• Newsletter Issue #465

    October 26th, 2008


    People can’t stop talking about the latest Apple note-book refresh. While the processors aren’t a whole lot faster, the new NVIDIA graphics chipset, with two graphics chips available the MacBook Pro, have resulted in greatly improved 3D performance. While not a state-of-the-art gaming machine, even the consumer-level MacBook does well enough for most of you.

    But there are some downsides. FireWire, for example, is history on the cheaper product line, and you can have any screen on the MacBook Pro so long as it’s glossy. So where do we go from here?

    Well on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus returned to regale us with his first impressions of Apple’s newest MacBook Pro. Believe it or not, Bob has pretty much given up on desktop systems, and expects to do all his work on an Apple note-book from here on. He also let us in on some of his favorite iPhone accessories and, yes, I included a few of my own.

    As Apple once again reported stellar sales and earnings, we brought on Stephen Becker, an analyst with the NPD Group, to talk about Apple’s financials. One of the questions Stephen answered is whether the current shaky economic climate will put a stop to Apple’s rapid growth.

    Commentator Kirk McElhearn seems to encounter some unusual issues with his Macs from time to time. This week, he alerted us about his close encounter with a “toxic” Mac Pro, a first-edition version that developed hardware problems that produced a foul stench in his home office. What did Apple do about it? And is this something you might expect too? I suggest you listen to this episode for more insights.

    On The Paracast this week, one of our favorites, scientific theorist Mac Tonnies, holds forth on Martian mysteries, the Phoenix Mars probe, paranormal belief systems, and various theories on the reality of UFOs.

    Coming November 2: The “Culture of Ufology” explored by veteran UFO author and publisher Tim “Mr. UFO” Beckley, experiencer Jeremy Vaeni, and your outspoken Paracast crew.


    In show business, you often hear the phrase “overnight sensation” when someone suddenly becomes famous. But the truth is quite often left unsaid, that the person in question actually struggled as a virtual unknown for years before finding the brass ring.

    Now you can’t say Apple took terribly long to become a major player in the personal computer industry, particularly with such early successes as the Apple II. But it’s also true that, having lost the race for dominance in the operating system wars, Apple languished for quite some time.

    Sure, a leaner, meaner company under Steve Job’s leadership quickly returned to profitability. But for a long time it seemed as if Macs were indeed going to be consigned to niche status, with sales of less than 800,000 units per quarter. It also meant that Mac market share was around 2% of the world market, and it was easy to consider the company a tiny player that would probably never amount to anything significant in the world of personal computers.

    Indeed, not only did Apple concede leadership to Microsoft early on, but it appeared there were no real competitors on the horizon. Some thought that an open source operating system, Linux, might be a contender, but its desktop alternatives are generally nothing more than pale imitations of Windows. While Linux is a significant factor when it comes to servers — and in fact we use a Linux server for our sites — attempts to transform it for the desktop, other than for power users, haven’t amounted to much.

    A lot of fascinating things happened in fairly quick succession after the iPod came out seven years ago. Partly as the result of the so-called “halo” effect, which got its start when iPods were made available for Windows users, Mac sales have soared. Today, the quarterly ring-up is roughly three times what it used to be, and Macs are no longer regarded as alien visitors in offices.

    I won’t dwell on the iPhone. It’s been exceeding analyst expectations and has catapulted Apple to the top of the heap as far as smartphones are concerned. Who would have guessed it? I don’t even think Steve Jobs expected such rapid acceptance from Apple’s entry into the wireless phone marketplace.

    As to a certain company in Redmond, WA, it’s clear Microsoft stumbled big time on his highly-touted successor to Windows XP, which originally had the code-name Longhorn. When it finally debuted to consumers as Vista in January 2007, it was really a shadow of the product Microsoft promised.

    Key features, such as a new file system, were shed, and there’s little indication when, or ever, some of those features might return. Microsoft, despite a huge development staff, and the ability to throw billions of dollars at the problem, must surely have come to realize in their heart of hearts that their development strategy wasn’t succeeding in the way they hoped.

    If course, Microsoft is notorious for over-promising and under-delivering. In the 1990s, they boasted about a new set of technologies, bearing the name Cairo, which would quickly exceed the power of any other PC operating system.

    Instead of Cairo, Windows 95 was replaced by several variations, descending further into mediocrity with Windows ME. Windows XP was built upon a more robust foundation, similar to Windows 2000.

    After years of refinement, Windows XP has proven to be pretty stable, and, with a reasonably degree of caution and up-to-date security software, you actually may find it reasonably safe from online predators. But Microsoft has to feel betrayed when so many customers beg them to keep XP in production and not force them to upgrade to Vista.

    Microsoft’s $300 million ad campaign has been an abject failure. It is money in search of a strategy, and, while the ad agencies, performers and the mediums on which they’re advertising are all making money, it doesn’t seem as if it’s really helping Microsoft.

    Of course, the company is still making huge profits. But they have to wonder about the future when they watch Apple’s financials. Shorn of that accounting procedure that requires them to spread the profits from iPhone sales over 24 months, Apple actually earned $11.68 billion in revenue last quarter, along with $2.44 billion in profits. That’s for a company with a “mere” 5% of the global PC market nowadays.

    In contrast, Microsoft’s last quarter delivered $15.06 billion in sales, with profits of $4.37 billion.

    But where Apple really excels is in spare cash. They have $24.5 billion at hand now, and it won’t be used to buy back stock or otherwise enrich executives, whereas Microsoft, with $20.7 billion in the bank, has signaled just that intention. Maybe the see the handwriting on the wall and want to do their share of celebrating before too many people catch on.


    Change is sometimes hard to accept, and Apple has a penchant for adding features that few expected, and taking away some you cherished without warning or clear explanation.

    Take FireWire. It became a popular peripheral port for external drives, camcorders and audio breakout boxes With the arrival of the new MacBook, it’s gone, kaput, history. Steve Jobs says it isn’t needed for today’s camcorders — and he’s mostly right — but what about FireWire Target Mode, where you can use a Mac’s hard drive as an external device on another Mac? What about FireWire’s known performance advantages compared to USB?

    Then there’s the glossy screen on Apple note-books and the iMac. On the MacBook Pro you used to have a choice; with the new form factor you don’t.

    There are undeniable advantages to glossy. Colors appear richer, more three-dimensional, but the screen is also more susceptible to reflections, although the Apple’s updated displays aren’t quite as vulnerable to such irritants. Indeed, a glossy LCD comes closer in appearance to a plasma TV. That’s a good thing.

    On the other hand, the color reproduction on matte screens is said to be more accurate, and color calibration can be performed with greater success. I suppose that may not matter so much if you’re not involved in content creation. But, if true, it could be the deal breaker for one of Apple’s most lucrative markets. That is, if true.

    Now I won’t presume to know all of the answers here, and I welcome feedback from my loyal readers

    I will say this, however. My first exposure to a Mac with a glossy screen was a client’s 24-inch iMac. Having used a number of large screen flat panel displays in recent years, I can tell you that I was mightily impressed with that iMac, and I vowed to do some further investigation into my options for my next MacBook Pro.

    Indeed, when I considered getting a 17-inch Early 2008 model, I opted for glossy, and spent a short time comparing the image to the matte display on its predecessor. There was no contest, and all of the advantages of glossy are in bold relief.

    In the ensuing months, I’ve grown quite accustomed to glossy. Since most of my content creation efforts are confined to audio, writing, and Web-based graphics, I do not require extremely precise color rendition. It just has to be close enough to look pleasing on all computing platforms.

    Yes there are reflections. But they don’t draw attention to themselves unless I look for them. Your mileage, of course, might vary. But for me, I’m a glossy screen convert.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis

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    8 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #465”

    1. Dave says:

      Wouldn’t converting users to glossy be the first step in migrating users to accept future touch screen laptops?

    2. hmurchison says:

      I agree. I’m not bothered by the reflections of a glossy screen. I do also like the increased color depth even if it’s not accurate. I find it’s easier to control my lighting rather than beg for a matte screen. I don’t think people should be all that surprised. CRTs were anything but matte in appearance. We’ve all mainly cut out teeth on bubble CRT with annoying reflections. I find something is just missing on a matte screen.

      Another thing is; if you’re doing heavy graphics there are plenty of high end models to choose from with hoods and other calibrating features. Sometimes think it’s foolhardy to do some Pro work on Consumer hardware. I’m even coming to grips with no FW on the Macbook. It’s not a good value to me and I’m not purchasing it but my needs are a bit more specialized (AV work) than others.

    3. adam says:

      I like the glossy screen on my Macbook (2.0 Ghz black CoreDuo) for lots of reasons, none of which have to do with the new screen.

      The new screens are glossy because they are made of recyclable aresenic free glass. No one seems to have really picked up on this, but this Press Event was quite obviously the “Apple Green Event”. Steve spent almost as much time talking about the environmental progress of the design and manufacture of these machines as any usage related features.

      If the glossy is really a problem, there are plastic overlays that can be used which are not very expensive (see http://www.nushield.com for an example). I haven’t used these products since I like my display as is, but I have read comments in other forums on this topic which are very positive on the products.

      Not every decision is made because customers want a particular feature. In this case I believe that lower environmental impact was a major factor. Having said that when it comes to these screens I say try it, you might like it. And if you don’t there are alternatives, even if they take a few minutes of looking around to find them.


    4. John Fallon says:

      Looking at flat panels and laptops this weekend, I realized that all of them were glossy, and that Apple’s were far more reflective than any of the others I saw. It’s not the glossy versus matte that so much bothers me, as that the newest Mac’s are more reflective than anything else out there. The polished glass surfaces of the newest machines merely makes it worse. Even if you train yourself to ignore the reflections, there’s still unnecessary eye strain.

    5. What's the frequency, Kenneth? says:

      For people who actually USE laptop computers as laptop computers, the glossy screens are a deal-breaker. I guess I’ll have to put OS X on a ThinkPad next time.

    6. You mean like me?

      Well, I do use my MacBook Pro in my lap, and it has a glossy screen, and I like it fine.

      So am I missing something here?


    7. JohnK says:

      I use a 17 inch MBP to do presentations to small groups (3-4 people). I looked at the glossy screen when I bought this a few years ago and decided against it. It might be possible for me as a solo user to adapt to a glossy screen and I might be able to position myself to minimize reflections. However, this is not possible when presenting to several people. First, they are seeing this for the first time so they no chance to adapt themselves to ignoring the reflections and second it is impossible to position a screen to eliminate reflections for a group of people.

      It is puzzling why Apple is trending away from matte screens. Some people have clear needs for this and Apple usually tries to meet customers’ needs. They have lots of designers in-house. They certainly have gotten an earful of this from them. It’s not like they didn’t expect customers to be upset.

      People bring up the dropping of the floppy disk in relation to the lack of matte displays and Firewire. However, in that case you could hook up an external FD drive and recover that feature if you needed it. No such luck with the matte display or Firewire.

    8. javaholic says:

      “MacBook Pro offers an antiglare widescreen display that’s perfect for color-minded professionals.” Or so Apples website used to say.

      If you’re a user who enjoys the richer viewing experience of gloss, that’s fine. Matte may not have the sex appeal of gloss, but for accurate colour work (which we do daily) in our profession, we’ve found matte’s the better fit. Our iMac 24″ gloss screen ‘blings’ no matter where it’s placed or where/how you sit due to the nature of our studios natural and artificial light and frankly, I find the display distracting. The matte displays diffuse the light and so as a result we prefer to use the MacPros (we use a mix of Dell and Cinema displays with those) for any colour retouching or design work.

      At the end of the day, everyone’s scenario is different, and all Apple had to do is continue to offer matte and gloss display options. Pretty simple, I would’ve thought.

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