Sunday, December 27, 2009

the name game: calibrating the nominative

Various monikers have been suggested for the yet-to-be-announced Apple tablet(s), with varying degrees of evidence in the form of domain names and trademarks already acquired by Apple or others acting on behalf of Apple. These include iPad, iTab, iTablet, iPod tablet, iBook, Macbook touch, and now iSlate and Magic Slate.

It's good that there's an assortment of names to choose from, as there are at least three potential products in need of one, including, besides the two I've already described, a touchscreen peripheral to be connected to (or integrated into) your laptop or desktop keyboard, as described here.

While you might see iBook touch and Macbook touch applied to versions of those laptop lines with integrated display touchpads, that would suggest an intention to continue to produce versions without display touchpads, which, if it happens at all, is practically certain to be a temporary state of affairs, and Apple would find itself in the position of having to either keep around or unceremoniously drop a designation meant to differentiate one model from another within the same line.

iTab just seems awkward, so I'll eliminate it from further consideration.

Approaching the question from the direction of specific devices to be named, and starting with what is presumably the smallest, we first have the i/o display touchpad, which may appear first as a peripheral then later be integrated. The integrated version doesn't necessarily need a name, as distinguished from a description, but the peripheral version certainly will. It might be called iPad, or iSlate, or Magic Slate, or Magic Pad. (Note that there is an iPhone app called Magic Pad.)

Then there's the smaller, more portable standalone tablet device. It also might be called iPad or iSlate, or iTablet, or maybe even iPod tablet.

Finally there's the larger, less portable semi-standalone tablet device. (I say semi-standalone because most of its use cases are sure to include continuous communication with some other device, and it's likely to need more frequent recharging than the smaller tablet device.) It too might be called iPad, iSlate, or iTablet, but probably not iPod tablet.

The peripheral and the smaller standalone tablet device might actually use the same screen, but the peripheral wouldn't have more of a radio than Bluetooth/Wifi, if that, and might not even have a battery. As with Apple keyboards, it could come in both wired and wireless versions.

My personal preference (not a prediction!) would be to call the peripheral device Magic Pad, the 7-inch tablet iPad, the 10-inch tablet iTablet, and reserve iSlate for an even larger, less portable device, on the order of those depicted in the newly released movie Avatar.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

rumors of announcements of forthcoming products

The Apple-rumor mill is nearly as energetic as if it were anticipating yet another Steve Jobs keynote at Macworld. Well, Steve has been on the heal for half a year now, so an appearance by him at some sort of event isn't all that unlikely, and there are media distribution deals to be discussed as well as new devices and new models of existing products - plenty of material for a stage appearance by Mr. Jobs.

High on the list of anticipated announcements, is an Apple tablet device with a touchscreen, running some variant of OS X, and most likely capable of running iPhone/iPod Touch apps unaltered. Most such speculation has revolved around a tablet with a 10-inch screen, suitable for use as a reader or as a personal movie player. But there has also been a persistent secondary rumor regarding a smaller tablet, with a 7-inch screen.

If you're reading this then you may recall that I'm already dangling from a twig, having gone on record predicting that Apple will market two, rather different tablets, the larger of which will be better suited to the office or living room, and the smaller of which you'll want to keep with you all the time, wherever you go.

The larger (10-inch) device is likely to have a camera facing towards the user, whereas the smaller (7-inch) device is more likely to have one that faces away, the same direction that the user is looking. The larger device is likely to have enough of a battery to get through just about any movie without a recharge, but most use cases will presume that the charger is handy and there will be a premium on keeping the device light. The smaller device might actually weigh more that the larger one, but its battery should be good for at least 12 hours of constant use, without an active datalink, or at least half that with a datalink.

I'd expect the system software to fall somewhere between iPhone OS and Mac OS X, mainly differing from iPhone OS in allowing multiple simultaneous applications and user background processes, and to be nearly identical on the two tablet devices. I don't expect either to run unaltered Mac apps using AppKit, although I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised on that count.

I'm also expecting both to sport a system-on-chip CPU (or something leaning heavily in that direction) containing one or more ARM cores, rather than anything Intel.

I don't expect the larger device to have any long-range wireless capabilities. I half-expect the smaller one to have a single radio unit that can be used to connect to any cellular or consumer data network, as well as Wifi and Bluetooth, but no dedicated cellular hardware.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chariot Skates, a.k.a. Wheelskates

Something very much like what you see in these videos...

Testing 1st samples from new moulds in Sydney & China from Chariot Skates on Vimeo.

