Tag Archives: Apple

Why the spec sheet method of buying a computer is dead

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 09:  An Apple Store ge...

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Poor Charles Arthur. Charles wrote a relatively simple post asking the question of why the Mac has proved to be so successful lately, out-performing the overall computer market and growing its market share. And in response, he got a 500+ long comment thread in which multiple geeks are arguing over how the specs of the Mac do/don’t compare to Windows machines.

I’m greatly enjoying the batting around of specs like people buy computers based on specs anymore. If there’s one thing that the huge demand for netbooks a few years ago proved, it’s that people buy because they can see how a computer can do something for them, not on megahertz.

In the case of netbooks, the “something” was being a machine they could carry everywhere, and do simple stuff on. In the case of Macs, it’s having access to easy to use, powerful software like iPhoto, iMovie, and so on – in a package that’s good looking, well designed, robust, and so on.

It’s about the whole experience: Compare buying a Mac in an Apple Store to buying a Windows machine in PC World and you’ll see what I mean. Compare the ability to take your machine back if there’s a problem with it to a Genius Bar and have someone help you sort it out in a way that’s friendly and not patronising.

This is the thing that advocates of the spec-sheet method of buying computers, or any product for that matter, don’t understand. What lifts a brand from being a making of generic boxes into a real identity isn’t simply the spec you get for the money, but the overall experience of buying and owning the product.

To give a non-Apple example, consider Dell. What set Dell apart from other PC manufacturers was the build-to-order approach which let you tailor the product to exactly meet your needs. You went to the Dell site, and you got exactly the machine you wanted. It was competitively priced, but it was rarely (if ever) the cheapest option. The experience was simple, straightforward, and gave you what you wanted. In short, a good brand experience.

Unfortunately for Dell, this was a part of the brand experience that was relatively simple for other companies to copy, and it’s lacklustre performance in the market coincides with other companies copying this approach. Now, I can get a totally customised machine from most PC makers – so what’s left for Dell to say is unique about its experience?

People buy Macs because the experience of buying, owning and maintaining a Mac is better than the experience with any other computer maker. It’s the experience that matters, not the specs.

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Dell’s latest laptop borrows from Apple designs

Engadget reviews the Dell XPS 15z, which is supposedly a competitor for the MacBook Pro series.

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The short version: it’s cheaper, not as powerful, but does at least look a bit better than the old chunky XPS series.

When Dell tells you that the XPS 15z has no compromises, that’s not quite the case — it’s a solid choice at this price point, but corners were cut to get here.

(via Dell XPS 15z review — Engadget)

Malware, the Mac, and the wolf

John Gruber’s delivered a list of previous claims that the Mac is about to succumb to malware real soon now under the title of “Wolf!

The analogy John’s making is that the pundits should all remember the tale of the boy who cried wolf. But, as my friend Graham pointed out, John’s missing something: at the end of the tale, on the last occasion, there actually was a wolf.

There is no such thing as a perfectly secure operating system. Sooner or later, there will be a wolf.

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The unedifying arrogance of PC journalists

Barry Collins is angry. Specifically, Barry is almost splenetic about what he sees as “Apple’s unedifying arrogance” in its response to the brouhaha over the database which your iPhone carries of locations.

In particular, Barry is vexed over what he sees as Apple’s slipperiness over whether it’s tracking your location, describing its explanation as…

“at best, a distortion of the truth. Yes, the iPhone may only be plotting the location of Wi-Fi hotspots and 3G cell towers, but that’s often more than enough to build up an accurate picture of your whereabouts.”

Sorry, Barry, but that’s utter nonsense.

If I say to you “I’m tracking the location of your phone” that suggests that I have data from your phone which shows your location, tied to you (or rather, to your phone).  But no information which is identifiable to you or your phone is transmitted to Apple. The data which is sent to Apple isn’t tied to anything identifiable about your particular phone.

As Apple puts it:

“This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.”

Therefore, Apple is not tracking the location of your phone. It’s really as simple as that.

Remember, too, that the majority of the data in the consolidated.db database isn’t actually from your phone – it’s downloaded from Apple’s servers to your phone to speed up the process of any app which calls CoreLocation to determine where you are (which apps do with your explicit consent).

To quote Apple’s release:

“This data is not the iPhone’s location data—it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location.”

And there would be no way for someone who gets hold of your phone, jailbreaks it, and grabs than database to determine which was data originating from you, and which from Apple. So they best “location” they could get for you is effectively regional in scale: it can tell you roughly whereabouts you tend to go, but not in a way which lets you determine when exactly you went there or even if you’ve ever been to a particular place.

Of course, the real “unedifying arrogance” that Barry is bothered about isn’t really that of Apple towards consumers:

“And what’s all this about “very complex technical issues” that are “hard to communicate in a soundbite”? That’s a bit rich from the company that sprinkles soundbites like confetti in keynote speeches, describing its iPad as “magical” without revealing even the most basic of specs – like how much memory the tablet has.

