Thanks, Mazda!

So, the 2010 MazdaSPEED3 was recently revealed; pics can be found at AutoBlog and possibly elsewhere.

I’d like to take this opportunity to send out a hearty wave of gratitude to Mazda for this one. Why? Because I bought a MazdaSPEED3 late last summer. Of course, one of the things one worries about when blowing a big chunk of change on something like that is “will I regret this when the next model comes out in a year?”

Problem solved.

Look, I’m not under the illusion that my Lightning (that’s my 3’s name) is the most attractive car on the road—though it’s not bad—but that new thing is… hideous. The grinning mug looks bad enough on the regular 3, but the hood scoop and extra wavy plastic just magnify the awful. Nor do I like the bug-eyed back. I do like the dual exhausts, and the rims, though. The new interior is a wash; some bits look a little better, some look a little worse. But the grinning front, man, what were they thinking? Apparently, it was “let’s make the current owners happy about their decision.” OK, then, thanks!

AppleTV thoughts

I know I’m behind the curve, but oh well. A while ago Apple asked for feedback about the AppleTV and what Apple could do to make it better. Having owned a AppleTV for a while, I have some thoughts on this as well. I want to divide this into a few different categories:

[1] Things that don’t require changes to the hardware (I think), and therefore should be easy:

• Greater control over sync order. Apple allows users to say they want photos sync’d first, but there’s no way to specify the priority for other media. I’d like to be able to prioritize photos, then music, then TV shows, then movies. This should not be hard.

• Re-organize menus. In particular, it’s very annoying that “My Music” and “My Movies” are the last menu items in their respective categories, since I want those items over 90% of the time. This is obviously a lame UI stunt to have users rent/buy more stuff from the iTunes store whenever they use their AppleTV. It doesn’t work; in fact, it makes me less likely to buy because I’m annoyed by the transparent motive of this asinine choice. This kind of “annoy the user into buying more stuff” approach is very Microsoft—Apple, it’s not your style, cut it out.

• Better remote support. The Apple remote is cute and all, but the small number of buttons makes it really limited. Some of us have universal remotes with many buttons and it would be nice to be able to take advantage of those buttons. Yes, I know, the “Remote” program on my iPhone solves this problem, but sometimes I’m not home and I’m not buying an iPod Touch just to be a decent remote for the AppleTV when I’m not home. In particular, if people could use the number pad on the remote to enter text, that would be about a million times better than the current horrible text entry setup.

[2] Things that maybe require hardware changes:

• Support 720p HD at 30 fps. I know this may seem esoteric, but it’s really not. New solid state mini camcorders (e.g., the Flip HD and the Kodak Zi6) shoot 720p at 30 fps. This means one cannot view the raw video off of one of these devices on the AppleTV, even though it has the right codecs. One either has to drop the framerate down to 24fps or re-size the video to something smaller so that it’ll play on the AppleTV. This is just plain annoying.

• Enable the USB port for attaching an external hard drive. Yes, I know, Apple’s has a great scam going by charging like $100 for a mere 120 GB. But right now $100 buys you about 1 TB of storage; Apple is now off by about an order of magnitude. Apple, just suck up the loss of income from the few people willing to pay for the upgrade. You will get a lot more interest in the AppleTV if it can act as a home media server—that would be a brilliant product—and to do that, it needs to have a lot of storage at its disposal. Let us attach external hard disks!

See, this is a nice, short, modest list. There are lots of people clamoring for things which require completely re-engineering the hardware (e.g., make it a blu-ray player, make it a DVR), but I’m trying to stay away from those. That’s a total overhaul and I think would make it a fundamentally different product. I also suspect Apple doesn’t want to enter those markets (yet).

The other big thing I’ve read people on the Web asking for is support for other networked services like Netflix/Amazon/Hulu. Frankly, I don’t think Apple has any inclination to do anything that will so obviously cut into the AppleTV as a sales vehicle for the iTunes store. I would personally love Netflix integration, sure, but I won’t hold my breath on that one. That’d be like asking Microsoft to make iPod accessories—it just isn’t going to happen.

I think the changes I’m asking for are much milder but would still dramatically improve the user experience.