apple

Apple Versus

19 February 16

In all the discussion about Apple’s suddenly radioactive relationship with the FBI, we’ve been hearing how Apple is fighting for privacy versus the war against terrorism. The hyperbole is ramping up fast. Besides the fact that no one even knows if the San Bernardino shooter has any relevant information on his phone at all, there is one very important aspect that hasn’t been touched on: Apple could be dealt a fatal blow by this controversy.

It’s not that Apple is “fighting for user’s rights” or “standing up against the government,” it’s that Apple will not be able to sell a phone that has been compromised by a third party, especially the US government. Would you buy a phone from China knowing that the Chinese Government can access all of the data on it at any time? No. You wouldn’t touch it. So why would a Chinese customer buy an American iPhone that the US government can access? Or a Japanese customer? Or a German, Swedish or French customer?

The US Government wouldn’t even need the seemingly perfunctory court approval for wiretapping that they use in the US. International iPhone users do not have constitutional rights. Any phone owned by a non-American citizen could be essentially controlled by the US Government. The contents could be downloaded, their location tracked, their conversations listened to and their behavior logged.

That is a phone no one would buy, and Apple’s iPhone sales would sink like a stone until it hit the ocean floor.

So in pure economic terms, the US Government is essentially torpedoing the biggest consumer product of our lifetime, and that will likely take Apple along with it. Apple survived as a company before the introduction of the iPhone, but they are a much bigger business now, exponentially bigger, and they require a huge flow of cash to keep the business running. Suddenly take away the iPhone and it would be the end.

The privacy concerns are the headline when it comes to this confrontation of citizen’s rights versus a government’s need to protect its’ citizens. It’s a more than legitimate conversation, but recent history tells us that the people of the US are more than willing to cast aside their privacy and other rights when faced with anything labeled as “terrorism.” We’ll send thousands of kids to their deaths in a hell-hole of a country to do it, and we’ll most likely throw Apple to the wolves if it makes us feel safer.

The only thing that can stop this is an effective — and probably massive — campaign on the part of Apple to win the public over to their side of the argument. Many people suggest how Apple should spend their accumulated billions, but this is probably the time and the place to do it. Privacy is one thing, but being monitored and tracked is also what we’re talking about, and Apple needs to spell that case out to the public.

Even if Apple’s lawyers are successful and can beat back this particular FBI request, this is a fight we’ll have again and again until public opinion is cast one way or the other. In a fight of hearts and minds, the US government already controls the high ground, which is fear of terrorism, and Apple is a private business that can be seen as taking up this fight for crass public relations purposes.

Apple cannot lose this battle and survive, and they cannot assume that the American people are going to support them over their fear of terrorism. They need to act.

apple

Apples and Oranges and Lemons

3 February 16

After a steady two years of disappointing products and a general sense of malaise with Apple, I’ve been buoyed by the Bill Graham event. It felt like Apple was back on its’ game, releasing great, impressive products and doing some old-fashioned market disruption.

Good times. However, even while we enjoy the thick, syrupy goodness of new products, there does feel like there’s some unfinished business is still at hand.

A disappointing trend from Apple of the past several years has been a return to the ways of “pre-announcing” products. That is to say, they announce a product “coming soon,” even if it is still months away. The iPhone was pre-announced and did spectacularly, but that one example aside, promising so much so far out can only cause problems.

This comes about because Apple has made a determination of some kind that the fewer announcement events it has during a year, the better. In return, the events themselves have gotten grander and more extravagant. The Bill Graham event was a big undertaking, as was the Flint Center Watch event. In both cases, Apple built huge temporary structures for showing off their products that were operational for just a handful of hours.

The desire to build a great event appears to have outstripped Apple’s sense of when a product is finished. If the Watch were announced now, and released with the 2.0 software, would it have suffered the mixed release it did? If Apple had just been patient another six months, would we be talking about a hit rather than Apple having to go to Target and Best Buy to try and move their “luxury” product?

