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Monday, March 24, 2008

Apple Fanboy Command + A (Attack)

Recently, I read about how vicious the Apple fanboys have grown on the web. First, lets be clear of the utopian misconception that the internet would connect us all, enlarge our communities, be egalitarian and make us better people. Peace, love and understanding hasn't actually arrived by digital download nor streaming.

In fact, reading the anonymous comments on Huffington post about the 2008 campaigns, or any political blog for that matter, can assure all Americans we have pathetically lost all sense of proper behavior and civil society. Talk about ad homonym attacks and bloodthirsty adversarial behavior -- that's just between fellow Democrats -- it is out of control.

But the thing I find so ironic is the attack mentality of Apple fanboys. Case in point has to be David Pogue. If anyone has a history of reading Pogue over the years you will know he has been one of Apple biggest advocates in print journalism alive. If anyone, Pogue deserves a Apple Fellow status and a shrine in the Apple Hall of Fame.

Yet, after Pogue wrote a column for the New York Times in which he mentioned that Microsoft might have implemented something better than Apple in their OS, Pogue was barraged with hate email. One reader accused Pogue of "hating Apple" and another of "Licking Bill Gates balls."

It's not hard to find equivalent behavior that harms Apple owners and prevents Apple itself from making honest assessments of their strengths and weaknesses. Criticism of Apple improves the company and its products. It is the bread and butter for upgrade input. On the .Mac support forums, users are encourage to post the technical problems and discuss Apple products, but users are frequently censored and often attacked by fanboys and even the discussion moderators.

Unreal. Apparently the Google employee motto "Don't be evil" has no sway over them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Apple TV Plus Coming?

Obviously, I ranted at the beginning of the year about what Apple needs to do to not only improve upon Apple TV but make it a serious media center convergent technology. It is a no-brainer: ADD DVR. Wrongly, I predicted Apple would announce they were adding DVR to the Apple TV in Steve Job's 2008 MacWorld keynote.

But I wasn't the only one. All kinds of Apple Rumor pundits were clamoring for an improved Apple TV that would eliminate all those shiny odd shaped boxes surrounding their new thinner, smaller footprint HD LCD and Plasma TVs. Everybody wants convergent technologies and since Apple saw fit to give us a web browser, email, GPS-like maps and iTunes music and video on our cell phone, why wouldn't they provide a comparable media center device that would eliminate the need to buy four boxes when all you need is one?

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) has been routing around Apple patent filings and found they have filed for an Apple TV device that has DVR capabilities included in a new box. Finally, I say, what is taking Apple so long to seriously get into the media center market?

Hopefully Apple will find the courage to stand up to the corporate lawyers who continue to set the standard for technology development or lack thereof. These lawyers know nothing about great industrial design nor could they care less about the users ability to use it easily. The industry moguls who insult the consumer will/are destroying their own businesses.

Many of the Apple products I own in my home are hamstrung to the point that I am unable to effectively and easily capture, store, organize and view my digital content. And it is MY content since I either created it myself or I PURCHASED it. Last time I was at an Apple Store I was given a unwanted lecture about "stealing" movies simply after asking how a person can transfer and store digital media onto the Apple TV. WTF! Apple Genuis' are amateur lawyers -- at BEST!

We are your consumers. We buy CDs and DVDs and it seems more like Apple wants to control the way we engage the content rather than give us as consumers the tools to manage our digital media. The situation has never been this bad whether it be broadcast recording to VHS or Beta tapes, cassette tapes from albums, CDs and digital ripping of them and the treatment of the customer by Apple and the industry has never this low. It is a disgrace Apple is involved with this sham against its loyal customers.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

iPhone 2.0 is a Leap (Spring) Forward

Reset your clocks. When all the dust settles after the iPhone SDK announcement, even with all the concerns about Apple's control over the platform, one thing is very clear -- the iPhone experience will change radically with the release of iPhone 2.0 in June.

While many questions remain, Apple will promote development on the iPhone both with consumer level applications and with implementations of enterprise software tailored to individual companies and institutions.

