Still not seeing the downside, are you? Because while you know in your heart-of-hearts it’s a substandard product in every respect, it’s just so damned easy. And cheap, at that point, too. And it’s not like you’re gonna use it every day. Because on weekends, you’re gonna make yourself some Weekend Coffee. You’re gonna pick up a few French pastries, or maybe some bagels and a shmear, and the Sunday New York Times. Not every weekend, mind you, because you’re much too busy for that noise. But maybe every other weekend. Or every third weekend. And you’re gonna buy some beans from a guy like me, and grind them with love, and brew them carefully, then savor their (and your) brilliance. ‘Cause it’s a WEEKEND.
Just one problem. I’m not going to be there for you. Neither are my other friends who do what I do. Because, unfortunately, just like a restaurant that’s busy on weekends can’t make it without at least a couple strong weeknights, we can’t make a living selling you Weekend Coffee three times a year.
I don’t think the market for high-end coffee will ever disappear, for the same reasons that I don’t think the market for coffee shops will ever disappear, no matter how good home-brewed coffee gets:
A significant portion of people will always forget, or not have enough time, to make coffee at home.
People like going out for coffee. It’s an escape. It’s social. It can be a meeting venue. It can be a work environment. It’s a way to leave work for a half hour that your boss won’t think is unreasonable, especially if you bring some coffee back for your boss.
As long as there’s a market for coffee shops, there will be a high end of that market, which some portion of coffee nerds like me will want to recreate (and surpass) at home.
The case is huge. It hasn’t seen an external redesign since 2003 or a major internal redesign since 2006. It’s nearly 50 pounds loaded. It’s only updated whenever there’s a new generation of Xeon CPUs from Intel, which only happens about every 18 months. This can sometimes make it seem painfully out of date: for instance, today’s Mac Pro still doesn’t have Thunderbolt, 9 months after the port’s introduction, and the base $2499 configuration, which is slower than every 15” MacBook Pro today, ships with only 3 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive.
And it’s very expensive. As Intel has raised Xeon prices and Apple has widened their margins since the line’s introduction in 2006, Mac Pros have become worse deals. A worthwhile configuration usually costs over $3500, often even $5000, and that’s assuming you already have a monitor and you don’t mind buying third-party RAM and hard drives.1
Apple doesn’t sell a lot of Mac Pros. Only 26% of Macs sold today are desktops, and that includes the very popular iMac and the Mac Mini. I don’t think Apple ever breaks out the numbers by product line, but I’d guess that fewer than 5% of Macs sold are Mac Pros. So it’s not very surprising that the Mac Pro may be discontinued soon.
What could Apple change about the Mac Pro to make it attract more buyers?
Probably not significantly.
The top third is optical drive bays and the power supply. They can drop down to just one optical bay, and could even use a slim laptop drive (or omit optical drives entirely), but the huge power supply still needs to go somewhere. The power supply can’t be meaningfully downsized: since Apple uses the same power supply in every Mac Pro, it needs enough capacity to power the fastest CPUs with all RAM, disk, and expansion slots filled with the highest-draw options.
The hard drives are arranged very efficiently. There’s not a lot of savings to be had if the case still needs to hold four 3.5” hard drives. If they got rid of the optical bays, they could put the hard drives in their space, but it wouldn’t be a big reduction overall.
The midsection must be left mostly open so full-length PCI-Express cards can fit.
The bottom third needs to hold the huge Xeon heatsinks and the 8 RAM slots (in dual-CPU models).
If the case is made any narrower, the fans need to be made smaller as well, which would require them to spin faster and produce more noise.
So any meaningful size reduction will make the Mac Pro less desirable to a significant portion of people who actually do buy it.
Given what the Mac Pro is — a high-end Xeon workstation — it’s actually priced competitively with PC equivalents most of the time.
I just went to Dell’s website and configured a workstation as close as I could get2 to the dual-2.66 GHz Mac Pro with AppleCare:
Mac Pro: $5,248
At this level, and considering that the comparison is only approximate (since it’s impossible to configure exactly matching systems), that difference is negligible. The problem isn’t that Apple’s overcharging for the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro’s specs are just far above what most people want to pay for an expandable tower PC.
The only way to significantly reduce its cost is, again, to remove the reasons why many of its customers buy it:
Apple could make a smaller, much cheaper desktop Mac by abandoning the Xeon CPUs and just using Intel’s mainstream desktop CPUs, such as the quad-core 3.4 GHz Core i7-2600K. They already offer this with the iMac. But if you’re reading about the Mac Pro, you probably want more internal expansion than the iMac will accomodate.
Going to desktop-class CPUs has two big downsides for Mac Pro buyers:
No dual-socket models. That means only half of the available CPU power at the high end, and only half of the RAM slots (and therefore, only half of the RAM capacity).
No ECC RAM, which means that occasional kernel panics and application crashes are slightly more likely, and per-slot RAM capacity limits will usually be lower.
Since so many Mac Pro buyers choose it specifically to have the most CPU power or the highest RAM capacities available, this might not be an acceptable tradeoff to many of them.
As a point of comparison, almost all desktop-class motherboards today are limited to 16–24 GB of RAM, and the top-end 3.4 GHz Core i7 CPU (available already in the iMac) gets a 64-bit GeekBench score of 12,575. The Mac Pro released more than a year ago maxes out fairly affordably at 48–96 GB, and the top-end dual-2.93 GHz Xeons score a 24,159 in Geekbench. And it’s probably going to be updated to even faster CPUs in a few months.
If a 16 GB RAM ceiling and about 12,000 Geekbench points are enough for someone, Apple probably already serves their needs with an iMac or MacBook Pro. Even the Mac Mini maxes out at 16 GB and just under a score of 10,000 today.
And if they need more power or RAM capacity, only the Xeon platform can deliver it.
Thunderbolt is, essentially, PCI-Express over a cable. It’s fast enough for hard-drive enclosures that let their drives run as fast as if they were internal. It’s even fast enough for some external GPUs. Many roles of the Mac Pro’s PCI-Express slots could be replaced with Thunderbolt peripherals.3
I wonder how many Mac Pro owners use all four hard-drive bays. I bet the number has decreased over time as individual hard drives have grown so large and SSDs have become so fast.4
If card slots and internal drive bays aren’t as necessary as they used to be for a Mac Pro customer, it’s much more likely that a Mac Mini, iMac, or even a MacBook Pro might solve their needs sufficiently for less money.
