Microsoft, Apple, and Disappointment

Gus Mueller:

Apple is your favorite aunt or uncle, who isn’t talking about crazy future ideas, but is instead showing you how to hold a pencil correctly, or a tie your shoe. Something you can do today. Apple isn’t flailing about trying to grab onto whatever it can so, yelling out for attention. Apple is solid, reliable, dependable.

And I think that is why we’re seeing so many people reacting to Apple’s software quality lately. You expect Microsoft not to deliver. But we expect Apple to. And lately, it really hasn’t felt like they’ve been doing it.

Well said.

Organ Banked

Michael Tsai:

The comments from Apple insiders underscore that there are many factors that affect software quality. It is not simply a matter of dropping the yearly schedule or of deciding to do “another Snow Leopard.” The development schedule and cycles matter. It also matters who the engineers and managers are, how they are treated, whether they are shuffled between projects, etc.

Precisely why I’m not in the “just do a Snow Yosemite release this year” camp, nor in the “delay software releases by several months” group. Apple needs to refine the features they already have, absolutely, but it cannot come at the cost of releasing zero new features this year either. The annual release cycle is impressive, and it can work for them if everything else is in order. Much of Apple’s quality issues appear to be a byproduct of much greater forces.

Fear China

Craig Hockenberry:

The number of requests [to the Iconfactory’s main server] peaked out at 52 Mbps. Let’s put that number in perspective: Daring Fireball is notorious for taking down sites by sending them about 500 Kbps of traffic. What we had just experienced was roughly the equivalent of 100 fireballs.

If each of those requests were 500 bytes, that’s 13,000 requests per second. That’s about a third of Google’s global search traffic. Look at how much careful planning went into handling Kim Kardashian’s butt at 8,000 requests per second.

All of this traffic directed at one IP address backed by a single server with a four core CPU.

Like I said, “Holy shit.”

On a scale of One to Deep Wedgie, this ranks pretty high on the nerdy scale, but it’s a real “holy shit” kind of story. I’ve had to block a couple of IP addresses for DDoS attempts, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Madness.

Marissa Mayer’s Plan for Yahoo Takes Hold

You know that scene at the beginning of “Goldeneye”, where Bond leaps off the cliff to chase the rapidly-plummeting plane, manages to get into the cockpit, and jostles the stick just in time for the nose to come up over the mountain?

Mayer’s job is a bit like that.

Large-Capacity Hard Drive Failure Rates

As Backblaze has thousands of very high-capacity hard drives running all the time, they’re in a unique position to analyze the failure rates of popular models. No surprises that Seagate lives up to their abysmal reputation here, though I was a little surprised to see a somewhat poor showing from Western Digital. Pretty much all of my dozen-or-so spinning hard drives are from WD and I haven’t had a single failure in as much as eight years. Unlike Backblaze, though, I’m not running them full-time, my sample size is comparatively tiny, and they’re not the recent ultra-high-capacity models (my biggest is a 2TB “Green” model).

The Difference Between Microsoft and Apple

Shorter Dan Frommer: Apple tends to make stuff that people actually buy, use, and love. Microsoft makes crazy bets in loads of sectors, only some of which pan out. Frommer:

[The HoloLens] looks technically impressive, and Microsoft’s demo went about as smoothly as something like this could have. This could become a big deal someday.

But it’s hard to get over how strange someone looks using it. And it’s hard to imagine Apple doing something like this any time soon, whether or not it’s the future of computing.

Given how huge and dorky these goggles are, it seems as though Microsoft intends this to be something used in private, likely when doing specialized tasks. They may have a really crap sense of fashion — just look at the big feature image in the linked article — but I don’t think they’re completely oblivious.

BlackBerry Has Gone Bananas

BlackBerry CEO John Chen (emphasis, including underlines, removed, because who the hell uses underlines to emphasize words on the internet?):

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.

I mean, this is just completely insane. The difference between apps being available on all platforms and the neutrality of all internet traffic is obvious to any of you, I’m sure. Much in the same way Apple shouldn’t have to make iTunes songs with DRM playable on every device in the known universe, developers shouldn’t be forced to spend months rewriting their apps for an OS that very few people use. BlackBerry didn’t take the iPhone seriously, then they fell behind. This is just an attempt to confuse the issue.

Other Stuff From Microsoft Today

Microsoft didn’t just unveil a slightly hyperbolic version of the future today. They also unveiled a big-ass wall-mounted table. Er, a “Surface Hub”. Emil Protalinski, VentureBeat:

In fact, Surface Hub can take content from any device in the room (think of it as a projector) and then share it again to your conference call. This will be the device’s main use: A meeting mode lets users conduct presentations and send them to users that are dialed in from conference rooms or their personal computers.

“It will make your meetings productive and engaging,” Microsoft declared. This is not the first time a company has declared that, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Nobody likes meetings. Nobody likes them even if they have a gigantic dynamic whiteboard to stare at. Seriously, why is Microsoft obsessed with whiteboards?

Bigger news than that was the pricing for Windows 10: free, in a very Microsoftian kinda way. Jordan Novet, VentureBeat:

“I’m very excited to announce that for the first year after Windows 10 is available, we will be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 to all devices running Windows 8.1,” said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Operating Systems group, kicking off a series of news announcements at a press event.

A free Windows 10 upgrade is coming to all devices running Windows Phone 8.1. And for the first year after Windows 10 is available, Microsoft will provide a free upgrade to all customers still running Windows 7, Myerson said.

I might be incredibly stupid, but this sounds way more complicated than it needs to be. Why is it only free for a year? Why not just make it, well, free, at least as an update? Why did a gigantic metaphorical asterisk appear over Myerson’s head when he said this at the launch event?

Microsoft HoloLens

Jessi Hempel of Wired got a sneak peek back in October at what is — by a gigantic margin — the coolest and most interesting piece of technology Microsoft unveiled at their big Windows 10 event today:

[Alex] Kipman leads me into a briefing room with a drop-down screen, plush couches, and a corner bar stocked with wine and soda (we abstain). He sits beside me, then stands, paces a bit, then sits down again. His wind-up is long. He gives me an abbreviated history of computing, speaking in complete paragraphs, with bushy, expressive eyebrows and saucer eyes that expand as he talks. The next era of computing, he explains, won’t be about that original digital universe. “It’s about the analog universe,” he says. “And the analog universe has a fundamentally different rule set.”

Translation: you used to compute on a screen, entering commands on a keyboard. Cyberspace was somewhere else. Computers responded to programs that detailed explicit commands. In the very near future, you’ll compute in the physical world, using voice and gesture to summon data and layer it atop physical objects. Computer programs will be able to digest so much data that they’ll be able to handle far more complex and nuanced situations. Cyberspace will be all around you.

What will this look like? Well, holograms.

This sounds incredible, in the most literal sense — I could scarcely believe this was actually being launched. To be sure, the promo video exaggerates the quality of the holograms, but the live demo during today’s event looked impressive. And it would be, because Kipman was also responsible for the Xbox Kinect.

Of course there were some things not announced today: battery life, a price, or a launch date. I’m also skeptical of how much I’ll tolerate a speech-and-gesture-driven interface if it isn’t nearly perfect. But let’s enjoy this moment. It feels like I’m ten years from now, and that’s crazy.

You Want Me to Whine and Complain?

I’ve heard you. I’ve touched on Apple’s apparently declining quality controls, and I’ve heard your feedback. Some of you agree with me; others think Apple’s software is markedly worse these days. And you might be right. Jeffrey Zeldman:

First came software failure: Apple applications such as Safari quit on launch; the machine could not find the network. Then came kernel panics. (This is where the machine reboots into a black and white Unix screen, spitting out Matrix-like error messages. To exit, you must type the appropriate Unix commands, which implies that you know what they are.) Finally, the machine would not boot, period.

Jeez, that sounds terrible.

John Gruber adds:

[T]he fact that something went wrong for Mr. Zeldman [is not] an indication that Apple “doesn’t test” their updaters, or that they have rampant QA problems.

Bugs happen. Some will slip through even the tightest QA tests. It has always been the case, and always will be, that every upgrade of your OS ought to be preceded by a full backup.

Agreed, but this sounds pretty serious. Zeldman again:

But I wonder if Apple has lost sight of the non-Unix-oriented creative professionals whose loyalty supported the company through its hardest times. There are many of us. We admire what Apple designs, we remain committed to the platform, and we want the company to succeed. But a simple OS upgrade should not fail, should not induce panic, and should not waste three days of a user’s life.

Wait, “non-Unix-oriented creative professionals”? It’s 2015 — who writes like that?

Friday, 23 April 2004

Oh.

[Zeldman’s] report detailing the entire experience is exquisitely detailed, and well worth reading — even if you, just like me and the vast majority of Panther users, upgraded to Panther without a hitch.

Panther. Huh.

The Verge Has a Super Bowl Ad

Apparently, Vox Media decided to drop around $4.5 million to promote the Verge during the Super Bowl because the ad leaked in a since-retracted post from Nilay Patel. Google has it cached, and the video is still on YouTube, if you’re interested.

