AMITIAE - Friday 11 December 2015

Cassandra: Friday Review - A Priori Apple is Failing Again

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


The former British MP, Tony Benn, who was to the left of left and feared by the establishment had to re-enter the House of Commons a couple of times: when he renounced his peerage (Viscount Stansgate) after a change in the law allowed him to do this; and when the boundaries of his constituency in Bristol were re-drawn, favouring the Tories. He was then elected for Chesterfield which has a famously twisted spire (due to materials shortages and government cuts, he claimed). In his Maiden Speech after that election, he said that if one approaches the town from one direction, the spire of the church, twists to the right; but coming from the other direction, it twists to the left: it depends on which way we look at things.

Depending on which way Apple has been examined this week, it is having a bad week, or maybe not. With several updates to the operating systems (OS X, iOS and Watch OS) there were a couple of unexpected changes. This was followed by a couple of surprise products that will make life easier for users, it does not sound too bad. One surprise was the ability of the iPhone to import photos from a digital camera.

Coincidentally, the products include a Lightning to SD Card Reader, and a Lightning to Camera adapter. More controversial is the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case in White or Charcoal Gray. The links here are for the US store: with the local setup, it may be better to use the search feature. These come up quickly enough.

Battery Case That iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case was proof that Apple has lost it, mainly because of the hump at the back. Tim Cook says it is not a hump. But lump, protuberance, bit that sticks out, are all less descriptive. It reminded me of a beluga whale, my first look at a Boeing 747, or perhaps the AWACS with the hump that contains all that technical stuff to help the servicemen inside do their job.

It certainly appears to be practical and the iFixit teardown confirms that this contains a battery of 7.13 Whr (1877 mAh at 3.8 V) capacity, which "more than doubles your iPhone 6s (6.55 Whr) capacity." They gave it 2 out of 10 for repairability: the battery might be replaceable, but the damage might be too much. Their opening comments describe it as "ugly" which is not something we usually hear about Apple products.

This lack of aesthetic quality has been cited by several sources who use this as an a priori argument that Apple has lost it: a priori is cherry-picking, choosing facts to make your case, excluding inconvenient evidence. None do this better than Nick Statt on The Verge who comments on the iPad Pro (monstrous size), its Smart Case (awkward) and the Apple Pencil.

He claims that "To charge the Pencil, you must insert it into the Lightning connector on the bottom of the tablet in a way that makes it clear any sudden shift would all but certainly snap the stylus in two, or at least severely damage its tail end." What utter drivel.

If he had been paying attention, he might have seen the adapter in the box, which allows the Pencil to be charged with a normal USB to Lightning cable: flat on a table, no risk, no breakages, unless you charge it on the floor and step on it, of course. There is a grey circle on the adapter to indicate which is the right end for the cable. Connecting the Pencil to the iPad Pro via its Lightning port is for emergency charging (and of course you can do a full charge this way), with a 15 second connection providing 30 minutes of charge.

Pencil adapter Pencil adapter

He is right when he points out that the Smart Case has a (slight) bulge when closed, but until I read his words, I had never noticed that in the couple of weeks I have been using the device. I will go part of the way when it comes to the Magic Mouse 2 with its cable under the device. I don't have one. I hate all mouses (I checked the dictionary, so don't turn grammar police on me) and far prefer a trackpad. So "sounds odd," is as far as I will go.

The design compromises, as they are being called, are odd in the light of the smooth designs we have been used to from Apple, but as for proving that Apple has lost its mojo, Jony Ive is on sabbatical, or Tim Cook must go, these are drops in the ocean.

This was not the only source that bemoans Apple's design failures with Zach Epstein on BGR citing not only the new case but the differences between old and new Airport routers as proof that Apple has lost it. I have both: the flat one which collected dust in those grooves and the new taller one with the better antenna placement, which sits nicely beneath a table giving me 802.11ac wifi throughout the apartment. No fail there. I mean, I loved the Apple Cube.

Epstein also cites the Apple Pencil connector and omits the adapter as the main charging method. Note the URL of that BGR article, titled "When did Apple products get so... ugly?". It ends with "battery-design-wtf/" which some might consider an unnecessary and distasteful, subliminal editorial comment.

Apple announced its Design Awards for 2015 this week with a number of good results, particularly for Persiscope which was cited as best iPhone app. Regional differences had Enlight as the best iPhone app for Thailand, with Simple Machines as the best iPad app.

Affinity Photo Affinity Photo which had been updated on Wednesday was named best OS X app. I had been running this since the beta versions last summer and was always impressed. Now however, Serif Studios have added six Affinity Photo extensions for Apple's Photos, expanding the usability of that app several times.

An old voice was heard last week when former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer complained about the lack of Android apps for Windows. I have been impressed by the work done by Satya Nadella who has brought about several changes to a company that had begun to stagnate under previous management. Rather than fight old battles, he has embraced the idea put forward by Steve Jobs about eight and a half years ago in discussion with Bill Gates at All Things Digital: it is not a "zero-sum game, where for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose."

Under Nadella it is noticeable how many more apps there are for iOS from Microsoft and this is making Microsoft's services (e.g. Office) available on iOS devices, which some people think is the best of both worlds. Mark Hibben on Seeking Alpha explains the strategy and why Ballmer is wrong again.

