Apple, Condemned to Death by a Thousand Papercuts

Ever since Steve Jobs’ death, Apple pundits and fanboys all around the world began counting down the “inevitable death of Apple”. There can only be one Steve Jobs and he is dead. He defined an era when only an era can be defined. The emergence of the iPhone can only be described as a goldfish swallowing the whale. They say history repeats itself and once again we’re seeing the sequel of “PC overtaking Apple” as “Android overtaking iOS”. Funny how we never learn. Maybe someday Steve Jobs will be resurrected by bio technology and we’ll see this whole drama play out again in the bio field. But I digress.


Apple products are distinguished by the polish and intuitiveness of the interface backed by solid technology in both hardware and software. It’s quite a formidable package and one that is yet to be rivaled. Samsung, Google, and BlackBerry are still chasing Apple’s tail. The brilliance of Apple under Jobs’ second coming is that they made just the right trade offs with open and closed systems. They leveraged open technology to build an OS (OSX), even though I think they bet on the wrong horse (mach kernel) in the long run, and leveraged that for mobile. They created a new market for touch screen devices that created a whole new paradigm and even extended it to tablets.


Like any brilliant invention that revolutionizes the world, once people got hold of an iPhone they soon settle into a state where they can’t image a world without it. It feels natural, almost meant to be. Every time I try to use an Android, I feel like it’s a different beast. My mind locks up when I run into many of its unintuitive rabbit holes that come from logically inconsistent and/or unintuitive interaction designs. I’d frequently find myself forgetting how to access a certain setting or getting lost in an application’s menu. A lot of things just don’t feel right. The battery life was atrocious.


However, at the end of the day, the iPhone is simply a mini computer (that connects to the internet), camera, and media player with phone capabilities. That’s it. What sets it apart is the application eco system and all the innovations it introduced to the market. However, the company is now feels decidedly conservative. There’s no excitement on the horizon. What’s coming after the iPad Mini? The iPhone grande? Or maybe the iWatch? AppleTV as a gaming console anyone?


The app eco system will eventually be the downfall of Apple. They’ve created a culture of fear by acting as arbiters of taste rather than protectors (ensuring that malware isn’t circulated). Take away all the applications from any smartphone and you’re left with the internet, music, and movies for your entertainment; email, sms, and voice for communication. When you get banned from Apple’s App Store you have no recourse (other than public appeal). With Android, their Play store is much more permissive and moreover, users can choose to install non-market apps.


Without a visionary like Jobs, Apple needs all the help it can get with innovation and there’s no greater inspiration than an eco system of third-party developers. Interface improvements like the ubiquitous pull-to-refresh came from outside (apps like Facebook have a nice flick to go back from a picture view which I think should be standard). Also, Apple’s preference for sandboxing all data and more importantly locking down the music and video library is also another weakness that will irritate users more and more. The big issue at hand is Apple tries to control how we interact with our own data in the name of protection. We can’t download and play music or movie files from the internet without going through iTunes or syncing it via PC. Movie files can only be played if it’s in Apple’s mp4 format unless we use third party apps.


The smartphone revolution is far from over, it’s only beginning. As more and more of our lives go mobile, we need newer ways of interacting with the device. There are still lots of improvements to be made, such as text input, before they can completely replace computers. Social interactions are also another area ripe for innovation (I’m thinking device to device communication like Bump and more location-based networks that involve more than just checking in). Payment/point-of-sale is yet another are that will eventually become a major pat of smartphone usage (something with more substance than the Passbook, something that makes use of technology like RFCs).


As technology matures it’s only natural that there are no low hanging fruit to pick and that pushing the envelope involves great risk. However, with companies Samsung chasing them on the hardware front and Google chasing them on the software front, they really can’t afford to rest on their laurels.

OSX and Mac Desktops Aren’t Going Anywhere

People keep talking about how the iPhone’s going to ruin it for OS X and the desktop lineup. I’m tired of these alarmist headlines hinting at the demise of OS X. The share of earnings from mobile devices surpassing desktops and how Apple seems to be more concerned about iPhone developers (like giving Apple Design Awards exclusively to iOS apps this year).


It certainly looks like desktops are getting the short end of the stick.


The fact is, as long as Apple engineers are using macs themselves, there’s really nothing to worry about. Their tools are our tools. It can only get better. The only market I see taking a hit is the indie software development scene. Lots of developers stepped right over OS X desktop development and headed into iOS development. Some might transition into desktop development or do some on the side but a lot of people with a background doing OS X desktop development are busy with iPhone/iPad work. Just as a matter of priority, all the new APIs from Apple and innovative software are going to come from touch devices because there’s a hot new market with a new paradigm that excites developers.


