Apple and Adobe

Much has been written lately about Apple falling out with Adobe. Here’s my version of that story.

Apple is always keen to get its customers pushed forward to the next release of their operating system. In the most recent case, they offered a very cheap mini-upgrade which didn’t even change its name all that much (Leopard to Snow Leopard). This is important for Apple, because it makes life better for developers coding for the platform, and, remember? Developer, developers, developers, de… you get the picture.

Adobe put a dent in Apple’s plans when they caused a kerfuffle about possible incompatibilities of CS3 or even CS4 with Snow Leopard. This may have put some customers off upgrading, and detracted from Apple’s long-term strategy. I could fully understand this if Adobe felt they had been loyal partners to Apple all along, and were now being left out on the iPhone. Perhaps Adobe never really understood, or perhaps had no tolerance for, the fact that Apple’s reasons for leaving out Flash are far deeper. The reason is myspace, youtube, and facebook: music! Apple budged a little bit when offering H.264 encoded videos in a special Youtube application, but the key here was that Apple could keep tabs on what was and wasn’t added, and could prevent both hit singles and blockbusters being shared free of (its) charge.

Apple knew that Adobe would be mad that Flash isn’t going to be on the iPad either, so Steve decided to lead a pre-emptive strike by shouting very loudly about how terribly Apple has suffered at the hands of evil Flash (my observation is that no browser crashes as frequently and effectively as Safari, and to make things worse, it doesn’t have any recovery either, but that’s just a by-the-by for Steve’s personal introspection).

Meanwhile, the fact that Adobe keeps a product-for-product edge in market share over Apple’s Pro apps (Aperture, Final Cut Studio, Logic Studio) would be that Adobe also serves Windows customers. So in spite of the fact that Adobe’s files are not always compatible cross-platform (well, neither so are Microsoft’s), they do at least give themselves this appearance. How to describe Adobe’s position? Well, it needs to make sure that it is tolerated on the growing Mac platform. However, at least for the time being, Apple can’t afford to lose Adobe. Adobe stands to lose the most coercive product from its lineup if the web of the future doesn’t do Flash, but if youtube et al found their way unencumbered onto Apple’s mobile devices (via jailbreaking perhaps), Apple would lose a big chunk of its iTunes store revenue. So these two companies can hurt each other a lot, and at the moment it doesn’t look like Apple is going to play nice (all the while taking the mickey out of Google – not that I have any sympathy for that latter company given its recent anti-privacy antics).

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Apple’s Mac mini timing, or, where is the spec bump?

A lot has been written about the Mac mini’s imminent demise, since at least May 2007, and again recently. I’ve never been particularly willing to believe this speculation, because the Mini is the product most in demand for shared desktop computing facilities in educational establishments. In the university I am most recently familiar with, this accounts for at least 100 machines in the libraries alone. That’s not including what individual departments may have in their computing labs (another 100 to 300 maybe?), or any orders by individual researchers, particularly where low spec machines are desirable, e.g. for grad students (scientists sometimes opt for iMacs because they have enough cash, and spare screens tend to be consumed by Windows machines or dual head set-ups; the main opportunity to target here is students who are “visiting” a lab for small projects, either undergraduate or Masters research projects, or grad students visiting from other universities, typically abroad; a completely untapped opportunity is arts students and staff, for most of whom any word processing machine will do, so why not buy a cheap Mac?). If you scale this to the number of universities in just the English-speaking world alone, you can clearly see a market of a size that Apple would want to harvest. In addition, in a “catch ’em young” world, Apple cannot afford to lose those markets – or the revenue it makes from more unusual applications of the Mac mini, such as server farms. The compact size of the Mini remains quite competitive, in spite of being somehow spared the slimming frenzy that Mr. Jobs put the iMac, Powerbook/MacBook Pro, and lately MacBook lines under. I suspect the reason why this myth remains popular is that these educational markets are to a large extent invisible to the tech writers, who tend to focus on street and internet retail rather than large corporate/educational orders or wholesale.

It does not need saying that the anticipation of a longer recession will spur sales of low spec machines, a job description superbly fitting for the Mac mini in its current incarnation. Nonetheless, it may be true that Apple has decided to delay a spec bump until after the holiday season, to not steal the show from its re-engineered laptop line. Remember that at 1.31kg (2.9 pounds), the Mac mini is among the most portable non-laptop computers ever, and will give you much joy as long as you have a screen available in each location you want to use it (e.g. home and office; I also recommend buying a second power adapter as these are somewhat bulky, with attendant unwieldy cables, and take away from the weight advantage; final word of warning: it’s not entirely designed for being lugged around, so do treat it kindly!) So it would be a shame for it to go, and possibly too great a loss to AAPL for them to really consider this step.

A recent macminicolo article has outlined that company’s reasons for believing in a refresh of the Mini, and a response from Apple Insider points to the possibility that the Mini is an efficient way for Apple to divest of old component stock from other product lines (in this case, possibly the Core 2 Duo chip, but it’s not the only candidate I can think of, with the move away from Intel integrated components). As far as the rumours of the demise go, I can only agree with the above-cited articles that the mini is here to stay for some time yet.

