Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Secrets of the Genius Bar

Apple may be one of the world’s most innovative companies, but they’ve been known to make the odd mistake. Strangely, whilst most moaning about the company tends to focus on trivial issues, like which apps make their way onto the App store, more fundamental problems frequently go unnoticed.

To redress these omissions, MacPredictions introduces a new occasional feature: “Secrets of the Genius Bar” where we shall explore those issues that are (probably) keeping Apple Store staff awake at night. Here are three to get us started. Know any more? Let me know.

1. Nike+iPod reset bug on 4G iPod nano
The beautifully multicolored new nano’s are afflicted with a major software flaw for users of Nike+. The unit intermittently resets upon completing a workout, losing all workout data in the process. Some think it’s associated with the congratulation message you receive on achieving a personal best, but others have experienced it without getting a congratulation message. Since capturing your workout data is the whole point of the product, this is a serious issue.

2. Time Capsule stalls on “Preparing Backup”
If you interrupt a backup to Time Capsule - for example, by putting your MacBook to sleep whilst a backup is in progress - the next time you attempt a backup, it will likely fail. Typically, it will hang on the “Preparing Backup” stage. Waiting for anything up to 60 hours may coax it into completing that backup, but the problem tends to reoccur - Time Capsule then becomes incapable of performing incremental backups - and will instead attempt full backups every time.

3. Macbook Air screen bezel becomes damaged through regular use
The Air is so delicate that pressure arising from carrying it around in a normal laptop bag may result in the top of the screen’s bezel from becoming shiny and worn as it rubs against the trackpad button when the unit is closed.

Update: The latest software update for the 4G iPod nano claims to fix the Nike+iPod reset bug - time will tell if this is truly the case - in the meantime, most uses are unlikely to risk allowing Tiger Woods to finish his congratulatory message.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The rumor-recession begins

We've enjoyed a boom in terms of Apple news in the last few weeks. We got greedy, and now comes the crunch. The sad fact is that we're now entering an Apple rumor-recession, and we can't expect a bail out from the authorities in Cupertino any time soon.

Talk of Snow Leopard's Cocoa apps, and speed bumps for iMacs is thin gruel. There's nothing for it but for us to tighten our belts and weather the winter, and hope that MacWorld 2009 brings us something new. But what? iLife'09? Jobs jamming with John Mayer again? It's hard to see what we now have to look forward to.

The future looks bleak, and we at MacPredictions want to do our bit to re-invigorate the rumorshere. There's one product that we can think of that we love to bits and is surely due for an update... iPod Socks. Yes, they're fabulously stylish and perfect for keeping your treasured iPod scratch-free. But they're a little tight for an iPhone, yet a little too big for a nano. And those colours are so last season... so outré.

We give you... the socks that every iPod and iPhone will be wearing Spring 2009.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Today's announcements, anticipated last year

(December 2007)

(March 2008)

Last year, this blog made a post entitled glossy black frames everywhere, where we speculated that the new Macbook Pro would have shiny black frames around the screens, and adopt low-profile plastic keys like the Macbook and iMac. We also anticipated a new Cinema Display with a glossy black frame:

"It will of course have an aluminium outer enclosure, perhaps with some shiny chrome, black fittings and generous radial corners, but when you open it up, you can expect to see a thin, glossy black frame around that screen, and low profile white keys on that lovely shiny metal base. We can expect to see glossy black bezels around Cinema Displays in the new year as well."

Turns out we were right on both counts, just a year ahead of our time.

In other respects, our later mockups were pretty close - if only we'd combined the top of one mockup with the bottom of the other!

We were also correct in guessing that if Apple introduced a glass trackpad, it would be because of the feel under touch, rather than for an LED display in trackpad, and we said they may introduce glass screens:

"It's more likely that, if the new Macbook introduces glass as a material at all, it will be used in some other way: maybe a glass screen like the iMac, or if the trackpad itself is glass, this would probably be just for the feel of the material under the finger, rather than because Apple wanted to put a screen on the trackpad."

Once again, 9to5Mac wins the prize for most on-the-money predictions, and Kevin Rose's prediction about Blu-Ray turned out to be a flop, albeit he did concede last week that it wasn't from one of his good sources. Seems I was wrong about those spy-shots over the weekend though - looks like they were real after all.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Glass trackpad? Transparent speculation!

Some people in the rumorsphere are claiming that the next generation MacBooks will sport "glass trackpads". The implication is that they'll have little LED displays under your finger, like an iPhone interface, doing... goodness knows what.

The truth is that anyone with an ounce of user interface knowledge will intuitively understand that this idea does not work. When you're using a trackpad, you're looking at the screen, not the trackpad itself. So you simply would not see whatever is on the trackpad display. Besides which, the position of the trackpad means that it's largely obscured by your hand when you're using it. In order to use a trackpad as if it was an iPhone, you'd need to hold you Macbook up to your eyes using one hand and use the trackpad with your other, staring at the trackpad, rather than the screen.

The best illustration of how flawed this concept truly is comes from the recent fake spy shots illustrating the Mac OS X Dock moved from the main screen to the trackpad. If we can get past the obvious problem that there wouldn't be space for many apps on a Dock that size, can you really imaging performing tasks like dragging a document from the main screen down to the trackpad?

It's more likely that, if the new Macbook introduces glass as a material at all, it will be used in some other way: maybe a glass screen like the iMac, or if the trackpad itself is glass, this would probably be just for the feel of the material under the finger, rather than because Apple wanted to put a screen on the trackpad.

Whilst an iPhone-style trackpad is an amusing idea, let's be honest, it isn't going to happen. All that this kind of rumor serves to produce is the frustrated whining that we've come to know and love on the MacRumors messageboards after every major Apple product announcement. So for the record, let's also clear up that the new MacBooks won't solve the current economic crisis, won't offer a cure for cancer, and won't usher in a new age of world peace.

Friday, 10 October 2008

New Kevin Rose Rumor on Macbooks

Kevin Rose, has dug up another Apple rumor in anticipation of Tuesday's Apple notebook event. According to his sources, the new Macbooks will sport Blu-Ray drives. A plausible supposition - certainly as a built-to-order option.

Hi to everyone who was at Future of Web Apps in London, UK, where Kevin and Alex were recording a live Diggnation. I was one of the guys standing out in the cold without a pass. Doh!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

As expected, Apple notebook invite arrives

Whilst some had practically given up hope for an Apple Event next week, the invites have finally arrived. So it's time to brace ourselves for an intensive week of geeky speculation.

Did you get one in your inbox? Nah, nor did we.

Two observations, based upon the invite design:
  • Use of the term "notebooks" implies that we might be talking about more than one model (i.e. not just Macbook Pro, but also Macbook and maybe even Macbook Air)
  • Use of silver Macbook Pro in photo might indicate that the exterior enclosure design is not going to change as much as anticipated

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

MacPredictions calls 'fake' on latest Macbook Pro spy-shot

The latest spyshot appearing on MacRumors and Engadget looks like a fake, in my opinion. Whilst the recessed keyboard, Air-style, is consistent with this blog's predictions, there's one detail that doesn't ring true, and gives the game away: the mike and headphone jacks. On all Apple laptops, they have grey plastic inner lining, whereas in this "spyshot" they appear to have a shiny metal lip, flush to the exterior enclosure. That just doesn't look pretty against a matt aluminum surface, and it isn't Apple's style to get a detail like that wrong.

Other points of interest - the alleged Macbook in the photo does not appear to have the new trademark bulge/taper design sported by the Air, and expected to appear on the rest of the range. Also, whilst several forum posters have argued that the image depicts a "brick" enclosure, tooled from a single block of aluminum this photo clearly shows a join where the top surface component butts with the side panel. (MacPredictions thinks the single brick of aluminum theory is far-fetched anyway, so this isn't the reason we think the shot is fake).

Update: There's something very un-Apple-like about the entire row of jacks featured in this spy shot. With the depth of the side reduced, it simply looks ugly, and a retrograde step from the neat flap solution on the MacBook Air. It's surely more likely that Apple's patented collapsible port door will finally see the light of day (see image above, originally from AppleInsider).

Update x2: MacRumors is starting to have doubts about the veracity of these recent spy shots. Roll on Tuesday!

With enemies like Microsoft and Google, who needs friends?

Greenlight Capital fund manager David Einhorn's recent comments on Microsoft are just about the smartest thing I've ever heard an analyst say about the company. Microsoft's quixotic obsession with Google is surely resulting in a poor allocation of their extensive resources.

Regardless of what some commentators might think, Google is hardly an obvious competitor to Microsoft. Microsoft's core market is desktop software, whilst Google's is search. If anything, they're complimentary rather than competitive business models. And to paraphrase Mark Twain (and Steve Jobs), reports of the death of client-side software have been greatly exaggerated.

Google's dominance in search has yet to translate into the much prophesied online "software as a service" model. On the contrary, client-side software seems to still be on the ascendent - witness the fuss made over the iPhone app store, and Android marketplace. Remember how people scoffed when Apple took the line of promoting web applications as an alternative to an SDK? Web apps may be neat, people reasoned at the time, but they're no replacement for a good old fashioned client-side app. The idea that the web would "become the OS" (whatever that means), is going the way of the "thin client" fallacy - an amusing piece of esoteric nonsense.

The fact of the matter is that even as the web goes from strength to strength, it looks less and less like replacing client-side software. Even with all the Google Web Toolkits, Google Gadgets and Yahoo! Widgets, the web does not look set to replace client-side software any time soon. Web apps like Google Docs and Photoshop.com are all very well, but they are regarded by most as a supplement to, rather than replacement for traditional applications.

So whilst Microsoft has been focusing on a phantom menace, what's been happening behind their backs? Well for one thing, the failure of Vista to gain popular support, and the success of Apple's "Get a Mac" campaign means that Microsoft has all but lost the argument in their absolutely core business of Windows desktop.

And developers are going crazy over competitor platforms like iPhone and Android, whilst Ballmer's "developers! developers! developers!" speech is now just a fond, distant memory. Microsoft's Office division has not come up with any innovations or significant new apps in years. And in some respects, their premium productivity suite is now seriously rivaled by Apple's budget iWork offering.

This is surely unforgivable. Windows and Office are Microsoft's crown jewels - and they need some polishing. Given the company's state of market dominance, something must be going seriously wrong to allow Apple to make these inroads.

Whilst Microsoft's eyes have been off the ball, Apple has built genuine competitors, not just to Windows Vista, but also to Windows Media, Windows Mobile and Windows Media Center. It strikes me that the key difference in approach between Microsoft and Apple of late is that Jobs has kept Apple very focussed - doing a small(ish) number of things very well - whilst Microsoft has devoted most of its senior management focus to the weakest areas of the business. They may have done better had they truly taken Ballmer's Developer! mantra to heart, and sold off their failing MSN division years ago.

But what of Google? Android has got a lot of press attention, but as far as I can see, this is more to do with the fact that Google is a backer, rather than anything intrinsically significant about the product itself. It is hamstrung by an ugly, clunky user interface, which lacks many key features. The product seems little more than an imitation of iPhone. In fact the only significant selling point for the product is that it is open source. But this alone is not enough - many Linux desktop distros have gone up against Windows, but none has gained a foothold. Being Open Source won't get you very far if you're not very good. As Nokia's CEO candidly observed, whilst Apple has rapidly become a 'credible competitor,' Android offers nothing new. And let's be honest, if Apple was seriously worried about the competitive threat that Android represented to iPhone, they'd ask Eric Schmidt to step down from his role on Apple's board.

Google's side-products tend to be side-shows rather than serious commercial enterprises. They have never risked taking their eyes off the ball when it comes to search & advertising. Microsoft, on the other hand, has allowed itself to be seriously outmaneuvered by Apple - a smaller competitor. And as a result, they now have a great deal of work to do to shore up their core markets.

In the meantime, the future still looks pretty rosy for Apple, who seem capable of grabbing an increasingly large slice of the home computer market, to compliment the enormous slice that they've already taken of the digital music industry.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Top 5 Stevenote hack-clichés

As Apple's October 14 event ineluctably approaches, serious Apple-followers must steal themselves for the pompous, posturing mainstream hacks who will be shortly arriving on our turf, burning the lawn with their barbecues and leaving cigarette butts on the stoop when they leave. Yes, Stevenote season is upon us.

