Let’s take a brief journey through history. In early 2011, HP tried to gain a foothold in the nascent tablet market with the TouchPad, using the WebOS acquired from Palm. In those days, there wasn’t much competition beyond the iPad, so some industry pundits expected HP to make a big splash.
Only it didn’t happen, and, within weeks, HP decided to cut their losses, and dump the remaining stock for $99 each. Within short order, HP was out of the smartphone and tablet business yet still trying to figure out what to do with the Web OS. Stung by this unexpected, to them, failure, HP didn’t have any more faith in pushing the WebOS platform. In contrast, Microsoft will often ignore huge financial losses for years hoping to make a product or service successful. It worked with the Xbox, though the modest profits will never compensate for the previous losses.
Now HP is trying yet again to become a contender in the tablet market with the forthcoming Slate 7 tablet, which uses the Android OS. At $169, it may even be competitive with existing low-end gear, particularly the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire series. But it’s also clear that HP doesn’t really have anything special to bring to the table.
Aside from the usual meaningless specs using generic hardware, in this case an ARM Dual-Core Cortex-A9 1.6 GHz processor, HP boasts the use of Beats Audio to enhance the sound from the small tablet. As with existing Android competition, the Slate 7 has a widescreen display, which doesn’t deliver a credible amount of screen real estate when viewed horizontally.
But you have to wonder why HP is even bothering, since there doesn’t appear to be much, if anything, that’s new and different with the HP tablet. Specs are par for the course, the price clearly won’t deliver decent profits for the company; at best, HP will break even or earn a few dollars. Since the Slate 7 is intended to be an introduction to a full product line, perhaps future models will offer something more compelling, but don’t bet on it.
All HP is doing is jumping onto the Android bandwagon with generic hardware, hoping the brand name will count for something, anything. For a while I’ve been wondering whether the latest CEO, Meg Whitman, has a clue about how to take the company forward, and it’s clear she doesn’t, if you consider the Slate 7 as an example. Why on earth would anyone consider this tablet as a worthy alternative to any other commodity Android tablet, let alone an iPad? HP’s excuse: “HP is the number one PC manufacturer in the world, and we want to be the number one computer vendor in the world. That means we need to be in the tablet space.”
OK, I’m looking for a strategy, but I don’t see one. Indeed, regarding HP as number one depends on accepting their traditional definition of what a PC really is, and their definition makes a tablet a computer but not a PC, if you can accept that distinction. Based on that definition, Apple is the number one computer maker on the planet right now. How does HP expect to make a dent?
HP’s excuse, also from their press announce, is that it’s their “intent to have a broad set of products on the market.”
That statement appears to mean lots of barely-differentiated models, hoping to flood every nook and cranny of the tablet market with different display sizes and configurations, in the hope that something might stick.
But that’s nothing new for PC makers. There’s a long history of building loads of models that look and work the same as supposedly competing products from other companies. I went through HP’s information on the Slate 7, and wasn’t able to find anything that truly makes it stand out among loads of Android-based tablets. Minor spec and feature differences aren’t sufficient, and it appears to me that HP still doesn’t understand what made it great, and why the company has floundered for several years.
And Whitman, a failed candidate for governor of California, is destined to fail at fixing what ails HP. Sure, maybe the company will flail around, continue to demonstrate no appetite for innovation with me-too products, and still make a profit. Perhaps the HP name will, to some, be sufficient to choose a product with that brand name over a mostly similar product with someone else’s brand name. Or maybe not.
As to the failed WebOS, instead of being open sourced, the technology and the remaining employees have been acquired by LG, who will use it to power a new line of “smart” TV sets. I suppose among TV interfaces, that may actually be a good thing. But it’s interesting that LG will not embed that OS in their lineup of smartphones and tablets, where the WebOS failed miserably. But they are certainly following Microsoft’s lead in taking a failed OS and trying it out on a different product hoping things will be different.
