Opinion

iPhoto's Mystery Meat Gestures

Back in 1998, websites would often force visitors to aimlessly move their mouse around, trying to reveal hidden icons or pieces of text that would explain where to click. Frustrated with these hidden, obscure navigation elements, web designer Vincent Flanders coined the term "Mystery Meat Navigation".

After downloading and playing around with Apple’s new iPhoto for iOS, I felt like I was teleported back to 1998.

Understanding the aim of Apple TV

Last week Apple introduced the latest Apple TV, and if you hang with the glass-half-empty crowd, that update was an utter disappointment. No DVR capabilities. No additional content sources. And, worst of all, no Apple TV App Store. What you got instead was an unfamiliar interface, support for 1080p streaming, and a faster processor that will do heaven knows what.

To those teeth gnashers unhappy with anything other than an iPad, TiVo, Mac, and Xbox rolled into an Apple-branded HDTV, allow me to suggest that you’ve grabbed the wrong end of the stick. In the grand scheme of things, the Apple TV is neither source nor destination.

It’s a portal.

The Real Significance of the New iPad

The reactions to the New iPad announcement this week were all over the map.

Some places said it was basically a yawner, while others bought into the "end of the PC" rhetoric. Some people even warned all developers to stop programming for the keyboard and mouse, even for complex applications like computer-assisted design.

My take: I think the announcement was both more and less important than people are saying. Here's why.

The iPad Is Unbeatable

Imagine you run a large technology company not named Apple.

How are you feeling today, a day after Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPad? Are you discounting the device as just an incremental improvement, the same shiny tablet with a better screen and faster cellular access? Or is it possible you had trouble sleeping last night? Did you toss and turn, worrying that Apple’s new device represents a potential knockout punch, a move that will cement its place as the undisputed leader of the biggest, most disruptive new tech market since the advent of the Web browser? Maybe your last few hours have been even worse than that. Perhaps you’re now paralyzed with confusion, fearful that you might be completely boxed in by the iPad—that there seems no good way to beat it.

For your sake, my hypothetical CEO friend, I hope you’re frightened.

What LTE means for Apple's New iPad

Cellular versions of the new iPad come with support for the latest and greatest wireless networking technology, LTE (Long Term Evolution). In the U.S., both AT&T and Verizon have LTE networks. You’d think this would be a recipe for network simplicity for Apple’s iPads at long last… but you’d be wrong.

Apple will sell two different LTE-equipped iPads—one for AT&T’s network and one for Verizon’s. That means that in the U.S. the third-generation iPad comes in 18 versions, like the iPad 2: Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi plus Verizon 3G/4G, and Wi-Fi plus AT&T 2G/3G/4G multiplied by three memory sizes and two colors. (The Verizon 4G iPad also includes worldwide support for 2G and 3G using GSM standards when used outside the United States, just like the iPhone 4S.)

The joy of iPad

When at home, I did a FaceTime call with my siblings who also live overseas. I handed over the iPad to my mom. She had this look of amazement, one of pure unadulterated joy as she chatted with her grandson.

Apple, clearly, is not for everyone. But for me that moment of joy experienced by my mother is enough of a reason why there will be no other computer company. Apple’s competitors will do their own thing. Some, like Samsung, will do spectacularly well. But for me, Apple finds ways to delight people, pushing technology into the background.

What to Expect at Apple’s Event Tomorrow

Apple has an event tomorrow, and it will be the Biggest Consumer Technology News of 2012. It will likely remain the Biggest Consumer Technology News of 2012 until Apple's next event, which may then overtake it. Here's what to expect.

First and foremost, it will be universally acknowledged as Very Important.

How important? Here is an anecdote: A major player in the consumer electronics industry had an event planned on Wednesday morning at the same time as Apple's announcement. It was a chance for an intimate group of technology journalists to meet with a C-level executive, and to walk away at the end of the meeting with unreleased products to review.

Journalists love this kind of gathering because, above all else, we are dicks; the chance to hector a top executive at one of the world's largest companies for not being Apple, in an intimate setting, surrounded by your equally unimpressed peers, and then walk out the door with unreleased products to review is what we love to do.