We got another taste of that with the Bill Graham event. The iPhone was going to be ready to ship, because Apple had most of central China churning them out for a while. But the Apple TV was going to be a month or two away. The iPad Pro was three months away, and when the iPad Pro did finally ship, the essential Pencil and keyboard accessories did not ship for a month after that, and are still in scarce supply two months after release.

It would have made a lot more sense to set up a second event, as they have in previous years, to tackle the iPad Pro. They could have given it more time, and they could have also given the iPad mini 4 more than 30 seconds. They could have given El Capitan more than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (literally) mention. They could have also tackled some other items on the unreleased agenda, such as the new 21” iMac and new input devices.

The uneasy conclusion is that Apple had to ship the iPad Pro when it did, and they had to ship the Pencil and Smart Keyboard when they did. They knew perfectly well that supply constraints were going to hamstring the introduction of these products, but were powerless to do anything about it. There was no sense in having a separate iPad Pro event, because they knew that the Pencil and keyboard were going to be late, no matter what. Apple was hitting up against it’s limits.

As big as they are, they can’t materialize physical products out of thin air, and they still need to actually build them. Despite having the manufacturing might of China’s impressive factories behind them, there is a ceiling, and Apple has hit it. They dare not impact the factories making the iPhone, but the rest of their product lines will suffer as manufacturing resources have to — at all costs — be spent on their main product.

Meanwhile

Hardware constraints are one thing, but another issue is plaguing Apple in the software and services side of the business. And it’s the same problem.

The topic of Apple’s software has been churned up by the news cycle again, for the second time in the past few months. In an article by Walt Mossberg, who has been Apple’s most prominently featured reviewer for years, he talks about how he’s been having more and more problems with Apple’s software.

To quote the article: “…I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.”

In an article by long-time Apple writer Jim Dalrymple, he postulates three theories why this might be happening. Here, he’s talking about Apple Music’s problems and why it was released as it was:

  1. They didn’t know how bad it was when they released it. (Highly unlikely)
  2. They are so big now, they just don’t care. They are Apple, so people will use the software regardless of what they do. (Please don’t let it be this one)
  3. They were given a timeline to release the software whether it was finished or not. (This one is probably, but very scary)

I agree that Apple’s software and services are in disappointing shape, but I will add to both writers’ conclusions. It is not because they are doing too many side-projects, stuck on deadlines or are negligent, though. As mentioned earlier, the reason Apple’s software quality appears to be slipping is the same problem which is affecting their hardware. Resources.

When Steve Jobs passed on, that was not only the end of his journey, but it was the end of Apple’s journey as an upstart. The little computer company was now the top company in the modern history of business, and they would now have to re-focus and re-define their mission. In that time, a lot of people at Apple decided that it was time to change gears. By all indications, they lost quite a few engineers who decided to get off the ride and even more who wanted to do their own thing.

If you should ever visit Apple’s Job Opportunities page, you will see over 1,100 jobs available for software engineers, out of 3,000 non-retail vacancies. Apple has tried to fix the issue by buying several small to mid-sized software companies, and integrating those employees into Apple. By my own observation, though, many of these bought engineers leave shortly after they are acquired, if LinkedIn profiles are any indication.

Apple can be a pretty intense place. They put a lot of responsibility on people’s shoulders and expect absolute dedication to the job they’ve been tasked to do. Moving from a loose startup culture to the hotplate of Apple is not an easy transition, one might imagine. If you find that kind of atmosphere scary instead of challenging, you’ll leave as soon as possible.

So that’s where Apple finds itself, in the middle of an intense brain-drain brought on by it’s own success. They’ve lost some long-time stalwart engineers and can’t buy new ones, sacred off by the focused intensity. The old Apple’s intensity worked for them because they had a mission and you wanted to be there to fight for the cause. The new Apple has a weak, ill-defined mission and just a lot of intensity.

With a deficit of programming engineers, software projects get too little attention and become neglected or under-served. Much like Apple’s hardware constraint issue, the company spends all necessary resources on their core product, which is system-level OS X, and will live with delays and shortcomings in other software products to protect it.

