CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

13 Early Criticisms, Doubts, and Disses About the iPhone

Original image
Getty Images

By the time the iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, Apple was already in the midst of an incredible decade-long revival under Steve Jobs. Entering a crowded mobile phone market was a risk, but their new product outperformed even the most optimistic predictions and it would eventually help Apple become the richest company in the world (going by market cap).

Most technology experts knew the iPhone was going to be a hit even before they got their hands on it when it was first announced earlier that year. Small issues were noted (like its high price and the fact that it was only available through one wireless carrier) but, by and large, the hype and excitement drummed up by the media turned out to be appropriate in hindsight.

In the wrong hands, however, hindsight can be a dangerous tool. It can, for example, be used to find the few people who publicly poo-pooed the iPhone when it first came out. It's almost unfair, then, that these doubts about the most popular consumer electronics product of the past half-century can be itemized in a neat little list some eight years after they were expressed. Even more cruel is that this can be done by someone like me, who loudly called the iPhone "stupid" to anyone who would listen back in 2007. However, I didn't have a platform to publish those views at the time (and if I did, they weren't archived), so I am exempt from any retroactive chuckles.

Here are 13 of them.

1. "The iPhone doesn't go on sale until June in the U.S. and possibly not until next year here, so why worry, if you need a phone now? BlackBerry Pearls are mighty fine."

2. "Apple's decision to make the iPhone a closed system that third parties won't be allowed to write software for is stupid."

—Stephen Ballantyne, writing in New Zealand's National Business Review.

3. "Is it really as stuffed with innovative features as Steve Jobs made it sound from the stage at Macworld Expo last week? Nah. Most of those features have been around in one form or another for years. Apple just put them all together."

4. "Widescreen pocket media player? Been done. Handheld Web browser? Been done. Quad-band GSM phone? Been done, in almost every way imaginable. Camera? Wi-Fi? Bluetooth? Old news. Even the all-touch-screen phone interface Jobs gushed over ('We're going to use the best pointing device in our world—we're born with 10 of them, our fingers') has been around since 2001."

5. "But does Apple know what users will actually do with the iPhone? Nope."

—Frank Hayes in Computerworld.

6. "Apple's real problem may be that the new iPhone, like its namesake, is a solution in search of a problem."

7. "If Jobs tied a couple of tin cans together with a string and called it a telephone, a million Macolytes would call him a 'visionary minimalist' and shell out $500 for it."

8. "The more gadgets you cram into one package, the more things there are to go wrong—and the more likely it is that something will ... Do you really want your business communications dependent on the health of your music player?"

—Mike Himowitz, writing in the Baltimore Sun. Himowitz was not helped by the headline Newsday decided to use with this syndicated piece: "New Multifeature iPhone Not Likely to be a Huge Hit." (It was "Steve Jobs Has More Selling to do on iPhone" in the Sun).

Himowitz had one more crack at the iPhone after he had tried it out for "a few weeks" and conceded that "the iPhone is, indeed, a fantastic gadget—a stunning example of industrial design that borders on art." Still, he wasn't convinced...

9. "The iPhone has two serious flaws. First, it's awkward to handle. At 4 1/2 by 2 3/8 inches, it's half an inch wider than my regular cell phone—too wide to hold comfortably. And the iPhone is slippery—too easy to drop."

10. "The on-screen keyboard was too small for my big fingers and lacked the tactile feedback that makes the tiny, thumb-based keyboards on other PDAs usable. A stylus with handwriting recognition software would be a great addition to future models."

11. "I still wouldn't buy one for everyday use. In fact, most of us can get the iPhone's most important bennies from a newer Apple toy that's a better value—the iPod Touch."

—From "Stunning iPhone, Alas, Has Big Flaws", published October 25, 2007 in the Baltimore Sun.

12. "To summarize: the iPhone is expensive and fails miserably at its primary function of making telephone calls, but other than that it's really great. Sign me up!"

—Kevin Drum in Washington Monthly, quipping on an aside from a separate (positive) review of the iPhone.

13. "We like our strategy. We're selling millions and million and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones. In six months they'll have the most expensive phone by far ever in the marketplace."

—Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer talking about whether or not the iPhone will be a worthy competitor to the Windows Phone in an interview with CNBC.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES