Saturday, January 27, 2007

AlSoft Laggards

 Wow. I thought Hawai'ian time was bad. 

I ordered the update to DiskWarrior from the maker, Alsoft on Dec 31st (2006). The older version doesn't boot on my G5 iMac, but works still on my (dying) G4 PowerBook.

Recently I began to wonder what happened to that order, but had forgotten when I had placed it. Well today, I got an email from the company telling me my order had shipped.  Had shipped?!


It takes them 4 weeks to put the goddamn CD in the mail? What do they do, hand etch the CDs with lasers under a microscope? I mean this company is in Texas for Chrissakes, not Jamaica or Pakistan. Are they understaffed?

I mean, bless their hearts for shipping to me at an APO address. (Lots of companies won't). And kudos to them for making a well-regarded product (DW ain't too shabby). But 4 weeks? 

I could understand them using surface mail or something, so that it took a while to get here. But this, folks, is ridiculous.

Friday, January 26, 2007

MacBook Mini Rumors Again?

A blog called "Apple Recon" has some supposed info on Apple's supposed ultraportable - called the "MacBook Mini" by some. The stats look pretty good. 3.5lbs weight, 2GHz CoreDuo, 12" Widescreen (1280x800), 1Gb RAM standard, ATI Radeon X1900, some kinda flash assist storage feature, and all the other MacBook standard features. 

The price is supposed to be around $1800 - not bad, IMHO. There were actually people complaining about this price. I guess they forget that the 12" PowerBooks were around $2100. 


The bad news - June '07 at WWDC is when they will be released. That deserves a WTF. 

Really Apple, you are behind all other major (and some minor) PC manufacturers in this regard. 

Thanks to PowerPage for picking up this story from Apple Recon.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mac Sales Up 28%*

*Except in Japan.

AppleInsider reports for Apple's Q107 report, "Apple Japan accounted for 70,000 Mac sales and $285 million in revenues. These figures are down 14 percent and 20 percent year-over-year. Sequentially, Mac units in Japan were up 13 percent while revenues were flat."

So, they got a bit of a holiday bump in sales, but compared to last year sales are considerably lower. Lower than the already low from a year ago!

WTF. Japan is the second biggest consumer nation after the US. Japanese really like well designed, "cute" products. iPod sales stayed at the same level, but they increased elsewhere. Maybe the shine is off the Apple in Japan, because the current iPods are really not very innovative (and we will not see the phones for a year, if ever) and falling behind. And there's the fact that Japanese like small and compact products - which none of the current laptops are.

Why the hell would anyone buy a 5lb MacBook, when they can get the same speed and size for the same price (or better) in a Windows laptop, but at least a pound lighter? Really, Apple. Without a 12" laptop, most Japanese people aren't going to even blink at your portables. And the rest of the line-up is overweight. Yeah, you got the OS thing down pat. Now get your hardware up to par or start licensing your OS.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

AppleTV and iPhone - WOW! But...

Unless you were living in a cave, you know that Apple released details on two products: the AppleTV coming in February and the iPhone, coming to the US in June. 

The Apple TV turns out to be better than I expected, with a hard drive and all sorts of streaming tech for 720p HD video to your TV. At $300, it will be a good value.

The iPhone is... utterly amazing. Simply a work of art and technology. Revolutionary in every way and a dream. Something that, if works as demonstrated, would be great just as an iPod or PDA. Unfortunately the phone network used, GSM isn't available in Japan. It's old tech and frankly should be retired. Furthermore, it's not slated to get to Asia until 2008. I think I've said here before that Apple will have problems getting iPhones into Japan's closed system and through its archaic business negotiation practices. I would guess we'll be lucky to see it in 2 years. Other phone makers will be doing everything they can to block this product. And although Softbank has some promotion with Apple, it's hard to believe they could support these phones better than Docomo or AU. 

So, I've gone from elation to sort of complete deflation. As this amazing device (forget the phone) will likely not be available any time soon.

There was one other announcment, that Apple was changing it's name from "Apple Computer, Inc." to "Apple, Inc.". That was underwhelming.

And there was an unannounced product, a new Airport extreme base station using 802.11n and an AppleTV form factor. $179. Neat! Available in February. Too bad it doesn't have music streaming functions. But you can get that from your AppleTV if you don't have an Airport Extreme.

So - what did this Keynote do for me? Well, I was really impressed by the iPhone, but disappointed in its limited availability. I'm further upset because it's apparent that Apple has no portable computing product that supports my needs. I can't justify hauling around a 5+ lbs laptop. And now that my old G4 is becoming long in the tooth, I'm going to seriously start looking at Windows laptops. WTF is Apple doing with its laptop R&D when unimaginitive companies like ASUS can release small laptops like this. It's really depressing.

