Archive: June, 2011

DSLRs are losing their luster

We’re in a fast changing digital landscape; innovation has worked into almost every device I use regularly and with cloud syncing my content is accessible from anywhere. So why do higher end cameras, most notably digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) ones, feel absent from the picture? Big manufacturers like Canon and Nikon push out better sensors and higher end lenses year after year, but the core design remains unchanged. Contrast that progress with the rapid evolution in smaller, camera-equipped devices like the iPhone and Canon S95, both in terms of technology advances and mainstream adoption. If the trend continues the DSLR will be relegated to a niche device for professionals only.

The problem starts with perception: compared to hot new consumer tech like the Kinect and iPhone, DSLRs, at least to a mainstream audience, are run of the mill if not behind the curve. First and foremost, in a golden age of lightweight, powerful technology, DSLRs remain heavy and bulky. They also have a higher learning curve than most other tech devices: even using its simplest operation, the most basic DSLR offers a bewildering array of dial settings, zoom levels and menu adjustments.

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Minimalist text editors revisited

Minimalist text editors of the likes of WriteRoom have been growing in popularity lately, both in terms of their user base and the download options in the Mac App Store. That’s a great trend. I’ve found text editors to be a wonderful tool for writing, and the more users that come to the same conclusions, the better. But which app is the best option for your money? I’ve spent the past few weeks on this subject comparing three popular options: Byword, iA Writer and WriteRoom.


Home Page | Mac App Store ($9.99)

Byword is the newest of the three text editors I tested. The app offers some, but not all, of the customization of the more mature WriteRoom. It’s a hybrid approach that picks and chooses elements from both programs and spins them off in a new direction.

On the positive side, I found Byword’s features set striking a good balance between flexibility and minimalism; enough customization for users to write in a way they feel comfortable, yet not so much to feel overwhelmed. In addition, I’d predict Byword will push the ball forward more than its competitors for raw functionality in future releases. I already find its markdown and HTML export support to be more robust than its competitors, along with providing a slick HTML and Markdown preview functionality the other tested text editors don’t offer at all. Finally, I can’t overlook that at $10 it’s half the price of its competitors. That’s a factor for those on the fence about spending money for a text editor with such a seemingly simple purpose.

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The iCloud hyperbole

I was relieved when Apple debuted iCloud last Monday; finally the company was addressing its subpar cloud connectivity head on. Given Apple’s penchant for great design, combined with its large install base and investment (a.k.a. its gigantic North Carolina data center) iCloud could move cloud computing to a much more mainstream level of integration and accessibility.

However, I’ve seen way too much hype from financial investors to tech pundits who are all accepting the Apple PR mantra of “it just works” as fact. Please, stop with the hyperbole. iCloud is not revolutionary. iCloud is very much a hard drive in the sky; Apple is merely obfuscating the details by burying them within their native apps.

In reality, Apple’s iCloud is less technical revolution and more philosophical shift. The company’s cloud system centers on tight vertical integration with iOS or Mac-friendly apps that have integrated Apple’s iCloud API. It’s a classic Apple move. An attempt to move an existing technology to the company?s comfort zone: its native user interfaces, hardware and software. I’d suspect iCloud will be easier, at first glance, for users heavily invested within Apple’s iOS and Mac ecosystem. A document will be saved, and given the likely heavy restrictions placed under the iCloud API, there’s only a few places it can go, namely the same file name and app on every other Apple vetted app.

In contrast, existing cloud sync systems from the likes of Google and Dropbox embrace a far more open, flexible structure that can be accessed in many ways (on any operating system, on the web, within native apps via APIs). Yet, that openness comes at a cost; more options and flexibility means a less unified, harder to understand interface, especially for the non-tech crowd.

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Apple?s iCloud announcement

There’s a reason Steve Jobs saved the presentation of iCloud for himself; it’s one of the company’s biggest announcements in years, arguably second only to the debut of the original iPhone and iPad. The ramifications of Apple’s cloud service are so big it makes my head hurt, and I’m mostly positive on what I’ve heard. That said, I’ve got a few questions and concerns:

The first step

Make no mistake, iCloud is fundamentally a syncing service. John Gruber can gush how it’s different and there will be “no conflicts or merging” but at some point an offline device has to sync with the latest iCloud copy. If both copies have changes, how will files be merged accurately? How will conflicts be conveyed and settled with the user?

It’s clear from their North Carolina venture Apple is betting big. But it’s a huge bet on something fundamentally not in Apple’s core competency. I still think they’ll pull through, but it’s not a guaranteed knock out of the park yet.

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Cloud music round two: Apple vs. Rdio

Judging from the response of tech companies (and the bloggers that cover them) this is the year of the cloud music service: Amazon came out of the gate a bit early, followed by Google and now Apple later this year, the details of which will be announced next week. I’d bet heavily on Apple and their stellar design work coming out on top, especially if rumors are true that Apple will provide cloud streaming for iTunes Store music sans uploads.

Yet the Apple vs. Amazon vs. Google music locker battle in the end is minor; the far more interesting question is Apple vs. Rdio; ownership ? la carte versus a nearly limitless collection for a flat subscription fee. It’s in that battle that I think Apple/Amazon/Google could lose. A few reasons why:

Music’s half life is short; ownership is overrated

One of the primary arguments made against music streaming is that its lack of ownership is a significant downside; unlike movies or TV shows that are only watched once or twice, good albums are listened to tens, even hundreds of times. I disagree; music is a lot more fickle than people give it credit for. In particular, people’s tastes can change quickly; hard core niche music fans look aggressively for new material while more mainstream users want to hear the latest pop hits, the roster of which changes often. In addition, streaming’s sound quality and mobile connectivity have improved a lot over the past year, blurring the lines between a streaming experience and true song ownership.

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