Commentaries and opinions on Apple and technology news by your friendly neighborhood Solowalker.


Where should the iPad mini pricing start?

iPad Mini mockup by Martin Hajek (via iDownloadBlog)

While I’d really really really love it if they could hit the $200 price point (I want to buy 2 for my kids for Christmas), realistically we’re likely looking at $249 or thereabouts. Why? How is this possible?

  1. iPads are cheaper than iPhones and there’s a full size iPad (2) that’s the same price as an iPod touch. They don’t need *all* models to be cheaper than an iPod touch, just one model to start down there.
  2. Economies of scale on proven (and slightly older) technology such as a non-retina display made out of the same screens as the old 3GS and an A5 processor. Also, the AppleTV is only $99 and gets you most of the way there. An extra $150 or so could easily get in a screen and battery. And for all we know the new 4” Retina screen could cost the same as or more than an 8” non-retina display.
  3. Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD ($200) are being sold at cost with smaller economies of scale than Apple has (so parts are more expensive). Apple can use higher quality parts at a greater economy of scale and arrive at the same (or less) cost than those devices. Throw in Apple’s traditional ~20-30% beginning margin and you can easily arrive at $250 for an Apple quality device.

Also something to consider is that Apple has previously used the success of other products (i.e. iPhone) to temporarily subsidize the prices of new products (like the unibody MacBook Pro and iPad) while they get on their feet. They took the risk of a financial hit in the short term to make a higher quality product at the same or cheaper price as people were expecting/used to paying. Fortunately for them, the demand for each new product they did that for balanced out the new costs of a new product and they never actually lost any money but instead have continued to increase their revenue dramatically year-over-year.

Now whether or not Apple does it, we don’t know. But there is precedent and definitely possibility.

Google Maps app would not make "the majority of iOS users... come rushing"

Apple’s products are awesome. Awesome != perfect. Apple doesn’t pitch their stuff as perfect, just way more awesomer than everyone else. It’s the general public and tech pundits that try to portray Apple as being perfect (and as having “fallen from grace” when they do something that’s not).

When you think about it, though, they actually do a generally good job at living up to most people’s reasonable expectations about the quality of their products. And when they drop their failures and come out with something else that’s better after they’ve learned from their mistakes, no one remembers the old dud any longer. Just some examples: MobileMe as you mentioned (and .Mac and iTools before that), G4 Cube, liquid cooled PowerMac G5, iPod Hifi, Ping, AirTunes, original iPhone price, lack of features in iOS every generation, and to a lesser extent Siri.

As far as this article goes, I think people are giving Joe Public too much credit and Apple Maps not enough. Seriously, how many people do you really honestly think are going to notice that Apple’s Maps are changed? And then how many of those people will think it’s not “good enough” for the time being? Then how many of those people will go looking for a mapping alternative in the App Store?

Competition is awesome. Google should submit an app to push Apple and others towards making their products better. But claiming that if they did (and Apple approved it) “the majority of iOS users will come rushing” is quite the hyperbole. Apple’s new Maps really aren’t that bad. Everyone I have talked to in person about them find them far more than adequate and not any worse than Google. The biggest downfall is more sparse POI and business data. That’s the easy stuff to fix. So is the majority of this stuff. It’s just a question of man power.

Hopefully, things will get better very very soon and few will remember this next year.

Thoughts on iPhone 5

As a follow up to my previous rant, here’s what I think about the iPhone 5 new iPhone (still hate the name).

It’s freaking awesome.

I stayed up until 1 AM on Friday to order the darn thing. I sold my iPhone 4 two days earlier. I’m phone less. And oh boy, I can’t wait to get my hands on the new one.

The thing is, Apple isn’t playing the same game as the rest of the industry. They’re not trying to flood the market with dozens of models in hoping one model might stick. They’re not trying to appease carriers and give them some random handset just to lock customers in for 2 years. What they’re trying to do is release moderate, thoughtful upgrades annually but provide continual value through software updates and other services. Why? So they don’t alienate customers.

