Did Apple Screw Up?

July 8, 2010

I always follow the ZDNet blogs to keep up on certain segments of the future of publishing saga. ZDNet’s coverage of new hardware & software, top companies, e-readers, infrastructure and security issues is timely and excellent. Here’s the latest on the iPhone 4.

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“…the antenna problem on the iPhone 4 isn’t a software issue. It’s a design defect…either live with it or return it.”

UPDATE: July 12, 2010

Lab tests: Why Consumer Reports can’t Recommend the iPhone 4

“…Apple needs to come up with a permanent—and free—fix for the antenna problem before we can recommend the iPhone 4.”

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Apple vs. Adobe’s Flash

April 30, 2010

The big battle of the week has been brewing all year: Steve Jobs and Apple versus Adobe and its Flash technology (acquired when it bought Macromedia in 2005). We have seen a few skirmishes in the last months, but now it’s war. Earlier today Jobs posted a 1,700 word missive explaining in extensive detail why Apple does not and will not support Adobe Flash technology.

Under the mild-mannered heading “Thoughts on Flash,” Jobs began gently, recounting the “golden era”:

Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years. The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times.

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Steve Jobs, Unidentified, Chuck Geschke and John Warnock “shortly after the launch of the LaserWriter.” (Photo appears on Adobe’s website; perhaps not for much longer.)

I was working in the industry in those happy days. Steve Jobs was at one point very close to Adobe’s founders, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke. Ah, but times have changed since then. Jobs continues:

Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products. Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests.

Ouch!

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I won’t repeat the technical arguments in Jobs’ essay – they’re easy enough to follow in the original. I’ll jump instead to the conclusions, which Dale Carnegie (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”) would not approve of:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games. New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

A Google search on “Steve Jobs on Flash” brings up 97 million+ references, so if you limit the search to the past week, you narrow it to 60 million+ references, or a mere 587 actual entries. (I still don’t understand why Google doesn’t just say 587, when on the last page of the search I find “Results 581 – 587 of about 60,500,000 for Steve Jobs on Flash.” Why bother with the 60,500,000? What does that tell me? I’m sure the answer lurks out there somewhere.)

I digress: my point is that there is no shortage of commentary available regarding the controversy, and surprise: some side with Apple, some with Adobe.

My favorite is by Mister Jalopy at the site Hooptyrides. While categorizing Jobs’ argument as “well-reasoned,” he notes that…

…a big chunk of his criticism could be equally applied to Apple’s own policies. For kicks I did some search and replacing:
       – Replace Adobe with Apple
       – Replace Flash with closed, as a catchall for Apple’s myriad of closed technology
Of course, Job’s statement is very specific to Flash technology so the search and replace is not seamless, but it does create some funny paragraphs.

Before:

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

After:

Apple’s closed products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Apple, and Apple has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Apple’s closed products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Apple and available only from Apple. By almost any definition, closed is a closed system.

I like that last sentence. Wish I came up with it.

Apple holds the upper hand in this contest – historically mere user discontent does not often change Apple’s strategies. Adobe has a lot riding on Flash and great plans for its future. This includes earning more money by releasing new Flash-creation software. Adobe’s Creative Suite 5, by coincidence now shipping as of today, includes a new program, Adobe Flash Catalyst. Adobe recognizes that the complexity of the available software restricts Flash development. According to Adobe its existing tools for creating Flash files, Flash Professional and Flash Builder, suited (respectively) “creative pros working in multimedia” and developers. Flash Catalyst targets “interactivity novices.”

While Adobe offers a survey on its site pointing to the “Worldwide Ubiquity of Adobe Flash Player by Version” the sad fact remains that the company makes no money from the free player. Adobe’s revenue source for Flash is software that creates and serves Flash files. Adobe reports Flash-related income as part of its “Platform segment” and in its SEC-filed financial statements for Q1, 2010, Adobe categorizes this segment as “an emerging market with high growth potential.” Yet it delivered only 5.4% of Adobe’s revenue in the quarter. As other segments of Adobe’s business mature (aka stop growing quickly) a lot more is riding on pulling revenue from Flash.

