• Newsletter Issue #669

    September 24th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Remember FreeHand? Created in 1988, the app had a checkered history, going through several ownerships before ending up in the hands of Adobe as the result of the 2005 acquisition of Macromedia. Adobe clearly had a twofold purpose in making that buy. One was to acquire Flash technology and the other was, predictably, to kill a major competitor.

    FreeHand languished under Adobe’s ownership, but even Macromedia had begun to cut back before the takeover. With the unfortunate death of FreeHand, devoted users rightly felt betrayed.

    One grass-roots movement, Free FreeHand, attempted to get Adobe to do something, anything, perhaps to agree to upgrade FreeHand so it’s native to Intel-based Macs, or sell it off to another company to continue development. In the end, the organization reached a settlement with Adobe, all right, but it’s no more than a discount coupon for Creative Suite apps.

    Into the breach came Quasado, who is developing a vector graphics app currently known as Stagestack, which is being designed, according to the company, in FreeHand’s tradition.

    So, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we present software developer Alexander Adam, from Quasado, who says that he expects Stagestack, which will be renamed to something more tongue friendly, to import FreeHand documents with full fidelity. I do wish him luck, but I question his claim that Illustrator cannot import FreeHand documents, which, of course, it can, although perhaps with various levels of fidelity.

    You’ll also hear from Adrian Hoppel, who writes a weekly column for Mac|Life called “Law & Apple,” where he tries to make some sense of the Apple’s legal adventures.

    John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, will explain why every “geeky smartphone feature doesn’t matter,” list the iPhone 5 features that Apple didn’t offer and why, and dissect Samsung’s anti-iPhone 5 ad campaign.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author/researcher Mike Bara, whose latest book, “Ancient Aliens on the Moon,” was recently released by Adventures Unlimited Press. We’ll also cover Mars mysteries. According to his bio, Mike is a New York Times Bestselling author and lecturer who began his writing career after spending more than 25 years as an engineering consultant for major aerospace companies, where he was a card-carrying member of the Military/Industrial complex.

    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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    IS MAPS REALLY AN APPLE MISCALCULATION?

    The launch of the iPhone 5 appears to have been hugely successful, but it seems the tech media, and a number of Apple customers, wanted things to be just perfect. So they seized on a clear shortcoming that is more part of the iOS 6 update than the new smartphone. And that’s Maps.

    Embroiled in ongoing patent disputes involving Google’s Android mobile platform, and clearly feeling betrayed over presumed “resemblances” to the iPhone, iPad, and iOS, Apple made a strategic decision to build their own mapping software. Certainly the fact that Google never offered turn by turn navigation in their iOS mapping app may have been a contributing factor.

    As with Android, Google Maps is based on technology invented by another company. In this case, it was Where 2 Technologies of Sydney, Australia, which was purchased by Google in 2004. So Google has had eight years to get things right, and it’s still not perfect. I’ve sometimes been led astray with Google’s turn-by-turn directions, but that’s also true with the built-in navigation system on my Honda.

    Obviously, Google Maps didn’t mature overnight. In addition to using existing data, Google has thousands of boots on the ground around the world using vans and other vehicles to get up to date information about local roads, streets, and landmarks. There is also the crowdsourcing phenomenon, where the experiences of individual users are gathered by Google’s servers and included in the mapping data. The number of mistakes over the years have been sharply reduced as Google continues to refine the service. It clearly takes time and dedication to the task.

    Apple’s Maps are based on data from loads of sources around the world, including such mapping services as Tom Tom. The bigger part of the job evidently involves somehow stitching all the disparate data together into a coherent whole, and there are bound to be rough edges.

    Some media pundits suggest that Apple should have held off on releasing Maps until development was further along. It’s speculated that Steve Jobs would never have allowed Maps to appear in its present condition, but I disagree.

    They forget, or ignore the fact that releasing unfinished products is not unusual for Apple. Indeed, the very first iPhone lacked an app ecosystem, support for multitasking, copy/paste and a host of other features. It didn’t even support 3G wireless networks. This all occurred with Steve Jobs at the helm, but he made sure that the iPhone did enough that was good to make the shortcomings seem less significant. Clearly Apple’s competitors noticed. Over time, the missing features were added and enhanced, and the list of what the iPhone cannot do has become shorter and shorter.

