Category Archives: Tuesday Talk

Tuesday Talk ~ iPhones 8 and 10


(Images from Apple’s iPhone NZ page)

Is an X sexier than a 10? It’s bolder-looking, anyhow, but begs being expressed as ‘Ex’ instead of ‘ten’. I remember how uncomfortable Apple used to be about people saying ‘Oh Ess Ex’ (just say it a couple of times) yet they persisted, I wondered if changing the nomenclature to ‘macOS X’ was a part of the gradually persuasive campaign to get people to pronounce it as ‘macOS Ten’ instead (it used to just be ‘OS X’ but then iOS and watchOS became big players).

And should you wait for an iPhone X or spring for an 8? They have many of the same features, Personally, I don’t like phablets as they’re simply too big for the pocket, so the 8 is the natural choice for me for three reasons: it’s cheaper, it’s smaller and it’s available now.
I still have an iPhone 6. I bought it three years ago. I took all the pictures in my latest book with it. It’s getting a little shoddy but it still performs perfectly well and I like the slim form factor (virtually the same as the 8). If I can hang on till the iPhone 8s, I will, but it may not last that long. The iPhone 8 is a wonderful phone with an Apple-developed A11 Bionic CPU that blitzes the chips from all them other smartphone makers. That’s pretty compelling, although I have to admit, since I don’t play games on my iPhone, the camera advances are likely to be more useful to me. I have noticed my 6 processing photos quite slowly these days, so I will definitely appreciate more core-power.
Apple is using the new A11 Bionic in its iPhone 8/8 Plus models but it’s the same as that in the iPhone X. The scores Geekbench outlines for the three models show some variation between them (less than 5% in single core and around 7% in multicore), likely related to the difference in display resolution and offset by a difference in RAM.
The A11 Bionic is 25% faster in single core and 80% faster in multicore scores than iPhone 7. This is particularly noteworthy because Apple’s latest chip delivers new neural net, camera ISP and GPU capabilities above and beyond what a generic processor benchmark measures. With more Augmented and Virtual Reality apps due to start arriving soon, thanks to Apple’s ARKit promotion, this performance will become ever more useful.

I guess this all begs the question ‘are we excited about iPhone 8 and X?’ I don’t know if ‘excited’ is the right word for me, but that normally happens once an Apple expert talks me through a new device. These are very solid improvements, no doubt. I have always lauded Apple’s dedication to improving things and making them more useful. On that spectrum, these are pretty dramatic advances.
I’m really looking forward to a new iPhone for myself, for sure, and it’s not like me to imagine waiting another 12 months for something I really want and need, so we’ll see. For me, the 8 ticks all the boxes.
But do I understand the allure of the iPhone X model? I have to say no, for the same reason I don’t ‘get’ Porsches. They’re technically amazing, for sure, but you can’t drive them anywhere near their performance, so what’s the point? Apart from showing off. I’ve never been one to own things merely to show off, and to me so far, at it’s ridiculous price point, the X hints more of that.

I don’t believe this is just reverse-snobbery, by the way. I like to use something to at least 50% of its capabilities. Driving a supercar on a New Zealand road, you’re getting 20% of its potential at best. Paying a premium to do that is very far away from common sense.
I feel the same way about an iPhone X. At least there are no speed limitations for it, but very few iPhone users will be pushing it to anywhere near its potential.
So what’s the point, unless you have the ego of a Mike Hosking? (And indeed, what’s the point of Mike Hosking’s ego? It’s without worth.)

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Tuesday Talk ~ iPhone ate


Looks like September 12th will be the date Apple launches its ‘completely new’ iPhone. That means it won’t be new tech in an existing case, but an all-new case as well. And that’s not an official, Apple-announced date, either, it’s just the ‘widely tipped’ date. Apple may also usher in this new device in its new campus, Apple Park, the huge round facility it’s been building over the last couple of years in Cupertino.
As I’ve mentioned before, papers all over the world, including to its discredit the New Zealand Herald, have been publishing articles as if the iPhone 8 already exists and they already know what’s in it. Neither have been even remotely true. Along with lists of its guessed-at ‘features’ have been the usual naysayers predicting its failure. These commentators have been doing this for decades now, before every imminent Apple launch.
Clearly they haven’t been learning from their own failures.
Perhaps I’m being harsh on the Herald, which is essentially just a republisher these days anyway, with almost no journalists to draw on – how’s that working out for you? Anyway, some even otherwise reputable Apple commentary sites have been indulging in this stupidity, and presumably for the same reason: for web traffic and readership.

