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The Apple Tablet: Timing Isn't Everything

Photo courtesy Mike McCaffrey

Although I've been involved in technical pursuits for about a decade and a half, I haven't really been following Apple that long, rather only after being completely won over by my first Mac, a PowerBook G4, in late 2002. Since then, I've not only converted my entire hardware platform to Apple's, but now develop software and support hardware across a range of Apple devices and operating systems.

This goes without saying for the Apple faithful, but the reason I switched was not a fashion or perceived "coolness" factor, and especially not out of cost concerns, but rather because in a day and age when increasingly nearly everything we create and manage is converging to the digital form, Apple has the foresight and user experience savvy to make it far less of a hassle than it could be, and indeed, than pretty much everyone else in the industry. (Related: Watch The Onion's Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work.)

I mention all of this as a bit of background for my thinking on the topic of the tablet. The lion's share of my livelihood is made in the Apple ecosystem, but, as again should be no surprise to the Apple faithful, I'd rather not work in technology than have to use the crap the rest of the industry is churning out lately.

Those disclosures aside...

With the conventional "wisdom" that Apple's lack of presence in the netbook market was hurting them financially now being replaced by an unprecedented stock run-up in response to the latest round of tablet rumors, it seems all the world is now awaiting Apple's announcement of a new platform -- the new platform.

Speculation on the tablet really picked up late last summer in advance of Apple's September iPod event which turned out, unsurprisingly, to have to do with new iPods.

Then late in the year, only a few weeks ago, things climbed to a fever pitch. People love their Macs, they love their iPods, and they love their iPhones. They want to know what the next great thing is that they are going to love, because in a world of crappy technology, people love to love good technology.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that Apple's next game-changing product announcement is going to happen at the next opportunity that they have to announce something.

There are two things that we should be learning from the cycles that Apple continually operates on.

Truth #1: Apple Takes Big Risks Because True Innovation And Risk Go Hand In Hand

Apple is pretty much the de facto innovator in the industry now. It's Apple's job to figure out what to do next, figure out how to accomplish it, and help people evaluate whether it's someplace that they want to go (though, unsurprisingly, they tend to lean hard on "yes, it is").

No one's working harder on an iPhone killer than the makers of the iPhone. (And while we're dispelling myths, we might as well tackle the fact that no one needs to kill the iPhone to prosper. Lack of competition is bad for consumers, ok?)

But you can bet the tablet will exemplify Apple's modus operandi -- to truly reinvent. Other companies are hesitant or unwilling to do this for all of the standard reasons -- it's too costly, too risky, too hard to manage, requires the best people, and requires a strong-arm approach to both secrecy and hardware component vendor relationships.

Truth #2: One Plus One Does Not Equal Two

The second thing we should be picking up is that because of the lengths to which Apple is willing to go to reinvent, the armchair pundit is usually at a loss when trying to map this near future.

When the iPod is an unprecedented success and rumors of an Apple entry into the cell phone market bubble up, concept illustrations emerge of a phone with a scroll wheel. Touch-screen? Never saw it coming.

When the iPhone 3G is an unprecedented success, yet not quite everyone has one, it is assumed that Apple's next generation of the device (what turned out to be the 3GS) would have to be in the sub-$100 range. Apple both released a new and desirable next generation model, as well as appeased the $99 crowd with a base model of the previous generation, growing their reach.

And as e-book readers really start to take off, of course Apple's tablet will subsume these features as well:

It is still unclear exactly what an Apple tablet would include, but most observers expect a sort of large-scale iPhone that has additional features for viewing video and reading books and magazines.

Financial Times

Yes, because what people want is a bundle of features with an Apple logo on it. Tell me again, what are the features of your iPhone? Now, tell me what apps you use.

And lastly: iPhone's a hit, Magic Mouse is a hit, so I give you a Magic Mouse-like iPhone:

He said the plastic back panel of the phone could have a touch-sensitive solid shell, much like on the Magic Mouse.


The new hardware could also include an updated version of the iPhone operating system, Chen said.


Some imagination please, people? And it could include an updated version of the iPhone operating system? You, sir, are why we can't have nice things.

The Thing About The "Latest Creation"

Apple's next media event has been announced, confirming the January 27 rumors seen in the past couple weeks.

But the invitation image, which is what got me really thinking about all of this tablet stuff to the extent of needing to write a blog post, combined with the two points above about the way that Apple innovates, lead me to a prediction:

The so-called tablet device in progress by Apple will not be announced at the January 27 media event.

The idea of "creation", something that the industry as a whole frequently puts out of the spotlight to play second fiddle to "management", is to be applauded. We need more companies embracing Apple's vision of a creator in the digital space and less of a consumer and manager of the stuff that is already out there.

And the image of paint splatters, colorful and very tactile, is evocative of using your hands on a canvas. Much like the more evolutionarily-programmed need and desire to see human faces in inanimate objects, we want to see this relate to the tablet, which we want to see be a natural extension of a touch-based interface like the iPhone.

The iPod revitalized and then redefined the digital music industry. The iPhone really just redefined communication on the go (How often are you annoyed to receive an actual phone call while doing something else on your iPhone?)

But the world isn't hooked into visual, even tactilely visual, creation in the same way that we are hooked into music and communication. And I don't see Apple taking us there -- at least not as a next step.

Another interpretation of the paint-and-creation motif (props to Brandon Sneed for this one) is to supplant the iPod. The bright colors represent the brightly colored iPods of yore. Anyone can see that the scroll-wheel iPod is being phased out -- face it, anything that Apple brands as "Classic" is on its way out.

My money's on something non-tablet in the announcement, more along the lines of a more-than-iPod-but-less-than-iPhone device.

But about the only thing that we can be sure of is that Apple's stock is going to go down next week due to the rampant bursting of bubbles.

So now what, Tough Guy?

So what is coming out next week? If I knew that, I'd probably be writing for bigger and better publications than my own blog (or possibly getting a cease-and-desist nastygram from Apple). I don't put the time into obtaining and cultivating original sources, something that tech punditry needs more of, and something that true indie journalists such as John Gruber of Daring Fireball do. So I'm basing this speculation on my own understanding of the past combined with references from publications that I do trust who have sources on the ground.

But remember -- there's a lot of Apple technology that has yet to see the light of day. Like this 2006, pre-iPhone touch-screen patent filing involving touch-based proximity:

The September 30, 2005 filing (published today) is titled "Proximity detector in handheld device." It describes a touch-screen interface for portable electronics devices that can sense when an object, such as a person's finger, is approaching. When an object is sensed, the touch-screen interface may perform an action such as displaying a "virtual scroll wheel," navigation pad or virtual keypad.


Not just touch, like the iPhone interface, and not just proximity, like the auto-dim when putting the iPhone to your ear, but an interface that changes based on your finger's proximity.

Just one of many Apple multitouch patents.

And just one of many things to keep us watching, to be sure. See you next Wednesday.

Meerkat 1.5: Great SSH Tunneling Gets Even Better

I'm please to announce the immediate availability of Meerkat 1.5! The best Meerkat release yet, Meerkat 1.5 features a number of under-the-hood improvements, as well as a complete visual overhaul in the user interface. I'd like to take a moment to highlight some of the most useful changes.

At the top of the list is a long-requested feature: automatic retry of tunnels. While Meerkat already automatically reconnects tunnels when you change networks, sleep and wake your Mac, or have an interruption in connectivity, now Meerkat takes this a step further. A tunnel is retried at increasing intervals, so a minor network hiccup won't require your attention if the tunnel can't connect on the first try. In fact, if you eventually get an internet connection and if the server is up, you should likely never see the error dialog again. Meerkat works tirelessly behind the scenes to keep your tunnels up and running. What's more, a quick glance at either the main window or the menu bar will let you know if Meerkat is working on getting a tunnel back online.

Automatic Retry In Action
(click to enlarge)

Another solid improvement in Meerkat 1.5 is much better error reporting when there is an immediate connection problem. If your server is down, you forgot to turn SSH back on, or there is a password problem, Meerkat will tell you exactly where SSH is having the problem. And if a password no longer works, Meerkat will automatically remove it from your keychain so that you can be prompted for the new one, optionally saving it back into the keychain for future use. Combined with Meerkat's existing strengths in allowing you to choose which passwords stay in the keychain and which exist only in your head, as well as effortless SSH agent integration, all of your authentication needs should be covered.

