Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Apple Ending Development on Airport Wireless Router Products

There are more indications of the direction where Apple is headed. Yesterday I found a couple of posts noting that Apple was ending development on their Airport wireless router products, including their Time Machine product. From MacRumors:
The news comes from a report by Bloomberg, who said Apple has been slowly shutting down the division over the past year and made the decision "to try to sharpen the company’s focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue."
For my money, Apple's wireless router line offers some of the best products available. While some may suggest that there are plenty of equally good wireless routers out there, they may not remember the days when many of the routers on the market didn't work well with Apple products. Why? No reason, they just didn't.

Then there are those features like AirPlay that some of us built portions of our audio system around.

And it goes without saying, that I don't travel internationally without bringing along my Airport Express.

But lately, we don't use AirPlay much anymore. Something in the network or the Apple TV (maybe because I don't have one of the new ones) started causing terrible lag and frame drops watching videos. It sure would be nice to get some development on that issue.

While this is sort of an abandoning pro users thing, it's also a computer versus watch and phone issue. And frankly, between the unnecessary Apple Watch and the iPhone without an audio port, I think the Apple internal team could learn a thing or two by revisiting the wireless router products and remembering some aspects of what actually made Apple products great.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Facebook Fake News, Scamville goes Election Influence and More

So I came across this article earlier today, Just how partisan is Facebook's fake news? We tested it, from the folks at PC World. The long and short of it is, if you like some Republican elements like Donald Trump, your feed will include fake and misleading news. Oh, and the amount of this is significantly higher than a similar Democrat feed.

The post is worth a read. But this, and much of the other stories about fake news on Facebook, reminded me of this from back in 2009, Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem Of Hell. For me, the point that came to mind was something that I started writing about this back in 2009, but it looks like I didn't publish. Here's a snippet from that:


What I see is not necessarily what you get...
It's no secret that the core technology of the Internet enables one party to personalize a message for another. From the moment that you're client computer sends a request for content to a web server, that server is able to shape the content that it sends back to you based on who you are, what you were requesting, and where you came from. With modern internet marketing, we use this capability all the time, and futurists suggest that everything we experience will only become more personalized.

The problem is that, even for those of us that get it, it can be difficult to fully grasp the scope of "what I'm seeing may not be what you are seeing" means. This issue is magnified when organizations deliberately use these capabilities to essentially hide their worst practices:

From the Video Professor post
What you see when you first hit the site depends on how you got there -- directly or via an advertising partner. The least scammy version is what you see if you go to videoprofessor.com directly. On the home page in very small font is a statement that you are going to be charged $290 if you engage in a transaction with them. But that’s the only on-screen disclosure you’ll see.
From the How To Spam Facebook Like A Pro post
Cloaking: This is when you show a different page based on IP address. We and most other ad networks would geo-block northern California -- showing different ads to Facebook employees than to other users around the world. One of the largest Facebook advertisers (I’m not going to out you, but you know who you are) employs this technique to this day, using a white-listed account. Our supposition is that it makes too much money for Facebook to stop him. Believe me, we have brought this to Facebook’s attention on several occasions. Here’s what this fellow does -- he submits tame ads for approval, and once approved, redirects the url to the spammy page. To be fair, players like Google AdWords have had years more experience in this game to close such loopholes.
The thing is, compliance and auditing is all about third party perspective -- that the reviewer sees what you or I see. What happens when the regulator doesn't seeing the same thing that the customer sees? From restaurant reviews to personalized customer experiences, on some levels, people expect that the average customer experience will not be equal to the 'reviewer' experience. VIPs often get special treatment. But, if that VIP experience is built around circumventing rules or laws, what kind of label do you put on it?

The same can be said of shaped experiences in order to increase the likelihood of a transaction. Remember the movie, The Sting? The scam is all about creating an illusory experience for the mark, shaping reality into an environment that's favorable for a transaction. So where does optimization end and scam begin? To quote from Arrington's post:
Here’s an easy way to determine if something is a scam – would users pay for it if they knew exactly what they were buying? In Video Professor’s case, the answer is no, and the company has to resort to tricking the user into paying nearly $300 for a bunch of CDs.
As we move down the path of personalized experiences, the capability to use technology to manipulate consumers through shaped reality is getting easier. Even with today's technology, it's possible for two computer users sitting right next to each other to be visit a site (or series of sites), and receive a completely different content experience. In The Sting, the mark is convinced of the manipulated reality through the introduction of a host of actors that help endorse the experience, but on the computer there it's easy to get sucked into the idea that what you are seeing is the same thing as everyone else sees.

What's more, most of our defenses against this revolve around the idea that for our reality to be manipulated, we need to be in a 'closed' environment that prevents third party validation. You might think, "If I Google the Video Professor guy, perhaps I can find out if it's legitimate." Or, perhaps you take it one step further and Google "Video Professor Scam", you might expect to find a series of top ranked pages detailing customer complaints or other news. Instead, the top result from my most recent search returns a link to a press release archive site that includes a link to a 50% off discount off of the Video Professor product.


