Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Looking ahead to the fall's Apple goodness

Yes, I don't post here often anymore. Sorry about that. There's only so many places one can spread their social media wings and this is now down below my two Facebook pages, my Twitter feed, and my Tumblr.

That said, there's a long tradition I have done on these pages in particular, and that's prognosticating what Apple will do with their next announcement. And since one is coming a week from today (people deemed worthy are probably getting invites in their inboxes today), I figure it's time to go back to that tradition. I'll also dare to predict the rest of the fall as well.

First, coming September 10th…

New iPhone "5S": 100%. It will be announced, and my prediction is for the following features: new-generation "A7" processor with better graphics speed. Improved camera hardware, possibly 10-12MP camera sensor, improved 2-level flash. Newer standard radio installed. The likeliest "one more thing" for the new hardware? Not a fingerprint sensor (I think) but local speech recognition so that dictation can be more continuous and won't need to send every paragraph to the Internet, it'll work in real time. And I think that's likely enough that it's why we haven't seen a Beta 7 in developer land.

New iPhone "5C": Also 100%. This will be basically the same dimensions as the current 5 series, but scaled down in specs a little to stick with this past year's "A6" CPU and a plastic back. It's pretty much a cheaper-to-make version of the current iPhone 5. No real improvements or enhancements. This will sell for little-to-free pricing in the low end and prepaid markets.

One or more iPhone older models removed from market: 100%, but I think they'll remove all the currently sold models (4, 4S, 5) from the market and replace them with just the 5S and 5C. This will minimize SKUs in stock since there are more color options coming this year. This is the prediction I'm least certain of.

iOS 7 GM for developers that day: 100%. As always.

iOS 7 for iPad being delayed: 75%. They had been a little behind the curve on some of the iPad functionality all through the beta cycles. I think they may hold off on release for a while, maybe until the new iPads are announced later. Which brings me to:

New iPad and iPad mini in early October: I don't know the date, but that's my call.

Here's what I expect for new iPad gear:

"iPad 5" with redesigned slimmer form factor, all the software capabilities of iPhone 5S, A7 processor: 100%. It'll shave off a couple of ounces and get the camera from the current iPhone 5.

iPad mini with Retina Display, "A6X" processor from current full-sized iPad: 80%. There will be a new mini for sure, I am pretty confident they will add a Retina Display but not 100% positive. If they do, though, I'm buying it to be my next iPad so I hope so.

As for other Apple announcements:

Mac Pro shipping in late September along with OS X 10.9 "Mavericks": 90%. I think the OS will ship alongside the flagship hardware. I really do. If the hardware is not ready yet, 10.9 will still ship, but just alongside new MacBook Pro Retina models using the same "Haswell" chip series that is in the MacBook Air. The Mac Pro arrival is dependent on Intel, not on Apple.

MacBook Pros with Haswell shipping with Mavericks: 100%. See above.

Newer iMacs this fall, also Haswell-based: 100% - not so much the use of Haswell (but I think they will), but more in the general speedbumping and tweaks a year after the current model shipped.

Improvements to the Mac mini: 100% that something is done. Could be Haswell, could be something else. Maybe minor changes. The mini has become a workhorse in Apple's lineup and the only real server they sell. They'll do something other than just put 10.9 on it. Not sure what.

Apple "iWatch" or some other new category of product: 25% at most. I don't think any big new thing is coming for this holiday season. Much more likely for 2014. I think that'll be the big year.

Apple "iTV": 0%. Not happening. Apple does, though, have a clear direction and will do the following to AppleTV in the near future:

- Provide a HDMI input to wrap a regular cable box's input around. Kind of like what Chromecast is trying to do, but more robust.

- Keep developing value-add app platforms.

- Improve TV-Apple integration.

Basically, what I expect to see is a next-gen AppleTV with a decent processor that can put a layer on the TV that controls the overall experience you get from your cable provider, and also deliver content via apps instead of via TV itself. It'll also bring iOS gaming to the TV. The challenge is the control interface, else it would be out already.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blackberry 10 - enough? (spoiler alert - no)

So our Canadian friends at the company formerly known as RIM have thrown their Hail Mary pass. They unveiled the Z10 touchscreen phone and the Q10 "classic Blackberry" phones (the Q10 has a keyboard with a smaller touchscreen above it). Both phones are based on the new Blackberry 10 OS, which is based on the QNX operating system. There's developer tools in place to allow a lot of Android apps to run in the new OS. The horrible Blackberry Enterprise Server has been replaced by the identically acronym-ed but entirely rebuilt Blackberry Enterprise Service - offering management features for a company's Android and iOS phones as well.

