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Farewell, Matt

My friend and colleague Matt Brian is moving on from The Next Web to The Verge. I’ve had a wonderful time working with him, it’s been an excellent couple of years and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to in his next phase.

Matt has contributed so much to TNW over the years that it was hard for me to find something perfect to share on his exit. But I think the time he threw up in a plane demonstrates his dedication to getting the story. And it’s super embarrassing.

See ya Matt, have fun being a Vergein!


Did you know Apple pre-announced its iPad sales?

Just kidding. It does not.

And yet! Several sites are using an analyst’s estimated split of iPad and iPad mini sales in 2013 to say that Apple is totally surprised that it could end up selling more of the lower-margin mini than it is the higher-margin full-size tablet.

The report the stories are using is from DisplaySearch. The full quote from DisplaySearch’s David Hseih is this:

Apple had planned to sell 40M iPad minis (7.9”) and 60M iPads (9.7”) in 2013. However, the reality seems to be the reverse, as the iPad mini has been more popular than the iPad. We now understand that Apple may be planning to sell 55M iPad minis (7.9”) and 33M iPads (9.7”) in 2013.

That’s great. Only one problem: Apple never announced any such plans of any sort. I’m sure that Apple planned to sell a certain amount of both models, but it never reveals those estimates publicly. In fact, it has become even more conservative in its forecast reporting in an endeavor to halt projection inflation.

DisplaySearch estimated those numbers from what it saw as a shift in a specific split of component orders. In fact, these estimates based on a single component (TFT LCDs).

Apple CEO Tim Cook, obliquely referencing rumors of the iPhone 5 slowing production based on a single component (LCD displays):

I’d also stress that, even if a particular data point were to be factual, it would be impossible to interpret what that data point means to our business. Our supply chain is very complex and we have multiple sources for our components. Yields can vary…supplier performance can vary. There’s an inordinate list of things that would make any single data point not a great proxy for what’s going on.

If you’re going to flat out state, as a fact, that Apple’s plans are being upset, you should probably know what its plans were in the first place. If you’re going to guess what those plans are, just be honest and say so.

Also, Battletoads.


Why Twitter Introduced Photo Filters

I wrote a long thing about Twitter’s new photo filters today. But if you want to know why they did it, here’s that bit boiled down into one image:


Instagram emptied out my Twitter profile’s photo gallery in one flick of the switch. As photos and other media become a bigger part of Twitter’s strategy in the future, it can’t have this kind of thing completely at the mercy of a service owned by a competitor. Those galleries started out on partner pages, then they showed up in profiles and now search. Soon, they’ll be on the website everywhere as well, not just the Discover tab.

If Twitter’s future is a rich service that is attractive to both celebrities and regular people as a way to share every bit of media that they create — and I believe that it is — then it has to safeguard that status. Photo filters and galleries are one way of doing this. Video is next.


Square’s Gift Card Gift To Small Merchants

Square recently introduced Gift Cards to its Wallet and Register apps. This lets users purchase and redeem these cards both via the app and through Apple’s Passbook if they’re on iOS. It’s a slick addition, very interesting given that this was exactly how I predicted Square might dip its toes into leveraging Passbook.

But it stands to have a pretty big impact on tons of small vendors that use Square for payments via smartphones and tablets in their shops or at their kiosks.

If you’ve never had to choose and set up a gift card solution for a business or company, you might not know that it’s a pretty big pain in the butt. Sure, you can go with the old hand-written certificates, like the olden days. But they’re hard to track and nearly impossible to update or analyze accurately. The only real option is to choose a provider that you can oder customized plastic cards from and who will process, track and manage the cards for you.

Most of the time, this is done via your credit card machine, though there are sometimes dedicated terminals that are installed. Either way, there is normally a fee per card and sometimes per redemption, the machines must be rented and the service typically has a monthly or yearly fee. It’s a big additional expense in both money and administration hours just to keep the cash spent at your store.

With this addition to Register and Wallet, every Square merchant just got a gift card system without having to invest any additional money or time. The people out there running one, two or few-man operations that are using all of the resources that they have to keep things rolling and growing now have to worry about one less thing. It’s going to have a huge impact for these folks.

My favorite local coffee roaster Café Corazón, for instance, tweeted out that customers could now send those cards out to anyone using Wallet. And if the recieving party is on iOS, that card can go right into Passbook. Leo uses Square to process all of my purchases from an Android device right in the shop, and now he has a full on gift card system, without having to lift a finger.


The Daily

It sucks that The Daily is going away. If you’re rubbing your hands with glee over its closure, then you’re dead inside. Maybe the parent company, an intensely old-world corporation in many ways, deserved to have its butt handed to it. But the experiement was completely worth undertaking and News Corp gets credit for doing it.

