Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jobs Health Not Relevant to Macworld Exit

Apple is pulling out of MacWorld after this one, and Mr. Jobs isn't even going to show up for a keynote. Cue the horde to speculate that Steve is sick, or surely he would give his customary speech?

Jobs' health problems, which lead to some missed press events and keynotes in the past, is being remembered, and now conflated, with what is a long-standing hot war between the parties that run the expo, and Apple/Jobs. Macworld NY was moved (back) to Boston over Steve Jobs' objections. Doing that was dumb, and lead to the death of the East Coast Macworld.

Jobs has wanted to exit his west coast stage for years. Now that the Apple Stores are rolled out, and Apple is a consumer company who targets product ship cycles for Christmas and "Back to School", Jobs can safely knife the MWSF baby. Yes, it hurts to us Mac "prosumers" and evangelists. but Apple cannot reveal new product on someone else's schedule, simply because they used to and it's cool to go for some (myself included.)

I will miss the keynotes, but when Jobs put up the "Apple Stores = X MacWorlds per day" of foot traffic stat on a slide many years ago, the writing was on the wall (pardon the pun.)

Also, WWDC seems safe and burgeoning, so we will get Jobsian spoken word in long form once a year, I believe.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New narrative from CNET

Is Apple Afraid of RIM?

Here is a new idea. Apple is afraid of RIM, and issuing defensive OS updates to steal the spotlight away from the newest RIM device. I don't get it. The Storm has been gathering for eons now. It would have been early-2.1-era had it hit the street on time. Apple may have held 2.2 for a day or two to see when RIM decided the Storm had Broken, but that's just smart!

Perhaps Apple sees the value in shining it's OS and App store advantage to glint in the sun before asking consumers to pick between the devices? Or, it could be that of the many supposed advantages RIM has, none besides its clicky screen are not capable of being innovated in software. Tethering, cut-and-paste, etc. are "been there, done that", and something that Apple has successfully managed to enable or disable seemingly according to AT&Ts wishes. 

In many ways, the "missing iPhone features" are issues to be worked out in the legalese/as the network bandwidth can sustain them. Do you think the higher cost of the RIM is a result of lower carrier subsidies, or more expensive base hardware? Perhaps AT&T wants a larger chunk of money up-front to pay for all that tethering people will be doing? 

It is certainly odd that Apple's mobile gaming and high-cost high-end Prada-alike CPU moonshot of a "personal mobile device" is, less than two years in, cheaper than the flagship consumer BlackBerry on the market. RIMs only get more expensive or have less features from this point forward.

Since it is so easy to figure out how to tether, surely all the people talking about tethering online aren't focusing on the iPhone (search Google for 'tethering mobile users'...).

Finally, the Mac is RIMs ugly stepchild, and that doesn't cut it in a world where the crossover between high value mobile users and high-value personal computer users are identical, save for the CxO suite and Girl Talk (who "is a PC"...?)

I encourage everyone who has a Storm to respond to this post using only the default vertical keyboard. Death by a billion cuts is more painful than the pain of retyping one or another paragraphs pastes on the iPhone.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Browser is not an OS. MYTH EXPOSED!!!!

The browser is not an operating system. It is a user-friendly way to use a network of resources. Users like graphical interfaces, hence the OS and browser do whatever they can to hide commands and code from customers. The OS has a tough job of things, and the browser somewhat easier, as hiding HTML was its brief. 

Smart people in technology know this, and have not taken their eyes off of the OS ball. OS X is belle now, with Vista the underwhelming, insubstanial celebutante. Linux and XP play wallflowers, one about to graduate into distant, unsupported irrelevance, the other a transfer student with an ill-fitting suit.

The Acid3 tests,  browser battles, and so on, get so much more attention than the war for OS supremacy. Windows 7 is going to be sold into a fragmented market for personal computing platforms, very different than the tee-ball Microsoft could have played to get its XP people onto Vista three years ago. Once IE doesn't run on a majority of network users' machines, then the browser gets more interesting again. For now, it is a spendy and theoretical strategic "space race" between Mozilla, Opera, WebKit and Microsoft. 

If you go back through that exhaustive list, you'll note there is only one vertically integrated player who owns the OS and the browser. 

Being an ex-standard, Microsoft can't see the forest for the trees, and will fruitlessly jab at the "browser market" or "search market" with its OS/IE stick, and it might get lucky and keep half of the market. That would be the commoditized, shrinking, "business" or ex-WinTel market, but it counts anyway. I am not saying that it isn't worth keeping, either. One can drive a lot of business from that pedestal. 

If Microsoft would smarten up and buy itself a real cellphone competitor (like, say, RIM and Sprint/Nextel) I might get worried. Instead, they want Yahoo? They don't need a bigger piece of some puzzle, they need to start using Windows like a club, like they used to. Blackberry and Win7 exclusivity would be more like it.

Google has no OS, and for all the posturing about browsers, you still need one. Apple has an OS, and has let the browser go into the wild world of open source. Google picked them so I'm going to give this pair the best shot at "winning." Winning what I am not sure, but at least the internet is harder to tackle into proprietary-dom when at least one major player does best on an open web. So Google and Apple, even if they eventually get in a tiff, are well-positioned.

Opera and Mozilla have browsers but no OS. I dearly love both, especially the latter, for all they did when I was a Mac user on OS 9, and the windows of opportunity for my poor, poor Apple were all but closed up. Now things have changed, and I am not sure that being an application vendor in a space where the app went free/subsidized a decade ago is a good position. I am even less sure I would want to fight Apple/Google and Microsoft. Could a non-profit justify itself as an open browser alternative? Sure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wasting time with Papermaster

The news about poaching a smart IBM chip tech is so thoroughly overkill it angers me to see so much time incinerated over nothing.

IBM had non-competes for up to a year. Jobs wants the guy to handle the PA Semi on-ramp into the Restricted/Signed/App Store Only OS X that the iPhone, Touch, and TV will eventually run. It is a clear case of interpreting a contract, and it will progress in so bland and mechanical a way that the endless articles about it are already running out of breathlessness.

My advice to all Apple rumorologists, customers, prosumers, professionals, zealots, addicts, and anyone else is to forget the guy exists. It is interesting to spin fantasy Hyper-Newton scenarios, and 3D renders alongside are always fun, but Avie Tevanian left and they didn't skip a beat. Ditto their general council (among others) under fire from backdating issues.

Shut up about Papermaster!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

To Dot.App or Make Mac?

The Apple TV continues to occupy my thoughts.

In an earlier post on the aluminum MacBook and new MacBook Pro, I postulated that the Apple TV as a hardware product may be getting the Old Yeller treatment, but live on as software. The Apple is our awkward Front Row all grown up. You run it from your Mac, which when adapted to a TV, has AirTunes and fingers-crossed AirVideo from all of the Macs in the house. Of course, this is not much different than today's situation, it just liberates Apple from the burden of another hardware line. 

The life trajectory of the plucky Apple Remote is a microcosm for the theorized virtual Apple TV. This long-lamented half-effort, a virtually useless silly magnetized plastic IR fob (to steal a line from another plaice) that went from being a keynote feature, stuck to the side of an iMac G5, to a separate, punishingly costly accessory. (At least, I do not believe it still comes with any of the computers. I could be wrong.) WiFi and/or Bluetooth provide omnidirectional range, and the iPod Touch and iPhone run a great The Apple Remote is dead, long live Apple

[By the way, it is criminal that Sony TVs do not come with Bluetooth remotes, simply to prove the point that their vertical integration actually means something. What are these people thinking shipping a custom supercomputer to play games next to a TV that is still not better at wireless transmission than a 1990s Mac TV with IRda?]

But I don't think the Apple TV is going to merge with iTunes. iTunes itself is getting a shade unwieldy. I get video playing when I hit shuffle in my library and I don't like it. Pulling back on Apple TV also carries the whiff of defeat in a space where absolutely every relevant company is making an overt, fierce push. The Wii, XBox 360, PS3, and the endless cable box DVR/On Demand purveyors, including Scientific Atlanta, better known as Cisco, cannot be allowed to continue to wall content off from the Macintosh. 

Whining about FairPlay "languishing" unlicensed is loud, constant, and gets me fed up. I don't see TimeWarner letting me pull a show onto my iPhone and take it with me. FiOS is hyped for its "multi-room DVR." I call that "Safari and the computers in my house", except for some reason when I do it that way, I get sued.

Yes, the space on the TV is the most valuable real estate, and mighty empires are jousting to grasp it. A real Apple TV effort would have a "first iPod" effect if it is the right product. Piracy of video has not motivated the content providers to yield, either, so the hardware has to be spectacular.

First, instantiate a physical platform that lasts for generations of improvements, and inaugurates a formidable marketplace in all virtual visual goods. The iPod killed the CD, and the iTunes Store sells the most music anywhere into a fierce piratical headwind. The device that shifts user consumption away from physical media in three generations? Apple TV 2.0 and 3.0, as Miniature Macs. 

Varying universes of content are already exposed to hardware devices, but this was the case with MP3 players as well. An MP3 player losing out to backpack of CDs and a Discman is baffling to recall, but it was a result of inscrutable players and glacially transmitted content. Today's insistence on satellite or special-subscription wire services may seem similarly quaint, in the face of a four year old Not Hobby Apple TV.

Maybe the Mini Mac (and iMac and Mac Pro, what the hell) will get a games marketplace with stunning graphics? New X2, Crossfire, or SLI cards with a room full of Apple software and hardware people could probably yield a killer-app game for "Apple TV-enabled" Macs. After all, Bungie is free again! Frog blast the vent core / we are owed Marathon 4. I'd trade a full-fledged Mac Mini for a Super Apple TV. Apple certainly is using the "funnest" thing as a differentiating club with which to beat other only-phones and only-consoles.

An Apple TV-enabled Mac Mini is Apple TV 2.0, especially if you hack off the USB, Firewire, and ethernet ports. Sacrilege I know, but your Mini Apple TV is going to have TV outs, and wireless computer inputs. Time Capsule, Bluetooth, HDMI, DisplayPort, and maybe component if it fits. WASD and rhapsodize on e-mail (or OMG and LOL on IM) all you want, but printing and scanning and movie editing are for other rooms with other Macs. Indeed, they are done in other mental spaces, something which few electronics companies heed whatsoever, with Apple mediocre but in the lead.

The CD market is eroding at a ten or twenty percent rate, ceding something in the high single digit percentages to downloads, and that was before the economy took a dive. The time slots of your life that Apple is given the opportunity to program will soon equal that percentage of your old "TV" time. It is the ease of jumping into the video stream that people miss. An editorial hand in a video "channel" is appreciated. Perhaps it will take Apple selling "iTunes Essentials"-alike bundles of concept shows, such as Cooking Essentials or NFL Sunday Access or whatever? 
All this is speculation. I would not be surprised to see a PA Semi-driven OS X box with iPhone-alike app signing, tied to a store with an emphasis on "TV" content and console-style gaming where Apple drops one must-have game hit and the content, console, mobile and home computer war is ended for a generation. 

