flash memory macintosh mobile technology

iPod classic stock dwindling at Apple

iPod classic
Image by Freimut via Flickr

Apple could potentially upgrade the Classic to use a recent 220GB Toshiba drive, sized at the 1.8 inches the player would need.

via iPod classic stock dwindling at Apple, other retailers | iPodNN.

Interesting indeed, it appears Apple is letting supplies run low for the iPod Classic. No word immediately as to why but there could be a number of reasons as speculated in this article. Most technology news websites understand the divide between the iPhone/Touch operating system and all the old legacy iPod devices (an embedded OS that only runs the device itself). Apple would like to consolidate its consumer products development efforts by slowly winnowing out non-iOS based ipods. However, due to the hardware requirements demanded by iOS, Apple will be hard pressed to jam such a full featured bit of software into iPod nano and iPod shuffles. So whither the old click wheel interface iPod empire?

macintosh mobile technology

Toshiba rolls out 220GB-Could the iPod Classic see a refresh?

first generation iPod
Image via Wikipedia

Toshiba Storage Device Division has introduced its MKxx39GS series 1.8-inch spinning platter drives with SATA connectors.

via Toshiba rolls out 220GB, extra-compact 1.8-inch hard drive | Electronista.

Seeing this announcement reminded me a little of the old IBM Microdrive. A 1.8″ wide spinning disk that fit into a Compact Flash sized form factor (roughly 1.8″ square). Those drives were at the time 340MB and astoundingly dense storage format that digital photographs gravitated to very quickly. Eventually this Microdrive was improved up to around 1GByte per drive in the same small form factor. Eventually the market for this storage dried up as smaller and smaller cameras became available with larger and larger amounts of internal storage and slots for removable storage like Sony’s Memory stick format or the SD Card format. The Microdrive was also impeded by a very high cost per MByte versus other available storage by the end of its useful lifespan.

But no one knows what new innovative products might hit the market. Laptop manufacturers continued to improve on their expansion bus known as PCMCIA, PC Card and eventually Card Bus. The idea was you could plug any kind of device you wanted into that expansion bus connect to a a dial-up network, a wired Ethernet network or a Wireless network. Card Bus was 32-bit clean and designed to be as close to the desktop PCI expansion bus as possible. Folks like Toshiba were making small hard drives that would fit the tiny dimensions of that slot, containing all the drive electronics within the Card Bus card itself. Storage size improved as the hard drive market itself improved the density of it’s larger 2.5″ and 3.5″ desktop hard drive product.

I remember the first 5GByte Card Bus hard drive and marveling at how far folks at Toshiba and Samsung had outdistanced IBM. Followed soon after by the 10GByte drive. However just as we wondered how cool this was, Apple created a copy of a product being popularized by a company named Rio. It was a new kind of hand held music player that primarily could play back audio .mp3 files. It could hold 5GBytes of music (compared to 128MBytes and 512MBytes for most top of the line Rio products at the time). It had a slick, and very easy to navigate interface with a spinning wheel you could click down on with the thumb of your hand. Yes it was the first generation iPod and it demanded a large quantity of those little bitty hard drives Samsung and Toshiba were bringing to market.

Each year storage density would increase and a new generation of drives would arrive. Each year a new iPod would hit the market taking advantage of the new hard drives. The numbers seemed to double very quickly. 20Gig, 30Gig-the first ‘video’ capable iPod, 40Gig,60gig,120gig and finally today the iPod Classic at a whopping 160GBytes of storage! And then the great freeze, the slowdown and transition to Flash memory based iPods which were mechanically solid state. No moving parts, no chance for mechanical failure, no loss of data and speeds unmatched by any hard drive of any size currently on the market. The Flash storage transition also meant lower power requirements, longer battery time and now for the first time the real option of marrying a cell phone with your iPod (I do know there was an abortive attempt to do this on a smaller scale with Motorola phones @ Cingular). The first two options were 4GB and 8GB iPhones using the solid state flash memory. So wither the iPod classic?

iPod Classic is still on the market for those wishing to pay slightly less than the price for an iPod touch. You get much larger amount of total storage (video and audio both) but things have stayed put at 160GBytes for a very long time now. Manufacturers like Toshiba haven’t come out with any new product seeing the end in sight for the small 1.8″ hard drive. Samsung dropped it’s 1.8″ hard drives altogether seeing where Apple was going with its product plan. So I’m both surprised and slightly happy to see Toshiba soldier onward bringing out a new product. I’m thinking Apple should really do a product refresh on the iPod classic. They could also add iOS as a means of up-scaling and up-marketing the device to people who cannot afford the iPod Touch, leaving the price right where it is today.

computers data center macintosh technology

TidBITS Opinion: A Eulogy for the Xserve: May It Rack in Peace


Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase


Apple’s Xserve was born in the spring of 2002 and is scheduled to die in the winter of 2011, and I now step up before its mourners to speak the eulogy for Apple’s maligned and misunderstood server product.

via TidBITS Opinion: A Eulogy for the Xserve: May It Rack in Peace.

