Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Apple killed Xserve and, worse, seems to have no plan.

November 5th, 2010 1 comment

Apple’s killed Xserve. They’ve pledged support for the service life of the machines currently in the field or bought before January 31st 2011. They’ve pledged OSX Sever support on Mac mini and Mac Pro. They only mention Snow Leopard Server no mention of Lion Server which is, in silence, damning.

They’ve made a very, very bad move.

It’s pretty obvious from this move that Xserve was not a high volume or ‘successful’ product unto itself. That success, measured only in revenue and margin of the XServe product line was likely pretty bleak.. The problem is, sales, profits on XServe as a product is not how Apple needs to measure XServe’s value to the company.

XServe was, in part, a means of justifying a place for Macs in corporate I.T. That the product existed said something corporate I.T. needed to hear from Apple in order for the Mac to be allowed at work.  I do mean allowed. If you have never worked in a corporate environment, dealt with corporate I.T. thinking, never been the ‘guy who supports those weirdo designer and video people’, you have no earthly notion of the proactive steps certain sorts of people will take to get Apple products off their campus by any means necessary. And yes, even  now, maybe more now, with the consumer-focus of Apple’s balance sheet.

The current model XServe is actually, in small part, the result of a ‘listening tour’ Apple did with some corporate clients including a former employer of mine, One of the features loudly advocated for by a colleague was Lights Out Management ( and Apple responded. Surely not just to his feedback but to what was likely feedback they got from many many other similarly able sys admins like my then colleague. The issue wasn’t so much how many potential clients would actually use lights out management but how many of those with purchase approval power would perceive that, by including LOM, Apple was serious about MacOS in the Enterprise.

More to the point than that was Apple’s investing the resources, the staff, in making the trip to what was a major customer and making them feel heard. That my colleague saw his suggestions show up in a new product helped Apple begin to regain their foothold there. Apple sold a lot of iMacs and Mac Pros to that company since then. By a lot, I mean significant hundreds and this was hardly a large company or even a shadow of a major higher education site.

In canceling Xserve, and presumably and more importantly scaling back the staff involved dedicated to supporting and evangelizing OS X as a server platform and full peer in business. Apple isn’t just shedding an unprofitable and tangential product, they are jeopardizing sales to academia, research institutions and medium sized business. In doing that, they jeopardize sales of all Macs and from there, iOS devices across all markets.

Killing XServe without a forward looking indication of Apple’s commitment to I.T. in business is a capital B bad thing.

I.T. people, if they’re actually competent I.T. people, are a paranoid bunch. We like contingency plans. We like backup. We like automation. We like fault tolerance and high availability. 5 Mac minis without an Apple supported clustering and HA solution is not a viable solution to an XServe with duel power supplies and fault tolerance on disk. A Mac Pro consumes absurd volumes of space in some of the most expensive real estate in the world. A fire-suppressed, raised floor, redundantly cooled, UPS and generator powered machine room could be the most expensive, by cubic inch, space in the world.

By killing XServe, Apple is saying they don’t understand and are not interested in I.T. people. The problem with that? If Apple’s not interested in I.T. people they won’t be interested in Apple and all the gains Apple has made as a respected peer platform in mixed OS environments are in jeopardy.

If a company’s I.T. department won’t support a Mac on their LAN, they won’t support a Mac used to connect via VPN from home. Their users will be right back to “I can’t buy a Mac because I can’t use one at work and I can’t even get permission to use mine at home to do my work from home. I have to buy a PC.”

As much as Apple may want iPad and iPhone to be their primary high volume bread winners, they can’t afford to kill the Mac. They need the Mac to be the development platform for iOS. They need the Mac to be the “one sure bet your iOS products will work smoothly with” for customers. The potential community for developers can’t be left to hope iOS dev tools will install on Windows. Apple needs the Mac and the Mac still needs to be a viable computing platform, not an appliance. That means a developer needs to want to use a Mac. The Mac must stay a viable platform. The only way that happens is if Apple invests just enough to insure the Mac is a full peer platform for business use.

Apple can mitigate some of the costs that prevented XServe hardware from being a viable product by expanding the market for the hardware and throwing away the cost of an additional logic board design. They can reach a market under-served by the incredibly deep and somewhat physically delicate XServe 1U design  by rethinking the Mac Pro.

