Tag Archives: Apple

Problems with Apple

Apple TV has overheated againI will fully admit that a Twitter debate about Apple products is possibly the most First World thing in existence, but…here we are. Today I spent some time debating with a number of my library friends on Twitter about the relative merits of the Apple UI and whether or not it is superior and/or better in an objective way than it’s competition for the average user. One tweet in the stream that particularly caught my eye and made me feel like I needed to respond more fully was from Jenny Levine (@shifted):

@griffey I used to think that because I haven’t seen blog posts or other pieces you’ve written that note/address Apple issues & problems.

I decided to poke around a bit. As it turns out, Jenny is right…I haven’t written much here about Apple’s shortcomings. So, I decided to list, once and for all, the Things that Bother People About Apple & Their Products (complete with why I don’t think they are a big deal):



The lack of ability to load apps on to iOS devices outside of the App Store

WWDC 2010I would love to be able to load apps directly onto my iOS devices outside of iTunes, whether for testing or just because I want to use an app that doesn’t fit into Apple’s licensing terms for entry into the App Store. Of course, I can do this…I could jailbreak my phone (and I have, whenever I wanted to test something non-Apple approved). There is a very good reason that Apple doesn’t allow this by default: the average user benefits from having a controlled ecosystem for their mobile device. It ensures stability, battery life, consistent interface, and (mostly) prevents malware. It has been suggested that the proper course of action here is for Apple to bury a “let me sideload” option deep in the Settings somewhere, and let people choose to open their device up if they want. However, having jailbroken my phone a half-dozen times, I will say: I have consistently reinstalled to the stock OS.

Apple Hardware is Expensive
Apple's two most recent handheld computersThis one comes up every time I talk about the iPhone or any other piece of Apple hardware…Apple is largely perceived as considerably more expensive than its competitors. First off, this is a relative value proposition, placing unsure values on things like build quality and discounting the cost of software completely…neither of which is a fair comparison.  Apple systems come with the iLife suite built in, some of which can be adequately mirrored by free software on the PC side (Picasa) and some of which really don’t have a good free analogue (Garageband). Windows Movie Maker is better than it used to be, but it’s not really in the same class as iMovie, when you get to actual usage.

But my real issue with this point is: So What? If I argue, as I did today, that Apple puts together a better user experience than any of the other PC makers, what difference does it make that they are more expensive? It’s probably the case that a Lexus dealership puts together a better user experience than Lying Larry’s Used Cars does, even though both sell things with four wheels that move you around. I don’t have a problem with Apple products not being price-competitive with generic PC makers. That’s not what I’m concerned with, and has nothing to do with why I think that they are a better user experience than Generic Windows 7 PC #47 (although in all fairness to Microsoft, Windows 7 is a HUGE improvement on everything they’ve done before).

People hate AT&T
Not happy with AT&T right nowLet’s be clear: people in certain large cities hate AT&T. San Fransisco, Chicago, New York, and more are under-towered for the number of users that are attached to them, but in many cases this isn’t AT&T’s fault. AT&T would LOVE to spread towers over every inch of San Fransisco, but they can’t because SF won’t let them. The converse of this problem is that in many rural areas (like mine) AT&T is literally the only option…where my house is, the only provider with a tower anywhere even close is AT&T.

I wanted to get an Android phone for my last upgrade, and almost certainly would have bought a Droid or an Evo, except that I can’t use either of them in my house. But I don’t blame Verizon for that, or Motorola for that matter. If it made economic sense for Verizon to have a tower in my area, they would…it’s ridiculous to think that corporations wouldn’t move into a profitable area if they thought there was profit here. But there isn’t, so I have exactly one option for carrier where I live: AT&T. And I don’t think anyone would seriously dispute that the best phone on AT&T is the iPhone…they are beginning to get a few decent Android handsets, but 6 months ago it was a wasteland.

I wish that Apple devices were less expensive, and I wish that Apple would allow OSX to be installed on non-Apple hardware, and I wish that Jobs didn’t hate buttons quite as much as he appears to. I really hate the arbitrary rules in the App Store process. I despise their use of DRM. But I do believe, strongly, that even with the problems, Apple devices are almost always better designed, more elegant, more thoughtful, and just straightforwardly more usable than the competition. There are a lot of people that disagree with me, and I’m sure I’ll hear why in the comment on this post. But I think there is objective proof that the public agrees with me…take a look at Apple stock over the last five years. Apple is, by market cap, the largest technology company in the US right now, and the second largest company, period. They could, in theory, overtake Exxon-Mobile in Market Cap…which is insane.

I also admire Apple because they are one of a very, very few technology companies that have consistently changed the fabric of the technology landscape. Apple changed personal computing with the Macintosh, and they changed media consumption with the iPod, and they changed mobile computing with the iPhone…and it’s possible that they’ve now changed personal computing again with the iPad. I defy someone to name another company that’s had such an effect on the landscape of technology over the last 30 years. Microsoft is a great business, but Apple is a revolution engine. Do I wish they did some things differently? Absolutely. But I also think that nobody else comes close to them for usability and user experience.

iPad Horror

Two days ago, I noticed some odd flickering on the lower fifth of my iPad screen, and shortly thereafter I got some very odd banding/video artifacts in the same area. It didn’t seem to have any obvious cause that I could recreate, and last night, this happened:

Needless to say, today I called Apple, and as always they were awesome about getting it fixed. There is a new iPad on its way to me even as I type, and I’ll throw this one in the box and send it back.

