Tag Archives: apple

Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup

Rather than viewing the mashup as a modern phenomenon, it could also be described as a modern and digital re-iteration of practises long used by artists from the past. From ancient Roman copies of Greek sculpture, to Raphael’s numerous quotes from sources as diverse as a Roman sarcophagus, a  Memling portrait or a drawing by Leonardo. The determination of what constitutes influence, homage or direct plagiarism is a complex undertaking, with accompanying legal concerns raised since the fifteenth century.

via Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup.

A typically engaging post from Hasan Niyazi’s art history blog. It neatly presents a historical context for modern mashups.

Looking at someone else’s creative work sometimes provokes an artist into thinking what he or she would do with that same subject, or it inspires a new twist, or even the direct thought “Gee, if I ever need to draw the face of somebody shrieking their lungs out, I am definitely going to remember how da Vinci did it in his cartoon for ‘The Battle Of Anghiari’!”

Theft is theft, and when a lazy creator blandly copies the work of another, the work usually tells the tale within five seconds. But it’s no good to recognize an influence and then dismiss the second work without thinking any deeper. That reaction is ignorant of the creative process, and it’s contemptuously dismissive of the amount of hard work and innovative thinking that the original work inspires. George Lucas himself acknowledged that “A New Hope” was hugely influenced by Kurasawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” But would anyone deny that Episode 4 is an original work?

Today, we all acknowledge that designing software and hardware is a creative, even an artistic, endeavor. That’s a welcome change in attitude. Engineers were once perceived as just a bunch of dull technicians ticking items off of a list of features and specifications under fluorescent lighting. Now, we often think of these men and women as artisans who want to make something that functions beautifully.

If we’re going to fully embrace this new perception, however, we need to acknowledge that the artistic process is universal, whether the thing the artist creates is a single painting or 10,000,000 phones. It’s the same in Jony Ive’s day as it was in Raphael’s. Software patents, as well as the most hysterical superfans of a platform, try to pretend that art is made in a vacuum and that ideas, like real estate, exist with firm boundaries and sole ownership. Hogwash on both counts.

Yes, theft is theft. Sure, a direct, lazy copy is easy to spot. But when Google pivots their new mobile OS away from keypads and towards multitouch after they see the iPhone, and then Apple changes the iPhone’s notification system after they see Android, they’re just following in the footsteps of the Old Masters. It’s fine.

iPhone 5 Photo Quiz – Part 5


Same as before. One of the photos in this group was shot with an iPhone 5. The others were shot with other phones…and one was shot with a conventional camera. For the big finale, I’ve expanded the lineup to seven perps instead of just five:


(Click on the image to go to Flickr and embiggen. Come back to comment.)

And just like before, I haven’t made any changes to exposure, color, or sharpness. All I’ve done is crop the same section of each photo and scale it to 300×400 pixels for comparison.

Which is your favorite? And can you spot the iPhone 5 image?

Thanks for all of your comments, by the way. This isn’t a scientific test by any means, but all of these subjective reactions to these side-by-side comparisons are very useful to me.

My three-part review of the iPhone 5 begins tomorrow…with a discussion of the iPhone 5’s camera. When the column hits the web, I’ll publish the answers to each of these little quizzes.

iPhone 5 Photo Quiz – Part 4


Finally — at least as far as these little Quizzes are concerned — is my test of low-light performance. This feller is in a shadowy corner of an unlit hallway.


As before, none of these have been modified in any way, apart from a crop. Oh, and: apparently I was careless and only used four cameras on this. But I promise you that one of these four was shot with an iPhone 5.

Which is your favorite?

Which one was shot with an iPhone 5?

iPhone 5 Photo Quiz – Part 3


And now we’ve finally reached The Boston Public Library, the site of so many of my standard test photos. I take two shots here in Bates Hall. The first is a straight shot down the middle of the hall; this is the second. Why aren’t I using the first one in this quiz?

Because: (oh dear) two of the cameras failed to take a usable photo. Too blurry. My usual protocol is to take three in a row, and then use the best of the three for comparison with other cameras. Nope…these two cameras screwed up three times.


Well, let’s just take a look at View 2 then. As with the others: I’ve made no adjustments to exposure, color, or sharpness. I’ve just cropped the file that came out of the camera.


(Click to visit Flickr and embiggen. Come on back here to comment.)

Which is your favorite?

Which one do you think was shot with the iPhone 5?

iPhone 5 Photo Quiz – Part 2


What…you think I’d entitle the Washington post “Part 1” and not have more?

Here’s you’re next case, Angels. The same shot taken five times with the same five imaging devices as the Washington photo. One of these was shot with an iPhone 5. The rest were shot with devices available in stores today. Click the image to visit Flickr and see an embiggened version. Come back here for comments.


