Feb 282013
 

Of all the tech hatchet sites spewing Apple-bashing garbage, the worst of the big names by far is Forbes. They’re an absolute rag – and it’s not close. To give you a sense of how bad it is, The Macalope dedicated his entire piece to their writers this week. The contributions Forbes has made in recent months to the body of garbage written about Apple have thrown any editorial credibility they may have carried into a shallow grave.

What makes Forbes’s fecal butter-churn even worse is the “internet repost effect”, something I alluded to in a 2011 (!) post on “Locationgate”. Without much thought, other sites simply copy content from those scut-peddlers and pass it off as fact.  Take Nigam Arora’s recent article, which not only alleged that Apple purposely leaked the iWatch story to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but that they did so out of “desperation” (yes, that was the word  he actually used). Where’s that link?

chop

Guess the anatomical points in this animation where the link to Nigam’s piece is located

So who would link to this crap? Here’s a partial list:

  • Fox News (insert your politically-charged crack here)
  • TechnoBuffalo – whatever the fuck a TechnoBuffalo is
  • Times of India
  • Bangkok Post

There were, as usual, a number of aggregators that picked it up, but my Neato picks up some pretty nasty crap too, so I can’t scrutinize them nearly as thoroughly.

You’d think that maybe Forbes had a bad week, but the idiocy continued on Monday when one of their “guest writers”, an “adjunct professor” named Brad Chase penned the 10,000th piece predicting Apple’s imminent fall from grace. I put those 2 terms in quotes because they’re basically riffs on the same phenomenon: neither the rag nor the institution think enough of Chase’s work to pay him for a full-time contribution. And we can quickly see why (tip ‘o the boomstick to Dave Caolo at 52tiger):

Apple’s time comes later this week, when it is likely to drop from the number one spot on Fortune’s list of “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

Juxtaposed against today’s Forbes actual announcement of the World’s Most Admired Companies:

Apple

Top 50 rank: 1
Rank in Computers: 1
(Previous rank: 1)
Overall score: 8.24
Ticker:AAPL

Why it’s admired:
Apple has had a rough time lately with its stock price in a free fall and the widely publicized failure of its Maps feature. However, it remains a financial juggernaut, posting $13 billion in net income last quarter, making it the most profitable company in the world during that period. The company has its fanatical customer base, and it still refuses to compete on price, making the iconic iPhone and iPad products that are still widely seen as prestige devices. Competition may be stiff, but so far it remains behind: In Q4 2012, the iPhone 5 was the world’s best selling smartphone, followed in second place by the iPhone 4S.

– See more at: http://oopsIlostthelink_fuckyou.com

Way to back your guest writers’ contributions, Forbes.

 Posted by at 1:20 pm
Feb 272013
 

AllSharePlay. S-Voice. At least 80 instances of iOS’s UI. The list of features lifted from Apple is as long as Samsung is shameless. So color me unfazed by Sammy’s latest form of flattery, which was announced at the Mobile World Congress today: Samsung’s Wallet.

Images courtesy of Engadget and The Verge, respectively.

Images courtesy of Engadget and The Verge, respectively.

Not to be confused with Google Wallet, which hasn’t exactly set the mobile payment landscape on fire, Samsung’s Wallet not only “borrowed” a bit of Apple’s design, but also a good deal of its functionality. From The Verge:

The Wallet app is designed to let users store things such as event tickets, boarding passes, membership cards, and coupons in one central location, much in the same fashion as Apple’s Passbook app for iOS. In addition, Wallet offers time and location-based push notifications (again, just like Passbook) to alert users as to when they are able to use the passes stored in their account, and it provides real-time updates for membership points and boarding pass changes.

I think Samsung should have considered some other names to distinguish itself from Google’s offering, even though it’s likely to enjoy its same level of non-engagement. Some suggestions:

  • Jackassbook
  • Apple Exhibit ZZJ
  • Stock Android Crotchchop
  • Wallet – No, The Other One

Samsung’s photocopying puts Microsoft’s historic absconding of the Mac OS UI to shame. Can’t say I blame them: the only people more hypocritical when paying lip service to innovation in this country are the people ruling on Apple’s patent defense cases. There is absolutely no downside, and our joke of a patent defense system guarantees that won’t change anytime soon.

 Posted by at 12:01 pm
Feb 262013
 

Like a lot of kids, I had a fishing hole. Mine was located about a mile away from my boyhood home. The perch there would bite on anything: worms, hot dogs or hot dog buns. Your could throw a twig in the water and the perch thought someone rang the dinner bell.

The tech press are a lot like the perch in that watering hole. Anything that smells like EXCLUSIVE and contains Apple or Google immediately sends the technoverse into a frenzy of reposting. Some of the better rumors, like the iWatch, contain a tantalizing nugget of truthiness. Some of them sound more like the rumors about the iPad HD. Google’s rumored foray into the retail segment sounded a lot like the latter. What would Google stock these things with? The Nexus Q? The Chromebook Pixel? You could make the argument that they could use these to feature Android smartphones, to which I’d reply that there’s already a bazillion outlets one could go to if one wanted to have Google’s shartphones pushed on them: they’re the outlets with the “Verizon” and “AT&T” logos on them.

And so just as quickly as the froth was built, so was it dissipated. Andy Rubin said as much at a reporters’ roundtable at Mobile World Congress today. “They don’t have to go in the store and feel it anymore,” Rubin said as a dismissal of a retail outlet being a necessity when hawking its wares. “For Nexus, I don’t think the program is far enough along to think about the necessity of having these things in a retail store.”