This looks like a faulty display or video cable to me…somewhere, a connection is shorting out. Can’t really troubleshoot a hardware issue on this sort of thing, so back it goes…and I’m actually just fine with that. Because of the iTunes syncing, I’ll be able to plug the new one in and restore it, and go right on about my business.

IOLUG 2010 Mobile Futures

Here are the slides for my presentation given today for the Indiana Online Library Users Group 2010 meeting. I actually did an audio capture of my talk, using the Keynote record function…and Keynote crashed halfway through the video render, corrupting the file and forcing me to roll back to a previous version of the file (go go Dropbox). *sigh* So disappointed to lose the audio, because I thought that it went really, really well. In any case, here are the slides. I suppose one day I’ll learn to stop trusting technology.

Touch and User Experience

I just posted over at ALA TechSource on some of my thoughts after using the iPad for most of a week…I’m convinced that we’re about to hit a period where we will have to start thinking about reworking our user interfaces for Touch interaction. From the post:

We are used to mediated interactions with digital objects, using a tool as an intermediary or proxy. We’ve been interacting by metaphor, instead of directly. The mouse pushes a cursor around the screen, and the cursor interacts with the object (window, file, text) that we’re interested in. On a touchscreen, especially the modern touchscreen, you are interacting with the digital world directly. For those who haven’t had this experience, I can’t emphasize how much this changes the relationship between the information and the user.

Let me know what you think…do you think that libraries will move towards Touch-based technologies in the next year?

The week of waiting

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m almost unnaturally excited about the iPad launching this week. There’s a lot that I’m excited about, but a short list would be:

  • iBooks
  • Digital comics
  • Games
  • Web-browsing
  • Video on the huge screen

The most exciting things are the ones that emerge as a result of the new form-factor combined with multi-touch. I’m maybe most looking forward to the apps and web experiences that I would have never thought of before…like this one, called iMockup:

Seriously, that looks awesome for quick and dirty UI work. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve gone to Caitlin’s office and been like “Give me a sheet of paper and tell me what you think about this…” This total fits that creative space in my head, and puts it into a digital form that I can reuse.

URLs as a measure of user experience

I’m spending part of my morning looking through tech specs on various desktops and laptops for use as exemplars for our new building. Finding, deciding, and then sending links to our architects  for the systems I’m interested in, so that they can track down heat loads and such for HVAC calculations.

Tell me…which of the following URLs shows a company that cares about User Experience:

Dell Studio One
http://www.dell.com/us/en/home/desktops/desktop-studio-one-19/pd.aspx?refid=desktop-studio-one-19&s=dhs&cs=19&~oid=us~en~29~desktop-studio-one-19_anav_1~~

Lenovo C Series
http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/web/LenovoPortal/en_US/catalog.workflow:category.details?current-catalog-id=12F0696583E04D86B9B79B0FEC01C087&current-category-id=00C718E6D6AB498383A1A2F8DFF428C3

Apple iMac

http://www.apple.com/imac/

Is this new on the iPhone?

I’ve been testing a new Google Reader app over the last few days called Reeder, and noticed a UI piece that I hadn’t seen before on the iPhone. Check these pics:

Reeder Reeder

On the first one, check the small dot in the upper right. If you swipe it, it folds to the left and shows the text on the second pic. Swipe back, and it goes back to the standard connectivity/time message. This is the first time I’ve ever seen an app take over the title bar…some make it go away, but this is the first I’ve seen with this behavior.

Are there any others that do something similar? It says something about the tyranny of the Apple UI guidelines that this shocked me so much.

I really hate Zotero

There, I said it. Zotero should warm the heart of any academic, but somehow it escapes me. I’ve been loath to admit it for a long time, especially since I was part of the beta, and tried it for a long time. Plus, it’s exactly the sort of tool that I should really love.

Except I don’t.

Why not? Well, after examining my prejudice, I came to one conclusion: I no longer have any patience with applications that are local. Unless the application I want AND my data live in the cloud, I just won’t use it. I’ve found myself, over the last 6 months to a year, moving nearly everything I do online. Documents are created with Google Docs, I prefer Gmail to any local mail client I’ve tried, heck, I’ve even started using Flickr’s editing deal with Picnik to do my photo edits, and I luuuuuuurve me some photoshop.

What’s up with this change? I really only use two computers; my work PC and my Macbook. It wouldn’t be that hard to use local programs, and sync my documents. The problem is that it’s any effort at all. Syncing my documents shouldn’t be something that I think about, it should just happen…Mac nearly has it right with their .mac syncing, but the PC world just doesn’t operate like that without some serious effort on the user’s part. If Apple would move hard into this space, perhaps with Google as a partner…I think they could revolutionize computing yet again, especially if they leveraged their media power as a part of the cloud storage.

But I digress…

After using Zotero for awhile, I found myself cursing the fact that I had two different databases of information…the “macbook” stuff and the “desktop” stuff. This is why the third lobe of my brain is del.icio.us…I don’t have to think about where I might need that information. It just goes to the cloud, and I pull it down no matter where in the world I may be. I know that Zotero has listed on it’s homepage:

Remote library backup
Shared collections
Access your library from anywhere via the web

Give me that, and maybe it becomes a tool that is useful to me. But until then, local just doesn’t cut it anymore.