Anyway, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on the Apple iPhone this Summer, send us a postcard.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Greenpeace's Gripes All Wet? Maybe...

Some Mac News sites picked up a story from ArsTechnica and the NYT saying that Apple's Laptops are the 'most environmentally friendly', based upon an EPA study.

I took some time to look at the EPA's data and found some interesting facts that don't really support this statement, but call into question Greenpeace's claims. 

The EPAs assessment uses various criteria, Greenpeace focused on toxic materials. Interestingly, EPA ratings gave Mac product very good ratings for environmental toxins, even PVCs. That is contrary to Greenpeace's assertions about PVC. The EPA also gave poor Energy Conservation ratings and Materials Selection (recycled sources) to Apple's products. There is one glaring omission and this invalidates that statement that all Apple's laptops have the best rating. The EPAs ratings for Apple laptops DO NOT INCLUDE MACBOOKS, only the MacBook Pros. So, we can't say because those laptops are not included. And they could contain PVCs, as their cases are plasticized. No makers got a Gold rating, but Apple's laptops were among 144 others that got a Silver rating. And Apple's MacBook Pros are at the top of the Silver heap, with 17 overall points, compared to 16 for a few offerings from Sony and Toshiba. Remember that the MacBooks are not included in this analysis.

Apple's non-notebook products do fairly well, but not strikingly good or bad. Its monitors are in the middle of the pack. Its desktop (MacPro) is 16, below three others with 17 and 18 ratings, above 60 others with lower ratings. Apple has the only integrated products, but if we place them in the desktop category, they have a 14 along with the majority of the desktops rated. So, not awful, but not at the absolute top.

Looking at Greenpeace's site, I just don't much in the way of hard data - just categorical ratings. They rate Apple below HP and Dell, but this seems to be based more on their 'take back' programs, which Apple apparently doesn't have everywhere. The EPA ranks all of HP and Dell's desktops, laptops, and monitors below Apple's, except for iMacs. To be sure, the EPA numbers are themselves just rankings of Apple's ratings in different categories. And it may only be for models sold in the US (who knows what's in machines elsewhere). But Greenpeace puts more weight on stated policies than actual assessments.

To be fair, Greenpeace's assertions also focus much upon iPods, which have quite a bit more plastic in them. The EPA estimates don't include music players. We know iPod sales are huge and by their sheer volume they account for a lot of materials. And though computers must be recycled in some countries (like Japan), without a 'take back' program in the US - Apple looks worse than HP and Dell. Did Greenpeace overstate its claims? Maybe, but without better data we can't completely exonerate Apple. Given that they base more of their rating on the 'take back' than quantified data, I'd have to say Greenpeace over-stated their claim. I'll eat my words from the last post. Sure, Apple should improve their life-cycle management in all countries. But at the same time, without data on MacBooks and iPods, we shouldn't make statements suggesting Apple is at the top of the heap.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

2007 - Expections for MacWorld Expo & Beyond

Mac Faithful are looking forwards to the upcoming MacWorld Expo in 4 days, to see if Apple and Steve Jobs can wow them with more techno-lust magic.

Scads of pundits are already weighing in on what will be announced in the 9 January Keynote by Jobs. So, I figure I'll do the same. I'll start off with what Apple needs to introduce, and then speculate on what Apple will and won't actually introduce.

New iPods - We got a refresh on the Nano and Shuffle lines, but the 5/6G iPod line is in dire need of an overhaul. Screens on the current iPods are a joke - much too small for any real movie enjoyment. A portrait format iPod would really rock, something with a screen the size of a PSP. Give this thing some rudimentary PDA functions and we've got a winner.

iWork that Works - iWork is incomplete without a spreadsheet, and the other apps in the suite need a boost. Make this product useful for those of us who really do work, with 100% MS Office compatibilty, or get out of the market and give MS reason to truly innovate Mac Office.

Ultraportable Portable - I thought the whole reason for moving to Intel chips was to enable Apple to make small, lightweight, cool-running laptops. What happened? To be certain, the MacBook Pros are great machines (though they run hot) and the consumer level MacBook is very affordable. However, these things are WAY too heavy when compared to Windoze laptops by Sony, Panasonic and others - particularly the MacBook. FIVE LBS?!! What a joke for a 13" portable. In Japan, MacBooks are displayed without batteries, or consumers will think they are much too heavy compared to what they see across the aisle in the computer store. Yeah, maybe the 'drive everywhere' culture in the US doesn't appreciate this - but those of us who commute to work by bus, train, bike, or foot really need lightweight laptops. There's no excuse for this lapse, given the past success of 12" G4 laptops. We don't care if it's cheap or has nonsense like the hard drive 'roll-bar' or 'Mag-Safe' power cords. Just make it light - under 2 kg. And if Apple won't make one, at least license the OS so I can run it on a Panasonic ToughBook that tops out at 1.2 kg.

iPhone/MacPhone - This is needed, because it's getting talked to death. Apple is in danger of letting the moment pass by, and not having generated any sales. Do it now, while the interest is there. There are already plenty of decent music phones out there - at least in Japan.

iPad /MacPDA/Internet Tablet - Yeah, I can buy an iPaq or some other piece of crap that runs Windoze CE or even PalmOS. But I don't want that. I want something that plays nice with my Mac and has an intuitive MODERN interface. We don't need a freaking camera or phone functions - just something usable. Fold this in with an iPod (see above) and you might shock the world.