Cisco, Oracle, Salesforce, Dell, HP, IBM and others can have corporate sales, a drearily low-margin quagmire, and maybe Google, Sun, or some of the other truly differentiated companies (Sony 6-1, Microsoft 100-1) can put those differences to work as well as Apple seems to someday.

Freighted Silence

The death of the Mac Mini is much exaggerated. So says Lazarus himself, in a short e-mail to an interested fan. Steve Jobs' communiques are always accurate, of course, and always sent to some lucky writer. Someone whose questions are plangent, rare, and not-from-the-press enough, perhaps? It is unclear.

The "no updates through Christmas" press release is atypical, and so worthy of examination. If the iMac and Mac Mini are being "let ride" through the holidays, and the Mac Mini isn't dead, there must be something in the works for MacWorld SF. Even a quiet, Display Port/Core i7 update would be probably worth touting with a bit of a mention at a keynote.

That, or the Mini is to languish through the now-apostate "Festival of MacWorld Tokyo" period, and even until the spurned, but perhaps still meaningful, Time Of Apple Expo. I doubt it would merit a full media event as-is. Still, a quiet bump for a product that needs a total overhaul, and merits both a Jobs missive and eventual media event.

The outcry about the utter stagnation of the Apple TV as a hardware product must be muted, because we haven't heard anything about it.

I can't help but notice the similarity of the Mini and the TV. Apple's new chipset agnosticism gives them much more flexibility in the Mini/TV form factor, and so perhaps their hobby is slated to become a career. The PA Semi and Papermaster rumors fan the flames of wholly-custom OS X hardware to fill the niche. Remember, the first XBox was a PIII, and even Microsoft had to get away from their duopolist friend to make the G5-based XBox 360 competitive. (Sort of.)

MWSF seems primed to provide something in the monitor-less small Mac form factor. The need to defend the high-low end (pardon the construction) from ever-slipping Win/Tuxtel prices might yield a vastly different non-Intel chipset Mac Mini. Something with real graphics, the ever-elusive BluRay (it is MWSF, after all), and HDMI. Does this make the Apple TV a Mac TV, and a hobby no more?

And whither the Apple TV? What is the point? It will be on ice, like the Cube. It is premature, given the recentness of Apple's PA Semi/Papermaster it is too much to ask for a Super Apple TV running OS X on ARM already. But you can bet the iPhone grows legs and evolves off the hands of users and onto their televisions once the newest StrongARM is ready.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mac Web in 2008

The "mac web", is the group of websites that cover Apple goings on, product expectations, review products, and so on. It was originally modeled on the MacWeek model of short, up-to-date reviews, coverage of predicted Apple moves ("rumors"), and a healthy dose of righteousness to keep the dwindling, passionate Mac users around. The old Mac Web introduced styles and silos of coverage that persist to this day, though thriving on a larger scale.

Old Mac sites were close to blogs, before people made that term up. The PowerPage, MacOSRumors, MacNN Reality, and others focused on putting together the most accurate possible picture of a given upcoming Apple product. (For the discussion, pretend the WWW was it for networked info sharing. User groups and BBSes were esoteric to say the least. Certainly, miniscule and niche in reach compared to today's Wired Cult of Mac ) Information sites included MacInTouch, xlr8yourmac, MacCentral, I, Cringely, MacKiDo, Apple Recon and sometimes Mac Addict and TidBITS.

The earliest Mac sites lacked contextual monetization options from Google, and so ran display ads that, though targeted well given the narrowness of the readership, did not pay the bills. Mostly, for readers, the sites competed on scoops. The site with the best news the most often would get hits. News could be outlandish mockups, crazy skill-set assertions, and so on.

The best rumor dish was on Reality, a weekly-ish rumor roundup, with new wrinkles debuted and the stories of the week given some flesh and momentum. Reality became Apple Insider, which was shut down and "reopened under new management." I believe this means the Reality writers do not participate in the Mac Web anymore, but I do not know. The new Apple Insider is very active and good, but rarely breaks the very newest information anymore.

MacOSRumors was, in my time, the oldest of the sites, and it had a tidbit 1 in 5 posts. The rest were lies, but the elaborated info was often dead on. Its founder, Ryan Meader, was trying to start a network of in-the-know issue-oriented blogs, but something (ineptitude, demotivation, legal concerns) got in the way. The Calacanis empire, just on dialup with no pre-configured blogging software. (Meader eventually hosted, then ticked off, Slashdot, and prompted them to get a new back end. You might have heard of them. Whoops.) MacOSRumors is no longer a good source or really the same people.

The all-time best first wave Mac Web site was Apple Recon, which was published by a Robert Morgan. He claimed to be ex-black ops, and wrote a for-pay stock newsletter about technology, with a focus on Apple. Some public Apple content was found at Recon on the site, and it was fantastic. Apple Recon was obsessed with the market-making status-quo-flipping disjunction of "convergence." Though about seven years too early to properly implement, Morgan was a "pound the table" bull on Apple throughout the days of the Pippin and Newton. Preposterous at the time, but the most accurate prediction for Apple I have read thus far.

Information sites, like MacInTouch, Xl8ryourmac, and MacKiDo, were clearing houses for Mac user tips, tricks and evangelism. The former two sites focused on implementation of Mac systems and troubleshooting, and MacKiDo ran opinion pieces on the intricacies of Apple and ASIC, CPU, and product design processes.

In general, times were dark for Apple, and the constantly rumored operating system overhauls and revolutionary new PowerPCs from Motorola/IBM (even Exponential) made the rumor/web an exciting place to read, but also lent a fatalism to the proceedings when all that was solid seemed to melt into air. The return of Steve Jobs would change all of that.

