This could be bad news for games consoles

Rumours abounding (nice example here from John Gruber) that Apple may be about to announce an updated Apple TV operating system with apps support, possibly integrated into an Apple-branded TV set rather than being available only as a separate box as at present.

(How would you control it? Through a separate iOS device like an iPad?)

This sounds potentially very bad for the traditional games console, a market that seems to be already waning.

If I could only have one secretive, obsessively proprietary company making integrated hardware and software products, with a history of approaching product design a bit differently from its competition, of favouring customer pleasure over technical advantage, and of treating third-party developers in unpredictable and capricious ways… I’d choose Nintendo rather than Apple.

But Nintendo don’t really seem to know what to do at the moment. A pity.

At last, a PC with a decent screen resolution

Pity it’s so small!

I’ve been longing to see a resolution as good as 2048×1536 on a flat-panel 14″ laptop or 19″ desktop screen. Clearly it was possible, but it never arrived.

Perhaps that’s because the one company that seems to take an interest in these things nowadays (Apple) has a desktop operating system that won’t let you change the font size.

So there’s never been much point in their making a screen with such a high resolution, because you wouldn’t be able to read the text—unless the screen was huge… and a huge screen needs to be widescreen or else it’ll be too tall to scan by eye easily… and so here we are, surrounded by rubbish monitors. Hey ho.

No, the last time anything at all comparable was available, it looked like this:This 19″ screen, from about a decade ago, managed 1920×1440. That’s looking pretty good by now.

No Refunds

Bogus Pokemon evolves into iTunes smash hit; 2012: The Year Scam Apps Killed the App Store — As someone who used the Android Market before either of Apple’s app stores, the thing I found most mind-boggling about Apple’s was the lack of any apparent way to get a refund if an application doesn’t work.

It fascinates me, although not in a good way, that the world’s most successful software store should be one in which normal consumer rights are effectively suspended. (It is possible to get a refund, from Apple rather than from the individual app developer, but by all accounts it isn’t easy.)

This really pains me as a developer, as well: if any of my customers are unhappy, I want them to get their money back immediately. It’s fair, and because it creates a better impression, it’s good business as well.

For developers, it’s both a logistical benefit and the curse of the App Store model that you generally have no contact with your customers. But not long ago I had an email from someone who had bought an app of mine from the Mac App Store and was disappointed with it—it didn’t do what they expected. What can I say? There’s nothing I can do to help you. That feels wrong: it is wrong.

Sad Lion

Mountain Lion may drop support for older Macs (The Verge)

It appears that OS/X 10.8 won’t work on many Macs more than about three years old.

Apparently this is a consequence of cleaning up its 64-bitness, and so losing support for 32-bit EFI bootloaders. (The 10.7 release already dropped support for 32-bit CPUs, such as the Core Duo used in the earliest Intel Macs.)

If this applies to the eventual release as well as the developer preview, that means it won’t run on any of the Macs available to me—not on either of the Mac Minis on my desk at work, nor the Mini I use for development at home, nor my wife’s MacBook Pro, nor indeed my mother’s MacBook.

(I’d better get ready to update this OS/X build compatibility page.)

Really though, this post is an excuse to include a picture of a Sad Lion drawn by my son.

The Third Pad

I’ve become used to thinking of Apple’s product releases as falling into two categories: “outreach” or “consolidation”.

Outreach releases are new products, or products introducing features that users will be unfamiliar with or that are novel enough to be headliners in adverts.

Consolidation releases do essentially the same as the previous release, but faster or more neatly. Usually they look the same as well.

Early adopters buy and promote the outreach releases, with the “new” stuff in them. Late adopters are reassured that the product is “safe” in time to buy the consolidation release, which also has better specifications, is perhaps more reliable, and has a longer lifetime before replacement.

(I’m sure there are standard names for these two in business terminology. I’ve never had any education in business. From random things I’ve read, I’d like to say “disruptive” and “sustaining”, but I don’t think my uses really match the established meanings of these.)

Of course, there’s some room for argument about which release is of which type.

That’s what pubs are for.

