Moral Responsibility

NYT: Apple’s Tim Cook Barnstorms for ‘Moral Responsibility’

Watching Mr. Cook over the years, I’ve been fascinated to see how he has become as animated when talking about big issues like education and climate change as he is when talking about Apple.

“I think we have a moral responsibility to help grow the economy, to help grow jobs, to contribute to this country and to contribute to the other countries that we do business in,” he said.

He added, “I think there’s still probably a more significant group that feels my sole responsibility is to Wall Street.”

To me, this is the biggest differentiator between the Jobs era and Cook era at Apple. Like it or not, Cook’s Apple is much more socially active. Under Jobs, Apple had an image of progressivism, but Cook has taken that image and made it an identity.

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iPhone X Event Hopes

One of the fun parts about Apple events is to speculate about what we’re going to see. Unfortunately, this last weekend’s leak of iOS 11 has taken away a bit of the mystery. Still, here are some things I expect to see today as well as some things I’d like to see.

Expected Announcements

  • New iPhones. This goes without saying. Apple has the iPhone on a predictable schedule. I can’t add anything to this that hasn’t already been said other than my hope that the smaller iPhone SE also gets some love.
  • Apple TV 4K. This is another near certainty. I’d love to see the Siri remote get redesigned, and I’d like to see Apple TV come with a game controller by default. Beyond that, adding Amazon Video to tvOS’s app offerings will be a big gain.
  • Apple Watch. If a new Apple Watch is part of this event, I don’t expect a new form factor or anything radical — a refinement of past iterations.
  • Software Updates. iOS 11 and Siri will likely get the most attention. macOS, watchOS, and tvOS improvements will get smaller shoutouts. Also expect a focus on augmented reality.

Wish List

  • iPod touch. I’d love to get my daughter an iPod touch. Therefore, I’d love to see it get a spec bump.
  • Mac mini. It would be great to see them showing off macOS High Sierra on an updated Mac mini. I love the current form factor, but let’s see some improved internals.
  • tvOS TV. What can I say? I’d love to buy a good TV with tvOS built in.

Of course, it’s always nice when Apple surprises us in some way. I expect iPhone X (if that’s what it gets called) will be the big thing, but who knows? Perhaps we’ll get a sneak peek at the upcoming Mac Pro, a release date for the iMac Pro, or something entirely new.

For Subscribers

Just a quick note that, along with trying to be more active with this site again, I’m going back and restoring a bunch of posts I’ve archived for various reasons.

If you subscribe to this site, that means you’ll be seeing email notifications about things published in the past. Thanks for your patience, and I apologize for unintentionally spamming your inbox.

Remembering Shirley Walker

Polygon: Batman: The Animated Series owes half its charm to one unsung composer

Shirley Walker was the first American woman to be the sole composer on a major studio release. And in a profession dominated by men, she often found work assisting other film composers with her skills as a conductor and orchestrator. She was a frequent contributor to John Carpenter’s films, and often collaborated with Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, on A League of Their Own, Scrooged, Dick Tracy and, of course, 1989’s Batman.

But it was her work on another Elfman project, 1990’s The Flash TV show, that brought her to the attention of Batman: The Animated Series’ co-creator Bruce Timm. Still, she was initially reluctant to come on to the production.

My introduction to Shirley Walker was through Batman. I’m glad to see her getting the credit she deserves. I’m also always partial to composers who can orchestrate and conduct their own works.

On Christopher Reeves Hiding Superman’s Identity

Polygon: Superman’s most amazing special effect didn’t require computers or a green screen

The amazing part of this performance is how clearly you can see Christopher Reeve shift his body from Clark Kent to Superman. His voice changes a bit, sure, but it’s all there in the body language. It’s a powerful, physical performance that doesn’t require a change into the costume or any of the special effects that went into the flying scene.

It’s amazing to see this change in isolation. Christopher Reeves appears to physically shrink the moment he withdraws back into the identity of Clark Kent. A later scene that shows the opposite transition is just as striking.

I’m one of the few who actually likes Man of Steel, and I enjoy Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman, but this is something he’s missing. He just doesn’t sell Clark Kent the way Christopher Reeves could.

Thoughts on Apple TV

The last couple of years have seen a strange transition in my home. We’re watching more TV than ever thanks largely to Netflix. I also own a ton of iTunes content — mostly BBC and Pixar stuff — but I don’t watch those as much simply because we don’t currently own an Apple TV. And connecting my iPhone to the TV is never the best experience. I’ve thought about getting one before, but I keep holding back primarly because Apple TV feels so stuck in the past.

I’m apparently not alone. The Verge recently reported that Apple TV has dropped to 15% of all streaming devices sold while Roku has been gaining marketshare. Some possible reasons include:

  • Price
  • Lack of 4K HDR content
  • Lack of Amazon Video

It sounds more and more like we will be hearing about how Apple will address these shortcomings in their September 12 media event. I will be genuinely surpised if Apple touches the price, but I do expect support for first and third-party 4K HDR video as well as the possible launch of Amazon Video on Apple TV. (We already know that Amazon Video should be coming this “summer.”)

