Archive for the ‘Mac News’ Category

Looking Before You Leap

January 3rd, 2012 3 comments

My iPad (first generation) has been more or less disabled by Apple. How? Because I upgraded to iOS 5, thinking that because I had not heard any horror stories about the upgrade on various sites, it must be OK.

Huge mistake. If you have a first-generation iPad, DO NOT upgrade to iOS 5.

Apple should be ashamed of itself for allowing iOS 5 to be approved for the iPad 1, considering how they will easily disallow upgrades on devices whenever they feel the user experience is not supportable with new software. How they felt that the iPad 1 could work under iOS 5 is completely beyond me.

It’s mostly a matter of RAM memory. Using iOS 4, I could count on about half of the iPad’s 256 MB of RAM to be free upon a restart. This would often dwindle, especially when I used memory-intensive apps like Civilization Revolution. I noted that if free memory got down to below 10 MB, any app I used would be likely to crash.

After “upgrading” to iOS 5, primarily because I wanted to use iCloud with all my other devices (Apple’s syncing with all prior software sucked big-time), I started installing stuff–and began to notice that apps would start crashing all the time. I checked the free memory and found it to be below 10 MB. I tried restarting, and it jumped to about 30 MB–only to fall to 15 MB in a few seconds, and fluctuated below 10 MB regularly.

I tried a new restore–same problem. I restored again, this time as a new iPad–same problem. I checked out various web sites and Apple discussions, and people claimed it was just the restore that would fix it. But then I stumbled across the correct answer, finding the culprit which was causing most of the grief.

iCloud. Yep, the app which was pretty much the only reason I upgraded was the one which essentially wiped out the iPad’s memory and made the device completely unusable. This was not something wrong with my iPad or mys settings. This was Apple’s recommended basic setup.

15 MB of free RAM after a basic startup is ludicrous. What the fuck was Apple thinking?

So I restored once again and this time didn’t activate iCloud, and sure enough, memory cleared up–somewhat. Now I’ll have as much as 60 MB of memory free upon startup–only half of what there was before–but now the damned thing at least will not crash all the time. I suspect that I won’t be able to use many of the apps I took for granted before, and as such will have a half-lobotomized iPad.

I intend to complain, loudly, to Apple and insist they do more than tell me that I’m screwed. Not that it will get me anywhere, but customers have to give companies grief if they pull crap like this.

Categories: iPad, Mac News Tags:

Jobs Resigns… Sort Of

August 25th, 2011 7 comments
Well, it happened:

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.


Surprisingly, Apple stock only fell about 20 points–but then again, Jobs has been on so many medical leaves, is staying on as director and “employee,” and Tim Cook has a good track record, so I guess this is being taken as a very gentle roll instead of the bottom dropping out. Also, what with the iPad and iPhone going so strong, it’s kind of hard to be bearish about Apple anyway. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Jobs has done a pretty good job over the past 13 or so years imprinting his style on Apple’s corporate culture.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

The App Store and Retailers

June 12th, 2011 1 comment

Computerworld, as usual not seeing the whole picture:

Apple’s decision to sell the Mac OS X Lion upgrade through its own Mac App Store won’t hurt the company’s bottom line but will certainly impact traditional retailers, a market analyst said Friday.

“The Best Buys, the Staples, the PC Connections, they all still have a decent Mac software business,” said Stephen Baker of retail research firm NPD Group. “This will have an impact on all those guys. [The release of an OS upgrade] is always a good opportunity for them to connect to customers, get them into the store and thinking about upgrading their devices.”

That may be, but the real impact of Lion’s upgrade mechanism will be that it forces Apple users to use the App Store at all–something which many are doubtlessly avoiding as they hang on to traditional outlets. Once they are forced to use the App Store to download Lion, they may start looking around, could start finding some good deals, and might recognize that the App Store is a handy one-stop method of buying apps, as well as the later realization that it keeps them up-to-date on upgrades. If they also start seeing lower prices in general, they may start doing what shoppers did when firms like Amazon and Netflix swept them away–rarely if ever going to a brick-and-mortar store to buy media again. Apple started encroaching on the retail market with their own brick-and-mortar stores, now they are simply taking the next logical step–for Apple.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for consumers? Depends on who you ask. The App Store does tend to be a convenience, and can help you find lower prices (perhaps because of its DRM nature). But what about competition? Well, frankly, there’s less of that in the Mac world. Especially with Apple’s stuff–they tend to control prices pretty firmly. There is probably a lot less comparison-shopping out there for Apple stuff than there is for PC stuff. One rather unfortunate side of the Apple world is that sellers assume that Apple users will pay higher prices for everything. I see this in Japan; stores like Labi, for instance, charge way more for Apple gear, despite it being essentially that same stuff as PCs use.

I think the argument could be made that Apple, despite its reputation for premium price tags, is actually saving consumers more–especially when it comes to stuff Apple doesn’t make. They made it a lot cheaper to buy music, no doubt about that–you usually don’t have to buy an album to get the one or two songs you want anymore, and albums themselves are now a lot cheaper digitally. And they made software cheaper with the App Store, especially on mobile platforms. And while some Apple stuff can be pricey, Apple does have its bargains. The iPad was certainly priced to move. And Apple’s office suite traditionally cost only $99, which may have led Microsoft to price their own suite down to a similar level–except now, in the App Store, the suite can be had for $60. And the OS upgrade for Apple, which previously was $130 and cheaper than Microsoft even then, is now $30, as we discover that Snow Leopard was not just an aberration. Let’s see Microsoft match that. I have a feeling that if they priced Windows Ultimate at $50 and MS Office at $75, they might not have as good a profit margin. Apple gets away with it because their profits are driven by hardware; Microsoft doesn’t have that cushion.

The only thing we can be sure of is that Apple will continue to try to slowly rake more and more business its way. Whether it will gain enough market share to let it charge more, or start charging more when it is able, is anyone’s guess. While certainly an outfit bent on making large profits, Apple is clearly not a consumer advocacy organization–but they do seem better at paying attention to customer needs than Microsoft.


June 7th, 2011 1 comment

Well, no touch-screen Macs. Could come in the future, though–they tend to limit the keynotes to fill 2 hours, no more, and this one was full.

Lion, a full OS upgrade, for $30, for up to 5 machines. I’d love to see Microsoft match that.

MobileMe now defunct. Um, do I get a prorated refund?

Looks like there are so many smaller features to both OS X and iOS geared towards the general user experience, it’ll take a while to digest it all. Autosave, Versions, and Resume should make using apps a smoother experience. The Cloud for photos could be a nice way to collect and sift/sort through photos–depends on how they set it up and how flexible it is.

Too much for this late….

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Touchscreen iMac?

May 29th, 2011 2 comments

As the June 6 WWDC nears, rumors are starting to quietly spread. One mentioned that international journalists are being “quietly” invited to the Keynote, and that this indicates that “something big” may be announced. Many believe that it’s Apple’s new cloud-based music subscription service. This doesn’t make sense to me, however. After all, the service would likely not be world-wide; instead–like most Apple media deals–it would probably start in the U.S. and then spread from there. So, if I may go for a long shot here, I have a feeling that the “something big” may be something else. Something that I have not heard rumored for this keynote.

One significant point about OS X Lion is how much it borrows from the iOS. The swiping-grid app screen, the new and understated scrolling, the full-screen “windowless” apps. All of these elements, built for a multi-touch OS, make a fair amount of sense on a laptop, which is equipped with a trackpad–but what about the desktop Macs? Sure, Apple might start bundling the “Magic Trackpad” with desktop Macs. However, they might also be planning to go one step further.

About nine months ago, an Apple patent application was uncovered, one which addressed a very significant drawback concerning multitouch and desktop computers. The patent idea was a special “flex base” design, which would allow the user to draw the screen from a standing position to something close to the top of the user’s desk, angling upward:


At the time, it wasn’t considered a likely thing to be released anytime soon; nobody knew about Lion, and Lion’s iOS underpinnings weren’t revealed until a few months later, when most people had forgotten about the patent. (After a targeted Google search, it appears a few people had not–though many seemed to look down on the idea.) I hadn’t thought about it myself–until I read the “something big” rumors a few days ago.

I find this idea more likely now for a few reasons. First, the mouse-controlled GUI is clearly on its way out; multi-touch is the next evolution in this regard. We’ve seen it slowly build on laptops with Apple’s increasingly larger and gesture-based trackpads, then with the Magic Trackpad, and in parallel with the iPhone and iPad.

Now, save for the oversized trackpad, Desktop computers don’t lend themselves to multi-touch. The screens are too far away from the user, and too high up. Just try holding your hands up to your screen for more than a few seconds and imagine doing that for hours. Clearly it wouldn’t work.

