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 site will ultimately be the site. Do we still want 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.

May 11

First iMac cut from the family album

Poor, original, bulbous iMac.

You blazed the trail. You were the first “all-in-one.” You taught us to think different and toss aside our floppy disks. Your Bondi Blue was an oasis in a desert of beige.

And how do they repay you?

They pretend you never existed. They shine a light on the sexy thin models — and avert their gaze from a full-figured beauty like yourself.

Oh, okay, I’m not really that distraught about it. But I was a bit surprised when I saw this graphic on the new iMac pages at

Looks like history has been re-written. The “Evolution of iMac” no longer includes the original iMac — no doubt because it would just look unforgivably chunky next to the cooler iMacs that followed.

Clearly Apple did this consciously, as they went out of their way to qualify the language in the caption by saying, “The all-in-one design of the first flat-panel iMac cleaned up the desktop … put everything you need inside one simple enclosure.”

Correct. And so did the original iMac.

No, I think it’s more of an eyesore issue. Accuracy would only have made this image unusable.

So let’s have a moment of silence for our old friend. Photo or no photo, I know there’s a special place in Cupertino for that revolutionary first iMac … even if it is in the basement.

Mar 11

The mystery of iPhone 5

It’s a wacky world when 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.

Dec 10

It’s an app-happy world

Art credit: Koka Sexton (via Flickr)

I get all wispy and nostalgic when I think about the days of the first iPhone. How innocent we were then.

When we talked about apps, we were talking about web apps. The kind we had to load up in Safari. No, developers weren’t allowed to get their greasy fingers anywhere near iPhone’s innards.

Apple tried to calm the natives by putting on a number of iPhone developer events to help them make the best web apps they could. But those apps only gave us a taste of what a real app might do.

Some say Steve Jobs only reversed himself when he realized the enormity of the potential for 3rd-party apps. Others believe opening iPhone up to apps was the plan all along, and it was simply a matter of “first things first.” iPhone needed to become a solid platform first.

Whatever, within six months of iPhone’s birth Apple welcomed developers into the tent. Six months later, the App Store was born. It soon became clear that apps were by far the biggest part of the iPhone story. Apps are what turned a communicator/iPod into a true pocket computer.

When competitors started to appear, Apple’s advantage depended on its lead in apps. Apps became a given for every platform. No competitor could seriously contend without an app store of its own.

In fact, the very word apps, a geek word turned mainstream by Apple, was instantly adopted by Apple’s competitors. It’s now as generic as a screen full of app icons arranged in a grid.

Now, as if the world of apps isn’t big enough already, the other shoe is about to drop. And this is one humongous shoe. The Mac App Store will open for business on January 6th.

You can’t help but feel this is going to be a “how did we live without this before” kind of thing. Surely it will spark another gold rush for developers. Happily for AAPL stockholders, it will also spout a new gusher of cash. Apple will now start pocketing 30% on software sales — as opposed to the 0% they’ve been taking for the last 25 years.

Given the historic success of the App Store, this development wasn’t hard to predict. Even yours truly saw it coming back in October of 2009. As the App Store does for apps and iTunes does for music, the Mac App Store will give millions of Mac people one simple place to discover great new apps, talk them up with friends and get instant gratification 24/7. While mega-apps like Adobe CS5 and Final Cut Studio may not work this way for a while (but then they may), the Mac App Store will be the Big Bang for more bite-sized apps and utilities that make the Mac a more fun and customizable place. Mac apps will suddenly be a spontaneous decision, just a click away.

The Mac App Store will be one more reason for people to be drawn to the light. Though none of us should be surprised when a certain entity announces its intention to copy the idea on the PC side.

Oct 10

Mac’s day in the spotlight

Well, it was interesting (and refreshing) to see a little love lavished on the Mac side of things yesterday. As is the tradition around these parts, some random observations on Wednesday’s event:

FaceTime for Mac. Cool — even though we could see this one coming for miles.

Mac OS X Lion. The philosophical direction of Lion is consistent with everything we’ve heard in recent months: Mac OS X meets iPad. Expect these meetings to intensify in the future.

Mac App Store. This one is beyond huge, and exactly what Apple should be doing. In fact, I rambled on about this one here back in 2009. Imagine being able to buy your Mac apps the same way you buy your iPhone apps. Instant purchase, auto-install, auto-update. Customer reviews too. This is another gold mine for Apple, although it won’t come without controversy. Apple is injecting itself into the developer/customer relationship and demanding a cut, and surely some are going to buck. There are many open questions about how this will work, but it will happen — and it will make our lives way better.

Launchpad. Wow, convenient. I currently use third-party utility Overflow to do something similar. We may have to move them from the Happy Developer Column to the Swearing Eternal Revenge Column.

Misson Control. My secret confession: I rarely used Exposé and Spaces. I now realize that I hesitated for all the same reasons that Apple just combined both of them — along with Dashboard — into one convenient location. Thank you!

iLife ’11. Some cool additions, but the ground beneath my feet wasn’t exactly trembling. Love Movie Trailers in iMovie. Great price at $49 — but that’s just Apple’s way of saying, “Don’t expect $79 worth of upgrade.” I appreciate the honesty.