Give us as much technical detail as you like, Apple: we can handle it. If we get stuck, we can even pick up the phone and ask your press officers, in the unlikely event they’ll ever answer a question.” [My emphasis]

Aha. There you have it. The reason that Barry – and plenty of other tech journalists – call Apple arrogant is mainly because Apple doesn’t jump when the journalists tell them. Apple, in fact, has a very bad reputation amongst tech journalists for being one of the least responsive companies out there. And that reputation is, I can tell you from years of experience, entirely justified.

But in this case, I think it’s not really relevant. Apple took its time, determined what the issue was and how they could fix it, and spoke clearly about what the problem was. There really isn’t much more to say about it.

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Apple is dead in the water, redux

Charles Arthur, reporting for The Guardian on an IDC/Appcelerator survey of developers:

“App developer interest is shifting back toward Apple as fragmentation and “tepid” interest in current Android tablets chips away at Google’s recent gains in momentum, according to a new survey of more than 2,700 developers around the world.

In the survey, 91% of developers said they were “very interested” in iPhone development, and 86% said the same for the iPad. For Google, interest in Android phone add development fell 2 points to 85%, and for tablets – particularly Honeycomb – down three points to 71%, after having risen 12 points in the first quarter. The figures are within error margins for the survey, but don’t match the growing interest that has been seen in Android over the past year.”

Seems like developers didn’t get Fred Wilson’s memo, or heed the advice that iPhone was “dead in the water” from Henry “Screw the SEC” Blodget.

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So what does that location database on your phone really do?

Jim Smith, who knows a thing or two about mobile, pokes around in the controversial consolidated.db database on the iPhone and comes up with this:

“I’m pretty certain that consolidated.db is used to seed the assisted GPS used for iOS location servers. If you open the map, or check in via FourSquare, it will look to see if the cell you’re in is one it knows about. If it is, then that greatly reduces the need to look for satellites. This also explains why it doesn’t store the older  (or less accurate?) locations. My guess is that the algorithm says something like: have I been here before? If yes, is my accuracy better than last time? If yes, replace the old entry with a new one.”

Which answers the question that’s been bugging me, which is why that database wasn’t purged regularly. For this purpose, it’s important to keep it on your phone, where it can be queried fast.

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The iPad’s lack of a file system

Don Reisinger on why the tablet won’t replace the laptop:

“The operating systems lack worthwhile file systems, a more robust interface and all the other things that people will find in the operating systems running on notebooks.”

I’m not sure what Don means by “a more robust interface”, but I think he’s wrong about the importance of files systems. A file system is an abstraction, a metaphor, not something that’s set in stone. Not once in using the iPad have I pined for “a file system”.
What I want – and what people care about – is simple: “can I read and create the documents that I want to read or create?” I don’t need folders, volumes, and all the other baggage. I just want my stuff to be there.

Why “evil” is the most over-used word in tech

One of the things which you often hear reading tech blogs, and particularly the comments, is that such-and-such a company is “evil”. What this usually means isn’t that they’re deliberately employing children or forcing workers to work in polluted factories which damage their health.

Instead, the cry of “evil” is used to describe companies that are trying to maximise their profits. That could be by destroying a market by giving away products to undercut competitors. It could mean locking customers in to platform so they face barriers if they want to switch to something else. Or it could mean trying to take a slice of income off every transaction made on their products.

This is a fundamental error, and it misunderstands what companies are designed to do. In a post on his blog, BBC business editor Robert Peston sums this up in relation to multinationals trying to minimise how much tax they pay:

“But given that company law obliges company directors to give greatest weight to the interests of their shareholders, criticising company boards for striving to minimise tax is a bit like attacking gravity for making the rain fall down rather than rise up.”

The same is true of tech companies. Apple isn’t “evil” because it is attempting to squeeze money out of publishers. Microsoft wasn’t evil when it tried to tie Office and Windows. Google isn’t evil because of its practice of giving away stuff which its competitors make money on.

They’re all just companies, trying to make the best returns for the only people that matter, legally, to them: The shareholders.

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Nieman Journalism lab responds to John Gruber

Nieman Journalism Lab responds to John Gruber’s defence of the 30% Apple subscription take:

“But if someone searches for and downloads The New York Times app — after the Times has spent more than a century building up its brand, as the cost of billions of dollars — can it really be said that Apple has “brought” that subscriber to the app, and that they deserve 30 percent of the revenue the app generates, forever?”

To which the obvious and correct answer is: No, they don’t deserve it. Apple’s argument that it “brings” customers is hogwash. It’s like Mozilla claiming that Amazon ought to give it a percentage of my spend there as it “brings” me, just because I’m using Firefox.

It’s a good article, well worth an in-depth read.

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