Confessions of a MacBook Touch rumor monger

Alan Kay (who I’ll get back to in a moment) is credited with a great quote: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

I’ll add to what Alan said: The second best way is to keep predicting it until someone else gets around to inventing it. And the third best way is to predict something and then spread every rumor possible that is remotely related to that prediction.

When it comes to one of the oldest Apple rumors I can recall, I have clearly done all I can to do the third best thing I can — to echo-chamber it. The rumor is that Apple will one day offer a device that is somewhere between a MacBook and an iPod Touch/iPhone. The device, now being labeled “The MacBook Touch” by the rumorosphere, has once again taken center ring at the Mac Rumor Circus. (Some latter-day rumorists are calling it a “Tablet Mac,” but that’s a rumor of a different color. Steve Jobs will never chase the tablet laptop market for reasons so obvious — even John Dvorak could figure out why.)

A couple of years ago, I posted a list of “All the Apple rumors you’ll ever need.” Of everything on the list — including the iPhone — the only one I’ve ever really craved is “Rumor #3”:

A device that is sort of like an 8″x10″ iPod that does everything a computer does but it won’t be called a tablet computer or an iPod.”

Strangely, for the past two years, if you Googled the phrase, “Rumor #3,” the #1 result has been a link to that list. To you, it might be called a MacBook Touch. But to me, it will always be Rumor #3. For past rumor posts, I’ve even Photoshopped up a version of what a Rumor #3 could look like (right).

But I have a deep, dark confession to make: I’ve never really thought Apple will come out with the product. It has been more wishful thinking than anything else whenever I echo-chambered such reports as this “patent” post on AppleInsider.com. My “rumor” posts have been more fantasy and speculation and desire to have the product I have called an iPod Touchbook (and here), than belief that Apple will offer such a product. Even today, I’m quite cynical and, frankly, don’t believe that such a product is going to be announced anytime soon. (Or, perhaps, I’m tired of being disappointed when these rumors I help spread never pan out, and I’m taking a new tact.)

 

My lust for a MacBook Touch
started with a 1987
video about a concept product called
the the Knowledge Navigator.
 

I’ll credit Apple (and in this case, the then “Apple Fellow,” Alan Kay) with first establishing the benchmark for my desire for such a device — and my willingness to serve as conduit for spreading any rumor which comes close to suggesting Apple will one day offer such a product. It started with a concept video Apple produced in 1987 that oozes with Alan Kay concepts. I’ve written about how that video describing the concept technology, “Knowledge Navigator,” set an expectation in my mind — and a generation of those of us who reside among the hyperlink-obsessed — of what one should expect to have one day. Today, now that all of the technology, infrastructure, pricing scale and marketing channels are in place for such a device, many of us are wondering: Where’s my Knowledge Navagator? (In 2003, Jon Udell posted a great item about the Knowledge Navagator concept video.)

A rumor is somewhat like abstract art — until the artist explains exactly what everything means, it can be interpreted anyway one wants. Until Steve Jobs strolls out onto the stage and explains exactly what this device is and what space in our mind it is to occupy, it will be all things to all geeks.

For me, Rumor #3 is about recapturing a little piece of 1987, when the promise of the future was not about feature sets, but about the cool things you could do if you have a device that goes with you everywhere and allows you to travel anywhere.

Note: One thing I didn’t like about the Knowledge Navigator was the “talking head” interface. I’m more of a touch interface person, myself.

Bonus link: The eBook people are finally catching on that a Rumor #3 device makes having a separate device merely to read books rather redundant.

Your address book is your social network

The Important Part: The people at Facebook describe your list of “friends” (contacts) as being your “social-graph.” Others use the term “social network” to describe in broad terms, your network of connections with other people. Chances are, you call that list of connections your “address book.” In the previous century, you may have called it your Rolodex. Your ability to export that list of contacts from your computer out to web services (geek word of the day – “portability”) is one of the building blocks of a future web where you can go onto any new site or service and instantly discover everyone using it who may be a friend of your second-cousin, Herbert. Today, Google announced that the newest update of the Mac operating system includes a preference in the “Address Book” program that will keep the Mac address book synch’d with the contact list on ones Google G-mail account. Why is this significant? There are lots of really smart people and groups working on standards and practices related to how someone “asserts” their online identity and their connections with others — and how web services should respect how individuals utilize such personal data. However, until the day comes when all of those standards and practices are worked out, your personal e-mail address and your phone number are serving as a form of “de-facto” identifier of who you are. Likewise, your list of e-mail contacts are filling the gap on identifying your social network. And until the powers-that-would-like-to-be all agree upon what your portable “social network/graph” is going to be and how it’s going to work, your address book has become a stand-in. That’s why, when you sign onto a new social networking site, they ask if you want to allow them to bounce your e-mail contact list up against their list of registered users. That way, you can discover who among your contacts are already using the service.