- Of New CEOs, Apple and HP Apple CEO Tim Cook and HP CEO Meg Whitman have one thing in common. Both took their positions in the late summer of 2011. The similarities pretty much end there. Cook had previous experience as interim CEO of Apple when Steve Jobs took several sick leaves. During that time, Apple achieved record sales and profits, and it was almost a given that he'd replace Jobs should the need arise. Whitman was a member of HP's board of directors when she was elevated to the top spot in the wake of the miserable performance of her predecessor, Leo Apotheker. It also seemed that HP had been plagued by a growing number of bad decisions since its heyday in the 1990s, and just hadn't arrived at a viable strategy for coping with the 21st century. You almost felt that the company's actions were in desperate response to the actions of the competition. The previous year, HP bought Palm, the company that pioneered the Palm Pilot, but had fallen on hard times, particularly after the arrival of the iPhone and the iPad. It was a pretty cheap deal overall, with the acquisition valued at $1.2 billion. The first notable product arising from this deal, the TouchPad tablet, crashed and burned within weeks, and HP desperately tried to unload unsold inventory for a mere $99. Palm's WebOS was later spun off as HP tried to undo this tragic mistake. WebOS, however, isn't quite dead. It powers LG's "smart" TVs nowadays, and actually garnered some pretty favorable reviews when Palm was still around. When Whitman took control of HP, she quickly moved to cancel the plans to spinoff the PC division. Today's HP appears, at first glance, to be pretty much the same HP that Whitman inherited, but the head count is substantially less. This month, Whitman announced plans to fire another 11,000 to 16,000 employees. That, on the heels of previous reductions, would mean that between 40,000 and 50,000 will have lost their jobs as of the end of the year. But HP is huge, and this represents a "mere" 15% of the global workforce. It may well be that HP had grown fat as a senior citizen in the tech business, but Whitman's long-term strategy is still not terribly clear. Don't forget that HP essentially created Silicon Valley, and had been known for building best-of-breed gear. In the old days, when I wanted a first rate scanner, it was an HP. Ditto for a high-quality printer. Indeed, I have an HP all-in-one, the OfficeJet 8600 Pro Plus, which delivers good output on text and photos, and also uses less costly ink than most competitors. It's also solid, reliable, and pretty fast as inkjet printers go. But when it comes to new strategies to turn around the company, and help it grow despite the slowdown in PC and printer sales, it doesn't seem as if Whitman has a clue. While she had previously helped build eBay into a large and successful company, her foray into the world of politics was stillborn. Her expensive and high-profile campaign for governor of California failed, despite spending over $144 million of her own money to defeat Jerry Brown in 2010. What is HP's next act? A good question. Firing people might be good for a company's bottom line if it doesn't hurt efficiency and productivity. But what about a long-range plan? With Tim Cook's Apple, the story is quite different. Apple may not be quite the growth powerhouse it once was, and the stock price has only recently begun to climb back towards historic highs, but the company was in great shape when Cook took over. Yes, Steve Jobs was a hard act to follow, but Apple has barely missed a beat in upgrading the key and most profitable products. Despite complaints that the improvements were iterative rather than revolutionary, you cannot say that about the Mac Pro. All right, it's quite true that Apple has, so far at least, not fulfilled the promise of entering new markets, but that isn't expected to begin to occur until next week's WWDC, where new OS versions will be demonstrated, and perhaps there will be some surprises. But the long-rumored iWatch and Apple TV refreshes probably won't occur until fall, and thus the critics will remain skeptical. Apple's financial maneuvers, such as share buybacks and the forthcoming stock split, have also gotten praise from Wall Street. Those moves do not appear to be gimmicks to divert attention from the supposed lack of revolutionary products. Remember that, after Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997, it took four years for the iPod and the release version of OS X to arrive. If you judge Cook by that standard, he still has some time to make good on his promises. While some have called for Cook's head, because he's not a product guy, Apple has a bench of creative people that is considered unparalleled in the industry, and there's no indication the company is in any trouble at all. Sales and revenue are high, and the cash pile continues to grow. Unless some unpredicted bad things happen, Cook should do well with Apple. Whitman? I'm still waiting for a viable strategy, and just doing the same old thing with fewer people is not a strategy. It's just a way to cut expenses and hope the products, support and services won't suffer. It's not a turnaround strategy by any means beyond a desperate way to deal with the fact that PC sales will continue to erode.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This article was posted on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Amazon, Android, Android tablet, Apple, generic hardware, Google, Google Nexus 7, hp, HP TouchPad, iPad, Kindle, LG, me-too products, Meg Whitman, Microsoft, Palm, PC., Slate 7, smartphone, Web OS, WebOS.