Monday, December 27, 2010

Pro Tools 9 makes me wanna cry... from joy

Pro Tools 9, Avid's flagship audio production suite, has escaped its ball and chain, and it's enough to make me wanna cry.

I use Pro Tools for music production. If you've never heard of it, just know that it's the industry-standard software for any audio work. Out of the many DAWs (digital audio workstations) that I've used, there is no replacement.

The problem is, Pro Tools has always been tethered to an external audio device in order to function. And you also had only a few of those devices that were compatible. They were kinda like Apple in a way, where if you want to use OS X, then you have to buy Apple hardware. I ignored these issues with Pro Tools as much as I could, but the horrible fact remained that if I wanted to mix my project on the bus (that is a bus with wheels, not a mixer bus)... tough luck.

Eventually, I bought Pro Tools M-Powered and the cheapest, smallest USB audio interface offered by M-Audio, the FastTrack, which also required no external power. That was all I could do to stay mobile.

Thank God, Allah, Karma, or whatever... because Pro Tools 9 does away with all that crap.

Today, I finally was able to get Pro Tools 9 on my MacBook Pro, load it up, and without any external hardware at all, open any of my projects and get to work. Halla-freakin-llujah.

Again, there were no options, I felt, beyond Pro Tools. I had gotten so used to the software and achieved such a fast-paced workflow that, although other software that may have already had this sort of flexibility, it still seemed too much a sacrifice to switch. What with having to relearn a completely new setup? No thanks.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Avid for making my dreams come true. And for probably even doubling my content output. Seriously.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to: Buy your first Mac

Buying your first Mac? Read this.

Thinking about a Mac for a loved one this holiday season? He or she (or you) is very lucky. But if this is the first time you’ve looked at buying a Macintosh computer, there are few things you might want to consider before you decide what to get. While the Apple shopping experience is supposed to be a simple and streamlined process, understanding the Mac as a product and knowing a little about Apple’s marketing will make you a more knowledgeable -- and in the end happier -- Mac customer.

This is an in-depth guide to buying your first Mac. You’ll learn about Apple philosophy, product cycles, price points, the different product lines offered today and how to pick the right Mac for you.

Joining the “cult” of Mac

Welcome to your first experience as a fanboy -- or fangirl. It’s time to join the cult. Okay, so those labels – rhetoric from PC-only users – may be outdated. However, it might be a good idea to know what it means to own a Mac, from then – to now.

Owning a Mac is essential to some people (audio and video professionals like record producers, film editors or graphic designers) where the reliability of Macintosh is irreplaceable. But to everyone else, the Mac is really a luxury item. There are machines that will do almost everything you need for much cheaper, but when it comes down to it, many are inferior and more frustrating to use. It’s like this: some people will use a car – any car – to get from point A to point B, while others like to ride in style and be comfortable each time he or she hops in the driver seat. The same goes for your choice of computer. The Macintosh is like the Cadillac of the computer world, and it’s definitely a fancy ride.

However, just as any minority group is usually ridiculed for being different (fill in whatever stereotype you wish), so too were Mac users, especially in the late 90s to early 2000s. While Apple struggled with business models and flirted with bankruptcy, a closely-knit group of evangelists helped keep Apple afloat. Being the underdog, those who had adopted the Mac in a Windows world were perceived as being cult-like for their die-hard fascination with the product and what it represented. The marketing slogan then, “Think Different,” really drove the idea of belonging to a creative elite -- of belonging to a family.

The Mac today, however, isn’t as much a statement as it is just a really good computer. It works in our complicated, incompatible tech world now more than it ever has. For the most part, people that try a Mac stick with it, fulfilling the prophecy “once you go Mac, you never go back.” Sure, Mac or iPhone users might get the occasional “fanboy” slander every now and then from a disgruntled PC user (which is ridiculous, because most Mac users also use PCs), but those allegations are just about dead. The Macintosh base is extremely large, and Apple as a company is not the underdog anymore. In fact, as of this writing, Apple’s stock market valuation sets them as the most valuable technology company in the world – even above Microsoft.

There’s a reason for this, a reason that Apple has overcome incredible odds and pretty much taken over the tech world in terms of both mind share and the stock market. It has everything to do with the philosophy that drives the products they make.

Apple philosophy 101

Simplicity, ease of use, design, aesthetics, quality… These are terms usually associated with Apple products. While other manufacturers sell based on miscellaneous features and spec sheets, what sets Apple apart is emphasis on great design and aesthetics, build quality, exceptional core functionality and the user experience. Initially, they leave out arguably essential features. This was no more apparent than with the release of the iPhone, which at launch had no 3G networking, a horrible camera, no multitasking, no Flash, no MMS, and others. It still is missing a few wanted features (at least from those in the industry whose job it is to report and complain about Apple).

Steve Jobs has said that his company is product-driven; they want to make the best products in the world – not the best selling or best value, but the best. They are as much a lifestyle company as they are a technology company. They preach originality and design, all the while sometimes outright refuting what is popular or accepted as standard practice in the industry altogether. If it doesn’t align with Apple’s (or Steve Job’s) vision of the future, nobody can tell it (or him) otherwise.

Apple does not follow trends. They set trends. They don’t look to monetize what’s popular, but would rather tear down and rethink what’s already popular. Look at the iPod. Look at the iPhone. Look at the iPad. Hell, look at the Mac when it was introduced. Apple has been intentionally altering the way we look at tech by essentially creating new markets and categories of devices, and advancing the state of the art.

I think it’s a case study for any business student.

However, part of big A’s philosophy takes buying into a relatively closed system. Apple wants you to live in Apple land. While doing what they will to be compatible with the outside world, Apple wants you to live, work and play in their sandbox. They make the hardware. They make the software, the operating system, and they want you to come buy it at one of their retail stores. And they want you to buy your music and media from iTunes, which is joined at the hip with the iPod or iPhone, which is then joined at the other hip with the AppStore and MobileMe… Each product is its own realm of exclusivity.

From this mindset of control comes the idea of user experience. They oversee these aspects of the experience, because they want it to be a good one. The notion of control might seem ominous, but it isn’t inherently bad. There’s a reason why over and over again, Apple ranks the highest among all PC manufacturers in customer satisfaction (link). For the average consumer, every step of buying and using a Mac has been considered and designed.