Question those activation numbers again, Walt, and you get to taste my pimp hand.

Question those Android activation numbers again, Walt, and you get to taste my pimp hand.

Apparently, some people do feel the need to go into a store to “feel it.” Apple’s retail stores make the most money of any retail presence on the planet – twice as much as the 2nd place entry. I’m sure the  estimate of how much money would be spent dusting in these stores annually factored prominently in the pro-forma. Or maybe Rubin meant that people could “feel it” by firing up Google in their browsers and seeing ads eerily similar to keywords in their personal emails. Probably both.

 Posted by at 3:14 pm
Feb 252013
 

I said I wasn’t going to slag the Chromebook Pixel.

Then David Pierce reviewed it for The Verge, my (otherwise) favorite tech site.

There’s this phenomenon in tech reviews that Gruber calls “grading on the curve”, which as Gruberisms go is pretty apt. The theory is that non-Apple products get a boost by the reviewerati because if consumer electronics were graded with 100% candor, the Internet would explode in a fireball. All reviewers would be accused by their readers as being Apple fanboys and no one would read them. The Internet review as we know it would cease to exist and we’d all still be subscribing to paper copies of Macworld. Just like the college curve, someone known as a “curve-wrecker” would come along and call the practice into question – usually some home-schooled kid who got the 99% on every exam. On The Verge, Pierce not only broke the curve, he did it by turning in a blank exam sheet.

I linked to the review for 2 reasons: I really, really otherwise like the site and the comments on the review show just far out of line Pierce is. For those of you with long memories, this is the same David Pierce who, last August, graced us with the following:

My MacBook Air and my iPad are basically my fifth and sixth limbs. I rarely go anywhere without them, I use each for hours every day, and in general I’m really happy with both of them.

Come October 26th, though, I’m ditching them both. I don’t know yet if I’m buying a Microsoft Surface or a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet or an Asus Transformer Book, or something else entirely. But I’m buying a Windows 8 device as my only computer, and I can’t wait.

Now that you know what you’re dealing with, let’s burn a few keystrokes laying into his latest:

“Disposable.” When Eric Schmidt and Google first introduced Chrome OS, its operating system designed for desktop and laptop PCs, they kept using that word. Schmidt promised cheap devices that were essentially interchangeable — when all the computing power, storage, and apps come from the internet, because the entire operating system is just a slightly modified version of the Chrome browser, why build good hardware? Google even claimed to be entertaining the idea of selling you a free-on-contract PC.

Well the times, they are a changin’. The latest Chromebook off the assembly line, the Chromebook Pixel, is the first designed by Google itself, and it’s many things — but it’s sure as hell not disposable. From the ultra-high-resolution display to the powerful Intel processor, there’s nothing cheap or compromised about the Pixel.

At $1,300 to start, let’s certainly hope you don’t consider the Pixel disposable. Google took the “Internet should be available to everyone” mantra when talking about Chrome and corn-cobbed it. How unlike them to pull a 180 from where they started.

Then there’s the price tag: $1,299, or $1,449 with an LTE connection and some data included.

Oh that.

The price, and the Pixel itself, feel like a statement from Google: it’s bringing its armies over the hill, ready to fight head-on with Windows and OS X PCs. $1,299 typically buys you a pretty spectacular laptop, whether it’s a MacBook Air or any of a handful of high-end Windows ultrabooks — Google’s putting its cards on the table and betting it can measure up. Perhaps even more audacious, it’s betting that what we need from our laptops has changed, too.

In other words, it’s betting that some decent looks, a nice screen and some Google-hosted storage will offset what no one on the planet has termed a “ready for prime time” OS.

The Pixel is the best-designed laptop I’ve ever used. It’s not the flashiest or the most noticeable, necessarily — when it’s closed and off, the matte gray lid certainly won’t catch your eye next to the glowing Apple logo on a MacBook Air. But the Pixel’s smooth, anodized aluminum body and slightly boxy look give the Pixel a refined, handsome, business-y vibe — this is the George Clooney of laptops.

It’s not the most streamlined, or the most “flashy” or “noticable” – however those words are supposed to connote attractiveness, but it does have a “business-y vibe” which is guaranteed to spur wide-spread enterprise adoption. And the Apple logo doesn’t glow when it’s closed either, unless Pierce is comparing an open Air to a closed Pixel. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty decent analogy for Pierce’s whole review.

It’s a bit heavier than the MacBook Air — 3.35 pounds vs. about three flat

Exact weight vs. rounded up weight. How about “3.5 pounds vs. 3?”

— but everyone who asked to use the Pixel said something about it being noticeably heavier. I chalk that up to the Pixel’s lack of a wedge design — the .65-inch-thick device looks much larger than the Air, which tapers down into near-nothingness.

Everyone who asked said something-or-other about it being noticeably heavier, but that’s easily dismissed because their observations are meaningless.

But despite its relative largesse, I’d rather use the Pixel: its slightly rounded edges don’t dig into my wrists like the Air’s, and I like typing on a flat surface rather than the Air’s uphill slope.

And who cares about weight anyway when there are these overwhelming personal preferences for 3-dimensional geometry to be considered?

