Monday, August 2, 2010

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid: Review

After 16+ months of driving our 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid I think I've spent enough time behind the wheel to finally write a review. Overall, I'm very happy with our decision, but there are a couple things I think people should know before they buy one.

First, lets start with the good. It's a beautiful, safe, and well-constructed car that's very fuel efficient. The interior is roomy and nothing seems cheap or chintzy. I'm a large guy (6'4") and it seats me comfortably with ample headroom. I also really like the iPod/USB stereo integration, and the audio controls on the steering wheel. I have a 2GB USB drive that I use almost exclusively as my source of music—CDs are a thing of the past. All-in-all, it's a great car, period.

Now for the caveats… First and foremost we have the topic of gas mileage. While it is POSSIBLE to exceed 50mpg with this car, you won't be able to pull it off without a conscious effort. That means extremely slow accelerations, wise usage of the regenerative breaking system, and keeping it around 60 mph on the interstate. From what I've seen, the most fuel-efficient speed for the car is around 40mph. At that speed you can average around 70mpg on flat terrain. Back roads are your friend! Also, there are a couple other things that will KILL your gas mileage …cold temperatures and air conditioning. During the winter months I dropped about 10mpg. My drive to work is less than five miles which doesn't really give the battery enough time to warm up and become efficient. The mpg drop wouldn't be nearly as significant with a longer commute, but this isn't the best winter car. Keep that in mind if you live in a cooler climate. At the other end of the spectrum we have blazing hot temperatures and air conditioning. Driving with the windows down is far more fuel efficient in this car. Again, if you are doing a lot of highway driving the mpg won't drop as much, but you'll still take a noticeable hit. It's accelerating with the AC on that really sucks the gas—not to mention it feels like your stuck in bubble gum.

Other than the varying gas mileage, I really only have one other criticism, and it's more of an annoyance than anything. It has to do with the aerodynamics/design of the car. Since I rarely use the AC my windows are almost always open. Unfortunately if it has been raining, or is drizzling, cracking the windows results in some annoyingly large water droplets forming above the door frame and falling inside the car. Bleh!

Needless to say, I love the car, and if you don't mind driving like grandpa you probably would too. Each tank of gas is a new game, and the mpg is the score!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Response: Time for Apple to open up the iPhone

Jason Snell's article "Time for Apple to open up the iPhone" made me start wondering what exactly would happen if Apple DID allow apps to be installed from outside the app store. (Note: I'm leaving web apps out of the equation.) First, I want to say that I do think it would solve a few problems. Developers would be happy, no doubt about it. Knowing your application can be rejected is a scary thing, especially if it's going to take many hours to create. It would also open up the doors to all those apps that Apple has no interested in being associated with. That sounds like a sweet deal, right? Happy devs, and more choice for consumers …what's not to like?

Here's where the bad starts to roll in, and by roll, I mean snowball. Two immediate consequences would be malware and increased piracy. Not insignificant issues, but if you've read any forum posts on this subject you'll understand why I'm just laying those topics aside. They are obvious, and really not that important to my argument. The first real trouble I see has to do with Apple's entry barrier to the app store. Anyone can download the iPhone SDK and create applications, but you can't put them up for sale unless you pay Apple $99 for the privilege. This is a good thing! It allows anyone who wants to learn how to develop for the iPhone to do so at no cost to them, and it keeps tons of worthless and buggy apps out of the app store. Opening up the iPhone to third party installs would immediately cast a shadow over the app store. Not only would developers not have to pay to play any more, they wouldn't have to fork over 30% of every sale to Apple either. While the majority of smaller devs probably don't mind Apple taking a chunk of their profit in exchange for exposure and no-hassle money transactions, larger companies (with products that need no exposure) may decide to jump ship entirely. It would also open a window for third-party hosting companies without app restrictions to pop up and undercut Apple. If that happened, the genie would be out of the bottle. The app store would no longer be THE place to find apps, and that means the optional Android-like "Install third party apps" checkbox probably wouldn't feel optional for long.

