor pattern, while the flexible substrate is in a flat state and wherein the flexible substrate is a glass substrate." (Honestly, that was the clearest description I could find.)</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/02/0211_rr_patent.png" width="620" height="431" /></p><p>It would seem that this speaks directly to Ive's work on either a curved iPhone or iWatch. The only problem with that theory is this patent application was originally filed in 2010. So, while it could very well portend the imminent release of a new device, the timing of this particular filing is completely coincidental.</p><p>But it does mean that Apple is constantly a step ahead with its innovation. If a larger, curved iPhone does come out this year, some will see it as playing catchup to the likes of Samsung and LG, but that's not how Apple operates. It studies, experiments, fails, rebuilds and perfects, only releasing something when it's right.</p><p>And patents are just a small glimpse into that process.</p><p>Another recent set of filings that have caused something of a stir centers around a supposed iPen. Last week, the always-thorough Patently Apple published an extensive report on the newest piece of the puzzle, a European filing for a "<a href="" target="_blank">modular iPen design that would allow users to choose different modules for different tasks.</a>"</p><p>Now, we know Steve Jobs passionately hated styluses, but the technology certainly presents some potential. In the supporting documents, Apple illustrates a rather fascinating concept, with interchangeable pieces that transform the stylus from a pen to a camera, voice recorder, laser pointer, projector and, perhaps most interesting, a gesture wand. As Patently Apple writes:</p><p>"Apple notes in their patent filing that the gyro/accelerometer could also be used to detect motion in the form of stylus based air gestures. ... The in-air gestures made with the use of the stylus would be acknowledged as an input that could, for example, translate to a command of turning a page of a manual or book or to transition one presentation slide to the next. Apple also notes that in-air gestures could also act as a mouse replacement in certain instances."</p><p>I know what you're thinking. But then again, there has been a lot of talk lately about Apple entering "new categories," sometime this year, with Tim Cook reiterating his own coy claims in an interview with the <a href="" target="_blank">Wall Street Journal</a>&nbsp;last week: "There will be new categories and we’re working on some great stuff. We’re not ready to talk about it. ... I think no one reasonable would say they’re not a new category."</p><p>It's that last part that intrigues me most. Cook seems to imply that whatever Apple is working on is at least in part related to an existing product--or else those unreasonable people wouldn't have much to support the argument that it doesn't create a new category. So maybe there's some truth to those rumors of a 12- to 13-inch iPad we keep reading.</p><p>An iPad any larger than the current Air will be extremely difficult to operate in the way we're used to. No matter how light it is, holding it while trying to get any actual work done will pretty much be an impossibility — so there's a good chance it will utilize some kind of new input device. And maybe an iPen really is the best way to go.</p><p>The stylus has matured quite a bit since Jobs famously panned it during the iPhone introduction, and if anything there's more of a demand for them now than before we started using Multitouch screens. A modular stylus coupled with a pro tablet would be a far greater thing than either FiftyThree's Pencil or Samsung's S Pen. When you read through Patently Apple's full report, you'll see how it could work in a very Apple-like way, literally adapting to your needs as they change.</p><p>But then again, it's just a patent.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; color: #0099cc; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis apple Apple Design Columns Design iPen Rounded Rectangles Features iPad iPhone iPod Mac Wed, 12 Feb 2014 02:09:28 +0000 Michael Simon 19302 at There's One Thing Left to Redesign in iOS: the Keyboard <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="htt://" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a></p><p>Keyboard design isn't something that generally gets a whole lot of attention.</p><p>Back when they were our primary input devices, keyboards were mostly viewed as cumbersome necessities, plastic nuisances that extended ungracefully from the backs of our PCs, resting lifelessly on our desktops with little character or personality. Even on laptops, where the keyboard can make or break the design, they were often an afterthought: cheap, flimsy keys crammed into fixed spaces, with little attention paid to how they felt under your fingers or where the optimal position for the mouse might be.</p><p>That is, until Apple showed them the way.</p><p>Now, you're not going to find much about keyboard innovation in the annals of its history, but it's one of the hundreds of little details that set Macs apart from PCs. The screens and the enclosures might grab all of the headlines, but Apple's relentless pursuit of perfection has permanently altered the keyboard landscape time and time again, taking risks with usability and design to make something extraordinary out of the conventional.