What Apple Did

So, I was mostly right and somewhat wrong:

AppleTV refreshwrong. Of course if Apple really is working on a TV and/or licensing negotiations with HBO, CBS, Amazon, or whoever, then perhaps any movement in AppleTV world would justify its own event.

Maverickscorrect. (Free was a nice surprise.)

Macbook Proscorrect. (Lower prices were a nice surprise.) Note that the non-retina MBP 13″ remains on sale — it’s slightly cheaper than the entry-level retina MBP, but appears not to be Haswell-based.

Mac Miniwrong. (Well, I did say 50/50.) The Mac Mini is now the only Mac still with Intel HD Graphics 4000.

Mac Procorrect. (And correct again on it being unattractive on release — more expensive than expected, and no expansion or upgrade options laid out.) The tech specs sheet is confusing — appearing to imply that there are two distinct Mac Pro chassis options, but upon inspection there’s only one, but they don’t let you configure the cheaper model beyond the specification of the more expensive model.

10″ iPadcorrect. I did not predict, but was surprised by the lack of 802.11ac, but I’m not exactly sure what MIMO is. It’s odd to me that there were several mentions of MIMO (which seems to be a component of 802.11ac) but that some of the new products are reported as having MIMO (but no 802.11ac) and others as having 802.11ac (but no reference to MIMO).

8″ iPadcorrect. Again, retina + A7 is what I predicted, but I kind of more-than-half expected to be disappointed.

iPod Touch Gen 6wrong. Indeed, no iPod announcements.

Surprises

1lb (453g). The new iPad (“iPad Air”) is amazingly light. (Does the new name hint that an iPad Pro is coming out? Why yes it does.) This means that an iPad Air along with a third party keyboard might easily weigh about as much as the previous generation iPad. (Note that the new Retina Mini is a tad heavier than its predecessor at 331g vs 308g.)

iPad 2 remains on sale. (Looks like the iPad 2 remains the baseline iPad configuration for another year — note that the original Mac Mini, which remains on sale for $299, is essentially an iPad 2.)

(The iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S are the only products Apple still sells that use the old dock connector. It’s interesting that Apple doesn’t just switch over to the new connector across the board.)

Real-time collaboration in iWork. iWork blows away Google docs as a web application, but adding real-time collaboration (assuming it works) takes away Google docs one remaining advantage.

iWork and iLife revisions. I’m not sure if the Mac versions have received much love. I didn’t actually see the live stream (I watched Ars Technica’s Live Blog), but as far as I can tell it’s the iOS versions of the iWork apps that have received the most attention.

iBooks for iOS is still rocking a wooden icon, but iBooks on the Mac has a new iOS7-ish icon. Meanwhile it seems that the iWork apps on the Mac have new icons that look neither Mac- nor iOS7-like, while the iOS versions are iOS7-ish (and pretty lame in the case of Pages and Numbers).

Sony PS3 GTAV Special Edition Out Of Box Experience…

…sucks.

I wish I’d taken pictures. It’s so bad it’s almost comical.

First impressions — initial screens were horribly ugly and had badly anti-aliased text.

Then, the device didn’t detect it was plugged into a HD TV automatically — I had to tell it. The screens henceforth were nicer, but not consistent or polished. (XBox 360 is much snazzier.)

When I turned on the device, it required me to enter a bunch of information (e.g. date and time) which it could have obtained online if it had simply requested network login information first. Duh.

Initial configuration involved using multiple keyboard interfaces, one like a cellphone (multiple presses per character) and another with a more conventional layout that nevertheless was idiotic (e.g. highly inconvenient access to the @ symbol when entering email addresses).

Oh, and then it needed to download an update.

Every game I’ve played on the device, including the GTAV that came bundled with it, needs to download and install an update before it will run. The downloads are ridiculously slow and you’re repeatedly told (a) that they can’t be done in the background (why not?) and (b) not to interrupt them. (I’m writing this diatribe while I wait for LittleBIGPlanet 2 to patch itself into functional form. To be fair, most of the patches don’t take especially long, but this one is glacial.)

Every app I’ve downloaded from the menus (e.g. Netflix and Amazon Prime) immediately needed to be updated immediately after installation (and did not do so automatically, so I go off to grab a coffee or whatever, and come back to a screen requiring me to click a button to update the damn software).

