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Recapping the Keynote: This Is Now Tim Cook’s Apple

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Apple had a big week. If you want to understand what, exactly, they announced, I won’t recap it here. Other sites do a better job of that than I ever will. In fact, I recommend you hop over to Apple’s mainsite to see new goods firsthand.

During the keynote, I posted to Facebook the thing that struck me most: this past Tuesday was the day Tim Cook made Apple his company.

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Since Steve Jobs’ passing, Tim Cook has lived in the shadow of the Silicon Valley icon. His performance and more awkward speaking style was criticized from day one, with some of the vitriol verging on damnation. He’s no Steve Jobs, they said. He’s not the same quality of showman, they said. He can’t work the famous Reality Distortion Field (RDF) as Steve, they said.

And they’re right, all the voices. He can’t.

He doesn’t want to.

Tim Cook just said namaste to Steve Jobs and gently took Apple from his embrace. Tuesday was Cook’s christening in which he took his own bottle of champagne and set Apple on a new course – his course. This keynote marks the time when Steve’s fingerprints probably weren’t on anything Apple announced – this is, for better or worse, Cook’s direction and vision. And from what we saw, it seems pretty compelling.

So much was evident in the keynote – Cook was overflowing with excitement, and even through the awkwardness, we saw a leader in full. The room vibrated with energy, and every single Apple presenter was brimming with confidence. Cook and company knew this was the biggest keynote since the original iPhone debut in 2007, and they were geared up, ready for battle. Other industry titans – Samsung, Amazon, Motorola – all tried to get their newest stuff out before this past Tuesday, to gain some sort of first-mover advantage. Apple remains, to its credit, the 800 lb. gorilla.

So then: Apple is a company that has found it’s stride – again – under a new leader.

Two new iPhones (finally, bigger screens), a direct attack on mobile payments and, to some degree, services like Paypal and Google Wallet, revamped operating systems across all their products, and, of course, Apple Watch. The latter, naturally, was the big news, as it creates a brand new product category for Apple. You know it’s a big deal when Cook invokes Steve Jobs’ famous “one more thing…” quip before the introduction. That was a nice homage, and the geeks went crazy.

Products will always be products – the march forward is indefatigable. What isn’t so sure is how a company transitions leadership teams, especially when the baseline is Steve Jobs.

Cook did exactly that, and it was fascinating to watch.

No pun intended.

The Feed: Apple iPhone 6 Edtion

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Tech news and commentary for the week ending September 5, 2014. As an office full of Apple fans (mostly), here is the best and latest speculation about what’s coming out of Cupertino next week.

Apple is heading towards full-on entry into mobile payments. What this means is that you will be able to pay for things with your iPhone (or iWatch, as the speculation goes) and physical credit cards won’t be necessary. Earlier attempts to get this done (mostly on Android) were non-starters because the effort focused on implementation technology (NFC vs. Bluetooth), while ignoring the business and alliance side of things. It seems Apple is tackling that. Link.

If there is an iWatch, I have no doubt the functionality and style will be market-leading. The one thing I’ve always worried about is battery life, and if this report is true, there might be an issue. Then again, Android smartwatches that are in the market right now have to be charged twice a day, so the bar is already set pretty low. Link.

Apple is building a massive structure outside the Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College in Cupterino. I mean, huge. Symbolically, this is an interesting venue, because it’s the same place Steve Jobs introduced the Mac 30 years ago. Link.

If you can’t wait to see what Tim Cook unveils next Tuesday, the best sneak-peek of the iPhone 6 that seems legitimate is this video, which is in Russian. This of course hasn’t been validated, but the web seems to think this is real. Link.

The keynote event is this Tuesday, September 9. Apple even has a countdown timer on its site. Link.

A quick op-ed blurb here: since Steve Jobs passed away, all eyes have been on Tim Cook, usually in the wrong context. It’s been wrong because many analysts have expected Cook to be Jobs v2.0, instead of Tim Cook. There has been praise for Cooks methodical, calculated style, and many calls of frustration (bordering on damnation) that Cook is Sculley 2.0 and will return Apple do the early pre-2000 dark ages. My prediction is on the other end of the spectrum: this event will be Cook’s stepping out party, and he will make his mark as Apple’s chief in grand style here. All signs point to it: the lineup he’s expected to announce (two iPhones, the iWatch, a possible new iPad Air 2), the crazy structure that’s being built, the significance of the venue as it relates to Apple history.