OS 10.5 - We don't need it right away, but some time this year after it's truly ready. The current OS, Tiger, already bitch-slaps Vista around - don't worry about Vista. Just make Leopard great. We don't need an overhaul on the AquaInterface (Geez the new iTunes is fugly!), just improve the functionality and make it rock solid. Give us windows that maximize instead of inconsistently 'zooming'. Allow Front Row to work with not only iTunes Radio channels, but a TV/Cable/Video input source (like my EyeTV250). Make it easy to sort Spotlight searches by date (within file type) or otherwise with a click of a button. Make all apps save documents to the same place you opened their previous incarnations (including PDF files). Make Dashboard truly usable, by allowing active widgets on the desktop (ala Amnesty), instead of hidden somewhere.  Make sure Leopard doesn't leave PowerPC Macs behind, by offering full functionality (except for BootCamp). Make Safari as compatible with websites as FireFox is. Simplify and improve fileserver and filesharing functions, so that they can be always accessed with one click. Make iTunes' interface experience match its improved functionality. (Incorporating song lyrics downloads doesn't count!) I could go on.

Re-Vamped iWeb - Make something that works like SandVox (usually) does, not the stifling, limited mess that iWeb '06 is. Don't make it seem like you have to use .Mac to get the maximum out of iWeb, and improve the interface. Open up the themes architecture (or give us more themes) so that we don't have to spend money on third party offerings.

Stable iPhoto & iMovie - Improve memory usage issues with these apps so that they don't crash when you are working with large files or photo collections.

Truly Mighty Mouse - The current Mighty Mouse form factor really blows and is quite archaic compared to the functionality in current offerings from Logitech and Microsoft. Yeah, the wireless version is an improvement - but the damn thing still works like its wired ancestor. I know very few serious Mac users that can tolerate the Mighty Mouse for more than a few weeks. Lose the goofy left/right 'tip-click' for a left and right button and just put two buttons on the damn thing. Make the nipple larger or turn it into a wheel. Do you think the hundreds of other mice on the market look different, because their manufacturers believe they are subpar to the mighty mouse? 

Greenify Apple - Al Gore sits on your BOD and uses a Mac. You ever listen to him? How about addressing those issues that Greenpeace has brought up, instead of accusing them of being wrong? They have some very valid points, though you may not care about the behavior of your OEMs. Take responsibility and be a leader in Environmental consciousness, instead of a denier/apologist. The fact that Dell is number one on Greenpeace's list (and Apple last) should be shameful to all Mac users. Profit isn't an excuse to utilize materials and OEMs that aren't environmentally friendly.

In truth, it's unlikely that we will see all of the above things in this week's Keynote or even over the entire year. My guess is what we will see is the following.

iLife 07 & iWork 07 - Duh! These application suites have been released during the January MacWorld since their inception. Even thinks so.

Boosted iMacs, MacMinis - These seem to be most likely to get boosts, though it is conceivable the entire line may get speed bumps. Quad Core Mac Pros?!

Boosted iPods - I can't help but wonder how long Apple can wait to upgrade their large capacity iPods. Look for larger capacity, in the least. The form factor is getting a bit long in the tooth.

iTV - There was too much noise about this product when it was previewed. It seemed well on the way. Apple probably can't wait much longer on this one. And it's not exactly rocket science to implement.

Reality Check
There are some things I would surmise won't be released (though they may be needed).

• iPad /MacPDA/Internet Tablet - Sadly, I think that Apple is losing its innovative steam. They don't want to put effort into anything that could be regarded as a niche product. Furthermore, the Newton has left a stale aftertaste in their mouths. Don't expect these, unless they are part of an iPod or controller for another product. (The ModTablet doesn't count...)

iPhone - Given all the attention garnered to this product or potential product - it's a wonder it hasn't been released. Though there is an expectation for it, my guess is that it isn't ready yet or it would have been available at Xmas. And it's not a hardware issue. There could be a licensing quagmire with telecom companies. If you don't believe me, look how long it took to get local versions of the iTunes store in Japan and other countries. And keitai providers aren't going to swallow a simplified payment model or sharing their profits with Apple. So unless Apple has found a way to control the whole shebang, it seems unikely. Unless it's a WiFi phone...