</p><p>They're distinctive, as instantly recognizable as the machines themselves; most every keyboard you see today carries some emblem of Apple design, from Microsoft's low-profile Surface Type Cover to the recessed chiclet keys on ultrabooks.</p><p>Take the original Mac. Back in 1984, keyboards were mostly clunky, utilitarian behemoths devoid of style. Comfort and color were given nary a second thought, and even without tangled type bars to worry about, no one really experimented with alternative layouts too much. QWERTY was king, and attempts to change it — like Dr. August Dvorak's Simplified Keyboard, which re-imagined key placement for speed and accuracy — made little traction outside of hobbyist groups.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: right;"><img src="/files/u330237/2014/02/hero_stacked.jpg" width="620" height="446" style="text-align: right;" /><strong>Source:<a href="" target="_blank">Apple</a></strong></p><p>But at Apple, the keyboard was given a position of prominence, from its support for non-traditional layouts to its experimentation with newfangled connectors. It's doubtful you read much 30th anniversary nostalgia about the Mac's keyboard, but there were two fairly revolutionary aspects about it. For one, there weren't any arrow keys; with the proliferation of the mouse-controlled graphic user interface, Apple shortened the keyboard down to its main 59 keys (including new Option and Command keys), freeing up desktop space and encouraging users to learn to point and click.</p><p>And there were keystrokes. As John Gruber at <a href="" target="_blank">Daring Fireball</a> writes:</p><p>"So instead, the Mac’s designers looked at the keyboard itself, and considered the importance of these four commands [Undo, Cut, Copy and Paste] and how frequently they’d be used (along with how frequently they’d be used in tandem). They assigned the commands to the four letters above the Command key. ... Even these four commands’ order in the Edit menu corresponded to their shortcuts’ order on the keyboard: Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste — Z, X, C, V. Simply brilliant. Every one of these design decisions has persisted through today."</p><p>Attention to detail. You can see it in the Bondi Blue iMac's dual USB ports (so left-handed users didn't have unsightly wires draped across their desk) and the slight ergonomic curve of the Pro Keyboard. But perhaps most of all, it was on brilliant display in the original iPhone's virtual set of keys.</p><p>Seven years ago, Apple was on the bleeding edge of this new revolution. Where previous smartphones forced users to learn tiny thumb-driven QWERTY keypads, Apple combined the keyboard with the screen with the iPhone, appearing only when needed and relying on muscle memory (and a healthy serving of autocorrect) to get words right. It was a stroke of genius, and it quickly became the industry standard for smartphones.</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/02/shiftlock.jpg" width="620" height="465" /></p><p>But as its mobile OS has matured, Apple hasn't paid nearly as much attention to its virtual keyboards as its physical ones. We might have been able to overlook the two years it took for the iPhone keyboard to work in landscape mode, but since iPhone OS 3, changes of any sort have been few and far between. iOS 7 streamlined things somewhat, but even with a modern look, Apple's virtual keyboard still feels hopelessly outdated. (And in the fourth beta of the upcoming 7.1 update, it actually took a step back, with a bizarre, unintelligible change to the shift key. It's since been tweaked, but it's hard to believe Apple let that one go.)</p><p>It's one of the few areas where Android's method is far superior. I barely use my Nexus 7 anymore, but when I do, the keyboard is the one feature I'd like to take with me over to my iPhone (minus the lag). It's not just that it allows installation of third-party alternatives — even the default keyboard types circles around the iOS one: the quick access to numbers, the animated response to the shift key, the multiple predictive text options.</p><p>But the third-party support truly showcases the gap between iOS and Android. My keyboard of choice on my Nexus 7 has always been Fleksy, but there are several viable options to choose from in the Play store. Minuum, Swype, SwiftKey — even Google offers its own spin — all available as global replacements that can be changed with ease.</p><p>The closest thing we have over on the iOS side is a handful of apps that tease a better way to type but stop short of actually letting us do it outside of their sandboxes worlds. There are some excellent ones — Hipjot, as well as the aforementioned <a href="">SwiftKey</a>&nbsp;(pictured below) and Fleksy — but ultimately, they're just reminders of how much better the iOS keyboard could be if Apple just expanded its capabilities.</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/02/img_0509.png" width="620" height="465" /></p><p>Now, I'm not saying Apple should release an Android-like API that lets developers offer their own global keyboards; I'm not even suggesting Jony Ive should "borrow" any ideas from Android. I'm merely asking Apple goes back to its roots. We may be celebrating the Mac, but the keyboard is just as integral to the iOS experience, and it needs to start treating it as such. Enough developers have shown that the iOS keyboard can be just as smart as the interface Apple has meticulously crafted around it, but it's time to inject a little Cupertino ingenuity into it.</p><p>I hear the iPhone 6 will have a nearly 5-inch screen. It would be a shame if we were all still typing on the same 3.5-inch technology.</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis android Apple Design Columns Design Fleksy iOS ios keyboard Rounded Rectangles SwiftKey SwiftKey Note Features iPad iPhone iPod Wed, 05 Feb 2014 01:33:58 +0000 Michael Simon 19241 at Finding the Cure for Writer's Block in a Web App <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>Lord knows how much I've spent on apps for writing.</p><p>It wasn't so bad when I only had my Mac to worry about. Every few months, something new would come along promising tighter compatibility and a better overall experience, and I would eagerly fork over a few bucks to check it out. I bounced from Word to WordPerfect to Nisus in search of the perfect writing experience; something powerful, clean and versatile that would stay out of my way while I worked.&nbsp;</p><p>But even before we entered the post-PC era, sharing was always an issue. It wasn't so much a formatting or extension problem — for all the Mac-vs-PC handwringing in the '90s and '00s, there were more than enough universal file formats for writers — it was a location obstacle. Articles on my desktop were tricky to access on my laptop without a fancy network hook-up, and traveling required emailing or burning to make sure I had the latest version at my disposal. And if I managed to work on something away from my main Mac, keeping things in sync required a choice between scary overwriting, cutting and pasting, or simply keeping dozens of versions around until the project was finished, none of which was elegant or effortless.</p><p>These days, things are a whole lot better. Whether you're using iCloud, Dropbox, Simperium or some other syncing agent, it's a whole new world for writers. With the flick of a switch, anything I type is silently uploaded and speedily updated across all associated apps.&nbsp;</p><p>But that doesn't mean my search is over. My current favorite writing tool is the Daedalus Touch-Ulysses III combo, but I've used dozens over the years — Pages, Writer, Write, Byword ... you get the idea. There are still roadblocks to perfection. For one, we need to download and often pay for multiple versions of the same app on different platforms; for another, most developers focus their efforts on either Apple or Android, leaving a familiar dilemma if you happen to own a mix of Apple and Google devices. And if you want to access previous versions of your work, you'd better be prepared to take a trip with Time Machine.</p><p>It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not too long ago, web apps were the saviors of the new world — rich, universal programs that needed little more than a browser to deliver their power. Steve Jobs believed in them so wholly he nearly bet the entire future of the iPhone on them, telling developers during its launch: "You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today."</p><p>And at least one developer still believes that's true.</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/01/0128_rr_1.png" width="620" height="465" /></p><p>Nathan Kontny is no stranger to technology. A former software engineer for President Obama's re-election campaign, he has a pair of Y Combinator start-ups under his belt (Inkling and Cityposh) and operates his own Svbtle blog,, where he shares intimate stories about personal and professional triumphs and pitfalls. But as a bit of a perfectionist, he wasn't content with the crop of collaborative writing apps that the App Store had to offer. So he made his own.</p><p>"<a href="" target="_blank">Draft</a> started as just a simple way to mark major versions of my work that I could easily go through to find that old stuff," Kontny said. "The tools for writing weren't actually helping me get any better at writing. I'd want to write something, but then make major revisions to the document, but still keep all the old stuff so I could revisit that old work."</p><p>Draft isn't just the best web app I've ever used, it's quickly becoming one of my go-to writing apps. Following the trend of minimal interfaces, the workspace is clean and free of distractions, but Kontny still puts his own unique stamp on things. The main screen is a playful mix of colors that give it a look unlike one you'd find on any platform — and that's pretty much the point.</p><p>"When I design things, I prefer to give myself as few choices as I can possibly have," Kontny said. "Stick with what you need. Then, stick with what you know. ... I'm just trying to make good stuff."</p><p>When you use Draft, Kontny's passion is evident. From the surprisingly extensive customization options to the painless collaboration tools, there are times when I forget that I'm working within a browser. My documents and settings easily migrate to any device I'm working on, and the interface is consistent across every screen, no matter how small. There are some issues, of course — chief among them is the lack of inertia scrolling while editing — but Draft feels like the future of apps: not just cross-platform, but no-platform.