However, desktop users are already enjoying the fruits of Apple’s success with the iPhone. With more GBs of RAM and processor power coming our way via Moore’s Law, programmers start doing crazy things with that extra capacity like a fat kid in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course, for the end user we get cool features but that eery feeling that we’re still running in place after shelling out a couple thousand bucks on a new system never goes away (Yeah, it feels kinda faster like when I open folders…).


Snow Leopard represents incremental progress from Leopard but it also cut down on a lot of bloat, resulting in faster code and a couple GBs shaved off the installation. New multi-touch trackpads on Macbooks, the Magic Mouse, and now the Magic Trackpad all come from hard-earned innovations from touch devices.


Eventually, all the lessons learned from providing iPhone developers more convenient building blocks will surely filter through to desktop development and if not developers will start adding more open source additions to bridge the gap.


Even if all the earnings shift toward touch devices and music/movie/TV sales, you simply can’t skip the fact that the source of all that creative momentum comes from the great tools that Apple engineers are using and the OS X operating system is an integral part of it. Sure, some resources may be tied up in mobile but eventually, these worlds will converge more than diverge as mobile firepower keeps going up (just look at the difference between iPhone 3G and iPhone 4).


The bigger concern is not so much Apple’s focus on OS X but how do you entice talented indie developers to develop innovative third-party applications for the desktop (like Cover Flow started as a third-party giveaway project or Quicksilver that defined an era). Another aspect is the ranks are flooded with people more after the money than before so that definitely changes community dynamics as well. However, this doesn’t translate to an existential crisis for OS X any claims otherwise without further evidence are absurd.

Categories: osx

Snow Leopard? You Have Got to be Kidding Me

This year’s WWDC feels like Apple’s waking up from the coma that was last year to finally kick ass and take names and not the other way around. When you think about it, the only thing they got right was the iphone and ipod touch and those were sold high on promise and potential. Case in point, the 3G iphone finally has a headphone jack opposite of the dock connector (if I saw the photos correctly) where it should have been to start. Mobile Me sounds promising despite the corny name though it’ll take more than a name change and 2GB of capacity to shed its sordid .mac past.


Then the icing on the cake is Snow Leopard. The should just call it OS X 10.5 Service Pack 1 because that’s what it is. Knowing Apple, they’ll probably charge the full price for those of us who endured the past six months faithfully testing their buggy as hell beta ware that they just had to rush out the door so the iphone could play nice with its docking station. Since when did stability, performance and security come as an after thought in an operating system from an established player?


Of course, I can appreciate the fact that forking their main operating system into a mobile branch (that powers the ipod touch and iphone) is a very involving endeavor and that’s where their focus was this past year. Still, Apple will always be about computers to me even with the name change explicitly removing “Computer” from the company name. I guess they weren’t kidding there.


As for buying the iphone when it hits Japan, I’m a little conflicted. I actually don’t use my phone much these days. While I’d love to consolidate my ipod Touch and phone into one device, I’m not motivated enough to ditch my relationship with my current carrier. Not for an iphone with the same capacity as my current ipod (16GB). I’ll think about upgrading when capacity goes somewhere in the 64GB neighborhood for sure.


All in all, I will buy Snow Leopard if they do in fact mean business when they say stability and not the current upgrade scheme of trading in two old bugs for one new one.

Apple posts details about Snow Leopard – The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Google Phone in Japan?: Largest Japanese Cell Phone Carrier to Adopt Android OS

According to the latest reports, Japan’s largest cell phone carrier will be using  Google’s Android OS for mobile devices which is in turn based on WebKit of all things.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. will remove advanced functions and services from its cell phones’ operating software, such as the ability to connect to the Internet, enabling the nation’s handset manufacturers to simultaneously design low-function, low-price handsets for overseas markets and high-function, high-price handsets for domestic distribution based on the same software, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Saturday.

The decision came as several manufacturers have withdrawn from the saturated domestic cell phone market that currently offers little prospect of generating profits.

DoCoMo hopes the decision will help the handset manufacturers expand internationally, while also expecting it to contribute to its own overseas strategies.

According to the carrier, functions to be removed from operating software will include i-mode, Internet connection services, and FeliCa, an integrated circuit card service that enables handsets to be used for electronic payments.

The company plans to introduce Android, jointly developed with Google Inc. as the new operating software by 2010.