I’ve made no edits to exposure, color, or sharpness…I just cropped a section out for close examination.

Which is your favorite?

Which one was shot with the iPhone 5?

Apple vs. Samsung: Influence, or Copying?

Yup, I’ve been following the court proceedings almost as closely as I’ve been following the Olympics. “Almost,” only because NBC isn’t broadcasting it 20 hours a day. On the plus side, if NBC were covering it, we’d be getting our news 9 hours after it actually happened.

Yesterday’s designated bombshell was an enormous and hitherto confidential PowerPoint presentation that Samsung assembled a couple of years ago. The company’s own engineers compared the iPhone to the Galaxy and point for point…yeah, they pretty much agreed with what the public was telling them.

Many folks have pointed to this document (and attendant internal quotes from Samsung, describing the need for a real “come to Jesus” moment for their smartphones) as a smoking gun. Aha! Slide after slide, comparing a different element of the iPhone and its software to the Galaxy! Prepare to line up for the spanking machine, Samsung executive board!

I’m not so sure. I’ve read most of it. A credible interpretation is that this document represents a company’s frank and unflinching evaluation of the limitations of their own products. Each slide and photo and user element is carefully annotated and scrutinized. Even though this was an internal report never intended for outside eyes, nearly every note is a smart observation. What does the user expect at this point in the interface? What’s the most important function? What are the points of confusion in the Galaxy interface? It seems as though most of these notes points out a mistake that the Galaxy’s designers made, and teaches a broader lesson that Samsung should learn, as opposed to just blandly adding another item to the “Steal This Element” list. Nearly every recommended action item seems to say “We should make our phone better,” not “We should make our phone look like the iPhone.”

Does this document point to outright theft? Fortunately, two companies (whose annual profits somewhat exceed my own) are paying lots of people (much smarter than me) to argue that one out.

Sometimes, a company blandly treats other companies and creative people as their own free product R&D division. That’s arrogant and damaging. Sometimes, an idea is just so simple and natural and obvious that nobody can credibly claim that they “invented” it. That’s arrogant and damaging, too.

Sometimes, a company looks at the competition’s work and thinks “Wow. We got smoked. Why aren’t our own products that good? What do we need to do to improve them?” As I read through this document, it’s hard for me to push that third possibility from my mind. I don’t think it’s a smoking gun at all. Just another data point, subject to interpretation.

Auguste Bartholdi, of Paris, France. DESIGN FOR A STATUE

This is the year that Apple’s intellectual-property litigation became just as flashy and innovative as some of its products. And today’s the day we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of America.

So there’s nothing more geeky or appropriate than to read the text of the patent filing for the Statue of Liberty:

Specification forming part of Design No. 11,028, dated February 18, 1879; application filed January 2, 1879.

[Term of patent 14 years.]

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, AUGUSTE BARTHOLDI, of Paris, in the Republic of France, have originated and produced a Design of a Monumental Statue, representing “Liberty enlightening the world,” being intended as a commemorative monument of the independence of the United States; and I hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and exacrt description of the same, reference being had to the accompanying illustration, which I submit as part of this specification.

The statue is that of a female figure standing erect upon a pedestal or block, the body being thrown slightly over to the left, so as to gravitate upon the left leg, the whole figure being thus in equilibrium, and symmetrically arranged with respect to a perpendicular line or axis passing through the head and left foot. The right leg, with its lower limb thrown back, is bent, resting upon the bent toe, thus giving grace to the general attitude of the figure. The body is clothed in the classical drapery, being a stola, or mantle gathered in upon the left shoulder and thrown over the skirt or tunic or under-garment, which drops in voluminous folds upon the feet. The right arm is thrown up and stretched out, with a flamboyant torch grasped in the hand. The flame of the torch is thus held high up above the figure. The arm is nude; the drapery of the sleeve is dropping down upon the shoulder in voluminous folds. In the left arm, which is falling against the body, is held a tablet, upon which is inscribed “4th July, 1776.” This tablet is made to rest against the side of the body, above the hip, and so as to occupy an inclined position with relation thereto, exhibiting the inscription. The left hand clasps the tablet so as to bring the four fingers onto the face thereof. The head, with its classical, yet severe and calm, features, is surmounted by a crown or diadem, from which radiate divergingly seven rays, tapering from the crown, and representing a halo. The feet are bare and sandal-strapped.

This design may be carried out in any manner known to the glyphic art in the form of a statue or statuette, or in alto-relievo or bass-relief, in metal, stone, terra-cotta, plaster-of-paris, or other plastic composition. It may also be carried out pictorially in print from engravings on metal, wood, or stone, or by photographing or otherwise.

