Hey, I’m Joining Fast Company!

A few words about what's next for me and this site

Fast CompanyJust over a month ago, I resigned from my job at TIME and rebooted this website. I wrote at the time that I didn’t expect to do Technologizer full-time indefinitely–which was another way of saying that I was looking for my next big opportunity as a technology journalist.

I’m happy to say I’ve found it: On July 21, I will join Fast Company as technology editor.

Why Fast Company? Well, I’ve been a fan since its first issue appeared almost two decades ago. But what I’m excited about is its future.

Continue Reading →


20 comments


This New Google Project Proves Humans Are Better at Animation Than Computers Are

Sorry, Android L, Android Wear, and Android Auto: This may be the best thing which got announced at I/O.

I had a good time attending Google I/O, but I somehow missed out on the premiere at the conference of something which means a lot to me: Duet, a new short film by Disney veteran Glen Keane, one of the finest animators of the past forty years.

Fortunately, I just caught up with it on YouTube:

The movie is part of Google’s “Spotlight Stories” project, and will be available in an interactive mobile version for Android phones later this year. But the thing which makes it interesting and moving isn’t the technology: It’s the fact that it consists of a series of drawings by a human being who happens to be a master draftsman, rather than the digital stop-motion puppetry that is computer animation.

Keane may have used more modern tools than his counterparts at Disney did in the 1930s and 1940s, but the basics of his craft haven’t changed at all.

There’s lots of computer animation I like, and some I just love–but the medium has a long way to go until it can match the charm, grace, and emotional depth of something like this. How said it would be if traditional animation–which is clearly an endangered artform–ever goes away altogether.


6 comments


10 Observations About Google’s I/O Keynote

One of many giant Androids towering over the human attendees at Google I/O at San Francisco's Moscone Center

One of many giant Androids towering over the human attendees at Google I/O at San Francisco’s Moscone Center

If you’re looking for a good straightforward recap of the news which Google made during its I/O keynote on Wednesday morning, stop reading this post. Instead, head over to Mat Honan’s fine summary over at Wired. And then, if you’re still interested in the topic, come back here for my initial musings.

Continue Reading →


3 comments


Amazon’s Fire Phone is One Tough Phone to Figure Out

Things that are different have a tendency to confuse people
Jeff Bezos brandishes Amazon's Fire Phone at a media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Jeff Bezos brandishes the Fire Phone at Amazon’s media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Week before last, Jeff Bezos sent journalists who had been invited to the company’s media event a copy of his favorite childhood book: Leonard Kessler’s Mr. Pine’s Purple House. Mr. Pine painted his home purple so it would stand out from his neighbors’ houses; Bezos included a note alluding to the world “being a better place when things are a bit different.”

As expected, the news at the media event was the launch of Amazon’s first smartphone, the Fire Phone. In multiple ways, it is indeed a purple house–a phone which strives to carve off a distinct niche for itself rather than match what Apple and makers of Android phones are doing.

Continue Reading →


One comment


Sorry, Everybody, Your Feelings About the iWatch Are Meaningless

Piper Jaffray recently conducted a survey about consumer sentiments towards wearable devices–including the “Apple iWatch” which, it now seems certain, will be released later this year. As Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports, 36 percent of respondents would pay between $100 and $200 for the iWatch, 14 percent would pay $350, and 14 percent wouldn’t buy one at any price. DeWitt says that those numbers prompted the author of Piper Jaffray’s study to estimate that Apple could sell between five and ten million iWatches in the device’s first year on the market.

Can we just say it? Research of this type doesn’t tell us anything worth knowing about Apple’s device and how well it might sell, because the survey respondents who said they would or wouldn’t buying it were expressing opinions based on insufficient information.

Even if you’re paying really close attention to rumors about Apple’s wearables–such as these ones and these ones–you know very little about the device, in part because rumors can be false, and in part because scuttlebutt about specs tells you virtually nothing about what the experience of using an iWatch might be like. And the respondents to Piper Jaffray’s survey presumably aren’t maniacally refreshing MacRumors and AppleInsider to stay on top of the latest news.

Even after a company announces a product, gut instincts about it don’t tell you all that much. Especially when the company in question is Apple, which has a better track record of redefining categories than any of its competitors, in ways that can be difficult to understand at first. Recall, if you will, the reception that the iPhone got after Steve Jobs unveiled it in January of 2007: It wasn’t the least bit difficult to find people who thought it would flop.

In a rational world, 100 percent of the people who Piper Jaffray asked about their iWatch-buying intentions would have answered “How the hell should I know at this point?” They didn’t. So it’s incumbent on us to remember that none of us know enough about Apple’s wearable to form opinions about it–including whether we want one.


