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PEBKAC: The Normals’ View of Apple and the iPhone

This column originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

The last Macworld Expo I attended was in January 2009. This also happened to be the last Macworld Expo Apple attended. While in the Bay Area, I and some friends took advantage of the location and made the short trip to Cupertino, and the Apple Company Store. For those who’ve never been, the Company Store differs from your average Apple retail store in that it offers a variety of Apple-branded items such as clothing, hats, and paper and office products, in addition to the hardware and software you’d expect to see. I left with a black fleece pullover with a silver Apple logo on the left breast (on clearance, no less).

By now you’re wondering why this is at all important, and after all, aren’t I simply bragging? The Apple fleece has become my go-to sweatshirt. It’s comfortable and as we fashionistas all know, black goes with everything. So it’s not uncommon during the two or three days of winter we have here in north Texas to see me sporting the Apple fleece. It’s also a mainstay when I take our oldest son to the rink for hockey.

At a recent practice, a pair of fellow hockey dads were standing by the glass a few feet from me, discussing the iPhone, Apple the company, and Steve Jobs. One of them had obviously recently finished Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs, given some of the material he was regurgitating. This led to more material on Apple as a company, both under Jobs and without him at the helm, and about the iPhone and iPad. As I watched our sons practice and half-listened to their conversation, I was struck yet again at how differently I view the technology world, and specifically Apple and its products, than normal people.

Please understand when I say “normal” people, it is not a term of derision, like, say, muggle. I worked in IT for a decade and a half, nearly ten of those years exclusively on Macs. You wanted to know why Mac OS 8 wasn’t behaving properly once the Finder appeared on screen after boot? Why, you may well have a rogue extension or control panel installed, let’s take a look. What’s this, Mac OS X is actually based on UNIX and there’s now a command line? Oh, goody, something new to learn so we can better exploit the ease with which things can get done and we can get back to our game of Doom 3. Or Modern Warfare 3. Or whatever game’s the latest and greatest. (Because that last part is what normal people think IT people are really doing when we’re not actually working on a computer.)

As I said, I see these sort of things differently, as do many of my friends, including colleagues on this very publication. Normal people don’t buy black Apple fleece sweatshirts. And if they happen to, normal people usually don’t make a special trip out of their way to do so.

What I have noticed about wearing the fleece in the three years I’ve had it, is that fewer and fewer people will ask if I work for Apple. Or used to, if they know what my current occupation is. The why is easy to answer: today, more than ever, Apple is such an important part of people’s daily lives, it’s not an oddity any more. Apple is no longer the alternative-to-Windows company. Apple is now the iPhone company. And it seems every where I look, someone’s using an iPhone.

And interacting with normal people who use iPhones, I’ve quickly learned they use their iPhone much differently than we more-plugged-in techie types do. For instance, they usually only have one Twitter client, the official one from Twitter–if they have a Twitter client at all! <gasps, shock, horror> They don’t spend a lot of time obsessing over the latest and greatest apps, and most of the time what they have installed beyond Apple’s default apps are recommendations from friends. From my own random, completely unscientific observations of the iPhone-using normal masses, the non-Apple app I see in use the most is Facebook.

I realize that a lot of this sounds like common sense, but it’s hard for us techie types to sometimes understand how differently we see the technology world versus normal folks. Those people who just want stuff to work, just want to get stuff done so they can get on with their lives. For us, the tech stuff is our life. Those who can make the transition back and forth easily are the ones who do very well in the IT consulting arena. And normal folks, it’s always great to have someone like that in your corner.

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iPhone Mac movie tech

Macworld Keynote impressions

So the big news in the tech world yesterday was what Steve Jobs talked about during his keynote address at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. The annual technology conference geared toward the Mac OS, and all things Apple, Inc., is often used for the announcement of new products from my favorite fruit company. Yesterday was no exception. Here are some of my thoughts on what was announced:
Time Capsule
If I hadn’t bought an Airport Extreme Base Station last year, to replace a router that died, I’d be buying a new 1 TB–yes, that’s a T, for terabyte–Time Capsule right now. Merging an Airport Extreme Base Station with a “server-grade” hard drive, the Time Capsule allows for wireless backups from all of your Leopard-based Macs via Time Machine. Jobs called it a “back-up applicance”.

