Archive for the ‘devices’ Category
… and not just because it’s the second-worst album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The word “magic” is particularly annoying when applied to consumer technology, starting with Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s pithy and pungent, but untrue. Air conditioner technology is quite advanced. We all know the difference between air conditioning and magic.
Bill Gates, during his post-CEO/pre-departure years at Microsoft, tried to push this word. I saw him use the term “magic” to describe what his company’s software did at many conferences, much as he does in this 2004 column for InformationWeek:
It’s the magic of software that will connect these devices into a seamless whole, making them an indispensable part of our everyday lives.
He’s describing Windows Update, a service about as magical as a doorbell.
And now Apple is playing the “magic” game. Its new mouse replaces its previous wireless “Mighty Mouse,” which was characterized mostly by its inability to hold a Bluetooth connection for more than 90 seconds. It’s called a “Magic Mouse.” It’s amusing to see the trendsetters at Apple picking up on a half-decade-old discarded Microsoft slogan. So much for thinking different(ly). But it emphasizes how much trouble computer makers are having selling their wares nowadays. With computers becoming more and more commoditized, it’s hard to get anyone excited about them for reasons other than design, at which Apple excels. So the companies who sell us computers and products that connect to them have to start making things up about them, like they’re “magic.” This doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration anymore.
Like everyone else with something resembling a life, the amount of things I have to do beats the crap out of the amount of time I have to do them. So I’ve used a variety of methodologies, software programs, wireless devices, and enthusiast websites (1, 2) to keep everything organized and moving forward.
Nirvana for personal overclockers, at least on the digital side of personal optimization, is complete synchronization across computers, networks, and devices. Yet the most basic of synchronizations — notes and lists of tasks that work together on a computer and a handheld device, something I took for granted when the original PalmPilot came out in 1995 — is unavailable on the iPhone. The failure is Apple’s, of course. But there is one vendor that could solve the problem and make some money from it, but has decided not to. At first I thought this decision was a big, fat fail, but now I wonder.
Remember the Milk is a sturdy web-based task management service. It’s reliable and flexible, and it comes in a very handy iPhone-optimized version. It doesn’t, however, work with Microsoft Outlook, the “productivity” suite millions of people
are forced to work with. A service that could connect Outlook tasks to the iPhone via a premium web-based service would seem a smart business. And because it already has an excellent web-based service that works well on the iPhone, you’d think Remember the Milk would be uniquely positioned to own that niche.
So do hundreds (at least) of Remember the Milk (RTM) users, both those using the free and “pro” ($25 per year) versions. An active, energetic thread in RTM’s forums (disclosure: I’ve contributed) is full of requests, demands, and begs that the small company develop an Outlook-synching tool, as it has for some other platforms. The folks who write and manage RTM weighed in early in the discussion but have been noticeable by their absence for more than 18 months.
I thought this was nuts. I wanted to grab the RTM team by their lapels and shout, “People, your customers, many of whom don’t give you a dime, are offering to sign up for your paid service if you just do this. Why don’t you?”
I don’t know anyone at RTM and I haven’t heard from any of them about this. (I weighed in a few times in the discussion forum and sent an email, but I never heard back.) These people have developed a good service. Shouldn’t I at least acknowledge that they might know their customers better than I do? They’re certainly talented at getting the service to work in plenty of places: web, iPhone, BlackBerry, plenty of Google services, Twitter, Windows Mobile devices, even when not connected to the Net. If they wanted to provide Outlook synchronization, they could. They’ve chosen not to. There is an API for RTM, so I suppose I could do this myself if I (a) had the inclination and (b) did not stink as a programmer.
There are plenty of good reasons for RTM to punt on Outlook. Maybe the RTM userbase is far more Mac-centric than you’d think. Maybe either Microsoft or Apple are working on this and RTM knows this. Maybe some people at the Googleplex are working on Google Tasks in their 20% time and RTM knows this. Maybe someone outside RTM who (a) has the inclination and (b) does not stink as a programmer is working on this. Maybe no one at RTM has the energy for yet another port.
The problem is: I don’t know. I’m willing to assume that RTM has good reason not to provide Outlook synchronization. But as a paying customer and a fan, I’d rather know for sure.
Where you been?
Canada, mostly. The five of us and a friend of Eli’s packed into the van: half a week in Montreal (good, and I was not responsible for this), half a week in Ottawa (great), and a one-night stopover in Burlington, Vt., on the way back. As of Tuesday, I’m three-quarters of the way to Inbox Zero. I need to learn French for the next trip to the Great White North.
