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No news is good news

550 words

Getting outside my offline-home this morning, I had to catch up with the other Apple-tards to see what ‘news’ there were at the WWDC Stevenote. While I read a lot of ‘booring’ remarks because nothing mind-whopping was presented, I kind of like that.

If Mac OS X.5 suggests anything then it’s that Apple need to do more boring development to simply make it more reliable. I totally think that the OS can use a bit of a break in the neverending feature-hunt. The amusingly named Snow Leopard release could be just that if we are lucky. Perhaps my Mac will have reliable network support, glitch free multiscreen graphics and other niceties in a year or so. I’m not holding my breath but I’ll invest a bit of hope.

And then everything seems to be iPhone. Of course I still fail to see the point of the iPhone as I didn’t start needing something like it over night. I’m also not sure about the supposed price slash. Currently it looks like the main expensive point about the iPhone, the long term inflexible expensive contract, remains in place or possibly even got worse. If my maths are right, ten dollars a month extra more than make up for a two hundred dollar price reduction over two years. The interesting questions will be how much an iPhone will cost without a contract, how it will react to other phone network’s SIM cards and so on. To me it doesn’t look like the toy became significantly cheaper.

iPhone applications look interesting. Not that I have any use for them, mind you. They still look like they should be more fun than the games you get on other phones. And somehow I had anticipated (though not as strongly) that the medical business will love the iPhone and would love to use it. Medical doctors just love toys and have the cash to spare for something like this, so this could be big. I’m just wondering about how safe it’s cosidered to use a phone/wireless device in a hospital.

I have never been a fan of .mac and I still think that Apple’s new ‘me’ service is generally a bad thing as it had (and will have) a tendency to make Mac software worse for everybody who doesn’t buy into Apple’s deal while Apple keeps a tight monopoly on the technology and kills any other ways of synchronising your Mac with other computers or devices. But at least the web pages they showed for the me service look like Apple have finally jumped the more modern and interactive internet bandwagon. Their last site redesign already hinted at that and now they claim to do the same thing for all other parts of their service. My guess is that it will suck on slow connections, that it will be prettier but not as useful as the equivalent Google tools and that at least the web link to a file on the iDisk feature will actually solve a few real problems owed to the deficiencies of today’s internet.

And, yeah, Mr Jobs is the guy who can command his minions to do something excessively stupid and then get a big round of applause from his fanboys for presenting an iPhone with a standard headphone socket… oh well.

June 10, 2008, 9:53

Comments

Comment by Dave2: User icon

It would be a lot easier to take your criticisms more seriously if you would stop dismissing iPhone as a toy. Real people are using iPhone for real work and that’s only going to escalate once 3rd party apps are available. Apple has made great strides in opening up the platform and retooling for enterprise markets, revealing the iPhone for what it really is… a powerful computer in the palm of your hand with remarkable capabilities. Just because you don’t have a use for iPhone doesn’t mean that it’s nothing more than a toy. With my constant travel schedule, I find iPhone to be an invaluable tool for my work. The universal push technology coming in September looks to be a fantastic compromise for a difficult problem, and I am really anticipating great things from it.

As a long-time .Mac sufferer (it truly does suck, and has NEVER worked properly), I remain hopeful that MobileMe will finally address the myriad of failings in Apple’s sync technology. Since updates are pushed immediately, it looks promising. There are many other ways to sync your information, but .Mac/MobileMe is the most convenient for me, even with its failings.

What I don’t get is your continued insistence on maintaining the Mac is monopolistic with its data. I have a half-dozen programs that allow me to use images from the iPhoto database, access the music in my iTunes database, and manipulate contacts from the Address Book database (to name a few). Apple makes it exceedingly easy to get to this data, and somebody with as much programming talent as yourself could surely do whatever they wanted with it, because other programmers are doing it all the time.

Apple isn’t perfect, but they’re doing things in a way that many people (including myself) find appealing. If you don’t, that’s fine, and it’s perfectly within your right to voice your concerns in the hopes that issues get resolved and things change (heaven only knows I do). But once again implying your iPhone-owning readers are stupid for buying into a “toy” makes even your valid concerns about service contracts come across as petty bitching. Why not leave that to blogs like mine which are nothing BUT petty bitching… you’ve actually got something to say!

June 10, 2008, 17:40

Comment by ssp: User icon

Jeez, I thought I wrote an overly positive comment here without distracting to the vacuum of the Snow Leopard and you still read it to be negative! But on to your comments:

I do not doubt that the iPhone can be used for serious things, particularly with custom applications coming to it. And perhaps you use it that way already. Yet, the vast majority of the iPhone hype seems to be about the gadget aspect. If it weren’t a hyped gadget, a bit of bling, many people just wouldn’t get one. I’d also bet that toy aspects dominate usage of the advanced iPhone features. Heck, it has YouTube client built-in…

My point about Apple’s data monopoly was exactly that there is no real way to sync data between two Macs standing next to each other, say, without coughing up for .mac and exhibiting your addresses, data etc to Apple. That’s not just milking their monopoly on this but I may also have privacy concerns about it. I am not sure I’d want my whole address book ‘in the cloud’ (a cloud in the U.S. to top that off), for example, particularly when virtually all the syncing I’d see would be between computers or phones which are in networking or even Bluetooth range of each other.

You also need to separate the issues here: There’s the syncing issue. That concerns .mac: Syncing your data between two machines you bought from Apple, requires a 80 Euro or so a year subsidy of the company. That’s just a ripoff. Particularly for people like you and me who have no need for the other parts of the .mac service.

Then there’s the interaction issue: Applications like iTunes provide a dump of their database as XML to other applications at best. This is inefficent (huge XML files that need to be read over and over) and a one way street for the data (I cannot edit data like GPS info in photos at all). That’s the second tier.

The Address Book is less problematic while you’re using the Mac as it does offer full read/write access to non-Apple applications via its API. It only becomes a problem if you want to leave the Mac and get a full export of the data. If Apple’s other applications could progress to this level, that’d already be quite a step forward.

June 10, 2008, 18:55

Comment by Christian: User icon

Well, I got to second Dave2. I never came across something positive here… Sometimes I wonder why you’re still stuck to Macs, etc. ;-)

June 12, 2008, 8:49

Comment by LKM: User icon

Yet, the vast majority of the iPhone hype seems to be about the gadget aspect.

What’s a “gadget aspect”? Apple’s ads seem to show useful use cases for a device like the iPhone. So far, I’ve mainly seen people use it as a Palm replacement; it’s an organizer/cell phone combo. The utilitarian behaviour of most iPhone owners not surprising, there’s really almost no “fun” stuff on the iPhone. There’s basically the YouTube app, and I guess the iPod app and the browser, and that’s about it. On my iPhone, I’ve got a few games, but they mostly suck.

I truly think you don’t understand why people buy iPhones. Bling may play a role, but the main reason is usability. People who are professed Apple haters start swooning over the iPhone as soon as they figure out how easily they can do all the stuff that is complicated on their own phones, like connecting to a wifi network, keeping track of SMS conversations or reading their paper online.

The iPhone is viral not because it’s pretty, it’s viral because Apple put a lot of thought into usability and application design. Most phones are pretty; in fact, that’s how they’re advertised. The iPhone is much more than just pretty.

June 12, 2008, 16:23

Comment by ssp: User icon

I believe I do understand how much effort went into making the iPhone as good as it is. And how much it shines compared to a competition of suck. I find many ideas used in the iPhone software very interesting and can for sure be thrilled about them.

I just doubt that many people actually need internet all the time in even a slightly strict sense of the word ‘need’. It’s nice to have it, for sure, but that doesn’t make it an essential thing to have.

And just because the iPhone is better than ‘just’ pretty doesn’t mean that many of its buyers didn’t just buy it for the ‘pretty’ along and are oblivious to the possibly much more groundbreaking user interface work that went into it. Especially for mobile phones choices appear frequently to be made on the basis of hipness and looks rather than usability.

June 12, 2008, 16:53

Comment by LKM: User icon

Grrr, Markdown ate some of my newlines. Let me try this again:

I just doubt that many people actually need internet all the time in even a slightly strict sense of the word ‘need’.

I guess I don’t really understand that argument. Of course you don’t need the Internet on your mobile phone. In fact, even a decade ago, very few people had Internet at all; even today, lots of people get by just fine without any kind of access to the Internet. You also don’t need a cell phone. I know lots of people who don’t own a cell phone, and I did not own a cell phone for a long time (in fact, I got my first cell phone so I could read my e-mail while doing military service :-).

However, the fact that you don’t strictly need Internet on your cell phone doesn’t mean it has no real, “non-gadget” value. Something I use very often is sbb.ch, which allows me to look up train and tram timetables. Something else I do is access my company’s Intranet to look up support information on our wiki. I also use instapaper.com to keep track of longer articles I want to read, so I can read them while I’m on a train ride, or during my commute in a bus. I’m not going to write a white paper on my iPhone, but it does have a lot of valid professional uses; the advanced UI allows me to use the iPhone for a lot of things I would never have used my Treo 650 or P990i.

And just because the iPhone is better than ‘just’ pretty doesn’t mean that many of its buyers didn’t just buy it for the ‘pretty’ along and are oblivious to the possibly much more groundbreaking user interface work that went into it.

Sure, some people bought it for that. I seriously doubt, though, that it was many, given the people I know who own iPhones (which, of couse, is no statistically valid sample :-).

Especially for mobile phones choices appear frequently to be made on the basis of hipness and looks rather than usability.

Yes, that is true, but one only needs to compare the iPhone ads to ads from Samsung, Nokia, LG or other cell phone manufacturers to realize that the iPhone’s selling proposition is very different from those manufacturers’ phones.

June 12, 2008, 21:39

Comment by ssp: User icon

I suppose we won’t agree on this issue… from what is being communicated there are to groups of iPhone buyers who stand out. One of them could be called ‘Apple fanboys’, the other could called ‘Paris Hilton’ (all this isn’t meant to be sexist, I also mean Apple fangirls on the one side and business people who want to look hip on the golf course). The latter group won’t care about the technical niceness and it start outnumbering the Mac geek group. Also, the Mac fanboy group consists of 50% (90%?) idiots and will love anything Apple sell them no matter what.

June 14, 2008, 9:51

Comment by LKM: User icon

Apple fanboys

Ah, when the “fanboy” argument comes up, I usually quit the discussion. I know it’s not directed at me, but even so, it’s such an ad hominem. I’ll make an exception to explain why I think the “fanboy” argument doesn’t cut here: It’s this old “I don’t understand why you would buy an iPhone, so you must be doing it for religious reasons” idea.

Personally, while I’ve met many people who would tell me that “oh, Mac OS X sucks” even though they had never used it, I have never met a person whom I would qualify as an Apple fanboy. Sony fanboys? Yeah. Nintendo fanboys? Sure, I even used to count myself amongst them (perhaps I’m still a bit of a Nintendo fanboy - but then, most older gamers are, since they fondly remember the NES era :-). Even Xbox fanboys. But no Apple fanboys. All Apple owners I know also use (and some also own) PCs; they chose the Mac as their own computer because, knowing both popular options, they saw Macs as being the better choice for the particular tasks they used that particular computer.

What makes a fanboy a fanboy? I think it’s mainly being forced to choose only one option out of a range of similar choices. Most console fanboys are younger kids who can only afford one console. Which means they can’t allow that console to fail, because that means less games, and they identify with their console, so it would be a personal failure, too. So they become fanboys, hyping their console of choice at every opportunity (like arguing whether Sonic or Mario are better back when I was a kid - Mario is of course better, by the way).

Mac users are not like that. They could (and often do) buy a PC to go with their Mac if they wanted to. They aren’t invested in their platform like a kid with an Xbox is; and it’s not as if Mac users held back their criticism of stuff they didn’t like about Apple and Mac OS X, quite the contrary (I think it’s hard to find a whinier customer base than Mac owners :-)

I think it’s easy to generalize. You see some obviously pretentious snob sitting in a Starbucks with his dumb MacBook with the glowing Apple logo and his stupid latte macchiato, and it’s easy to make up stories about what a douchebag he is (never mind all those guys sitting in the Starbucks in front of PC laptops). Or you see some moron from marketing putting his iPhone on the desk during a meeting; surely he must be doing it because he wants everyone to see he owns an iPhone (never mind the fact that everyone puts his cell phone on the table because they’ve put it on silent and want to see when they get a text message). Or some tard from the graphics department shows up in his stupid black designer jeans (who does he think he is, fucking Stefan Sagmeister?) sporting his MacBook Pro, what a pretentious prick, buying a Mac because it matches his style (or perhaps he uses a Mac because the font rendering closely mimics how his stuff looks in print).

My point is: it’s easy to make assumptions about other people’s motivations, and it’s easy to think that everyone else is a stupid sheep (and that Mac users are fanboys who would buy whatever crap Apple throws at them, or Paris Hilton-esque fashion victims who buy Apple’s stuff because it’s pretty). It’s just that it’s usually not quite as true as we all would like to believe.

June 14, 2008, 21:51

Comment by ssp: User icon

I don’t think I said Apple fanboys are the sole iPhone customers. I just said they are people who would buy iPhones without needing them, simply because they are Apple products. They would have bought them no matter how the iPhone came out and, naturally, they are very vocal about their choice – in the most possible tones of course. They probably even think Apple deserve praise for giving the second iPhone generation a proper headphone jack. I don’t think these people are the majority of users but they are so vocal that they can easily look like they are. A fact which Apple surely enjoy as they are probably even less critical than the computer press.

Most fanboys also seem to be superficial users who simply don’t have enough technical or practical experience with the platform to see its shortcomings. They’re the people who’ll tell everybody that things work perfectly because it probably does in the few trivial usage situations they have come across. They’re probably also the people who are convinced that everybody else can solve their problems by ‘repairing permissions’.

I still think I can understand why people buy iPhones. You start with wanting to spend €1000-1500 for two years of mobile communication, then you add liking to surf the web while on the way and a taste for shiny gadgets. Some people will like it and for some it will be genuinely useful. Just like some people like buying all the extras they can for their cars and how (presumably) those make the car better. Whether people actually need those features doesn’t seem relevant it’s more about wanting them.

I keep thinking that you read too much into the word ‘toy’. I call my digital camera and my MacBook toys as well. They can be fun, they’re easy to get and you wouldn’t want to rely on them for anything vitally important.

June 15, 2008, 1:24

Comment by LKM: User icon

I don’t think these people are the majority of users but they are so vocal that they can easily look like they are.

Okay, I can agree with that. I doubt Apple appreciates these people, though; they’re the ones sending flames to journalists who criticise Apple. The journalists then write scathing sequels explaining how insane “Mac fans” are, which helps propagating this idea that all of Apple’s customers are religious idiots.

They’re probably also the people who are convinced that everybody else can solve their problems by ‘repairing permissions’.

Heh :-)

As for the iPhone’s TCO, presumably people have cell phone plans even without buying the iPhone. At least in the US, the iPhone’s plan isn’t more expensive than comparable plans (or at least wasn’t until iPhone 2.0). Personally, I obviously use an unlocked iPhone and continue to use my “old” plan.

My cell phone is probably the electronic device I use the most (apart from my work PC). Given this, having a pleasant experience is worth quite a bit of money to me. If I use my phone ten times a day to enter an appointment, send an SMS or look something up on the Internet, having ten good experiences instead of ten clunky, annoying experiences is easily worth the iPhone’s price to me.

What’s more, the iPhone was actually cheaper than the three previous phones I owned (a P800, a Treo 650 and a P990i) due to the weak dollar, due to the fact that phones aren’t heavily subsidized in Switzerland, and due to the fact that electronic devices are quite a bit cheaper in the US. So the only “luxury” involved in owning an iPhone is getting some friend in the US to purchase and send you one.

June 15, 2008, 10:30

Comment by ssp: User icon

Are there any serious studies about whether fanboys do more to hurt or to help the company they ‘support’? Obviously I am in no position to conduct such a study but from what I’m seeing I’d say that fanboys are considered helpful. To begin with they emit loads of worthless noise in places like fora (forums?) and the web in general, thus polluting factual information about the ‘brand’ which should please the PR people working at the companies as it makes it harder to draw fact-based conclusions.

Apple in particular used to run some fairly friendly and open evangelism stuff back in the 1990s but that stopped shortly before the new millenium and they returned to full-blown corporate paranoia / fascist communication style (they actually had a good article on this problem of businesses in general in Die Zeit last week wrt to the Telekom spy ‘scandal’)

From my personal experience on this site I definitely think that fanboys make a difference particularly when writing about Apple. From the feedback I received so far I am already trying to avoid being overly cynical or ironic. And it’s not because my livelihood depended on this – as it does for commercial ‘journalists’ – but just because teasing people isn’t enough fun to put up with their reactions afterwards (and I have the silly idea that I shouldn’t censor comments just because I disagree with them).

Personally, I obviously use an unlocked iPhone and continue to use my “old” plan.

Which means you don’t really use an iPhone at all I guess. If I understand things correctly – up to a few iPhones in France – the ‘proper’ iPhone is a device on which Apple giveth and Apple taketh, they decide which software you can buy, they decide whether you can upgrade the software of your phone and they decide which SIM cards you can use in your phone.

So the only “luxury” involved in owning an iPhone is getting some friend in the US to purchase and send you one.

I really don’t contend the ‘luxury’ of owning an iPhone. If you enjoy it a lot why not blow a lot of cash on it, particularly if you spend a lot of cash mobile communication anyway (just like other people want sports cars, fancy meals, operas or whores). It’s just the claim that people need something like an iPhone in any strict sense of the word which irritates me.

June 16, 2008, 10:04

Comment by LKM: User icon

Which means you don’t really use an iPhone at all I guess.

It actually is a proper iPhone. It’s just unlocked, but I don’t think that makes it a non-iPhone.

If you enjoy it a lot why not blow a lot of cash on it

But that’s the point, the iPhone isn’t a particularly expensive smart phone. It’s the cheapest smart phone I’ve ever owned (costing about half as much as my P800, Treo 640 and P990i - actually, it’s the second-cheapest phone I’ve ever owned including non-smart phones), and it sure as hell beats carrying a phone and a Palm (Nokia 6210 + Palm Vx cost way more than the iPhone; in fact, the Palm alone cost more than the iPhone).

And yes, I do need a phone with a usable calendar. Perhaps not in the strictest sense of the word (I suspect I would not die without a phone with a usable calendar), but I need it more than most of the stuff I own.

July 7, 2008, 13:53

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