The Jobsian recovery of Apple, coinciding with Google monetization of search result clicks, has generated countless "Mac Web" sites and built them an echo chamber. Countless sites claim to have inside dirt, spew stock analysis, and fail to recall the Apple of 1977 or 1985. True core Mac Web sites, and second-wavers from the post-iMac period, like MacRumors, or MacSurfer, get it right most of the time and give a broad set of views. Think Secret had sources, but it meant pumping office noise into a dorm room and getting sued for blatant (but valiant, in the Bothan sense) misappropriation of trade secrets.

The amplification of nonsense these days is easily more problematic than ever, though, among the inexperienced, the over-read, over-linked, and over-stimulated third-wave Mac "mirrors." One offhand comment about WebKit from Steve Ballmer and suddenly Apple is co-doing a Windows compatibility layer in AJAX. IE going WebKit would involve massive complexities I don't understand. Windows Avalon is to IE as Quartz/CoreImage/CoreWhatever is to OS X. WebKit wouldn't let IE be a "browser with a new engine." I think, but do not know, if it would entail a Windows brain transplant. I neither condemn nor praise that model of browser tie-in, but my point is it isn't happening, no matter how many times people are able to cut, paste, and list something in your RSS feed.

Indeed, a $799 notebook is a certainty according to the parrots, but Jobs shocks with a new display, and raises prices! No one paid any attention to "new iMac housing" rumors that screamed "display update" to the trained eye and came from the same reliable Chinese manufacturing sources that nailed both MacBook types. Some mystical iPhonEEE is going to come out of Steve's watch pocket though, just you wait.

I encourage those who use the Mac Web to make decisions on a daily basis to trust some oldies and clearing houses, but ignore the fluff on sites with meager Mac-historical roles, or those that are more into AAPL than Apple. Rare exceptions can be found, such as, which is almost a MacKiDo for today's Apple. In extremis whoever stays up on a swamped keynote day is another opportunity to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New "iBook/PowerBook" Commentary

I think dropping FireWire from the MacBook is foolish, but the endless pictures of the motherboard going around (at AppleInsider and other places) prove something had to budge. There is no room for additional ports if the logic board is constrained to one quarter of the device. On the Pro, there was room, and a market necessity, so they kept it. Incidentally, Mini DisplayPort is Apple-created, so full-size or Mini/Micro DVI, and indeed, er, Big/Standard DisplayPort, were dropped for size, not because Apple is making moves to artificially differentiate its products (i.e. no new iCal event creation on the Touch, something they quickly reversed.) For once, the 2in (13/15) screen difference, the physical constraints, seem to have actually caused a split in the line. 

The 17 is still old-style, probably because it is hard to mill like its smaller cousins. Or maybe because the Air and 17 (and tablet) will be separated off into some sort of low-volume Apple Oddballs laptop section, with Mac Pro R&D spending, and iPod Classic-alike marketing. "It's here if you want it." At least Apple can afford to indulge in some flights of fancy these days, unlike when its Cube nearly killed it, or it had to bench the fan-favorite 12in PowerBook (indeed, Apple addressing the subnote market means times are fat. Remember the MightyCat and the Duo [particularly the 2300c? PPC model. Decadence.])

In that vein, the new 24in LED Cinema Display is marketed as a MacBook/Pro party booster. It represents the end of the iMac, really. It is about as distant from the actual death as the CRT was from going when the iMac G4 killed it. 

The Apple LED TV rumors were not far-fetched, here we have the TV but come by way of desktop computer, not the other way around. A MacBook makes a killer Apple TV. I wouldn't be surprised to see the LED Cinema Displays get bigger and input-y-er, and for the Apple TV to be renamed "Apple" and shot in the head as a hardware product. There is your Apple TV.

If only they'd make a laser printer or digital camera again. Those products suck in the same way cell phones and music players did.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Steve Jobs is dead, long live Steve Jobs!

How can analysts have any credibility left making predictions like this:

Before product reveals like this:

Analysts are made to rate companies on a schedule that does not best inform their decisions. Apple reveals key laptops after iPods now, for Christmas and not explicitly for back-to-school. The only refresh that analyst ratings take into account is the iMac/Mac Mini desktop speed bump, which is less important than it used to be in the PowerPC era. It would be akin to giving a price target and assessment of 1950s GM just weeks before that year's Detroit Car Show.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

iTunes Store RIP?

Apple iTunes to become necessarily unprofitable pending Copyright Board decision:

Apple claims to be running the iTunes Music Store to make money. Jobs has said in the past that it "breaks even", and was intended to drive iPod sales. 

The actual reason Apple created the iTunes Music Store was to ensure that the nascent paid-download music industry did not become a plank in the platform of a non-iPod-compatible, costly, and likely Mac-hostile company. I am referring to Sony and Microsoft, of course, who both stated a desire to innovate "in the living room." If either wedged their DRM into the vast majority of homes, Apple, Mac OS X, and the iPod would be choked off and stifled. 

Apple preternaturally understands this market, as evidenced by the iPod itself, and decided to own music downloads as a defensive stroke. If it becomes unprofitable, or infeasible at anything besides punitive or brand-sullying pricing, then Jobs will allow it to wither. It is no accident Apple has not played hardball with the non-EMI labels about their DRM-free stance on Amazon. A track from that store is not necessarily destined for a non-iPod, as a WMA or Zune DRM, or Sony Connect song, would be.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Old logic, new clothes

Bits asserts that Apple is heading into a down period, as weak consumer spending and business contraction will ding Mac sales. Worse, the iPhone is a high-end consumer product too, and the iPod is saturated. Bits sees major trouble in the lack of a sub-$1000 Apple laptop, and weak Mac Mini desktop offering.

The "iPod saturation" argument aside, these are old ideas in new clothes. A beleaguered Apple will lose to cut rate competitors, some of whom are "more openish", because they charge extra for what is a commodity. Why? Because they did in 1994, and now that Apple has re-ascended, they will surely re-collapse.

Not true. Apple lost in a walled garden era where acreage was all that mattered. Divisions were high between proprietary platforms, and control of formats set de facto standards and won the day. Business drove volume and volume buying drove prices down and sales up. The biggest seller won, and "everyone" who mattered sold Windows. Apple was run out of the industry after hitting a max of 10-15% Mac market penetration (perhaps higher with the Apple II.)

These days present a far different context, though, and Apple is not failing to compete in the high volume market, but choosing not to. They did in 1994 too, by hook and crook and failure, but now it is a completely voluntary aversion. And, in changed contexts, owning 35% of the dollar share of the PC market, but under 10% of sales, has proven to be a profitable niche. Apple sells a computer that is wholly compatible with Windows, and offers its own compelling alternatives in spades. It is perhaps a better PC than a traditional non-Mac, as an infected or broken Windows instance can be easily replaced from a Mac "hypervisor."

Really, Windows and Office are luxuries, like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. The base PC, whether it is $700 or $1000, is no longer seen as the only operative cost going forward.

The iPhone will also have its legs taken out from under it by Android which will make smartphones/MIDs commodities, too, right? Just as desktop Linux has taken eons to evolve, Google Android/iPhone OS X parity is a long way off. Windows Mobile parity perhaps not, but the goalposts have moved.

Apple, as always, is selling a different product than the mainstream. Even in a recession they have a clear field of hidebound smartphone OS competitors and a crippled Vista-based PC industry the web continues to wedge open. Even in a recession, Apple is a very strong company, and will continue to break sales records going forward.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apple blocks ad-hoc distribution

So they want the iPod to be for games and doodads. I guess I am happy, because it means the Mac is more likely to stay open.


Get this:

The "Google Android phone", or T-Mobile G1/HTC "Dream" is out! Hooray! The supposed first shot in a war between the iPhone, RIM's BlackBerry, Google's OS and hardware partners, and maybe Palm, Microsoft, or Symbian, I just don't see it. Why?

The phone doesn't have a headphone jack!

Are the people who design these things absolutely brain dead? How could a modern smartphone lack that. It doesn't even have a micro jack, like the Treo. No, it has a weird USB out. Of course, it comes with a proprietary-shape-USB-to-headphone dongle, but come on. 

 Competition is good news, but this isn't it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

iPhone app troubles

The Mac Web was ever vigilant and focused oh these many days, while the rest of the media busily told the public to fork out for private industry or else while they silently moved their 401k into Yuan. No, the worst of it all came when Apple "capriciously" ( bits blog) rejected iPhone App Store programs that infringed on a realm of functionality of unknown extent which Apple seeks to control.

Possibly, Apple is wholly hamfisted. They built an App Store and are now prone to adding programs to it without due consideration, and then, after a few days, deciding to take them down, but capriciously and suddenly, without much actual deep thought, and then staying quiet after being "caught" (for the tenth time.) This same Apple has thoughtlessly allowed an NDA binding iPhone developers to remain in effect, squelching online discussion. They simply forgot to remove it, and now unthinkingly leave it in place.

I reject these conclusions, though countless sites, many of which are held in high regard among the Mac cognoscenti, paint Apple in these outlines. No, let's look at what Apple intends to do to remain "on a roll", or, making hit products into brands that last through iteration after iteration, like the iPod, iPhone, and Mac.

Apple's App Store decisions are not random or unstructured, but rather they follow a predictable pattern.

Thus far, Apple has blocked applications of a certain niche. Those apps which intend to move users away from any conduit for information with pre-existing 1st party analogs (albeit of varying quality.) Podcasts, or GMail e-mail, for example, are "Apple territory", even if all the desired user functionality is not part of Apple's package. If someone wrote an MP3 playing application that used the information in (or iTunes mobile?), but presented it to different functional effect, you would be trespassing, so to speak. Indeed, the Mozilla Foundation claimed it was impossible to get Firefox working on Mobile OS X. I believe Firefox was dropped for iPhone because it would not have been promulgated via App Store, and Apple told them so.

Applications that provide wholly-contained entertainment, like a game, or information Apple does not mediate "out of the box" are left alone.

It is no coincidence that Apple's NDA issue is the same one that daunt so many Nintendo DS and Sony PSP software developers just getting started on a better version of the boot OS, but works so well to create siloed, non-background-process-demanding games. Apple, in their marketing and store policies, clearly emphasize a portable computing platform devoted to 1st and Apple-avoiding 3rd party productivity and media/information processing applications, and third party web applications and games.

In watching the crisis unfold, it struck me how often an App was removed after it was initially posted for some time. Moreover, by registering the app hash, and not precluding it from installation/execution via Ad Hoc (samizdat carbon paper copies of source code fed through the dock cable no jailbreak needed...) Apple has tacitly endorsed these apps continued viability.  Indeed, by adding them to the App Store at all, and/or banning so few so "capriciously", Apple publicized them. Apple bans them only to keep their realm of the user experience homogeneous, in the face of intense power user criticism. Of course, it is just these users who will Ad Hoc around the issue easily. Hmm.

Finally, only Apple among the console makers has an additional open-discussion general purpose computing platform it does not protect with similar restrictions. The Mac is a national forest. Mobile OS X is a kids playground, and the adults are making decisions many can't understand. (I don't think Photoshop is coming out for Linux on PS3 anytime soon you Net Yaroze refugees.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eco-architecture portends a return to heteronomy!

U herd it hear first:

It's also a return to fun!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Jobs is thin, effortlessly thin, it seems, as he has no present health issues, and is simply a beanpole by nature. Other people are like this; Obama, for example, or, at the extreme end of the spectrum, Manute Bol. He is really, really thin (I saw him in Penn Station), and he somehow managed to play NBA basketball.

In America, even the genetically-predisposed cannot swim against the tide of sedentary jobs and unnatural food, though, and journalists are no different. Everyone is fat. Many journalists are probably jealous, on a deep level, of Jobs' lean yet un-muscular, and now-uncommon, look.

His unknown level of adherence to pescetarianism, or veganism, or a vegetarian diet (avoiding meat doesn't get an ism around here), the strain of cancer and recovery, and his natural thinness (compare him with Wozniak in every photo from 1977 until now) make Jobs unusual. Being different and hard to figure out, and then refusing to do publicity outside of product launches or corporate business, means most of America, happy to be serenaded by an iPod know little about Jobs, or even Apple.

In the media though, Jobs' thinness, admittedly a mostly unexplained and at times visibly jarring phenomenon, becomes a means of alienation. He gets to be thin without trying! Twists of logic are made to accommodate the strangeness of Jobs' physique.  If he had cancer, which made him thinner, he must have it again, as he is still thin now. These observations take on a lot of added heft, pun intended, for most readers, who have ready-to-go psychological and cultural templates for Others like Jobs. Suddenly, a man who manages to remain thin must have cancer, or something wrong, to look so different.  

Apple the company, which is the "reason this matters" and is "why we write about Jobs' health", is then swirled into the mix, an alien itself. Again, Jobs and Apple are somewhat to blame. A cultivated mystique surrounds the company and generates serious free marketing. Failing to comment for the press is un-corporate in America. Apple is difficult to cover, as it is an opaque operation appears  choreographed press shows. The company, and thus Jobs, demand that each media outlet find an angle that differentiates them from a sea of identical coverage, and so reporters go searching. 

Naturally, this has led them to Jobs and his health. Now that each outlet has reported and commented on the matter, and found no other as compelling to the market, it has become a staple after each event. The level of hysteria in the coverage is too high, though, for it to be a simple matter of readership. The higher each source ratchets the pressure within its walls to "figure out what makes this guy tick", and not cover what Apple is doing, is rewarded, because the audience shares the journalists' seeming alienation from Jobs, and thus the true workings of his company. 

It is not that the truth cannot be found about either, because Jobs seems unwilling, but occasionally can be forced, to go on the record about his health. The company is actually relatively transparent these days, because of its size, and usage of commodity parts. The truth is actually something that the audience, of media and readers, necessarily cannot understand, given their alienation. Any story confirms itself because it simply must be true, or else 

Now let's see how they run things.

To make a point below an explicit one:

The high-paid (really highly, top 0.01) Analysts you read about who say yesterday was an evolution are idiots. The revolution was last year. Yesterday they beheaded the old king in the town square and everyone cheered, or whatever. The carriers have reached "peak control" of the wireless spectrum, and that little mic is it for them.

The "iPod market" is meaningless if you are including Touch, excluding iPhone, including iTunes Store, excluding App Store, etc.

As an aside, a flip-RIM just came out. Making proprietary hardware and software advantages commodities worked so well for Microsoft in the internet era!

Really hard to fit inside with armor and swords

The iPod Touch gained an external speaker. Jobs described the speaker as really only for personal use in a quiet environment, and demonstrated that it failed to cut through noise well during his CNBC interview. This marks the first instance of a Jobs-led discussion of Apple products that talks down a hardware feature. (Software is his land for mea culpas and both dimensions are usually a hype-fest.) Truly, he seems to be right. I see literally no reason for the speaker to exist, save for accentuation of a gaming experience when one lacks headphones. Apple irons these vanishingly useful features out usually.

Why all the work, then, to get the speaker in?

Apple iPod Headphones with Remote (once known as "the ones with the iPhone that I wish worked on my iPod) now work with all iPods. Indeed, the mic-in even works, though Jobs only confirmed this for the Nano. He ignored the ability for the Touch, which can leverage the App Store and lots more control surfaces, to accept and store audio recordings. Attending to the Nano is one thing, but the sin of this omission is really striking, as Jobs usually only neglects to discuss features when he is asleep.

Why the studious ignorance?

Because, as Lil Wayne says, Wayne isn't Weezy, Weezy is Wayne. The iPod Mic Clicker is a hard trojan horse to cram into, but OS X Mobile isn't for iPhone.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Apple Did

The iPod event did what every September iPod event does. Makes Christmas a competition between last year's Apple hardware in a million guises, all just catching up, and something new from the company itself.

I do wish the spirit of experimental hardware was more vibrant at Apple. It doesn't make sense anymore, but a Nautilus Mac Book Air or some real tablet or PDA appliances would sell to me. It's all about volume, yes, but I am still waiting on a real Cube replacement.

More on Chrome

Chrome is not yet out on the Mac or Linux, but it uses WebKit, according to Google, because the Android team suggested it. Apple Safari is the exemplar unified WebKitted browser, phone to desktop.

It seems, with the page-as-process, memory-intensive methodology behind Chrome, that Google has chosen a different route. Has Google made a browser, freighted with a V8, that cannot be ported from one desktop platform to another with ease?

Is this demonstrative of Google's inability to to compete with Apple, which performed the porting trick, across architectures, not APIs, with whole OSes? I know the Google OS lives on the web, so it is platform-independent. That phrase presupposes platforms. It is turtles all the way down otherwise. Google's Chrome elephant cannot stand on hardware alone.

iTunes 8

iTunes 8 is something that I have less understanding of than its iPod partner.

Wireless sync is something that seems obvious to add, only because it is obvious, not because it is a good idea. It is bound to be extremely slow (Shuffles aren't getting wifi), slaughter the battery of the iPod requiring it to be, er, plugged in, add components, weight, and cost to a devicethat  sheds them as often as possible, and be prone to user error. 

More esoterically, a household of three or four people and iPods syncing will clog most consumer routers such that the internet slows. I know the iPods aren't going out over the net and taking "lanes on the highway", but lots of consumer wifi routers don't do well with more than a few simultaneous clients, and WiFi iPods are a significant addition.

iTunes 8 could get subscription plans in which a monthly fee gave one access to the iTunes library. I would definitely pay for such a thing. The Jobsian assertion that people like to own their music is less true than it was when the iTMS opened. The idea of being one's own radio station, but paying extra to take the tracks out of the booth, isn't nearly as alien to consumers as it was at the start of Apple's music project. 

Not coincidentally, Apple has also sold millions of devices that could never hold all of the music that many people have come to own, one way or another, but would do a bang-up job of tuning into the "Jukebox in the Sky." If my Mobile Me is already in the cloud, the conceptual and technical work seems to be underway. Indeed, Eddy Cue was given control of the Mobile Me division ostensibly to "get it working right." I think that was done because interoperability with the iTMS (from presentation to billing) became vital.

Better smart playlists, UI tweaks, and a revisit of the "what do we do with this?" team to the left pane could also be in order The visualizer is supposed to get some killer new options, but SnoCap is still the best, and that is like forty years old so we'll see if I care.

New iPods

Apple will introduce their new iPod line today. 

The size and scope of the iPod ecosystem of late has led to reliable leaks of case prototypes and so on. The form factor of Nano v.3 looks to be like the original version, but with more screen and less plastic. It is predicted to be roughly the same thickness. Unless it doubles in thickness, this dimension is unlikely to be problematic.

Some are hoping for the end of the scroll wheel on the Nano.  Case prototype leaks accommodate a wheel, and all in the same location, too, so such a change has a vanishingly small chance of occurring. An all-screen Nano is still some time away, my rational mind tells me. 

My hope and speculation, though, is that a virtual scroll-wheel, enabled by a multi-touch motion, possibly only available in a certain area on the Nano, will allow for an all-screen device. I doubt this will happen. If it does, it will signal a line bifurcation, into Touch and Classic, just as the iPod was so cleaved

Apple cannot cede the commodity MP3 player market as it does in PCs. Apple is dominant in mobile music, and must compete in all volume markets. Apple may create markets, say for $300 full-screen Nano-sized devices, but it cannot neglect the $100-$250 market. Apple has said the Mini was and Nano is its largest seller. Besides the obvious advantage of selling a lot of profitable players, Apple must control this segment to give itself economies of scale, and defend walled iTunes kingdom.

The iPod Classic will probably get cheaper and thinner. The former is to differentiate it from a suddenly cheap iPhone, the latter just a guess because Apple does that kind of thing.  The 80GB may even get the axe, replaced by a 160GB that fits into its case, and costs the same. I doubt will see a more capacious iPod. First off, it seems pointless, but that might just be me. I haven't read that any larger drives exist in 1.8in, either. Apple always gets first crack at the Toshiba ones, and also seems to be able to keep a lid on their PR, so who knows? More colors or a (Red) tie in have me uninterested.

The Touch might get really interesting, but I actually think nothing will be done to it tomorrow. The invitation to the event was definitively old-interface in style. Perhaps this was only to avoid spurious iPhone hype, but the Touch is so much an iPhone, that it simply incurs trickle-down from that product line. The Touch will get a price cut, sure. Maybe it will get some colors and a curve like the current iPhone, but I see Apple sticking with the mirrored back as a differentiator. 

What would be a very effective move, politically, would be some Apple Accessory love, like a really good sheath that has a D-pad and some buttons. The company wants to make the iPhone/Touch a mobile gaming competitor. The industrial design of the hardware is not conducive to this. Every game company gives guidance to coders, and reliable operation, through their industrial design. Nintendo may have revolutionized mobile gaming with the DS, giving developers an incredible, unprecedented, canvas, but even they included hardware control interfaces. Apple cannot now add buttons, of course, but they could achieve a soft-standardization with a good sheath. "Fit this if you want, stay playable without it...", and all that.

If Steve Jobs looks unhealthy, I will be sad, for myself, as he is a living hero of mine, as well as for the world. Decades more of Steve Jobs influence on Earth can, I believe, be quite beneficial for the human race. 

This week since Wednesday

Seven people right now from various places who are musically linked to my roommate, Paul, are crashed here as I type. All nice.

My friends broke up, but the female half still wanted to throw her long-planned surprise party for her now-ex. I was asked to host, and did. It turned out to be an excellent party. Conversive, free and bounteous. Lab-tube jello shots were a highlight.  I was left with a mess, of course. The tidying was simple, no one had "been a retard", in the words of my roommate, so cans and bottles, scraps of paper, balloons, and emptying the trash, pretty much did it. The birthday boy graciously came by to mop.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I'll have more later. For now, this is a lot like Chrome, isn't it?

