Archive for January 3, 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple’s 2016 in Review

Chuq Von Rospach (Hacker News):

Apple’s model of who its users are and what they want seems to be different than what happens out in the real world among its real users. And that to me indicates potential problems of all sorts, since that misjudgment affects not only forecasting, but product design, feature choice and performance specifications all tie back into this. And given the criticism of the MacBook Pros by many long-time Mac users, that’s a worry.

[…]

Apple’s always been a data driven company, but I think they’ve gotten overly reliant on data to drive business decisions. Spreadsheets can tell you where the sweet spots in the market are and how to hit them, but they struggle at finding and bringing forward strategic areas that also need coverage. That was, actually, one thing that Steve excelled at. It means you need people in leadership who understand their user base and which bits are strategic and need to have product coverage.

[…]

There are far too many details of bugs slipping into releases, weird design choices (the chaos of trying to use stickers in messages, for instance), usability problems and general “lack of polish” and the trend line on the quality of OS and app releases is headed in the wrong direction.

[…]

My worry is that Apple isn’t seeing this, because it’s looking at the sales numbers and they look fine, with many products under backlog and strong demand (including the new MacBook Pros). If you just look at the numbers, things are okay. But what Apple’s always been good at is looking beyond the numbers to the things they don’t say — and I worry they’ve lost that.

Previously: How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists, New MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac.

Update (2017-01-03): Gus Mueller:

I really miss the previous generation of Mac Pros.

Andrew Abernathy:

I personally wish Apple would stay in the wifi game, and improve their products, if for no other reason than I trust them most on security.

John Gruber (tweet):

Something is clearly wrong with the AirPort line. Either it should have been updated long to remain state-of-the-art, or it should have been discontinued.

[…]

“What the hell happened with the Mac Pro?” is the most interesting question about Apple today. Because something clearly went way wrong with this product. I’m not convinced the basic idea for the design is unsound — the idea is that expansion would come in the form of external peripherals, rather than things you install inside the box.

I’m not sure that makes sense given the price of RAM and the improvements in SSDs and GPUs. If I’m going to keep the CPU for a long time, which given its slower rate of improvement is likely, it would be really nice to be able to upgrade the stuff inside the box. I’d rather not have appendages.

Updates to the same basic design would make sense. An all-new design would make sense. Getting out of the Mac Pro game would make sense. Selling 1000-day old pro workstations at the same prices as in 2013 makes no sense. Whatever the explanation is, this situation is an unmitigated disaster.

Update (2017-01-05): Philip Elmer-DeWitt (via Chuq Von Rospach):

The must-read Apple rant of the week is Chuq Von Rospach’s Apple’s 2016 in review. The veteran of a dozen Silicon Valley firms—including 17 years at Apple—Von Rospach has written a critique of Apple’s annus horribilis so sharp and on-the-mark that even die-hard Apple apologists are recommending it.

Nick Heer:

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious here, but Apple, unlike its peers, is the only company that makes hardware that can officially run MacOS and iOS. Google and Microsoft may now have their own integrated hardware and software products — in the form of the Pixel and Surface, respectively — but other companies make hardware that runs Android and Windows.

This puts Apple in a position of incredible power and responsibility. Their platforms are exceptional. Even as I complain at length about the myriad bugs and quality issues in MacOS, I’ve also used Windows recently and I can assure you that there’s a gigantic gap. Yet this responsibility, I feel, is something that they haven’t always treated with the respect it deserves.

Rene Ritchie:

Fixing it, of course, is non-trivial. Should Apple go back to doing less but doing it better?

Yes.

Update (2017-01-11): See also: The Talk Show.

Finding an Alternative to Mac OS X

Wesley Moore (Hacker News):

I deeply value the consistency, versatility, reliability and integration of Mac OS X and the excellent quality hardware it runs on. However the current state of the Mac has me considering whether it’s still the right platform for me.

[…]

At the end of November motivated by the lacklustre MacBook Pro updates I installed a bunch of different OSes to see if I could find one that met my requirements. These are what I tried[…]

If Apple drops the ball with the Mac, I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it again.

Update (2017-01-04): John Siracusa:

The last time Mac users were seriously passing around articles like this was during the transition from Mac OS to Mac OS X.

