January 15, 2008
MacBook Air=Portable Cube
Having watched the keynote, and gone over the specs with a fine-toothed comb, I'm mostly disappointed. The MacBook Air is a very sexy form factor surrounding some very ordinary parts -- you've got an iPod hard drive, integrated video that burns 144 megs of system memory, and 2 gigs of RAM that it appears are permanently attached, and cannot be upgraded. Unlike every portable Apple has ever built, the battery isn't even user swappable.
I initially thought Apple might take this opportunity to introduce a new form factor in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro that would, in a year or 18 months, serve as the model for the next revision of the MacBook. Such a machine would skimp a little in comparison with the Pro, but likely offer a dedicated video card, standard laptop components cleverly packaged, and an LED-backlit widescreen display.
Instead, what we got strikes me as a “café computer,” one that will be fine for e-mail and weblogging, but that I don't see using for on-the-go video work (there's not even a FireWire port) and that won't even open Photoshop. To better manage heat and power consumption, Apple has designed in a 1.6-gigahertz processor, significantly slower than a standard MacBook (and at least nominally slower even than the processor in the Mac mini). Instead of the commodity hard drive, a 5400-rpm Serial ATA model, the Air gets a 4200-rpm Parallel ATA model in the iPod's 1.8-inch form factor.
Apple has provided one option that could mitigate the machine's performance handicap a bit: A solid-state hard drive, currently 64 gigabytes. Unfortunately, building that drive in is a $999 option!
It's beautiful, certainly. Apple's design aesthetic seems to be collapsing in on itself, leaving just a single word: Thin. Beveled corners, like those on the iPod touch, make the Air's edges visually sharp, while the drop-down ports, required by the crazy thin-ness of the case, are very cool.
But it's beautiful at a price. Here's a machine for travelers that won't be able to connect to the in-room ethernet. Here's a machine that can't simultaneously handle a keyboard and mouse unless the keyboard provides USB pass-through (lots don't). I find myself wondering if it's true: You can be too thin.
Sitting here 10 hours from the keynote, the Air doesn't remind me most of the late, beloved 12" PowerBook or the 2400c, still my favorite computer of all time. The Mac it reminds me of is the Cube. Like the Cube, it's beautiful, offers little expansion capability, and looks pricey when compared to its Apple stablemates.
January 25, 2007
Is there a miniBook in the pipeline?
Apple Recon is reporting on rumors that Apple has a subnotebook in process, with specs and pricing in between the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The rumors suggest a 3.5 pound package, with a 12" 1280 x 800 monitor, hard drive and optical drive (and possibly a new caching flash drive as well), and 6 hour battery life.
I know such a machine is possible -- I'm currently using one, even if it has a Dell logo. It's not 3.5 pounds, and I'm sure Apple will bring other innovations to theirs (Apple Recon speculates on an LED backlight and the flash drive), but my Dell XPS M1210 matches this rumor, to be announced in June, today.
The base system is 4.3 pounds, and about the same size as a PowerBook 12", but it's got a lot of features I would be surprised to see in the final Apple release, as well: S-Video out, 2 gigs of memory with support for 4 gigs, and an ExpressCard 54 slot. Mine's got an extended battery, and it's good for 4-5 hours of wireless use, enough that I haven't really noticed the battery life. The 256-meg nVidia 7400 video card drives my 20" widescreen display alongside the internal LCD, and nVidia supplies a software wizard to gracefully set up multiple displays. There's plenty I don't like, of course: Something about the keyboard feels like it's coming off on my fingers, and there are media keys along the front of the case that I keep bumping by mistake. The topcase is a black plastic that picks up oil from my hands every time I pick it up. It's got the glossy screen, which is very bright, but I've found myself in two situations where I had to move the laptop to eliminate glare. If I were using it in the field, that number would be higher.
