Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another Day, yaArticle on Eroding Apple Product Vision

I came across this one on MacRumors today, ostensibly talking about the upgrades that didn't happen to the MacBook and MacBook Pro. However, there's more here again about the internal erosion at Apple and the lack of vision.

The source of this MacRumors piece is this Bloomberg article that's probably also the driver for the Business Insider post I wrote about most recently. You may want to check out the Bloomberg article, but be warned -- like reading about politics these days, it's likely to just piss you off and raise your blood pressure. It's really too bad that Steve Jobs can't return and take over the company again.

Seriously though. All of this was probably predictable. If you take the formula of a cash cow product like the iPhone and throw that into the mix, at some point the people who are running all of the programs are going to be the managers, not the innovators. For them, it's going to be all about protecting that real estate that they think that they've won. They're not developing innovative computing products because they're not a hungry computer company any longer. Now, they're a fat cat phone company focused on trying to keep all of that phone money coming in. They are Sony, sitting on the laurels of their Walkman brand.

Hey, there's an innovative idea, maybe the next MacBook Pro can come in a bright yellow plastic case. Well, just so long as we make it thinner and eliminate some useful ports...

Dear Apple: MacBook Pro Should Mean Useful Ports

I've written a number of posts about how the current MacBook Pro -- and I use that term only to indicate brand name, not to describe it's feature set -- is an underwhelming piece of hardware that's strayed from the vision of the platform. But at some point, it occurred to me that it may just seem like a bunch of wishful grandstanding. Lots of people want lots of ports, but how many people use them?

And so, I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to share a picture of my MacBook Pro in it's daily plugged-up state. Here's what a pro machine looks like...

When I use my MacBook Pro at the office, I have my MagSafe power connected, I have one Thunderbolt port connected to an Ethernet dongle for network access, another Thunderbolt port connected for my external display, one USB port connecting my external keyboard and mouse, and often enough, I have my headphones connected for conference calls.

What's left over on the other side of the MacBook Pro is a USB port (traditional, not USB-C) that is often used for pulling data off of thumb drives, an HDMI port that gets used for special video occassions, and an SD port that gets some use also.

Meanwhile, my Macbook Air is often similarly adorned, but sadly lacks a second Thunderbolt port to enable Ethernet and video at the same time. If I had one wish for my MacBook Air, it would be a second Thunderbolt port (and perhaps a Retina display).

Oh, and just in case we were counting, to date, I still have ZERO USB-C devices in my possession.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

More Indications Apple Abandoning Mac Core

Here's another post with some interesting behind-the-scenes information about the structure of things at Apple. It comes on the heels of the news out yesterday that Tim Cook basically said, "desktop is important to us." However, this Business Insider piece has a lot more info about how things are changing around the Mac OS internally. More specifically, the people who have been working on Mac OS are being rolled into the iOS software team. Here's the quote, originally from a Bloomberg report:
Gurman says that Apple has reorganized its software engineering so that there is no more dedicated Mac operating system team. Instead, engineers work on both iOS and macOS, as the Mac has been generally deprioritized in the company, according to the report. 
For those of us that have been using the platform in recent years, some of this comes as little surprise. Increasingly, the team at Apple seems to be focused on incorporating features into the MacOS that nobody really needs or wants on a desktop or laptop system. Things like the "Notifications" menu bar drop down, or my recent favorite -- Siri. To date, the number of times that I've used Siri on my laptop? Zero.

When it comes to product roadmap and buyer's guides, it's becoming increasingly clear that you probably shouldn't hold out for future Apple Mac products, because if you do, you'll probably find you're getting an iPhone with a large screen and keyboard attached. That is all.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Apple Removes "Time Remaining" in New OS Update

Perhaps you might have heard stories about some of the people who'd bought the new MacBook "Pro" models with the Touchbar and nothing but USB-C ports having power problems. Specifically, many people were apparently having extremely short operational life with their new units, like 3-4 hours instead of the "up to 10 hours" number that Apple advertises.

Perhaps that Touchbar is a huge, always on battery suck?