So that’s what its comes down to. Apple will produce great iPhones and maintain a great software stack in OS X to run on the iPhone. But everything else is competing for time, attention and resources and Apple can’t fix it.

How Apple Can Fix It

“Our greatest resource is our people” is one of those empty corporate phrases you’ll hear everywhere, and Apple is no different, often using that expression to describe itself. It’s an empty phrase because it’s just so gosh darn easy to say without actually believing it. When it comes to Apple, though, you have to re-examine that phrase from the inside out. From Apple’s perspective that phrase is concise and direct. People are Apple’s singular resource. Robots do not design iPhones. Computers do not write code. In fact, Apple is only made up of people. There are some buildings, some office supplies and thousands of Aeron chairs, but all Apple is, is people. Even the IP is an asset that people created, and only people can implement IP into a product.

Therefore it stands to reason that Apple’s life blood is in attracting the right people into the fold. Steve Jobs defined his job as primarily recruiting. He recognized the importance of the task and spent much of his time getting it right.

Ping-pong tables and massages in the workplace won’t solve this. Money is also the wrong answer. Spending money to get people involved results in attracting people wanting to get the money more than doing the work. You want to attract people who want to be challenged and revel in that kind of opportunity. You work at Apple for the mission and the challenge. It’s a sense of mission that will attract the people you want. You promise them that they will be tested to the limits of their abilities but guarantee them that their efforts will make a dent in the world. It almost sounds like an Army recruitment pitch.

To do this, Apple needs to regain this sense of mission. Right now, their mission is an uninspiring effort to “grow marketshare” and “enrich experiences.” Much stronger is the desire to “change the world.” Apple may need to drop some of the things it’s doing now and prune the product tree to get there. It certainly should examine what’s necessary to sustain the company not only financially but spiritually. What products do you make or could you make to inspire your own people and attract the next generation of talent?

So, there are some questions you need to ask yourself, if you’re Apple:

  • Are we recruiting as hard as we possibly can for software engineers?
  • If we are not recruiting as best we can, why not? What do we value more than finding as many top employees as we can get our hands on?
  • If we are recruiting as hard as we can, have we just tapped out the available talent pool? If that is the case, do we need to adjust our expectations and reduce the number of products we market and the frequency in which we update them?

And on the matter of manufacturing constraints, the questions are nearly the same:

  • Are there additional manufacturing resources outside of our current partners that we can build our products with?
  • If there are more resources for us to use, why are we not using them? What do we value more than getting our products to market faster and in abundant quantities to put our great products in people’s hands?
  • If we are using all available manufacturing resources, and maxed out our suppliers in our supply chain, have we just tapped out the available resources? If that is the case, do we need to adjust our expectations and reduce the number of products we market and the frequency in which we update them?

In both cases, this question seems paramount to the continued health of Apple:

  • Are we making products that inspire ourselves and the people around us to change the world?
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Apple TV 4: First Impressions

1 November 15

I normally don’t get into the review business, but the Apple TV is important to me, and I did happen to get it on early delivery, so here are a few observations on my first day with it:

Packaging

This Apple packaging felt cheap. The box lacks a finish to it, and feels like raw ink on cardboard with a glossy logo on top. Otherwise, it’s all black, and picks up the moisture off my fingers so quickly that it looked tainted the moment I unwrapped it.

Inside, the components are laid out simply enough, and separated by white cardboard. The inclusion of a white lightning cable is nice, even if it feels a little incongruous to be white/grey with the black Apple TV and remote. One interesting touch is that the Getting Started guide appears to be printed on synthetic paper.

The Apple TV itself has a protective plastic wrap for the bottom and another for the sides (which might be tough to spot) and then another for the whole unit. They really don’t like scratches at Apple.