Meanwhile, Samsung has launched its Galaxy 8. Samsung has made some pretty hot phones for sure, and indeed its hereditary CEO has been in hot water himself and is now facing jail time. The Note 8 has a large ‘Infinity Display’ (edge-to-edge) along with Samsung’s first dual camera module [which Apple introduced with iPhone 7+), an improved S Pen, and features like iris scanning, facial recognition, and wireless charging. The Galaxy 8 uses a Snapdragon 835 CPU, currently the most powerful chip available to Android devices. It’s produced using 10-nanometer manufacturing, which means its tiny transistors are placed ever so slightly closer together. iPhone 7 uses 14-nanometre; iPhone 8 will most likely have 10-nanometer. But despite fewer cores and slower clock speeds, iPhones have been outpacing its fastest Android-powered rivals in benchmarks and speed tests for years thanks to Apple being able to refine and integrate every single component in its devices. Actually, when you think about it, Samsung should be able to do this too … Anyway, if you can handle the Android flurry of overlapping operating systems available, it looks like an advanced and excellent smartphone, although its getting towards tablet-size.

Where will Apple go with iPhone 8? We’ll soon see. In the near future, I don’t see the operating systems merging. iOS started as a mobile version of macOS and they have largely been developed separately, but increasingly they’re borrowing features from each other. Until the systems merge, you won’t be able to run an iPad app on a Mac and vice versa – you’ll still have to acquire companion versions of the same app for either platform. Apart from one interface using screen-touch and the other using input (trackpads, mice etc), the real barrier to all this is simply capacity: CPU power and storage.
Those barriers are being lowered almost daily.

Tuesday Talk ~ Augmenting this reality


NZ developers Quiver created this tech that brings things alive on physical colouring pages

The problem with Augmented Reality is, simply put, processing power, but this is something all smart and tablet devices are steadily overcoming. That said, even ten years ago there were some genuinely interesting and effective examples of augmented reality. Indeed, it was the buzz back then, but what happened? Pokémon Go, if anything, is what put it back on the table.

Apple is taking it really seriously now, too, with the release of ARKit, which helps developers create augmented reality apps. Augmented reality places extra content over an overlay usually served by the device’s camera: hold your phone up, for example, over a street scene and see additional information overlaid, or a historic site as it looked in the 1880s. Or try new furniture in your own lounge, or impose fantastical storylines on existing scenes, or play dress-ups. Once again, apps like these were available ten years ago already. But releasing ARKit really boots along the whole franchise. New Zealand companies have long been strong in this realm too, for example Quiver which has been making strong, effective AR content from long before ARKit arrived.
(If you want to see if you can run ARKit on your device, here’s a list.)

Apple has made other interesting forays too, of course. Another developer kit is HomeKit, and we saw HomePod announced at WWDC. This little round speaker is easy to write off as ‘just another’ networked speaker, but we won’t really know its full potential until it’s released, of course. But what it will actually do is enable all your Apple devices: your iPads, iPhone, Watch and Mac, to be expressed audibly, tying them all together in useful ways. HomePod will also connect to door chimes, thermostats, garage doors, air conditioners, electrical outlets and more. Literally, you could soon be controlling everything you interact with via your iPhone in your pockets, and you may be able to say things like ‘Open front door’ to your HomePod as well. Perhaps most interestingly, HomePod will work with energy management technologies: imagine a future where your solar roof panels power all these devices and you interact with them via HomePod, including managing your Apple home battery (Tesla has already entered this field – a home battery stores the day’s solar energy so you can use it at night, and not just when the sun is shining).

So, what about Artificial Intelligence? A cuddly pod we can all understand: talk to it, and it responds, and plays music … Artificial Intelligence is another story. You know, it’s intelligent. I have always imagined, thanks to a steady diet of sci-fi growing up, that if anything with any power had the same or better intelligence the us, it would (very sensibly) want to get rid of us. Look at us! We’re idiots. We’re wrecking our home planet and voting for even worse idiots than us.

Am I being crazy? Facebook’s AI program developed its own language, and humans couldn’t understand it. This all went a bit sideways when Facebook’s scientists and engineers realized they couldn’t understand their own chatbots. So Facebook had to shut them down. Yikes!

