Archive for General Drivel

It’s an iPad event …

… but, contrary to what the fenderheads at Bloomberg tried to claim in yet another desperate bid to get some clicks, there are no “new” iPads.

Today you will see updates to the existing iPad line with an performance bump (courtesy of the A8x processor), new camera elements, and TouchID element rings around the home button. Nomenclature will revert back to the old standard of incremental numbers … the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. Done and done.

The real news is probably the A8x, which brings the “metal” graphics processing to the iPad line and will help further entrench the device as the world’s most popular gaming console. The rest is all just gravy.

iOS 8.1 will also see the light of day, but people with current iOS devices may have to wait a week or so to get their hands on it.

Rounding out the show? Definitely some news about the Apple Pay rollout, and possibly some Apple Watch pricing details. Don’t hold your breath on the latter, though … the Watches will be priced more like “real” watches and less like “68 cent quartz-driven crap from the department store” and I believe Apple is still working on how to best broach the subject, especially to idiots in the tech press who don’t really understand the concepts surrounding the cost of jewellery and other luxury goods.

Oh. And shiny new iMacs. Yum.

National Coffee Day

That’s right. Today, September 29th, is National Coffee Day. Mmmm, coffee. Cup o’ joe. Drip. Mud. Java. Donut helper. So have a second cup. Or a third. Or a fourth or fifth …

Mmmm, coffee.

Jeter. So What?

If you were not aware that Major League Baseball was played before 1990, you might be forgiven for thinking that Derek Jeter is the Greatest Baseball Player In The History Of Ever Oh My God Break Out The Stars And Stripes!

Ugh.

Joe DiMaggio - an actual greatListen – the guy is a likeable player. Never gets in trouble, never says stupid or inflammatory things, clean cut, dresses well, doesn’t act like an NFL player or any other kind of criminal … it’s all good. But one of the greats? Hardly. The guy was a decent player, with average per-year stats who hung around long enough to end up with some nice totals. But he’s not one of the great hitters of the age – the dude strikes out more in a month than Joe DiMaggio did in two years. And as far as fielding goes he is mostly competent … unless you count the fact that he has cost his team more runs with his defence than any other shortstop in history. Then you might want to replace “mostly” with “barely”. Hell, his “signature highlight” is a play where he is so far out of position that you could use the footage as a training tape to teach little leaguers how not to play the infield.

So yeah. Yay Jeter for a nice career. But he’s not one of the greatest players of all time, not even close. Hell, he’s not even one of the greatest Yankees of all time. So can we please stop all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth now?

Jeezus.

iOS 8.0.1 Is A Complete Disaster

In case you have been sitting under a rock and somehow missed all the gleeful finger-pointing, the first update for iOS is a total dud. If you live in Canada (and hey, this is a .ca blog) you will probably have no issues, but it’s best to avoid the whole thing for now. For those of you in the USA who have already applied the update, however, your anger is palpable. And entirely justified. This turd is inexcusable and rightfully embarrassing for Apple. If they can’t get a repaired update out within the week, heads need to roll in Craig Federighi’s department. Including, quite frankly, Craig’s.

If there is any cold consolation in this, it’s that users have control of when and how they take iOS updates, and unless it is a top-number update most people don’t see to get around to it the first day. For Android users, who get their updates pushed to them whether they want them or not (when their carriers actually allow them an update, that is) this could have been beyond horrible.

The iPhone Sixes

You know what is ironic? And actually ironic, not just a “coincidence” which is what all of the examples in the Alanis Morissette song actually are? The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are the largest iPhones that Apple has ever made … and this will probably be the shortest assessment I ever actually write about a new iOS product. Why? Because both the good and the bad are obvious, top-level, and startlingly easy to quantify. Ready? Start your stopwatches …

The Good: The innards of the new iPhones are inarguably the most advanced in any pocket computer on the market. Period. It’s not even close. Designing and manufacturing their own chips has given Apple a massive advantage here, and I am continually amazed that the other handset makers continue to piss around with generic silicon. The reason is obviously one of money … the investment needed to get started down this road is staggering. But the gap in both power and utility is widening, and eventually the other players will eventually have to bite the bullet and get onboard or risk being slowly ghettoized as “discount” hardware.

