Is the Mac Forensic Community Failing?

| Hidden Dimensions

"The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on."

-- Walter Lipman

When it comes to the slightest Microsoft mistake or public relations snafu, the forensic mind of the Mac community is all over it. However, we tend to cut Apple some slack, and this is exactly the wrong time to be doing that.

Should Steve Return?

I noted with interest a column last week by Shawn King that discussed whether Steve Jobs should return to his regular duties at Apple, assuming he is healthy. The gist of the argument was that Mr. Jobs' real or fabricated health issues will always remain a distraction -- because he is a very private person. Moreover, Mr. Cook seems to be doing just fine.

That -- and an article about Microsoft's latest ad campaign -- got me thinking. How well is the forensic mind of the Mac community working when it looks at Apple?

Forensic Analysis of Microsoft

I really liked an article last week by Daniel Dilger, writing at AppleInsider as Prince McLean. "Microsoft's latest ad attacks Mac aesthetics, computing power." In that column, Mr. McClean pointed out that in Microsoft's ad with Mr. Giampaolo, a self proclaimed technical expert, the goal was to find a PC that was strong on "portability, battery life and power." The suggestion was that a Mac, being merely sexy and overpriced, wouldn't be satisfactory.

According to the analysis, he got none of the above.

For example, detailed analysis of the ad revealed that the machine Mr. Giampaolo purchased was an HP Pavilion HDX 16t that's 1.7 inches thick, has a battery life of less than two hours according to reviewers, has a Core 2 Duo Intel P7450 running at 2.13 GHz and the whole thing weighs a monstrous 7.3 pounds.

There are no secrets on the Internet, and this analysis showed that Microsoft was playing fast and loose with the concept of the ad for their benefit. Nice work by Mr. McClean and his colleagues.

Turning the Magnifying Glass on Apple

When it comes to Apple, however, precisely because Mr. Jobs is behind the scenes nowadays, this is exactly the right time to be turning that kind of forensic analysis on Apple. However, because we all are in the Apple camp, there's not a lot of incentive to do so. We amble along, hoping for the best, and hoping that Mr. Jobs will return to full healthy status. That's a good hope. But it's not the best the Mac community can do.

It's very important that I make myself very clear here, so I'll emphasize the point. I am not saying that Mr. Jobs shouldn't come back to full time duties as CEO. I think his return would be great. What I am suggesting is that it would be good to be alert to signs that Apple isn't operating at the same level as when he was completely in charge.

For example, here are some things I've noticed lately. They are not ironclad symptoms of a wider problem. Rather, they're simply things I have noticed. Ponder for yourself.

  • Apple's Jordan Hubbard originally suspected Snow Leopard would ship in March. Now, our best guess is WWDC or later.
  • Mac OS X 10.5.7 has been lingering for a long time.
  • The new quad core Mac Pros ship with 3 x 1 GB DIMMs in a machine that has four slots and should ship with 4 GB. 3 GB can only be described as lame.
  • One of my sources says that MobileMe is still providing plenty of headaches.
  • One of my sources reported that iWeb 3.0.1 broke the ability of Internet Explorer to Access Apple hosted Websites. Apple hastily fixed the problem on its end a few days later.
  • E-mail export to simple .txt files mode became broken after the installation of Safari 4 Beta.
  • Safari 4 Beta itself was criticized by many for it user interface, an area where Apple should be showing insanely great leadership, not fumbles.
  • The "Get a Mac" ads have disappeared. In this recession, Apple -- despite long series of successful, staggeringly good ads that blistered Microsoft and Windows -- has not been able to, or elected not to, counter Microsoft's new ad campaign for cheap PCs.
  • The Apple TV hobby lingers while Netflix makes almost weekly announcements of some new initiative. The result has been Blockbuster pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. Expensive Apple hardware and customer loyalty keeps the Apple TV alive in units and dollars but not technology.
  • Apple elected not to introduce a non-Nehalem quad core iMac. Was that fear that it would damage their Mac Pro sales? The Mac Pro is a fine computer, but it isn't setting sales records. Why Apple is protecting that line when the company focuses so much on the consumer, and competitive PC desktops are routinely available with quad core CPUs, flies in the face of aggressive behavior Apple is known for.
  • One of Mr Jobs' fetishes was same-low-pricing for music, $0.99. Yesterday, Chris Breen at Macworld said,"If you define Apple as caving to the recording industry as prices increasing for new and popular tunes, then yes, Apple caved." Would that have happened if Mr. Jobs were negotiating the deal?