What I claim my invention is —

The herein-described design of a statue representing Liberty enlightening the world, the same consisting, essentially, of the draped female figure, with one arm upraised, bearing a torch, while the other holds an inscribed tablet, and having upon the head a diadem, substantially as set forth.

In testimony whereof I have signed this specification in the presence of two subscribing witnesses.



C. Terinier

The bad news for Apple: the iPad is unpatentable. See? There’s prior art on this whole “device, tablet-style, surface of which used for the communication or presenentation of data of an informational, reference, or artistic nature.”

The good news: the patent expired over a hundred years ago. So they don’t need to worry about Bartholdi’s heirs seeking an injunction against the iPad’s sale.

iCloud and App Store Transition: Yojimbo

Today, Bare Bones Software posted an advisory to educate the users of Yojimbo (BB’s fab personal data archiver and organizer) about the transition from MobileMe to iCloud:

As one of the very first developers to adopt MobileMe for synchronization, we’re accustomed to working closely with Apple to address the complexities involved. iCloud represents a radical change in how data synchronization operates; it’s unfortunately not just a switch that developers can throw.

It’s easy for us all to think “Apple has this new iCloud service that’s way, way better than MobileMe. This is going to be great!” But a lot of developers are really feeling the pain. Products that were working just fine are now broken. Time, money, and resources that developers could be investing in making a great product even better must instead be spent just to keep their software working.

“So what’s the big deal?” you might wonder. “An app used to rely on MobileMe…now it has to use iCloud. iCloud is much better than MobileMe. Developers should quit whining, grit their teeth, and get on with it.”

They can’t. It’s horribly like a home renovation.

(And anybody who’s ever renovated a home is now shuddering.)

It’s not as easy as swapping the old cast-iron tub in the master bath for a whirlpool spa. You need to change the flooring so it’ll support the new tub. New pipes need to come in to feed it. The old water heater isn’t big enough for the new tub. You’ll need a new one of those, too. You hire a plumber to upgrade the house’s 50-year-old water service…

…And oh, ****. He can’t do the work without a construction permit. You go to your Town Hall. An inspector tells you that the plumbing in your 50-year-old house isn’t up to code, and your entire water service has to be upgraded. Your plumbing is perfectly safe mind you…it’s just that since the system was installed, the town chose to change their definition of “safe.”

See? All you wanted to do was take a bath with your spouse, like in that super-hot scene between Kevin Costner’s and Susan Sarandon’s butt-doubles in “Bull Durham.” And now, here you are, fighting a massive bureaucracy just so that you can continue to have running water in your house.

That’s what many Mac developers are dealing with right now. An app does syncing through MobileMe. Now, it needs to do it through iCloud. Fine. But Apple won’t let an app use iCloud unless it’s sold in the App Store. Fine. But Apple won’t approve an app for the App Store unless it’s sandboxed. And for many developers, sandboxing means that half of their app’s features will either no longer work at all, or will need to be dumbed way, way down. Selling your app there also means being cut off from any kind of simple and direct line of communication with your users.

The knock-forward list of problems here is a long one. My initial “what’s the harm?” reaction to the App Store’s requirements was based on the idea that a developer could still sell their apps outside of the Store if he or she wanted to. My attitude has changed. iCloud is just one example of a larger (and kind of nasty) problem: Apple is making the newest and most desirable features of the OS exclusively available to App Store software. How does that encourage developers to create the best apps possible?

No wonder so many developers are feeling a little bit smacked around by Apple. I wouldn’t necessarily read that conclusion into Bare Bones’ update page, of course. But that’s the impression I get from so many developers of so many popular apps. They’ve been sharing some profoundly sad stories with me over the past year. Yes, I’ve heard the phrase “that’s it; I’m out” at least once.

This is bad hoodoo. Very, very bad hoodoo. It doesn’t mean that MacOS is doomed. But it means that many apps aren’t going to be as good as they can possibly be. I worry that many of the best and most Mac developers are going to start to ask themselves if this is all worth it.

A Message To The Intangible Spirit Of Aperture

Dear Aperture, An App That I Love:

When my WiFi is misbehaving, you keep interrupting my work in other apps to report that you’re having trouble connecting to MobileMe. I have never so much as implied that I have any interest in MobileMe galleries. Yet you do this several times an hour.

When you get into this sort of fugue, you’re like a waiter who keeps interrupting my meal and my conversation every ten minutes to tell me that if I was thinking about ordering the broccoli custard for dessert, alas, the kitchen has run out.

This waiter will still receive a gratuity. He is doing the wrong thing, but I appreciate it’s coming from his drive to provide excellent service. Still: 15%, tops.

Just FYI. You do know that in a few weeks’ time, there will be no MobileMe to connect to?