Chuck Goolsbee’s Eulogy is spot on, and every point is true according even to my limited experience. I’ve purchased 2 different Xserves since they were introduced. On is 2nd generation G4 model, the other is a 2006 Intel model (thankfully I skipped the G5 altogether). Other than a weird bug in the Intel based Xserve (weird blue video screen), there have been no bumps or quirks to report. I agree that form factor of the housing is way too long. Even in the rack I used (a discard SUN Microsystems unit),  the thing was really inelegant. Speaking of the drive bays too is a sore point for me. I have wanted dearly to re-arrange reconfigure and upgrade the drive bays on both the old and newer Xserve but the expense of acquiring new units was prohibitive at best, and they went out of manufacture very quickly after being introduced. If you neglected to buy your Xserve fully configured with the maximum storage available when it shipped you were more or less left to fend for yourself. You could troll Ebay and Bulletin Boards to score a bona fide Apple Drivebay but the supply was so limited it drove up prices and became a black market. The XRaid didn’t help things either, as drivebays were not consistently swappable from the Xserve to the XRaid box. Given the limited time most sysadmins have with doing research on purchases like this to upgrade an existing machine, it was a total disaster, big fail and unsurprising.

I will continue to run my Xserve units until the drives or power supplies fail. It could happen any day, any time and hopefully I will have sufficient warning to get a new Mac mini server to replace it. Until then, I too, along with Chuck Goolsbee among the rest of the Xserve sysadmins will kind of wonder what could have been.

computers flash memory macintosh technology wintel

Angelbird to Bring PCIe SSD on the Cheap and Iomega has a USB 3 external SSD


Image via Wikipedia


From Tom’s Hardware:

Extreme SSD performance over PCI-Express on the cheap? There’s hope!

A company called Angelbird is working on bringing high-performance SSD solutions to the masses, specifically, user upgradeable PCI-Express SSD solution.

via Angelbird to Bring PCIe SSD on the Cheap.

This is one of a pair of SSD announcements that came in on Tuesday. SSDs are all around us now and the product announcements are coming in faster and harder. The first one, is from a British company named Angelbird. Looking at the website announcing the specs of their product, it is on paper a very fast PCIe based SSD drive. Right up there with Fusion-io in terms of what you get for the dollars spent. I’m a little concerned however due to the reliance of an OS hosted in the firmware of the PCIe card. I would prefer something a little more peripheral like that the OS supports natively, rather than have the card become the OS. But this is all speculative until actual production or test samples hit the review websites and we see some kind of benchmarks from the likes of Tom’s Hardware or Anandtech.

From MacNN|Electronista:

Iomega threw itself into external solid-state drives today through the External SSD Flash Drive. The storage uses a 1.8-inch SSD that lets it occupy a very small footprint but still outperform a rotating hard drive:

Read more:

The second story covers a new product from Iomega where we have for the first time an external SSD from a mainstream manufacturer. Price is at premium compared to the performance, but if you like the looks you’ll be willing to pay. It’s not bad speeds for reading and writing, but it’s not the best compared to the amount of money you’re paying. And why do they still use a 2.5″ external case if it’s internally a 1.8″ drive? Couldn’t they shrink it down to the old Firefly HDD size from back in the day? It should be the smaller.

macintosh navigation technology wintel

Blog U.: Augmented Reality and the Layar Reality Browser

I remember when I first saw the Verizon Wireless commercial featuring the Layar Reality Browser. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie. When my student web coordinator came in to the office with her iPhone, I asked her if she had ever heard of “Layar.” She had not heard of it so we downloaded it from the App Store. I was amazed at how the app used the phone’s camera, GPS and Internet access to create a virtual layer of information over the image being displayed by the phone. It was my first experience with an augmented reality application.

via Blog U.: Augmented Reality and the Layar Reality Browser – Student Affairs and Technology – Inside Higher Ed.

It’s nice to know Layar is getting some wider exposure. When I first wrote about it last year, the smartphone market was still somewhat small. And Layar was targeting phones that already had GPS built-in which the Apple iPhone wasn’t quite ready to allow access to in its development tools. Now the iPhone and Droid are willing participants in this burgeoning era of Augmented Reality.