People get locked into what’s generally a 2 year contract when they buy a new phone. Android users are frequently upset when a phone they just purchased is no longer the latest-and-greatest 3 months after they bought their phone. They then have a bare minimum of 15 months (for those carriers that do 18 month early upgrade programs) to live with an “outdated” phone. Apple gives people 12 months before releasing a new device. But while each iPhone is better than the last, they do it in a way that doesn’t make you curse them and instantly hate your phone because the new one is so mind blowingly better. Reaction is generally, “Well, that’s pretty cool. It’d be nice to have, but I still like the I got now.”

The real magic comes in when your 2 year contract nears its expiry. Take two good/moderate updates and combine them together and you suddenly have quite the massive reasons to fork over the cash and sign away 2 more years of your life to a carrier to get. Could you guess where I am now if I hadn’t have mentioned it earlier?

Yep, I just sold my 2 year old iPhone 4 and I’m upgrading to a 5 on day one. Why? Because it’s world of a difference compared to the 4. They say it’s 2x as fast as the 4S in CPU and graphics. The 4S was something like 2x CPU and 7x graphics performance. So I’m getting a 4x CPU and 14x graphics upgrade. The minuscule camera updates? I’m still blown away every time I see a 4S image compared to one from my 4 camera. The 5’s will be freaking amazing. Plus I’ll get Siri which I hadn’t had before. 4G data? Yep, I had lowly 3G, not even the “FauxG” 4G of the 4S.

I guarantee 4 to 5 will be like night to day. I’m counting down the hours until I get it in hand. All you haters can hate, but trust me when I say there are many reasons 2 million pre-orders were sold on the first day and it’s not because 2 million people are blind. It really is just that awesome.

iPhone 5 is 'boring' because it's the same old awesome?

The iPhone is boring only to the rumor mongers who published every blurry picture of a motherboard they could get their hands on and the simps who think a feature checklist determines a gadget’s merit. However, isn’t it hypocritical that the gadget blogs that drowned their readers with post after post containing every little unconfirmed detail leading up to the iPhone 5 announcement are now the same gadget blogs lamenting how boring it all is because “we’ve seen it all”?

These people are ridiculous. What were they expecting? The Verge’s Josh Topolsky also made a similar comment in the recent special edition of The Vergecast where he said he was expecting Apple to announce something totally new that no one could have seen coming. Seriously?

So Apple goes and totally refactors their entire manufacturing process for the iPhone. They accomplish major engineering feats by doing things like redesigning some components to be the same quality if not better but in a smaller package (e.g. rear camera). They upgrade absolutely every single part of the phone from CPU to cellular baseband processor to dock connector to audio system to screen (which is not just larger but has touch sensors integrated and full sRGB color) to antennas to Wifi. On top of that, it’s the thinnest and lightest phone but uses even more durable materials. It’s dual core CPU gets as good if not better benchmark scores than quad core Android phones and includes LTE while getting the same if not better battery life.

And this is apparently boring?

What else could you possibly want? Does Apple need to invent something totally new again because nobody else can*? Apple’s iPhone remains King of the Hill and the gold standard of smartphones. But this is boring because it’s still that awesome. It’s not less awesome and it’s not 10x that awesome. So ∆awesomeness = 0 : boring.

Great, thanks for summing that up for me, idiots. Better start spreading the word more. You’ve got 2 million and counting other people to explain it to. Hurry before sales actually become impressive…

*I’m actually all for competition. I want Apple to keep making things better and I would have loved for them to reinvent the phone again but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy with the new iPhone. I’ve got an idea. How about ripping on Samsung, Nokia, HTC, and Motorola for not announcing some radically new blow-your-face-off features, too, huh?


FaceTime vs Hangouts

An ad for Google+ Hangouts. How come I don’t see “Cross posted from Cult of Android” anywhere?

I’m sure Hangouts have their place, but that’s like saying Party Lines have their place. FaceTime is a phone call with video. Seriously, how often do you do 3 way calling on you phone? No that often? Didn’t think so. So how often are you going to want to do 3+ way video calling? Perhaps a little more often, but still not anywhere near as often as you would do a video call with just one person.

