Category Archives: Tuesday Talk

Tuesday Talk ~ Smartphones and predictions


(iPhone 8 concept image from iPhone8i)
(iPhone 8 concept image from iPhone8i)

In 1984, Apple, which had already been making computers since 1977, introduced the Macintosh. The ease of use and all-in-one form factor changed the computing industry, although the ‘real’ computer users scoffed. That said, the Mac didn’t really take off until the Desktop Publishing revolution happened a couple of years later.
In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod and dramatically revolutionised portable music. The hegemony of the iPod was only really broken by smartphones, which gradually became everyone’s default music vessels.

In 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone, which kicked off the smartphone revolution. Steve Jobs, in his announcement, hoped for just one percent of the worldwide mobile phone market share! That would have been 10 million phones in 2008. Apple sold 4.7 million iPhones in the first three months, but the first Android phones came out in November 2008, which has remained the only real competitor. In 2010, Jobs met with Google exec Eric Schmidt and threatened him over copying features for Android… Schmidt had been on Apple’s board.
Android had 43% of the smartphone market by mid 2011. Android’s share is now dominant, largely due to lower-price models, but it’s unlikely Apple will reduce prices since it’s just not the way the Inc works.
But this year, Apple releases it’s tenth anniversary model (nominally, iPhone 8) and already pundits reckon it will cost over US$1000 (about NZ$1400). This is really steep when you can get capable smartphones for a couple of hundred these days, so Apple had better make something pretty compelling for that price. NZ$1400 makes me quail, frankly, and I need a new iPhone this year.

Apple is a very different company in 2017. iPhone changed everything after it was introduced in ’07, including Apple revenue which is now dramatically in the iPhone camp, but Apple was ‘like the wild west‘ ten years ago compared to its rigid structures and hierarchies in ’17. Back then, things were hard to control, but it also meant potentially crazy ideas could sometimes flourish.
Former Apple engineer Bob Burrough reckons Tim Cook has tried to eliminate executive conflict within Apple and grow middle management — but so doing, has crippled the Mac maker’s old spirit.
There does appear to be a lack of cohesion; Jobs’ megalomaniac vision certainly managed to focus things. Chinese telephonics and networking giant Hawaii reckons it can overtake Apple in 2018. Apple has some work to do, for sure. But on price? The cheapest iPhone Apple sells is the US$400 iPhone SE. Huawei’s least expensive smartphone retails for about US$50. Flooding the market with cheap always works, of course, but great is still great.

iPhone 8 needs to be really great.

Tuesday Talk ~ Not on my watch


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Is it time to admit Apple Watch is a success? Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated the last holiday period was the company’s “best quarter ever” for Apple Watch, both in units and revenues, “with holiday demand so strong that we couldn’t make enough.” Yet the tech community seems to think it’s not doing well, or even that it’s a failure.
John Gruber just thinks it should be considered a watch, rather than a ‘smartwatch’. In September last year, Gruber points out, Apple Watch sales were second only to Rolex. Strangely, perhaps, when I tried the first version of the Apple Watch, what put me off was the lag in many operations. Once I had to send a unit back, I found the thing I missed the most was having the time on my wrist at all, so I went out and bought a watch which cost me just NZ$100 (about US$73). Couldn’t be happier.
Of course, I never got to try the second version of the Watch (Series 2), so I never got to compare. Which at least spared me from spending another few hundred dollars on something with an Apple logo on it. What did impress me was superb build quality and very clever design, I loved being able to choose my Watch faces, and I loved the wonderful ease of changing straps – still a finicky mission on a normal watch.
I figured I would have got used to all the great features if it wasn’t for those little lags that, eventually, stopped me even trying to do things, although I understand the latest versions are significantly faster, by up to 50%. But if you’re still not satisfied even after updating to watchOS 3, which also added speed enhancements, it is possible to speed a Watch up via various settings.
Series 2 has its own GPS which means you don’t have to have your iPhone on you to track fitness etc – this never actually bothered me as I cycle and walk with my iPhone in my pocket anyway.

