Oct 16

The beautifully annoying Siri Remote


This is an article one year in the making.

It’s not that I’m such a slow writer. (Well, maybe a little of that.) It’s because I’ve been patient and forgiving. I’ve tried to adapt, learn new tricks and think positive. But at some point I have to face the fact—

I will never love the Siri Remote for Apple TV.

In fact, I think it’s earned a place in the Apple Hall of Infamy, right alongside one of the company’s classic aberrations: the hockey puck mouse that shipped with the original iMac. Continue reading →

Sep 14

Apple’s i prepares for retirement

At last week’s event, Tim Cook made it clear that Apple Pay and Apple Watch have an amazing future.

He made it equally clear that Apple’s little “i” has no future at all.

It’s difficult to draw any other conclusion, since iPay and iWatch would have fit so perfectly into Apple’s current naming scheme.

Hey, we all knew this day would come. The i had a long and fruitful life, but it’s time to start planning for the golden years.

The truth is, the idea of moving past the i had come up at various times inside Apple. In fact, I had a conversation with Steve Jobs on this very topic way back in 2006. Continue reading →

Oct 13

Apple event: the week-after report

Rush to judgment? Nah. Not here. A week after Apple’s latest product unveiling, I’ve had time to let it stew.

I’ve also had time to play with the various bits of new software. Here are some random reactions to all of it:

Disaster! Apple didn’t revolutionize anything. True, but let us note that historically, Apple’s astronomical success has come from three places: its ability to revolutionize, its ability to improve upon the revolutions, and its ability to out-market its competitors. At this event, we got two out of three.

Opening video
As Tim Cook noted, this was a repeat from this summer’s WWDC. “It does such an incredible job talking about our values,” said he. While many love this video, I’m not a fan of it. To quote from Game of Thrones, “If you have to say you’re the king, you’re not a true king.” Apple has in the past communicated its values more clearly than any other company — simply by producing great products and great ads.

Craig Federighi
Damn, he’s good. Everyone at Apple is smart, but being likable is a very different matter. Of all the presenters, Craig wins in this measure hands-down. Did you notice that when Tim yielded the stage to Craig, the superlative count dropped precipitously? While Tim incessantly pounds words like “amazing” and “incredible,” Craig cuts way back. As they say in the speaking biz, he’s a natural. Continue reading →

Sep 13

CNN plays the “Apple is failing” card again

Apparently, there isn’t much real news left in the world.

Why else would CNN present an ill-reasoned opinion piece as a front-page news story?

Oh, right. Because another “Apple is in serious trouble” story is always good for a few clicks.

With the scent of CNN’s recent Apple-doubting articles still in the air, this link was listed among the news headlines yesterday: Apple’s innovation problem is real.

Unfortunately, the only reality one can take from this article is that two writers can write a more vapid article than one. Continue reading →

Feb 12

Where have Apple’s headlines gone?

Driving around LA with colleagues recently, we were greeted by iPad billboards just about everywhere we went. All shared the same clever headline: “iPad 2.”

That got my merry band wondering: when was the last time an Apple billboard or poster actually had a headline. (At least a smart headline in the Apple tradition.)

Before the “iPad 2” headline, the headline was “iPad.” The old iPod “silhouette” billboards had headlines that seemed like novels in comparison — they said “iPod + iTunes.”

I don’t mean this as an indictment. It’s simply an observation. In fact, if I were so disposed, I could rationalize both ways of thinking.

Say no to headlines!
Apple makes things simple. What could be simpler than a beautiful image and a product name? Brevity is its own form of cleverness, and a minimal number of words makes Apple stand out even more from its complicated competitors. Apple has transcended the need to explain things. If you really want more words, there are plenty of them at apple.com.

You’re blowing a major opportunity — repeatedly.
Steve Jobs himself once told me that every single ad is an opportunity to build the brand. Every time you fail to do that, it’s an opportunity lost. Now Apple is missing what its smart headlines used to add, and therefore not connecting at the same level. Those headlines are what originally gave Apple its public personality — they put Apple in a class by itself. Is it too much to ask for a few clever words?