But for the buyers who do need card slots, internal 3.5” drive bays, or some edge-case Mac Pro capabilities such as the ability to drive lots of monitors, no other Mac can fill the Mac Pro’s role. They’re the ones still buying them, after all — any reduction in expansion potential would leave them stranded.
A matter of time
It’s impossible to significantly change the Mac Pro without removing most of its need to exist.
But I think it’s clear, especially looking at Thunderbolt’s development recently, that Apple is in the middle of a transition away from needing the Mac Pro.
Fewer customers will choose Mac Pros as time goes on. Once that level drops below Apple’s threshold for viability or needing to care, the line will be discontinued.
I bet that time will be about two years from now: enough time for Apple to release one more generation with Thunderbolt and the new Sandy Bridge-based Xeon E5 CPUs in early 2012, giving the Mac Pro a full lifecycle to become even more irrelevant before they’re quietly removed from sale.
A few power users will complain, but most won’t care: by that time, most former Mac Pro customers will have already switched away.
Configuring the single-socket 2010 Mac Pro with 16 GB of RAM, a reasonable amount for power users, costs $775 from Apple or $145 from OWC. ↩︎
I configured the Dell Precision T5500 workstation with Dual Xeon X5650 (2.66 GHz) CPUs, 6 GB (6x1) RAM, 3 Year ProSupport, Mini-Tower with 1394 Card, 256MB ATI FireMV 2260, 1 TB 7200 RPM hard drive, 16X DVD+/-RW, and Internal Chassis Speaker ($5). I couldn’t find options for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, FireWire 800, or optical audio ports, but their warranty includes on-site service, so there are a few mismatches but I think this is a good approximation. ↩︎
Very few Thunderbolt peripherals exist yet. One interesting theory to consider: if Apple did discontinue the Mac Pro, it might force peripheral makers to adopt Thunderbolt more aggressively for devices such as professional video-capture cards. This may be more valuable to Apple than the Mac Pro. ↩︎
If so, Apple probably doesn’t sell many RAID cards anymore. Maybe this is also why they discontinued the Xserve RAID in 2008. Also worth noting: Fibre Channel is no longer exclusive to the Mac Pro. ↩︎
Some people still like shit work. They can spend an hour moving Twitter accounts to special Lists, and then at the end of it look back and say “Boy, I spent an hour doing this. I really accomplished a lot today!” You didn’t. You did shit work.
Normally, the new AppleCare+ can only be bought simultaneously with its iPhone 4S. But if you bought a 4S already and didn’t get AppleCare+ with it, you have until November 14 to change your mind:
Through November 14, AppleCare+ can be purchased by customers who:
Pre-ordered iPhone 4 (8GB) or iPhone 4S
Purchased an iPhone (any model) on or after October 14, 2011 (proof of purchase date may be required)
Contact us at 1-800-275-2273 to purchase AppleCare+.
I just did.
(For other Apple products, you can generally buy AppleCare anytime during the first year of ownership, while Apple’s standard warranty still applies. The iPhone 4S is the first Apple product I’m aware of that requires the warranty to be purchased at the same time as the product it covers, probably due to practicalities with fraudulent claims on its accidental-damage coverage.)
The gap has definitely closed between the ‘mid range’ Mac Pro versus the ‘high-end’ iMac and MacBook Pro when it comes to pro apps — thanks to quad-core i7 “Sandy Bridge” processors with hyperthreading and turbo-boost. The gap varies depending on the app and the specific function within the app. And if you are comparing a new ‘high-end’ iMac or Macbook Pro to a 2006-2008 Mac Pro, you will be impressed.
Worth pointing out:
The current Mac Pro is over a year old and is probably going to be updated with new Xeon E5 CPUs in early 2012. (Although the rest of the Macs could also be updated with Ivy Bridge CPUs around the same time.)
The 3.33 GHz 6-core Mac Pro ($3699 if you don’t like RAM) is the fastest Mac available for most single-threaded or poorly-multithreaded apps, especially Photoshop. (That’s why my wife uses that exact machine for photography work.)
But for video professionals, for whom most software is highly parallelized, or anyone who needs more than 4 RAM slots, the 12-core models might be better. The 2.66 Ghz 12-core model ($4999 base) can be (but isn’t always) a lot faster than the 3.33 GHz 6-core model.
The Mac Pro will still be necessary for people who need the fastest hardware, the most RAM, or PCI-Express cards. But what these tests really show is the shrinking gap in CPU performance between the Xeons and the consumer-class Core CPUs.
If the main reason you need a Mac Pro today is great CPU performance, your next computer could probably be an iMac or a MacBook Pro.
Thailand manufactures 25% of the world’s hard drives, and the severe 2011 monsoon season floods affected some of its largest industrial parks, where many hard drive manufacturers and component suppliers are located, causing worldwide shortages and price increases.
The shortage is likely to boost demand for SSDs, leading to increased production volumes and (eventually) lower prices. StorageReview reports that OCZ is increasing capacity already in anticipation, and Michael Foster puts the capacity issues in perspective:
A staggering 33% of hard drive demand will go unanswered by WD, Seagate, Samsung, Hitachi and Toshiba in this quarter alone.
Thanks to Koombea for sponsoring the RSS feed this week:
Koombea is a full service design and development shop that specializes in making web and mobile apps. For the past 4 years, we’ve been using agile methodologies to build lean startups. Recently, we’ve taken our same process to public companies to keep them fast and efficient. We’re on the hunt for great new clients looking to build amazing products.
Over the past 18 months we’ve seen our clients raise a combined $50M+ in early stage funding. We’ve seen an even larger figure in acquisitions and other exits. Right now, we’re working with some amazing companies in elite tech incubators such as Y Combinator, TechStars and AngelPad, just to name a few.
We’re Data Driven, Transparent and we have serious Experience building companies and shipping products. We’ve been reading Marco for a while and getting to know his audience. If we don’t know you yet, reach out and let’s talk!
