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Mountain Lion Arrives

The newest Apple operating system, OX Mountain Lion, is now available, and, while it doesn’t represent a huge departure from previous Macintosh systems, the consensus among reviewers is that the upgrade is well worth the $19.99 price tag.

One of the most significant new features from the predecessor Lion operating system is Gatekeeper, a security system designed to keep out malware. Aside from screening for known threats, it lets users choose their level of security by instructing the computer to open apps downloaded from the Mac App store only, from the app store and Apple-approved developers, or from anywhere.

Mountain Lion also takes a step closer to the iOS software found on iPhones and iPads. Like those mobile devices, computers with the new system will have access to iCloud functions, giving users easy access to the same apps, message services and games from all their devices. The OS also features a Notification Center that pulls updates from various apps together in one place.

Unlike Windows 8, Mountain Lion is more of an update than a whole new product. Still, PC World has an interesting list of features that the Windows system might be well advised to copy from it. That includes the Notification Center, access to text messages and voice dictation, and AirPlay Mirroring, which makes it easy to send video from one device to another.

In the spirit of the internet’s increasing dominance of all computing functions, Mountain Lion can only be purchased at the Mac App store and isn’t available on any physical media. Of course new Macs will come with the operating system installed.

The Lawsuits Never Fall Far From the Tree

Apple is once again facing a lawsuit over a patent violation.  This time it’s over noise reduction technology.  The company Noise Free Wireless, based out of Silicon Valley, claimed that it presented its technology to reduce wind interference during cellphone transmission.  Patent number 7,742,790 was awarded to Noise Free Wireless in June 2010.  However, in 2007, they had confidential meetings with Apple in which they claim that the technology was appropriated and reviewed.

Apple decided to go with another company, Audience.  Where it gets interesting is that Apple filed an application for a patent involving environmental noise cancelling technology in June of 2010.  That’s where the lawsuit began.

Apple is a tech giant, the biggest in the world.  Their IT department must be massive.  Their whole company is worth about 600 billion dollars.  A large portion of that is from the 127 billion that they made in sales in 2011.  Those sales are derived from the fact that Apple is often on the ball when it comes to consumer friendly products.  They charger more than their competitors for their stuff, just look at any laptop they produce.  Apple can do that because they have exclusive contracts for their proprietary technology.  Once they start to lose that grip, their competitors will make comparable products for cheaper, undercutting Apple’s market share.  That’s why a case about something as small as noise reduction technology is so important to Apple.  I mean, who makes calls with their cellphone anymore?

Smaller iPad May Come in the Fall

Since it was introduced, the iPad has been by far the biggest player in the tablet space. And it doesn’t just have a big market share—compared with a number comparable devices that have come out in the last few years, it’s actually really big.

The iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, compared with about 7 inches for the Nook Tablet and Kindle Fire and the Samsung Galaxy’s smaller versions. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is preparing to introduce its own smaller tablet.

Citing unnamed sources, the story says Apple has told component suppliers to prepare for mass production of a tablet with a less-than-eight-inch screen in September. Rumors of a smaller cousin for the iPad have been floating for some time.

The tablet market is growing rapidly. Market research firm IHS iSuppli predicts that tablet sales will rise 85 percent to 127 million units this year. The iPad held a 62 percent share of the world market for tablets last year, and its dominance is even greater in work environments.

As more variations on the table theme—notably the Microsoft Surface Tablet and Google’s Nexus 7—roll out, Apple must be feeling some pressure to diversify its offerings. But being the big guy in the room comes with complications. One report last year found that the biggest competitor for the iPad is actually the iPhone, which, of course, has only a 3.5-inch screen. That raises the question of whether a smaller Apple tablet will function mostly to subdivide the company’s enormous market.

The Rumor Mill: WWDC

All the nerds and IT support consultants on Earth will be moving their eyes to WWDC, Apple’s tradeshow for their upcoming products, on Monday.  Though I won’t be there in person, I will be watching and listening to any bomb shell announcements.  Since the last WWDC, rumors have been swirling around about what’s to come and here’s a roundup of what’s slated to happen.

What’s Very Likely:

Mountain Lion

This new Mac OS X is believed by almost everyone to be unveiled on Monday.  It’s more than likely that this new operating system will not be compatible with older hardware.  Only machines coming off the production line from the launch onward will be able to run it.  As for other features like 3D app support and iPhone cross compatibility are all up in the air.  We’ll have to wait and see.

