At last, someone who understands Apple Retail

Great article for by Jeff Chu for Fast Company on new Apple Retail head Angela Ahrendts:

Sikka praises Ahrendts for “reimagining the Burberry store experience.” When she showed him around the “massive” Regent Street store last year, he was particularly impressed at the store's use of RFID technology. “Every piece has a tag in it. You walk to a mirror and a video comes up of a model wearing the coat that is in your hand! You can actually see it! And when you walk into the fitting rooms …”

As he gushes for a few minutes, I realize that Ahrendts has transformed Vishal Sikka–an übergeek whose Stanford computer science PhD thesis was entitled “Integrating Specialized Procedures Into Proof Systems”–into a Burberry brand ambassador too.

Sounds like a great fit for Apple.

The Information on Apple’s iWatch

Jessica Lessin has a nice little scoop on the putative Apple iWatch

Apple appears to have run into some challenges with the screen technology, according to two people close to the company. Toward the end of last year, Apple considered going in a different direction with the screen due to some battery issues, one of these people said.

Jessica is one of those people who have really good sources, so this story is almost certainly legit. But what it means is something a little different: Apple will release its much-talked about (but completely unseen) wrist-based device1 when it's ready, not before. Too much rides on this one for it to be the kind of buggy dud that other companies would hurl out.


  1. No really – don't call it a watch. 

App store sales top $10 billion

Apple – Press Info – App Store Sales Top $10 Billion in 2013

Apple® today announced that customers spent over $10 billion on the App Store℠ in 2013, including over $1 billion in December alone. App Store customers downloaded almost three billion apps in December making it the most successful month in App Store history. Apple’s incredible developers have now earned $15 billion on the App Store.

That's an awful lot of happy developers. In completely unrelated news, is this the only place Apple uses the trademark symbol?

Where next for Microsoft?

Paul Thurrott – yes, that Paul Thurrott – has written an interesting post on the quandary Microsoft finds itself in:

Windows is in trouble because people simply don’t care about it anymore. It’s not outright hostility; there’s far less of that than the anti-Microsoft crowd would like to believe. It’s ambivalence. It’s ambivalence driven by the nature of “good enough” mobile and web apps. It’s ambivalence driven by the allure of anytime/anywhere computing on tiny devices that are more cool to use and even cooler to be seen using.

Where Paul gets things right is in identifying an attack on two fronts on Windows’ relevance to developers and users. On the one hand, for most people, web apps used on a desktop browser are more than good enough: they’re often better than the huge, complicated behemoth that is Office. Yes, there are cases when only Office will do (usually when only Excel will do). But users who need Excel are now few and far between.

On the other side of the attack are tablet and phone apps. This is where all the action is. Developers are not only excited by the possibilities of newer, more interesting APIs and platforms in iOS and Android, they also sit up and take notice every time Apple puts out a press release about a new revenue record for the App Store. Yes, the overall Windows software market is a lot bigger than $10 billion; but a large chunk of that Windows software market goes to Microsoft, and Adobe, and other top-tier vendors. The chances of a break-out hit Windows app are small, unless it’s a big-budget game.

However, this raises a question: If developers are attracted to fresh APIs and to the glamour and commercial possibilities of iOS and Android, why are new applications arriving in the Mac App Store every day?

There’s several reasons. First, Apple has continued to develop and innovate in its APIs. Every recent release of OS X has seen pretty cool stuff added to it. Even “bug fix and performance” improvements like Mountain Lion added new features for developers to take advantage of.

Second, there’s the halo effect of the iPhone. Many applications are “companion apps” to releases on iOS. The text editor I’m using to write this (Writer Pro) has a Mac version which I’ll probably use to edit, polish and post. I doubt that iA would have developed it if iOS hadn’t existed.

Third, and finally, there’s the Mac App Store itself. Its existence means that if you’re developing a new application you instantly have a place you can sell your product. Yes, it’s not perfect (and the decision by some companies to remove their products from the Store shows that) but it means that companies have a shop window that a new product can be sold from.

I would go a little bit further than Paul. Devices like the iPad (and the Chromebook) have shown people that getting stuff done on a computer doesn’t have to be complicated and messy, a constant battle with the machine to not get crafted to hell. You don’t need to have to “maintain” your computer anymore – we have moved beyond that.