In fact, I think it was incredibly brave and ambitious to launch that thing in the first place. As with many crazy and risky ventures, there were a lot of folks that were quick to predict ruin even as it was being announced. Those same folks trotted out those months-old predictions yesterday, nodding and stroking their metaphorical goatees.

But what about those negative predicitons made about similar ideas that went in the opposite direction? A crazy idea for a quick SMS-based messaging system that you can view and use on a computer. Silly, useless, good only for sending poop status? Or a real-time layer for the web, nearly indispensible now? You pick that one in 2006 please, thanks.

The Daily deserves credit for a couple of things. One was embracing the iPad , not as a validation of Apple’s dominance (which it still maintains) but as a vote for the tablet as the future of our news consumption. Whatever operating system or form-factor of tablet we’re going to be using a couple of years from now, it’s clear that these things are super-effective platforms for reading and watching. The Daily was a bet on tablets, and that’s a smart one.

The other thing it deserves credit for is trying very hard to make the old-world newspaper model translate to the tablet world. It deserves credit for it because it definitively proved that this does not work. At all.

Now, the next publication to try a widely-focused news publication on the iPad (or across tablet ecosystems) knows with certainty that it will have to be a leaner, meaner beast. The days of trying to squeeze the bloated carcass of a traditional news organization into the strictures of tablet publishing are grinding to a close. I know that The Daily’s app wasn’t in the best place when it started, but it got pretty good by the end. It wasn’t the technical prowess of the organization that killed it, it was the staffing, marketing and mentality.

I don’t buy that there was no compelling content either. I’ve saved The Daily articles for reading later, the magazine had scoops. Remember the Microsoft Office on iPad/denied by Microsoft thing? That was The Daily.

Unfortunately, that stuff was drowned out in the inane filler that the publication felt it had to caulk every crevice with. Instead of The Daily being stripped down and presented with sparse, in your face content of the highest quality, it felt very much like the newspaper, with 2-3 articles worth your attention and a lot of white noise.

But all of that is still something to be thankful for. The Daily did it. It tried very hard to make a ‘digital newspaper’ for tablets. This does not work, and now we know it. Time for something new.


iTunes 11’s Mysterious Cloud Icon

One of the things I’ve seen a lot of conversation about with regards to iTunes 11 is the cloud icon that appears to the right of the Library button on the left side of the main window. This button takes the place of the sidebar, allowing you to switch between Movies, Music, etc.

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Just to the right of the button almost anyone who is signed into iTunes will see a small cloud icon appear. Clicking on it does nothing, there is no tooltip and it sometimes animates in various ways. This has led to confusion about its purpose. When I saw it I felt I knew right away what it was, but thought I’d do a little testing to make sure my hypothesis was correct.

If you’re wondering what the cloud icon is, it’s actually very simple: It means that some part of your library is in Apple’s cloud.

This could be via iTunes in the Cloud, which is active automatically from the moment you purchase any song or bit of media from Apple. It could also be via iTunes Match, which matches your songs with Apple’s stored songs OR uploads your songs in order to mirror them for your other devices. Either way, this means that there are songs (or other media) in ‘the cloud’. That’s why there’s a cloud icon there, period.

And no, it’s not the same as the old iTunes Match icon. This icon merges the status indicator of iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud into one.

To test this I did a couple of things. First, I deleted the iTunes library from my computer entirely and installed iTunes 11. This resulted in a fresh library, but iTunes still immediately found my music in Apple’s cloud because my computer — and therefore iTunes — was still signed into my Apple ID. So I signed out completely using the iTunes Store interface and deleted it again.

This time, when I started iTunes, I was rewarded with a Music button which had NO cloud next to it. Not surprising as there was nothing in the library. I then downloaded a single MP3 (careful to remain logged out) and added it to the library. The cloud icon remained absent:

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Then, I toggled the store interface and signed in and toggled back. Immediately, an animated cloud showed that iTunes was scanning for cloud content associated with my Apple ID.

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Once it was done, I had the cloud icon back, along with my local MP3 and all of the iTunes in the Cloud content available. I am an iTunes Match subscriber as well, so these songs are presumably present as well.

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So, the cloud icon is simply an indicator that at least one of the items in your library is available in Apple’s cloud infrastructure somewhere. Whether by purchase or by ‘match’, it’s not just on your physical hard disk.

Confusing? Maybe, but there it is.

There are still some other interesting things about the way that iTunes displays downloaded iCloud content. The way that the cloud next to a downloaded song disappears, though it’s still cloud-available content is interesting. It has a download icon, then you click it, then nothing. iTunes 10 would still show you a cloud, letting you know it was available out there.

The fact that a cloud song is treated as ‘normal’ says a lot about the changing paradigms of iCloud in relation to iTunes. The cloud is standard, not worthy of a special designator on a per-item level once it has been cached locally. Having a song on your hard drive vs the cloud is no longer worthy of a special designator. Interesting.

Update: I’ve been playing with it a bit more, after reader Ahmad Afiq pointed out that it could also be an iCloud status icon. And I think he might be right.