Nonetheless, [Redacted] had to reschedule its event due to lack of interest.

Siri: The missing Mountain Lion Feature

I’m...a bit disappointed that Apple hasn’t yet announced any upcoming Mac support for another standout feature of its mobile platform—Siri.

Some posit that Apple’s hesitancy to deploy Siri on the Mac (or any device beisdes the iPhone 4S) may relate to microphone technology; I don’t buy it. I think Apple’s holding off on Siri integration either to motivate upgrades or to limit overall Siri adoption—the service is still in beta and occasionally suffers downtime.

But whatever the reason, I hope Apple changes its thinking quickly. I’m a fan of Siri on my iPhone, and I can imagine plenty of ways Siri could deliver awesomeness on the Mac.

Does it make sense for the Apple TV to become a DVR too?

This week, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Apple a patent that appears to address the possibility of the Apple TV gaining DVR capabilities. This would mean, in a DVR user's fantasy world, that the Apple TV would gain the ability to look up TV listings and allow the user to choose which shows to record that are coming over broadcast or cable. The specific patent in question is more related to the organization of episodic TV shows, but it does describe menu items that would "correspond to television shows that have either been recorded from a broadcast or purchased from a content provider."

It's that line that has spurred Apple watchers to speculate that Apple may, in fact, add DVR capabilities to the Apple TV sometime in the near future. But aside from the fact that many concepts patented by Apple never see the light of day, we wondered: does it even make sense at this point in time to consider adding this feature?

Without Action, SOPA Protests preach to the Choir

Follow the links on the blacked out sites, and learn all you can about SOPA and PIPA. If you agree that the bills go too far, or even threaten the freedom and future of the Internet, take action. Call your representative, call your senators, and call the White House. Share your support with friends and family, and convince them to research the issue and take action as well.

If you visit Wikipedia or Craigslist today, and you tacitly nod your head in agreement with the cause while silently being annoyed that you can’t access Wikipedia or Craigslist, the effort is wasted.

The Other Side of SOPA and PIPA

Don’t get me wrong. I’m utterly against the proposed U.S. legislation known as SOPA — the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act — and its sibling PIPA — the Senate’s Protect IP Act — for all the reasons that Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab, outlines in his blog post about why the Media Lab has officially come out against these insanely overwrought bills. In short, these bills enable the content industry to upgrade its weapon for fighting copyright infringement from a tiring-to-wield club to a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile that would cause far more collateral damage than can possibly be warranted by the offense.

But while I cannot support SOPA and PIPA in any way, I wanted to provide a perspective generally lacking in these discussions — that of a tiny publishing company whose ebooks are regularly used without permission.

The MacBook air turns Four Years Old Today

Four years ago today, Apple introduced the MacBook Air, then the world's thinnest notebook. It was Steve Jobs's last Macworld appearance and the next to last Macworld keynote for Apple.

The presentation is a classic Steve Jobs performance. The keynote has his usual smooth delivery, a genuine enthusiasm for the product, and a healthy dose of showmanship.

Why You can Ignore CES: The Great Tablet Hype

The Consumer Electronics Show takes place every year in Las Vegas, and each year, everyone complains. There are so many vendors and announcements -- and yet when you look more closely, all you see is pointillist marketing nonsense. Does the show really have any larger significance for those interested in technology? Because it seems that if you ignore the news from the show, you don't seem any less wise down the line.

Well, here's a test case. Let's say you paid close attention last year to the tablets that were hyped at the show. How important have they turned out to be, one year on?

We broke down the trajectories of 17 tablets from CES 2011. In the final tally, I think you could say one is a qualified success (the Asus Eee Pad Transformer), one did OK (the Motorola XOOM), and several flopped (Dell Streak, RIM Playbook) or made no impact (Coby Kyrus, Cydle M7 Multipad, Naxa NID-7001). Nine never were heard from again.

