The X-Factor: Why Apple Succeeds where Others Fail

I’ve spent the weekend with Apple’s new MacBook Pro Retina, as well as the newly updated MacBook Air. While working on these remarkable devices, I had an epiphany. Apple doesn’t engineer extraordinary technology to make money. No. Apple makes money so they can build extraordinary technology. Therein lies the essence of the difference.

Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Microsoft, Asus, GOOGLE, you need to figure this out. You’re focused on bottom lines, pleasing shareholders, etc., and it shows in your product offerings. Your most interesting products are copies of Apple products. Even when done exceptionally well, they are still just copies. From so called “UltraBooks” to Microsoft’s “Surface,” to pick your flavor of Android phone, you are following the leader and you need to look past the leader. That doesn’t just mean tacking on a kickstand, a keyboard cover, and growing the screen.

You need to stop where you are, and go out and look for new engineers. During the interview process you need to probe. If that person does not at some point say, “I don’t work to live, I live to work,” he or she isn’t the person you’re looking for. You want people who find non-traditional solutions to traditionally daunting problems. If you don’t find such people, Apple will go on eating your lunch forever, because this intangible attitude, this innate “Jobsian” pattern of behavior, now seems to be part of Apple’s DNA. Think of it. You might be dealing with thousands of people, at every level,  conditioned to think like Steve Jobs.

I was dead set against it. I wasn’t going to sell my existing MacBook Pro and opt for the new MacBook Pro Retina. Hereinafter “MBPR,” but the minute I got my hands on one, it was love at first sight. Or was it touch? I don’t know. It’s all a blur.  After spending some time with it, I started calling around looking for one. I finally located one at the Pasadena Apple Store . Why did I have this reaction? It is because I viscerally sense the intangible factor I just described above.

Call it Apple’s X-Factor if you will, but know that you cannot copy it. You must evolve your own. When you mimic Apple, it’s obvious. When a Japanese auto maker produces a BMW or Mercedes look alike, it’s obvious and it is understood to be a knock off, a cheaper copy of the actual object of desire.

I know that it is difficult. I know that you ask yourselves, “Gee, what else can we do but try to make our devices thinner, or prettier than Apple’s, after all a computer is a computer.” This is the mindset you need to root out. Find the Howard Roarks of hardware engineering. Find the Hank Reardens of software engineering. If you know those names, you’re probably ahead of your competitors. Start off by telling your engineers, “There is no Apple. Start from here with the technology we have. Ask yourself what should this technology evolve into? Stay away from news about Apple, Inc. Indulge yourselves.”

When I started typing, this was not the message I intended to deliver. I was going to write my own review of the MBPR, but it was the silence from the computer, the phenomenal Retina Display, the feel of the keyboard, the essence, the incorporeal vibe of the machine, that took over my thoughts. I was starting to wonder if I held my hands just above the keyboard and closed my eyes, could I feel the minds of those who collaborated to create yet another masterpiece from Apple.

I was also working on configuring a few Lenovo notebooks for a client. Each was a decent computer that you could get your work done on. Each cost literally less than $600. Each was as inspiring as a box of cat litter. Then I would return to working on my client’s MacBook Air, or the MBPR, and it was such a striking contrast that I began to comprehend more than ever why Apple succeeds and others do not. It’s the X-Factor.

It’s the thing that makes me chuckle when I hear that CISCO, a router company, thinks they’re going to move into consumer technology, make a tablet or something. You know almost instinctively that they are going to fail because they aren’t doing it out of pure love of the opportunity. They aren’t doing it because this is the reason they exist. They’re doing it because they think they can make some money.

Charles F. Kettering said, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” I submit that Apple’s competitors simply don’t expect much of themselves.

What Will Mac Pro 2013 Look Like

So Tim Cook, (Apple CEO) promised so called “pro” users something to look forward to later in 2013. I’ve been thinking about why that might be and my guess is that it won’t be the box pro users are thinking of. The old Mac Pro is a throwback to the past when you needed a big box with expansion ports, memory slots, giant fans, monstrous and monstrous power supplies.

Those days are over.

To get an idea what the new Mac Pro might be like you don’t have to look any further than the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

I believe that rather than create something that is just the opposite of their direction everywhere else, Apple will stick with their new modus operandi. A new Mac Pro will be a box, but a much, much smaller one. It will come in configurations of 32, 64, or 128GB of RAM. That RAM will be soldered to the system board. It will have an option of one, maybe two internal SSD drives for a little over 1.5 Terabytes of internal storage. No SATA. It will have the most current graphics card available. The graphics card on the new iMac is already better than anything in the existing MacPro line. It will have the fastest multicore Intel Xeon processors available. It will also have lots of ThunderBolt ports probably 4 and at least one FireWire 800, one Gigabit Ethernet Port. There won’t be any PCI slots internal to the machine, the clear message being Thunderbolt, ThunderBolt, Thunderbolt.

I expect this all to fit in something the size of an XBOX 360. Or better year, I like it to be in a glistening black cube, with a hologram of Steve Jobs on the side.

The Pro “community” will react poorly, creating petitions, and whining, etc., instead of thinking about how to use the new machines. ( Just as they have this time. )

They will whine about storage:
Answer – 12Terabytes of RAID storage as fast and faster than their existing RAID systems can be had for around $1500.

They will whine about memory being soldered on the system board.
Answer – The amount of RAM on my imaginary Mac Pro in increments of 32, 64 and 128GB is more than enough. All they have now is 64GB.

They will whine about what to do with their existing RAID systems.
Answer – If you don’t want to go to Thunderbolt, you can get a Magma ExpressBox 3T allowing you to connect your PCI cards to an external chassis, and then to Thunderbolt of course.

http://www.magma.com/thunderbolt.asp

Some will ask about being in an Xsan.
Answer – Both ATTO and Promise make Fibrechannel to Thunderbolt devices allowing you to connect not just my imaginary Mac Pro to fibrechannel sans, but current iMacs and yes, MacBook Pros.

So be prepared for a REALLY all new Mac Pro. One that is as closed as the new MacBook Pro Retina. Expect the most whining to come from the “pros” who need the big box mostly to feel like pros.

Convergence Never Happened… What Did?

During Apple’s Q2 2012 Conference Call, Apple disclosed that it had once again done far better than most industry analysts expected. Apple’s stock soared in after hours trading climbing from a closing point of $560 to over $600 per share, before 02:30PM PST.

During the conference call Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said something that caught my attention. “…Anything can be forced to converge… You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the userTo ‘converge’ iPad and MacBook Air, would lead to too many tradeoffs. We’re not going there. We’ll do both; making each the best they can be…”

Mr. Cook’s statements struck me as being very Steve Jobs in nature, causing me to believe he may be even better programmed by Jobs than I had previously suspected. The statement also reminded me of a period, not too many years ago, when the technology industry was extremely excited about “convergence.

The word was used, overused, abused, and misused ad nauseam. Sort of the way “sustainable” or “racism” is used today. If the word had any actual meaning, it was lost in broad and continuous misapplication. Ask any two marketing professionals what convergence meant, and you’d get two very different explanations. Everything from the decline of “old media” and the emergence of “new media,” to the merging of computers and television. Some old timers still go on about the quaint and obscure idea of “Interactive Television and convergence.” Ask any two technologists about convergence and you’d likely have gotten a frown, a snicker, or a deep sigh.

Arstechnica.com states: “Convergence refers to a trend where some technologies having distinct functionalities evolve to technologies that overlap, i.e. multiple products come together to form one product, with the advantages each initial component.

Huh?

Wikipedia.com states: “Technological convergence is the tendency for different technological systems to evolve toward performing similar tasks. Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications), and video that now share resources and interact with each other synergistically.

Hmmm…

I have one old computer science professor that says, “Convergence occurs when you mix different types of media on the same cable. Data, voice, and video.”  When I point out that it’s all just bits as far as the cable is concerned, he gets a dazed look.