The strategy at Microsoft has changed to reflect the reality that the desktop is no longer king, and therefore cash cows like Windows and Office cannot be relied on to give Redmond rich pickings like before. They have to boldly go and seek new platforms or solutions.

Apple, likewise has begun to reconfigure what it offers. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple from NeXT, in a meeting he drew two lines on a board: vertical and horizontal. In the 4 quadrants Apple would fit consumer and Pro, desktop and notebook computers, then focus on those products. It was simpler then.

The evolution of mobile devices has blurred the lines and while some can still only think in terms of desktop computers with rotating hard disks for storage, others have embraced mobile computing in its various forms, including smaller capacity SSD drives and cloud storage. Some are quite capable of working only on mobile devices, with only minimal use of PCs. I looked at this idea earlier this month when writing about the iPad Pro.

MacBook - all colors
MacBook: All Colors - Image thanks to Apple

I had loved the way the MacBook had taken over as my office tool and then I was quite surprised with the way the iPad Pro had superseded that. Setting them up I had noticed similarities with the way I set up iCloud then had the data made available on both. In many ways it makes no difference to me which I put in my bag in the morning (although the MacBook is some 200g heavier). It occurred to me that while the original iPad was to fill a gap between iPhones and notebook computers that netbooks could not, since then Apple has been filling other gaps.

The MacBook Air was introduced in 2008, and then we had the iPad. We now have the MacBook, which seems almost the same as the MacBook Air, but is not. The iPad mini, the larger iPhone 6s Plus and now the iPad Pro. Instead of having to make do with a device that fits within Steve Jobs' four quadrants, we now have options for a range of devices from which we can select the right one for the tasks we need to carry out.

iPad Pro
iPad Pro in iStudio, Bangkok

Having a look at this changed strategy, Neil Cybart on Seeking Alpha, refers to it as "The Grand Unified Theory of Apple Products" and refers to an article by Steven Levy on Medium.Com in which there was an interview with Phil Schiller

Schiller, in fact, has a grand philosophical theory of the Apple product line that puts all products on a continuum. Ideally, you should be using the smallest possible gadget to do as much as possible before going to the next largest gizmo in line.

Schiller goes on to explain that each device, from the Apple Watch up to the iMac has its own set of tasks, so the user chooses the right one for the job that needs doing.

That Levy article starts with a look at the design lab and there is a small section on that Magic Mouse 2 and the way the team examined it and rethought part of the design, not because of the charger port but because it didn't sound right. If they are concerned enough about the sound, the placement of the port was debated and it is there for a reason, whether The Verge or BGR like it or not.

Of course, there is always Michael Blair. He is an occasional commentator on Seeking Alpha who describes himself as a "contrarian" which I take to mean that Apple is never right. He is not alone of course. I am aware of several who only ever report negative items about Apple, conveniently ignoring problems from their favourite manufacturers, such as the irreversible Samsung stylus.

Whatever the figures, Blair is able to produce a set that proves Apple is failing and that the Surface, Microsoft, Samsung or Blackberry is either taking the markets by storm or poised to do so. The most recent item from him I have seen is on the iPad Pro which is "is a long way short of" the Surface range; and iOS "is of little value to professional users in the enterprise space", so the Wintel alliance will push Apple to the sidelines. I wonder if he noticed that Microsoft and Adobe executives were demonstrating products at the iPad Pro announcement?

Blair insists that "The device is expensive, under-powered and pales in comparison to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which will remain the tablet of choice for serious users." In a useless example of sleight of hand, he produces a table comparing the A9 processor with Samsung devices, when the iPad Pro has a considerably more powerful A9X. But what do we expect?

He actually has quite a fan club with his never-praise-Apple-at-any-cost columns. Commentators call him out on his technical errors and some use his negatives as a sure sign it is time to buy Apple stock. Several comments came from professionals, including writers in the tech and financial fields, including a strong dismissal by Robert X. Cringely: "There's plenty to criticize about Apple, but this particular criticism - and especially the platform comparison and its conclusions - makes no sense."

Lightning to SD card adapter With my first iPad I had the old camera connector and SD card adapter which used the 30-pin connectors, so I am keen to take a look at the new adapters announced this week. Not so easy. The iStudio I went into at the end of the week tol me they were sold out, which I found surprising, particularly as delivery is shown as 3-5 days.

Only by pushing the staff (not literally) did I find they were talking about the older connectors. These are still shown on Apple's pages. They had no idea when the new ones would be coming. I don't actually think (deer in headlights look) anyone there knew that there was a new version.

At home, I decided to order online. Not so easy these days as there is no dual-language capability for customers. I needed to have the main (US) site open as well, so I could compare details and links. When I made the purchase, my details were already available but certain address data needed to be entered using button with Thai place names. Fortunately I know where I work and that was done fairly easily, then I had to do it again for some reason.

Many local customers are not happy with this lack of English. I know Apple is aware and they are "thinking about it". I hope a decision is made soon as Xmas and New Year sales start soon.

In the meantime, I will wait for the Lightning to SD Card adapter to find its way to my office; and I think that one of those new Apple chargers is coming too.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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