Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October, 2012

Why Apple Doesn’t Care About Its Competition

Felix Salmon, last year, argued that Apple’s customers are crippling its user experience:

Apple products have always cost more than the equivalent products elsewhere. It’s one of the reasons that Apple has historically had very high brand loyalty and very low market share — a classic luxury-good combination. But now that Apple has become a mass-market brand, it’s reaching millions of sensible people, who like to save money.

Read: the high cost of Apple’s products is detrimental to them when dealing with the broader market.

But just a year later, he’s totally sold on the price of the iPad Mini (via Gruber):

Apple, famously, has the same pricing philosophy as Louis Vuitton: it sells premium products at premium prices, and it never discounts. That philosophy has made it an aspirational brand worldwide: you don’t see vendors in China selling fake Google Nexus 7s.

I totally agree with Salmon’s latter article, but the former still sticks out as one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve read from him.

Microsoft Surface Review

Josh Topolsky wasn’t a fan of the Surface, but Anand Shimpi seems to like it:

After using Microsoft’s Surface for the past week I can say that I honestly get it. This isn’t an iPad competitor, nor is it an Android tablet competitor. It truly is something different. A unique perspective, not necessarily the right one, but a different one that will definitely resonate well with some (not all) users.

I won’t spoil the (very thorough) review for you, but every page and feature seems to include the caveat that it’s a 1.0 product which, in a sea of products that have been on the market for years, doesn’t seem good for consumers. It’s definitely an interesting take on the tablet, but I think it’s going to be a hard sell right now. It really is a gorgeous product, though.

Your iPad Is Not Obsolete

Dave Caolo:

Your iPad 3 is still a fantastic device, and will continue to work admirably for years. The new iPad with Retina display does not diminish your existing iPad’s usefulness. It can be disappointing not to have the very latest and greatest, but it’s not the least bit necessary.

Entirely agreed.

But Caolo thinks that the 2002 iMac G4 was the best generation of iMac design, so what does he know? I’m partial to the 2004 first generation of G5 iMac and, of course, the latest ultra-thin one.

Why Is The iPad Mini $329?

Steve Streza thinks it’s a confusing price:

The $329 base price point, however, is a strange and awkward place to start the lineup. Not only is this $130 more expensive than the Nexus 7, it misses the psychological barrier of getting under $300. This propagates through the upgraded models as well, and causing a weird staggering effect. In fact, adding in the iPad 2’s and the iPad 4’s price points, we get this pricing chart of 13 prices spread out over 14 models.

Phil Schiller says it’s because people were already picking the iPad 2 over the cheaper tablets:

“The iPad is far and away the most successful product in its category. The most affordable product we’ve made so far was $399 and people were choosing that over those devices,” Schiller said.

Dan Frommer says that it just is:

Apple is going to sell out of its Christmas 2012 supply of iPad minis no matter how much it costs — $329, $200, whatever. Why leave money on the table? If it can sell 100% of its iPad mini supply for more than $329, why bother selling any to people who would only buy it for less than $329? (Also, this helps preserve Apple’s margins.)

And I said:

It’s $130 to upgrade from a generic plastic tablet to the name-brand premium iPad. I’m willing to bet that most people won’t hesitate. Apple wants to compete in the small tablet market, not the cheap tablet market.

It’s $329 because Apple can price it at $329 and still sell them as fast as they can make them.

On the Timing of the Mid-Cycle iPad Refresh

Marco Arment reflects on the spec bump that the big iPad received yesterday:

The timing of the update — just 6 months after the iPad 3, instead of the usual year — will anger a lot of iPad 3 owners. But the previous March releases of the iPad 2 and 3 were more problematic.

Many people give or receive iPads for the holidays, and their new gifts were one-upped by new models just a few months later. This undoubtedly caused some buyers not to give iPads as holiday gifts, waiting for the new models instead.

It was a curious choice, but I think it marks the shift to a fall update cycle. In other words, I don’t see another update coming in March or April. If you are annoyed, Apple will exchange your third-generation iPad, provided you purchased it within the past 30 days.

A Conversation With Loren Brichter

Speaking of Mr. Brichter, Federico Viticci of MacStories interviewed him about Letterpress:

LB: I really dig the modern look of Windows Phone, but this is a touch more human. Even though it’s mostly flat, there are subtle shadows when you drag tiles, or pop up a dialog. The human eye has evolved to notice details like that, I think it helps.