Technology professionals understand that talking about television merging with computers is like talking about the horse merging with the automobile, vinyl records merging with CDs, or toasters merging with refrigerators. It seldom makes sense. It seldom makes things better. You can add a web browser to a cable set-top box, but it doesn’t improve the experience of television, nor does it make the set-top box a better computer.

Instead of convergence, what drives extreme change is that functionality previously handled by one technology is shifted to and absorbed by a newer more powerful, more flexible technology. The phrase that best fits is revolution. The new technology is better, so much so that there is actually divergence from the old technology and migration to the new technology, not convergence.

Consider the smartphone. Prior to the advent of the iPhone there were a smattering of devices called smartphones. These were cellphones with a few extra abilities typically so useless and difficult to master that the abilities went unused. We were seriously thrilled if we could keep our contacts and calendars in sync. Then Apple introduced the iPhone, and revolutionized the smartphone category.

“Smartphone” is an unfortunate name because it does a poor job of describing exactly what the iPhone (and copycat products) are. In fact they are small always on, always connected computers that happen to have a telephone incorporated. Some people will argue that this is an example of convergence. In reality the computer, a more powerful, more flexible technology than the mobile phone, has absorbed the telephony function.

The iPhone introduction was a black swan event. It was so much of a revolution that companies previously at the top of the mobile device category have since found themselves pushed into financial instability and technological irrelevance by the iPhone, for example Nokia and RIM/Blackberry. Other companies completely revised product and service directions in response to the iPhone, for example Google and Microsoft.

Since those early days of “convergence euphoria” very little convergence has happened at all. What has happened is the explosive growth of the Internet and personal computers, especially where different forms of media creation and consumption are concerned.

Some people like to talk about “new media” vs. “old media.” This actually makes no more sense than convergence. There is no new media vs. old media. Moving images are still moving images. Audio is still audio. Text is still text. What has changed is how that content is generated and deployed. When we talk about ongoing radical changes in content delivery, we are not talking about technology mergers, we are talking about the overthrow of conventional methodologies. AKA, revolution.

You will sometimes hear the phrase “democratization” used in relation to technology changes. Revolutionary technology didn’t just change the methods of media creation and consumption, it also greatly widened the door of who can create and consume media. Note that “who,” in this case, encompasses where, how and why. For example, Joe the mechanic can make a video about his Porsche expertise, edit it, and upload it to Youtube, where it can be seen by millions, all from his garage, using his iPhone. The changes that allow Joe to do this are not the result of convergence, they are the result of emergence. As new, more powerful, more flexible technologies emerge, barriers are broken and new users of those technologies emerge as well.

Back in the day when I would groan about the word “convergence” I would insist that there is one technology that is going to usurp all the others. If you take a look at all the existing forms of content delivery, they are all currently shifting to a single powerful technology, namely The Internet.

Television, radio, movies, telecommunications, libraries, magazines, and books are all moving to what we now collectively refer to as “the cloud.” (While there are very specific and technical definitions for what constitutes “a cloud,” we can forget enforcing them. The word is part of the mainstream vernacular now. It will never return to a precise meaning.)

As an example of revolution vs. convergence, consider the music industry. The music industry has all but been obliterated and re-conceived due to the Internet. Who still actually purchase sCDs?  When is the last time you were in a record store? What is a record label? Does anyone care? Who actually listens to top 40 radio anymore? Most of the younger people who purchase music buy it online, if they buy it at all, and they are increasingly buying it directly from the artists online, eliminating the bloated record label infrastructure of the 20th century.

They are extracting music from YouTube videos. They discover new music via friends and social media. Some use services like Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud.  Sure there are purists, and one can easily argue that nothing looks or sounds as good as a well made turntable, but that’s a very small slice of the music buying public.

Television is also being revolutionized by the Internet. In response, much of the television industry is clinging to an archaic business model, literally refusing to innovate, and instead attempting to shield their largely mediocre content from the choice dictated world of The Internet.

Well good luck with that. Welcome to the always on, always connected era. If you restrict your content to a specific hour on a specific night, viewable only via pay for TV providers, guess what? Fewer and fewer people will see it. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. (Sorry, couldn’t resist R.I.P Gill Scott Herron.)

It is well documented that children are now growing up without television. At least television as it has been known. They watch Youtube, Vimeo, all sorts of video services, including conventional television content made available on the Internet. They play games, they even, (gasp!) read. The functions previously provided by broadcast television are being replaced by the Internet. Kids can tell you where to find content, whether it’s on HULU, NetFLIX, iTUNES or Youtube, but if you ask them on which television network to find “A Person of Interest” for example, they have no idea, if they even know the program exists. Television networks are as relevant to kids as music labels.

Furthering the shift even more, HULU, NetFLIX, and Youtube as well as many others are starting to experiment with original programming. New business models are being experimented with. I often wonder why CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, etc. haven’t created iCBS, iABC, iNBC, and iFOX? Why are they not experimenting with original content for the Internet? Why are they not making it very simple to find all of their content online for viewing? Instead we are presented with half hearted efforts.

Presumably due to byzantine licensing requirements, utterly irrational conditions like being able to watch content on my computer, but not on my iPad sitting right next to it exist. Instead of making all content available, their various websites typically offer a prosaic brochure of their banal programming.  Is it because they have the same old washed up over paid executives running the networks? Come on TV people, evolve! Bang the rocks together!

A growing number of people are doing what is known as “cutting the cable.” I.e. they are dumping their pay TV services and opting for the Internet only. These are not just young people, and not just people trying to save money. I recently dumped my pay TV service  after accepting that I was paying for a service that was off most of the time.

I was paying approximately $150 per month for cable television and Internet service. When I cut out the television portion, I was able to use the difference to boost my in home Internet service to 50Mb/s down and get a 4G/LTE Personal Hotspot with 5GB/month data cap. So by getting rid of hundreds of channels of crap, I can afford among the fastest Internet speeds available in The United States both at home and while mobile. My consumption of media has completely shifted to new technologies, most notably The Internet. For a growing number of us, television is dead, long live the Internet.

Having the Internet much more suits my preferences and lifestyle. I like science fiction, science documentaries, and spy thrillers, that sort of thing. I despise reality TV, and I have no interest whatsoever in professional wrestling. Why pay for all that bilge? Instead I watch what I want, when I want, where I want, and how I want. This is paradigm shift. This is the mindset kids are now growing up with. The idea of gathering in the living room to watch TV at a certain time is fading.

If that isn’t enough to rock the TV Industry, a growing number of people are attaching ipTV boxes to their televisions, such as ROKU and AppleTV. These devices allow you to watch content from services such as NetfFlix or Hulu on your large flat screen TV. In addition, the functionality offered by ipTV boxes will be built directly into most new televisions. It’s already started. Many models of televisions from numerous manufacturers have built in ipTV capabilities, and everyone is waiting with baited breath for Apple’s entry into this market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new product from some vendor that only received content from the Internet. I.e. no TV receiver or coax connection. Just an HD monitor with HDMI inputs.

It’s not just music and TV. Clearly other forms of conventional content distribution such as newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and spoken word are also shifting to the Internet, and again, there is no convergence, no “new media” just a shift to the Internet.

If there is a new media form on the Internet, it is most likely social media. The Internet is now the chief medium that people from all over the world use to communicate on a daily basis. Through social media, we actually do, “keep in touch.”

Critics of social media say that it is no replacement for true human contact, and that is absolutely true, but social media doesn’t attempt to do that. What social media does is maintain some form of contact where if it did not exist, there would be none.

With FaceBook I see a constant stream of information from old friends that I’d lost contact with simply because of the way life works. I know that one has become an insanely great photographer, especially of horses. Others have started businesses and families. One has become a beekeeper and sells her own honey. No, this is no substitute for sitting down and having a drink with these people, but it’s better than nothing, which is what life normally leaves you with. So while some scoff, I submit the Internet is bringing us closer, actually keeping us connected.

