Apple’s iWatch in iDecline?


From Statista:

According to IDC’s most recent data, Apple Watch shipments declined by 71.6 percent in the past quarter compared to the same period last year. It’s the second consecutive quarter of high double-digit sales declines for Apple’s smartwatch, indicating that demand is quickly fading after a decent start. As our chart illustrates, the Apple Watch’s early sales figures were as good as the iPad’s and much better than the iPhone’s were in 2007. However, it took the iPhone nine years and the iPad three years to see their first year-over-year sales decline. Apple Watch sales started going downhill after just one year on the market.

Frankly, I’m not surprised. Although I continue to wear my Apple watch most days (especially on busy days when I’m expecting urgent emails or messages), I find it more or less useless for everything else. I’ve given up bringing it with me on overnight trips — can’t be bothered lugging a charger and cable. And of course at home it sits in its charging dock every night. Leading-edge uselessness, methinks.

Come for a drive in a Tesla

Tesla says that the necessary kit for fully-autonomous driving will be installed on all its new cars from now on. But it won’t be activated until a lot more testing has been done. This video provides a glimpse of this brave new future. Ignore the music.

The real word-processor


Matthew Kirschenbaum has written a fascinating bookTrack Changes: a Literary History of Word Processing — and in following a link to interviews with him I came on this lovely image, which made me laugh out loud.

Also: word processor seemed such a strange term for a tool designed (presumably) to aid composition. I always thought of it alongside the food processor that became a staple in so many modern kitchens (though never in ours), the whole point of which was to reduce everything to an undifferentiated pulp. (Or so I thought, anyway, never having used one.)

Kirschenbaum clears up the mystery: it seems that the ‘processor’ term came from IBM, who were marketing an office document-processing system which envisaged a process which took the document from initial outline to finished printed version to filed-away copy.

Subduing wishes to possibilities

An excerpt from Francis Spufford’s Backroom Boys, a memorable history of the early British personal computer industry. He’s writing about how two Cambridge students, David Braben and Ian Bell, used ingenious mathematical tricks to get round the limited memory available on the BBC Model B when they were creating their trailblazing computer game, Elite:

Whether the components are atoms or bits, ideas or steel girders, building something is a process of subduing wishes to possibilities … A real, constructed thing (however dented) beats a wish (however shiny) hands down; so working through the inevitable compromises, losing some of what you first thought of, is still a process of gain … But sometimes the process goes further. Some of the best bridges, programs, novels – not all the best, but some – come about because their makers have immersed themselves in the task with such concentration, such intent openness to what the task may bring, that the effort of making wishes real itself breeds new wishes. From the thick of the task, in the midst of the practical hammering, the makers see further possibilities that wouldn’t have been visible except from there, from that spot, from that degree of engagement with the task … This is what happened when Bell and Braben wrote their game … It became great because they saw the possibility of it being great while they were just trying to make it good.

This is wonderful, insightful writing about the creative process.

Q: What do we want? A: mobility, not cars.

This morning’s Observer column:

I’m looking at two photographs of the main street of the small town in which I was born. Both are taken from the same vantage point – looking up the hill to the T-junction at the top. The two photographs are separated by nearly a century: the first was taken in the 1930s, the second sometime in the last few years.

Topographically, the street remains largely unchanged: it’s a straight road with two- or three-storey shops and houses on either side. But the two photographs show completely different streets. The 1930s one shows a spacious thoroughfare, with people walking on the pavements on both sides of the street: here and there, two or three individuals stand in the road, possibly engaged in conversation. The contemporary photograph shows a narrow, congested gorge. The pavements are crowded with pedestrians, but there are no people on the road. In fact, in some places, one cannot even see its surface.

Why the difference between the two photographs? You know the answer: cars, vans and traffic. Both sides of the contemporary street have got lines of parked vehicles, effectively reducing the width of the road by 12ft. And there’s a traffic jam, which means that even the vehicles that aren’t parked are stationary.

This picture is repeated in millions of towns and cities worldwide…

Read on

Phones, photography and the Snapchat factor

This morning’s Observer column:

Living and working, as I do, in a historic city that is swamped by tourists in the summer, I regularly get the opportunity to do some photo-ethnography. You can tell someone’s age by the kind of camera they are using. Elderly folks are still using point-and-shoot compacts. Middle-aged folks are sporting “prosumer” digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) from Canon, Nikon, Fuji and Panasonic. But as far as I can see, everyone under the age of 25 is using a smartphone, possibly with the assistance of a selfie stick.

This is partly because the main reason young people take photographs is to post them on social media, and smartphones make that easy to do. But that’s not the whole story. Those who are more serious about photography tend to upload their pictures to photo-hosting services such as Flickr. Guess what the most popular camera for Flickr members is? Apple’s iPhone – by a mile… Read on

Review of ‘The Cyber Effect’

My Observer review of Maria Aiken’s new book.

Note the doctorate after the author’s name; and the subtitle: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behaviour Changes Online; and the potted bio, informing us that “Dr Mary Aiken is the world’s foremost forensic cyberpsychologist” – all clues indicating that this is a book targeted at the US market, another addition to that sprawling genre of books by folks with professional qualifications using pop science to frighten the hoi polloi.

This is a pity, because The Cyber Effect is really rather good and doesn’t need its prevailing tone of relentless self-promotion to achieve its desired effect, which is to make one think about what digital technology is doing to us…

Read on

The first self-driving car fatality proves nothing

This morning’s Observer column:

In the US, about 33,000 people are killed in automobile accidents every year. That’s 90 a day on average. So on 7 May, about 89 other people as well as Joshua Brown were killed in car crashes. But we heard nothing about those 89 personal and family tragedies: the only death that most people in the US heard about was Mr Brown’s.

Societies have to decide what they want to do about automobile safety. It will come down to a cost-benefit analysis
Why? Because he was driving (or perhaps not driving) a semi-autonomous vehicle. Writing from Detroit (coincidentally, the capital of the traditional gas-guzzling, emission-spewing automobile), two New York Times reporters wrote that “the race by automakers and technology firms to develop self-driving cars has been fuelled by the belief that computers can operate a vehicle more safely than human drivers. But that view is now in question after the revelation on Thursday that the driver of a Tesla Model S electric sedan was killed in an accident when the car was in self-driving mode.”

Really? With whom is the safety of self-driving cars in question? Not with anyone who knows the facts about the dangers of automobiles…

Read on