No doubt museums and art galleries will be using the platform as a place to launch interactive media such as the Walker Art Center has already began to do in a limited fashion. Hospitals will find the handheld iPod or iPhone invaluable to searching and locating records. Schools, collections and libraries can be incredibly interactive and mobile inside their wifi domains.

We are also likely to see the iPod Touch become a much more popular tool as owning and using one will not require a AT&T cell phone contract and developers can use wifi to send and receive vital data. The iPod Touch running 2.0 might even become a way out for Apple to sell iPhone equivalent technologies without AT&T being party to the purchase or contract with users.

Using an iPod Touch inside a corporation for capturing and sharing data such as with doctors in hospitals, inventory in retail operations, or point of sale and service has huge potential for the Touch technology, where not having the cell phone capabilities becomes a plus on a mobile device.

In Apple's Thursday announcement they invited a number of developers on stage to preview versions of the games, data base tracking applications, and messaging clients for the iPhone. It was abundantly clear that the prospects on this platform are immense with robust development and will be enjoined by enthusiastic programmers.

And despite developer concern about the Apple Apps Store being the sole distributor for iPhone and iPod Touch applications, Apple will be partner with thousands of developers and enthusiastic about getting new tools and entertainment to iPhone users through this huge direct sales network and free distribution channel. As Wired said in it recent cover story, FREE is the future of business. All-in-all that is an advantage to the developers, iPhone owners, and Apple itself.

In Apple's defense, inside the IT departments I've heard many say that Apple should control the distribution of applications on the iPhone very tightly because he users don't want their cell phone riddled with poor designed and programmed applications that will destroy the iPhone experience and functionality. They often point to the wide-open nature of the PC and how it has become riddled not only with bugs, worms and virus' but also low functioning software by amateur programmers.

Adding to the excitement of the SDK package release was the announcement of the iFund, a one hundred million dollar capital investment fund by Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. A chief partner in KPCB, John Doerr in founding this fund saluted Apple entrepreneurs as revolutionaries and called Steve Jobs the supreme commander who started Apple and the personal computer industry. He said $100 million is enough start-up money for "four Googles."

Apple's upcoming iPhone 2.0 will continue to jettison their cell phone business far ahead of any other smart phone company in the industry. Apple says the upgrade to 2.0 will be free to all iPhone owners (iPod Touch owners will need to pay for the upgrade) but this assures all of the millions who bought iPhones this year -- we can still look forward to one hell of a fun ride.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is Your iPhone or iPod Touch Jailbroke?


Almost immediately after Apple shipped the iPhone, a group of developers began writing applications for the device that gave it additional computing capabilities they were used to with other palm computers and smart phones. Some of these apps were written as great fun like the one above with different looks or skins for the Home screen and icons. Don't you find youself transported back to the mid-80s looking at the screen on the far right?

A madcap group of developers wrote more serious applications that added functionality they missed by not using their Treo's or Blackberry. When sites like ModMyiFone popped up you could find over 300 applications written and available on your iPhone via the Installer.app. These apps are very cleaver, including one called Labyrinth, which emulates the old wooden and steel ball game you used to play as a kid where you tried to tilt the surface to guide the ball into a goal. The genius of the iPhone adaptation is that it commandeered the built in accelerometers in the iPhone (used to rotate photos, web pages and movies -- and WHY can't Apple do it for the mail client?) to mimic the actions of the physical game it emulates.

But these developers and their programs were not officially approved by Apple. And, in order for users to take advantage of serious and fun applications on their iPhone they had to "break" or in the parlance of the community jailbreak their iPhone or iPod Touch to install these applications.

After todays announcement of Apple SDK and Apple apps program for the development and distribution channel for iPhone applications, will Apple truly open the iPhone to all the range of possibilities for new applications or will it be a gatekeeper and cherry pick and restrict users from getting the tools they want.

A big part of the thrust of today's announcement focused on enterprise users and extending the office uses for Microsoft Exchange Servers and ActiveSync support. Certainly that is aimed at shoring up their corporate relations within the industry. But what about the larger community of non-corporate consumer users?