To contrast, Microsoft creates and markets the Windows software but relies on PC manufacturers and retail outlets to oversee everything else. This is good for wide selection and competitive prices, but it also creates much more room for the consumer to receive an inferior product or service. And it also provides for a much larger disconnect between the company and the user. For some, this strict philosophy means little hardware customization and choice, which makes the Mac less attractive for business and IT markets, or for those who continually upgrade their systems, such as PC gamers.

If you’re interested, I would suggest learning a little Apple history. A few good documentaries on the subject (yes, there are many; it’s an interesting story) are MacHeads, Welcome to Macintosh, Pirates of Silicon Valley, or even Objectified, a documentary on design and aesthetics in everyday life.

What is a Mac?

“Mac” is short for a model of Macintosh computer. It’s a name that has stuck with the product line since the original Macintosh 128k was introduced in 1984. Every product from then on, if it ran the Macintosh OS, was considered a Mac, though the different products in the Mac family had other sub-names like PowerBook or PowerMac.

A Mac, at its core, has little to do with the changing hardware designs from year to year. What makes a Mac a Mac is the operating system it runs: OS X. For the average consumer, there is nothing better. It has an intuitive interface, great overall design, is aesthetically pleasing, and is built to be easy to use, secure and reliable. Snow Leopard is the name given to the current iteration of OS X, and it’s an amazing product. It comes with the iLife suite of applications, such as iPhoto, a photo managing application, iMovie for creating and editing movies, GarageBand and others, all of which make the Mac incredibly capable right out of the box.

The Mac is big in the home, education and creative professional markets. Whichever you hail from, know that there is at least a place for a Mac at your home. And depending on where you work, the Mac is quickly finding a place among the corporate world dominated by Windows PCs.

The right one for you

You’ve probably already got an idea of what you want. Say you need something mobile. Of course, then you’d choose a laptop. Say, then you need something light and capable of handling lots of open windows and word processing programs for productivity. Then you could choose the MacBook or the MacBook Air. Say, but then you also have some graphics-heavy applications you like to run like 3D games. Then you’d probably be better off getting the regular MacBook, because the GPU (graphics processing unit) in that device is a bit speedier.

Here’s a break down of the 2010 holiday season lineup:


MacBook – Apple’s mainstream consumer notebook. It fits most use cases and can even handle a few intense 3D games like Half-Life 2. The 13.3-inch screen may be perfect for most people, however, for the video editor or music producer might need a little more screen real estate and possibly even more power.

MacBook Pro – the professional line of notebooks from Apple. While the “Pro” declaration used to apply only to the notebooks with screen sizes 15 inches and over, Apple now has made their previous 13-inch aluminum MacBook a MacBook Pro by adding more RAM, a larger hard drive, and putting FireWire back on the product. This line of computer is capable of much more than any of its mobile offerings. The 15 and 17-inch models contain either one of Intel’s i5 or i7 dual-core processors, both of which are extremely powerful. They all currently use NVidia’s GeForce 320M or 330M GPUs, and are quite capable of the most demanding video editing tasks. The laptops won’t blaze through HD gaming quite like a desktop can, but all can play just about anything, given you adjust game’s graphic settings accordingly. Perfect for the college student, mobile photographer, traveling musician or DJ.

MacBook Air – this was made for two main reasons: 1) to give traveling businessmen and women and super-light, easily portable yet powerful machine, and 2) to show off how thin Apple can make stuff. They’re considerably more expensive for than that of their larger and more powerful brethren, but as said before, with Apple you pay for unique design. And the MacBook Air is definitely unique. It fell under the “Who the hell would use this?” category by critics who didn’t quite understand what Apple was trying to accomplish here. It wasn’t made to be incredibly practical. Instead, Apple figured out how to make super, super thin laptops, and they had to bring it to market first before anybody else. That simple.


Mac mini – There are lot of folks that still ponder the fate of Apple’s least-expensive Mac offering. Over the past few years, there was some talk that Apple might discontinue the mini, but with relatively consistent updates, those rumors have been settled. Especially with it’s most recently design change. The most drastic evolution of the product since its inception, the Mac mini is super tiny and flat and silver and pretty. Though larger in diameter than the previous model, the precision with which Apple can cram so much in such a tiny space is mind-boggling. It’s a wonderful product and a great addition to the Mac lineup. With the Mac mini, the lineup feels complete. Add the fact that no other PC manufacturer really has anything compelling in this form factor, then you might say Apple has the market on this one, but I haven’t seen any market studies directed at this category. There are a few nettop (netbook-desktop) boxes on the market, most notably Dell’s Inspiron Zino HD, but nothing out there shines like the inconceivably tiny yet powerful (enough) box that Apple makes. Many use the mini as a home theater media repository and DVD player, or for internet-based media services like Netflix. They come equipped with an HDMI port, so it’ll hook right up to your flat panel display.

iMac – this is the consumer desktop Mac. It takes on the all-in-one design. That means that the computer is built into the display, or maybe the display is built into the computer. Either way, it’s good. The iMac is a gorgeous device, and it takes the lead in the industry for all-in-ones. That’s mostly because it has a much more competitive edge as far as prices go compared to others. Most PC manufactures thrive on cheaper boxes that ship with separate displays. If you’re thinking about an iMac, just remember that it’s not easily upgradable. You can add extra RAM, and that’s about it. It doesn’t take much to dig into the system and upgrade the hard drive, but I’d leave that to a professional.

Mac Pro – I saved the best for last. This computer is the Mac-daddy (pun intended) of the Mac line. It’s the superbeast among desktop workstations. Starting at $2500 for the box alone, it’s quite an investment, but if you’re able to pony-up that amount of money, you’ll be glad you did. Of course, this assumes you don’t need to be mobile with your computing goals. And I’d say it assumes you are going to be doing a lot of CPU and GPU-intensive tasks like video editing or serious gaming. It also assumes you just need a lot of expansion and a bunch of I/O options to get done what you need done. If not, then I’d probably recommend an iMac, but then again there are those who want the biggest and the baddest. One thing that the Mac Pro has going for it compared to other PC workstations is, again, extraordinary design. If you were to take a good look inside that big beautiful metal box, you’ll witness a perfect balance of seemingly crammed components yet perfect accessibility. Everything just kind of pops out if you need to replace or add something to the system. And when you close it back up, the whole thing screams power and confidence. Overall, the design of the Mac Pro is nearly unchanged the past five to six years, but it also hasn’t lost any of it’s initial luster. That’s saying a lot.

How and when to buy

So, how do you buy a Mac? Well, there’s no easy way to plop a thousand bucks or two on a checkout counter, but there is an informed way, and that’ll make sense real soon.

The first Mac I purchased was a black MacBook, fall of 2007. Having no idea about how Apple marketed and released new products, just a week out of its new packaging, my new laptop was obsolete; Apple had released an updated version that also included the brand-new operating system OS X Leopard. The one I had purchased still had OS X Tiger on it. Flustered and appalled, I ran back to the store, explained my situation and pleaded for an exchange. Luckily, the reseller was empathetic, and I was able to get the newer one a few weeks later. The moral of the story? Know Apple product cycles as well as you can. It’s not an exact science, but based on the patterns of past releases, accompanied with the never-ending rumor mill on the Internet, you can gauge fairly well when it’s about time for Apple to refresh the old stuff and bring in the hot new, spicy Apple pies (sorry for the blatantly horrible pun).

Want to know if it’s a good time to buy a new MacBook? Check some of the dedicated Apple news websites. MacWorld, MacRumors, Cult of Mac, AppleInsider, or even Engadget, Gizmodo, and All Things D (from The Wall Street Journal) always have their ear to Cupertino. In fact, every technology oriented website and media group reports on everything Apple, because even if Apple announced something ridiculous like a battery charger it would be news (wait, they already did that, and it was).

Here’s a great reference from MacRumors; it’s their buyer’s guide, listing all the current main Apple product lines and past releases. From there you can get a sense as to when the best time might be to purchase.

Most often, MacBooks and MacBook Pros and iMacs get refreshed twice a year, but the MacBook Air and the Mac Pro is somewhat harder to pinpoint. Recently the Mac Pro was updated in July, before that was March of 2009. But those looking to buy a Mac Pro would probably not have time to wait for release dates; they’ve got stuff to accomplish, so it’s less an issue. Chances are the MacBook and MacBook Pros will be updated soon. They too have seen a slow-down in update cycles, having only been refreshed once earlier this year. But, I wouldn’t let that keep you from getting one if you’ve been eyeing one for this holiday season. Those laptops are still high-class and won’t be obsolete for quite a while.

The iPhone is really predictable, by this point. Every summer since the original iPhone, Apple has release another one. So, if you want an iPhone 4, get one. Don’t let anyone hold you back.

The iPad, however, is a different story, and the most interesting debate of all. No one knows the iPad’s product cycle yet. They’ve only release one, so we have nothing yet to judge as reference. It was announced January of this year, but released finally in April. Of course, the struggle is whether or not to spend money on the iPad that will quickly be replaced soon or not. Apple sure knows how to play their cards, because they know the demand is still strong for these things. There’s no need thus far to make a new one. Though I’d say this: if you’ve got kids screaming for an iPad this Christmas, by all means shut ‘em up with one of these things, and if it turns out that new iPads come out in January, never let them know it. You can wait for yours, if you have the patience, that is.

Now, I’d rather not blindly speculate on when Apple might release a new iPad, but there are a few things that you might consider: For one, it’s quite certain among tech-gurus that a new version will come out sometime early next year. That means January, April or somewhere in between.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chrome web apps work anywhere... even Safari

I'm not completely sure of Google's goal with Chrome-based web apps, but it seems that most of the apps available work pretty much everywhere. No Chrome required.

Take a look at these popular web apps, working just fine in multiple browsers.

Here's The New York Times "Chrome" web app (click to enlarge):

And here's the same NYT web app in Safari:

So, I'm a little confused. If these apps are Chrome branded apps, and many are sold through the Chrome web store, what's the point if you can load them up anywhere you wish?

Well, the web, thankfully, is a standards-based development environment. It has to be in order for information and media to work across the world. And for that reason, this stuff works everywhere. Just enter the address into the address bar that is designated for that function of the website. For the NYT example, just type in and hit enter. Or just click the link. It should work in your browser just fine: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. I haven't tested it in Opera, though.

Your browser might ask you to if its okay for the app to use a bit of your hard drive for offline storage. Just hit okay, and you're off. In chrome, it doesn't ask, but that's about the only difference I can tell so far. I'm sure there are few web apps on the Chrome web store that use something specific to the Chrome browser, but for these popular, more generic apps, they seem to work just fine.

Here's some other examples of the web apps in Safari: Springpad, Grooveshark, Picnik, and Amazon's Windowshop (beta).


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Obsolete? Nope. My original iPhone dock still works.

So, I found my original iPhone dock, which was hide among some other old gadget stuff in an old shoe box. I looked at it closely and analyzed its dimensions. The light flicked on as I realized what I was holding: my years-old dock would come to life again!

Ever since I bought my iPhone 4, I have put off and put off having to buy again yet another dock for one of my iDevices. And the things is, Apple makes a universal dock, but even it has to be updated with new plastic dock pieces to fit your model. Because I only own a few devices, an original iPhone, an iPhone 3GS and now an iPhone 4, the universal dock never made sense to spend some $50+ dollars.

For the past few months, because I use my iPhone to tether all the time, my phone has been lying on its side next to my laptop about 90 percent of the time in the most inelegant, scratch-prone way.

Needeless to say, once the iPhone 4 slid right into my original iPhone dock, and I then heard that strange chirp the iPhones make when given USB life, I swelled with joy. Or, maybe I just said, "Cool," and smiled. 

Oh, the simple (geeky) things in life...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Geez, people... Haven't you heard these songs before?

Apparently, in one week alone, the Beatles have already sold about another two million songs and 450,000 albums. The top album in the U.S. was "Abbey Road."

Come on, people! Why the mad rush for music that's been out for more than thirty years?

I've already written a post previously about the welcome, yet "eh, who cares" news of The Beatles finding their way into the iTunes store. But now, I have to take a step back and either admit that I was wrong, or ask the more appropriate question, "what the hell is wrong with you people?"

