The joy of something that "just works"
By Adam TURNER
A tech reviewer's life is one of frustration, but every now and then you come across something that achieves a Zen-like state of perfection.
I know when a product or service has reached a higher plane of existence because I start to take it for granted - the technology becomes transparent and it just gets on with the job of doing what it's supposed to do.
One key indicator of a product or service's worth is when the Lady of the House starts to use it regularly. She's a tech-savvy woman but she understandably won't tolerate tech that lets her down. When I discover her regularly using a gadget because she wants to, rather than because I'm pushing it on her, I know that it's coming to close to achieving that elusive "just works" status.
Since we moved house last year, I'd say the technology that's become the most seamless and reliable in our home is Apple's AirTunes feature - streaming music from a Mac or PC running iTunes across the home wireless network to an Airport Express base station and then out to connected speakers. I've got Airport Expresses in the two main living areas, each hooked up to fantastic Harmon Kardon Soundstick IIs. Each Airport Express links back to my Time Capsule via 802.11n at 5GHz - which is the special sauce. The 2.4GHz interference in my new house is terrible and audio streaming via 802.11g was choppy, so after a few weeks I bought myself an 802.11n Apple Time Capsule and I've never looked back.
As with all Apple products, the more Apple gear you own the more useful AirTunes is. We've both got iTunes installed on our notebooks, plus it's on the media centre, and we've both got iPhones. With just a few button clicks in iTunes, we can easily pump our own music into different rooms or the same into both - whether it's The Wiggles or The Rolling Stones. Controlling everything from the iPhone is also very simple. We both use AirTunes every day and never give it a second thought, because it's always there and it just works.
I was initially concerned that it was too extravagant to buy a set of Soundsticks for the lounge room rather than just connect the Airport Express to my amplifier, but it was a smart move. Anyone who wants to use it doesn't need to worry about whether the amplifier is on, whether it's on the right input and whether everything is hooked up right. The Soundsticks have one job only and they're always ready to do it. Likewise I seriously improved my media centre's WAF recently by switching it to my Bravia's VGA input rather than HDMI. The impact on picture quality was minimal, it's mostly for watching kids' shows, but now there's no risk of it being disconnected because I wanted to use the HDMI port for something else. When your lounge room is a movable feast, it's important to have something that's constant for when your loved ones "just want to watch TV".
The reason why I've been thinking about AirTunes this week is because I was forced to move one Airport Express and set of speakers after a little rain got into the house. As I was drying everything off and putting it all back into the corner (in a somewhat more rain-resistant configuration), I realised it was the first time I'd touched the Express or the speakers in perhaps six months. I don't think I can name any other piece of technology in the house which is so reliable.
Amid the frustration that technology brings to my life, it's comforting to have something in the house that "just works".
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Jobs still hands-on at Apple
By Stephen WITHERS
When Steve Jobs went on medical leave from Apple, he said "I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out."
According to the Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what he's doing.
Citing "people familiar with the matter" and "people privy to the company's strategy" the WSJ says Jobs was involved in user interface design for the iPhone 3.0 software, and current projects at Apple include new iPhones and a portable device to fill the gap between the MacBook and the iPhone/iPod touch.
Over at eWeek, Joe Wilcox seems to write off the WSJ story as "perception management" by Apple.
Given the WSJ's description of its sources, Wilcox could well be right.
But I'm not sure about some of his other observations.
"Apple's Mac business is in trouble." Maybe. The company certainly lost market share early this year, but that seems to be due to the high levels of interest in netbooks. We should see the company's results for the March quarter in a week or so, and I suspect we'll be reminded that Apple's more concerned with profitability than market share.
"The MP3 player market is saturated... Apple will now sell mostly to existing customers, which is OK if they're willing to upgrade to an iPhone or iPod Touch." Don't underestimate the size of the replacement market. I've just had to replace the battery in my four-year-old iPod mini, and most people wouldn't bother.
It's not a hugely difficult task, but it's practically impossible to do without marring the case. And the job's made harder if the replacement battery comes with the wrong size screwdriver as mine did.
We live in a throwaway society, and there will be millions of iPod owners looking for replacements over the coming months and years. For some, a nano or classic (both video capable, unlike early models) will be enough of an "upgrade." Others will surely be tempted to go for a touch or an iPhone.
Sure, spectacular growth is probably ending. But that's probably true for mobile phones, too. (There are said to be more mobile phone services in Australia than there are people.) And nobody seems too worried about that becoming largely a replacement market.
Which brings us to "Mind share far exceeds market share for iPhone." If you think there's just one mobile handset market, that's true. But if you believe that smartphones and regular phones are two distinct markets, it's a different story.
Again, Apple's emphasis seems to be on profitability rather than market share. How much profit did Nokia make on the unlocked handset I saw on special the other week for around $59? The profit on an iPhone is likely to be more than the selling price of many simpler handsets.
But when all's said and done, aren't financial markets all about perception? When you buy a share, you're expressing a belief that the current price is lower that the present value of the expected dividends and the price you'll eventually sell it for.
For every buyer there is a seller. The difference is that buyer's perception is that things will improve.
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Online Friendship - What are the Rules?
By Anthony CARUANA
In the olden days, most people had a small group of close friends. These were were people with whom we shared deep relationships. And even though we might move away from one friend or groups of friends to another, the number of friends we had was quite tight.