During my review, I used the Pixel on an overnight flight from New York City to Barcelona. I used it for several hours

More on this laugher below.

on the dark plane, and nearly every single person walking by my aisle looked at the Pixel as they passed. One guy even did a double-take, screeching to a halt in the aisle as if he’d seen a ghost in seat 17G. They were all reacting to the Pixel’s lightbar, which as far as I’ve discerned exists only to look cool and futuristic and maybe a little menacing. (The device’s product page corrobrates this idea.) If it does have a true purpose, I don’t care; I just love watching the blue light glow. Every few seconds, a bright spot travels from left to right, and when you close the lid it briefly glows the rainbow of Google colors.

Personal aesthetics >>> utility.

 (Also, try the Konami code on the keyboard and see what happens.)

Ladies and gentlemen: your target market.

It’s cool all the time, but especially when the blue strip lights up dark rooms; I’m pretty sure I looked like Daniel Craig in a cerebral spy thriller, hunched over my laptop deciphering codes and saving the world as the blue light crosses the Pixel’s lid.

/is pretty sure you didn’t

The moment the laptop glows Google’s rainbow is the only indication you ever get that Google made this machine. There’s a Chrome logo above the keyboard, but the word “Google” never appears anywhere on the Pixel. I’d like to chalk that up to internal politicking or self-hatred at Google, but it’s really more a testament to the incredibly spartan existence of the Chromebook Pixel.

I’ve noticed that David Pierce does a lot of “chalking up” in his reviews. If he wants a future doing product reviews for a site with as bright a future as The Verge has, he may want to consider “chalking down” or Topolsky may not be getting any more calls from Jimmy Fallon.

There are no stickers, only the smallest set of fine print on the bottom, and nothing but the essentials anywhere on this machine.

Your standard “no stickers = WIN” observation, as if The Verge doles out review points based on the absence of stickers. That may actually explain a lot.

You get an SD card reader on the right side, next to the SIM card slot if you spring an extra $150 for the connected model. On the left sit two USB 2.0 ports (not the faster 3.0, unfortunately), a MiniDisplay port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the hole for the AC adapter brick. That plus trackpad, keyboard, HD webcam, and display make up everything there is to see on the Pixel.

“Unfortunately” your $1,300 laptop doesn’t have USB 3.0. But no stickers! AND IT’S NOT NOTICEABLY HEAVIER GODAMMIT!

I barely noticed the keyboard and trackpad, which is about the highest compliment I can pay them. I’m used to the MacBook Air, which I firmly believe has the best keyboard and the best trackpad of any device on the market — that’s most of the reason the MacBook Air was our favorite Windows ultrabook, too. Using the Pixel felt identical. The smooth, glassy trackpad is fast and responsive — though it’s missing some of the gestures I love about OS X, and is really limited to pointing and scrolling plus the rare pinch-to-zoom gesture. Likewise the chiclet-style, backlit keyboard clacks and travels just right, is well-spaced, and even uses a cool font on the keys.

The Pixel and MacBook Air trackpads are identical – except for some of the things people love about the Mac trackpad – otherwise, totally identical.

There are a few Chrome OS-specific tweaks, like the swapping of a Caps Lock button for a dedicated Search key,

And you thought Apple eliminating physical media was a bold move.

and a row of function buttons above the keyboard that let you change brightness, switch between windows, reload a page, and the like. Those keys are are a little stiff to press and awkward to find, but they’re really handy — I wish I had dedicated “Reload Page” and “Search Google” buttons all the time.

So they’re like the function keys of every other laptop, only not as functional. “Stiff and awkward” but “really handy”. Is anyone else getting a whiff of “This is so awesome! Well this sucks a little, so does this, and this…” Maybe Pierce is bipolar?

Let’s say the Pixel had a league-average 1366 x 768 display, like the MacBook Air’s — maybe a little washed-out, but viewing angles are solid, and the screen does its job fine. I’d still like the Pixel more than most laptops, because the hardware is so good.

Translation: hardware = it looks better than other Chromebooks.

But I get to have my cake and eat it, too, because the Pixel’s screen is the best laptop display I’ve ever seen. Its only rival is the Retina MacBook Pro, and it really doesn’t matter which is better — the upshot is this 2560 x 1700 display is astonishingly sharp, bright, accurate, and vivid.

It’s the best screen. Rivaled by the RMBP’s, BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER!

When I lie on my bed with my MacBook Air on my chest, watching a movie or reading, I can make out individual pixels pretty easily; even with my eyes three inches away from the Pixel’s screen text still looks perfect.

Just like the RMBP. I TOLD YOU IT DOESN’T MATTER!

I constantly complain about 16:9 tablets — they’re too wide and not tall enough, or awkwardly tall when you hold the device vertically. Laptops don’t have the latter problem — why would you be holding your laptop sideways? — and I’ve been sort of Stockholm Syndrome-d into dealing with a lack of vertical space.

But the Pixel’s 3:2 display, which is nearly as tall as it is wide, makes me wonder why no one else has thought to do this — the 12.85-inch display isn’t quite as wide as a standard 13-inch screen, and you do get some letterboxing above and below any movie you’re watching, but the tradeoff is simply more vertical space to read a web page. The unusual aspect ratio was probably an easier decision for Google to make, because web pages comprise the entire operating system, but I wish every laptop offered a 3:2 screen. That won’t happen, of course, which is only more fodder for my wanting a Pixel.

No one else has thought about a 3:2 screen, but that’s because they’re stupid! Sure movies suck to watch, and websites probably aren’t optimized for a ratio no one uses, but you have to scroll less! $1,300 for a document – errr Google Doc – machine and web browser. Total mainstream laptop and total bargain.