Every advantage Apple's app store provides the iPhone is directly tied to their control over the whole widget. Take that control away and you've essentially got Android (open, with no security or quality assurance). Each model is different, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Weigh the odds and pick your poison.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Apple :: Steam …time to update some graphics drivers

So I downloaded Steam for Mac a couple days ago, along with Portal. I had played a demo version a while back via Boot Camp and I was quite excited about being able to pick it up for free on the Mac now. (I would have bought it before if it wasn't PC-only.) Needless to say, I was quite shocked to find out that my iMac (24" iMac, 2.16ghz C2D, Nvidia 7600GT) didn't meet the minimum system requirements. After all, I had indeed played it before on the same machine, via Windows XP.

A quick trip to the Steam Forums gave me an explanation. The drivers Apple supplies for Nvidia 7 series GPUs are out of date and don't support a function that Valve's Source Engine relies upon. To any Windows user this simply means "Download the latest drivers." Unfortunately, for Mac users it means "Pray that Apple hasn't deemed your hardware obsolete yet and hope they update the drivers in the next OS revision." Needless to say, I have a bad feeling that my three-and-a-half year old iMac has past the point of irrelevance in Apple's eye.

While I understand (and often appreciate) that Apple doesn't tie itself down with legacy support, it would still suck to be the other side of this particular chopping block. The fact that I can reboot into Windows and run these games just fine (or even run the Windows versions on the Mac side via Crossover) reflects poorly on Apple and OS X. Heck, on the PC side you can play these games on Nvidia 6 series cards!

Steam coming to the Mac is a huge deal …it would truly be sad if Apple turns their back on this issue simply because the hardware is a few years old.

PS: Starcraft II looks to be another casualty on my iMac (along with every other Valve/Source game) if Apple doesn't update the drivers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Apple vs CS5: Apple's move wasn't the stupid one

The moment I saw Adobe announce Flash CS5 would be able to export iPhone apps I immediately thought  "They aren't that stupid are they?" Then I started wondering if they worked some sort of deal out with Steve, thinking surely they weren't ignorant enough to waste that many resources on some shifty end run maneuver. Apparently I was wrong.

Before you jump on the "Apple hates developers" bandwagon like everyone else, you might want to look at the decision from Apple's point of view. This move is less about developers, and more about the end user experience. Developers (at least those with decent product ideas) will go where there's money, period. Apple's not worried about offending those too lazy to learn how to use their supplied developer tools.

Things Adobe should understand…
  • Apple is trying to supplant Flash with HTML5. Letting Flash author iPhone apps would be another reason for people to keep buying into that platform.
  • Apple doesn't want to rely on third party products for critical pieces of their ecosystem, and they sure as hell aren't going to risk letting one become a popular rival to their own SDK. The fact that Xcode is not available on Windows makes that scenario a real possibility.
  • Apple needs applications to be as lean as possible now that they are adding multitasking. Flash is notorious for excessive CPU and battery strain. (Here's an insightful blog post on the subject from a Flash developer. Needless to say, he is less than thrilled with the result of his ports.) Flash devs with little to no experience with a "real" programming language would likely exacerbate this problem. Resource management and optimization is critical when developing for mobile devices.
  • Apple also wants applications built with their specific devices in mind. Adobe's focus as of late has been "build once …deploy to multiple targets." If you've ever run an AIR app you've seen the outcome of such a process. The apps run, but they don't have a native look or feel and they often use much more memory than they should. Now, imagine Flash being able to output both an iPhone AND an Android app simultaneously—this would be great for Adobe (and Google), not so much for Apple.
  • How many more reasons does Apple need?
I've seen a lot of people saying Adobe should kill the Creative Suite on the Mac to get back at Apple. The popular rebuttal is that they can't do it because it's anti-competitive. Whether or not that claim holds water, it's irrelevant. Adobe has a legal obligation to act in their shareholders best interest. Dumping a large percentage of their income to "Stick it to Steve" is simply out of the question.

It was a dumb move by Adobe, and they better get their heads back in the game and start working HTML5 export tools for CS6. If they keep peddling Flash, that part of their revenue might go down with the ship.

Friday, April 9, 2010

iAds: Nothing To Complain About

There's a lot of complaining going on now that Apple has unveiled their new iAd feature. I understand where these complaints are coming from (I don't care for ads either), but people seem to be blowing things out of proportion.