We've had The Beatles on CDs for quite a while. But, what, the songs are all of a sudden brand new again because a new store just happened to stock 'em? You wouldn't go and buy re-buy your television just because the new Best Buy down the street started stocking it too. All I'm saying is that I seriously doubt even 5 percent of those albums sold went to people that had not already had another copy on some other medium. To me, that's just ridiculous.

Again, nothing against The Beatles -- of course they are legends and have made amazing music.

But if you had the CD laying around somewhere and still decided to spend money for a copy from iTunes, when in less than five minutes you could have ripped it just as well, then I am bewildered by that brand of thinking. By "brand of thinking," of course, I mean "retarded."

But maybe I'm over simplifying the nature of legendary music so easily accessible around the world and from a single place. What else did could one expect?

Via AppleInsider.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to touch a Lion: OS X

To be quite honest, I'm a little worried about Apple's position on touch in their desktop platform, OS X.

Currently, touch on OS X is employed using Apple's proprietary blend of gesture-based devices: the Magic TrackPad, Magic Mouse, and of course the MacBook trackpad. That's all great, but, looking toward the future, the point-and-click method of input, while effective at its job, is beginning to look a little antiquated in the face of touch-based devices like the iPad. I'd only hope that when the next thing comes around -- when we do figure out what the paradigm shift would be in desktop computing -- that Apple will be on top of it.

In the October 2010 keynote, Steve Jobs spoke a little about Apple's position on touch interfaces in the desktop/notebook category. He said basically that those vertical display orientations don't work well with extended use. "It gives great demo," Jobs claimed. But he then went on to describe the problems concerning arm fatigue and extended use problems associated with that design. "It's ergonomically terrible," he said.

That all makes sense, and I admire Apple's ability to deny the status-quo in desktop touch interfaces, and that's not what worries me. Instead, I'm curious about the integrity of their current interfaces for touch on OS X. The MacBook trackpad, Magic TrackPad and Magic Mouse are great devices, but they are in no way comparable to interacting with the touchscreen on the iPhone or iPad. Apple says the best way they've found to get touch on the Mac is not through the display, all which orient vertically, but rather through those horizontal devices they already ship.

I wanna touch me some OS X

While the trackpads and the Magic Mouse that Apple ship do make use of "gestures," they are not "touch" interfaces like touchscreen displays. The software in OS X is still based on a point-and-click mechanism of interaction. So, I guess the argument should be whether Apple should rewrite the desktop OS for fingers. Well, if you look at the recently previewed OS X Lion, they are already taking steps in that direction. With the LaunchPad, which uses the entire screen to display app icons, its use of folders like iOS 4, and also the introduction of more intuitive fullscreen apps (doing away with windows and the tiny toolbar controls), the desktop OS is gradually gaining the user interface necessary for finger-to-display interaction.

I wonder if the desktop OS, in its current form, will ever use touch as efficiently as any of the iOS or Android handsets on the market now. For example, straight from the horses mouth, check out this patent from Apple describing an iMac that has the capability to flip down horizontally, presumably to solve the whole "vertical orientation" problem.

My, how we've grown

Also, while always pondering the next best thing, I simply wonder when the traditional point-and-click style of desktop navigation will eventually go away. First there was command-line interfaces which included nothing but a black screen and a prompt. You would then enter commands to navigate and launch programs. From there, the paradigm shift in computing came with graphical user interfaces, or GUI. Xerox had initially invented GUI, but it wasn't until the Apple Lisa computer was released that it had made its way to the mass-market. From there, the Macintosh perfected the modern desktop operating system, and every other OS and software manufacturer, like Microsoft, jumped on the bandwagon.

More than thirty years later, we've since grown into our modern OS's and coincidentally seemingly grown too used to the same interfaces we use to interact with our data. It didn't take long to realize that command prompts were antiquated, but now we're slowly realizing that touch, along with wireless mobility, is the way of the future.

And in that aspect, the future is already here. With the introduction of the iPhone, we witnessed touch, wireless and mobile culminate with a product that not only revolutionized the cellular industry, but also energized new ideas and catalyzed a new category of mobile devices like the iPad. Tablet computing is the new rage, and we may see that form-factor take as the reigning personal device after the PC.

Bring it 'Back to the Mac'

I have to agree with Jobs on the iPad. There is something "magical" about it. The iPad brings a degree of intimacy with the internet and your digital content that other devices simply don't quite offer yet, all of which is because of the touch interface, its simplicity, design and ease of use. So, how do you bring some of that intimacy to the Mac? Laptops, in their current form, definitely don't work for vertical touch, because the displays are too flimsy and have no support for the pressure required someone to press against it. Hmmmm...

However, with the new MacBook Air, they've taken design cues from the iPad hardware, so I guess that's a good first step. It's easier to, say, just throw in flash storage rather than a hard drive, giving your laptop a new "instant on" feature resembling the iPad. But it's much more to try and reinvent the OS. Although OS X Lion seems to promote a more app-friendly, iPad-like experience with the new Mac App Store, the LaunchPad and fullscreen apps, in the meantime we're stuck with the Magic Mouse to provide our desktop "touch" experience.

We'll have to wait and see what the industry will make of this, because I certainly don't have the answers.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Apple is big into teasers, big letdowns

Apple is big into teasers, and, to be honest, big letdowns.

The big banner on Apple's website claiming an unforgettable announcement about iTunes turned out to be nothing more than The Beatles finding their way into the iTunes Store.

Big whoop.

Although, it is great that when you now type in 'Beatles' in the iTunes Store, you actually get a result. And, while we love the music, the condescending minds hording the licensing that decided that The Beatles were too precious to be degraded by digital distribution -- have been silenced.

But I, as probably most other Beatles fans, already own all the albums, and had went about that horrible degrading process of ripping them into my iTunes library. To me and many others, no one really cared that the Beatles weren't in iTunes -- there are ways around that. But to Apple, it seems that the entire world had not one song to listen to if they didn't sell it.

After raising hoopla on their website with a teaser that said, "Tomorrow is just another day. You'll never forget," the tech blogs went crazy with rumors and possible announcements they would have made in regards to iTunes.

An apparently unforgettable iTunes annoucement

If you were like me, you were hoping for the overdue iTunes functionality to stream content from anywhere to your other iDevices. But it wouldn't have made sense for Apple to suddenly announce something that big a deal, seeing as how at neither of two very recent keynotes had Steve Jobs made even a nod to that possibility.

So, I'd say it was a moderate let down -- at least for the little hopeful minds like myself giddy over new Apple goodies.

Again, I'm glad The Beatles are now in iTunes, if only for the quelling of ridiculous notions from those behind the licensing that said "no" to digital. But geez, Apple, you guys are killing me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The inherent "disconnect" in internet communication.

You know what's strange? Every time I use FaceBook or even chat with someone else on the web, the next time I see that person I hesitate momentarily to wonder if that person actually responded or conversed with me online, like I had previously only been corresponding with some non-existent computer program somewhere off in nether-nether land.

But, to my surprise, as I later talk to said individual, they magically remember the conversation and seemingly think of it as no big whoop.

I think to myself: "Gosh, this is just weird." Because I carried on an entire conversation with a computer screen and a keyboard. It's a little odd and I guess takes some time to get used to more modern types of communication; that is, online services like FaceBook or Yahoo Instant Messenger, both of which I used quite often.

I guess the question is: when will the disconnect we experience through modern, internet-based forms of communication cease to be "weird?"

With online services like video chat and the newly released software from Apple called "FaceTime," which allows any Mac or iPhone 4 to carry on visual, person-to-person conversations, I can only assume that the time when not only VOIP (voice-over-internet-protocol), but also video chat becomes the norm, we'll always experience some form of disconnect from our fellow peers when it comes to telecommunication over the internet.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab looks really good.

While we have been waiting on viable alternatives to the Apple iPad, as the newly announced Blackberry PlayBook has yet to reach market, the Samsung Galaxy Tab may have the ability to grab consumer attention and pull in some market share.

There are quite a few people out there that simply do not want to give in to Apple, the iPad, or even acknowledge that a device similar to the iPad, i.e. tablet devices, can be considered viable alternatives to traditional laptops. To those people, I say wake up and smell the greenbacks, because this new tablet market is thriving.

So what if Apple is the leader in all this again? Because they do so well and because they are, by some people, hated so much, that means demand is high and the market ready for other companies to step up their game and make something just as "magical." That's how technology gets better and how capitalism works. And it's all for you.

For example, Samsung's new tablet looks really good. I haven't used it yet, but this video shows just how usable and iPad-like the Galaxy Tab is:

The Galaxy Tab is supposed to be released over the course of next week from Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, all with their own separate data and pricing plans. It's confusing, so if you plan on getting one, make sure you do the math and figure out what works best for you before signing the contract for one of these things.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On the iPhone, pt2

Previously, I've spoken a little bit about the iPhone, its place in history and impact on modern communication, which can be found here. To get all my ideas out about the iPhone and why I’m a complete fanboy of the device (and to be honest, of most Apple products), I hope to expand a little here and possibly more down the line along the device’s evolution with this segment simply titled, “On the iPhone.”
Tech isn’t so “techy” anymore
You geeky son-of-a-bitch. Yeah, you know you love your phone. It’s okay; we do too. The thing is, tech isn’t so geeky anymore, so be proud of it. The 21st century Fonzie uses an iPhone -- style, fashion and social status today include both the devices you carry and the brands that define you. Are you a Mac or PC? Android or Blackberry? Playstation or Xbox?
Modern geekism, as I see it, has more to do with phones than anything, as phones are everyone's device and the most personal tech we own. And Apple, having always considered beauty and style in their products, are responsible for the new age of stylish gadgetry with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.
Smartphones have evolved. Initially created for business professionals, the smartphone was nothing more than an excuse for guys in suits to carry around expensive, complicated-looking gadgets.
Well, that may be an exaggeration, but in all honesty, having used Windows Mobile devices from the early 2000s, I can vouch for smartphone uselessness beyond fancy contacts management a digital calendar. Mobile internet, which was finally starting to mature in devices like Blackberrys and the Palm Treo, was essentially still a baby. The Treo, Blackberry and a few Nokia products were certainly key devices in a pre-iPhone world, but until the platforms could be rethought and reinvented for use by mere mortals, nobody cared.
But why prop up the iPhone?

Well, because, if it wasn’t for the iPhone, your Motorola Droid simply wouldn't exist.
Android, Palm and now Windows Phone 7 -- platforms based on the touch-experience -- are all reaching full maturity and offer plenty competitive alternatives. But regardless of whether you believe the iPhone is still king or have instead found a better fit for you, no one can deny that Apple truly catalyzed a new generation of really personal, really smart mobile devices and software. Facing many obstacles, they created something so radically different and did it so well, that the iPhone introduction will go down as a historical upward shift in portable computing (not to mention that the MacWorld 2007 keynote given by Steve Jobs was awesome and sure to be talked about for decades among us Apple nerds. Gotta give kudos when kudos is due (what is a kudo, btw?)).
The iPhone’s backstory is really the most compelling part of its introduction. And though Jobs likes to claim revolution for the products he introduces, for the people that own iPhones, use them and love them, the overall consensus on whether or not the iPhone is truly revolutionary amounts to an assertive “hell yes.”
Read this piece from Wired magazine, The Untold Story: How the iPhone Blew Up the Wireless Industry. This is the best piece I’ve found on the device, the landscape of the mobile industry and how it was flipped upside down in 2007.

It’s all about emotion

Talk with iPhone users. They love it. They make sure to use the word.
It’s just a phone -- an electronic gadget. So why the emotional connection? How can a person become so floored with a phone, of all things?

Well, making calls isn't it. The phone part of your iPhone doesn't make you fall in love. Especially if you have lots of dropped calls, sometimes you might be inclined to throw it across the room. However, the process of making the call, the fluidity and ease involved can overall make for a relatively enjoyable experience. That is what it's all about: the experience, the enjoyment one receives in its use with minimal frustrations.

Emotional connectivity with a phone comes in the sense that the device simply fulfills and need. Or more appropriately, it creates need, whereas technology, in its nature, broadens connectivity with the world by providing new avenues for information and entertainment, and then fulfills it. The iPhone platform, in form and function, exists to satisfy that need and, in turn, influences the "bond" a person will perceive from its use.

Just as an interesting side-note, we are only talking about a phone, in case we need to be reminded. We talk about the iPhone experience like one might talk about a religious experience. But I'm sure one's choice of technology might come close to a religion. They call 'em fanboys for a reason.

