Beware of the MVNO

I’ve been reading All Hail the iPhone by mike davidson (interesting premises, but ultimately drawing wrong conclusions big time, imho) in which he writes briefly about mobile virtual network operators, or mvnos in short. This reminded me of a little incident when i was about to switch from prepaid to a service subscription:
I went to one of the stores of the service provider i wanted to sign up with. While making all the necessary arrangements for my subscription (getting papers copied, signing the contract, this takes a while) i couldn’t but overhear the complaints of another customer in the store, who actually wasn’t a customer of this particular service provider, but of an mvno. Not a big player like modern mvnos (like virgin or at&t), but a small company that eventually went bankrupt. Apparently, the mvno was responsible for service provision, but contract and billing was tied to the network provider. This left the customer in an incredibly awkward position: while the mvno couldn’t provide cellular service any longer, the customer was obliged to continue payment of his monthly fees to the actual network provider, effectively paying money for nothing.
I don’t know how it all turned out eventually as getting my contract didn’t take that long, but i certainly learnt to check my cell service contracts rigidly before signing them.

My take on Dashboard: Multiple Desktops done differently

Better late than never i guess… First let me repeat what i already mentioned briefly in a previous post: i don’t consider dashboard a konfabulator ripoff. Sure, the technical underpinnings are pretty similar, but basically i don’t think that a desktop javascript runtime engine with html frontend is such a novell or unique idea (anyone remembers active deskop?).
Above all i see dashboard as apples take on multiple desktops. A twisted and radically different take on multiple desktops. I still don’t know wether i like it or not. Ironically, i considered expose as apples answer to multiple desktops when it was introduced last year. Now they’re really integrating some kind of a second desktop into expose. As i understand it, the dashboard is sort of a secondary desktop for performing simple and quick tasks and for easy access to small blurbs of information.
The two main areas of conflict with mac os x as i see them are the following: first, and this has been pointed out by many others before me, i think that with the low entry barrier to creating widgets in html+css+javascript and the lack of standard gui elements, ui conventions will go over board and we’ll be flooded by worthless, ugly widgets, making it more difficult to find the hidden jewels of dashboard widgets. If i wanted ugly, unpolished apps i could use linux or windows, thanks. And if you don’t believe me, believe your own eyes and go to dashboarder, a site hosting some early third-party dashboard widgets, most of them hideous in appearance. I doubt there’s more than one widget in there that i’d actually use.
The second problem, as well spawned by the low entry barrier and somewhat connected to my former concern, is there’ll be a lot of apps not fitting into the dashboard widget paradigm. As mentioned before, i consider the dashboard screen a secondary desktop for quick interaction. You won’t spend half your time in front of the computer in dashboard, i’m fairly certain about that. Stuff like movie players or rss readers just don’t fit in, but those are certainly among the earlier widgets to appear. No one forces you to install a widget, of course, but users might be confused by such widgets and hindered in grasping the true potential of dashboard. Imho usability isn’t a matter of choice, but a matter of guiding the user, helping him to understand how to leverage the power of what he got in his hands.
And while i’m on the topic of dashboard, let me also mention a different dashboard application, which is part of the gnome project. It’s an implicit search engine for your desktop that automatically queries local and online data according to the context you’re working in, e.g. you’re iming with a buddy about that fabulous new bag you just found, and it’ll dig out your friends contact details, earlier im conversations on the same topic and online search results for the bag you’re talking about. I didn’t give it a try yet (afaik only available in the gnome cvs), but as far as i understand it, this could be a killer (apple) dashboard app. Whenever you want some further information about anything you’re doing right now, just activate your dashboard and automatically get search results relevant to what you’re doing. If the spotlight api turns out to be as great as i hope, this might actually work and i’m racking my brain already how to gather and filter the relevant information from your desktop. Applescript? Plugin api? I don’t have a clue, but hopefully someone smarter than me figures it out, and better sooner than later.