To test this theory, I logged out of my iTunes account, which has access to both iTunes Match and iTunes in the Cloud content. I then deleted the library and signed in with my wife’s iTunes account, which has zero purchase history. It’s just used to sync her iCloud data between her devices, keeping it separate from mine. This means that she has NO iTunes cloud content at all.

Even without adding anything to the library, the icon was still there. All I had done was sign in to an iCloud (Apple ID) account.

Then, to test his hypothesis further, I turned off my internet connection. Boom, a cloud with a lightning bolt displayed, showing that it had no connection to iCloud.

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So, it seems that I missed this use of the icon, largely because I’m an iTunes Match subscriber and have purchased songs from the store. I attributed the appearance of it to me having ‘something in the cloud’, when it seems that it also meant that I was ‘connected to the cloud’.

Note: Though I think that the ‘status’ use of the iCloud icon is indeed a part of its purpose, it is still most definitely an indicator of ‘something in the cloud’. As many emailed me and pointed out, disabling the ‘Show iTunes in the Cloud Purchases’ option in preferences makes that cloud icon go poof. This indicates that it is both a status indicator and a notification that you’ve got cloud content in your library. So, all of the above.


Why Is Apple Charging $329 For The iPad Mini?

Because Apple likes to sell things that actually make it money, so that it can continue to make more things for you.


It’s Happened: BrazilArticle permalink





Apple’s next (full-size) iPad is going to be an incredible tool for Photographers

Any working commercial, wedding or portrait photographer has to be at least part salesperson. You can do an incredible job shooting a subject and still not make enough to pay the bills if you don’t sell the client on the images. That’s why I was so excited for the first iPad back when I was shooting for money.

One of the most crucial parts of the sales process was presenting either your portfolio or your proofs in a way that was easy for the client and rendered them beautifully. I used to use an HDTV hooked up to a computer, then an Apple TV, to run a slideshow of the images. But when the iPad came around, it was a revelation. You could load up an album and have the client look through their images while you talked about your various offerings and made them feel comfortable enough to purchase what you were pitching. The images were easy to navigate and, I felt, presented well on the display.

But the first iPad’s display was total crap compared to the newest model’s Retina display, and that display is about to get a massive upgrade of its own.

If you’ve been following the iPhone 5’s technology at all, then you’ll know that it contains one of the best display panels ever included in a piece of consumer technology. Its in-cell design makes it super thin and pushes the images to the very surface of the screen, juuuust under the glass. And the panel is mind boggling. Tests run by folks like Chris Heinonen at Anandtech and Displaymate have rated it as comparable to professional displays costing tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s inconceivable at this point that the next iPad (likely due out in the first part of next year) wouldn’t also include this technology.

It should make the device thinner as its screen gets the iPhone laminated treatment for the first time and that should—in turn—make it lighter.

This means that you’re going to be carrying around a multi-thousand-dollar reference-quality monitor in tablet form for $500. The money shot for photographers is this one from Heinonen’s review:


Note the bars on the right which show incredibly low error ratings for color readings. An average dE2000 number for the iPhone 4S was 11. The average dE2000 of the iPhone 5 is 2.23. As any photographer knows, color gamut is everything. Being able to accurately reproduce color with low variation across the sRGB palette is a baseline for almost any decent DSLR, but that’s only true of the best monitors.

Because of its aggressive supply chain tactics and push for the very best parts, the next iPad should be an amazing tool to help photographers display and sell their photographs.


Elon Musk is Making Things

Whatever you think about electric cars and their future (I think it’s bright, but not for fuel economy reasons) you have to admit something about charismatic Tesla founder Elon Musk: He is out there making things.

Not just software things, either. Hardware things. Things you can touch and drive and fly to space in. That kind of ingenuity and relentless pursuit of turning ideas into physical things is sorely lacking in a lot of folks running software companies. Not that the products that they make aren’t necessarily important or interesting, or that they don’t have the potential to make enormous impacts on people’s lives — just look at the way Twitter has altered communication on this planet.

But I grew up as the son of a craftsman. Someone who made things with his hands every day for a living and then again at night for pleasure and eventually turned that pleasure into what he did for a living. He grew up the son of a craftsman who made things too, things that flew and drove and worked. Crafting things with your hands, or mind, and making them come into physical being has a certain Promethean magic to it that is difficult to match when things aren’t tangible.

As hardware gets more complicated and tied in with software and computers, it’s becoming more difficult for people to realize their visions without the infrastructure of corporate money and patent portfolios. That’s one of the main reasons that we won’t see a boutique smartphone any time soon.

But there are still opportunities. Some folks are out there making bits of our physical world better. There are ways to get the raw materials that you need to make your vision happen. Software is important and can be wonderful. But we need to remember the magic of changing the world in physical terms as well.

Elon Musk is making things. It makes me want to make things again too.