But the iPhone 4S was defeated by three Android phones in CR’s scoring criteria:
These pluses were not enough, however, to allow the iPhone 4S to outscore the best new Android-based phones in our Ratings. Those top scorers included the Samsung Galaxy S II phones, the Motorola Droid Bionic, and several other phones that boast larger displays than the iPhone 4S and run on faster 4G networks. […]
Other phones that topped the iPhone 4S include the LG Thrill ($100 on AT&T), which has the ability to capture stills and videos in 3D, as well as display them on its 4.3-inch 3D display, and the Motorola Droid Bionic ($300 on Verizon), which also has a superb 4.3-inch, high-resolution (540 x 960) display, with excellent keypad readability under most lighting conditions, even in bright light.
I’m looking at their full test results (I’ve been a CR website subscriber for six years), and I’m really not confident in the metrics and priorities that they seem to be using. Even some of the measurements seem suspicious to me:
CR rated the iPhone’s battery life lower than all three Android phones that “beat” it in the scoring (Galaxy S II, Infuse 4G, Thrill 4G). But most other reviews have claimed that using 4G, one of the biggest selling points that CR uses against the iPhone, results in terrible battery life. And I don’t think any reasonably objective reviewers would claim that Android phones generally get better battery life than iPhones, so I’m suspicious of their testing method that showed the 4S being worse than all three Android models.
The iPhone’s “Highs” include “Dynamic, intuitive iOS operating system provides superb multimedia functionality and easy access to most features”, “The best MP3 player we’ve seen in a phone”, and “Built-in voice-controlled personal digital assistant”. But it’s scored identically to the Android phones in “Ease of use”. Maybe this is my iOS bias, but I’ve never heard regular non-geeks talking about how easy-to-use their Android phones are or how they’re equally easy to use as an iPhone.
CR rated the iPhone’s camera higher than the LG Thrill’s “3D” cameras and noted that viewing the 3D images on the Thrill caused eyestrain, yet they cited this 3D capability as a reason why the Thrill was better than the iPhone in the summaries. They also say the iPhone has “one of the best cameras we’ve seen on a phone”, but that wasn’t enough to earn the “excellent” dot-circle rating.
Screen size seems to be as important as quality, with the same “excellent” rating given to all of these screens. They even, again, use screen size as a reason to recommend these Android phones more highly than the iPhone. But then, in the “Lows” of each Android phone, they include “Larger than many of the smart phones we’ve tested”.
Does CR consider a huge screen, which results in a huge phone, a positive or a negative? Seems inconsistent.
“Easy access to Apple’s online stores, with an unmatched selection of apps, games, music, and more” is significant enough to include as a “High” for the iPhone, but it’s not a ratings category and does not appear to contribute to the score. Not considering the software and media ecosystem as a relevant scoring metric on a modern smartphone seems negligent at best, considering how many people are using their smartphones as media players and pocket computers.
Consumer Reports is a good place to get an overview of objective specs and measurements for a product category. I’ve often consulted their ratings to guide many purchases, mostly appliances, without any major regrets.
For their ratings to be useful to my purchase, their priorities and criteria need to approximately match mine. This is easy for most of the products they review: most people want a dishwasher to be able to quietly, effectively, and reliably wash dishes. A dishwasher that’s quieter is objectively better than a louder one. An air conditioner that uses less energy for the same cooling is better than a less efficient model. You can assign numbers and scores to factors like these.
Smartphones have too many subjective criteria, and even the measurable stats don’t always yield a definite answer on what’s better. If you want a huge screen, you’ll get a huge phone, so is a larger screen size a good thing or not? Fast 4G network access kills battery life, so is 4G a good feature for you? Do you want the best normal camera, or a lower-quality 3D camera? Do you want any particular apps or games that are only available on one platform? Do you need a kickstand? (Do they still make those?) These all depend on your priorities.
A product as complex and multifaceted as a modern smartphone is beyond Consumer Reports’ ability to rate in a way that’s useful to most buyers.
Since web browsing is booming on mobile devices, web developers must build in non-Flash equivalents to any Flash functionality. iOS’ popularity has made this effectively true for years, but now the most die-hard holdouts have no hope to cling to: widespread Flash support on mobile devices will definitely never happen now, so it’s irresponsible and against nearly every site owner’s best interests to make any Flash-only functionality today.
If web developers must make non-Flash implementations of everything, why bother making the Flash versions at all? This isn’t just the death of mobile Flash: it’s a confirmation from Adobe that all Flash is on its way out.
Adobe’s management is also being pragmatic about its priorities. Rather than fight a losing battle for a particular runtime, Adobe can focus on what it does best: making tools for creative professionals.
Whether those tools build Flash or HTML apps shouldn’t matter: they should build what creative professionals need to build, and these days, that’s native mobile apps and HTML5 web apps.
Why does Motorola continually pick gimmicks and then force truly awful phones designed around them through the pipeline?
Because that’s the only way a company like Motorola, a hardware company with minimal software resources making Android smartphones, can differentiate its products from the iPhone and the other hardware companies with minimal software resources making Android smartphones.
And it works, to some degree. These manufacturers need to enter edge-case, often gimmicky territory with their designs and features because the iPhone won’t go there. It gives them an edge in the feature-checklist reviews.
No other smartphone manufacturer has succeeded in attacking the iPhone head-on, not because they’re stupid, but because they can’t. They don’t have Apple’s manufacturing scale, component deals, content and accessory ecosystems, or software resources.
Their willingness to develop and ship gimmicks are their biggest advantage, because no matter how many people buy iPhones, there’s always going to be that one guy who thinks he needs the 3D camera kickstand projector phone with the shitty screen.
It’s certainly not like Apple’s in danger of going out of business or having developers flee its platforms, which is what people who smell like Henry Blodget want us to think is going to happen. Yes, it matters that Apple’s profitable so that it continues to stay in business and it matters that the iOS and Mac ecosystems are prospering so that developers will continue to spray us in the face with a hose of 99-cent apps. But is it going to affect your game of Zombieville if Apple is the #1 seller of smartphones or the #2 seller of smartphones? No.
Interesting point. Even if iOS loses significant marketshare to another platform, it may not matter.
Apple is already the most profitable PC manufacturer in the world, even though the Mac has a very low marketshare among PCs. We’re all happily buying and using Macs, and making, selling, and using Mac software, even though it’s the minority platform by far.
While we found the performance of the Zenbook to be unfaltering, it does fall short in a few areas like screen and sound quality (the 11-inch Core i7 we tested is also cheaper than the MacBook Air). But in one key respect it absolutely fall down hard: the trackpad is fickle and barely functional, to the point that using the Zenbook as a primary traveling work machine caused us a good deal of frustration.