We Take for granted What has already been Invented


A lot of tech blogs have been linking to videos of Apple’s 2007 keynote, during which the iPhone was revealed. It’s worth watching it if you’ve time, not only to see one of the finest Steve Jobs keynotes (he was in great form that day), but also to remind yourself of just what happened in 2007.

Remember what smartphones were like in 2007, and how annoying and fiddly they were to use. It’s telling when you watch the various Jobs reveals; the audience gasps in astonishment and is genuinely thrilled by the iPhone’s various gestures, such as slide-to-unlock and pinch-zoom. This isn’t the usual ‘Steve said something so we must cheer’ that often went on at Apple events—this is genuine excitement at something new, something different, and something revolutionary.

Tablets: What Amazon and Apple know that all the CES tablet peddlers are still missing

Takeaway: Tablets are everywhere again at CES 2012, but none of them combine the two big reasons why Apple and Amazon tablets have succeeded.

...the problem with Android tablets isn’t a time or maturity issue. It’s that Google and all of its hardware partners are playing the wrong game and they haven’t realized it yet.

The iPhone: Five Years Later...

At this point, sadly, we’ve seen all the Steve Jobs presentations we’re ever going to see. As far as I’m concerned, the 2007 introduction of the iPhone is the definitive Steve Jobs presentation. It’s the one that people will reference for as long as Steve Jobs is remembered.

Catching up with Apple – This Year's CES Theme

CES hasn’t even started, but after sitting through various pre-show press conferences and meetings, one thing is clear: Apple is casting a very long shadow on this show. And many of the products I have seen have been various implementations of something Apple has already brought to market.

No Details are still available for Product Apple is possibly Planning or Making

According to a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, there are still no details available about a revolutionary new product that Apple has long been rumoured to be working on, which might be an upgrade to the Apple TV, an actual television with Apple TV integrated, or something else entirely, perhaps.

Apple executives have reportedly met with media company executives, with the intention of getting industry support for whatever bold new initiative is possibly coming out of Cupertino, although they might have just been getting together for a meal, or some coffee.

A Good Smartphone comes but once a Year

Take a look at Apple's phone releases versus HTC's since the start of 2010, plotted over time...

What I Learned Building the Apple Store

When I announced that I was leaving Apple to take the reins as CEO of J.C. Penney this month, the business press (and lots of others) began speculating about whether I could replicate the Apple Store's success in such a dramatically different retail setting.

One of the most common comments I heard was that the Apple Store succeeded because it carried Apple products and catered to the brand's famously passionate customers. Well, yes, Apple products do pull people into stores. But you don't need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment. You have to create a store that's more than a store to people.

Understanding the Debate over Apple’s Mac App Store Sandbox

Sandboxing was very much in the news last week. I tripped over a half-dozen articles on the topic without even searching.

No, I’m not talking about play areas for toddlers. I’m talking about an OS X feature that Apple will require all apps sold in the Mac App Store to implement. At its core, sandboxing is a security enhancement.

End to Mobile Development bodes Ill for Flash

After years of recriminations and conspiracy theories, a lengthy saga has finally come to an end—and I’m not talking about Lost or One Life to Live. Adobe on Wednesday announced that it would no longer develop Flash for mobile platforms.

“Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores,” wrote Danny Winokur, Adobe’s vice president and general manager of interactive development in a blog post. “We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.”

The Shadowy World of iPhone Cases

In the weeks leading up to Apple’s Oct. 4 announcement about the new iPhone 4S, Tim Hickman lived and breathed rumors about the device. His company, Hard Candy Cases, makes protective covers for mobile phones, and he was determined to get a jump on production.

After three separate manufacturing partners in China sent him detailed 3D models of an iPhone with a widened, pill-shaped “home” button and a slightly tapered back, Hickman decided to roll the dice. He paid $50,000 to make steel moldings to mass-produce cases for the new design and, on the morning of Apple’s announcement, began taking orders on his website. The gamble backfired: Apple’s new iPhone 4S included no major changes to the exterior design.

The home button remained circular. Hickman suddenly owned $50,000 worth of paperweights.

