On Tap

iPod Touch

As Andrew Orlowski points out, the new iPod Touch (the iPhone without the phone bit) is, on paper at least, an overpriced, locked-down PDA and one without any games or even an email client for when you’re on WiFi. It is also, however, the only piece of consumer electronics on the market today that will without fail turn grown men and women into delighted children.

In the five days since I bought it at Apple’s Regent Street store, everyone who’s taken the little black gizmo for a spin has ended up staring in disbelief, wide-eyed, slack-jawed and saying ‘wow’ a lot. Think how amazed you were when you first saw the tiny nano, and multiply it by a hundred. One colleague, a little carried away in the moment and flicking through photos asked whether you could put music on it.

How does it achieve this? Obviously it comes in a very good looking case – all of the chrome of the original iPod, the front panel almost entirely a large and bright screen and wafer-thin.

However it is the software which amazes, and in particular, the multi-touch interface. By – just about – managing to get the interface to respond in real time and introducing many levels of immediate functional mapping, Apple has made standard handset interface look decades out of date. It’s as revolutionary as the effect that Apple’s first GUI had on the DOS prompt.


(Above: An add Macintosh ran to congratulate Windows on the tenth anniversary of Windows 95).

The opportunities presented by a malleable, multi-input screen are enormous, as we’ve seen a number of times with Jeff Haan’s demos. Apple’s actually been very retrained in their use of it, presumably on the grounds that people will need to follow a learning curve of some sort. However the interface is almost entirely intuitive with very few people needing even an introduction to the concept.

To start to see some of the potential of this new way of thinking, and how the relatively small screen size of the iPod Touch can be best put to use, we need only look to Facebook’s iPhone interface, which is an absolute joy to use. Perhaps 2008, at last really will be the long-awaited “year of the mobile”.


Not a lot to Ask

After all the nonsense of Information Revolution, it’s great to see Ask.com doing some actually worthwhile stuff to try and improve their search engine.

A lot of the front-end changes may owe a fair amount to the big G and emerging trends in the marketplace (including “suggests” style prompting) but there’s some nice new stuff in their too. They’ve managed to do some really nice skins, as well as some quite useful little Ajax interfaces:

Ask - skins

And in terms of the results page, some very neat innovations for structured results which are a pretty major improvement over Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. See the search below for “Neil Finn” which has brought up relevant music, image and wikipedia structured listings, as well as having found good relevant related searches:

Ask.com - structured search results for Neil Finn

This is the sort of thing they should have been talking about before – customer-value driven product benefit, not marketing nonsense. This might actually make one more person use their site.

See the light

Last week at Mix, Microsoft announced a huge raft of new products. Attendees describe the wave upon wave of releases as somewhat disorientating, overwhelming in its sheer volume so that some of key details may have been overlooked by much of the audience. Certainly many of the developments (like the relationship with Hugh McLeod) point to a corporation which is reassessing its position with consumers and customers.

Silverlight logo

In particular on both, amid the release of Silverlight and Silverlight Streaming Services, as well as the more open Live Services Platform, it seems that much of the audience missed the annoucment of a 50k CLR. For 50k more download than the core Silverlight plugin, users can download a Common Language Runtime (CLR), enabling developers to build multiplatform objects in any supported language (compiled and uncompiled): C#, Java, Ruby and Python. This brings the promise of multi-platform computing which has been talked about for the last ten years to reality (if beta reality).

So while the delegates were talking about whether Silverlight was or wasn’t a “flash killer”, what was really being announced was the death of Java. Or, to put it another way, .net is now a mac development platform.

.net ecosystem

Random acts of advertisingness

A really nice touch from the alternative Last FM pluggin (Audioscrobbler). The tool tips which explain what icon are for have been set up to re-use some famous advertising straplines. Here are a couple of the funnier ones:

Starting with a classic parity claim:

Nothing acts faster tool tip on AudioScrobler

I bet he drinks Audioscrobbler

Hands that do dishes tool tip on Audioscrobbler

Have a break tool tip on Audioscrobbler

An my favourite, borrowed from the AA

To our members tooltip on audioscrobbler



More pointlessness for a Saturday morning. B3ta seem to have appointed a 404 officer with literally hundreds of variants being shown on a loop on their own error page. This does beg the slightly odd question of why I had such a hard time finding them in the first place: one broken link would have made the whole process a lot easier in hindsight.

Predictably scoring highly in politically incorrect stakes and with a large number of appearances from both Carol Vorderman and Joey Deacon, the collection also includes a suprising number of more sophisticated entries such as “ce n’est pas un 404”. Here are a few highlights.

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This twitter cannot be found

Apologies in advance. This is extremely geeky.

You probably know this already but when you go to page on a website which isn’t there, you’ll get an error message (the error code is 404 so the error page is often known as a ‘404 page’).

Sometimes you get a bland computery message and sometimes you get a more interesting (or at least designed)  “custom” one (of which b3ta ran a funny compilation some time ago).

Well there I was trying to guess someone’s twitter account and getting it wrong over and over again, only to find they have a really funny 404 page, replete with 80s Athena poster-style cat. Brilliant.

Twitter 404

PS: No this doesn’t mean I’ve got to grips with twitter!

Interesting search engine things

Turn your back on the big G for two seconds and look what they go and do.

First of all they added cool skins to Personalised home page which reflect what time of day it is where you are:

Google sunset - on personalised homepage

And then in gmaps, the integration of pictures and extended related search pannels. You start to understand what Larry Page might have been talking about when he said that we’ve only seen the tip of the search iceberg:

Here’s the initial listing
Gmaps - images for location

and the expanded panel
Gmaps - info pannel