    Remember, too, that Jobs understood the advantages of the cloud, even if iCloud, MobileMe and its predecessors were seriously flawed. He clearly believed the public would continue to accept imperfect systems, knowing that the worst ills would eventually be eradicated.

    With Maps, the best solution is feet on the ground. Apple needs customers to send bug reports, and there’s a place to do this in the Maps software, where you can “Report a Problem.” Some of the most serious shortcomings are pretty obvious, since they’ve been highlighted in the media, and mentioned frequently on social networks and Apple’s own discussion boards. Apple is even posting ads for more software engineers to join the Maps team, to help speed the fixes along.

    In a few months, maybe just a few weeks, I’ve little doubt Apple will have eradicated the worst ills of Maps, assuming the system is easily trained. In my own testing in and around Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, Maps has been quite accurate, the glitches few. The most notable shortcoming appears to be the inability to recognize driveways and other private entrances to malls and housing complexes. But when I deliberately bypass a recommended route to use what I regard as a more efficient way to get from here to there, it does appear Maps updates quickly enough to get back on track.

    I’ve even consulted Maps for satellite images of places where I’ve lived over the years, including an apartment in Brooklyn, NY that my family occupied before I was a teen, and homes I rented in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Based on my memories of those dwellings, which I grant are probably imperfect, it does appear Maps got them right. I’ve yet to make an extended trip using Maps for guidance, although I did map a drive to Las Vegas, which I printed out and compared to the route I took on my last trip there.

    The results? Maps chose a travel plan that was very close to the 291 mile route I would have selected and, in fact, it was nearly the same as the route recommended by Google Maps. So Maps isn’t a total loss, or perhaps, a few days after the release of iOS 6, the system is beginning to learn from its mistakes. On the other hand, even if it was 99.9% accurate, that would leave plenty of room for mischief.

    Now you can be sure Apple’s critics, and competition, would love to brand Maps an abject failure. I have little doubt that some of those Apple versus Google mapping comparisons emphasize known trouble spots, rather than routes where both are substantially correct. To them, Apple lost their way. There can be no other conclusion.

    But if Maps improves quickly enough, the initial furor will die down, and more and more iPhone and iPad users will happily take trips to various places around the world with a reasonable degree of assurance they are using the best, and safest, routes.

    Then again, some people are still talking about Antennagate, and that controversy, such as it was, is two years old.

    DOES APPLE LEARN FROM ITS MISTAKES?

    Coming off the apparent Maps for iOS failure, some wonder whether Apple makes serious mistakes due to hubris, or because Steve Jobs is no longer around to demand excellence. The assumption here is that Apple grew so large because they were just about perfect, whereas, as I pointed out in the previous article, many new products have been released that still needed some work.

    Take a look at the original version of OS X, released in 2001. It’s hard to imagine how far Apple’s Unix-based OS has come unless you compare 10.0 with 10.8. The first official release of OS X arrived with missing or poorly-implemented features. You couldn’t use optical media, and printing barely functioned. Indeed, Steve Jobs admitted during the 10.0 rollout event for the media that it was largely designed for developers and power users, even though it was a retail product.

    And did I say it was dreadfully slow, even on the fastest Mac?

    Improvements came thick and fast in the old days. The 10.1 update arrived a few months later on a free upgrade CD available from Apple resellers, or would be mailed to you for $19.95 shipping and handling. At the time, Mac users were understandably upset over paying what they regarded as excessive shipping charges for a maintenance update. It should have been free, even by mail. But 10.1 also began to flesh out OS X and began to bring performance to an acceptable level.

    Even when OS X was preloaded onto new Macs, it was still the alternate installation. Most Mac users stuck with Mac system 9.2. Some suggest that OS X didn’t come into its own until 10.3, Panther, which was released in 2003. Others suggest that 10.4 Tiger, released in mid-2005, represented the first workhorse version. That’s the same OS that graced the initial run of Intel-based Macs, by the way.