Tuesday Talk ~ When enemies are good, and Apple succession


When Apple was an underdog fighting the Wintel hegemony, Steve Jobs believed it was good to have an enemy. In Apple’s early days, Steve Jobs had IBM as the enemy, which seems odd now that the companies collaborate so much. Having an enemy keeps employees and fans alike focused on the company and the platform, which can be a dream scenario. Steve Jobs was expert at stoking those fires, and then reversing course and embracing the enemy as a long lost – and necessary – friend. There’s no tech company Apple is particularly disenchanted with now, so no obvious enemy – Apple has been working with Microsoft, for example, for years, and even when the incendiary Balmer was it’s CEO it never got really bad. Now collaboration is even better thanks to CEO Satya Narayana Nadella.

An obvious foe, you’d think, would be US President Donald Trump. He’s anti-gay, anti-foreigner, retrogressive, aggressive, big-mouthed and, most likely, mentally unbalanced (or at least mentally inadequate), yet even Apple isn’t game to take him on. Although honestly, I suspect Jobs may have been obstreperous enough. (Jobs’ father was a Syrian refugee, but Steve was born in the US and adopted out). Yet Tim Cook has worked with Trump’s advisory teams on occasion, despite abhorring Trump’s anti-gay stance and his anti immigrant bias and, I’m sure, quite a lot more. Apple has also pledged to guard its users privacy while Trump calls for tools to decrypt everything, or at least encrypt data less (all of which may complicate Apple’s push into Artificial Intelligence, which you have to admit looks more attractive in the light of where so-called ‘human intelligence’ appears to be leading us these days).
While Tim Cook has made veiled references to Facebook and Google’s harvesting of data for profit, they’re, you know, veiled: “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it,” he said in a 2015 speech. “We think that’s wrong.” My italics – “They”being mostly Google and Facebook.

I’m not criticising Cook – I think Jobs made a great choice in him. And succession can be such a poison chalice. Just look how badly the New Zealand Labour Party has handled that over the last ten years, and where that’s got us: National is floundering and there’s no one able to capitalise on it.
But who would succeed Cook, who has piloted Apple through stormy waters while continuing to make vast profits, while growing Apple’s services into a money-making behemoth?
Tim Cook was already Chief Operating Officer and essentially running Apple during the illness of Steve Jobs in 2009-11, learning every aspect of the company while being groomed to take the helm. If the only candidates are Phil Schiller and Jeff Williams, they’re gifted and very competent, sure, but also both very ‘white bread’.

I think Apple needs to keep promoting diversity within the company to stay successful in this divisive world  If either of these guys end up in charge, they need a strong, connected and diverse management team under them to keep engaging with world concerns – and world markets.

Tuesday Talk ~ iPhone milestone


Ten years of iPhone, crikey. Apple did not invent the smartphone, no. Apple made the smartphone usable, just like it did with the Mac as regards the PC industry back in 1984. Apple doesn’t need to invent new platforms, it just needs to keep making them meaningful to us. Before the Mac (even though Apple was dabbling in this territory with Apple computers that predated the Mac) you had to pretty much type instructions to send a page to a printer. If you wanted a bold header, you had to type in code that directed it to bold the header. You didn’t know if you got it right till the page printed. Apple put visual clues on the screen to help us get tasks done: folders looked like actual paper folders, files looked like paper documents etcetera. This seems obvious to everybody now, but back then, it was revolutionary.

It looks obvious now, because everybody copied it. That’s Apple’s true strength, in my opinion. If you truly love your smartphone by Samsung, HTC or whatever, and you think it’s far superior (or at least cheaper) than iPhone, well great – where would you be without Steve Jobs’ vision to make that first iPhone ten years ago?

There’s considerable pressure for Apple to do something spectacular this year because it’s the tenth anniversary of iPhone. I’ve been saying this too, but actually, I didn’t mean Apple might bring out something with a laser death ray, dancing virtual elephants, a teeth-cleaning facility and a cure for baldness, no. I just meant Apple would probably change the physical attributes of the phone.
The 6 and 7 are basically in the same cases; the 10th anniversary model at least deserves a new design, and perhaps even better screen tech (OLED seems most likely).
When you think about it, a smartphone can only be designed so far – it needs a charge port, visible or not, some way of attaching earbuds (visible or not) and buttons for volume, sleep, mute, and it needs a large screen as most of the interface functions are via touch-screen … and it all has to fit in your pocket. Apple’s been toying with cable-free (EarPods) but who knows how far this will get o this year’s model? I haven’t been posting what the new iPhone will have and look like, unlike even the NZ Herald, because this is all speculation and rumour and doesn’t deserve the attention it has been receiving. The big changes over the years have been the motion coprocessor, Touch ID and 3D Touch. Ape has been playing with, and acquiring, all sorts of AI, AR and VR technologies, but Apple looks way ahead.
Jobs conceived the iPhone 25 years before it was possible to make it.

