Tag Archives: Macintosh

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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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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OmniFocus Tips For Power Users

OmniFocus
Image via Wikipedia

OmniFocus is my favourite GTD app for the Mac, but it isn’t always the easiest piece of software to get your head around. This video has some great OmniFocus tips and tricks, and if you’re a user it’s well worth watching.

 

OmniFocus Ninja Tricks from The Omni Group on Vimeo.

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No, Apple isn’t patenting developers’ work. But it still has a bigger problem

Patents are hard to understand. If any government wants to reduce the costs of running a business quickly and easily, it should revamp the system of patents to make them easy for people who aren’t lawyers to read, and harder to actually get in the first place.

So it’s no surprise that there’s been a massive amount of misreading of Apple’s patent application on “Systems and methods for accessing travel services using a portable electronic device”. What’s made it easier to misread is Apple’s – frankly stupid – use of FutureTap‘s interface for its excellent Where To? application in the descriptive part of the patent. FutureTap, understandably, are miffed because it looks like Apple is trying to steal their ideas.

And the coverage on the back of it follows suit. John Brownlee at Cult of Mac titled his “Apple submits software patent for other developer’s app, including title and design“. Om Malik at GigaOm (probably my favourite tech site) was so astounded by what he thinks Apple is doing he had to preface his post title with “Not a joke“. Continue reading

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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Dumb Windows users write dumb things about malware. News at 11.

Over at PC Pro, my old chum Chris Brennan is conducting a brave experiment. As an ardent Mac user, in the cause of science, he’s put aside his Mac and is living with Windows 7 for a while (catch up with his posts here.)

After a couple of weeks, a story about some Windows 7 security issue prompted him to install Microsoft Security Essential (free, not bad security software). He posted about the experience, and has promptly been jumped on by a bunch of sneering Windows folk, with comments like “totally pointless article” and “He’s clearly a Mac fanboy. Any further articles are totally pointless. He’ll choose a Mac no matter what windows 7 does.”

Now read his post, and there’s nothing there that’s actually wrong – and unlike some Mac commentators, Chris’ writing is entirely reasonable. He’s not jumping up and down and lying about security, which I’ve seen some Mac zealots do. But it appears Chris’ (entirely factually accurate) post has hit a raw nerve with some of the commenters there.

No matter what the reasons, malware is a problem for Windows users in a way which it just isn’t for Mac users. Now I’m largely on the side of the epidemiological theory: Macs are less of a target because there’s less of them, and because there’s less of them it’s much more difficult to spread malware. Malware is a lot like disease: it takes a critical mass of vulnerable people in a population before a disease can spread effectively.

But what the commentors have ignored is the key point that Chris is making: anti-virus software isn’t (and never will be) 100% effective, and different packages protect to different degrees. While Security Essential is a decent package, as PC Pro’s review points out, there are some kinds of malware against which it will offer little protection.

The point is this: if you’re a naive computer user, you need to know not only to install malware protection on Windows, but that not all packages are equal, and how to differentiate between them. Unless you read computer magazines avidly, you might not know any of this.

And that, in my book, is another reason just to get a Mac if you’re not a geek. The Mac’s lack of significantmalware might not last if it ever gets to 20, 30 or 40% installed base – but until it does, take advantage of the lack of worry.

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Got root on your Apple keyboard?

Now this one is fun. According to ZDNet, it’s possible to hack the firmware of some Apple keyboards in order to install malware on it. Yes, on the keyboard – not the Mac. In fact, even if you wipe the computer entirely, the malware can persist.

“Apple’s sleek $49 Mac keyboards can be hacked and infected with keystroke loggers and impossible-to-detect rootkits, according to a security researcher presenting at this year’s Black Hat/DEFCON conferences.

The researcher, known only as “K. Chen,” found a way to reverse engineer and tamper with the keyboard’s firmware upgrade. With the firmware under control, an attacker can subvert the keyboard by embedding malicious code that allows a rootkit to survive a  clean re-installation of the host operating system.”

Now this isn’t exactly a usable exploit – it’s a lot of fuss to get something that can installed on a machine much more easily using a bit of social engineering. But it highlights the potential issues we have as peripherals get smarter and smarter. I didn’t even know that the keyboard had firmware, let alone that it was hackable.

If you want to read the technical paper with all the details, it can be downloaded in PDF form here. Video demo below.

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