So, let's first discuss design. It's no secret that Apple has a great design team; they've won awards and sold enough product to prove it. Apple stuff is often described as "pretty" or even "beautiful." But why? It's nothing by a hunk of shiny metals and glass. To answer, you might look at these objects in comparison to what others manufacture. Take, for example, any slew of Nokia handsets or Windows Mobile phones from last year. Other than, in my opinion, the Palm Pre and a few HTC handsets which are on par with the iPhone as far as physical design, the iPhone trumps most in outward attractiveness. Being shiny certainly has an eye-catching allure and makes you wanna reach out and touch it -- or even lick it.

Handsets. You hold them -- yes, in your hand, if you had to guess. So, the feel of the device must conform to the hand or be ergonomically sound for constant touching and manipulation. The slickness of the iPhone (still speaking of the original) -- the rounded-off sides and smooth edges that fit nicely in the creases of one's fingers, the serene physicality of having only one button, the weight and feel of the device -- all adds to the proverbial "experience" we like to adorn it with.

Physical beauty is nice, and Apple has always made really nice hardware, but as Steve Jobs had said in The Wall Street Journal's D5 conference in 2007, he really considered Apple a software company more than anything. Software is what sets a company like Apple apart and drives the identity of their products. The software in the original iPhone was revolutionary (okay, I'll reuse the word). During the MacWorld 2007 keynote, Jobs threw the phrase "desktop-class applications" around to describe the new era of portable computing. The iPhone was the initiator and proof of that concept. Now with the App Store and over 300,000 (as of this writing) applications for iOS devices, uncertainty over software utility in the mobile space can be easily put to rest. However, while the capabilities are there, pure functionality of the iPhone is not what creates the bond between it and the user. Design, again, must creep into the conversation, because the way we see, feel and hear -- all ways we interact -- must, beyond all, be easy and fun to do. The designers at Apple have nearly perfected user interface design.

It works well. Like, for real. As long as the hardware is keeping up with the software (because the hardware should be able to handle what interface and general computations the applications need), the interface, its animated aspects, the types of buttons and controls, the graphics, the layout of information all in a tightly-wound, polished and responsive package make for a fluid and extremely satisfying experience.

It's late, and this post has run long. To be continued...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WTF? Apple made a netbook!?

And it's the most expensive one in the world.

What many thought was impossible, unfathomable, and only come to be once hell hath frozen over... Well then, button-up your parka on the way down, because Apple hath created a netbook.

Well, they kind of made a netbook. That all depends on what your definition of a netbook is. If you say small, then yes, Apple created a netbook. But if you say cheap, then Apple is still way off.

Netbooks are generally considered netbooks under a screen size of 12 inches, are comprised of cheaper, slower components, and are held together by cheap plastic in a questionable design. But that's how Dell, HP, Acer, and friends can sell them cheap (as if I couldn't use the word "cheap" again) -- by making compromises. Apple's new MacBook Airs, which come in 11.6 and 13.3 inch flavors, have both the industrial design elements that make them visually striking while still being powerful enough to accomplish more traditional and advanced PC tasks -- traditional and advanced in the sense that they run a desktop operating system.

Of course, great stuff has a price.

In the end, however, the netbook market is all about budget. Although I believe the new 11 inch MacBook Air is more a netbook physically than anything to have come from Cupertino, in terms of the market, they do more damage to netbook sales with the release of the iPad. The iPad is priced just low enough to grab the attention of a few potential netbook customers and herd them in to Apple-town. So, in that sense, because the new MacBook Air starts at $999, it will do nothing to substantially affect the general netbook customer.

But look at it!! Ever since the media caught wind of the growing popularity and sales of netbook PCs, everyone poked Apple over and over again to eventually make one. If you dreamt about something tiny and shiny and appley, then your wish has come true.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Does this mean world domination by a fruit?

So, basically Apple dominates the friggin world. Latest earnings are ridiculous. Breaking records again and again, this has become the largest kool-aid drinking party ever.

Via Gizmodo

Friday, October 15, 2010

Another reason I absolutely love the Mac

On a PC, the mouse cursor always gets in the way of what I type.

Think about it -- you use your mouse to click inside a text field, but unless the cursor is intentionally moved aside, it interferes with your ability to read what you type. And good luck if a tooltip happens to pop up under the cursor; that blocks pretty much everything. It's like trying to drive a car when all of a sudden someone splashes black paint all over the windshield. Not cool.

On my Mac, as soon as you type, the cursor disappears. Move the mouse again, and voila! It's back! What a simple, nice freaking touch!

However, every time I'm forced to use a PC, either for work or when I use bootcamp for miscellaneous causes, I'm confronted with this horrible oversight in basic design flaw in user experience.

Geez, Windows has been out for thirty some odd years now, and nobody at Microsoft realizes that pointing and clicking has nothing to do typing...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yay! Apple holding a Mac event Oct. 20!

Alright! I get excited about new Apple events. Especially when they have to do with the Mac.

For a while now, folks in the Mac community have been upset about all the attention and focus on iOS, as Apple seemed to neglect their firstborn, the Mac, for the past year. But it made sense, however, because iOS devices now make up the largest portion of Apple's revenue. Either way, being a Mac evangelist -- it was my first love -- its great to finally hear something out of Cupertino, that they haven't forgotten us.

Apple event is scheduled for Oct. 20, and the tagline reads, "Back to the Mac." A graphic promoting the event depicts a 3D Apple logo with tiny sliver of a lion on the back of the Apple. So, I surmise they will be discussing the next version of the Mac OS operating system, 10.7.

The current Macintosh operating system, called Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, was released Sept. 2009. And Apple generally releases a new version of the OS at least every other year. I would guess the event might make some announcements about their Mac business, provide some updates and details on the sales and landscape of the desktop operating system, describe some new features planned on in the next release, and if we're lucky, might even announce a few hardware updates.

As it stands in the current lineup, the Mac most neglected would be the MacBook Air. Never considered a supreme player among laptop elites, its price tag and lack of features make it, while an extraordinary design, not fit for most of the laptop-toting market. However, those that find a place for the MacBook Air in their lives, say like a college student or traveling businessman, generally love the device for the sleekness, slimness, and the ability to carry around the capabilities of Mac OS X in such a tiny package.