But bring the screen down so it’s closer to being a surface, and the game changes significantly. Look at this video from 2006 (YouTube version here), when Jeff Han gave a demo of multitouch at TED. Note the position of his screen, the angle relative to the user. Looks a lot like the flex-base Mac show in the upper-left corner of the patent image above, doesn’t it?

Now think about Mac OS X Lion, with its iOS features, and think about how awkward it might be on desktops–until you think of it being part of a flex-based 27-inch multitouch screen. Now, that would be something.

Add in the fact that Apple, in Lion, is adding small touches like the ability to re-size windows from any edge–before now, it has only been from the lower-right corner, and has been since the Mac OS came out in the 80’s. Why add that in Lion? It’s not a part of the iOS. But in the context of a multitouch desktop OS, it makes perfect sense. That’s something a person would probably feel is more natural when using their fingers. Even the Mission Control feature in Lion would be a lot more meaningful in multitouch than the current window-switching paradigm.

This could even eventually be a lead-in to completely re-designed laptops which could be like a larger version of an iPad–maybe a dual-screen laptop without a physical keyboard, or perhaps something completely new that makes more sense with a touch screen. Keep in mind that Jobs has never been shy about making big changes which redefine how we think about computers in general use. It would also be a body blow to Windows, which still does not have a multi-touch friendly OS, and might take years to develop its mobile platform into something that integrates well into the mainstream OS. Apple going multitouch across the board would set it ahead of the crowd just when Windows 7 is beginning to make that platform respectable again.

Like I said, this is a long-shot. However, it would qualify as “something big,” and would fit perfectly with Lion’s new orientation. I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t come, but having thought of it, I wouldn’t be too surprised if it does come, either.

In any case, I was relatively uninspired by Lion before this, and didn’t expect much from the WWDC. Maybe now I am expecting way too much. But I am eager to find out.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

And Here We Go Again

May 19th, 2011 Comments off

There seems no end to the stories in the tech media spouting the endless meme “Macs Are No Longer Safe.” In a story titled “Say goodbye to era of Mac malware immunity,” MSNBC’s tech reporter jumps on the bandwagon–with just as flimsy support as any of the other hacks who bought into the meme. The article begins:

Such is the predicament that Apple’s success has brought: Sophisticated malware has started to appear that’s directed specifically at Apple machines.

For years, security experts predicted that as Apple gained market share, cybercriminals would turn their attention from Windows machines toward Mac attacks. Now it appears to really be happening.

No, for years, security salesmen have been saying that hackers “really are” targeting the Mac, the firewall has broken, and Macs are no longer safe. Not “predicting,” but proclaiming. Here’s a sample from seven years ago, in October 2004:

The Apple community has, since its inception, been largely immune to nefarious hackers bent on spreading harm. If you are a Windows user, as I am, you know the routine. You complain about the latest spyware or virus attack, and Apple devotees respond with good-natured teasing–they don’t have worry about such nonsense. Well, now they do.

John Gruber from Daring Fireball listed samples of such stories ranging from that 2004 story to the present day–continuous stories about Mac security “finally” crumbling. And yet, here we find ourselves, barely changed from the days of the first false alarms. Today is little different; the MSNBC story is a jumble of tired scare tactics from people trying to sell anti-virus software, either bamboozling or bringing in on the scam a tech reporter who writes the story to make the issue seem a lot more serious than it actually is.

The story is based upon the most current threat from another trojan–maybe the third or the fourth ever made for the Mac–which doesn’t even really infect your computer. It’s more like an elaborate scam, except instead of emailing you about your eBay account expiring or your bank requiring a change in your status, it tries to trick users to install software which tries to get them to do the same thing by mimicking anti-virus software.

The thing is, this is malware only by the merit that it is software and wants to do something bad to you. But it is not what most would consider “malware,” in that it does not actually “infect” your computer. Instead, it completely bypasses security, using social engineering instead. It’s not a virus, it’s a scam.

This article, however, is even more misleading than most, as it then tries to imply that actual viruses are out there for the Mac, or at least iOS devices, and by extension, Mac OS X. Read this and tell me the author isn’t trying to imply that:

While Apple advocates have argued for years that Macs were inherently more secure, most experts say that the hackers simply follow the market.

So now there are viruses aimed at smartphones, for example, because tens of millions of them–tiny, powerful computers–are in use around the world.

Smartphones are also more attractive because they are constantly connected to the Internet. By the time an infection is discovered, the attackers have made their money with fraudulent charges and moved on.

Furthermore, because the computing world is no longer singularly dominated by Microsoft Windows, “we’re seeing more Web-based attacks that are platform agnostic,” said Zscaler’s Sutton.

That means fraudulent websites are designed to infect any computer that inadvertently visits the site, whether it be a Windows or Mac OS X computer running any of a half-dozen Web browsers.

The popularity of Apple’s iPhone and iPad has had a “halo effect” that attracts both consumers and criminals to the platform, so Mac owners should keep their browsers up to date and be more cautious.

After reading that badly-written garbage, the average reader will probably come away thinking that not only are iOS devices falling to viruses, but that your Mac can be infected merely by visiting a web site. If you follow the link, however, you find that the story is about Android viruses; in my own search, I was not able to find any legitimate reports of viruses for iOS. As for infection from visiting web sites, that is certainly not true. The web site danger comes from web sites which will initiate a download of a trojan–but not an infection.

While the threat may get as far as downloading and decompressing a trojan when you visit a malicious site, it still requires a user to be dumb enough to then approve the installation of the software and intentionally type in the administrative password. Even then, the trojan doesn’t exactly “infect” the Mac, but installs software which will make fake virus alerts pop up and then try to get the user to visit a malicious web site to buy fake software to get rid of the fake viruses. As far as I can tell, however, the trojan is just a standard app and can be gotten rid of simply by deleting the program file.

Ironically, these badly-written articles which are not much more than ads for Mac “security” software firms will only make more people susceptible. Believing that such virus attacks are possible, gullible users will be more prone to fall for the scam.

Ironically, the writer also uses dubious numbers to inflate the Mac’s market share–the opposite of what similar writers do when reporting only about market share–so as to make it appear that Macs have crossed the threshold that makes them attractive to hackers. The implied message is that the Mac OS is no more secure than Windows, and the only difference is the number of units in use–another longstanding canard. Just like the false impression that Macs are falling to “malware” in general, which in fact it is, so far, only trojans–which instead of defeating OS security, simply bypass it by tricking the user. If you buy an expensive home security system and then open the door for a criminal, it’s not a failure of the security system.

The only fact coming close to being actually relevant in this whole sham of a report lies in the fact that a Make-Your-Own-Trojan kit is being sold to scammers so they can use this method themselves. However, this is not an actual spread of malware, but just an indication that we might, at some future time, start seeing more trojans. But as far as I can tell, that’s it. Still no viruses, still no worms, still no threat other than the occasional social engineering scam that no OS could ever really protect against. And at that, these scams are very few in number.

Once again: the Mac in not invulnerable. It has no magical immunity. Someday, there undoubtedly will be viruses and worms for the Mac. However, we’re still not there yet.

In the meantime, the greatest threat is from stupid, alarmist articles like these.

Update: I have noted that many are reporting on the fact that the “MacDefender” trojan is becoming “widespread,” making this more of a game-changer. From what I can tell, that is true to a degree–this does seem to be more common a trojan than we have seen before–but still not a cause for general alarm. A calmly reasonable article on Wired says it very well:

Bott’s discovery renews this debate: A new piece of malware seems to be fooling more Mac customers than past examples. So does this change the scenario? Should Mac customers install anti-virus software by default like most Windows customers do?

Charlie Miller, a security researcher who has repeatedly won the annual Pwn2Own hacking contest by hacking Macs and iPhones, told he doesn’t think so.

Miller noted that Microsoft recently pointed out that 1 in 14 downloads on Windows are malicious. And the fact that there is just one piece of Mac malware being widely discussed illustrates how rare malware still is on the Mac platform, he said.

And while 200 posts complaining about Mac Defender in Apple’s support forums may seem like a lot, that’s still a small fraction of the millions of Mac customers in the world.

While Mac Defender does show that the problem is getting worse and people should be more wary about malware, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every Mac user today should rush to buy anti-virus software, Miller said.

Ultimately, it’s up to the customer because there’s a trade-off involved. Anti-virus software will help protect your system from being infected, but it’s expensive, uses system memory and reduces battery life.

The best thing to do is to set aside ego and ask yourself honestly: do you ever download and install software from untrustworthy sources? Do you not monitor reports of Mac malware on a regular basis so you may recognize these threats before they reach you? Are you tech-savvy enough to recognize the signs of a scam?

