Monday, December 18, 2006

Deal with it: Apple's cellphone is still coming

Gizmodo, like, so totally pwn3d everyone with its "clever" iPhone teaser story. When the online rag finally revealed what it had known all along, i.e. that the iPhone was going to be a Cisco product, the author of the original prank even added a half-assed apology:

P.S. Macheads--including those from Macrumors, Think Secret, TUAW, and Cult of Mac--know Apple likes to release gear on Tuesdays. So they didn't expect an Apple iPhone Monday. If you did read into my original post and feel like I misled you, sincere apologies for the discomfort.
Well, jackass, you went out of your way and added an "Apple" label to the story (see Google's cache for proof), and removed it after your joke played off, so this was a pretty obnoxious, childish trick for sure.

But let's move on. In the wake of the Cisco announcement, two new types of commentary have appeared all over the blogosphere, even at Daring Fireball, that piss me off.

This is the first: How could anyone have thought Apple would call its cellphone iPhone if Apple doesn't even own either the trademark or the domain name?

My comment: hindsight, Watson, is always 20/20. But thanks for noticing. Yet there's more to it than that. Maybe Apple has sought a deal with Cisco about the iPhone name all along, and talks have broken down only recently. Or what the hell, maybe they haven't, and Cisco even allowed Apple to also use the name (without any announcements, of course). Maybe Cisco just wants to ride Apple's publicity a bit. Anything is possible, as far as we all know.

By the way, Apple does own

But in any case, it's just a name. Remember when Steve Jobs introduced iTunes? About half a dozen times, he accidentally called it "iMusic." My guess is that Apple had fought over that name with someone – and lost. (As an aside, I still think iTunes sounds awful. Especially with a British accent.)

And that leads us to the second type of comment that has reared its head today. Namely: How do we know that Apple will ever release a cellphone?

This one is easy. I'm quoting Bloomberg News (via
"We don't think that the phones that are available today make the best music players -- we think the iPod is," Apple Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said in a conference call Wednesday. "But over time that is likely to change, and we're not sitting around doing nothing."
This is the absolutely most direct way imaginable in the universe in which an Apple exec can hint at a future product (unless it's being given away like the iTV).

Phones aren't good music players.

But that will change.

Apple will be part of that change.

How can you infer from this anything but a crystal-clear indication that Apple will create a music-playing phone?

Never mind the rumors, the analysts' reports, the whole thing. This single statement alone confirms the iPhone – whatever it's going to be called.


No offense to Daniel Craig, but…

Finally, I realized why the new Bond looked so damn familiar.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time's Person of the Year: You, using an iMac

Time's Person of the Year title goes to "You," i.e. anyone browsing the web. The cover art features a photo illustration with a reflective surface, where each reader can supposedly see his or her reflection.

Notably, the silvery surface is placed over the graphic representation of a web video widget, running on what appears to be a post-2005 iMac. (The screen area is magnified so the computer isn't really visible, but its stand and keyboard give away the Mac.) Looks like Time's love affair with Apple is still on.


Why Apple can't let carriers subsidize the iPhone

Brian Tiemann wonders if Apple can orchestrate a brilliant strategy of convincing mobile carriers not to subsidize the iPhone, and thus protect its baby from the fate of Nokias and Motorolas, where marketing and pricing is in the hands of telcos rather than phone makers, devaluing the product into a mere commodity, and even defacing it with huge, unsightly logos.
But really, Apple has no other choice. As a Think Secret report explains, the iPhone will be "an iPod with phone capabilities," and if it were havily subsidized by carriers, it may end up being (relatively or even absolutely) cheaper than a comparable iPod, adversely affecting the latter's perceived value – and even its sales. I think Apple has enough of a superstar status to play hardball with yet another industry. But we'll see, some say as early as tomorrow.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

OK, Apple really needs to fix the Mighty Mouse scroll ball

The Mighty Mouse is just perfect. The way it implements right-clicking is probably the best possible way: it will still let you left-click with your entire palm, not just your first two fingers, reducing the chance for repetitive-stress injury. Right-clicking may be a bit tricky, what with remembering to lift your fingers off the left side, but in the last few months, I haven't had a single missed right-click.

And don't even get me started on scrolling. It's absolutely indispensable. In the past, I've bitched about what I call "dumb scrolling" (and what Apple called "smart scrolling back then), i.e. having both scroll arrows on one end of a scroll bar. I still insist that the only way that makes sense from a usability point of view is having both arrows on both ends. However, today, I simply no longer care. Who needs scroll arrows when you have the Mighty Mouse?

Well, unfortunately, you do when your mouse stops scrolling. My pet peeves are silent failures: any minute, your mouse can just lose its scrolling functionality. At least, this failure is "silent" in a good way: the artificial clicking sound the mouse emits while scrolling will also go away, letting you know that it's your mouse that's failing (again), not some software problem.

Apple is aware of the problem, and details how it recommends you clean the ball when that happens. (Turn the mouse upside down, and roll the ball vigorously with a clean, moist, lint-free cloth.) A Google search will also yield useful tips, like blowing pressurized air inside the assembly.

Unfortunately, these tips solve the problem only temporarily. In my case, it has come to the point where I'm rubbing my mouse's scroll ball after every three to fifteen minutes of use. I'm going to have my mouse replaced under warranty, and I hope Apple will fix this flawed design as soon as possible. Public acknowledgment of the problem would also be nice, though that might easily cost Apple actual money in class-action lawsuits, so I'm not holding my breath.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Rampant speculation forces early iPhone announcement? Speculation

Gizmodo "knows" that iPhone will be announced on Monday, and it won't be what they expected at all. People usually assume Monday means this next Monday, December 18, and hope that it won't be about, say, a product called IP-hone, a device for, erm, sharpening your IP address, or something.

In any case, this would certainly be a surprising development. Not just that it's announced days before Christmas, when people have already bought their gift mobile phones (if any), but even more uncharacteristically, because it's not a Tuesday.

Or maybe Apple's just sick and tired of the outrageous speculation and rumormongering going on about the product, even affecting the company's stock price, and wants to clear up the picture by saying, "Here's your iPhone, dammit! You can get it in March! Now leave me the $%^£! alone, will ya?!"

And then Apple can go on about its business, announcing new Leopard and iTV features, iLife 2007, a retooled dot-Mac service, and other business-as-usual stuff at Macworld.

Looks like Jobs just won't let the Mac Web ruin his Christmas. We're sorry, Steve.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Vista's 157 thousand new PR jobs

A 14-page IDC report (download PDF here), commissioned by Microsoft, says that Vista will create "157,000 new jobs."

Mac fans could (and do) take cheap shots at this number. "Yeah, right. Vista will suck so bad that you'll need 157 thousand people to answer tech support calls."

But these shots would miss the point. They would imply that someone seriously investigated how exactly Vista would effect the IT job and spendings market. Instead, here's what the study does.

  1. It forecasts that IT spendings, thus also the IT job market, will grow in 2007 in the United States.
  2. It then predicts that the ratio of "Vista-related" spending* (thus also jobs) will grow.
  3. As a result, 157 thousand out of the 400 thousand new jobs will be "Vista jobs."
  4. Then it concludes that all these jobs would be single-handedly created by Vista.
Never mind that Vista will be bundled with just about every new PC sold, so Windows market share will continue to be determined mostly by license agreements with PC vendors. Therefore, any overall growth in computer hardware sales will likely result in a growth of Vista's perceived job market share, especially since IDC classifies anything that "runs on or supports Vista" as a "Vista job."