At various points, I forgot the Pixel’s display was a touchscreen. Unlike with Windows 8 machines, where I constantly reach toward the screen whether it responds or not, I never found myself instinctively tapping on the Pixel. The touchscreen works relatively well when I try to use it, though it does tend to scroll in fits and starts rather than glide smoothly underneath my finger. But thanks to some combination of the excellent trackpad and my subconscious reticence to sully the gorgeous display with fingerprints, I just used the Pixel like it had no touchscreen. Google’s taking steps to make Chrome OS more touch-friendly, which might change that — there’s a cool photo editing app that I did use with my finger — but for now the touchscreen feels more like future-proofing than anything else.

Pierce used his touchscreen notebook like a notebook because the touchscreen UX was unusable. Yea – I didn’t get that the first time I read it either. Tech site reader pro tip: “future-proofing” = “poorly thought-out feature that adds no value to the experience”. And LOL@using the term “future-proofing” with a company whose average product lifespan is measured in months.

In the last six months or so, there’s been a race toward the bottom with Chromebooks — how low could the specs go before performance took a noticeable hit? The answer, apparently, is really low: even an ARM-powered Chromebook worked, well, like a Chromebook. That makes it odd that the Pixel is easily the most powerful Chromebook ever, with a dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and Intel’s integrated HD 4000 graphics. That’s roughly equal to most Windows ultrabooks in the Pixel’s price range, though a few come with more powerful Core i7 processors.

At $1,300, there’s more than “a few”. And all of them have discrete GPU’s.

The Pixel works well, but then of course it does. Chrome OS has always been the most stable version of Chrome on the planet, and the Pixel is likewise fast and virtually crash-free.

Except when I used the touchscreen, but that’s more of a “future-proofing” thingy than anything else.

It boots in less than ten seconds, and resumes almost instantly — it’s a very fast, stable, powerful machine that never gets too loud or too hot. But it’s not noticeably better than any other Chromebook, and it doesn’t fix the problems seemingly endemic to these devices, like their odd inability to smoothly play local videos. I tried to watch 50 / 50 on a plane (solid, surprisingly intense movie), and the Pixel stuttered hard for about five minutes. Even once it settled, it jerked through the whole movie, jittering and pausing every few minutes. Yes, it’s pushing a lot of pixels on that display, but the Pixel and its Core i5 should have no trouble playing a movie.

Chrome, the featherweight OS that runs like butter on ARM chipsets, chokes on video when powered by an i5 processor.

Because somehow, with over 500 posts, I've never used a Doctor Who graphic.

Because somehow, with over 500 posts, I’ve never used a Doctor Who graphic.

Oddly, files stream from YouTube or Drive much better — I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but let’s just say Google really wants you to use Drive. It pushes you there at every turn: you only get 32 or 64GB of internal storage, but you get 1TB of Drive storage for three years if you buy a Pixel. Of course, no amount of space can help me when I’m offline on a plane wanting to awkwardly cry during a Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie.

Odd that Google would favor the services that pay into its business model as opposed to providing decent video playback you could get from a $199 netbook. Some government agency may want to look into that. I don’t think SSD space can help Pierce with his emotional reaction to movies either. I…just don’t know what to make of that.

I’m willing to give up a lot to use a Chromebook.

A nugget of naked truth in what is supposed to be an unbiased product review. The Verge should have capped Pierce’s word count at that sentence.

I know there are apps I can’t use, I know printing is going to be a mess of non-compatibility, I know that being offline severely limits the usefulness of my computer. In return, all I ask is battery life. There, Chromebooks have been hit-or-miss: the ARM-powered Samsung model lasted just nearly seven hours on a charge, but the Acer C7 only made it four hours and change. Sadly, the Pixel is more akin to the C7: on the Verge Battery Test, which cycles through a series of popular websites and high-res images with brightness at 65 percent, the Pixel lasted 4 hours and 30 minutes. On one hand, this result is a little skewed, since the Pixel’s screen is so bright you can often use it at lower levels. But even stretching the battery as much as I could while still using the device normally, I never got more than five hours of battery life. That’s just not very good, and doesn’t make sense given how many sacrifices Google already asks you to make.

/scours Internet for more “Bwahaha pics”

Sacrifices are really the name of the Chrome OS game, but not quite in the way I expected. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most apps I use work on the web, or at least have equivalent apps that do. Between Evernote, Simplenote, Wunderlist, Gmail, Google Docs, Office 365, Rdio, and TweetDeck, I quickly set up a pretty good approximation of my standard workflow — Google’s built-in photo editor is even pretty good.

“Speaking as a product reviewer for a major tech blog, my webapp approximation of an actual workflow do rather well. I don’t know what all you other people use on your laptops, but you’re not writing this review, are you?”

I do miss Photoshop, though, and I have yet to find even a decent IRC client that works on Chrome OS. Google’s even done a pretty good job of disguising that Chrome OS is just a web browser, especially with the latest updates — Aura added a taskbar of sorts, and the most recent version brings better notifications and an awesome searchable app tray. Once I set up a few apps to open as separate windows rather than browser tabs, I could have convinced you that it was a desktop OS

I’m thinkin’ not, but this has been Pierce’s laughable tact the whole review: convincing someone that this is a product they should use.

as long as I have an active and fast internet connection. (If I could have a Chromebook Pixel plus Google Fiber connectivity, I’d die a happy man.)

What’s one more caveat in a piece where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one?