Favourite Tiger Coverage

With wwdc being totally last month, this comes a bit late. I wonder if i’ll ever come around to write something, i’ve been planning to do so for several weeks now, but haven’t even started drafting something. But at least i can post my favourite previews, roundups and opinions.
First, of course, apples official tiger preview page. You’ve certainly seen it already, but if not, go there. They even have nifty videos of some new features.
My favourite roundups are those at quarter life crisis and irate scotsman. John gruber of daring fireball shares his opinions about spotlight and dashboard in two pieces. Codepoetry offers some insights on tiger for developers.
And then there’s an article @wired which suggests third-party apps similar to some upcoming tiger features. Imho they’re quite off the track here (imho, spotlight != (launchbar | quicksilver); dashboard != konfabulator) but it’s still a decent read.
Update: i don’t know how i could forget the coverage @appleinsider and @thinksecret. Appleinsider has a tiger overview and articles about safari 2.0, mail 2.0 and a minor ical upgrade, thinksecret reported about spotlight, dashboard and the new finder and system preferences.

What happened to the ipod remote?

Reading all this stuff about the new 4g ipods (they sure look lovely, i’m quite impressed) i can’t but wonder what happened to the ipod remote. Neither 20gig nor 40gig model include a remote and it’s not even listed as an optional accessory in the official press release. Now i know some people might not use the remote, but i personally couldn’t live without. Taking into account that apple doesn’t sell remotes separately, but only bundled with headphones for an insane price, there won’t be many people using one. I sense a conspiracy here, with apple trying to get everyone to put his ipod out in public whenever the need arises to get some very basic stuff like pausing or adjusting the volume done. More free publicity.

HTML Extensions followup

Lot’s of stuff going on since my original post about apples proprietary html extensions, herein a bunch of recommended posts if you’re interested in the matter:

  • Tim Bray: How To Grow HTML – his first followup
  • Dave Hyatt: Implementation of HTML Extensions Proposal – as i understand, he proposes a new namespace describing a superset of html which would replace the whole html namespace. Hmmm…
  • Ian Hickson: Extending HTML – a bunch of possible solutions and what’s wrong with them. Also some good reasoning against replacing the xhtml namespace with your own homebrewn namespace.
  • Tim Bray: Extending HTML, Again – some mild criticism of the new namespace proposal
  • Eric Meyer: Extended Dash – his take on the idea
  • Dave Winer weighs in – he doesn’t believe the web’s gonna go the xml route

And from the old-but-new-to-me department: two posts by Eric Meyer. Hardly related, but also of interest: the Gillmor Gang interviews Brendan Eich, chief architect of the mozilla foundation. Didn’t have time to check this one out yet.
Could please someone whack me hard to get out of web standards obsession mode?

Dashboard HTML extensions for better or worse

I’m still making up my mind about posting my thoughts about all the new tiger features, but need at least a little more fact-checking beforehand. Yeah, tiger’s so yesterday by now, but i’m a slow thinking guy.
What really picked my interest recently is a mini-controverse about dashboard. No, not the whole dashboard vs. konfabulator thing, which i find kinda silly. Imho the dashboard concept is quite different from konfabulator, rather some kind of uberexpose meeting multiple-desktops-light than desktop widgets. It might kill konfabulator, but i don’t consider it a konfab rip-off.
This post is about the HTML-extensions introduced to empower dashboard widgets (or is it gadgets?). The first thing i read about this was by Todd Dominey, Dashboard: Apple‚Äôs ActiveX?, later i found Party Like It‚Äôs 1996! by Tim Bray. Not that i’m a web standards guru, but basically there was one point that really bothered me, a post by Dave Hyatt in which he introduces and explains the new search field. There he writes:

The search control will also even degrade gracefully in other browsers, since they won’t recognize the unknown type and so will just use a text field instead.

Nice that it “gracefully degrades”, but as i understand it, it also fucks up standards compliance and validity. Furthermore, degrading by leaving a browser clueless about what to do with an element isn’t all that graceful, is it?
By now Dave Hyatt already addressed Todd Domineys concerns and posted another followup “On Extending HTML”, both reasonable and refuting several concerns, but they still don’t totally convince me. The whole thing sounds a lot like it would encourage non-standards-compliant development.
He also writes in his second post linked above:

We have a phrase we like to use here on the Safari team, and that’s “real-world standards compliance.” What that means is that where possible we attempt to be fully compatible with the W3C standards, but we also want to support the real-world standards, i.e., extensions that for better or worse have become de facto standards.

and later in the same post:

In other words, in an ideal world where we had two years to craft Dashboard, maybe we could have used XHTML and SVG, but we aren’t living in that ideal world.