[Edited to add: Yes, darlings, I know how to remove MobileMe from Aperture’s radar. I just think it’s odd that the default position of this app is to attempt to maintain a connection to a service that the user hasn’t expressed any interest in, and isn’t using.]

Retina MacBook Pro Screen Pageant

In response to a Very Sensible Request From A Fellow On Twitter, here’s a series of screenshots that shows off the Retina MacBook’s five screen settings.

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.10.31 PM align=

(Click to get the full-rez image from Flickr.)

Here’s the default/”Best” setting. It approximates the real estate of a conventional 15″ MacBook Pro. Lovely.

Note the difference between Retina and non-Retina-optimization. Safari is optimized; the text is crisp and gorgeous. Pages isn’t; if you look carefully, you can see the anti-aliasing of low-res text.

Similarly, compare the Aperture thumbnail window with the doggie in the Safari window. Aperture is optimized; you can see lots of detail in Mr. Squirrel’s fur. The website serves a conventional web-ready image; you can’t see much detail in Doggie’s nose.

Onward to the…hey, is Apple saying that all of these other settings are “Worse”? What the hell, man?!?



Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.12.38 PM

This is the “Larger Text” setting, for folks who have poor vision or are simply nostalgic for 2001-era laptops. It mimics a 1024×640 display.

Aha! Note that the OS scales the text to the correct height relative to the size of the screen BUT it’s still rendered at 220 ppi. At least in the optimized apps. The text in Pages still looks a bit trashy.

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.11.03 PM

The equivalent of 1280×800.

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.09.33 PM

1680-ish by 1050-ish.

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.09.16 PM

And if you don’t care so much about The Stunning Retina-Quality Graphics and you just want to have the largest desktop you can get, there’s the final “Screenus Maximus” mode: 1920×1200.

Note that this is still under the Retina MacBook’s maximum true resolution of 2880 by 1800. So optimized apps will always, always, always look better than non-optimized ones.

Yes, I see a hand raised at the back?

Ah. Well, I don’t actually have a projector here in the office. But I plugged it into the next best thing: a monitor that supports 1920×1080 resolution. I hooked it up via VGA, the way you’ll probably do it in a conference room.

Screen Shot 2012-06-15 at 3.47.54 PM

As soon as the Retina MacBook senses that it’s been plugged into an external display, it dispenses with the “I know this is a Retina display”-optimized version of the “Displays” system pref box and returns to what you’d see on a conventional Mac.

There are two “Figure it out for me” settings: tell the Mac to use the optimal Retina layout (similar to the “Best” size/setting), or do what the screen thinks is best, or do what the Mac thinks is best. Or, you can click the “Scaled” option and force a certain resolution. Before I made a choice, the screen auto-synced to its maximum resolution. No problems.

How’s it look? Pretty good. My Samsung monitor has a lower maximum resolution than the Retina MacBook — cripes, don’t they all? — but even in “Best for Retina Display” mode I could easily tell the difference between crisp Safari text and the aliased Pages text.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display: Retina on Retina

Screenshot of Aperture on Retina Mac display...you can see me reflected in the doggie's eye.

This mini-review on the Sun-Times site amounts to an outline of the full review I’ll be posting on Monday. It’s the best Mac Apple’s ever made. Which isn’t to say it’s for everyone. And I said in the review that most Mac users don’t care enough about onboard Ethernet and future expandability that it’s a debilitating issue. Which isn’t to say that those shouldn’t be considered faults. But yes, if my editor and I are eager to get something of value up on the site and in print before the week is out, and I try to put everything in 600 words, then this is a review I can stand behind.

Now I’m playing with the new edition of Aperture. This is the sort of app that underscores the real point of the Retina Mac display. The purpose of the 220 ppi screen isn’t to show more pixels. It’s to show more information. Photo work is terrific. Thumbnails are so dense that you feel like you can truly pick out the winners in a sequence of photos without having to maximize each and every one of them individually.

It’s so good that yup, when you do go maximum, it’s immediately clear that the little shadow inside a dog’s eye is actually a self-portrait of the photographer. Click and look closely…you can see my hat and everything.

Anyway. Tune back in on Monday for greater verbosity.

Retina MacBook Pro – Five First Impressions

I had to get up way before 10 AM to make sure I was available to sign for the package, but boy, was it worth it! My review unit of the new retina MacBook arrived today.

A full review will appear in the Sun-Times shortly. But here are an arbitrary five first impressions:

  • The first thing I noticed was how much lighter it felt than the 15″ MacBook Pro I bought last year. I have plenty of experience toting that thing around the house and it truly feels like what my MacBook would weigh if it had no screen.
  • It doesn’t feel as slim or tiny as you might think. It’s still a full-sized 15″ notebook, after all. If the new MacBook were just as thick as the old one, I could have handled that without losing my **** over it, is that I’m saying.
  • No hardware battery indicator. Bummer. As I always do when I unbox loaner hardware, I parsed the question “Do I need to hook this up to AC for a few hours, or can I start rock-and-rolling with it right away?” Instinctively I looked for a little button on the side and a line of dots.
  • It’s been a while since I set up a brand-new Mac. I was surprised that I needed to enter my AppleID credentials so many times in the first ten minutes. It feels like this should be a keynote demo that starts with Craig Federighi entering in an ID and a password, waiting for three beats, and then saying “…Boom. Done.”
  • The Retina display has a subtle initial impact. It looks exactly like my 15″ display…just, better. The first thing I really noticed was that the familiar tuxedo icon representing the setup wizard had a tabbed collar and onyx shirt studs. Subtle but impressive. For a dramatic example of the improvement, start browsing the web. Bitmapped images (rendered at traditional pixel density) look like utter trash alongside the Retina-quality text that flows around it. Naturally, the images on Apple.com are juiced for Retina.

More later.

[Later: based on some reactions on Twitter from web developers who read my “utter trash” observation and then yanked that length of flexible ducting out of the laundry room and headed out to the garage with it, along with their car keys and a hastily-scrawled not, I should probably clarify what I meant. I was just speaking casually. It’s more accurate to say that whereas the improvement in display resolution isn’t immediately obvious in a Finder window, it’s pretty glaring in a webpage. It’s a bit like how you thought your vision was perfectly fine until you got an eye exam and realized just how many more lines of the eye chart there were.

I do wonder how the arrival of this new MacBook is going to effect web design. Designers want things to look great. Are they going to build Retina-optimized and non-Retina-optimized versions of everything they publish? I dunno. But I hope that any designer clever enough to mprove their site with higher-density graphics will also be clever enough not to push those high-bandwidth images to hardware that can’t do anything productive with them.]

Ports Matter

I love my Mac and I’m 95% sure that in 2013 or 2014 my next notebook will run MacOS and not the another OS that’s currently about nine times more popular. You can call it “lock in” if you want, but as a tech writer who gets to try out everything on the market, I’m still 100% sure that I couldn’t do what I do nearly as well if I weren’t working with a Mac laptop, an iPad, and an iPhone.

Let’s not shy away from the most obvious and annoying downside, though. When you choose MacOS, you know that you aren’t going to get the hardware you want. You’re going to settle for the hardware that comes closest, selected from a very narrow range.

Buying Apple hardware is often like shopping at a mall.

Good Lord, what a project it was to buy a new pair of eyeglass frames a couple of years ago. It started off as a casual errand and turned into a multi-city investigation. Every store I entered stocked one and only one basic style: the kind where the frames are slightly squashed. There was some variation. You could get the slightly squashed frames in metal, or colored plastic. But if you’re convinced that tiny skinny frames make your big stupid head look bigger and stupider, no mall optical store wants to take your money.

And what a late-life revelation it was to learn that I’d been buying the wrong-sized sneakers all my life! I’d always shopped in big stores — usually mall sporting goods stores — and I was always forced to choose between shoes that were Too Snug But They’ll Stretch With Wear or Too Big But I’ll Add A Thick Insole So They’ll Fit Better. One year, I happened to shop at a New Balance outlet store, which stocked every width in between those two sizes. Whoosh! Perfect fit, and now my $100 shoes wear out through the soles after two or three years instead of bursting from the sides after one..

The eyeglass shop doesn’t care if I walk in and point excitedly at a pair of frames and shout “Those are perfect! Exactly what I came in for!” Just as the shoe store knows that if I need sneaks, I need sneaks, and if I don’t find a pair that fit perfectly I’ll probably still buy something that’s almost right. Every square foot of a mall store is expensive and it has to earn, earn, earn. They can’t afford to stock every version or variation of a product if they think they can get a customer to settle. Good business involves figuring out what 80% of all customers nationwide are willing to settle for. It’s not good customer service, but whatever.

I didn’t feel like the other shoe stores had ripped me off, mind you. I just wasn’t even aware that there were other options. And when I did, that was the last time I ever shopped at a big chain store. My eyeglasses, too, are special-orders via Amazon or eBay. What makes the 80% happy is a perfectly fine product; it just isn’t for me.

It isn’t often that I strongly disagree with Mr. Gruber. It’s rarer still when I disagree and I feel like I can say something more interesting than “What he said, only not.” Yeah, I don’t really understand his negative reaction to the concept of a modern Windows notebook with a standard VGA port on it.

From a followup post:

If PC makers wait until there are no VGA projectors in use before they stop putting VGA ports on laptops, they’ve waited too long. Just copy Apple: get rid of the antiquated port, make thinner computers, and sell $20 adaptors for those who need them.

My stumbling points:

1) Everybody loves a standard. That’s why they’re called “standards” (cf Mickey Bergman, “Heist”).

I give lots and lots of talks all over the world every year. With only one exception, when I’ve arrived in the room to test my equipment I’ve found a VGA cable gaffer-taped to the podium. That sure doesn’t sound like an “antiquated” standard to me.

VGA isn’t modern by any stretch. It does, however, have the one feature that makes a standard valuable: it’s everywhere and it works. If a conference or a university tells me that the hall is set up for VGA, my problems are solved. If they say “It’s HDMI” then I have to ask what kind of a connector it is, and then I might have to go out and buy it, and then I have to make sure I don’t forget to bring this extra cable with me.

And God help me if they say “We’re using a wireless video device. You just have to install a piece of software to make it work. You’re running Windows 7 on your MacBook, right?” Wireless projection is very much of the 21st-century but that’s cold comfort when I’m walking through an hourlong presentation with makeshift shadow puppets.

2) It’s cheesy to keep soaking a customer for added accessories.

It’s just bad. Particularly on a laptop that the consumer’s already spending $1500-$2000 on. A MacBook is hardly a budget-priced item. If a basic feature isn’t onboard, just give the customer the damned dongle instead of making them race back to the store 30 minutes before closing and then charging them $30.

3) Dongles stink.

Sometimes they’re necessary evils, as when a device is too slim to accommodate the right plug and when slimness is important to the product you’re making.

But they’re never, ever, ever a good idea. They exist to trip people up. In an ideal world, I’d always remember to pack a video dongle in that Little Bag Of Cables And Chargers when I leave the house to go and give a talk. I would never walk out of the hotel and head to the speaking venue without making sure the dongle was in my laptop bag.

This is a world in which $200,000,000 was spent to make a movie based on the board game “Battleship.” Does this look like a perfect world?

A case in point: during my trip to Ireland, my iPad was my sole computer. I packed my Airport Express, just in case the only Internet access in my room was Ethernet. I sure didn’t consider that a hassle: I wouldn’t have expected a device like the iPad to have Ethernet.

Fortunately, the WiFi in my hotel room was great. I didn’t need the Airport. This was also fortunate for another speaker, whose MacBook Air couldn’t find the hotel WiFi for love or whiskey. I lent him the Airport and saved him the loss of a whole work night and the hassle of scouring the streets of Dublin for a USB Ethernet dongle the next day.

Dongles. STINK.

4) “Ideologically Sound” is not a feature.

“We decided not to include that in the product.”


“Because in our vision of the future, that feature will one day be unnecessary.”

No, no, no.

When you’re trying to sell me something and I ask you why your expensive product can’t do something that I (and most people, I think) would expect it to do, don’t sigh and tent your fingers and start spouting design philosophy. That’s just arrogance. Tell me why this decision makes your product better. Tell me how it adds value. Tell me how this decision makes my life better.

If you can’t do any of those things, then you admit that you have no answer.

The MacBook Air is a special case, of course. It’s too thin to accept a standard VGA or Ethernet connector. Fine. Tell me “We wanted to make the Air as easy to carry around as possible. It’s too thin for a standard connector.” That’s a perfectly acceptable response. Just don’t even try to convince me that I’m silly for seeing “onboard VGA and Ethernet” as desirable features. Hundreds of podiums and Ethernet-only hotel rooms beg to differ with you.

5) The advantage of the PC marketplace is its diversity.

Here we finally get back to the “Mall store” frustration. Apple’s lack of options isn’t arrogance. Mostly, it’s simple, sensible business math. They’re one company and they have to manufacture every computer that runs MacOS. They sure can’t afford to build dozens of different models that cater to every need, and keep them all in inventory.

But the PC marketplace is different. Write up a list of every feature you’d like your new notebook to have. Chances are excellent that you’ll be able to find a computer that fits almost that entire description…and maybe even at the price you can afford to pay.

Is the wide variety of options and prices confusing to consumers? Maybe, sure. It’s their money, though. Isn’t it better that they can spend it on the notebook that best matches their needs? Larger screen, smaller screen. Dirt-cheap with a weak AMD CPU, mid-priced with Ivy Bridge. I’m checking out Samsung’s latest Series 5 notebooks and these are all options just within that one model. The one I have here is built quite solidly, and while it’s not as thin as an 11″ MacBook Air, it does feature a larger screen plus twice as much SSD storage at the same price. As well as onboard HDMI out and Gigabit Ethernet. Yes, it’s a dongle-free zone.

PCs offer choices. Want to pay extra for an ultra-slim, metal-clad notebook? You’re covered. Want to spend less money on something that’s slightly less sexy but is still thin and well-made? Covered. Don’t want to travel with a bag full of accessory connectors? Covered. Want something more akin to “a transportable desktop PC” than a sleek notebook? Take your pick.

PC makers are following the lead of consumers — not Apple — by making thinner notebooks. It’s actually not that easy to find a popular Windows notebook with onboard VGA. But for those customers who like that, the hardware is out there. They can get the laptop they want, not the laptop that they have to settle for.

That’s a good thing. I don’t think I’d take that as a sign that any Windows manufacturer is stubbornly holding on to the past.

Last year, my 2008-design MacBook Pro reached end-of-life and I bought myself a new 15″ MacBook Pro. Lord, how I was tempted by the Air. I had an Apple loaner for a month or two and that’s all the convincing that you need if you spend only part of your work time at a desk. After lots of deep breaths — and conversations in my head in which the “con” side of the argument was voiced by my father — I felt that the 13″ screen, the limited SSD storage, and the lack of onboard Ethernet would drive me nuts in day-to-day use. I get way more bang for my buck with the more conventional Pro.

I was little worried about what Apple was going to announce at WWDC. Would they make the MacBook Pro slightly thinner? Would it be just thin enough that they’ll say “Oh, well, we dropped Ethernet. It’s a wireless world out there. If you really need it, just buy a dongle”?

This is another thing that kind of gets me going. “Thin” is definitely a feature in notebooks, and not least because it usually means “light.” The difference between traveling with a 13″ MacBook Pro and a 13″ Air is like night and day, whether you’re popping out to Panera for a few hours or off to a conference on another continent for a whole week.

While “thin” is a feature, “thinner” isn’t. Not always. When you’re comparing a conventional notebook to an Air, yes, that’s absolutely a great feature. But I’ve been examining my MacBook Pro since the announcement of the next-gen MacBook and (while my review unit makes its way here) I’m wondering just how much more convenient this marginally-thinner new model would be. I’ve never once been in a position where I’m about to leave for the airport and I still need to slide a copy of People Magazine in my laptop bag but…rgh…mmph…this darn old-fashioned MacBook Pro is just too darn thick…

So I was pretty relieved to learn that Apple’s new thinner design would expand the MacBook Pro line instead of replacing it. It’s just not worth it to drop an Ethernet port solely on the ideological principle that notebooks should always, always, always be made thinner.

[Added, based on early comments: I’m not saying that all notebooks should have VGA and Ethernet. My point is that the presence of those features shouldn’t be taken as a sign that a company isn’t thinking. There are people out there willing to pay money for a notebook with onboard VGA. Sony is willing to take their money. Simple. “We included this feature because it’s useful and people want it” isn’t something that any company should be ashamed of, or criticized for.

What I admire most about the Windows ecosystem is that if feature (x) is important to you, you can usually find hardware that supports it. You don’t need to settle quite as often as you do as a Mac user.]

The iPhone: Five years later… | Macworld

The memory that sticks with me, in fact, is that I was temporarily dumbstruck by the sheer feel of the device. I was testing it while sitting with a couple of Apple executives as well as an Apple PR handler. The idea was that I could try out the device while also asking them questions. As I used the iPhone, I found it very difficult to speak questions or even listen to the answers. The iPhone was so unlike anything I’d ever handled.

The iPhone: Five years later… | Macworld.

I had to link to my pal Jason Snell’s reminiscence about his first hands-on experience with the iPhone. It was so very familiar. I probably had my own briefing on the same day. I was a room with a VP, a senior executive, and a PR person. I had about a half an hour or maybe 45 minutes, tops, to ask as many questions as I could about a device that I knew nothing about until that morning. So what was the first thing I said after they handed me the iPhone?

Well, I said “Go help yourself to a cookie,” nodding towards the catering table. “I wanna play with this for a while.”

Yes. I don’t regret it, either. I had been blown away by Steve Jobs’ demo. I didn’t want to be led or coached. I wanted to see if I could make it do absolutely everything I wanted it to just by poking around with it.

It lived up to every expectation. Nothing — nothing — about the iPhone or the way it worked was in any way similar to anything else I’d ever used. Every tap and swipe and pinch and zoom was accompanied by the exhilaration of discovery and of new experiences. And the only time I couldn’t get something to work was when I launched the Notes app. None of its buttons responded. I finally asked for help…and was told that what I had been trying to use was just an image file taking the place of an app that wasn’t on the device yet.

I’ll never, ever get bored with my job. Every now and again, a device like the iPhone comes along. Great, groundbreaking technology provokes a physiological response: a tingling at the base of my neck. When a thing sets off my Spidey-Sense like that it means This is effing brilliant. I’ve never seen anything like it, but I’m certain that this marks a real moment of history.