The video in the article is from Droid and does a WAY better job than any of the fanboy websites for the Layar application. Hopefully real world performance is as good as it appears in the video. And I’m pretty sure the software company that makes it has continuously been updating it since it was first on the iPhone a year ago. Given the recent release of the iPhone 4 and it’s performance enhancements, I have a feeling Layar would be a cool, cool app to try out and explore.

macintosh technology wintel

Seagate unveils first-ever 3TB external drive | Electronista

Seagate is selling the drive today for $250. Cables to add new interfaces or support vary from $20 to $50. Internal drives are expected in the future but may wait until more systems can properly boot; using a larger than 2.1TB disk as a boot drive requires EFI firmware that most Windows PCs don’t have.

via Seagate unveils first-ever 3TB external drive | Electronista.

No doubt the internal version known as Constellation is still to be released. And take note EFI or Extensible Firmware Interface is the one thing differentiating Mac desktops from the large mass of Wintel desktops now on the market. Dell, HP, IBM, Acer, Asus, etc. are all wedded still to the old Intel BIOS based motherboard architecture. Mac along adopted EFI and has used it consistently since it first adopted Intel chips for its computer products. Now the necessity of EFI is becoming embarrassingly clear. Especially for the gamer fanboys out there who must have the largest hard drives on the market. Considering the size of these drives it’s amazing to think you could pack 4 of these into a Mac Pro desktop, and get 12TB of storage all internally connected.

Regarding the internals of the drive itself. Some speculation in this article included a suggestion that this hard drive used 4 platters total to reach 3GB of storage. Computing how many GBytes per platter this would require puts the density at 750 Gbytes/platter. This would mark a significant increase over the more common 640Gbytes/platter in currently shipping. In fact in a follow-up to this original announcement yesterday Seagate has announced it is using a total of 5 platters in this external hard drive. Which computes to 600 Gbytes/platter which is more inline with currently shipping single platter drives and even slightly less dense the the 640 GByte drives that are at the top of the storage density scale.

macintosh technology

Apple admits to eating ‘iPad chip designer’ • The Register

Last year, Samsung told the world it had teamed with Instrinsity on a 1GHz ARM chip known as the Hummingbird, and Samsung manufactures the ARM chips underpinning the Apple iPhone, a smaller version of the iPad. This has led many to assume that the Hummingbird architecture is the basis for the the A4.

via Apple admits to eating ‘iPad chip designer’ • The Register.

I am sure that Apple’s ability to act quickly and independently helped win them not just design expertise, but an actual nearly finished CPU in the form of the Hummingbird project. There does now seem to be a smartphone Megahertz War similar to the bad old days of desktop computing when AMD and Intel fought it out 1 gigahertz at a time. We will see what comes of this when the new iPhones come out this Summer. A4 may not translate into a handheld cpu form factor. But looking at the iFixit teardown of the iPad makes me think the iPad motherboard is almost the size of a cell phone! So who knows, maybe A4 is scalable down to iPhone as well. We’ll find out in June I’m sure when Apple hosts its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, CA.

macintosh technology wired culture

Genius Inventor Alan Kay Reveals All then gets stiffed by the App Store

I wonder: Is there an opportunity for Alan Kay’s Dynabook? An iPad with a Sqeak implementation that enables any user to write his or her own applications, rather than resorting to purchasing an app?

via Did Steve Jobs Steal The iPad? Genius Inventor Alan Kay Reveals All. (source: 6:20 PM – April 17, 2010 by Wolfgang Gruener, Tom’s Hardware)

Apple earlier this month instituted a new rule that also effectively blocks meta-platforms: clause 3.3.1, which stipulates that iPhone apps may only be made using Apple-approved programming languages. Many have speculated that the main target of the new rule was Adobe, whose CS5 software, released last week, includes a feature to easily convert Flash-coded software into native iPhone apps.

Some critics expressed concern that beyond attacking Adobe, Apple’s policies would result in collateral damage potentially stifling innovation in the App Store. Scratch appears to be a victim despite its tie to Jobs’ old friend.