I think we’re going to look back and laugh at ultrabooks in a few years. It’s a laptop category arranged and marketed by Intel that basically means “PCs that copy the MacBook Air as much as possible”, and Intel needed to start a $300 million fund to help PC manufacturers accomplish this.
The Asus Zenbook is one of the first “ultrabooks”:
Looks familiar, right?
The copying runs deep with the Zenbook. As shameless as the external styling is, here’s its internal layout:
It’s sad, really, that the state-of-the-art in the PC world is attempting to copy Apple. Why isn’t Asus trying to blow the MacBook Air out of the water with something radically better?
I don’t know how people who just copy others’ work can take pride in what they do.
Maybe they don’t. Because despite being handed Apple’s design to copy and presumably having a lot of help from Intel, Asus still didn’t do it right. It’s close in many ways, but it fails on so many details (and critical functionality, like the trackpad), according to Johnston.
More than anything, this shows how competitive Apple has become in the PC market: they have such great manufacturing expertise, component deals, and supply chain management that other PC makers can barely remain competitive in the market segments that Apple competes in, even with outside help and possible subsidies.
It looks like people who want to run Windows on something a lot like a MacBook Air are better served by just running Windows on a MacBook Air.
Brian Shih, who previously worked on Google Reader:
Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows.
Prior to this redesign, I used Google Reader (the website) as my primary RSS reader. I lasted about two days with the new design before jumping ship. (NetNewsWire is very good. I should have switched earlier.)
I can come up with these possible explanations for the redesign:
The designers just aren’t very good. (Possible.)
The designers don’t use Google Reader. (Likely.)
The designers are prioritizing Google+’s goals over everything else. (Very likely.)
Google’s current “bet everything on social now because we missed the boat” movement feels a lot like Microsoft’s “bet everything on the internet because we missed the boat” movement in 1997. Remember how they wedged all sorts of internet-like functions into Windows 98, like Channels and Active Desktop? Those worked well and made Windows better, right?
It turns out that Microsoft has always been a money-losing also-ran at best with web services, but it doesn’t really matter, since their core business (Windows, Office, Exchange) has done well the entire time and will probably do well for the foreseeable future.
Google’s leadership seems to be paranoid about its continued relevance if it doesn’t make it big in social networking. But they’re showing that they’re willing to harm their other products to boost their social product. Not only does that seem avoidable, but I don’t think they need to be as worried about Facebook as they seem to be.
Matthew Panzarino’s review of Nokia’s new flagship Windows Phone 7 phone concludes that it’s very good hardware with a promising, original OS. But this promising platform hasn’t sold in anywhere near the volumes that would make many developers care about it, as Matthew finds:
Unfortunately, when I said ‘would’ in the title of this article, I meant it very literally. I would switch from the iPhone to the Lumia 800, if only it wasn’t for the apps.
The sad fact is that Windows Phone 7 will not become a major contender in the OS space until it gains massive developer support.
Nearly every Windows Phone review by iPhone owners has had approximately the same conclusion: this would be a reasonable alternative if I ever had to switch away from my iPhone, but it’s not good enough to make me switch.
Sounds a lot like every webOS-phone review. That didn’t end well.
Android had a lot of help to get started from external factors: the lack of a Verizon iPhone for so long, heavily incentivized retail salespeople (from carriers freaked out about the iPhone’s dominance), and buy-one-get-one-free deals. All of these helped push Android sales very high before it had much developer support, and then the installed base was big enough that developers started paying attention.
Since there are no other factors helping Windows Phone’s sales at retail, I don’t see how it’s going to move past the state it’s in today: a platform that reviews well but effectively nobody buys.
Instead Google X feels more like a convenient distraction for potentially-problematic-restless co-founders of the company. Much in the same way that the Steve Jobs biography talks about Apple wanting Jobs to run AppleLabs instead of leaving — on the off chance he comes up with something useful, all the while keeping him away from infringing on the core money making businesses.
Jon Phillips, concluding Wired’s review of the Kindle Fire:
At the end of the day, the Fire must be judged by how well it executes in terms of its Newsstand, Books, Video, Apps and Web features. It does nothing very well, save video playback, running various Android apps, and making the business of Amazon shopping alarmingly fun and easy.
All of the reviews seem to agree on the main points: the Kindle Fire is best at video playback, not very good for reading, mediocre at web browsing, and acceptable for playing a handful of Android games.
Given its strength as a video-playback device, though, Amazon really should have given it more storage. One of the most common use-cases for watching video on tablets is on airplanes or while commuting, neither of which reliably offer Wi-Fi fast enough for streaming video. Ask any iPad owner who watches a lot of video if 6 GB would be enough storage.
My Kindle Fire is supposed to arrive tomorrow. I’ll review it once I’ve had a chance to use it a bit.
Thanks to Textastic for sponsoring the RSS feed this week:
Who says the iPad is only for consumption? Textastic brings the power of a desktop text, code, and markup editor to the iPad.
Textastic supports syntax highlighting of more than 80 languages, and if that’s not enough, you can extend it with TextMate-compatible syntax definitions and themes.
The visual find and replace feature and the list of function and class names let you quickly navigate documents. A cursor navigation wheel simplifies text selection and the extra row of keys above the keyboard makes it easy to type common programming characters.
As you create, you can preview HTML and Markdown files locally. Once you’re done, connect to (S)FTP and WebDAV servers as well as Dropbox. It even includes a built-in WebDAV server that allows you to quickly transfer files to your iPad wirelessly from your Mac or PC.
I know it’s bad form to mention your competitors, but I’ve been asked about Readability’s announcement enough today that it’s more of a charadenot to talk about it, especially since a lot of people are under the wrong impression.
Here’s my relationship with Readability:
The Readability founders came to me in 2010, shared their idea of paying publishers for what people read with their text-view bookmarklet, and wanted to explore whether we could work together. We had very different priorities at the time: they wanted their service to focus on the publisher-payment system, and I wanted to focus on my iPhone and iPad apps.
We figured out a way to work together: I’d build a white-label version of the Instapaper app that worked with the Readability service instead of mine, with no source-code sharing, and I’d get a royalty for each copy sold. That way, I could keep my efforts focused on what I care most about, the iOS app, and they could have a full-featured iOS reading app from day one without having to build it themselves. I would also advise the company, promote the service on my blog and on Instapaper, and allow people to link Readability to their Instapaper accounts.