Update 2008/12/17: Further evidence that Apple is making the right decision. Interesting tidbit is that the Mac mini has continued to be one of Amazon’s top five selling items, apparently all the way through 2008, in spite of the ageing hardware!

Update: Mac OS X apps I will probably buy

This is an update to an older post of mine. I was curious whether I would still fork out for the same things that I said I would a year ago – and whether I’d actually have bought any of them. NetNewsWire, which I bought before making the first post, is now free, so we can scratch that off the list. Other than that, the list remains pretty much as was

  1. Text Expander – this is very, very likely to be my next buy, even though it does mess with the paste buffer. I got Typinator in one of my bundles, and I’m not even going to set it up, because I know it doesn’t do cursor position, so it loses out in the coding department, especially.
  2. Little Snitch – haven’t bought yet, but it’s a wicked utility indeed.
  3. Path Finder – still thinking about buying this.
  4. Parallels Desktop – still the best way to run Windows – even, by the looks of it, beyond VMware Fusion 2.0. Parallels still has the most seamless file integration, something so far overlooked by Fusion, which relies on shared folders that you have to specifically set up. So you’re always shuffling files around. Not good. Parallels FTW. And yes, I bought it as part of the mupromo bundle (about which otherwise, the less said, the better).
  5. CSSEdit – elegance incarnate. This was sitting on the substitution bench at my last commenting, but I bought it as part of MacHeist. Still loving it as ever.
  6. Mathematica – haven’t bought yet. Still a possibility.
  7. Transmit – I now think that I will end up buying this eventually. One of those really powerful and still usable apps for the Mac, every bit like Path Finder.
  8. Delicious Library – What a gem, except I don’t have a camera, may not buy one soon, and I’m not convinced that version 2.0 is so much better than the original. I might give it a spin, though. Maybe there is a way to downgrade if necessary.

And if I ever got serious about web design, I would add the following:

  1. SubEthaEdit – still looks good, but getting pushed further down the list. Is now getting competition from several open source efforts, but seems to still be the best of breed in spite of everything. For one, it has syntax highlighting for every language with a shaking stick attached.
  2. Coda – I think this would be a good investment if I got serious about web dev. Not likely to happen right now.

On a further note, I’m still looking for a tabbed, syntax-highlighting text editor that recovers an entire crashed session (not like Vim, where you have to remember which files you were working on to have them re-open). Also, Cocoa would be nice. I was working with Smultron for a bit, but I’ll have to ditch it because it kills my files when it/the OS crashes (yes, surprisingly, Tiger does crash – I’m sure Leopard does, too). I’m also beginning to think that BrowseBack is kind of a neat idea.

Apple for seamless backup

Bear with me for a few seconds more. I’m the first person to see shortcomings in the MacBook Air, and I was disappointed with Apple’s MacWorld announcements in general, BUT their backup concept is beautiful, and finally coming together. Time Machine was included in Mac OS X Leopard, and initially looked like a bit of a gimmick. The 3D representation for time going backwards is of course well known and established in many academic fields. Nothing new there. However, further research reveals (and their marketing material won’t satisfy here) that backup is incremental, that is, it focuses on the files that have actually changed. And now it seems you can use your laptop anywhere in your home and send files to the imo very reasonably priced $299 or $499 Time Capsule (essentially a network drive). The maximum data rate based on the 802.11n specification used, would seem to be 31MB/s, with a range of about 70m through walls (using SI units, m=metres). It remains to be seen exactly how seamlessly Time Capsule integrates with Time Machine and multiple user accounts on multiple computers. It also remains to be seen whether connecting a 1TB drive externally is seamless and, once connected, invisible to the Time Machine user. I have a suspicion that although using hubs, you can in principle connect up to 128 (iirc) devices through a single USB port, Time Capsule may not support this at the data rate one would hope for. On the other hand, I would be quite upset having to buy multiple Time Capsules and not know which one holds the data I want. Certainly, a recent software update re-enabled Time Machine backups to USB drives connected to an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule. It’s not clear what market Apple envisages for the device, because 1TB is not enough for people who seriously work with video, so the eligibility of Time Capsule for that market will crucially depend on whether several devices can be connected by USB, and whether the device keeps performing well under such conditions.

Apple hurting innovation? I think not.

I promised pownce friends a reply to this article, so here goes.

I have to admit I find it difficult to respond to the article, principally because it starts out with the premise that companies are out to make money, and that Apple is a late adopter that steals innovation by making new technologies useable once they have matured.

This sentence here is key, “In fact, it may be that [the more innovative competitors of Apple] can’t, but that doesn’t mean the public doesn’t win by them trying.”

So Apple can make money, while everybody else has to work hard to please the public without any direct benefit. Doesn’t sound very fair, nor particularly sound advice.

So let’s see where the problem is. First off, why are there so many tech companies throwing new gadgets onto the market? Well, why are there so many bloggers, podcasters and vloggers? Because there’s a market for it? No, because people want to talk/write/be rock stars. Are they making any money? For 99% of bloggers, the answer would be no: on an economic analysis, it’s a waste of time.

