Tag Archives: commentary

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 too 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 ~ 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 ~ 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 ~ 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 ~ 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 ~ 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 ~ 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?


original-mac-ad-hello-1200x800

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 ~ 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?’