Will iPhone 8 be great? Yes, because the 7 is, the 6 was, the 5 was … all the way back to 2007 when the first iPhone came out, Revolutionary, beautifully built, life changing. What more could you ask for?

 

Tuesday Talk ~ What is Apple up to? A lot!


(Speculative image from TechFrag)

Apple sure has been busy lately! While everyone knew (and hoped) Apple was up to things, the gap between the 2016 and the 2017 WWDC seemed to yawn cavernously on, with any glimmers of hope generated by eager commentators and aficionados while Apple remained monolithically silent. We all hoped Apple was crazy-busy behind the scenes, but there was little evidence to support that, thanks to the usual layers of secrecy, until the very welcome blockbuster announcements.
The hardware announcements appealed to almost everybody, but of course, WWDC is a developer conference. For the San José hordes to leave smiling, they needed more than a raft of new hardware to aspire to.
But Apple’s messages have been mixed. On the one hand, Apple more than halved affiliate fees people can earn by directing their readers to Apple services, which just seems rude and uncaring considering how stinkingly-wealthy Apple is, while on the other there have been moves to both broaden and tighten the so-called ‘Apple ecosystem’. In this model, every device you have is by Apple, and Apple tech and services connects them all up. Coders code  on Apple devices and in Apple environments, and users can’t really get into the hardware and software of those devices, unlike the more accessible Microsoft and Android platforms.

Some of these moves are very welcome. For example, Apple will soon let the people who make podcasts learn what podcast listeners actually like – and what they ignore. A coming version of Apple’s Podcasts, which is by far the most popular podcast app, will provide basic analytics to podcast creators, giving them the ability to see when podcast listeners play individual episodes, and more importantly what part of individual episodes they listen to, which parts they skip over, and when they bail out of an episode.
This has been an annoyingly opaque world for far too long: launch your podcast into the ether and your only real feedback is how many people downloaded it, and the minimal user-feedback on iTunes.
iBooks is even worse – the authoring app dates back to 2012 and the awful truth only really dawns on you when you publish a book: sales are tiny because nobody really uses the iBooks platform (which is flat-out marvellous) and Apple seemingly cannot be bothered to put any effort into it or to properly promote it.
But the podcasts initiative is a sign of hope.

However, Apple is now clearly busy on several fronts. Self-driving machine learning is at the core of Apple’s car ambitions. We know this because Tim Cook said so. You know, in public. Business Chat will appear in iOS 11, which will work across Apple’ iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but not the Mac (at first, anyway). Apple customers will be able to start a conversation with a business from Safari, Maps, Spotlight, and Siri. Once again, inside that Apple ecosystem, all will be sweet – it’s just that some find this a constriction whereas most users find it a pure boon.
Tim Cook has also announced a wide range of software and hardware changes that will finally bring VR to macOS, and that’s pretty surprising because Tim Cook himself had been on record as giving “exactly zero damns about VR“. Which I think is a good thing because it shows he’s flexible to new realities, right?

For some, of course, it has all been too much, even from the 2016 announcements. Because when you think about it, a lot of the top announcements at the last WWDC hardly went anywhere. How many people with 3D Touch-capable devices actually use it? Not many, in my experience, which is a shame as it’s remarkably useful. The same can’t be said for Stickers in Messages. I had a look once, and can’t be bothered with it. Like most people. This was froth, unlike most of the core tech and fundamentals of this year’s initiatives. It’s hard to use, and worse, virtually pointless.
Even Siri was practically useless to me until I discovered it’s superb function as a maths problem solver. I’m so bad at maths it takes me ages even to frame the question properly in a calculator or spreadsheet. Then if I’m lucky I might get close to the answer. Being able to just ask Siri a maths problem framed as a normal question is unbelievably satisfying and efficient.

All round, I think this year’s WWDC showed a much greater commitment to the core of what makes people Apple fans. And I’m really happy about that. 

Tuesday Talk ~ Are we happy yet? Yes we are!


Brilliant! (Image from Apple NZ’s iMac page)

For months now, commentators have been  lambasting Apple for not updating Macs and for ignoring the pro users. I have regularly been a minor part of that pool of despond in this column.
No more! We’re (mostly) happy. Apple’s June 5th WWDC hardware announcements delivered a  gulp of elixir – the Apple Koolaid was back and we were slugging it down. For a heady day or two, anyway. I immediately, gleefully ordered a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. The Kaby Lake CPU was the tipping point I was waiting for. It wasn’t even that Kaby Lake gives a significant increase of power – it doesn’t. It’s just that I didn’t want to drop cNZ$5k onto a new Mac without Kaby Lake when I knew it was available, and already populating many PC models. I can hardly wait for my new Mac to arrive, since my current model is 5 years old – that’s a very long life for a Mac for me (and truth be told, it’s still a wonderful laptop).

But the really big news, for the pros, was the iMac Pro. Although this will cost over NZ$8000, by current exchange rates, it’s not for the typical iMac users – they have been catered to with new iMacs anyway, with even better screens and Kaby Lake and at much more affordable prices. Even these will very handily handle major Apple Final Cut and Adobe Premiere tasks without breaking a sweat.
But the iMac Pro is aimed at the very serious user, as the bedrock to, for example, an audio, audio visual or video/TV/film editing studio, and although that’s a lot of money, hey, it already has a fantastic screen and has real grunt. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that unlike the current Mac Pro (tower), it’s almost impossible to put together a similar PC and monitor setup for less than what the iMac Pro will cost – in fact, Apple’s new machine, due in December, is actually a bargain. And despite it, Apple has also announced it is working on a new, user-upgradeable Mac Pro tower.
Good timing, too, since for the first time in a long time, it looks like the PC market will start growing again.
So yes, Apple, were happy – and, sincerely, thank you!

But … no word on the Mac mini. If Apple’s keeping it in the Mac lineup, surely it deserves Kaby Lake? 
No mention of AirPort, which I think Apple is mad to drop if  the company wants us to have seamless wifi connectivity with our Apple devices to the new HomePod it also announced, and if Apple is thinking of palming this off to a third part5y router supplier, then I visit the ghost of the LG 4k monitor debacle on you, Apple! (If you want something done properly …)
No Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar – this looks like a brilliant idea, and you’d expect it if the Touch Bar is appreciated on MacBook Pro, but I suspect the connectivity and functionality over Bluetooth might be the stumbling block. I still want one, though! If you have one on your MacBook Pro and then go to use, say, Final Cut on a Mac, surely you want that feature?
And no iBooks Author update. Apple has let its brilliant and dreadfully under-appreciated eBooks platform languish far too long.

Still — a new iPhone has still to emerge (September, people reckon). Apple will doubtless have more news for us as the year progresses. For Mac users, the happy times are here again.

Tuesday Talk ~ Microsoft


Did you know Microsoft is expanding its presence on Apple’s iOS 10 messaging platform with a new iMessage App designed to allow groups to search for movies, food, events and other entertainment options and vote on what to do? Does this surprise you?
It shouldn’t. Despite public posturing to the contrary, which hit its apogee under the madly gesticulating Steve Ballmer (thank goodness for his great replacement, CEO Satya Nadella), Apple and Microsoft have had a long and very rewarding relationship, with engineering teams collaborating on each other’s campuses for decades.
Apple uses Microsoft networking protocols; Microsoft embraces Apple video and audio standards. Microsoft Office works beautifully on Mac and iOS, and in fact, to my eyes, benefits from Apple’s superior (-looking) OS and monitor tech. And even Apple’s macOS has only had little updates over the last couple of years – meanwhile Microsoft is developing a future OS that will combine standard 2D display tech with 3D/holographics, VR and AR. This is called Fluent Design.

I guess we will see if Apple has any vision in this area … one day.
Meanwhile, Microsoft recently released its dev platform Visual Studio for macOS. Chipping, chipping, chipping away …

This is reasonable, sensible and productive. It’s how adults should behave, right? I think so.  However, lately Microsoft has been making hardware, something it has almost never done, barring Xbox. In fact, Windows fans used to laugh at Apple because Apple made hardware as well as software. Then Microsoft made some awful products like that cack-coloured music player and the Windows Phone. Yuk.