Be the first to comment


“Works With Nest” Lets Nest’s Smart Devices Talk to Cars, Appliances, Wearables, Remotes, and More

Nest

So far, Google’s Nest Labs home automation arm makes two smart, web-enabled devices: the Nest thermostat and Nest Protect smoke/CO detector. The count will go to three when the company finalizes its agreement to acquire the startup behind the Dropcam security camera.

Those products, of course, are outnumbered by vast and growing quantities of smart-home hardware and software created by other companies. And from now on, some of the most interesting things which Nest’s devices do may be actions they perform in concert with third-party gear.

Continue Reading →


3 comments


Microsoft’s Online Storage Curveball: Office 365 Now Comes With a Terabyte of OneDrive

Comparing the new plans to Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, and others

Microsoft OneDriveStarting shortly, Microsoft is upgrading the storage plans it offers for OneDrive, the online storage service formerly known as SkyDrive. You’ll get 15GB of space for free, which the company says is enough for 75 percent of users to store all the files on their PC in the cloud. (Until now, freeloaders have received a base allotment of 7GB.) Paid OneDrive tiers will offer 100GB for $1.99 a month or 200GB for $3.99 a month, a 70 percent reduction from previous pricing.

All of this is nice, but hardly surprising: It’s unquestionably a response to the similar moves which Google made with Google Drive back in March.

But Microsoft has another piece of OneDrive news which is at least a trifle startling–and which nobody else can quite match. The company is radically increasing the amount of storage it bundles with the consumer-oriented versions of Office 365, the subscription-based version of the Office productivity suite.

Continue Reading →


Be the first to comment


After Forty-Seven Years, Computerworld, Tech Publishing’s Elder Statesman, is a Print Publication No More

ComputerworldWhen IDG’s Computerworld launched, with an issue cover-dated June 14, 1967, it declared itself to be the “first newspaper for the full computer community.” I have no reason to believe that was an inaccurate claim. And if there’s an older publication devoted to computing which still exists in print form, I don’t know about it.

But Computerworld‘s long, long run in dead-tree form is ending. As editor-in-chief Scot Finnie writes, it will publish its last print edition next week, almost exactly 47 years after the first one appeared. The brand will live on as a website, of course, and as a monthly digital magazine.

The news comes three months after the passing of Pat McGovern, who started IDG in 1964 as a research firm and put out Computerworld with a tiny staff in its earliest days. It’s sad to think of IDG losing its founder and flagship print publication so close together, but in a way, it’s also fitting.

Continue Reading →


10 comments


Amazon’s Fire Phone Event, as Tweeted By Me

I had fun furiously live-tweeting Amazon’s Fire phone event in Seattle this morning. I assume Amazon will share the whole thing in video form–but as a stopgap, here’s a recap of my tweets. More thoughts to come…


Be the first to comment


Review: Adobe’s Ink and Slide Are Great Hardware Which Need Great Apps

The software for these high-end iPad art tools feels like rough drafts

Adobe Ink and Slide

People who are serious about software should make their own hardware.

When that famous declaration by Alan Kay gets quoted, it’s usually in reference to ambitious computing devices such as Apple’s iPhone or Microsoft’s Surface. But after more than three decades in the graphics software business, Adobe is finally taking Kay’s advice–and the hardware that it’s built is a pressure-sensitive pen and a unique digital ruler, both for use with new Adobe apps for the iPad.

When the company first showed off prototypes of its pen and ruler more than a year ago, it gave them the code names Project Mighty and Napoleon, respectively. Today, the final versions go on sale as Adobe Ink and Slide. They work with two new Adobe drawing apps for the iPad, Line and Sketch–both of which are free and can be used with or without the new hardware. (Adobe provided me with pre-release versions of the hardware and software, and loaned me an iPad to use with them.)

Adobe is selling Ink and Slide as a set, at an intimidating price: $200. You don’t need to spend anything like that to get a solid iPad stylus. (One of my favorites goes for $35.) But Adobe isn’t being completely irrational: Other pressure-sensitive styli sell for up to $120 on their own, no equivalent to Slide included. Still, it’s a lot of money–and I think that more than a few folks will be disappointed that the company isn’t offering Ink in stand-alone form at a lower price.

The good news is that both gadgets feel like the high-end iPad accoutrements they are. Adobe may be new to hardware, but it’s crafted Ink and Slide out of aluminum and sweated the details.

Adobe SketchAt first blush, Ink’s striking looks–its barrel is a twisted triangle–seem like they might favor form over function. Actually, the pen fits beautifully in the hand. Many iPad styli are too stubby or too thick; this one is just right, and it’s perfectly balanced.

What matters even more than the shape of an iPad stylus’s barrel is the shape of its tip. The iPad was designed to work with fingertips, not pen points; as a result, most styli have large, mushy tips, leaving using them feeling a bit like drawing with a tiny water balloon. You can learn to do it, but it’s not fun.