Most visibly, Meerkat 1.5 has been given a big facelift. Each element of the main user interface was scrutinized, tiny tweaks were made here and there, and we think the results speak for themselves. There is a more pleasing balance to the main window while providing a bit more info.

Old Main Window
(click to enlarge)

New Main Window
(click to enlarge)

A more dramatic change is seen in the tunnel editing. What was once one panel with a disclosure view for advanced options is now two tabs, again lending a more balanced look while being clearer to read at a glance and more pleasing to the eye.

Old Tunnel Edit
(click to enlarge)

New Tunnel Edit - Basic
(click to enlarge)

New Tunnel Edit - Advanced
(click to enlarge)

There are many other niceties to be found under the hood of Meerkat 1.5. We've put a lot of work into both requested features as well as unrequested tweaks that we feel are big improvements. In addition, Meerkat's product page features a slew of short, one-minute screencasts highlighting Meerkat's main features. And as always, Meerkat features a 14-day unrestricted trial, so why not download Meerkat now?

As a final note, I just wanted to say thanks to both our software customers as well as our clients. Code Sorcery Workshop has recently celebrated three years as a business. Every day is still new and exciting and better than the last. I look forward to another three years -- and beyond -- providing software and services to people around the world. Thank you.

Pukka 1.8.3: bug fixes & OAuth status update

Just a quick note about a bug fix and performance enhancement release for Pukka. Version 1.8.3 is available on the product page. The most noticeable change is slightly better performance (or, if you have thousands and thousands of bookmarks, perhaps much better performance) when selecting a bookmark search result and viewing it in your browser.

Also in this build, there is a warning if you try to head to the Delicious site to create a new account. This is because as of last month, Delicious accounts are now linked with Yahoo! IDs. While this could be convenient, for the time being, it does not work with third-party applications as private bookmarks are unavailable and as of our testing, older Delicious accounts that have been merged with Yahoo! IDs do not work with this new authentication mechanism.

For the time being, then, it is recommended that you do not merge existing Delicious accounts with Yahoo! IDs. Pukka should continue to work in this manner.

For more information and to follow the progress on this issue, please see Pukka's support forums:

I'll be sure to keep that post updated as either Yahoo!'s policies and systems or Pukka's capabilities change.

Autumn miscellany

There have been a number of things I've been mulling over posting about recently, but none have quite percolated up to a full post yet, so I'll instead post about a number of goings-on of note to me, my apps, and some other current work. Read on for a dose of Code Sorcery Workshop updates!

iPhone work

I've recently completed work with the local Portland powerhouse Small Society on two different iPhone apps. Check out the two most recent projects listed on their site -- one for a large coffee retailer and one for a nationwide car-sharing company. I've really enjoyed working with the Small Society team on these projects!

Regarding my own iPhone apps, I'm still in a wait-and-see mode, much like a number of solo developers. Mostly it's an issue of the difficulty of solo developers being able to sustain revenue in a market that's currently driven downwards in price. I may post more on it in the future, but in the meantime, feel free to weigh in on whether you'd like to see iPhone apps to complement my current Mac offerings.

C4[3] conference

The weekend before last I was lucky enough to once again attend C4, the independent Mac & iPhone developer conference. I've now been to all four, and the first one nearly three years ago was the major impetus for me striking out on my own and making Code Sorcery Workshop my full-time job. Once again, I had a great time learning, meeting new people (and meeting in person people I already knew online), and seeing a bit of Chicago. C4 can't be beat!

Welcome back, Ma.gnolia -- err, Gnolia!

The innovative social bookmarking service Ma.gnolia has been relaunched after their major incident earlier this year, and has been rebranded as Gnolia. This service will once again work with Pukka, just as before. Welcome back and best of luck!