</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/01/0128_rr_2.png" width="620" /></p><p>"I love building small things and quickly iterating on them. If Draft were primarily an iOS or desktop app, the cycle of improving the product would slow down considerably," Kontny said. "Technology trends are pendulums ... and these days the pendulum has swung far towards businesses and apps focusing on mobile devices. So many developers are building their businesses on first coming out with a single app for the iPhone. That's great, but the market for iPhone apps just gets more and more crowded because of all the attention. And that leaves a lot of opportunity to revisit building great web apps again."</p><p>So, if that means Draft can't take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies, so be it. Kontny is perfectly happy to move a little slower than the pack, even if Draft never catches up to the Writer Pros and Editorals of the world.</p><p>"One memory that's always stuck with me is how old my dad's tools were. He kept using that same old hammer or chisel covered in spackle and paint," he said. "He sticks with what he knows and already is good at.</p><p>"I treat my technology stack like that. I keep going with what I know rather than getting frustrated my saw isn't as fast as the new one I could buy."</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis Apple Design Apps Columns Design Draft Rounded Rectangles Web Apps writing writing apps Features iPad iPhone iPod Mac Wed, 29 Jan 2014 01:38:42 +0000 Michael Simon 19174 at The Innovation Race is Killing Innovation <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines innovation as the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. But when we're talking about technology, that definition doesn't quite tell the whole story. It's not just the unveiling of some new or better design — it's making as big a splash as possible before anyone else can even get in the pool.</p><p>It was once a relatively slow process. Every few years, an exciting new product would come along that indelibly altered the landscape: color televisions, VCRs, Walkmen, iPods. It was given room to grow and evolve until something inevitably better was born out of its influence.&nbsp;</p><p>It's a cycle, a process that can't be forced. Innovation begets innovation, and there's no secret shortcut that'll produce the next big thing. Yet these days, it seems everyone wants a magical innovation button. And they want it now.</p><p>1998. 2001. 2007. 2010. Any Apple fan has those years etched in their mind. The iMac. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad. It was an incredible string of success that raised unrealistic expectations of a revolving door of innovation, as if Steve Jobs could just pluck brilliant designs out of thin air. What no one seems to pay much attention to is the iterative progression between each breakthrough — iTunes, FireWire, nanos and shuffles, the App Store — engineering and development leaps that made those first prototypes possible.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u330237/2014/01/steve-jobs.jpg" width="620" height="419" /><strong>Things like the iPod Shuffle didn't "just happen," after all.</strong></p><p>But no one wants to put in the work anymore. No one sees the six years between the iPod and iPhone. They just want the end result.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course, Samsung's the easiest target of this criticism. The biggest proponent of the let's-see-what-sticks philosophy, it seems a new product is hastily released every few days looking to fill another void; last week it was the Galaxy Tab 3 Lite tablet, an iPad mini-sized slate with the same underwhelming specs as the one that was released some six months ago, but in a slightly more portable package. There's no real effort to make it better — just to get it out to whatever audience is demanding it, no matter how small.</p><p>And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. There may be a few decent products in Samsung's arsenal, but even the flagship Galaxy S4 doesn't have the polished feel of a fourth-generation product. With Apple, you can see major strides between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 5, but that gap isn't nearly as evident with older Galaxies.</p><p>It's more than a mere lack of attention to detail — it's a willingness to completely ignore it in order to compete in a misguided innovation race, a belief that rushing a product to market to grab a few sales and a bunch of headlines is somehow more important than building something great.</p><p>Case in point: the Galaxy Gear. It's not just that it's a flop — epic failures are part of the design process, particularly with fledgling product categories. What's troubling is just how compromised it feels, as if there were a thousand yeses for every no. Here's what <a href="" target="_blank">The Verge</a> had to say in <a href="" target="_blank">its review</a>:</p><p>"Its design tries to have something for everyone — a chunky steel clasp and exposed screws for fans of oversized men’s watches, yet also Rose Gold and Oatmeal Beige colors for a feminine audience — and ends up pleasing no one in particular. It’s too bulky to ever be considered elegant, but too polished to be a proper macho watch. The glass covering the front melts seamlessly into the metal frame around it, which in turn gives way to a plastic back and an adjustable strap whose flexibility is limited somewhat by the integrated camera."