As far as other updates, I'm really hoping on the announcement of a new version of iLife, which now that I think about it, must come along with some type of hardware announcements, seeing as how iLife is considered a free software for new Macs (that makes sense, right?). Of course you can purchase iLife as a standalone product for older machines, but that doesn't seem like Apple's style to make newer software not also available with newer hardware. Or maybe I'm just crazy...

Some people have pondered on the possibility of seeing some iPhone stuff, like even the notion that we might hear something about a Verizon iPhone. But usually, when Apple and Steve Jobs say their keynotes will cover a specific topic, they rarely go off course, declining to mention really anything else in their product lineup. Look at the past couple of keynotes: iPad was all about iPad and nothing else, iPhone 4 was all about iPhone 4 and nothing else new, and the September keynote was, as usual, all about iPods and Apple TV, and nothing else. So, Macs will prevail at this upcoming event, I believe, as it should, given the fact that other than quietly updating their Macintosh products, we haven't heard much out of Cupertino about their plans for Mac.

What features will the new OS contain? There's not much a Mac user can complain about, at least nothing I can think of off hand. I only see good things coming, so keep your eyes and ears open for whats next...

It's like my Mac is a baby, and Apple is the school system, and all I want is to send my Mac off to school so it can grow up big and strong and learn a whole bunch of new tricks. Come on, OS X Lion!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Windows Phone 7 is cool, just a couple years too late

In New York this Monday, Microsoft finally held its Windows Phone 7 event, officially introducing the new operating system along with 10 different handsets that will run it. The entire time I watched the keynote, however, as excited as I was for a product that looked to be extremely tight and polished, I also couldn't help but kinda pity Microsoft for one main reason: they needed this platform and these devices two years ago.

After watching the hour-long, slow-going keynote, which, while not an Steve Jobs presentation, was at least as informative as it was entertaining, I found myself continually nodding my head. Microsoft really has something here with Windows Phone 7. And having used Windows Mobile in the past, everything I saw up on that small stage was a complete rework of a struggling mobile strategy that now has the fit and finish to slide in among the big names already in the field. If only this event was held a couple of years ago, where would the industry be now?

There's no doubt that Microsoft is late to the game. While remaining somewhat relevant among smartphones, Windows Mobile 6 just didn't have the vigor to compete against the shine of the iPhone and iOS, as well as the slew of phones coming from handset makers adopting the Android platform.

So, why has it taken Microsoft this long to get on the bandwagon, to put something on the market that actually has a chance? They are a big cat in the industry -- they make freaking Windows for heaven's sake. How can the makers of the most popular software in the world not create something on the cellphone to turn consumer heads?

You might say the Redmond-based software giant suffers from managerial issues. Hell, when the iPhone was first announced, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughed at the notion of the iPhone becoming popular, ignoring not only how drastically different it was, but also how the iPhone was exactly what the industry needed: a jumpstart on serious mobile computing design and applications, and a handset-to-carrier relationship that worked for the consumer. I have no idea what's really going with Microsoft's board of directors, but I imagine their meetings might look like a scene from "12 Angry Men."

From my perspective, instead of having a clear mindset of "We need to make a better product now," the ideas around the heads of Microsoft decision makers, or lack thereof, were seemingly fruitless. For too long, waiting on the market and riding on WinMo 6, they appeared to not be able to make a decision about anything. All the while, iPhone was having one hell of a party. Vision and motivation in taking an idea, even those outlandish, is what was lacking from the spirit of leaders. Numbers and figures in the face of art, business suits in the face of fashion, maybe... As Chris Ziegler of Engadget writes about Microsoft senior vice president Andy Lees, "Lees -- like most Microsoft execs -- is a no-nonsense numbers guy" (Link). Maybe they only felt comfortable playing a sure thing.

Lack of vision and leadership. Case and point: Two Windows Phones, which were doomed from their conception, somehow made it to market only to be discontinued in less than two months. The Kin One and Kin Two, called project "Pink" before they were released, apparently had the same problem with project management: too many chiefs, not enough indians. Or maybe more appropriately: too little chiefs with vision, plenty of indians. This is an excellent story by Ziegler of Engadget on the whole Kin debacle: Life and death of Microsoft Kin: the inside story.

The point is, if Windows Phone 7 was ready and released this time in 2008, the time when phone manufacturers really started to get behind and drive the market share for Android (the only other viable touchscreen smartphone platform -- sorry Blackberry Storm), I do believe that Microsoft would be next to, if not overtaking, the iPhone in terms of market share. But, alas, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world, though the Android platform had already been conceived, most companies in technology had their thumbs up their butts wondering what to do next.

So with the worst days hopefully behind Microsoft on the mobile front, lets imagine a world without Windows. Or not.. that'll never happen. But well see just how Microsoft fares on their new offering, and if it will gain any traction. I predict by this time 2011, Microsoft will have regained a good position in terms of both mindshare and market share, but not enough to constitute overtaking the market any time soon.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Patiently waiting on iLife '11

I understand that Apple has had a busy, busy year. We've seen a lot in tech in 2010. With the iPad, the iPhone 4, new MacBooks and iMacs and Mac Minis, iPods, software updates, and the notion that Apple as a software company is always working on the next greatest and latest thing on both the Mac OS X and iOS platorms, one can only expect so many goodies at a time. So, in the case of iLife, which is in my opinion already a much better suite of digital life applications than any other free offering available, I can deal with a year skipped.

Changing gears for a minute, it's quite funny to me that Windows still does not offer much in comparison to the free iLife applications that ship with Macs. As a user of both Windows 7 and Mac OS X, I have used and adapted to both platforms. Windows offers a couple of different programs that work similarly to Apple's iPhoto and iMovie -- Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Movie Maker -- but what they offer in features just doesn't make up for the unfriendly user experience and polish that makes iPhoto and iMovie so desirable. Sure, all software has its own laundry list of problems, but what it boils down to for me is how enjoyable the software that I have to use everyday is to use. Other than the fact that neither of these Windows programs actually come with a new computer (you have to find and download them off Microsoft's website), I find that through using them, they aren't exactly brag-worthy on Microsoft's part, can be extremely buggy, and are not being promoted by Microsoft at all, even though a common software suite offered free by them would be really helpful in selling more computers.