I love the rumored specs for an Apple subnotebook, although I wish it could fit an ExpressCard, since its target market (knowledge workers and execs on the go) are likely to take advantage of high-speed cellular wireless connections. Also, I hope the rumor is wrong about a 2-gHz ceiling on clock speed. If Apple addresses this giant, yet tiny, hole in its portable line, the machine should have at least a nominal speed increase over the MacBook.
January 11, 2007
iPhone 4+ years in the making?
I'm not usually one to self-link, but I'm getting some Google hits on the short post linked above from August 2002. It references a John Markoff story, now lost to the New York Times TimesSelect product, but the abstract is pretty prescient.
Remember, this is from August 19, 2002:
Apple Computer reportedly weighs introduction of hand-held device that would combine elements of cellphone and Palm-like personal digital assistant; forthcoming Macintosh OS X, Version 10.2, is being marketed as improvement for desktop computer users, but it has features that make more sense in hand-held device than desktop; move would play into Apple's so-called digital hub strategy, in which Macintosh desktop computer is center of web of peripheral devices of Steven P Jobs, Apple chief executive...
By the way, my very next post, later that day, was on a cool new RSS aggregator, called NetNewsWire, then in version 1.0b13.
January 09, 2007
Now we know what all those patents were about
We've got 6 months to chew on Apple's new iPhone, and there's still quite a bit that's unknown: How Cingular will bill for data, the battery's standby life, and about 100 different things about the phone software. Here's a couple quick nuggets:
I suspect the low contrast, no-container interface (look at the Safari screen shot image here for an example: The forward and back arrows sit directly in the navbar, without a containing rectangle, like Safari today) will appear on the Mac, maybe as soon as Leopard.
Nobody seems to have any details about the phone running “OS X.” You can bet every Mac developer is working any available angle to find out more. I've seen one report that says it's a closed ecosystem and Apple's not even naming the processor (Update: make that two reports). Even if it is “OS X,” it's not OS X as we think of it -- you wouldn't be able to go buy FileMaker and run it on the phone. It's possible there's a super-secret version of Interface Builder and a compiler for the iPhone architecture running around in Cupertino, and Mac developers will have to redesign in the new IB and recompile for the new architecture. It will be really interesting to see how the “desktop class iPhoto, iTunes, and Safari” differ from the real thing. It may just be that, because Apple defines OS X, this phone runs OS X by definition, and the applications on the box are all it has or ever will have. If Microsoft can label every OS they sell as Windows, Apple can have three different OS X's (OS X, Server, and iPhone).
When Jobs said the company was releasing 3 new devices, in one package, he really said a mouthful. The iPhone represents the most profitable, but by no means the only, combination of the widescreen, the touch pad, the phone, the iPod, and OS X Micro. Drop the phone, and you've got the widescreen video iPod most folks were expecting today. Drop the phone, add a keyboard, and you've got the Mac equivalent of a Pocket PC, only much cooler: it could include the multitouch interface and other touch screen goodness.
I suspect the reason this was released as a single product, instead of a product line, is the continued success and profitability of the iPod. There are only two price points ($399, $449) between the current video iPod and the low-end iPhone, so to introduce an iPod Widescreen at $449, by dropping the radios from the iPhone, would cannibalize iPhone wireless revenue (and I'm sure Apple gets a taste of that), when Apple is confident they'll continue to sell as many video iPods and as many iPhones as they can turn out. If sales don't stack up, we'll see new combinations of the iPhone package sooner than otherwise.
Personally, I find the price high for a phone, and have never liked Cingular's data pricing. On the other hand, my previous phone lust object was the Nokia E61, which is available unlocked for between $375 and $450. Given the way the iPhone makes previous phones look like they have a crank, that may be a fair premium.
There are almost 2,000 (exactly 1984 at the moment, appropriately enough) photos tagged iPhone at Flickr tonight.
January 07, 2007
Biggest Macworld and switching to the PC
So the biggest Macworld in years starts tomorrow (Tuesday for Macworld Expo). Nobody seems to have a real handle on what Apple's going to do this year, so predictions are all over the place. Apple has pushed the hype by promising that “The first 30 years were just the beginning,” suggesting major things afoot.
