Tag Archives: technology

Apple TV interface is a disappointment


Apple TV connected to a standard wide-screen TV

Apple TV connected to a standard wide-screen TV

About six weeks ago, I took the plunge and bought the new-and-improved 40 GB Apple TV. For those of you who don’t know, Apple TV isn’t a TV tuner system. It’s a sort of video-music-media queueing box for watching your family videos, playing your iTunes music through your TV, and viewing your iPhoto pictures on your TV. It doesn’t replace your DVD player, your computer, your TiVo or your cable tuner. It’s an addition to those.


After trying several ways to use it, I have settled that it’s a great way to share photo slideshows and quick home movies with dinner guests. For everything else, it’s a bit of a pain. Here’s why:

The interface: Apple has made its name by making its products a joy to use. Because the Apple TV connects to the Internet, you can shop and download music and movies (rent + buy) through a special Apple TV version of the iTunes store. The idea of buying and renting movies using a remote from your couch is great. But to find these (among Apple’s slim movie selection) requires you to search by pecking out the name one letter at a time with a joystick, kind of like pecking out your initials for a high score on an old Pac-Man machine. The 4-way button on the Apple Remote that comes with the TV is a clumsy tool for choosing letters.

The syncing: Apple TV forces you to choose a primary computer in your house for syncing movies, music and other media. This is done with a simple number passkey issued on one device and typed by the user into the other. Pairing is quick and easy, but then all other computers must be added as secondary “shared library” with limited syncing options.

The confusion: Navigating among the different types of media on your Apple TV is a lot like digging through the sorted-stack menus on a click-wheel iPod. But even though the Apple TV itself is connected wirelessly to the Internet AND your Mac, its interface makes it feel less like a computer and more it like a big, dumb iPod hooked to your TV.

The default settings lead the Apple TV to sync automatically with your primary Mac, giving preference to the newest, latest, and unplayed media. This encouraged me (and I would bet others as well) to manage all the Apple TV media solely on the Mac. I started using Apple TV only to play back media I had put onto the Mac and set up to sync. So when I decided one night to rent a movie on iTunes, I did it from my Mac, thinking I could download it and then sync it to the Apple TV and watch it on the couch. So I was surprised to find that my $2.99 movie was not allowed to be synced to my Apple TV. Apparently, in order to watch the movie on my Apple TV, I’d have to rent it again ON the Apple TV – using the Pac-Man joystick pecking method.

Overall – it works. Most of the time. But the number of hiccups in using it make it a less-than-average quality Mac interface experience. For somebody who appreciates good interface, it’s a disappointment from Cupertino. And at $229 for the 40GB model and $329 for the 160 GB model, I can’t say it delivers value equal with its cost.


Backpack grows into a good small-business intranet

We’ve been using Backpack from 37signals for personal organization and page-sharing with small groups since last year, but we’ve kept most multi-user projects in Basecamp because it’s the more robust system for lots of users.

However, Basecamp is often too cumbersome for simpler projects, or projects with fewer than four or five users.  So 37signals just rolled out a major upgrade to Backpack and changed its pricing plans to make it more of a group tool, rather than an individual tool.

Read their blog about the philosophy behind the switch. It’s clear that Backpack is moving into the project management space that Basecamp has clearly owned for so long, but Backpack does have more of the small-business intranet features, as they state.

We’re going to try it out with a couple of group projects and see how it works. It does feel like 37signals products are creating more overlap with one another, between Basecamp, Backpack and Highrise, but they are all cool, and we have yet to be disappointed with their simplicity of design and clarity of purpose. 

Bee lets you WordPress offline using Adobe AIR

Here’s an interesting thing we ran across today on the Adobe Labs site. Bee is a new offline blog editor compatible with WordPress that lets you access and sync with your blog from offline. More below:Bee is a desktop blog editor built on AIR in HTML/JavaScript. Bee integrates WordPress blogging platform and Flickr photo sharing support and offers simple unified workflows for photo blogging. This application integrates a number of javascript frameworks and libraries including Prototype, script.aculo.us, Spry, TinyMCE, and Walter Zorn’s Tooltips for Javascript.

iPhone JavaScript Interface with Digg API

This guy David has come up with a proof of concept for a Javascript Web version of the iPhone interface. Play with it and see what you think. The Digg navigation is lovely.read more | digg story

Basecamp goes live with OpenID

OpenID logoWell, techophiles and security geeks will appreciate this: Basecamp, the world’s greatest project management platform (and what we use at Laughing Giant), has just pushed a change last night allowing users to use an OpenID for authentication instead of yet another username and password.

We got to see a preview of the things coming to OpenID a couple of months ago at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo, and it’s clear that shared standards like the OpenID federation are gathering momentum.

Another great thing with this is that 37signals have done is created the Open Bar (awesome!) where you can see all the 37signals logins you have. This means that people like me, who use multiple Basecamp and Highrise accounts for work, personal and projects, can log in once and see all their “sites” in the Open Bar.

Truly cool.

Breaking through the Surface

Surface shotWow. So Microsoft are now soft-promoting the new Surface computing platform, which sort of brings the iPhone, the Minority Report grab-screen, and some oPhoto-like snapshot galleries together in a Frankenstein coffee table. Ever since the iPhone announcement, people have been talking a lot this year about the “pinch” touch-screen technology that allows manipulation with your fingers. This guy Jeff Han at NYU has developed a pretty cool interface as well.

I appreciate the future-factor, but what’s even better is this faux-commercial for Surface now appearing on Flixxy. It playfully raises all the questions I continually ask myself: is this better than interacting with humans? Is this better than handling photos myself? Isn’t a real postcard more thoughtful? Isn’t painting more fun when you can smell the oils and get messy? What would happen if I diverted all the time that I spend messing with technology instead to my kids? And finally, which has more party appeal — the FrankenSurface or a vintage 1981 table-top Ms. Pacman machine?

Jobs hones the knife with Mossberg at D5

Jobs & Mossberg at D5We here at Laughing Giant always enjoy the brand-building circus that is the Apple marketing machine, and this video of interview highlights is no disappointment.

Taken from yesterday’s appearance at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference (“D5”), the banter between Jobs and Walt Mossberg is playful as always, and while it doesn’t leak any new secrets about Apple TV, the iPhone, or other products, it does serve to clarifly the way in which Jobs regards the Apple empire — which is quickly becoming three-and-a-half businesses.

Watch this if you will, but don’t miss the final second — Jobs proves his position as a sorcerer of sound bites. I wish I’D thought of that one…