Time Capsule photo

Backing up your data is very important, and too few people do it, realizing the value of doing so only when it’s too late. Time Capsule is a dead-simple way, for most people, to ensure their Macs are getting backed up. Plug in and power on the Time Capsule, open up Time Machine on your Mac and point it to the Capsule, and you’re done.
Time Capsule comes in two sizes, the 500 GB version for $299, and the aforementioned 1 TB version for $499. That’s an amazing bargain, a terabyte of storage and a full wired/wireless router for five hundred smackers. As I said, if we didn’t already have the AEBS router, my credit card would have already seen one of these charged to it.
iPhone Update
Today was the 200th day the iPhone had been available for purchase, and Apple’s sold 4 million of them, an average of 20,000 iPhones sold per day. This means that in terms of United States smartphone market share, Apple has nearly 20% of the national smartphone market.
The rumors of a 1.1.3 update to the iPhone proved to be true. The home screen can now be customized, and the Maps application–the underrated killer feature of the iPhone in my humble opinion–is now even more super-powered. The new Location feature in Maps is great. Combining data from Google and Skyhook Wireless, your iPhone can now, without GPS on board, triangulate your position within a couple of blocks. It pulled up my location at home with no problem.
You can, finally, send a SMS message to more than one person, something my lowly Motorola v557 was capable of two years ago. The WebClips functionality is pretty neat; you can create a WebClip from any web page or portion of a web page and pop it on to your home screen, so it’s easy to just go to Google, or The New York Times, or whatever web page you wish, with one touch.
I’ve had quite some fun this afternoon playing with all of this new stuff, and it’s almost like getting a new iPhone for free. All in all, it makes the iPhone an even better communication device.
iTunes Movie Rentals
In addition to buying movies through the iTunes Store, you can now rent them as well. Library movies (viz: older titles) are $2.99, and new releases are $3.99. From the time you click “Rent Movie” in the iTunes Store and it downloads, you have 30 days to watch the movie. From the time you click “Play” on the movie, you have 24 hours to watch it. You can also transfer the movie to another device, such as your iPod or iPhone, and watch it there as well, before your 24 hours or 30 days, depending on where you are when you perform the transfer, are up.
The thirty days requirement is pretty decent, but I find the 24 hours one to be a little restrictive. It should be at least 48 hours, and 72 would be better, with 96 being the ideal.
Going hand-in-hand with the new rental service is an updated Apple TV, or as Jobs put it, “Apple TV Take 2”. Whereas the original Apple TV pretty much required you to have a computer to sync it up with, the new version acts as a stand-alone box. You can rent movies from the iTunes Store in HD through the Apple TV, for only $1 more than the standard resolutions. So library titles go to $3.99 and new releases are $4.99, and no trip to the mailbox or corner Blockbuster is required.
I’m still not convinced that we have a real use for this in our house, given our movie viewing habits. For now, Netflix will continue to suffice, but I’ll be keeping my eyes on the Apple TV, and I’m sure I’ll try out the new rentals even without the new box.
MacBook Air
This had all the buzz, and was the announcement I was most looking forward to. I was ready to pounce on ordering Apple’s new subnotebook, provided it met my personal expectations.
Apple has created the world’s thinnest notebook computer. At its thickest point, the MacBook Air is 0.76 of an inch, and it weighs only three pounds. It comes with a full-size keyboard, a 13.3-inch LED backlit display, and a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. Two gigabytes of RAM, an 80 GB hard drive, 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth, and a built-in iSight camera. A pricey option is to ditch the standard hard drive for a 64 GB solid state drive (viz: no moving parts), and when I say pricey, I do mean pricey: $999 on top of the base $1,799 cost.
You won’t find much in the way of ports on it, either: MagSafe power port, a single USB port, headphone jack, and a micro-DVI port which requires adapters to hook up to external displays. That’s it. The trackpad is larger than on previous MacBook versions, and features multitouch, so you can perform some of those pinch, zoom, and rotate gestures you may have seen with the iPhone.