Devices like the iPhone come along rarely. In between, I look at hundreds of phones and laptops and social networks and generic apps and gadgets which are each about 80% interchangeable with anything else in their product category. I have to check all of these things out. It’s part of the job. I keep right on looking and it’s for the same reason why movie critics keep coming to the screening room day after day even they know damned well that the first film of the day is going to be the second sequel to a movie based on an 80’s TV show: we love what we do and when we find something special, we feel like that love’s being returned.

Oh, and Jason was 100% right on another point. Man, oh, man…as someone who had actually had substantial hands-on time with a working iPhone, there were a few months in 2007 when paying for your own meals and drinks was purely optional. Everybody wanted to hear the story, everybody wanted to ask questions and hear more.

It was just like that scene from “Bull Durham,” only more so.

“Yeah, I used an iPhone once. It was the best 37 minutes of my life…”

Steve Jobs

My iPhone slid out of my shirt pocket a few months ago and fell straight onto concrete. I was luckier than some: the only damage was a shattered back panel. I slapped a strip of black gaffers tape over it to keep it intact. I knew that I could take it to any Apple Store and have the back replaced for just $29, but I carried it around like that anyway.

I figured it was my punishment for not taking care of my toys.

I finally went into a Store today to get it fixed.

I went to Apple.com and reserved a time for my visit. When I arrived, I was greeted at the entrance. The place was packed, even though it was the middle of a random Wednesday afternoon. People were playing with every demo unit on display.

For all of the crowding, this mall Apple Store was still a pleasant place to be. It was clean and well-lit, and the staff were all clean, kind, and patient.

I made my way to the Genius Bar at the back. I was greeted a second time by an employee whose job was simply to act as a welcomer, concierge, and facilitator. He invited me to take a seat while I waited for my appointment. I was early.

I sat in a large area reserved for one-on-one training. A dozen or more people were learning how to use their Apple hardware. Some, I reckoned, were doing things with computers that they’ve never done before.

Me, I took out my iPad. I was on the store’s open WiFi in an instant. I wrote a few emails.

Five minutes before my scheduled time, a Genius walked up to where I was sitting. The broken glass was a simple problem and he explained that they could fix it up in just ten or fifteen minutes. He tapped away at an iPhone that had been equipped as a logging system for work orders and then he walked away with my phone.

I looked around. I saw a man carrying in an iMac wrapped in a towel, the way you’d carry a sick and beloved dog into the vet.

I saw a child who couldn’t have been more than four years old playing with an iMac that had been set up at a table low enough for four-year-old children to sit at. She was playing a word game of some sort. Presently, a parent came by and handed the girl what I presumed to be the child’s own white iPad 2, fresh from servicing. I sure didn’t think that this 30-ish woman had put Dora stickers on her own iPad.

The child stopped just short of hugging the iPad like a doll, but she was clearly very pleased to have it back again. She held it and woke it up and tapped through to her favorite apps. Satisfied — and at the urging of her mother — she then tucked it under her arm in a maternal way and held her mother’s hand as they walked out.

I spied another store employee with a full-sleeve tattoo in progress. Her forearm was complete but a koi that splashed down from her elbow had only been outlined. The traditional staff uniform is a tee shirt (in the color du jour). Staffers are welcome to throw something on underneath it. She obviously felt comfortable enough in this environment to show off her tattoos.

Another Apple employee approached me, with my repaired phone. I hadn’t budged from that table since I walked in and sat down. $29 plus tax for the repair. His iPhone card scanner didn’t work for some reason but he didn’t let his annoyance show. After two swipes, he apologized sheepishly and led me to the store’s POS terminal. Zip, tap, a few pleasantries, and it was all taken care of.

Let me extract elements from that story:

1) Staff acknowledging people as human beings, and with courtesy.

2) A pleasant, beautiful space to be in, even if the store wasn’t a “landmark” property.

3) People learning things.

4) People who don’t simply own and tolerate their computers, but who feel a real emotional connection to them.

5) People who live lives that are a bit out of the mainstream, in a space where they feel comfortable being who they are.

6) Kids who see the most advanced technology in the world as just another window through which they perceive the world.

7) The worst thing that can happen in a relationship between a manufacturer and a customer — a broken product — being handled quickly, courteously, efficiently…and affordably.

Steve Jobs was correctly known as the most productively hands-on CEO in technology or maybe even any other industry. The Apple Stores were a particular obsession. If you walked in and discovered that the table of hard drives had become a table of headphones and the hard drives were now on the third shelf of the first bank of product shelves, it was probably because of something Steve decided earlier in the week.

Steve is dead. But you walk into an Apple Store and you see all the reasons why he was such a phenomenal CEO, and why so many people feel the way I do tonight.