It’s an ad about the Future-with-a-capital-F in which we are living, surrounded by technology, especially our smartphones. From some angles, it’s an oddly dystopic kind of mission statement. From others, it’s just reality. I’m just amazed that Vox Media had $4.5 million to blow on a Super Bowl ad.

Update: Cute:

The Verge, a technology website owned by the online media company Vox, said on Tuesday that it would be airing a Super Bowl advertisement, before revealing that it would in fact be spending just $700 on a regional spot in Helena, Mont.

Also cute is Nilay Patel’s reaction:

Also @VergeVideo is pretty miffed that people thought that ad is up to their standards; we made it ultra silly and generic on purpose.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know whether this is an elaborate troll or rapid backpedalling. The Verge isn’t even close to being classy enough not to run something like this; it’s not like the New Yorker putting out something crappy and generic. The fact that a lot of people — myself included — could conceivably believe this says a lot more about what the Verge churns out than it does about the public’s gullibility.

John Moltz Bought a PC

He hasn’t lost it completely; it’s for his son. And it sounds like a continuation of the nightmare buying a PC has always been. Moltz:

What I don’t understand is why there’s no PC OEM that takes the user experience as seriously as Apple does. Why isn’t there one with a rationalized product lineup, aimed at a broad swath of customers (Razer’s is rationalized, but only focuses on high-end gaming), that all come with a clean Windows install? OK, I’m not a great businessman, but if I were in the PC OEM business what I’d copy about Apple is not the silver body and black keys but the giving a darn about the user experience. Yes, you’ll never get Microsoft out of the mix, but that’s no excuse for junking up everything else.

From start to finish, Moltz’s experience sounds depressing, but virtually unchanged from how it has been for the past couple of decades. Most manufacturers’ lineups are a dizzying array of letters and numbers, or meaningless names that defy categorization. Then they junk up the computer with all kinds of trial- and crapware, plaster it with stickers, and treat it like a disposable good rather than the investment that it is. I suppose the amount of trialware pays for the steep advertised discounts,1 but it shows a deep-seated disrespect for the customer to prioritize pre-installed advertisements over user experience.


  1. I question the legitimacy of these discounts. 

What the Web Said Yesterday

Jill Lepore, writing for the New Yorker:

The address of the Internet Archive is archive.org, but another way to visit is to take a plane to San Francisco and ride in a cab to the Presidio, past cypresses that look as though someone had drawn them there with a smudgy crayon. At 300 Funston Avenue, climb a set of stone steps and knock on the brass door of a Greek Revival temple. You can’t miss it: it’s painted wedding-cake white and it’s got, out front, eight Corinthian columns and six marble urns.

“We bought it because it matched our logo,” Brewster Kahle told me when I met him there, and he wasn’t kidding.

Apple Pay Enrolment Trends

Neil Cybart:

Running with a conservative estimate of the percent of Apple Pay users Bank of America (50M total banking customers) represents, Apple Pay enrollment rates in the U.S. would stand at 8%. If using aggressive metrics, Apple Pay enrollment would be 16%. I estimate 10-15% of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners in the U.S. have registered with Apple Pay.

It’s only been about three months since Apple Pay was released with iOS 8.1. I’m guessing some pretty gigantic usage numbers are coming with Apple’s Q1 2015 earnings release.

Something Slightly Less Terrible

Loren Brichter was interviewed by objc.io magazine. He is, as usual, chock full of insight and brilliance. On the greater goals of building stuff:

Personally, I’m tired of the trivial app stuff, and the App Store isn’t conducive to anything more interesting. I think the next big thing in software will happen outside of it.

And on the actual process:

Remember that nothing is magic. Even though it seems like you’re working at the top of a stack of impenetrable abstractions, they’re made by people (who were probably rushed, or drunk, or both). Learn how they work, then figure out how to minimize your dependence on them.

Wonderful.

The Siri Standard

Daniel Jalkut:

I don’t doubt that the groups at Apple responsible for [other] technologies are comprised of individuals striving to improve things as quickly as possible. It’s hard to say how much the impression of slow progress is due to internal challenges we don’t know about, Apple’s lack of knowledge about the breadth of defects, or the public’s perception being skewed by severity of the impact from problems that persist.

Whatever combination of luck, hard work, and pragmatism is powering the Siri team’s “year of good work,” perhaps it should serve as a model, or at least as a symbol of hope for these teams as they move forward adding features, fixing bugs, and finessing the public’s perception of the value of their work. A world in which every group at Apple somehow achieved the standard of apparent progress that Siri has achieved would be a very good world indeed.

It’s a beacon of hope for me, at least. If Siri can get from where it was to where it is now, anything can.