It’s not a desktop OS, though, and it’s missing some of the things I rely on on my PC. Some are crucial: way too many of the apps I named above don’t work offline, and even those that do are stripped-down, slow, and often clumsy. Other issues are minor, but annoying. There’s no easy way to switch between apps, for instance: you either Alt-Tab through your open windows in some order I don’t totally understand, or you use the trackpad to select the app you want. I quickly and deeply missed Expose on OS X, or Windows’ far superior Alt-Tab setup.

On the Mac, it’s Command-Tab. I’m sure that’s what Pierce meant.

There are lots of these little issues with Chrome OS, like the fact that offline features can only be enabled for Gmail, Google Docs, and the like for a single Gmail account. I can’t be the only person with work and personal email accounts who might need to access both on a plane, right?

Probably not, but since when does that qualify as a pannable offense? Pierce was neck-deep in equivocation 5 paragraphs ago.

On the other hand, there are things about Chrome OS I hope Apple and Microsoft are paying attention to. Google Docs’ ability to save things automatically and seamlessly, even while offline;

Like iWork?

the resizing tool that gives you a bunch of different places to quickly snap a window;

But I still miss Expose – and the 20 utilities in the Mac App Store that provide this functionality.

the super-simple file browser that offers deep and powerful search.

Like Spotlight?

I even love that Google calls it “Australian scrolling” instead of “natural scrolling,” though I turned that off as fast as humanly possible.

I love that Google knocked off a Mac scrolling option, but called it something different.

Chrome OS offers a simple, intuitive UI that I really enjoy using, and I bet I could teach my Grandma to use a Chromebook faster than any Windows or OS X machine.

I would love to see the queue for that action on that bet.

But it’s ultimately limited, and there are just too many apps it can’t run and too few things you can do outside of absolutely ideal situations. That’s why Chromebooks are usually thought of as secondary machines for power users, and though Google’s slowly shedding the reputation it’s a long way from finished.

We have another sentence to add to the “naked truth” mining nugget pan. Although the rest of the review read like some teenage girl’s crush journal, that little shred of reality to close should bring the Verge Score back down to Earth.

Screeny Shot Feb 25, 2013 3.07.43 PM

No. Words.

Maybe there’s more in Pierce’s Wrap-up to explain this absolute fucking farce of a product review.

I love the Chromebook Pixel. I can’t remember the last time I so unequivocally enjoyed using a device. Its display, keyboard, trackpad, and overall fit and finish are as good as any laptop I’ve ever used, and in some cases is my new standard-bearer for laptop reviews going forward. Battery life is a bummer but not a deal-breaker — it’s not terrible, just not as good as I hoped — and I actually sort of liked the limitations of having to use browser-based tools, because it meant I could recreate my entire workspace on any device that runs Chrome.

An absolute joy. A standard-bearer (for no specific reason) in some cases. The battery blows – not terribly – but it made me cry a little like a Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie. And I liked being tied to a browser because I had to totally reinvent the way I work…wait WUT?!

And yet, when it came time to write this review, edit and upload pictures, and do real research, I opened up my MacBook Air again. I needed Photoshop. I needed Evernote to work offline, because I needed a tool that worked better than Google Docs’s Scratchpad tool (which is handy, just not particularly powerful). I needed to easily jump back and forth between three windows at once. I’d rather use the Chromebook Pixel, but I wind up having to use the MacBook all the time.

That’s the problem. If you have $2,600 to spend on a computer, buy a MacBook Air and a Chromebook Pixel, and live the rest of your life a happy shopper knowing I’m deeply jealous.

I. Don’t. Know. What. This. Means. I seriously have fucking no clue how this could possibly relate to a person looking for actual input on whether or not to buy a Pixel.

But for the rest of us, even $1,299 is a lot to spend on a laptop, and I don’t know who of the rest of us I’d recommend a Pixel to. If you want a secondary computer with long battery life, get a $200 Samsung Chromebook – it’s a darn good second laptop. If you want a high-end laptop, get a MacBook Pro with Retina display and enjoy most of the Pixel’s benefits with few of its limitations.

I guess we’re not going to find out what those Pixel-exclusive, non-RMBP benefits are. What do you think you’re reading – a product review in a tech blog? Pfft!

Everyone should want a Chromebook Pixel — I certainly do. But almost no one should buy one.

And like all great tech product reviews, the last sentence perfectly captures the essence of the body of the piece. Absolutely. Fucking. Baffling. But it is indicative of everything wrong with “the curve”. The Pixel is a device exactly like the Nexus Q: it’s a proof-of-concept you can buy. It’s hardware is too expensive for the OS it supports – and it can’t even support basic functions like video without hacking up a fur ball. In other words, it’s the quintessential Google product. Thank God Pierce is not the quintessential Verge writer.

 Posted by at 4:22 pm
Feb 242013
 

If you ask the crowd of hit-hungry tech journalists that have infested every news outlet on the planet, each new product released by an Apple competitor has the potential to totally destroy the Apple product in that niche. There’s a right way and a wrong way to write these pieces, at least if you’re trying to convince people that  your topic sentence has any resemblance to the truth.

Brooke Crothers writes for CNET, which as a source is enough for me just to throw down the mic and walk off stage without another word written, but there’s a bigger point to be made. If you’re going to go after Apple, try to keep your thoughts in line with your premise.

Thank you, Google. For obsoleting my MacBook [sic].

Whoa. That’s your opener? I can declare that this mystery Google product is already the victor – by default: Apple doesn’t sell the MacBook anymore. If Crothers means the MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air, let’s see what all the fuss is about.