As I said, I don't believe that every item on this list is a symptom of Mr. Jobs being in absentia. However, what I am saying is that the forensic mind of the Mac community, if it looks as hard as it does at Microsoft, will start to find many more things like this and can begin to analyze them. Right now, few are doing that.

Things to Look For

As time goes on, the Mac community will start to see more and more mysterious events. When convenient, it's all too easy to gloss over them because we believe Apple can do no wrong.

However, this is a critical time for Apple. They've lost their Hall of Fame leader in the midst of a deep recession. Microsoft has a bold new ad campaign appealing to the idea that it's not cool to splash money around and go into big debt -- rather one should be thrifty.

I'm not completely sure, but if Mr. Jobs elects to return only as a consultant, there could be power struggles for both executive positions and the role of the public face of Apple. Mr. Cook's leadership will face challenges. To suggest otherwise is to view Apple with a naive, Camelot outlook rather than a steady, business-minded perspective.

The above examples can suggest that without the scary persona of Mr. Jobs behind the scenes to propel Apple engineers and executives into high pressure excellence, more things could fall through the cracks. We should watch for them as carefully as we dissect the blunders of Microsoft precisely because we love Apple and all it stands for.

Comments

breeze

John Martellaro

You’ve not only changed your picture to reconvey your looks, you’ve also lost your scruples…

What makes you feel so confident that “we’ve lost Steve” You can bet your ass that he’s negotiating every detail of the China deal which is in the making, and that not one move regarding the new products coming shortly is without his utmost scrutiny.

Aslo, he’s trying to rest and get on top of his medical condition which is very possibly not live threatening but consequential to surgery that stopped it from being that.

When he returns and assumes all former duties ( possibly delegating dealing with the idiot media amongst other delegations) I’m sure you’ll be eating crow and again changing your profile and tune, or, knowing you, you’ll still be pissing in the wind with self importance chiming you r bells and reminding us of how greatly qualified your past makes you to talk shit.

Josh

IIRC, the deal with the music labels that resulted in the tiered music prices was negotiated by Steve.  In exchange for the tiered prices, he go to make the whole catalog iTunes Plus and axed the extra fee that was originally required for the purchase of non-DRM tracks. 

The hoopla surrounding the interface for Safari stems mostly from a bad review by some shmuck over at ArsTechnica.  I read the review and it was obvious that he came at the progam looking for nasty things he could say about it.  I’ve been using it since it was released and haven’t found a single thing to complain about (and I like to complain about misbehaving software, just ask my office mates).

the Sales of AppleTV’s have increased dramatically lately, so I don’t really know what to say about that bullet point for the sake of a bullet point.  As anyone adept at parsing MS BS can tell you, announcements are not the same as shipping products that actually work and work well.  We’ll see where the whole Netflix thing goes, but that’s not Apple core business.

Ultimately the major difference between the average Apple users forensic ability as it relates to MS and Apple is that Apple has never tried to be all things to all people.  It doesn’t even pretend to be, but MS is always trying to impress upon everyone that there is no solution not best paired with a windows operating system and MS Office.  They spread FUD in order to get people to buy their products and Apple just talks about how great the handful of sollutions they offer ar. 

Spreading FUD generates more BS that needs to be parsed than the average consumer can get through on their own.  Hence, the need for sites like RoughlyDrafted.com.  Unfortunately, it’s also very effective for MS.  Apple doesn’t do anywhere near as much of that, so there is no demand for people who devote a significant portion of their day dissecting half truths from the outright lies

iVoid

“# The new quad core Mac Pros ship with 3 x 1 GB DIMMs in a machine that has four slots and should ship with 4 GB. 3 GB can only be described as lame.”

Due to the new cpu/memory architecture of the new MacPros, they use memory better in sets of 3, so that’s why the 3x1GB config is the base. 4x1GB will actually slow the machine down slightly.

Apple probably should have 6 slots in the quad and 12 in the octo and enforce dimms being installed in 3’s, but I’m sure someone would complain about that too.

iVoid

As for the no quad iMac, I agree. I would have probably jumped on a Quad core 24” iMac. Instead I just got a quad MacPro. It’s faster than a quad Imac would be, but a little more than I need. Still, re-wiring for a iMac would have been harder than going from my old G5 to my new MacPro.