In February of this year, the app was finished and ready to launch, but it was rejected by Apple for the in-app-purchase subscription-matching rule, which had just gone into effect. Readability decided that they didn’t want to give Apple the 30%, so the app was put on hold.
By May, Readability told me that they were not going to ship an iOS app for the foreseeable future, and were deciding how to pivot their business into other areas instead. We decided to end our development contract, since there was no reason for me to invest any more work into an app that wasn’t going to ship. Our business relationship ended and we remained acquaintances, but they stopped inviting me to advisory meetings.
In June, Readability hired another developer to make an app that didn’t involve Instapaper at all. They pivoted their business away from the publisher-payment focus and into a direct Instapaper competitor. Over the next few months, they continued adding mostly Instapaper-like features to their service.
I expected the Kindle Fire to be good for books, great for magazines and newspapers, great for video, and good for apps and games.
In practice, it’s none of these. Granted, I’ve only spent two days with it, so I can’t share any long-term impressions. But I’m honestly unlikely to have any, because this isn’t a device that makes me want to use it more. And that’s fatal.
A tablet is a tough sell. It’s too big for your pocket, so you won’t always have it available like a phone. It’s too small to have rich and precise input methods like keyboards and mice, and its power and size constraints prevent it from using advanced PC-class hardware, so it’s probably not going to replace your laptop. It’s just one more gadget to charge, encase, carry (sometimes), care for, and update. And it’s one more expenditure that can easily be cut and done without, especially in an economic depression.
“Tablets” weren’t a category that anyone needed to give a damn about until the iPad. It was a massive hit not because it managed to remove any of the problems inherent to tablets, but because it was so delightful, fun, and pleasant to use that anyone who tried their friend’s iPad for a few minutes needed to have one of their own.
I expected the Kindle Fire to be a compelling iPad alternative, but I can’t call it delightful, fun, or pleasant to use. Quite the opposite, actually: using the Fire is frustrating and unpleasant, and it feels like work.
For most people, every other computer in their life feels like work, and they don’t need another one.
It’s not an iPad competitor or alternative. It’s not the same kind of device at all. And, whatever it is, it’s a bad version of it.
That’s probably all you need to know about the Kindle Fire. Below is a detailed account of the issues I ran into, but I won’t take offense if you’re burnt out on long Kindle Fire reviews and stop here.
The big, boring part
This is about my experience using the Kindle Fire. And I’m going to try my best to make this about the Fire on its own merits, not about how it compares to the iPad, for the most part.
I’ve read part of a book, three magazines, and a newspaper. I’ve played two games and watched four TV shows from two sources. I’ve also taken far too long to set up my email, failed to find a good RSS reader, turned a lot of pages accidentally, repeated taps that did nothing the first time, and crashed a few apps and the Fire itself.
I’ve run into a lot of problems, actually:
Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive.
Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It’s often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.
The on-screen Back button often doesn’t respond, which is particularly frustrating since it’s essential to so much navigation.
I keep performing small drags when I intend to tap, especially on the home screen. This makes the most common home-screen action — launching something — unnecessarily difficult and unreliable.
The load-on-demand images in various lists and stacks in the interface significantly slow down browsing: I scroll to a screen full of empty placeholders, then I have to wait for the images to pop in, then I can look for the item I wanted. (And then I can move on to the next screenful when I don’t find it.)
Amazon’s content-browsing apps don’t respond well if lost internet connectivity is regained — everything just sits there, empty, until you leave and re-enter that screen. This happens a lot when waking the Fire from sleep, when it has no connection for a few seconds before the Wi-Fi reconnects.
Once, I woke the Fire from sleep after only a few minutes of non-use and it rebooted for some reason. (I’ve only had it for two days.)
The backlight leaks significantly around the top edge (when held in portrait). This is distracting when viewing a white screen, like every reading screen.
The headphone jack is on the bottom, so you can’t plug in headphones and rest it on anything while reading in portrait orientation. You can flip it upside down for the native reading interface, but many custom apps, like Conde Nast’s The New Yorker app, don’t support portrait-upside-down orientation.
The asymmetric bezel’s “chin” is distracting in landscape orientation.
It comes with a power cable, unlike the cheaper e-ink Kindles, but doesn’t come with a micro-USB cable to connect to a computer for media transfers. I expect more from a flagship product.
I keep inadvertently turning pages when I intend to bring up the menu.
All text is justified, and there’s no automatic hyphenation. So, especially on such a narrow screen, word spacing is often ridiculously wide, and it doesn’t look very good. (E-ink Kindles have this problem, too.)
The page-turn animation, a simple full-screen slide, is distracting, too long, and jerky.
Magazines are a special beast on the Fire. They can either be custom apps, like on the iPad, or they can provide their content in a split “Page View”/”Text View” interface provided by Amazon.
The “Page View” is unusable. It’s literally just a big image of the magazine pages, like someone scanned them in. There’s nothing modern about it — the table of contents, being just an image, doesn’t even link to the articles. The Fire’s screen is so much smaller than a magazine that you need to zoom and pan constantly, and the zooming and panning is frustratingly sluggish, jerky, and clumsy. Even when zoomed in, my example issue of The Economist didn’t even have sharp text — each page’s image of text was too low-resolution to look good at a readable size. The entire Page View environment is so incredibly bad that I’m amazed Amazon shipped it.
The “Text View” puts the magazine’s unformatted text and any important story images into the standard Kindle reading environment. It’s just as good as reading books, which is OK, but not great.
The Conde Nast app that powers The New Yorker and their other Kindle magazines is similar to their iPad app, but very buggy. The text looks like it’s an image that’s been resampled and shrunk, so the text is blurry and almost impossible to read without eyestrain. Since this is an app and not a native magazine, the built-in “Text View” feature isn’t available to fix that problem. Bugs in the app have regularly prevented me from accessing the on-screen Home button, leaving me stuck. (The Fire really needs a hardware Home button.)
The New York Times, a completely Fire-native newspaper, is sluggish and confusing to navigate. Page-turn animation stutters each time, even moreso than when reading books. The interface also actively interferes with reading: when the menus slide away after opening an article, the whole article shifts upward, so your eyes lose their place.
It really needs hardware volume-control buttons.
