The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

The iPhone Makes Apple’s Success With The iPod Look Anemic

Posted in Data Analysis, Technology by Noah Harlan on January 27, 2012

Apple announced its fiscal Q1 earnings a couple days ago and the numbers were staggering. There have been a lot of interesting stats people have noted. They had the second most successful quarter in all of business history – not Apple’s history – all business. Their profit – $13 billion – was more than Google’s revenue – $10.6 billion. Their revenue and profit were double Microsoft’s. And so on.

The driver of Apple’s comeback was the staggering success of the iPod. It was a device that changed how we listen to music, and it was (is?) ubiquitous. What’s amazing is that the iPhone has made that success look positively anemic. The iPod’s best year ever was 2008 with 54.8 million devices sold and its best quarter was Q1 2009 with 22.7 million devices sold.*

Q1 2012 saw Apple selling 37 million iPhones and 15.4 million iPads. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said they sold 62 million iOS devices in the quarter. That means iOS is nearly 3 times more successful than the iPod at its peak. For the calendar year 2011, Apple sold 93.1 million iPhones – more than 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 combined – and nearly double the iPod’s most successful year.

*Apple’s Q1 is actually calendar Q4 (the holiday season). They start their fiscal year in October.

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DIYDAYS Talk On Mobile

Posted in Software, Technology by Noah Harlan on July 11, 2010

Here is my talk on mobile computing and conceiving mobile apps at DIYDAYS this year. The first half of the talk is on the evolution of human-machine interaction and the second half goes through the process of how to conceive and plan a mobile app.

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iPhones & Evo 4Gs

Posted in Content, Technology, Uncategorized by Noah Harlan on July 2, 2010

Brilliant. Brian Chirls, this goes out to you:

But to be fair, here’s the flip side of the coin (this one gets good around 1:30):

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iOS4 Blurry Photo Fix

Posted in Technology by Noah Harlan on June 22, 2010

If you’re like me, you were thrilled to get the new iOS4 update for your iPhone. Tons of great new features.

That being said, there was a problem. The first time many people synced (and this happened to me), all your iPhone photos were downgraded in resolution so they were completely blurry. Potentially terrifying!

Fortunately, don’t be too concerned. It’s a glitch, but your photos are fine and it’s easy to fix. Here’s what you do:

  1. Find your “iPhoto Library”. For most users it will be in your “Pictures” folder.
  2. Right-click (or control-click) on the folder and select “show package contents.” The finder will now show you a folder that is the reality of what’s inside your iPhoto Library.
  3. In there you’ll find a folder called “iPod Photo Cache”.
  4. Delete that!
  5. Now sync your device again and you should be good to go with nice, full resolution images.

One other nice benefit for me? That Cache folder was 1.3GB in size and now, after doing this, it’s only 300MB so I got an extra GB of storage space… bonus!

Let me know how this goes for you or if you’ve found other glitches & fixes.

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How To Take A Screenshot

Posted in Technology by Noah Harlan on June 4, 2010

Dan Flavin Meets iPhone Photo Aliasing

Posted in Content, Software, Technology by Noah Harlan on June 2, 2010

This past weekend I was out on Long Island and we stopped in at the Dia Center’s Dan Flavin Art Institute. If you’re ever passing through Bridgehampton be sure to take a couple minutes and visit this tiny former church and see the exhibit. It’s free and is one of the rare cultural gems of the South Fork. For those that don’t know Dan Flavin’s work, in summary, he arranged colored fluorescent lights in specific patterns, often with the aim of transforming how we respond to a space. It’s at once simple and deceptively complex and I enjoy it quite a bit.

I took a few pictures with my iPhone while walking through the exhibit and they revealed something interesting about the phone and, interesting, created a new vision of the work through the intersection of technologies. Here’s what I saw.

I took a photo of the piece untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg), 1972-73. Here is what the piece looks like:

untitled (to Jan and Ron Greenberg), 1972-73

(image used under Creative Commons from 16 Miles of String’s flickr stream)

When I took a photo with the iPhone, here is what I got:

Same image, but very different!

Where did those horizontal lines come from? My first guess was that it had to do with the timing of the fluorescent lights and a rolling shutter issue with the phone.

Fluorescent lights are actually not a constant light source like a regular light bulb. In actual fact a fluorescent light is constantly flickering on and off. This is why they are so unpleasant to sit under all day. The cycle of that flicker is slow enough to be a sub-conscious irritant to our brain (for some of us). This also creates issues for filming since the lights are flickering and the camera is taking a series of still photos those two things can interact in problematic ways. Colors can shift or frames can be lost to darkness.

Rolling shutter is a different issue, unique to digital technologies. The way a digital camera works is that it starts scanning at the top line of the image and quickly scans from top to bottom. The faster it can do that, the more likely it is that an image will look ok. The problem is, if things are moving quickly in the frame, they can be distorted. For example, you are shooting a street and a truck drives by very quickly. When your camera starts scanning the frame, the truck may be in one position but by the time it reaches the bottom of the frame the truck may have moved several feet forward. This means that the vertical lines on the truck will appear sloped. In very extreme scenarios this can create incredible illusions like this:

Pretty wild what’s happening to that propeller, right?

So, perhaps, I’m seeing the actual shadows created by the lights when they flicker. Except I then took this photo of my brother:

The shadows are in front!

The shadows are in front of his body as well. That seemed odd. And that lead me to think that this might be an aliasing thing in the phone meeting the flickering of the light meeting that intense pure green color.

Digital cameras have built in coding to adjust for “mistakes” in how they capture images. To counter problems like the rolling shutter, the cameras are taught to “invent” lines when they think there should be some. The problem is that sometimes, those lines are pure fantasy. Take a look at these two shots. The first is from a digital camera (a Canon EOS 7D) and the second is a raw image of the source:

Aliasing gone awry.

How it was supposed to look.

Quite a difference, eh? For a great, in-depth explanation of all this check out the post I borrowed these images from over on DVXUser.

So perhaps the iPhone is trying to resolve straight lines and in so-doing, it is inventing shadows. Any thoughts? I don’t know exactly the answer but I’m curious…

And just to leave you with one last image that is not going to give you a headache, here’s a picture I took using Red Giant’s awesome Plastic Bullet app at the same exhibit:

Claim Chowder

Posted in Software, Technology by Noah Harlan on January 20, 2010

Step 1: Open Mouth, Step 2: Insert Foot

There’s a term called Claim Chowder that was, as far as I can tell, coined by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. It refers to when someone makes a prediction with an aura of certainty and knowledge that turns out to be horribly wrong. A good example from the film business was last May, when one Wall Street analyst, after seeing 20 minutes of Pixar’s UP, downgraded Disney’s stock. As the New York Times reported:

Richard Greenfield of Pali Research downgraded Disney shares to sell last month, citing a poor outlook for “Up” as a reason. “We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.

UP did $293 million domestically and $727 million worldwide theatrically.

That is claim chowder.

So next week Apple will be announcing a new product. It is widely expected that it will be some form of tablet computer. Nobody has seen it. Nobody has any specs on it. Nobody knows the price. To borrow William Goldman’s words, nobody knows anything.

But that’s not stopping the claim chowder. PC World published this piece by Bill Snyder today. Mr. Snyder, apparently, is clairvoyant because he seems to know a lot about something he’s never seen. To whit:

[If] you run a small business and want to avoid wasting money and brain cells on superfluous technology, forget about the iSlate or whatever Apple is going to call its tablet computing device. It’s going to be too expensive, it does things you don’t need to do, and it will add a messy layer of complication to your company’s computing infrastructure.

Sure, the tablet we expect Apple to launch on January 27 will probably have more than its share of cool factor. But do you want to spend $1,000 or so for bragging rights? For that price, you could buy two perfectly serviceable Windows netbooks, four iPhones, or–if you want to go the Apple route–cover most of the cost of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, getting proven technology that’s useful right out of the box.

Now he may turn out to be right. I’m not a betting man. But if I were, I wouldn’t bet against Apple.  Let’s take a look at some of Mr. Snyder’s predecessors in the claim chowdering of Apple:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007 on the iPhone:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

John Dvorak writing an article entitled “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone” on Market Watch, also in 2007:

As for advertising and expensive marketing this is nothing like Apple has ever stepped into. It’s a buzz saw waiting to chop up newbies

The problem here is that while Apple can play the fashion game as well as any company, there is no evidence that it can play it fast enough. These phones go in and out of style so fast that unless Apple has half a dozen variants in the pipeline, its phone, even if immediately successful, will be passé within 3 months.

There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive.

Stewart Alsop writing in Fortune Magazine in 1997 on Apple’s acquisition of Steve Jobs’ Next Software company:

Let’s get this straight right away: Apple Computer did the wrong thing. On December 20, Apple announced that it would spend $400 million to purchase Steve Jobs’s company, Next Software. The company said it would adopt Next’s NextStep operating system for future versions of the Macintosh computer. Most of the commentary I’ve seen about this decision is off the mark, especially the talk about Jobs coming back to save Apple. That is sheer nonsense. He won’t be anywhere near the company. People seem to have a real desire, perhaps even a need, to make excuses for Apple. Everybody wants to find a way to justify what Apple did.

You can’t justify it. Apple did precisely the wrong thing. Now the only future for the company is to get smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left. In fact, the only sensible conversation to have about Apple is the one in which you argue about how long it will take to die.

[snip]

It takes a long time to kill an $11-billion-a-year company. Apple’s already down to around $8 billion a year. I give it another three years, until the millennium, to fall the rest of the way to the ground.

And another piece from John Dvorak (how does this guy still get work?), this time from the San Francisco Examiner in February 1984 following the debut on the original Macintosh (the first computer with a mouse and graphical user interface – before this, everything was done at the command line):

The nature of the personal computer is simply not fully understood by companies like Apple (or anyone else for that matter). Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation – as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things.

As Samuel Clemens once said, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Apple will introduce something next week, it may not change the world, but fair warning to those that bet against them.

Charting The Wrong Course Through Digital Waters

Posted in Financing, Policy, Software by Noah Harlan on March 22, 2009

I just returned from a great weekend in Virginia (everyone should spend time in a house built 50 years before the revolution sometime) and on the drive back I listened to the fascinating breakfast conversation at SXSW between producer Ted Hope, filmmaker Lance Weiler, conference organizer and producer Liz Rosenthal, technologist Brian Chirls, outreach guru Caitlin Boyle, filmmaker Brett Gaylor, producer and Filmmaker Mag editor Scott Macaulay, and journalist & film technologist Scott Kirsner. All are very smart people and the conversation is definitely worth a listen (the audio quality is not great but it’s worth soldiering through).

As I listened to them wrestle with questions relating to finding revenue in a digital age, I got the sense that there was a battle that had been fought and had already been lost. The battle was over payments for content. The semi-consensus view, and one I know Lance in particular espouses, is that the days of people paying directly for content (or at least paying up front) are rapidly disappearing and we should step forward into a share economy (I’m not sure that Scott was totally in agreement, but I don’t won’t to put words in anyone’s mouths). There was much discussion of putting your work out for free and then asking for contributions from consumers and this model, I feel, is akin to going back to the shareware model on computers.

Software started as free and then (as is mentioned in passing during the audio, interestingly enough) became a product to be paid for. Through that transition emerged a third tier of software – the product of independent software developers – that was Shareware. Shareware came in a few different varieties:

  • Freeware: Software that was freely distributed and free to be passed around.
  • Shareware: Software that was freely distributed but, if you chose to use it, you were asked to pay (on the honor system) a small amount to the creator
  • Crippleware: Software that was freely distributed but was limited in its features and, if you wanted to unlock the full features, you paid the creator

This system has some analogies to the ideas being explored by a lot of people in the transmedia world, notably in Brett Gaylor’s “RIP: A Remix Manifesto”. We’ve seen variations of Freeware & Shareware espoused through Creative Commons and even Crippleware from people like Nine Inch Nails with their (ok, “his”) release of Ghosts with higher audio quality and greater numbers of tracks being reserved for paying customers.

What interested me though, was that noone looked at the iTunes App Store as an example of how to bring payments back into the system.

Recently one of the most successful developers of Shareware for the Mac, Pangea Software, announced they were abandoning shareware development in favor of the App Store after the staggering success they’ve found on the pay-to-use platform. Numerous independent developers have had similar success. (Full disclosure and self-promotion, I have two Apps on the store now and more coming) I believe that there are several take-aways we can gain from the App Store example:

  • One: When offered a seamless way to pay and affordable, quality content to buy, people will pay for content.
  • Two: A seamless system of purchase & usage is vital to a financial model. The App Store only works because of it’s seamless integration with the iPhone. This is the same lesson the record companies failed to learn and why they were crushed by the iTunes music store.
  • Three: The consumer must remain conditioned to pay for content. One of the biggest threats to payments for content is that consumers begin to assume content is free. Does this mean legally hunting them down? NO! The RIAA has done a terrible job on that front. What it means is keeping people aware that they can get more reliable content, at better quality, and be more supportive of the creators by paying a small amount.
  • Four: We need to coalesce the online market. The single greatest obstacle we have right now is, ironically, the sheer multiplicity of options for where to view content. The App Store works because there is only one. If there were fifty, each with different content, it would be less successful. Blockbuster worked this way when we were bricks & mortar bound. Netflix worked this way when we were DVD-bound. Now we need a new solution. This doesn’t mean there needs to be only one online exhibitor (for why I say exhibitor and not distributor please visit this article on the Filmmaker Magazine blog) but, rather, we need consolidated places to find the content. There are some efforts underway to do just that including SpeedCine and the UK Film Council’s Find Any Film but these are just the beginning.
  • Five: Lastly, and this relates directly to point #2 above, we need to have better ways to move our media around. The tyranny of a particular box as viewing platform undercuts any efforts to simplify the process. Boxee and the Apple TV are both good moves in that direction but Boxee is in a tough fight. The studios decided to hamstring Boxee by forcing HULU to pull its content (a move that even HULU thought was wrong) in a ridiculously narrow-minded attempt to keep control of content (and an approach to DRM that is deeply reminiscent of the RIAA’s moronic and self-destructive resistance to iTunes). Until filmed content can seamlessly move from computer monitor to TV screen and back we are going to be behind the eight-ball, as it were.

These are a lot of things to ask but, if it means that content creators can be paid for their work then it is worth it. We need to embrace and fight for the technological innovations that can support our need to support ourselves. While releasing media for free and asking for contributions may work on a micro-scale and/or for the few, amazingly talented promoter/marketers like Lance and Arin, but for many talented filmmakers, it’s not their best skill and they should still be able to make amazing work, pay back their supporters, and earn a living. I do not believe that throwing in the towel and saying we live in a Pirate Bay world now and that we should give up on paid content is the right attitude and doing so will potentially hamstring future generations of content creators in their endeavors to make lives from their work.

Our App Now Recommended By Apple!

Posted in Self Promotion, Software by Noah Harlan on February 20, 2009

Ok, ok – this is total self-promotion but I’m very pleased to announce that our second iPhone App, the Party Planner, is now being recommended by Apple for your Oscar party according to VentureBeat. We’re on VentureBeat’s front page!

Try out the app now, it’s totally free and available worldwide for the iPhone and iPod touch. Also, check out our other apps for the iPhone and check back as we have some really exciting apps on the way!