When you start a game or launch an app, the screen goes blank (as in the PS3 stops sending out a video signal) for several seconds. It’s just ugly and clumsy.

Once you’re in a game, it’s a pretty nice machine except for the constant squeaking of the optical drive.

Finally — note that this is the new slimline 500GB PS3. Maybe the older, bigger, more expensive PS3 was a better put together piece of kit, but I assume it had the same lousy software. It’s quite noisy and pumps out a significant amount of hot air. In terms of build quality, it feels shoddy compared to me original Sony PS2 or my newer slimline PS2, or my XBox 360 — let alone a Mac Mini, say. I don’t know if it’s designed to stand vertically, but there are no affordances such as rubber feet.

Oh, and it’s very easy to knock the power button (which is mounted on the front edge of the device). I’ve accidentally toggled off the power mid-game twice already.

Seriously, this is a piece of shit compared to current Apple hardware, let alone software. I hope the PS4 is better (my several year old XBox 360 is a freaking masterpiece compared to the PS3 in terms of user experience).

Unbricking the Nexus 7

Bricked Nexus 7
Bricked Nexus 7

My Nexus 7 took its second dirt nap yesterday. Note that it’s been software problems both times. Apparently it automatically patched itself into an unbootable state.

The top search results dealing with this issue were useless, and the ones I eventually found involved downloading crap from dubious sources and/or had serious omissions in the instructions (here’s a link to the instructions I used but note that my instructions here actually work), so as a service to Google’s other Mac-using victims customers, here’s how I fixed my problem.

You will need to:

  1. Forget about the stuff on your Nexus 7. It’s gone. (Note that your Apps will reinstall, and if you’ve been automatically backing your device up to your Google account or whatever, everything will come back eventually — it’s actually quite impressive, although it doesn’t make up for the whole self-bricking thing, or how difficult the process you’re about to undertake is.)
  2. If you don’t have Java installed, you’ll probably need to install it. If your copy of Java is out-of-date you may need to patch it.
  3. Download the Android SDK (you’ll need one tool from it called fastboot). Get it here (download the Use an existing IDE link to get the least amount of crap. Expand the resulting archive, rename the folder android-sdk and move it to your home directory.
  4. Download the appropriate factory image from here. (I downloaded “Nakasi for Nexus 7 WiFi”.) Drag the resulting 275MB archive to your desktop, expand it, and rename it Nexus 7 Factory Image.
  5. Now connect your Nexus 7 to your Mac using the USB cable that you charge it with. Hold down the power button until the Google logo disappears then immediately press and hold the volume down switch until you see the Nexus 7’s “FASTBOOT MODE” screen (it’s in tiny nigh-unreadable red text accompanying picture of an Android having open-heart surgery). (At any point you can get back to “the fastboot screen” using this process.)

    Fastboot Mode — helpfully rendered in illegibly small type
    Fastboot Mode — helpfully rendered in illegibly small type
  6. Now (assuming your Android SDK is where you I told you to put it), launch terminal and enter ~/android-sdk/tools/android. This will launch a butt-ugly Java application. Check the box next to Android SDK Platform Tools and click the Install packages… button. When that’s done, quit the app.
  7. Next, in terminal enter cd ~/Desktop/Nex and hit TAB (it should autocomplete the name of the factory image directory).
  8. Now, enter ~/android-sdk/platform-tools/fastboot devices and press enter. It should list attached Android devices, in particular your Nexus 7 (along with some funky number).
  9. Now, press up arrow and then replace devices with erase boot and hit enter. Repeat with cache, recovery, system, and userdata. You may get some funky messages such as “are you sure you don’t want to partition”. Unless you get an actual failure or error message you should successfully have deleted all your precious data.
  10. Now, and this is the step missing from the instructions I eventually followed, you may need to unlock your bootloader. Hit up arrow and replace erase userdata with oem unlock. (Don’t worry, you can undo this later if you want to go back in the walled garden.)
  11. Next, hit up arrow again -w update imag and then hit TAB (to autocomplete the name of the image file you’re going to flash onto the device).
  12. At this point I think my device booted itself, but if not you may need to continue:
  13. Now, hit up arrow again and …fastboot reboot bootloader followed by …fastboot reboot
  14. You may want to return to the fastboot screen and use …/fastboot oem lock to return to the walled garden.

That’s it. I hope this saves someone the problems I had.