So what gives? Has Apple lost the ability to craft a good headline? Or does it truly believe that an image and a product name is the ultimate act of advertising minimalism, and therefore a perfect representation of the Apple brand?

One argument against the latter is that the most recent images Apple has given us don’t exactly come from the adrenaline-pumping school of photography. The current iPad 2 billboard (above), in which we see a side view of Mr. Fingers picking up an iPad, is about as sleepy as it gets.

So what do you think?

Personally, I miss the little smile that used to come with seeing a great Apple ad. I get that the products are cool-looking, and the visual reminder is helpful. But those three or four words that made you think, “Damn, those guys are good” really did add another dimension to the ads.

Clearly Steve Jobs came to believe that the headlines were no longer necessary. It will be interesting to see how Apple’s creative work evolves now that others have full responsibility.

Oct 11

iPod’s last gleaming

Damn, I love product announcement weeks.

The joy of the big reveal. The expert over-analysis. The traditional pouncing upon Apple for some perceived infraction.

But in all the guesswork going on about iPhone 5, I’m struck that there’s so little attention being paid to our old and dear friends, the iPod family.

Since the beginning of time, Apple has thrown a party every September to celebrate the annual refreshing of the iPod line. For Apple fans, the September iPod event has been the starting bell for the holiday gift-buying season.

This year, we didn’t get a September event. I didn’t see a lot of grousing about that from the press or the bloggers, which probably just reflects the reality. It was fun while it lasted, but iPod isn’t the big attraction anymore.

Recent rumors have it that the iPod shuffle and iPod classic will soon be sent to iPod heaven. This makes perfect sense. There really isn’t much point to the shuffle now that the nano is almost as tiny, attaches with a clip, and actually has a screen. A touch-screen, no less.

The classic is practically creaking with age, and could easily be replaced by an iPod touch with beefed up memory.

So it seems that this year’s iPod announcement will be more about end-of-life than new life. And if that’s the case, it hardly deserves a big party. In fact, it’s really more deserving of a demotion to One More Thing status.

Surely Tim Cook is looking for some fun and respectful ways to echo his mentor, and this would make perfect sense. With some cool improvements to the surviving iPods, he could present them as being so good that the other models aren’t even needed anymore. It’s either that or use the iPod news as part of the warm-up to the main event.

The real story, of course, is that with the widening audience for iPhone, iPods have simply become less important. The numbers are declining. Apple isn’t even advertising them anymore.

In fact, it’s not hard to envision a time when iPod nano becomes the last iPod standing. It can do the one thing iPhone can’t do — go anywhere, including the gym. Seems that one day iPod touch will just be an iPhone, with the option of activating the phone part.

If it’s true that the iPod line is contracting, we should have a moment of silence out of respect. It’s almost hard to remember now, but iPod is the device that changed everything. It was the first of Apple’s modern trilogy of revolutions, paving the way for iPhone and iPad.

So thank you, iPod, for everything you’ve done. See you again next September. Maybe.

Jul 11

Cult epidemic breaks out in tech industry

As you know, Apple fans lost touch decades ago.

They’re a cult — hypnotized sheep, blindly following their savior Steve Jobs. They line up to fork over their cash for overpriced devices, unfazed by the fact that Apple only wants to control them. By the tens of millions, they surrender their free will, buying technology no one could really like. One day they’ll wake up and see how foolish they’ve been.

But we live in a competitive world. New and even more deluded cults are springing up all around us. Even the smart people are being sucked into them — behaving in ways that defy explanation.

Just two days ago, 700 members of the RIM cult held a meeting. These people have already exhibited irrational behavior by actually purchasing RIM stock. Inexplicably, they applauded the company’s leadership, even though RIM’s earnings are rapidly plummeting as their once-invincible empire continues to crumble. Then people who should know better started voicing strange opinions — like the investment executive who said that he didn’t hear anything that gave him concerns about the company’s direction. His firm was sitting on 100,000 of those steadily declining shares.

