Tuesday 3 August 2010

Comments on Apple

Ok, here I go on the comments-about-Apple bandwagon.

Things about Apple that irritate me:
  • Purely for content consumption not content creation or acquisition of content from external sources
    Apple's portable devices (excluding the Macbook Air and above) are not really about content creation, they're about a walled garden approach to content supply + micropayments or more simply, a convenient interface to your credit card to purchase content. They don't make it easy to pull content from other devices owned by the user without a variety of complex dongle cables, don't support personal area network tech like bluetooth for anything but sharing net + audio devices and the smaller devices generally insist on either using a third party 3G to WiFi router, to have the "3G" version of everything or to jailbreak an iPhone and make it share via WiFi.

    "Frontrow", Apple's answer to Windows Media Centre and friends is a stinker - the Apple TV also bombed too. There are far better programs, such as "Plex" which'll pull content from all sorts of sources, not just Apple's walled garden. Apple should learn from apps such as Plex, but this threatens their "one ring to bind them all" approach with the iTunes shop.

  • Not as much thought goes into making Apple devices play nice with existing third party tech
    Apple products work very well... with one another, but don't play as well in a heterogenous environment. Apple appears to focus testing on a limited set of use cases with a specifically Apple environment and doesn't consider third party equipment often. Even point releases of OS X can break things like printer driver support, or interoperability with Windows Servers (an important business feature). If Apple believes a technology is dated, even if it's widely still in use, they'll ignore it. Specifically issues I've observed are:

    • Microsoft Windows domain support
      Apple really caused hell when they changed the way DNS worked in 10.5, completely breaking the workaround businesses had to implement with 10.4 to get industry standard ".local" domains used in Microsoft Windows domains going with Bonjour enabled Macs.. The only way to do it was to disable bonjour on the mac because there was no longer an easy way of specifying the DNS resolver sequence.

    • PPPoE support on Apple Airports and Time CoffinsCapsules
      Ever had to configure a PPPoE connection on an Apple Time Capsule? DON'T.. The Airport experience I've had was more "Flying High" than LAX.. Apple Airports and Time capsules are a NIGHTMARE to configure unless the internet connection presents itself as plain IP over ethernet (be that DHCP or statically assigned). Trying two different modems with multiple bridging settings, I could NOT get it to work (the reason I went with bridging was because I wanted to eliminate double NAT and still allow the "guest" function of the Time Capsule). The modems worked first time every time with other PPPoE clients (routers + computers) on the same and other ISPs.. but never consistently with the Time Capsule. PPPoE is not an unusual protocol when it comes to internet access - the airport/time capsule management system has minimal debugging facilities beyond a multi-coloured light and limited logging.

      Another gripe about the Airports/Time Capsules is that ANY preference change requires the unit to be rebooted.
      Add a DHCP MAC address assignment? Reboot
      Change the WPA key? Reboot
      Add a port forward? Reboot

      Want to configure the Airport/Time Capsule? No web interface on this bad boy, oh no, you have to install the Apple Airport Configuration Utility.

    • Bluetooth
      I have a Nokia N95 and have had a Nokia N70 as well as having a Microsoft Entertainment Keyboard 8000. To get content quickly off my Nokia, I don't have to plug in a cable and wait for it to sync, hell, it doesn't even have to be in the same room, I just go to my desktop and say "Browse files on N95" and it just works. Optionally if I'm at a friend's, I can zap files across from my phone directly to theirs without touching the internet.

      One might argue that Bluetooth is old and slow and that WiFi and 3G is faster. The problem here is that ad hoc WiFi is time consuming to configure (and illegal in Japan!), there's not always going to be a WiFi network available to connect to.

      3G internet is expensive in Australia - there is no such thing as a truly unlimited plan here, there's always some asterisk indicating that a "fair use" policy of some sort applies.

      Apple mobile devices seem to either require a cable or internet + some server based service to export content. They don't like pushing content directly to other devices, even though apps developed for jail broken devices have proven that Apple hardware is more than capable of all sorts of device interaction.