In my view, outreach releases include the first iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 4, the first iPad and the first MacBook Air.  Consolidation releases include the iPhone 3GS and 4S, subsequent MacBook Airs, and all the iPod touch models.  Roughly speaking, the release types alternate.

What about the iPad 2?

I think of the iPad 2 as the ultimate consolidation release.

Although it looked different from the first iPad, essentially every change in the iPad 2 could be seen as a deliberate elimination of a specific reason that buyers and reviewers had cited as putting them off the original.

Reviewers complained that the iPad was too heavy. (They did this so much that, when I first picked up an iPad, I was surprised by how light it was because all the reviews had got me to expect something much heavier.)  But the iPad 2 was much lighter, and it looked slighter and easier to hold.

The iPad was too hard to grip and hold: so the iPad 2, as well as being lighter, had an accessory cover that could be used to prop it up for reading.

The iPad was dismissed as being only for reading and consuming content, not for doing anything creative with: the iPad 2 launched in conjunction with dedicated versions of products like Garage Band and iMovie.

Potential tablet-producing rivals liked to talk about the inferior speed of the iPad, so the iPad 2 had a faster core. Even though it didn’t make an enormous difference to the usability of the product, the speed boost comprehensively eliminated a nominal reason to buy anyone else’s product.

Everything about the iPad 2 was an exercise in eliminating objections. Other than simply not being able to afford it, almost all of the factual objections to the iPad were dealt with in its successor.

Consolidating strength

The iPad 2 is the most impressive product, in terms of design and launch expertise, that I have ever seen from a company.

Without doing anything radically new, Apple turned a product that was brilliant, but received with some uncertainty, into a product that was almost impossible to refuse on any grounds other than cost.

The launch of the iPad 2 was the moment when it became apparent that Apple was flattening its competition. After the original iPad came out, I thought—as clearly a lot of other people did—that “the tablet” was, generically, going to be a huge thing, and I started plotting the potential fortunes of all the existing smartphone companies in terms of how well I imagined they might do in the “tablet space”.  (I own the original Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I really like it: I certainly hoped Samsung would do well with it.)  I overestimated all of them, and I certainly overestimated my own estimation abilities.

The iPad 2 marked the point of failure for anyone like me who was trying to understand the market by analogy from established PC or mobile phone manufacturers.

The “iPad 3”

The sort of historical alternation between product types I’ve alluded to suggests that the iPad 3 should be an outreach product—one that looks or feels substantially different, or that has some really novel feature to promote.

I’ve no way to know, but I suspect that isn’t really going to be the case. The iPad 2 is still so far ahead of any alternatives in the market that there is no appreciable competition to attack through novelty. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have one yet, but the iPad 2 has been so successful that it’s reasonable to expect the speed of its outflow to continue: nothing substantial has changed for the worse in the environment it has to work in.

Presumably the iPad 3 will have the double-resolution screen that many commentators have talked about, and will have voice control. Beyond that, anything new that Apple include might almost be seen as a gift to their future customers. They don’t need to do it.

Hard edges, small keys

Joanna Stern reviews the MacBook Air as a Windows laptop.

I enjoyed this—I’ve considered in the past whether the MacBook Air would be a suitable laptop for me even though most of the time I don’t run OS/X. (Conclusion: probably not any more, though it might have seemed that way once.)

She does highlight the thing I’ve always found most painful about the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro: that vicious sharp edge along the front. (sucks teeth in recollection of past pain)

But she likes the trackpad. I’m not keen on the Mac trackpad, finding it too easy to operate by accident and too hard to “click” reliably. Perhaps it’s just that the PC vendors’ attempts at the Crazy New-Era Big Trackpad are worse.

The review is of a machine with a US keyboard, so although there are some quibbles about keyboard layout, there’s nothing to compare to the difficulties presented to the UK programmer—most obviously the lack of a hash sign (#) anywhere on the keyboard, and the tiny, tiny Return key (right).

The Return key is hard to hit on every current Mac and MacBook UK keyboard, even where there’s plenty of room to spare in the chassis.

It just feels gratuitously punitive to me. And that’s surely the way it is, given that Apple did it perfectly well in their older keyboards. They do know how to make a big Return key. They have learned the technology. They just think it’s not quite appropriate to accommodate whims like that from us.