But now, Microsoft is making the hardware that even Apple fans can be impressed by, while Apple fiddles while watching its hardware house burn down. Apple’s products are still beautiful, sexy, slim, minimalist … and obsolete, lagging generations behind other computers. Pro Mac users want and need their Macs to be grunty, and nothin’ else! They’ve got to the point where looks are secondary because Apple needs so desperately to up the computational power of its pro machines.
Some, unfortunately, have given up already – will they come back? We used to run stories about ‘switchers’ who had dumped Windows for macOS and couldn’t be happier.
Now there are even rumours that Apple is planning a new ‘pro’ iMac “designed to compete with Microsoft’s Surface Studio all-in-one PC“…

WHAT? That’s pure heresy right there! Also, Apple isn’t in the Virtual Reality space yet. There’s supposedly an Apple lab in wellington pursuing this, and Apple has made various VR acquisitions, but Apple’s hardware isn’t up to VR – Oculus dropped support for the Mac in 2016 because it wasn’t powerful enough. The only thing Apple seems to excel at now is 4K display support, but Windows is catching up fast.
Once we looked cool and progressive with our Apple gear.
Now we look like sad holdouts.

Anyway, it’s WWDC soon (New Zealand’s June 6th). Apple, will announce stuff. But I remember saying that last year … and the year before …

Tuesday Talk ~ managing expectations: pros, gamers and the puck


Where the puck stops …

Every technology company of any merit maps out a technological road ahead, garners resources to reach that point, then heads for it. A lot of what’s achievable, of course, depends on what tech is available, ie with Intel CPUs, port tech, bus chips etc.
Apple, perhaps thanks to undue influence allowed to Jonny Ive, staked its future on the Touch Bar – which I agree is much better than a touch screen on a PC – and slimmer and lighter at any cost, but pro users yearned for more RAM (32 GB), more CPU/GPU speed, and a longer battery life, as the Mac Observer’s John Martellero pointed out.
And if you wonder why gaming is so important to computing, gamers want exactly the same things, so both these markets drive computer development, and of the two, gamers is probably the bigger. In the old saw of ‘skate to where the puck will be, not where the puck is’, Apple is now the puck, and the other tech companies – even dinosaurs like HP and Microsoft – have skated past.

Of course, the counter argument runs that Samsung ‘discovered’ the secret to selling smartphones was to copy Apple’s software as closely as possible. Microsoft did the same thing, reckons Daniel Eran Dilger, in reverse: using its own software, it began copying Apple’s hardware business as closely as it could, which I find ironic after the decades of Microsoft aficionados berating me that ‘Apple didn’t know what it was, a software or hardware company’.
(Hah, sucks to be you, now.)

Apple has the resources to build a fully functioning base on the moon, as I’ve said before, and still have the billions upon billions to improve its offerings with. Yet still we wait. A lot can go wrong with the hopes for an iPhone sales comeback starting in late 2017 with iPhone 8, aka the tenth anniversary iPhone. People these days hold onto their existing smartphones for longer (I’m still more than happy with my 6, and there have been several models since then). Meanwhile a higher percentage of people buying iPhones in the US, still Apple’s biggest market, have been opting for older or cheaper models than they did in the past.
Of course, there are 500 to 600 million iPhones out there in the world. If just 4% of those iPhone owners opt for a new model, that translates into at least 20 million new iPhone sales. As Shira Ovide points out, if the iPhone/smartphone has run out of growth, it’s not clear that driverless cars, streaming videos, ‘smart speakers’ or anything else can fully pick up the slack.

But still, Apple – the puck’s going to be somewhere else. Where will you be?

Tuesday Talk ~ Moan fest


(Image from Apple Insider)

I feel Tuesday Talk has become a moan-fest about what Apple could be, its failings and what the Inc could do better. It didn’t used to be this way – when I used to write about Apple for the New Zealand Herald it was to continuously trumpet Apple’s successes. Apple is still ‘successful’ in that it has a global presence and makes tons of money, of course, but for the last two years Apple seems to have been focussing its energies and resources on … gosh, I don’t know what. Not tech and innovation anyway. At least not visibly.
Apple Watch just turned two, and I was always amazed by this product, mostly because it had serious competitors out there in the market place before it was even actually a product. Rumours of the Apple Watch sparked companies to create smart watches that would be ‘better’ than ‘anything Apple could produce’ … except Apple hadn’t produced anything. That’s pretty incredible power right there.
But was Apple Watch the last really innovative thing Apple did? The Watch is beautifully built, and much more useful than you’d think at first sight. But Apple lost control of the market for a device it hadn’t even released, then had to work to regain the market it had itself created. Apple did, eventually, but this was a bizarre situation that it inadvertently orchestrated for itself.