Setup

Oy. Somehow, the new Apple TV is harder to set up than the old one. You can use a bluetooth connection to a mobile iOS device to “help” doing the setup, but what exactly that accomplishes is kind of a mystery. All I can be sure of is that it got my Wifi setup from this process, and not much else. You have to hold your device close to the Apple TV, it ponders life for a moment, then you have to approve a two-factor authentication for connecting the devices (if you have two-factor turned on) which requires a third device, and then you are asked to respond to some questions, type in your Apple ID and password, and finally you put it back in place to complete it’s work.

Once that back-and-forth is finished, the Apple TV then asks for your Apple ID and password, naturally. Then you have yourself a blank Apple TV with no apps ready to use. That means going to the store to download your TV apps, which then asks you for your password again, and you have to decide if you want to require the password every time you make a purchase, just for 15 minutes or never ask. That phrasing could be better, and the “never ask” option is really the only one that will keep you sane — but if you have kids or shady roommates, typing in a long Apple ID password (which Apple requires you to make) tests your patience and encourages you to not make purchases. Once you have downloaded your TV apps, you then likely have to go through authentication for each and every one.

So, if you like methodically typing in user names and passwords, look no further: Apple has engineered your dream system.

In addition to that, I found that the Apple TV mis-read the size and resolution of my screen, and left iCloud and home sharing music options turned off. I had to go into the settings and make those adjustments myself with no guidance.

All in all, the setup is easily the worst part of the Apple TV experience, and the worst setup of all their products. Apple is normally so good at the unboxing-to-first-use experience, that this product really stands out as being seriously below par. The standard was set years ago when Apple touted that their products were easy to set up and could be used within minutes of their unboxing. This one took me about two hours to get everything arranged correctly, and by my count, fourteen passwords. The days of “There is no step three” are long gone.

Remote

The Apple TV remote isn’t really that much different than the old one. The previous Apple remote had six clickable spots, and the new one has seven. The new remote eliminates the directional controls and replaces them with a dedicated volume toggle, then adds a Siri button and a power button. The direction is now handled by a swipable area at the top of the remote, and the entire top of the remote is now clickable, acting like a giant button – but it’s not quite a trackpad. The control is done with left/right and up/down swipes that behave more like gestures. You can’t really steer your finger like a trackpad, and double-clicks and taps have no effect.

The new remote is easier to use for typing, as the left/right swiping does make single-character selection faster, but it is far from ideal. This typing issue is exacerbated by the lack of any other option, as the Remote iOS app is not compatible, and external bluetooth keyboards are not supported. If I were a part of the team that developed this, I’m not sure I would have let it go out the door without solving this issue, as difficult as it might be.

An interesting thing I noted was that the Apple TV detected which remote I was using, and presented me with a different typing interface depending on if I was using my universal remote or the new Apple TV remote.

I also noticed that the Apple logo on the aluminum back of the remote was painted on, and that seems like a very poor decision. Every remote I’ve ever used gradually wears down from continued use, and anything painted or printed will start to dissipate in about a year. I’m hopeful that the back of the remote won’t look like a mess as time goes on. I’m almost sure the aluminum will get some major scratches and may also take the logo with it. The top feels like it’s made of glass, so it should be very durable.

The remote does have an IR port for talking to the TV and audio devices, along with a Siri mic on the front and the back. It has a good balance in the hand, and once my brain begins to retain that the slick part is the “down” and the matte part is “up” I think I’ll be okay. It would be nice to have any kind of feedback on the battery levels that didn’t involve digging into the settings or waiting for a warning.

Interface

The interface is essentially a new coat of paint on the old Apple TV interface. The dominant color theme is a frosty translucent white instead of black, and the graphics are bigger and bolder, but otherwise, there’s nothing radically new or surprising about it.

Channel-based apps are wide rectangles arranged in a grid, exactly like the old Apple TV, and they also occupy the same space as the new non-TV apps. You can arrange them how you please, and you no longer have new channels automatically popping onto the main menu like you used to get. You have to go hunting them for yourself in the TV App Store. The “Movies” “Music” “Photos” and “TV” apps in the old Apple TV are still there, in slightly re-arranged form, as are the “settings” and “computers” options.