Except with Windows, where we haven’t moved too far beyond that. You still have to install anti-malware software, you still have to make a conscious effort to keep things up to date, every now and then you still have to nuke the machine from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure). The same is true of the Mac, but (as it’s always been), to a lesser extent.

Can Microsoft fight back against this? Yes, it can: but it has to be brave, and bold and prepared to dump compatibility with the dull Windows of old. It has to invent its own simplified operating system, capable of exciting developers in the same way that iOS and Android have, while also being easy and reliable enough to attract customers who’ve come to expect iPad/Chromebook-level ease of maintenance.

Windows RT could have been that operating system, but it seems that Microsoft would rather kill that off. There’s still time, though: but not much more time.

Surface Pro 2: Day… what day is it now?

One of my heroes is the philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Ryle’s big ideas – and there are many of them – is the notion of a category error. A category error is a mistake you make when you talk about something as if it were one kind of thing, treating it as such, when in fact it’s a totally different kind of thing, and should be treated in a completely different way.

Thinking of Surface Pro 2 as a tablet is a category error. The Surface Pro 2 just isn’t a tablet. It just looks a bit like one – and, importantly, I’d make the mistake of listening to its proponents, who demand it should be treated like one.

To give a concrete example: All the talk about Surface Pro 2 as a tablet had led me into the category error of wanting to use apps for everything, when perfectly good web apps exist and are fully-supported by Internet Explorer.

Take Feedly or Pocket as examples. I was looking for a decent Pocket client (hint: there isn’t one) when I could use the web site. This reflects the way I would work on my Mac, but is very different to the way I’d work on the iPad, where web apps tend to be a last resort.

Or take my annoyance at how horrible the Surface Pro is to use in portrait mode. The answer was simple: Stop using it in portrait mode. Forget, in fact, that portrait even exists as an option.

Of course, in some senses this is surrendering to the device’s limitations. However, it means that I stop being annoyed with it, and start to enjoy it for what it is: a good laptop which can sometimes be used as a tablet-like device, rather than a tablet which makes much of what a laptop does redundant.

If you wanted to sum up the difference between Surface Pro and iPad Air, this would be it: Surface Pro is a laptop, first and foremost, and makes a pretty terrible tablet. The iPad Air is a tablet first and foremost, which can be used to do maybe 80% of what most people use a laptop for.

For some people, the iPad Air is better than this. I know folks who have replaced their laptops with iPads. I think the “80%” estimate isn’t too far off for the majority of people.

For some people, Surface Pro is all the tablet they’ll ever need. All they want is to be able to occasionally use it propped up in a lap for reading, or scrawling on using the stylus, or some light email replying. And that’s OK.

John Gruber on the relish with which tech journalism pours scorn on stuff:

There’s a nihilistic streak in tech journalism that I just don’t see in other fields. Sports, movies, cars, wristwatches, cameras, food — writers who cover these fields tend to celebrate, to relish, the best their fields have to offer. Technology, on the other hand, seems to attract enthusiasts with no actual enthusiasm.

John’s right – tech journalism rarely celebrate just how amazing technology is. We’re all too fast to pour scorn, to critique, to condemn. I’m hoping that in 2014, we’ll see less of this and more celebration. And that’s a good thought with which to start the eleventh year of this blog.

On the demise of “Angry Mac Bastards”

I’m not surprised that Angry Mac Bastards ended the way it did. Sooner or later, the show was bound to pick on the wrong target and ratchet things up to way beyond the point of no return.

I should say up front that I have a certain amount of skin in the game over this. Not only did I guest on one episode, I’ve known Peter and John for many years. While I know Darby and Kelly less, I enjoyed their online presence a fair amount too.

But there are also friends who got on the other side of AMB’s vitriol and really didn’t enjoy the experience.

The point of show, as I understood it, was always pretty simple: take apart the utter stupidity written about Apple and its products in as vitriolic and funny fashion as possible. And oh boy, is there a lot of stupidity out there to take apart. The flow of effluent about Apple has never been bigger or stronger, and a lot of people pick up a lot of page views from deliberate, provocative stupidity about it. Those guys know what they’re doing.

But this is why picking on Aaron Vegh was a step too far. Vegh is, basically, a “civilian”: he’s just some ordinary guy. Taking apart his website and his appearance was pointless and unfair.

I think some of the focus of AMB went when Peter left. That’s no disrespect to Kelly, who combined some erudite observations with a lot of wit and personality, but Peter was kind of the fulcrum for me, managing to both rage at stupidity while keeping things on track.
I’ll miss AMB, but I think it had probably run its course. And I’m sorry it ended this way.

Surface Pro 2 Days Four Five and Six

Day four, and I’m typing this on the iPad. There’s a reason for this, which I’ll come to later… Oh hang it, I’ll say it: I’m on a short trip and needed a portable device that I didn’t need to take a charger for. The Surface doesn’t cut it for this kind of journey.

This is one of the hidden things about the Surface Pro 2. Yes, for a laptop (I’ll come back to that too) the battery life is good, as acceptable as my pre-Haswell MacBook Air. But compared to the iPad… Well that three or four hours additional use that I get from the iPad matters.

And “not taking a charger” doesn’t just mean “because of the battery life”. It’s also down to the fact that almost everyone I know has an iPhone with a Lightening connector, which means chargers capable of topping up my iPad are all around. Can I give the Surface Pro 2 a hit of charge when I’m in a car? Nope – at least not if I want to be able to start the car later.

So, no Surface Pro on this trip. But I have been using it today, and I do have a few new comments…

Pie in the Sky(drive)

Another day, another issue connected to Skydrive. You would think when it was offline, it would let you save into a folder and sync it later. No: it makes you save it in a local folder and move it later. That’s the opposite of the way that Google Drive or Dropbox work, and it’s not really good enough.

This is not how cloud storage should work. Writing this using iA Writer Pro, I don’t have that issue. Sync is invisible, which is how it should be.

Epiphany: it’s a laptop (dumbass)

What’s become clear is you have to look at Surface Pro as a laptop. It happens to be able to be used in some tablet-like ways – for example, for a reading task in your lap. But it’s really not very good in those roles. If you think you could “replace” a real tablet with it, you’re just not using a tablet much.

Beware of the Bitcoin

Alex Payne on Bitcoin, Magical Thinking, and Political Ideology:

“In Bitcoin, the Valley sees another PayPal and the associated fat exit, but ideally without the annoying costs of policing fraud and handling chargebacks this time around. Bankers in New York and London see opportunities for cryptocurrency market-making. International investors see the potential for arbitrage and are taking advantage of cheap electricity, bringing the environmental destruction of real-world mining to the brave new world of digital money.

In other words: Bitcoin represents more of the same short-sighted hypercapitalism that got us into this mess, minus the accountability. No wonder that many of the same culprits are diving eagerly into the mining pool.”

The poverty-perpetuating, self-aggrandising techno-libertarians strike again…

The 12 Days of Surface Pro 2 – Day two

Day two of the Surface Pro 2 summed up nicely both the pros and cons of the device. First, the bad bit: I became a victim of the failed firmware update, and found myself with a tablet which wouldn’t charge, at all. It merely stayed at 10% charge, which meant that it was confined to being plugged into the wall.

However, Microsoft clearly worked overtime on this one: by midday, another firmware package had downloaded and installed which (judging by the date) reverted the firmware to the version issued at the end of October. And after an hour or so turned off and charging, it was back to full working order again.

Despite this, I’m growing to like using the Surface Pro 2 a little more. As a laptop, it’s a pretty good machine – powerful enough to do lots of stuff, and I really like the feel of the Type Cover. And I’m growing to like the modern Metro interface more and more. Once you get used to it, it feels really good. Of course, that only makes the times you are dumped into the Windows desktop even more jarring…

But – and it’s a big but – there’s still quite a few rough edges to deal with. For example, I’ve yet to manage to get Chrome working properly as the default browser. Every time I try and change it to being the default (running in Metro mode, rather than Desktop) it misbehaves, refusing to display full-screen and instead occupying a small portion of the screen, with controls and menus off the top of the screen and no way to move them back. I think this is probably something to do with the Hi-DPI display, but I have no idea how to fix it and can’t find a way to sort it out online.

And one thing that’s really clear is that 64gb simply isn’t enough. I have a few apps installed – the biggest one is Office – and I’m down to less than 20gb free. That’s with no music, no photos, no video. If I was going to buy one of these, I don’t think I could go with less than the 256gb version, and that would push the price up considerably.

Ian Betteridge on Macs, mobiles, and technology