Perhaps the first question that developers wanted to know has been answered -- Apple will require all applications to come through the Apple iTS to be installed. The developer will be charged a $99 for the standard commercial and free application kit and $299 for the Enterprise developer kit. Apple will require a developer to register and split the proceeds from the sale 70/30 with the developer. 70 percent will go to the writer. Free applications will not be charged for the place in the Apple apps Store.

However, functioning as a gatekeeper, what will Apple allow and what software will it restrict on the iPhone?

Apple said publicly it will restrict pornography through its sales on iTS. Okay, but what else? Apple said it will restrict applications that invade people's privacy. Understandable in the abstract but not very clear since the Camera function on the iPhone could easily be classified (and often is by YMCA's and YWCA's as well as other athletic facilities) to be privacy invasive software on their properties. Apple says it will restrict applications that are "illegal." Sounds like room for a lot of interpretation and potential litigation.

The question will remain: Is it best to start buying your iPhone and iPod Touch applications through Apple apps or keep it jailbroken and use the applications being freely developed in the world of software? Will the new Apple Apps Store eliminate the need to jailbreaking your cell phone or iPod Touch or will users still need to be hackers to get what they want on their purchased electronic devices?

Back in the 1980s, when we bought our first Macs we didn't need to answer these difficult questions. It just shows how far we've come and how different Apple is as a hardware and software company today.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Reading Steve Jobs Like a Book

I happen to be in camp with those who believe if Steve Jobs says something cannot be done or it won't sell, he is more than likely working on the idea.

This held true for music. He told Apple, the Beatles record label, that Apple Computer, Inc. would never get into the music business. This year Apple iTune Store will become the largest music retailer in the world surpassing Target and WalMart and they changed their name to Apple dropping the word "Computer" -- the same name as the record label.

Jobs told everyone that nobody would ever want to watch a movie or video on a palm sized device and then a year later came out with the video iPod.

Jobs told the computing world that Apple would not get into the cell phone business, at the same time, they began developing the iPhone the most revolutionary handset the cell phone industry has ever seen and sales in the first year have been astronomical.

Now Jobs is saying Amazon's Kindle cannot succeed because nobody reads. Literal translation: Apple is posed to jump into electronic book reader market because Kindle will not succeed. If nobody reads why does the book publishing industry have $25+ billion in annual sales and more than 60 thousand titles every year and those numbers are U.S. alone.

Following Job's career in technology I think it is safe to say that one thing that gets in his craw is to see an good idea and huge business opportunity poorly designed and implemented. Kindle is just one of those devices. The first things that comes to mind when you see Kindle is "Who would want to carry this object around with them or use it for reading?" (see photo above) and the answer is "Nobody!" The question goes to the very heart of industrial or commercial design.

Wired's review of the Kindle named it one of the 10 heartbreaking gadgets of 2007, called the keyboard "klugey", the email "clumsy" and the web browser "crippled" and concluded by saying Kindle was begging to be redesigned by Apple.

With Apple iTouch technologies one can be sure that Jobs and Apple iTouch technology specialist Tim Bucher are exploring this realm of new business opportunities. Kindle leaves a big hole for Apple to drive their design and marketing team at electronic distribution of books and literature. With the infrastructure of the Apple iTunes Store delivering content to multiple hardware platforms, you can be sure that Apple is eyeing the book and print publishing industry as the next great digital frontier.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

iPhoto 08 Makes Color Correction Easier

Improvements to iPhoto in the iLife 08 suite make it the only photo management and editor you'll need as a non-professional photo enthusiast.

In the past, in order to use iPhoto on a day-to-day basis a photographer still needed to have Photoshop installed and iPhoto configured to launch Photoshop to edited color, contrast, and midtone brightness that turns your standard awful looking snapshots onto bright colorful photos suitable for printing, the web, or animated slideshows. But not anymore -- iPhoto will get you there all by itself.

Most of the critical improvements have been made to the Adjust Panel to make the overpriced Photoshop no longer necessary for baseline color and image enhancement.