Take Away: For Apple Address Book users who used to have to “export” and “upload” your contact list manually, you now have one-click portability (and on-going syncing) to your Google G-mail contacts list of your most important “social graph.” And from your Google contacts, you can blast that social graph to infinity and beyond (or whatever Google Friend Connect is).

Related rambling: About a year ago, I talked about the concept of e-mail address as universal identifyer in a lengthy post.

[Photo credit: jcroach, Flickr.]

Dear Jeff, Please fix Audible.com and, oh yeah, make the Kindle stop hating Mac users

Here’s some big news for audiobook listeners (I’m one): Amazon has announced this morning they are buying Audible.com. If you’re an audiobook listener, you probably already know that Audible serves as the back-end for audiobook downloads for Apple’s iTunes Store. However, as I’ve said on this blog before, it’s crazy to purchase audiobooks via the iTunes Store rather than directly from Audible.com as the direct purchase allows re-downloads of any books you buy — and the iTunes Store doesn’t. Amazon.com has a similar “library” backup feature for digital media purchased there (except MP3s), like Kindle eBook files.

I have some problems with audiobooks via Audible.com, however — some problems Amazon could solve. First, audiobooks are incredibly expensive — just like the inflated cost of eBooks before Amazon stepped in with the Kindle and a price around $10 for best-sellers. An audiobook of a bestseller is more likely to be more expensive than the print version — and in the same range as the cost of an audiobook you’d purchase on a CD in a bookstore.

To get around such inflated pricing, I have a subscription plan on the service that provides one book credit per month. I never go over the limit as the per-book cost can be stratospheric — as in, provide me all the incentive necessary to drop by the Nashville Library and check out the book on a CD. Oh yes, and on a CD, those audiobooks don’t have all the DRM one finds on the same aduiobooks one downloads from Audible.com. Let me translate this: I can drop by the library and transfer DRM-free audiobooks to my computer. Gee, that sounds like the same issue Amazon.com fixed when they started offering music downloads recently. Hmmm. Dear Jeff: You can do it dude. Cheaper audiobooks. No DRM — just like the same books on CDs. Hey, you da man.

Speaking of audiobooks and Amazon and Audible, here’s a suggestion for Amazon: Quit locking out Mac users from using their Kindleto listen to audiobooks from Audible.com. Here’s what I mean: The only way to transfer an audiobook to the device (precisely, a DRM-ladened audiobook purchased from the leading online retail sources of audiobooks — Amazon, Apple or Audible.com) is via a computer. The only computer operating system with which one can authorize a Kindle to play an audiobook purchased from Amazon, Apple or Audible.com, is with software available only on the Widows operating system.

How did I discover this? I have both an iPhone and an old-school iPod nano for listening to audiobooks, so I hadn’t previously taken much of a look at the audiobook capabilities of the Kindle. And frankly, while the device has a headphone jack for listening to audiobooks, that feature wasn’t heavily touted in the roll-out of the product. After a bit of struggle recently, I can now understand why this little-touted feature is so little touted.

The first problem has been noted and is what the pundits would call “the elephant in the room”: While you can store the text and black/white graphics from 100+ books on the 256 MB of a Kindle, the number of audiobooks is considerably less — say, less than one, in some instances. In my experiment, on a Kindle with about a dozen text books already loaded on it, I was limited to one Audible.com file containing an eight-hour recording.

However, I couldn’t listen to any of that file, as I discovered the following message buried in the directions found on Amazon.com regarding using an Audible.com file on a Kindle (something allowed) if that file is transferred to the Kindle using a Mac:

“In order to play audiobooks on the Amazon Kindle, you must first activate the device to your account (using the Windows software, AudibleManager)…If you are a Macintosh user, you need to connect your Kindle to a Windows-based computer running AudibleManager to authorize your Kindle using the above instructions. You may be able to authrize your Kindle running AubibleManager on Windows on your Macintosh is you have your Macintosh configured to run Windows. Once authorized with your Audible credentialis, you can then use audible files downloaded through Audible Manger under Windows or itunes by copying them to your Kindle via USB.