The black sheep. Poor iDVD. Nary a mention during the festivities. However, this is hardly unexpected, given Apple’s passing-over of Blu-Ray in favor of Internet delivery for video. Prepare for iDVD to be moved to hospice within a year or two. [Update: In all the excitement I glossed over the absence of iWeb — which is truly a mystery. It’s not like people are less interested in making personal websites and blogs these days. This is an unfortunate omission, as it makes a statement about what Apple thinks is important, and how it allocates its software engineering manpower.]

The missing app. I had a secret wish, but it didn’t materialize. I was dreaming of new iLife app called iMagazine. It would allow mere mortals to use their Macs to create personalized, Apple-designed iPad magazines. Imagine combining your vacation photos and movies from iLife into a standalone iPad app that presents your whole story in gorgeous magazine format, as a series of articles. This could be uploaded and shared with friends and family around the world. In business, iMagazine would utterly revolutionize the idea of the “leave-behind.” iLife already empowers ordinary people to create and present all of these elements separately. Why not put them all into a Wired-quality magazine?

MacBook Air. This was needed. MacBook Air was starting to feel a bit like a hobby — a breakthrough idea that’s gone almost three years without an eye-opening update. This is looking cool enough that I’m starting to get the itchy trigger finger that often results in unbudgeted charges on my credit card. Believe Steve when he says this is the future of notebooks.

MacBook Air video. This is where I start to get cranky. It is not in Apple’s DNA to be formulaic. Yet these product videos haven’t varied in years. Same look, same feel, same cast of characters. Understood that normal consumers are not nearly as close to these things as we are, but honestly, it wouldn’t hurt to try a new format once in a while. There’s no chance they’ll drive people away — but there’s every chance they’ll make more of a stir. The product videos need to be just as creative as the products.

Missing in action. ’Scuse me, but where’s the new iWork? For every year that both iLife and iWork have existed (the last four versions), both suites were updated at the same time. This year, iLife went to the ball while iWork stayed home to scrub the floors. Curious.

Shipping dates. Wow. Either I missed something, or pretty much every product introduced today (except Lion, of course) is available immediately. Nicely played.

Last, I will note that this event shined the spotlight on a legion of Apple leaders. Probably more than we’ve ever seen in any one event. Even more interesting was the lead role given to Tim Cook at the start. Those making guesses about the secret line of succession have some good fodder to work with here…

Aug 10

The more things change…

Sometimes I get all wispy and sentimental thinking about how our little industry has grown up. Things were so innocent when that angelic Bill Gates stood behind Macintosh.

Bill Gates: admiring Mac fan in 1984

While the various players and their market shares have changed, certain things haven’t. Take Apple-bashing, for instance.

Back in the old days, hating Apple was a simple thing. It was all about the technology. Some people attached to their PCs looked down their nose at Macintosh. That childish mouse just wasn’t serious enough.

Today’s Apple-haters have branched out. They still dislike the technology, but now they have two new things to hate. First, of course, is Apple’s raging success. This doesn’t reconcile with the fact that Apple sucks, so clearly the world has gone mad. They must carry the flag of freedom to stop Apple from controlling our lives and ruling the world.

The real nut-jobs have evolved even further. They hate those who use the technology more than the technology itself. Apple users are smug and arrogant, so Apple must be destroyed. Won’t they look silly when Apple discovers the secret of eternal life.

But back to history. Over time, it’s interesting to see how certain advantages have changed hands.

Back when Apple was dying a grizzly death, the weapon most used to bludgeon it was the PC software advantage. CompUSA had rows and rows of PC titles, but only a tiny rack of Mac offerings. It took a while, but this advantage became less relevant over time — until iPhone came along. iPhone’s biggest selling point quickly became its huge, indisputable lead in apps.

Unfortunately for Apple, they won’t keep this advantage as long as PCs did. Android is already up to 60,000 apps and its upside potential is a big lure for developers.

As things settle down though, iPhone vs. Android starts feeling eerily reminiscent of Mac vs. PC.

Like Mac, iPhone shook up the market by reinventing the interface and opening up new possibilities. Like PCs, the smartphone manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started churning out the alternatives. The participants have all picked up familiar roles. Android plays the part of Windows, the smartphone makers become the PC companies and Apple gets to play the part of … Apple.

iPhone will remain the “walled garden,” with Apple’s control of hardware and software offering a certain kind of experience. The Android side will exploit its openness — reincarnating the best and worst of the PC model. Already, the Android market is splintered with different phones running different versions, and upgrades offered to some but not others. Some carriers are even starting to stuff their phones with crapware demos, just like the good old days. When margins are smaller, they have to do something to make a few extra bucks.

So, technology may have evolved tremendously in the last 20 years, but the nature of the competition has not. It’s a safe bet that quantity and quality will forever be locked in mortal combat.