I’m counting all the early skirmishes as a single round: stay tuned for Round 3.

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Money-Saving Tips: Probably not a Series

April 8, 2010

While researching the preceding blog entry I stumbled on this money-saving tip for the millions of users of desktop printers. Tracking down the source took some detective work.

The news originated on the Printer.com blog. Then Diane Blohowiak, coordinator of information-technology user support at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, began testing Printer.com’s claim. Wisconsin Public Radio interviewed Blohowiak, and the Associated Press circulated a short account of the interview on March 25th this year. Associated Press reporter Dinesh Ramde kept after the story and on April 6th this week reported that Blohowiak now expects the university to save 5-10% of it’s $100,000/year budget for ink and toner cartridges. According to a Google search roughly 400 newspapers reprinted Ramde’s thorough reporting since April 6th.

saveprintingcostsSource: Printer.com

The detail would sound like mumbo jumbo to anyone not involved in desktop printing, but here’s the scoop. For test purposes Printer.com chose Arial. As shown in the chart above, if you switch to Century Gothic, printing costs would drop by 31%. Printer.com calculates that an individual could save a whole $20/year; a small business perhaps $80 a year. Diane Blohowiak has calculated that a major educational institution can save a whole lot more.

On the other hand, if you, your staff or students suddenly fall in love with Franklin Gothic Medium, costs could rise by a full 11% over Arial.

Ah I can hear you thinking: what’s the catch? Alas there are two. As reported in the second AP account, renowned type expert Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging, points out that Century Gothic was designed for titles and headlines, not for full text documents. He still recommends Times New Roman or Arial for their readability.

Problem two is even more perplexing. The design of most letters in Century Gothic, because it’s a headline font, are broader than text fonts, and the same number of letters are going to use more paper when printed with this face. None of the reports state how much more paper.

Instead I’ll point out a third problem expanding Haley’s statement above. Century Gothic is a sans serif font. There are a minority of book designers who would use a sans serif font for long text documents (except for unique design challenges). It’s simply more difficult to read in smaller sizes for extended periods than serif fonts. (No one ever got fired for using Times Roman!)

Here’s an approximation of what the opening paragraph of The Wind in the Willows looks like set in 10 point Century Gothic:

witwillows80ps

Tiring. But go back to the chart. Times Roman offers a 29% savings over Arial, a mere 2% less than the problematic Century Gothic. Problem solved.

And now the punch line. Printer.com published its original research results on April 13th, 2009! The firm’s headquarters is in The Netherlands and so the data didn’t filter to the U.S. press until it could find a homegrown spin. The direct result: lots of ink and toner unnecessarily wasted in the past year while we avoided the challenge of reading long laser-printed reports set in Century Gothic.

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iPad Sales Undermine Pundits’ Guesswork

April 6, 2010

About the only number anyone can agree on is that roughly 300,000 iPads sold in the U.S. last Saturday. Apple’s own press release admits that “these sales included deliveries of pre-ordered iPads to customers, deliveries to channel partners and sales at Apple Retail Stores.” No one is revealing the percentages in each of those three categories. The inclusion of “deliveries to channel partners” is troubling, because deliveries to resellers may not be the same as sales to end-users. But if Best Buy’s experience is any indication, they would likely be one and the same.

In an April 2nd press release Best Buy stated that “Apple’s new iPad will be available in the 673 Best Buy stores that carry Apple products beginning Saturday, April 3. Three Wi-Fi iPad models will be on display for customers to see in the Apple Shop locations at these stores.” And in the next sentence: “Quantities for purchase will be limited.” According to credible scoops from several sites including TUAW.com, Best Buy had only 15 units per store last Saturday. It’s unlikely the company would have ordered so few: presumably Apple set the allocation.

Wipe Your Mouth

The press continues to slobber all over the iPad. Cory Doctorow offers a sanguine explanation in his controversial essay (894 comments and 4300 tweets so far), “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either).” Doctorow writes that “I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff.”