Meanwhile, the PC cult was meeting over at Microsoft, at the Worldwide Partners Conference. Here, Steve Ballmer held up the divine numbers, showing 350 million Windows licenses in the past year vs. 20 million for the other guys. “350, the last time I checked, is a lot more than 20,” said Ballmer to the delight of his followers. Yet nobody took note of the fact that PC sales continue to slide, and Microsoft remains far, far behind in phones and tablets.

Then, right on cue, the High Lord of Windows Phone 7 rose to proclaim that Microsoft will never use a mobile OS to power a tablet, because what people really want in a tablet is PC power. It’s Windows all the way. The crowd applauded, seemingly unconcerned that over 25 million people have fallen in love with their puny, un-PC iPads, or that netbook shipments have basically collapsed due to iPad’s runaway sales. Love of PC is core to this crowd, and they’ll cling to it till their last dying breath.

Being the easily led Apple type of cult follower, I’m tempted to join up with one of these other cults. Their kind of irrational thinking appeals to me. I’ll contemplate this more when I return from my daily Apple Store visit.

Jun 11

WWDC 2011: the morning after

Ah, the joy of software. This really is the stuff that makes Apple Apple, and it was fun to see such widespread improvements in one fell swoop.

As usual, some random day-after thoughts.

Mac OS X

Full-screen apps. This is a personal favorite. Can’t wait to see it in action. I currently use full-screen with all apps that enable it, and always appreciate the focus it brings. We’ve got the screen space — it’s a shame not to use it all.

Auto-Save. I look forward to not repeating some of the more humbling failures of my past. Turning the window title into a pop-up menu to access past versions is a nice touch. Being able to copy and paste from old versions is even nicer.

The feature count. Poor Lion. Only 250 new features. Leopard had 300.

Lion power, kitty price. $29 is amazing. Snow Leopard was the aberration at $29, compared to all the $129 Mac OS X upgrades before. But there was a reason for that — Snow Leopard’s changes were mostly in the plumbing. Lion is as rich an upgrade as any upgrade in history, but the price stays remarkably low. Why? My guess is that (a) Apple wants to move the entire base forward, because (b) there is far more money to be made down the road with a new foundation. I’m not being cynical, it’s just good business. The more people shopping in the Mac App Store and purchasing future iCloud capabilities, the merrier.

Space travel. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of the current log-in star field and Time Machine theme. It wore out its welcome a long time ago, so I expected it to be replaced — but not by another space scene. Apparently, now we have a galaxy image. Apple has always delivered simplicity and elegance, and the space thing always felt like someone else’s idea of “cool.” Can’t we just pick our own backgrounds?


Feature count, revisited. Only 200 new features in iOS, compared to Lion’s 250 features. Obviously it’s harder to fit new features in a smaller screen.

The big payoff. To excite the crowd, Forstall showed off a slide stating that Apple has paid developers a total of $2.5 billion. It’s a great number until you do the math with the slide right before: customers have downloaded 14 billion apps from the App Store. Let’s see … 2.4 billion divided by 14 billion … that’s about 18 cents an app. Obviously, this says a lot about how many free apps are downloaded.

Notifications. Yippee! At last! It’s interesting that Forstall first confessed that there are problems current notifications, and then said, “We’ve built something that solves some of the problems…” Some?

Safari Reader. One of my favorite features. People may accept that ads pay the bills, but the ultimate reading experience will always be an ad-free zone.

Reading List. Love it. File away an article to be read later, and have that list appear on all your devices.

The geo-fence. Probably my favorite new term from the show (and very cool feature). In telling how Reminders work, Forstall talked about setting up a geo-fence around Moscone, so when he left the building he’d get a reminder. Hopefully, by winter we’ll have geothermal fences.

Camera. Despite talk about the quality of the iPhone camera, I rarely use it. One reason is the damn shutter button on the screen. Sorry, it’s awkward and just not the way we’re accustomed to using cameras. Using the hard Volume Up button as a shutter button makes me an instant fan. Photo-taking is also way improved by the new editing capabilities.

iMessage. It was presented as working across all iOS devices. What about the Mac? Wouldn’t I want to text people while I’m stuck at my desk?

iPhone 5 clue. With iOS 5 coming in the fall, the obvious conclusion is that it will come hand-in-hand with iPhone 5. I can hang in there that long.


