Opinion

The 'sealed-box' Mac: Cutting-edge design or planned obsolescence?

Apple unveiled the new top-of-the-line 15-in. MacBook Pro, with its ground-breaking Retina display, a truly drool-worthy laptop if ever there was one. It's fast, powerful and stylish, setting the standard for what a full-featured yet highly portable laptop can be. But that gorgeous package comes with a cost.

iFixit, in its teardown analysis, gave the Retina MacBook Pro the lowest possible score, 1 out of 10, for its almost complete lack of upgradeability. There are no user-replaceable parts whatsoever, including the battery or even RAM, which, in a trend begun with the MacBook Air in 2008, is directly soldered to the logic board.

What's wrong with this picture?

Deprecating @BenjaminBrooks

Twitter has lost its way.

I outlined most all of what I mean in this post on Twitter’s API changes, but to summarize: Twitter has turned it’s back on the very users that not only made the service popular, but that came up with the very features that Twitter is now using to try and profit from. And that bugs me.

In my mind Twitter took the easy way out: venture capital and eventually paying that money back by slapping ads everywhere.

Twitter hands down New, Strict Rules for Third Party Developers

Twitter late Thursday handed down some strict new requirements for developers who leverage the microblogging service’s API. (An API is a tool programmers use to access functionality or data from someone else. Developers use Twitter’s API to get tweets, allow you to post tweets, and so on.)

The new rules Twitter developers must adhere to touch on three specific areas: every API call must authenticate itself; certain API calls will be more limited, while others will now be accessible more frequently; and—most significantly—third-party Twitter apps will be subject to significantly more stringent limits on what they can do and how they can grow.

Twitter’s move to clamp down on how third-party developers can use its APIs is nothing new; there’s plenty of precedent. But just because the changes aren’t surprising doesn’t necessarily mean that users shouldn’t be at all concerned.

New Mac ads: landing with a serious thud

Repeat after me: “The sky is not falling. The sky is not falling.”

I know it’s hard to say after viewing the new batch of Mac ads that debuted on the Olympics. I’m still in a bit of shock myself.

Sure, Apple has had a low point or two in its advertising past — but its low points are usually higher than most advertisers’ high points.

This is different. These ads are causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can’t remember a single Apple campaign that’s been received so poorly.

How Low Mac Software Prices Harm Users and Developers

Some time ago – never mind how long precisely – most indie or shareware Mac applications cost at least $20 or $30. It wasn’t uncommon to pay, say, $50 for a useful utility, or $100 or more for a word processor or text editor. Now, browsing the Mac App Store, you can see that most apps sell for $10 or less, and those that cost more are the exception.

While these decreased prices are good for users in the short term, I think they represent a dangerous long-term trend, and that, over time, this will result in less good software available for the Mac.

The Case for 7-inch Tablets

Last week the rumor mills and tech blogs were bustling last week about the possibility of a 7-inch iPad, potentially called the iPad Mini. Rather than focus this entire column on why it makes sense for Apple to make a smaller version of the iPad, I figured I would point out why I think there is a market for 7″ tablets and how such a product may fit in Apple’s and others portfolio.

MobileMe rides into the Sunset by Sunday

The sun is setting on the MobileMe era. By the time Sunday rolls around—on June 30 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time to be precise—the cloud storage and syncing service that Apple debuted in 2008 will fade away.

You've been warned—and if you're a MobileMe subscriber, you've been warned repeatedly over the past month— that whatever preparations you need to make for this event have now come due. Procrastinators must face the reality that like it or not—and many people had mixed feelings about MobileMe from the start—it’s over and the new era of iCloud is beginning.

iOS app face-off: Spotify Radio vs. Pandora

Pandora reigns as my go-to for free music on the iPhone and iPad. But a new contender from Spotify threatens to dethrone it. Spotify updated its iOS app this week with Spotify Radio, a free option that’s part of its larger services. To herald Spotify's arrival on the scene, I put it up against Pandora in an app death match.

Until Spotify's recent update, you could only use the Spotify iOS app if you had a subscription to its streaming service. (For more on streaming music, including Spotify, check out our comparison of the five major services.) The new version brings ad-supported radio stations to any iPhone or iPad user: you select an artist, song, or genre, and the app generates a station that plays songs similar to your choice. Sounds a lot like Pandora. And it is, though the two services differ in some important details.

Why Now could be the Right Time for Apple to ditch the Dock Connector

One of the long-rumored features of the next-generation iPhone is a revised, smaller dock connector. This has been discussed in the rumor mill since before the launch of the last iPhone, and the buzz only continues on today. Case in point: according to recent report by TechCrunch, several manufacturers claim that Apple will adopt a new 19-pin replacement for its now ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector.

But although such a change would present difficulties for the legion of companies that make accessories for iPhones, iPads, and iPods, we think now might actually be a good time for Apple to make that switch.

Inventing a Problem

With Apple's announcement of the new Mac Book Pro, the interwebs had to find something to fret about and it appears that repair and upgradability is the new hobby horse for pundits to ride.

Kyle Wiens of ifixit wrote a good opinion story on the new Mac Book Pro. I can't disagree with what he wrote, it's completely accurate. But he's completely wrong that it's a problem.

To ask that every piece of modern electronics is designed to allow the tiny fraction of hackers to upgrade is the height of hubris, unreasonable, and a huge imposition on everyone else that has no desire to ever crack the case. All that 'upgradability' ends up making the product cost more and be more susceptible to failure. Catering to the fringe is not the way to make good products. Making the best product you can for a low price is the way to make good products, even if it means eliminating upgradability and home repair.

iOS 6: What You need to Know

It’s been a busy start to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference: Not only was Monday’s keynote jam-packed with information, but the company continued to release products and programs throughout the day—enough to make anyone’s head reel a bit.

To combat confusion and ease your vertigo, we’ve put together answers to some of the more frequently asked questions we received in regards to one of the major announcements to come out of WWDC—the planned update to Apple’s mobile operating system. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from iOS 6.

IPv6: Five Things You should Know

Today is the day IPv6 finally goes live. For as long as there has been an Internet IPv4 has been synonymous with IP and nobody really stopped to think about which version of the protocol it was. But, IPv4 has outlived its usefulness.

Researchers saw the writing on the wall, and could predict based on the rate of growth for Internet use and IP-connected devices that IPv4 couldn’t last forever. IPv6 has been in development for nearly two decades. Now, the next generation protocol is ready to replace IPv4 and assume its place as the backbone of the Internet.

So, what exactly is IPv6 and what does it mean to you?

What Google Maps actually just Unveiled: Anxiety over Apple Maps

You want to know how I know that Google is very concerned about the forthcoming launch of Apple's own mapping product for iOS? I simply followed the Google Maps press conference today.

The mere fact that Google decided to hold a press conference just five days before WWDC (where Apple's mapping product is widely expected to be unveiled) said pretty much all you needed to know. When it was announced last week, it seemed like it may have been thrown together at the last second to pre-empt Apple's event. Now we can be positive that it was.

Ping: What went Wrong

In his recent appearance at the All Things Digital conference, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, had this to say about the company’s music-centric social networking service, Ping:

We tried Ping and the customer voted and said, this isn’t something I want to put a lot of energy into. Some customers love it, but there’s not a huge number that do, so will we kill it? I don’t know. I’ll look at it.

Given that this is the kind of lukewarm endorsement generally reserved for a hospitable but unwelcome plague of roof rats, we can safely assume that when Tim and crew find the time, in come the exterminators and out goes Ping.

While I could let Ping go quietly into the night, Apple provides us with so few failures that it’s impossible to pass up the opportunity to give Ping’s corpse a poke or two to determine what led to its demise. And, fortunately, it doesn’t take a forensic genius to sleuth that out. Let the list begin.

Apple TV as an iOS Gaming Platform? Not Likely.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, long-time Apple TV proponent, believes that it is it’s not a case of “if” but “when” Apple will release a television.

I’ve talked at length about how I just don’t see how a TV fits into Apple’s future, so rather than cover that same old ground I want to pick up on a specific point made by Munster.

Munster believes that Apple’s television will allow users to download games, music and other content to their TV. He believes that gaming in particular will be of particular interest to the large group of iOS game developers.

Immediate, I can see several problems with this idea.

Sandboxing Deadline arrives: What it means for Apple, Developers, and You

Depending upon whom you ask, Friday, June 1 is the best or worst thing to come to the Mac App Store since it opened its doors in 2011. As of now, new and significantly updated apps submitted to Apple’s Mac App Store must implement sandboxing.