So back to the election and fake news -- later this morning, I came across this post on Recode, Let’s get real. Facebook is not to blame for Trump, by Joshua R. Williams. Okay, so here's the emphasis in this one:
Much of the coverage and outrage has been directed toward social media, its echo chambers, and specifically those of the Facebook platform. While, to be sure, much of the fake or inaccurate news is found and circulated on Facebook, Facebook is not a news outlet; it is a communication medium to be utilized as its users so choose. It is not the job of Facebook’s employees, or its algorithms, to edit or censor the content that is shared; in fact it would be more detrimental to do so. This is for two very good reasons:
One, either human editors, or artificial intelligence editors, by removing one item or another will appear to introduce bias into the system. The group who’s content is being removed or edited will feel targeted by the platform and claim, rightly or wrongly, it is biased against their cause. Even if the content is vetted and found to be true or false.
Two, censorship in any form is bad for the national discourse.
So rather than blaming Facebook or other platforms for the trouble in which we find ourselves, let’s give credit where credit is due: The American people.
The emphasis has been added by me, because this point is fundamentally wrong. Facebook is a marketing platform that makes the majority of it's revenue connecting businesses that have promotional goals to the "users" on the platform. To quote from this post, Why You Should Sponsor Your Social Media Posts, (emphasis added by me)...
Because of all this, Facebook is usually the first place business marketers turn to for the distribution, promotion, and amplification of their ad content and campaigns, which makes it hard for businesses, especially new or small businesses, to find a place among all the clamor and competition for their posts to find an audience. Keep in mind, Facebook is no longer a good source for organic marketing outreach. It is now a pay-to-play network, or a network that gives special preference and advertising priority to businesses that can pay the most to be the first result viewers see on their social media pages, which can be bad for small or new businesses trying to find sponsorship for their own social media posts.
Well, it's pay-to-play unless you can work your way organically into the feed. In broader terms, you might consider that, "native advertising." To quote from wikipedia,
Native advertising is a type of disguised advertising, usually online, that matches the form and function of the platform upon which it appears. In many cases, it manifests as either an article or video, produced by an advertiser with the specific intent to promote a product, while matching the form and style which would otherwise be seen in the work of the platform's editorial staff. The word "native" refers to this coherence of the content with the other media that appears on the platform. 
The thing is, Facebook has already built marketing personas for these demographics. This happens through the content that's delivered in the feed. And similar to the Scamville era issue, if you can target the gullible, the likely to be scammed, and significantly increase your ROI.

The reality is that there are some broader fundamental problems with Facebook and the manipulation of it's "user" base. Much like the happy-feeds-make-people-post-more-happy-stuff, sad-feeds-make-them-post-more-sad-stuff tests, the reality of the impact of the "feed" is probably far more frightening that most would choose to admit. At some level, review and regulation should probably be considered -- but that probably won't happen as a result of the election that was probably manipulated in some part by the platform.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Of Apple Dongles and Airline Baggage Fees

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

- Lewis Carroll

The dongle for Apple products. Like airline baggage fees, its something that didn't really exist in the past unless you had some unusual requirement -- like specialized software that used it as a copy protection key.

In the same way, airlines used to just let you check bags, and the only things people carried on were things that they might need during the flight. Unless you were traveling on business, most people checked their bags. Now, the airline industry makes millions on additional charges to people for doing what they normally do, bringing stuff they need with them when the travel.

With all of their recent dongle designs, Apple has imposed a surcharge to do things that are essentially normal, typical activities with a computing platform. And while Apple recently reduced the price of the dongles required to use the new Macbook Pro units, there is still a cost.

Even if Apple decided to give away the dongles for their systems, there would still be costs associated with it -- like needing a dongle to connect to Ethernet (maybe not a requirement for home users, but an essential for business and pro users). As a result, you must carry that dongle. Or, with the new USB-C connector, if you need to sync and charge your iPhone? You must carry a dongle for that as well. And using traditional audio connections with your iPhone -- you're carrying another dongle.

It's funny how the little fees add up...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I Guess I'm Not Apple's Target Market Anymore

Day after day
When love turns gray
Like the skin on a dying man
And night after night
We pretend it's alright
But I have grown older 
And you have grown colder 
And nothing is very much fun 
- Pink Floyd, One of my Turns

Perhaps you glanced at my previous post, Is Apple "Designing" Themselves Out of Customers?  Hopefully you followed the linked article and saw the compilation of complaints regarding Apple's seeming abandonment of the creative class. While I would have loved to compile my list of complaints, that grand roll-up not only reminded me of the issues with the new MacBook Pros, it also reminded me that I am not alone. You are not alone. There are quite a few of us who feel abandoned by Apple. And what's worse, most of us have been loyal Apple customers and dedicated users for many, many years.

