Apple says the Mac will keep going forever. I just don’t see it

Macworld has managed quite a scoop, interviewing Apple executives about the future of the Mac. Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted Apple’s longevity, remarking how the companies making computers when Apple released the Mac are all gone. This, he said, was down to Apple’s ability to reinvent itself over and over.

This willingness was most clearly illustrated with iOS, not least when the iPad arrived. On its introduction, Apple’s tablet was positioned as being some way between a notebook and smartphone, but it’s increasingly obvious the device is capable enough to replace computers for a great many people. Plenty of users look forward to a future where the iPad is so powerful that it becomes the device for everything, with Macs consigned to history.

Interestingly, Apple doesn’t seem to agree. Schiller said:

There is a super-important role [for the Mac] that will always be. We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable.

I have no doubt this passage will fuel speculation for a long time. It says so little—there are no specifics—but it also suggests so much, not least that Apple doesn’t see (or at least won’t admit to seeing) the iPad eventually replacing the Mac. The question is why that might be the case. It would seem nonsensical for Apple to arbitrarily ‘hold back’ what the iPad might be capable of, in order for its Mac line to survive. Instead, it seems more logical that the will Mac increasingly move into ever-smaller niches, for those needing to do tasks the iPad’s not suitable for, until such a time no longer exists.

It’s also telling Schiller appears to be approaching life from the standpoint of someone with an awful lot of money (which he has):

It’s not an either/or. It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.

That’s a worryingly Microsoft sentiment. The main difference between that statement and Steve Ballmer’s line of thinking is that Microsoft’s desperate to shove all the aspects of these devices into a single case; Schiller simply reasons you should buy them all.

As educator and iPad fanatic Fraser Speirs remarked on Twitter, this latest interview is in stark contrast to Steve Jobs’s radical simplification of Apple’s product line in 1997. Perhaps such thinking is now obsolete in itself, but as a long time Mac user, I’ve increasingly been caught in the buyer’s doubt loop because of the growing range of Apple products. MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina? Logic would seem to suggest the iPad would in the long run take the consumer/mobile slot in the original Jobs four-box product matrix (one each of consumer/pro for mobile/desktop), but perhaps now Apple sees the future as something more complex, with more devices.

That’s all very well if you can afford it, but Schiller’s being optimistic to think that will be the default for typical users in the future, splashing out on phones and tablets and computers. Something has to give; Apple would like it to be your resolve and your wallet. To my mind, within the next decade, it’s for most people going to be the Mac, whether Apple likes it or not.

January 24, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Opinions


The Mac at 30: then and now

30 years ago today, the Mac was formally introduced, two days after Apple ran its famous 1984 commercial at Super Bowl XVIII. Over the years, there have been many fantastic Macs, ten of which I’ve written about for Looking at the images in that piece, it’s interesting to chart the evolution of Apple’s computers, and show how many examples—even those that seemed a bad idea at the time—informed those that came later.

It also showcases the game of iteration Apple plays, rather than lurching from one thing to the next. Of late, many tech hacks have regularly criticised Apple for not revolutionising Macs, iPads or iPhones with every release. But stand back a little and compare current kit with what came before the previous iteration; the leaps become more obvious.

Today, the best way to do that is with the Mac. Current Macs are immensely powerful machines, with specifications insanely superior to the 1984 incarnation. But it’s perhaps easier to use visual comparisons to see how far Macs have come. For example, here’s a picture of the current OS X Mavericks Finder icon, with the original Mac Finder icon perched on top of it:

OS X Finder icon with tiny original Finder icon from 1984

And here’s the same current icon wearing the entire original Mac desktop as a kind of ironic retro hat:

30 years apart, and one icon now has twice the horizontal resolution of the entire original Mac desktop!

Technology does evolve, but so often we’re caught up in the fine details to the point that we don’t see it. So next time you buy some new tech kit—be it a Mac, iPhone, Android device or PC—don’t just compare it to what was released a few months back to see how technology’s faring. Instead, think back a year, five years, ten years, and more, and realise that technology is in fact barrelling along at a frightening and exciting pace.

In this article, you can click the images to see them full-size on screens with a high enough resolution.

January 24, 2014. Read more in: Apple

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Why Angry Birds Go! is one of the most depressing games I’ve ever played

A quick look at Angry Birds Go! on Metacritic shows that reviews of Rovio’s latest game—essentially MarioKart with Angry Birds characters—has been broadly positively received. Only Pocket Gamer was really critical, ‘awarding’ the game 5/10.

I didn’t go into the game in a particularly positive frame of mind. Reports had suggested the IAP underpinnings weren’t too bad, but I’ve played relatively few titles where that’s the case, and only a tiny handful where IAP and micro-transactions have worked to the product’s favour. I was skeptical that a fast-paced kart-racer wouldn’t be undone by a freemium model. However, I truly love kart racers, and so I nonetheless wanted to like this game.

