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.