John Gruber (tweet):

The truth is, for most of us, there is no good alternative to MacOS. Nothing. And it took so long — not years but decades — for MacOS to get to where it is that I don’t think any other OS could ever catch up. That’s what’s driving the arguably paranoid fear that Apple is abandoning the Mac. It’s not so much the evidence (lack of updates to Mac Pro and Mac Mini, and concerns about software quality) as the high stakes: if the Mac goes away, the world will be left without a Mac-quality desktop OS.

I think a lot of the hardware issues are temporary, and Apple could change course relatively quickly if motivated. The software quality is a more serious concern. Apple is one of the richest companies in the world, but it has built up a staggering amount of technical debt. I see no signs that this is being addressed. The best case—that Apple recognizes the problem and decides to do something—would probably take at least five years to pay it down.

Update (2017-01-05): Billy Chitkin (via Chuq Von Rospach):

The prospect of changing over to a new software ecosystem is scary. We totally get it, switching out the platform that you pay your bills with is a big deal, and certainly not a decision to take lightly. You’ve grown comfortable over the years with the OS that you love and the ecosystem around it, but now the future of Motion Design on the Mac looks a bit uncertain. We know that you have a lot of questions about making the switch, so let’s take a look at some of the bigger ones and see if we can’t ease some of those concerns.

Update (2017-01-26): Tony Heupel:

So, hedging my bets and moving away from Apple products and putting my money where my mouth is, I have come to this conclusion: while I’m VERY, VERY concerned for Apple and it’s impacts on me as a developer and therefore on my family, I simply think Apple has made the best tradeoffs when it comes to these devices I use every day, all day.

Update (2017-01-29): Wesley Moore:

The next frontier is Linux on my MacBook. I think that will be more of a test, particularly with hardware support (especially WiFi and trackpad).

This experiment has consumed days of my time at this point and the result is not in any way as polished as macOS. For the type of work I do and how I like to do it, it is still a productive environment though. Plus there is the added benefit of access to much more up-to-date, varied hardware than Apple is offering at the moment.

Anil Dash’s Advice for Twitter

Anil Dash:

I don’t think that smart people at Twitter haven’t thought of these ideas: I’m merely emphasizing that nobody on the outside can tell if they did or not. So you have to ship. You have to launch new features, tell users what they are, and explain why you made them.

[…]

Your relationship with Wall Street investors (and, to some degree, with advertisers) is fundamentally broken because you’ve gotten trapped into using the wrong metrics to measure the success or progress of Twitter. […] Meanwhile, do you know how many new video creators joined YouTube this quarter? Me neither! You know why? Because all the good videos are on YouTube! What percentage of people who visit YouTube each month are logged in? What percentage ever uploaded a video? Answer: Nobody gives a shit. Because YouTube inarguably drives culture, and people (and advertisers!) want to be part of that.

Via John Gruber:

By measuring the wrong things, not only is Twitter not being rewarded for what it is doing well, but it’s also providing motivation to Twitter to allow bad behavior.

Condensed History of VisiCalc

Dan Bricklin (tweet):

Steve Jobs once told an interviewer that “if VisiCalc had been developed for another computer, you’d be interviewing somebody else.” Dan Bricklin wanted to streamline his work at Harvard Business School, and he wound up changing the world of computing forever. Check out this talk to learn what led him to develop his revolutionary tool.

He practiced documentation-driven development.

“Hidden Figures” and NASA’s Human Computers

Matt Blitz (via Chris Turner):

In 1935, the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a precursor to NASA) hired five women to be their first computer pool at the Langley campus. “The women were meticulous and accurate… and they didn’t have to pay them very much,” NASA’s historian Bill Barry says, explaining the NACA’s decision. In June 1941, with war raging in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt looked to ensure the growth of the federal workforce. First he issued Executive Order 8802, which banned “discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin” (though it does not include gender). Six months later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the throes of war, NACA and Langley began recruiting African-American women with college degrees to work as human computers.

[…]

The film primarily focuses on John Glenn’s 1962 trip around the globe and does add dramatic flourishes that are, well, Hollywood. However, most of the events in the movie are historically accurate. Johnson’s main job in the lead-up and during the mission was to double-check and reverse engineer the newly-installed IBM 7090s trajectory calculations. As it shows, there were very tense moments during the flight that forced the mission to end earlier than expected. And John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM spat out (albeit, perhaps, not at the exact moment that the movie depicts). As Shetterly wrote in her book and explained in a September NPR interview, Glenn did not completely trust the computer. So, he asked the head engineers to “get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.”