F: Which is kind of funny when you see the poker felt table Game Center brings up.

LB: Don’t get me started.

Microsoft Surface Review

Looks like Microsoft’s embargo just expired, because Josh Topolsky’s review of the Surface has been released. Spoiler alert: instead of “no compromises”, Microsoft’s Surface is a one-size-fits-none solution. Disappointing, really. Maybe the Surface Pro will be better, but judging by this, the only thing that will improve is legacy app support, which is weak at best in a touch environment.

The review seems very fair, but the final score is surprisingly high for a device that does nothing particularly well.

Thoughts on Today’s Apple Event

13″ Retina MacBook Pro

This is a great model in between the 13″ MacBook Air and the 15″ retina MacBook Pro. It’s very clear that Apple sees this as their lineup as of, say, two years from now. All solid state, ultra thin, ultra light, and wicked fast. According to early reports, the integrated graphics are more than fast enough and, while it isn’t as featherweight as the Air, it’s very light and very thin.

This fixes my biggest issue with my 13″ Air — the display. Not only does it have a significantly higher resolution, this display is an IPS panel, not the pithy TN panel used in the Air and previous Pro (the Pro had a slightly better TN panel than the Air). I’d expect to see this same panel in the future retina Air.

A small part of me is considering selling my two-month-old Air for this Pro. It looks spectacular.

New iMac and Mac Mini

5mm. A quarter of an inch. That’s how thin the edge of the very-tapered back of the iMac is. And, from the pictures both from Apple and the press, it looks stunning, though they are carefully avoiding showing the bulge in the middle of the back. Rarely do things in 2012 look or sound like the predictions of 2012, but this looks like the computer of a typeset-in-Eurostile 2012.

The new iMac (and Mac Mini) features something Apple is calling “Fusion Drive”, which is essentially a much more capable hybrid hard drive. It’s a combination of a hardware mix of a solid state memory and a spinning hard drive, and very smart software to actively swap data between the two.1

Also of note is the lack of an optical drive. Apple was regarded as crazy for dropping the floppy drive in the original iMac, and the comments suggest the same for the optical drive this time around. It’s 2012, though, and between USB thumb drives and cloud storage options, optical media seems like a relic of a bygone age.

Everything about this lineup of new iMacs is stunning. The new laminated displays are particularly appealing, speaking as someone who has a Thunderbolt Display with that 2mm air gap. I love my laptop + external display setup, and I don’t expect to shift from that in a hurry, but the new iMacs are quite clearly the best consumer and prosumer desktops in the world.

The new Mac Minis are a great computer for $600. Now they’re faster, and that’s good. Moving on.

iPad Fourth-Ish Generation

The third generation iPad gained a retina display, but the processor stayed the same, merely getting better graphics to drive the quadrupled pixels. This meant that it uses more power, which meant it produces more heat, needs a bigger battery, and weighs more. And it still isn’t enough because some animations are significantly slower than on the iPad 2.

The A6X chip in the new (new) iPad means that the animations are sorted out, while using less power and producing less heat. But the battery and weight have remained the same, unfortunately. It’s a much better product, though, especially with the new Lightning connector.

Apple used to call it the “new iPad”, and now calls this the “iPad with retina display” to distinguish it from the iPad Mini. Why is it so difficult for them to name this product? Are they waiting for both lines to have retina displays so they can simplify the naming scheme?

What struck me most is how odd it is for Apple to update a product just halfway through its expected cycle. It would surprise me if they did so again in another six months, so I expect that the iPad has shifted to a fall release cycle. And this makes me wonder what their new spring product will be. Apple releases new stuff every quarter, and their Q2 2013 is looking somewhat sparse right now.

iPad Mini


You’ve heard everything about this, so this will be brief. I’m pleased to say that I only missed a couple of things in either of my spitballing articles regarding the iPad Mini. I was off by a week for all predicted dates, and I was wrong on the price.

The $329 price point doesn’t surprise me, but like everyone, I was hoping for a little less. I think $299 is the magic price point, but I don’t think they’re going to lose any significant sales numbers by pricing it $30 higher. Judging by the slight dive of AAPL, Wall Street didn’t like the price, but I bet they’ll love the sales figures when Apple releases them in January.

Put it this way: Apple is doing their best to paint the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire as cheap and plasticky. It’s $130 to upgrade from a generic plastic tablet to the name-brand premium iPad. I’m willing to bet that most people won’t hesitate. Apple wants to compete in the small tablet market, not the cheap tablet market.

As soon as the iPad Mini gets a retina display, I will be upgrading my 10” iPad to the smaller model. It looks fantastic. And did you see the cute Smart Cover video?


Judging by my Twitter timeline, I certainly wasn’t the only person to be disappointed by the lack of any mention of iTunes 11, or iWork and iLife updates. Nothing has appeared in the developer centre either, but I suspect a developer beta release of iTunes wasn’t planned in the first place.

Still, Apple has about a week to meet their October release target for the new version, and I certainly hope they make it.

There were a few software updates today worth mentioning. iBooks Author was updated with new templates, support for mathematical expressions, and embeddable fonts. iBooks was updated with continuous scrolling, passage sharing with Twitter and Facebook, and support for books created with the new iBooks Author. Nice updates, but nothing crazy, and there’s still no support for long-form text-heavy books in Author.

  1. If Twitter searched tweets from a few years ago, I could find the one where I speculated this as a way to mitigate the expense of higher-capacity flash memory. ↩︎

Another Zynga Dick Move

Josh Constine of TechCrunch:

Possibly trying to hide the grim news by announcing it during Apple’s event, Zynga just laid off over 100 employees from its Bingo and TheVille teams and its Austin office, according to Justin Maxwell, though we can’t confirm this info yet. Rumors are swirling that other Zynga offices across the country may see layoffs too.

The Verge has independently confirmed this news. Horrible news for the employees, and truly dickish timing from the company. Their stock is down to a little over $2 right now, and it’ll probably drop further when they release their pittance of earnings tomorrow.

Outlawed by Amazon DRM

Everyone’s linking to this horror story from Martin Bekkelund:

A couple of days a go, my friend Linn sent me an e-mail, being very frustrated: Amazon just closed her account and wiped her Kindle. Without notice. Without explanation. This is DRM at its worst.

This is shitty enough, but you haven’t read the replies from Amazon’s customer service representative. For example:

We regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters.

This isn’t even new. In 2009, you will recall, Amazon remotely deleted copies of George Orwell’s “1984”, because Jeff Bezos apparently has a warped sense of humour.

ReadWriteWeb is Now ReadWrite, Slow

The new site runs extremely slowly for me. It could simply be Day One bugs, but I’ll bet it runs deeper than that. Also, their new editor-in-chief is Dan Lyons, whose name you might recognize from Forbes, Newsweek, or being wrong about everything Apple in the past five years.

October Software

Hey, did you know that Apple is holding an event tomorrow? Yeah, really. And they’re using a totally bitchin’ theatre for it.

While everyone’s focused on the hardware (read: iPad Mini), Neven Mrgan is thinking about software, including an old friend:

iBooks Author. Remember that? What better time to hand over a badly needed 2.0 version of this promising but frustrating app. I still hope we can get to a point where Author becomes a general-purpose self-publishing app, not just a textbook-specific tool. You can sort of kind of glue together a novel in it today, but boy is it rough sailing. It’s reasonable that Apple launched the app with a specialized use case in mind, but true success comes from eventual mass-marketability. Chop chop on that!

As I said in my overview of the January education event, I’m also looking forward to more options for text-heavy publications. Self-publishing on the iBookstore would be huge for a lot of budding authors.

Mrgan also offers some ideas of iLife and iWork updates, both of which would be more than welcome (the current version of iWork was introduced four years ago this January). It struck me that we haven’t seen any full version updates of either suite since the Mac App Store was launched, which makes me curious as to whether Apple will issue free upgrades, or require a new purchase. My guess is the former.

My Microsoft Store Experience

Speaking of Microsoft, Harry Marks visited his local Microsoft Store:

[U]nless the Surface is a knockout for both pundits and customers, I just don’t see the Microsoft Store being anything more than one big demo room for the Kinect.

I don’t have any Microsoft Stores near me (the closest would probably be Seattle), but this is damning. In sharp contrast with Apple, Microsoft doesn’t build many of their own products so their retail stores exist in a weird space where they must handle mostly third-party products in a first-party branded experience.