It’s nice to be proven right. And perhaps Steve Jobs, wherever he is now, is smiling because his disparaging comments about Adobe Flash have been proven to be correct. Adobe has decided not to develop new versions of mobile Flash, choosing, instead to support HTML5. While I’m not going to suggest when it might happen, I expect that the future of the desktop version of Flash is also uncertain. Web designers are going to want one version of a site to work on all platforms. Having a dual-mode setup, with Flash for Mac and PC, and HTML5 for mobile gadgets, may work in the short term, but not as a long-term solution.
Meanwhile, on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus discussed the still-delayed iTunes Match from Apple, and his ongoing quest to find a replacement for Intuit’s Quicken, a personal finance app, on his Mac. As most of you know, Intuit is causing big trouble for some Mac users because their only Intel-compatible version of Quicken is feature limited.
Commentator Kirk McElhearn was in rant mode as he complained about problem’s he’s had with Apple support in resolving iCloud issues. Since I had a few myself, I could only echo the concerns.
From ZeoBIT, spokesperson Jeremiah Fowler described the major features of the company’s all-in-one Mac utility, MacKeeper.
Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, returned to address the iPhone 4s battery woes, Apple’s recent fix, and Adobe’s decision to stop developing Flash for mobile gadgets, such as Android smartphones, and the BlackBerry PlayBook.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time paranormal author and researcher Jeff Danelek, author of a number of books that include “The Great Airship of 1897: A Provocative Look at the Most Mysterious Aviation Event in History (Popular Beliefs Controversial).” Were those early UFO reports the result of balloons, dirigibles, or something totally unknown?
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
So a survey is published this week claiming that growth of Mac OS X Lion is unaccountably stagnating. A marketing firm, known as Chitika, has released the survey, which alleges that growth in Apple’s new OS, after an initial spurt, has slowed down seriously. If true, you’d think Apple has a problem, but are these figures to be believed?
Let’s just say, the results raise loads of questions.
Consider that, each and every month, Apple is selling more than 1.5 million new Macs. Since late July, every one of those Macs, other than a small number of units remaining in stock, were preloaded with 10.7 Lion. Most of these models cannot be downgraded. So where does Chitika get its figures? Unfortunately, when you examine their site, you’ll find precious little information about test methodology, though I did learn the company had to settle with the FTC last year over complaints about online ad targeting. Seems there were complaints about the opt-out process, involving people who didn’t want to receive such material.
In reporting the results of that survey, company spokesperson Ryan Cavanaugh claims, in a blog entry: “Historically Mac users are quick to adopt the latest Apple software, as in the case with our iOS5 report, leading us to believe there are some real issues preventing users from making the $29.99 upgrade.”
So where does he get those figures? Does he not realize that Lion’s growth will be automatic so long as people continue to buy new Macs in large quantities? Besides, it’s not as if Mac sales slowed in the wake of the Lion launch. Apple sold nearly 4.9 million new Macs in the September quarter and, unless hard drive shortages due to massive flooding in Thailand (where a fair portion of hard drives are assembled) cause production slowdowns, there’s no reason to assume that sales this quarter won’t meet or exceed the five million level.
Unfortunately surveys can be made to prove anything, if you just manipulate the questions and the methodology in an appropriate fashion. What’s more, the latest stats from Net Applications, which surveys online activity, indicates that Lion has a 30% share among the active Mac user base as of the first three months of availability. That’s a pretty high percentage.
So which survey should you believe?
Certainly, I wouldn’t presume to suggest you only believe the numbers that favor your point of view or expectations. But if someone is going to deliver a survey with results contrary to logic, they are duty-bound to explain where they are coming from. Instead, it appears that Chitika is attempting to reach conclusions that favor a predetermined point of view or vendetta, rather than explain how the figures were devised.
Now I suppose those curious numbers might be based solely on people eligible for upgrades who haven’t purchased new Macs. If that’s the case, and it’s not altogether clear, it’s possible the survey may have somewhat of a basis of fact. It’s quite true that the larger portion of people buying an OS upgrade will do so early in the product’s lifecycle, and that the growth curve will diminish after that. It wouldn’t necessarily impact the total Lion user base, since that also includes new Mac purchases.
