Monday 22 June 2009

Apple's iPhone 3GS - Software

In the Clinton era, there was a well-known phrase, "it's the economy stupid!". I have been using a different form of this "It's the Software stupid!" now for a number of years. In my final blog posting in this sequence about the latest iPhone, this phrase is even more pertinent. Never mind the additional hardware in this device, I still believe that its strongest card is the software within it. This includes the application store which houses orders of magnitude more apps than "stores" for other devices. However more even than this, the core features of the latest 3.0 system update for all iPhones is what will give this device its future strength as a platform, and Apple its leadership in the marketplace of smart-phones and mobile internet devices. Specifically the APIs provided for third-party hardware as well as software apps in 3.0 will distinguish the iPhone platform in that marketplace. Over 40 million iPod Touch and iPhone devices now already exist and the cost of ownership is falling all the time, as more geographical markets of the globe are included. This is a platform for the future, which developers find it simple to design for, and which users find it a delight to use.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Apple's iPhone 3GS - Compass

My last post looked at the camera specification of Apple's latest iPhone offering. This time I want to focus on the magnetometer which Apple has included this time. The Mac and iPod maker is always very careful about choosing what features to include in its products, and is one of the most disciplined of innovators when it comes to limiting "feature-creep". Because of this, I think it is worth looking a bit beyond the compass application which Apple now includes on the new iPhone displaying heading along with latitude and longitude from the onboard GPS.

One extra value of the magnetometer is already being felt through the user experience of the maps application. The map can now automatically orientate itself for you so that it is facing the way you are facing. After all, one of the first things many people do when looking at a paper based map is to turn it to match the direction they are facing. Beyond this however I think Apple has other ideas for combining this new sensor with others on the phone such as the accelerometer. It is gaming applications where the impact of this could be felt most. The use of the magnetometer will allow even more accurate action gaming movements to be sensed. This is an example of how the use and combination of very many sensors within mobile devices will be used in future to enhance the user experience.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Apple's iPhone 3GS - Camera

Apple have launched their 3rd generation iPhone. It sports a number of changes to its specification. One of these is the camera, the previous model's 2MP spec having been widely criticised by those who strive to find fault with the phone that has changed the industry! The new iPhone 3GS model sports a 3.2MP camera which is also capable of video and has additional auto focus, auto exposure and auto white levels. This will still be compared negatively against phones such as the Nokia N9x series having more than 5MP.

Some watchers will make the point that millions of extra pixels isn't everything which is certainly true, especially after a point ... unless you are taking photos which will be printed out at huge poster sizes which most people don't! Most users won't notice the difference between a 3MP photo and a 6MP picture, provided that other aspects such as exposure, light level and focus are good. And doubling the number of pixels in the camera increases the bill of materials cost for that component without making a great difference to the user experience. It also means that pictures taken consume more storage space than they need to ... how many people do you know with 6MP compact cameras who bother to reduce the resolution in order to fit more pictures on their finite memory cards?

But there is another more important point for Apple I believe. They understand the market they are in and the people who visit their stores and buy their products. Those people are not so interested in raw numbers, and technical details. They are more interested in what you can do with the product, how easy it is to use and what it looks like. Apple also stress the idea of sharing media like photos and video with others and make it easy to do so. The user experience of sharing over networks is much better with smaller file sizes. Apple are extremely well practised at getting the specification of their products right for their customers rather than competing on numbers with the specification of the competition.

Monday 15 June 2009

Pushing the scalability of memory

An american semiconductor company is promising a one terabit memory chip by 2015. The scale of the process used will decrease as far as 20nm. Traditional flash memory which we are used to having in digital camera cards or wearable memory sticks is expected to reach no smaller than a 32nm process since the oxides used are too thin at those geometries. Unity, the company who has announced the prospect of a 1Tb chip in six years time, is using a different passive cross-point array technology. Their product roadmap shows a 64Gb chip by the early half of 2011, and 128Gb and 256 Gb chips by 2012-13, all on a 35nm process. Significantly, they then expect to move to a 20nm process to produce the 1Tb chip by 2015.

It remains to be seen whether the technology also has similar parameters as far as longevity is concerned. While memory sticks and cards used today are reliable for at least a decade, their reliability beyond that into the longer term are not guaranteed. This is worth bearing in mind if you plan to use such devices as an archive for personal data in the long term.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

CILIPS conference, Scotland

I have the pleasure to provide the opening keynote to the CILIPS conference in Peebles, Scotland this week. Unusually the weather is hot and sunny as I write this and I am looking forward to addressing the 100+ delegates of the conference about future disruptive technologies. The audience is largely people connected with information provision, and information is not something that is going to be in short supply in the future. Already we have more information available online than most people can cope with. The trick is to organise and filter it such that the people who can make use of it get the maximum value from it. Some of this will come from the up-skilling of those responsible for the task, and some will come from the technology that supports them. Intelligent search and filtering software will help with this in the future. In fact we will one day wonder how our elders ever coped with the manual splurge of information that became available with the Internet revolution.

Monday 1 June 2009

Google's wave of innovation continues...

Google's latest service offering aims to bring together the concepts of Instant Messaging (IM), email, media sharing, search and twitter-like interactions in what it calls Google Wave. The interface looks complex but actually those who have used it say that it is very simple to navigate and indeed it is extremely configurable. Still an early beta, it has a long way to develop into a full application, but again it demonstrates the innovation and attempts of the organisation to bundle its successful search capabilities with information and communication facilities into one application.

Certainly in the future, people will need applications and services which bring together and simplify their online world. Bringing virtual world and real world together will require abstractions and simplifications that allow individuals to manage and get the maximum benefit from new technologies. This is an early attempt to bring some of the existing online concepts together. We will see if it becomes a tidal wave that sweeps away other established services. One thing is for sure, interventions in the marketplace like this will spur innovation and that can only be a good thing.