Over at HiveLogic, Dan Benjamin offers a fairly safe list: Whatever Apple's iTV becomes, updates to the iMac, iPod, iLife and iWork, and a preview of Leopard, with Windows virtualization built in. All good stuff, with the virtualization probably the only controversial choice.
Benjamin doubts we'll see the iPhone/iPod phone, new iSights, or a Mac Pro update, widely expected because Intel will be announcing its new Kentsfield processors tomorrow. He rates as “possibilities” high-def iTunes (to support TV and movie content in HD), an update to the iPod Hifi, a MacBook Pro speedbump, and BlueRay support, and is holding his breath for a “true” video iPod, a nanoBook (an ultraportable laptop), and a Beatles iPod, heralding the arrival of the Beatles catalog on iTunes.
Over at O'Reilly's MacDevCenter, a survey of writers turns up a surprisingly common wish for a Core 2 Duo update of Apple's longstanding desktop form factor, last seen in, what, the 7600? For years, this was the most popular corporate Mac, in its IIcx/IIci/Quadra 650/Power Mac 7100/PowerMac 7500/7600 iteration, which usually shared a motherboard with Apple's top tower, albeit generally with a slower processor, and generally offered 3 slots. The iMac line is inherently wasteful in a corporate environment, because most companies are ready to upgrade the CPU long before the LCD has died, but the Mac mini is generally a little underpowered for corporate use. So I'll add this to my wish list (fat lot of good it will do).
Also looking back to the future are a couple of writers who want a replacement for the 12" PowerBook. That would be terrific. The Mac world significantly lags the PC world when it comes to sub-notebooks, and it seems like I'm seeing more and more of the smaller, lighter machines in airports. If you spend a lot of time on the road, and use your machine for office functions, a 12" (or smaller) machine you can hook to an external monitor in the office, with a decent keyboard and battery life, makes a lot of sense.
Also, three of their writers want changes to .Mac. One wants it eliminated (I don't see that happening), while another wants to see it significantly enhanced. I still would like to see .Mac become an extension of a home server product (like the HP MediaSmart server, but software or Mac mini-based and therefore cheaper), with two-way synchronization of selected files and folders between .Mac and the home server; automatic backup of purchased iTunes and other user content to the home server; domain, weblog, calendar and photo sharing support over the internet.
Meanwhile, I'm starting a new job tomorrow, and I hear they've got a sub-notebook Dell waiting for me. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. It's been 5 years since I spent more than 30-45 minutes at a Windows desktop.
December 06, 2006
TiVo hasn't, so community builds TiVoToGo for Mac
Every few weeks, I do a quick web-scan checking to see if TiVo has made any new announcements about a Mac client for TiVoToGo, the client software that lets you move TiVo'ed shows to your computer and then to iPods, PSPs, etc.
And every few weeks, I'm disappointed. Despite a Mac client that was demoed at CES in January and announced for “mid-2006,” then just 2006, there's been no more announced progress on this.
But earlier this week, I read that some wily hackers had figured out how to decrypt TiVo's files, which was really the only technical hurdle. Eventually, we'll get all-in-one tools with an actual user interface, but I've now used the command-line tool to grab three files off the house TiVos, converted one with iSquint, and viewed some of it with iTunes with no problems (the unencrypted files are MPEG2's that can be read by VLC).
November 20, 2006
Why no Mac viruses?
John Gruber goes off on the latest Windows-centric pundit to declare that the only reason Macs are essentially virus-free is that nobody's interested in them.
Seltzer's summary graph:
Opinion: The verdict is in: OS X is as insecure as anything out there, but somehow nobody—including attackers—cares.
Gruber focuses on the inconsistency that the Mac supports a healthy software market, likely one proportionate in size to the Mac market compared to the Windows market, but the Mac malware market is “nearly zero.”