That must be a 6 Plus!The Bad: The form factor. I don’t like anything about the shape and size of these phones. The iPhone 5S was perfect. Perfect size, perfect buttons, perfect flat edges that were wide enough to stand the handset on either the long side or the short … perfect. The 6 is too big, the power button is in the wrong spot, and the edges are good for nothing but letting the damn thing slip out of your hand. The 6 Plus is exactly the same, except for the “too big” part. Replace that with “idiotically large” and you are in the ballpark. I’m sorry, but when you have to build in a function to make the phone actually usable because of the moronically huge form factor, then perhaps you should re-think the moronically huge form factor part. It’s not quite as much of a joke as this, but it’s still pretty damn bad.

Ugh. Gimme the insides and throw the rest away. Not a fan.

Follow The Money – Apple Pay

Unless you have worked in retail or slogged in the trenches of a bank, you probably aren’t familiar with “swipe fees”. In a nutshell, every time you pay for something with a credit card the issuing bank takes a small cut of the total purchase price off the top … generally about two percent. Walk into a store, pay 10 dollars cash for an item, and the retailer puts ten bucks in the till. Pay for the same item with a credit card, and the retailer gets $9.80 … the other 20 cents is skimmed off the top and goes directly into the Giant Profit Buckets of the bank.

Actual Security Footage From An Average North American BankTwo percent might not seem like a lot … until you realize that there are $12 billion dollars in retail credit card transactions every day in the U.S. alone. If you aren’t up for the math, that’s $240 million bucks every single day. It’s not exactly chump change and one of the reasons you see so many commercials from the assorted credit card companies and issuers urging you to use your credit card for everything from groceries to junk food at the ball park.

Now then. Unless you just crawled out from under a rock somewhere, you are probably aware that financial institutions in general and banks in particular love money. Getting them to part with even a tiny bit of it is like trying to separate a six year-old from a chocolate bar. And yet, incredibly, Apple has somehow persuaded them to give up a cut of these fees as a part of the Apple Pay business model … without raising the fees at the retail end.

How? Who knows. It boggles the mind to far, far beyond the point of comprehension. Steve Jobs was rightly known as a legendary negotiator, but Tim Cook must be a whole new level of badass in the boardroom. If anyone ever writes a book about this particular business deal, I am the first in like to buy it.

Wow.

Apple Pay – First Takeaway

The biggest deal here is the security. The combination of encrypted storage and the “Secure Enclave” means that your credit card number is never stored anywhere that is accessible by, well, anyone … including you. When you pay for something the cashier doesn’t get to see your name, credit card number, or security code. The store does not have (or have a chance to lose, cough cough Target cough) your information. And if you lose your phone you can just turn off the payments system remotely – you don’t need to go through the rigmarole of cancelling your credit cards, because they were never lost.

Forget the convenience factor – the security is the real selling point.

UPDATE: The publication of the Home Depot security breach could not have come on a better day for Apple. At literally the same time that Tim Cook was standing on stage explaining that a key pillar of Apple Pay was that retailers will not get to see, handle, store, or process your credit card number, a major brick-and-mortar chain was admitting to why those selfsame retailers can’t be trusted with that information.

Two points that really stand out here: One, reading between the lines it appears that major banks have now infiltrated the skeezy underworld of fraudulent credit cards … they obviously have staff who are in deep enough that they can buy up enough stolen numbers to do a decent level of analysis on the product. And two, mainstream media outlets are finally starting to give Brian Krebs the credit he deserves when reporting this stuff. In the past you would see traditional publications report on incidents that were broken by Krebs without ever crediting him as the reason they started working on the story in the first place. Better late than never, I guess.

Apple Watch: First Thought

The money in aftermarket straps and accessories is going to be Fucking Huge. Capital F, capital H.

The Big “iPhone 6 / iOS 8 / Some Sort Of Wearable” Event

Finally! After much speculation, lots of rambling, and a fair amount of random dreck, we are going to find out just what the heck is in that Big White Box. But it’s nowhere near as much fun without semi-crazy, mostly unfounded, and half-baked predictions … so with not much else to do in the next sixty minutes, let’s take a shot!

The Thing: iPhone 6
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: It’s not much of a secret at all that the newest member of the iPhone family will come in two fresh sizes … specifically, Too Big and Way Too Big. Sigh. Honestly, I think this is a terrible idea. The existing 4″ screen is pretty much the perfect size for a pocket computer. Period. Large enough to easily see and read, small enough to fit in your pocket, and packing the perfect dimensions for one-handed use. The iPhone 6 will be available in a 4.7 inch size – which doesn’t really add anything, and makes it a bitch to try and use one-handed – and a 5.5 inch size which is just idiotic. The existing (and perfectly sized) iPhone 5s and 5c will hang around as the low-priced and free-with-contract models respectively, but that is cold comfort.

Beyond the unusable size, the new phones will offer Apple’s first foray into NFC connectivity – something they have avoided until now because the old antenna technology attached to NFC made for annoyingly thick handsets, and because there was nothing useful to actually do with NFC until, well, today. They will also have startlingly large batteries packed into their stupidly large cases, meaning that they will have gratifyingly long battery life if you can actually bear to carry one of these things around.

The Thing: iOS 8
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: I’ve been using iOS 8 for a few months now, and it is everything that you could hope for in an incremental OS release. It strengthens the connections between the various parts of the Apple ecosystem, makes your workflow from one device to the next essentially seamless, and simplifies the way you setup and deal with basic mobile computing functions. Look for it to hit the update queue of your device within 48 hours.

The Thing: OSX Yosemite
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: The next version of OSX brings some serious workflow love to your desktop or laptop Mac. It’s a strong build on the direction that was taken with Mavericks, and the ability to slide into a “one experience, one workflow, any device” mindset is nicely realized. It’s also fast – surprisingly so, considering how much new shit is going on under the hood. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far. However, there are a couple of catches here. Caveat one, this will not be released today. We will see it, but unless you are a developer, you probably won’t be getting your mitts on it for another month. Caveat two, if you are still using a machine that is 4 or 5 years old, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy a lot of the OSX/iOS integration … your box just doesn’t have the hardware to make it go.

The Thing: A Giant iPad Of Doom
Gonna See It Today: Nope
The Lowdown: This is just stupid. Next.

The Thing: Something To Do With Beats
Gonna See It Today: Probably
The Lowdown: The Beats acquisition is still a bit odd. Beats is not a brand that fits into Apple’s product gestalt … while Apple traditionally offers super-premium products for a premium price, Beats has slightly-above-average products at a super-premium price. Every item in the Beats catalog has a competitor that is noticeably better for the same price, and a another competitor that offers a seriously better product for a little bit more. Contrast this to traditional Apple gear where every item is indisputably the best you can get for that price, and equivalent stuff from other companies always costs more. That is a disconnect, and a big one.

But … Beats also came with Jimmy Iovine, and I think that is where the real value and future is. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Apple is getting into either music publishing or artist-direct distribution, helping to push the music labels farther into oblivion and giving more control and more revenue from music sales directly to the artists.

The Thing: New Macintosh Models
Gonna See It Today: Nope
The Lowdown: See you in October.

The Thing: Some Sort Of Digital Payment System
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: No idea, really. This gets into the realm of the banks and the credit card providers and who knows what else and I’m over my head here. Suffice to say that Apple will browbeat the financial institutions into providing the service to end users at cost, that there will be some sort of security component tied to both TouchID and two-factor authentication (last week’s celebrity selfie fiasco proved that you can’t trust users to use basic common sense or pay attention to warning messages when it comes to data security), and that it will provide and actual reason to put NFC technology into the new generation of Apple’s mobile devices. Beyond that, I’m in the dark. I think everyone is.

The Thing: The “Wearable”
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: What to call this? The iWatch? A smartwatch? A wearable? Until we know more, I’m going to stick with wearable. As to what it will be, and what it will do, the shrouds of secrecy are heavy on this one. I wrote earlier today about the existing players in this game, and how they stack up to what Apple might do, and I don’t think that there is much more to go on right now.

However, there are three points worth thinking about. One, in addition to the usual cadre from the tech press, Apple send out invitations for today’s event to a gaggle of style and fashion writers. You would assume that wouldn’t be the case if the new wearable/whatever is dog-barf ugly like the Galaxy Gear and its ilk. Two, Tim Cook has talked in the past about the need for a wearable to be something you have on all the time. But something you wear when you are working out is usually something that you would give a pass to when dressing for the office, or a night on the town. Can one device bridge this divide? Or will there be a family of devices, some for Extreme Sportball Action, some for day-to-day dress, and all of them sharing info in one virtual device? And three, Marc Newsome has joined the Apple design team … you may remember the props given to him in These Very Pages for the awesome Heineken “Sub”. Newsome made his name with timepiece design, and his calling card is understated elegance combined with no-nonsense industrial edge. Are his hands all over whatever the hell this wearable thing is going to be?

The Thing: Induction Power For Mobile Devices From Your Skin
Gonna See It Today: Maybe?
The Lowdown: I have no idea how this could even work. I’d call the chances of seeing this Extremely Low. But the buzz is out there, so it’s worth at least mentioning.

The Thing: U2
Gonna See It Today: Yep
The Lowdown: Just because.

iWhat?

So. Apple is going to add a wearable device to their iOS family today. But Tim Cook’s vow to “double down on secrecy” was more that just boastful talk, and no one seems to have even the faintest idea of what the thing is going to be, do, or look like. So the absence of any real data, let’s take a look at what the competition (and in 66% of these examples, the word “competition” is being used incredibly loosely) is doing and how that might relate to what we see in a couple of hours.

Samsung Galaxy GearExhibit 1: Galaxy Gear

Look. If you were to make a laundry list of all the things a wearable/smartwatch shouldn’t be, the Gear would probably rack up a perfect score. To wit:

  • It probably shouldn’t be useless without being connected to a second device at all times.
  • If it is connected to a second device, it should do more than just parrot that device’s functionality.
  • If it does parrot the functions of a second device, it shouldn’t make those functions more difficult to perform.
  • It shouldn’t be Fucking Ugly. That’s right, capital “F”, capital “U”.

And, running down the scorecard we see … wow. Four for four.  Great in baseball; not so much in consumer devices.  It’s probably not a coincidence that Samsung has released 6 different models in the last 3 months and all of them have already gone from retailing for over 240 bucks being given away for free with the purchase of another device or service.

Oops.

And did I mention that it’s Fucking Ugly?

Motorola 270, er, 360Exhibit 2: Moto 360

This is a much better effort. If nothing else, it’s a nicely understated design – something you wouldn’t actually feel like a glasshole for wearing in public. Sadly, it fails on a couple of key points. One, its fairly huge. It looks like a nice watch until you actually put it on your wrist … and then, unless you are the local neighbourhood barbarian, it looks like a Giant Tech Bangle. Um, yeah.

Worse, the batteries need to be charged up at least twice a day, something that is an unpardonable sin for a wearable. Wearables have to be constant and unobtrusive. If you have to actively interact with the thing for either basic functionality or (worse) to manage it’s systems, you are looking at a device that ends up in the bottom of a drawer fairly quickly.

As an aside, someone should also tell Motorola what “360” really means. For some odd reason the designers couldn’t deal with placement of the display drivers and optical sensors without cutting into the face of the device, leaving that odd chord of dead space at the bottom of the display. Worse, their marketing people then photoshopped a complete face into the device in the marketing materials, so pictures on the web site and in the packages they hand out to the media show something significantly different than what the device really is. I guess the more accurate name of “Motorola 270” was already taken.

Oops.

Withings ActivitéExhibit 3: Withings Activé

Now we are getting somewhere. Run back up to the “checklist of fail” – where the Galaxy Gear batted 1.000, the Withings dances through with aplomb. It adds new and useful functions to your existing device, it provides instant information in an unobtrusive and pervasive way, the battery lasts for a year, and its absolutely gorgeous.

This is a device that you would want to wear all day, every day, even if you didn’t know what it did. From top to bottom, this is a winner.

Exhibit 4: Apple Something-or-other

No idea. At all. But you take a look at the three notable entries above, the chances are a extremely high that it will be a lot closer to the Withings Activé that either of the unusable mutts that Samsung and Motorola have coughed up.

Stay tuned.