The so-called social media revolution has been fuelled by the ubiquity of modern communications. Almost everyone in the western world has a mobile phone and regular access to the Internet. Online services like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter make it easy get in touch with and share the minutae of every aspect of our lives with incredible ease. But connections, or "friendships" as many services call them, have become a scorecard - a way to promote our own self-obsession by making sure everyone knows how many people are our friends.
Part of the problem is that many of these sites suggest that the more people we're "friends" with, the better our experience of the site will be. Well, I have a friend with ONE Facebook friend. In fact, it's his sister and he uses Facebook to play online Scrabble with he (in French!). On the other hand, there are some people that have hit the Facebook limit of 5000 "friends".
Twitter's a little different. People who subscribe to your tweets are called "followers". Unlike Facebook, Twitter's relationships can be unilateral. If someone chooses to follow me on Twitter (@pocketmojo if you want to follow me) then I'm not automatically subscribed to, or following, that person. It's a good thing too as Twitter, like many other online services, is not without spammers and charlatans.
All of this leads me to this question - what are the friendship rules for online communities (or "social networks" if you must use that term)? Here are mine.
1 - I don't automatically accept all Facebook friend requests (I have several queued up at the moment). I only accept requests from people I actually know. If I'm posting family photos, family news or some other message then I'm not sure that business acquaintances really care.
2 - I "friend' people on Facebook only if I actually know them and have, as a friend of mine puts it, "shared a moment". That might have been meeting and having drinks together socially, a work colleague who's become a friend or something like that. Sure, the line is arbritrary but it's a line.
3 - I don't automatically reciprocate with everyone that follows me on Twitter. I'm glad that what I have to say is of interest to you but that doesn't mean I feel the same way. In particular, i know that there are many people following my updates purely on ther basis of one thing I tweeted. For example, I once bitched about a stage hypnotist I saw. Withing minutes, another hypnotist started following me.
4 - I will un-follow or un-friend people who offend me. Last week, I stopped following someone on Twitter as I was sick of the pointless profanity. It's worth knowing that "dropping" someone on Facebook is, apparently, silent. The other party doesn't get directly notified.
So, what do you do to get the most from sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and their ilk? Do you friend as many people as possible? Are you more selective? Do you use one service for "mass following" and another for more intimate relationships?
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Now Hear This
By David HAGUE
Sadly, the combination of lots of travelling during the last week (from Perth to Broome to Perth to Sydney and back to Perth all within in 7 days), the ‘excitement’ of Easter (and a broken front tooth now rubbing on my bottom lip) and trying to catch up has seen the inevitable happen The first bout of flu’ for the season.
Well I say ‘flu as we all do, when in all truth was know it is just a cold. And a bad cold is akin to Bird Flu. This is not that, although it is bad enough you could photograph it. Either way, between sneezes, coughs, splutters or Codril, this is a short blog this week.
On the plane between crocodiles and trophies we didn’t win, I saw a lot of TV. The plane to Broome was a sad little 717 where all passengers shared the one movie but the Perth – Sydney return flights were brand spanking new Airbus 320s with a screen each and around 300 channels (it seemed) to choose from. As is my want, I watched a lot of Top Gear.
I have waxed lyrical about the quality of the shooting in this show, and their adventurous and subtle use of Cokin filters to create the Top Gear ‘look’ as we call it in Australasian Camcorder magazine. But listening through headphones brought in a new dimension as well; the audio. I have mentioned before that audio is as important as the image quality in video, but not really discussed the quality of the audio. When it is done well, it makes an amazing difference.
Try it and see. Get a favourite movie out on DVD (or better, on Blu-ray) and have a listen. Then have a look at some of the tools you can use to accent your own video projects. My software of choice here is Sony Sound Forge, but Audacity which is shareware is also very good.
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Will someone please burst the Twitter bubble?
By Ian GRAYSON
I've recently been thinking the hype surrounding Twitter couldn't possibly get any bigger, but it seems I was wrong.
Just like pet rocks, Tamogotchi toys and oversized sunglasses, Twitter has come from nowhere to be the coolest thing on the block.
The micro-blogging service that makes no money yet manages to clutter people's lives with worthless drivel has rocketed up the rankings to become one of the most talked-about tech topics on the planet.
Like all crazes, I've been waiting for reason to return and this over-hyped waste of time to slide slowly to the bottom of the "Why did we ever think that was cool?" list. But it seems, unfortunately, this could take longer than I'd hoped.
My online wanderings were stopped this past week by a story about a new PR company set up to help businesses make the most of Twitter. According to the company's website its aim is to build " a suite of apps, tools and services to help brands, media companies, and celebrities harness the power of the Twitter ecosystem".
Pardon me while I choke. They're going to make money from showing companies how to generate business from quirky 140-character text messages? Good luck.
Now, I should say that I do understand the basic concept of Twitter. It's designed to let people gather groups of followers who want to hang on their every electronic word, waiting in hope for their next mini utterance.
But what's the point for business? Does anyone want to recieve Twitter spam from corporates desperate to appear cool and connected? I don't think so.
So let's leave Twitter be. It might be useful for those desperate enough to need a circle of electronic friends or others needing to feel close to those they don't really know. But for the rest of us, it's just an amusing hype cycle.
Here's looking forward to the next one. Let's hope it's got more substance.
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