Sandboxing refers to compartmentalizing what data and features a specific app is granted access to; apps each can metaphorically play exclusively in their own sandbox, accessing only that data which Apple has granted that app entitlements to see.

The plus side of sandboxing is that it means, in theory, that your apps will become safer and more trustworthy: Your Mac prevents them from accessing files they shouldn’t access. But that security comes with a price, at least in some cases.

How Tim Cook is changing Apple

A 14-year veteran of the company, Cook is maintaining, by words and actions, most of Apple's unique corporate culture. But shifts of behavior and tone are absolutely apparent; some of them affect the core of Apple's critical product-development process. In general, Apple has become slightly more open and considerably more corporate. In some cases Cook is taking action that Apple sorely needed and employees badly wanted. It's almost as if he is working his way through a to-do list of long-overdue repairs the previous occupant (Jobs) refused to address for no reason other than obstinacy.

What's clear is that Cook is behaving like his own man, putting his stamp on Apple -- including some moves that will court controversy with the Apple faithful, watchful as they are for the slightest deviation from their perception of the Steve Jobs playbook.

Hands-on with 5 Antivirus Apps for the Mac

So Mac invulnerability to malware is a myth, at least according to security researchers from Kaspersky Lab. And although such a blunt statement may be a blow to the ego of some Mac users, it remains true. Security researchers from all walks have long argued that it was only a matter of time before the Mac became popular enough that virus, malware, and spyware makers would come calling, and the recent Flashback scare has only served as a reminder that overconfidence precedes carelessness. Especially when it comes to technology.

Is it time to begin installing antivirus software on our Macs? We leave that up to you to decide for yourself, but given the spike in questions we've been receiving about which antivirus software is the best, we thought we'd take a look at a handful of the most well-known apps out there for Mac users. Your mileage may vary, but here are our impressions of five different antivirus packages after installing and using each one. In no particular order:

Apple and Taxes: What the New York Times Missed

As the person who six years ago this month revealed in BusinessWeek that Apple had incorporated in Nevada where the corporate tax rate is zero, I found the New York Times account by Charles Duhigg and David Kocieniewski of the many financial tricks that Apple employs to minimize its tax exposure fascinating. Who couldn’t love phrases like “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich” to describe arcane accounting and legal tricks?

But the implication the story leaves you with that Apple is somehow doing society a disservice by not paying its fair share of corporate taxes is simply wrong on many levels.

Why Apple is Winning: Innovation, Opportunity and Execution

Apple is building one of the most stunning financial runs in the history of corporate America, as Tuesday’s blowout showing affirmed. The company says it’s sold over 365 million digital devices over the last five years — 50 million last quarter alone — and is currently averaging nearly $4 billion in monthly profit. It has amassed $110 billion in cash. Most insanely, this could just be the beginning: Apple is exceedingly well-positioned to take advantage of several major trends in the new digital economy.

Thanks to a combination of anticipation and luck, Apple — which nearly went bankrupt before the last tech boom — is poised for even greater heights if it can continue to out-think, out-innovate and out-execute its competitors. Here are three major forces buoying Apple’s growth and pushing the company forward.

The Obsession that drives Apple's Success

Ken Segall worked closely with Steve Jobs as ad agency creative director for NeXT and Apple. He was a member of the team that created Apple’s legendary Think different campaign, and he’s responsible for that little “i” that’s a part of Apple’s most popular products. Segall has also served as creative director for IBM, Intel, Dell, and BMW. He blogs about technology and marketing at kensegall.com/blog,

I spoke to Ken about his new book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, which comes out this Thursday. He talked about the impact Apple has had on our lives, what inspired the famous “Think Different” campaign, and more.

Why Apple should launch a Smaller iPad

There are numerous reasons put forward against Apple launching a smaller iPad. For one thing, Steve Jobs didn't like the idea, saying that the 10in form factor was the "minimum" required for tablet apps.

"The 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps. Seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad," he said back in October 2010.

But Jobs' comments, made more than 18 months ago, shouldn't be considered the definitive word on the subject. Just because it didn't make sense then doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to launch an iPad mini now.