It’s certainly important to develop something useful fast enough to actually deploy it on a reasonable time scale. I just wonder where this leaves modern web standards – should they be ignored out of convenience, are they simply too heavy to be practically useful? Of course dashboard is a highly targeted and rather closed system, therefore general rules of web standards compliance don’t fully apply. But these proprietary extensions to webcore imho signal a lack of forward thinking in their implementation and i don’t think they belong in apples html render engine.
Overall dashboard feels a lot like a damn-ugly-hack putting on a pretty mask. My computing life could be so much easier if i didn’t care for the innards that keep my system running. I’m on the fence about how this turns out eventually.

Shure E2c First Impressions

I’ve been lusting after a pair of shure in-ear headphones for almost a year and last week i finally found a shop in vienna that had the e2c in stock, incidentally my favourite vienesse apple retailer, mc shark. They carry them for a very reasonable ‚Ǩ 99 and they can order e3c or e5c for you if you want.
Compared to the apple in-ear phones, the shure e2c are definitely a step or two up the ladder. I always found apples in-ear phones lacking when it comes to isolation and fit. The e2c might not be as comfy, but offer significantly better isolation and fit while still being bearably comfortable for several hours of continued use.
Sound quality of the e2c is very satisfying, imho. Bass is precise, but not as powerful as i usually prefer, mids sound clear and well separated, highs imho a little underpronounced, but still ok. Can’t expect everything from sub-100 phones. The soundstage is quite narrow, i’d say narrower than other earbuds, but that’s not much of a problem for me. Closed phones can’t compete with opened ones in that regard anyway and i actually kinda like the “originating right in your head”-sound. Overall i like them better than any other headphone i’ve checked out recently (i.e. sennheiser mx400, hd497, koss ksc55, sony v300, apple in-ear phones), especially for portable usage due to their magnificent isolation.
That’s the area that the e2c really stand out, imho. I’ve never experienced better isolation on a headphone before. Just try having a conversation with the e2c inserted in your ears without any music running and you’ll see it’s a futile exercise. If you actually appreciate the antisocial isolation that your ipod can offer you, get the e2c. You won’t be bothered by crying babys, barking dogs, annoying phone conversations, loud school classes, raving lunatics, gang wars, violent shootouts, tanks blowing up next to you, whatever. Considering the time i spend on sub-, tramway and train the e2c are a godsend.
As an added bonus the better isolation allows you to listen to your music at significantly lower volumes and is therefore a lot healthier for your eardrums. And you won’t have to worry that people around you might hear what you’re listening to, preventing that your sophie ellis bextor obsession turns into a potentially embarassing outing. For the same reason they’re obviously unsuitable when riding a bike or driving a car.
I wholeheartedly recommend the e2c as a magnificent pair of headphones for any portable music player, not so much for their audible qualities (which are great nonetheless), but for their isolation. You really don’t know how much this is worth until you experience it.

Stigmatized

The apparent lack of recent entries shows that i haven’t been around my cyberspace home too much lately, primarily because i switched homes in meatspace. Doing this in the middle of the final exams weeks made this an even more stressful experience. But now i’m pretty much finished with moving, exams are done and i hope i can spend a little more time around here in the next few weeks.
Relocating also meant getting lots of new furniture, and as a jobless student there was only one stereotypical solution: ikea. Let me make it clear upfront that i’m not exactly a huge fan of ikea, to say the least. The customer service and shopping experience was terrible. I had to pack some few hundred pounds of furniture on a far-too-tiny cart just to hand it in for delivery a few minutes later – plain stupid. And don’t even try finding someone to help you packing your cart.
Funny enough right after my shopping disaster i stumbled across a two-part article about ikea @guardian, first part here, second part here. Highly recommended reading, especially the following two statements stood out to me:

“People say, well, surely they’ve raised the standard of design in dull British homes,” he says. “But I think they’ve reduced acceptable standards at the other end. People who might have been slightly more ambitious or critical about their furniture end up accepting something that looks half-modern and OK … It may be better than the worst, but it’s worse than the best.”

which i think has to be attributed to Joe Kerr, and the following by G??ran Nilsson, until recently ikea’s uk managing director:

“Money that is spent unneeded is a disease”

Sounds like ripping all fun from hedonistic consumerwhoreism, doesn’t it? Certainly nothing i can relate to.
Especially the aspect of self-assembly is one that bothers me: after all the trouble in putting my furniture together, i can’t enjoy it anymore. It’s around me, i use it, but i don’t have any positive feelings towards it. Now that i’ve joined the ranks of twens who fed the behemoth and succumbed to self-assembly furniture, there’s no turning back. Stigmatized forever.