New is the “Search” app, which does what you think. Now, you may also ask why you need a search app when you can just talk to Siri. Well, Siri has the usual issues with clarity that you would expect from a voice-recognition feature, so typing lets you be more precise. The search will yield results from TV shows and movies, plus cast members and App Store apps. Not music, though. Of course, there is also a search feature in the TV, Movies, App Store and Music apps as well.

The most surprising omission for me, besides the inability to search my music library, was that I couldn’t use Siri to input into text fields. Siri only works by itself, by making complete requests, and not to input into search fields in any app. So when I want to find the MLB At Bat app to download it, Siri couldn’t help. The only way to find it was to go to the App Store, and type in a search for MLB. When I asked it to “show me the MLB App” it responded that it didn’t know App’s stats. A second request told be that the Mets had won game three.

The interface is also slow and non-responsive at random times. You can swipe and click only to find that the Apple TV will only act on it after a delay. That delay will usually be enough for you to try again, making sure that when the Apple TV is done with your accumulated swipes and clicks, you won’t have any idea what happened.

Some lists in various apps and in Apple’s own apps are designed to be swiped up/down to go through them, but they also have a left/right element, allowing you to alter the list changing it from, say, “unwatched” to “all.” That’s convenient, but I’ve found that my swiping up/down through the list can easily go a little left or right, unintentionally altering the list as I swipe through it. That left/right tolerance has to be a little more forgiving.

It also took me a while to figure out the difference between the “Menu” button and the TV Icon button. The menu button is really a back button. To get to the main menu, you click the TV Icon button. So that makes sense? You can also double-click the TV Icon button to swipe through open apps and hold it to send it to sleep. It’s also odd to have to hold down the Siri button to speak, because that’s the opposite of how it works on iOS.

The TV App Store

The heart of the new Apple TV is the new App Store, which is front and center, literally. It’s the biggest change in functionality between this device and the ones proceeding it. Aside from getting movies, music and shows from the built-in iTunes features, everything else will have to go through the App Store.

The Apple TV App Store, unfortunately, is wanting. All apps of all varieties are bunched together in the store, and discovery is extremely difficult unless you already know what you want to find. Even then, typing it in is not fun.

In corporate speak, this this where Apple’s greatest opportunities to surprise and delight it’s customers lies. In real-world talk this where they almost blew it. It’s not that the Apple TV App Store does any less than it does on any other iOS or Mac device, it’s that it needed to be a little more than what it is. The problem is that the Apple TV has a search-based interface in which typing in a search is excruciatingly slow, thus degrading the experience across almost all elements of the interface.

I will still be able to find apps of any variety, but it won’t be easy. I can’t use a keyboard to search. I can’t use Siri to search reliably. I can’t search for only TV-based apps. I can’t search for game apps. I can’t search by genre. I can make only general searches using remote-typed search terms. I can’t see what’s new, I can’t see recommendations, I can’t see top sellers. I don’t think I can redeem gift cards, either.

So I can come to only two conclusions: Apple has a lot of work to do here, or, there’s some kind of App Store refresh in the pipeline that will go across all devices, and they didn’t want to waste time on coding this store. I prefer to think it’s the second option, because they sure didn’t break a sweat on this thing.

This is far from a deal-breaker, though. What they have is still functional, and as long as there aren’t a lot of apps to find, a limited search and discovery capability isn’t going to ruin the experience. The clock is ticking, though. Soon there will be a bunch of apps and we’ll need a way to find them.

There is one big, very cool surprise I haven’t seen anyone else mention: you may already own Apple TV apps. If you check the purchased section in the App Store, you’ll see a list of previously-purchased Apple TV apps. If you bought a game or any other type of app on your iPhone or iPad, and if there’s a tvOS version available, you might be able download it on the Apple TV, because you already acquired it. When I started to check, I already owned some games like Jetpack Joyride and apps like The Weather Channel. So, free TV apps. You have to like that.