DoCoMo phones to get simpler OS

 

It’s great to see Japan’s largest cell phone carrier wake up to reality but unfortunately this move comes more than a decade late.  The move will supposedly open the market for Japanese cell phone manufacturers to approach a more global audience.  Of course, manufacturers already have wider access to global markets since Japanese cell networks went 2.5G using CDMA/WCDMA technology.

Yet, the Japanese cell phone market remains an anomaly and obstacle to cell phone manufacturers reaching a global market as seen by Sony Ericsson’s recent review of their relationship with DoCoMo.  Right now Japan has three dominant cell phone carriers, DoCoMo (a spin off of the former national telecom NTT) and AU (a private sector joint venture) and SoftBank (which went from a Japanese company to Vodafone back to Japanese).  Manufacturers are more or less tied to the cell phone companies they supply phones to.  The carriers dictate the specifications and more or less control the model supplied.  So, in many cases manufacturers have to differentiate cell phone models per carrier.  These contractual obligations as well as Japan’s communication specifications isolated Japanese manufacturers from a global market while keeping global manufacturers from reaching a Japanese audience.

As any casual observer will note, Japanese cell phones are more advanced and feature rich than your typical smart phone found abroad (not to mention more styles).  Technology such as i-mode pioneered cell phone web-browsing before it reached critical mass abroad.  The fact that Japan shied away from cross-carrier SMS compatibility also propelled Japan’s widespread adoption of cell email as the dominant form of text messaging too.  Even with the advent of the iPhone, I think it will be a long time before you can watch TV on your phone or get 3G-level bandwidth on it.

However, I honestly don’t see Android really gaining any real ground even if DoCoMo was to give it a full push.  The handset market is really cut throat for the typical manufacturer with low margins and lots of restrictions.  The move to linux is welcome and understandable but how many companies can add the touch and flair to it like Apple did with the iPhone.  Plus, the iPhone is more or less a complete OS X system optimised for mobile devices.  There’s a certain degree of feature parity between OS X and it’s little cousin.  As phones gain more disk space and processing while reducing size, the Android might be too limited for future needs.

The other thing is that Google really doesn’t have a major, practical stake in this.  It doesn’t affect the bottom line like search so I don’t see them committing major resources unless they’re looking to buy a cell phone carrier ala SoftBank of Japan.  I just don’t see the point of adopting Android or for handset manufacturers to team up with competition to lower the barrier of entry into an already crowded and lacklustre field while committing precious engineering resources to bring third party code up to par with what they developed with their own resources.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

iPod Touch Firmware be Damned

I’m really loving the iPod touch unlike any other piece of hardware or software for a long time. Probably not since well, switching to a mac in the first place. Of course, this raises all kinds of red flags because it makes me all the more dependent on the whims of one company. One thing on the horizon is a firmware update for the iPhone which will later percolate to the iPod touch as these products are essentially in the same line up.


You see, right now Apple is playing cat and mouse with the hacker community, mainly our right to mod and install whatever we want on the iPod touch. These things are not music players. They are very small and well-designed UNIX computers. The absurd thing about this situation is how Apple is trying to dictate what we can or cannot do with these devices for the ostensible reason that they are now more or less bed buddies with the telecommunications industry and music industry more than they care to admit.


Despite the fact that Apple is challenging the status quo and making life generally more pleasant for the average consumer by making inroads into both industries, Apple is not fighting for consumers. They are fighting for themselves and to build a digital conglomerate like nothing before. Once enough of us are locked in, what’s going to stop them from pulling the rug out from under us?


Nothing, except maybe a competing technology that can shake things up with a solution as elegant and innovative as Apple brought to the table. I’m sure it will eventually happen but life is short.


Whatever the case, I’m hanging on to firmware 1.1.2 and whatever the hell version of iTunes I’m on right now because unlocking my current setup was a bastard and a half in itself as Apple cracks down on vulnerabilities and backdoors that allow a thriving hacker community to give people what they want. The only reason I’m so happy to have my iPod touch is because I got MobileMail.app (only offered on iPhone in Apple’s infinite wisdom, though a browser comes by default), ebook reader, proper terminal emulation, and bookmarks on the home dock.


I’m thinking of using the iPod touch as a HD player by connecting it to a TV as well. Now I can’t do it without buying a special cable with an Apple chip embedded. This is supposedly do to DRM but of course there’s nothing stopping me from taking the signal from that not to mention the point is moot if the movie file being played is pirated to start. I think we’ll be seeing these and many other nasty issues in the future. I remember when the PSP came out, the earlier first generation models were selling for a premium on the second hand market simply because they could be cracked to run all kinds of neat stuff unlike newer models with better firmware.


