While my posts haven’t been coming fast and furious lately, I’ve been watching the tech landscape recently and have seen some interesting shifts in where I believe a lot of things are heading.
Whither the iPod Nano?
This has been a perennial issue for me. When the iPhone 4S (aka the iPhone 5), was released, people did two things:
1. Thought that it was an inferior phone because the character “5” was not in the title
2. Forgot about everything else for a little while.
I, however, did not forget about the iPod nano. Conversely, I began to think more about it, mostly from the perspective of “How can Apple make use of this new Bluetooth 4.0 thing?” While Bluetooth may not be very important to many people in the world, or may be synonymous with “headset”, Bluetooth information exchange technology makes possible a great many things that people basically don’t take advantage of. Case and point, a friend of mine just saw me typing this blog post on a wireless Bluetooth keyboard and said “Wow, a wireless keyboard? I didn’t even know they made those.” Naturally, he’s a little behind the times (friar, vow of poverty), but that doesn’t stop the concept from being foreign to many people. An iPad-toting client of mine didn’t know that Bluetooth could be used to connect an iPad to a wireless keyboard, either (see “headset” equivocation above).
At any rate, that’s where we’re at. Bluetooth having effectively been relegated to another name for “headset”
The iPod Nano has the opportunity to become something so far beyond what it is right now. It can be a gateway to the information stored on an iPhone, a supplement to an iPad (remote control, keyfob, microphone, etc.), and, possibly even more importantly, a front-end for Siri. Naturally, the iPod Nano’s screen isn’t designed for displaying large amounts of information, but that doesn’t preclude it from being an information portal.
When talk of an “iPad Mini” started swirling about, I immediately started thinking about the whole Steve Jobs “people don’t like these ‘tweener’ sizes for tablets” statement. Whenever he says that, you know that a product isn’t too very far away. The issue for Apple wasn’t creating a product in that size, but rather timing their entry into that size category. One of the things that I’ve noticed about a great deal of the other 7″ (ish) tablets on the market is that they lack anything truly compelling for me. I wouldn’t want a Kindle/Kindle Fire because its primary purpose is to read books purchased through Amazon.
The Nexus 7 was almost enough to get me on board until I used one. “Why would I spend any money on this?” I found myself asking over and over. The only truly compelling thing that I saw in the Nexus 7 was the NFC capability, but even that was a stretch. I need a product like that to be an iPad, but smaller, capable of all the things my iPad is capable of. I’m sure there are many people in the same boat.
I’ve been using the iPad to take notes, draw, read, and write since its introduction to the market. People tried to tell me that it wouldn’t be capable of much, and I would just quietly continue working, nodding as I continued to accomplish goals I set out for myself from the comfort of a tablet that I could use comfortably all day.
I knew there was one problem, though: it was too big (and not by much) for me to carry in my hoodie pocket. There were times that I only wanted to carry my tablet with me and nothing else, lack of charging equipment and extra tubes for my bike being reasonable things to forego in favor of a tablet that could slip easily into my back pocket. My iPad was literally a half inch too big, and I resigned myself to carrying the things I needed in addition to my wundertablet.
It was a hard life, I know, but I made it through. Thanks for your concern
Now, however, I feel like Apple is going to make a lot of people happy by creating a device that is perfectly capable of an absolutely ludicrous number of things (vis a vis other tablets), yet still has an extremely portable form factor (as though the iPad wasn’t portable enough).
Here’s the thing, though: Apple needed to time this whole thing. Releasing a 7″ (ish) tablet shortly after the iPad would have been great, and people would have really liked it, sure, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact that I believe it will have now. By releasing an “iPad Mini” now, Apple has allowed all the trash to sift itself out. Plenty of other companies have brought “me too” devices to market, and each has captured some small part of the iPad experience that people love, but left even more behind. Other companies thought that, if they could only have gotten that 7″ tablet to market first, that they would have ruled that space. The issue with that type of thinking is that it leads to sloppiness. Should this “iPad Mini” be released soon, it will be released with the entire weight of Apple behind it. It will have access to the iTunes store, it will have access to the App Store. All the apps that people have already purchased will be available on their device from day one. Their contacts and calendars will be synced through iCloud, and, while the same can be said for any Android tablet in that form factor, a person toting both Android and Apple devices would have to manage two devices with two different stores to shop from, two places to store their media, and no convenient way to slosh purchases around between devices.
With a device having a smaller screen size and profile, Apple will be making their signature store/device integration available in an even more portable form factor. The market will respond, and it will respond favorably.
Keep Your Friends Close
The last thing that I haven’t been hearing much about recently is NFC. Samsung released the Galaxy S III to a mediocre amount of fanfare, touting all of this NFC magic…but I have yet to see anything really interesting come out of it. I love the idea of NFC, but, like the Nexus 7, I see no one using it. I don’t see any stores with NFC tags on their doors, no restaurants with NFC tags on the tables to allow patrons to silence their phones and join their wifi with a single tap. None of this is real because I have a sneaking suspicion that Samsung has no idea what it’s doing. They put products on the market that have checkboxes in all the right places, but no real-world application of any of the things that those boxes relate to. Great job, Sammie, your phone has NFC! Does that honestly play a role in most people’s buying decisions? No, no it doesn’t. A friend of mine recently purchased a new GSIII and, when asked about the NFC feature, had no idea what I was talking about.