Good companies are driven by demand, bad companies are driven by supply. This is what is happening in the tech industry: Microsoft, Archos, Creative, SanDisk et al. (hereafter MACS) have engineers who are fascinated with the technology and want to bring it to end users as quickly as possible. Apple, by contrast, will only release a polished product, for a market that has been proven to exist, and only after it has passed the test of usability consultants, not to mention the usability aspect. Every good CEO should know that only 8% of industries are dominated by the market leader, and yet companies continue to push themselves to be pioneers.

This brings us to another flaw in the article, which is the implicit assumption that without MACS pushing the envelope, innovation would cease. This is clearly not the case, because by the article’s argument, Apple’s business would shrink if they did not innovate. Last I checked, consumer electronics devices were the largest money earner in Apple’s business, and if they can’t “out-date” last year’s devices, they’re stuck. So if you believe yourself to be unfairly parasitised, just cease innovating and let Apple take the lead. Plug your holes, keep your R&D bottled up, as Apple has done for years. Let’s assume an unrealistic worst case scenario for illustration here. Let’s assume MACS refuse to innovate, and Apple bites the dust because they’ve forgotten how to do it (remember, I said it was going to be unrealistic!) Where would innovation come from? (Insert your choice of smurf or gummi bears intro music.) A long, long time ago, there was a little forest in whom little creatures dwelled – dashing and daring, courageous and caring, faithful and friendly, I’ll spare you the rest. Yes, universities, academics. They develop technologies, see?

All that would result from MACS taking a back seat would be mature devices with better interoperability, using standard protocols. I cannot but applaud Apple for showing that mature products can win consumers, even though I may individually criticise their devices and software, their business model, standards compliance, and thinly veiled desire for consumer lock-in.

5 items that Apple sells us that we don’t need

…and that are bad for the environment. And how Apple doesn’t leave any room for consumer choice. Prices quoted are for iMac except where stated, but reasoning applies across the product range. Assembly locations referred to may not be assembly locations for all Apple products.

  1. Keyboard: Dear Apple, I understand that maybe you didn’t deliberately design the last keyboard with rubberised keys so they would pick up dirt quickly, and with transparency so that the dustballs formed from debris falling between the keys would be plain for all to see at the base of the k’board. But really, the keyboard still works, and the environment will thank’ee for not forcing another one on us. YES WE ALREADY HAVE A KEYBOARD THANK YOU.
  2. Mouse: Not much to add here, same deal. If I need a mouse, I’ll buy one from Logitech, so thanks, thanks, and thanks again. I can has iMac without keyboardnmouse?
  3. RAM aka memory: 512MB for a system running OS X was plenty of insult, glad to see you now sell them with 1GB minimum (so Leopard is a memory hog?), but 150 USD to get an extra 1GB? What are you smoking, Steve? I can get that for 54 USD from Crucial. It’s not like you use Corsair or anything. Or like you don’t buy bulk. Or like that Chinese boy is going to chip his nails putting the extra 1 gig module in. Or like you care if he does. And let’s not forget that you used to ship the 512MB system with two 256MB modules just so you could have that extra bit of environmental footprint. *Boom*. Not funny.
  4. Hard disk: Until recently, I could get a 160GB 7200 RPM drive from Seagate for less than the price of configuring a Mac mini with a 100GB 5400 RPM drive rather than a 60GB 4200RPM one. But yes, there’s that guilt over having a spare 60GB around the house and having to find a use for it. Well, I pass that guilt right back to you, Apple, with your innocently smiling Mr. Gore on board (excuse the pun).
  5. Screen: And how about designing the iMac so that at the end of its lifespan, I can take off the back cover, motherboard and all, and be left with a screen and DVI socket? Wouldn’t that be nice? Think different? Well, here’s your chance. Go green!

DRM-free: Why now?

Nobody could have missed the news that yesterday, the rules of the digital age were beginning to change for the better. EMI and Apple announced that a new option would be introduced to the Apple Music Store, of allowing the purchase of higher-quality, AAC encoded songs without copy protection. Norway has, of course, been rightfully praised for making a stand in the matter of digital lock-in that caused Jobs to write an open letter to the music industry and the world at large. One may suspect that the .30 USD surcharge is incurred by suspicions that some people will share files with their friends and family. The “analogue gap” seems to no longer be a concern, perhaps never was. But the music industry has been working hard for several years to make the traditional file-sharing networks unusable bittorrent arrived with great promise, but has become respectable with Bittorrent.com and Zudeo having developed distribution models for copyrighted content. I would therefore argue that a DRM-free deal at this time is as much favoured by the successes of counter-copyvio activities funded by the music industry as it is by Norway’s pressure or Jobs’ taking a stand. As a final comment, I fail to see how Microsoft is a loser in this deal any more than they have been ever since failing to establish compatibility between their own frameworks and with third party devices. It has been said that AAC is an industry standard, which I presume means it can be used without royalty payments to Apple. So Microsoft could be flexible for once and adopt AAC. Like that time they built Vista on top of a Linux or BSD kernel. What do you mean, that never happened? 😉