Apple’s Latest

First a follow-up to my previous post abot MPEG-LA. The current MPEG-LA license was renewed through 2015. That means any change in pricing wouldn’t occur until then. So we’ve got at least another 5 years where we don’t have to worry about web video. What happens then? Who knows. There’s a nice breakdown of the MPEG-LA licensing in this article over at ZDNet along with some numbers on just how many patents and from how many countries that are involved with MPEG-LA. It’s mind boggling.

Safari 5

Safari 5 was released today.  Among its new features is one called Safari Reader which will recognize a web page that contains an article (or blog post), pull out the content of just the article and format it in a way that’s easier to read. Essentially it’s a chrome and ad remover. (“Chrome” in the sense of pretty, but useless bits of a page layout, not the browser.) This feature has interesting implications, especially if it’s popular enough to be copied by the other major browsers (which I think it will). The obvious issues are, a) stripping presentation control away from the content publisher and b) stripping revenue-generating ads away from the page.

But are they really issues?

The page needs to load, inside its intended chrome, before the reader option kicks in. Page views will still be generated. However if the ad is animated or relies on user-interaction the ad will, essentially, be useless. It will also probably work around those particularly lame ads that pop up over the content you’re trying to read. This will probably piss advertisers off.

As for the stripping away of chrome, I have mixed opinions. It makes very busy web pages much easier to read by removing distractions that are outside the content of the article. It might even teach some web developers that perhaps some simple layouts without a lot of distraction are actually preferred by users.

One problem I do have with the reader feature is that it doesn’t do enough to distinguish links from regular text. The content is displayed as black text on a white background with links colored in a dark blue. There are no underlines and no mouseover action to provide feedback that your mouse is over a link. Low-contrast users will especially find it difficult to identify links among the text.

Another problem I have is that it removes chrome within the article itself. Perhaps you’ve done something to highlight certain terms or use color to visually represent some relationship in the textual content. All that is stripped away. Reader-fied pages may actually lose some of its meaning. On the other hand it’s web development best practice to avoid using colors alone to represent such relationships in textual content as vision-impaired users would not be able to use such information.

Still, switching to reader mode requires an act by the end-user. Meaning if you don’t want to use it you don’t have to.

Safari has also created APIs to allow developers to create extensions to Safari. Perhaps ad blocker and noscript (or equivalent extension) will soon find a home on Safari.

iPhone 4

You’re probably aware by now that Apple has announced its new iPhone this week. Prices will be equivalent to the iPhone 3GS when it was released. The hardware is all new including a special glass for the front and back which is scratch, fingerprint, and impact resistant. There are two cameras (front and rear facing) which means video chat or video phone calls. The case is smaller. There’s a new processor. There’s about a second microphone for the purpose of noise cancellation. The camera will record HD video (720p) and you’ll be able to edit video right on the iPhone. But the biggest feature is probably the new screen. The screen boasts 326dpi and it’s around 300dpi that our eyes become unable to distinguish individual pixels. This means text will look smoother, photos will look crisper, and more information can be packed into a single screen. It was also noted that all existing iPhone apps, because they use Apple’s APIs, will be scaled up automatically to work with the new, higher-resolution display.

But most of Steve Jobs’ keynote address at WWDC was focused (as it should) at developers. Lots of numbers about the kind of revenue generated by the App Store and the money developers make off the App Store. The introduction of a new feature called iAds which allows developers to identify a space within their app where ads can be placed. Apple will handle putting the actual add into the application and developers get a cut of the revenue. On the one hand, this is very cool for developers who want to offer free or trial apps without having to give their work away. On the other hand it’s annoying because Apple controls what % of revenue the developer gets and there’s no competition so Apple can set any price or percent it wants.

Which is my biggest problem with Apple: they are too controlling. AT&T does not have the best network and if I purchased an iPhone I would prefer to have it on another network. But that won’t happen with the iPhone (unless you jailbreak it, which has its own pros and cons).

I also wish there was a micro SD card slot on the iPhone. The $100 difference between the 16 and 32gb just doesn’t make sense. If there was a micro SD card slot I could buy the 16gb, buy a 16gb micro SD card for $30 and put the $70 I’ve saved towards something else. Beer, for example.

And, c’mon Apple, make the battery replaceable. It’s quite possible that in a year or two we’ll have better battery technology and I could swap out an old iPhone battery for a newer, longer-lasting one. That’s certainly something users of the new HTC EVO 4G are hoping for.

At least, it appears, tethering will come to the iPhone 4 (without the need to jailbreak it). But AT&T wants to charge you an extra $10 a month for this luxury. That’s pretty lame, especially on top of the 2gb/month limit that’s been imposed on all AT&T customers. If you have a cap in place and people pay if they go over that cap, why have a tethering fee? My guess is that AT&T’s network is still too fragile and they’re trying to dissuade average users from tethering to keep their networks as free from congestion as possible. Which brings me right back to the argument that the iPhone 4 should be allowed on other networks.

At the moment I don’t feel the new iPhone is worth the hassles and limitations that come with it. I really like the new screen and dual cameras and the HD video recording at a high bitrate and being able to edit and upload the video from the phone itself. All of that is very cool. And no other phone has that right now. But there will probably be a lot of them that do a year from now. Do I wait? Probably.