Universal Search

The touted universal search feature, which searches through various services to find the movie or show you want to watch is something I’ll have to defer to other reviewers. I haven’t subscribed to any of the digital providers, so I really can’t test it. I just don’t watch that much scripted movie/TV material anymore. I’m mostly a news and sports viewer, and pretty busy, so the idea that I’d have two spare hours to watch a movie seems ludicrous. I’m sure that this feature is an absolute boon to binge watchers and families, but I’m unqualified to give any insight into that aspect of it.

As for it’s performance inside the iTunes store, I simply haven’t had much time to make any solid judgements. What I will say is that in an age where entertainment news is practically sewn into the fabric of reality, where you cannot escape news of new TV shows and movies if you wanted to, I can’t see myself suddenly getting amnesia when I sit in front of my Apple TV and asking “Show me some funny comedies.” (Especially if Siri’s idea of a funny comedy is “The Big Bang Theory.”) Chances are I will know pretty much what I want to see at any given time, and I doubt Siri’s general-interest selections are going to help much at all. I would much rather have a comprehensive search or browse feature that lets me dig into the weeds and find the hidden gems of the store.

Stray Thoughts

  • I mentioned that the package includes a Lightning cable for recharging the remote. Oddly, though, the cable doesn’t plug into the Apple TV. It’s Lightning on one end and standard USB on the other. The Apple TV doesn’t have a standard USB plug, so to charge the remote you need another separate USB charging-capable device. The Apple TV does have a USB-C plug for maintenance, and a Lightning-to-USB-C would have worked. That just feels like an incomplete thought on the part of Apple.
  • Bugs! There are a few. I’ve had a few apps quit on me and occasionally the remote seems to have a mind of it’s own. The search function has hung on me more than once, and the search-typing interface sometime overlays the search results. A lot the brand-new apps seem to have little quirks you have to work around. It’s going to be interesting to how quickly Apple will respond to bugs and add improvements to the least important Apple platform.
  • If I rest my thumb on the side of the swipable area, the video control can become active, and there’s really nowhere else for my thumb to go. A glance of my finger in the swipable area will cause video to jump forward or backward when I don’t intend it to.
  • Previous generations of 3rd-party TV apps were clearly written from a limited tool kit provided by Apple, and it showed. Now, the gates have been thrown open, and every 3rd party app can make their own interface. So far, so good, but I do hope Apple keeps a yoke on these apps, because this could wind up creating a mess of varying interfaces and even opportunities to exploit that freedom and create horrible experiences built for profit and not for customer enjoyment. For instance, the WatchESPN app sometimes plays ads the moment I tap on it.
  • It is a big mistake to require games to use the included remote rather than a game controller. By limiting the interface of any game to the trackpad and motion controls you are effectively locking out thousands of potential games and stunting the entire platform. You can’t even do a decent platformer game with swipe-and-click, which have always been button-intensive. You can’t play a button-masher game if there aren’t any buttons. Sometimes you have to wonder if anyone at Apple has ever played a video game. If an app requires a controller, verifying with the user that they have a controller before buying an app would be a better approach.
  • I hate talking to my remote.

Overall

Overall, it’s worth my $200, but it’s a bet on the future. I think the Apple TV will spawn a new generation of big-screen apps and make this experience as good and as deep as the one I get on my iPad. If that’s true, then this is a bargain. If you can add a streaming package of entertainment to it that supplants cable/satellite TV, then this $200 will be the best money I’ve ever spent.

If Apple TV never gets any decent games or apps, and a subscription package never arrives, then at least I have a device which I can live out my fantasy of typing passwords one letter at a time and rediscover my love of the alphabet.

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Key Touch Points

12 October 15

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times here on the site, Apple has been sending signals about new input devices, and an update has been necessary with recent input advancements on the iOS side. Now it looks like Apple is ready to launch a new keyboard/mouse/trackpad collection very soon, likely alongside the rumored 21” Retina iMac. Most important: Will Apple continue to make the Magic Mouse through conventional means or will they finally use true magick to make them? Not doing so is a clear insult to the Witch, Warlock and Wizard community and a crucial loss of spellcasting jobs in a bad economy.