Among the excited journalists are John Boudreau of the onliine edition of the San Jose Mercury News, who begins his April 5th coverage with “Sales of Apple’s new iPad tablet matched the hype leading up to its launch with more than 300,000 sold on Saturday in the United States, the first day the device was on store shelves,” but completes his lede with “the company (Apple) said Monday.” He’s already on the list for an invite to the next Apple event.Why highlight third-party unbiased reports when you can quote a more reliable source: Apple Computer?

Staff Photojournalist

“I’ll take two!”  Photo by Pauline Lubens, San Jose Mercury News

A site from the UK, bigmouthmedia.com, in the business of search engine optimisation, e-marketing  and internet marketing, concurs with the San Jose Mercury Newsvia its headline: “iPad sales defy naysayers and meet expectations,” although the content of the brief entry mainly reprints material from a New York Times article.

I think the award for unadulterated foaming-at-the-mouth coverage must without doubt go to Wired online, which going back to last year has so far published 164 stories about the iPad.

A financial journalist named Jim Woods, listed as a contributing editor at InvestorPlace.com, somehow extrapolates that the 300,00 is just an early guess. In his blog he writes: “Industry analysts estimate that Apple sold between 600,000 and 700,000 iPads in just two days. If this figure holds up [Ed: Even though few brick & mortar stores were open on day two], it would easily best the 500,000 many pundits on Wall Street were hoping for in order to declare the iPad an opening weekend success.”

I’m not certain where he conjured all that from. Perhaps from Piper Jaffray’s analyst Gene Munster. In a blog entry Munster is quoted without a smirk by Fortune‘s usually down-to-earth Phillip Elmer-DeWitt, “In a report to clients issued Saturday night, Munster’s estimated that by midnight Sunday, Apple will have sold 600,000 to 700,000 iPads.” (Elmer-DeWitt notes in his own byline, “(the author) believes that an ounce of skepticism never hurts when writing about [Apple].” I guess his skepticism took a day off.)

Next Day Note: Elmer-DeWitt wrote to point to his entry of April 5th, titled “Predicting iPad sales: How close were the analysts?” He focuses on Munster’s blooper (particularly unfortunate as, according to Elmer-DeWitt, Munster “predicted four days earlier that Apple would sell 200,000 to 300,000 iPads over the course of the weekend, (and then) more than doubled his estimate to 600,000 to 700,000 Saturday night after he saw the size of the launch-day crowds.” Faith in journalist restored.

I’ve searched without success for the story about the the 700,000 disappointed American children when they found out that “due to unforeseen family circumstances” this year’s Easter Egg Hunt had to be canceled.

Some Contrary Views

Speaking of Gene Munster, in a blog entry today called “Ipad sales fall short of estimates,” Nick Farrell at TheInquirer.net ponders whether “there (were) any sackings at Piper Jaffray where analyst Gene Munster had predicted Apple would sell 600,000 to 700,000 units?” Farrell, inspired by an article in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “First-Day Sales of Apple’s iPadFall Short of Sky-High Hopes,” ended his coverage with:

Now the WSJ is telling us that “how well the iPad will sell in the long term will likely stay unclear for at least another few quarters…”

In other words, some of Apple’s biggest products have previously had relatively slow starts… please don’t fire me for sacrificing media integrity and peddling Apple press releases for six months.

The same WSJ article points out that in the “Make Fools of the Analysts” game there’s more fun to come. “Estimates for global iPad sales this year ranged from 2.5 million by financial-services firm Kaufman Bros. to as high as 7.1 million by research firm iSuppli Corp,” the paper reports. iSuppli’s tagline is “Applied Market Intelligence,” and its intelligence apparently allows it to predict the future. A press release on its site states that “sales will double to 14.4 million in 2011 and nearly triple to 20.1 million in 2012.” Zowee! Hype springs eternal.

My final word tonight from the hype department is again courtesy of TUAW, which reported that some crazy fool an iPad enthusiast on eBay paid $5,000 (USD) for the $700 64GB model.