If you buy a Dell, erase Vista from it, and install Linux, IDC says you'll still contribute to Vista spending. If a company replaces all of its five-year-old PCs with new ones, it will contribute to IDC's idea of Vista spending. If you're a software vendor, and your software happens to be compatible with Vista, you're contributing to Vista spending, and if you increase your sales, even more so, according to IDC.**

But it gets better. According to the report, "For every dollar of Microsoft Windows Vista revenue in the U.S., IDC expects $18.00 to be generated in revenues by other companies in the Microsoft ecosystem. " A graph shows that these 18 dollars are made up of $9.75 in hardware sales, $4.60 in software sales, and $3.65 in services.

Here's the deal. You buy a PC, it will have Vista installed, and you'll pay a hidden charge for it. If you're IDC, you'll interpret it as wow, a one-dollar income for Microsoft has just created a ten-dollar hardware sale. But then in IDC's world, gas spendings probably lead to car purchases, just as hangovers lead to parties.

But there's another approach. How about, "for every ten dollars of hardware sales, Microsoft receives a one-dollar tax"?

Because, you know, I'm sure all that hardware would run something, even if Vista, or Heaven forbid, Microsoft weren't around at all.

Well, IDC's gig as Microsoft's court poet must have blurred its vision:
While it is easy to think of Microsoft as simply the world's largest software company, it is more than that. It is an economic force that has a direct, positive impact on the countries in which it operates.
Full disclosure: this blog has never been sponsored by Microsoft.

*IDC must have meant to say Windows market share here, as most versions of Vista haven't even shipped yet, so it would be pretty bad for Microsoft if Vista's current, virtually non-existant market share grew one percentage point between now and a year from now.

**Someone should do the same math with Tiger (as well as Leopard). Mac OS X market share has increased lately, and I'm sure all those extra users would never have bought any kind of computer had Tiger not been released.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What a week!

And it's only Tuesday.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Adding reddit links to Blogger Beta

As a gentle reminder to your readers to help popularize your blog via reddit, you can add a reddit button to each of your posts. This will give readers a one-click opportunity to boost your posts on reddit if they're already submitted, or an easy way to submit them if they aren't. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

I haven't found any literature on how this procedure works on Blogger Beta, so I had to do a bit of poking around in the less-than-spectacular Blogger Beta documentation, as well as some experimenting. It's no rocket science, but in case you were planning to do the same, and got stuck somewhere, here's how I did it.

1. Go to the buttons page on reddit, and copy the code for the button style of your choice to your clipboard. (The one this blog uses is style 1.) Paste the code snippet into some text editor.

<script language="javascript" src=""></script>
2. Log in to Blogger Beta, and navigate from your Dashboard to Template, then Edit HTML. Click the check box which says "Expand Widget Templates."

3. Now you'll need to edit your template. I recommend that you copy the entire template file and paste it into a text editor, so you'll be able to use Find/Replace and other text editing facilities. (Like, you can have the editor speak out the entire template file for you. It's great fun to listen to.) Good ol' TextEdit will do (if you're a Mac user), but make sure you work on a plain text file, not a rich text file. (You can switch between the two formats in the Format menu.)

It's also recommended that you save a backup copy before proceeding, just in case something goes wrong.

If you think you're done with your edits, copy and paste your template back into the browser's text field, and click on the Preview button to see if it looks fine. Don't click on Save unless it really all seems OK. (Don't expect to test links in Preview mode, though. They won't work. That's normal behavior.)

In case you really messed up, and want to revert to the original code, your backup copy comes in handy. Or, you can revert to Blogger's original version of the template, but then you'll lose all your previous hacks, if any.

4. OK, now you need to find the place where you need to paste the code. This is probably the trickiest part for most of us. The natural place for the button would be in the footer of a post. However, I placed the link at the end of the post body instead, for design considerations.

In any case, if you want to find the suitable location for your button, some elementary understanding of a Blogger Beta template is handy.

The template file usually starts with some lengthy CSS declarations. Then comes the part which instructs the Blogger engine how to lay out your blog.

This is an XML file which includes XHTML tags, as well as some proprietary tags that operate the Blogger engine, instructing it to display your contents. If you want to put the reddit button in the post body, you should look for a part in the file that says
<div class='post-body'>
This is where the post body begins. Depending on your template, various bits of code follow, and finally the <\div> closing tag marks the end of the body.

I placed the code I'd got from reddit right before that closing tag. If you want to put it in the footer instead, look for a suitable place between the <div class='post-footer'> and the <\div class='post-footer'> tags instead, but as I can't walk you down that path, be sure to test your code with the Preview feature before you commit to it by saving it.

I added a <br\> tag right before the reddit script just to make it look nicer. (Don't forget the "\" , as this is XHTML.)

5. Now comes the final trick: the reddit code contains a bit which needs to be rewritten. The part where it says "[URL]" is just a placeholder, you need to replace it with some Blogger code that yields an URL for each post. So after you've pasted the reddit code, change its first line from this:
to this:
This was the part which took me the longest to figure out, as the documentation was, again, a bit sketchy. But now I've found the right syntax, and it should work a charm for you too.

Oh, and finally, a less-than-gentle reminder to my dear readers: please be kind enough to give my posts some boost on reddit… Thank you.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

iPhone shuffle revealed

Okay, it's hard to remain dead serious amidst all the unprecedented speculation and rumormongering concerning Apple's worst-ever kept secret. The iPhone has been perhaps the biggest shoe-in the history of the entire Mac rumor industry, as well as the obvious lock of the decade.

Hungarian news portal had decided to join the mayhem, and announced a Best iPhoto Mockup contest among readers. Did the planet really need yet another iPhone mockup contest? Turns out it did.

One entry inspired by the contest might look conspicuously familiar to Mac Thought Crime readers, yet the winning enrty (or rather, the "enty that would have been a winner if one had been chosen"), reproduced here by permission, is a true gem. Kudos to fellow Hungarian György Gazics for an instant classic.

On a historic note, the launch of the iPod shuffle almost two years ago was orchestrated pretty carefully. Months before the product shipped in January 2005, Apple had started to hype the Shuffle feature, even making a big announcement out of putting it into the iPod main menu. Coincidence? I think not.

So, if Apple suddenly starts talking about how cool it is to just randomly call or e-mail people in your contact list; if a new minor update to Mail or Address Book offers a "Blindfold Mode" where you only have a BCC field and the recipient is randomly selected, you'll know: the iPhone shuffle is real, and coming soon.


Monday, December 04, 2006

So iPhone equals iPod plus what?

So Digg's Kevin Rose "confirms" two iPhone models, according to Ars Technica's Mac blog. The big details are a small form factor, a separate battery for music, and two price tags of $249 and $449 for two models (4GB and 8Gb).

Ars Technica thinks the alleged separate battery will "firmly make this a music-playing device," though I'm not sure why anyone has had any doubts over this for a second since July 21, the day Peter Oppenheimer gave the secret away.

The large gap between the two models suggests more than just a difference in capacity, though it's anyone's guess what else is in the cards. The larger model may have a camera or, as rumored, some smartphone functionality as well.

The most interesting question is, though, how much of an iPod and how much of a telephone the iPhone is going to be. Did Apple focus on simply converging the iPod with a cellphone (any cellphone) so that you don't need to carry two devices? Or does the iPhone go way beyond that? And how does it affect Apple's product line-up?

Apple currently sells Macs and iPods. That's about it. With the iPhone, will a third category emerge, or will it the iPhone still be an iPod? And even if so, will it transform the iPod?

I can imagine the following scenarios.

1. The name's "iPod phone": Apple adds a so-so phone to the mighty iPod. When the iPhone emerges, it turns out to be just an iPod nano that can make phone calls. The new baby is integrated neatly in the iPod product matrix, probably called iPod phone. Phone functionality is less than groundbreaking (possibly even licensed from a third party), as Apple fears the unknown and simply wants to unify two existing kingdoms: its own, the iPod, and a foreign one, cellphones. The marriage would supposedly cement the leadership of the iPod in its own sector.

Odds: 3 to 1. Easiest to pull off, though rumors suggest otherwise.
Wow factor: 40%. "Still, Apple's making a phone! Wow."

2. Apple starts a cellular revolution with music as a Trojan: Apple adds a so-so iPod to the mighty iPhone.
What if Apple wants to take on cellphones? Having tackled music, now it wants to show the world how phones are done. However, as mobile telephony is a large and mature market, Apple's only chance for entry is by grafting iPods on its phones. In this scenario, expect true cellular innovation from Apple, with the iPod as an add-on.

Odds: 5 to 1. Harder than it sounds, and Oppenheimer's words suggest otherwise.
Wow factor: 99%. "Wow, Apple makes the best cellphones! Who'd've thunk that?!"

3. It's iPod 2.0, and it can do phones as well: Apple expands the iPod platform into a handheld computer, iPhone is just one application.
OK, imagine this. Apple doesn't stop at putting video, games, calendars and some basic contact management on an iPod. Nope: Apple takes it all the way to the next level. With a touch-screen interface, the iPod could do anything. Apple could kick new life into the PDA market it created (though it wasn't Steve). It could consummate the mission of this MP3 player of truly evolving into the Next Big Thing. Oh, and it could also function as a phone. Let's dedicate one model to that. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the iPhone.

Odds: 9 to 1. I'd put in a larger number, but this is Steve Jobs we're talking about.
Wow factor: 300%. As in, "Holy @#$^%!!!"

These three scenarios may not play out this purely, but I think one of them will definitely prevail. It'll be interesting to see which one. Do they all sound insane? You bet. But one of them will be reality soon. It's exciting to be an Apple head these days. (Just look at the Mac Thought Crime logo for proof.)


Friday, December 01, 2006

Saying hello to Btman

So I somehow missed this… I just found out today that my old colleague at AppleLust, Brian Tiemann has a blog. It's not like it took me a long time to notice that: he's only had it for what, five years? Not only is the name of the blog truly brilliant (Peeve Farm), but the quality and quantity of his extremely opinionated writing are both commendable.

Apart from the obvious Mac coverage, his topics range from endless Lord of the Rings musings to Microsoft Schadenfreude to political affairs to growing a beard. Oh, and some priceless off-color jokes like this one:

You know... now, on top of the usual warnings against making jokes about bombs or hijackings at the airport metal detectors... kids are going to have to avoid telling each other "Your shoes are the bomb!"
I'm adding his blog link to my sidebar, and heartily recommending his blog to all my readers.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Joel Spolsky overreacts to Vista shutdown usability issues

It doesn't happen very often that I strongly disagree with Joel Spolsky, the web's most prominent author on software, but I find his piece on Windows Vista's too many choices for "leaving your computer" flawed in several ways.

When you finish your work and leave your computer, you want to shut it down, put it to sleep, or something like that. Joel counts nine such options in Windows Vista, "two icons and seven menu items." The menu items are Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate and Shut Down. The two icons are for Lock and possibly Shut Down (he isn't sure about the latter, the icon looks like a power button).

Then Joel goes on to count FN+Key combinations, the actual power button and closing the lid of a laptop, and arrives at a total of 15 choices to make whenever you leave your PC.

He then explains why that's wrong (emphasis added):

The more choices you give people, the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they'll feel. See, for example, Barry Schwartz's book, The Paradox of Choice. […] “Schwartz […] shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ('easy fit' or 'relaxed fit'?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being.”

The fact that you have to choose between nine different ways of turning off your computer every time just on the start menu, not to mention the choice of hitting the physical on/off button or closing the laptop lid, produces just a little bit of unhappiness every time.
Of course. Nobody would argue that it's acceptable to force you to make 15 choices each time you want to leave your PC.

But I have problems with the way Joel counts these choices.

Choices vs. redundancies

First, there are seven different choices for the operation to perform, and it's conceptually wrong to confuse these seven options with the different methods available for making your choice.

I can imagine in theory a novice user freaking out, "Should I choose sleep? Hibernate? Shut Down? Switch User? What the hell is Lock? Aaaargh, whatever, I don't care, can I just go away? Why so many choices?!"

Okay, maybe not exactly like that. But my point is that yes, Joel may be right, this can qualify as a problem of the "easy fit or relaxed fit?" variety (for some users at least): being presented with an unexpected or superfluous choice when you would like to just move on without making any further decisions.

But how can you count in here the different methods for making these seven choices? A user can close the lid, push the power button, use a keystroke, or click on an icon in order to activate any of these seven "leave computer" sequences. He'll choose one he prefers, and may not even know about the others. This is a very different kind of choice: it's a redundancy, an important element in user interface design.

Does it ever confuse anyone, or cause any unhappiness that you can select "Copy" from the Edit menu, from a contextual menu, or by pressing CTRL-C (or Command-C on a Mac)? It's not like you want to "Copy" and you have to make up your mind about how you want to do it. Probably, if you're near the menu bar, you'll choose the Edit menu. If you're using your mouse, you'll select the contextual menu. And if you've got your hands on the keyboard, you'll hit the keystroke. Or perhaps you're not even aware of all these options, and you use the one(s) that you like. Arguing against this kind of redundancy isn't something I'd expect from a great usability expert like Joel, and yet this is what he's doing here.

The elimination round

I'm not buying into Joe's creative accounting here, so like I said, we're down to seven choices.

Joel goes on to eliminate each of them, arriving at a single "b'bye" button that he thinks should suffice for everyone. It's an interesting idea and a good read, though it only survives on a couple of questionable premises, namely that RAM can be written out to flash memory, and that sleep/hibernation conserves as much energy as a shutdown.

But what's so wrong with these seven choices? True, having to choose between Sleep and Hibernate may be a bit unnecessary and geeky. But don't tell me that anyone's ever had a hard time choosing between Restart and any of the other six commands: when you want to restart, you won't be distracted by the other choices. You've made up your mind before going into that menu, and you won't start wondering whether you should maybe select Sleep or Switch User instead.

Similarly, when you want to switch to another user, you won't be bothered by the availability of a Hibernate option. The problem, if any, is simply that these choices live in one menu with perhaps too many (loosely related) items.

So I think Joel's argument breaks down here a bit as well: if you've already made your choice before going into a menu, why worry about other items that happen to coexist in that menu? By that logic, if you go into the Edit menu in order to select "Cut," does it bother you that you also have "Copy," "Paste," and even "Delete" right there, in the same menu? Should we eliminate them all, and arrive at a generic "Edit" command that somehow substitutes cutting, copying, pasting and deletion? I don't think so.

Joel also adds this comment:
Inevitably, you are going to think of a long list of intelligent, defensible reasons why each of these [shutdown] options is absolutely, positively essential. Don't bother. I know. Each additional choice makes complete sense until you find yourself explaining to your uncle that he has to choose between 15 different ways to turn off a laptop.
Not these fifteen ways again! The last time I checked, we were down to seven. Since Restart isn't really a choice for leaving your PC (it just happens to be loosely related and therefore in the same menu), now we're at six.

And here Joel is right: Windows should really let another user log in when the system is locked. I mean, what were they thinking when disallowing that?! If that were implemented, Lock could become a safe option in any multiuser environment for walking away from your screen, protecting your privacy, but without locking out all other users. In this context, Switch User would become less of a way to leave your PC and maybe letting others use it, and more of a choice for an occasion when the other user goes up to you and asks you nicely to let him work in for a sec.

So that would leave us down to five choices. Sleep/Hibernate should definitely be merged (as Joel suggests), and that would leave us at four: Sleep, Shut Down, Lock and Log Off.

I think these four are manageable, and perhaps if there had been just these four options around, Joel would never have written his piece.

A (not so) theoretical alternative

What if we organize these menu items a bit better? Let's put Sleep, Restart, Shut Down and Log Off in the same menu (maybe adding the user name to the latter, signifying to Joel's uncle that we're only logging him out). Restart, like I said, arguably belongs there, but isn't easily confused with the rest, so it can stay.

Lock can maybe become a screen saver thing or a general security option: when you activate the screen saver or put the computer to sleep, it will get locked, and you can either unlock it with the current user's password, or a second user can log in. Moving Lock out of the menu may not be the best solution possible, but at least, you're making that menu less cluttered.

And finally, since Lock now lets others log in, switching users no longer belongs among power-off options or among ways to leave your computer after work, so Switch User could really be moved somewhere completely different.

How about this? Still too many choices? Or is this a acceptable now, having found a balance between having all the necessary options without confusing novice users?

In any case, the alternative I've just described happens to be the way Mac OS X handles all of this.


Joel's article closes with these comments:
This highlights a style of software design shared by Microsoft and the open source movement, in both cases driven by a desire for consensus and for "Making Everybody Happy," but it's based on the misconceived notion that lots of choices make people happy, which we really need to rethink.
True. But the complete lack of choices Joel recommends (while admitting that those choices make perfect sense) would throw the baby out with the bath water. Logging off is not the same as quitting your all applications and switching to another user, especially not manually. Restarting is not the same as shutting down and starting up again, manually. Especially if "Shut Down" were also eliminated – for the sake of a sleep mode where it would be somehow safe to (manually) power off. So I think Joel might have overreacted a bit to Vista's design flaws.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Alleged iPhone photo reveals 'rotary dial'

A blogger has posted what is very likely a leaked photo of Apple's upcoming iPhone product. While no hints of smartphone functionality are present, the device apparently pays homage to old rotary-dial phones, using a modified version of the famous iPod click wheel. See the picture right after the jump...

Okay, the blogger, who goes by the name BlueBunny, isn't fully convinced of the image's authenticity...


Spaces breaks Exposé

Macworld UK discusses Leopard's Spaces feature.

Expose will be closely integrated with Spaces. This means that you will be able to see all windows in all spaces using Expose, offering a quick and easy way to locate and switch to specific windows among multiple Spaces.
This may not be obvious at first, but the way Apple chose to implement Spaces pretty much gets in the way of Exposé. If you have created several Spaces and activate Exposé, it will only minimize windows in the current Space. Windows in other Spaces won't be visible.

If you want to see all your windows in all your Spaces, you need to reveal all your Spaces first (by pressing F8), and then use Exposé, which will work in the minimized Spaces: each window will be scaled to fit the minimized representation of its Space. Currently, before Spaces, all your windows would be minimized to fit the entire screen. That will no longer be the case when you have Spaces. If a Space has too many windows, Exposé will make them miniscule, while windows dwelling in other, less crowded Spaces will be scaled to large enough sizes.

If you have problems picturing it all, this Google video I found should help.

I would certainly prefer a solution where all my windows in all my Spaces would be scaled down and distributed to fit on the full screen. First, it would be a much better use of screen space. Second, for me, Exposé is all about revealing everything (as implied by its name). If I hit F9, I do that because I don't want to worry about switching apps or moving windows out of sight: I want to see everything. And no, I don't want to worry about Spaces either when I hit F9. And third, I don't want to use two consecutive keystrokes instead of one.

I think Spaces basically breaks Exposé in their current implementation. I'm not saying that the current solution is without merit, several users may actually prefer it to the alternative that I miss. But I don't see any reason why Apple couldn't implement that one as well. I certainly think we need a way to let Exposé minimize all windows on one screen, ignoring Spaces.

If you have any information suggesting that such functionality is available or is being planned, please let me know.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

CEO: Palm 'struggled' figuring stuff out. In other news: Pope Catholic

Palm CEO Ed Colligan chimes in on the iPhone "threat" (as quoted by Mercury News):

"We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,'' he said. ``PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in.''
Let's see.

For years, Palm (bought by US Robotics, then by 3Com) was migrating itself, its hardware, software, developers and users away from keyboards. Handwriting recognition (sort of) was the next biggest thing. It worked while the bubble lasted.

Then two founders left over management disputes, and formed Handspring. Handspring added a keypad to a handheld (called Treo) in a moment of clarity, and the smartphone became an instant hit.

So for years, the same inventors were migrating themselves, their hardware, software, developers and users back to keyboards.

Handspring was popular, yet it was dying. Palm was unpopular and dying. So Palm bought Handspring, and finally, all was together in a neat package: the Treo smartphone, the Palm mothership, and the much-tweaked, essential Palm OS software.

It all made too much sense, so something was bound to happen. Palm renamed itself PalmOne, spun off the Palm OS company PalmSource, then renamed itself Palm again.

And licensed Windows Mobile.

I'm starting to wonder if Palm / US Robotics / 3Com / Handspring / PalmOne / PalmSource / Palm is really the best role model Apple can have for straightforward business development.

Additional sources: Palm, CNN, Wikipedia


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How the iPod could save the PDA without trying (too hard)

Nobody wants a PDA anymore. Worldwide sales of traditional handheld devices (ones without phone capabilities) have been declining for eleven straight quarters, reaching a measly 1.1 million units sold in Q3, 2006 on their way down, according to IDC. Steve Jobs is even proud of not having released a PDA. That's right, nobody wants one.

But then nobody wanted video on an iPod, either. It was an experiment that few, if any, companies could have pulled off the way Apple has. It really struck me as a stroke of genius when Steve Jobs had this to say about the video iPod over a year ago (emphasis added):

"Millions of people are going to buy this to listen to music – and video is going to come along as a bonus. So if anything is going to happen in portable video, it will happen on the iPod. We'll find out what happens."
The exact same thing could happen on the PDA front. Today, the iPod has support for games, browsing calendars, notes, photos and videos. In what would be a small step for Apple, but a great step for the ailing PDA market, a new-generation iPod could sprout advanced PDA features any day, and take over the PDA market overnight. That's right: if the long-awaited touch-screen iPod becomes a reality and starts selling in the millions, it will immediately outsell the entire existing PDA market.

It's only a question of choice whether Apple wants to use this opportunity to extend its near-monopoly to handheld devices. Millions of users could buy an iPod – and get a PDA as a bonus. If that won't breathe new life into the personal digital assistant, nothing will.

After all, while traditional PDAs are a dying breed, so-called converged devices (smartphones and phone-PDA combinations) are on the increase. And we all know that Apple is interested in the phone market, don't we? Apple could test the waters with a traditional PDA iPod before plunging into the converged waters.

I think Apple should try its luck here. If the rumors are correct and the next-gen iPod is really going to be all covered by a large touchscreen, its input methods can be vastly extended by virtual (and/or clip-on) keypads, if needed, without compromising the simplicity or the core functionality of the device. You'd touch the screen, and the famous click wheel would appear right at your fingertips – that's what the oldest rumors claim. Okay, now touch the screen in a different way, and a keypad emerges... But only if you want it. If Apple's software people do their job right, the added functions would never get in the way of those who want the iPod to focus on being, first and foremost, an MP3 player. (And so we don't start getting into useless bloatware arguments, either.)


Monday, November 20, 2006

Mac OS Rumors hits rock bottom with more pathological lying

OK, this should be the last mention of that filthy site for a long while, despite our quest to "Periodically check so you don't have to." Remember how the site promised an update for that night just five days ago? Well, that was then, this is now. That update may never have appeared, but why always focus on the negative? Especially in light of today's grandiose update: three mouth-watering rumor headlines concerning the next iPod, an embedded OS X variant, iTV, gaming and iPhone.

Too bad that the articles only contain headlines and no content. However, that is, as always, due to some transient technical issue. This time, it's "catastrophic storm damage." Rest assured, though, that the damage will be repaired, so the "broken links & database bugs in the backup site" will go away by the end of the week.

What an assclown.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Apple files yet another weird hardware patent

According to a patent filing that Appleinsider dug up, Apple is working on (or at least aiming to patent) a multi-purpose touch-sensitive input solution. While patent filings may be deceiving, this pretty much looks like a swappable keyboard/touchpad solution. You could place a QWERTY keyboard on top of it, a piano keyboard, a trackpad, or just about any similar input device that can take advantage of a touch-sensitive surface behind it.

Apple has filed a lot of exciting or crazy hardware patents that went nowhere. There were detachable, wireless screens. Mice with iPod-like scrolling devices. Tablet computers. And really, when was the last time any Mac shipped with a revolutionary ingenious hardware element comparable to such a multi-purpose input device?

Perhaps this has more to do with a handheld device than with a Mac? If and when the touchscreen iPod becomes real, it could allow for an input area large enough to contain a QWERTY keypad, either virtual (i.e. displayed on the screen), or as a strap-on like in this patent filing. And if the iPod gets a QWERTY, it may take on a completely new life with vastly expanded capabilities. Its software is quite advanced even today, and just imagine what could happen to the platform if its greatest limitation, its lack of input options, could be overcome...


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Welcome to Mac OS Rumors Rumors!

The outage of left the entire Mac community in suspense for several days. We're happy to report that the website is back with a vengeance! Always at the bleeding edge of Mac news and rumors, the site breaks the top story of the week: Apple's no less than five firmware updates, with hard-researhed links to each. True to form, the 800-pound rumor gorilla promises even more relevant rumor updates for "tonight," and posts a personal message (detailing health problems and promising great things for the "prominent" site) by the Steve Jobs of the Mac rumor industry, Ryan Meader himself.

Meanwhile, we have received several, totally reliable reports over the last few days with the gruesome details concerning the cause of the worrisome outage, and once the embargo is lifted off them, we will return with a greatly detailed report. You won't be disappointed! Check back in about five minutes. Better still, keep clicking on our sponsor's advertisement for five minutes, then reload the page.

Also, according to several sources deeply entrenched in the grapevine, the Mac rumor giant has several great features planned for the holiday season. A new (long-rumored) site engine will finally make many of the site's problems a thing of the past. Based on bleeding-edge HTML and even experimental PHP technologies, a massive rewrite of almost the entire system architecture will be finalized by late November, and it will radically reduce the occasions where online content published by the rumor king vaporizes, or worse, turns out to be completely fictional, for an estimated 99.7% of all viewers.

The rumor juggernaut is also in the process of developing new editorial principles that will, according to a handful of MacOSRumors employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity, turn the website into "the next Newsweek," or even "the next Playboy."
Wall Street analysts agree, though the details are vague. One source with an excellent track record in predicting MacOSRumors trends (including the "quite intentional" expiration of the domain name a few years ago) hinted at a "better reconciliation of posts with reality and truthfulness," while another trustworthy source close to the executive team pointed out an allegedly planned "gradual move away from bullshit and lies."

We will keep you posted about these exciting developments. And as always, please take some of these rather unlikely predictions (which many consider little more than wishful thinking) with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: In about nine seconds, I will post the greatest story ever gracing the pages of a Mac blog. Provided, of course, that my middle finger surgery is completed by that time. Luckily, I have all the funds for that. I have the cash right under the... Wait... Oh no! It's gone! My money's gone! Somebody stole it all! Can you help me? I need $15,490, or I won't be able to type! Donations welcome.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Are you bored? Here's some recommended reading

I wasn't bored, and was definitely not trying to kill time. Yet I stumbled upon some articles on a couple of websites that just begged to be read. And I dove in. Hours passed, and I had to forcibly separate myself from all that great reading material, which will certainly provide me with a lot more hours' worth of entertainment and education.

Are you an Apple freak? Do you want to kill some time? Do you like reading long pieces? Do you want some perspective? Then these are for you.

Orchard. As a true Mac enthusiast, I've read all about the mercurial Steve Jobs and the lovable Woz, as well as the evil Bill Gates. Haven't we all? But I've always wondered about the other Apple CEOs. What were they like? I never knew that Amelio had invented the CCD, that Sculley lived in a fantasy world without liars, or that Spindler would sleep under his desk.

And it's not just about the execs. Part of the Low End Mac website, Orchard describes itself as "home to articles on the history of the people and decisions behind the evolution of the personal computer," by history major Tom Hormby. This is a general Apple history section and more, with lots of fascinating content (that is, if you're interested in Apple and tech trivia and timelines and stuff). Hell, it even recounts the story of Sony's original Walkman!

RoughlyDrafted Magazine. Daniel Eran writes about technology, the Mac, Microsoft, and other related topics. And he writes. And writes. And writes. He doesn't write blog posts: he writes articles, well-researched, informative, passionate and thought-out. One every second day or so. All of them are cross-linked and illustrated with sometimes hilarious imagery (with a recurring motif of Steve Ballmer throwing chairs), kind of the way I think Tim Berners-Lee imagined the web would be (maybe except the Ballmer part).

Just start reading any article, and branch out by clicking on the internal links... and be sure to find your way back. It won't be easy after five hours and a hundred followed links. A good starting point would be any of the articles in which Daniel delivers punch after deadly punch to Microsoft's DOA iPod killer Zune. You'll feel sorry for Microsoft, I promise.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

So where's the media center Mac Mini?

It has been rumored with great intensity. Apple would release a new version of its entry-level desktop, the Mac mini, with added media center functionality. One major rumor-writeup even called it a TiVo-killer, purported to know its internal codename (Kaleidoscope) at Apple. Estimated time of arrival: the January Macworld San Francisco expo.

Of 2006.

Well, it never materialized. The rumor mill has become rather quiet about it, especially since the announcement of iTV, a device which looks conspicuously similar to a Mac Mini.

Could it be that the "sources deeply entrenched in the grapevine" were fooled by its appearance, and mistook the iTV for a Mac mini?

It has always seemed very odd to me why, apart from the form factor, rumors would want to turn the Mac mini into a media center:

  1. The Mac mini is the entry-level Mac. It's designed to be as cheap as possible. It was made for people with basic computing needs. Why increase its costs by adding functionality that most of its users don't want?
  2. It's uncharacteristic of Apple to introduce functionality exclusive to one Mac model, especially the entry-level Mac.
  3. Hooking up a Mac to a TV is inconvenient, and Apple knows that. "Would you like an iTV with it, sir?"
I believe the Apple media center will be the iTV, and that's it. What exactly it will do in addition to what's already been revealed is anyone's guess. From the specs that we've been told so far, though, recording is not included (RoughlyDrafted Magazine explains why not, and why it shouldn't be there anyway).

So were all the "TiVo killer" rumors just simply totally wrong? Maybe, but perhaps recording capabilities will arrive in a second high-end iTV model later. Just in case they do, let me take this opportunity and warn Apple how crucial it would be to be able to start recording a show immediately. As in, pressing the "record" button. Alas, with the Apple Remote, that would look more like emerging from the depth of a five-level menu, and then delving into another three levels elsewhere before recording can commence. And that would probably mean missing the fun part.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Are Widgets worthless?

A caustically funny article by Mac360 states an unpleasant truth: Widgets are useless.
To quote:

Dashboard Widgets are worthless curiosities with high calories and low nutritional value, toy utilities for the weak minded, popular with recent switchers from Windows PCs, who, it seems, are attracted to glitter and bright colors, and Apple delivered.
I remember when Widgets were first rumored. I didn't believe them. Everything about them, including their design, seemed diametrically opposite to whatever Apple does. Sometimes I go hunting for widgets that make sense, but usually return empty-handed.

Here's what I use widgets for.

  1. Weather. I'm an expat, and thus I have a Weather widget up for my native Budapest as well as my current home, Luxembourg. I also put up weather widgets for my holiday destinations, or the current locations of some of my closest friends.
  2. Calculator. It's nice to have one around at the touch of a button.
  3. iTunes album art fetch. I don't even remember the name of the widget. I guess fetching iTunes album art is such an unimportant task that I wouldn't go to the trouble of launching a full-blown app for it, but a Dashboard Widget is painless enough.
  4. Translation. The widget beats the hell out of the clumsy web interfaces we have.
To sum it up: Widgets are nice when you need some fast piece of information, or to do some simple task, but don't really want to launch an app (or website) for it, either because the app (or web interface) in question would be a bit inconvenient, or because the information or task is so profoundly unimportant that it's just not worth the hassle. Or both.

I wonder if Widgets have a potential to mature a bit. I have the feeling that a few killer Widgets are yet to be conceived and built.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Dear Apple, please don't screw up my iPhone!

So the iPhone is coming, it's a fact. These are exciting times indeed.

According to some analysts (the past few years' answer to rumor sites), there will be two iPhones, and one will be a smartphone.

Maybe. If so, here's my humble list of requests for a smartphone. This is something that hardly anyone gets right. Let's see if Apple does:

1. Give me a QWERTY
It's time to put the silly "look Ma, no keys" proof-of-concept-gone-horribly-wrong era behind us, and face it: Handwriting recognition just doesn't work. Or maybe it does, but even then, handwriting is much slower than typing, as mankind learned some 125 years ago.

2. Let me work with files
I don't want smartphone apps such as text editors to work with their own esoteric "databases" that need to be "synced" with my Mac. Nope, I want to work with standard files (such as RTF or TXT) that I can open, save, as grown-ups do. I want to move them back and forth between my Mac and my iPhone. I want to be able to locate, open and edit them on either. Sure, if iSync wants to help me copy my files back and forth, why not. But I want to be able to manage them myself as well.

3. No artificial quotas, please
I hope iPhone will ship with plenty of flash RAM. But whether it's 128MBytes or 2GBytes, I want to be put in charge of how I use it. If I want to store a million SMS messages and no sound files, I don't want some silly quota that caps the number of text messages at, say, two hundred.

4. Let me save my text messages
Speaking of SMS messages, here's a hint: they are text files. Computers can read and write text files. Why not connect the dots? I want to archive a lot of my text messages for posterity. They can convey important personal messages. They can contain important business information. They should be easily exported to my Mac. And I mean easily. Point, click, select all, copy, switch app, paste, repeat ain't easy.

5. Don't make me use the touch screen
This may be considered an extension to the first point. I just loathe it when I can't move around in a text field (including selecting text), respond to a dialog box, or bring up a menu without breaking out my darn stylus. I want to be fully functional single-handed as well, and it's actually possible. All it takes is a small joystick (or a set of direction keys), and a Menu key (or Alt, or Control, or Command... you get the idea). A touch screen is okay, but only as an addition.

6. I want a browser with multiple windows
Opera can do this on the Sony-Ericsson P910i. And it's a must. Period.

7. Multitask, and honestly, too
Some smartphones don't multitask at all. Others do, but lie about it, claiming that opening an app will close the previous one. Garbage. The app remains open, but you're not supposed to know about it. You're left wondering what's with the apparent memory leak and degrading performance. I want to know what tasks are running.

8. Nothing should take more than three keypresses
Menus are all the rage, and Apple adores the iPod's limited number of buttons. But still, going into a freakin' menu so that I can change playback volume is a bit of an annoyance. On a cellphone, I need to be able to start typing an SMS after two keystrokes. I need to be able to locate a contact and place a call in two seconds (e.g. by entering a search mode, and selecting the contact by typing an initial letter or two of some of its contact info). I know Steve Jobs has probably fired people over the number of any extra keys, but there should be just enough of them to let me access any function in a few seconds.

Here's my list for now... I'm sure I'll revisit it later when I'm back from holiday.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Today in history

October the twenty-third.

Five years ago today, Apple released a small, white gadget: an MP3 player that changed... a lot of things. It changed Apple, and, as many journalists will no doubt say, it changed the world. Here's why I will be reluctant to say that.

Fifty years ago today, students demonstrated in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, against the totalitarian communist dictatorship imposed upon the country by the Soviet Union. As the protests grew larger in scale, the Stalinist State Security Police fired several rounds into the crowd, leaving hundreds dead. Thus began the great Hungarian revolution of 1956.

While the nation fought fiercely with the communist militia and the occupant Soviet troops, a new government was formed, lead by Imre Nagy, with universally accepted legitimacy. A ceasefire was reached with the Soviets, and Hungary had high hopes of a brighter future: a welcome change after a few excruciating decades.

Hungary had drifted into WW2 on the losing side, it was occupied and ravaged by both the German and the Soviet armies, and despite free elections dismissing any forms of communism, by 1950, the Soviets had gradually turned Hungary into a Stalinist regime. There was poverty, no freedom of speech, and an unbelievably paranoiac system of secret service agents and party officials making sure that nobody would ever feel safe. From laborers to suspicious intellectuals to highest-ranking party officials, people were terrified to hear their doorbell ring at night, for it usually meant being escorted to a black limousine waiting outside, and never being seen again. Torture, executions and deportations were commonplace. At one point, a full ninth of the entire population was under some kind of criminal procedure.

This was coming to an end in that October fifty years ago, as Hungary's new government had set out to transform Hungary into an independent democracy with a multi-party system, and the whole world seemed to agree.

But it was not meant to be. By November, the Soviet Union had decided that it cannot let its important satellite state gain independence. While international attention shifted towards the Suez Crisis, new Soviet troops entered Hungary and brutally crushed the revolution, killing and wounding thousands. Hundreds of revolutionaries were executed, including the Prime Minister. Over ten thousand people were imprisoned, and two hundred thousand fled the country.

The dark days of communism returned. A milder, less brutal form of dictatorship followed, as the powers tried to buy the support of the Hungarian nation by relatively elevated living standards and relative freedom: as opposed to many other countries in the Soviet bloc, Hungary's citizens were allowed to travel freely in a few hand-picked countries. The country earned the harrowing, cynical distinction of being nicknamed "the happiest barracks."

The 1956 Revolution was one of the first nails in the coffin of the Soviet Empire and the communist ideology. Yet those hoping for a quick resolution were bitterly disappointed: the communist dictatorship in Hungary lasted for another thirty-four years.

Thirty-four years.

When I was born, it had fifteen more years to go. The first fifteen years of my life were spent under a demeaning, soulless, grey, petty, humiliating dictatorship.

Hungary is now a democracy again, has been for sixteen years. But the traces of the communist rule are still all too strong.

For starters, a Hungarian gross average salary is about €700 (US$880). So, for example, buying a Mac has a different kind of impact on your budget when you're Hungarian.

But what fills me with even greater sadness is the way these old communists have reinvented themselves as "Socialists," became successful businessmen (instead of jailbirds) by selling out state property, and have bought their way back into power. As I'm writing this, they are taking a break from lying about the economy they ruined, and are actually shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters and bystanders commemorating the fiftieth anniversary.

How apt. By the way, the clip above (courtesy of PestiSide) wasn't filmed fifty years ago. It was filmed today.

Oh, here's my initial reaction to the iPod. I wrote it five years ago tomorrow. An interesting read in hindsight.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Woz visits Microsoft

Interesting post and comments thread on Ars Technica on a recent Woz visit to Microsoft. Even the resident spelling Nazi is funny. Actually, the post refers to a post in another blog, that of Mac BU employee David Weiss.

Weiss' post is all about favorite quotes, and so is the Ars Technica one. So why don't I pay homage by also picking a favorite quote:

Woz was giving away his Basic schematics, then when Jobs found out, he said, "Let's sell it."
Doesn't it sum up very nicely what's the difference between the two Steves?


Steve Jobs to be fired?

This Fake Steve guy sure is funny.


Monday, October 16, 2006

YouTube lawsuits armed

The Register reports that the predictable has happened.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of the largest media companies are co-ordinating their negotiations with the copyright-busting site.
The Register adds something not unlike something I posted less than two weeks ago:
Now YouTube's dilemma looks like this. The only way Google can justify the $1.65bn acquisition is because YouTube currently has a lot of traffic. Large volumes, it argues, should eventually be monetised, somehow.

But YouTube only has a lot of traffic because of this copyright-breaching content, most of which it's carrying illegally. By contrast, the much vaunted market for "user generated content" will be a paltry $850m by 2010, Faultline reported here on Friday.
If you'll hear a loud Ssssssssssshhhhhhhh............! sound in the coming weeks, it might be that of air leaving a big, fat, ugly bubble.

UPDATE: Also courtesy of The Register, an analysis on how YouTube prepares its legal defense at least in one infringement case, based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. An interesting read.


Suffering through Mac OS Rumors, so you don't have to is sinking to new lows just about every time it emerges with new content, mostly bold-faced lies about its real updates, or rather lack thereof. This might be the only site that applies the concept of vaporware to Mac rumors, always promising some juicy bits "next weekend" or "in the evening" (and hardly ever delivering on these promises), and even posting broken links pointing to promising contents that just aren't there. The explanation ranges from the slightly ridiculous to the infuriatingly impertinent. Right now, they have this gem to offer:

The past week's articles, which didn't work correctly for some readers, are being re-formatted to the older site engine filetype and should be back online without the language-detection errors that were preventing some users from being able to read them this week. In the mean time, all new articles which follow below will use the older format and any links will work correctly. Thanks for your helpful feedback and patience -- once debugged, the new site engine will pave the way for a lot of long-requested upgrades and we think you'll find it well worth the wait.
Yeah, right. I mean, it must be really hard to publish some plain text on the Web. MacOSRumors has been struggling with its "site engine" problems for quite a few months now.

So, as a faithful reader, you're expected to go back there every five minutes to see if they've solved their problems, try to click on all their ads, and make sure not to block any pop-up windows, they are important! Maybe you are the one billionth visitor of some website, and man, that means you'll win a lot of money!

Anyway, today's update can be summarized as follows:
  1. Leopard might save memory contents to disk on Intel Macs when losing power while sleeping.
  2. Laptops will be updated soon. Duh. Link to previous post also included for some reason.
Don't bother reading the original. Read the parody instead. It might be juvenile, it might have an anticlimatic last post, but at least it won't have people taking it seriously. Um, wait...


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Should Apple blog?

Daniel Jalkut mentions a few worthy blogs on his own, including Microsoft's official Office for Mac Team blog, personal blogs by two of that team's members, Google's Mac Blog, and Apple's infamous Masked Blogger.

He's going somewhere with these. He says Microsoft is "kicking Apple’s butt in terms of public exposure." He thinks the Masked Blog is a proof of "Apple’s idiotic blog-stifling policies," and the Google blog is a "'cooler than Apple' corporate blogging entity."

I understand if Daniel would like to read blogs by Apple employees, either personal ones, or perhaps team blogs on the latest goings-on of some particular projects. Apple is very picky about the way it communicates with the public. Major announcements are invariably delivered by Steve Jobs at press events. Whatever else Apple wants to tell the world will be communicated in the form of press releases. It's very rare to find anything beyond the already-stated official position anywhere else, be it interviews or conferences or any other forums. Apple's spokespersons sometimes seem to have one task to perform only: to decline to comment on any given issue. Rumors, leaks and any unauthorized disclosures are frowned upon, or even taken to court.

So where would blogging fit in this picture?

I was excited when Safari/WebKit developer David Hyatt started to publish his "Surfing Safari" weblog (moved about eighteen times, currently accessible here), where he started discussing a lot of the issues concerning his work and web standards in general. Of course, he never gave away anything that he wasn't supposed to, and it was nice to get some insight into a very important part of the Mac experience: the default browser, one that Apple developed no less.

So where are all the other blogs? How about an iCal, an iLife, or iWork blog, or a general Mac OS X blog? And an iMac or Mac Pro blog? How about blogs for the iPod, AppleCare, .Mac, and so on?

Well... I really don't see what anyone could post in those blogs, really, apart from truly uninteresting stuff. Any mention of upcoming products or features would be a big no-no. Not just that: any information from which any hint of a future direction might be distilled would need to remain unblogged. And unlike Surfing Safari, where the authors discuss an open-source framework and other general web issues, these other hypothetical blogs would have no subject to blog on.

Apple is a very secretive company. A vast majority of its products are announced the day they ship, or a couple of months ahead at the very most. When Apple announces a product, it means that it's ready. Apple might have worked on it for over a year, gone back to the drawing board several times, considered then dropped several features, agonized over all the specifications and the pricing, and worked excruciatingly hard on the design and manufacturing process. But now it's ready. What we get to see is the end result.

Of course, there are a few exceptions. Operating system upgrades are dealt with in a slightly different fashion, involving developers (and, in a limited way, also the public) six to nine months ahead. But with the hardware or paid software offerings, Apple usually announces when it ships. In fact, with the single exception of iTV, Apple never discusses any hardware products in its pipeline. And iTV had to be announced for Apple's movie download service to make a bit more sense.

Contrast that with Microsoft's constant blabbering about its upcoming products. Does it really help Zune that the whole world is discussing all of its features, bugs, color schemes, marketing blunders and limitations? Zune is still months away from going on sale, yet the world has basically already reached a consensus that it won't be an iPod killer.

Announcing something that you're still working on might signal that you're eliciting feedback or discussion. And Apple's lack of doing that suggests that the company is confident in its ability to design products, without constantly turning to the public and asking, "Is it going to be okay? Or shall I change something?"

Apple also tries to fend off copycat competitors by not pre-announcing its products. Just think about Leopard's still unannounced 'top secret' features.

Apple's secrecy has spawned a cottage industry of rumormongering. Apple and Mac rumor sites run stories not only based on purported leaks by Apple insiders, but also on Apple's patent filings and even job adverts. If an Apple employee were to write a blog discussing just about any facet of his or her work at Apple, those blog posts would be scrutinized by hundreds of people associated with a dozen of such websites, trying to gather even the tiniest bit of information suggesting an upcoming Apple release. For example, Apple developer Blake Seely's mere mention on his personal blog that he got transferred to the Aperture team caused considerable impact on the rumors community, fueling the on-going speculation on the future of Aperture.

If Apple allowed its employees to blog on company matters, it would also need to set up a censorship division pre-approving any and all blog posts. Not that employees would deliberately disclose classified information, but perhaps they might not always appreciate how a seemingly innocent little detail could open up a whole can of worms.