Four quick observations:

  • From the leaked FCC documents, the keyboard is only seen from the back. What’s notable is that it appears to be totally flat. Where’s the battery? According to the FCC specs, it’s hard-wired in. How do you recharge it? Is Apple grabbing the power from Bluetooth wirelessly? Are they harnessing power from the keypresses? Are they doing mini-recharges through a lightning port like the Apple Pencil?
  • The front of the keyboard has yet to be seen. Will it look like the new MacBook keyboard? Probably. Get used to the grotesk humanism of San Francisco, and say a fond farewell to friendly VAG Rounded Light. The MacBook and the new iPad Pro keyboard also have black keys. It’s a big change as the style of Apple Keyboards sets the standard for the entire industry. Apple’s 80’s keyboard style, in Universe Light Condensed Oblique, was introduced in 1984 on the Apple IIc and used by almost all keyboard manufacturers for over thirty years. Apple used it through 2007.
  • My pipe dream of a flat-panel display-based touch keyboard waits for another eight years. Yes, it’s been that long since Apple introduced the first version of the current Bluetooth keyboard. It debuted in August 2007, and has been one of the most durable Apple designs. The current Apple aluminum style has been so broadly copied, if not just outright duplicated, that many customers might never know Apple came up with it first. A new Apple keyboard is practically a generational shift in computing. They’ve really only had a handful of types of keyboards through their near 40-year history.
  • The Mouse and Trackpad will likely support 3D/Force Touch, heralding the full integration of new touch options into the Mac. Previously, it was only in the new MacBook, and Apple had to limit 3D/Force Touch use. Now it’ll be in the majority of Macs, and the MacBook Pro and Air will undoubtedly get updates in the coming months.

And if there really is a new keyboard, does this make my international keyboard survey article irrelevant? Aw.

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Living in a Post Bill Graham World

19 September 15

As the tumbleweeds skitter across the barren, arid landscape and the howl of thin air plays the hollow limbs of dead trees like a haunted flute, the old man who refused to leave this ghost town whittles himself another owl as he sits on the porch of the abandoned dry goods store. They call him: The ol’ prognosticator.

Things used to be different around these parts, he’ll tell you. Used to be products from one end of the town to another, all waiting to be introduced at the next Apple event. Now, it’s all gone. First the five inch iPhone cleared out, and then it was the wearables. Before you knew it, the iPad Pro and the Apple TV 4 disappeared almost overnight. Now, there’s almost nothing left. Maybe, if you look real hard, you might find some Apple TV content packages in a dusty corner. If you listen to that crazy Injun chief who lives in the teepee outside town, you’ll hear him whisper about something the legends call the iCar.

That’s all there is now. There ain’t no more. Just shadows. Shadows and horse droppings.

Snap out of it, Larry McMurtry

Okay, well, it only kinda feels like this. At the Bill Graham event, Apple basically emptied out its’ sack of goodies and introduced not one, but two new product lines. The Apple TV 4 is no longer a hobby and the iPad Pro is the link between the iOS and Mac platforms we all knew would come.

Aside from putting the Apple-prediction people out of business for a few months, the introduction of these products makes another big jump in the expansion Apple’s products and services. The Apple TV is the salvo at the “home hub,” putting iOS games on a console, and the showcase platform for the streaming content service to come. The iPad Pro is the attempt to go after enterprise, education and creatives.

The iPad Pro

I’ve been on this soap box since the introduction of the original iPad back in 2009. I always thought it was just one step away from being a graphics tablet, and then boom, six years later, like lightning, we have it. So now, with another product category added to Apple’s ambitious plans, let’s take a look at the products in this end of the hardware market: You have the iPad Air, the iPad mini, the iPod Touch and now the iPad Pro. You also have the iPhone and the iPhone Plus. All of these devices work off of iOS and have the same general shape and interface. We could also throw in the new MacBook in to this end of the pool, as it is also going after some of the same customers, but from the Mac side.