MacBook Air photo

The downsides to this incredible piece of tech? For me, the hard drive size is the first. I put a 160 GB drive in my four year-old 12-inch PowerBook last year, and have gotten quite used to the extra room it gave me. I’d hate to step back down by half. Only two gigabytes of RAM? And no way to upgrade it? My two year-old iMac is maxed out at 2 GB, and some times I bump against that particular ceiling. I’d really prefer a machine that can handle up to four. The battery is also not replaceable by the user. This might be okay on an iPod or iPhone, but in a full-size computing system devoted to the ultimate road warriors?
Ultimately, I decided this was not the next notebook computer for me. It’s a really awesome system, and if someone were to buy one for me, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it, but that’s not happening. I think I’ll be better served ultimately by a MacBook Pro, and with seven and a half months since the latest edition of those came out, they’re due for a refresh, even a “silent” one like we saw with the Mac Pros last week.
Summation
In the end, it was what I would call a typical Steve Jobs Macworld Expo keynote address. There were the requisite ooohs and aaaahs, Apple’s making some evolutionary gains in all facets of its business, and there was a great new product introduced that has the entire tech world talking. It wasn’t a blow-me-away sort of keynote, as was last year’s with the announcement of the iPhone, but then they can’t all be like that. Still better than anything Bill does on stage.

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fun iPhone

We all have our burdens

Crackberry/iPhone IM conversation

Love you, Amy and John!
Oh, and I love you, sweetheart!

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iPhone Mac quote

Today’s head-smacker

Overheard by Jeff Harrell earlier today:

Wouldn’t it be great if the people who made the iPhone also made a computer?
Really? Really?!?

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iPhone

Start preparing your lies now, Ivan

Eric Blair:

If the iPhone continues to rewrite sales records even in the face of Verizon’s new handsets, executives at Verizon may have nowhere to hide when shareholders question the wisdom of passing on the iPhone.
“Bah! We’re Verizon! We don’t need no stinking iPhone!”

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fun iPhone iPod

Hide-a-Pod

If you have an iPod, or a new iPhone, and you’re worried that the mere sight of the device may prompt a ne’er-do-well to attempt a snatch, consider the Hide-a-Pod as a deterrent.
Even if you choose not to purchase a Hide-a-Pod, be sure to click on the Order graphic or Buy Now link for a special treat. You won’t have to complete the order to enjoy the surprise.
[Via David D. on the Ranchero iPhone list.]

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iPhone

iSmoke

Oh, yes, he did.

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iPhone

iphoneflashlite.com

Over on the Ranchero-sponsored iPhone email list, Kevin C. mentioned using his iPhone as a flashlight in a pinch. I’m sure many, if not all, iPhone users have found themselves in a similar predicament over the past week. I know I sure have.
Chris Messina chimed in that someone should grab a domain like “iphoneflashlight.com” and put up a page with the code he provided. So may I present:

iPhone Flash Lite
(http://iphoneflashlite.com)

Pop on over to it on your iPhone, bookmark it, and you’re always a web browser away from a nice, bright, white iPhone flashlight.
Thanks, Chris, for the code, and the inspiration!

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iPhone site

Why the iPhone Doesn’t Include Flash

(The obvious answer is “Flash sucks, that’s why”.)
Brent Simmons:

We all know that the iPhone doesn’t include Flash. Various theories have been aired.

I have a theory that I haven’t heard yet: Flash wasn’t included because it crashes so much.
I detest Flash. It’s a resource hog, and there are very few Flash-based sites that are well designed to begin with. I hope Google moves YouTube to H.264 video for the “regular” Internet, not just for the iPhone’s access.
Roughly Drafted makes the case that the iPhone is a threat to Flash, as well as to Windows Media and Real. Why? Because H.264 is an standard video codec that doesn’t rely on a software processor, for one. In laymen’s terms, by using H.264, your system doesn’t have to work as hard, because it likely has a hardware processor capable of decoding H.264 without having to hit your general processing unit, which means you get more battery life, use less power, etc.
If you’re a content provider, you don’t have to worry about providing multiple video formats. You can simply output a single, MPEG-based H.264 video that you know users won’t have to have a plug-in for, like Flash, Windows Media, or Real. The other upside is that you don’t have to pay any licensing fees for those three formats, either. Sounds like a win-win to me.
[Wave of the phin to Lee for the Roughly Drafted link, via IM.]

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iPhone

Not really helping

A good friend is trying to decide whether or not to buy an iPhone, and I was attempting to help him reason it out.

Angel on one shoulder, Devil on the other, on the iPhone