Tag: Apple

Mediocre Products Marketed Well Defeat Great Products Marketed Badly Every Time

Back in the day, when I made my living as a technologist, there was a saying that floated around among my friends and colleagues and throughout the industry: “Mediocre products marketed well defeat great products marketed badly every time.” We used it most often when scratching our heads over why Microsoft Windoze could possibly be clobbering the elegant Macintosh user experience in the marketplace.

Apple Newton

Apple Newton

I was reminded of that observation today when a news item crossed my desk. Strangely enough, it was about one of my all-time favorite technologies that didn’t make it. When Apple introduced the Newton hand-held Personal Digital Assistant in 1993, I was immediately taken with it. I bought an early version. I spent time learning the fairly slick scripting/programming language built to code applications with. I touted it. I loved it.

Oh, there were a lot of things wrong with it. Its size and format were bulky and blocky. Handwriting recognition became the industry’s favorite punchline. Still, I thought it was incredibly promising and I was willing to put up with the rough edges and flaws while Apple nurtured it through its premature release. But, as with so many other technology products of its day, the Newton fell sufficiently short of sales goals that, in a relatively short time, Apple killed it off. I remember a friend of mine in Apple’s research group who collected old Newton’s for replacement parts; several years later, he was still selling them. Obviously, some people found it still usable and useful.

I thought at the time that Apple demonstrated extreme impatience with this stunning new technology. Of course, this was in the days before Apple switched its focus from computing to consumer products, and the company’s financial reserves were much smaller than they are today. Still, it seemed to me then and still does that Apple failed to stay with promising but slow-moving new technologies on too many occasions for a company that touted itself as a research-driven outfit. They did a similar thing with HyperCard, a product that I also fell in love with — and clearly made a fair amount of money from — but that Apple never understood well enough to know how to market it. HyperCard lasted a little longer than the Newton and gave rise to some wonderful spin-off products from third parties (most notably for me the brilliant LiveCode language and environment I still love using). But ultimately, it was orphaned simply because of a lack of marketing insight at Apple.

Today, more than two decades later, I’m not sure we’ve significantly improved on handwriting recognition over what the Newton offered. At least, I haven’t seen any widely used commercial products that demonstrate that promise.

Oh, well. At least I enjoyed this brief trip down Memory Lane.

Did Amazon Just Shoot Itself in the Foot?

amazon_logoAmazon.com has announced its online store will no longer carry Google Play and Apple TV streaming TV devices. These devices not only compete directly with Amazon’s Fire TV product line, they are also not very usable with Amazon Prime Video and related products.

I’m sure the head honchos at Amazon think this is a great move. It will make it harder for their customers to buy competing and non-compliant products from their store. But I suspect they will be forced to reverse this policy soon. Not only does it smack (further) of their clear intent to become a mega-monopoly (never a good business strategy; see Microsoft) but what will happen when (not if) Apple yanks Amazon’s apps from its iTunes store?

This morning, I got an email from Amazon touting new features in their Prime Music offering. I’m not a big user of music but I thought I’d check it out. Tap, tap, tap and I had their app downloaded and installed via the iTunes store. But if Apple decides to give the Amazon world of apps the same shabby treatment Amazon is now giving Apple’s TV product, I won’t be able (or willing) to install them on my iPhone, iPad or Macs.

Which will ultimately determine who needs whose customers more.

I predict Amazon.com will be seen to have overplayed its hand here.


Shellshock Malware Once Again Turns Undeserved Bad Light on Open Source

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of Shellshock, the new computer malware that attacks a key part of an underlying operating system and gives its malefactor essentially complete control over the system. For a change, Windows machines are exempt from the virus; it’s Macs and Linux and Unix systems that are most vulnerable.

computer_virusThe flaw, or “exploit”, is in the Bash Shell, an application that is included with almost all Unix and Linux shipments including the one on which the Mac OS X is based. The malware is being called “Deadly Serious” by experts.

The ink wasn’t even dry on the warning notices about the problem before the lamestream media began shouting about how Open Source is bad-bad-bad and we shouldn’t rely on software “built and maintained by volunteers.” In other words, Open Source. In other words, you morons should be paying gobs of money and enriching our corporate overlords by purchasing software that is maintained by an actual corporation where there is an incentive (read, profit, read, exploitation) to fix these problems.

Bull puckey.

Open Source systems are no more vulnerable than proprietary systems to exploits of most kinds. And when a problem does arise in an Open Source app or utility, the community of volunteers rushes into respond almost immediately and with a multi-pronged attack. Historically, problems — whether bugs or security flaws — in OS software are fixed far more rapidly than those maintained by a proprietary company. Generally, such companies have a vested interest in covering up bugs and flaws, then prioritizing their repair based not on what most users want or need but based on what a handful of their top customers insist on.

Interestingly, Shellshock provides a microcosm of evidence supporting my position. My buddy Richard Gaskin reports on G+ that he’s fixed his Linux boxes and applied the Linux patch to his Macs. The Linux boxes check out as clear but the Mac box doesn’t. “Why,” he asks, obviously rhetorically, “are Apple security updates frequently slower than others?” (Richard, like me, is a supporter of Apple in general.)

It’s because large companies like Apple can’t just twist a knob, apply a patch and distribute it to their customers immediately. There are lots and lots of hoops through which to jump, legal, marketing and PR considerations to factor in, backward compatibility to be checked. All good reasons for the slow response but clear reasons why OS is often far better than proprietary when it comes to things like Shellshock.

Climate Change Roundup March 3, 2014

Global-Climate-ChangeI’ve decided to start this new feature on my blog where I troll the Web and look for news and commentary about global climate change every day and bring you succinct summaries and links so you can pursue whatever aspects of the crisis interest you most. Please feel free to send me links to pieces you think I should showcase here.

Here are some of today’s best.

 GOP Congressman Ed Rogers spews ignorance in WaPo.

One of the staunchest climate change deniers in the Congress, Rogers offers up some choice bon mots in the Washington Post revealing his ignorance and his 100% politicized agenda on the subject.

“The problem is that many reasonable voters find it hard to know whom to believe.” Yes. Precisely. And it’s because of nut jobs like you that they are confused. For some reason they trust your views on a subject where they should be listening only to the 97% of scientists in the world who agree that global climate change is real, happening now, devastating in its impact, and at least largely caused by bad human behavior.

Retiring Demo Congressman Takes GOP to Task for “Inane” War on Science.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) is an actual scientist. He’s a plasma physicist who’s spent more than 50 years being interested in and following climate change. As a degreed plasma physicist, he at least understands science and the scientific method well enough to know how it should be applied to diagnosing and resolving issues of a scientific nature.

In this piece on Salon.com, he bemoans the lack of progress during his 16 years in Congress, for which he blames fellow Congress critters who don’t understand science, don’t think they need to, and wouldn’t agree with its findings even if they did understand it because, you know. Politics.

Apple CEO Tells Investors to Dump Shares if They Don’t Like His Plans to Combat Climate Change.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, bluntly told investors in his company that he intends to continue to double down on investments in clean energy. He told climate change suspects responding to a right-wing think tank report questioning the value of such investments to sell their shares.

He told one particularly nettlesome questioner, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.” He compared investments in clean energy to those in making devices accessible to the blind and disabled.

200-Year Drought Destroyed Indus Civilization, Scientists Say.

According to an article in Scientific American, the Indus civilization — Bronze Age cultures in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia — was ultimately destroyed by a 200-year drought caused by a hiatus in monsoon activity. It is, of course, precisely that kind of long-term weather shift (aka climate change) that is at the very heart of our present crisis.

What is that old saw about people who refuse to learn the lessons of history being doomed to repeat them?

 Climate Change Could Produce Millions of New Crimes in U.S.

A newly released study by an environmental economist at a London think tank suggests the U.S. could be in for some significant increases in the level of crime as a direct result of very small upticks in global temperatures.

Matthew Ranson, an environmental economist at Cambridge-based Abt Associates, a public policy research and consulting firm, predicts that over the remainder of this century, rising temperatures in the United States will lead to an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, and 1.3 million burglaries, among other crimes. He bases these projections on current crime data which show that when temperatures rise, so does crime. This phenomenon is well known among law enforcement officials.

Australia Has Warmed Another Degree in 60 Years, Continues to Be the “Burning, Drying Continent”.

A study by Australia’s national science agency says that continent has heated up by a full degree Centigrade in the past century, most of that in the past 60 years. Australia is earning a global reputation as the “burning, drying continent.”

The country has five times as many very warm days and one-third fewer very cold days and fire hazard weather is on a steep rise, the report continues.


New Release of OS X is Free. Changing the Face of Computing Forever?

The next release of the Macintosh OS X from Apple will be the first commercial operating system with a price tag of $0. Apple’s departing from tradition in another way: the new OS is not named after a cat, but is called Mavericks. It is thus the first version named after a place in California (a famous surfing location in Half Moon Bay).

Apple-logoThis is a long-foreseen major shift in the computer industry. Apple reduced the price of its OS releases from $129 to $29 to $19 in the last few versions, so the handwriting’s been on the wall. This presumably will put more pressure on Microsoft, which makes a good bit of revenue selling licenses to its Windows OS to manufacturers who include it with their hardware. Microsoft sent a weak signal that it’s getting a message here when it made the first upgrade to Windows 8 free to consumers.

One major benefit of this change for Apple is that it is almost certainly going to increase the adoption rate of new releases of Mac OS X. The price has come down so much lately that perhaps the impact will be somewhat subdued but the fact is that a large number of Mac users have resisted upgrading their OS at all because of the fact that they had to pay for the new version. To the extent that Apple can approach a 100% adoption rate for new versions, it can create a far more predictable platform for software developers — including their own — and thus ease the deployment of the latest features.

The other competing OS — Linux — has always been free. Microsoft is now the only holdout but of course they’re in a completely different position from Apple. They depend for virtually 100% of their revenue on software and software-related services. All of their forays into the world of hardware have failed to one degree or another. And Microsoft has been incredibly slow to adopt new technologies (it was one of the last tech companies to decide the Web was here to stay and they have only recently, and only partially, begun  subscription services for their Office software line). This makes it quite difficult to anticipate how they might respond to the latest trend Apple has set.

But it’s good news for consumers, and Apple, as a consumer electronics company, likes to keep consumers thinking positively about it.


Apple’s Bad eBook Behavior May Result in Ordered Changes, But No Financial Penalty

rottenappleThe U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has submitted a Proposed Final Judgment (PFJ) in the case in which Apple has been found guilty of leading a price-fixing conspiracy on eBooks. The PFJ does not envision any financial penalty but it does require Apple to alter its business practices.

Highlights of the proposed order would require Apple to:

  • allow, for just two years, in-app eBook purchases from competitors’ bookstore apps without charging the stores the 30% markup it had been adding as a deterrent;
  • refrain from participating in any information sharing, price fixing or other behavior with publishers that could lead to any group collective action;
  • cancel all of its so-called “most favored nation” contracts with publishers that were central to the price-fixing scheme;
  • hire a full-time, in-house compliance expert appointed by the court to ensure that its behavior complies with the order

.All of the provisions except the first would be in effect for 10 years, with some provision for earlier release from the obligations in certain circumstances.

There will be those who will complain that Apple wasn’t fined. But, really, when you have billions in liquid reserves, how much impact would a find have had, really? I think the DOJ did the right thing by trying to cure the behavior rather than looking to the past. Besides,publishers Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan had already agreed to repay $164 million to consumers who were overcharged in the conspiracy.

In addition, the tarnish to Apple’s image from this sordid business practice will be long-lasting and is sure to discourage many of its staunchest backers and buyers, who may stop being such Apple fans and look elsewhere for technology solutions.

Or not. Microsoft was judged a monopolist at the turn of the 21st Century and I’m not sure it’s possible to trace much if any of its decline in the market to that determination.

I can say that, as a writer who relies on royalties and book-sale fees for part of my living, Apple’s behavior bothers me more than a little. Whether it will affect future technology buying decisions remains to be seen.


What Are People Saying About iOS7?

Apple announced the new iOS7 at its developer conference this week. As usual, any announcement by Apple gets a lot of feedback in the developer community. I’ve read quite a number of these and thought it might be useful to summarize some of the more interesting observations here before I render my opinion.

iOS7 ScreenKevin C. Tofel at gigaom.com spent several paragraphs poo-poohing the new OS because it borrows heavily from competitive systems, but then sort of weaseled out with this comment: “Regardless of where the best ideas come from, Apple can put them all together like nobody else.”

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is quoted on CNET.com as finding the revamped UI to be a great move. “”The new iOS design appears flatter and cleaner than the prior version,” the analyst said in an investors note released late Monday. “We believe iOS 7 is a reason for users to get excited about their iPhones again by giving it a new feel, which is something that we believe has been lacking in the past iOS updates….”

CNET’s editorial team summed up its views succinctly: “Overwhelmingly cosmetic.”

Over at ArsTechnica, Megan Geuss focuses most of her pre-release review comments on the new look and feel, particularly the new default system font and the flatness of icons and bubbles and other UI elements. Her summary comment: “we knew that the next version of iOS would look different. Now we know that ‘different’ means ‘really, really flat.'”

It seems that most designers who bothered to comment don’t care for the new thin-line flat icon look. Typical was Tom Coates of Product Club, quoted at Tuaw.com: “At least in part because it looks so much like wireframes with placeholders for things. Bit like a webpage with Times New Roman….It’s cramped in places, childish and garish in others, icons blend in with the background. And some of the design fetishes it has are as egregious if not worse than ios6 – frosted glass, fake depth, sliders with shadows. There are many good things about it too. Don’t get me wrong. App switcher is nice, etc. Interaction wise it looks and feels solid.”

My take is that the new UI is going to take some getting used to. To one like me who is not a particularly aesthetic thinker, it feels like a step backward but most of the designers I talked to in my circle of acquaintance used words like “clean” and “elegant” and “modern”. So maybe it’s a real improvement I’m just not going to appreciate as quickly as others.

As for the other features, Tofel nailed it. Apple “borrowed” lots of lessons from competitors but put them together in a nicely integrated package. It seems to me that approach cedes its position as a design leader, but Microsoft has made a ton of money ripping off…er…borrowing…ideas from competitors, so at least it’s a proven business model.

But I do wonder if this doesn’t signal the beginning of the end of Apple’s image as the consummate product design company that cracks open new niches for others to try to catch up in.

Does Apple Bluetooth Just Suck?

I’ve been having trouble with Bluetooth on Apple devices for the past few days, and today as I was working with my iPad in some new ways, the situatin got worse.

I have had my Mini lose connection to the mouse at random and frequent intervals. I’ve replaced the battery, rebooted the system, reconnected the mouse. Nothing helps. Every time the Mini reboots, it says it can’t even find a Bluetooth device, then it finds the device and attempts a pairing, then it says it can’t find one again. This goes on until I restart the machine. Ridiculous.

Using an Apple wireless keyboard with the iPad, I had the iPad not only forget it had a keyoard attached via Bluetooth a couple of times, it couldn’t even “see” the keyboard a couople of times until I turned Blueetooth off and back on.

So I wonder do I just have bad luck or is it true, as several of my *nix buddies have told me repeatedly, that Apple’s implementation of Bluetooth just sucks?

Sinking…er…Synching With iTunes

I’m having quite an adventure today trying to get my iPad and iPhone to synch correctly with my relocated iMac. Apple’s DRM seems to be a bit of a hindrance in some situations.

Part of the problem I encountered today had to do with a USB cable that was the slightest bit wonky. My iPhone synched just fine with it but my iPad wasn’t even recognized by my iTunes until I swapped the cable. Then things went fine.

Still trying to sort out some of the App synching stuff, but given my prior experience with synch in iTunes, it’s gone much more smoothly than I expected.

It still bewilders me why such a ludicrous decision to put so much system-level functionality in a music program hasn’t long since been undone, but I guess that’s the Apple Way. 🙂

Apple Does Evil, Tax-Wise

The New York Times today broke a story that is not itself a surprise but which clearly paints Apple with a pretty dark, sticky brush as a gigantic tax avoider. I find myself unsurprisedly disgusted.

rottenappleAccording to the story, “Even as Apple became the nation’s most profitable technology company, it avoided billions in taxes in the United States and around the world through a web of subsidiaries so complex it spanned continents and surprised experts, a Congressional investigation has found.” It cites one subsidiary in Ireland that paid .05% tax on $22 billion in pre-tax earnings and another that didn’t even file a return anywhere on $30 billion in profits.

It’s not clear yet whether Apple broke any laws — whether it evaded taxes or simply found legal ways to avoid paying them — but even if they didn’t, they are best an example of a terrible kind of corporate greed. By failing to support the cities, states and countries from which it and its employees derive enormous benefit, they drive up the cost of those services to ll of us. And that, in my book, is a bad actor.