Ultraportable Mac - Sadly, Apple hasn't show much public interest in replacing the 12" G4 PowerBook in its line up with an Intel equivalent. And I don't see this changing, unless a hit in Japan sales (where small is 'in') is significant. Jobs seems more interested in selling a lot of cheap, heavy MacBooks, rather than a smaller number of lightweight, expensive 12" MacBook Pros. There's been some suggestion that an ultraportable is in the works, but little to support it. Hopefully I'm wrong on this one.

OSX 10.5 - All indications are that Leopard is not ready for primetime, but could make it in the Spring or Summer. With Apple gearing up to polish 10.4.9, their efforts aren't fully on Leopard yet. And Apple needs to ensure this release is rock solid, to magnify its OS benefits over Windoze Vista.

Well, I've said my piece. We'll see what will happen in a few days. And don't be surprised if something totally unanticipated happens. That's what all of us hope for.

2006 - Apple's Highs and Lows

 For Apple's bottom line and set up for the future, 2006 was a pretty good year. Yet, there were some problems as well. Here's a quick summary of my (biased) thoughts.

Good Stuff:
• Getting product line, from iMacs to PowerBooks to MacMinis to PowerMacs, onto Intel chips The speed of the transition has been astonishing, and with Intel providing considerable support throughout the whole ordeal.

• Overhauling iTunes.

• Maintaining the iPod dominance in the music player marketplace, and cementing video downloads on the iTunes store.

• Updating the Nano and Shuffle iPods (though I'm not thrilled with the colors).

• Demonstrating concepts and progress for future offerings like Leopard, and the iTV.

Bad Stuff: 
• Dumping the 'iBook' moniker, and using the dorky 'MacBook' designation to replace 'PowerBook'

• Quality control issues with everything from batteries, to excessive fan noise, to case discolorations in Mac Books. Cheap Chinese labor has a cost, I suppose.

• Not having Intel native Adobe and Micro$oft apps yet available (not Apple's fault).

• Over-pricing the Intel MacMini line.

• Lack of a 12" PowerBook replacement in the Intel line or any lightweight laptop at all competitive with Windoze offerings.

Ugly Stuff:
• Apple's stock option scandal.

• The Mac HiFi and it's horrible introduction venue.

• The excess mass in the MacBrick (errr... MacBook).

• New iTunes interface (yuck!)

• FoxConn labor scandal.

• Greenpeace's classification of Apple as Eco-unfriendly.

Is this the MacTablet?

 MacResource, a mac forum supported by OWC (distributor of the ModBook), has a supposed photo of the Axiotron product. 

I dunno. This looks quite fake. It's a horrible mock-up. 

At least I hope it is. It's kind of ugly.

Friday, January 05, 2007

MacTablet Coming 9 January.... Sort of.

This is interesting. There will be a MacTablet announced at the MacWorld Expo. Only, it won't be coming from Apple.

Other World Computing (long-time Mac-centric distributor and reseller) and a company called Axiotron will announce the Axiotron ModBook on January 9th. Although they aren't showing what the unit looks like, the product will be a true tablet with built in handwriting recognition, iSight Camera, CD/DVD combo drive, and GPS (!). It's supposed to be housed in a magnesium alloy shell 'for all terrain use'. OWC will be the exclusive retailer, while Axiotron will make the product.

The Axiotron home page gives a bit more revealing image of this product. Sort of. It also provides more detail absent from the OWC site in their press release. The ModBook uses Wacom's Penabled hardware for pen input with Apple's Inkwell handwriting recognition. (Does that actually work?) There doesn't seem to be any info on what Intel chips will be used, nor any other features, such as hard drives or memory. There is a bit more info on the GPS, and it seems to be an optional feature.

I'm not sure what to say. 

First, it's hard to believe this product will be very compact, given all that's stuffed into it. Or very lightweight, give the magnesium housing. (Why not high impact plastic?!) In fact, the form factor is described as 'condensed' and 'slim'. My fears are a MacBrick crammed into a heavier case...

Second, you have to wonder if it will be all that slick or elegant or functional. Apple generally devotes quite a bit to styling and functionality in their products. One wonders if a small company can do this product justice.

Third, I wonder how Apple will react to the commercial retailing of their products in modified form. Will they stymie it somehow? One could hope that they would squish the ModBook by releasing a real Apple tablet. I sort of remember the MacPortables causing some sort of legal stir a while back, though the details escape me.

Fourth, this would likely be quite expensive, given the hardware and engineering involved. 

I admit I'm attracted to any small form factor Mac. If these guys can pull it off, and it's functional, it could be interesting. 

In the least, it might spur Apple to consider alternative platforms more seriously.

Looks like we will have to wait until 2:30pm on 9 January (California time) to find out.

(Thanks to O'Reilly Mac DevCenter for the scoop.)