Question: What two killer hardware features are missing on MacBooks? My answer: a touch screen and 4G.

The weaponized touch screen: the feature that has propelled the new crop of Windows 8 notebooks to unprecedented sales. And 4G: something totally unavailable to you unless you have it built into your laptop. Sounds like serious problems for the incumbent.

What a coincidence. Just what Google is offering on the Chromebook Pixel.

Ah, the Chromebook Pixel. Listen, I’m not going to bash the Pixel. It’s good to see Mountain View trying to up the ante with its Chromebook offerings after allowing OEMs to totally devalue them in the eyes of consumers. I’ll just leave this here: it’s a $1,300 Chromebook. Man, this mic is feeling really heavy.

While Chrome OS is still a work in progress (and lacks key features that many users need),

The parenthetical link (that Crothers won’t be getting) is to the CNET review of the Pixel. The summary: “Should you buy the Pixel? In a word, no.”

Google certainly has my attention.

Which is something Google specializes in. Getting your attention. Like a precocious, ADD-addled 8 year old – or the writer of CNET articles whose premises promise reasons the Chromebook is Apple’s doom, then proceeds to underwhelm you with the actual facts. Constantly releasing unsustainable products into niches that get axed by the company within 6 months is good for getting attention in the way a certain boy used to cry wolf. Apple specializes in keeping your attention, evidenced by their top-rated everything. Google should try specializing in that.

 Posted by at 1:50 pm
Feb 212013
 

As much as I bust on Microsoft for being a decomposing leviathan whose best days are far, far behind it, there are some things on which we mostly agree. We agree that developing your own mobile device UI is better than ripping off someone else’s wholesale. We agree that Google’s beneficence is at best a front that belies a plain-English explanation of what they do with your personal information. One thing on which I never thought I’d share a viewpoint with Microsoft is patent law. I don’t agree with all of it and I’m not a huge fan of the motivation behind their posture, but on the big issues, Redmond and I line up pretty well. Allow me a paragraph break while I retch the last one out.

There was a post today highlighting Microsoft’s vision for patent reform “The Patent System: Fix What’s Broken, Don’t Break What’s Working” that appeared in their Microsoft on the Issues blog (which oddly is not under the microsoft.com domain), penned by General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Brad Smith (side note: you can see how organic the left-handed product naming in Redmond is just by looking through their Executive Team’s titles). His suggestions are good, if not somewhat obvious and self-serving (count the number of times you see a derivative of the word “licensing”). I’m going to run down the list and offer my thoroughly unqualified take.

Transparency 

If you own a patent, everyone should know you own it. As simple as that sounds, it would change the way people view litigious twats like Intellectual Ventures’ Nathan Myhrvold, who, ironically enough, is Microsoft’s former CTO. Instead of skulking around the courts extorting real innovators under what is estimated to be thousands of shell companies, Myhrvold would have to stick his name on every patent. Let people see all the high-quality IP your company is using to threaten others while abusing the patent system and upper-decking the courts in this country. See how many D10 Conferences he appears at without that anti-malaria/tsunami/cancer ray cannon he’s been yapping about under his arm, knowing that Uncle Walt is armed with every piece of used toilet paper that made it through the USPTO. It would certainly make his next cookbook signing a lot more interesting.

Standards-Essential Patents

License FRAND patents under reasonable terms. Don’t use them for injunctions. One of the least beaten drums in tech is how Google is trying to do this exact thing. So is Samsung, but Samsung is a company that was built on the moral equivalent of a dungheap. Google is supposed to be about “free and open”, yet they’re attempting to use the most abuse-resistant form of patent as a cudgel BUT LOOK OVER THERE AT THEIR CHEAP FIBER OPTIC NETWORK!

Loser Pays

Entities that exist only to file lawsuits without making shit should have a downside to their business model. You lose, you pay. The only people who lose under this scenario are the trolls and the East Texas economy. A little on the aggressive side, but I don’t think it’s aggressive enough. I think “Filer Posts, Loser Pays” is a better model. Let’s start the bidding at $1 million per claim. You win, you get your bond refunded, paid for by the loser – in addition to the damages awarded. A million per claim is chump change to big tech, but it would serves as a barrier to frivolous claims. Also: all (or the vast majority) of the money gets plowed into that specific case. Some suggestions:

  • Administrative support. If I had a dime for every time I heard Lucy Koh bitch about her calendar over the course of the Apple-Samsung trial, I’d be halfway to Apple’s jury award. Think of all the paralegals a million dollars could buy. Hell, you could assign multiple judges to a single case. You may actually hear a noise from the wheels of justice in this country that didn’t sound like a whimper.
  • Pay the fucking jurors. What is wrong with a country where the people least likely to facilitate a fair and expedient trial are the most likely to be picked? I was forced to do Grand Jury duty a day every week for 6 months last year. I got $50 at the end of it. Make it worth the time and effort that people have to put into jury duty. Give them good food and put them up in a 3 star hotel. Pay them at least what they’d earn during the day – pay them double! Have them volunteer. Have the jury pool be determined by lottery with people picked from a population of pre-qualified candidates – people with a decent familiarity with the laws, the technical terms and the claims. You want good verdicts? Invest in good juries.

Do you think Tim Cook would balk for a second at the prospect of having his day in court before the machines become self-aware if it only cost Apple a million per claim? Shithouse Technologies, Inc. maybe, but not the people with the real axes to grind. Let the companies who stand to win or lose the most fund the war.