What I think of "Google Chrome"

The new Google browser has everyone atwitter, of course. Most sites give it a passing grade, welcome added competition, and believe Chrome is a good way for Google to get a foothold on the desktop. 
The mainstream business press continues to misunderstand what is going on at Google. Forbes wonders if it will be a Google product that "finally sticks" and lives up to the "hype." The hype, of course, being non-existent. Google released the browser, and the world talked about it for them. Get over the fact that the internet lets it seem like something is being hyped when it is merely extant, and being discussed. Just because Google has bought less than ten pages of print advertising in its entire existence does not mean when people talk about it, they must be the ones getting paid, or why would they? Google is not your father's GM, and intensity of orchestration does not equal volume anymore.

I did click a Google text ad to get to Chrome, just for fun. When I searched Google for "chrome" and did not find their browser in the top ten results (at the time), the enclosed, yellow shaded paid slot at the top was bought by Google itself. It is nice to see the index is still doing no evil, even if the company and/or public have messily conflated that with the will of the corporation.

Other shreds of "hype" included an oddly-leaked comic book theoretically intended to explain Chrome "for everyone." Like all Google attempts at marketing, it was prosumer-ish. Too technical and long-winded (40 pages!), but effective as a framing device. For the people who fix the PCs Microsoft's "Knowledge Workers" use and read Slashdot, the dot-com 2.0 crowd, and other avid browsers, it was a compelling thought piece. 

Of course the near-monopoly of Internet Explorer is detrimental to web app performance. Welcome to 1999, blogosphere. (Adobe and) Microsoft want to lock people into plugins, drive up hardware sales, and freeze out non-commercial web standards bodies. This has been true forever. (Flash and) IE were ubiquitous, I argue possibly even helpful, in an era of slower connections and processors, to popularize the internet with dynamic content. (I am a lifelong Mac user and truly shudder at the thought of that paradigm, don't get me wrong.)

As I said, I'm a Mac user, so I don't even have Chrome. I could run it in Parallels but I don't want to. It uses WebKit and has an anti-interface that defers to the content. I prefer a less obsequious browser, and Apple Safari, also WebKit-based, has a consistent user interface, and almost every feature of Chrome. The nightly build of Safari is often spectacularly fast. 

I like two things about Chrome and only Chrome, though: V8, because Apple hasn't shipped their equivalent yet, and the full text search of the history. The latter is vaguely possible with Spotlight, but Google's version is better.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sentimental stock picks from the dead

Palm (PALM [PALM] {PALM}]) -

They hired Apple's hardware division head, Jon Rubenstein, and gave him broad latitude. The changes he is making seem substantive and likely to yield interesting, compelling products. He is pure upside. No one who ran the division that produced the iMac and iPod could be worse than the person who greenlighted the Foleo.

Unfortunately, the software side is abysmal or Windows Mobile. Yeesh. Android or a Symbian license would solve this problem, and in light of adopting Windows Mobile the next step is clear. Palm has the expertise to build the whole cabanza, so skipping what Android covers both frees up resources, and piggybacks on the media frenzy surrounding Google's project. Symbian has been around and ignored so long I doubt it is in the running.

Palm is like Psion, not HTC. They are (duh) in the palm computing market, not the tele-phoney space. The iPhone and BlackBerry have made that market huge, but incompletely serviced. An iPhone cannot be had with a keyboard, SD slot, etc. etc., and the BlackBerry is uncomfortable in its consumer high heels. Palm has plenty of people to sell a range of Android-Palms to.

If the Treo 900 has the game-changing design and feel of, say, the Palm V, and is also the best Android phone, then Palm goes from Foleolithic to iRIMtastic and the stock zooms. The company is off 90% from its high, and the media and market surrounding the type of device they could create is frothing at the mouth to hype something else that's actually good.

Transmeta (TMTA) -

As far as I understand, the technology that Transmeta developed (look up Crusoe or Transmeta in your local library) would benefit massively from a multi-core re-implementation, something that would have not been possible when the Crusoe was kicking around. 

Indeed, the load on such a chip (taking in an instruction, transforming it, running it, transforming it, and sending it back) necessarily benefits from parallelism to a far greater extent than a design with fewer stages. Split 'em up yo!

Of course, if a stage is too costly (in the computational sense), or the technology somehow requires context that must come from a whole-state consideration, and not separated cores, my argument goes out the window. As I said, all of this is "as far as I understand." 

NVidia licensed Transmeta's tech a few weeks back, and is now rumored to be "entering the x86 space." NV has no ability to sell x86 chips without AMD and Intel saying it's OK (according to the Register), so something has to give. If Transmeta is getting another shot at the big time, than it is undervalued. 

If you look very long term (10 years plus), it is hard to imagine a company that employed Linus Torvalds among many luminaries, and actually executed on a rather audacious plan from a standing start, would not have an impressive patent portfolio. Their efforts are ahead of the trajectory of the industry, and they likely left land mines all over the place. When Intel and AMD march in, expect big-money licensing, settlements, or rulings.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Break the iPhone NDA

Apple is clearly keeping this NDA going to cover itself for patents. Just go for breaking it and see what happens. I think it is an NDA in name only. If it isn't, then developers should find out already, stop complaining, and make a Usenet post or something and see who freaks. My guess is no one at Apple cares, as long as their inventions aren't technically being "published" (See daringfireball.)

iPhone 3G Radio Problem

A quick scan of MacSurfer reveals that people in the mainstream press aren't used to Apple issuing software updates.

Either this radio thing is a recall-worthy unheard of issue, or iPhone OS 2 v1.1 needs another update. I'm betting on the latter.