A Taste of Netflix

I’m behind the times.

After seemingly both the wax and wane had passed, I jumped on the Netflix wagon a week ago. I signed up and started my month trial of the streaming option. First impressions were fantastic; I could watch it on my computer, on my Xbox 360 and on my Windows Phone. The first movie I picked was also a doozie – Momento (great movie, watch it if you haven’t already).

This past weekend, I had some free time, so I went trawling through the IMDB top 250 for another movie to watch on Netflix.

Fight Club – DVD only.

Let’s try… City of God. Nope, DVD only as well.

Oh, The Usual Suspects looks interesting. Oh, not available for streaming either. Darn.

Pan’s Labyrinth, The King’s Speech. Not available, no. In Bruges, no. Same for Magnolia. DVD only for Gran Torino, Hotel Rwanda and Into the Wild.

At that point, I decided to cancel. Bye, Netflix. That was a brief encounter.

Apple iPad – Not For You, But For The Other 99%

It was impossible for Apple to have created the magical device people were conjuring up in rumors. (No, despite the copious use of the word ‘magical’ in Apple’s marketing campaign for the device, it’s not magical.) Perhaps the iteration they launched here was a bit of a conservative effort. On the other hand, it’s one of the first non-vapourwave entries into the budding ‘slate’ market, and Apple will likely get a second version out, not long after the rest of the market catches up with their first salvo. They need to keep some cards to play out then.

Apple iPad

So, a bit of a conservative showing by the iPad at first glance then? Sure, there isn’t a revolutionary new interface method – it’s essentially like a big iPod Touch in many ways, but familiarity is a wonderful thing. Keeping a consistent user interface, one that 75 millions users know and love, helps the product, not the opposite. Yeah, the keyboard looks retarded to type on, but this isn’t a content creation device, it’s a consumption device. There’s no multitasking, which sucks for sure, but I’m sure the key features you’ll really care about multitasking with (music, in particular) will be allowed to run in the background. There’s also no Flash support.

There are a ton of areas where a fully-fledged operating system would do a better job, but then I look at the price: $499 for the base model.

Yikes.

Joe Blow is going to walk into BestBuy with his wife, looking for a cheap web browsing machine. They have a desktop computer, but would like something to browse the internet, check some email, and blast through photos around the house. They see an Acer 10.1″ netbook running Windows 7 and, not too far away, an Apple iPad running some sort of iPod Touch-looking operating system.

$349 vs. $499
10.1″ vs. 9.7″
7 hours battery vs. 10 hours battery
regular screen vs. touch screen
Open up Internet Explorer vs. Open up Safari: weird, Safari opened faster

Hmmm, $150 more for a shiny Apple product that seems to be (surprise) faster for browsing the web. Well, they wanted to spend less than $400, but this iPad thing looks really slick. And wow! So light! The Acer gets ignored for a while, and Joe plays with the iPad’s other applications. Hrm, email looks good. Photos look fantastic! Oh, it says there are 100,000+ applications available for the iPad?! That’s a lot.

Joe walks out of BestBuy, ready to try out his first Apple product at home. At this price, Apple will move loads of product.

I’ve already heard from several non-techie types that this is the ‘computer’ they’ve been waiting for. They’d rather surf the web from the comfort of a couch than a desk. The simple interface and operating system is an advantage. I think about my mother’s computer usage scenarios, and I can’t help but think the iPad is better suited. She’d rather not have to sit in front a computer. It simply doesn’t fit into her day. And multitasking? Please, every time I go home, the only thing open on the computer is a Firefox browser window. Most people don’t want crazy feature sets. Most people don’t need a ‘full-fledged’ operating system for their day-to-day activities.

What most web gurus don’t realize is that 99% of the population aren’t like them. They don’t want to web chat with people, while downloading a movie and posting to their blog. They don’t want to pound out page long comments on smarterthanyou.com.

Steve Jobs calls it the best web browsing and email experience available. I don’t think I’m willing to go so far as to agree with him. However, I do believe it provides a better web experience than most netbooks. On the other hand, I feel that it’s the form factor that makes this product work. With the plethora of Android and Windows tablets due to be released later on this year, I feel like the iPad’s market will have really legitimate competitors very soon, something that couldn’t be said for the iPhone until recently. Android will probably work pretty well out-of-box in this form factor. Any Windows tablet will need some serious application interface overhauls to provide a good experience.

With that all said, I have so much faith in this form factor, and in particular Apple’s entry here that I’m planning on jumping head-first into development for the platform. Designing for the significantly larger screen will be very different, and in many ways, more difficult than development for the iPod Touch/iPhone, where the vast majority of applications are simply a list and some buttons. I have numerous ideas that take advantage of the new form factor. Plus, as the App Store has shown, there’s serious money to be made here. That’s just about incentive enough.

I probably won’t be developing for you (or me, for that matter); I’ll be developing for the 99% that the iPad is useful for.

I Take Broadband For Granted

One of the things that changed my life wasn’t the Internet itself, but the coming of affordable broadband that enabled me to easily access the wealth of information (and misinformation) available. For close to 10 years, I’ve had some form of high-speed connection (e.g. not dial-up), and I’ve rarely gone long periods of time without it. The things that you always have are the ones you take for granted. Broadband internet is definitely one for me.

So it was a bit of a shock when I moved into my temporary place in Toronto to discover that the advertised ‘high-speed internet’ was in fact a 128kb/s connection. There were many things I needed to do that were simply unreasonable on that sort of connection. For example, the online lectures for my distance education course were unusable. Using cloud-based storage was futile. Remote desktop through VPN was far more frustrating than it was worth. When I signed up for that web-based economics course, I never considered that I wouldn’t have a fast internet connection, where ever I happened to be.

It’s been three weeks with that connection and I’ve dreaded using the Internet every single day, but come next Wednesday, it’ll be upgraded to a 2mb/s line. While not terribly quick, it’ll be worlds apart from what I’m used to, and more than likely, quite adequate for my needs. Does that mean I have an appreciation for broadband now? I’m not really sure, but I do know that in the future, I’ll have to explicity check about the speed of a ‘high speed’ connection!

Comcast’s 250GB Cap – People Still Unsatisfied

Much maligned Comcast has made official a bandwidth (or transfer) cap of 250GB per month starting October 1st. While there are some pleased comments, there are also many who are still unhappy with anything short of literally ‘unlimited’ access. I for one would be overjoyed to lose the shackles of the 60GB or 95GB caps from Rogers, but also realize how illogical truly ‘unlimited’ access is from a business point of view. Physical mediums, such as wireless spectrum and cabling, are intrinsically limited in capacity and a business is a business; it’s about making money. To those asking for unlimited service, well, it’s just not a reasonable demand. Anything significantly over 250GB per month is probably getting into abusive territory and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable cap.