I use FaceTime regularly to talk to the wife and kids, as you mentioned in your article. My kids call their uncles with it. Of course they all have iPhones and Macs and we know it. But let’s face it, if you don’t know a person well enough to know what kind of phone they have, do you really want to be video chatting with them? Sounds like that would be with someone you don’t really know and haven’t met in person. I’m not video chatting with I don’t know.

It might be nice to have extra features added to FaceTime as an option, but these are options most people would never use or even think about (aside from 3G calls) so they’re definitely NOT deal killers. And those who need more can always use something else, which is what Apple’s offerings are all about—simple, easy-to-use, good enough for the vast vast majority of people who want buy into Apple’s ecosystem.

November launch for iPad mini? No.

There’s no way it would be released in November. That would be a bad move by Apple. There are many reasons why they have released new iPods (the stocking stuffer of choice) in September/October for years.

Speaking first-hand after working at an Apple Specialist for 2 years, a late September/early October launch is the most prime release schedule for holiday shopping. It gives Apple a couple weeks to disseminate initial stock to all their partners. We usually got literally only a handful of any item Apple released to last us for about 2 weeks as Apple reserves all necessary stock for their own sales channel. And then the first big load, that all goes to the half-early adopters, the people who want it as soon as possible but don’t want to order it online or try to beat the rush of the first week. Stock can struggle a bit through the end of October. It’s typically only about then or early November that inventory begins to be steady enough for the normal holiday shoppers.

A November launch would most definitely be bad press for Apple. People being people would whine and complain and moan about not getting their fancy new iPad in time for Christmas. There’s no way they could get the supply and demand to match up enough in one month. And if you’re going to wait until after Christmas, might as well just wait 2 more months until February when you’re going to announce the 4th gen iPad anyway and do them both at once.

I really don’t see Apple going against their years of wisdom to try to rush one more product out the door for Christmas. If it’s going to happen this year, it’ll happen with the iPhone/iPod announcement.

Samsung tablet buyers thought they were getting iPads

Now this is telling. Best Buy told Samsung they had customers returning Galaxy Tabs because they thought they were iPads. Apple should really focus on this. I know even I myself have been confused when seeing Galaxy Tab in person, had to do a double-take and stare at it for a minute to realize it wasn’t an iPad. And isn’t this really what the whole case is about?

New Mountain Lion Security features - good or bad?

Apple tested some new security features in Mountain Lion yesterday by pushing out an update to the Mountain Lion Developer Preview as a “security update.” Security is good and all, but in many instances it can be at odds with convenience and user experience. Does Apple feel like they can find the balance between those two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas? I hope so, but some of these new features have me concerned especially since I’ve experienced the Microsoft Windows equivalents all too often at work.

Specifically, I’m referring to forced updates and forced installations. In theory, forced updates by themselves aren’t a bad thing and could really really help harden the OS and prevent attacks like Flashback from occurring at all or from becoming as widespread. Apple started down this road cautiously with Snow Leopard’s malicious software definitions being automatically updated daily in the background. That was fine because no user interaction was required and it was all transparent to the user, that is unless they downloaded something bad. Bug fixes and security hole patches presented as system updates are also most definitely good for a user, and Apple has always had these. But not everyone installs them in a timely manner and some don’t at all. So theoretically forcing them to install the updates would be good and an improvement to the overall health of the Apple ecosystem.

But the problem is they definitely don’t happen in the background and come with some user inconvenience as they take time to install and you have to stop what you’re doing to do so. Lion helped with this by adding Autosave, Versions, and Resume functionality. Unfortunately many apps haven’t added support for these features yet, and some things like text in a browser page can’t really be restored easily if at all (especially if the page requires authentication first before a form can be presented). So to install an update even on Lion you still have to save your work, stop what you’re doing, and go grab some lunch while the update installs and your machine reboots. You can get up and running again faster than you can on Windows due to Resume and stuff, but it’s still inconvenient.