But hey, I’m not wearing an Apple Watch. I’m wearing a Timex Weekender. What about you?

Tuesday Talk ~ Apple fandom and logic


(Image from TechEBlog)
(Image from TechEBlog)

How can we tell if our love for Apple is logical or biased? That was a headline on the Mac Observer. I guess this is a question we all ask ourselves sometimes. I definitely had a very biased view of Apple once I first started using a Mac in 1989, because I could actually do things, create things and work out how things worked with a Mac, whereas in those days other computers pretty much needed a degree in rocket surgery to even print out a page (but pat yourselves on the back, you people).
By the time I became editor of NZ MacGuide magazine (2002-2007) things changed for me, partly because I started to realise how difficult Apple was to deal with. Basically, Apple was (and is) very secretive and suspicious, but this was amplified through the lens of Renaissance Inc, which had the only legal NZ Apple import/distribution license in that period. Renaissance never seemed to really know where it stood with Apple, and seemed scared of losing its exclusive deal, so any secrecy and suspicion was both obfuscated and amplified.
Things became a lot better once I forged a relationship with actual Apple staffers, and although they were always (and understandably) very guarded, they’re a fine bunch of interesting and creative people. Information from them has always been first class.

And I can still make and do things. Despite still not having a degree in rocket surgery, I can still make music, films, magazines and all sorts of other things with my Apple gear, and my iPhone is my always-available smart assistant. I am living in the future.
Windows and Android have made huge strides to offer similar attributes, largely thanks to Apple’s efforts (if even only by competing with what Apple does) but I’m so imbued with Apple operating procedures they’re like foreign languages, and every unwilling experience with them is an infuriating battle.
Of course, this is the same for people coming over to the Apple world, many of whom I have personally introduced to macOS and iOS over the years either through my Mac NZ efforts, via email or in person when I present to individuals and groups. This is a relatively easy process: explain the paradigm, introduce a few concepts and off they go.

So, am I still biased? Of course, but I have come to realise Apple has flaws. The child labour thing in Asia horrified me and I was very glad Apple made moves to address this (and of course, HP, Samsung, Dell etc were all using the same factories with the same conditions, they just never seemed to get caught in the searchlights). Not paying tax sickens me – I know there are New Zealanders who have similar beliefs and I think they should be allowed to not pay tax, since they consider this unjust.
Fair enough, don’t pay tax – but then they should be banned from using our roads, public lighting, hospital emergency rooms, parks and schools. This tax issue is less clear with Apple – the Inc makes an absolute fortune, which it constantly trumpets, yet also chooses to avoid paying tax because it’s found a ‘legal’ loophole.
And I feel abandoned on the Mac front sometimes, and critical of Apple’s direction, as should be clear from my posts under this heading. And I have to admit these things have shaken my loyalty.

But hey, I still love my Apple gear. I’m still happy and productive. And that’s still the bottom line.

Tuesday Talk ~ doom and undoom


(Image from Business Insider)
(Image from Business Insider 2012)

Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, reckons ‘the age of Apple’ is over. But I don’t think there ever was an age of Apple, apart from for Apple fans. I mean, if you’re happy with Android, you will look back on the smartphone era as your Android era.
There were ages. There was the age of the PC, and that of the desktop publishing revolution, the time of the digital music player, and that of the smartphone then the tablet, sure. Apple was at the forefront of all of these, but never exclusively ruled any to greater and lesser extents. Apple at first didn’t have the marketing or financial muscle to rule its markets, and then only ever became an effective player in them, even when it was largely responsible for entire categories coming to public attention in the first place. Actually, the only category I can think of that Apple did almost exclusively dominate from beginning to end was the iPod, since no other music player came even close to surpassing it in use, sales or public perception.
As a man of experience, Thiel should know that making any kind of sweeping pronouncements is not worthy. But hey, Thiel works for that inconceivable blow-hard Donald Trump as his ‘Silicon Valley evangelist’. You really can’t expect much considered comment, or even intelligence (beyond finely-honed and single-minded opportunism) from such a figure. Unless you are a fan of the greedy, of course.