Initially, all appears well with Angry Birds Go!, and it gets two things very right. First, it looks fantastic on the iPhone. The courses are nicely cartoonish and organic, and the karts themselves are amusingly ramshackle. Secondly, it handles very nicely indeed. There’s little of the floaty physics evident in iOS kart racers—everything feels pleasingly solid, if still arcadey. It’s only when you play on for an extended period of time that you realise the game is a grindy, boring mess.

The problems with Angry Birds Go! are down to structure and greed. In terms of structure, you’re essentially forced to race over and over on the same small slice of track until you’ve ‘earned’ the right to progress to the next one. But the best kart racers (indeed, the best racers) thrive on variety. This is perhaps why the similarly IAP-infused Asphalt 8 doesn’t rub me up the wrong way—it’s still fun when you’re working your way through the game, because it regularly flings different tracks at you.

But greed is the bigger problem. Angry Birds Go! has a cooldown system for the racers—the conceit being that the birds doing the driving get tired. Naturally, they can be revived by spending one of the game’s two in-game currencies. Infuriatingly, the game also spams Notification Center when the birds are awake:

Your racers just needed some sleep! They’re now feeling fully charged and desperate to take the wheel!

Here’s a better idea, Rovio: how about you don’t place arbitrary barriers such as this in your game, and let me play for however long I want to? That way, I don’t have to make the choice of paying to continue or leaving your app, and you don’t need to spam my notifications!

Additionally, there are the usual walls racers of this ilk tend to throw up: races that need a certain type of vehicle upgrade; painfully obvious catch-up mechanisms; the requirement to have certain vehicles to race certain races; and stupidly expensive karts that you can only buy using real money. Furthermore, power-ups can only be used once per race unless you pay, and they’re also, astonishingly, ad-sponsored. A smaller number of these pungent ingredients wouldn’t have run Angry Birds Go! off of the road, but the combination makes for a truly grind-oriented trudge. And, of course, Angry Birds Go! will make a mint, thereby further justifying this business model, and validating it in the eyes of not only Rovio but also its competitors.

What could have been a minor iOS classic has therefore been reduced to a joyless slog through a business model, an accountant’s leer lurking underneath every angry bird’s feather.

December 16, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Gaming


Thoughts on iOS 7 buttons and UX

Steven Aquino writes about iOS 7.1 beta 2′s new accessibility option:

The biggest addition, feature-wise, is the inclusion of a “Button Shapes” option under Accessibility. If enabled, what this toggle does is puts borders around the heretofore plain text, non-bordered UI buttons.

Most of the commentary I’ve read on this change has been from designers who are upset that the borders are ugly, and they question why Apple chose to add them.

That’s not what I’m questioning. My concern is more that Apple has created an operating system that clearly has a ton of UX and UI issues, and yet is now burying ‘fixes’ within accessibility, away from where the typical user will see it. To my mind, the defaults of any design should be the most usable, even if that means some kind of compromise on whatever artistic and aesthetic vision you have. With iOS 7, Apple’s strayed some way from that goal; I hope as its mobile OS continues to evolve it will trend back towards being more usable, rather than being a showcase for Jony Ive’s infatuation with a certain kind of minimalism.

Further reading: Visual Preferences by Lukas Mathis • Shaping Buttons by Eric Schwarz.

December 16, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Design

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Apple under pressure as unannounced product delayed by arbitrary time period set by interchangeable analyst

Apple is again under fire as it was revealed that its latest unannounced product that no-one knows for sure it is even working on has been delayed by an arbitrary amount of time, according to guesswork made by an interchangeable analyst. “Apple hasn’t released any new products since a few weeks ago, and even they were only minor updates to the iPad,” said the interchangeable analyst. “This proves that Apple is understaffed and just doesn’t have the resources to truly invest in the unannounced product that no-one knows for sure it is even working on, but that we’re all writing about because ‘sources’ say they have seen it and so we can get page hits from people clamouring for more Apple rumours.”

Another interchangeable analyst said this latest unforeseen delay to an unannounced product that there’s no proof Apple is even working on could spell doom for the company: “The big problem is that once you take away the profits and income Apple’s getting from the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPods, accessories, and media sales, what is left? Without the unannounced product that there’s no proof the company is even working on anyway, and that we’re all writing about because ‘sources’ say they have seen it and so we can get page hits from people clamouring for more Apple rumours, there’s a good chance Apple will disappear entirely next year.”

A Samsung spokesperson was quick to respond to Apple’s new low, noting that its own unannounced product was “right on schedule” and would be released in “at least seven different sizes and 36 colours, to appeal to the widest possible demographic”.

November 12, 2013. Read more in: Apple, Technology


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