    Other than the “free” 10.1 upgrade, every single OS X release was a retail product. Sure, 10.7 Lion came cheap, at $29.99 for a downloadable version, and 10.8 Mountain Lion is available for $19.99. But each is technically regarded as a full-fledged reference release. Imagine, for example, if the various upgrades to Windows appeared no more than two years apart. If that were the case, Windows 8 may have been released by 2009, although some will suggest the changes are far more drastic. Then again, the critics will point out that, shorn of the Modern UI overlay, it’s little more than a refined version of Windows 7 without a lot of significant new features.

    Now each version of OS X came with some significant early release bugs. One or two could result in lost data. Lion appeared with Wi-Fi connection problems. With Mountain Lion, there were complaints about poor battery life, which appear to have been largely corrected in the 10.8.2 update according to published benchmarks. But nothing about the subject is mentioned in the release notes. Apple also fixed the Save As feature in a way that restores the traditional functionality.

    When it comes to battery life shortcomings, don’t forget the original iOS 5 release. It required a couple of updates to straighten out the situation. And consider the first MacBooks and MacBook Pros that had a tendency to run just a little too hot for comfort. So we began to call them note-books rather than laptops.

    Over the years, Apple has had to initiate special repair programs for some models because of one hardware defect or another. Some iMac G5s, for example, suffered from premature power supply failures.

    If people want perfection, Apple won’t provide it. But even the imperfections come in a refined package that, for the most part, delivers an elegant and relatively straightforward user experience. Apple doesn’t clog the interface with loads of useless features that supporters of other platforms may pronounce as essential because they are, well, different.

    Sure, Apple could do better. I consider the constant hardware problems that afflicted my son’s 2008 black MacBook, for example. But if you’re expecting the perfect OS, or the perfect computer, keep waiting. It’s still not here, and probably never will be.

    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
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    7 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #669”

    1. Tim says:

      This isn’t like a game or music player. This is a device that people need for work or possibly their literal survival. Releasing a lousy new piece of software without also still providing a working piece of software was highly irresponsible if not outright dangerous. Listen, I’ve been an Apple fanboy since 1987, and I fail to see why you’re being such an apologist here. What would have been so bad about keeping the Google maps app and releasing the new Apple maps app at the same time? Users would still have begun to test it and give feedback while also having something fast and familiar to fall back on. This was just plain wrong on Apple’s part, and you are just plain wrong for seeing it as A-okay.

      • @Tim, My article makes it quite clear that Maps is NOT A-okay. Maybe you want to read it again. You can still use the Safari browser to access Google Maps as Apple continues to work on their own issues. Google didn’t build a mapping service overnight, and it’s still not perfect.

        Peace,
        Gene

      • pedant says:

        @Tim, no, it’s not a device that people need for their literal survival. It’s a phone.

        I think we can count on one hand the number of people who are currently shivering on a mountain side waiting for the Fedex guy to drive up and deliver their new iPhone, which will have a Maps application that will save their lives.

    2. Shock Me says:

      When I checked today on my iPad Google Earth and Google Maps in Safari still worked. Along with my Navigon, Garmin, and Tom Tom apps, as well as my personal favorite on iPhone: MapQuest.

      Apple will fix it or they won’t. Until they do I have loads and loads of backups.

    3. John says:

      Yes, Apple miscalculated their maps timing. They should have started in 2008 when they realized that they were being ripped off by Google. But I guess they didn’t realize how important mapping is going to become for the iPhone at the time.

      They’re doing the right thing now, but it’s a bit late and it will take them time to catch up. And until they catch up, they’ll have to endure the flack that they’re going to get.

      If they had the proper foresight, they could have gathered all the info that they’ve been sending to Google for all these years and by now their mapping service would have been much better.

      The best thing iPhone users can do now is to use the included Maps app, report all the issues that they encounter (so that Apple can fix them) and when Apple’s maps fail them, switch to safari and use maps.google.com to solve their immediate problem.

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