A new ‘Mac Pro-Rack’ and commitment to the OS X Sever software platform.

Mac Pro-Rack is a variation on the current damned near perfect enclosure design of the Mac Pro. It is, now, no taller than it it could be wide to slide into a rack (with the handles removed).  There appears to be very little about the internals that demand vertical orientation for proper cooling. The optical drives could be rotated 90 degrees at the, worst case, expense of access to one slot PCI slot. Dual Power supplies, there’s room for or make an external second supply with DC inputs an option. Hell, make Mac Pro-Rack a bolt on kit for a redesigned horizontal or vertical Mac Pro. When used as a workstation? Smooth top and bottom, front and rear facing (rather than top and bottom) handles. When used in a rack? Bolt on optional ears and rails after removing a piece of sexy Apple-designed trim.

No, clearly it’s not literally this easy. ruggedizing for use in a mobile rack, thermal management and rack hardware of course demand engineering resources but the point is, it’s possible for Apple to have a shared logic board design for their pro workstations and a rack mountable product and mitigate the development  costs of ‘specific for use as a server’ hardware. A good 4U rack mountable Mac Pro is of value to use in an I.T. server rack and in media production markets. (and military, security and field research applications as well).

Build this dream hardware or not, Apple can not afford to simply dump their visible interest in supporting Apple in  enterprise environments. It may be a cost bit but, without visible effort on Apple’s part? Again, Microsoft, Oracle or others will be able to edge the Mac out of a place on the corporate approved purchase list. Apple needs a continuing story about the suitability of the Mac as an all purpose platform.

Apple won’t make money selling Xserves. They will make less money selling Macs without a product in XServe’s niche. There needs to be a visible plan and commitment. The will make less money selling iOS without the Mac and, long term, without the Mac, iOS is doomed. iOS is not a ‘making things’ platform.

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Categories: Anti-Inspiration Tags: ,

Apple Aperture Places and Privacy

October 2nd, 2010 No comments

Aperture has a useful feature called “Places”. Places lets you access GPS metadata stored in your photos or assign location metadata to your photos. With this location metadata, you are able to browse, catalog and re-contextualize your photos using a map-driven interface. It’s very cool.

Aperture will automatically look up the location of an image and drop a pin on a map for you if your camera supports GPS metadata  (iPhone for example but many other cameras do this or support optional accessories to automate it.). You can also, if you choose to, use the map UI to assign location meta data to your photos. This allows you to browse your photos by location. Want to see every picture you took at<insert politically incorrect location here>? You need only locate that place with a handy dandy pushpin on the map. Want to see the path you took cross country stopping at each cool looking diner along the way for a black and white milkshake while hauling <insert politically incorrect cargo here>? Want to know where exactly took that photo of that bald eagle you accidentally shot while duck hunting? All these things are easy and convenient with Aperture’s ‘Places’.

The two options for using places are “Never” and “Automatically”. If “Automatically” is not enabled, Places is entirely disabled. The preference isn’t labeled “Look up places online from Apple and Google”. Hell, it doesn’t even say “Look Up Places Online” it just says “Look Up Places”.

All well and good. Handy. The problem is: Places, if you allow it to will connect to, at least, these severs:


Clearly, there is enormous value to the vast amount of GIS data and services available online but a simple GPS to rudimentary map functionality could and should be available using only local map and coordinate data installed with Aperture.

There is no option to look up places in an ‘on demand’ and per-image basis. No option to hide the UI elements that refer to places. No readily available documentation of exactly what information is sent to Google or Apple when you use the feature. No warning about what information you are licensing implicitly to Apple or Google when you choose to use this feature.

Now, there are a lot of good reasons you may not want to allow even the when and where of your photos to be stored by Apple or Google  no matter how legal, upright and upstanding a person you are. Let’s say you have a gmail address you use anonymously, for example, to post in a political discussion forum when you are the editor of a news program. It’s part of your private life. You don’t use your position with this news program to back up the opinions you discuss. You simply prefer not to have your personal political opinions be fodder for evaluating the validity and objectivity of your reporting. You write about Google or Apple, they look up your records, it leaks, your career is over. This is just one example. If you use Aperture on your laptop, expose your home in Manhattan to burglary while the time stamps and GPS data in the photos shows your in Bora Bora. Leaks of this data could compromise a woman fleeing an abuser. Leaks of this data could eroneously expose you as a person of interest in a data-mining fishing expedition. “Yes, Inspector Gadget, slap the old Patriot Act notice on Google. I want to know the names of everybody at 5th and Main between noon and one on the 25th.”