Why the iPhone 3GS is Apple's Secret Weapon

The iPhone 3GS will still have iOS 5 once it ships on Wednesday. It will still have iMessage, and access to iCloud. It will have Twitter integration, reminders, and notifications. It will have AirPlay, and—perhaps most importantly—it will have access to the 500,000-plus apps and games available from the Apple App Store.

There are a lot of reasons that someone in the market for a free smartphone will eagerly embrace the iPhone 3GS.

Why We witnessed History at the iPhone 4S Launch

While some people were disappointed that Apple did not introduce the iPhone 5, most pretty much missed the significance of the event and the fact that they were witnessing history.

...with the introduction of SIRI, integrated into iOS and a core part of the new iPhone OS, he and the Apple team have given to the world what we will look back on and realize is the next major user input technology-Voice and Speech. As reader Hari Seldon points out, the real breakthrough we will come to realize is in Siri’s “applied artificial intelligence.” It is its speech comprehension that will be its greatest advancement.

Steve Jobs, the Perfect CEO

It was supposed to be a temporary fix. Steve Jobs was Apple’s “iCEO,” and the iconic first letter didn’t stand for Internet. It stood for interim. In 1997, when Jobs returned to the company he cofounded, he insisted he was there only to do an overhaul. The floundering Apple was like a wrecked jalopy, he said, or an old girlfriend fallen on hard times. He’d make it shine again, then split. Apple’s board asked him to stay permanently, of course, but he demurred, explaining that he already had a company to run. “I felt I was pretty committed to Pixar and couldn’t do something else, didn’t want to,” he told me on the week of his return to Cupertino.

“And you will absolutely not be the CEO of Apple?” I asked.

“My name is not in the hat to be CEO,” he said.

It turns out there was no hat.

Unlike: Why Facebook Integration is actually Antisocial

Facebook really changed things up last week. Oh sure, it's as disrespectful of my privacy as ever, but now it's enlisted the entire web to help. So I'm done with anything that requires a Facebook login.

Facebook made some big changes in terms of how things look and work, but its inexorable drive to drag us all into publicly sharing everything from everywhere with everyone all the time remained consistent. The most noticeable new features that reflect that are Timeline and Ticker. Ticker delivers real-time updates of your friends' actions, while Timeline archives everything you've ever done on Facebook. But the big change, the true assault to your privacy, is under the hood: Open Graph.

Facebook and Spotify Drop the other Shoe

Recently, Facebook announced a new music service that incorporates streaming music services with such partners as Spotify, Rhapsody, Mog, Rdio, iHeartRadio, and Slacker. The idea is that when Facebook members listen to music from one of these services, they can elect to share a constantly updating playlist of tracks they’re playing. Those “friends” who have access to the same music service can then also play this music simply by clicking on a link to the track.

I commented on what this might mean in "Facebook and the Future of Music". One vital piece of information missing at the time was that, in at least one case we now know of, Facebook membership is a requirement to belong to the service. That service is Spotify.

Apple and Google's differences in the Cloud

The ability to have all your ‘stuff’ on every device you use, automatically and without you having to even think about it, is the kind of thing that gets arch-geeks like me staring wistfully into space with a gentle sigh. And that’s what Apple’s iCloud, which is now available to developers and is due to launch some time in the autumn alongside iOS 5, is designed to do.

You might think that this is something that only the technically inclined care about, but I disagree; I’ve started to believe that iCloud is going to be a huge, game-changing experience for anyone with an iPad or iPhone, and especially for the kind of person who currently doesn’t think they need it.

Follow-up to finding a Replacement for Quicken

In “Finding a Replacement for Quicken” (5 August 2011), we presented some of the questions that you should ask yourself about the features and capabilities that you need in a personal finance package to replace Quicken 2007 (and earlier) now that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion has made that software obsolete. In addition, we asked you to add to our list of questions in the comment section for that article. Many of you did just that, and we bundled your questions and ours into an email message that we sent to the 17 developers of the possible Quicken replacement packages that we listed in the article.

Eight of the developers responded, and we have collated their responses.