I haven't had hands-on with one of the new devices, and probably won't anytime soon. Showing a lesson not learned, they aren't shipping for at least a month (the software is available now but none of the phones are ready yet). But I have read the reviews from people who were Friends of Waterloo, and the analysis is generally rather positive. In particular, the new Blackberries have a genuinely innovative new feature - the existence of separate operating partitions for work and for personal use. In the modern era of people using one phone for work and home, and BYOD policies, the ability to control a user's business messaging and information is crucial, but at the same time these phones are what people use to live their lives. They take pictures at their kid's soccer games. They have text messages from their spouses. They play Angry Birds. In the classic MDM model, you use an ActiveSync connection (or the old BES) to access and if needed remotely wipe a user's phone in the case of loss or termination. But in that model, you also delete their personal life.

Split personalities on the same phone go a long way towards resolving that. It's an innovative feature, and one I hope that Google, Apple, and Microsoft "me too" into future releases of their operating systems. On the other hand, all three of those tie into either ActiveSync or an alternative personal-based management model (Google Account, iCloud, Windows Live) Blackberry calls this new separation system Blackberry Balance.

There's also a nice feature in the camera app that captures several seconds of still photo and lets you pick the moment you want as the actual photo. The keyboard has predictive input that learns your patterns, and they've added rudimentary Siri Junior-type dictation. The familiar Blackberry unified inbox is still there, dubbed "BlackBerry Hub" and given pretty icons to indicate the message type and source.

The phones them selves are typical Blackberry - solid-looking hardware with a snap-off back and replaceable battery (which, based on the early tests, you may need to do a lot - it has the short battery life of a 1.0 product). They will be supporting LTE (both GSM and CDMA variations), dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and also NFC. All the basics. They have a nice Retina-class display, slightly larger than iPhone but at 1280x768 resolution for a 356 PPI density. It's not quite a 16:9 aspect ratio but HD content should look good on these. it comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, with support for a microSD card if desired.

Surprisingly, there's no dedicated ringer off switch (a possible inconvenience for many). Battery life in early testing, as I mentioned above, seems on the poor side, though hopefully software improvements will help that by the time they ship.

"So it sounds great, Josh! What do you think will happen? Is Blackberry back in the saddle again?"

Well, let me answer that simply. No.

"What? But what about all the people out there still using Blackberries? Won't they upgrade?"

Some of them will, of course. But here's the thing. RIM had their heyday before the smartphone became the force it is today. They were ahead for many years, but the market has passed them by. RIM sold 6.9 million smartphones in the past quarter (September through November). Apple sold 47.8 million iPhones in the roughly comparable quarter (October through December, but one fewer week than the previous year's results). Samsung (the leading Android vendor) doesn't give exact shipping figures, but it's safe to say they turned comparable shipment numbers across their whole range of phones (they make 153 phones just in the US, running Android or Windows Phone). Counting the shipments of other vendors, that's leaving Blackberry with 5% or less of the marketplace.

5% of the market doesn't get you far. Now remember that Blackberry isn't burning their ships - they are still selling lower-cost "classic" Blackberry devices in most markets. So maybe 3% of sales wind up being Blackberry 10 devices at best. At 3%, you aren't going to get developer buy-in. Blackberry users don't buy apps. The companies that used to manage BES servers have dropped them in favor of ActiveSync - I know every single client of mine that formerly used BES is out of that game now. Their users dropped the Blackberries and went to Android phones and iPhones. My city dumped their BES last year - now a few have iPhones and most have Galaxy II or Galaxy III phones. Times have changed.

So basically, at the end of 2011 I predicted that RIM wouldn't finish 2012 as an independent company. I was wrong. But that was because of two things - one, they had enough cash to stay independent, and two, nobody wanted them. I think 2013 will be their end as an independent company, and by fall BB10 will have failed as a product. Not because it's bad, but because it's too late. Microsoft can barely get traction in the mobile market. Blackberry (as RIM has now re-dubbed themselves) will suffer a worse fate without all the cash Microsoft has stockpiled.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Apple vs. Samsung, and what nobody gets (it seems)

First off, it's not a battle between Apple and Android anymore. It never really was. Android phones, for the most part, have replaced the old "free with contract" Nokia feature phones and Motorola RAZRs that used to be the standard "I just want a phone" phones. They don't buy apps on them. They barely use the Internet. They don't do e-mail, though they are heavy text users and might even use Facebook on the phones. And that's why virtually none of the Android or other OS phone vendors are even profitable. They play to a low-profit market and don't make any money off the apps sold (partly because there are very few apps sold).