The most significant feature added to the Adjust Panel are the ability to edit the midtones, shadows and highlights separately. When you first open the Adjust Panel, you'll see the Histogram graph at the top of the panel. Under the curves, you'll see three chevrons that can be clicked on and dragged -- one for the dark tones, one for the light tones and a third for the middle tones. The critical addition of the middle tone is an feature added to iPhoto 08. This is just the adjustment tool needed to improve the large percentage of all amatuer photos as it is the place in the photo editing spectrum where skin tones reside and our eye seeks brightness and clarity.

Further down the Adjust Panel you will see slider bars for shadow and highlight values. This enhancement also gives you greater control of the values in areas of your photo image that shapshots with consumer cameras so often get wrong. As a photo editor for amateurs and quality-minded non-professionals, Apple's implementation of the cropping tool but adding a thirds grid and their insightful addition of the straighten tool goes to the heart of what most poor photo images suffer from and how to fix them. The Straighten tool has now been removed from the adjust panel to make room for more color correction fine tunning and has its own icon in the iPhoto icon bar.

Another great feature of the Adjust Panel is that once you open the panel and make all the adjustments to make your photo image look great, you can then click on the COPY button in the bottom right. This action copies all the adjustments you made since you first opened the panel. You can then close this window, go the the next photo you took during the event or in that same color space and click on PASTE and all the adjustments made to the previous image will be applied to this one also. This adds considerable ease to correcting a group of photos you took in a similar color space or location and it is so easy. All applications should be this smart!

And what few people realize when they start to color correct is most color correction is necessary to compensate for the bias of a camera or the particular color temperature or balance of the lights the photographer is shooting under. Once you have corrected one photo, you can easily apply the same settings to others you've shot. Color matching between images is the key to making a decent slideshow, presenting a group of pictures on the web or printing a series of photos, whether it be a journalistic essay or wedding photos. In iPhoto 08, Apple has made this simple. All applications should be this intuitive in watching your actions and recalling them with just one push of a button.

Friends I know who could no longer afford to buy Adobe's expensive applications had resorted to buy shareware programs that emulated and sometimes bettered Photoshop with a limited pallet of standard features. More power to them and certainly Adobe needs to learn the lesson that if they gauge their users they will loose them to competitors.

But the problem remained, using a different software application for editing and enhancing your images can be clumsey and slow. Having one application with all the tools and features to get you to your final destination is the BEST strategy.

Now that iPhoto has arrived I think you'll find yourself relying less on interapplication switching and that you can get all your desired results in iPhoto.

I can hear the critics complaining already that you do not have layers, masks, blur or lighting filters, etc. But I venture to say 90% of the users don't need these tools. If you asked yourself, "When was the last time I used layers or masks?" and cannot remember that time than iPhoto 08 is the tool for you.

Apple iPhone SDK Revealed on Thursday



Next Thursday (March 6th) in Cupertino, Apple will be revealing much more information about the long awaited Apple iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). Companies who write software for Macs and handheld devices have been watching anxiously with the hopes of jumping into a market of millions or iPhone users with huge expectations for applications to improve their mobile computing capabilities.

What is in store?

With all of the efforts of Apple to slap heavy penalties on the underground developers who have unlocked and pirated the iPhone away from the corporate contract restrictions Apple and AT&T have placed on iPhone users, there is a great deal of interest in how Apple will now allow developers to meet the pent-up demands of iPhone and iPod Touch users.

For many, the potential to go to the Apple iTunes store and easily purchase and download programs to expand their mobile capabilities is an exciting prospect. These increased expectations extend to business computing, were enterprise software and specific tools designed for financial and business management functions can make inroads for Apple in those arenas of the computer market.

In the past Apple refused to recognize and allow software to be added to the iPhone to increase its capabilities. They even went so far as to release iPhone system upgrades that "bricked" the iPhone itself and disabling the cell phone for any user who unlocked or jailbroke their iPhone or iPod Touch. This move by Apple shocked many in the computing industry, probably most some of the faithful followers of Apple who have always been opposed the the tactics of corporate giants.

However, Apple's heavy-handed approach to restricting application development might not end with their opening up of the iPhone to third-party software companies. According to CNET's Tom Krazit, "The company would retain veto power over the number and types of applications that could be installed on an iPhone, meaning no application could be officially released without a thumbs-up from an Apple committee or executive."

