Category Archives: apple


I have been overwhelmed by the spread of what some have been calling MOOCs (massive, open, online classrooms). I remain enthusiastic about the potential for an internet-catalized revolution in education, but I think the real missing ingredient isn’t the content, or the scalable assessment tools, which is what these commercial efforts have been focusing on, what’s missing is culture and community.

I think there are interesting parallels to Apple’s WWDC even, which has been selling out in record time:

Many more people want to attend WWDC than the conference can accommodate. There has been no shortage of interesting suggestions for how to fix this. Broadly speaking, WWDC has not changed in decades. Apple and its developer ecosystem, on the other hand, are radically different than they were just five years ago. Something has to give.

via Hypercritical: The Lottery.

Apple has tried to remedy the situation somewhat by putting all the materials online, but it seems that many recognize that this isn’t sufficient because it doesn’t provide the cultural and community benefits of attending WWDC. Right now the practical size of WWDC is partially due to a limit on the available venues in San Francisco, but fundamentally it is the number of attendees to Apple’s engineers, what in education is called the student-faculty ratio. Lower is generally better. Apple, on the other hand, probably doesn’t want to get too big, and definitely doesn’t want to grow to fast because there are limits to the rate at which they can train qualified engineers they can train up in “the Apple Way”

On Apple’s Hiring of Kevin Lynch, Former Adobe CTO

Yesterday the news came out that Apple had hired Kevin Lynch away from Adobe, where he served as CTO. The hire hasn’t been without controversy.

Over on Daring Fireball, John Gruber reacted to the news with contempt and disbelief, pointing out that while at Adobe, Lynch had displayed questionable judgement in his championing of Flash at the expense of Apple and iOS:

Lynch wasn’t just an employee pushing the company line. As CTO, he was the guy who defined the company line — and his line had Adobe still pushing for Flash on mobile devices over three years after the iPhone shipped.

Gruber concludes that Lynch is a “bozo.” He makes a strong case for pinning the label on lynch, but he fails to consider alternative explanations for the hire.

On Apple Insider, Daniel Eran Dilger has a different take on the hire. He points out that Lynch has a long and successful track record with digital media creation tools. He came to Adobe when they hired Macromedia, where he was their top technical and product exec. He was instrumental in the creation of Dreamweaver, and the Mac version of FrameMaker.

It is also worth noting that despite the fact that while the success of the iPhone and iOS caught Adobe, not to mention the rest of the tech-industry, flat-footed, Flash had a damn good run up until that point, and since then, Adobe has done a reasonable job establishing itself on iOS with end-user-apps, and tools for content creators, even without Flash.

I’ll suggest an alternative take: Apple hired Lynch as part of an ongoing effort to improve their tools for creating content and apps for iOS devices. Time will tell whether or not he was a good hire. Certainly other tech execs have fallen from grace, only to redeem themselves. Take Google’s Eric Schmidt, who had a great run at Google after getting beaten badly by Microsoft while leading Novell, or Steve Jobs, who was run out of Apple by a guy he himself hired and had a middling run with NeXT before returning to Apple and leading it to its current preeminence.

What the Technology Press and Bloggers Doesn’t Understand About Apple (or the rest of the industry)

John Gruber and others have done good work highlighting the ravings of Apple’s doomsayers and trying to understand what makes them tick.

I’ve been ranting and raving about what’s wrong with the world-view that, “the latest Apple product was a boring incremental update and that they need to release something disruptive or they are doomed,” for a while now, but I figured it was time for me to actually write some of it down.

My take is that these technology writers might know a little something about writing, to the point where they can collect some facts and hack them into a narrative that seems to accommodate them, but they don’t know shit about technology and user experience.

They know that once upon a time, Apple almost died, but then Steve Jobs returned, saved the company, bestowed the the revolutionary iPod, iPhone and iPad upon a grateful public, and as a result, became one of the most valuable and most profitable in the world. From this they conclude that if Apple doesn’t do the same thing, in the same way, again, soon it is doomed, and Steve Jobs won’t be around to save it.

Their mistake, is, as I said before, they don’t know shit. They don’t understand that users are most apt to embrace revolutionary change when the status quo is shit. If the status quo is already pretty good and improving at a steady rate, they’ll stick with what they know. This is perfectly rational, sensible behavior. Incremental improvements let people build on their existing knowledge, revolutionary change requires that they unlearn what they already know and learn something new. Steve Jobs understood this. Time Cook, for those who listen, seems to understand this.

Apple released the iPod, iPhone, and iPad into a stagnant landscape. It stagnated because of Apple’s own failures, and Microsoft’s failure to innovate and improve user experience, despite its success in crushing competition and dominating the industry. Apple was disruptive because catching up on a 5-10 years of missed innovation was disruptive.

Going forward though, the best interests of Apple and Apple’s users aren’t served by disruption, they are best served by strong, steady, relentless incremental progress. As long as Apple keeps up a healthy pace in the areas they’ve already entered, there won’t be obvious disruptions. Instead, every few years, people will feel like things have improved enough that they feel compelled to give Apple more of their money and take home the latest version of Apple’s gadgets. When they get them home, they’ll have an easy time moving all their data and settings over to the new device, and be reassured by the familiarity of the user experience. They’ll also feel glad they spent their money, because the new device will be the best phone/tablet/computer they have ever owned. Their old one, which they may have hesitated to part with, will seem old and worn.

If anyone has doubts about this approach, they need only look at Apple’s oldest product line, the Macintosh. After a rough decade preceding and following Steve Job’s return to Apple, Mac hardware and software has seen regular incremental updates. In the process, Apple has seen its share of the personal computer market grow steadily, and it has taken the lions share of the most profitable segments of the market. They’ve done this from a base that was far far weaker than their positions in the mobile phone and tablet market.

As for what the future holds for Apple. I expect that they will, eventually, move into new markets in a big, disruptive way, but they’ll do it on their own time.  It’s also possible that, despite their best efforts, competitors will end up disrupting Apple before they disrupt themselves. I won’t bet on when though, and I’d be skeptical of anyone of anyone who insists that such a change is coming soon.


Today, John Gruber linked to a blog post on Apple’s design problems, with the comment “Best list of where iOS needs serious work that I’ve seen.” It may well be, but I’m having trouble getting past the second item in their list:

Six items that drain mobile device batteries (GPS, WiFi, cellular radio, Bluetooth, notifications and screen brightness) still require laborious, multiple clicks in multiple places, not immediately obvious to non-savvy users to turn on and off, without any simple, thematic or geo-fenced grouping.

I have no idea where this person is coming from, but they seem to think that these are things that iOS users need to interact with on a regular basis. They aren’t.

Apple’s solution to the problem of poor mobile device battery life isn’t to make it as easy as possible for users to manage device power consumption, is to ship devices with good battery life without placing a burden on the user.

Their proposed solution of a thematic or geofenced grouping of relevant settings, is a band-aid over a problem the user shouldn’t have to worry about in the first place.

On Apple moving Mac from x86 to ARM

Blomberg is reporting that Apple is considering moving the Mac computer line off of Intel x86 CPUs to in-house developed ARM CPUs. I have my doubts.

I’m sure it is true that they are considering it, but that doesn’t mean it will be happening any time soon. They considered moving to Intel for the better part of a decade, on and off and they didn’t make their move until their old CPU choice, the PowerPC line, had fallen behind and showed no signs of recovering.

For the time being, Intel seems to be on the right track. No one offers a faster or more power-efficient desktop/laptop CPU. Intel was apparently slower than Apple would have liked in driving down power-consumption down or graphics performance up, but they seem to have changed their tune. They’ve accelerated their pace of GPU performance improvement, a move that some have attributed to Apple’s demands. They’ve also become increasingly serious about low-power chips for both mobile devices and “ultrabooks” (Windows version of the MacBook Air). Also, given that so much of their market these days are low-margin, low-price windows PCs, I’d think they’d be eager to have the opportunity to keep a customer who can afford to pay a premium to get the best Intel has to offer.

It is true that Apple does have its own in-house chip-design talent working on ARM CPUs, and it might make sense to leverage their efforts over more of Apple’s product line, but right now, Mac volumes are really a fraction of the iOS device volumes, so it isn’t clear it would be a big win, especially since their laptops and desktops currently occupy and performance and power-consumption envelope that is significantly different than iOS devices.

In the long-term though, I think it is pretty likely that Apple move off of Intel. I think that in many ways, the writing has been on the wall for Intel for a long time. Their competitive position has been eroding, and the pace is going to accelerate if they fail to get some major mobile-phone and/or tablet design-wins in the next year or so. It will be further hastened if high-performance ARM CPUs start putting pressure on their margins and volumes in the server-space.  At some point, Apple will have to switch horses, and if they time it just right, they might actually gain some competitive advantage by weakening competitors who are less-prepared and less able to abandon Intel.

I’ve never been great at estimating when the inevitable will finally come to pass, but I can’t imagine it will be less than 3 years before Apple would make such an announcement, and probably more like 4-6 before they have to.

In the best light

Microsoft may have, um, borrowed a lot from Apple in designing their own Microsoft Store retail experience, but beyond the superficial similarities are important differences.

To give but one example, I found browsing on the Surface RT to be slow, halting experience. Microsoft seemed to be blocking some of the websites I tried to visit and redirecting them to their own home page, but even when the sites weren’t blocked, they were slow to load. Some of it could have been a software issue, but I think a lot was related to the WiFi network in the Microsoft store, and the speed of its connection to the Internet.

Apple knows better. The WiFi and Internet connection at their store is speedy, allowing them to show their products in the best possible light, and it worked, the iPad Mini and iPad felt snappy when browsing the web. The Surface RT felt sluggish.