My guess is that Microsoft, as they reiterate constantly, wants to leave as much as they can up to third part hardware and software vendors. They supply the operating system and let the community fill in the gaps. That's all great, as a common software suite like iLife might shut out a lot of possible paid application developers. But at the same time, everyday users like your mom may need a comprehensive photo organization environment and are not going to search for alternatives like the nerd that lives in the basement.

Either way, Microsoft, in their position on top, doesn't need to do any of that. They say, "hey, we've got something similar if you need it, just so we can say we do, but we're not really going to let you know about it. That way we can keep the doors open for developers to fill in the gaps" (not an actual quote).

Apple fanboys, as myself, use the iLife application suite as nothing more than ammunition against the Windows machine (figuratively speaking). And yet, it holds so much weight to the average computer user when they get to see first hand the awesomeness and easiness of iPhoto, iMovie, or GarageBand.

For example, just recently I visited a family gathering with my father, my uncles and grandfather. We had just come back from playing a round of golf, where I had taken my iPhone 4 and shot some video and pictures of the game. As we all sat around talking and chilling, I pulled out my laptop and hooked up my iPhone to transfer everything over and do some video editing. One of my uncles, who has a somewhat elevated interest in technology -- more so than any of the others -- looked over my shoulder and watched. Like most people, he is a PC user. But as he watched how easily I opened everything up in iMovie and started cutting, he was amazed at what he saw. I explained to him what I was doing and the software I was using, and after about a minute, his first question was: "And how much does that cost?"

Of course, being a fanboy, I immediately turned into a commercial and walking, living advertisement. "It comes free with every Mac. It's called iLife. Pretty cool, huh?"

A little later, my little cousin pulled her guitar out and began strumming a few poorly-held chords. My uncle and I were showing her a few chords when I thought about the lessons on GarageBand. So, I opened up my MacBook, clicked the GarageBand icon in the dock, and pulled up a couple of lessons that come free with the software. My cousin and uncle sat and watched as the interactive experience unfolded. Again the tagline was "cool" and "free" to my uncle, as he questioned about where he could get something like that for his PC. I told him that I'm sure there was something out there similar, but it wouldn't be anything like what Apple had done, nor would it include a lesson with Sting.

He didn't run out and buy a Mac, of course. Frugal is a frugal does, you might say, but in the short time he had spent with me, my MacBook and the iLife suite, he understood the appeal and necessity to having something that powerful and fun built-in to the computer you choose. In this age of digital everything -- photos, videos, music, etc -- if you don't have the proper setup to organize and produce your content correctly, then all you have is a mess of folders and documents that nobody can enjoy.

That's where iLife '09 shines. I love it. But what about iLife '11? What could be done to make the newer applications better? Well, the rumors is that iPhoto will get better social networks integration, there will be a totally rewritten iWeb (awesome, because iWeb as it stands now is not that great), no iDVD (which is okay, because it's not that useful anymore, and also because Apple will eventually get rid of optical drives altogether in their machines), a new mystery application, and everything will be in 64-bit and iOS compatible (whatever that last bit means).

That's all beans and gravy, but what about iMovie? GarageBand? If you have used iMovie at all, then you know there are certainly some bugs to be worked out. Moving clips around sometimes don't work at all and might require an entire restart of the program to get them to function again. You Mac users out there, try and nudge some voiceover clips around on the timeline using the keyboard, and you'll see what I'm talking about; it doesn't work at all. While iMovie '09 is an amazing improvement from iMovie '08, with much more added functionality, the application overall still feels like its missing some more professional touches. I'd like the functionality to use more video formats and to be able to import any audio and content from anywhere on my Mac, rather than just what cane be found in my iTunes or iPhoto library. This just seems like a given in my book, but as is Apple, wants everything tightly wound and knit it a perfect ball of closed-offness (which works for them, so whatever).

This post went a little long; rambling is my style. But to wrap up my ideas about the importance of these types of applications in today's world, Apple is on the right track with this. They've know it and have been doing it for years -- since the first iMacs, if I remember correctly. The iLife suite wasn't a suite yet; it had iMovie, but ever since then, iLife has been a very useful tool in the average consumer's digital arsenal. Let's hope that the 2011 version, thought to be called iLife '11, will keep up with growing trends and bring the functionality and awesomeness we've come to expect.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blackberry Playbook - here's hoping

I pray to all things good in the universe that this Blackberry Playbook tablet is in the least bit competitive against the iPad. I'm sick of Apple being the only company able to pull much of anything off correctly. I want an iPad, but I tired of only wanting Apple stuff; I have too much Apple stuff! Please, please, please, wont there be another company to make something as cool as or better than Apple's offerings?

To be fair, I love the Palm Pre and WebOS design. And I hope (again, hoping) that HP will make something great out of the investment (the purchase of Palm). But I'm tired of companies taking the "wait and see" approach to new markets and/or to revolutionize/reinvent markets. Apple does that; they did it with the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad. They have a philosophy, advanced by Steve Jobs, that says, make something great, know it's great, know it works great, and know it looks great, and spend as much time as it takes to accomplish that, and screw everybody else that gets in the way.

That's right! These tech companies need to grow some!

Microsoft, in its horrible marketing and management disarray, having already failed with the Kin One and Kin Two, is finally set to release Windows Phone 7 upon the world next week -- their new, supreme touchscreen and modern mobile OS competitor to the iPhone. But the iPhone was released July 2007! It's October 2010! This is how long it takes for somebody to do anything to keep up with Apple and the Jobs-man.

Research In Motion (RIM), in the case of the PlayBook, isn't too far behind the iPad; its been only a few months now since the iPad's release. So, I'm sure RIM has been working on some type of tablet offering for a while now, possibly even a few years as far as the operating system infrastructure goes. I'm willing to bet, however, that as soon as the iPad was announced back in January, they went full-steam ahead to ramp up development for what we've seen introduced last week.

They claim this tablet computer is for the "professional" -- like businessmen. But if you think like me, when something now is claimed for the "professional," I'm thinking that it's more along the lines of "hard to use" and "not streamlined for smooth user experience." So, regardless of how great their promotional videos are on this tablet, I'm not getting my hopes too far up, though I sure would like for it to work just as smooth and seamless as they make it seem: