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Archive for the ‘The Perfect Thing’ Category

Is the Kindle Ugly?

Sunday, November 18th, 2007
nw kindle cover

I did this week’s Newsweek’s cover story on The Future of Reading, using Amazon’s Kindle e-reading device as a peg to discuss some profound changes that will take place in reading over the next few decades.

If you go to Newsweek’s site linked to above, you’ll see plenty about it. But checking out some online comments about the device, I thought I’d make a point here. Because Amazon had to file for FCC approval, some details of the book, along with a picture, wound up on Engadget. Because the picture was taken at an angle that make the device look like it was dominated by the keyboard — and the picture generally is not flattering —some people are calling it ugly. In person, the Kindle is, in my opinion, pretty attractive. And since I’ve had the thing for a few weeks, I’ve had the experience of showing it to people who haven’t seen it at all. I watch carefully to see their first, gut reaction. In just about every case it is a positive, visceral response to the product design.

This reminds me of what happened to the new iPod nano, where a picture also leaked out that was accurate, but unflattering. When I actually saw the new nano, it was interesting that it was (a) yes, the one I saw in the leaked picture, which looked ugly and (b) anything but ugly — a classic Apple techno-lust product.

Lesson: wait to you see actually see the thing (or at least some pictures make by real product photographers) before you judge it as beastly.

Meet the Beatles — Not

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007


Funny story about another soul fooled by the prospect of a Beatles-iTunes deal in last week’s iPod announcement. It certainly was clear to those who were at the event that we would not be seeing Sir Paul perform, when Steve J’s examples in his demos were very heavy on John Lennon solo work, and at one point he even gushed how much he loved John.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with Steve last January after the Macworld Expo event where he introduced the iPhone. I tell this story in the afterword to my paperback edition of The Perfect Thing, which is now available. There was a lot of talk about a Beatles announcement back then, too, and Jobs’s demos had several Beatle songs in them. But no Paul. After the show in our interview, Steve was showing me something on Apple TV, and it was playing that new Beatles “Love” album. Steve mentioned how much he liked it. I asked him whether it was a dream of his that one day after a keynote or product launch, he would be able to bring out Paul McCartney to perform. “No,” he said deadpan. “My dream would be to bring out John Lennon.”

Dropped Call

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

When I was testing the iPhone everybody asked me if I conducted an experiment to back up Apple’s claim that you could probably drop it to the floor and it would be OK. No, I didn’t try that. But today, by accident (duh) I did drop my iPhone. It was about mid-chest high, and it took a tumble to a wood floor. It was on when I dropped it. And still on when I picked it up. Used it all day (much of it waiting for pages and email to load on EDGE) and no ill effects.

The usual disclaimer: don’t try this at home.

MP3 Player looks like an iPhone!

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

During my travels last month I was at a Chinese electronics market (don’t you love stories that start like that) I saw a pretty interesting item–an MP3 player with an interface and shape that were clearly, ahem, influenced by a certain new product from Apple. It’s not a phone at all, no camera, and doesn’t connect to the Internet. But it does have a touch screen (not terribly sensitive) that lets you choose between apps like music, videos (not bad quality), and even some stuff the iPhone doesn’t have like radio and recording audio. Price was uncertain–the young lady here asked for something less than $80, and some people in my traveling group got it for maybe $60, but harder bargaining could almost certainly gotten it lower.

Of course I pulled out my still-fairly-novel iPhone, which was really novel in China, and caused quite a stir. The vendors at the booth wanted to buy it from me! Though it would have been fun to reverse-negotiate with those experts, I held on to the thing.

Back to the Blog

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

I’ve been a way for a while, and somehow the month of July has gone by without an entry. Didn’t even get a chance to comment on the notorious iPhone mugging, where I reportedly had someone attempt to swipe my iPhone (as opposed to swiping a finger on a screen to advance a menu or go to the next photo). As you can see on YouTube, it was some weirdly motivated soul trying to grab the mike from the intrepid reporter, Laura Ingle. Turns out he didn’t like Fox News, her employer.

I did have some comments on the iPhone world, though, writing a column about why everyone got so crazy about this gadget. And I’m still using the iPhone.

Oh, and in The Perfect Thing news, I just got my first copies of the paperback edition, which means it will be ready for delivery soon if you order it now. So for those waiting for that bargain, bendable edition–with a new afterword!– the wait is over!

Blogging on the iPhone

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Is this the first blog posting created on an iPhone? Maybe.

Not much has been written about the iPhone and blogging. I can say that though WordPress works on this thing, the form factor could be greatly improved by a dedicated client app. Also, I seem to be able to use only the pictures I already uploaded. No way, apparently, to snap a photo with the camera and get it on the blog withou going through a computer first.

With the right software, this could be great for blogging. (Also, can’t wait for a recording function to make it a podcasting device.) But for now I’m sticking to the computer for blogging, thanks.

Me on the iPhone

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

My review is up at Newsweek.com, and ilikeit.

I’ll have more in the next few days.

