After a few years of promising and then failing to deliver its industrial-strength operating system, Apple changed its tack. First, there was a Public Beta version in September of 2000 to prove Mac OS X was for real, and then it clamped down. New versions are now demonstrated and then seeded to developers strictly to give them a chance to check their products for compatibility, but the rest of the Mac universe has to wait for the final release.
All right, it’s true that some developers don’t take the nondisclosure agreements they sign to gain access to prerelease builds very seriously, and walk, or perhaps run to the nearest available Mac rumor site to spill the beans. Others can’t wait to post a pirated copy on an illegal software site. But that’s really beside the point. I really want to compare Apple’s marketing approach with that of Microsoft.
Microsoft’s strategy is to make big and very public promises early on, and perhaps even demonstrate a rough and ready early development version. A shipping date may even be announced, but don’t take that, or the final feature laundry list, very seriously. They just want to get your attention. Maybe you’re contemplating a switch to the Mac OS or Linux, but now you sit up and take notice.
The next step of Microsoft’s marketing cycle is to actually release a beta version of its new operating system. It may be late, and maybe the feature set isn’t quite as rich as originally promised, but now here’s a real product that will eventually end up in PC boxes worldwide. At some point, regular people like you and I can actually buy a copy of an early release version and use it to screw up our personal computers. Why let software developers have all the fun? So what if things don’t quite work as advertised, and you can’t get your printer or scanner to work. You’re part of the process now and your ego is filled with pride.
Even better, you can shout your experiences to the world. Microsoft is not going to send anyone to your home to break your legs or summon you to court if you dare talk about its beta operating system. Tech journalists will happily review the beta release without fear of legal repercussions.
So what does this have to do with Apple? Well, I understand why it won’t tell us about a new Mac or iPod until it’s ready to ship. Why give the competition any advantage, especially when it comes to the hottest selling digital music player on the planet? But its operating system is a different entity. It cannot keep the details secret until the last minute, because developers need a reasonable amount of time to work with the beta version.
Now, from Apple’s point of view, maybe it doesn’t have to make a so-called “preview” version of its new operating system available to anyone except developers under confidentiality agreements. The Mac OS X Public Beta was a unique situation, where Apple’s corporate credibility was on the line and it had to take extraordinary measures. We know now that Mac OS X is a real, vital product and that new versions will continue to appear on schedule.
There are also dangers in letting just anyone obtain a beta version of an operating system. Even if the worst known bugs are fixed before it goes to a wider release, it isn’t something to take casually. You can’t just install it on any old Mac and get back to work, because unexpected things could go wrong. An application crash or the inability to print or import pictures from a memory card may represent a small portion of your potential misery. You could lose data, maybe forced to erase your hard drive and start over. It’s not a plaything.
However, with appropriately-worded legal disclaimers, maybe Apple should consider the possibility of a Public Beta version of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard anyway. Why? Well, it’s expected to appear right in the middle of the great transition to Intel processors. The new MacIntels will apparently be able to run both the Mac OS and Windows, and Apple will be playing in a new sandbox where such things are expected. Businesses may very well buy those new Macs because of their ability to run both operating systems at full native speed, and they’ll expect early exposure, just as they get under Windows.
I suppose they could just pay those hefty annual fees and sign up for Apple’s Select or Premier developer programs, and get the beta software they want. They will be prohibited from talking about it, of course, but at least they’ll get the early access they expect while protecting Apple’s interests.
But I still think a Leopard Public Beta might not be a bad idea, particularly if it comes while Microsoft’s marketing muscle is fully flexed to make sure that only Windows Vista captures the public’s imagination. What do you think?