Anyway, Apple released an OS update to address some bugs that are supposed to help with the battery life issue. One of the things that they fixed -- and I saw this on Macrumors before I actually installed the update and saw it in real life -- they removed the "Time Remaining" calculation from the battery utility in the menu bar.

Why? According to MacRumors,
Apple said the percentage is accurate, but because of the dynamic ways we use the computer, the time remaining indicator couldn't accurately keep up with what users were doing. Everything we do on the MacBook affects battery life in different ways and not having an accurate indicator is confusing.
Admittedly, it's true. The time remaining is and always has been inaccurate. It's a guess, sort of like that Mileage calculation that your car makes based on how your driving at the moment. It's performance is pretty crappy when you accelerate -- or launch an app say. Still, to remove it?

It reminds me of a worse version of their solution for the AntennaGate issue, where they just changed the software to not be as dynamic in reflecting your cell signal. Oh, that fixed it...

Seriously, most of us Pro users benefit from having the time remaining -- it's a helpful estimation if your somewhere like, on a long flight with no power. It can give you guidance to turn the brightness down on your display. Or save that presentation rather than starting another slide. It's a much easier to read battery speedometer than percentage.

I put this one in the FAIL category.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Apple Earpods Still Delayed: Wireless Audio - Genius!

I came across this article on Macrumors today noting the continued delay in bringing Apple's Earpod's to market. It seems the technology is still struggling. Here's a quote from the article:
While the exact reason for the delay remains unclear, a person familiar with the development of AirPods told The Wall Street Journal that Apple's troubles appear to be related to its "efforts to chart a new path for wireless headphones," in addition to resolving what happens when users lose one of the earpieces or the battery dies.
All of this is more evidence of the secret behind the decision to remove the "worked for decades" audio port -- Genius. Not the brilliant kind, but the Wile E. Coyote kind.

Or perhaps Super Genius -- as it's pretty obvious seeing the Audio Port train coming...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Google New Wifi Router vs Apple Abandoning the Airport

A couple of weeks ago I came across news of Apple abandoning development on their Airport Express and Extreme wireless routers. As I noted at the time, it is another troubling hint at the direction that Apple is taking their product line -- and how they are abandoning long time pro Mac users and the great technology that they've supported us with in the past.

Today I came across this review of new mesh router products including one from Google. Oh the irony. As I read through the features and capabilities, the devices reminded me a lot of Apple's existing wireless products. It's disappointing to think that we may be faced with a lesser interface, courtesy of Google, simply because Apple lost it's vision.

Ah, but I suppose it's better for Apple to focus time and resources on something important, like what color watch bands to offer on their next update breakthrough announcement.

Monday, December 5, 2016

REI and Online Customer Experience WTF in 3D

For many years, REI has been a business that held a special relationship for me. There were no Recreational Equipment Inc. stores in the south when I moved back out here from Tennessee way back in 1991. REI was a welcome friend to so many awesome aspects of the California experience -- hiking and camping gear, rain and snow gear, rock climbing shoes, and pretty much anything in between. It quickly became my go-to resource for all of my activities here, enabling me to go where the climate suits my clothes.

Among friends over the years, we've often found ourselves in discussions and debates about whether the REI of today is as good as the REI of yesteryear. From discussions with touring cyclists as to whether the REI rain gear was as good as the older Goretex gear from the previous generation of REI rain gear, to musings about the changing nature of the store as fashion seemed to be an increasing emphasis rather than gear.

Myself, I've been a member of REI since 1992 and over the years, I've bought a fair amount of stuff from them. REI has held such a significant role in my life that, often, if there was something that REI carried, I would buy it from them, even if it was slightly cheaper somewhere else. A lot of things figured into this calculation, such as the annual dividend as a discount, and REI's strong return policy. In the old days, there are stories of people returning gear after months and years. In looking at the specifics of their return policy now, that rock-solid guarantee has been reduced to something like a one year warranty. Problems with your REI gear? Good luck with that... Of course, I've never had to return anything I've bought from REI, but the belief that they have a strong return policy is probably a widespread belief. They even referenced REI returns in that Reese Witherspoon movie, Wild.

REI Delivers a Series of Failures
Recently, we'd been in the market for a jogging stroller. We just missed an opportunity to one of the top-rated ones from Target as they were closing out a previous model year. We actually could have probably gotten one, but we decided to visit our local REI store and check them out before we purchased. Suitably impressed, we ran around to various Target locations, but all of the discounted strollers were gone. After more research and study, we decided we would probably just go ahead and purchase the stroller from REI as soon as one of their periodic 20% off one full priced item sales took place. Sure enough, in the weeks before Thanksgiving, REI offered the 20% discount, so after waiting several weeks, we decided to move forward with our purchase.

The first surprise was that while REI used to carry the BOB Flex, they had stopped carrying that model and now only carried the Pro model, about $70 more expensive than the Flex. The Pro model includes a hand-brake, something many online reviews say is somewhat unnecessary. It also ways about 5 pounds more, something we really felt like we didn't need. After discovering this, we took a step back and reviewed all of the different options for jogging strollers. Ultimately, what we decided was that we would go with REI because of our long relationship with the brand, their strong return policy, and because my unused dividend benefit would provide some additional discount on the purchase.

On November 17th, I finally placed the order. We were anxious to pick up the stroller and would have loved to pick it up at one of REI's retail locations, but despite having four REIs in the area, the stroller was unavailable in all of them. They were gone from the Saratoga store where we'd previously looked at them. Our only choice was to order for in-store pick-up. But forget about Amazone Prime or other fast delivery services that you might expect, REI's initial estimate was that the unit would be available for pick-up on Sunday, November 27th.

My gut told me that this date was suspect. One week later -- typical ground shipping would have been Thanksgiviving Thursday, the 24th. Why they couldn't ship product to one of their locations in less than a week was a bit puzzling, but assuming that the timeline was tight -- REI had already published that they would be closed on Black Friday, so assuming a Saturday delivery, Sunday seemed possible, but unlikely.

So as the week or so of waiting went on, I decided to check with REI customer service, since I hadn't received any specific confirmation about pick-up times. Unfortunately, what I discovered during my chat with customer service was that REI had screwed up the order. They reprocessed it, and now my expected delivery date was scheduled for December 4th. As a courtesy, they sent me a $20 REI gift card.

Of course, while they were busy screwing up my order and being closed, Amazon featured the BOB strollers on a black Friday deal for less than we were paying REI (since they offered the Flex that we actually wanted and the Pro for the same discounted price that we got through REI). Instead, thanks to REI, we got to wait an extra week.

Still feeling frustrated with REI, I decided to contact their online chat Customer Support a second time on Friday, Dec. 2. After chatting with the customer service rep and relaying my frustration, his only response was,
REI Customer Service Rep: Occasionally an order may be delayed in our system, entirely our fault. But we would certainly hope our members and customers can understand that we are doing the best we can. When possible we do try to upgrade shipping or make things right.
REI Customer Service Rep: Occasionally these types of errors cannot be helped. Is there something particular regarding your order that I can help you with now?
In short, "bummer for you".

So Sunday, December 4th came, and we decided to head over to the REI store to pick up the stroller. My expectation was that there would be no stroller there since REI's order confirmation says something about expecting an email when the stroller finally arrives, but I thought it was worth a try since they'd given me that date.

What I learned in the store was that, no, the stroller wasn't there and that there was no way the stroller could have been there on the date promised since the store only received shipments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In short, REI's own system was making promises and writing checks that it's ass couldn't cash.

This isn't my first frustration with REI this year. Earlier, I went there trying to replace my Teva sandals, something that I'd been resisting doing for a long time. Imagine my surprise when my go-to gear store suddenly didn't have ANY Teva sandals. I wound up replacing my Teva's at Sports Basement.

REI has destroyed their brand loyalty with me
While I'm sure that I will continue to purchase things from REI -- it is one of the only places where some of this gear is available -- the business is no longer my preferred supplier. In a couple of moves, they have eroded all credibility with me. I wish that I could point to a specific reason or mark it as a trend, but I don't have anything like that. This is just one anecdote, but based on my recent experiences, I would advise Caveat Emptor.