Gruber misplays his case, however, when he says “Mac OS X’s malware market share hovers near zero (as did the classic Mac OS’s a decade ago).” Both Gruber and Seltzer seem to believe that the Mac has just never supported a virus-producing community. This is dead wrong.
The Mac environment wasn't always virus-free.
Once upon a time, I ran a few public-access labs at my university. These labs suffered several virus outbreaks, most notably catching WDEF before it was discovered in 1989. We also would occasionally see MDEF, nVIR, and Scores. The Mac's market share then was a little higher -- a little under 10 percent, versus 5 or 6 percent today -- but it was still a minority platform, with the great majority of computers running DOS or Windows.
And yet, there were 10 or 20 viruses running loose in the classic Mac OS ecosystem (compared to hundreds for DOS/Windows), and there are none running loose in the OS X ecosystem (compared to hundreds for Windows). Since the hardware was at one point exactly the same for either ecosystem, the difference must be in either the software or the user base.
But the OS X user base is decidedly more capable of creating a virus than the classic Mac OS ecosystem. Plenty of “alphageek” nerd users have made the switch, attracted by Apple's elegant hardware, (figuratively and occasionally literally) transparent interface, and Unix-y base. The only thing about the user base that discourages malware production is that most people who know enough to build a Mac virus can make a nice living as a programmer or administrator, so why foul the nest? Still, the number of users capable of generating theoretical Mac malware must be at least 5 times as large as it was before the release of OS X.
So if it's not the user base, it must be the software. The Unix security model is more secure than the pre-Vista Windows model, and must take the lion's share of the credit for the lack of OS X viruses. There may eventually be Mac OS X viruses, but to claim the reason there are none is that the platform is irrelevant is more than a little bizarre.
January 29, 2006
iTunes as video jukebox
Using iTunes to catalog video is working out pretty well; I'm beginning to build a video jukebox to go with the thousands of songs in the musical jukebox accessible through iTunes.
Network streaming is very good across a wired 100-megabit network, acceptable over 802.11g, and pretty pathetic over 802.11b. I've imported a bunch of old Apple commercials, various movie videos, and have started importing shows somebody in the family wants to keep after watching the EyeTV capture files. The iTunes interface is pretty good at navigating a lot of content quickly, and provides preview frames for videos to help distinguish similar movies.
There are a few rough edges, however, and I wonder if the day isn't coming when there are two paths into the iTunes Music Store, iTunes and “iVideo.”
Why? Inclusion of both video and audio content is feeling forced. I went to listen to my “recent additions” playlist off the G5, and iTunes keeps showing me (recently added) videos. I could rewrite my smart playlist to not include videos (and probably will), but there should be a simple way to choose one kind of content or the other, even (nay, especially) over the network. Right now I just want to listen to new songs, but to do that, I have to uncheck literally five-sixths of my “recent additions” playlist.
Playing videos back in iTunes is a decidedly inferior experience to, say, DVD Player. Besides the jumpy playback, there's also no clear way to fast forward or rewind. There is a hidden feature -- if you click on the tiny preview panel in iTunes, a full resizable window opens. That's an improvement.
Still better, Improved Movie Viewing in iTunes gives an AppleScript that will fire up local movies in QuickTime, giving a smoother full-screen experience with QuickTime Player's on-screen controls. Still, it's easy to imagine a better experience with a purpose-built video management and player program.
Apple ballyhooed the addition of parental controls for a variety of applications in Tiger and in iTunes starting with version 5, but it's really a pretty weak setup, with many of the weaknesses made clearer with the addition of TV shows to the content stream.
Problem 1: Only iTunes-purchased songs can be marked as “Explicit.” Believe it or not, I have some songs I would just as soon not share with my children, but I can't find a way to set the “Explicit” tag so they'll be locked out. Apple documents the “Explicit” tag for podcasters, but I don't see any way to set it on content that isn't coming from the Music Store.
Problem 2: Video content appears to be completely unrated. Leafing through the selection of TV shows available, there's not a single episode of “Desperate Housewives” that rates a parental advisory label, even though tonight's episode is rated TV-PG.
