Category Archives: Macs

Sync your Mac with an LG phone with FoneSync

Shocking as this might sound, not everyone wants an iPhone. And if you have a phone from LG, you might want to check out FoneSync, a new application from Novamedia which lets you sync contacts and calendar information from your Mac to a variety of LG phones.

At present, only three phones are compatible: The HB620T, KF750, and KU990. However, other LG phones might work, and Novamedia is offering a PhoneInspector application which you can download to check if your phone is supported.

FoneSync costs €19, and is available now.

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Apple levitates: Financial quarter, by the numbers

Joe Wilcox goes through Apple’s numbers for the quarter thoroughly (and dispassionately – something that I appreciate when it comes to numbers).

What sticks out for me is that Apple has managed a pretty astounding feat: preserving unit sales (or expanding them in many product lines) while pushing margins even higher, something that should barely be possible when the world is in the grips of the worst recession since the 1930′s. There’s been a lot of focus on the bottom-line revenue numbers, but the truth is that given the changes in the way Apple accounts (driven by a revision to the rules by the Financial Standards Accounting Board) it’s hard to really see clearly how well Apple did on that score. The best estimate is “very well, but not as well as the figures look at a glance”.

That’s why my focus in looking at these figures would be on unit sales and margins, and in both cases Apple did well – outstandingly so, in the case of its margins.

Put together unit sales on iPod and iPhone – something that’s a valid idea, I think – and they moved from 27.1 million in the equivalent quarter last year to 29.7 million units this quarter. The mix of products is high-margin items (iPhones) up, lower margin items (iPods) down. More product, at higher margin, is pretty-much all you could ask from any company at the moment. I am absolutely certain that many tech companies that are being driven to slice margins more thinly in the recession will look at Apple’s figures with a massive sense of jealousy.

As for unit sales in Macs, they seem to be broadly in line with IDC numbers, certainly for the US. In the US, IDC had estimated unit sales increase of 31%, and Apple hit 30%. Those are very good figures, but it’s worth remembering that IDC also estimated that Toshiba had upped its sales by 78% and HP by 45% in the same period. And neither Toshiba nor HP concentrate on the “cheap junk” end of the market: while their margins won’t match Apple’s, this isn’t a case of people flocking to netbooks rather than expensive PCs.

(UPDATE: But see an excellent point below by Piot on worldwide market share.)

Given these figures, don’t be surprised if Apple actually loses market share in the US this quarter. How much value you apply to market share figures is up to you – personally, I think that as long as Apple is selling enough Macs to sustain itself and keep the third-parties interested, it doesn’t really matter. The days when its market share was sinking at a worrying rate are clearly over and I doubt they are coming back.

It’s worth remembering there were many predictions that Apple’s unit sales in Macs would actually slide during a recession, as customers looked to significantly cheaper PCs or (if they were dyed in the wool Mac users) deferred purchases. That simply hasn’t happened. Without detailed, qualitative data on customers’ purchasing choices (why they’re buying what they bought) it’s hard to say for sure, but my best guess is that while Windows 7 has slowed Apple’s growth compared to the rest of the PC market, it hasn’t drawn back any of those customers who switched from Windows to Mac over the past few years.

In other words, once you’re Mac you don’t go back. The net migration from Mac to Windows which characterised the 1990′s is over. Instead, the chief characteristic is now net migration from Windows to Mac – something that Windows 7 has slowed, but not halted.

(Image by Photo by Checiàp – http://flic.kr/p/5n9bi)

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Five things Apple could do to make MobileMe great

One thing that hasn’t been talked about in connection with the (presumed) launch of Apple’s tablet on Wednesday is how MobileMe fits into the picture. There’s a good reason for this: MobileMe is one of Apple’s “forgotten products”. Used by many, but rarely talked about, mainly because it has been upgraded only slowly and has never really had any groundbreaking, compelling features.

In comparison to the cloud-based services of Google and others, it often feels like something of an also-ran. I’m hoping that Apple will do some fun things with MobileMe on Wednesday, tying it deeply into how the product works. However, even if MobileMe isn’t a core part of what the tablet is it deserves an upgrade. So here’s my five suggestions of ways that Apple could turn MobileMe from an also-ran to an essential.

1. Turn iDisk into a real file sync engine, with cloud-based Home folder

With more and more of us owning multiple computers, and more devices like the iPhone capable of using files, keeping all of your documents in sync is becoming incredibly important. MobileMe has a sync engine, in the shape of iDisk. Only one problem: it’s slow, and works only with Macs. Compared to services like DropBox (which I also use) and SugarSync it feels like a product straight out of the dark ages.

2. Beef up the web email client

MobileMe email really only comes into its own when you use it with a desktop client, and in particular Apple Mail. If have to use the web client, you’re going to feel like you’re using free Yahoo! email circa 1998. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just… basic. Server-side filtering? Not a chance. Server-side spam handling? Nope. Threading of conversations? Integration of IM? Forget it. Unless you really want to avoid your email, it’s just not good enough.

3. Make “personal domains” more powerful

Personal domains are a simple idea for making better use of the lovely little sites you create with iWeb. Essentially, you can set up your MobileMe web space so it appears to be at a proper personal domain, such as ianbetteridge.com. Only one problem: Unlike equivalent services from Google and many others, it ONLY works with web sites. If you want your email from (say) [email protected] to automatically go to your MobileMe address and – importantly – the replies to come from that email address too, you’re out of luck.

4. Music, videos and apps everywhere

Apple has already started to take steps towards allowing you to have all your bought music and videos available everywhere. Since the last version of iTunes, you could set things up so that libraries connected with the same Apple account shared content automatically – a great help if, like me, you have multiple Macs. But the next step is to take this further: make any music, video or app I buy that’s associated with a MobileMe account available on every Mac, PC and iPhone that’s attached to that account, via a web page or (if they must) through iTunes. I should be able to stream any track that iTunes knows I’ve bought, even if it’s not in the library of the machine I’m using. For machines with limited storage – like a tablet – this would be a great option.

5. Bring Galleries into the 21st Century

I’m one of the few people who seems to like putting my photos up on MobileMe’s galleries. I like its simplicity and its clean interface. What I don’t like about it is that it lacks “discoverability”. Unless I tell people where my galleries are, they’re very hard to find. Why? Aren’t Mac users social people?

None of these things are rocket science for a company like Apple, but all of them would immeasureably improve MobileMe. At the moment, even for Mac users, I have great difficulty in recommending MobileMe as an essential purchase – change these five things, and it would be a lot easier.

(Photo by Dekuwa – http://flic.kr/p/4UH8s7)

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2009: The year tech blogging died

Most years are full of idiocy. But I think I can make a decent case for this year being the worst on record, at least from the perspective of writing about technology.

This was the year when tech writing plumbed new depths of stupidity, repetition, and sheer unadulterated circle jerking. It was the year when blogs picked up each other’s stuff, no matter how ridiculous, and strove to take it to the next level of dumb. You get what you pay for – and with tech writing, nothing could be more true.

There were three perfect examples of the tech blog world’s increasing descent into infantilism and irrelevancy. These were, in no particular order, the CrunchPad; the Apple Tablet; and pretty much everything written about the iPhone and market share.

Example One: The CrunchPad
TechCrunch – which almost defines awful tech blogging on a daily basis – was guilty of probably the worst example of narcissistic stupidity with its foray into actually trying to make a product.

Now making products is hard. Very hard. I have nothing but admiration for people who get up off their behinds and ship a product, because it’s a tough thing to do. Even the shittiest products usually take thousands of man-hours and thought to bring to market. In fifteen years of writing about tech, I’ve been privileged to know hundreds of people at companies all over the world who have managed to ship stuff. It’s tough.

So when Mike Arrington – the blowhard’s blowhard – decided he was going to create a product – the CrunchPad –  ship it at an absurd price point, and all within the space of a year I was prepared to applaud. Then I remembered this was Arrington we were talking about, and knew without a moment’s uncertainty that it was going to implode at some point.

Lo and behold, it imploded. Why? Because making stuff is hard and writing about it is easy, and Arrington confused being a big wonk in the tiny world of tech media with actually being a serious businessman capable of harnessing the energy to ship a product.

What the CrunchPad demonstrated perfectly was the tech blog world’s hubris and utter lack of perspective. Just because you can bang out 200 words about what some drunk coder from Company X said at a party doesn’t make you capable of defining, designing and building a product – nor of harnessing other people to do so. And, more importantly, making a product which you and your tech blogging friends think is cool is an almost guaranteed method of creating something that no one else in the world will want.

Example two: The Apple “Tablet”
More words were probably written about this nonexistent product in 2009 than about all the great hardware that every company not called Apple actually shipped. Google now lists 1.8 million documents referencing “Apple tablet”. That compares to 20,700 documents referencing “Acer Tablet PC”. One of these companies has actually shipped tablet hardware. The other has not. Can you guess from those Google figures which one is which?

“Nonexistent?” you say. “But I’ve read all the details on TechBlogDailyShit, it’s launching in March with an OLED screen and will kick Amazon’s butt/save the publishing world/cure cancer!”

No. No. No.

What you have read is a load of stuff that bloggers in desperate search for page views have made up on the basis of bar-room rumours, anonymous emails, stuff some random guy posted on Twitter, and just general shit. No one, outside of probably a hundred people in and around Cupertino, have a solid line on what Apple is doing – if, in fact, it is doing anything.

Almost everything you have read about an Apple tablet is geek wish fulfilment, from people who stared at a lot of Star Trek merchandise when they were young and really, truly wanted a tricorder. This is standard practice with a lot of sites that cover Apple: they assume Apple is designing products not for ordinary people, but for them, the tech blogging elite. Well guess what: they’re wrong! Apple wants its products to sell outside Silicon Valley, so it does not take Robert Scoble as its typical customer.

Outside of possibly the Wall Street Journal, almost no media sources are doing any serious investigative reporting to actually find out what Apple is doing either. Why? Simple: Doing real investigative tech reporting takes time, effort and balls. What’s more, if you’re a tech blogger you don’t have to do it because you can write some second-hand speculative bullshit about the “Apple Tablet” and it will get you lots of page views. This will lead to some “blog network” owner like Arrington or Nick Denton paying you more, because you are paid on page views. And all without you having to make a single call or talk to a single real person. Result!

Seriously, the standard of investigative tech reporting now is so low that it makes me long for the days of MacOSRumors. Those guys had standards compared to what we have at the moment.

Example three: The iPhone and market share
Here’s a strange thing about the world of tech writing: there is an obsession with market share winners and losers which isn’t seen in any other product area. Of course, companies talk about their market share in all realms, whether they make cars or sell groceries. But what they don’t do is imagine that they will DIE AS A COMPANY unless they have what amounts to a legal monopoly.

In tech, though, we do this all the time. Nokia is DYING because its market share is falling compared to Apple. Apple is DYING because its market share isn’t as big as Microsoft. Microsoft is DYING because twelve and a half customers have stopped using Office in favour of Google Docs. Google is never dying, for reasons I have yet to fathom – I suspect they are either the golden child, or they simply give out better freebies than anyone else.

Is Mercedes dying because its share of the luxury car market isn’t over 80%? No. Is Samsung dying because it doesn’t dominate TVs? No. Is Bosch dying because it doesn’t sell the majority of drills in the world? No. Only in tech do we play this bullshit game.

Tech bloggers constantly play the zero sum game. For Apple to win, Microsoft must lose. For Microsoft to win, Google must lose. For Google to win, Apple must lose. And nowhere is this more obviously seen at the moment than in the world of the mobile phone.

The funny thing is that prior to the launch of the iPhone, you really didn’t see much writing about the mobile phone market that worked this way. No one wrote screaming headlines about Sony Ericsson dying because Nokia took a few points of market share that month. People didn’t talk about the impending end of Nokia when Motorola was sweeping all before it with the original StarTac.

Only with the influx of “tech geek bloggers” post-iPhone did you suddenly get the same kinds of breathless bullshit that characterised the computer media applied to mobiles. All of a sudden, these guys became experts in the dynamics of the mobile phone market and brought the same depth of analysis to it that they’d brought to things like the question of whether Duke Nukem Forever would ever get released.

The fact that they called the iPhone “the Jesus phone” tells you all you need to know about their lack of perspective and ego. Mobile phones were dull and stupid and now the computer guys were coming along to SAVE YOU ALL.

Earth calling tech bloggers: shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Where next Columbus?
I’d like to end this post on a high note, but I’m actually not in the mood for happy endings. There are some really sharp writers in the world of tech, but the problem is that they struggle to be heard over all the bullshit. Old hands like Kara Swisher and Mary Jo Foley do real reporting. Newer guys like CK Sample at least know how to write stuff which is entertaining, fun and (mostly!) accurate. John Gruber is always good value, even if he’s wrong rather more often than his biggest fans would admit.

But most of the best tech writing at the moment comes from people who don’t actually do it for a living. Odd posts, here and there, that shine light on to some small part of the tech world that they deal with on a daily basis. I’ll leave you to find them, but here’s a clue: they usually aren’t linked to from any of the big blogging networks.

(Photo by Vicki’s Pics, under a Creative Commons license)

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Apple Tablet sighted in the wild?

Apple’s Tablet sighted in the wild? It has been if this post is to be believed:

“I have no less than 5 sources saying an Apple Tablet announcement is due soon. Or something, as some of these press people (Apple diehards at that), who normally cared not about Tablets, and thought it was all just Microsoft vaporware, are suddenly so interested in the Tablet PC concept, and asking tons of questions. Pretty easy to read those tea leaves, so somethings up.

…And it exists, honest, seen a prototype. Instant On, ASUS-Tatung whiteish looking, running a reduced version of OSX, with some funky start-up PDA like Apple icon menu. Touch only (white touch pen), least the version I saw. Dunno if it will make it to market, but I think what I saw, is what these NDA-signing reporters have saw. Played with it for maybe 5 mins before it was wisked away.”

That sounds like a pretty cool tablet, right?

Only one thing: That post dates back to 2005. And apologies to Rob Bushway for dredging it up!

But what it goes to prove is simply that Apple Tablet rumours have been around a very, very long time. Nothing came of the ones from 2005, and it’s perfectly possible that nothing will come of all the current round of rumours as well.

Make no mistake: I’d love to see what Apple could do with a touch-based machine that’s larger than the iPhone, but small enough to easily carry with you everywhere. I’d love to see whether they can create something that could replace the notebooks I habitually carry, the laptop that goes with me most places, and all the other bits and pieces of my digital life.

But I’m not holding my breath. After all, if I’d had been holding my breathe on what looked like pretty firm reports on in 2005, I wouldn’t be breathing much now.

(Image of Robert Scoble with Tablet PC by Will Pate)

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Is this the end of the road for Hackintosh netbooks?

Oh dear. According to OS X Daily Apple is effectively killing off support for Intel’s Atom processor in OS X 10.6.2.

The biggest consequence of this is, obviously, that anyone who wants to roll their own netbook running OS X is going to have to stick to either 10.5 or 10.6.1 – or, for the hardcore, hack future versions of OS X to run a stock 10.0 kernel.

Of course, Apple is under no obligation at all to support hardware it doesn’t use. But some will undoubtedly take this as a sign that Apple wants to kill off the Hackintosh community.

I don’t buy that, for a couple of reasons. First, the netbook market is probably the one which Apple has the least actual interest in. When someone runs OS X on a £300 netbook, they’re not doing it to replace a potential Mac purchase. Lost revenue to Apple from netbooks is probably as close to a rounding error as you can get.

Second, no sane company would tinker with the kernel of its operating system just to disable something of no commercial consequence. It’s one thing playing around with iTunes to stop the Palm Pre syncing. It’s quite another to mess around with code which you absolutely, 100%, need to be reliable.

It is, however, a shame.

UPDATE: Well, it looks like support for Atom is back. Which rather puts the kibosh on the conspiracy theories, I think.

UPDATE 2: And it seems like it’s definitely out again. Oh well.

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Beleaguered Apple releases yet more machines

Once upon a time, every article about Apple seemed to begin with the word “beleaguered”. It became something of a journalistic cliche when I was working on MacUser. We only used it when taking the mickey out of the kinds of journalists that used it.

How far Apple has come since those days.

When Apple produces a set of products this good, without even bothering with an event, it’s hard not to succumb to fanboyitis.

Apple and the “openness” of iTunes

Tom Insam responds to Craig Hunter’s post on why Palm should stop hacking around with iTunes for music syncing on the Pre:

“I can find no documentation of the iTunes music library format. It’s mentioned in a KB article, yes, but only alongside other iLife applications. It’s a way for Apple to decouple their iLife apps and have, say, iPhoto play music while doing slideshows.

He’s really saying ‘don’t use this unsupported made-up API, use THIS unsupported made-up API that happens to have been more reliable in the past’. But presenting it like it’s the Proper Way of doing things is deceptive.”

Tom’s right. That XML file – like many of Apple’s file formats – is undocumented. Sure, you can work out what it means, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that Apple will not move to another approach in the future, rip up that file, and do something entirely different.

Craig should remember that just because something can be reverse engineered doesn’t mean it is open.

Of course, none of this means Apple is against being open. It just means that it’s not a priority for the company.