The free Prime video selection is very poor compared to Netflix’s streaming library. The TV selection is particularly misleading: they’ll list a show, but only one season, or some subset of its episodes, is actually free.
The Netflix app is terrible:
The video stutters and drops frames.
The video quality is poor, with many visible artifacts. On the same internet connection, watching the same shows on my Apple TV, I reliably get crisp, high-bitrate streams.
The little systemwide Home/Back button bar is collapsed to a skinny version along the bottom of the screen, but it’s always visible: there’s no true full-screen video playback. (Amazon’s video app has true full-screen playback. Presumably, no third-party app can.)
It crashes a lot.
Much of the browsing interface is cut off or works poorly in landscape orientation, so I need to keep flipping between orientations when navigating video.
The bottom-left corner of the Fire, when held in portrait, gets noticeably warm during use. It’s almost uncomfortable to hold during long, moderately intensive tasks… such as video playback.
MP3 playback isn’t gapless, which is distracting if you’re listening to an album or live performance.
6 GB is not a lot of space, and there’s no music-sync software, so you probably won’t be putting a lot of music on here from your computer. That’s for the best, though, since most people who want to listen to a lot of music carry around an iPod or iPhone, which can fit in many pockets and bags that the Fire can’t.
Headphones sometimes “pop” loudly in your ears when you insert them in the jack and when you wake the Fire from sleep.
The Fire-optimized version of Plants vs. Zombies, a great game I’m very familiar with on iPad, is extremely slow in every “Loading” screen. You can really feel with every interaction that the Fire is not fast enough to be a good game platform.
I almost bought the “wrong” version of the game, since the regular one ranked higher than the “Kindle Fire” edition in the Appstore.
I wanted to lower the volume while playing. Since there are no volume buttons, I had to go into the system menu, which blacked out the game screen. The game had to (slowly) reload afterward. A very common action that should be a simple button-press became an ordeal.
The game selection is pretty poor. Sure, it has some of the big-name iOS hits like Angry Birds, but it’s missing almost all of games I searched for, and it’s hard to find anything in the Appstore that looks professional and trustworthy.
The built-in Email app is pretty poor, with a limited, clunky, unintuitive interface that often got stuck in its own Settings screen for some reason.
I was unable to find good apps for many common roles in the Amazon Appstore. This is partly because it’s smaller than the complete Android Marketplace, and partly because Android just has far fewer great apps than I expected.
People say the best Android RSS reader is Google’s official Reader app, but that’s not available through the Amazon Appstore and probably never will be.
What about other apps where Google makes the best version for Android, like Gmail or Maps? A lot of Android’s value is lost without Google’s apps.
And finally, I don’t like the “carousel” flip-card-style home screen interface. Like the Xbox 360 interface makeover from a couple of years ago, it makes browsing through more than a few items difficult and slow because you can’t really see the items if you skim through quickly. It’s a poor, unusable interface metaphor that our industry should retire.
The Fire is an Android version, sort of, of the iPod Touch. It’s the first device available that’s inexpensive and offers Android in a somewhat reasonable package without a cellular contract.
But that’s just about all I can say for it. It’s a bad game player, a bad app platform, a bad web browser, a bad video player, and, most disappointingly, a bad Kindle.
If I didn’t need the Fire for Instapaper testing, I’d return it.
Steve Wildstrom criticizes many Fire reviews, claiming that the reason we’re disappointed is that we’re comparing it to the iPad and expecting a $200 tablet to perform as well as the $500 tablet.
That’s not my argument at all, and I thought I was very careful not to say or imply that the Kindle Fire is a poor product because it’s not like the iPad. Rather, my point was that the Kindle Fire is not a good product because it’s not a good implementation of what it’s supposed to be: a multimedia Kindle.
As Steve wrote:
Amazon had entirely different goals. It was looking for a way to build on the success of the Kindle, to offer a more capable device whose capabilities would mostly focus on enabling the purchase of stuff, especially digital content, from Amazon. It wanted a device it could sell for $200 without losing its shirt, and it designed the Kindle with the compromises necessary to make that price point.
I agree: it does seem like those were Amazon’s goals. They now have an inexpensive tablet that makes it extremely easy for its users to buy more from Amazon.
Note the apparent absence of goals such as “Make a great reading experience” or “Make a great portable video player”. It serves Amazon’s business goals (assuming it sells), but it doesn’t serve its customers’ goals well.
As an aside, I need to argue with Steve in good fun about his car analogy:
Complaining that the Fire is less thrilling or compelling than an iPad is a bit like grumbling that a Honda Civic is less fun and exciting than an Audi A6. Both do what they are intended to do very well (though their intended functions are a lot more alike than the Fire and the iPad.)
The Civic is a great car. It’s not the fastest, the most fun, or the must luxurious, but it’s smooth, comfortable, versatile, and extremely reliable. It does what it’s supposed to do exceptionally.
The Kindle Fire is not a great tablet. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do well. That’s the difference. If Amazon had made a “Civic of tablets”, it would have been a much better product. Maybe, someday, they will.
“In other words, it appears that Apple has roughly 85-90% market share in dollars spent on mobile applications,” [Gene Munster] wrote in a note to investors. “While Google has closed the gap in terms of app dollars spent over the last year and we continue to believe Android will grow smartphone share faster than Apple, we believe Apple is likely to maintain 70%+ share of mobile app dollars spent over the next 3-4 years.”
Android has a very large installed base, but a disproportionally small number of people paying for apps. Instapaper’s primary business is selling a premium-priced paid app.
Most startups want to gain marketshare at any cost, usually by giving the core product away for free, so it makes sense for them to expand onto Android. But I’m still not convinced that it makes sense for me to double my development costs and slow down my product cycle to enter a market that I’m unlikely to recover those costs from.
Thanks to CaptureNotes for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
CaptureNotes 2 is more than just a note-taking app for the iPad. It lets you record audio while you type.
While there might be other apps that let you take notes and record, CaptureNotes 2 brings an entirely new feature to the experience: Flags.
Flags are intelligent bookmarks, allowing you to place specific marks in time during a recording to follow up on in later review. For example, if you were using CaptureNotes in a class, you could mark things like test questions, text references, follow-up requests, or even make your own custom flag set. In a meeting at work, you could mark action items to follow up on.
When it comes time to study for your test or compile your to-do list, you can sort notes by flag type, taking you back to that specific piece of audio recording and notes.