Apple Rejects Kid-Friendly Programming App (April 20, 2010 2:15 pm)

What a difference 3 days makes right? Tom’s Hardware did a great retrospective on the ‘originality’ of the iPad and learned a heck of a lot of Computer History along the way. At the end of the article they plug Alan Kay’s Squeak based programming environment called Scratch. It is a free application that is used to create new graphical programs and is used as a means to teach mathematics problem-solving through writing programs in Scratch. The iPad was the next logical step in the distribution of the program, giving kids free access to it whenever and on whatever platform was available. But two days later, the announcement came out the Apple App Store, the only venue by which to purchase or even download software onto the iPhone or the iPad had roundly reject Scratch. The App Store will not allow it to be downloaded and that’s the end of that. The reasoning is Scratch (which is really a programming tool) has an interpreter built-in which allows it to execute the programs written within its programming environment. Java does this, Adobe Flash does this, it’s common with anything that’s like a programming tool. But Apple has forbidden anything that looks, sounds, or smells like a potential way of hijacking or hacking into their devices. So Scratch and Adobe Flash are now both forbidden to run on the Apple iPad. How quickly things change don’t they especially if you read the whole Tom’s Hardware article. Alan Kay and Steve Jobs are presented as really friendly towards one another.

computers macintosh technology

AppleInsider | Inside the iPad: Apples A4 processor

Another report, appearing in The New York Times in February, stated that Apple, Nvidia and Qualcomm were all working to develop their own ARM-based chips before noting that “it can cost these companies about $1 billion to create a smartphone chip from scratch.” Developing an SoC based on licensed ARM designs is not “creating a chip from scratch,” and does not cost $1 billion, but the article set off a flurry of reports that said Apple has spent $1 billion on the A4.

via AppleInsider | Inside the iPad: Apples A4 processor.

Thankyou AppleInsider for trying to set the record straight. I doubted the veracity of the NYTimes article when I saw that $1Billion figure thrown around (seems more like the price of a Intel chip development project which is usually from scratch). And knowing now from this article here (link to PA Semi historical account), that PA Semi made a laptop version of a dual core G5 chip, leads me to believe power savings is something they would be brilliant at engineering solutions for (G5 was a heat monster, meaning electrical power use was large). P.A. Semi was going to made the G5 power efficient enough to fit into a laptop and they did it, but Apple had already migrated to Intel chips for its laptops.

Intrinsity + P.A. Semiconductor  + Apple = A4. Learning that Intrinsity is an ARM developer knits a nice neat picture of a team of chip designers, QA folks and validation folks who would all team up to make the A4 a resounding success. No truer mark of accomplishment can be shown for this effort than Walt Mossberg and David Pogue stating in reviews of the iPad yesterday they both got over 10 hours of run time from their iPads. Kudos to Apple, you may not have made a unique chip but you sure as hell made a well optimized one. Score, score, score.

macintosh media wired culture

iPad release imminent – caveat emptor

Apropos to the big Easter Weekend, Apple is releasing the iPad to the U.S. market. David Pogue from the NYTimes has done two reviews in one. Rather than anger his technophile readers or alienate his average readers he gave each audience his own review of a real hands-on iPad. Where’s Walt Mossberg on this topic? (Walt likes it) Pogue more or less says lack of a physical keyboard is a showstopper for many. Instead, users who need a keyboard need to get a laptop of some sort. Otherwise for what it accomplishes through finger gestures and software design the iPad is a pretty incredible end user experience. Whether or not your personality, demeanor is compatible with the iPad is up for debate. But try before you buy, hand-on will tell you much more than doing a web order and hoping for the best. And given the price, it’s a wise choice. Walt Mossberg too feels you had better actually try to use it before you buy. It is in his own words, not like any other computer but in a different class all its own. So don’t trust other people to tell you whether or not it will work for you.

One thing David Pogue is also very enthused by is the data plan seems less onerous than the first and second generation iPhone contracts with AT&T. The dam is about to burst on mandatory data plans, and in the iPad universe you can subscribe and lapse, re-subscribe lapse again depending on your needs. So don’t pay for a long term contract if you don’t need it. That addresses a long-standing problem I have had with the iPhone as it is currently marketed by Apple and AT&T. Battery life is another big upshot. The review models that Mossberg and Pogue used had ‘longer’, read that again LONGER run times than stated by Apple. Both guys tried doing real heavy network and video playback on the devices and went over the 10hr. battery life claimed by Apple. Score a big win for the iPad in that category.

Lastly Pogue hinted at maps looking and feeling like real maps on the bigger display. Mossberg points out the hardware isn’t what’s really important. No, it’s what’s going to show up on the AppStore specifically for the iPad. I think I’ve heard a few M.I.T. types say this before. It’s unimportant what it does. The question is what ‘else’ does it do. And that ‘else’ is the software developer’s coin of the realm. Without developers these products have no legs, no markets outside of the loyal fan base. What may come, no one can tell but it will be interesting times for the iPad owners that’s for sure.