Demoting the PC. What a great example of Steve Jobs’ ability to simplify in the boldest way. He said they were demoting computers to be just devices, and moving the center of your digital life to the cloud. You get it in a second. And what PC company CEO on earth would say they’re “demoting” one of their biggest moneymakers?

Facing facts. When promoting iCloud, Steve paused to say: “Now why should I believe them? They’re the ones who brought me MobileMe … MobileMe was not our finest hour.” Say what you will about Steve, he dares to be honest.

DropBox killer? Nope. At least not yet. And I’m glad, because DropBox remains one of the greatest Mac utilities ever created. DropBox far out-iDisked iDisk, and its makers deserve to be rewarded, not obsoleted.

What about Me? Obviously the me.com site will ultimately be the icloud.com site. Do we still want me.com email addresses (did we ever?). Does the “me” word really have a place in the iCloud concept? We’ll soon find out…

Documents in the Cloud. Not the shortest name Apple has come up with. But it does have that “gorillas in the mist” meter going for it.

iTunes Match. Huge question mark. No one seems to know if this is a way to subscribe to iTunes versions of the songs you already own, or if your $24.99/year allows you to download the higher-quality versions of your songs to your own computer forever. So $24.99 is either one of the world’s great bargains — or not.

Antiquities. On one of the slides appearing behind Steve Jobs is a stack of CDs. Damn, they’re hideous. Did we ever actually use those things?

AAPL is down. It dropped five bucks yesterday. Down another $3.50 as I write this. Call this “iPad Syndrome.” Remember the industry’s reaction to the original iPad? “Just a big iPhone.” “No surprises, no new breakthroughs.” “Apple’s first dud.” The stock dropped. In broad strokes, just about everything we saw yesterday was “expected.” However, what’s expected can be the start of a whole new world. Like iPad.

The prognosticators. Not that we need to be reminded to take people’s opinions with a grain of salt, but… John Gruber’s pre-WWDC idea was “Think of iCloud as the new iTunes.” In fact, he’s still describing it that way after the show. It’s a good sound bite, but not totally accurate. In truth, iCloud is exactly what Steve Jobs said: the new hub of your digital life. Yes, that includes your iTunes content, but it also includes the things you create. For now, that includes the documents you create in iWork, but that capability will no doubt expand. iCloud is about your whole life — documents, photos, contacts, calendars, etc. — not just your entertainment. The Cult of Mac’s “exclusive” was obviously absurd, yet was quoted by many blogs and news services. They said iCloud would not be hosted in Apple’s new data center after all, but instead would reside on your Time Capsule (purchase required if you don’t already own one). Somehow it never struck them that Apple was signing contracts with the music companies for the rights to do something new with their music, not just store it on a personal hard disk.

All in all, good show. Let’s do it again sometime.

Mar 11

The mystery of iPhone 5

It’s a wacky world when CNN.com is compelled to run the front-page headline, “No iPhone 5 coming in June?”

Even wackier is that the reported delay of iPhone 5’s birthday is really only based on the opinions of two bloggers: John Paczkowski and Jim Dalrymple.

I have respect for both of them, and Dalrymple in particular is known for having reliable sources. However, parts of this story sound fishy to me.

Dalrymple starts his article with this sentence:

Apple closed the door this morning on any speculation that it would announce new hardware at its Worldwide Developers Conference saying it would focus on iOS and Mac OS.

The door-closing to which he refers is actually Apple’s press release describing WWDC 2011. The release contains this quote from Phil Schiller:

“At this year’s conference we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS. If you are an iOS or Mac OS X software developer, this is the event that you do not want to miss.”

Now, I’ve heard a few doors close in my day — and I’m sorry, but this doesn’t exactly sound like one. It sounds more like Apple inviting software developers to a software developers conference.