It is, simply, too easy to potentially give Apple and Google a a record of every place you have ever taken a photograph. It’s simply none of their damned business unless I choose to make it their business and I should damned well be informed about what data is sent and stored on their servers.

Apple should:

  • Clearly document precisely what data is sent to Apple and Google. (Apple now owns Pushpin)
  • Ensure all data sent to Apple/Google is anonymized and contains no image data.
  • Enable more granular control of online lookups.
  • Allow you to hide the UI for the feature if you choose not to use it.
  • Offer rudimentary location functionality using locally stored map data installed with the program.

You should, think a little more about how convenience and your use of ‘The Cloud’ may compromise your privacy and be a more informed and deliberate consumer of those services.

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Consumer Reports is off the rails on iPhone 4

September 15th, 2010 No comments

Consumer Reports has completely lost their way and is shamelessly pandering for traffic trying to maintain a controversy in a nakedly self promotional and intellectually dishonest way.

See this Consumer Reports blog post. Note how many internal links there are from this post and, when you follow those, how many more times they cross link between ongoing coverage of this issue. Good SEO strategy there but you have to ask yourself why, for a site with so little actual content outside their pay wall, would they spend so much effort maintaining buzz and coverage of this issue for the portions of their site that are exposed to public search indexing and linking?

Why, if the antenna design’s allegedly mortal wound to iPhone 4 is so dire as to merit this coverage, is it still selling like hotcakes? It’s not as if consumers aren’t aware of the alleged issue. Why would Consumer Reports burn so much time and attention on this issue?

This is  the image Consumer Reports uses to promote joining their fee-for-access Smart Phone Ratings.  See that unmistakable jauntily raked portrait of the iPhone? CR is more than happy to use an image of Apple’s product to promote their commercial services.

CR’s own review describes iPhone 4 as their ‘highest rated’ (Paywall precludes linking but this CNET confirms what I have observed in looking at CR review.) but they say, as quoted by CNET. “Putting the onus on any owners of a product to obtain a remedy to a design flaw is not acceptable to us,” Consumer Reports said. “We therefore continue not to recommend the iPhone 4.” Now, that’s a fine argument if they were being consumer advocates for existing customers with a problem that Apple refuses to remedy. The problem is, Apple has offered three remedies: Liberal refund policy, free case (even offering third party cases) and a software patch to change the way iPhone 4 reports signal strength to better conform with industry norms.

This is hardly a case where the great white knight consumer advocate must step in to save the poor abused consumer. Where is CR’s activism when it comes to broadband pricing? Where is this level of ‘help the little guy zeal’ when it comes to all those Android phones that carriers lock down and clog with bloatware? Why isn’t CR working to let customers have a better Android phone as Google’s latest free-but–often-carrier-blocked OS upgrade would give them?

Consumer Report’s activism here is entirely self serving since other than Apple redesigning the phone, CR’s expectations can’t be met and, given what Apple has already done, seem deliberately designed keep CR getting coverage and traffic for hammering on the issue.  Apple will give you your money back for up to 30 days if you don’t like your iPhone 4. CR wanted a recall and a redesign. When there is no safety issue in play here, why recall a product it seems most customers are happy with when you can offer a liberal 30 day return policy for those who are unhappy? Perhaps because if you ask for the utterly unreasonable and irrational you can keep getting attention for it?

Now, this demand may seem reasonable; “Product is flawed, company should redesign” but it’s utterly ignorant and disingenuous. Worst of all, it perpetuates a level of ignorance in consumers that undermines CR’s own stated mission which begins: “Consumers Union (CU) is an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.” because it utterly ignores the truth:

I’m not an expert in cell phone design. I am an expert in managing technical compromises. It has been a core aspect of all my professional life for decades. CR claims to employ technical experts and I am sure they do but this is a simple and obvious fact:

iPhone 4’s antenna design is an engineering compromise akin to engineering compromises necessary for all consumer products, hell, all products.  It is completely valid for CR not to like and to tell their audience they don’t like the way Apple came down in the trade-offs. It is completely valid, even, to call iPhone 4 a crap phone because, in CR’s estimation, the balance struck in the inevitable engineering compromises makes the iPhone 4 an overpriced unreliable piece of garbage. They want to say that, fine. I’d disagree. Loudly, but fine. If you don’t want an iPhone 4. Don’t buy one.