Nobody Likes David Cameron’s Plan to Decrypt the Internet

Not even the NSA, at least in 2009. James Ball, of the Guardian:

Part of the cache given to the Guardian by Snowden was published in 2009 and gives a five-year forecast on the “global cyber threat to the US information infrastructure”. It covers communications, commercial and financial networks, and government and critical infrastructure systems. It was shared with GCHQ and made available to the agency’s staff through its intranet.

One of the biggest issues in protecting businesses and citizens from espionage, sabotage and crime – hacking attacks are estimated to cost the global economy up to $400bn a year – was a clear imbalance between the development of offensive versus defensive capabilities, “due to the slower than expected adoption … of encryption and other technologies”, it said.

An unclassified table accompanying the report states that encryption is the “[b]est defense to protect data”, especially if made particularly strong through “multi-factor authentication” – similar to two-step verification used by Google and others for email – or biometrics.

While Cameron’s position might be politically advantageous, it’s impossible to create encryption that can only be broken by Good Guys™.

Google Glass’ Current Form Is Dead

The BBC:1

[Google] insists it is still committed to launching the smart glasses as a consumer product, but will stop producing Glass in its present form.

Instead it will focus on “future versions of Glass” with work carried out by a different division to before.

The Explorer programme, which gave software developers the chance to buy Glass for $1,500 (£990) will close.

[…]

The Glass team can at least continue its work out of the spotlight without the pressure of deadlines. Tony Fadell, the former Apple designer Google acquired with his smart thermostat firm Nest, will oversee the future of the product.

I’m not sure how this is anything but an admittance that wearing a camera and a screen on your face has a very small potential audience, at least in this form. I think Glass would be an order of magnitude less repulsive if the camera were removed.


  1. No paragraph in this article is longer than two sentences. 

Apple May Shun Intel for Custom A-Series Chips in New Macs

KGI Securities’ Ming-Chi Kuo is, like, ridiculously well-connected. Even though he’s an analyst, when he speaks, I listen a little closer, especially for intriguing reports like this one:

In a new report released Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by AppleInsider, well-connected analyst Kuo suggests that Apple’s in-house chips will reach a level of performance somewhere between Intel’s Atom and Core i3 lines within the next 1-2 years. Removing Intel from the equation would allow Apple to better control the launch timing of the Mac line, he believes.

Kuo predicts that the iPad and Mac will share the AyX line of chips. But his report is kinda weird: he’s also predicting that the A9 SoC will use a 10nm process, but the A10 will use a 16nm process, which seems like a regression to me. It’s entirely speculative, of course, but not out of the realm of reality, especially for, say, a hypothetical low-power ultra-portable fanless MacBook Air.

Apple Maps, Revisited

While Apple’s software quality may not be degrading at the rate you might expect, it’s also not necessarily improving at the rate that it needs to. Case in point: Apple Maps.

Is it better than it was? Yeah, absolutely.

Is it good enough? Hell no.

Take my search for “wine market” as an example. I live approximately 15 minutes’ walking distance from Kensington Wine Market in Calgary. However, Apple Maps’ search results don’t reflect my current location, and suggest wine markets in Baltimore and Memphis.

I know this stuff must be hard, but taking a user’s current location into account for search results isn’t exactly stretching the imagination.

Apple’s Software Quality

I’ve been thinking about this a little more and it strikes me that many of the different reactions to Marco Arment’s “Losing the Functional High Ground” piece can be simultaneously true. I’m not certain that Apple’s software quality is universally getting worse; far from it, I think it is, in many cases, getting better. But I think the impression is much stronger because vastly more people are using it.

Consider the catastrophically stupid iTunes 2 update bug that permanently erased non-primary drives, or the general slowness of early versions of OS X. Then consider the number of Mac users that existed at the time, and the fact that upgrading Mac OS X required you to visit a physical store — bricks not bits — and exchange a hundred and twenty-nine of your hard-earned dollars for a physical disc which you must then take home, pop into your computer, and spend an hour waiting for it to install.

Apple’s been making all kinds of strides in trying to get people using the latest versions of the software they make and distribute. iOS has automatic updates for apps; OS X has automatic and free updates for everything from apps to the entire system, excluding major (x.0) OS updates.

Add that to a vastly larger install base of hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Macs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a controversy. It’s not necessarily that the bugs are getting worse or profusely dumber; rather, that more people are experiencing those bugs. Having such a large install base requires an elevated level of diligence.

So many of these reactions are simultaneously true. Yes, there are extremely stupid bugs and regressions littered throughout Apple’s software products. Yes, there’s the impression of a downward slide in quality assurance. And, yes, there have previously been really stupid bugs and regressions. I think Apple is cognizant of the fact that their software quality needs to improve faster than they gain new users; if it’s slower, it feels significantly worse than it really is.