Meerkat beta

Lastly, I've just released a public beta of the next release of Meerkat. The headline feature will be much more robust automatic reconnection of tunnels, adding to the existing support for reconnect due to sleep, wake, and network change. If this is a feature you've been waiting for (and it sounds like quite a few folks have been), go ahead and check it out. Just be sure to backup your data first, as this is a testing release!

That's all from the home office for now. Thanks for reading!

Pukka 1.8.2 & Meerkat 1.2.2

I've just released two updates: Pukka 1.8.2 and Meerkat 1.2.2. Both feature official support for Mac OS X 10.4 through 10.6. In addition, both include new features and both include some minor bug fixes.

You can grab Pukka and Meerkat in their usual places, or you can update within the respective applications via the app menu > Check For Updates... item.

Below are summaries of the changes.


New Features

  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard support. Pukka now supports 10.4 through 10.6. Please see our blog post regarding future support of 10.4.
  • Search menu is now horizontally resizable from a minimum of the default width to a maximum of half of the screen width.
  • Added a new preference to sort search results by visit count.
  • Posted-to account has been added to the search tooltips.

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed a bug where the account selection popup could sometimes change inadvertently.
  • Fixed a window resize bug that affected progress spinner placement.
  • Search bar now remains unloaded into memory until first used.
  • Search bar now auto-places to the right if screen size demands it.
  • Search bar now auto-places properly after monitor & resolution changes.
  • Search result selection should reset on new search results.
  • When a caching error occurs, dismissing the error dialog with the "Ignore For Now" button will ignore further errors until the preferences have been edited, including across app relaunches.

And Meerkat:

New Features

  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard support. Meerkat now supports 10.4 through 10.6. Please see our blog post regarding future support of 10.4.
  • Any tunnels that are active at app quit are re-activated on next launch if launch happens within a minute or so.
  • The command-line tool now accepts tunnel name substrings. For example, meerkat myServer up will activate every tunnel whose name contains myServer.

Bug Fixes

  • Fixed some data storage issues that could cause error messages when saving or deleting several tunnels in a single run of the app.
  • SSH ControlMaster support is now disabled for all tunnels. In current versions of OpenSSH, ControlMaster does not work with tunnels.

Enjoy, and please don't hesitate to post any comments, problems, or suggestions to the forums!

Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard

With the imminent release of Apple's Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard next month, it comes time to examine the state of our apps as well as their operating system support. Pukka was originally released in early 2006, in the time of 10.4 Tiger (and updated to support 10.5 Leopard in late 2007). Meerkat was originally released in mid-2008, supporting both Leopard and Tiger out of the gate.

We've made the choice so far to sacrifice many (but not all) advantages offered by Leopard in the name of Tiger support. However, with Snow Leopard's upcoming release, we will be shifting to support only Leopard and Snow Leopard going forward.

Beginning with the next major releases of both Pukka and Meerkat (likely 1.9 and 1.3, respectively), we will no longer be including support for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.

Current release versions will be supported for Tiger users, but little or no new functionality will be added going forward.

PowerPC architecture will still be supported, though of course Snow Leopard will run only on Intel-based Macintoshes.

Snow Leopard support is expected in the next point release of each application (e.g., Pukka 1.8.2 and Meerkat 1.2.2). We expect to have each of these released in the next month.

We would love to continue Tiger support indefinitely, but as the operating system was released in 2005, we would rather move ahead and take advantage of the new technologies that Apple is providing to developers in order to create the best possible experience for the broadest user base.

If you have any questions or comments about this announcement, please contribute to the forum post on the topic.

Update: Please see the Pukka and Meerkat forums for the latest betas of each, which work with Snow Leopard right now.

Update 2: Official, stable releases of both apps are now up. Please see the announcement.

DrupalEasy podcast interview

I'm a bit late in linking to a podcast interview that I had the pleasure of being on recently.

DrupalEasy, an organization focused on training and consulting around making Drupal easier to use, runs a podcast interviewing various folks in the Drupal community. My interview was about my work on Drupal, my business in general, Cocoa desktop and iPhone work, my Drupalcon presentation, my career history (in brief), and a lot more.

I had a great time being interviewed by Ryan and I hope you'll take a listen!

Pukka 1.8: now with search!