These might be enough to sway me at last, but we’re also in the market for a new television. Our current display is a 40″ Samsung we got in 2007.  That gets me wishing for another possibility.

My Pipe Dream

I think Apple’s best way into the living room is not through a box, but through a TV. If your TV has a smart platform built in, chances are that’s already how you get to Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and the like. However, I’m not advocating Apple build their own TV. I’m advocating that they, like Roku, find a partner or two.

Immediately, I would cross Samsung from the list for obvious reasons, not the least of which being they already build their own TV platform. I would knock TCL and Hisense off for having too much of a low-end reputation that would not fit Apple’s image. LG seems a great fit at first glance, but they already have a solid home-baked smart platform built on the resurrected WebOS.

That really leaves two major players I see as possible contenders: Vizio and Sony.

The Case for Vizio

Vizio is the harder of the two to sell because they largely compete on the budget end of things. However, they do sell a more premium line of TVs called their P-series. They have a design philosophy of minimalist sophistication. Their internally-developed smart platform has been problematic, and they also have the advantage of being headquarted in the same general part of the world as Apple.

In this scenario, I see Apple and VIzio developing a variation of the P-Series displays. Let’s call it the A-series, where, instead of SmartCast, the TV would be built around tvOS and built around an A8 or better chip. Apple handles the form factor and software while Vizio handles the display technology and actual manufacturing.

This could be a mutually beneficial relationship. Apple gets to be in a position where they have a good amount of control, but they don’t have to worry about building out a new manufacturing process. Vizio finally gets a solid smart platform and some much-needed name recognition attached to their products.

The Case for Sony

Potential partnerships between Apple and Sony have been floated for years, going all the way back to reports that there were prototype versions of macOS (née Mac OS) running on Sony hardware at one point. It makes sense. Sony has solid indistrial design. They have a reputation for high-end products, and they have good reliability. All of these fit Apple’s established brand well.

Right now, Sony uses Android TV as their built-in platform, software in which they have no investment or stake. It’s also a system criticized for being complicated and slow. Almost every review I’ve read of Sony TVs will criticize Android TV. It could be easily replaced. Here I see Sony potentially licensing tvOS for varients of their higher-end existing lines, say x900 and up, and moving those varients to Apple’s A-series architecture.

This partnership may not give Apple as much control, but it does give them a partner with a large, already loyal, base. Where they would have to build a customer base through Vizio, that legwork will aready be done with Sony.

The Reality

Do I really think any of this will happen? No, I don’t. Apple is not one for partnerships like this. The last one I can even think of is the abysmal Motorola Rockr, an experience that I’m sure left Apple executives with a bad tase. I do believe licensing tvOS — a platform that already embraces the unique needs and limitations of televisions — would be far more successful than shoehorning some iTunes functionality into a flip phone.

The likliest case is that Apple will just update the box called Apple TV. If they ever move into the market for actual sets, they’ll almost certainly go it alone. If they do, I’m sure they’ll be fine. After all, they have a habit of successfully moving into established spaces. They just need to feel they have a game changer. In the case of the iPod, it was iTunes and ease-of-use. The iPhone put a multi-touch computer in your pocket. Apple Watch made wellness tracking mainstream. If Apple is going to “walk in” to the TV market, they will have something to set themselves apart from the pack. 

Apple Officially Opposes Internet “Fast Lanes”

MacRumors: Apple Urges FCC No To Allo Internet Fast Lanes

Broadband providers should not create paid fast lanes on the internet. Lifting the current ban on paid prioritization arrangements could allow broadband providers to favor the transmission of one provider’s content or services (or the broadband provider’s own online content or services) over other online content, fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today—to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation.

On the surface, of course Apple opposes lifting this ban because it would put them in a place to pay ISPs to prioritize iTunes or App Store content. On the other hand, whose pockets are deeper than Apple’s in this sector? Such rules would give them a distinct competative advantage over streaming competitors like Amazon or Netflix since Apple could easily outpay any of them.

Lifting the “fast lane” ban could, in effect, hand the streaming market to Apple while prohibiting competition from emerging or growing. Yet Apple opposes such a lift.

Mossberg: The Disappearing Computer

Mossberg: The Disappearing Computer

But just because you’re not seeing amazing new consumer tech products on Amazon, in the app stores, or at the Apple Store or Best Buy, that doesn’t mean the tech revolution is stuck, or stopped. In fact, it’s just pausing to conquer some major new territory. And, if it succeeds, the results could be as big, or bigger, than the first consumer PCs were in the 1970s, or even the web in the 1990s and smartphones in the first decade of this century.

