The venerable iPhone 4

SE M600i. photo courtesy welectronics.com

This summer, it was 5 years ago I pre-ordered the Apple iPhone 4. Back then, I was really excited to get my hands on my first real smartphone; the Sony Ericsson M600i I had then had a lovely keyboard but could hardly be counted as a smartphone. I had had it for only about two years, but it had already lost all paint on the sides and it was sometimes dropping calls. To be able to listen to music properly I had to solder my own jackplug adapter.

When it was introduced, I knew. The screen resolution of the iPhone 4 was quadruple the resolution of its predecessor. It was faster, built with a seamless glass back and front with stainless steel sandwiched in between. It could install apps and had the smoothest user experience of any product I had ever owned. It felt awesome. It was awesome. I needed one.

Want

While growing up, I had always wanted the newest, shiniest gadgets. Teachers thought I was dealing drugs in high school because I bought a second-generation iPod (10 gigabytes!) for about €600 (second hand!). I was always hacking products and breaking them in the process. If something newer came along, the old product was just shifted to my sister, and that shift was part of the reasoning behind why it was good to get the new one. Mobile phones generally lasted about a year this way, and the pace was accelerating.

Fast forward to 2015 and I’m still in love with my iPhone 4. It’s aged gracefully, despite some minor issues. The glass is almost impeccable. The stainless steel has some wear marks but is mostly like it just came out of the box. Overall, the product has aged like a leather bag; it became more beautiful by using it, not less. I’m generally pretty considerate with my possessions, but a mobile phone has to endure abuse like nothing else. I drop it occasionally. I cycle with it in the rain.

iPhone 4 Home Button; Conformal coating is the transparent blobs over the components at the bottom. Photo courtesy sperry.com.tw

This story is an homage to how incredibly durable the Apple iPhone 4 is.
It’s technically durable; I haven’t had to replace the battery, none of the critical systems failed (probably due to conformal coating every part of circuit boards that have a reasonable amount of exposure to moisture). The glass hasn’t shattered. It hasn’t bent. The jackplug is still working. I’ve replaced the power and home buttons, but that’s it. Consider any MP3 player; some of their jackplugs only lasted half a year.

User Experience durability

It’s also what I call “UX-durable”: the whole user experience (hardware, software, ecosystem) of my iPhone 4 is comparable to what I’d get if I shelled out €800 for a new iPhone 6. It can run the same apps. It has the same level of attention to physical design. I even think it looks and feels better. Because of its minimalist design, it doesn’t look outdated. The screen resolution (not the size) is exactly the same as a new phone. Yes, the iPhone 6 can make panoramic pictures. And high-speed video. And it has Siri. I don’t care. I can use Spotify, public transport planning and all the other apps I care about, with hardware that (at the replacement rate I had before this product) is ±3 generations old. It’s still reasonably snappy, too. Imagine installing Windows 7 on a laptop that had Windows XP installed when you bought it.

Even more important: the iPhone 4 I have now is much, much better that the iPhone I received 5 years ago. Back then, I had to manually sync calenders, contacts and content by plugging in a cable. It didn’t have Facetime. Spotify was barely known outside of Sweden. iMessage didn’t exist. Whatsapp was still in private beta. There were dedicated apps for using the LED flash as a torch (okay, this is something Apple should have included from the start). My point is; over the years, my phone has gotten incrementally more sophisticated and valuable, even though, in economic terms, it’s way past it’s due date. Had I gotten an Android phone back then, I would be stuck in “Froyo” (2.2), a version that most developers (and certainly hardware manufacturers) stopped supporting years ago.

Smartphones were the first consumer products that exposed people to this possibility. When you buy a microwave, it doesn’t get any better next year. It might, in the future. But not today. Users will be starting to expect similar “incremental feature upgrades” from different products as well. Smart TV’s are gradually following, but most manufacturers stop pushing updates after a few months, leaving users with hardware that could perform much better. Or worse; it could be left with serious security issues.

3D-printers are a nice example as well, by the way. The first-gen Ultimaker I bought a long time ago is a very different printer from the one I have now. Apart from the hardware hacks (heated bed, better extruder, autonomous printing, silent stepper drivers, etc.) the software has seen marvellous upgrades. The whole experience is just so much better. Slicing a large part with the software it shipped with could take hours. Now, I can’t load a model that takes more than 10 seconds to prepare for printing. The same €1900 printer, becoming better over time – not worse.

Consider the Stratasys Dimension SST1200 we had at the Fab Lab. A €35.000 printer, requiring a €2.000/year plan just to get software updates that tended to be even buggier than the last version. Eventually, that printer crapped out with indecipherable error messages and the manufacturer not wanting to fix it. AFAIK, it’s still gathering dust. Back then, I put the problem on closed vs. open source, but that’s not necessarily the problem. Open sourcing software can help, but it’s not the only option.

Planned hardware obsolescence through software

We all know resources are running out. It’s time for hardware manufacturers to start designing and developing electronic products with longevity in mind. Software isn’t just a part of this; it’s possibly the most important. Especially for products like smartphones, smart TV’s and any screen size in between which is, at the end of the day, a slab of screen running software. And good software can only be developed and maintained when there’s a board-level interest in high-quality, modular, serviceable, secure code, ecosystems and architectures. It’s understandable that firms like Samsung stop pushing software updates to hardware they sold only a few financial quarters ago; the freelance teams of developers hired to quickly and cheaply hack an interface on top of Android are long gone by then.

But users will come to expect more from brands. Having to buy a whole new slab of very similar screen in two years just because the software driving it can run the next new streaming content provider after Netflix is not going to be acceptable. The same goes for tablets. And thermostats. And microwaves. Anything running software can and should get incrementally better over time.