What’s somewhat Likely:

Macbook Pro Overhauls

The new Macbook Pros are rumored to be thinner and lack an optical disk drive.  Because of the lack of a disk reader on either the Pro or the Macbook Air, it’s rumored that Apple will release a new line of notebook that will fill this gap.  And if notebooks are to be discussed at WWDC, then what’s inside them will make headlines, nerdy, geeky headlines.  Anyways, a new chipset of Ivy Bridge Intel processors will probably be housed in the upcoming Macbooks.  They’ll also have to support USB 3.0 to keep up with the times.  And finally, they’ll have Apple’s famous retina display, more pixels than your eyes can see.  Why are you paying for them if you can’t see them?  Because you can.

What’s Possible:

Apple TV

Apple TV is like tomorrow; it’s always coming but never gets here.  If it does make an appearance it’ll probably be in the form of an SDK (software developer kit).  Apps seem to be the future.  They appear in our cars and our phones.  The arrivals of more and more smart TV’s are pushing for even more apps.  Apple will need to create a host of usable, useful, and cheap apps in order to take a dig in this market.  Apple TV will probably integrate itself with all itself seamlessly with all your other Apple products.

I’ll keep you all posted on the developments at WWDC.

 

UPDATE:

Apple CEO, Tim Cook, announced the Next Generation Macbook Pro.  It will boast a retina display, 8 GB of RAM, and an Ivy Bridge processor.

iPads at Work

If you use a tablet at your job, chances are, it’s an iPad. In fact, according to a recent report by Good Technology, the chances are, very, very good. A full 97.3 of tablets activated by enterprise users over the first quarter of 2012 are iPads, up slightly from 94.7 percent the previous quarter. In contrast, a recent analysis of overall tablet sales showed Apple with a somewhat less intimidating 61.4 percent of the market.

Good — which offers IT support to help companies implement “bring your own device” programs—based the report on the use of mobile devices among its customers, which include half of the Fortune 100 and other big players in industries like finance and healthcare. It found that, overall, the number of its customers deploying mobile devices grew 50 percent over the past year, while the number of devices used by the average company more than doubled.

When it comes to smartphones, Apple was still the first choice, though not by quite such an impressive margin. It represented about 73 percent of the smartphone market.

Smartphones remain considerably more popular than tablets, at least for the moment. The iPhone was the single most-activated device overall, with more than half of the market. Android devices—almost entirely smartphones—represented just over 20 percent of the market.

On another note, if you’re using any kind of mobile device at your job, there’s a pretty good chance you work in financial services. That industry accounted for 36.1 percent of mobile device activations over the quarter, followed by business and professional services with 17 percent and healthcare with 7 percent. IPads were disproportionately popular in the Life Sciences industry, which Good said likely reflects use by lab workers and sales staff at pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

While Apple seems to be blowing other companies out of the water in the enterprise space, Good notes that it can’t rest easy. The first Windows 8 tablets debuting later this year, and new Windows phones like the Nokia Lumia just barely out now, are likely to shake up the market considerably.

Flashback Trojan Pierces Mac’s Aura of Invincibility

For years, Macintosh computer users have held up their machines as superior for a few reasons: better performance for designers and artsy types, a more intuitive and attractive user interface and—most significantly for many users—freedom from worry about viruses and malware.

Now, Flashback Trojan has changed all that. In early April, a Russian antivirus seller discovered that more than 500,000 Macs had been hit by the malware infection. When users visit certain websites, Flashback can exploit a vulnerability in some versions of Java to install itself on their computers. After that, it can get into the Safari web browser, monitor a user’s web activity and steal passwords and other information.

Macworld reports that Flashback is different from other malicious programs that have affected Macs in the past because it doesn’t require that a user install infected software on their machine themselves—it can climb on your computer the minute you visit an affected site.

Apple has responded with a software update for Macs running OS X Lion and Mac OS X v10.6 that remove Flashback and patch the flaw in Java. For older operating systems, the company advises users to disable Java. Apple says it is also fighting back against the sites that host the malware, “working with ISPs worldwide to disable this command and control network.”

Still, Apple has been criticized in some circles for reacting too slowly to the Trojan. In the past, the company’s freedom from serious malware attacks has been more because it gets less attention from cyber thieves than because of anything it’s done particularly well.

Macworld says the attack should be a bit of a wakeup call for Apple and probably points to a new interest in the company’s computers among destructive hackers. But it also says that Macs are still far less prone to infection than PCs, and if Apple introduces better security measures quickly, its users shouldn’t be forced to seek IT services to fend off a Trojan invasion very often.

Apps the Digital Cash Cow

How do you define success? For iTunes, I think reaching the 25 billion downloads mark sounds like a good standard. Apple is known for its hardware like the iPhone and iPad. But apps have become a cash cow. Experts predict that Apple will generate 13 billion dollars from selling apps next year. That’s a lot of money, even for a company that’s estimated to be worth nearly fifty times that. In iTunes, particular apps being sold are a centerpiece of Apple’s business strategy. The risk on any individual app is very high. Given the risk, the rewards are vast. The app Angry birds made over 70 million dollars against its 140 thousand cost to make. That’s over a 500 fold ROI. Even taking to account all the apps that failed that’s still worth for Apple to gamble on given their diverse portfolio of developers.

Microsoft is very keen on this market. The long term success of its upcoming smart phone, the Lumia 900, depends on how good its apps are. To this end, Microsoft is paying developers to develop apps on their platform. Shelling out between 60 to 600 thousand dollars, Microsoft wants to cut into the Android and Apple market in order to gain a foothold for their other products. Only time will tell if this approach will work.

Looking at all the apps that have done well in the past, I can say this: the success and failure of apps depends on three key features, simplicity, accessibility, and integration. Simplicity is important because the app must be usable by a large audience. Everyone from a mobile IT support worker to a half blind grandma should be able to use a successful app. Accessibility is the way apps can be downloaded and accessed by the phone itself. Given that two things are equal, consumers will generally chose the one that is easier to get too. Apple created iTunes to do this and Microsoft needs to design a marketplace that is equally, if not more, visible. Integration is final piece. The apps that are most used can flow seamlessly between the real and digital world. Good apps can be picked up and put down at the drop of the hat since they are most likely used on a mobile device on the go. It’ll be interesting to see what apps developers will come up with in the years to come.

RIM Circling the Drain?

Research in Motion over the past decade has become a household name with their iconic product, the Blackberry. The company essentially created the first mass market smart phone. They have 19 billion units out there. However, this past darling of the market is now facing trouble, possibly destruction. RIM made several missteps creating their first revenue shortfall in nine years. The first of which was that their last few models of smart phones were less than impressive. RIM’s Playbook tablet was dead on release and a complete waste of money and talent. Finally, the death blow may come from an impending law suit from Dutch chip maker NXP Semiconductor.

From a business perspective, accessibility to information is key for a smart phone. This is both about quickly getting the information and displaying it. That translates to processing power and screen size. For this we should compare the Blackberry Torch to the iPhone 4. The iPhone screen has the Blackberry beat by .3 inches and nearly double the resolution. And in processing power the Torch CPU has a speed of 624 MHz while the iPhone pulls ahead again with 1 GHz (1000 MHz). Apple also has the advantage compared to the Blackberry in terms of multi-use. The sheer number applications for iPhone makes it seem like the land of milk and honey compared to Blackberry’s desolate wasteland. Blackberry does have an advantage. It has the greater business prestige. Apple products have a more niche appeal and sometimes have the connotation of being a shiny toy. But that all went away when they tried to enter the tablet arena against the iPad.

RIM’s Playbook is something I’ve only read about. That’s not a good sign. I’ve never held a Playbook or even seen one. According the Canadian Research and Development Intelligence, RIM spent 1.4 billion dollars in R&D in 2010. And with that, they came up with the Playbook. It was originally priced at 499 dollars, matching the price of Apple’s iPad 2. Like the Torch against the iPhone, the Playbook was less powerful, smaller and had weaker a battery life against its opponents. Sales didn’t pick up until RIM decided lowering the price to $199. RIM has cited weak Playbook sales as the reason for the fiscal troubles. If that’s true, then they have only themselves to blame. They rolled out an inferior product to their competitors and priced it the same. That initial mistake soured the market for the Playbook. There is one silver lining: Playbook is doing well in India, but that will not be enough. RIM’s problems don’t stop there. The threats are not only internal.

On top of all their other issues, Dutch chip maker NXP Semiconductor is suing RIM over six patent infringements. Should they win the case, they will add to the already 125 million dollar quarterly loss for RIM. It might be a death blow to the smart phone company. It’s difficult to shake bad press, especially when sales are down. The two CEOs of RIM have even vowed to take salaries of one dollar a year until the company is back in good financial straits. That can be taken as a sign that company leadership will do what it takes to solve their major problems, but that also proclaims that there are major problems to be solves. The press is filled with CEOs paying themselves massive bonuses while their companies post record losses. What does that say about RIM when their CEOs won’t even take a paycheck?

Research in Motion is in trouble, but they’re not dead. There are things the company can do to remedy or at least mitigate the situation. One idea is that they shelve the Blackberry OS and switch to the less costly Android. It would allow them access to Android’s stable market. The down side is that it would put them in contest with larger phone manufactures like Samsung and HTC. However, retooling themselves for a broader, lower end market, maybe what they need. They could go the Nokia route and partner with someone, anyone who can bring in a fresh infusion of capital and new ideas. A third and less appealing option would be to die gracefully: Sell what’s left, lease out patents, and ensure that their talent secure jobs elsewhere before fading away. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they do something. Staying the course will only bring a chaotic and spasmodic end.

Apple’s Retina Display: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful

Apple has long been at the fore front of consumer aware innovation. That is to say that Apple makes products that buyers feel are technologically advanced. This is most evident in the iPad 3 and its retina display, which was unveiled with the iPod touch and phone. The display packs 326 pixels per square inch, which translates to a contrast ratio of 800:1. There’s dispute whether or not that this is the most pixels a human eye can handle, (hence, the name retina display) but with its LED ambient light sensitive backing; it’s pretty damn good. Because the screen adjusts to its surroundings, the iPad 3 will reduce eyestrain. That’s a huge boon to IT support Boston, Chicago, NYC, Washington etc. professionals who sometimes have to work on these things all day. A display that’s so crisp may be a game changer. At the very least, it proves that Apple has an impressive manufacturing network.

To date, Samsung makes all the 2048X1536 displays. LG and Sharp are also on deck to pick up any slack. Even though Sharp was rumored to have failed Apple’s inspection process, they are said to be very excited to put their eighth generation fabrication production facilities. They’ll all have to be burning the midnight oil. Analysts are estimating that Apple will ship out an upwards of 18.7 million units by the forth quarter. What does all this mean to you?

Well, if you want an iPad 3 you’ll have to spend somewhere between 499 and 829 dollars. That’s a pretty hefty price for more pixels than your eye can even see. The problems might not stop there. Apps will have to double in size to keep up with the display. That could cause a lot problems since Apple does not allow apps larger than 20 megabytes to be downloaded over 3G. It’ll still work over wi-fi and 4G, so it’ll be on your dime but not AT&T’s. Bigger apps will mean more throttling problems for data users. It’s becoming very clear that data usage and demand for bandwidth is outstripping our current infrastructure.

Overall, the iPad 3 will boast the best display in the retail arena. It’s quite the technological feat. However, Beta had a better display than VHS. Price is still a powerful limiting factor in deciding to make a purchase. It’ll be interesting if Apple’s brand loyalty can trump this. Judging by these pictures, probably.

 

Is the Desktop Dead?

Sounding the desktop death knell as mobile devices edge them out of the market

In the past, a cost chasm separated the laptops from the desktop. Mobility, it seemed, came at a price. Businesses opted to buy the more pricy laptops for those who needed it most, furnishing the rest with the more reasonably priced desktops. The dropping prices of laptops reduced the gap in price to a mere $50. A mere $50 it seems, that most companies are finding it easier to justify.

It’s not just the competitive pricing that’s contributing to the untimely demise of the desktop; a growing trend to bring your own device to work (BYOD) has seen companies save on hardware costs as employees prefer to utilize their own devices instead of the trusty old desktop. Cloud technology provides centralized functionality that helps to promote the use of personal devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

This year’s sales figures reflect the changing landscape with laptops taking 68% of the market, up from previous years which saw a more even 50/50 split. There are several inherent advantages to owning a laptop:

  • Mobility: the smaller, thinner and lighter the laptop gets, the more portable they become
  • They take up less desk space
  • Increased productivity as employees are able to take them home to work
  • Negates the need to work late at the office which increases employee satisfaction
  • Telecommuting is possible as the employee does not need a computer at home and at the office

The laptop is not the only device that is giving the desktop a run for its money. Tablet sales increased by 150% over the last quarter, making it one of the fastest growing hardware markets in the business. Microsoft will be developing Office applications for the iPad which will bolster support for this emerging technology. Cloud technology negates the need for large software purchases or large volumes of information to be stored in giant desktop hard drives.

It’s not only the emerging technologies that threaten the denizens of the desk; it’s also their old nemesis, the Apple Mac. Apple Mac sales have increased by 20.7% while desktop sales dropped by 5.9% overall. This means that Apple managed to take a large bite out of the PC pie. Those who love their desktops need not fear. The good old desktop isn’t dead just yet. It still has its advantages over the new devices which include:

  • Large screens which are important for those who spend lots of time on the computer and like to see all the little details
  • Ergonomics; good office chairs and desktops are far more comfortable than hunching over a laptop
  • Storage on a desktop can’t be beat
  • Typing on a real keyboard is much easier than a laptop’s often cramped keyboard can afford

It seems the days of the desktop dominance are numbered, so enjoy them while you can.