As you have probably heard, NDP Group, a well-respected market research firm, is reporting stellar sales for Snow Leopard. The long and short of their survey is that sales over the first weekend were twice that of Leopard its launch weekend, and nearly four times that of Tiger.
NPD Group’s vice president of industry analysis, Stephen Baker, tells The Night Owl that they are not releasing actual figures, though other estimates peg the number at two million. If sales through the remainder of the quarter remain extremely high, you can bet that Apple will likely have a press release touting that achievement ahead of their quarterly financials next month.
Of course, it’s also fair to say that two factors influenced those numbers. First is the $29 upgrade price for Leopard users, and the second is the mere fact that there are many millions of additional Mac users now than there were when Leopard came out.
From Apple’s standpoint, this is a great thing. It means they’ll recover the investment in development fairly quickly and if a large portion of eligible Mac users — those with Intel-based models — adopt Snow Leopard quickly, developers are apt to work that much harder to take advantage of the new performance-enhancing features. Right now, as with the very first PowerPC Macs, the things Snow Leopard can accomplish are largely theoretical. Except for Apple’s own system-related apps, such as the Finder, and a few third-party offerings, support for 10.6 is largely confined to compatibility.
Certainly it would be nice to see Adobe release a plug-in for Photoshop that supports Grand Central Dispatch, which would allow the more resource hungry rendering functions to harness the power of multicore processors. That approach would be similar to what Adobe did back when the PowerPC was first introduced. Then it was a free plugin, and it would be a good idea for them to do it again, assuming it is possible from a programming standpoint. Otherwise we’d all have to wait until next year for CS5 which, no doubt, will incorporate that support.
If such a plugin does appear, and the ball is certainly in Adobe’s court, it would also be really useful to see support for OpenCL, the Snow Leopard function that offloads work to the graphics chips. That would be a killer add-on, and perhaps it would fuel extra sales of CS4 until CS5 is closer to release. In other words, it would be a huge advantage for Adobe, since income generally drops in the months prior to the announcement of a major upgrade.
While most everything is surely coming up roses with Snow Leopard, there are still those lingering issues that make some media pundits skeptical. One of those scribes is even now telling us that we should give up Macs and move to Windows 7, even though the latter hasn’t been officially released. I won’t mention that person’s name because I used to think better of him, and don’t feel I should join the crowd in embarrassing him in print. Let his words do that.
Certainly Snow Leopard isn’t perfect. There are surely plenty of bugs left for Apple to fix, and some have seized on the fact that 10.6.1 came out a mere 13 days after the original release. But this is nothing new for Apple. All or most previous system releases have seen maintenance updates within a few weeks after the initial version hit the streets. Unless the system is afflicted with data-destroying bugs, most issues aren’t apt to be terribly serious. In large part, the initial releases are meant to address those various and sundry bugs that crop up during the dark days between declaring a Gold Master release and the actual product launch.
Surely nobody is surprised to realize that work on 10.6.1 clearly began well before 10.6 was sent to the DVD pressing plants, and that 10.6.2 and even 10.6.3 are probably well underway. How could it be otherwise?
Furthermore, even if Windows 7 is all or most of what Microsoft’s devoted followers claim, you can bet that developers are hammering away even now on lingering bugs not addressed before it was released to manufacturing. There will be incremental updates early on to address the most serious issues, and a Service Pack will appear probably within a year.
So it’s really unfair to pound Apple for simply behaving in a normal fashion for a tech company. You know software is buggy, and releasing a product is a balancing act. The marketing people want to deliver the goods as fast as possible to ensure high sales. Most developers are dedicated to their craft and want to make sure that all important defects are fixed. At some point in time, though, they have to recognize reality and give the green light. Of course, they also keep their fingers crossed that nothing critical was missed, and sometimes even their best efforts don’t quite succeed when the fruits of their labor finally goes on sale.
To look at the dark side, certainly Microsoft’s leadership would prefer that Snow Leopard falters in its early days. That hope may have fueled some of the worst criticisms. A few too many unfavorable or even lukewarm reviews can be enough to sink a product, or at least gut sales. Think about what happened with Windows Vista. Certainly Microsoft doesn’t want to go there again.
- 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.
- 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.
- Apple and Microsoft — About Philosophy So in recent days, more and more tech pundits have published comparisons between OS X El Capitan, still a ways from release, and Windows 10, which arrived this week for download and bundled with some new PCs. Looking over these two, which actually derive an idea or two from one another, you can see where Apple and Microsoft have seriously diverged in how they approach platforms. For years, Microsoft has touted Windows Everywhere, meaning that, whatever device you use, you'd have access to a version of Windows. This would extend to point-of-sale devices and other gear that doesn't necessarily strike you as related to a PC, though they are, in fact, computers. Windows 10 takes that integration attempt a step further by building an operating system meant to work on a host of devices. But there will be touch-centric and mouse-centric interface changes as needed. So when you use a convertible PC notebook, one that can act as a tablet with a removable or rotating display, and one that works as a regular PC, there's a Continuum mode. It can be made automatic or require manual switching, but it will deliver the right input scheme for your setup. In passing, I wonder how some people might react if they don't get the memo, or OK everything and have Windows 10 switch modes when they didn't expect it. I also gather hardware makers will also have to adjust their drivers to allow for the smoothest switch. The other problem is the so-called Universal app, which means a developer creates one version that works on any Windows 10 device. The problem is that a Universal app is also "fat," meaning it has the binaries for both mouse and touch versions and is thus potentially much larger. This could become a serious problem for a notebook with a small SSD, quite common, or a smartphone without lots of storage. Contrast that to Apple's approach in iOS 9, where the OS downloads will be smaller, and you'll download apps stripped of the code you don't need on your device. Apple also does not believe that you can integrate a toaster oven with a refrigerator, to use Tim Cook's famously exaggerated example. Thus Mac notebooks do not have touchscreens, and the iPad, although keyboards are available, is primarily touch-centric. The operating systems may share some code and features, but they are optimized for the different user conditions. Integrating, to Apple, would remain a poor compromise, and it's an open question whether putting Windows 10 everywhere is actually going to work. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether those convertible PCs will succeed in a declining market where Apple is one of the few companies to grow sales and market share. Right now you pay a premium to have a notebook that can double as a touch-based tablet, and the sales case has yet to be proven. This fall, prices are expected to decline for such gear, but, again, that doesn't mean people want all-in-one devices of this sort, as opposed to a computer with an integrated display, such as the iMac. So the features touted by PC fans as superior to OS X are partly related to philosophy. You don't need Continuum, but Apple has Continuity, providing for some level of integration among your Apple devices. The operating systems and the way you interact are different but you can still switch rom one to the other more smoothly. Well, mostly, because Continuity, and the Handoff feature can be buggy. One hopes things will be better when El Capitan is finalized. The other difference is Cortana. Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, remains on mobile gear, because Apple believes these are more personal devices that are a better fit for such a feature. Microsoft, wanting to have the same things everywhere, more or less, brought Cortana to the Windows 10 PC, bugs and all. While it may be suitable to some — and I expect home users will benefit most from Cortana — early reviews indicate "she" is buggy, and voice recognition is apt to cut off with a response before you're finished. A famous example is asking the name of the President of the United States. Cortana may cut off before "States," and thus identify the President of United Airlines instead. Surely that and other recognition glitches will be fixed before long, but Cortana is something Microsoft has had for a while, starting with the Xbox gaming console. So it's hard to excuse problems of this sort. Apple could have released a version of Siri for OS X, but hasn't done so. The use case is questionable, whereas Microsoft has no compunctions about throwing something out there for those who might want to use it. Or maybe just for bragging rights. That said, it's troubling that Windows 10 appears to have shipped with loads of bugs, not just in Cortana, but in Mail and other apps. While you expect glitches early on, and OS X Yosemite wasn't immune by a long shot, there appears to be too much going on that's not so pleasant. It may be that Microsoft ran headlong into getting Windows 10 out for back-to-school PC sales, hoping the worst glitches would be fixed by fall. OS X El Capitan will probably appear no later than late October, and one hopes the worst bugs will be eradicated. But doing any comparison is a little unfair right now, particularly for features not fully baked. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the next OS X is not just a bug fix update. There are lots of under-the-hood changes that promise better performance and security. The feature enhancements promise to improve productivity. So far most of what Microsoft is offering with Windows 10, aside from a couple of controversial features, is the removal of the Windows 8/8.1 excesses, and a few features "borrowed" from the Mac to improve multitasking. But Windows 10, absent the bugs, performs well enough, and the Microsoft Edge browser is good enough that the company ought to consider a Mac version. That's saying a lot, but the enterprise won't switch until they know everything's all right, and that may take a year or two to happen. Meantime, PC sales will continue to decline.
- 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.
This article was posted on Thursday, September 17th, 2009 at 6:00 PM and is filed under News and tagged with: 10.6, 10.6.1, 10.6.2, 10.6.3, Adobe, Adobe's court, Graphics Chips, Intel, Leopard, Mac Os X, Mac OS X v10.5, Mac OS X v10.6, Macintosh, media pundits, Microsoft, Microsoft Corporation, multicore processors, NDP Group, snow leopard, stephen baker, vice president of industry analysis, Windows 7, Windows Vista.