Samsung, on the other hand, has in fact found a niche as the "un-Apple". They are selling a wide array of phones and devices, in every form factor imaginable (from tiny phones to "phablets"), to every carrier, and with their own skin on top of Android to "Samsung-ize" the experience. Apple sells 3 phones - the current iPhone and the last two models before it. Samsung sells dozens.

Here's where it gets kinda interesting. Apple's sales are all cumulative (because the iOS ecosystem generally locks people in), but the upgrade process is typically a lot tougher on Android phones - including Samsung's. That's important. When you are ready for a new phone in the Android world, there isn't much difference between buying your next phone from Samsung, Motorola, LG, or, for that matter, Apple. But when you are ready to replace your iPhone, it's really easy to replace it with another Apple. Not so easy to move away if you've bought any apps.

Customer loyalty. That's still the key advantage Apple retains in the cellphone market, and it's why they still generate most of the profits. Keep that in mind when comparing companies and ecosystems.

Monday, September 24, 2012

iOS 6

I'm going to sum up my iOS 6 review very quickly: It's great. Except the new Maps, which are pretty good, not as good as Google's, but will improve fast and are necessary to hold off Android.

Why, do you ask? Simple. When iOS first came to pass in 2007, Google was a key partner. They provided the default search engine, the mapping data, and a YouTube app right on the home screen. Wow stuff. They were a key Apple partner, and then-CEO Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board.

Then things changed. Google decided that they needed their own mobile platform, and begat Android - which due to Google's licensing terms (free) has become the most popular mobile operating system out there. It's not the highest-value for a lot of reasons (mainly because a lot of the installed base consists of budget users and cheap phones, where basic smartphones replaced the old-school featurephones), but they have a huge presence, and Android users get one big advantage over iOS users (who have to access Google Maps via the API instead of directly): Google Maps natively supports turn-by-turn directions, but not through the API.

And as smartphones become the standard navigation device, relying on Google became a key competitive disadvantage for Apple - as long as Google is their map vendor Apple can't offer turn-by-turn.

So this had to change. Rather than partner with Microsoft/Bing or one of the other map companies, Apple opted to do it themselves (with the help of mapping tech companies they bought), and Apple Maps will soon be on approximate par with Google after a couple of months' worth of correction and crowdsourcing.

Until then (remember, iOS 6 is less than a week old in public release), it'll be a little bumpy. But also remember Google took years to get good at mapping. And they still have errors sometimes. Apple's gotten much of the way there in one release. They'll get better fast.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong banned: Big Whoop.

So Lance Armstrong dropped his battle with the USADA last night, and as a result they intend to strip him of his Tour titles. All I can say to it at this point is: Big Freaking Deal. Maybe I'm a Lance apologist, but here's my take on it.

Armstrong was never caught during his career, despite years of testing. He won his last title in 2005. He competed in one of the dirtiest eras of the dirtiest professional sport, yet was never caught during his those years. He wound up retiring on his own terms, and after an investigation, the US Department of Justice dropped their case they were trying to build against him. On top of that, the USCF (cycling's governing body in the US), and the ICF all don't recognize the USADA's jurisdiction. Which pretty much invalidates their case, in my opinion.

Does that mean I think Lance Armstrong was clean? Hell no! He was probably just as dirty as virtually every other cyclist of that era. And most of today's pro cyclists are dirty, too - they just have better ways to hide it. That's the nature of what is an incredibly extreme sport. To survive a grueling 3-week race, they do what they have to do. Cyclists have been dirty forever. In my mildly competitive days (through my late teens up until I was about 20), I rode some races at the club level, and had a USCF Cat. 4 license. I was decent for my level, and it was incredibly hard work just to be competitive at that level.

I never did drugs (it wouldn't have helped me at that low level), but the guys ahead of me at the high amateur/low pro level? Most of them were on something or another. That's just what they did.

So the point I make here is pretty much this: There's no (as far as I know) direct, in-competition testing results that establish Armstrong's guilt. There is a bunch of testimony (that we now will not hear), from racers who were themselves dirty as well. There's no physical evidence. We all know he did it, but his last win was 8 years ago. The time to challenge it is over. He got away with it.

And regardless of whether the USADA states that Lance Armstrong is to be stripped of his titles or not (so the doper in 2nd would get the yellow jersey instead?), he won. Period. And that's what people will remember of his career. The only thing that he loses out of this in reality is the ability to compete in sanctioned mountain bike races and in masters' triathlons. Big deal.

Monday, June 11, 2012

WWDC Aftermath

So how did I do?

Well, of course I got iOS 6. That was a bunny. I was right on July for Mac OS 10.8, too. And on dictation support.

Maps, Siri, and multiple signatures in iOS 6? Nailed 'em all.

Resolution independence? To be seen as iOS 6 matures and as the sessions go this week. Still expecting it.

New Macs? Yep, the whole laptop line was replaced. The new "super retina MacBook Pro" is sweet. Update to the Mac Pro? They did it, but it's meh. Slightly faster RAM and improved processors. No USB3, no Thunderbolt. And they did away with the RAID card option, it appears. Not pleased.

As for other things, we got a new Airport Express with dual-band support and 2 Ethernet ports, and a few new accessories. One of my better picking sessions. Expect Ivy Bridge iMacs and minis quietly in the next week or so.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WWDC 2012 predictions (early)

So I'm not going to pay attention to the last-minute rumors this year because of my vacation plans (do I really want to do Apple tea-leaf reading while I'm on vacation? I don't think so...). And next week is a holiday week. So here, about two weeks early, is my series of predictions for WWDC 2012, with percentages and explanations:

iOS 6: 100%. Apple now unveils developer editions of the newest iThing OS at WWDC. Period (with rare exceptions if needed for a new category of device). iOS 6 is due in the annual upgrades, and will be released to developers that week, with shipping due in September-October mainly dependent on any new device announcements. If there is no fall iPhone, they'll just release it when it's ready.

Mountain Lion (Mac OS 10.8) release plans: 95%. I'm pretty sure that Mountain Lion will be released in late July, and they'll announce it that day. Also dropping will be a few new "one more thing" features, most likely dictation support.

Newer Macs: 75%. Apple is due to release newer iMacs and laptops any day now. Also likely to introduce at least one more "Mac Pro"-series machine. The timing would be right, but Apple's mainly stayed away from WWDC hardware announcements in recent years. My only hope is that they don't wait for Mountain Lion to release first - most users want new computers with the tried-and-tested version of the OS, and we already got screwed last year when Thunderbolt-based minis were released with Lion Server instead of good old Snow Leopard.

Features of iOS 6:

More resolution independence: 95%. I think Apple will put the tools in place with iOS 6 so that they won't have developers too off guard if they go with the taller form factor iPhone that is rumored. Will they make a big deal of it? Nope. They'll be cryptic.

Google Maps replaced as default mapping engine: 100%. Adios, Google. It was nice having you so integrated into iOS, but Apple doesn't like you anymore. Heck, I use Bing as my default engine now (yes, I know Google owns Blogspot).

Partial opening of Siri APIs: 75%. I think they will create a mechanism to integrate with Siri, but approve connections. It won't open up entirely.

Multiple signature support in Mail: 90%. One of the few gaps in iOS Mail today.

Support for different default system apps (like Mail, Calendar, Contacts): 10% (at best). Apple may allow you to use your own product, but you aren't getting the keys to the kingdom.

I may tweak this post a little in the next couple of days, but basically that's it: WWDC is for developers - it's not a product expo. This is inside baseball-type stuff.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Greenpeace - looks like stupid works?

First of all, I'm not writing this because I make much of my living from supporting Apple products. Let that be clear!

Now, on to the main event... Greenpeace is staging protests in North Carolina targeted at Duke Energy - and using Apple as the focal point of their protests. Their theme is "Apple, clean the cloud". This refers to the fact that Apple's main iCloud data center is located in Maiden, NC (they've started building a second one in Prineville, OR, right next to Facebook's data center there). They've even succeeded in muddying the waters a little, based on the coverage of their latest protest when they blocked a coal train and had several people arrested.

But it's basically BS. Apple doesn't take deliveries of coal (unlike what the story said). Apple (and for that matter, anyone who operates a large data center) builds their data centers based on a few easy criteria. Available cheap land, local governments that will let you build, proximity to carrier fiber backbones (usually run down rail lines and interstate highways), and availability of labor. They don't build power plants, and they don't have any say in who does.