I suppose iPod touches could go the same route. If you have a hacked iPhone/Touch like me I suggest that you tread carefully when a new firmware or iTunes version rears its head in the update as well.

Leopard + Gmail IMAP + .mac = Good Times!

Just got putting Leopard on another system. One of the things I’ve done is give Apple’s very own Mail.app a second chance. Not that I ever gave it a first. The last email client I used was Outlook Express mostly in combination with Hotmail. The only thing it did was create a terrible mess as I tended to travel a lot between computers. Then of course I found Gmail and never looked back.


Gmail really did wonders with it’s innovative conversation threading, integrated search, large storage, and labeling. They also have great capabilities for integrating with other email accounts:


  • Fetching email from other POP accounts
  • Allowing you to change sender for accounts you have access to
  • Automatically, respond to emails fetched other accounts with the same sender as said account.

These features allow you to integrate a variety of accounts into one webmail interface and lets you wear a variety of hats with one convenient account. Of course, there is a gotcha: responding to stuff sent to lists defaults the sender to your main account and some lists bounce emails with smtp servers not matching the sender.


These features all work great and I have no issues per se. I’ve been using Gmail for both work and private seamlessly for months. However, not that Gmail storage is steadily approaching 5GB and just unrolled the much coveted IMAP support I’ve decided to give it a try.


The beauty of IMAP is that mailboxes are all created server-side so accessing an IMAP account from any email client should always be in sync. Of course, this doesn’t make it all that different from webmail since most clients just download headers and fetch messages on an as needed basis.


If these set ups aren’t that different why bother? Even with state-of-the-art web apps such as Gmail (which is undoubtedly one of the best in its class), there will always be a lack of advanced features and productivity boosters compared to desktop clients. A case in point is advanced filters. Although Gmail has a lot of advanced search capabilities and filtering capabilities, these necessarily don’t map to each other cleanly. In other words, you can’t create persistent searches that function as labels such as dynamic date-based filters. You can leverage Mail.app’s advanced filters to create Smart Folders (such as all unreads in the last 7 days) that are extremely fine-grained without cluttering actual folders/labels created by Gmail that serve more as archives.


Desktop clients have the added advantage of being a lot more snappy than web interfaces which is a big advantage when you have to just put your nose to the grindstone and go through a bunch of emails. At the end of the day, having Mail.app properly set up and running occasionally gives you more options without sacrificing the other (especially in the case of Gmail). This point was driven home when I had to access email on my mac but behind a strict firewall that didn’t allow Mail.app to do its thing. If you’ve been using Gmail but couldn’t see the utility of using POP when you had to use several computers (trying to keep things organized the same) then now’s the time to give it a spin.


How-to: Proper Gmail IMAP for iPhone & Apple Mail


Hack Attack: Build advanced Gmail filters and persistent searches

Categories: osx

Leopard Impressions

Now that I’ve had some time to play with Leopard, I can say that I actually like it. I think a lot of the subtle design elements are still a bit unpolished and in flux (like the way they added the ability to make the Dock not shiny at the last minute) and yeah, that transparent MenuBar really needs to go. Transparency is tricky (no interface element’s visibility should be so dependent on whatever’s showing in the background—I had to switch my desktop background to dark grey). It might look great in screenshots but it’s a bastard to use when you actually need to read stuff on your menu. Having said that I often use a transparent terminal window (dark grey background with loud yellow letters) when I actually need to see stuff in the background (like debugging a web app) but those cases are rare. The only other gripe is that a lot of my favorite widgets broke.


OS X (that’s Oh Ess Ten for Windows folk) is really an evolutionary operating system. What we get today with the release of 10.5 will eventually be refined and polished by the time we hit 10.5.9 or so. There are a lot of hints in the design and refinements showing us where Jobs & Co. is headed. One of the things emerging from Leopard is how much Apple is paying attention to flow and productivity. I have no doubt that there are many GTD followers among Apple engineers. For example, Mail.app is becoming more of a GTD command center with integrated ToDo lists and what not. You can sense that with additions like Spaces (to create virtual desktops you can switch back and forth from), the new Finder, and other refinements that a lot of thought went into defining the optimal flow of things.


At the same time it’s hard to give one defining characteristic of Leopard aside from Time Machine. Of course, while Time Machine is very cool and well done, it is after all a backup utility. Not something I’ll be spending most of my time in.