True, Apple has announced iPhones and Macs at certain past WWDCs. However, I’ll venture a guess that the official announcement for those events looked very much like the one Apple released yesterday. It’s a software event.

Though I wouldn’t waste too much effort reading between the lines of a press release three months prior to the event, Paczkowski does offer a “delayed iPhone 5” theory that sounds pretty good.

He thinks iPhone 5 may be designed to run on 4G LTE networks, and AT&T’s next-generation network won’t be ready till mid-summer. (Verizon’s is already working.) If this is true, there would be good reason to delay iPhone 5 until July or August, when they can stage a dedicated event to unveil a redesigned iPhone running at top speed with both Verizon and AT&T.

What does not make sense to me is Apple delaying iPhone 5 till the fall. Creative and unpredictable as they may be, Apple is extremely logical about their product scheduling. What they have now works beautifully: iPad in March, iPhone in June, iPod in September, Macs whenever they damn well please.

The reason they do this is that Steve Jobs believes in having one big message at a time. When a product is launched, it becomes the focus of all Apple communications: home page, TV, print, outdoor, Apple Stores. If iPhone 5 is delayed till October, there would be two launches to support at once — iPod and iPhone. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s something I’ve never seen Apple do.

On a side note, this is also why I’m doubtful about the recent rumor of an all-new iPad 3 coming for the holiday season. (A) I don’t think Apple wants or needs to update iPad more than once per year, and (B) a new iPad for the holiday would siphon off attention from the new iPods.

Of course, if Apple were dabbling with that seven-inch iPad they claim to have no interest in, it might be a different story. That wouldn’t be an iPad 3, it would simply be a new model of iPad 2 — and it would be one irresistible holiday toy. (Now you know what to get me.)

But back to iPhone 5. I’m not sure when it’s coming, but I’m already concerned that I’ll have to pay a penalty to upgrade. I don’t see any mention of that in Apple’s WWDC press release.

Mar 11

iPod: Apple’s quiet monopoly

Remember the good old days when iPod was Apple’s most thrilling product?

Damn those iPhones and iPads, stealing iPod’s thunder like that.

Sure, iPods still get their buzz every September with the new holiday line. The crowds still show up. But clearly today’s iPod lives in the shadow of its more glamorous siblings.

Relatively speaking, iPod goes about its business quietly — if it’s possible to be quiet when your business is maintaining a massive, competition-crushing stranglehold on your category.

Shortly after its birth, iPod grabbed over 80% of the music player market. It was simple, elegant, and the combination of iPod/iTunes just couldn’t be matched.

But nothing’s forever, right? Every intelligent observer assumed that at some point, competitors would appear to bring iPod’s market share back down to earth.

That never happened. Later this year, iPod will celebrate its tenth anniversary — and its tenth year of dominance.

In technology terms, that makes iPod a senior citizen. Yet it still performs like a newborn.

I honestly can’t remember any one product line that’s held such a lopsided advantage for so long. The most recent numbers I can find (July 2010) show iPod owning 76% of the category. Holy hell.

Not that others haven’t tried. Zune was probably the most credible challenger, but could only sputter.

I once had an inside look at the iPod-killing business. I was invited to work with an agency making a pitch for a new Sony music player. Some assignments seem silly only in retrospect, but this one seemed silly even at the time. Our mission: “Bring down the iPod.”

It was an incredible delusion on Sony’s part. Not only was this particular music player a faint echo of an iPod, Sony was willing to invest only $15 million in the marketing effort — while Apple was pouring over $100 million into iPod. To light the fire under the agency, Sony also demanded to see “demonstrable results” in three months.

As long as companies are driven more by delusion and hope, iPod’s 75%+ market share is probably safe.

In fact, at this point one could reasonably argue that iPod will spend its entire life unthreatened by real competition. If anything, the category will simply fade as smartphones make standalone devices less necessary.

I suspect it will be a long, long time before another product dominates like iPod has.

(Yeah, I know. iPad now has 90% market share. But let’s meet back in a year on that one.)