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Source: TUAW.com

As of tonight, the top price for the same model on eBay is $1,299, with free shipping in the U.S.

Perhaps the mania will soon cool off. Sam Diaz, a senior editor at ZDNet, concluded his blog entry today with “I really want to like the iPad but let’s be honest about it — it doesn’t bring anything new. For the money — and the hype — it needs more.”

PS: Early in Cory Doctorow’s essay noted above is a reference to another great take on the “existential problem” (my description) of the iPad. An entry in Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka blog called “cd-roms and ipads” offers a dazzling comparison between the time (in the mid-80s) when media companies flocked like lemmings to publish on CD-ROM, hoping for digital salvation. He makes a bulls-eye comparison to the media ambitions for publishing on the iPad. His piece is an essential contribution to the endless iPad controversy (and hype). “We assumed these people knew what they were doing. God knows we knew we didn’t have a clue,” he writes.

Is any individual or team fully confident of their iPad strategy today?

UPDATE, April 8, 2010: In today’s WSJ, at the end of a report on the upcoming new version of the iPhone OS, “Mr. Jobs also said Apple has sold more than 450,000 iPad tablet computers in the U.S. since the device went on sale Saturday.”

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Apple iPad Declared a Winner by Top Critics

March 31, 2010

It won’t be available until Saturday, but of course Apple let the tech industry’s three most influential reviewers get their hands on units as long as a week ago. The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, David Pogue of the New York Times, and Ed Baig of USA Today each today published their first reviews of final shipping units of the base model of Apple’s iPad.

Mossberg is the most enthusiastic, stating “I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.” But did you like it?

Edward C. Baig of USA TODAYcomes in as a close second most enthusiastic. While he admits he was underwhelmed at the product’s intro last January, he’s now born again. “The first iPad is a winner,” Begg writes. “It stacks up as a formidable electronic-reader rival for Amazon’s Kindle. It gives portable game machines from Nintendo and Sony a run for their money.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                         Photo © Apple Computer

David Pogue is the brightest and wittiest of the bunch and recognises that techies may look at the iPad completely differently than the group he categorizes as “everyone else.” (Pogue offers a “simple test” to determine if you’re a technie? “Do you use BitTorrent? Do you run Linux? Do you have more e-mail addresses than pants? You’re a techie.”)

The “bottom line” for techies, Pogue concludes “is that you can get a laptop for much less money — with a full keyboard, DVD drive, U.S.B. jacks, camera-card slot, camera, the works. Besides: If you’ve already got a laptop and a smartphone, who’s going to carry around a third machine?”

It’s “everyone else” who will fall in love with the iPad. But he makes what is the most salienet point of any of the reviewers when thinking about the iPad and “everyone else.” Pogue sees that the iPad excels at consuming media much more than for creating much more than email. “It’s not nearly as good for creating stuff,” he observes. “On the other hand, it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on. For most people, manipulating these digital materials directly by touching them is a completely new experience — and a deeply satisfying one.”

Each reviewer notes Apple’s continuing refusal to allow Adobe’s Flash technology on the iPad (as it also refuses to allow Flash on the iPhone). The result for now is that majority of the most popular web sites will not display video. On the plus side, each reviewer notes the long battery life of the iPad: both Mossberg and Pogue do their own tests and find they get 12 hours plus, against Apple’s claim of a mere 10 hours. Baig complains that by comparison the Kindle can last up to two weeks. I’d be perfectly content with 12 hours. Each prefers the iPad to the Kindle for reading eBooks, although again Baig offers the weakest endorsement.

From each reviewer one senses that the features missing from this first version are missing mainly to allow Apple the opportunity to release in a timely fashion new models that will force enthusiasts to junk their first purchase (Pogue states as much). Amazon has been successful in obsoleting Kindles as has Apple with its wide range of handheld offerings. Of course this will be the business model for the iPad.

The last word for now from the conclusion to David Pogue’s review:

The bottom line is that the iPad has been designed and built by a bunch of perfectionists. If you like the concept, you’ll love the machine.

The only question is: Do you like the concept?