Uh, no thank you. I’ll just use my iPhone.

Sidenote — a positive word about the Kindle: As I’ve written before, I have one and despite its god-awful hardware design and some of the most incredibly bad user-interface ideas I’ve ever witnessed (see earlier review), I like the convenience of having dozens of books in my briefcase and I especially like the think-it, buy-it instant-shopification features it offers with an EVDO-powered access to the Amazon store. Oh, yes, and I’m big fan of the way your ebook purchases are backed up on Amazon.com. Unlike most badly designed things — say, the QWERTY keyboard — the Kindle’s bad features never get easier to use with experience. Almost daily, I’ll pick it up to put it away to discover I’ve advanced dozens of pages in the process. It boggles me that its designers failed to take into consideration how people hold a book when they read it.

But that’s not what I wanted to rant about this time.

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Apple Rumor #3 update

Whenever you see a rumor about an Apple “tablet PC” being real, all you need to say is, “Oh, that’s Rumor #3.”

Heck, even TUAW.com (the Unofficial Apple Weblog) has started calling it “Rumor #3.”

Of course, I go way-back with Rumor #3.

I figure as long as we can keep this rumor alive, maybe there’s hope that one day it will come true. (And when it does, I’ll see you in line at the Apple Store.)

(See: The rexblog ‘All the Apple rumors you’ll ever need – update page’)

Later: Webomatica lists some “thoughts” about what may be announced at Macworld. I like that: Not even rumors, these are “thoughts.” That’s sort of what my rumors are. Things I’d like for Apple to do, sprinkled with educated guessing, wrapped up in idle speculation.

iFlickr – and comparing the iMac 2007 to the Mac 1984

Via Engadget, today’s Steve Jobs Show reveals some new thinner, sleeker iMacs.

Also, a .Mac feature called .Mac Web Gallery that marries “.Mac and iPhoto” — iPhoto “08” has some enhancements also. Jobs says, according to Engadget, that “users will get a rich Web 2.0 experience.” (ugh). As I am a long-time .Mac subscriber who has always wondered why. This sounds — conceptually, at least, like an attempt to add Flickr-like features to it. There’s much more mojo to Flickr than mere display of photos, so I’d hesitate to suggest there is the least bit of threat to that service. Even if I use .Mac Photo Gallery, I can’t see it replacing what I do on Flickr.

Later: As it requires an iPhoto ’08 upgrade to use, I’ll be delaying my experimentation. However, the video on Apple.com provides a preview of an impressive way to post and share photos and videos. Doubt they’ll have the ‘community’ aspects of Flickr, but the user interface and animated commands are very iPhone/iPod-like. Like on iTunes album-flipping feature, you can sweep through dozens of photos. Also, you can post to .Mac and then view on an iPhone — a significant feature. For the “first month of iPhone,” “streaming” video via iPhone has been limited to a sub-set of YouTube — and there was no way to upload to YouTube and be guaranteed that your video would show up — unless, say, you threw an iPhone in a blender. This indicates that “streaming” will be coming to the iPhone in a myriad of ways.

Later II: I was just thinking back that a base-model Mac in 1984 (my first Mac) cost $2,495 (the equivalent of $5,000 in 2007 dollars*) for a computer with processing speed of 8MHz and 128 K of memory (I bought lots of floppy disks).

The base model of the iMac announced today costs $1,200 and has 2.0 GHz of processing speed and 250 GB of memory (hard disk storage).

More staggering (to me, at least) is the ability to purchase a tricked-out iMac for about $3,500 that has 2.4 GHz of processing speed and 1 TB of memory (storage). In 1984, such a machine would have cost, what, millions? I’m out of my league here, but for any hardware geek out there, how does today’s desktop iMac compare with a “supercomputer” of 1984 — say, a Cray X-MP, in terms of memory/processing?

There are textbooks of economic principles and laws packed into the evolution of the desktop Macintosh as it is one of the few consumer computer hardware product lines that has been in the marketplace for 23 years using the same (Mac) brand. Lots of classroom fodder related to principles related price / performance / demand / scale / efficiency / competition / productivity / innovation.

*In 1984, a Mac retailed for $2,495. According to this ‘cost-of-living’ calculator on the American Institute for Economic Research website, the rate of inflation reflected int he US. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index estimates that $2,495 in 1984 is equivalent to $4,939.57 today.