I’m self employed. I live and work out of a loft in Downtown Los Angeles. On most days my commute is from bed to the sink to make coffee, and to my desk. It is possible for me to go weeks without seeing anyone I actually know. Most of my communications with  friends, associates, and clients are electronic. Were it not for the Internet, my lifestyle would not be possible. One of the things I miss however, is work chatter.

Twitter has taken the place of the proverbial water cooler for me. While I keep track of friends with Facebook, I monitor ideas with Twitter and for that matter Google+. Using Twitter and Google+, I follow people I wish I knew. I monitor the fleeting thoughts and notifications of people I consider to be important to my career and my view of the world. I follow people I find interesting. Twitter is the ultimate water cooler, and actually the ultimate news aggregator.

Social media isn’t completely new. There were of course the bulletin board systems, chat rooms, and message boards of the past, but they never reached the level of general acceptance that systems such as Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram have. People are using these new systems not just as a new form of telecommunications, but as a method of documenting and sharing their daily lives.

Back to Apple.

If you’ve followed our favorite tech company over the years, you might’ve noticed something. Apple tends to periodically create technology revolutions. When they approach a product, they don’t look for someway to mash technologies together, or converge them. They look at the existing technology and determine that there is room for something newer, more powerful, and more flexible.

Apple’s run to the top of their game started with the introduction of the iPod. With the iPod Apple leveraged a new technology for music distribution. iTunes.

Recognizing that demand for mobile access to the “real” Internet with a full blown hand held computer was rising, brought about the iPhone.

Their most recent revolution, the iPad, is not a result of convergence, but a desire to create a device that allows people to do most of the daily things they do on the Internet in a better way than conventional computers previously allowed.

Each of these new technologies offered a newer, more powerful, more flexible way to use the Internet. This is one reason to believe that the next new innovation from Apple will be the much rumored Apple Television. In order for a new television to succeed, it’s going to have to provide an advanced and highly compelling new human interface as well as overcome the stagnant television industry business models discussed earlier. This new television is going to have to be more powerful and flexible, leverage the heck out of the Internet, and absorb the functions previously handled by conventional televisions. It will likely be a computer first, but offer a paradigm shift for gathering content from around the Internet. I’m betting it will be smart enough to simply say, “Record Entire Season of Person of Interest” to and it will do it, without you worrying about what network it’s on. The only question that remains is will CBS be smart enough to allow it to do so?

Evolution vs. Revoluiton

Under the reign of Steve Jobs, Apple would create a great deal of media glitz surrounding product announcements. Steve Jobs was unsurpassed at providing the magic of those product announcements. Steve had that certain something, a presence that made people giddy. Steve could announce evolutions and make the audience feel like they were revolutions. His was a combination of talent and honed skill.

Apple continues to make a big deal out of evolutions. Unfortunately the expectation has been set that every announcement will be a revolution, and without the great wielder of the reality distortion field, people are seeing the announcements for what they are. Updates!

There is nothing wrong with updates. There is nothing wrong with evolution. It’s the way things are supposed to work. The problem is, with the wild rumor mill, the constant attention from the media, and the expectations set by a past series of revolutions, people are disappointed, even with darn good evolutions.

The Mac was revolutionary. Every Mac since then has represented an evolution. OS X was a revolutionary product. Every update since then has been an evolution. The iPod was revolutionary. Every update since then has been a evolution. The same is true of the iPhone and the iPad. One could argue that the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch represent branches on the same mobile device evolutionary tree.

Long time users of Apple products understand this, particularly professionals. New users of Apple products haven’t figured it out yet. Moving to Apple was a revolution in and of itself for them. Now they expect that every single product will be a revolution. This isn’t going to happen. It can’t!

Evolution means bigger or smaller, cheaper, more features for the same price, etc. Sometimes it means tradeoffs and compromise. A higher resolution screen might mean faster battery consumption, etc. The point is, evolution doesn’t mean a complete reimagining. Product evolution is the same as biological evolution. It is change across generations. Updates can be looked at as mutations. Sometimes the updates are great and they make the product stronger, more fit. Sometimes they aren’t so great and they need to evolve further or be dropped all together.

One thing Apple is very good at is providing changes that make sense, when they make sense. Apple make look at something like 4G and decide now is not the time for that single evolutionary change or they might look at it and decide that all things considered, 4G makes the overall product better. Other vendors aren’t as good at this as Apple. Some slap together all available technology into a product and say, “Here’s our offering! It has more features than the comparable Apple device!” One can put fins on a Ferrari also, but that doesn’t make it better.

I personally believe Apple also holds back features that they fully intend to integrate at some point. This is a business decision. If you can project great sales on the iPhone 4s without 4G, for example, it’s smarter to hold it for a subsequent generation to add more value to that evolution.

When the iPhone 4s was introduced, people who understood the technology recognized it for what it was, a significant set of evolutionary changes to an already revolutionary product. The original iPhone was the revolution. The 4s was simply a better iPhone.  Much better than any previous iPhone actually. Nonetheless there were many who were so enveloped in the reality distortion field that they were even upset by the fact the product wasn’t named “iPhone 5.” As an associate of mine put it, “This isn’t about technology, this is about fashion. If someone can’t look at my phone and tell I have the newest and greatest just by looking at it, the phone sucks!” I strongly suggested that she’d be happier with an Android device. Lots of fins.

Now here we are again with the new iPad. While most tech people get it, there are those who feel the product isn’t revolutionary. The new iPad has a solid set of upgrades. It is the highest quality iPad one can purchase, and provides the best iPad experience overall. The new iPad coupled with Apple’s ecosystem, is still lightyears ahead of comparable offerings from competitors, and the iPad is likely to remain the tablet of choice for at least 75% of those interested in such a device.

The new iPad isn’t for everyone though. People who appreciate the higher resolution graphics, people who are still using the original iPad, people who want and need 4G, are examples of those who will likely purchase the new iPad. People who are happy with their iPad 2s are far less likely because the new iPad is less of an evolutionary shift from the iPad 2 than it is from the first iPad, and this is how things should be.

So what can Apple do to control the lunacy surrounding every product announcement? One thing is make it clear that these are updates. I believe this is the primary reason the newest iPad is simply called “iPad” and not “iPad 3.” This helps to keep people from expecting huge changes as opposed to rational evolutions.

I also would like to see Apple dispense with the glitzy shows. They produce a great deal of excitement, that is often not warranted. The personality that the cult grew up around is gone. Tim Cook might be a genius and may prove to be a great CEO overtime, but for the moment, the pale imitation of Steve Jobs reminds me of when Michael Eisner started introducing the Sunday night Disney program on ABC. I just kept thinking, “You’re not Walt. You don’t belong there.”

Apple has to become the personality itself. It can no longer revolve around an actual person. Apple should become an amorphous entity that produces magical products on schedule. When those products are ready, there is no need to fly the journalistic faithful to Northern California to lead the cheers. Instead, create more of those great videos and make them even more substantive. Show us more people using products in business and their personal lives. Send statements to developers on the day that the website changes, and let Apple take center on a virtual stage.

I would however find a voice. Preferably younger and preferably female. Think Natalie Morris or someone with a British accent.  The voice should be the voice of Apple. I’m sorry, it’s just not Tim. The parade of middle aged white guys doesn’t appeal to the youth market either.

Finally, only hold those press conferences for the revolutions. That way when Apple sends out those notices to the “journalists,” we know whatever is coming is going to be special, and that we haven’t seen it before. I suspect the next one should be the actual Apple Television.

We are expecting new MacBooks this year. No need to do a show for that, just create beautiful online presentations and videos that we can download and study. Same for any new Macs, OS X, or any existing product really. We know how great they are, and we are capable of analyzing the evolution.

THE NEW IPAD

The newest iPad, referred to by Apple as simply “New iPad” was introduced on March 7, 2012. There is no number in the name. People were expecting the device to be called iPad 3, but apple only refers to it as the new iPad. I suspect this is after observing the ridiculously bizarre reactions of some people when the latest iPhone upgrade, a rather substantial upgrade, was scoffed at by said people because it wasn’t called the “iPhone 5.”