Allow these to guide you to make the right decision.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Being Popular Is Not a Monopoly

February 19th, 2011 1 comment

There are severe complaints against Apple regarding its new terms for magazine subscriptions:

The Justice Department and the FTC are both interested in examining whether Apple is running afoul of U.S. antitrust laws by funneling media companies’ customers into the payment system for its iTunes store—and taking a 30% cut, the people familiar with the situation said. The agencies both enforce federal antitrust laws and would have to decide which one of them would take the lead in the matter. …

Under Apple’s terms for the new service, companies that sell digital subscriptions to content on Apple devices would be required to make it available for sale through apps at the company’s iTunes App Store at the best available price.

Buying magazine or other subscriptions through the iTunes store would require just a few clicks and use billing details already on file, giving users an incentive to use Apple’s system. Apple would prohibit media companies’ apps from linking to stores outside its App Store or from offering better terms to subscribers elsewhere, making it difficult for them to attract buyers to their own sites. Legal experts say some of those rules could pose antitrust problems.

Banning apps from linking to external sites “sounds like a pretty aggressive position,” said Eric Goldman, director of Santa Clara University’s High Tech Law Institute. “It seems like that’s purely in the interests of Apple trying to restrict people doing transactions they don’t get a cut from.”

Sorry, but this sounds rather biased against Apple. For example, in that initial paragraph, the reference to a 30% cut is made to sound somewhat insidious: “a 30% cut, the people familiar with the situation said.” The writer is suggesting that the 30% cut is some dark secret, when it’s a very open policy of Apple to take 30% of all sales through its iOS stores.

Later in the article, the 30% commission is referred to as “excessive” and “obviously anticompetitive.” However, Apple is in the position of a retailer here, and retailers often take far more than 30%. It perhaps depends upon the industry–some retailers might mark up items by a few percent, but some do it by far more. Significantly, digital sales are new and so a new standard is being defined. This is really just the publishers whining and trying to strong-arm their way into defining standards to suit them best, using the claims of anti-competitiveness as a tool to accomplish this.

The fact that Apple is a retailer, and that the iOS platform is the equivalent of a store, makes most of the objections seem rather ridiculous. For example, the publishers complain that Apple is demanding the “best available price,” Of course Apple wants to be able to offer an item for sale at the best available price–it would be objectionable only if Apple demanded that they get to sell at a lower price than anywhere else. Asking for the same price as elsewhere is the opposite–Apple is demanding that it not be unfairly undercut by others.

As for Apple’s convenience, requiring just a few clicks, that’s not unfair either–it’s simply Apple’s efficient setup. Is a supermarket violating antitrust by having an express checkout lane, or a bank by using ATMs?

The stronger objection seems to be related to the rules prohibiting apps from linking to stores outside of Apple’s, but frankly, that’s another very understandable policy. Combined with the demand that Apple not be undersold elsewhere, effectively, that’s like a store not wanting to carry a product bearing an announcement that a buyer can get a lower price by walking to the competitor’s shop next door. Would Safeway carry a brand of milk which, on the carton, advertised that a customer could “Go to 7-11 and get a better price” for the exact same product?

One might argue that Safeway does sell magazines at newsstand prices and that the magazines, within the product, offer much lower subscription rates–but, ironically, that’s a different issue. Safeway is not trying to sell subscriptions, but rather the newsstand version–very different products. It’s like Safeway selling a carton of milk advertising a tour of a dairy farm, something Safeway would have no part of.

Apple is offering subscriptions, so the outgoing links are not for a qualitatively different sales method. Now, if Apple only offered one-shot sales and not subscriptions, that would be different, the objections might be valid, especially if the publisher were trying to sell at a lower price but Apple both refused any part of it and denied the publisher from advertising it. But as it is, Apple is not doing so, and is simply saying that it doesn’t want its own product used to steer customers away from its own store.

Many times I have seen similar claims against Apple–that it is monopolistic because it has high market share in some areas. Certainly there are grounds to grumble about how Apple is rather controlling and protective of its playground. However, a monopoly is not just when a company enjoys good sales, it is when a company abuses its market share to cut off the competition.

People point to Apple having huge market shares in music sales, phone sales, tablet sales, app sales, etc. However, when Apple enjoys having the lion’s share of the market in these cases, it is because Apple was the first to come out with a qualitatively new product well before anyone else, and maintained a popular brand image as well as an excellent if not superior design. That’s not being monopolistic. A monopoly is not when you get 99% of the sales, it’s when you get 99% of the sales by using your 85% market share to beat down others.

If Apple threatens music companies to cut off their sales unless those companies agree to unfair practices–like letting Apple have lower prices than anyone else, or prohibiting sales via other retailers–then that’s a fair claim of monopolistic practices. But if Apple simply says, let us have the same price as others and don’t use our store to steer customers away from us, that’s not an unfair demand. Nor does Apple having the biggest slice of the sales pie make it any more monopolistic.

Categories: Corporate World, Mac News Tags:


October 21st, 2010 6 comments

Well, I think we all saw this coming; I did, about eight months ago:

Expect Apple to eventually bring the Ecosystem culture from the mobile community to computing at large–either by bringing it to laptop and desktop computers, or by having mobile devices become primary computing machines. I doubt very much that they’ll want to stop with the iPad–this system is too good for them, if they can make it work.

And as we found out today with Apple’s presentation, that’s exactly where they’re headed, bringing iOS to the Desktop. Even with the hardware, which is leaning toward mobility–Jobs insisted that the MacBook Air is where the whole line is headed. Certainly, I no longer have to steer people away from the Air like I used to; it is far less about paying a premium for mere millimeter-shaving.

As for the OS, at least for now, it’ll be a hybrid system–allowing the closed-ecosystem App Store security, simplicity, and ease-of-use, but also keeping the more open, do-as-you-like, classic OS system where you’re free to play around with things.

How is this important? Well, as I teach my students in our Introduction to Computers class, the goal of a user interface is to make computers easier to use. That’s its #1 task. And one thing that you can say about the iOS interface, it’s dead simple. And with the new stuff, from the iLife programs to the new OS core features, the philosophy seems concrete and solidly adhered to: make it simple. Make it easy.

LaunchPad is a fantastic idea, long overdue. App launchers have been around since the Classic OS, I don’t know how far back. This one is both old (copied from the iPad and iPhone) and new (it’s a great new way to launch your Mac OS X apps). I am definitely going to be using that, arranging screens of apps–and may use my Dock a lot less, or at least clear a lot of the clutter that makes the icons so small. While it may seem so much like what we’ve seen before, it’ll prove to be a surprisingly new feel, with simple usability. I never use the Stacks pane view to select apps–LaunchPad will be much different, however reminiscent it is.

The App Store is going to do a lot, too. It’s just too easy and quick to ignore–and will help do for the Desktop what iOS did for mobile, which is to make it far easier for individual or small software publishers to create and market apps. Don’t be surprised if the Mac OS starts to leave the Windows OS in the dust in terms of new apps authored for its OS–one of the key advantages Windows has enjoyed for a very long time.

But you keep coming back to simplicity–like I said, the goal of any UI–and how easy it might be for all generations to use this. Yes, the complexity is still there (for now), but Lion looks like it’s going to bring the simple and sheltered experience to the Desktop in a way that grandma will find easier to deal with.

What’s more interesting is the shift toward windowless interfaces–full-screen presentation of apps that leaves switching around to the “Mission Control” conglomeration of current features for window switching, kind of a jazzed-up Exposé. This is not new–we’ve had full-screen reading views for quite a while–but now it’s becoming more prominent, and with bigger screens and better resolutions, more relevant as well. And instead of a side feature that some people may or may not use, it has become a direction.

Why is this interesting? Partially because it’s been rumored for some time now. Back in ’07, it was supposedly a possible feature of Leopard. And more than three years later, after almost everyone forgot about it, here it is–but just like the iPad grew on iPhone and iPod familiarity, so does Lion grow in all mobile familiarity. But, as stated in the previous paragraph, it’s a direction–and so you have to wonder, what’s the destination? Will Apple try to eventually close the laptop/desktop OS ecosystem as well?

One last word: what else? Well, I’m not betting on much. I hope there will be more, but what they presented would certainly qualify as the bread & butter of a new OS release. Jobs and others kept on insisting that these are “just a few of the many” new features, but I will not be surprised if we have seen at least half and maybe two-thirds of what most people will find significant about Lion. I am used to Apple going on about “hundreds” of features in a new OS when in fact there are maybe half a dozen that most people would really care about or be aware of.

Still, I could be surprised. Hopefully.

And oh yeah–how long before Microsoft copies a lot of this? Maybe a couple years, but you can bet good money that they will. With this, though, it’ll be harder to pretend that they were planning this all along.

