We need better standards

What would the world be like without standards? We take for granted that all of our electrical appliances fit into the same plug sockets, not giving it a second thought. We assume that that tires purchased from any manufacturer will fit our cars, given the correct wheel size and width. Who would even doubt that a lightbulb will screw into its socket no matter where it was bought from or who fitted the light socket. Even the fact that an email can be sent using an Apple iPhone, from a Yahoo email service only to be received by a computer on the other side of the world running compatible email software is pretty amazing when you think about it. In fact, anyone can create their own email service by just registering their own domain and having a computer that is always switched on with an Internet connection. Whether it be the width of railway tracks or the audio encoding on a CD, interoperable standards were key to our way of life in much of the 20th and 21st century. TCP/IP and HTTP famously made the World Wide Web possible, while other Internet standards such as IRC, NNTP and FTP gave us realtime chat, debates and discussions and two-way files-transfers.

What do these technologies have in common though, apart from their interoperability?

They were invented in the distant past.

If I take the apps and services I now use regularly that were invented within the past 10 years, I struggle to think of one that supports interoperability. SMS was replaced with Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage. Two of which are owned by the same company, all of which are designed to keep users locked into vendor ecosystems. Slack, which raised billions of dollars in 2015 is essentially 1990’s IRC with support for logins and cute emoji, and of course it’s closed. Twitter, the debate forum of our time, tightly controls which 3rd party clients can access the service in any meaningful volume, and decides who and what is deemed appropriate content.

This problem highlighted itself further recently when I realised that if I wanted to access a music streaming service on both my Apple Watch and my Amazon Echo, I’d have to pay for two separate streaming services. Apple do not allow users to play music from 3rd parties on the watch, only their streaming service Apple Music. Amazon does not support Apple Music however. How ridiculous is this? Can you imagine Sony releasing a CD player in 1980 that only played songs from artists on the Sony record label?

My worry is that email is next. Google is pushing users towards its Gmail app, and withdraws features such as Push email from users who choose to use a different app. We are lucky that at the low-level, technical details such as how to implement HDR are still agreed as standards. But for how long? What we need is government regulation or oversight to ensure that technology companies compete on the merits of their products, rather than the vendor lock-in they manufacture. Interoperability didn’t stifle innovation or harm profits in the previous century, and it won’t in this one.


Do people really feel their books?

The BBC have been running a story this afternoon about e-book sales vs printed book sales. I was surprised when a majority of the people they (unscientifically) surveyed said they preferred printed books. This was not because they can be purchased second hand for next to nothing, not because they make a great gift or because they can be passed along to a friend, but because of the way they 'feel' – really?

I have never finished a great book and been absorbed for days by the texture of the book in my hand – a satisfying plot, however has made me do just that – and digital advances can improve the reading experience by offering custom fonts, synchronsiation, character profiles, built in lights, and being easier to hold. I've probably converted about 4 people I know who said they loved the smell and feel of printed books to e-readers, because good story is what makes a good book, after all.

How long should a tablet be supported for?


Tablets are billed as “post-PC” products designed to replace the job of a PC for most people. The argument goes, most people don’t need a truck (a PC) and instead they just want a small car. True as that may be, I see a problem when the car only gets supported by the manufacture for 2 years. That’s the case with the original iPad. According to Apple, iOS 6 will not run on the iPad 1 which was released in 2010. Buy not having the latest operating system, this means the latest security updates will not be available, nor will the latest developer APIs. Many of Apple’s own apps (such as the Pages) will likely be updated, and these updates will only support iOS6 (this was the case when iOS 5 was released). Will the file formats be compatible? Let’s hope so. The same will probably happen with a lot of 3rd party applications. It also means the new OS features such as shared photo streams and Facebook integration wont be available.

Yes this is a fast moving industry, and yes the iPad 1 was woefully underpowered (especially when it comes to lack of RAM, the version of iOS it came with didn’t support multitasking remember) and you might argue the that iPad 1 is a special case, as it was mostly purchased by early adapters who will probably be running the latest model of iPad by now. I can also see how Apple might not want developers to hold back their software to ensure it works on the older hardware – iPhoto doesn’t run on it today.

That said, I really think Apple should be sending the message to consumers that their tablet will be relevant in at least 2 years time (you would expect a laptop to be). If they can continue to support the iPhone 3GS (released roughly 6 months before the iPad in 2009) then why not iPad? 

Happy Anniversary

It turns out that this domain imarc.co.uk was 10 years old in April this year. How time flies!


Back in 2002 the web was such a different place to what it is today. The first dotcom bubble had just burst and there was still a lot more amateur content online. It was quite common back then to still find personal home pages with photos of the family and kids, or maybe someone's site dedicated to their favourite band. These days the web is much more corporate, and everything we share is through sites like Facebook or Twitter.