Indeed, there are legitimate reasons not to upgrade to Lion. First and foremost is that you’re using software that requires the Rosetta PowerPC emulation app, which Apple has discontinued for 10.7. I can imagine the plight of, for example, users of Intuit’s Quicken, who chafe at the lost features of the only Intel-savvy version of the app, dubbed “Essentials.” But there are loads of other apps that date back to the PowerPC era that either require expensive upgrades, or will never make the Intel transition.
It may also be that some potential Lion purchasers are concerned about the iOS-inspired eye candy. They don’t care about having to deal with reversed scrolling (although it’s easily changed), the vagaries of Auto Save, and the other Lion features, such as enhanced gesturing, which aren’t so compelling. There may come a time when they are prepared to upgrade, but that decision will be postponed. Besides, buying a new Mac will be a better idea.
In the meantime, Chitika must enjoy their brief presence in the spotlight, having challenged the prevailing meme that Apple can do no wrong. Few will question the survey’s meaning or methodology, only that it was done, and the numbers must be believed.
As far as The Night Owl is concerned, we aren’t married to good or bad results for Lion. Besides, its success or failure as a retail product is not going to materially upset Apple’s bottom line. So long as more and more new Macs are sold, with a large portion involving customers new to the platform, there’s little incentive to address concerns over Lion. Apple seldom looks back, except to address a known hardware defect, such as those reported overheating issues with the first generation iPod Nano.
Meantime, far too many people want to put down successful people and companies. Being in the spotlight can be hazardous, and every little perceived flaw is generally exaggerated. Consider those reported battery life woes with iOS 5 and the iPhone 4s. Android smartphones have had similar issues, but how often do you hear about them?
This is a familiar experience. You’re on the checkout line at a store. When you reach the cashier, after your purchases are tallied, you’re confronted with a touch-based pay terminal with a slot to insert your credit card. These devices typically use a stylus for customer interaction, such as entering a PIN number or your signature. But the touchscreens aren’t always responsive, so you sometimes have to click a button twice to activate a function.
Well, if you’re using an ATM debit card, you have the choice of paying via debit or credit. It’s a simple enough concept, but choosing the credit option usually requires pressing the Cancel button first, then picking Credit from the next screen’s menu. Does that sound intuitive to you? Did any of the companies who designed the checkout software ever think that requiring such an unintuitive step to select one of your payment options doesn’t make any sense? How does canceling the transaction, which is what you’d expect from a Cancel button, do precisely the reverse?
And I haven’t even begun to consider the clunky 1980s look and feel, with blocky, dim lettering against a green or similarly darkened background. Don’t you sometimes think the people who designed these interfaces from hell need a sharp smack in the head?
Of course, obtuse user interfaces are nothing new in computerized gadgets. Just check out a setup menu on your new TV set, a Blu-ray player, or the settings screens on a standard feature phone. What do they remind you of? How about Windows 95? Although the interfaces of today’s versions of Windows are somewhat better organized, and the lettering is smoother, Microsoft still observes some of the same poorly conceived conventions.
This lack of elegance and usability is rampant throughout the tech industry. Just the other day, I set up a new Brother MFC-J825DW All-in-One printer that I had received for review. At a street price of $149.99, it’s actually a good value. You get decent printing, scanning, faxing and copying in a relatively slim form factor. Even better, consumables are reasonably priced, but I’ll have more specifics to offer after I’ve had more face time with the product.
Typical of other print makers, Brother’s interface designers don’t have a clue. The touch menus have that same infamous Windows 95 look, and status messages are typically obtuse. If it’s not a “Please Wait…” label, consider the “Receiving Data” status message when you’re printing a document. Receiving Data? Why not just “Printing”?
The setup utilities are also poorly designed. Consider the Remote Setup Program, designed to allow you to configure the J825DW on your Mac or PC rather than on the unit itself. Although the software is evidently compatible with Mac OS X Lion, the interface would make Apple’s developers freak. While the labels are clear enough, the activity buttons have tiny lettering, and clicking OK will dismiss the app, even if you actually intend to make further changes. I suppose they expect you click Apply instead. So why not change OK to Quit? Why indeed!
Of course, reviewers who favor specs and benchmarks over usability are only encouraging endless interface stagnation. Consumer Reports magazine ranks first among many as a prime offender.
Maybe Apple should set up an educational program for peripheral interface designers. Whether you use a Mac or a PC, you deserve simplicity and elegance. Label text should be clear, and the buttons should clearly express the intended function. Sure, Apple makes mistakes, but at least they try.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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