Anyone who thinks this means Apple is going to make you look at ads in order to use your device needs to step back and take a breath of fresh air. This will not happen. iAds will not show up in any of the core applications. As a matter of fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think we'll see ANY Apple applications with iAds in them. One of the main reasons you create an ad-supported app is so people can try it out to see if it fits your needs, and if it's reliable. Apple's applications are reputable, and widely reviewed; they don't need to prove themselves to their customers the way third parties do.

There is no doubt that we will be seeing a lot more ad-supported applications popping up. I don't see this as a problem as long as Apple and the developers give us a way to disable the ads via an in-app purchase. Being able to try out a lot more applications before buying cannot be seen as anything but positive. If the ads bother you, pay up …if they don't, enjoy the free app. If you want quality apps to be both free and ad-less …go pound sand. The market will shun any apps that abuse the feature or aren't compelling enough to justify ad support to start with.

Ads are already used in apps, so it's nothing new for us end users. The good thing about Apple providing the service is that end users should start seeing some consistency in ad usage, quality, and etiquette. Oh, and it's yet another source of revenue for Apple—shareholders rejoice.

One final thing to note is that Steve said (during the Q&A session after the iPhone 4.0 announcement) Apple has no plans to stop apps from using competing ad services. Sounds like a win-win situation for the developers, and whatever makes the developers happy makes me happy.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

iPad: Initial Impressions

I've had a couple hours to play around with my iPad, just wanted to point out a couple things while it's syncing the majority of my data.

First off, I want to comment on its size. When you hear "10-inch screen" it sounds fairly big (at least to me). In reality, the iPad is damn small. I don't think you could go much smaller and still run the kind of apps the iPad does. Products like the 5" Dell Streak (not yet shipping) are going to be very hard to sell—too big to fit in a lot of pockets, yet too small to use without a lot of zooming and panning.

The second thing worth mentioning is the weight. It's not too heavy, but it's noticeable. It feels like you are holding a slab of floor tile of similar size. Perhaps that is a good thing, as it's a reminder that you have something fragile in your hands. I'm sure they worked extremely hard to get it down to 1.5lbs, and I don't think we'll see these devices get much lighter any time soon. Need a comparison? The JooJoo weighs 2.4lbs, and is almost a quarter-inch thicker.

Lastly, I have to echo the comment that this device is very responsive. It's easily on par with my 24" iMac (2.16ghz C2D) on loading webpages, and compared to the iBook G4 I'm on right now …hot damn!

The only thing I am disliking at the moment is getting all the passwords into Safari and other apps. I don't have the iPad version of 1Password Pro yet, and it's a pain in the butt jumping in and out of the apps every five minutes. I'm sure once everything is set up it won't be that bad, but the desktop experience will be missed for sure.

More to come soon…

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why the iPad shouldn't run Mac OS X

Besides the lack of Flash on the iPad there is one other popular complaint I've seen echoing through the forums. The argument is that the iPad shouldn't be running the iPhone OS; it needs to run full Mac OS X. They believe that the iPhone OS is too anemic for their needs, and that a "full-featured" device of the same size would sell far more units. I disagree. There are a couple reasons I believe a Mac OS X powered tablet would fare much worse.

ONE: If the iPad ran Mac OS X, it would do so in a limited capacity anyway. Just like netbooks can't run higher end apps, the iPad wouldn't be able to run them either. Not only is the CPU lacking, but the iPad has very little RAM compared to multitasking desktops. It seems contradictory to me to call something "full-featured" if it can still only be used for a subset of tasks. Keeping Mac OS X off of the iPad means that all of the software will be built specifically for the device, instead of being built for generic hardware. When the limits of your device are known, software can (and will) be tweaked for those environments. If the iPad ran Mac OS X I really don't think you'd be hearing about its relative speediness—at least not in a positive light.

TWO: Speaking of subsets, if you are a Mac user you have to realize that iPad users may or may not share your affinity for Mac OS X. The iPhone OS is where all the attention is right now—consumers and developers. Putting Mac OS X on the iPad would not only limit the target audience to Mac users (or those interested in switching), but it would also curb developer enthusiasm. There is no "developer gold rush" when it comes to an established platform like Mac OS X. It would be a foolish move for Apple not to capitalize on the momentum of the iPhone OS.

MISC: Keyboard shortcuts are an important part of mastering Mac OS X. They are also one of the reasons I prefer Macs to PCs. Unfortunately, a device without a keyboard isn't going to benefit from keyboard shortcuts. That alone might very well make me pass up a MacPad for a MacBook.

It boils down to this…
  • Option A: iPad + Mac OS X = Bottom of the line $500 Mac portable. OR High-end $2000 Apple designed Modbook
  • Option B: iPad + iPhone OS = Premium $500 multi-touch device
I'm sure it was an easy choice for Steve…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mobile Flash: You Can Thank Apple

Flash fans are talking highly about the upcoming mobile Flash 10.1, and who knows, Adobe may very well deliver a decent solution this time around. The thing people need to realize is if it wasn't for Apple and the popularity of the iPhone OS, this level of mobile Flash optimization probably wouldn't be happening. As we've seen with the quality of Flash (and other apps like Acrobat Pro) on the Mac vs. Windows, it's clear Adobe doesn't spend resources optimizing their software for "less popular" operating systems. The irony is that this lack of interest in the little guy has come back to bite them in the ass.

I'm not sure what sales milestone was hit by the iPhone before it dawned on Adobe that there is a massive threat growing to their Flash business, but we know they see it now. This threat of obscurity/obsolescence has forced them to throw significant weight behind the optimization of mobile Flash. Even though they have very little chance at getting Flash onto the iPhone/iPad, they are still being forced to overhaul their product. Why? Because the iPhone has become the new baseline for mobile devices. If Adobe can't make Flash a "necessity" on competing devices, it's game over. The fact that webkit is quickly becoming the standard rendering engine for mobile browsers means HTML5 will be available to pretty much all mobile users going forward. Web developers won't have to worry about legacy support.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of the people who thinks Flash should fall off the face of the earth. It still has it's place (i.e. web games, DRM, etc.), but it's relevance in general video distribution is ending. The thing that sucks for Adobe is that video distribution makes up a HUGE percentage of their Flash business. The only chance Adobe has at stalling this migration away from Flash video is to have a product that competes extremely well. If there is a noticeable difference in quality and performance between Flash and HTML5 video, those non-iPhone users will no-doubt start demanding HTML5 video too. Needless to say, Adobe doesn't want that.

Now, if Apple had allowed Adobe to put Flash on the original iPhone I don't believe this rush for optimization would have taken place. People would have just gotten used to the fact that Flash content more often than not equaled "slideshow", and Adobe's answer to the problem would likely have been "Future processors will be able to handle Flash better …keep upgrading your phones." Not only that, but HTML5 video wouldn't have a near the backing it does now because the content (however shitty it ran) WOULD be available to all these new devices in Flash form. The fact that Apple has several extremely popular products that do not offer Flash support is one of the main reasons HTML5 has become relevant so quickly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I've pre-ordered my iPad; I chose the 16GB WiFi-only version. Even though I love the idea of 3G access, I really don't think I'd use it enough to warrant the extra $130 (much less the $15-$30 monthly data charge). That, and hearing the WiFi-only iPad was shipping a month sooner sealed the deal. I plan on using it primarily on the couch and around the house anyway.

I chose the 16GB version for several reasons…
  1. I'm not afraid of media management. Having one or two movies and a dozen or so of my favorite albums is sufficient for me.
  2. SSD storage is damn expensive. Spending an extra $200 for an extra 48GB of space just seems crazy to me. It's not like I could fit all of my photos, movies, and music on the 64GB version anyway. If I'm going to have to manage my media anyway I don't see the point.
  3. This product is built for STREAMING content. Apple is already moving towards a cloud-based iTunes, and many other third-party streaming services will be coming to the iPad as well. The need for large amounts of local storage on mobile devices is going to disappear.
  4. The money I save this year will be put to good use next year on an iPad 2.0.
The thing that makes me most excited is knowing that my "low-end" iPad is going to run just as fast as the $830 version because they have the exact same CPU. It won't be that way for a lot of the PC tablets.

I'm sure I will miss the GPS capability sooner or later—I know it would come in handy for road trips. I'm just hoping the next version of the iPod Touch will have the same 3G data plan available as the iPad (and a camera). I'll buy one of those in a heartbeat.

17 more days…