This will be one to watch.

Pun intended.

A Brief Dissection of Apple’s New ‘Stickers’ MacBook Air TV Ad

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This is ‘Stickers’, the new TV ad for Apple’s MacBook Air. It’s interesting on several levels. Watch:

I watch and dissect all Apple ads, and this one jumped at me. Why?

  1. It breaks from their traditional style. Most Apple ads show what you can do with the product, not 30 seconds of the product itself from largely one angle.
  2. It shows Apple products in a modified state. This almost never happens. (Well, in ‘Powerful’ they showed the device in steadicam rigs and attached to instruments, but that’s not the same.) Here, modified means user-modified, which implies an affection for the product, a sense of personalization, a sense of use. One would only bother putting stickers on a product of which they were proud, or used every day to perform their daily work. You customize your car; you don’t customize your extra gas generator sitting in your garage.
  3. If you look at the MacBook Airs you see flashing through the ad, you’ll notice blemishes, scratches, maybe even minor dents – again, this implies use and a sense that the machine is an extension of someone, not just a product on a pedestal. Apple is in the business of creating experiences, not just devices. This is what makes Apple products appeal (or not) to certain people. (I’d even go out on a limb and say that the machines you see in ‘Stickers’ are actual, real-world user machines, but I’m just riffing here.)
  4. Showing stickers all over Apple’s vaunted industrial design is actually a bit self-deprecating: it shows Apple isn’t taking its naked design as the canonical style. There’s a bit of jauntiness here, a sense that Apple isn’t taking itself so seriously. This is a good thing.
  5. What’s the key value of a laptop computer? The screen. This ad shows not a single shot of the screen. Again, this isn’t about how the device gets used – everyone knows that by now.
  6. Finally, the iconic six-color Apple logo makes a brief, staccato appearance in the ad’s final frames. Great touch, and nice to see.

This entire ad is about self-expression, not a product. It’s almost as if the Beats marketing team created it, and I don’t think it’s any accident it’s airing alongside Apple’s back to school promo.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Game Changers: What Apple Announced This Week at WWDC

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You can’t go anywhere on the web without reading one of a zillion articles about what Apple announced at Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), so instead of going long on this and reiterating what everyone is saying, I’m going to summarize the big things as succinctly as possible.

Why even bother? Because some of the things Apple announced are HUGE.

Open-API Touch ID Functionality

Touch ID – the software behind Apple’s fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S – is excellent, and once you start using it, you get used to it – fast. Passwords feel archaic, and you get annoyed when you have to type one.

This week, Apple opened Touch ID up to third-party developers, which means anyone can create an app that foregoes passwords and instead uses a fingerprint biometric. Think about that: Apple is swinging an axe straight down on the neck of the confusing, easily-compromised password scheme we all love to hate.

This will change the way login security will be handled on a massive scale. Just wait and see how quickly developers snap this up.

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Impressions of Microsoft Office for iPad

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Paul Thurrott:

As for how powerful these apps are, consider this. I loaded up my 575 page Windows 8.1 Field Guide Word document, and while it took a while to download originally (it’s stored in OneDrive for Business as part of my Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription), the performance reading and editing the document was impressive. In fact, it was… amazing. This is the real deal.

As important, the fidelity of the document was perfect: Everything was formatted correctly, including images. I could actually write a book on this thing if I wanted to. (Relax, I don’t.) Microsoft claims that documents look as good on the iPad as they do on the PC. And I gotta say. They really do.

Ed Bott:

What’s fascinating about Office for the iPad is how it leapfrogs Microsoft’s Windows tablets. On Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, Office is still a desktop app with some grudging interface tweaks designed to ease the pain of using an app without a mouse. Anyone who owns a Surface RT is likely to look enviously at these iPad apps, which for now are the gold standard for Office on a modern tablet.

With the release of Office for iPad, the divide between laptop and tablet just got reduced to a negligible crack. These are truly outstanding apps, and you can do real work on them with no caveats. As far as I can tell, Office for iPad is to Office as Photoshop Elements is to Photoshop. Sure, you don’t get 100% feature coverage, but for the 70% of the stuff most people do every day with office documents, it’s there, it’s graphically beautiful, and it works flawlessly.

“How Strange”

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Lia Pas, writing about how strange it is that relatively new technology can suddenly feel very old in the face of the newest technology:

How strange that technology that is only three years old feels cludgy in our hands now. How strange what high expectations we have for responsiveness from a thin board of glass and metal. How easily these things have become “necessities” and ubiquitous in our presence. How will we play with light three years from now? How old will this device I’m using now feel beneath my hands?

Truth and Lies About Apple

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Brian S. Hall, writing for Techpinions:

That Google continues to develop and support services optimized for iPhone is all you need to know about those who scream that IPHONE IS DOOMED. They are either ignorant or they are lying to you. Why do you continue to reward them with your attention?

Very smart piece about fact vs. fiction as it relates to the current Apple zeitgeist. Recommended.

“Jony Makes Some of His Greatest Decisions While Having a Drink”

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Fascinating article in Vanity Fair about how Jony Ive and Marc Newson collaborated for Product Red:

In 2007, at Larry Gagosian’s town house, following the opening of the Newson show, Bono spoke to Newson about the possibility of doing something for Product (Red). Bono has also known Ive for years. They met through Steve Jobs, whom Bono had approached back in 2004 when the iPod was new, offering his band, U2, for an iPod commercial. Part of the deal included a special-edition iPod that Bono had requested, manufactured in black with a red dial. (At the time, iPods came only in white.) When the deal seemed like it might founder, Ive was dispatched in person to take the prototype black-red iPod to Bono at his home in Dublin. The two men went drinking in a pub and sorted out the remaining issues in the deal. “Jony makes some of his greatest decisions while having a drink,” Bono said to me over the phone, speaking from his home in France.

Read the whole thing.

Maybe Boston Legal was on to something, eh?

Two Easy Ways Apple Could Improve the iPhone 5s Fingerprint Sensor

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The iPhone 5S is the first consumer device that actually brings useful, reliable biometrics to the masses via its ‘fingerprint identity sensor.’ In July of 2012, Apple bought Authentec, and now the fruits of that acquisition are clear. Security biometrics have been used in smatterings of tech products for years, but never consistently or reliably. The fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S is going to change all of that. It already is.

But it’s not perfect, and how it’s implemented needs some fine tuning. The purpose of this article is to explain, from my perspective, how it could be tuned to be more useful and less annoying.

Why a fingerprint sensor?

Simple – device passcodes are annoying and easy to crack, unless you opt for longform passwords, at which point they become even more annoying. Biometrics promise freedom from passcodes and a higher level of security, as access is tied to one’s fingerprint instead of a (probably-brute-forceable) number. (Feel free to insert your own, “Yeah, but what if someone has your severed finger?” joke here.)

The Problem

As iOS 7 handles it right now, the fingerprint sensor functionality has two issues. One, it requires a fingerprint authentication every time you unlock your phone; in other words, it requires a passcode immediately upon the phone being put to sleep. Yesterday, I counted how many times I unlocked my phone: 45. Of those 45 times, fingerprint authentication worked perfectly save two times. Those two times, it took me several attempts for the sensor to work. That’s still a great hit-rate, but it’s annoying to have to re-authenticate if I turn my phone off, forget to send a reply to a text, and have to re-authenticate one second later, and that re-authentication doesn’t work for some reason.

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Let’s think about that: if you’re unlocking your phone 45 times a day, that means the fingerprint sensor needs to work (and work well) a ton. Over a week, that means 315 scanning instances, and over a year you’re talking 16,425 times the scanner must be invoked to unlock your phone. That’s a lot, and one has to wonder what the boundary limits are for how often the sensor is designed to work.

The iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor also offers another cool feature: it lets you use your fingerprint for App Store and iTunes purchases instead of mashing in your Apple ID password on the keypad. This is very nice, except that it’s tied to the aforementioned annoying must-authenticate-every-time functionality.

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The Solution

  1. Offer time intervals before a passcode (fingerprint authentication) is required. I believe on non-iPhone 5S models, you have your tried-and-true interval options: 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, never, etc. If I could set this to something other than Immediate on my iPhone 5S, the fingerprint scanning would be much less invasive and wouldn’t be called upon with such insane frequency.
  2. Divorce the authentication function from the App Store and iTunes purchase function. In other words, allow me to disable password authentication for the device, but let me use fingerprint authentication for app and music purchases. As it stands today, if you disable fingerprint authentication for the device, you cannot continue to use it in lieu of your Apple ID password whenever you download something from the App Store or iTunes.

These two tweaks would improve the fingerprint sensor experience immeasurably.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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