Overall, I’m happy, but know I paid a bit more than I really should have had to.

geoduck

Personally I think there is something to be concerned about. Not worried, just a bit concerned. The trouble does not IMO stem from the Jobs Health Issue and all the resultant BS and stories intended to push the stock one way or the other. I think the problem comes from Apple focusing its resources somewhere else than computers. The Get a Mac ads may have disappeared but iPhone ads are easy to find. SJ did negotiate the deal with the record labels and is likely working on the deal with China. But that means he’s not watching the Mac side. Look at the list of problems outlined above. Nearly all relate to the computer side of the business. Snow Leopard, 10.5.7, Mac Pro, Quad iMac, software, MobileMe etc. AppleTV is stale because no one has been tasked to update it. Yes they released updates to systems, but they were mostly just updates. Other than the MacBooks last fall mostly we’re talking speed bumps and tweeks.

Apple seems to be drifting away from its roots in computing. What’s more I think Steve Jobs may be at the heart of the drift.

John Martellaro

“4x1GB will actually slow the machine down slightly.”

And, by the way, be missing a whole gigabyte of RAM.

domsin

John, I hope you can overlook the flame by “breeze”, above.  It is disturbing to see this type of fanatical closed-mindedness in the Mac community.  I, for one, enjoy reading your musings and insights.

brett_x

I find it interesting that you call this stuff out now. I don’t think these things have started since SJ was absent. Are you sure you haven’t just stopped sipping the cool-aide since Steve wasn’t stirring it? 10.5.6 lingered too. And it’s well known that mobile me has been a mess forever, long before SJ stepped out for a bit.

The biggest criticism I have about Apple in recent years that nobody is talking about has to be the 20” iMac’s display. It is junk. I’m not that picky when it comes to displays, but the color range and viewable angle on it is terrible. I bought one, sight unseen, for my wife over a year ago.. knowing that Apple used to care about the quality of the thing that you stare at for hours on end. It turned out that they started using a 6-bit, “thousands of colors” LCD panel on the 20” aluminum iMacs. The white Intel iMacs previous to that used a good quality, 8-bit panel. Since then, they’ve updated those Alum iMacs 2 times, and they’re still sticking to the crappy display. So clearly, they care about the bottom line more than the aesthetics of a nice display. (They use that technology in the MacBook too, but at 13”, it doesn’t make much of a difference. 20” shows the weakness of an extremely poor viewing angle.) Each time they re-vamp the iMac line, I wait anxiously to find out what bit-depth the display is. I can’t recommend the 20” iMac to many people until they start using an 8-bit display. I didn’t used to have to wait until I’ve seen an Apple product before recommending it. That’s been my biggest disappointment.

hangtown

?4x1GB will actually slow the machine down slightly.?

And, by the way, be missing a whole gigabyte of RAM.

John, the fact is that this architecture does work better with DIMMs in multiples of 3. You can blow it off all you want, but undoubtedly that’s why Apple did this.

We’re not making this stuff up. Acquaint yourself with Nehalem if you need to.

Tim

I don’t expect a nehalem iMac until Intel and Nvidia iron out their lawsuit, Apple seems to want all the consumer macines on one architecture and Intel doesn’t want Nvidia building a chipset for nehalem.

Bregalad

Brett, I think the problem with the 20” iMac display is simply that none of the LCD manufacturers are making good 20” panels any more. 20” is considered an entry level size these day and entry level stuff is usually junk. Like the old megahertz myth people have been convinced that refresh rate is the measuring stick for LCD panels, a measurement that highly favors the cheap TN technology with it’s weak color and poor viewing angles. But hey, it’s great for gaming and isn’t that what really matters? wink

This is all very clear in the March 2009 refresh of the iMac. Apple has said in a loud voice that they consider the 24” iMac to be mainstream and only have a 20” to cater to those who can’t afford a “real” Mac.

vasic

Regarding the ‘caving in’ to the labels, one fundamental element of the equation is missing here, which significantly changes the score in Apple’s favour. Among conditions that labels were imposing on Apple in order to remove DRM, the most important one, which they desperately tried to hold onto, was to limit iTunes to desktop and WiFi. In other words, they wanted to protect their ability to make separate (and very extortionist) agreements with carriers (such as the one they have with Verizon, selling music tracks for $3 each). Jobs declined, they waited for a year, came back crawling and gave in on that one. One of the major changes in iPhone/iPod touch OS was the ability to purchase songs through iTunes on 3G/EDGE networks. At same prices as via WiFi or on desktop.

So, one has to admit that letting the labels have their ‘tiered’ pricing was a rather small concession for Jobs, considering what he ultimately gained—mobile iTunes store, in the hands of more people than the total number of Mac users (although there is, of course, some overlap between the two groups).

PSMacintosh

Yes, I’d definitely like to see the Mac community be MORE critical, analytical and evaluative of Apple.
(It seems like there are too many online comments from “Apple stock investors” trying to defend and pump up the stock price at the expense of the more idealistic concept of trying to generate the very best products for the world (of computing consumers).)

Yes, I’d like to see Apple be more proactive in utilizing the Mac community for input and feedback.
(Apple has belligerently avoided seeking out or being open to input from its community—usually under the guise of having to be secretive about its product disclosures.  For instance, did Apple survey its constituency to see if they really wanted to drop the choice of non-glossy screens.)

Apple, both with Jobs and without Jobs, is plenty capable of making mistakes and blunders.  IMO, Apple’s history has always been two steps forward, one step back.
Having Jobs at Apple has led to a lot of “problems” also. So I don’t think that it is any cure-all just to have Jobs around.

The question still is, can Apple manage itself well without him around.
If so, all will be OK.

Without Jobs, it is just the unknown of whether Apple will be able to guide itself well or not.
I suspect that they will do just fine; that they have developed their management structure to operate without Jobs there.  (I don’t think Jobs presence will be the pivotal key point at this time.)

deasys

I?d definitely like to see the Mac community be MORE critical, analytical and evaluative of Apple.

No worries, PSMacintosh. There are plenty of naysayers, bullshit artists, and FUDsters to take care of your concerns already. In fact, I’ve noticed a distinct increase in their activity over the last year or so. I expect the FUD to build to a crescendo coinciding with the release of Windows 7—2010 will be the new 1995 or, at least, they’ll try to make it so. Reliving past glories and all that…

They don’t need you—or John Martellaro—to join the chorus.

Snafu

I’d dismiss the idea that Jobs is monking around at home or at some secret zen garden while Apple stumbles or something: after all, he is fully active at Disney, so my guess is the same goes at Apple: he’s just lowered his public profile to avoid further PR messes and let people being accustomed to seeing Cook and Co. at the helm.

That said:

-The Mac Pro multiple of 2-slots for a multiple of 3-optimized memory system is idiotic at best, not just for the memory speed issues but because the people which will use these beasts will need as much memory as it can afford. And talking about affordability: I really wish one could buy a Mac Pro without a single memory module: Apple’s prices are criminal, compared to top providers’.

(And I don’t see what’s so marvelous about the new processor+memory tray system. It must be better for the guys at tech support, but the memory trays of previous Mac Pros were easier)

Also, no Quadros? No real highend non-Quadro models? The utterly stupid mini-DisplayPort socket in pro models (with no miniDP-able pro monitors around, actually)? This is ADC all over again.


The thing is, all this smells of Jobs’ hands on all of it, actually. Don’t worry: he never left.

geoduck

The utterly stupid mini-DisplayPort socket in pro models (with no miniDP-able pro monitors around, actually)?

Oh man don’t get me started on the MiniDP.
I’ve had my MacBook for 6 months now. Apple appears to be the only one using this port and the adaptor they make is $45*. Who in the world would pay $45 for a damn adaptor. All I want to do is plug the MacBook into a VGA cable. Neither Beldon nor any of the other cable makers I’ve gone to in the past make this adaptor. I think I’m going to be stuck paying $45 for a G*D* adaptor that should cost $19.

*That’s $45 Canadian. I believe they are $39 in the US. Still an absurd price for two plugs and some wire.

deasys

See what I mean?

brett_x

bregalad - good point. I hate that you might be right. My biggest gripe was when I called Apple to ask why the display looked so crappy and they told me I could “upgrade” to a refurb’d white model. But also, you mentioned the 24 as a “real” mac, but they now use shared video RAM in it, so even that has gone downhill with regards to specs and capabilities. They did reduce the price, but also the capabilities. It’s just disappointing when I cant send people to the Apple store and get the same quality for the price as their previous models in a refurb. And as a Mac sys admin, I have many users that ask me what they should be buying.

geoduck: http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=104&cp_id=10428&cs_id=1042802&p_id=5107&seq=1&format=2

deasys: what are you suggesting.. that we never be critical of a company that we love? Do you honestly think that is a good idea?

Voice

?4x1GB will actually slow the machine down slightly.?

And, by the way, be missing a whole gigabyte of RAM.

No, the chip-set in the Mac Pro supports both dual-channel and triple-channel RAM configurations.  Triple-channel results in more memory bandwidth than dual-channel, but pairs of RAM chips work just fine.

deasys

what are you suggesting.. that we never be critical of a company that we love?

You won’t believe how fast the momentum of a distant #2 like Apple can be derailed. It can happen so fast it’ll make your head spin. Market share at 9% today, back to 1% tomorrow. If you want to see that happen, just keep up the noise—there’ll be plenty to join you…

Yep, looks like 2010 will be just like 1995.

reznorb5

they started using a 6-bit, ?thousands of colors? LCD panel on the 20? aluminum iMacs. The white Intel iMacs previous to that used a good quality, 8-bit panel. Since then, they?ve updated those Alum iMacs 2 times, and they?re still sticking to the crappy display. .... 20? shows the weakness of an extremely poor viewing angle.) Each time they re-vamp the iMac line, I wait anxiously to find out what bit-depth the display is. I can?t recommend the 20? iMac to many people until they start using an 8-bit display.

 
It looks like the time you’re waiting for is now. The iMac specs show “Millions of colors at all resolutions” and the viewing angles and contrast ratios difference between the 20 and 24-inch is not much. Actually, the contrast ratio on the 20-inch is better.

vasic

Well, the specs on the refurbished 20” models (the ones with the bad, 18-bit colour depth) still show ‘millions of colours’ in the spec sheet. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in the specs between those and today’s models. So, I’m very suspicious, until I carefully test the new ones at an Apple store.

John Martellaro

As I recall, the 6-bit panels use dithering to achieve an effective “millions of colors.”  Wasn’t there a lawsuit about that?  Anyone remember?
- JM

Voice

As I recall, the 6-bit panels use dithering to achieve an effective ?millions of colors.?  Wasn?t there a lawsuit about that?  Anyone remember?
- JM

Yeah, the 6-bit panels use a technique called ‘temporal dithering’ in which the colors are swapped (very quickly) back and forth to give the appearance of the full 8-bit range.  The vast majority of people can’t detect this, but a certain sub-set of the populace can.

Josh

Reports and FUD like the one described by AI below are why everyone needed to develop the ability to parse MS’s BS.

http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/04/09/microsoft_pays_for_inaccurate_apple_tax_study.html

I started using Apple products back in the late 90’s when there market share was still dropping in certain arena’s.  Everyone I knew with one exception used Window’s PC’s and had a violent aversion to Apple computers.  People who knew jack squat about computers would get very agitated with me, parroting the FUD based talking points written by MS for their Astroturffing campaigns.  I needed a better, more in depth understanding of the underlying comparisons than those around me so that I could get them to stop hassling me at the very least, never mind actually consider the platform for themselves. 

Apple makes mistakes, just like any company.  There are those that refuse to see them no matter what, but most of us have a short list of issues that they find truly irritating and make them yell WTF while pulling their hair out (some of which are listed above by others).  However, Apple doesn’t astroturff, they don’t assume that for them to win anyone else has to lose, and most of the exaggeration in their marketing is well within 1 standard deviation of the mean for marketing speak in general. 

Our forensic ability is less acute for Apple products because their is less need for it, not because we don’t have one at all.

My short list of Apple Quirks that make me scream
1.  iTunes has gotten so bloated with feature creep that often times it runs slower now on my 1st gen MBP than it did on my original 400MHZ iMac DV SE back in college.
2.  Often when iTunes crashes, which it does more than any other Apple native application, it doesn’t crash completely and I nee to restart my computer in order to restart it.  This is not acceptable for such a critical piece of software that is at version 8.
3.  Video connectors - Need I say More?
4.  It took them this long to get Error bars on their charts in Keynote, and you still need to use Numbers to create the charts with error bars and then export them to Keynote. 
5.  The stupid upgrade fee the charged for MBP owners to activate their 802.11n cards.

It is worth noting that there aren’t large, semi-respected sites making excuses for these problems.  TMO, AI, and others are more than willing to call down Apple for boneheaded moves.

brett_x

You won?t believe how fast the momentum of a distant #2 like Apple can be derailed. It can happen so fast it?ll make your head spin. Market share at 9% today, back to 1% tomorrow. If you want to see that happen, just keep up the noise?there?ll be plenty to join you?

So, your answer is “yes, we should not criticize Apple”

As for the 6 bit displays, I don’t care what the technical specs are (Yes, they have been sued for claiming “millions” via dithering) if I can’t tell the difference. But the first time I sat down in front of that 20” iMac, it looked so bad that I thought there was something wrong with the display. I don’t think it’s the color range, but the viewing angle. If I’m looking at the top of the screen straight on, the bottom (the dock, etc) looks washed out. There’s no happy medium where everything looks okay. Again, the white 20” did not have this problem at all.

Robinson

hi,

General Comment

robinson

<a >Laptop Fanatic</a>

Yuhong Bao

We?re not making this stuff up. Acquaint yourself with Nehalem if you need to.

Yep, read about Nehalem’s triple channel memory controller, which was designed to run best with multiple of 3.

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