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  • It’s the Critics Versus the Users

    February 25th, 2010

    Some of you may have read a report the other day that Apple was behind the curve because there were no recent updates to the MacBook Pro lineup. This despite the fact that Intel had recently upgraded its mobile processors. So what’s wrong with Apple? Don’t they want their customers to have the latest and greatest and fastest note-books?

    Of course, the real world doesn’t always work that way. Yes the chips may be available, but there are also complications in the way Apple has configured its recent hardware, using the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M chipset. Now this integrated graphics processor is way faster than anything offered by Intel, but both Intel and NVIDIA are embroiled in a dispute over the latter’s right to produce chipsets that support the new Core i5 and Core i7 mobile processors. Until that’s resolved, Apple can’t use those parts, so they’d have to devise a different solution.

    Sure, it’s possible that particular problem will be soon resolved and Apple can go ahead and release MacBook Pros with the newest Intel chips and the latest NVIDIA integrated graphics. If not, Apple has to use either discrete graphics from NVIDIA and ATI, or just rely on what Intel has to offer for the entry-level model. That, however, means worse performance and that’s not something Mac users would expect to see in a product upgrade.

    There’s also a report about Apple testing a scheme where they’d use the Intel integrated graphics for basic screen display chores, and when more power is needed, the system automatically and seamlessly switches to a discrete graphics processor. Yes, going to the faster graphics cuts battery life, but it may not happen often enough to matter unless you’re into heavy game playing or 3D rendering work.

    At the end of the day, however, Apple doesn’t build products that cater to critics or the so-called geek crowd. That’s why, for example, Mac OS X isn’t stuffed with preference panel settings for every conceivable change in the look and feel of the system. The essentials are there, and most changes can be made without screwing something up. If you need a more granular setup, there are a number of third-party utilities that’ll either harness “hidden” features of the operating system or add new ones. That way, Apple serves both masters.

    When it comes to the mobile platform, such simplicity has also caused trouble, at least if you believe some of the complaints. So there’s supposedly no multitasking on the iPhone and iPod touch, and the setup appears to be similar for the iPad. However, as has been pointed out here and elsewhere, the iPhone OS does support multitasking, but not with third-party apps. So you can make a phone call on a 3G network and check your email or visit a Web site at the same time. Apple’s argument is that if they allowed you to do that willy nilly the end result would be sharply reduced performance and battery life.

    In exchange for the limited multitasking setup, apps are designed to basically suspend or quit on a dime, without much noticeable delay, and start up just as quickly. So the disadvantages of running only one app at a time aren’t apparent in most respects. Apple’s Push Notification feature allows messages to be sent to you from the apps that aren’t running, which is why you’ll see a popup screen with an AIM message if you’re logged into AOL’s network but working in a different app.

    The question about the lack of Flash is murkier. One tech pundit wrote a piece — and the opinion is probably shared by others — that Apple blocked Flash strictly to prevent potential App Store competition from Adobe. However, Adobe does provide the tools to convert a Flash-based app to the iPhone OS. More to the point, most Flash content doesn’t consist of apps at all, but fancy menus, special effects and videos. So how does that compete with the App Store?

    Recently, one Flash developer wrote a piece for Daniel Eran Dilger’s Roughly Drafted Magazine blog that brought up some of the serious issues involved in running Flash on a Multi-Touch screen. Without getting into all the details that you can read in the article itself, Flash-based sites would have to be reworked extensively to work properly on the iPhone OS. It’s not just playing a video, but navigating menus, playing games and other chores that don’t translate so well. Even if Adobe makes Flash less resource hungry, better performing and more secure, fundamental interface conflicts remain a serious obstacle.

    This being the case, it would appear that Apple’s objections to Flash have serious merit, and maybe it should go the way of the floppy disk. In saying that, however, Apple still has to get its App Store act together. The recent debacle involving explicit content clearly indicates that they are still shooting from the hip and that they need to devise a clear, consistent policy so developers know what’s right and what’s wrong, and don’t waste lots of time and money building products that will never be approved.



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