It is highly expected that Apple will restrict the ability of iPhone owners to obtaining and purchasing third-party software to buys from the Apple iTunes store. Perhaps more surprisingly, it is speculated that Apple will not allow developers access to the iPhone and iPod Touch dock. This means that developers will not be allowed the freedom to write programs and hardware devices to improve upon wifi or bluetooth capabilities for printing directly without going through a Mac operating system, add third party peripherals like keyboards and audio enhancements. iPhone and iPod Touch enthusiasts wait with baited breath to see if they will have Bluetooth functionality or Skype calling capabilities added to their palm devices. A few would like video recording software to use with their iPhone camera.

And certainly, Apple will probably restrict software development that gets the user around the AT&T exclusive contract or allow them to make internet calls without a provider contract. In the first six months of the sale of iPhone, near one quarter of all the handheld devices sold, it is estimated, were to break the lock and open them up to use without an AT&T contract. The question developers will be asking come Thursday is what limit Apple will place on applications such as Twitter that give iPhone low cost alternatives to SMS and other communications channels?

In the last few days leading up to the SDK announcements, Jobs has been attacking Adobe for its Flash mobile development. Since the iPhone was first announced, its users have been clamoring for Flash and Java capabilities on their phone. Is Job's critique and big no to Flash Light on the iPhone just a harbinger of Apple's harsh treatment to come for software developers wanting to release the applications on the iPhone platform?

Generally speaking, with the success of iPhone and it implications for Apple at AT&T, we will be waiting to see how restrictive Apple is becoming in the application-developmnt spectrum and if instead of empowering the end user, how they will control software to empower their corporate contracts. Being an final arbitrator or a gatekeeper of the software being loaded onto the iPhone would establish a new precedent in the industry.

Writing in the New York Times, Saul Hansell notes, "This level of control would be most unusual for the software industry. Apple doesn’t control the distribution of programs that run on the Mac, for example. And other mobile platforms, like Windows Mobile and Palm Treo, do not make these requests."

iPhoto 08 Improves Digital Image Management


In the past for iPhoto users to load their digital images from a camera or a disk reader, they would plug their device in, iPhoto would launch and an icon of a camera would appear in the middle of the iPhoto window signaling it recognized the card or camera. iPhoto would then provide a button saying IMPORT.

Unfortunately, I often did not need to import all the images on the card or camera. And, although iPhoto was kind enough to prompt you to pass over the duplicates or images you'd previously loaded, the import process was very analog, like the old days when you have to listen to ALL your voice mail messages. iPhoto was very slow if all you needed to load was one or two images from a disk with 100 on it. Scanning a disk and importing the files would take 15 or 20 minutes with todays large storage capacity digital media and large image files. A simple task of shooting a single image, loading it into iPhoto and emailing it to a family member or my publisher was agonizingly cumbersome.

With iPhoto 08 Apple FINALLY fixed this very non-Apple way of forcing the user to follow a protocol rather than given them options to control their digital content. With the upgraded version of iPhoto, when you plug the camera or card in it provides a preview of the entire contents and then allows you to select only a few or all images you wish to import. This is a huge improvement and timesaver over previous iPhoto versions.

Like my raves about getting around to fixing .Mac, I had been writing to Apple and complaining about this problem in iPhoto since version 5 and was disappointed they didn't provide a card browser in iPhoto 6, only to be told that there was a small application to previewing called Image Capture.

In fact, with this upgrade of iPhoto, Apple has made a concerted effort to improve the image management capabilities of the application. The iPhoto teams programming efforts are paying off with better image loading options, more information being captured and stored for each image, the addition of organizing stacks of photos into Events and the ability to hide images you may need to keep for some reason but not want to view.

iPhoto gave us the ability to capture and amass huge libraries of digital images but for most Mac users two, five or even ten thousand images quickly became unmanageable but iPhoto 08 truly improves upon the tasks of managing your ever expanding library of images. Many home and professional photographers will find the iPhoto 08 upgrade essential to their practical management needs.