Since the Watch introduction, Mac lines have languished; iPhone has had some regular updates that haven’t been groundbreaking but definitely very good; iPad has had some regularising updates and its lineup has been refined. But for the rest, Apple now has to do something truly incredible at the World Wide Developers Conference in June on more than one front. The tech world will be focussed on Apple like never before.
But why has Apple been acting this way? That’s what I can’t work out. John Gruber, who I interviewed a few years ago in Wellington, reckons Apple’s team focus has been too much on iPhone.
Sure, under Jobs, Apple would focus its key team members on different projects one after another: a project would get the love, then the love would get moved on to another category. This approach made perfect sense when Apple was lean, a little desperate and lacked resources and power – but now that Apple has resources and power to burn, this approach no longer makes any sense. At all.
Frankly, I’m amazed Apple is still doing this. Indeed, Bryan Chaffin reckons Apple’s Achilles heel is the leadership team’s slavish devotion to maintaining a tiny executive inner circle. This appears to have led to positional nest-feathering and structured, impenetrable ennui. We are supposed to be impressed when Cook, Schiller et al even talk in public, when I’d rather see them releasing new products. I actually don’t care who these people are, they’re not my Apple rock stars. Apple’s products should be.

Even Virtual Reality … sure, I’m excited Apple has set up an AR/VR lab in Wellington, New Zealand. Who wouldn’t be? But really? Google, Microsoft and other big players have been exploring this space for years already. Does Apple really think a white headset with an Apple logo on it at twice the price is all Apple is capable of? All we expect? I really, really hope not. Apple needs to work hard to be a relevant player in this space if it’s going to enter it at all. Apple has been publicly ignoring virtual reality while hiring and acquiring experts at an impressive rate.
Meanwhile, Apple as a gaming platform has had some remarkable successes in iDevices, yet it’s still largely ignored on Mac as it has been for decades. This shouldn’t matter to people who use Macs for anything but gaming, but it does: Macs still have second-rate video cards compared to cheaper PCs largely because it can’t be bothered to attract decent games, which challenge and raise technical specs on PCs. This is galling – yet it has always been galling.
Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed. It’s also galling because virtual reality games will explode.

So I have one message, Apple: please, please get your sh_t together!
I’d much rather be writing positive commentary.

Tuesday Talk ~ Glimmers of Mac hope


(Image from Apple’s NZ Compare page)

In a rather shocking announcement, and despite reputedly brisk sales of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, Apple has dropped to fifth place in Laptop Magazine’s annual ranking of laptops. It held top place in that ranking until this year since 2010, which was pretty incredible in a ranking that compared PC (ie, non-Apple) laptops. For the rankings, Laptop Magazine considers the best combination of quality products, cutting-edge innovation, helpful support, sleek designs and strong value.
Actually, I think Laptop Magazine made some good points, at least about the processors and ports. The most particular ‘ouch’ might be LM’s comment “the 13-inch [MacBook] Air feels like leftovers that have been left out on the counter for over two years, complete with a 5th Generation Intel Core chip. (We’re now on 7th Gen, people.)”

(Image from Apple NZ’s Mac page)

This underscores a valid criticism of the whole Mac line, which Macworld scathingly calls “a showcase of old technology“. This includes the Pro which was a cutting edge professional powerhouse at launch for about six months and then never really updated again, for years, while the PC world romped away with ever more powerful and ever more affordable alternatives. For professionals, at a certain point, price trumps brand loyalty. Many professionals passed this point already three years ago.
But the hopeful bit came a few days back, when Apple’s Phil Schiller talked about an updated Mac Pro available now, but more importantly a more expandable, wholly-new Pro that will come out next year and other new Macs that will be more imminent.
As for the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I really want one and I have the money. My MacBook Pro is 5 years old and staggering under it’s workload (it gets used a lot), but I was teased Kaby Lake Intel CPUs and I decided I’d hold out for them, since it’s already available. But Apple decided to hold with the previous Intel Skylake CPUs …
So I’m still waiting.
Maybe Apple doesn’t need money from Mac sales since it makes so much from not paying tax? I don’t know.
But this all rather begs the question, why does Apple, with all its power and money, wait for things to get so bad before doing anything about it? And not just in one instance (the Pro), but in many? (MacBook air, mini) while releasing an anaemic, over-priced machine without a niche (MacBook)?
Since, as Marty Edwards points out, Apple could just decide to conquer the PC world completely if it actually wanted to.
So to me, Schiller’s reassuring statements didn’t actually answer many questions, and I won’t be reassured until I actually see progress.

Tuesday Talk ~ Apple and New Zealand tax


(Image from YouTube)

First of all, lots of people don’t like paying tax. Neoliberals and conservatives in particular seem to have massive issues with tax, although they seem to have no problem driving on the roads those taxes paid for, being cared for by public medical services or taking advantage of public education, or at least of education subsidies paid on their behalf from tax revenue so their little darlings can benefit from private school educations that advantage the advantaged.
But that’s partly what I find so odd about Apple apparently paying ‘no’ tax in New Zealand: Apple has a reputation for supporting democrats, standing up for equality and strongly pursuing sustainability ambitions. None of these are exactly ‘neoliberal’.
However, Apple is also a rapacious US corporation with its eye firmly on profit. Apple will do almost anything to defend its interests, ruthlessly cut product lines and teams that don’t satisfy this urge for ever more money and, seemingly, exploit any avenue that leads to even more money on the extremely wealthy corporation’s bottom line.

But what’s the truth about Apple and New Zealand tax? Sure, Apple makes money in New Zealand. It’s a tiny territory and hardly a big factor in Apple profits, although New Zealand has always been relatively high in Mac use, then iPhone adoption.
But ‘Apple New Zealand’, although it has an office in Auckland and staff on the ground here, is actually run out of Sydney, Australia as part of ‘Apple Pacific’ which, in turn, reports directly back to Cupertino (or at least, this was the case last I heard). So Apple pays its tax in Australia, and not New Zealand. This actually means Apple pays more tax, not less: if Apple operated this subsidiary out of New Zealand it would be paying tax at 28%, but because it’s based in Australia, it’s subject to tax at 30%, as Seamus Coffey asserts.
Look, I’m not advocating tax avoidance – in fact, it makes me sick to the stomach. You choose to live in a society, and you pay your dues, as far as I’m concerned. And if I can pay tax on my tiny income, Apple can pay tax on its massive one.
Of course, corporate tax is paid on profit, not sales (apart from the New Zealand Goods and Services Tax or GST, which Apple does pay even on online sales).
Apple has not paid any income tax in New Zealand for the last ten years in New Zealand, but it has paid out $37 million from NZ sales to the Australian Tax Office instead of to New Zealand’s Inland Revenue.

But the issue is being ‘investigated’ by National minister Judith Collins. You know, the one whose husband runs Oravida, which is making millions out of selling free New Zealand water by bottling it and moving it overseas. So yeah – kettle, pot, black …

Of course, none of this excuses Apple from its tax avoidance elsewhere. That totally sucks.

Tuesday Talk ~ Siri and The Silent Division


Do you have your Siri set to a male or female voice? Personally, I prefer female. Possibly that’s because I had two daughters and even the cat’s a girl, so I’m used to being told what to do by female voices. [OK, that’s a joke. Honestly.]
No, I just prefer it. Whether it’s easier to understand and clearer, I don’t know. But do please note that Siri can not only be set to the New Zealand English accent – in other words, to better understand New Zealanders –  it can also be set to either of two genders and even to other languages. My current choice is an Irish female voice, partly because it’s so pleasant. You can do this in Settings>Siri, and on the Mac, System Preferences>Siri.

Regardless, we now have digital assistants with us all the time. And they’re literally a voice summons away.
And they’re literally iterated all over the place – Apple shipped 78 million iPhones, 13 million iPads, and 5.4 million Macs just in the last quarter.
All of them have Siri. This doesn’t even include Apple Watches and, of course, Macs. The research firm Canalys estimates Apple sold 6 million Watches last quarter. All in all, that’s over 100 million Siri enabled devices in one quarter. S/he’s literally everywhere.

Of course, there are rivals. Consumer Intelligence Research estimates Amazon sold 5.2 million Amazon echoes … for all of 2016. Ouch. And there’s Microsoft’s Cortana.
As I just explained to a SeniorNet group in Auckland yesterday, Siri on your Mac is particularly handy, for doing Maths (I love this! Asking for a percentage of a number, for example, is way easier than mucking about with a calculator). But you can also use it to find file, launch files and apps and open folders, and even to start playing iTunes music. Want to find something on the web? Launch Siri, say ‘Find me news about flooding on the web’.

Once you start doing things like this, you start considering if trackpads and mice will be necessary at all soon. For many of us who don’t mind the sound of our own voices, this is a strikingly fast and convenient way to do oh so many things.
I only worry about walking down the street and yakking to my iPhone in public. After all, us Kiwis are a reticent bunch – New Zealand soldiers in world War One famously stopped singing when they came to a village, to resume a safe distance away on the other side, earning them the nickname amongst Belgian and French villagers of ‘The Silent Division’.