Whilst Steve Jobs may have his own unique style, the hacks who cover his keynotes certainly don't. Almost without exception, they all trot out the same hackneyed clichés every time they receive one of those cherished Apple invites. Of course, as an IT hack, it's essential to effect an air of nonchalance, as if an Apple keynote is just another event - not dissimilar to any other company's product launch. When in fact, the truth is that as they're waiting in the darkened auditorium for Steve to take to the stage, their actual mental state more resembles that of a twelve year old girl before a Hannah Montana concert. In order to cover their tracks and preserve their professional dignity, these gibbering hacks must pepper their dull prose with key phrases that at once separate them from us unwashed fan-boys, and provide them some seeming distance from the company - even if this is at the expense of the facts.

So, just for fun, I've compiled a top 5 of the worst:

1. "Apple Faithful"
I hate this term. It's a way for lazy jornos at these events to claim that they're not as pumped as the rest of us, whilst also making out that there's nothing special about this company, we're just idiots who drank the kool-aid.

2. "Famously Secretive"
Granted, Apple are secretive, but using these two words in relation to Apple is now soooo over-done, you wonder what the hacks writing this stuff are really being paid for.

3. "Mercurial CEO"
Most CEOs have a temper - it's a part of the job description if you're going to get things done. The funny thing is that this is not just a cliché, it's also about 10 years out of date. Anyone who really follows these things knows that Steve has mellowed since success and cancer.

4. "Reality Distortion Field"
This was funny a few decades ago, but we've all heard it a thousand times now. Also, it's another sneaky way for reporters to distance themselves from the rest of the crowd - 'of course, dear reader, I'm never taken in by all this sales hype' - yeah, right.

5. "Trademark Black Turtleneck"
So the guy wears a turtleneck. Get over it. Can this seriously still be news? Sure, there was that 1998 keynote at MacWorld Tokyo where he wore a suit, but still.

The brick has landed

9to5Mac have finally "revealed" their rumor. I can't help thinking that we're getting as much hype about the rumors as we are about the actual product announcements these days, but I guess that's just the strangely recursive world of the blogosphere.

Turns out Brick refers to tooling a solid block of aluminum with lasers in order to fabricate an enclosure for new Macbook. Furthermore, this work will be carried out at an purpose built manufacturing plant, owned by Apple, using proprietary technology. It's no wonder that this slipped out before the Apple event, since keeping an entire factory a secret would be a challenge for any organization.

Whilst this is quite an amazing rumor, the hype surrounding this whole "brick" business will doubtless result in some users on the MacRumors message boards moaning about it for weeks to come (you know the sort of thing).

Saturday, 4 October 2008

9to5Mac brick clues point to laser-cut aluminum enclosure

It's going to be another big weekend for the Mac rumor community - since, we can expect invites to be despatched next week for the much-anticipated October 14 Apple event.

You've got to love 9to5Mac - a relatively new entrant onto the scene who has led the blogging community over the past 12 months with a series of accurate scoops.

But they're playing with their fans' affections right now with this whole brick clue business - drip-feeding us with a series of tantalizing clues over this weekend. I only hope they come up with the goods in the end, or there will be tears.

What can we make of the clues so far? A brick, an image of a laser and a lump of aluminum.

Popular speculation point to one of four theories:
  • Blu-Ray in some form (BRick could be an acronym)
  • Fancy power adapter (see previous post)
  • Aluminum enclosure made from a solid block of metal (sounds unlikely)
  • Induction charging (takes me back to the heady days of the last time 9to5Mac linked to this blog)
The reference in one clue to author Neal Stephenson might suggest that this is something to do with his latest book, Anathem - which I'm currently ploughing through. More than any book I've read before, it resembles a brick. There's also a bit in the book involving lasers, but they're red, rather than green...

My best guess is that 9to5Mac's new info concern laser cutting aluminum. Apple has a track record of devising innovative uses for this technique in their enclosures. For example, this is used to allow the green light to be seen through solid aluminum on the wireless keyboard and the MacBook Pro's/Air's iSight light. You can also see it in the mike grills on the MacBook Air. 

The advantages of laser cutting aluminum is precision - perhaps they'll use it for fancy new speaker grills, or a real aluminum keyboard? Perhaps they'll make tiny perforations in the entire wrist-rest in order to introduce multi-touch to the entire surface, eliminating the requirement for a trackpad.

Update: Looks like this is where 9to5Mac got their laser image from. It's the forth result on Google Images for the keyword "laser". From this, we can probably conclude that "laser" is the only significance to be inferred from the image (sadly it seems this has nothing to do with the hylean theoric world.)