One more thing: I am still long on Apple stock, but not as long as I was last week. After several years riding the roller coaster, I sold just over half my holdings. I did it Monday, when the stock was at $316. After the market closed, Apple released its earnings report, and the stock plummeted about $20 or so. It’s back up to $312 now, and I’m sure it’ll rise higher. I might sell the rest before the year is out and the capital gains tax rises to 20%, or not, depending on how things go. But I’m happy having bought in at about $92, and not as disappointed as I could be that I didn’t buy in much earlier, like I wanted to, but wussed out. In any case, I’ll be glad to finally be off that wild ride, investing the earnings in a down payment on a house. Thanks, Apple.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

…And the Kitchen Sink in Five Weeks

September 2nd, 2010 7 comments

At least, that’s what it seemed like. Apple released just about everything else left, after all the product releases so far this year. The iPod Shuffle, Nano, and Touch; iOS 4.1, and a look at 4.2 for the iPad; iTunes 10 with Ping; Apple TV completely reworked, and AirPlay.

The iPods, perhaps, had to be reworked to keep ahead of the iPhone’s shadow, and there’s some pretty cool stuff–a lot of it for people who don’t want the phone.

iTunes 10 looks OK, but really it’s all about Ping. It’s a question as to whether it will actually take off, but frankly, it looks like a no-brainer. Me, I’m not so centered on my music, and I tend to stay with what I’ve had for some time. But I can see a lot of people doing this, and more significantly, use it as an engine to sell music. Bands can use it to popularize their music, and for people who are really into music, it’ll be with them quite a lot. Will it come close to Facebook or Twitter? If anything can, it probably will.

Between these products, it’s not a far stretch to say that Apple is keeping a pretty solid lock on the hold they have on the market by now.

But the potentially big thing is Apple TV. I didn’t used to want it. Now I kinda do. It’s affordable enough, and looks so versatile about content that I’d love to be able to have it there. My only problem is that I live in Japan, which is a crummy place for video content, alas. But even with that–and so much of what the product does closed off to me–I’m still thinking about this.

This could be Apple’s chance to finally have their TV box take off.

FInally, just a quick word about Apple’s streaming webcast: I like it. Not perfect–at some points, it sputtered and blacked out for a minute at a time, but it gave a great picture, high quality, despite streaming live–Apple is doing some pretty nice things with video. It looked perfect in its 850 x 480 window, and almost as good full-screen. Below are some screen shots, displayed here at 500 pixels, but they’re full-screen (1440 x 900) screenshots; click to see the full images. And it’s late, so good night!





Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Mac News Tags:

Safari 5

June 10th, 2010 3 comments

Amongst the hullabaloo surrounding the iPhone and iOS4, not many people probably noticed the new version of Safari that Apple released in its wake. Safari 4 was less than impressive, focusing more on flashy graphics that caused more trouble than they were worth. I never like the “Top Sites” spread, it took too much time and told me nothing I didn’t know; other “improvements” were so unpopular that software was released to disable them. The top-heavy tabs were an instant failure, and I doubt many people used the cover flow feature in history or bookmarks. It was as if Apple took the uncharacteristic role of copier, trying to add features some people liked in Chrome or Firefox. At the time, I commented that “the feature I like most is the ability to easily uninstall it and have Safari 3 back.”

Well, now Safari 5 is out–and Apple is back in form, delivering some key new improvements in the right areas. Three new points stand out: Extensions, greater HTML5 support, and Reader.

First, Extensions. While this is a great feature, the real question is, what the hell took so long, Apple? It’s about time. Who knows, maybe there were security issues that had to be handled first. Whatever the case, the ability to add extensions made by third parties is just what Safari needs. Before you can use them, you have to enable them: go to the app’s Preferences, go to the “Advanced” tab, and click “Show Develop menu in menu bar.” Then, in the “Develop” menu, click on “Enable Extensions.”

Exten01Some extensions out immediately: Reload Button (puts the reload button back in the toolbar where it should be, rather than waaay out on the far side of the address bar, another Safari-4-ism I didn’t like); GMail Checker (an early version–frankly, I’m not too impressed; a mail button in your toolbar that shows a number badge for unread mail–but only if you’re logged in); Live CSS (allows you to edit the CSS properties for any open page in real time); and AdBlock (haven’t tried it, I have excellent blockers already). And more.

After only a few days, there are a surprising number of nice little extensions, and more are sure to follow. If you want an official list of good extensions, you’ll have to wait: Apple’s “Safari Extensions Gallery” will not be published until “later this summer.” But here’s a list of some of them available now. There are warnings, though, that downloading just any extension without checking it could be a risk; we’ll know more as time goes on.

Next, better HTML5 support. This helps developers build impressive web apps (MS Office Live, not so impressive), allowing for pretty nice effects for web sites to be added with relative ease. To get an idea of what’s possible, visit Apple’s HTML5 page, and look at some of the demos. HTML5 is more than just better than flash, it’s a pretty substantial leap forward. The main problem: most browsers don’t implement all of it, and of course, IE will likely remain incapable of properly rendering pages for years. As a result of the masses who use IE–the worst browser on the planet–simply because Microsoft spoon-feeds it to them, the best of HTML5 will be painfully left behind by most web developers for quite some time, just like CSS was sabotaged by IE6 dominance.

many newspaper sites will break stories into pages so as to increase the number of ads you see.

Finally, there is a feature that some are saying could change web browsing–for the better (for users) or for the worse (if you’re an advertiser). It’s called Reader. What it does is simple: it takes the text on your page and puts it up front, where it should be. All the formatting, all the ads, all the spinning, flashing, jumping animations fade into the background, leaving only the text, like a newspaper clipping. Better yet, if the story you’re reading has multiple pages (divisions intended to expose you to even more ads), those pages automatically load for you–no more clicking on 10 “next page” buttons to get through an article.

Reader-01This feature will not work on all web pages, however; Safari somehow realizes that you’re on a story page (as opposed to a page with an aggregate list of posts), and will only the offer up the “Reader” button at the right side of the address bar.

The story only stands out, giving a clear reading experience. The site’s artificial “page” breaks are rendered as small gaps. Photos were not included in the pages I tried, despite Apple’s site showing them included.

While this feature may be a bane to advertisers, I say let ’em fade to the background, until they learn to behave and not move around like hyperactive Parkinson’s sufferers doing the Mambo while on caffeine withdrawal. Apple even lets the ads load, perhaps making it hard for the site to tell if the ads are being shuffled to the background at all. The only down point here is that I am sure someone is working on a way to set up web pages so as to defeat this spiffy new feature.

One other great feature about Safari 5, one I have not heard anyone mention: it doesn’t disable all the add-ons you may have outfitted your copy of Safari with. That was a major annoyance of previous major Safari upgrades: you either had to abandon all of your add-ons for a while as their developers made them compatible, or else hold back from updating Safari. Not Safari 5–all the stuff I use for it now continues to work great. I use ClickToFlash to turn off annoying Flash ads (while leaving the potential to easily play the ones I want); Glims to add all kinds of functionality (I love the period-and-comma controls for navigating tabs, and the ability to recover previous open page sessions is useful as well–among the many, many features); and GlimmerBlocker, which does a pretty good job of blocking (for all browsers) all the non-Flash ads left over by ClickToFlash. All of these work just fine with Safari 5–a first, as far as I can recall, as the add-ons I used in the past always got knocked out of commission with each new major version of the browser.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Apple Rage

May 18th, 2010 3 comments

Thomas Fitzgerald makes a good point: there is way too much phony outrage against Apple. Every Apple announcement, it seems, receives a certain amount of obligatory scorn and accusations by people who see the corporation as an evil presence, conspiring to take over the world. The iPhone OS is closed! Apple is censoring people! Apple is a monopolistic giant! Apple is oppressive! Apple is pushing Chinese workers to suicide! Apple gouges people! And so on. iAds comes out, is eviscerated. The iPad is announced, and is eviscerated. The iPhone was announced, and was eviscerated.

It’s hard to tell if this is all the same crowd, but it is certainly a strong presence on the web. Sure, Apple has faults like every other company, and can be justly criticized on some things just like everyone else. But the criticisms are starting to become a knee-jerk reaction, usually single out Apple when problems are worse industry-wide, and sometimes take on the tinge of conspiracy theories.

The Foxconn suicide story is an excellent example. In July last year, a Foxconn employee committed suicide after losing an Apple prototype. Reportedly, Foxconn reacted abusively, supposedly contributing to the suicide. Apple was immediately blamed, the usual angle being their hyper-secretive policies about prototypes. But many companies closely guard prototypes; Foxconn is a contractor which does work for a number of tech companies, not a subsidiary of Apple; and there is no evidence that Apple played any part in Foxconn’s response to the incident, or had any influence, even indirectly.

Since then, there has been a lot of focus on Foxconn and suicides. Many are reporting a “cluster” of suicides, insinuating that Apple’s secretive nature is somehow linked to an oppressive work environment at the contractor. Note this Huffington Post article titled “Apple Supplier Foxconn Reports Eighth Suicide THIS YEAR,” with “THIS YEAR” in all caps, as if it is a shocking number. That sets the tone for the article, which, typical for articles like this, otherwise insinuates a shadowy, oppressive, iron-fisted horror chamber with Apple somehow tied in.

Terrible, right? Apple’s policies are killing these poor, oppressed workers, we’re led to believe. Except that, as stated above, Apple is just one of their clients; why put “Apple Supplier” at the start of the headline? And in fact, instead of the suicides being a sign of terrible stress, the opposite may actually be true. A few more responsible writers actually looked at the larger context and applied the Chinese national suicide rate–13.0 per 100,000 for men, 14.9 for women–and found that for the 300,000 workers at Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant, there should be between 39 and 43 suicides per year. So by now, by mid-year, we should have seen about 20 suicides at the plant so far. Instead there have been 8. In that context, one can hardly make an argument about workers being horribly oppressed.

In fact, Apple does better than most in the industry in terms of trying to fly straight. A few months ago, Apple released a report of its investigations into contractors who make parts for Apple. Apple had done an investigation to find unethical working conditions, and found some abuses. Too few companies make such inspections, and fewer still report them openly or do anything about them; Apple was acting very responsibly and openly by making this public, demonstrating a policy of suppressing such practices. So, what happened? Apple was vilified by reporters who claimed that Apple was responsible for the unethical practices, despite the fact that (a) Apple did not commit any of the wrongs, and (b) was in fact trying to stop them.

So, what’s the reason for the hate? Does it come from the die-hard Windows crowd, always trying to find a reason to fault a perceived nemesis? Is it a result of some in the media wanting to appear more “balanced,” so to counter the reports of cool gear and top-rated customer support, they look for ways to say bad stuff as well? Or does it simply come from the fact that Apple is now an industry giant with an encroaching monopoly in the mobile arena, and so is automatically judged as sinister? Or perhaps a combination of these and more.

As I mentioned above, Apple does bad stuff sometimes. They make poor hardware (mice) and software (Mail), they have predatory pricing practices (RAM chip allotment), and do other stuff which is worthy of criticism. But, just as it should be the case with Microsoft, let’s complain where there’s good reason, not on every single news release or hint of possible wrongdoing.

Just saying. And, this seems like an appropriate place to disclose that I own Apple stock.

Categories: Corporate World, Mac News Tags:

Ideas Apple Stole from Windows

March 6th, 2010 3 comments

Computerworld, known for their occasional slanted reporting, does it again in style when reporting on the “Top 10 features that Apple stole from Windows.” In fact, they just reprinted the list from an InfoWorld article from last October–but what makes it pretty pathetic is that they didn’t bother to fact-check what was roundly criticized as a badly-written article. I swear, there seems to be hardly any more editorial filtering any more.

The list provides a few solid cases of Apple swiping ideas from Microsoft, but some charges are backwards and others so bizarre as to be staggering. A quick overview:

1. Apple’s Finder Sidebar is really the Windows Navigation pane. This is mostly true. Tree Directories are a pretty old concept, going back to UNIX days. What Apple stole was the idea of putting a jump-to navigation area in a sidebar on the left side of file management (“Finder”) windows.

2. The Mac Path bar is a copy of the Windows Address bar. This is at best a stretch. Paths predate Windows, and Apple’s path display is not that much like Windows’. You can only say that Apple “copied” it because it put the information in a file management window. But such a window is the only logical place for such a feature, and Apple varied from Windows about as much as one can imagine in what is essentially a classic OS element. It would be like saying that this year’s Toyotas stole from last year’s Hondas by putting handles on the car door.

3. Apple copied Windows’ Back and Forward navigation buttons in its folder windows. Um, no. Windows took that from its own Internet Explorer, which brazenly stole them from Netscape Navigator, which got the idea from the original hyperlink software. It’s an idea that goes way back. Microsoft put that feature into its OS as part of integrating the browser so deeply that it could not be separated, and in so doing killing off the competition in a rather illegal manner. Not to mention, back and forward buttons are a pretty dead-basic concept.

4. Apple minimizes a window to app icons. Actually, NeXT did this first, and NeXT is the precursor to OS X.

5. Apple has Screen Sharing, copying Window’s Remote Desktop Connection. Um, no, Timbuktu had screen sharing on Apple way before Windows got the same thing, and it was around on older OS software (e.g., Remote Login) before that.

6. Time Machine is really Backup and Restore. Backing up data? Really? Again, it’s like saying that Mazda stole brakes from Ford.

7. Apple’s System Preferences are a rip-off of Window’s Control Panel. This is a real “WTF?” moment. Apple’s original Mac OS had something actually called a “Control Panel” which Microsoft blatantly copied from Apple–in almost its exact form. Then again, older OS’s grouped preferences together, so the idea is not new–but Apple copied nothing from Microsoft here, while Microsoft clearly ripped off Apple’s presentation.

8. Apple has support for Microsoft’s ActiveSync and Exchange 2007. Again, WTF? These are licensed technologies. Apple no more “stole” them than Microsoft “stole” TrueType fonts or support for FireWire.

9. Apple’s Command-Tab rips off Windows’ Alt-Tab. FINALLY, here’s something that Apple blatantly stole from Windows. Probably the only clear-cut theft in the entire list.

10. Apple’s Terminal is Windows’ Command Prompt. Once again, WTF. Seriously. UNIX, anyone? Heck, I think Apple’s first computer, before Microsoft even had and OS, had a command prompt.

In the world of computers, there is a lot of borrowing and stealing, but creating “top ten” lists equating Apple’s theft of OS ideas from Microsoft to Microsoft’s from Apple just smacks of false equivalencies–trying to be “fair and balanced” by saying “both sides are equally bad” when that is clearly not the case. Everyone ripped off ideas from everyone else, but there is no question that Microsoft is the champion of ripping things off.

Some claim that Apple ripped off Microsoft’s Task Bar with its Dock–but that’s kind of like saying that the Segway ripped off its idea from roller skates. Microsoft, however, did rip off Apple’s Dock in Windows 7’s Task Bar remake. Aero Peek and especially Flip 3D are blatant rip-offs of Apple’s Exposé, and much of Windows’ basic design is stolen from Apple’s original implementation of the GUI.

Some say Apple stole from third parties–most notably that they stole Dashboard and its widgets from Konfabulator. However, Apple didn’t steal it as much as it reclaimed it–Konfabulator “stole” the idea from Apple’s original Desktop Accessories feature. And I would not be at all surprised if that idea had been present in some form somewhere else.

Even some rip-offs are not as much a rip-off as one would imagine. Take the GUI, for example–many would say that Microsoft stole it from Apple, seeing it in the original 1983 Lisa and then rushing to put Windows 1.0 on the market. But then others will point out that Apple ripped off the GUI from Xerox. That’s not exactly true, however–Apple hired Jef Raskin, who pointed Apple to Xerox PARC, but Raskin had brought some of those ideas to Xerox in the first place–and those ideas stem from work done by Douglas Engelbart at SRI as far back as the late 60’s. Engelbart invented the mouse–not Xerox–and Apple paid SRI, Engelbart’s employer, for use of the patented device.

The idea of stealing in the OS world is a bit of a spectrum: on one side of the spectrum, you have features which are natural ideas which would be difficult to do any other way–like expressions of the directory path, for example. These are things that can’t be stolen any more than you can “steal” the idea of some kind of steering device on a vehicle. On the other end of the spectrum, you have either unique features or very specific implementations of basic features which can very much be ripped off. Microsoft happens to regularly inhabit that end of the spectrum, more than just about anyone else. Internet Explorer was nothing but a rip-off of Netscape Navigator. Apple steals, but it does so less. When it does, it is usually either a feature widely recognized as useful, or it is recreated with new functionality. The theft of Microsoft’s alt-tab window switcher is an excellent example of both: it was a feature that was a no-brainer to include, and Apple did a much better job of implementation, both graphically (admit it, Apple’s version looks ten times better) and functionally (e.g., Apple allows you to quit programs while going through the list). Not that they didn’t rip it off, of course–they very much did.

Irresponsible Reporting

March 1st, 2010 Comments off

This time it involves Apple. The British publication Telegraph printed what appears to be a damning exposé on Apple’s bad business practices. From reading it, for the most part, it sounds like Apple was caught misbehaving, an impression bolstered by tangential reminders of past abuses.

Apple admits using child labour

At least eleven 15-year-old children were discovered to be working last year in three factories which supply Apple. … Apple has been repeatedly criticised for using factories that abuse workers and where conditions are poor. … Apple admitted that at least 55 of the 102 factories that produce its goods were ignoring Apple’s rule that staff cannot work more than 60 hours a week. … Apple has not stopped using the factories.

First off, to say that Apple “admitted” anything sounds like it confessed, that it was caught red-handed; that’s not the case, nor is it that Apple used child labor–its contractor did. Despite the article’s insinuation that Apple was being investigated by some outside source, this was a case of Apple investigating its contractors. Instead of turning a blind eye or even being complicit, Apple actually made rigorous checks of the business practices of the contractors, and instead of keeping any violations secret or covering up, it published its findings publicly, with assurances that it is taking steps to end these practices. What the Telegraph article also fails to state is that Apple is perhaps the only tech company which does these checks. Other companies simply ignore the abuses. Many in the comments section, despite the multiple criticisms of bias, state that they now see Apple in a bad light and will stop buying its products–something which might have been the reverse had the article reported the facts correctly and without the harsh anti-Apple slant. As for the past abuses: the workers exposed to the toxic gases, the worker who committed suicide, the reporter who was roughed up–none of these were Apple, they were all contractors, and Apple seems to be trying harder than anyone else in the industry to stop the abuses. Would I prefer that Apple changes suppliers? Sure, but then it’ll have to deal with the next supplier just the same. Maybe Apple could be doing more or better–but at least it’s doing something.

But I guess it makes better copy to falsely intimate that Apple is the bad guy here. Now, I have a pro-Apple bias–I’m a shareholder and fan–but at least I don’t hide it, and try to stick to the facts. Bad form, Telegraph.


February 23rd, 2010 2 comments

So I’m at work, making a phone call and referring to my Macbook Pro as I do. Just as the service rep comes on the line, my Mac crashes. I restart, but as the call goes on, the gray pre-startup screen (the one with the Apple logo) just grinds and grinds… and grinds. I give up and restart–same thing. 10 minutes later, after the call, the computer still won’t go beyond that very early startup screen. Something is wrong.

I take it home, hoping that I can revive it with the Snow Leopard install disk. Sure enough, it’ll start with that disk, but nothing beyond that–the Disk Utility tells me there’s an “invalid node structure,” and won’t repair it. A quick search of Apple’s forums tells me that such a disk error generally marks the demise of the HDD. An attempt to run a disk repair program on a bootable DVD is to no avail–it starts, sets up, but then immediately shuts down, as if it couldn’t latch on to anything. I try to use the Macbook Pro in Target Disk mode, connected to my 24“ iMac. The ”Macintosh HD“ shows up… and again… and again… until there are no fewer than nine apparent ”Macintosh HD“s sitting on the Desktop–and none work. Nor will the disk repair app do anything with them.

At this point, I was pretty bummed–I hadn’t backed up in more than a month, and most of the semester’s work from school was on that disk. Argh. All the email, my students’ papers and grades, everything.

But finally, late at night, I get a data recovery program on another bootable DVD to work, and the files begin to spill out. Not in the unnamed, fragmented mess you sometimes get, but in pristine form. It takes forever–well, overnight and then some, at least–but I am able to extract most of the hard disk onto an external drive with enough space. I can’t get everything, but hell, before that breakthrough, I swore that I’d be ecstatic just to get the right handful of files off the thing. Instead, I wind up getting most of the disk.

Late, late at night, as the files were decanting, I started looking at replacement drives–my Macbook Pro is 4 months out of its 1-year warranty. While Apple is often generous, it’s not 100% of the time. I find that Western Digital has a widely praised HDD, 500 GB (twice my current drive’s size), for about $90 at

But just to make sure, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar for this evening. I take the faulty Mac in with me to work (along with the HDD with the backed-up data), and spend much of the day teaching while I transfer the recovered data onto my old Powerbook G4 (coming in quite handy now), and right after work, I head out to Ginza’s Apple Store. I get there in time to wait maybe 5 minutes, and get served by a guy who speaks fluent English. I describe the situation to him, noting the expired warranty. He gets on his computer and confirms that it’s not covered any more, but spends a while trying to make something work–and sure enough, tells me they’ll replace the drive for free despite the lapsed warranty. I am actually almost disappointed–I was getting jazzed at the idea of a 500 GB HDD in my laptop–but I’ll take the free 250 GB replacement disk just fine, thank you.

Seriously, if you can tell me a maker in Japan who will (a) sell English-ready versions of Windows on their machine for the same price as Japanese-language versions (with an option for an English-language keyboard), (b) provide face-to-face tech support, in English, the day after something goes wrong, and (c) will almost as often as not give you free repairs months after the warranty expires, I’d love to hear about it. But outside of Apple, I don’t think anyone does that.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

We Can Dream

January 25th, 2010 4 comments

A new concept has been released by a Polish student showing a new take on the Apple tablet idea. The concept is certainly stunning, and I agree with commenters that it is a far more interesting mock-up than the standard ones proffered, which tend to simply be over-sized iPhones. Check it out:



The illustrations make it a bit hard to see the second, slide-out touchscreen LCD panel, but that’s what that is.


Now, I will be the first to admit that this is an incredibly cool concept, and like many of the fanboys out there currently raving about the design, I would like nothing more than to have something like this. However, there is one small hitch: the design is, by current standards, simply impossible to achieve.

The depth, for instance, is supposed to be only 7mm. Well, that’s nice, but the iPhone is currently 12.3 mm thick, and even the iPod Touch is 8.5 mm. Each LCD screen would have to be 3.5mm (roughly 1/8th of an inch) thick, have a sturdy enough back panel to protect a 10“ screen, and still somehow pack a computer inside there as well. Somehow I just don’t see that happening.

Furthermore, the designer decided to add a 1-Terabyte solid-state drive (SSD). A look at the only 1TB SSD I could find out there shows that this part alone requires a case 25mm thick; even spread out over a broader plane, the SSD alone would take up more space than the device would have. Not to mention that such an SSD would cost upwards of $3000, even if it could be crammed into the casing. That, the two LCDs, 4GB of RAM, and other impossibly small components would surely price this baby over $10,000 even if it were possible to make with current technology.

Now, there was one design element which was both interesting and possible with today’s technology, and would not break the bank:


The best word for this is perhaps ”cute.“ As for practical, that’s another matter. Maybe if the stand could tilt back a bit, it would be better; with such a small screen, so low to the desk, I imagine one would have to hunch down to see it well if it’s standing upright at 90 degrees. This also mostly negates the touchscreen, so it would be a less-than-perfect way to use the device. But the idea of sliding it into that little frame and it becomes a tiny iMac, there’s something almost irresistible about that. The charger-connector would have to be on the long edge of the tablet for this to work, but if it is and even if Apple doesn’t do this, I bet a third-party manufacturer could make some bucks selling a stand like that.

So, I’d have to give this guy an ”A“ for originality and coolness, but from a design perspective, especially if one must be constrained by realistic technological and cost restraints, this simply isn’t feasible.

Which brings me to a slightly different point: stuff like this isn’t helping. At least, it’s not helping Apple, nor is it helping those who want to be suitably impressed by what Apple comes out with this week. People see concepts like the one above and get impossibly high, pipe-dream expectations–and it just makes the actual device seem a lot less impressive, and unfairly so. Now, if people came out with more realistic designs, then that’s fair. For example, there have been a few iPhone design concepts for the ”4G“ model that could work, and may be cooler than what Apple comes out with. So, actual designs which don’t defy reality or break the bank, that’s a fair comparison which Apple should be expected to live up to. But to break the rules helps no one; I might as well imagine an Apple tablet with a 4 GHz, 16-core CPU with 32 GB of RAM and that terabyte SSD, with 3-D holographic displays in a 4-mm razor-sharp case made of unobtanium. Oh, and did I mention it’s a quantum computer? That would certainly be cool, but it’s also cheating–and to expect anything close to it would be pointlessly self-defeating.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

The iSlate / MacTouch / iTouch / MacTablet / JesusTablet

January 17th, 2010 5 comments

Only ten days to go, and the rumors are flying like bullets in a war zone. The tablet could cost $500, or it could cost $2000; it might have an LCD display, or an OLED, or a completely new haptic touch screen; it might run on an nVidia system-on-a-chip, or it runs on an Apple-made CPU with an nVidia GPU. Who knows? Whoever does enjoy such insider info must certainly have god’s own NDA hanging over them like the Sword of Damocles.

Some elements are more or less universally agreed upon: the tablet will have a screen about 10 inches in size; it will likely share design elements with the iPhone; it will be thicker than an iPhone, but not too much thicker, with an aluminum case; it will share many qualities of the iPhone, including the ability to run iPhone apps, and will likely be a closed ecosystem like the iPhone is. It will use multitouch, most likely to an extent not attempted before, and there will be no stylus. And it will probably have 3G, in addition to the even more likely WiFi and Bluetooth.

From there, it’s anyone’s guess. A lot of the remainder constitutes bells and whistles, like the possibility of a built-in camera for video conferencing, for example. Such features are relatively unimportant, as they are the kind of thing that subsequent models will eventually include. Like the iPhone, one should expect a relative paucity of such features upon the initial release, allowing not only for everyone to focus on the core innovations of the product, but also to allow for Apple to make the subsequent generations of tablets more attractive. Look at the iPhone: it started with Edge and no 3G, no app store, a weak photo-only camera, no GPS, no compass, no stereo Bluetooth, etc.; each new model adds these features. If the tablet comes fully decked out right at the start, then where’s the ability to upgrade?

The Interface

The main draw of the tablet should be the OS, and in particular, the touchscreen interface. Rumors have suggested a new way to interact with the device, something with a “steep learning curve,” and which will have the user interact with the tablet in surprising ways. A “3-D” environment has been suggested by the usual avalanche of Apple patents.

I agree with the assessment that there will be a new emphasis on touch. There will almost certainly be no mouse, and probably no ability to attach one. Many new Windows-based devices use touch screens, but many only mirror the single point of the mouse-driven cursor, which is worse than useless in a touch screen (it’s like having 9 of your fingers amputated). Those that allow multi-touch are limited to fewer gestures than a current MacBook touchpad (especially with a cool utility like BetterTouchTool).

The question is, will the tablet’s gestures be intuitive or arbitrary? Some touchpad gestures are pretty intuitive: two fingers for scrolling; three fingers right and left for going forward and back; a two-finger tap for a pop-up menu. In their own ways, they make sense, and so are easy to remember. Even the four-finger swipes for showing the Desktop or using Exposé to reveal all windows are fairly intuitive, though I keep forgetting which requires the up-swipe and which needs the down-swipe.

If the gestures on the tablet are not intuitive enough (which could be what the “steep learning curve” is referring to), then the tablet could be in trouble, especially if there is no easy alternative way to carry out the same functions. Ever since the original Mac came out with the GUI, intuitive features have been Apple’s golden egg; they would bypass this standard at their peril.

Get a Grip

Another important consideration in the touchscreen interface will be how the device is handled. A tablet does not lend itself to flat surfaces as well as a laptop; we are used to screens being propped up at an angle to our faces. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to put a tablet down on a desk or a table, but there are problems involved.

Here’s a way you can test it for yourself. If you have a laptop with a relatively stiff screen hinge, try placing the laptop on a table, desk, or on your lap, upside-down, on its monitor with the keyboard sticking up (it’ll have to be at a 90-degree angle). Then imagine using the screen only and that the part sticking up doesn’t exist. What do you notice? My impression was that it wasn’t so bad–in fact, it seemed pretty cool. It wasn’t uncomfortable to look at, even though it was more at an angle than I am used to. The main disadvantage that I noticed was that the screen I have starts to fade out as the viewing angle increases. This might even suggest that the tablet indeed has an OLED screen, as some rumors are saying. But I can accept using it that way, although at times a sturdy back-stand seems to make a lot of sense.

Why is this important? Because the alternative is that either the tablet will come with a desktop stand for active use–unlikely for a mobile device, not to mention that touch becomes problematic unless the stand is slide-resistant–or it will be cradled in one hand while the other is used to control the interface (like a clipboard, except the tablet might be supported by one’s palm against the tablet’s back, instead of holding it at the edge, as with a clipboard).

The Keyboard Is Key

The way one holds it will greatly influence the method of interaction, especially for typing. A larger device like a tablet would lend itself better to two handed-typing; if only one hand can be used, then the keyboard would need to be altered. Will there be two kinds of keyboards available depending on how you use it? Convenience would suggest so, but Apple’s design history says no; look how long it took Apple to make just the landscape keyboard universal on the iPhone. Jobs has a tendency to stick with one way of doing things, even if it’s inconvenient. Despite my own desire for multiple keyboard styles, I expect that Jobs will have ordained The Best Way to Type and will expect everyone to follow that way.

Typing is indeed a crucial aspect: not only is it something we do all the time, but it is the one point in multi-touch where two hands are almost necessary for efficient input. As I noticed in this Jeff Han presentation at the Seoul Digital Forum (see “Interface: Beyond Interactivity” at the link; available only through web site; you must allow pop-ups for it to work), Han used only one hand even with the big wall-sized screen. He switched to two hands notably when he brought up a keyboard and started typing.

Getting Soft

Other considerations will include the software you can use with it. Will you be able to use existing OS X apps with it? The answer is, probably not. Apple has too good a thing with its closed ecosystem. Not just because Apple gets a 30% slice of each sale, but also because the platform lends itself to anti-piracy and lower app prices. Most notably for Jobs himself is that he gets to control the environment tightly, which is how he likes it. So expect an iPhone-style app situation, but now able to expand to use much more space and a more powerful processor–so popular database and Office apps, as well as fast-CPU-dependent apps will show up where they did not for the iPhone. While this won’t replace your laptop, it will allow for much greater daily use than your smartphone.

Multimedia is another area that everyone expects will work with this device. It is pretty clear that magazines and newspapers see the Apple tablet as a potential savior (Update: The NYT just more or less announced their Apple Tablet rollout), moving back to the paid-subscription model, and college students will likely use the device as an e-book reader for textbooks. The ability to play music may very well be redundant–almost every user will also have an iPhone or other device which they would more likely use for that feature. Video, however, will take on a new focus. Apple will probably attempt to tie this in with Apple TV, although they must not make that peripheral necessary for enjoying video. Still, there will likely be a focus on downloading video from a separate storage device or network as there will probably not be enough space to save all that video on the device itself. Apple will probably push for streaming video over the iTunes store. But video will be a big element in addition to print.

This, of course, will make a powerful CPU and GPU more important; keep a close eye on what Apple uses to run this baby.

3G or Not 3G

The networking will be vital for that reason. Many are saying that 3G will be a part of it, but I am waiting to see how plans with the carriers will be handled–especially if this will be another subsidized purchase. Will this be tied in to your iPhone account? If so, what extra contractual requirements will be foisted upon you? Will this be sold as a stand-alone data plan with a carrier, not associated with a cell phone contract? At what cost? The details of the deal may be critical.

For me, 3G is not really so important. I am guessing that I will be using this mainly at the home and office, where I have WiFi. I need 3G for my iPhone primarily for phone calls and GPS; otherwise, I could probably get by on WiFi alone. Will a 3G data contract be required to buy a tablet? Is that the only way it will be affordable? Will there be a range of options, like buy one for $500 with a contract for a data plan, or $900 without–I might go for the plan without a data plan or other contractual obligations, and live on WiFi alone.

Sex Appeal

Finally, there is form factor and physical features. Most of the mock-ups are essentially modified iPhone designs: a fairly thin screen with black bordering and a beveled chrome edge. Some bit larger borders on the ends and include the iPhone Home button. Others put the screen almost flush with the edge. There is one problem with having the screen too close to the edge, though: the device will likely have a rectangular screen, but also rounded edges. If the border of the device is too thin, that comes out looking quite strange. With Apple’s current design scheme featuring fairly wide black borders, and with the problems of accidentally activating something if you hold the device by the edge, I am guessing that there will be perhaps a half-inch border around all edges. (Addendum: it later occurred to me that they could handle this the same way they do the iPhone: have the screen go to the edge on two long sides, and have borders on the short sides; however, I don’t think they’ll do this for the tablet.) This would allow for hardware button placement (if there will be hardware buttons on the face) and potential placement of cameras and proximity sensors. It would also give more room inside to spread the hardware around and make the device thinner, which is what people will like.

As for how it will feel, imagine holding a thin hardcover or large-format softcover book–in fact, go get one from a shelf somewhere–and try holding it in your left hand as if it were a tablet. Most likely your left palm will fit neatly under the back if you hold it in landscape; in portrait, your thumb may rest along the side. You hear “ten inches,” and you think of something fairly large; but an 11-inch (diagonal) slate winds up being not so huge; try it and you’ll see.

Many are talking about exchangeable batteries, but these are mostly people who forget who is making this; at this point, it would be a shocker for Apple to allow for that. Steve Jobs likes unbroken surfaces, and that’s that. Don’t expect an optical drive, of course; like the MacBook Air, the tablet will very likely depend of WiFi connections for most of its data transfers. Even an SD card slot is not a solid bet; even though most users would want one, Jobs might decree that it is not to be.

Which brings us to connectors: what will there be? Will Apple use the standard iPhone connector? Possibly, but Apple loves to confound users with new cables and connectors all the time; don’t be surprised if there’s yet another new connector type here. Common sense would allow for a mini-USB jack, if for no other purpose than to allow you to download photos from a digital camera or other data. This may, however, depend on how close Jobs wants the ecosystem to be.

And how about screen resolution? We’re all expecting a 10-inch screen, but how many pixels? I could swear that I wrote a blog post on this, even seem to remember discussing it in comments, but for some reason, I cannot find it. In any case, a 10-inch screen will likely be about 6 inches tall and 8 inches wide; the iPhone has a pixel density of 163 pixels per inch (ppi); if these hold for the tablet, that means a 1300 x 980 pixel screen, which would be pretty good hi-def. However, the iPhone screen is denser than Apple’s laptop screens, which are about 112 ppi; at that density, the tablet would be more like 900 x 670 resolution. If Apple can get a ppi of 120 or better, then we have a 720p screen–which I think may be likely here.

Of course, that depends on the aspect ratio–I am assuming 4:3 here. The iPhone has a 3:2 ratio. The tablet could be more widescreen than I am expecting. If it’s 4:3 and we’re going for 720p, then the full resolution would be 960 x 720; if it’s 2:3, then it would be 1080 x 720, with a slightly higher ppi, around 130.

Laying Down My Bet

So, if I had to guess: a form factor of maybe 9“ x 6” with a 10 or 10.5“ screen, and a half-inch black border with a chrome bezel. A 130 ppi screen with a resolution of 1080 x 720, probably OLED or something else which will look good at more extreme viewing angles. My guess is no haptics on the touch screen, but would not be surprised if that was an added feature in a future model.

The screen will of course be multitouch, depending far more on touch than any Apple device so far, with a fairly new interface style. Like the iPhone keyboard, it’ll take a bit of practice to become comfortable with it, but it will be pretty intuitive and won’t be that hard to get the hang of. This will likely be the highlight of Jobs’ presentation, and what people will be buzzing about for some time after that.

There will probably be no camera (I am depending on rumors for that–personally, a camera seems like a no-brainer to me), which would imply no mic either. I am guessing at grille speakers along two opposite edges, a headphone/audio jack, an iPod/iPhone connector, and maybe a mini-USB port. There will be physical switches for power, volume, and maybe also a home button–along the edges, not on the face.

If Apple wants to move the device, then hopefully it will avoid the fiasco with the original iPhone and price reasonably from the start. $800 is believable, but many will choke at that price. I would guess that Apple will have deals with carriers for a subsidized data-plan contract–maybe a 2-year contract at $40-50/month, which will bring the price of the tablet down to $500 or less, and might even tie into existing 3G contracts for better savings. Alternately, you could purchase the tablet outright at the $800 price point (which I would definitely opt for myself), depending completely on WiFi for data.

Apple will likely be a bit cryptic about the CPU. I would like to imagine that Apple’s acquisition of PA Semi will mean a powerful in-house chip–but many times in the past, Apple has not utilized such resources. And there’s the nVidia Tegra 250, a dual-core 1GHz computer-on-a-chip able to handle 1080p encode/decode, should deliver good performance for gaming, and excellent battery life. If Apple does go with its own chip, then perhaps there will be an nVidia GPU along with it.

Anyone else want to make predictions?

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The Tablet Cometh?

December 25th, 2009 3 comments

Finally! Although, it’s not exactly promised–but Apple seems to have a big event scheduled for January 26:

The company has rented a stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco for several days in late January, according to people familiar with the plans.

Apple is expected to use the venue to make a major product announcement on Tuesday, January 26th. Both YBCA and Apple declined to comment.

There’s no guarantee that it’s the tablet, but really, it’s gotta be the tablet. For too long, we have had too much news, too many patents filed, too many leaked bits and pieces, and now a NYT blogger has this:

But the icing on the cake comes from a current senior employee inside Apple. When one of my colleagues here asked if the rumors of the Apple tablet were true, and when we could expect such a device, the response from his source was, “I can’t really say anything, but, let’s just say Steve is extremely happy with the new tablet.”

Yet another recently departed Apple employee tipped me: “You will be very surprised how you interact with the new tablet.” [possible clue to the interactivity here]

Indeed, magazines and newspapers have been hinting, some more outright than others, that they are preparing their content for some kind of tablet, such as might possibly come from Apple. Now we are getting reports that Apple has asked iPhone app developers to supersize their apps, which would mean that the tablet might be another closed system, and could interact with the iPhone. Other rumors suggest that the tablet could deliver multimedia and that, with the Apple TV, Apple could be set to make a move on the cable TV industry, with a cheaper and more flexible TV content distribution model.

Estimates are that the tablet would reach shelves in or soon after March. But before it’s announced (hopefully) about a month from now, expect a storm of rumors and a wide range of stellar expectations. Will it be 3G? Will you have to get a new account or sign on for yet more years of contracts to get it? Will it cost more than $800? What kind of multi-touch gesturing will it have? What kind of battery life? What resolution screen? What CPU? How much RAM? AT&T or Verizon? And so on and so on….

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December 21st, 2009 2 comments

So, Apple has killed Psystar. isn’t that for the second or third time? I forget. But whatever the case, Apple has again successfully prevented third-party Mac clone makers from getting a toehold.

In some ways, you could see this as bad: it means that Apple has a monopoly over its domain, that there is no competition to drive down prices, no alternate choices which could lead to great Apple software running on much cheaper machines.

But the more you look at it, the more you have to admit that Apple is right to do what it does. The mistake comes from seeing computers and OS makers as being separate, which is the Microsoft model, also followed by other makers of OS software. And maybe if Apple had the 90~95% worldwide market share that Microsoft has, it would be more of a monopolistic concern.

However, that’s not the case. Apple never intended to sell software and hardware separately; it is designed to be an integrated system. Think about other makers who do similar things: what if I made a new DVR, but took the OS software from Sony’s DVRs to make it run? Sony would shut me down and nobody would think Sony was out of line. Hardware makers do that kind of thing all the time: create closed, integrated hardware and software systems. In fact, everything that’s not a PC sold as a PC is designed exactly that way, from cell phones to cars: the manufacturer creates the operating system to run with the hardware, and they see both as something they own. If a user wants to tweak the system after they buy it, then fine–but if a for-profit company wants to tweak it and then sell it for a profit, potentially robbing sales from the original designer by using their designs and concepts–that’s different. As far as I know, Apple has never tried to go after any private users, even for things like software piracy–Apple has far fewer safeguards and hurdles against such things relative to Microsoft.

So while the freedom-to-tinker part of me wants to see clone makers succeed, the I-made-it-I-control-it part of me sees how it’s the right of the creator to prevent someone else from making money selling hardware based on Apple’s work. (I don’t think that the “I own Apple stock” part of me is really influencing what I think here, but that’s harder to say.)

Back Over 200 Again

October 20th, 2009 5 comments

Finally, Apple stock has fully recovered from the pounding it took from the sub-prime shock. It reached $200 back in late 2007, before it plunged to $119, and later to $78 (I bought in a year before the peak at $93). It has slowly been recovering since March of this year, and over the past two weeks it has been hovering at $190, after spending the better part of a month around $185.

Today, after the end of trading, Apple announced huge earnings (in part because of changes in accounting rules), their highest ever–almost $10 billion in sales, and $1.67 billion in profit.

Apple shares in after-market trading rocketed to $202.

From a political point of view: the $78 low, by the way, happened on Bush’s last day in office. Under Obama, Apple stock has risen 260%. Not that that means anything significant, but I have been much happier with my stocks going up rather than down.

On top of that, the word is that the new hardware lines should be debuting tomorrow.

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The Mac Is Back

October 10th, 2009 Comments off

Just got my Macbook Pro back from the Ginza Apple store. There was an intermittent screen flicker, so I took it in. A month before the warranty runs out, so it’s covered–they replaced the entire logic board and the monitor. And they did it in half the time they told me it would take. (Dropped it off Thursday night, it was ready for pickup by noon Saturday.) Cool.

Along with the iMac being repaired last month, my computers are now fully serviced–both just shortly before the warrantees run out. Hopefully that’ll last them for the next few years until each is ready to be replaced.

My only gripe about the general process: Apple has been a bit too successful in helping people with Genius Bar service–so much so that they’re completely booked for 3 days in advance. Still, you can get the service–just not on the same day you decide to use it. It used to be faster, but Apple’s getting more popular now, and there’s just the two Apple Stores in all of Tokyo.

Of course, give me that over anyone else’s tech/customer support any day. I know, I’ve dealt with others, such as Toshiba’s–it’s hell on Earth. Interminable phone calls, indecipherable menus, obfuscatory politeness acting as a smokescreen against actual service, getting transferred and handed off to different departments any number of times, shipping the machine out for a few weeks, the whole nine yards–a 3-day wait to drop off the computer at the Genius bar so it’ll take 2 days for them to replace the innards, that’s far better than anything else out there I’ve heard of.

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