...has been batting around in my head for years. The difference between me and Michael Jenkins is that he turned his idea into a design, and then into a succession of prototypes, and is now close to being ready to put that idea on the market as a real product, one that's sure to be a huge success, for which he has both my congratulations and my thanks, for following through.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

a patent, its implications, and their implications

This Ars Technica article describes an Apple patent application relating to adjustment of the display of 3D objects in response to changes in the position of the observer, presumably to create or reinforce a sense of depth in the display. (For example, a slightly different perspective could be presented to each eye.)

While that article doesn't go into any detail in this regard, one implication of such a system is that the 3D objects which are being adjusted must exist as software objects having a particular shape, orientation, and position, and not just as 2D projections of 3D objects.

This isn't new, not even for Apple. OpenGL, which is built into both the Mac and iPhone versions of OS X, is all about defining and displaying 3D objects, and a system like that in the referenced patent application could probably be implemented in OpenGL, or as an extension of it, without implying extensive new libraries.

On the other hand, it might involve an object representation layer to be inserted underneath OpenGL, which is mainly concerned with surfaces and doesn't know or care about the physical properties of objects beyond their optical properties.

Assuming that's the case (no small assumption), this new object representation layer would greatly ease the development of many types of software, including but not limited to CG animation, games, industrial design and architecture, navigation, etc., by providing standard, supported, primitive data types and basic behaviors (scaling, rotation, and translation) for the representation of 3-dimensional objects - data types which could easily be elaborated as needed through subtyping.

An open question is whether Apple would keep such a system to itself or turn it into an open source project, in the hope of generating some momentum behind it, as they have with both OpenCL and Grand Central Dispatch.

Here's another take on the patent application.

And yet another take from a website that features news and advice about construction-related software.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

the right man for the job

You may not agree with President Obama on every issue, but surely it has become abundantly clear, for the situation facing us today, that he's the right man for the job.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

expectations of traction, appropriate and otherwise

We've all got a bill of goods for sale, an accumulation of notions we believe to be true (or at least serviceable), some of which we may only part with in exchange for compensation, some of which we give away freely, and some of which we may push upon others aggressively, recoiling in astonishment if they react to our largess as though it were an invasion, or worse if they challenge our motives or the substantiality of the ideas we have striven to share.

"What do you mean you don't agree? How can you not agree? It's obvious!"

Well, no, quite often our cherished notions are not obvious, anything but in fact, if viewed in the cold light of reality. Sometimes they lack both validity and relevance, or more often they are relevant only for the fact that we believe in them, that fact constituting an element of our shared cognitive environment, complete with consequences, despite the notions themselves utterly lacking validity.

We should have a care how much traction we expect to result from decisions to share our cherished notions, or from actions taken in lieu of sharing. Others have their own notions, which may or may not align well with our own, and they may not appreciate our efforts to substitute ours for theirs, or to impose consequences. They may take umbrage, and in their eyes we may appear to be scoundrels or devils. This is often the story when cultures clash.

Generally speaking someone with valid, relevant notions to share has no need to push them on others, rather others seek him/her out and invest effort in understanding his/her thinking. In the best of all situations, this effort to understand is mutual.

We all live both in our own heads and within a milieu composed of the tangible behavior of others, also living in their own heads. None of us is competent to dictate to another how they should live their life.

barking up the wrong tree, good money after bad, and the Intel's Larrabee

A few years back, just before Apple's official preannouncement of the iPhone, Intel sold off their XScale assets, ostensibly to concentrate on their x86-64 architecture (although they continue to move the Itanium forward at a modest pace, and hold the rights to other ISAs they've never brought to market).

But concentrate they have, convincing most naysayers they could indeed squeeze a good deal more performance out of their flagship processor line, with even greater improvements in performance/watt.

Larrabee, intended to be a GPGPU, and originally to have begun shipping about now, in 24-core and 32-core versions, was to have been the next stage in this x86-everywhere strategy, by combining many, relatively simple x86-64 cores with a single, very wide vector processing unit.

The problem with this strategy is that the x86-64 architecture isn't optimized for such use, and the advantage it would have enjoyed a few years ago, due to instruction compatibility with the chips powering nearly every laptop and desktop computer, has been rendered largely moot by developments in software (OpenGL, CUDA, OpenCL, and Apple's Grand Central Dispatch, recently turned open source).

On the other hand, Intel's investment hasn't necessarily been wasted. They can take what they've learned in developing Larrabee and turn it into improved x86-64 processors and improved compilers to generate code for them. The 512-bit wide SIMD unit may find its way into dual, quad, and eight-core chips, making them radically faster for some purposes, in many cases obviating the need for dedicated GPU hardware.

x86-64 has a lot of life left in it, and folding the Larrabee project back into the mainstream processor line would help extend that life span far into the future.