Category: Digital Lifestyle

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The iPhone Metaphor

Today we arrive at the first of two 10-year anniversaries regarding iPhone: Steve Jobs unveiling the handset six months before its release—unusual for Apple’s then-CEO to pre-announce something, but necessary, with the federal regulatory rigmarole that cellular devices go through. Jobs and his management team brought the smartphone to market at great risk: Established and entrenched manufacturers, mainly Nokia, had huge distribution channels and massive amounts of research and development invested in their cellulars. iPhone debuted in one market (United States) and on a single carrier (AT&T, which concurrently rebranded). By most measures of business strategies: Insanity. But risk was a defining characteristic of Jobs’ leadership style running the company.

You will read many “state of iPhone” analyses and commentaries this week spotlighting slowing sales, as buying growth plateaus in major markets (China, Europe, and the United States) and observing that Android continues to gobble global market share. The problem with iPhone is something else, and it’s a metaphor for what’s desperately wrong at Apple as 2017 starts: Loss of innovative mindshare; obsession with an outdated design motif; unwillingness to take meaningful risks. The company’s fortunes rose with iPhone, and they will fall with it. 

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Living with Apple’s Mistakes

I lied, but not deliberately. One year ago today, I wrote: “Apple Lost My Heart to Google in 2015“, explaining that “my mainstays at the start of 2016: Chromebook Pixel LSPixel CNexus 6P, and Huawei Watch. I abandoned Apple and there are no plans to return..I will write more about Google in 2016 than previous years, because of the benefits I see. As for Apple, the company had my heart for the longest time. I challenge CEO Tim Cook to win back my adoration; skeptical I may be”.

By March, however, Apple won back my business with little effort, and I gave up the Google lifestyle. Transition back to the Orchard started with a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro: 3.1GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, purchased from DC Computers. Three reasons: 1) I believed Mr. Cook’s privacy promises, all while my concerns about Big G information collection increased. 2) I found the visual acuity of Apple fonts and user interfaces to be far superior to Google’s, which helped compensate for diminishing reading vision (later recovered through eye surgery). 3) Google’s platforms proved inadequate for easily recording, producing, and publishing the Frak That! podcast, which is available on SoundCloud

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Apple Store, Bah Humbug

Apple sure knows how to keep its store stocked for the holidays. Ho, ho, ho, bah humbug. The shelves are bare, and you can get your must-have pretty thing some time next year. If you’re lucky. Let’s start with the delayed AirPods, which went on sale online last week. They arrived in stores on Monday, and whoosh were gone before the waiting line ended. My local shop had about 30 pairs. If you want them, first available retail pickup date is—cough, cough—February 8th. That is 2017. I had to confirm not 2018, because you never know with these dumbfounding delays. Straight-to-ship orders move your way in six weeks. Donald Trump will be president sooner!

Perhaps you’re pining for one of those pricey MacBook Pros—you know, the ones with Touch Bar that no sane person knows what to do with. Apple will miss Christmas, but you can still beat Martin Luther King’s birthday, with orders made today delivering sometime between January 4-10 or available for in-store pickup on the tenth. God Bless America and Made in China! 

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DirecTV Now and Then

From the day I received the Oct. 14, 2016 letter about billing changes, AT&T U-verse and Internet cancellation was inevitable. I had auto-pay set up to a credit card, but the service provider wanted access to my bank account, which I didn’t want to give. “Beginning in December, your credit card will be charged eight days after your Bill Cycle date”, the correspondence reads. The change meant AT&T would take payment on the 8th of the month rather than the 21st. Since the company bills a month in advance, the new date would work out to about six-weeks in fees paid ahead for future service. On principle, being an independent-minded “don’t tell me what to do” Mainer, I considered other options.

Ironically, the launch of another AT&T service, DirecTV Now, on October 30th, made the decision to cancel super easy. After several starts and stops, the Wilcox household has finally cut the cord for good. DirecTV Now is the nudge, but other streaming services make a big difference, too. Much has changed since the last cord-cutting effort, in November 2015, which we abandoned after about 7 weeks. The quality and quantity of original programming from Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix is greater and hugely enticing 12 months later. 

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The Googorola Metaphor

I don’t want to start an argument about politics. My sentiment this lovely day derives from what the incoming White House is, not what so many people here in California want it to be. I wonder: If Google bought Motorola during a Trump presidency, rather than Obama regime, would later sale to Lenovo be allowed or closing of the Texas phone-assembly factory about 18 months after opening?

The question arises from a pique of sadness as I look at the FedEx tracking information for two Motorola phones purchased directly from Lenovo. City of origin: Wuhan, China. My last Moto came from the Lone Star State, here in the USA. I pine for what might have been, remembering my excitement about Google’s $12.5 billion Motorola Mobility acquisition, in August 2011. My opinion expressed then remains: “The acquisition is bold for its risks, which are no less great than the benefits”. I was no fan of the later sale to Lenovo. 

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Say Goodbye to Nature, iPad

One of the main reasons I own an iPad is the NatureJournals app. Subscription to the fantastic, scientific publication is about $35 per year—versus $200 in print—and the presentation and convenience are outstanding. But the end is nye. Yesterday an alert flashed across the home screen about Nature Publishing suspending development, so I emailed for clarification.

Response arrived today from an account rep: “Unfortunately continued development and technical support for the NatureJournals app has become fiscally unviable and we have therefore made a decision to retire the app”. Bwaaaah! I’m not exactly shocked. How many people read scientific journals in apps? Surely I’m an oddball, and how many others like me can there be? Sigh, the subscription deal was too good to last.

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Tim Cook’s Last Stand

Washington Post reporter Hayley Tsukayama asks, following up on a commentary by software developer Marco Arment: “Is Apple really at the risk of becoming BlackBerry?“. The answer is absolutely “No”. But the concept is right. The fruit-logo company’s dire straight is much more profoundly catastrophic. The risk is becoming Nokia, and the path to that destination is already well-trodden.

Marco calls BlackBerry “king of smartphones”, referring to its market position before Apple released iPhone nine years ago in June. The description is apt enough. “BlackBerry’s success came to an end not because RIM started releasing worse smartphones, but because the new job of the smartphone shifted almost entirely outside of their capabilities, and it was too late to catch up”, he asserts. But smartphones were a niche category in 2007, so insignificant that analyst firms lumped the devices together with PDAs. iPhone’s disruption was far, far greater—Nokia lost its perennial global handset lead; for many of the reasons Marco identifies. Nokia, and not BlackBerry, is the metaphor, and it is frighteningly foreshadowing. 

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Google Gets Context, Sours Apple

Depending on the day, Apple or Alphabet is the world’s most valuable company as measured by market cap, and both manage the two dominant computing platforms used anywhere: iOS/OS X and Android/Chrome OS, respectively. As I write, Alphabet-subsidiary Google holds its annual developer conference. Apple’s event starts June 13.

During the opening keynote, Google CEO Sundar Pichai frames the conference and the company’s direction by rightly focusing on two fundamentally future-forward concepts: Voice and context. Google gets what Apple likely won’t present to its developers, and we’ll know next month. But based on product priority to date, the fruit-logo company is unlikely to match its rival’s commitment to the next user interface. 

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Reconsidering Facebook

I spent little time online the past week following the unexpected passing of my sister Annette exactly seven days ago. The reaction is strange, seeing how much Facebook, texting, and other connected activities and services enriched and changed her life during the last six months or so she walked this Earth. I was clueless.

Last year, I added Annette to my cellular account; she used Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone to start. This opened a new world of connection to children, other relatives, and friends by texting. In November, when switching the family to T-Mobile from Verizon and upgrading to Nexus 6P, I sent her my Nexus 6. Soon after, her fraternal twin, Nanette, helped set up Facebook. Annette’s first post was Nov. 22, 2015—a family photo with our brother-in-law Michael Bellerieve, before his death from cancer. 🙁 

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Sizing Up 12.9-inch iPad Pro

April 3, 2016 marks the first day that I truly could use Apple’s over-sized tablet to replace my laptop.  But I had to spend another $84, before California tax, to do it. Gadget reviewers who say that iPad Pro cannot be your computer are wrong. The apps, performance, and utility are there, Anyone creating content should consider this device as compliment to, or replacement for, an existing PC. The problem with 12.9-inch iPad Pro isn’t what it can do but how much it costs to assemble what you need. This kit is far from budget-friendly, which also can be said of Microsoft’s competing Surface Pro 4.

I started my iPad Pro sojourn on Groundhog Day, planning to use the device as my primary PC for 30 days. The objective: Apple CEO Tim Cook says the big-ass tablet can replace a personal computer, I want to see if he is right. The experiment isn’t my first journey like this. I tried something similar during summer 2011 with one of the first Chromebooks. The path was a dead end. But Spring 2012, when new commercial models released, I started down the path again and never looked back. Google’s Chromebook Pixel LS was my main computer before adopting the iPad lifestyle. 

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Meeting Apple’s Big-ass Tablet

The first thing you notice about iPad Pro is the size. The tablet is ginormous. It’s 12.9-inch screen lays before you like a chalk slate—a blank canvas demanding typed text or drawings made with Apple Pencil. Yet something also feels wrong about the thing. During the so-called Steve Jobs era, refined designs were smaller—like iPod nano. Apple is no stranger to larger; 27-inch iMac today or 17-inch MacBook Pro of yesteryear are examples. Perhaps. But there’s big, and BIG.

The giant tablet arrived around 2:50 p.m. PST on Groundhog Day 2016, marking a bold computing adventure for February: Using iPad Pro as my primary PC, and hopefully only one. Perhaps you read my recent obituary to Apple love lost and might wonder why buy anything Apple? I like to experiment and am paid to try out new things (so you won’t have to). By sheer size, PC replacement, not companion, is the only sensible design objective for iPad Pro. Can it meet the demands? I want to find out. 

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If You Can Vote for American Idol on Smartphones, Why Not Presidents?

Over the weekend, my 94 year-old father-in-law asked what I would do to assure that every American who could vote would do so. That was an unexpected question, but one I addressed gingerly. This post is my answer restated for a public venue.

Simple answer: Smartphone. According to PewResearchCenter, nearly 70 percent of Americans own one of the devices, but the number among voting age adults tops 80 percent, according to other estimates. Surely a program could be in place by the 2020 Presidential race, and if lawmakers were truly serious about universal suffrage, a Manhattan-like project could make it happen by the next Mid-terms.