All of the major tech players, companies from other industries, and startups with names we don’t know yet are working away on some or all of the new major building blocks of the future. They are: artificial intelligence / machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and drones, smart homes, self-driving cars, and digital health / wearables.

All of these things have dependencies in common. They include greater and more distributed computing power, new sensors, better networks, smarter voice and visual recognition, and software that’s simultaneously more intelligent and more secure.

This is Walt Mossberg’s final column. As someone who first got into technology in the 1990s, I can’t overemphasize how much I associate him with my love for tech. I wish him all the best.

MP3 Lives On

“MP3 is dead” missed the real, much better story

Marco Arment has perhaps the most lucid take on the “MP3 Is Dead!” articles that sites like Engadget and Gizmodo have done over the last few days. The truth is, the expiration of software patents regarding MP3 is a good thing. It doesn’t kill the format. If anything, the patent expiration will give the format new life.

From the article:

MP3 is very old, but it’s the same age as JPEG, which has also long since been surpassed in quality by newer formats. JPEG is still ubiquitous not because Engadget forgot to declare its death, but because it’s good enough and supported everywhere, making it the most pragmatic choice most of the time.

•••

MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it’s good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it’s finally free.

 

Comparing Apples to Lemons

Windows 10 is a visually striking operating system. It’s bold; it’s colorful; and it has a strong support for modern and legacy applications. It highlights one of the weaker parts of the Mac ecosystem. There is simply not the backwards compatibility in the world of Apple that there is in Microsoft’s environment. I can’t just grab a copy of Diablo for the Mac off my shelf and start playing, but I can with a modern PC. However, that legacy also comes with baggage, and that baggage can lead to performance issues in less powerful PCs. My current Asus is an example of just that.

When I first wrote about the Asus, I noted that I was surprised it was running similar specs to my wife’s 2011 MacBook Air.

Here are the basic specs of each:

  • MacBook Air 2011: 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7 “Sandy Bridge” 64-bit processor, 4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 memory, 256 GB SSD.
  • Asus X551M 2015: 1.86 Intel Celeron “Bay Trail” 64-bit processor, 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 memory, 500 GB HDD.

The only advantage our Mac has in terms of raw specs is its SSD (well, also a better display, backlit keyboard, better wireless connectivity, and better battery life; but I digress). In the other areas that matter, the Asus wins on paper. It has a slightly faster and more modern processor, and it has faster memory. However, in day-to-day use, the Asus feels so much slower. So I decided to put it to the test.

The Test

I performed some very basic tasks on both machines and timed them. We’re not talking batching Photoshop filters here or anything. This is all simple stuff you are likely to do every day.

Start Up

For this test, both machines started fully powered down. I stopped the timer when I could click on something and it responded. On Windows, it was the Start Menu; on the Mac it was the Finder icon in the Dock.

  • Asus – 1:15
  • MacBook Air – 0:43

Launch Firefox

Here, I simply clicked on the Firefox icon — from the Start Menu for the PC and from Launchpad for the Mac. I stopped the timer when the homepage was done loading.

  • Asus – 0:29
  • MacBook Air – 0:03

Copy and Paste

I copied my iCloud documents directory to the desktop of each. Both were synced and only copying local data. The size of the folder was 1.85 GB.

  • Asus – 7:34
  • MacBook Air – 1:08

Empty Trash

I made sure the Trash Can (Mac) and Recycle Bin (Windows) were already empty. I moved the same directory as above into each and then prompted the OS to empty trash/recycling.

  • Asus – 0:25
  • MacBook Air – 0:05

Shut Down

I started timing as soon as I hit the shut down command and stopped timing when the computer stopped making any noise.

  • Asus – 0:31
  • MacBook Air – 0:12

Geekbench Browser

These are just the raw numbers from the Geekbench web app. Larger numbers are better.

  • Asus
    • Single Core: 949
    • Multi-Core: 3101
  • MacBook Air
    • Single Core: 2505
    • Multi-Core: 4564

Conclusion

If the hardware specs are nearly identical, then the differentiating factor has to be the software (as well as the SSD in the Mac). This is Apple’s advantage to me, and it’s why any comparison between machines that does not take the operating system into account is incomplete. Simply put, on similar hardware, macOS performs better than Windows. A more modest Mac may feel quicker than a more impressively-specced PC. Yes, you can get more PC for the same price as a Mac, but you know what? You’re going to need it.

It’s also why a Mac tends to have a longer life than a comparable PC. I’ve owned three Mac laptops since the year 2000. My PowerBook G3 lasted seven years before biting the dust. I replaced that with a MacBook Pro that lasted a modest four years. (It was taken out of commission by a toddler.) This MacBook Air I’m typing on has lasted six years, and it’s still going strong. As for the 2015 Asus? I don’t really want to turn it on again. I’ve given it a fair chance, both through Ubuntu and Windows, and the end result is that I’m ready to return to the Mac fold.