Improved Patent Quality

Tie patent scopes to things that are actually invented. Do a more thorough prior art exam when the patents are filed. Another great use of this litigation filing windfall: make the USPTO into something that isn’t the governmental equivalent of a human appendix. And we’re talking about government here, so that’s saying something.

TMA’s Suggestions

In addition to the specifically-impractical-but-spiritually-correct suggestions above, how about:

  • A limit on counterclaims. No more of this trawling-the-sock-drawer counterclaim bullshit. If Apple puts up their million per to take Samsung to the woodshed, Samsung doesn’t get to file a bazillion counterclaims that has nothing to do with the patents alleged. You feel that passionately about those claims? File a separate suit – at a million per claim. And if there’s a company on the planet that has infringed or is infringing on those patents now, fuck off: you just forfeited your right to use them – ever. How much time was wasted on Apple-Samsung by Koh begging the parties to winnow their claims?
  • Jury award = money in the bank. How much of that $1.049 billion that a jury awarded Apple a half a year ago has been paid to the company? If you guessed “jack shit”, big gold star for you. Appeal it till the cows come home. Knock yourself out. But when the judge reads that piece of paper with the dollar signs on it, BOOM: wire transfer. If an appeal renders it moot, reconcile it down the road. If you want patents to serve as any kind of financial disincentive for infringers, show the winners the money.

So there’s my thoughts on Brad Smith’s thoughts. Between him and Frank X. Shaw, I’m starting to warm up to those Redmond folks. But as a great Gunnery Sergeant once said “Just because we’re holding hands doesn’t mean we’ll be taking warm showers together until the wee hours of the morning.”

 Posted by at 11:28 pm
Feb 152013
 

Henry Blodget is no stranger to TMA. His link-baiting bust adorns the hallowed halls of Douchbag’s Row. But not all of Blodget’s work is horrible when it comes to Apple, which is a little unusual for writers who have settled into the Apple-bashing schtick to butter their bread. The reason is that in his own way, Blodget is a genius. People can’t truly attach themselves to uniformly bad behavior. If you’re going to be successful at being bad, you can’t be predictable. Take the case of a well-written villain like Jamie Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In one episode, he’s shagging his sister and knocking-off 11 year-olds, in another (without being too spoiler-y) he’s going on a search for a rival’s lost daughter. Fearless warrior; vile incestuous scoundrel. He’s complex. He does things that are absolutely loathsome and then displays a spark of humanity that momentarily endears you to him – until the next scene. Blodget will write something that makes you think he has a rational view of Apple, then the next piece will be about how Apple is failing because they cut $200 from the price of a laptop. Let’s take a look at Jamie’s latest work.

Only four months after launching a new laptop with a high-resolution “retina” screen, Apple has chopped $200 off the price.

Apple’s 13-inch “Retina” MacBook Pro will now sell for $1,499 instead of the $1,699 original price.

This is a small move, but it’s symptomatic of the broader challenges that Apple (AAPL) is facing.

It’s a small move, unprecedented in the history of the company. Oh wait – Apple lopped $200 off the price of the original iPhone in 2007. That was a 33% price reduction. Result? Apple fell into a spiral of commoditized despair from which it never recovered. Or started its ascent to absolute mobile electronics market dominance, a position it still occupies. One of those two. But don’t let me interrupt Henry as he tells us how a price correction is a symptom of a huge problem for the company.

The most likely reason for a price-cut so soon after launch is that the product wasn’t selling well at the original price. And with the 13-inch MacBook, this would not be a surprise: Reviewers were underwhelmed with the laptop when it was released, arguing that, at $1,699, it was not a good value. Based on the price cut, it appears that Apple laptop buyers agreed.

I swear I coined a term for this trick, but I can’t find it so I’m going to coin a new one: fecal cornerstone – it’s the use of a garbage premise to lend support to bad tech analysis. Blodget has no idea why Apple cut the price of its 13″ RMBP, and there’s not one reviewer who doesn’t write for Gizmodo that was underwhelmed. What I can tell you – backed by the kind of research that writers like Blodget can’t be bothered with – is how the 13″ Retina model lines up with the rest of Apple’s Pro line historically:

Screeny Shot Feb 15, 2013 8.17.18 AM

See what Apple did there? They corrected the price of the 13″ Retina to line up with the historic spread between it and the 15″ model. That’s all they did.

The price cut reveals that consumers won’t rush to buy the latest greatest Apple product just because Apple made it. The price-value tradeoff has to be reasonable. And in the case of the MacBook Pro, it apparently wasn’t.

At least he used the word “apparently”. When your living is made basing your word count on specious, unprovable claims, that’s restraint.

This problem — the price-value tradeoff — has become an issue for Apple far beyond laptops.

We have lift-off.

As smartphones become a commodity, Apple’s most important product line — theiPhone— is experiencing similar challenges. The explosive growth in the smartphone market in recent years has shifted to emerging markets, where price is a major factor in consumer decision-making. By not offering a cheapiPhonethat is affordable for consumers in these markets — $100–$200 without a contract or subsidy — Apple has missed out on much of this growth.

Done OK profit-wise though which, last time I checked my Finance 101 folder, is apparently some kind of important metric.

Meanwhile, the competition at the high end of the smartphone market, where Apple once dominated the field, has become much more intense. And Apple’s premium product — the iPhone 5 — is no longer considered by some to be the best product on the market. Unless Apple can firmly re-establish the iPhone’s superiority, which does not look likely to happen anytime soon, the company may face increasing pressure to improve the price-value proposition for this product, too. And that might be devastating for Apple’s profit margin, which is currently extraordinarily high for a hardware company (emphasis mine).