And that's what pissed me off about this post I came across on recode.net. The title of the post is, The backlash against Apple’s new MacBook Pro from its core user base is unprecedented. From the title, it sounds like it's going to be another roll-up of complaints and a story about the story. Instead, it turns into a piece that tries to ballpark the size of Apple's market segment that's complaining the most, "two particular sets of people: Those who use heavy-duty creative applications such as Photoshop, and those who develop for Apple platforms." Here's the basic numbers.
At the absolute outside, though, it gives, at most, around 25 million total users in the two buckets that have been most vocal about the MacBook Pro changes, out of a total base of around 90 million, or around 28 percent. Realistically, that number is probably quite a bit smaller, perhaps around 15 percent to 20 percent of the total. Of these, not all will share the concerns of those who have been so outspoken in the past week. To look at it another way, Apple sold 18.5 million Macs in the past year, which might end up being roughly the same as the combined number of creative professionals and developers in the base.
It then goes on to suggest that Apple seems to be doing well enough with the new designs because, sales. Yet, what really gets overlooked here though, is the role of the creative professional and developer segment as recommenders, evangelists and promoters (to use the net promoter terminology).

As a creative professional who's been using Apple products for over 25 years, I've been through the years of doubt and skepticism about the Apple platform. I've seen the IT departments that are forced to accept Apple devices into their ecosystems. Sure, there is a broader audience using the Mac these days, but a percentage of them don't know why. These are users that can comfortably switch back and forth between Windows systems and Mac systems because they don't really depend upon key features that creatives and developers do. For these users, a non-pro MacBook or a basic iMac are probably more than adequate.

Which brings me to this article that I came across. Apple is now officially a dongle company that happens to make smartphones and computers (Updated). The emphasis in this piece, as you might imagine, is how Apple has embraced the dongle with their latest devices. The dongle, the article says, is Apple's fastest growing product category.
The absurdity of the situation is neatly captured by the following fact: None of Apple’s newest laptops can connect to its own flagship smartphones without using a dongle or purchasing a separate cable that doesn’t otherwise ship with any of Apple’s hardware.
The article contrasts the history of Apple products with the more recent trend to use dongles. The author takes the position that this is Tim Cook's Apple and that Steve Jobs wouldn't have followed that path. You can read the article for yourself, but I do agree that dongles are antithetical to what has been, historically, the Apple way.

What's more, I think the necessity for a dongle is in most cases, a statement that the design of the core product sucks. It's like watching those cooking shows where somebody must pair odd ingredients with a main dish and they just throw something on the side. The bottom line is that you chose a path for the requirements that isn't integrated. If it isn't integrated but it's function is integral, that's a poor design.

I Would Not Recommend The Existing Suite of Apple Products
As noted, with a long history of Apple product usage and evangelism, the other user segments often ask me for guidance on Apple products. At this point, I can't see myself recommending any product with a USB-C port on it unless that port is an addition to the existing set of ports. Consider, recently I was on a site looking at promotional USB drives -- they don't offer a single USB-C drive. Not one.

Frankly while they have labeled the new products as MacBook Pros, I think they are less Pro and more Meh. But maybe you're somebody who needs the touchbar so that you can quickly message your friends with emojis. But, to quote the dongle article,
So far, no consumer product Apple has launched in 2016 has been anything like an equivalent trendsetter. If the future of PCs is a tiny machine and a lap full of accessories, I’ll stick with the status quo. Yes, in the very long run, we may see a world in which USB-C is used for almost everything -- but HDMI, USB Type A, DisplayPort, Lightning, and SD cards aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Is Apple "Designing" Their Way Out of Customers?

With the introduction of the new Macbook Pro design, the first thing that struck me -- and I anticipated it coming based on the Macbook design -- was the removal of the MagSafe power connector. The MagSafe connector is one of those little features that's like the envy of everyone in the PC world. It's a brilliant design and a wonderful feature, particularly noteworthy if, like me, you've had at one or two pre-MagSafe Apple laptops (like my old WallStreet) that suffered from broken power jacks. In contrast, I can't count the number of times that the MagSafe has saved my computer, the power jack and whatever my computer was resting on.

So I was going to write this blog post -- sort of a eulogy to the end of an era of design brilliance -- that talked about Apple and lamented these new Macbook Pros. But I thought I was probably the only one, and then I came across this link on MacRumors. The post highlights complaints about the new systems and Apple following the new Macbook Pro announcements. But what really struck me was this linked post, New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac, a grand list of complaints about the new systems and Apple.
  • Carried across all of those extracted snippets are echos of my response to the new designs. Some highlights:
  • USB-C sucks. It sucks because it doesn't directly work with any existing peripherals without an adapter. It sucks because it's not MagSafe. And, from this post I learned that it sucks because apparently you can't just use one cable to connect things for all of the different supported interconnects (Thunderbolt, USB, Power) and if you do, it will fry your stuff.
  • MacBook Pro 2016 performance specs are only slightly better than MacBook Pro 2012. 
  • AppleTouch Bar. Meh.
  • Consider, my 15" MBP that is my work system -- 2 USB, 2 Thunderbolt, 1 HDMI, 1 Memory Card Reader and MagSafe connector -- it's like the MacBook Pro has always been, the Swiss Army Knife of computers (despite the required Ethernet and display dongles).
  • A Headphone port because, "These are pro machines." I'm so glad all of those work calls I might make on my iPhone are just "consumer" calls. Then again, that's why I upgraded to an iPhone 5SE. 
  • The general consensus is that pro is a misnomer and that Apple has abandoned the creative pro and the developer user market. 
Are we all destined to hunt for Apple's older product designs?