Category Archives: Tuesday Talk

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’.

Tuesday Talk ~ Where to for the Mac? Still …


This discussion is still unresolved. As Daniel Iran Dilger points out on Apple Insider, Apple’s mix of products, and therefore revenues, has changed a lot over the last two decades. In 1997, it was a mix of Macs that Apple sold; nowadays Macs form less than a fifth of Apple’s products with iPhone responsible for well over a half.
It’s easy to think Apple doesn’t care too much about the Mac, and yet it’s the Mac that made Apple what it is, and it’s the Mac users who form Apple’s most loyal, and longest standing, customer base. But some of Apple’s Mac hardware hasn’t been updated for years. It’s easy to see why, going by the sales mix, but this has created uncertainty about whether Apple still values some of its smaller niche businesses. As Dilger points out, these were once considered strategically important to Apple and included audio, video, graphics and publishing professionals.
On Apple’s current Compare Mac Models page, which lists a dozen Mac products, seven are notebooks, three are iMacs and two haven’t been materially updated in years: Mac mini and Mac Pro. It’s clear the Mac Pro was designed for professional users, and really made waves when it appeared in 2013 but that’s a very long time ago in computing terms, but the little mini has done sterling duty in many pro environments as a file server. Sure, the MacBook Pro had a refresh last year, and this was significant, although not significant enough for some, but even that seemed tardy.

Meanwhile we have the uncertainty about the little Air line, which now seems like an iPad with a keyboard and ports, and the confusing MacBook, an overpriced machine (over NZ$2000!) with limited options aimed at … who, exactly? And why?
John Martellero reckons Apple has it’s eye on the ball, but it’s not the same ball everyone else has their eye on. This is Jobsian, anyway.

Where does all this leave pro users? Tim Cook has made vague promises that Apple is not forgetting its pro users but … it’s been forgetting them for a while, starting with the thoroughly mishandled launch of Final Cut Pro X that turned so many pro users against Apple. And that situation still exists, despite major efforts to redress those issues with what is now superb video editing software.
The proof is in the pudding. And we want that pudding this year, please. Because ordinary Mac users are starting to be affected by all this, too.

Tuesday Talk ~ Post PC and iPad toast


macpro-inside

Steve Jobs would have turned 62 last week, and among many of the quite revolutionary things he said, in this case near the end of his time, was that the PC era was over. He imagined iPad would embody its replacement. However, Macs are still selling in large numbers, although sales aren’t growing, while iPad plateaued a couple of years back and has been sitting at the same level. In fact, all device sales have plateaued; the point is Mac sales took a whole lot longer to level out. So today, it looks like iPads haven’t replaced Macs, and although some people use them as their primary devices, they tend to accompany rather than to replace, at least for users with needs beyond the superficial.

For those who only browse, email/message and read, iPads are ideal tablets. For those wanting to do serious work, it really depends on the work. Apple’s beefy, powerful iPad Pro is really just an untethered Cintiq-style drawing device. Sure, you can also browse, email/message and read, and you can conceivably rough-out a sound or film project, but serious users will soon end up on a PC of some sort because the manipulation, although direct (via fingertips and maybe a stylus) on a tablet, still lags behind what’s possible with a keyboard and mouse/trackpad/etc.
As soon as you start adding physical input devices (apart from the Pencil) to iPads, well hell, you may as well have a Mac and be done with it.

It’s the portable Macs that have really worked for Apple. As Apple Insider points out, If you’re still wondering why Apple hasn’t updated its desktop Macs (the mini and Pro), their relative importance to Apple’s revenues certainly plays a factor. Apple sells truckloads of portable Macs, and comparatively few iMacs and even less of the overpriced, underperforming Mac Pros.
Many think the Mac Pro will soon disappear altogether, especially since it needs a monitor as a separate purchase, and Apple’s nomination for that vaunted position, in place of its own overpriced but excellent monitor, is the very troubled LD UltraFine.
This sounds doom and gloom, but the fact remains the large iMac is all-round wonderful: beautiful, powerful and with a truly excellent display. Most videographers and audio engineers are more than happy to work on these, and they’re saving money. Apple could do a lot to make these even better, if the Pro gets the heave-ho. 

Gloom and doom? I don’t think so. It’s easy for me to sound sour in these columns, but around the time Apple releases a great new iPhone, we could also be getting Kaby Lake MacBook Pros, awesome new iMacs and an iPad revision. To me, that’s good times and lots to look forward to. I won’t be missing the Mac Pro, and most  pro users have abandoned these long ago anyway, for cheaper faster PCs. They might be pleased to come back to Mac just for the superior operating system.

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


img_0848

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?