[FoRK] What the hell just happened?

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Wed Apr 7 08:27:43 PDT 2010

Re:  MC's forwarded article, addressing a few of the "glaring" issues.


> It's Awkward 
> It's heavy
> It's slippery 

Possibly, though to be honest I find all of these (except perhaps the slippery bit, easily remedied with a case or skin of some sort) less significant than I anticipated before actually using the device.

> The screen has too much glare

Possibly, though the "very dim room" bit may be a feature rather than a bug.  In general, I don't notice this --- but then, I tend not to be reading in Central Park, see below.

> Forget reading in the sun

Forget reading your e-Ink Kindle in bed with the lights out, in a dimly-lit room, etc...  

Longer version:  oh, the e-ink mytheme (neologism, just came up with that, no Google hits, I claim priority.)  Setting aside the fact of e-ink latency, for the time being e-ink devices are profoundly unsuited for anything other than text and antique xylographic illustrations.  And even then, only in well-lit environments.  I've owned every Kindle device that they have manufactured, and yet I have read more Kindle content *on my iPhone* --- precisely because it's backlit.  For me, and I suspect for lots of other folks, the reading use cases for "anything other than direct sunlight" completely dominate.

Furthermore, the whole act of "reading" becomes completely different, a fully-integrated multimedia / interactive experience, on a decent touch device with a great display.  This is far more subtle and profound than I expected.  It's a future of media that is unanticipated by e.g. the Kindle, where the primary motivation was to faithfully reproduce and only incrementally improve upon mostly-noninteractive print media.

> Fingerprints are annoying 

Yes, but the trade-off is superb touch control.  A reasonable tradeoff, I'd say.

It does get gunky.  Swiping it a couple of times against your shirt is a reasonable and efficient remedy.

> It does not multitask

Yes, but is it a bug or feature?  For the previously-unacknowledged group of users that Apple is asserting actually exist and will be well-served by such a device, present means of multitasking in e.g. desktop environments are unsuited.  That said, they'll fix this in some reasonable way, and soon (I'd say.  As in, maybe we get the announcement tomorrow...)

> The browser is limited

Again, is it a bug or feature for the users they are targeting.

Flash would be nice, but they're taking a political stand --- and one on the basis of openness, for once.  They do that occasionally, but less frequently than I'd like.

That said, expect improvements here.  Bookmark management, too, is a PITA.

> The virtual keyboard stinks

Probably irrelevant given the use cases and users that Apple's shooting for:  light or very constrained communicators who presently use whatever devices they do use in a read-mostly media consumption mode.  (But even then:  Apple is betting that touch, doodling etc. are better input modes for the non-textual kinds of content these users are likely to prefer anyway...  the drawing apps on the device are, for small uses, absolutely superb.)

> There's no USB port 

There's also no filesystem that's user-accessible other than e.g. via apps over-the-air to remote storage, which even then cannot be written to in a general way by on-device apps.  Point?  This latter --- the fs issue, not the port itself --- is likely to be the biggest annoyance to techies.  I do hope they fix that.

But it surprises anyone that Jobs wants to sell non-extensible devices to non-technical users?  This criticism was also levied at the original Mac, and it (a) didn't really hinder the Mac's adoption, did it? and (b) was ultimately remedied.

> iPhone-only apps look horrible

You can't run Windows apps on it, either.  So what?

There are (I'm guessing) already more original titles available specifically for this device from a greater number of developers than *any* new computing platform at launch.

> The price is just too high 

We'll see.  The price is lower than many expected, and reflects a new pricing strata that supports the thesis that Apple views this as a new category of device.  We'll see if they got it right.

> It doesn't replace anything 

Ah, the crux of the argument.

What did the desktop computer replace?

In truth, this criticism is partially true, and partly not.  Apple is betting that such a device, for non-technical users, will replace their *need for* desktop or laptop devices that they use in a limited way.  And possibly they're betting that it will not replace but will be used in novel ways where a desktop or laptop would be inconvenient, even for technical users.

Whether Apple got this right --- read the latent consumer demand correctly --- or not is the key question that will determine the success or failure of the whole device category.

Interesting times.  We'll see...


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