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- The iMac SSD Transplant Report It's quite certain that the designers of recent iMacs didn't consider what might be required if you wanted to change anything more than RAM. And on the 21.5-inch version, you can't even do that. So this forces you to load up such Macs on Apple's build-to-order page when you place your order, so you don't have to concern yourself about lost upgrade opportunities. Now I bought my late 2009 iMac towards the end of that year, a few weeks after release. I did customize some, with an Intel 2.8GHz i7 processor, and the upgraded graphics card. I kept the standard 8GB RAM, since I could always flesh it out later if I wanted; that was the one thing that could be upgraded easily. Indeed, when the time came to move to 16GB RAM, I did the deed in about five minutes from the time it took to lift the iMac from my desk, place the screen on a large towel, open the tiny cover at the bottom of the unit, and replace the RAM. Although that RAM upgrade should not have made a substantial performance change, or at least I didn't expect one, I found that some apps seem to be less apt to clog system resources. A particular example was Parallels Desktop, where I was able to launch into a Windows virtual machine somewhat more quickly, with fewer slowdowns impacting other apps. Understand that I seldom gave Windows more than 1GB of RAM, so the slowdowns shouldn't have been as drastic as they were. In any case, I appreciated the modest performance boost, but still suffered from long startup times, amounting to several minutes because I launch half a dozen apps at startup, and opening one of those large productivity apps, such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, took 20 seconds or more. Anything that involved copying large numbers of files seemed glacial, and the 1TB Western Digital Caviar "Black" drive that shipped with the iMac was regarded as reasonably swift for its time. So I enlisted the expertise of Other World Computing, who specializes in Mac upgrades, to suggest a suitable drive upgrade for review. We settled on the closest match to the stock drive, OWC's 1TB Mercury Electra 6G SSD. If you want to buy one, it retails for $478, a fairly normal price for such a device. If you can don't need that much storage, or can rely some on an external drive, you can get a 480GB SSD for $259. OWC also includes some useful features that make it suitable for use on Macs. So what OWC calls "global wear leveling algorithms" and "StaticDataRefresh" are said to eliminate the need for one of those TRIM hacks, not officially supported with OS X Yosemite, which are often necessary for third-party SSDs. The major claim to fame with SSD is a performance level several times higher than a traditional hard drive without the wear and tear. OWC advertises "sustained reads up to 535MB/s and writes up to 443MB/s," although I made no effort to verify that claim. Alas, you can't just pop the hard drive out of an iMac and put a new one in. Installation involves a laborious process that you shouldn't try without some careful instructions. You'll also need to buy a special kit that contains some special tools and a pair of suction cups. OWC sells such a kit for $59. They have also posted an instruction video that makes the process seem less intimidating. It's still not a cakewalk, but if you pay close attention, and you're comfortable with a tiny Torx screwdriver and fiddling with slim, delicate wiring harnesses, you'll probably do all right. In addition to the SSD and the drive installation kit, OWC also sent along a 3.5-inch drive adaptor — the SSD is a 2.5-inch device — although you actually can get by without it. Oh, and by the way, next-generation of ultra-thin iMacs are even more difficult to upgrade. In place of magnets to hold the glass in place, Apple has moved to a special adhesive tape. In any case, I received the kit on a Saturday, and steeled myself for the installation the following Monday. I watched the video several times, and kept it available on another Mac, the review iMac 5K that has since been returned to Apple, just in case I needed a refresher. And I did. I won't detail all the steps here. But it starts with using the two suction cups to pry the glass from the iMac's chassis. After that, you have to unscrew a bunch of tiny Torx (six-point) screws to remove the LCD display. All this has to be done real carefully, and it's best to have some clean, soft surfaces on which to place the delicate components you're removing. Disconnecting the LCD involves unplugging some real slim wiring harnesses, and you have to be extremely careful. It's not that replacement cables are necessarily expensive, but getting them from a local Apple dealer or even an Apple Store will not be easy. They are not regarded as user serviceable parts. To prepare myself for the process, I ran a full clone backup to the external FireWire 800 drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. From beginning to end, it took over an hour to install the SSD. The photo at the left shows the iMac at the point where the LCD panel was being removed. The only fly in the ointment was the dust that accumulated inside after five years in dusty Arizona, and it required a few moments to blow it out. No doubt I improved the long-term reliability of this computer in the process. After the iMac was closed up, I carefully reconnected all the peripheral cables and the power cord. Since I had to install a new OS onto an empty drive, I pressed Option during the startup process to allow me to select the Yosemite restore partition from the backup drive. The relative speed of the installation signaled what I'd expect once the iMac had its own OS. The migration process required some four hours to restore 500GB of data to the new drive, about the same as the same migration procedure took on the iMac 5K. Once restored, I was able to give the SSD the acid test, and I was amazed. Normally it takes up to three minutes for my Mac to boot and all startup apps to load. This time the process took little more than 30 seconds to complete, and I hit the desktop in 15 seconds flat. Most apps launched instantaneously, and Adobe Photoshop took maybe three seconds. QuarkXPress 10.5 loaded in about 10 seconds. As any of you who has used an SSD can testify, just about everything runs amazing fast, and the dream of almost instant response is realized. Indeed, it is now hard to detect much of a difference between my old iMac, and the iMac 5K — the latter came with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which gives you most of the performance of a true SSD — which goes to show how much of what you do on a Mac is drive related. Based on the system tools I put into action, the iMac is also running a lot cooler now, since the drive generates little or no heat, usually not much higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit after some intense action. It's hard to complain about that. The sole downside, and it's minor, is the fact that a 1TB SSD generally formats to around 960GB capacity, short of the 999GB used by the previous drive. But that's really a minor trade off to gain those amazing speed advantages. True, an SSD, and the accompanying installation kit, aren't exactly cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than buying a new Mac. If you would rather not engage in such extensive transplant surgery yourself, and I understand why, see if a local Mac dealer would do it for you; an Apple Store would refuse for obvious reasons. You can also ship your iMac to OWC's own plant, of course, but first see if you find a nearby dealer to handle the chores, because it will cost less, particularly when you include the cost of shipping. A nearby authorized Apple dealer, MacMedia of Scottsdale AZ, considers iMac drive upgrades a Tier 2 process for which it charges $95. It's definitely worth the peace of mind if you choose to take this step. Now OWC normally sends out review hardware for 30-day evaluations. But since reviewing this drive involved a complicated installation process, they aren't exactly rushing me to return it.
- Office for iPad: Free — Sort of! As most of you know, Microsoft is not nearly as flexible or successful as Apple in keeping secrets. Sure, news about an upcoming Apple gadget will usually leak from the supply chain, but software releases tend to get a higher level of protection from the teeming masses of tech journalists and financial analysts. Of course, secrets encourage the media to just make things up, using their perceptions about Apple as a basis for guessing what they're working on. With Microsoft, rumors about a forthcoming Office for iPad release have come and gone and come again. Some of the stories suggest the software has been ready for several years, awaiting approval from the executive team for release. But former CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly opposed the move. In addition, there was a huge detour: With the arrival of the Surface tablet, Microsoft touted the presence of Office on both the ARM-based RT and Intel based Pro versions as an advantage over other tablets. This supposed advance, such as it was, wasn't quite what it seemed to be. You see, there is still no version of Office that's compliant with the Modern or Metro UI. It's basically just the same old Office 2013 release for desktop PCs that's running from the desktop layer. Regardless, people aren't buying. The Surface tablet has been one huge failure for Microsoft, and the Office advantage was no advantage at all. Some estimates claim that Microsoft is losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenue by not delivering an iPad version. Well, it appears Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, has provided a dose of sanity. In a special media event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced Office for the iPad. Indeed, Windows 8, considered a disaster for the company, wasn't even on the agenda, and that clearly sends a strong message about the company's future direction. The iPad app suite is available in a sort of freemium arrangement. You can download a copy the iPad versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint free from the App Store and open and view documents. If you want to actually create and edit documents, you need to subscribe to Office 365. Pricing depends on the package that best meets your needs, but the Home version is $9.99 a month, and includes support for up to five Macs and PCs and a single tablet. Of course, if you already have an Office 365 license, the unlocked iPad version is free. Whether Microsoft earns more revenue from this product largely depends on how many additional signups the iPad version generates. Unlike Adobe, you can still buy retail copies of Microsoft's traditional Mac and PC apps. You aren't forced to subscribe to the cloud-based account. Certainly the decision to release Office for the iPad couldn't come at a better time. PC sales are down and Microsoft's efforts to go mobile have been largely stillborn. Even the purchase of the failed handset division of Nokia isn't expected to change the situation. Consider what happened when Google bought another failing handset company, Motorola Mobility, and you'll see what I mean. Meantime, Office for the iPad is already garnering favorable reviews. The ZDNet division of CNET says the suite "sets the gold standard for tablet productivity." That's high praise, because there are already a number of office-style app suites on iOS and Android. The standard bearer is Apple's iWork, which offers essentially the same feature set on the Mac, iOS and cloud-based versions. What this means is that, if you have an iCloud account and use a Windows PC, you can still use iWork and share your documents with users on the other platforms. It's also free with a new Apple gadget, which may be the most compelling sales pitch of all. So why should anyone who isn't already an Office 365 subscriber take the plunge just to be able to take advantage of the full feature set of Office for the iPad? Is it really that good? Here Microsoft may have miscalculated by assuming that iPad users already have a Mac or a PC, and thus the iPad represents just another device. But more and more people rely on an iPad as their primary personal computer, and they are going to be decidedly reluctant to pay $100 a year forever to get a fully-enabled copy of Office. Remember, iWork is free. Does Office's enhanced feature set and superior compatibility with the Mac and Windows versions deserve a higher standalone price? Time will tell. As most of you know, Microsoft has had a mixed reputation with Mac apps. While paying lip service to Mac interface conventions, even such features as Auto Save and Versions have yet to be supported. When you work in an Office app, you sometimes think you're really using something actually meant for Windows, but clumsily ported to the Mac platform. The document windows may seem Mac-like, but the features carry the awkwardness of Windows. But when it comes to tablets, Microsoft is in a new world. There is no Windows equivalent, and thus Microsoft had to rely on Apple's development tools to build the product. For the most part, it seems successful at first blush. So Microsoft claims that Office for the iPad was built from the ground up. From the look and the feel, it does seem a clever adaptation of Office conventions slimmed down and styled for tablet use. Most of the reviews talk of a fast and fluid user experience, though some of the more obscure features found even in Office for the Mac won't be supported, though that probably doesn't matter. What's more, there appears to be decent cloud integration, meaning you can pick up where you left off on an Office document from another platform and continue your work on your iPad. Microsoft's target audience is no doubt the business world, which has embraced the iPad with a passion. This is where Microsoft is apt to gain a number of users, but if these companies already have Office 365 licenses, it won't matter. If they haven't embraced the cloud yet, there could be a sizable rate of customer conquests. I'm sure Microsoft's marketing people have been busy crunching the numbers and considering the possibilities. What's important for Microsoft is the user license. Surface has done nothing for them, and if Apple can deliver substantial new revenues to its sometimes rival, that works to the advantage of both. Meanwhile, the Office for iPad apps quickly rose to the top of the charts at the App Store. Let's see how it stands once the early adopters have their copies, and how that impacts the Office 365 signup rate. If Office for the iPad does well, will that speed up development of Office 2014 for the Mac? I suppose we'll know soon.
- How About an Apple TV Digital Hub? As more and more tech pundits continue to rant about a possible Apple smart TV set maybe next year, maybe the year after, I wonder once again if they're really on the wrong track. However, this is a subject that just won't die, as you hear speculation about Apple sampling prototype TVs, ordering parts, and, in general, preparing for a product that you wonder if we really need. After all, even the people I know who don't watch TV have one lying around. You go to any consumer electronics store, and you'll find dozens and dozens of models, more, even, than PCs. So what could Apple possibly do to turn the market on its head and deliver the product you never thought you'd need? What can Apple possibly do with a TV set that would start a revolution? I do not pretend to have all the answers, or even some of them, but it's fair to look at the TV itself, and then how Apple might provide for a better user experience. When it comes to the screen, sure Apple uses the latest technologies that can be put into mass production and are reasonably affordable. So we have the Retina display on some Macs, the iPhone and the iPad. But does a higher resolution screen serve any purpose on a TV set, where the best content you can get these days is 1080p from some cable/satellite providers and Blu-ray? Yes, there are those super-expensive 4K sets, fulfilling a need that doesn't yet exist, and costing a bundle. Maybe some day, but that's not a critical issue now. Another issue on the TV set is the audio. But there are loads of low-cost home theater in-a-box setups, soundbars and other equipment that will deliver far better sound without costing you a bundle. Indeed, I plan to evaluate some of these products in the near future, so stay tuned. Yes, I suppose Apple could offer some tricked out speakers and more sophisticated electronics in the TV itself, but there's the question of cost. The Bose VideoWave II boasts of wonderful sound, but the price of admission begins just shy of $5,000 for a 46-inch set. I can't imagine too many buyers, and this is not a direction Apple would be likely to pursue. One area where help is needed is the initial setup, where you can make some adjustments for the best picture, along with built-in audio enhancements, such as faux surround sound. For the most part, these interfaces are perfectly awful, and most customers never bother. So they aren't getting the best picture their new set can deliver. Apple could make this setup process simple, and even do some automatic tune-ups, though this isn't the sole reason to build a TV set. There is, of course, content, but it would be a stretch to believe that Apple could replace your cable or satellite provider anytime soon, though I realize some of you may do rely on iTunes and Netflix, plus local stations, to get all of your programming. One real need in TV land is the integration among your various accessories. Maybe you can rely on what you get on an Apple TV and, perhaps, the antenna, but what about the Blu-ray player and the gaming console? Perhaps the most confusing part of using your TV is integrating these devices with your set, and switching back and forth. In my setup, I have just the Panasonic flat panel and a Samsung Blu-ray. I use a Logitech Harmony universal remote to simplify the process of turning things on and off, and switching inputs, but it still requires pressing a button or tapping a display to go from one source to the next. Sometimes it misses, and I have to use Help or repeat the process. On occasion, the sound from the Blu-ray, piped via HDMI to the TV set, disappears, and I can only fix the problem by switching back to the DirecTV set top box and return to the Blu-ray. All just to watch that movie. So what about a new generation Apple TV that can be used as a dock, your digital hub, to connect all your equipment, from a cable/satellite box to gaming console? The rear will contain the usual assortment of HDMI ports and audio ports. But Apple's marvelous software, no doubt using the iOS, can be used to make setups and switching among devices easy as pie. You can announce to Siri you want to play a game, or watch a DVD, or connect to channel 242 on your DirecTV box (it's USA Network, in case you're wondering). Apple might even offer to provide front-ends to the cable and satellite people, so all you have to do is run one of their apps, login to your account, and access all of your programming, schedule pay-per-view and time-shifting without need of another appliance. This sort of integration might be the most sensible way for Apple to make a difference in TV land, without, of course, somehow providing all of the services. But that would require cooperation and licensing from the cable/satellite people. I suppose an Apple smart TV would sell pretty well, particularly if the price premium isn't high. But Apple would have to be able to change a lot of things besides the interface to make it worthwhile. A souped up Apple TV box would be the best bet, as far as I'm concerned.
This article was posted on Saturday, August 27th, 2005 at 5:35 PM and is filed under News and tagged with: Apple, Ego, Experiences, Illegal Software, Industrial Strength, Laundry List, Mac Os X, Mac Rumor, Microsoft Microsoft, New Operating System, Nondisclosure Agreements, Os X, Pc Boxes, Personal Computers, Public Beta Version, Scanner, Software Developers, Software Site.