With the advent of the multi-tasking split-screen feature of iOS 9, and the Surfacesque keyboard of the iPad Pro, you can also start to view these devices in terms of productivity. You can have devices with software keyboards and hardware keyboards. You can have devices that have one window, a split window and floating windows. Some have cell connections, others don’t. They can go pocket-sized to satchel-sized, they all have touch interfaces, and all of them get you a days’ worth of battery life.

One can take a look at that lineup and conclude “Apple’s offering more products in the shapes and sizes the consumer wants.” But then I would have to kick you, because that’s not the lesson here. The lesson is that Apple is refining the product line, and adding in new products to expand into new or underserved markets. This is about growth, not about filling in gaps.

The iPad now goes from being “Apple’s tablet offering” to becoming a product line that provides a real computing solution for not only consumers but prosumers, professionals, students, and creatives. It can be an input device for a variety of industries from medical to aviation to enterprise. It can be a laptop. It can be a thing you give the kid to keep them quiet. Essentially, the iPad now has a footprint of potential customers that is now as big, if not bigger than, the Mac.

That’s significant. The playing field is now level between the Mac and the iPad for all but a few professional markets. What’s worth keeping an eye on is how Apple sells these products in the future. Which do they push on a consumer first? A Mac or an iPad? Does it really matter anymore? If they push the Mac first, are they doing themselves a disservice?

Also, is Apple done with this product line? If the iPad Pro is a hit, could it go even bigger?

The Apple TV 4

The Apple TV 4 is a little disappointing — just a little. While I had long hoped that it would bring a full iOS experience to the TV, we’re getting an “iOS Lite” coming in tvOS, with a hybrid button/touchpad interface. I had also hoped that there would be more “Amazon Echo” in the product, but right now Siri seems to be limited to looking for films and TV shows. It’s not ideal, but it’s what we have to work with, so let’s go.

We were also waiting on the streaming TV service that Apple has been trying to get started for the past several years, but that was a boat anchor on the Apple TV, and it was time to get a new one out and bring the content along when it’s ready.

The principal content for the Apple TV then becomes the app-making developer community, with their spunky can-do attitude. It’s a bit of a risk, going to market with a product that so obviously relies on the developers to make it work, but Apple TV may be exactly the right product to take that risk with. Apple is not betting the farm on Apple TV, and the existing elements of the device are already pretty strong.

Essentially, the Apple TV is in a waiting stage, as games, apps and the Apple streaming service get their act together. I expect this product to get a lot of attention at WWDC 2016, not just from developers, but from Apple. By then, it might be time for an re-introduction of a fully-implemented version with streaming TV, games and home kit applications.

And maybe a new one with a screen?

(Dodges shoe thrown from audience)

There was also something about an iPhone 6s and some watch straps at the event, but it’s kind of hazy now. The real takeaway from the event was that Apple is doing what they need to do to keep the profit machine running by expanding the customer base and selling more products and services to their existing customers.

It’s going to be a fun next three months as we get new phones, a tablet and a TV to play with, but the ramifications from this event will be felt for years. The Watch was a sideshow. These announcements come right from the core of Apple’s employees and engineers and set course on Apple’s next generation of hardware and software. It’s moving away from the Mac, but without shedding too many Mac features. The new laptop is the tablet. The new desktop is the TV.

It’ll be fun to see this play out, and for the first time in a long time, I’m buying all the hardware launched at this event and I’m excited for each one. We’ll have more to talk about soon, as the question of what an Apple streaming subscription service will look like is an intriguing one, and it may not be something locked to the Apple TV. The whole Apple iCar thing is so weird, I don’t think everyone has their head wrapped around it, but if you think about what a car will look like five years from now, it’s really another computing platform, but with radial tires.

Now who wants a wooden owl? I have hundreds of these things.

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