</p><p>My own experiences with it are similar. It's as if no one at Samsung gave any thought to what would make the Gear an innovative 21st century device that forever changes the way we think of watches. Instead, Samsung cobbled together an overpriced, unimpressive gadget with limited functionality and even less appeal. But it got there first, and that's all that mattered.</p><p><img src="/files/u330237/2014/01/galaxy-gear-official-1.jpg" width="620" /></p><p>The company all but admitted it at CES: "When we release our S5 device," said Lee Young Hee, executive vice president of Samsung's mobile unit, "you can also expect a Gear successor with more advanced functions, and the bulky design will also be improved." Could you ever imagine Tim Cook or Phil Schiller saying that about an Apple product?</p><p>They wouldn't, because Apple would never release a product as unfinished as the Galaxy Gear. While the rest of the industry fights for position and attention, Apple is playing the same game it always has: Jony Ive would rather wait a year or two — or just scrap the project altogether — than release something that wasn't as innovative as it could be.</p><p>We haven't seen a truly new product from Apple in nearly four years, and for some, that means the company is somehow losing its touch. But they're ignoring the big picture and all failing to see how all those little leaps add up.</p><p>Just last week, Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson claimed on <a href="" target="_blank">CNBC's Squawk Box</a> that Google had supplanted Apple as the industry's top innovator, citing its acquisition of Nest as the most recent proof: "Tony Fadell was part of the team that created the iPod, he was very deep into the Apple culture — that's when Apple was so innovative. You didn't expect them to come out with a music player, and because of Tony Fadell and a few others, they did. Now, Tony Fadell is going to Google."</p><p>Perhaps he's right, and Fadell will spur Google to build the next big thing, but so far there's nothing any more innovative coming out of Mountain View than there is from Cupertino. Google has plenty of fascinating ideas and designs — Glass, Nexus Q, smart contact lenses, self-driving cars — but none have made an impact, and most aren't even close to public release.&nbsp;</p><p>It's the illusion of innovation, a race to nowhere, and it's hurting real innovators like Apple and Nest. Fadell's startup was one of the most innovative in years, transforming mundane household products into chic, desirable works of art. Now it's under Google's sizable umbrella, a $3 billion bet based in large part on a hope that there's something amazingly great in the pipeline that Google can claim as its very own.</p><p>I just hope they let Fadell take his time with it.</p><p><em>Find Michael Simon on Twitter or;<a style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; background-color: transparent; color: #0099cc; text-decoration: none;" href="" target="_blank">@morlium</a></em></p> Blogs Analysis Apple Design Columns Design Galaxy Gear Galaxy Tab 3 Lite Rounded Rectangles Samsung iPad iPhone iPod Mac Wed, 22 Jan 2014 03:19:52 +0000 Michael Simon 19115 at You Won't Believe Google's Latest Hypocrisy <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u315479/law-and-apple_200x150.jpg" alt="Law &amp; Apple" width="200" height="150" class="graphic-right" /></a></p><p>Google formed with an internal motto of "Don't Be Evil" in response to the perceived business practices of Microsoft, and then proceeded over the years to manipulate customer data (<a href="" target="_blank">see what Google does when you search</a>) and force software on users&nbsp;(<a href="" target="_blank">see how you are already signed up for&nbsp;Google+</a>) much like Redmond. Now the Mountain View company is taking hypocrisy to a new level with their latest lawsuit against the Apple- and Microsoft-led Rockstar Consortium. Ah, the irony!</p><h3>Google vs. Rockstar</h3><p>Last week <a href="" target="_blank">Google filed a lawsuit</a> in the Northern District of California against Rockstar and its subsidiary, MobileStar Technologies. The case was brought in response to a series of lawsuits <a href="" target="_blank">Rockstar filed in October 2013</a>&nbsp;in the Eastern District of Texas against Google and seven of its Android hardware partners: Samsung, Huawei, ZTE, LG, HTC, Pantech, and ASUSTeK.</p><p>The Rockstar lawsuit against Google focused on search engine use, and also included actions against the Android manufacturer for a variety of hardware and software issues. Google's response, however, is an attempt to block and disrupt that lawsuit, based on lots of fancy talk about what a rotten patent troll Rockstar is.</p><p>Many bloggers around the internet have taken the bait and attempted to turn this story into a "Google against Apple's Patent Troll" hero's journey, but the facts suggest something ironically different.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img src="/files/u315479/patent-troll.png" alt="Patent Troll" width="620" height="300" /></p><p style="text-align: center;"><strong>Patent troll? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.</strong></p><p>Rockstar was formed by Apple, BlackBerry, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, and Sony <a href="" target="_blank">to purchase the patents of dying tech star Nortel in July of 2011</a>&nbsp;for $4.5 billion. Google is attempting to spin this event as an example of patent trolling, while ignoring the fact that it was the company that overinflated the price for these patents in the first place.</p><p>Google went hard after the Nortel patents, opening with a $900 million bid that sounded alarm bells across the industry. It was clear what Google wanted to do with these patents: use them to force Apple to stop suing Android manufactures. Google bid as high as $4.4 billion for the patents. No other single company wanted to pay as much as Google to gain these patents, but by joining together and forming Rockstar, they were able to cobble together a winning bid of $4.5 billion.</p><p>But Google was not finished there; the Mountain View company went on to <a href="" target="_blank">buy the remains of Motorola for $12.5 billion</a>&nbsp;and has tried unsuccessfully to use those patents to sue Apple and other members of Rockstar. To date, the Motorola purchase <a href="" target="_blank">has been a total bust</a> for Google in the courtroom.</p><p>And that isn't even the extent of Google's use/misuse of the patent system to protect itself. As Florian Mueller points outs in an op/ed piece for <a href="" target="_blank">The Hill</a> from this past November, Google "bought roughly 2,000 patents from IBM, and smaller quantities from failed startups and entities it now denounces as 'trolls', such as Mosaid, against which it later brought an antitrust complaint in the European Union. Another 'troll', Intellectual Ventures, had received one of its first investments ever from Google."</p><p>Google has been aggressive in seeking out patents to use as leverage against other companies since the release of Android, which Mueller correctly states was released "in 2007, using — but not licensing — Apple's multi-touch interface concepts, Microsoft's operating system technologies, Oracle's Java programming language, and probably also some other players' inventions." The fact is, using other company's patents without paying for them, and then manipulating the patent system to cover its tracks, is simply what Google <em>does</em>.</p><p>Clearly, the patent system in the U.S. is broken, and clearly all of the major companies in the tech industry attempt to leverage it agains their competitors. But at this point, for Google to play the part of the victim against a big bad Apple patent troll is almost as absurd as the bloggers that are regurgitating the Mountain View propaganda.</p><p><em>Connect with this writer, Adrian Hoppel, through his website:<a href="" target="_blank"></a></em></p> News Blogs Analysis Apple vs. Google Columns Google Law & Apple Lawsuit legal drama Opinion Patent patent trolls Features iPad iPhone iPod Mac Thu, 02 Jan 2014 23:19:11 +0000 Adrian Hoppel 18964 at Apple's Top 8 Courtroom Adventures for 2013 <!--paging_filter--><p><a href=""><img src="/files/u315479/law-and-apple_200x150.jpg" alt="Law &amp; Apple" width="200" height="150" class="graphic-right" /></a>This past year has been full of courtroom drama for Apple, and we've done our best to keep you up to speed <a href="" target="_blank">each week in our Law &amp; Apple column</a>. From the hot mess of a trial against the Justice Department regarding eBook conspiracies, to the ongoing Patent Wars with Samsung, to the zany lawsuits brought by people trying to get rich quick, there has been no shortage of material.</p><p>When you look back on the year, however, some weeks stand out more than others. We definitely have our favorites, but we're not the ones who count; you are. So we snuck into the secret location where our web servers are hidden, took some selfies, and then&nbsp;we dug into the files to see which Law &amp; Apple columns you like the best. In any event, here they are, in countdown form...</p> Gallery Blogs Analysis apple Columns courtroom drama iOS 7 Jony Ive Law & Apple legal battles Samsung Steve Jobs Tim Cook Features iPad iPhone iPod Mac Wed, 25 Dec 2013 20:00:00 +0000 Adrian Hoppel 18929 at Rounded Rectangles' 8 Best Design Innovations of 2013 <!--paging_filter--><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="/files/u330237/2012/11/roundedrectangles_200.jpg" width="200" height="79" class="graphic-right" /></a>It's easy to write off 2013 as a year without any real design innovations. The first great smartwatch is going to have to wait till next year — sorry, Samsung and Pebble — and we didn't get a new Apple product that wasn't a riff on a previous one. And Google didn't make any headway with Glass.</p><p>But it wasn't a lost year by any stretch. We might not look back on 2013 as the watershed year that 2007 was, but even without a big bang, there were a number of advancements that made us look, touch and think just a little different:</p> Gallery Blogs Analysis Apple Design Best best of 2013 best-of Chromecast Columns Design G Flex iOS 7 iPad Air Leap Motion Mac Pro Nest Protect Rounded Rectangles Touch ID Features iPad iPhone iPod Mac Tue, 24 Dec 2013 17:00:00 +0000 Michael Simon 18944 at