Unless Apple wants to stop spoon-feeding its official position on all relevant matters to the press, and wants to lose a lot of its control on what gets out from inside its walls, it couldn't easily just start sanctioning employee blogs.

But how relevant would these blogs be anyway? If they couldn't talk about future directions or even too much of the current or recent events, really, what purpose would they serve? They would perhaps put names or faces to products and teams... Well, except that Apple doesn't encourage that either. Apple stopped crediting its engineers by name in any of its products' About boxes, perhaps in order to thwart headhunters or competition in their attempts to get hold of its key people. And really, can you blame Apple when its key weapon against the Microsoft juggernaut is delivering innovation, which does require secrecy?

So I think Apple's authorized blogs could do nothing other than re-hash Apple's PR, and provide some decidedly uninteresting details. Posts could go on like this:

So I walked out of my office on the [CENSORED] floor, said hi to Karen* in next door's office, and talked to her briefly on how hard it was to implement the [CENSORED] functionality in [CENSORED]. She agreed, and we went on discussing a similar problem in [CENSORED] over lunch. The [CENSORED] was delicious, by the way.

Who wouldn't just love to read such a blog?

One comment on the Masked Blogger's site (which the Blogger themself embraces) blows the whole question of Apple employee blogs ridiculously out of proportion:
"Here’s a question for Apple’s PR: what happens when only anonymous employees can blog? Hint: your PR will be controlled by anonymous people!"
This is wishful thinking. Apple still controls its PR, and it will take some serious unauthorized blogging to defeat that.

I really don't think blogging could add too much to Apple's PR efforts. The only thing that Apple could easily achive on the blogs front would be renaming Apple's newsletters and public releases as "Apple Blog entries," but that wouldn't do much. So why bother?

If you think there are areas where Apple could be more communicative and still maintain its secrecy, please let me know. Perhaps developer resources could be a good candidate, though Apple probably has its reasons to enforce some secrecy there as well, since that's where most of the innovation starts.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Will Apple take on Excel, or settle for sexiest spreadsheet?

As PC Magazine reports, Apple is rumored to include a brand-new, full-blown spreadsheet application in the next release of its iWork suite. If the past is any indication, iWork's next version will be called iWork '07, and should be released next January.

According to PC Mag's article (written by Think Secret staff), the new component, codenamed Lasso, will try to compete with Excel without being too competitive, just like Pages fails to pose direct competition to Word.

That approach, which seemingly runs counter to Apple's recent Mac-PC advertising campaign, might stem from the company's respect for Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, whose continued commitment to bring Microsoft Office to the platform has helped make Macs more competitive in some environments.

Can't argue with that. Apple can't afford to lose Microsoft Office for the Mac, whatever a horrible beast that suite currently is on any platform. With Mac versions of Microsoft applications dropping like flies (Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player), Apple needs to be careful in posing competition to Microsoft's titles... At least, for now.

Perhaps one day, when Apple's top secret "Office Killer" inside iWork version (such a thing must exist, right?) is mature enough to be released and promoted as a capable replacement for Microsoft Office, Apple will launch an all-out attack against the Redmond productivity suite, even risking Microsoft's pulling out of the Mac market altogether. But until then, Apple needs to be really careful not to outdo Microsoft too much here. Must be a bitch of a feeling.

I for one wonder when we, Mac users (or actually the users of any computing platform) are getting a decent word processor that will, for example, get structured documents right.

Whenever I've attempted to use several levels of headlines in Microsoft Word, its unpredictable, counterintuitive, and sometimes downright buggy behavior has driven me nuts. I would usually quit trying and continue in Pages instead, even though Apple's word processor has, to my disappointment, turned out to be much more of a presentation tool than anything else, lacking some basic word processing functionality.

That, however, might change somewhat according to PC Mag. Even though Apple's walking on a thin line between complementing and competing with Microsoft Office, the upcoming Pages 3 is rumored to include a dedicated word processing mode:
The next upgrade to Apple's desktop publishing software, Pages 3, is set to receive a number of improvements poised to make the application behave more like a normal word processor. At present, Pages features a virtually identical interface for both standard document creation and more advanced publishing, but Version 3 will divide these two capabilities into separate Word Processing and Layout modes.
So Pages will move a bit closer to Word (or rather, let's hope it'll move closer to what Word should be), while Lasso will get Apple's foot in the doorway of spreadsheet aficionados. We can probably expect attractive presentation of data, as well as perhaps innovative and intuitive data entry solutions as Lasso's main selling points, while on the downside, the app's scope should be vastly limited in comparison to Excel (so that Microsoft feels warm and cozy and safe).

But in any case: iWork watch is on. It's unbelievable how much the world has fallen captive to the Microsoft Office suite. Shocking as it may sound, I think both Word and Excel are usability disasters, and the world would be a much better place if these apps did not have a monopoly. Most computer users in the world have resigned to the notion that a word processing document must be a Word document. Some less savvy computer users even wrap Word documents around images and ZIP files before e-mailing them, thinking that any document should be a Word document! Word is trying to be everything for everyone, and for a lot of people, it is everything. The poor devils. And while Word can do a lot, there's also a lot it does horribly badly, and frankly, just finding your way around that bloated beast can be a daunting experience.

It would be much nicer to have open document standards instead, and competing tools working with them. Hopefully, Microsoft's migration to open, XML-based document formats will help make that possible. And hopefully, one day we will see some real competition from Apple as well. Apple can do multimedia software and system software arguably better than anyone else. Office software should be somewhere inbetween, so Apple could excel there as well (no pun intended).

And by the way, I don't know how much of the user base realizes that the next version of Mac Office will do away with VB support. Microsoft Mac Business Unit development lead Erik Schwiebert explains very nicely how that decision was reached, and it ain't pretty. I'll give you the link to his blog, but be warned: the explanation will have you bang your head against a wall in frustration. Apparently VB support on the Mac was a lifesize model of the Eiffel tower built of matches, and it would all need to be dragged through the eye of a needle in order to be ported to Intel-based Macs. Microsoft says, "no can do." Not enough people. Yeah, right, you may actually read my comments on Erik's blog, so enough of that here.

What could be more ironic than having Apple come up with a way to implement VB in iWork? If Steve Jobs reads this, I think he will do it just so he can annoy Bill Gates. Just remember where you read it first.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google buys YouTube amidst mounting concern over geeky song-writing lawyers with musician friends

It's done. Maybe they didn't read this.


New 'Get a Mac' ad stars gossipy Gisele

Apple has added three new 'Get a Mac' ads to its repertoire. Perhaps the funniest of the three is the one featuring a true superstar, none other than... the gorgeous... wait for it... Gisele Bündchen!

Surprised? Yeah, sure... Yawn... Actually, we've been waiting for her 'Get a Mac' debut ever since late May, when MacRumors (among others) broke the story that beautiful Gisele had told the whole world about her upcoming Apple gig.

And for three months, it has been nagging me: did she make Steve Jobs as furious as he normally gets when that happens?

If you're old enough, you may remember how ATI had to suffer Steve's wrath for their premature specification* of some Macs that Apple was going to announce the next day. As Inside Mac Games wrote, "the unveiling of ATI's new graphic cards based on the Radeon chip was pulled from Steve Jobs' keynote, and from demo machines on the show floor," as a consequence.

Imagine how angry Steve could have been with Gisele when she announced her supposed surprise appearance in Apple's commercials three months early!

But then I think she might have gotten away with it. She certainly is prettier than ATI, for one. And apparently, she was in the ad. No pulling action was performed this time.

Whew. Steve is human, after all.

*The term "premature specification" was coined years later by Steve Jobs.