Note-taking is also available on imported PDFs and email sessions. CaptureNotes lets you store your binders and notebooks on Dropbox.
CaptureNotes 2 was recently selected as app of the week at TiPB, and is sale to celebrate. Capture everything at school, work, or home with CaptureNotes 2.
I was there because I just wanted to read something. Words. Black text on a white background, more-or-less. And what I saw — at a professional publication, a site with the purpose of giving people something good to read — was just about the farthest thing from readable.
The original purpose of Instapaper was just saving links for later reading. I had to add the Text view to actually make them readable as I was alpha-testing the service in late 2007.
Four years later, decluttering and restyling is more necessary than ever for far too many sites. And that’s truly sad. People shouldn’t need to install special tools or design entire services to comfortably read the text in web publishers’ layouts.
The only way most Kindle Fire owners are going to be installing apps is from the Amazon Appstore for Android. The Fire doesn’t ship with Google Market and most buyers won’t be savvy or motivated enough to hack it or side-load anything.
It’s similar to Apple’s App Store lockdown on iOS devices: the Amazon Appstore is the only game in town on this probably-soon-to-be-very-popular Android device. Most Android developers, therefore, need to ensure that their app is available in the Amazon Appstore.
So far, Amazon has not been great to developers. (Or book publishers, for that matter.) By most accounts, dealing with Amazon is actually much worse for developers than dealing with Apple. By putting your app in the Amazon Appstore, you’re giving up a lot more control than Apple asks of us: you’re giving up the ability to set your own price and control your app’s description, among many other restrictions. By comparison, it makes Apple look almost… open.
One of the biggest draws to the Android platform, the “open” Android Market, has just been sidestepped and made largely irrelevant for tablets. If the Fire sells anywhere near its target volumes, Amazon has hijacked the Android app retail channel for the long term: most sales of Android tablet software will be through the Amazon Appstore, and if your app isn’t there, it’s effectively invisible to the Android tablet userbase.
How long will it be before this effect spreads to the much larger Android-phone market? All it would take is a deal between Amazon and one of the big handset manufacturers to preload the Amazon Appstore, placed more prominently than Google’s Android Market, on all of their phones for a little while. Amazon knows how to play the retail game — it’s their business, and they’re incredibly good at it.
A truly open facet of Android — the open-source codebase, minus Google’s apps — has enabled one company with a strong market position to step in, effectively close it, and make themselves the gatekeeper. And as gatekeepers go, Apple looks quite benevolent by comparison.
Thanksgiving is a one of our better ideas. We, theoretically, reflect on how fortunate we are to have what we have. The day after Thanksgiving would be a great day to start thinking how we might start addressing wrongs perpetuated on anybody trampled in the process of putting together the comfort and security we are so thankful for. Instead, we’ve turned it into a symbolic date for acquiring shinier objects in anticipation of how we can best miss the point of our next major holiday. Perhaps worse, it infects Thanksgiving itself, turning the holiday into, effectively, a paean to culinary gluttony in preparation for commercial gluttony.
Shifty Jelly on what it’s like to be an independent developer:
You put an enormous amount of effort (and yourself) into every product you make. Sometimes you find people deriding it, or dismissing it after spending 13.2 seconds using it. People tell you not to take that personally. Good luck with that. When you invest 6 months of your life, day and night, creating a product there’s no way in hell you can’t take other people’s comments personally.
Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic on SOPA and PROTECT IP:
A mature society is one that can distinguish between 1) times when lawbreaking requires new, more robust laws, 2) when the appropriate conclusion is that there will just always be some level of crime, and 3) when the prohibition itself is incompatible with a free society.
Matt Legend Gemmell on how copycat products come about, and how and why to avoid making them:
The customers who are most interested in your product will be those who actually want the original thing made by someone else. …
You’ve essentially guaranteed that every buying decision comes bundled with a kernel of regret, maybe because they didn’t have enough money, or needed a floppy disk drive, or were tied into a phone carrier contract for another year and couldn’t get the handset they’d prefer.
What hasn’t gotten much commentary is the extraordinarily contorted way that NPD reported these numbers.
Beyond the obvious hilarity at NPD’s extremely misleading representation of the “tablet market”, it’s interesting that they excluded the Nook Color, which may have at least shipped3 million units. Will NPD include the Kindle Fire in its next report? If so, it should include the Nook Color (with recent software) and Nook Tablet, which are definitely “tablets” if the Kindle Fire is.
It’s also irresponsible, as a market-research firm that informs important decisions for many businesses, to issue a report about the health of PC makers in this “tablet market” one week after the Kindle Fire’s release without even mentioning it, or how it has probably already outsold the top “non-Apple tablet”. (That top tablet was the discontinued, $99-fire-sale HP TouchPad, another pertinent fact omitted from this press release.)
It sounds more like NPD wanted to issue a report that said that PC vendors were doing well in a hot new market, and then massaged the data to fit that story.
I wonder how many of those PC vendors are NPD’s customers.
In my earlier 20s when I knew everything, I was a much bigger evangelist for my technology choices. I’m accused of fanboyism a lot more these days, but only because Hacker News keeps sending huge waves of people here who tell me I’m an idiot. But I used to be much more annoying with pushing my choices onto others.
I’ve naturally reduced such evangelism as I approach 30 and realize I don’t know anything, but I’m now making a much more conscious effort to stop it.
I spent Thanksgiving weekend in my hometown and visited my friend’s parents. They used to generously pay me to fix their computer problems, but it wasn’t always productive: everything took far longer than I thought it would, and my efforts to fix one problem often created others. It was inevitable: they’re an architect and a graphic designer, and I was a computer nerd with very little professional IT experience, so I never fully appreciated the complexity of their software setups or their priorities for getting their jobs done.
My friend’s father spent this weekend battling similar issues. Having failed to set up a suitable sync system with an Android phone, he had exchanged it for an iPhone and was trying to set up iCloud and whatever software (iTunes?) syncs calendars and contacts with Outlook on Windows. It wasn’t working properly.
He’s probably not going to get it to work, and he’ll probably return the iPhone and just tolerate a lack of a synced smartphone for a few more years until he tries again with whatever shoddy pile of hacks we’ve cooked up by then to (not) sync contacts and calendars with our other piles of hacks, a simple problem that we’ve been (not) solving for decades that still isn’t reliable for everyone.