Was everything the same when you returned?
Mostly. Manny is gone, and so is Scrabulous, but it looks as if the latter has returned in not-too-diminished form. I missed a particularly weird Carl Icahn hissy fit, and I’ll have to check in with Paczkowski for guidance on how to interpret that.
What did you learn about your newspaper-reading habits while you were gone?
As I’ve noted previously, I’m done with print newspapers. For the first half of the vacation, I did a reasonably good job of staying off the laptop (and we were in another country, so I didn’t want to turn on the iPhone unless absolutely necessary). If I wanted to know what was going on in the world I had to read the print versions of the Times and Journal, both of which were available in hotel gift shops at imminent-apocalypse prices. I imagined that reading newspapers this way would feel like a luxury. Instead, compared to their younger online siblings, they felt out of date and, well, short. Aside from the immediacy you get from following news via the net, chances are you see that news as part of a larger river of information. It’s always coming at you. In comparison, reading the news in a newspaper feels limited, finite. It ends. News on the net never ends (for better or worse).
Also worth looking at was the National Gallery in Ottawa. We spent two hours there. I bet we could have gone at least two days without running out of surprises. I was particularly taken by William Kurelek’s “Arriving on the Manitoba Farm,” which looks dark and formless in this image, but reveals more and more layers of detail and meaning when you have the pleasure of standing in front of it.
When you stopped in Burlington, Vt., on the way back, did you see any newspaper headlines you’d expect to see only in Burlington, Vt.?
What did you read?
Parts of Francine Prose’s Read Like a Writer (mostly zzz, but it did introduce me to this guy) and Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, and (several times) my favorite Chekhov story, “The Lady with the Dog.”
And you read them all on your…
Kindle, right. It’s a usability nightmare and the selection of Amazon-blessed-and-DRMed books is insufficient and random, but I found it convenient and comfortable under all but the most low-light situations.
Did you write?
Yes, especially early in the week when I was still keeping that off-the-net promise. It’s amazing how less depressed you can be about the quality of something if you’re actually working on it. And maybe I should consider a new business model.
What was Jane’s most memorable quote during the week?
There were so many candidates, but I’m going with “I’m trying to save the tattoo.”
How’s the new job going?
So far it seems like a very good fit. I’ll have a full report at the end of The First 90 Days.
Weren’t you going to tell us the point of this blog?
Comments from Doug, Owen, and Andrea — and a gift from Brian — showed me the limits of my thinking from a few posts ago. And Jane has suggested that I write about what I think about: namely, media and technology. So, unless you’re reading this via a newsreader, you’ll see that the blog now has a new tagline: “media, technology, and the rest of it.” I’ve got some ideas for making this more than a vanity blog; we’ll see if I can live up to them. Oh, and to warn you, I’m going to pay more attention to Twitter.
Gotta see how the WordPress app for the iPhone works.
Buried in Apple’s new App Store is the ebook reader app eReader. It’s pretty good, considering the small screen, but the best news is that all the ebooks I bought from the eReader store when I thought I’d be on the PalmOS forever work again. Now if Apple could squeeze a competent tasks app into the iPhone I wouldn’s miss my Treo so much.
What better way to start a new week than by winning a free copy of The Sandinista Project? The first person with a correct answer will win a copy of that semilegendary two-CD set. Good luck!
In what Steven Seagal vehicle is the lead character, played by “the world’s only aikido instructor turned movie star/director/writer/blues guitarist/energy drink inventor,” as he is identified in Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal, writing his autobiography on an Apple Newton?
First correct answer in the comments wins. Please don’t cheat. This isn’t Scrabulous.
Just got a Kindle. (Thanks for the gift certificate, EH!) According to the box, the Kindle is “Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device.” Er, aren’t the most popular reading devices (books, magazines, newspapers, sides and backs of cereal boxes) all wireless?
Not sure how I’ll use the device; it’s an experiment. My former boss Tim O’Reilly has elegantly laid out how we consider the Kindle in a multitouch world and my former colleague Mike Hendrickson makes a spirited case for the XO laptop as an ebook reader, but I’ve heard rumblings than a publishing ecosystem may be brewing for the Kindle and I want to understand how it works sooner rather than later. Will pass on any epiphanies or disappointments…