One of the side benefits of Leopard is the new Cocoa API used by third party developers as a platform to create new and wonderful software out of Apple’s reach. One of the apps rumored to showcase Leopard’s under the hood capabilities is Delicious Library 2. Another big one for me is TextMate 2 which supposedly makes use of CoreText (or whatever) API improvements in text-handling (which I’m sure is necessitated by Apple’s extending global reach). We’ll have to see what new and exciting possibilities are offered by the improved API.


Wishlist


I for one would like to see a much more improved GTD stack of some sort. One that integrates well with the myriad of web services out there (Remember the Milk, Google Calendar, etc.). Right now you really have to stitch a bunch of tools together with assorted hacks to cherry pick the best features offered by a variety of services.


The Biggest Feature of All…


One thing that amazes me is that after over a year and a half after switching from Windows to a mac is how much I take for granted. Here I am, with a freshly installed, brand new operating system typing away on a blog and the only disruption I suffered is the one hour it took me to run the upgrade and some of my favorite Dashboard Widgets no longer working. No crashes or lost data. Minor gripes with some interface elements (which I know will get remedied) but aside from that nothing eventful.


Also, the system as a whole runs more stable (Firefox is less problematic for example, another incentive to keep sending those automatic crash reports to Apple) and faster. Maybe that’s the biggest “feature” of all that Redmond cannot reproduce no matter how much they try to keep up with the interface: painless and steady improvement.

Categories: osx

The Ultimate Remember The Milk Setup for Your Mac

Great things come to those that wait. I love using Remember the Milk for task management (also available at rmilk.com) because it’s simple and easy to use while feature packed at the same time.

If you’re on the mac, it’s even sweeter. One of the many things I wanted was a quick way to post todos to my rmilk account using Quicksilver or some other unintrusive client that I could use like the terminal command line to quickly fire off tasks.

I’ve been using IMified’s messenger client to post tasks for the longest time which was a good solution but the downside was that you needed to keep IM open at all times for the occasional post while opening yourself to distractions from random friends. Not good for productivity.

You can of course email tasks to yourself directly from Quicksilver and though I email todos to myself all the time from my cell phone but it still doesn’t feel like the best solution when I’m at the desk.

I’ve always wished for some kind of Quicksilver integration and now with Twitter integration my wish came true.

rtm_twitter.png

Let’s cut to point to make it happen:

http://www.breun.nl/2007/04/growlified_tweet_deluxe.html
  • Put the script in ~/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver/Actions/
  • Restart Quicksilver

    (create the folder if there isn’t one)

  • Add RTM as your Twitter friend here

    Now you can Twitter and add tasks to your heart’s content!

    Just brink up Quicksilver, type “d rtm” (to send the twitter bot a direct message) and write your tasks.

    For bonus points check out the Remember the Milk Widget to access your task lists from the dashboard and checking tasks off.

    Remember The Milk – Blog

    Growlified Tweet Deluxe (breun)

Categories: osx

Mind the Gap! OS X 10.4.9 can be Evil

Unless I was abducted by aliens whilst my mac was being tampered with, I can say for a fact that this past week has been challenging after installing the 10.4.9 update.

Somehow I ended up reinstalling the entire OS X on both the macs I own and I was getting more beach balls than a crowded ocean in Japan. Good grief!

It was definitely something that I wasn’t aware of as a relatively recent switcher. Basically, shut down every open app and don’t touch anything else whilst updating. If possible wait a while for the rough patches to get ironed out.

The fact is, macs run fine when you don’t touch them so the need for an update is always minimal. However, most mac users are always preoccupied with staying current so they usually like to have their mac up to date.

If it’s a big update, not only do you want to wait but also try the “combo updater” instead. It will usually have more of the kinks worked out and provide a smoother experience. You can also redo botched updates with the combo updater too.

Even though I had everything working again after doing whatever it is that I managed to do, I still reinstalled with the combo and ran all maintenance tasks with MainMenu. Now everything seems all good.

Apple – Support – Downloads – Mac OS X 10.4.9 Combo Update (Intel)

The Dangers of Updating: Don’t Do Anything While Optimizing – The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Apple – Support – Discussions – MacBook 10.4.9 Issues …

Categories: osx

NetNewsWire 3.0d62 is Out

Brent Simmons has just released a very big update to the public beta. This release is a major improvement compared to the last release especially in the stability and performance department as you can see from the release notes. For those of you missing the old style of tabs across the top, they are back (as an option).

nnw3.0d62.png

A lot of hard work went into this release so do check it out.

Ranchero Software: NetNewsWire 3.0d62: Sneak Peak Release

Categories: osx