Unnamed important people think the iPhone 5 isn’t top of the market, and because these unnamed people have judged it inferior, this means that Apple can’t make superior phones anymore, at least “anytime soon”, so Apple will have to make products that eat into its profit margins. When you’re writing is potholed with this many conditionals, it’s known as “playing deep right field at the warning track”.

The same story is playing out in tablets.

RAWR!

The price-value tradeoff of some recent tablet entrants has reduced Apple’s dominance of this product category — a category that Apple invented and, a few years ago, had to itself. The price pressure in the tablet market, in which consumers can now get excellent tablets for much less than Apple is charging, will likely force Apple to continue to improve the price-value proposition of its iPads. And this, in turn, will also likely begin to eat into Apple’s profit margin.

Where are these products? Who makes them? Where are the numbers? Oh yea – we’re at the “2nd back-up example” part of a standard hit piece, because any sound argument needs 2 examples to cement it, regardless of how hilariously far out these examples spiral from the facts.

A few years ago, in phones and tablets, Apple was both the price leader and the product leader. Apple’s products were better than the competition’s, and they were cheaper.

Today, that is no longer the case.

QED, motherfuckers!

And it probably means that Apple’s extraordinary profit margin will continue to decline.

Screeny Shot Feb 15, 2013 7.44.00 AMI guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the definition of “continues”, but Blodget and I have this same disagreement about 90% of the words he uses to describe Apple.

 Posted by at 9:26 am
Feb 142013
 

Everyone knows Adobe overcharges for their software. Some pros swear by it, but 99% of people really don’t need it when cheaper offerings like Pixelmator offer most of Photoshop’s functionality at a fraction of the cost. Everyone also knows from the numerous times Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen flapped his caketrap about Flash for Mobile not sucking someday that he’s a disingenuous, if not openly deceitful, caricature of a real CEO.

kazoo

File photo courtesy of Adobe and Pixelmator (natch)

So I was mildly amused to see some tech outlets reporting on how M. Night Narayen hilariously ducked a question about why Adobe’s Creative Suite was more than $1,400 more expensive for Australians than it was for the rest of the world.

Screeny Shot Feb 14, 2013 3.35.09 PM

“Indulge me for a few minutes while I clumsily speak around the answer to your question.”

I mean – did people really expect an informed, straightforward answer given this clown’s history? I’m surprised Narayen and Ballmer didn’t take the same Volkswagen Beetle to their appearance at the RIM launch of the PlayMobileBook last year. See if for yourself in all its awkward glory.

 Posted by at 4:57 pm
Feb 142013
 

It’s hard not to get swept up in real Apple rumor-mongering. I’m not talking about the supply chain circle-jerks designed to manipulate Apple’s stock price or the brain-dead insistance that Apple needs to make a television, but honest-to-goodness, sensible product niches that would benefit from Apple’s magic. So here I am – adding another voice to the punditry echo chamber. If Apple does choose to move from the pocket to the wrist, there’s some parameters that the product to have to stay within. I don’t have Gruber’s “little birdies”, so my thoughts are just common sense combined with amplifications of Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini’s blog post, which essentially started this whole hysteria despite the lack of credit from the mainstream tech vomitories.

Size

Unlike all of Apple’s other personal consumer electronics like the iPod and iPhone, the iWatch needs to conform to the dimensions of its users’ anatomy. As a slightly burly dude, my wrist measures about 2 7/8″ wide as a 2-dimensional plane (or “tall” if your thinking about watch height). Several females I accosted on the street My wife’s wrist comes in at almost an inch slimmer. This fact of human anatomy lends itself to 2 different product scenarios: either a one-size device that hits the fat of the physiological bell curve, or more than one size option. I think the range of all devices has to fall within 2 – 2 1/2″ tall and no more than an 1 3/4″ wide. I’ll let the pixel nerds debate what kind of resolution makes the most sense. If my read of Apple is right, the company isn’t going to foist some chunktacular monstrosity into the market like some of the renderings I’ve been seeing. The screen will obviously be curved to fit the contour of the wrist.

Features

If I had to point to a thing that made Tog’s post so compelling, it would be his explanation of what the iWatch shouldn’t be. The battery will only be as big as the dimensions of the device, so even with a wireless charging feature, which I expect in some iteration, Android device-level bells and whistles ain’t happening. This device will be all about one wireless connection: Bluetooth 4.0. No 4G LTE, no WiFi. And no, the watch band will not pack battery cells into it, regardless of the wishes of would-be Apple designers. The watch will be a companion device that off-loads the heavy lifting to its Bluetooth companion – be it iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or Mac. The sheer dominance of Apple’s mobile offerings will make it possible to scale back redundant battery-sucking functions to the bare minimum. Microphone yes; video camera no. I don’t see the addition of a mic to achieve a “Dick Tracey”phone/watch being of particular value, but it will be required for Siri integration, and Siri will be the cornerstone of the watch’s functionality.

Those are the basics. As you can see in Tog’s post, and in some of the comments, the possibilities are almost limitless: fitness tracker, geo-locator, password fob, payment fob and home automation control, just to name a few. If realized, this would be Apple’s Next Big Thing, the first since the iPad. Get ready for another paradigm to bite the dust.

 Posted by at 11:24 am
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