Not all Apple aficionados are intelligent. Some are simply mindless fashionistas. Apple correctly assumes that adding a number to identify a product confuses these people. Just calling it “New” is easier to understand, and Apple is all about easy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to introduce the new iPad at the March 7 event. We learned that the new iPad equation is DISPLAY + QUAD CORE GRAPHICS + BATTERY + iSIGHT + 4G. This added up to a very nice set of improvements so there was no doubt that the new iPad would generate excitement. I attempted to order my WiFi only model the moment the presentation was over. The Apple Store seemed to buckle under the demand, but like Atlas on bended knee, it eventually rose and started taking orders.

The first online orders promised a delivery date of March 16, though once again, the supply was not quite able to meet the ever present demand for a new Apple product. The delivery date quickly slipped to March 19 for later orders, and before the day was over online orders sold out. People subsequently began lining up to purchase from the stores as early as March 15. We began receiving notices that iPads had shipped and as promised, the new iPad began arriving in the hands of customers on March 16.

I live in a loft in a secure building in downtown Los Angels. So delivery people aren’t able to come directly to me. They have to deliver to the guard who texts or emails me when there is a delivery. So on March 16th I was watching the FEX EX tracking page and waiting for my text. Needless to say I was disappointed when the FED EX tracking page suddenly said that there was a problem delivering, that the “office was closed.” Apparently he delivered at precisely the moment the guard needed to use the restroom.

Luckily I was able to pick up my iPad at a nearby FED EX depot. It was entertaining as the FED EX people were making fun of all of us “iPad people” who were there because we missed our deliveries. Once I got the iPad home, I poured a glass of wine and began to explore.

Looks

The new iPad looks exactly the same as the previous iPad. It’s approximately one millimeter thicker. If they’re turned off it’s difficult to tell them apart without extremely close examination. This changes however, once you turn them on.

With the new iPad what’s important is what’s packed inside, and Apple hasn’t disappointed. Once again they’ve provided us with a significant evolution of an already revolutionary product. It is a more substantial leap over the iPad 2 than the iPad 2 was over the original. Using it I find the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the upgrades. The most difficult part of writing about this new iPad is that I’m running out of superlatives.

The Display

The first thing I noticed was the outstanding new screen. So much had been said about the new screen, I was almost expecting to get a sense of spiritual euphoria when I saw it. At first glance however, I didn’t see the difference. My appreciation for the new screen came as I began to notice the subtle differences.

The subtlety is in the fact that it’s not what I saw, but what I didn’t see. What is gone is the minute jagged edges in text that we’ve learned to ignore. The blur of anti-aliasing is gone. As you’re reading the crisp quality of text will stand out. The striking clarity of print alone is an unexpectedly pleasing experience. It’s as if the text has been hand painted in smooth strokes as opposed to being formed by pixels. The constant comparison is to printed text, like on the page of a book. This comparison is not an exaggeration.

If you read a page of text with the New iPad then immediately look at the same text on the older iPad 2, the iPad 2’s screen will look slightly blurry. In fact, if you read a page of text and look at the same page on your brand new 27” iMac, the iMac screen will look blurry in comparison.

No one will be able to adequately describe the difference and you won’t be able to see it looking at comparison photos on an existing computer screen. You will need to go into an Apple store and look at the two screens side by side.

The best photos of the difference I’ve found are [ HERE ].

I wear reading glasses, particularly after staring at a screen all day long. When I look at my blog on both the new iPad and the iPad 2, the text is crystal clear on the new iPad, and looking at the older device, I see a weird fuzz around letters that I had previously been unaware of.

Seriously, I cannot do justice to this in words. You cannot recognize the difference until you sit down and see it with your own eyes. Anyone who says there is no difference is wrong, has an ulterior motive for saying so, or is no more observant than a 5 year old jar of Vaseline. Reading iBooks, Kindle books, even freaking e-mail on the new iPad is a pleasure with the new display.

Retina Display” is Apple marketing speak. It is human targeted branding for technology that shrinks pixels and squeezes so many, i.e. packs them so densely into a small space that the human eye is incapable of discerning individual pixels. The display has 263 pixels per diagonal inch. 4 times more pixels than the iPad 2.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you couldn’t discern individual pixels before, so what’s the big deal? Trust me. You could see the pixels before, but your brain, preferring to see smooth organic curves, causes you to ignore the jagged pixels hanging off text. Again, when you see the new iPad side by side with the iPad 2, you’ll understand.

The iPad and iPad 2 have a screen resolution of 1024 x 768. The new Retina Display has a screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, exactly double the resolution of its ancestors. Presumably Apple did this so that previous iPad applications would scale up to the new resolution with no modification. Even iPhone apps that looked jagged and sloppy when pixel doubled on the iPad 2, look very smooth and clear on the new iPad.

The resolution of the new iPad is higher than the resolution of my 17” MacBook Pro. The new iPad has a million more pixels than an HDTV. Hopefully app developers will start tweaking their applications to take advantage of the new resolution. As I write this I’m seeing lots of updates.

You can find a list of cool apps that have already been updated here at TechCrunch in an article by MG Siegler: [ HERE  ]

As of this writing I’ve tried the [ ABC Player, Flipboard, Barefoot World Atlas and Twitter and they all look fantastic. Barefoot World Atlas is very fun.

Sharper text isn’t the only thing you’ll notice with the new screen. Colors are brighter, and more vibrant. High resolution photos are beautiful, much more realistic. There are times, when looking at really high resolution images squeezed down to fit into the iPad’s screen that it’s like looking through a window.

New A5X Chip

I know what you’re thinking now. That’s a helluva lot more pixels than the older iPads. Is this iPad much slower when drawing images? Short answer: No. Not in the least. In order to drive the 3 million plus pixels of the new iPad, Apple upgraded the A5 processor with quad-core graphics. So even with 4 times the pixels of the previous iPads, the speed of the new iPad is still as snappy as ever. Even more so in some cases.  In my personal speed tests, the new iPad was just as fast as the iPad 2, occasionally faster. Some people (think teenagers making youtube videos or bloggers for Gawker media) will consider this a failure. The engineering feat here is that the speed was maintained while driving the greatly enhanced display. The power of the new chip is most evident in 3D Graphics. When benchmarked against the Asus Transformer Prime tablet built on the Nvidia Tegra 3, the iPad’s A5X processor thoroughly trounced the “Transformer Prime.” Optimus will be bummed out.

See Test [ HERE ]

Battery

This time  I surely know what you’re thinking. 3.1 million pixels? 4 times the number of pixels of the older iPads? A faster processor and quad-core graphics? This must mean battery life has suffered tremendously, right? Short answer: No. Not in the least. The new iPad still delivers 10 hours of battery life. Battery life will vary depending on use, however I can confirm that I used the new iPad for the better part of Saturday and I noticed no difference in battery life. Typically, by the end of the day I’m down to 35% battery remaining. The results were essentially the same on the new iPad. I was down to 30%, but you have to consider I was actually playing with the new iPad much more than I normally would.

This might be compared to hitching a half ton trailer to your car, putting a bigger engine in the car so it continues to go as fast, yet using the exact same amount of fuel over the same distance. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Apple didn’t stop there though.

iSight Camera

The general consensus was that the rear facing camera in the iPad 2 just plain sucked.  It was ok for quick shots here and there, but the cameras in the iPhone 4 and 4s were comparably fantastic. When people asked, “Did Apple do that just so the next iPad could easily have an even better camera?” I would change the subject because I didn’t really have an answer on that one.

The new iPad has a rear facing 5 megapixel iSight Camera that shoots fantastic stills and full 1080p HD video. The front facing camera is still a FaceTime camera capable of VGA-quality photos and video up to 30 frames per second. I wish the front facing camera was also an iSight camera because I want to look good in HD when I’m giving up some FaceTime.

