Tag Archives: Tuesday Talk

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 ~ Politics, tech and uncertainty


25042013 News Photo: John Kirk-Anderson / The Press / Fairfax NZ
The NZ Army band marches onto Cranmer Square during the ANZAC Parade, Christchurch.

When I was growing up in New Zealand, I was told never to talk about politics or religion. Boring, since these were two things I was already interested in. I remember explaining to someone in Holland that you could know a New Zealand for six months or more before knowing who they might vote for. He thought this was absurd – certainly for the forthright Dutch. He was right, of course.
It makes it easy to believe New Zealanders don’t like to talk about politics because they’re not very sure of their convictions, or that they’re informed-enough to be ashamed of them. (Reticence about religion is, I suspect, because it makes people feel guilty, one way or another.)
Apple is of course, not ‘just’ a tech firm. Steve Jobs had political and spiritual opinions and they weren’t hidden. His replacement, Tim Cook, has championed LBGT rights and other social issues. In the age of Trump, and of fake news, politics of people and companies will inevitably come into more focus. If we ignore unpleasantnesses like Trump, we risk tacitly endorsing them.
Plenty of people just hoped Hitler would go away, too …

Bryan Chaffin and Chuck Joiner talk about how politics affects Apple in a podcast. They contend Apple has to be political simply because it’s so big. I’m not sure I agree; I think it’s different. I mean, IBM and Ford were ‘political’ and huge, but this came from the top down in both cases (right-wingers running things). Apple was an outsider company during its genesis and formative years, attracting outsiders to its products. This rippled down into its workforce, which assisted it to carry on being ‘disruptive’. To simplify, the computer world was firmly for technocrats until Apple came along: if you couldn’t type code, you couldn’t use a computer to even print a document. Apple changed all that.
It used to be you’d literally only see people who were ‘cool’ using Apple stuff. Obama, for example, was mystified that he’d have to stop using his beloved iPhone once he became US president (this didn’t last). Now of course, it’s everybody using them.
Even Donald Trump.

If my spouting things about politics upsets you, you can always stop reading. If my politics don’t agree with yours, you can stop reading. I mean personally, I believe in knowing about things I dislike, but it’s your choice. Because Mac NZ is a free service. I do a lot for you, for free, which means you’re not bound to read it. I curate the Apple news and serve links to brilliant Apple commentators, and I give you excellent tips and, hopefully, helpful advice, and I’m happy to carry on doing that as it keeps me informed about the products I love to use – but with the rise of Trump, I can’t sit on the fence when it comes to politics.

We’re coming up to ANZAC Day. We honour those who fought to resist tyranny in World War Two, as well as those who fought for … I’m not quite sure what, actually, in World War One.
Let’s not forget.

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 ~ 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?

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.