What CR’s coverage does is fail to inform the consumer of the facts and demands Apple do magic to have CR get their cake and eat it too. An honest discussion of the issue must include the reality of the trade-offs Apple made when designing the phone as they did.

Apple built iPhone 4 with the frame of the phone made of stainless steel in two pieces and exposed outside the phone as a means of (at least):

  • Providing better performance under most usage conditions.
  • Increasing the rigidity and durability of the chassis.
  • Decreasing attenuation of signal caused by the chassis materials outside the antenna.
  • Adhering to regulatory requirements for RF radiation and carrier expectations.
  • Increasing internal volume of the device to accommodate as large a battery as possible within the dimensions of the phone to maximize battery life.
  • Building a design that would attract and satisfy customers aesthetically. Yes. This matters.
  • Using more recyclable materials in the manufacturing of the phone.
  • Substantially simpler build and service procedures which lower costs and, therefore, prices. (While still unsupported by Apple, changing your own battery in iPhone 4 has gone from nerve-wracking and risky case prying in prior models to two screws easy-peasy in iPhone 4.)

Another effect of the design is that, under some circumstances, the user’s hand can bridge the mechanical gap between the cellular radio antenna and the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/GPS antenna which, under some conditions, can degrade signal strength.

Any honest and ‘expert’ coverage of this issue would recognize that Apple made a balance decision between those goals and the risk of signal strength degradation under some conditions. Instead, CR relentlessly exploits this issue to attract attention to itself in the interest of increased sales of their product. This non-profit’s primary revenue comes not from foundations, endowment or donations but from sales of their content (Consumer’s Union 2009 annual report PDF link). Just because they don’t pay taxes doesn’t mean generating sales revenue isn’t a driving goal.

Their blog, the extent of their coverage and their own hypocrisy about rating it highest and yet not recommending it all the while using a picture of iPhone to promote their fee-based service are clearly indicative of self promotion trumping mission and integrity. It’s time to call them out and demand they either be accountable to their own mission or shut up.



“iPhone Return Policy: If you are not fully satisfied with your iPhone purchase, you can return your undamaged iPhone within 30 days of purchase for a full refund. If you return your iPhone within 30 days of purchase, you will not be charged a restocking or early termination fee. The iPhone must be returned with your original receipt in its original packaging, including any accessories, manuals, and documentation.”

  • My own pre-iPhone non-smart cell phones (Motorola Razr’s [several, they never lasted more than 9 months] Sony Erricson T637’s. [Two. The first met with an untimely demise due to accident]) have all exhibited variable reception depending on how they were held with the exception of my first cell phone which had a pull-out whip antenna.
  • Various examples of current model smart phones have been shown by independent sources to exhibit signal degradation depending on grip.
  • Owner documentation from the manufacturers of numerous phones warn that grip will effect signal strength including: Nokia for their E52 and N97 “Your device may have internal and external antennas. Avoid touching the antenna area unnecessarily while the antenna is transmitting or receiving. Contact with antennas affects the communication quality and may cause a higher power level during operation and may reduce the battery life.” HTC and Droid manuals offer similar advice.
  • Apple has this to say about their testing programs.
  • Apple’s official response to ‘Antennagate’ was this press conference.
  • Disclosure: I own Apple stock that, based on today’s valuation, is less than 5% of my net worth and was originally purchased more than a decade ago.

Apple themselves played the following video clip: If you don’t want an iPhone 4, don’t buy it. If you bought one and you don’t like it, bring it back. at that conference and that about covers it.

***UPDATE*** It occurs to me there is one engineering change that would tilt the balance away PARTLY from death-grip risk and have only minimal effect on the other side of the balance. I’m going to stay mum on the specific idea but I’ll give it a codename so, if it happens, you’ll know I had it in mind: sliver. Bear in mind, if Apple does it, (or a third party and there’s another hint, it could be done by a third party) that won’t make the current design a bad choice by Apple or a ‘hosing of their customers’ it will just mean the design evolved as most do.

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