The photos and videos from the iSight camera look great. I would like to have seen an 8 megapixel camera there, but I have a hunch as to why that isn’t there yet. It might be more wishful thinking than anything else, but in my humble opinion, the 10” iPad is an awkward device to use as a camera. If Apple were to introduce a smaller iPad, say in the 7” realm, I.e. an iPad that fits in a jacket pocket… hmmm… now that device might be useful as a day to day camera. Such a device would make more sense for an 8 or 10 megapixel iSight camera. Just a thought. More than likely though, Apple sees the iPhone as their camera device and will continue to put the highest quality cameras there. Here’s some sample video I shot outside my building: [ SAMPLE VIDEO ]

4G LTE

If you’re a highly mobile knowledge worker type, you will be thrilled with the 4G LTE network capabilities of the new iPad, that is unless you’re in an area without 4G LTE. If you are, you can still get the speedy 3G HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA speeds. The new iPad supports so many standards it should work almost anywhere. Your results will of course vary due to far more variables than I care to mention here. I’ve seen speeds consistently faster than the average home DSL line. I’ve seen speed (youtube demos) as fast as 20Mb/s on LTE and as low as 3Mb/s on LTE. I’ve read reports of 40Mb/s in San Francisco. Whatever speed you get, using these fast networks will cost you. The new iPad is capable of acting as a mobile hotspot, but chances are, your mobile ISP won’t allow it, unless you pay even more.

Dictation

The new iPad includes the same mobile dictation capabilities found in the iPhone 4S. I love the dictation for text messaging, and when I tested dictating to the notes application on the new iPad, the accuracy was fairly precise. If you’re like me you probably tried older voice recognition software and gave up. You have to try these new incarnations. They are incredible.

To Buy or Not To Buy

The question for many will be do I “need” to upgrade?

“Need” is a highly subjective word.

Once you go down the road of “need” you can apply it to everything. Who “needs” an iPad? Who “needs” an electric can opener? Need is tricky.

In my opinion, the new iPad is a much better iPad than the iPad 2. It is far better than the first iPad. If you are still using the first iPad and you are considering an upgrade, the new iPad is unquestionably a great purchase. If you already have an iPad 2, the decision gets a bit more blurry. The iPad 2 is a fine device and will continue to be so for some time to come. If you’re wallowing in cash though, and you want the latest and greatest, the new iPad will not disappoint.

Throughout the year analysts and pundits droned on about who would deliver an iPad killer. They should have known. Apple has delivered the only tablet on the market better than the iPad 2.

Mac Mini: Sweetest Little Server Ever

Mac Mini

Mac Mini Pint Sized Server Workhorse

Everyone loves the iPhone. iPads are an absolute hit. People are still buying millions of iPods and Macs, particularly Mac portables,  are selling like never before. While this is all great, there is one member of Apple’s family that doesn’t get the attention it so richly deserves. It is quite possibly one of the most useful SOHO or enterprise workgroup products Apple ever produced, while simultaneously being a very powerful home entertainment component.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the Mac Mini. Mac Minis are fantastic little computers, than can fill any number of business requirements.

Let’s say you’ve got an older PC. It’s got a decent monitor, and an ok keyboard. You want to upgrade the computer but you’d like to continue using the monitor and keyboard. In addition you’re considering switching to a Mac. The Mac Mini will work with your existing  keyboard an monitor. There are any number of ways to move your data from the PC to the Mac Mini. You can go as high tech as cloud transfer or as low tech as USB flash drive. Once completed you have a modern intel based dual core system about the size of a stack of 3 or 4 CD cases.

Perhaps you’re a small business considering the switch to Mac, however buying everyone a brand new 27” iMac is a bit expensive this go around. You can extend the life of all those monitors and keyboards by purchasing Mac Minis.

The Mac Mini is a beautiful little unibody workhorse. It’s about the size of a frozen dinner. About as thick as one also. It’s a 1.4 inch thick,  7.7 inch square. It’s got either a 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which makes it faster than the fastest clerical, administrative, or knowledge worker. It weighs less than 3LBS, and has a UNIBODY design.  It’s got a gigabit EtherNet port, FireWire 800, HDMI, Mini displayPort, 4 USB 2.0 ports, an SD card slot, and audio in and out jacks. It can handle up to 8GB of RAM It comes with Mac OS X Snow Leopard or Snow Leopard Server. You can get all of that starting at around $699 for the base 2GB RAM, 320GB hard drive model.

Mac Mini Ports Galore

There are all sorts of situations in which you might buy a Mac Mini as a desktop computer for employees, students, or family members while saving on monitors and keyboards, but my favorite two uses for the Mac Mini are as small business / departmental enterprise servers and home media servers.

I use Mac Minis as servers in all sorts of businesses. When configured with Apple’s OS X Server, I find they comfortably handle as many as 20 clients. With OS X server, those can be Mac or Windows based clients. I’ve installed them as servers in everything from law offices to public relations firms. With the FireWire 800 and USB ports, expanding storage on the Mac Mini takes moments. I tend to run them headless and use Apple’s Remote Desktop from my MacBook Pro or iTeleport from my iPAD 2 to manage them. I’m fond of connecting DROBO units Mac Mini servers for mass storage.

Sample Mac Mini System

Sample Mac Mini Network

A typical Mac Mini SOHO or departmental server might consist of the Mac Mini, two mass storage units, such as a 3TB Drobo Main and an 8TB Drobo Time Machine backup. I often use an external SATA docking station to support drives for external offsite backups. Mac, PC, and iOS clients can connect to the server in any number of ways. Portable Macs and iOS devices can connect via WiFI or 3G/4G for instance. Desktop stationary Macs can be connected wirelessly or take advantage of the higher speeds offered by EtherNet. The Mac Mini, configured with OS X Server, offers an Address Book Server for your shared company contact list, iCal Calendar Server for sharing calendars, Podcast Producer, Wiki Server which can be a valuable in house communication and collaboration facility, Mobile Access Server for secured mobile device access to your server, iChat Server, File Sharing, Mail Services, Web Hosting featuring Apache, Spotlight Server, Client Administration and Directory Services, and Networking and VPN.

A Mac Mini server sells for approximately $1000 with OS X Server already loaded. This is a 2.66GHz Dual 500GB system. No optical drive is included. OS X Server is a powerful UNIX based serve that can easily hold its own against LINUX and especially Windows based servers. Licensing is unlimited, there are no per seat penalties. No sitting around trying to figure out the difference between users and seats and all the nonsense Microsoft puts you through with Windows Server. LINUX proponents will be quick to point out that LINUX can run on just about any old PC that you have lying around and it’s free. This is true but the average SOHO enterprise doesn’t have a LINUX System Administrator hanging around. Constantly having to rely on this person can become expensive. OS X Server provides all the benefits of a LINUX server while simultaneously providing the most comprehensive, elegant, and easy to use point and click interface to server management I’ve ever seen.

If you are not a System Administrator by trade you are likely to need some assistance with initial set up. After that day to day maintenance is relatively simple. My clients tend to continue to rely on me for maintenance, but thanks to Apple it’s about as lucrative as being the Maytag repair man. My management tends to be making sure backups run properly, updates and patches are applied, and creating and deleting usernames, and dealing with the occasional deleted files and lost passwords. The servers tend to run forever with few if any failures. They are annoyingly stable. Excluding any unforeseen (and highly unexpected) hardware failures or mistreatment, this little server should run for years. Good for the client, bad for my checking account. Then again, that’s just the nature of being a Mac consultant. In comparison, once a Windows specialist installs Windows Server and Exchange, they own you.

Speaking of LINUX, one of my clients does run a package that requires LINUX. I literally run LINUX in virtualization with Parallels on the OS X Server to support this. I have other clients that run a package on the desktops called Summation iBlaze. It’s a litigation support/discovery package that seems to have originally been written in DBASE, near as I can tell and still looks like it. Nonetheless it runs in parallels on the desktops and is more than happy to use the Mac Mini as a server. The server portion (for this package) is just file services.