My friend told his father to dump Outlook and go all-Apple, which of course isn’t going to happen. Previously, I’d try to convince him, too. But not this time. His father has many good reasons not to switch, and I don’t understand any of them.
I said I couldn’t help him.
The iPhone and many of Apple’s products work very well for me. But for him, they don’t. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s Microsoft’s fault or Apple’s fault or iCloud flaking out or some other third-party software interacting with something somewhere. To him, the iPhone doesn’t work with his setup.
I bet very few other phones, if any, would work exactly the way he wants with no other modifications to his setup. But that also doesn’t really matter. He got a product that claimed to work in his setup, but when he tried it, it didn’t.
I choose to fit myself into most of Apple’s intended-use constraints because their products tend to work better that way, which makes my life easier. But that requires trade-offs that many people can’t or won’t make.
Previous-me tried to persuade everyone to switch to my setup, but I now know that it’s not worth the effort. I’ll never know someone else’s requirements, environment, or priorities as well as they do. I don’t know shit about Windows or Outlook or architecture.
You should use whatever works for you. And I no longer have the patience or hubris to convince you what that should be. All I can offer is one data point: what I use, and how it works for me.
Thanks to StudioNeat for sponsoring the Marco.org RSS feed this week:
The iPhone 4S has an amazing camera. This is undisputed. What the iPhone lacks, however, is a tripod thread for mounting it to a tripod. Enter the Glif.
The Glif is a small and simple accessory for mounting your iPhone 4 or 4S to any standard tripod. It also acts as a little kickstand to prop your iPhone up for watching movies, using FaceTime, etc.
And now, we are offering Glif+, a deluxe Glif package. It comes with Ligature, a keychain loop for always keeping your Glif handy, and Serif, an additional attachment to keep your iPhone super secure in extreme situations. We are also offering the +Pack, for those of you that already own a Glif and just want the add-ons. Both are available for preorder now, and will ship in 1-2 weeks.
With the holidays fast approaching, the Glif makes a great stocking stuffer. Available now at StudioNeat.
StorageReview reviewed the successor to the popular Momentus XT, which combined a 500 GB laptop hard drive with a 4 GB flash buffer and gave a nice performance boost at a minimal price premium. The new 750 GB model has 8 GB of flash and better firmware, which results in a significant performance gain over any other non-SSD laptop hard drive on the market.
To be clear, it’s still nowhere near SSD performance in the most important real-world tests (small random reads and writes), but it’s a major improvement over plain hard drives.
If you need a laptop drive with a lot of space and can’t justify (or can’t find) a large enough SSD, keep an eye on this one’s pricing when it launches. It will supposedly list at $245, which is about double the price of the “plain” Momentus 7200. That premium may not be worthwhile yet, but I bet this drive will be a great deal in a few months.
MG Siegler on splitting articles into many-page “slideshows”, a common practice at Business Insider:
Both the reader and the writer lose as a result of this nonsense. But Business Insider wins, I suppose.
Unscrupulous or desperate web publishers will always invent new ways to inflate pageviews and defraud advertisers into paying for more reader attention than they’re actually getting.
And it will always work.
Like running a check-cashing or payroll-advance lending service to take advantage of the poor, or selling extended warranties that don’t really cover what buyers think they cover, or being a tremendous patent troll like Nathan Myhrvold, there will always be ways to make money that are a net drain on the world — that take from society rather than give to it.
I couldn’t sleep at night if I made my living like that, but not everyone shares these priorities and values. And you can bet that the people running Business Insider don’t give a damn what they do to anyone’s writing — whether they own it or not — in the quest to squeeze a few more pennies out of our “eyeballs”.
Matt Legend Gemmell explains why he turned off comments. I liked this part:
I want to make it clear that this isn’t a means to discourage conversation; indeed, I hope the opposite is true.
Comments seem like a relic of the pre-Tumblr era, when starting your own blog was actually a bit of work (and usually a minor expense). These days, if you have something to say about what someone wrote, you have many great options that don’t cause unnecessary work for the author or degrade their site.
Though the software is installed on most modern Android, BlackBerry and Nokia phones, Carrier IQ was virtually unknown until 25-year-old Trevor Eckhart of Connecticut analyzed its workings, revealing that the software secretly chronicles a user’s phone experience — ostensibly so carriers and phone manufacturers can do quality control.
But now he’s released a video actually showing the logging of text messages, encrypted web searches and, well, you name it.
From there, the data — including the content of text messages — is sent to Carrier IQ’s servers, in secret.
Another potential failure of “open” systems: when a system is open to someone whose interests don’t line up very well with yours, like a cellular carrier, and then it’s closed and handed to you, you have no way to know that they didn’t sneak in huge security holes and privacy violations behind your back.
This is like a housing developer installing secret cameras in the bathrooms before selling the houses. For quality control, of course.
I get a lot of good feedback from developers who say these posts are helpful, so I don’t feel bad spamming everyone with updates every few months.
Here’s my most recent data from people using the Instapaper app:
Compared to August’s data, you can see a few unsurprising trends:
iOS 5 adoption is gradually rising, but it’s too early to require it. (It’s only 49 days old.)
iOS 4+ adoption, now at 98.8%, is so ubiquitous that it’s very safe to require it.1
Developers of CPU-intensive iPhone apps and games can celebrate the continued infiltration of faster hardware, with at-least-3GS-class CPUs in 94.39% of iPhones and iPod Touches. Apps that need high performance can probably start requiring iOS 4.3 (87.8%) to forcefully cut support for the much slower old CPU in the iPhone 1, iPhone 3G, and 1-2G iPod Touches.
With iPads included, 3GS-or-better CPUs are in 97.4%, A4-or-better CPUs are in 89.4%, and A5 CPUs are in 36.4% of devices in this sample.
We can also extract a bit of insight into Apple’s device sales:
The iPhone 4S has sold well so far, especially given that it’s only been out for 47 days.
iPad 2 sales have been steady, but seemingly not mind-blowing. We’ll see what happens after the holidays: last year, I saw a huge rise in iPad sales on Christmas and the following few days.
Still, very few iPad 2 buyers choose the Verizon 3G model. (I did, but I wish I got the GSM version.)
Instapaper started requiring iOS 4.2 recently. I’ve heard from only one person who was upset that it stopped working on his original iPhone, but he also mentioned that lots of his other apps were recently updated to require iOS 4 as well. ↩︎