Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
If you own an Apple device and are ‘environmentally conscious,’ an October 16 story in Wired entitled Greenwashing the Retina MacBook Pro may be of interest to you. Essentially, the article says that despite this computer’s certification as an EPEAT Gold device, the spirit of the certification is questionable. One reason for concern is that Apple markets itself as a ‘green’ company, and yet it no longer registers its devices with EPEAT.
Environmental concerns may be a bit abstract for most consumers, but this erosion of Apple’s ‘green’ ethos reflects some apparent changes in design philosophy within Apple that have an impact on all Apple users. It points to a philosophy of planned obsolescence and disposability, which Apple’s service and product life-cycle practices serve to reinforce.
Apple’s current generations of mobile phones and media players are sealed and not designed for disassembly or maintenance by their users. As the EPEAT situation shows, Apple has extended this design philosophy to the latest Retina MacBook Pros. As a result, most Apple hardware products are no longer ‘user upgradeable.’ This lowers the cost of manufacturing, and provides incentive (coercion?) for consumers to buy an AppleCare service agreement. So it’s all good for Apple.
But it’s not good for consumers. Let me give you an example of the impact on this philosophy on an Apple user: me.
I bought a fourth-generation iPod Touch – new – in 2011 and had it until a few months ago. After owning the device for about 14 months – just a couple of months beyond the basic product warranty period – it suddenly stopped working. The reason was that the battery had expanded, forcing the case open; and making the touch interface useless. Since I hadn’t bought an AppleCare extended warranty (Why? I don’t know), it would have cost so much to repair the device that repair made little sense. Apple applied its salvage value to my purchase of a new iPod. In effect, this cost me more than $300 – between the cost of the original device and the replacement.
AppleCare for laptop computers runs out at the end of Year 3. Users have three choices at the end of that period: 1) buy a third-party warranty, 2) take the risk and fly without a service agreement, or, 3) sell or trade in your machine for a newer model – revenue-assurance for Apple.
This hardware situation is bad enough, but also, each subsequent release of MacOS X won’t run on devices that are more than a few years old, or at best, renders software that’s more than a few releases old obsolete. The net effect is that Apple has quietly and incrementally created a new kind of “lock-in,” and worse, has become less pro-active in telling anyone about it. I’m concerned that my second-generation iPad will eventually follow this pattern as well.
It’s not that Apple hasn’t created lock-in situations before, but in the past, Apple has been much more open with its customers and partners than it is now. Some Apple history shows how.
In the early 1990s, Apple went from Motorola 68000-family microprocessor chips to Motorola/IBM PowerPC chips, which prompted developers and users to upgrade their software across the board or be left behind. I worked for an Apple software developer (Aldus, which was acquired by Adobe) in the 1990s and can attest that the changeover was well orchestrated. Apple did a good job selling this change as being a good thing.
In 2001, Apple released MacOS X (Mac OS Ten), a fundamental change to the Mac operating system. MacOS X was a consolidation of several technologies that were developed by Apple and NeXT (a Steve Jobs company that Mr. Jobs sold back to Apple) over the course of the 1990s. Again, Apple wisely built a bridge from old to new by maintaining a way for users to run earlier versions of MacOS for several years.
In 2006, Apple released its first Intel-based computers, replacing the Motorola/IBM PowerPC. Yet again, Apple bridged the old and the new; this time by providing PowerPC emulation on the Intel processor platform for several years, until 2010.
But sometime between then and now, it seems that something has changed within Apple, and it’s having a direct impact on users. I don’t like what I see, and I hope that the good ship Apple will make some course corrections.
Apple has become (on and off) the most valuable company in the world, and is hugely profitable. It has achieved this status in no small part through the loyalty of its customers, many of whom stuck with Apple through some painful times. I was an Apple dealer before some of the readers of this blog were alive – starting in 1981 – and I have owned Apple products since 1984.
I am of the opinion that Apple owes us something in return for this loyalty. By providing easy-to-use products that fit (and in some cases, have created) the modern digital lifestyle, Apple does go a long way to keep up its end of this bargain. But Apple has go the rest of the way – as it once did – by returning to its earlier and more consumer-friendly practices relating to software obsolescence, hardware accessibility, and environmentalism.
Apple can certainly afford to do so.
Steve Jobs died yesterday. Anyone who has had even a mere brush with technology over the past 35 years can thank him. He fundamentally changed the way that many things work in the world, from publishing to personal communication, and many many things in between.
An excerpt from Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
He was an inspiration for us all.
On August 24th, 2011, Steve Jobs announced his resignation as CEO of Apple, although, at his request, he was quickly elected Chairman. On August 25th, The New York Times published an article listing Mr Jobs’ 313 patents. They are shown as thumbnail images of the inventions, and clicking on each one brings up the individual patent filing document. Nice work, New York Times.
The 30-year-old “PC vs Apple” war has gotten as nasty as American politics of late, as boomer-age computer geeks transition from vitality to curmudgeondom. They should take a minute, step back, and think about the impact that Apple and Mr Jobs have had. Not just on computing but on society. No, I don’t think that’s hyperbole.
Interacting with a computer would have been very different, had Apple not commercialized Xerox’ windows-and-mouse user interface. Smartphones would probably still be limited to corporate enterprises. There wouldn’t be Blackberrys without Apple’s Newton, which – being 3 years ahead of the Palm Pilot – failed for being ahead of its time. People wouldn’t be watching TV on tablets.
We’d likely have MP3 players and perhaps even a media content ecosystem resembling iTunes, but it probably still wouldn’t have the media industry’s blessing and piracy would probably still be rampant. Publishing would not have been desktop until years later. Just as Twitter was part of the Arab Spring this year, desktop publishing was part of the fall of the Soviet Union; allowing Boris Yeltsin to circumvent the state propaganda apparatus – 2 years before the Web was even proposed. You’d still be getting floppies in the mail from AOL, because we’d probably still be using them. Plus, everything would still be as difficult to use as Windows. Think about that.
On January 22nd, 1984, Apple Computer ran a TV ad during the Superbowl that became instantly famous and changed advertising.
The end of an era.
[ Postscript: A Windows 7 user in my household installed a new toolbar in Internet Explorer the other day, which carried something nasty that crashed the laptop fatally. Fortunately I had run a backup of this computer in July. After reinstalling Windows, the suspect toolbar had somehow reappeared in the IE browser and neither Firefox and AVG antivirus would reinstall, nor would the firewall activate. A waste of an evening, and for what? Over the course of many Macs since the 80s, I have NEVER had a virus. Kaspersky found about 12 on my Mac last week but they were all in the Windows 7 virtual machine that I sometimes use. What does this have to do with Steve Jobs, you might ask? Well, his company has surely saved me countless hours not having to scour my Mac for ka-ka-ware every time I start the thing. I guess that makes me a clueless Mac fanboi. ]