In fact, if for some very strange reason you were so inclined, you could install LINUX directly on the Mac Mini, even create a dual boot system. It would be a bit like replacing the innards of a Porsche with that of a Ford Fiesta, but to each his own.

With a good Internet connection, i.e. Cable, DSL, T1, or Fiber, the office Mac Mini will also serve users working from home. Though I’m encouraging clients to explore external cloud services these days, many are unwilling to trust cloud services, particularly in light of high profiles failures such as the recent  Amazon Cloud crash. Many simply do not trust Google, for instance, to understand the vital importance of privacy over Google’s own advertising goals. Some clients house sensitive data belonging to their own clients and will not risk putting that data in the cloud and there are no assurances I can offer that will change that. So running their own servers becomes the most appropriate solution, and a Mac Mini with sufficient bandwidth allows them to provide their own in house cloud.

Clearly Mac Minis are space efficient. As such I often include a backup server that mirrors the system on the main server just in case something happens to the the main Mac Mini. You can also spread services across multiple Mac Minis so that if one goes down, you don’t lose all of your office services. You can dedicate them to specific tasks such as being a FAX Server, Web Server, or FileMaker Server. You can stuff the whole thing into a cabinet in the office kitchen. No computer room or closet required.

At home I use a Mac Mini that I bought refurbished from Apple as a media server. No special version of OS X is required. I also use a multi-terabyte DROBO as mass storage in this system. The Mac Mini sits on my network. It connects to my 50” Samsung Plasma via an HDMI port. It makes a beautiful monitor actually. Any media that is viewable on a Mac, I can instantly bring up on the plasma. While I could use Front Row for a fancy user interface, I just use the normal Finder to operate the Mac Mini. I control it wirelessly, remotely via my iPad or my MacBook Pro, again using ARD or iTeleport’s VNC app respectively.

My main iTunes library is on the DROBO. I launch iTunes and leave it running on the DROBO. The library is then available to my computers, as well as my iPad 2 and iPhone, all via Home Sharing. It should be noted that much of this can be done with a $100 Apple TV. My issue with the Apple TV 2 (which I have also) is that it is a rental/streaming device only. It will stream content from your iTunes library, but there are other little issues like for some mind bogglingly strange reason it does not allow you access to HULU.

Will someone please for the love of God explain to content people that we, the content consuming public, do not wish to pay for the same content over and over and over. If I subscribe to your service or your magazine or whatever, that subscription should suffice. I want the ability to then enjoy that content where I want, when I want, and how I want. I don’t care if it is on an iPad, laptop, desktop, Apple TV, XBOX 360, Mac Mini, iPhone, what freaking ever. Seriously HULU, there’s a difference between my MacBook Pro, my iPad, and my Apple TV?? Between these idiots, the evil morons at the tier 1 ISPs, and the dimwitted, self interested, duplicitous Congress, we’re going to wind up being charged for every bit that comes across our cable someday, then likely taxed on that charge. Grrrrrrrrr.

Net Neutrality people. NET NEUTRALITY. Figure it out and jump on your representatives. Sorry, I digress.

Anyway, with the Mac Mini acting as Media Server, everything works, including HULU and Blockbuster, and other services that aren’t available to the Apple TV.

Ultimately, with the Mac Mini, you have in your hands a powerful server that can provide the services of an expensive and cumbersome Windows Server, Exchange Server, and/or LINUX Server, at a fraction of the overall cost, especially when you factor in support and maintenance fees. On top of that exploring the Mac Mini as a media server is definitely worth your time.  It even makes a great little computer to replace that rusty old PC with. This is after all the post-Windows-Era.

Apple’s Amazing Quarter

At this point it’s becoming something of a shopworn phrase but last week Apple announced yet another amazing, record breaking quarter. While other computer and electronics companies can no longer seem to find the on button, Apple charges forward. Apple does this, notwithstanding an economy that remains horribly anemic, anemic in no small part, due to the sheer feckless and dawdling policies of those we hired to act as caretakers of our nation.  The Administration is blaming snow.

Also, those of you who insist Apple only succeeds because of Steve Jobs, keep in mind, this is without the constant presence of Steve. The truth should be clear to you by now. Apple, Inc. is a well run organization.

I finally sat down and took a look at the numbers this morning, and wow. I expected another great quarter. What I didn’t expect is just how great.

• Sales: $24.67 billion, up 82.8% year over year – 82.8% over the same quarter last year, and 59% of those sales are international.

• Profits: $5.99 billion, up 95% – And they have $66 billion dollars in the bank. They could buy Netflix with what amounts to couch change for them if they so desired. My guess though is that they are more likely outdo Netflix. Keep watching. Something is about to happen with that shiny new spiffy North Carolina data center, and not just the additional data center Apple is building right next door!

• EPS: $6.40, up 92%

• iPhone: 18.65 million units, up 113% - While other companies keep hanging disjoint bells and whistles on Android phones, the iPhone remains the juggernaut that is defining the industry. Android, as many predicted (as if this made it desirable) is becoming the Windows of the mobile device industry. The SF Chronicle and Bloomberg report “Google’s Android mobile-phone platform faces soaring software attacks and has little control over the applications, according to security firm Kaspersky Lab.” So much for the “Android is open and Apple is closed” argument. The article goes on to quote the CTO of Kaspersky; “…Applications loaded with malicious software are infiltrating the Google operating system at a faster rate than hackers did with personal computers at the same stage in development…” Kaspersky “…identified 70 different types of malware in March, up from two categories in September…”  Rut roh.You know how you constantly hear that Android is overtaking iOS (Apple’s mobile OS)? Well comScore, Inc. reported on Tuesday, April 19  that iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches have a “combined reach of 37.9 million among all mobile devices, outreaching the Android platform by 59%.” One of the interesting things about these numbers is that while iOS devices are 59% more prevalent, the hackers and malicious software freaks are going after Android. This contradicts the theory that Macs remain pretty much malware free due to lower numbers. Evil goes where it has the easiest time, period. Even Microsoft referred to Android as ” insecure and complex.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Somehow while holding a straight face, a Microsoft representative stated that “Windows Phone will eventually succeed in the business market because there is too much malware attacking the Android OS…”

iPhone sales up 155% in the U.S., thanks in part to Verizon, and up 250% in greater China – Is there any doubt why developers continue to flock to iOS as opposed to the fragmented Android mess? It’s because, as Willie Sutton would say, “That’s where the money is.” The number of fart applications on Android does continue to grow though.

• iPad: 4.69 million units, compared with 7.33 million in Q1. – A bit of bad news but it was to be expected. Everyone knew the iPad 2 was coming and Apple just couldn’t make enough iPad 2s‘ to satisfy the “Mother of all Backlogs.”

Mac: 3.76 million units, up 28%. Asia-Pacific Mac sales up 76%. – The Mac is stronger than ever. New iMacs are on the way, and rumors of a design change in MacBook Pros are beginning to circulate.

iPod: 9.02 million units, down 17%. More than 50% iPod touch – Stands to reason. iPods are built into iPads and iPhones. Still iPods being sold are iOS devices.

• iTunes store: Sales of $1.4 billionGet ready for iCloud!?

• Apple stores: 71.1 million visitors, up 50% – There you have it. Why go to trade shows? Every day is a trade show for Apple.

• Store sales: $3.19 billion, up 90%

• Cash and marketable securities: $65.8 billion, up from 59.7 in Q1.

Meanwhile, what’s happening with the rest of the computer industry? Not much except declining sales. HP is down, Dell is down, Acer is down, Lenovo is down, only Apple and Toshiba are up. Nokia just laid off 7000 people.  It would seem that focus, direction, and innovation are a bit more than cranking out prototype copies of Apple products. Just ask Google.

