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  • Apple Always Finds a Way to Annoy Customers

    November 20th, 2008

    You love them, you hate them. The products are great, but some of the marketing and product initiatives are inscrutable. Even though Apple is supposedly doing surprisingly well during this holiday season, despite the economic downturn that may have not bottomed out, I’m sure they’ve also done plenty to upset customers in one way or another.

    Take the recent report about Apple’s highly-touted DisplayPort digital monitor hookup scheme on the new note-books. The advantages are clear, because it merges both digital audio and video into a single tiny hookup, just like the HDMI ports you find on your high definition flat panel TV.

    DisplayPort is based on an industry standard that, alas, also mandates severe copy protection methods, known as DisplayPort Content Protection (DPCP), and it’s come back to bite some new owners of these hot-selling note-books. It is, by the way, essentially the same as the HDCP measures used for HDMI.

    While Apple’s new 24-inch LED Cinema Display, which is evidently starting to ship, also incorporates a DisplayPort, most displays and projectors don’t. Apple offers a VGA and DVI adapter at extra cost, and when you hook up a display by one of these “unprotected” methods, you cannot watch video content that’s encrypted with this copy protection technique. That includes Blu-ray DVDs, but also, apparently, many of the movies that you buy from iTunes.

    Now I haven’t been able to confirm the published reports about this problem that have appeared at CNET, The Register and elsewhere. It does, however, pass the logic test, since we’re talking about an industry standard connection protocol here, not something Apple cooked up to incense Mac users, as they’ve done in the past with various proprietary ports.

    It also means that Apple can’t do anything about it. HD content is licensed from the movie studios, and they set the rules. Industry-approved connection technologies also have their own set of requirements that Apple isn’t able to circumvent. It doesn’t seem to be a secret plot to get everyone to buy displays equipped with DisplayPort or HDMI, although you’ll have to consider those options if you want to view any of this HD content on an external display connected to one of the new note-books. Now it may be that there will be unofficial methods to crack this scheme — as there always are — but that’s not something that I would be able to discuss knowledgeably.

    I’d also expect to see the next iMac incorporate the very same port, although most owners probably never hook up external monitors. For the Mac Pro, I don’t see a change. The Mac mini is anyone’s guess.

    Of course, this isn’t the first time Apple has pulled what some might consider a stunt to get you to rush out to buy adapters or new peripherals. In 1998, when we were all comfortable using ADB input devices, LocalTalk printers, NuBus expansion cards and SCSI drives and scanners, Apple delivered the iMac. It sported Ethernet and USB — period! Now Ethernet had already become common on Macs, but USB was an alien visitor from PC-land.

    Well, it didn’t take long for companies to make adapters and products with the right ports, and USB ended up being quite versatile, because you were able to group your printers, scanners, input devices and hard drives on the very same peripheral chain with a cheap hub or two. The arrival of USB 2.0 made hard drives near as fast as regular FireWire 400. Indeed, Apple has now ditched FireWire on its MacBook, so you can see what a decade has meant.

    The next USB standard, 3.0, is said to be 10 times faster, but it’ll take a couple of more years for new Macs and peripherals to embrace that technology. So maybe adopting USB wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

    Certainly, going all-USB on the iPod (and then the iPhone) has made it easier for PC users to acquire them, since few Windows boxes have FireWire. It also meant that Apple could save a small sum on each connection port, and that’s not a bad thing when they try to keep production costs down.

    When it comes to the mass adoption of glossy screens on Apple’s note-books, that seems to be a more debatable issue. Well, maybe the raw materials are more environmentally safe, which can certainly help for a company that aspires to be thought of as “green.” But it can also cause havoc.

    I know of one person, for example, who cannot tolerate glossy, because of the reflections you see in different lighting situations. It’s terribly distracting, and and I can see where third-party matte filters are going to become ubiquitous. It’s also questionable whether the glossy screen can be color calibrated as easily or accurately as matte, but the jury is out on that score.

    Then again, if you want to rant about what Apple does or does not do, I bet you can come up with a long list of issues both big and small.

    At the same time, you wonder why Apple would do things that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, at least at the time they remove a feature or switch technologies. In the long run, most of this stuff, despite the hassles they create, tend to work out, so should we cut Apple some slack?

    No, I’m not that charitable. And you, gentle reader?



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