Talk to Me

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

So I posted, er, wrote a Newsweek column with my take on the interview controversy that’ s been simmering lately. In case you’re not following the link, basically the story is that some bloggers are turning down real-time interviews on phone or F2F, saying they prefer to do it via email, or IM. An interesting issue, or so I thought, about Internet empowerment. My take was that they have valid points to make about what can be problems from the subject side, like misquotes, improper context, or “gotcha” quotes. But I concluded that the real-time interview is crucial for journalists to do their best work, and when journalists to their best work, it’s the reader who benefits.

I talked to some sources in the course of doing the column, most of them in real-time phone interviews. In my fairly brief column space, of course, I knew that there was no room to fully address all the points they made. Being smart people, they knew it too. Jeff Jarvis, though. lamented that we didn’t do it by email, so there would be a full transcript for those who wanted to dig deeper, and at the least to see the full context of what he said. (Separately Jay Rosen also emailed me with a similar regret that I couldn’t fully elucidate his point.)

Jarvis’s post is longer than my column, and he has taken the platform of his blog to explain where he’s coming from. The idea that a blogger can address an issue and clarify himself fully after being quoted in mainstream media is certainly a welcome development. But I want to make clear that just because the column didn’t have much of Jarvis’s voice in it, that doesn’t mean that my interviews with him and the others I spoke to weren’t essential. I think it’s bad journalistic practice to make your mind up before you begin work on a story, and in this case I certainly can say that speaking to Jarvis and others led to my writing a quite different column than I would have otherwise. In other words, I wasn’t just calling to collect quotes, but to listen to what people had to say, trying to keep my own mind open. I doubt that the interviews would have had a simillar impact if conducted by email. That’s leads directly to my conclusion in the column.

He also claims that is of great value to archive and even post the raw transcripts of such interviews. He writes, “I’d say that reporters who insist on doing interviews on the phone without benefit of thought, time, and transcript are robbing us all of priceless knowledge, accuracy, and context.” My contention is that while email interviews are easily posted, they’re simply not as valuable to the interviewer. In many cases they are not an improvement to the process of journalism but a step back.

No one is forced to do an interview with a journalist, and many journalists will agree, if there’s no other alternative, to doing email interviews. But they’re less likely to be useful. In any case, I do not detect a widespread hunger among readers to read dozens of pages of transcripts or listen to hours of MP3 files, for the backstory on a column they read in Newsweek, or even a story in the New York Times. To me the issue isn’t transparency, but trust. I hope people trust me to handle our conversations fairly when I speak to them. I also hope they trust me when I say that the best interviews are those where I learn something, and those interviews almost always are in real time.

Every journalist should appreciate the generosity of those who choose to talk to him or her. Sources know, or should know, that we’re not doing it for them. We’re doing it for the story. Of couse there’s some self-interest here in the part of journalists, because doing a good job is good for us. But I also say it informs the public. It’s our readers who get the benefit of this.

I told you so department

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

At the D Conference, Steve Jobs announced that Apple TV would now include a YouTube channel. I’m far from perfect in my calls, but this is something I nailed from the get go. Last September, when Jobs pre-announced the product as iTV, I asked, “Is it possible that when iTV ships next year, you may also be able to choose a menu item called Google Video, and then zip through the best of the thousands of user-submitted videos on the search giant’s service? Google’s consumer product chief, Marissa Mayer, tells me that indeed, the two companies are engaged in talks.” (This was just before Google snapped up YouTube.)

And when I reviewed the unit in March I described it as a work in progress, saying, “In the future I expect and hope that Apple will come up with lots of new developments here, maybe even channels where you can view YouTube and Google Video clips.”

If I don’t pat myself on the back, who will?

Incidentally, when I dug out the press release to make the link here I discovered something that Steve didn’t mention. Now you can buy an Apple TV with a 160 gig hard disk! Though I called that one too (“Look for bigger hard disks in the future—maybe even enough to use the device as a video recorder”), it is a difference maker in that now we’re talking enough storage for a hefty music collection and a pretty nice stack of videos that need watching. And what does this cost? A hundred bucks more. In other words, Apple TV is now a more useful $400 device, since no one who cares enough about media to buy a unit will want the severely cramped 40-gig drive version that goes for $300.

Day Job Stuff

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Been a bit tied up at Newsweek, so haven’t been posting here much. Sorry.

I can immodestly point you to what’s been tying me up lately. I’d been working on and off since the beginning of the year for a piece about Y Combinator, which provided a window into the startup culture of Silicon Valley today. It was a blast hanging out with Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston there, as well as the wonderful founders of the companies they were seeding. The interesting controversy that rose from this had to do with my observation that almost of them were in their twenties, and that youth ruled in the Valley these days. I didn’t get it in the story, but one of the interesting things that happened during my research was that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook spoke at a Y Combinator event and claimed that when hiring, he will always go with people who are technical and young. Glad I’m not applying for a job there!
Also, I have a column about MySpace and the focus of its founders, who seem to dismiss stories of users going to Facebook and talk more about being the next great media company.