Once again, I have no way of setting local content so that my children can't see it. I created a streamable copy of “Office Space” on my G5 as an experiment; now it's visible on the network.
What I hope Apple will do: Update from the binary “explicit/okay” system to one that reflects the V-chip ratings or the MPAA ratings, on songs and videos. There are tracks and movies that I think are okay for my 10-year-old that aren't okay for my 4-year-old. Give users access to the rating system, so that users who have parental controls can't access content at MY option, not just Apple's.
January 14, 2006
iTunes 6.02: Now with video sharing
With all the attention on the new ministore presentation, no one seems to have noticed that iTunes 6.02 enables video-sharing to your local network. Whether it's intended for an upcoming home media appliance or not I don't know, but it brings videos up to par with music.
Neither Apple's main iTunes page nor its “Share & Stream” page mention this, and the Share & Stream page refers multiple times to “music sharing,” but it's definitely enabled, as the screenshot below demonstrates.
Once you've installed iTunes 6.02, that machine will publish a “Videos” playlist, visible to but not accessible by iTunes 6.01.
There's still some weirdness going on. I've upgraded to 6.02 on my wife's iMac, and I can't see two videos she bought with an earlier version of iTunes. From my daughter's partition on my G5, I can stream a music video she bought Thursday (probably with 6.02), but can't see two movies I converted to .m4v format after capturing them on my EyeTV, even though they show up as Videos in iTunes.
I'm experimenting now to see if I can figure out a way to make the older videos show up for sharing, and how to export EyeTV movies that can be shared. If you have any insight, please e-mail me.
Update: Blue Coconut, the application for downloading music from a networked playlist, works exactly the same with video files.
Update 1/19: Welcome Digg.com readers. I'm still looking for info on how iTunes decides which videos to display (I encoded a TV episode the other night, and get full audio, but only a still frame when I try to stream it). If you have any insights, please comment.
January 10, 2006
Bye, bye, PowerBook; hello, (gulp) MacBook Pro
So Apple managed to completely shroud much of what would be introduced today, and delivered higher-performance versions of the incredible iMac (formerly “iMac G5”) and PowerBook.
For some reason, Apple has chosen to set aside the “PowerBook”label, certainly one of the great brand names of all time, and has rechristened the Intel-driven portable line “MacBook Pro.” Steve Jobs said something about wanting the Mac name in their computer products, so it seems likely the consumer-level laptops, when introduced, will just be the “MacBook.” Somebody is bound to be manufacturing “PowerBook” stickers to cover the horrible name.
The MacBook Pro is an interesting hybrid. The sheet metal is very similar to the previous 15" PowerBook, but with a few notable changes. Most obviously, Apple has added a built-in iSight camera atop the display. The PC Card slot has been abandoned, replaced by the newer, smaller ExpressCard slot, for which I have seen exactly zero products. (Actually, there are 10.)
I'm also a little concerned that there was NO mention whatsoever of battery life. Intel's Centrinos have a good reputation on that, but this is a new processor. Presumably, if it was significantly better than the PowerBook, Steve would have mentioned it.
Strangest to me is the inclusion of a single FireWire port, limited to FireWire 400. One thing I was looking forward to in my next PowerBook was faster backups thanks to FireWire 800, but it's not to be, at least on the 15" model.
And why only a single form factor? If the existing 15" case could be re-engineered to take the new motherboard, and the iMac case could be re-engineered to take the new motherboard, why couldn't the 17" PowerBook case, or the 12" PowerBook, or the iBook? It looks like they're dipping a toe, to gauge how quickly people are going to migrate.
The iMac and the 15" PowerBook have been the meat-and-taters of Apple sales for years. The existing G4 and G5 models of each continue to be available -- no sudden influx of thousands of “refurbished” machines, no banishment from the Apple Store's front page. It looks to be, as with the first Power Macs and with OS X, another example of Apple soft-pedaling a transition, and taking it easy on its users.