So here’s where the problem lies. How do you get people to install the good crap so they don’t get the bad crap? Well, Windows has long had forced updates which gets the job done but sure ain’t pretty. Myself and many co-workers have lost a lot of work and productivity time because of the way the forced updates are implemented. You can only postpone the update for so long and if you miss the notification window where you have the postponing option (which can happen if you’re in a meeting, giving a presentation, or having a conversation and turn your back) then tough luck, your unsaved work is gone and to add insult to injury you have to manually reopen everything you had up. The worst part is this happens far too frequently, at least once a month or more.

I’ve always been a bit proud that I never had to worry about this kind of ridiculous experience on my Mac. But Apple seems like they’re going to attempt this same method of getting things done. Again, it does get the user to update but it’s sure super inconvenient. I and many people will be quite upset if we end up being forced into the same boat as poor old Windows users in this regard. But only time will tell if the impact will be the same, and that will also be determined in part by how frequently it happens.

Apple, don’t Windows-ify my Mac just for security! You can’t even turn the dang thing off…

Could Apple's new Podcasts app point to iTunes rewrite this year?

I sure hope so. It’s been a slow but steady process of separating all media on iOS. You now have Music, Videos, Podcasts, iTunes U, and iBooks, 3 out of the 5 of which have their own stores built into them. You can’t access iBookstore from elsewhere on an iOS device presently. iOS 6 will similarly completely segregate iTunes U content. The first beta of iOS 6 hinted the same thing would happen to Podcasts, though they reappeared in the iTunes Store with beta 2. You’ve also always had iTunes and App Store separated.

In addition, while it doesn’t necessarily mean anything in regards to iTunes, Mountain Lion showed that Apple isn’t averse to splitting out functions/renaming apps. Notes used to be in Mail but not have their own dedicated app. Same with Reminders from iCal. And iCal was renamed simply Calendar and Address Book to Contacts. I don’t think Apple would go so far as to ditch the iconic iTunes brand name; while they probably could get away with it, it’s unnecessary and would be going too far.

But they totally could duplicate everything else they’ve done on iOS. They could release iBooks for Mac as a separate app and have the store built in there, same for Podcasts and iTunes U, leaving Music and Videos and their corresponding stores in the iTunes app. Alternatively, the could follow even more closely and just leave iTunes as the store (and possibly sync manager) and then have even separate apps for Music and Videos.

It’d be interesting to see if they would merge iOS and Mac App Stores, too. It would give even more exposure to Mac apps and help companion apps to popular iOS device apps get discovered. Heck, if they let Windows users see the Mac App Store then maybe they’d get even more switchers as people dispel the old myth that they can’t get the apps they need on a Mac.

At any rate, it’s still painfully obvious that iTunes in its current form is slow, bloated, and overreaching and needs to be dealt with. Do we really need one single app to listen to music, watch TV, take some college courses, organize books and PDFs, find and buy new apps and music and movies and TV shows and books, and backup a mobile device? I don’t think so.

Why Today’s Google Maps Event Proves Google Is Scared Witless Of iOS 6

While the language and severity of this post may push it too far, I’m not sure very many people could argue with the basic premise particularly if they watch the whole video. The event was 1 hour and 20 minutes. There was almost literally nothing new or event worthy up until the last 10 minutes. Up until that point it was like they were patting themselves on the back.

"Oh, our services are so great. We get our data from lots of sources now, including users. We have so many locations. Traffic updates so fast. Oh look, here’s a Ghostbusters/Yoda backpack with a ridiculously large camera we’re using to get more street level data in places we can’t drive our automated cars. Google Earth can be awesome if you use it right." The rest of it was, "This is where Google maps started. Here’s how we progressed over the years. Here’s a demo of what’s coming soon."

It really wasn’t that polished of a presentation and whether or not you agree with the idea of Google “being scared” of Apple’s rumored upcoming service, I think you’d be hard pressed to deny that rushed feeling most especially when considering that Google I/O is so close. Such a fluff-filled presentation surely could have been crammed into that event. So why else do it now other than to try to beat Apple to the punch?