I'm pleased to announce a major release to Pukka, our flagship Delicious bookmarking application. Among many user experience improvements, the major new features are fast bookmark search and full AppleScript access to all of your bookmarks.

Search is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. But Pukka is such a lightweight app that I thought long and hard about how to best introduce the feature while keeping Pukka seeming fast and unobtrusive as people have come to expect. The easy route would have been another window or sidebar, but I feel that the new search bar really keeps the application tight and focused. As one beta tester said, "The response and animation on the search menu is very slick. It feels very light and nimble. Well done."


Pukka's other main new feature is especially useful for developers -- full AppleScript access to bookmarks. Pukka has long since supported posting through AppleScript, which has spawned all kinds of neat workflows such as Yojimbo integration.

But now, any developer can integrate Pukka into their application. You can rely on Pukka having all the bookmarks ready and can query them by a word in any of the fields, by their tags, or by their accounts.

To round out the new features, you can now drag and drop to reorder your accounts, allowing you to setup a preferred account for when Pukka launches. I've added a Quick Reference Guide diagramming out all of Pukka's major knobs and buttons, menu items, and keyboard shortcuts. And the main window is now resizable, autoflowing your tags and description as necessary for the smoothest look and minimal space.

Lastly, on the technical front, this release takes a couple of steps forward, too. Sparkle has been upgraded to 1.5, allowing for more secure upgrades and better collection of anonymous statistics so that I best know which platforms and features to support. And Pukka is now code signed so that you can be sure that what you download is exactly what I intended for you to run.

I hope you enjoy these updates to Pukka. I've got many more planned additions up my sleeve, so stay tuned!

We have a winner!

I'm pleased to announce the winner of the A celebration of open source contest from earlier this week!

Michael Glass, Production Manager of TED Conferences, LLC, is the winner of the $250 USD gift card from Portland's own Powell's Books.

Michael says:

"I'm the production manager [at TED] and all my engineers and photo
editors are in love with [Meerkat].

Thanks again for both the gift certificate and the wonderful software.

I'm pleased that Meerkat can be used at such a great place -- I personally love the TED talk videos. It's pretty awesome to know that it's being used behind the scenes there.

Thanks to all the entrants, and thanks again to open source developers everywhere!

A celebration of open source

In honor of this week's Open Source Bridge conference, as well as in recognition of the role that open source software has played in the development of our business, we're pleased to announce that today, June 16, 2009, Code Sorcery Workshop is offering any open source contributor a free license to Meerkat, our SSH tunnel management application. We are also giving away a $250 gift certificate to the legendary Powell's Books. Read on for the details.

If you'd like a free copy of Meerkat, just leave a comment on this post linking to an open source project that you've worked on with a brief mention of what you did. It could be coding, but doesn't have to be -- it could also be documentation, helping new users, anything that contributes to the common good of the project. We'll collect all the info and send each contributor a full, unrestricted license to Meerkat, a $19.95 USD value.

However, if you'd like to instead try for the $250 USD gift certificate to Powell's Books, a purchase of Meerkat will make you eligible for this drawing. Just register Meerkat today and you will automatically be entered for the drawing. The winner will be announced in a followup post.

In both cases, you must take action by midnight Pacific Daylight Time tonight to qualify.

Meerkat is an application that adds a lot of Mac-specific value to SSH, an open source tool that ships with every Mac (as OpenSSH). And Macs themselves are built on a ton of open source software such as Apache, Postfix, CUPS, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, sudo, unzip, zlib, and many others. You can read more about Apple's commitment to open source as well as open source releases pertaining to Mac OS X.

I began knowingly using open source software in the mid-90s and started contributing by releasing my own projects on freshmeat in late 1999. I've always looked for ways to contribute to open source projects when I can, whether it's by bug fixes, new feature patches, documentation, or just community help. Most recently, I've been involved with the Drupal content management system.

Open source is the lifeblood of the internet. So many of the tools that we take for granted everyday have been developed in this way, by generous folks giving their time for the greater good. I am extremely thankful for the many ways that open source has enabled me to teach myself a lot of what I know today about technology, to provide economical solutions for clients who need it, and to make software better and better by degrees.

So, here's to open source!

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