Further Reading:

TechCrunch

Smartphone Privacy Hysteria

The hysteria machine is cranking out FUD on full again this week. Al Franken is jumping up and down trying to show how little he knows about computers, smartphones, and privacy.
In regard to the iPhone storing location data,  “Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said it raises ‘serious privacy concerns,’ especially for children using the devices, because “anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user’s home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend and the trips he has taken — over the past months or even a year…” Wrong, wrong, wrong as usual Al.

Below is an article that appears on the New York Times website at: http://nyti.ms/htzA4h
It does a reasonable job of explaining how location data is captured on smartphones and why such data is important, it does not make it clear though that the data being captured is highly generalized and in addition, when this general data is sent to Apple it is used to refine Apple’s location database not build a user movement profile. In fact the data is sent anonymously. My comments are in italics.

Apple and Google Use Phone Data to Map the World

By MIGUEL HELFT Published: April 25, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — You may not know it, but if you carry a smartphone in your pocket, you are probably doing unpaid work for Apple or Google — and helping them eventually aim more advertising directly at you.

( I would argue that you are not doing unpaid work for Apple and Google. That’s a stretch in and of itself. You are helping to refine the accuracy of a constantly growing global map. This map will in turn be used not only to target location based advertising at you someday, but is currently being used for all sorts of location based services including pointing you to the nearest hospital if need be. )

As those two companies battle for dominance in mobile computing, they have increasingly been using their customers’ phones as sensors to collect data about nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi hot spots.

( True, however they are not collecting data specifically about their customers. They know there is a cell tower at the corner of “1st and Main”. They don’t know that Al is at the corner of 1st and Main. If Al asks his cell phone where the nearest Pizza Hut is, Apple and Google and Skyhook and everyone else has that data, and the information (the nearest Pizza Hut to that cell tower) is sent back to Al. Nothing from or about Al is sent back to Apple.)

Google and Apple use this data to improve the accuracy of everything on the phone that uses location. That includes maps and navigation services, but also advertising aimed at people in a particular spot — a potentially huge business that is just getting off the ground. In fact, the information has become so valuable that the companies have been willing to push the envelope on privacy to collect it.

( Privacy indeed. I give up more privacy when I purchase T-shirts online than when I use location based services on my phone. When I make an online purchase I give up my credit card data, I surrender my name and address, and all of that is stored with the bank. Apple, Google, et. al. store nothing about me. )

“Google envisions a world where even a small business can promote products to consumers nearby on a mobile device,” said Alistair Goodman, chief executive of Placecast, a location-based advertising company here. “That is a massive market.”

( That’s one tiny part of Google’s vision. I think Google’s vision ends with the phrase, “Soylent Green is People!” but I can’t be sure. )

The companies are using the cell tower and hot spot data to build maps of the world, maps that help smartphones quickly pinpoint their locations. Using the signals as navigational beacons is particularly useful in places where GPS satellite signals are weak, like urban areas or anywhere indoors.

( This is true, but it should be made clear that I could hand you my file right now and you would not be able to determine my location. You could get the general area I’m in but that’s it. Even the cell towers aren’t necessarily towers that I have pinged. If I give you my file, you’ve got an approximation of areas I’ve been to, but not the names and/or addresses of locations. )

Shifting allegiances and legal battles in the world of location services suggest competition in this market is heating up.

Apple initially relied on technology from Skyhook Wireless, a company that was a pioneer in the technique of using Wi-Fi hot spots for location. But last year it began collecting its own data as well. And late last year, Skyhook sued Google, charging that Google had copied its technology and persuaded Motorola to break contracts with Skyhook and use Google’s competing service.

Google and Apple have said that they collect the information anonymously and use it to keep their databases of Wi-Fi hot spots up to date, not to track individuals. But because a person’s location is delicate information, the practices have raised privacy fears.

( No. The practices have not raised privacy fears. Misrepresentation in the media, such as headlines that say “Apple is tracking you!” are what is raising privacy fears. )

The use of this data by the companies has been under scrutiny since last week, when two technology researchers reported that a file stored on many iPhones and iPads keeps track of all the locations visited by a user. The file is unencrypted and is copied to people’s personal computers when they sync their devices.

( And this is one big out and out lie. The data does not keep track of specific locations, only generalizations. There are countless buildings, businesses, residences, etc. near where I am right now. Using the data from my phone it is impossible to determine where I actually am. If I search for nearby grocery delivery, using cell tower, wifi hotspot, and GPS data to locate my phone more accurately, Apple will send back known grocery delivery places, however no information is stored with Apple. Nor is the fact that I looked for grocery delivery. Also, this is not new information. Some researchers at O’Reilly are acting like it’s new information, but it’s not. Please see Alex Levinson’s Blog at: http://bit.ly/e21NVr)

[ Recommended Reading: iOS Forensic Analysis - http://amzn.to/gbcmu5 ]

The report prompted lawmakers in the United States to ask Apple for explanations. Several European governments said they would open investigations into Apple’s practices. On Monday, two customers sued Apple accusing it of privacy invasion and computer fraud. They contend the company is secretly recording and storing the location and movement of iPhone and iPad users.

( Of course they did. The moment I read the first headline I knew the class action gold diggers would pounce. )

Late last week, Google said it was collecting information about nearby networks from Android users, though it said that it was not tracking individuals and that it allowed users to decline to participate.

( Soylent Green is People! – I’d trust Apple long before trusting Google. - http://bit.ly/fckGle)

Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, wrote to Google and Apple on Monday asking them to explain their location data collection practices.

Apple has declined to comment on the matter.

( In a world where economic stability seems to be diminishing all around us, where freaking Phd’s can’t find jobs, where [Insert social calamity here], there sure do seem to be lots of politicians and legislators with nothing better to do than chase around Apple and Google. I really wish they cared about Net Neutrality this much. – To be fair, Franken does. )

On Monday, the Web site MacRumors published an e-mail said to be from Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief executive, in which he replied to a person who had said he planned to switch to a Google Android phone because Google did not track him. The reply said: “Oh yes they do. We don’t track anyone. The info circulating around is false.”

( I picture Apple PR people running around screaming ‘OMG! He’s got that iPad again! Quick! Turn off his email!’  I agree with Steve. Apple is one thing. Google is another. )

Apple declined to confirm the authenticity of the e-mail.

Some security specialists said they believed Apple was not tracking people, but rather collecting data to update its location databases, since Wi-Fi networks can quickly come and go. A letter sent from Apple in July to two members of Congress, Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, appears to confirm this and provides the most detailed explanation of the technology.

( And why is this not the end of the story? )

In the letter, Apple said it collects the location data anonymously and only when consumers agree to use its location-based services like maps, or any apps that ask for a user’s location, and for its advertising system, iAds. The company said it began relying on its own databases for location information in 2010. Explaining its need to collect data from its customers’ phones, Apple wrote, “These databases must be updated continuously.”

Security researchers said that they believed that the file with location data stored on iPhones and iPads was meant as a “cache” that would help the device pinpoint its whereabouts faster, and that it could help feed Apple’s giant database of network locations. But they said Apple should have been more diligent about encrypting the file and deleting old data.

( Encryption. Oh please. Here. Take my file. Have a field day. Knock yourself out. )

“I don’t know why they would want to keep all that data on the device,” said Mark Seiden, an information security consultant in Silicon Valley.

( Uh, maybe for SPEED Mr. Security Consultant?  Hmm… if I were a security consultant I would have taken the opportunity to make it clear to the reporter that your cell phone has had the FCC mandated ability to track you since 2001. )

Skyhook began collecting data about Wi-Fi hot spots by sending a fleet of more than 500 cars to drive around the streets of every major city in the United States, Europe and many Asian countries.

“We drove the world,” said Ted Morgan, Skyhook’s chief executive. The company updates the database by sending its cars to remap certain areas and by using phones as sensors when a user requests location data.

Google, which initially collected data on Wi-Fi hot spots with the same fleet of cars that was taking photos for its StreetView service, said it stopped doing so last year after it was found to have collected e-mails and other data streamed through those hot spots. It now collects much of that data and traffic information, through customers’ phones.