Why is this? Has web design become an elitist art form? Yes textured backgrounds and blinking text might have looked horrible, but back then it was all about the love of the content subject, looks very much came second. No ones doubts that modern web design techniques have improved the look and accessibility of the web, but has it scared off the average Joe with a copy of FrontPage?


Maybe the world has just “moved on” as our favourite Gunslinger once said. People have better things to be doing than maintaining their own site. Blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger have the advantages of Facebook with ease of use, but allow a greater degree of personalisation and independence. Perhaps these folks are writing apps instead?


Or maybe I'm just getting old. Who knows, I'm just rambling.


Happy Anniversary.


Samsung copying Apple?

There’s been a lot reported in the news lately about Apple and Samsung battling it out in court to stop each other from selling various products.

I broke my Acer laptop at the weekend (well, I put it in the boot of my car inside a laptop bag, and afterwards the screen stopped working, and I am a good driver I promise!) so I decided I needed a new laptop since the laptop was so cheap anyway the cost of a new screen plus the likelihood of it happening again just doesn’t justify a repair –and a PC is for me at the heart of all things digital that I do. I didn’t want to spend stupid money on a laptop (I would love a MacBook Air, but at £1000 for one with a decent spec, I’ll pass) so I found a Samsung with an i5 and 4GB of RAM for a decent price.

Clearly while Samsung may have taken inspiration from some of Apple’s design (or may not have depending on who’s argument you’re listening to) they certainly haven’t noticed that Apple are not just about shiny products but about the overall user experience. Unboxing and switching on an iPad for the first time is enjoyable, like getting in a brand new car for the first time – doing this for my Samsung laptop was all but enjoyable.The first screen I was greeted with was some partitioning software! Do Samsung really think the average user cares how their partitions are setup? Even I don’t and I’m a self confessed geek.

After finally getting to the desktop, (about 20 minutes later) the next thing I see is a warning from Kaplinsky Security telling me I need to pay up for some security software. Do theses companies not get it? The game’s changed and you can’t treat consumers like this any more. Microsoft have said Windows 8 will have built in antimalware, lets hope they also take control of the setup experience too.

Then I had to spend another hour or so removing crapware. An Apple-esque dock that sat above the Windows 7 taskbar, a Bing Bar, and media players I will never use.

Finally, for some reason the power management was set so that the laptop would use hybrid sleep, this is where instead of shutting down you put the system to sleep, and simultaneously the system hibernates, so if power is lost no data is lost. This is designed for desktops and should never be enabled for laptops, lots of disk activity when you are chucking your laptop in your bag is not a good idea, not to mention the battery drain of always being in standby.

So not a great experience, and nothing like getting a new Apple product. Can’t say I would be eager to try any other of their products after this – what are your experiences?

I bought a CD

Today I walked into a shop and randomly purchased a CD, which I took home and played.

IMG_0008Why am I bothering to post this? Well because if recent financial results don’t improve, it might be extremely difficult to do such a thing in most UK towns in the not too distant future – which would be a great loss.

While renting music or downloading it may satisfy some – I still like to own a physical copy of my music.

Trouble with Talk Talk

3 months after moving into our new place, we finally have a decent broadband connection.

No thanks to Primus, our first choice of phone line provider – who never seemed to be able to hear or understand us at the other end of the phone. So we nipped that in the bud, and thought we’d go with Talk Talk instead, after hearing positive things about them from family members.

Well, after the usual delays and waits, we paid £70 for an engineer to come out and spend 10 minutes configuring the line, only to be left with a connection that struggled to reach 1Mbs. 1.2Mb was about as good as it got, and the pings were awful. After weeks of waiting on hold and speaking to first line, second line and third line support, they determined it must be the wiring in our apartment and we’d have to pay BT Openreach £160 (+60/hour) to fix it, and even then there’d be no guarantees of a speed increase. Are you having a laugh? We live a few hundred meters from the exchange, that can’t be right. 

We decided to quit that joke of a company and go with Virgin Media. It didn’t start well, with Virgin putting the “wrong type” of ADSL on our line, and not sending the router out until 3 days after our initial activation (although it was a fairly decent D-LINK, not a £1.50 own-branded one with only 1 Ethernet port,  like TalkTalk’s),  but after about 3 weeks we finally got a connection. The speed started at 1.2 Mbs, and then went up to 2Mbs a few hours later. Now 2 days later it’s reaching 7Mbs – on the same line Talk Talk couldn’t get over 1.2Mbs on. I’ll wait and see over the next few days if it stays at 7 or drops, or if it actually reaches the promised 10Mbs – but a ping of 30ms is much more like it, and despite the cock-ups, and am pleased so far with the service.

So my advice would be, avoid Talk Talk like the plague!