Roku 3 vs. AppleTV

Roku 3 (image provided by Roku)
Roku 3 (image provided by Roku)

I just got spammed by Roku (we owned a second-generation — I think — Roku, which we hardly used and eventually gave away, so I guess they have my email address). I’m not really in the market for a Roku since it doesn’t let me watch iTunes content (in which we have a significant investment) and AppleTV lets me watch pretty much everything I’d watch on a Roku, but it is interesting to see Roku out in front of AppleTV in significant ways.

  • Remote control has a headphone jack. This is a huge missed opportunity for Apple, especially since many Apple “remotes” (i.e. iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads) already have wireless connections and headphone jacks. (Incidentally, some kind of fine-tuning of lipsync would probably be a good idea.) If you go back to my broken hub post, this kind of falls under the question why A can’t stream audio/video to or remotely control B for any A and B where-ever it would make sense in the Apple universe? It didn’t occur to me that AppleTV’s should be able to stream audio to other devices, but they should.
  • Search is federated. The company that built fast, federated search into its operating system still won’t let you search for a movie across content silos — I need to search for Phineas & Ferb in iTunes, Hulu, and Netflix separately. Again, it’s worse than that because Apple doesn’t build enough of the AppleTV software into its remote — I should be able to do content searches on my iPad and then simply tell my AppleTV to jump straight to a result rather than use my iPad to painfully generate a query on my AppleTV.
  • It also looks like Roku’s remote control apps are smarter — i.e. more smarts in the app rather than simply emulating a crappy remote control.
  • Roku also seems to be stressing how fast the new device performs. (Given Tivo’s ever-more-torpid UI and AppleTV’s overally network-dependent performance, this is no minor thing.)

If I were to provide a wish list for AppleTV, a lot of the items have already been addressed by the new Roku. (I assume that, given HBOGO now streams to AppleTV that an app for AppleTV is in the works.) Here’s hoping that AppleTV is about to get some serious love.

Sony’s sensor dominance

iPhone 4S Camera Module (via Chipworks)
iPhone 4S Camera Module (via Chipworks)

Is Sony building a sensor monopoly?

It’s beginning to look like Sony is positioning itself as the Kodak of digital photography. Or perhaps the Intel.

Virtually all the exciting new cameras around are sporting Sony cameras — including Sony’s own RX-1, the Leica M, the Olympus OM-D EM-5, and the D-600. The new Leica is almost certainly using a Sony sensor. Fuji’s XF system seems to be based on the 16MP APS-C sensor with a custom color filter. Does the GH-3 use a Sony sensor too? And, if not, will it be competitive? I’d suggest that Panasonic relying on Sony sensors would be pretty disturbing given that for a long time Panasonic has been Sony’s only credible rival in video.

Now and for several years Sony’s sensors have dominated DxOMark’s rankings (perhaps Sony has cottoned onto DxOMark as the most cited sensor benchmark and is optimizing its sensors accordingly).

It’s also worth noting that Pentax’s K5 and K30 both use the same Sony sensor used in the Nikon D7000. And, for good measure, Sony has just invested a bunch of money in Olympus, giving it some kind of stake in Micro Four-Thirds. The camera module in the iPhone 4S is known to be from Sony, and it’s highly likely that in the iPhone 5 is also. (Who makes the camera modules in Nokia’s various “PureView” branded phones?) It seems like the only major holdouts are Samsung (who I assume are busily trying to clone Sony’s sensors) and Canon (and I for one am not going to buy a Canon DSLR to help prop them up until they give up on their ridiculous control layout).

The digital photography market is not an easy place to be right now. Smartphones with ridiculously good camera modules are eating out the ground beneath it, and at the high end Sony is cheerfully selling very nice sensor modules to everyone and letting them all kill each other. Sony (and Minolta) have never managed to dominate this market (aside from a brief period where their high-end point-and-shoots were all that enthusiasts could afford), so a chaotic melee where everyone ends up weakened and dependent on Sony suits them just fine. In this context, Sony’s injection of $400M into Olympus makes a lot of sense. In a world where Sony were trying to make NEX dominant it wouldn’t make sense to prop up NEX’s most credible competitor, but in a world where Sony just wants everyone else weak or dead it makes perfect sense.

Of course, Sony has been losing money for a couple of years now, so in order to capitalize on its success in the camera market (where it still makes money) it needs to get the rest of its house in order.