Mobile advertising could be a $2.5 billion market by 2015, according to Frost & Sullivan, and ads tied to a location are much more lucrative than other ads. But Mr. Morgan said the location data could be valuable in areas beyond the Internet and mobile phones.

For example, a retailer that has eight outlets in a city could use data about walking patterns to determine where to open its next outlet.

“You are basically getting insight into human behavior that we’ve never had before,” Mr. Morgan said.

Jenna Wortham contributed reporting from New York.

iPad: The Job Killer

Poor Jessie Jackson, Jr.

He didn’t know what he was saying. He probably had no idea of the backlash.  One thing is for sure, he’s now on the list of people who’ve said the most idiotic things possible about the Internet and technology in general. He’s right up there with Al Gore who “took initiative in creating the Internet.” His statement is as infamous as Senator Ted Stevens’s “The Internet is not a big truck… it’s a series of tubes,” and Bon Jovi’s “Steve Jobs killed the music industry.” To that last one I say, “All hail Steve the giant killer!” Unfortunately the music industry is anything but dead.

Anyway, last Friday, Jessie Jackson, Jr., was making a presentation to Congress. It was a typical congressional presentation, one that no one would ever hear, see or think about. He was yammering on and pointing to his silly looking giant cardboard visual aids, when suddenly he went off an a tirade explaining how iPads are costing thousands of jobs.

I know no one was paying attention because I wasn’t paying attention. I was busy looking at LOLCATS and being mystified at the fact that Windows 7 still has config.sys, autoexec.bat, and registry files, and the fact that there really, truly are a lot more raisins in Kellog’s Raisin Bran than other brands. Then suddenly I heard the word “iPad” come from the general direction of the TV, and I glanced up over the top of my glasses. (Yeah yeah, CSPAN entertains me.)

Jessie Jackson, Jr., it seems, had an epiphany. He discovered the “post-Windows-era.” Listening to him, I could almost see him sitting at home one morning, oatmeal dribbling down his chin, blank stare on his face, when it occurs to him, “Gee, if all my publications come electronically, I won’t need books and magazines and stuff, and all those people will be out of work. OMG! The iPad is killing American jobs!”

To be fair he is sort of correct. Electronic publishing is poised to do away with books and magazines, just as smartphones are killing digital cameras, and iPads are having an adverse effect low cost computers. What he was attempting to do (I think) was explain how technology and globalization are crucifying American jobs. What he did was sound foolish.

“… the iPad is produced in China! It’s not produced here in the United States. So the Chinese get to take advantage of our first amendment value, that is to provide freedom of speech through the iPad to the American people but there is no protection for jobs here in America to ensure that the American people are being put to work…”

What?

Clearly or not so clearly actually, Jackson has mastered his father’s ability to make even the simplest of concepts utterly confusing, but he apparently didn’t attend the same Dr. Seuss Speech Academy. Jessie Jackson, Sr. might have said, “The uh, iPad uh, can be had from here to uh, Baghdad, but we are not glad, we are in fact very sad, because there are no jobs to add, and that is bad, not rad, I am your dad, Jessie, you see.”

While Jackson, Jr. might have stumbled onto how new technologies have dramatic effects on the world, (which is a good thing to comprehend), his solution to the hollowing out of the job market is as naive as ever. He suggests that instead of getting America’s deficits and debt under control that Congress should be focused on creating jobs. This makes it clear that he doesn’t see the correlation is between massive government spending and a diminishing job market. The government can tax us, which sucks money out of the economy and eliminates jobs, or the government can print money, which harms future economies.

He states that 13 million unemployed Americans are counting on this congress to do something. Not really. We are not counting on Congress doing anything at all except getting spending under control, and bringing our debt under control, and of course, making sure a level playing field is kept on the Internet via Net Neutrality.

Change is constant and inevitable.  Bookstores may become a thing of the past, like record stores, but publishing, just as with music selling, goes on. Publishers are shifting to an electronic model. New jobs are coming into existence where previously there were none. Ironically, I buy many more books than I used to, and I do it whenever I want. If the urge to go book shopping strikes me at 2:00AM, I can go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Apple’s Book Store, countless smaller electronic publishers, and even free publishers. I can hit all these bookstores 24 x 7 and no fossil fuels are burned and no trees are cut down.

The iPad is a major catalyst of change. This is good change that we must embrace, understand, and nurture, not falsely blame for social ills.

More thoughts on the Post-Windows-Era…

Duh, uh, is this where the mouse goes?

Essentially the post-Windows-era is being brought about by the introduction of inexpensive, highly portable, intelligent devices like the iPad and the iPhone. The success of these devices has literally changed the direction of both the cell phone and computer industries. It’s only been a few years since the introduction of the iPhone and now the term “smartphone” is part of the general vernacular and just about every “smartphone” on the market is a copy of the essential ideas in the iPhone. The iPad is barely a year old and it’s changed the course of the entire computer industry. Every computer company out there is now making an iPad copy. Executives from major computer vendors are speaking as if building these devices was their idea all along, but we know that isn’t true.

One interesting aspect is that the two largely separate industries, cell phones and computers have been brought crashing together as smartphones and tablets become the preferred general purpose computing platforms. Mobile phones are very adept at handling a large percentage of the mundane tasks that used to require a full blown computer such as reading and responding to email, utilizing the web, and other forms of media consumption. In a pinch smartphones can serve as document and content creation devices as well, but larger tablets are much more convenient.

Here is a scenario that is occurring for me right now. I received a call from a client requesting that i convert OUTLOOK.PST files to something that was open and could be read by other email programs. Not a problem but I’m sitting in traffic court.

Luckily I have my iPad. Using the iPad I was able to control my laptop on my desk back at home. I had it download the .PST files and run them through a conversion to create MBOX files. Then transmit those files back to the client. Effectively my laptop became my temporary cloud service. I didn’t do the processing on the iPad, but I controlled everything including all communication from the iPad. I then connected to Freshbooks.com and updated my invoice for the client, which when I send it later today, will be link to a browser viewable invoice as well as a PDF if they want a copy.

All of this and there were no Windows computers involved.

The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) states that 17 million tablets were sold in 2010. Apple sold 15 million iPads so the lion’s share of that number clearly went to iPads. They are projecting that 30 million units will be sold in 2011. Gartner thinks that tablet sales will increase to 54.8 million units in 2011. Apple is expected to dominate the market for the foreseeable future at 75% of tablet sales going to iPads. With the release of the iPad 2, Apple is off to a clear head start as there are still no real competitors for the iPad. Gartner also expects tablet sales to surpass 208 million units in 2014. The iPad/iPhone/iOS ecosystem will still be the one to beat in 2014 the way things are looking. Apple clearly has some fantastic plans in the works for bridging the worlds of Mac OS X and iOS.

An important number to look at in all the projections is that it is expected that more than 25% of all tablet purchases will be made by enterprises in 2011. Most of these will likely be iPads which don’t run Windows. Most of the other tablets will likely run Android and/or WebOS (if HP ever gets it out the door).

In other words, Welcome to the Post-Windows-Era. Employees are gravitating toward these mobile devices, and developing intuition about what the cloud can do for them. I.e. increase their mobility as well as productivity. In the Post-Windows-Era, your files are where you are. Your servers are as ubiquitous as Internet connectivity. Your productivity is tied directly to open standards, not Windows compatibility.

Even Microsoft is busy building patches, kludges, and hanging sacks off the side of Windows so they can call it a tablet OS, but all of these efforts indicate they really don’t get one of the chief ideas behind tablet computing and that’s the elimination of complexity.

Slowly but surely we are drifting away from Windows into the cloud with smart devices and competitive operating systems. Our future is a vastly more sturdy, secure, and adaptable infrastructure. Instead of easily attacked and hobbled homogeneous networks, diversity will add strength to the digital ecosystem as it does the biological one.

Next, what happens to the IT Department in the Post-Windows-Era?