    • Video calling
      Sure, Apple has "Facetime" now as well as a front and rear camera on the iPhone, and a flash on the rear camera. Welcome to 2005, Apple! From what I've seen, Facetime does give a very nice picture when it comes to video calls, BUT it's only Apple to Apple video calling, and it's only over WiFi internet.

      I got a Nokia N70-1 in 2006. It came with video calling, which had already been out for at least a year or two by then. This video calling works over the 3G network. Sure, it's not always the best picture, but it's already around. It's a standard many different phones implement.

      Whilst Apple has its own system which it believes is better, it doesn't run over 3G and no other devices support it. So Apple users can't video call any one of the other video calling devices or vice-versa. Why not support the existing standard AND introduce your own Apple specific magic?

  • Absolutely no loyalty to older hardware - driving consumption through dropping support quickly
    At the opposite extreme from Microsoft which is slavishly devoted to backwards compatibility (perhaps a little too much), Apple doesn't believe in maintaining backwards compatibility for extended periods and prefers to rapidly deprecate hardware through software updates. Older computers rapidly lose graphics chipset support first, then progressively support is removed entirely. Whole groups of users were jettisoned in the migration to the Intel architecture from the PPC architecture.

  • Slow to release security updates
    Apple is slow to release security releases and often sticks to its own release schedule, even if a component they use in their systems is known to be vulnerable and has already been patched in other systems. They love to brag that they aren't as vulnerable as other platforms when it comes to malware etc, but that's because they're simply not as popular in a global sense, so there's more money to be made by malware authors with Windows. They're still always going to be vulnerable to social engineering also, regardless of how slick they feel their version of sudo (think UAC, but before UAC) is.

    Various security bodies were screaming for ages when Apple took quite a long time to update the vulnerable version of Bind (a DNS daemon bunded with OS X) they shipped and several also recommend that users do NOT run Safari on Windows.

    Quicktime also seems to cop a lot of security updates. Recently Secunia has rated Apple as having the most security vulnerabilities in front of Oracle and Microsoft.

    When they do release an update, usually it's a full copy of the program rather than a patch, so updates can take ages to download.

  • Devices restricted to selected use cases
    Apple make every attempt possible to restrict use of their devices to the use cases they've designated, even if alternative uses are technically possible. When things are "jail broken" etc., Apple do their darndest to lock them back up again.. and do this by way of nagging you to install updates to iTunes - usually by way of making you download a completely new copy of the installer rather than a patch. At least Apple haven't configured their devices to deliberately brick themselves upon detecting a jailbreak.

  • Pricing
    Apple have some of the biggest margins in the computing industry. If you don't care about shiny steel and/or sleek plastic and pulsing rather than flashing lights etc. and just look at hardware specs, you'll get something cheaper in a PC brand. Their OS costs a lot less than Windows to buy, but often you'll have to upgrade your mac which costs a lot more.

  • Apple lurrrves to beta test on its early adopters
    Whenever Apple releases a major new product (and not just a slight reworking of an existing one), be it a phone, a music player, a notebook or a desktop, the first hardware release invariably has some very obvious problem with it. Generally speaking they get it right by hardware revision 2. Moral of the story here - never be an Apple early adopter.. let other people be the guinea pigs.

  • Windows versions of Apple software tend to be bloated and install components that auto load on boot even if you don't use them
    Ever installed iTunes, Safari or the Apple Airport Configuration Utility on a PC? If you haven't yet, but plan on doing it, look at your services control panel before and after installation. Even if you don't have an iPhone, even if you don't have an iPod, iTunes will install additional services and when you disable them, if you install one of their many iTunes updates (which even when they're only fixing a small issue always seem to be a full install) they'll re-enable the services you aren't using and you have to turn them off again. The Apple Airport Configuration Utility will install a watchdog that's always scanning for Airports on your current network connections. It's annoying to turn off without uninstalling it. All of them tend to install Apple Software Updates (which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't always prompting to install software you didn't install) and the Bonjour client for broadcast DNS support.

  • Arrogance
    "You're holding the phone wrong!" ... Sorry I'm left handed Steve, but with a device that wide, it's not surprising I might curl a finger underneath or hold the phone such that my palm/thumb rests on the opposite side of the phone to my right handed friends. Unless you believe discriminating against 25% of the population is ok, then if the bumper is the way to fix it, you should be giving it away with the phone! (... and now you do)

  • Walled Gardens and censorship
    Apple enforce a strict content policy on anything that's made available by way of an application downloadable from the store. Beyond prohibiting content that I believe could be seen to infringe upon the personal rights of others such as rape (obviously including those who cannot give consent such as minors) and flagging material that is not intended for children (such that parents might set a block for those for whom they're guardians), I don't see it as useful or appropriate for Apple to block other content when they make it very difficult for all but certain types of web content to come through from third parties.. That said I can understand if Apple were to place certain quality requirements on applications (the application where someone was charging $999 to just display a diamond on the screen was a bit much).

  • Describing the release of features others have had for years as breakthroughs
    Whilst the way Apple implements multitasking is different and has some merit (Ie. no point redrawing the UI if the app's not in the foreground), it still doesn't allow as much flexibility (the type of tasks that can be performed in the background is very limited and some developers have said it still means some network apps cannot be backgrounded) as other devices have had for years.. Multitasking in and of itself is not a new feature.

Things I believe that Apple do really well:
  • Marketing
    Apple (except for their management of the iPhone 4 situation) do an amazing job on marketing. Developing a product for a need the consumer doesn't realise they have yet and then flogging that product (iPod + iTunes store + paying for music, iPhone + Apps, iPad + paying for content besides music)

  • Industrial design
    Apple products look amazing (even their packaging) - their products could be considered works of art and are devoid of the usual "I must have more buttons" culture of 'high tech' gadgetry. Excluding the iPhone 4's poor choice of antenna placement for left handed people (oops). Apple tends to lead the market when it comes to the appearance of products or indeed the general form factor of products.

    In environments where you wouldn't normally have a computer, or would have to be creative to conceal it (entertainment centres, reception desks, small office cubicles etc.) Apple does do a good job of tidying things up.

  • User experience
    If you're willing to work within Apple use-cases and generally with an homogenous, exclusively Apple hardware environment, Apple equipment is amazingly easy to use. Computer phobics can start working within hours. Some could also argue that restricting use cases or the ways that you perform an actual task makes it easier for new users to learn how to perform a task as there's fewer ways to skin the proverbial cat and tasks are made more consistent in their application throughout the environment.

  • Driving online commerce
    Albeit in a walled garden, Apple has also made a lot of people comfortable with purchasing things over the internet (be they apps, music etc.). I like free stuff, I'm sure everyone likes free stuff, but the reality is, in the end someone has to pay the people who generate the content otherwise those people can't afford to spend time exclusively generating the content and the quality of said content declines.

    Whilst Apple's walled garden approach is bad in some respects as Apple gates what people might do on their devices, and who and how they might interact with those devices, by being the primary channel for obtaining applications,

  • Consistent purchased media experience within Apple device pool
    If you buy content in the iTunes store, if it's copy protected it'll only work on the Apple devices attached to your iTunes account, but still it will work as you upgrade through various versions of iTunes etc. Microsoft really f***ed this up when it came to their "Plays4Sure" system which they then dumped for the system they used in the Zune. I don't know anyone in Australia with a Zune.

  • Changing paradigms
    Sometimes when Apple ignores the status quo, good things do arise. No one has done as much to drive personal, paid, portable, information consumption quite as much as Apple of late. Invariably in a capitalist society, everything needs to move to a "user pays" system to survive. Advertising can only fund so much. The devotion of Apple's fan base allows them to try new things and get funding for them from the huge pool of early adopters they have that follow them almost religiously. I suspect other technology companies find it a lot harder to introduce new concepts and get the market enthused enough to try them out in any big way.

    That said, in introducing new ways, I don't believe that precludes support of the old ways.

  • Feature takeup
    Whilst often features Apple introduce aren't unique, they do, through their marketing and implementation, often have a lot higher take up when it comes to use. Through a combination of their superior marketing and attention to design from the physical product through to the user interface, the initial barrier to entry is a lot lower and the learning curve for entry level functions is a LOT lower than alternatives.
Do you think I've forgotten anything?
Have I perhaps been too harsh?

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