Why e-books cost so much

Here's something that tends to get lost in the debate over e-book prices: Paper doesn't cost very much.

There's a perception among consumers that an e-book should cost very little or next to nothing because there is no paper, printing, and shipping involved.

But in fact, for a new best-selling hardcover, all of the costs associated with print, from the printing to the shipping to the distribution to the warehousing to returns, amount to a mere few dollars per copy, depending on the size of the print run.
The vast majority of a publisher's costs come from expenses that still exist in an e-book world: Author advances, design, marketing, publicity, office space, and staff.

You can therefore imagine the fear that e-book prices instill in publishing executives' hearts. They're only saving a few dollars per copy in the switch to the e-book world, but the prices of books were slashed more than half: from $24.99 to $9.99 and even lower.

That begins to explain why publishers are trying to keep e-book prices high. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

The Myth of the Security-Smug Mac User

I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the Mac community. Despite being the Security Editor at TidBITS and an occasional contributor to Macworld (print and online), and having spoken at Macworld Expo a couple times, I only really switched to Macs back in 2005. To keep this in perspective, TidBITS has been published electronically since 1990.
Coming from the security world I had certain expectations of the Mac community. I thought they were naive and smug about security, and living in their own isolated world.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth.

10 Waterproof Smartphone Cases to prevent Disaster

The weather is warming up, which means you’re ready to take on the elements. In preparation for summer swimming, cycling and singing in the rain, make sure to keep your smartphone well-protected.

We’ve gathered 10 waterproof smartphone cases that’ll help prevent many an accident. Looking for an everyday waterproof iPhone cover? Or maybe a kooky dry bag for a number of smartphone devices? We’ve got you covered — literally.

Apple should Keep the Jobs in China

An article published by VentureBeat earlier today made the claim that Apple should move its manufacturing jobs back to the United States from China. Normally, if one site made this claim, it’d be natural to let it slide. However, this is an attitude that has steadily encroached upon the public mindset in the last year, especially following the increased scrutiny that Apple and Foxconn have faced in the last few months.

In light of this increase of attention, it’s apparent that the record needs correcting and that someone needs to show that while jingoistic posts may be enticing, they aren’t based in reality.

What You need to Know about the Flashback Trojan

On April 4, Russian antivirus vendor Dr. Web published strong evidence that more than 500,000 Macs have been infected by the latest variant of the Flashback trojan. As Mikko Hyppnen, Chief Researcher at F-Secure pointed out via Twitter, if there are roughly 45 million Macs out there, Flashback would now have infected more than 1 percent of them, making Flashback roughly as common for Mac as Conficker was for Windows. Flashback appears to be the most widespread Mac malware we’ve seen since the days when viruses were spread on infected floppy disks; it could be the single most significant malware infection to ever hit the Mac community.

Here’s what you need to know about Flashback, what you can do about it, and what it means for the future of Mac security.

Apple holds the master decryption key when it comes to iCloud security, privacy

Ars recently attempted to delve into the inner workings of the security built into Apple's iCloud service. Though we came away reasonably certain that iCloud uses industry best practices that Apple claims it uses to protect data and privacy, we warned that your information isn't entirely protected from prying eyes. At the heart of the issue is the fact that Apple can, at any time, review the data synced with iCloud, and under certain circumstances might share that information with legal authorities.

We consulted several sources to understand the implications of iCloud's security and encryption model, and to understand what types of best practices could maximize the security and privacy of user data stored in increasingly popular cloud services like iCloud. In short, Apple is taking measures to prevent access to user data from unauthorized third parties or hackers. However, iCloud isn't recommended for the more stringent security requirements of enterprise users, or those paranoid about their data being accessed by authorities.

The Best Online Backup App for OS X

You should back up your hard drive. You've heard it a million times, but most people don't do it. So we're going to make it easy: CrashPlan is the best backup tool. It's what you should use to back up your data, both on-site and off-site.

What Apple's Dividend and Buybacks mean to You

It's official: Apple has finally decided to do something with its growing mountain of cash. The result is not a splashy acquisition in tech, nor is Apple CEO Tim Cook buying a collection of private islands in the South Seas. Rather, the company is acting like a grown-up: Apple expects to spend about $15 billion a year on share buybacks and dividends.

None of that sounds very exciting unless you own Apple stock.