Apple has always been about making unapproachable technology approachable. Back in the day, what was holding up PC adoption was the amount of training and knowledge required to make a computer do … anything. Apple fundamentally changed that with the introduction of the Mac’s Graphic User Interface, or GUI, which made the interface and operation of personal computers conceivable for almost any user. This approach has been the real bedrock of Apple ever since, and remains so, which is why longer-term Apple users roll their eyes when people speculate about what the next major technological revolution from Apple will be.
They’re missing the point – better to focus on what’s difficult about technology that Apple decides to make usable.

Even so, Apple has been beavering away. Can you think of ten new Apple technologies Apple introduced in 2016? Nor can I, but there were at least ten significant ones. Ceramics, machine learning, differential privacy … all these things will come into play more and more as Apple evolves its personal computing platforms. Remember, Apple plays a long game, not a short one – Steve Jobs envisaged the iPhone 25 years before it was possible to create it. That’s the real reason Apple is still here, and still very powerful.

But this does all bring to mind Apple’s profit margins. They’re unacceptably high, in this day and age. iPhone sales have been static for a while, and iPad declining. Why? I really think price: once you can get something almost as good for a third the price, ‘almost as good’ becomes pretty compelling.
Most people will deal with a reboot, crash and slowness once in a while for an extra $700 in their back pockets.

Tuesday Talk ~ What happened at Apple in 2016?


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What happened at Apple in 2016? New products were released, and they were good, but they seemed slow in coming. Some ship dates slipped considerably: the Pencil in 2015 and then AirPods (which have only just started arriving) last year. There have been supply misjudgements which is odd for a company run by the supply-chain expert (Tim Cook), once heavily leaned-upon by Steve Jobs.
The much-anticipated late-2016 MacBook Pro certainly arrived late in the year, and although it debuted a truly useful new technology (the Touch Bar), it seemed like Apple was waiting for new processors and eventually couldn’t wait any longer. This was in the face of criticism that the MacBook Pro hadn’t been updated significantly for four years (four years!), quite a hiccup in this most stellar line of Macs. Meanwhile, iMac has started to noticeably lag, the mini looks like a very stagnated platform – and don’t even mention the overpriced, underpowered Mac Pro.
iPhone SE clearly surprised Apple with a much higher demand than expected. Forecast models seem out of sync with buyer demands, and you have to think Apple can afford great depth of talent here.
iPad (and, to be fair, all other tablets) have been languishing in sales, seemingly failing to reach the potential once promised. It’s a closed platform (of course). As the Mac Observer has observed, “Like the original Mac, Steve Jobs conceived of the iPad as a closed, friendly, appliance” but now its arc has hit the same limits the original Mac hit.
AirPort has been languishing and then, unannounced, Apple seems to have dropped its entire AirPort team, making people wonder just what is in store for their easy-to-set-up and almost flawless, not to mention attractive, Apple wifi network devices AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule. Perhaps the Apple display partnership that sees the Apple Thunderbolt Display gone and the company touting products by LG in its stead (the 4K and 5K UltraFine displays) will become the new business model across wifi too. But does that mean Apple is losing its grip, or simply concentrating where it should be?
Apple has always shifted  its focus around product groups, but it’s hard to believe resources are so  constrained at the tech giant it can’t actually cope with long-standing product lines any more. Former Apple employee Chuq Von Raspach thinks Apple’s view of its users doesn’t match its actual users, which is quite an indictment of a company that has always excelled at using data to sell data platforms.
Apple’s approach has been super successful over the decades, and some companies like Pearl Automation have taken aspects of the Apple process and ditched others. But this poses another concern – this is yet another company created by former Apple employees.

Let’s hope that Apple has been putting its house in order for 2017.

Tuesday Talk ~ tribes and where Apple is at


(Image from a Mac Observer video showing the 1989 Macintosh Portable up against the Late 2016 MacBook Pro)
(Image from a Mac Observer video showing the 1989 Macintosh Portable up against the Late 2016 MacBook Pro)

Apple is still super successful, still shipping new things, still innovating. However, considering its massive R&D spend, it’s voracious buying of one tech startup and innovator after another, somehow shipping dates slip, gaps between product releases seem to be expanding and some anomalous products emerge. For example, iPhone 7 ships without an audio port, just Lightning one end and USB the other, then a month later Apple ships the new MacBook Pro with an audio port and no way of directly connecting the new iPhone without buying the Apple Lightning to USB-C Cable as an extra.
I can’t think of another time when you could directly plug two Apple products into each other. But more worrying is the long gap between the original 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the Late 2016 MacBook Pro: four years before a major case change and real laptop innovation. Really, Apple couldn’t have done this faster, with all its power, talent and resources? While I appreciate Apple’s long-held predilection to only release products that are absolutely ready (the other tack would be exemplified by Samsung’s disastrous incendiary smartphones), this still seems a weirdly convoluted process.

Some think the criticism of Apple has taken a disturbing new turn. Once upon a time it was almost laughable. People who knew very little about Apple would post the most ridiculous criticisms. (That said, I still hear them sometimes: ‘Apple isn’t compatible’. ‘Apple is just for home use …’ Duh!)
However, that’s changing: now people who love Apple products – absolute devotees like (and including) me, are criticising Apple too. There are distinct Apple tribes, according to some, and they clash. These come under Audiophiles, Applications and Technical Professionals, at least according to the Mac Observer.
But there’s another tribe the article above doesn’t mention: those who buy Apple’s products just because they like them – their use doesn’t go very deep, and actually, they don’t really care who makes what. Apple can act overly entranced with this big, often uncaring tribe, and to me, this is the real problem.
As for the more deeply-engaged tribes enumerated above, I’m not sure I buy this argument, at least for myself: I usually get on with any other Apple fan of any category. In my experience, we all feel we’re in the same boat.
But that boat is listing.

Once criticism shifts to a sense of betrayal, as it has with some people I know (in this case, over the Mac Pro, and the new MacBook Pro simply isn’t powerful enough to placate them), mark my words: it’s really hard to come back from that.
I’ve never thought ‘Apple can do no wrong’. I’ve had plenty to criticise over the years, but the bottom line is what usually keeps me with Apple. And it’s a very attractive bottom line:
Great products.

Tuesday Talk ~ Touchy subject


18994-18745-schiller-touchbar-top-l

Well, the first MacBook Pros have started arriving to those who pre-ordered them online. The critics love to say ‘It’s barely faster, it’s just thinner, and the Touch Bar is a gimmick’. Well, you know, the critics have to say something, and you can’t beat the obvious, although I agree the CPU could have been more advanced. As for the Touch Bar being a gimmick, you’ve all seen long-terms and/or pro users whipping their Macs through series of operations because they’re using key commands instead of hunting through menus and sliding around on screen to click buttons.
I meet many Mac users who still do that – I tell them ‘Learn three to ten commands and your Mac using life will change dramatically’.

Well, the Touch Bar addresses that. Suddenly, obvious buttons are right there, easy to see and easy to initiate. The key commands still work, but you have instant access to commands and operations in a clear and visual way. what’s not to like? As for the criticism that it’s not a patch on Microsoft’s Surface approach, well guess what? Go buy a Surface. Then you can struggle with that pig of a confusing operating system and spend your time wiping your smeary fingerprints off your screen.
Because there’s no way I want to continually smear and wipe the visual feast that is a Retina Display on a Mac, thank you very much, and I defy any designer or video editor to disagree.

The Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar may not be a dramatic leap as far as CPU goes, but the Intel quad core Core i7 Skylake CPU is still pretty damn good. apple has concentrated on speeding up all the architecture around this for a fast-feeling package and the new MacBook Pro’s dynamic input Touch Bar (the buttons change depending on what app you are using) will speed you up too, if you’re still a Hunter-Pecker style user, but even if you’re a Keyboard Wizard, you’ll appreciate the direct-touch speedups in apps like Final Cut Pro X.
The late 2016 MacBook Pro couples the CPU to very fast 2133 MHz PC3-17000 LPDDR3 SDRAM and an AMD Radeon Pro 450/455/460 dedicated GPU backed by 2 or 4GB of GDDR5 memory with automatic switching to a more power efficient Intel HD Graphics 530 GPU when running on battery.
It uses ultra fast PCIe-based SSD storage of up to 2TB. The USB-C expansion ports are the future – everything else will change to this, and despite what you might hear, PC manufacturers are already going there too. These  support up to two 5k, or four 4k(!) external DisplayPort monitors, USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices (up to 10Gbps) and can handle daisy-chained Thunderbolt 3 peripherals up to 40 Gbps.
That aforementioned display is brighter and sports higher contrast and the expanded DPI P3 colour gamut. Hear that, designers and videographers?  The larger Force Touch trackpad and enhanced Retina MacBook style butterfly keyboard will be very nice touches too, I’m sure. Oh, and you can get it in the very serious Space Grey or the familiar silver. I predict not many will spring for silver (I won’t). And you can wake it up with a touch and hey, it’s a quarter of a kilogram lighter! Apple Insider in the US managed to get one, and has a  full review.
Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller has further elaborated on Apple’s reasoning behind the Touch Bar. If you’re not yet convinced. I believe that if Apple adds the Touch Bar to it’s wireless and plug-in keyboards, pro desktop Mac users will jump there fast.

I haven’t seen one yet, but on the above info, I’m very very keen to. Aren’t you?

Tuesday Talk ~ Danglin’ in Dongle Dell


dongles-640x495

Apple’s new MacBook Pro, with no Thunderbolt and no USB, leads to all sorts of interesting scenarios: what next? What will the next iMac have in the way of ports? A USB-C port is versatile and no mistake: you can charge through it, run storage devices through it (if you have the right adapter dongles), run extra monitors through it (if you have the right adapter dongles). But an iMac doesn’t need to be charged,  and not that many people run extra monitors off them, even though that can be extremely useful.

Meanwhile, every MacBook user now has to buy dongles (danged dangly adapters) to plug in anything they already own: USB ‘thumb’ drives, Thunderbolt and USB hard drives, external monitors, wired Ethernet (still way faster than relying on wifi), external monitors and, here’s the real kicker, even your Apple iPhone!
That’s right – Apple has made a phone that won’t plug plug into it’s own new Mac. Weird, because this is still far and away the best method to get photos off your iPhone and to set it up (iTunes allows a fast, deep setup of any plugged-in iDevice). Of course, with an evolutionary step in rolling out new ports, there’s always going to be an interchange period, but still.
That said, a Touch Bar keyboard for other Macs would be most welcome. Apple does hint at obtuse and fuzzy futures, and it’s gratifying that a workforce that has expanded by four times since 2009 is actually doing something over at Cupertino, but we need concrete evidence.

At least Apple has, for a timedropped the prices on all its dongles, and many other companies have come to the party with their versions (Moshi’s Multiport will suit many), but crikey, I already regularly carry four. How many more will I need? And I’m not going as far as ExtremeTech, who recently posted that Apple is now a dongle company that happens to make smartphones and Macs, but they have hit on something. Apple now has a confusing lineup of iDevices, a confusing lineup of Macs and a Christmas tree of fiddly dongles. This was the company once lauded for its streamlined simplicity.

Where to now? We actually don’t know what Apple is thinking, doing or planning until Apple actually releases something. There has been lots of critique thanks to the new Macs (Mac Observer has a good roundup and Horace Dediu has published a good piece too.

I feel very uncomfortable at the negative criticism (even when I’m taking part) because at the end of the day, I want Apple to keep providing the products I want to have. I’ve been working at a local museum two days a week, and for the first time in my life, I’ve had to use a PC.
It’s bloody horrible, in every way imaginable. But eventually, I do get the work done. Yuck – is this really going to be my future?

Tuesday Talk ~ Radio, radio


radioWhat’s the point of music radio any more? I have very ingrained radio habits. I listen to NZ National from 7am till about 1, to catch up on what’s going on in the world from the country’s best journalists, then I switch to Auckland’s BFM, which I prefer for the music, some of the Wired journalistic-style features and, let’s face it, the consistently funniest ads you’ll ever hear. My only gripe with BFM is that some of the DJs think I want to hear them discourse at length about whatever takes their fancy. They’re wrong.

But I was listening to BFM the other day when I realised the DJ was actually playing tracks from Apple Music. I’m not saying I could figure this out due to some kind of extremely fine-tuned musical perception combined with my long time close association with all things Apple, because no – I knew because he said so!
Now, in iTunes, you can listen to radio without even using Apple Music. Open iTunes, make sure you’re on Music, and along the top centre, you’ll see Library (your music), For You (Apple Music), Browse, Radio and Store. Yes, it’s called Radio.
There’s plenty there, and it’s well worth a look, but the difference between that and Apple Music is that Music has you pay a subscription but then it curates to your tastes, even making suggestions to encourage music discovery, which is really cool (Spotify and the like does the same thing).
Which brings me back to BFM. I listen to BFM because about half the music they play, at least, is music I like, and it’s been my primary source of music discovery since the 1980s. With Apple Music, I would get a more tailored experience, discover new music, no ads at all (even though BFM’s are very witty), and no annoying DJs who wrongly assume I will be dazzled by their brilliance about everyday life when all I want them to do is put another track on.

So, radio, it might be time to reinvent yourself and ask once again ‘what do listeners actually want?’

Tuesday Talk ~ The Cult of Mac is getting anxious


(Image from Pinterest)
(Image from Pinterest)

Here we are, all hanging on for new Macs. I know at least ten people in the same boat as me. We’ve been clinging on to our Macs, keeping them running, afraid to upgrade because we know, or at least think we know (while definitely fervently hoping) that a new model is imminent. This goes specifically for the MacBook Pro, which hasn’t had a full update (just some some minor refreshes) since 2012.

It’s worse for Mac Pro users …if there are any left. When that first round Pro tower came out in 2013, it was expensive but hey, it was the fastest and best. However, that didn’t last long and even a year later you could get a higher-specced PC for considerably less. This has been very difficult for Pro users to swallow, and some have even jumped ship to powerful Unix boxes while others must be thinking enviously along the same lines.
It’s not as if other manufacturers failed to notice Pro-user unhappiness, making more easily expandable, higher-specced and cheaper PCs available. The Pro hasn’t been updated in three years. Meanwhile, the excellent, but overpriced (going by the competition’s prices) Apple Thunderbolt display has been cancelled entirely, with no replacement. Luckily there are excellent high-quality displays you can plug in, in their stead, but the Thunderbolt offered some handy extra ports. But there are no rumours that Apple is even looking at a Pro update. Pro users who wanted to stay with Apple have been buying very well-specced 27-inch iMacs instead.
Apple has almost limitless resources, yet seems to have chosen to all but abandon its strongest, and most powerful, supporters.

Leaving Mac lines to languish is starting to affect sales. According to both Gartner and IDC, during the third quarter (3Q) of 2016, Apple shipped five million Macs – down from 5.4 million in the year-ago quarter, according to Gartner or from 5.8, according to IDC: a 13.4% decline. You can’t blame this on sales lost to iPad, since tablet sales aren’t picking up the slack. And there is no way on Earth that a powerful iPad even begins to be able to do what a good MacBook Pro can do, even if the latest iPad Pro outperforms the overpriced, virtually port-free MacBook. The problem, everyone agrees, is the stale Mac line-up.

Of course, the MacBook Pro is strongly rumoured to be undergoing work and everyone has been hoping it will arrive by the end of this October, although that date is getting uncomfortably close. For a professional user, an Air or worse, MacBook just can’t even begin to cut it. With a good MacBook Pro, you really can produce an entire movie, soundtrack and plenty more. It’s a really strong machine. And it has a good array of ports – if Apple cuts these, there will be a lot of disappointment.
The tragedy of all this is that if Apple doesn’t produce something spectacular, the professional crisis will depend and maybe even become a tipping point.