Truth be told, I’m not sure NFC will ever be a truly compelling technology, but I believe that, if it is, that Apple will do it right. They’ll do it right because they’re really the only company that can make something as obscure as NFC relevant enough to matter to the world. When the world’s most valuable company throws its weight behind something, you’re pretty safe betting that people are going to pay attention.
All of this assumes a few things
1. Apple is releasing a new iPod Nano.
2. Apple is releasing an “iPad Mini”.
3. The aforementioned products, in addition to the new iPhone, will contain NFC technology.
Those are a great deal of assumptions, but they all seem to make sense. I’m not one to start making assumptions and thinking that I’ve got it all right, but, based on what I’ve been seeing and, perhaps even more importantly, what I haven’t been seeing, I believe that all of these things are very close to reality.
I haven’t even touched on the possible integration with a refresh of the Apple TV, but I think that all those things are around the corner, as well.
It’s gonna be a helluva September
When Siri was unveiled with the introduction of the iPhone 4S, there were a lot of very intrigued, very happy people. Already, in my usage of Siri with my new iPhone 4S, I find myself pleasantly surprised with the things I’m able to do, and how easy Siri makes so many of the things I’m used to doing. Naturally, there are some shortcomings. Since I use an unlocked 4S with the T-Mobile network, I’m relegated to EDGE when not on wi-fi (how was this speed ever acceptable?), and communication with Siri is woefully slow. I wish I had the scratch to pull off an AT&T subscription, but I just don’t right now.
This got me thinking, however. Since the 4S relies on a persistent, high-speed network to deliver results to the user, what happens when a person has a slow connection, or is in a wireless dead zone? The ability for Siri to function as an interface diminishes dramatically, leaving a person only able to interact with the data that is already on his or her phone. While this normally would not be a problem, anyone looking for Siri functionality in a wireless dead zone is going to be frustrated, period. Naturally, the last thing Apple wants is unhappy customers, so what can Apple do to circumvent this situation?
I found the answer in the iPod Shuffle.
This little device, as many know, is what one might call one of Apple’s lesser-loved projects. At the time of its inception, it filled a necessary void–that of a low-cost music player bearing the iconic Apple logo and “iPod” name. It was my first iPod, and, I’d wager, the first iPod for many others, as well. The problem with the iPod Shuffle, now, is it lacks features. It isn’t relevant anymore. When the shuffle was introduced, MP3 players, including the iPod Classic, were large and relatively bulky, and their battery life left something to be desired. The Shuffle had long battery life, was capable of syncing with iTunes, and offered people an interesting alternative to the blue-hued screens and click wheels of their larger cousins. The storage was all flash, which meant that it wasn’t prone to hard drive failures in the same way the iPod Classic was, and that it could play all day on a single charge.
Since the Shuffle lacked a screen, however, there was no way for a user to really know what was about to play. Apple solved this with their “VoiceOver” feature, which was able to announce the name of the playing track or playlist, or the remaining battery life. In order to do this, however, the user needs to give up some storage space on their device to make room for the VoiceOver data. For some, this is an easy tradeoff, since it adds a sense of depth to the diminutive device. Tuck that in the back of your mind for a moment.
It was recently discovered that the iPhone 4S contains a dedicated sound-processing chip that enables it to better separate your voice from background noise, which increases its ability to recognize what you’re saying before sending that data off to Siri for processing and language recognition. All this data being sent to Siri means that there are a great deal of sound snippets that Apple has at its disposal to refine and improve its voice-recognition and accuracy. The more people use Siri, the better it gets, and the better it gets, the more people use it. Eventually, I believe, Apple will be able to “distill” certain Siri queries down to their core components, picking out speech patterns and pull user voices away from background noises more easily. Furthermore, Apple will be able to condense certain components of Siri down to include that functionality on devices that don’t have a persistent wireless connection, and significantly speed up Siri queries on devices that do. Naturally, looking up restaurants on Yelp or finding out data from Wolfram is going to require a connection to the internet, but things like setting reminders, calendar appointments, taking notes, and playing music can all (theoretically) be done locally, without a persistent data connection. This would allow Apple to install Siri on all of its devices. When the device has a wireless connection, it would be able to upload usage statistics, and download changes to the onboard Siri database while doing its nightly iCloud backup.
Naturally, the user might have to sacrifice some storage space, but it would allow even the iPod shuffle to become a “personal computer”, with the ability to store notes, read emails, and access a user’s information in the cloud when a connection becomes available. Who knows? Apple may even negotiate a wireless deal with service providers that allow all its devices to connect to a Kindle WhisperNet-style “SiriNet” for free, for the purposes of communicating with the Siri servers.
Until we have ubiquitous worldwide wireless coverage, we can talk to the little Siri in our Shuffle.