Adobe, however, gave Ink a tip which uses Pixelpoint, a technology created by a startup called Adonit, which also uses it in some of its own styli. Thanks to Pixelpoint, Ink’s point is truly pointy. It’s also pressure sensitive, letting you draw with pencil and pen tools in Line and Sketch which lay down thicker, darker lines if you press harder. Drawing with it feels more like using a real pencil, pen, or brush than with any other iPad stylus I’ve tried.

Adobe InkRather than taking a AAA battery like some pressure-sensitive iPad styli, Ink comes with a charging tube which doubles as a carrying case. Stick Ink in the tube, pop on the lid and connect a USB cable, and you can charge it up for up to eight hours of continuous drawing.

Ink is an ambitious new product in an existing category. Slide, by contrast, is something altogether new. Used with Ink and the Line or Sketch app, it lets you lay down lines and shapes with precision, letting you mix purely freehand art with elements you positioned and rendered with the help of Slide.

The gizmo is a little aluminum-topped bar, around 4 inches long, on two dinky legs. Even though it doesn’t require a battery, the iPad notices when you’ve plopped it down on the screen. In both Line and Sketch, you can move Slide around to arrange an on-screen line, circle, square or triangle–you cycle between multiple choices by pushing a button on the device–and then size it to your liking and trace it with the stylus to get a shape which simultaneously looks perfect and if it were drawn by hand.

Adobe LineThe Line app provides a bevy of additional shapes which you can position with Slide, such as french curves, trees, various people and animals, and even Herman Miller furniture. It also has a simple 3D-assist mode which helps you with perspective as you lay down lines in a drawing.

Slide is ingenious all by itself, but Adobe did another ingenious thing: It built a virtual version of the hardware into the Line and Sketch apps. Rather than sliding Slide around on your tablet’s display, you can drag around a couple of on-screen circles to position lines and shapes, then trace them with the Ink stylus. It’s a very satisfactory substitute for the Slide device, which makes it all the more of a shame that there’s no way to buy Ink by itself.

Adobe Line

Adobe Line

The virtual Slide is only one of plenty of creative features in the Line app (which emphasizes precision) and Sketch app (which skews more towards freehand drawing). They have features such as integration with Adobe’s Behance, a social network for artists who like to show off their work; and Kuler, a way to share color palettes.

But for all the ways in which Line and Sketch are nice, they feel unfinished. They’re also needlessly inconsistent with each other. And though these apps are free–and Adobe says that it intends to release updates with improvements based on feedback from users–they’re the key to unlocking the potential of the $200 Ink and Slide hardware. So their limitations are a problem.

A few examples:

  • Even though Line and Sketch have very similar toolboxes which let you choose an art utensil and a color, Line places its version at the bottom of the screen, and Sketch puts it at the top.
  • Line lets you customize the size and opacity of its drawing tools; Sketch does not, which limits the variety of effects you can get out of it.
  • Both apps are designed to work with an iPad held in landscape orientation; their interfaces don’t rotate into portrait mode, and the lines I drew in portrait orientation looked like they emerged from a spot off to the left of the pen tip.
  • Neither app offers the ability to create drawings with multiple layers, as you can in such graphics packages as Photoshop. You can import an image from the iPad’s Camera Roll and trace over it, but the two apps handle this task with different interfaces.
  • Both feature palm rejection, a technology designed to let you touch your palm to the tablet’s screen as you draw without unwittingly creating a line, triggering an action or otherwise interfering with your drawing. But like all forms of iPad palm rejection I’ve tried, Adobe’s version isn’t very dependable. And southpaws beware: In Line, there’s a little on-screen button which temporarily disables palm rejection so you can perform gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. It sits on the left side of the screen–where I kept accidentally brushing it with my palm and messing up my work.
Cat Drawing

Adobe Line

After using both Line and Sketch extensively, I found I liked Line better for the sort of precision drawing it’s designed for and for freehand sketching. Which brings up a question: Why does Sketch exist at all? Adobe says that it created two separate apps to avoid feature bloat; it’s a noble-sounding goal, but most of the few unique features which Sketch has could be folded into Line without overloading it.

Ultimately, of course, what you really want is for Ink and Slide to work in any iPad app which might benefit from them–including excellent non-Adobe offerings such as Paper, Procreate, and Sketchbook Pro. Adobe says it’s planning to open up Ink and Slide so that other companies which develop graphics software can enable the hardware in their apps. Whether they will choose to do so remains to be seen–especially since Adobe’s Ink competes with multiple other high-end styli which require their own special software support, such as Pogo Connect, FiftyThree’s Pencil, and Adonit’s Jot Touch.

The bottom line on Ink and Slide: They’re impressive, polished pieces of hardware already, but they’ll be far more compelling if Adobe beefs up Ink and Slide and third-party app developers support the devices. Spending $200 on them right now is a major investment in a vision in progress. But it’s an awfully exciting vision–and if it comes to pass, it’s going to be a boon for iPad art and the people who create it.


Be the first to comment