Not to mention in the case of Apple, they've been investing in solar arrays and Bloom Box fuel cells to provide much of their power. Is it Apple's fault that Duke Energy operates a lot of coal plants? Hell no! Would Apple be happy if Duke used some wind turbines? Hell yeah!

But to muddy the waters by using the customer who has no choice in the matter as to where to buy their power and equating them with the power company? I support the efforts of environmental groups to help us fix what we've done to our climate. I want to see emissions reduced. I'm even OK with a wind turbine here in Salem (as I said when I was running for office). But Greenpeace likes to use strategies and stunts that detract from the good work they do perform - and that kind of grandstanding I can't support. Apple's not the first company they've targeted this way, and it annoys me when they do. Greenpeace, sorry - but you're off our donations list for the foreseeable future. Get real, and you'l get us back.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why I will (probably) be a movie pirate

OK, here's the scoop. I'm really looking forward to The Avengers. I mean, highlight of the summer movie season, willing to go to a theater for it-level. Which I don't normally do. I watched the two Iron Man movies, and they were a blast. But I hadn't been big on the Marvel franchise in general. But now that Avengers looks so butt-kicking, I decided I need to watch the other three films in the canon over the next few weeks.

I watched Thor in late March and really liked it. So now that leaves me with the second Hulk film (the first one was pre-modern Marvel canon), and Captain America. After I watched Thor, I flipped through iTunes and thought about renting Captain America right then and there. But not having any idea when I could watch it, I decided to hold off on the rental until I knew I'd be able to watch it. This was going to be the weekend.

So yesterday I check the rental, and it's now out of rental window and only available for purchase. Sorry, not going to happen. Here's the problem to me. I don't want to own a digital copy of Captain America forever and ever. I'd really like to watch it, and I have no problem paying $4-$5 for the privilege of doing so. $20 for a forever copy, though, not gonna happen. So the oddities of the studio licensing systems (it's not iTunes' fault) are trying to push me to find an illegal source for the movie so I can watch it before I go to a theater to see the next film in the series. How does this help the movie studios?

Look, it should just be simple. You open a movie in the theater. It runs however long it runs. It then goes into a short window when you can buy it on disk or digital - about a month or so at most - and that way you can monetize the folks who either want to own it or can't wait to rent it. Then you go rental (digital and disc), and then a month or so after that you let Netflix and the other "free" streaming services have it. Plus then the TV channels can get it. Simple, effective, maximizes revenue, and as a result should cut down piracy.

Hollywood, I'd like to pay you to see Captain America this weekend. You don't seem to want my money, though.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

iPad (3)

So I have a Nuevo iPad in my home. Nice device. Here, after about 2 weeks, is my initial take on it:

  • The feel is essentially identical. Even though it weighs a little bit more, I haven't really noticed.
  • The new Retina screen? Amazing. Today, I worked on an iPad 3 and a original iPad side-by-side while doing a customer upgrade. I started on the new one. When I then went to the old one, it seemed blurry and fuzzy by comparison. Two weeks ago, that display looked state-of-the-art. That says it all in that area.
  • I haven't been on LTE that much. The signal is kinda weak anywhere in Salem but the downtown. I was using it Monday night at a School Committee meeting, though, and it is just as fast as advertised. A few days prior I was at another school for a meeting with it, in a pocket of known bad reception. All I could get there, a half-mile away from where I had great LTE, was a weak 3G signal at best. YMMV.
  • Yep, it runs a wee bit warmer in the back. You can feel it, though barely - it hasn't been warm enough to cause any discomfort. I've played games for at most about a half-hour at a stretch so far. Might warm up more if I played longer, but indications are not so much.
  • Battery life is about the same. But charging time is longer. I'm kind of a battery anxiety kind of guy, so I worry about that. Charging time is longer. As a result, I leave it plugged in whenever I'm not using it, pretty much.
  • Related - you could leave your iPad connected to a regular iPhone power brick before and it would charge OK so long as the screen was off. Not so much now with the new model.
  • The extra 512MB of RAM really helps, especially when swapping apps or tabbing web pages. Way less reloading/relaunching.
In all, a great device. If you have an iPad 1, you likely want one of these. If you have a 2, it's iffy (if you read a lot on it, that's the tiebreaker). If you don't have a tablet and want one, getting anything other than a Nuevo iPad is just trying to make a political point.

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