TL;DR If it’s connected, it should become better. Users will come to expect incremental (software) feature upgrades in more products than just smartphones and tablets. That way, they can use their products more sustainably. Any company not following the example Apple is setting with – for example – the iPhone is in danger of losing customers in the long term.

Drone Dreams

The Idea

The idea of designing and building a drone for myself was in my head for quite a while, after a got a internship at Gregor van Egdom I got the opportunity of actually making this happen.

 

The drones purpose

 

The ideal drone for me has to be a camera drone because I’m a camera enthusiastic. So my drone has to be a film/photography purpose because of that and has to stay within my budget (around €500,-)

 

The requirements

 

I started with a couple of demands for my drone:

  • Frame has to be sturdy
  • Can lift a camera with gimbal with a weight of 1000 grams total
  • Needs to fly at least 5 minutes
  • Programmable quad computer
  • GPS flying
  • Form follows function

Introducing: Sjors!

Sjors van OsSince last week, Sjors van Os has been doing his internship for Industrial Design Engineering at my studio. During his internship, he will regularly blog about the things he’s building and what he’s learned. Since it’s been very quiet on the blog, I hope he will bring some nice stories 🙂 He’s currently building a setup which uses a Wiimote to control a camera pan-tilt-system.

TI EasyScale protocol Arduino hack

Today, I worked on getting the TPS61160 boost LED-driver from Texas Instruments to work. This tiny chip allows you to drive up to 8 LED’s in series from a single LiPo cell. It allows dimming through PWM, but also understands a proprietary protocol called EasyScale. Since there was no example code online anywhere, I decided to hack this together from the datasheet. Since someone else might be interested in this as well, here is the code:

IMG_4623

Common Math Equations for Science and Engineering

Once in a while you run into a problem that needs a little math. Today I was working on interpreting a signal from a proprietary interface board, which sends out a pulse, of which the length depended on “x”. However, the relation of x and the pulse length was not linear. It looked like a logarithmical relation, or was it something else?
I Google’d “common math equations”, “math curves” etc. but nothing turned up. What I was looking for, was something like this:

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 13.13.36

So I decided to make it and share it with the rest of the world. I hereby release it under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Feel free to remix!

Download as PDF

Subsidies 2010 in Excel-sheet

Altijd al eens willen weten wie er allemaal subsidie krijgen en hoeveel? Iemand anders heeft verschillende WOB-verzoeken aan de rijksoverheid gestuurd voor een overzicht van de toegekende subsidies, per ontvanger en per subsidieregeling. Natuurlijk krijg je zo’n lijst niet netjes aangeleverd; het is een platgeslagen PDF van bijna 500(!) pagina’s waar je niets mee kan. Om een beetje onderzoek mogelijk te maken (Zoek je een baan? Deze bedrijven en instellingen hebben het geld 😛 Zoek je fraudeurs? Gewoon nieuwsgierig?) hierbij een machine-readable versie van het document als Excel-sheet of CSV.

bijlage-wob-verzoek-overzicht-gecommitteerde-subsidiebedragen-naar-regeling-en-begunstigde-2010

bijlage-wob-verzoek-overzicht-gecommitteerde-subsidiebedragen-naar-regeling-en-begunstigde-2010

Wellicht dat ik hier ooit nog een mooie visualisatie of datamining-tool van maak. In de tussentijd: happy mining!

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 12.56.20

$800 Chinese eBay-laser cutter still working!

Below is an e-mail conversation that I though might be interesting for other people as well 🙂

Hey Michael,

Holy shit. Since 2011? Time moves fast! Other than the problems outlined in the blogposts, I’ve been surprised by the little machine. YMMV 😉
No mayor break-downs, however I have noticed a lower laser power lately (can still cut through PMMA and wood with quite some speed though), and I’ve changed the control to LAOS-laser, which has really simplified my workflow. In stead of having:
– Illustrator (mac)
– Corel draw (win)
– Moshi draw (win, cannot be virtual machine)

I now have:
– Illustrator (mac)
– Visicut (mac)

… and am able to do engraving (with quite some resolution) and cutting in one go. So that’s a nice upgrade.

Also be advised that the machine comes with a really crappy exhaust fan which burned out after an hour with me. Since most cutting operations create quite some fumes, you’ll want to have a powerful suction system before you start using the system for production. Also these machines come without a usable water cooling system, air assist and cutting bed/surface. So you’ll have to tinker something for this as well.

Bottom line: I’ve worked with lasers worth 10-20x this machine (Epilog 24, some other German brands) which also had problems. The results (parts) are the same. The original tube, lenses, mirrors, control, motors and mechanics are still going strong. Between my mill, 3D-printer and the laser, this is the machine I use most often, by far. Very little start-up time, no trouble fixing your workpiece etc.
As for bang/buck this is awesome, but only if you have some experience with electrical engineering / laser cutting / mechanical design / laser safety etc. If you don’t feel comfy around a machine that just keeps going when you open the door and stick in your hands, don’t go with this 🙂

Best regards,

Gregor van Egdom
On 8 nov 2013, at 17:04, Michael Martinez wrote:

Hey! Hello, Hola! You are fast!

I really want a laser cutter, but the brand name ones are out of my price range. I’ve been looking at the Chinese versions on Ebay for months, but I am leery of spending $800 on a broken box.

I read your blog, and saw that you had one since 2011. Does it still work? have you had any major problems?

I appreciate your time!

 

 

Update 16-4-2018: I came across this software that might be interesting for people running the normal hardware: http://www.scorchworks.com/K40whisperer/k40whisperer.html

And yes, it’s still working!