Yet More on Safari 3, iPhone, Puff Piece on Steve Jobs

Tuesday, 2007-06-19; 01:03:00

Two more quick things on Safari 3 and then I'll shut up about it: first off, it apparently causes problems with iChat. According to MacFixIt, "[a] number of readers have reported significant lag in sending and receiving instant messages in iChat after applying the Safari 3.0 beta update." Yup, that's it, and it's pretty annoying. I've been experiencing these problems and I thought it was just a weird problem with the AIM servers and never thought to connect it to Safari 3.

A comment on that MacFixIt article seems to suggest that the cause stems from WebKit being responsible for displaying the content in IM windows in iChat. But I'm curious as to why that would cause a delay in actually sending/receiving the messages. One of my contacts says he received a bunch of my messages all at once days after I had sent them. Why would WebKit cause a stall in the delivery of the messages and not just the displaying of the messages?

In any case, I hope Apple releases a fix to this problem.

[UPDATE: MacFixIt posted an article today stating that if you press the return key twice after each instant message, it'll force the message to be sent. Not ideal in any sense, but it's good that there's a workaround. Plus, I'm already used to all the great Safari 3 features.]

In reading up on Safari 3 on Windows, apparently a lot of Windows users are up in arms about how Safari 3 is not a good Windows citizen. If that's true (and I still have yet to use Safari on Windows myself), I think it's a pretty lame decision on Apple's part. Although I suppose it depends on how Apple's goals for Safari on Windows.

If Apple wants to make Safari a competitor to other Windows browsers, then it should conform to Windows standards. Common keyboard shortcuts should conform to a Windows user's expectations, not a Mac user's. Open dialog boxes shouldn't indicate that you're running two versions of Safari on Windows. Another example deals with how you resize windows on Mac OS X and Windows: on a Mac, you can only resize windows from the bottom-right corner of the window. On Windows, you can resize it from any edge. Safari on Windows uses the Mac's resizing method. That won't make a good impression for a Windows user.

I also touched on how Safari on Windows uses Mac OS X-style font smoothing rather than using Windows' own methods. This'll also make Windows users especially hostile to Safari on Windows since they're used to their own style of font smoothing. Safari on Windows should strive to be as Windows-like as possible without sacrificing the unique features of the browser. Its use should be made as easy as possible for a Windows user; if they eventually switch over to the Mac, then they can deal with all the hassle of learning new keyboard shortcuts, learning to resize a window only from one corner, and adjusting to the new font smoothing, since they'll have to do that anyway.

(One argument I can see for adopting Mac OS X-style font smoothing even for Safari on Windows is to make a consistent rendering of web pages whether you're running on Mac OS X or Windows. This is an especially sore point for web developers, seeing as different versions of different browsers have different quirks, and if the rendering of a web page is different across different versions of Safari, it means that web developers will have to test their web pages on yet another browser. I'm not sure if this argument really holds water, though, because it doesn't affect the layout of web pages in any way; just how the font is rendered.)

Oof, the iPhone. Ten more days before it hits, ten more days until we get all the half-assed reviews of the iPhone from all the websites that want to say they reviewed the iPhone first. And Apple continues to fuel the hype machine by announcing much better battery life specs and screen protection than they had originally revealed at MWSF '07.

What I'm really tired about is all of those people complaining about how the iPhone sucks because of this or because of that. It's the friggin' iPod launch all over again. No, it does not have 3G wireless connectivity, a removable battery, a tactile keyboard, bona fide third-party development, GPS, blah, blah blah. It's the interface, stupid. If all that stuff isn't easily accessible, no one will use it, and those features then become useless. The iPhone doesn't care about the two people on Slashdot who want fucking Ogg Vorbis, and it doesn't care about business customers who want to write Word documents. (Seriously, get a laptop if you want to do that.) The iPhone is targeted at the consumer, the one who doesn't know what Java is and why they want to have coffee in their phone; they just want to easily find where the nearest seafood restaurant is.

The lamenting over the lack of 3G connectivity is especially stupid, though. The thing has WiFi connectivity, which is far faster than what any of the cellular data networks can possibly provide. Probably for 90% of the places you'll be, you'll have a free WiFi connection to use. And for 90% of the other times, you'll have access to a protected WiFi network. All of this bitching is a non-issue.

Despite arguments about how Apple marketed the iPod, it won on usability, first and foremost. If the iPhone is going to be a big success, it's going to win on usability, too. People who buy the iPhone don't care about a laundry list of features, they care about how easy it is to use their phone.

So, I found this puff piece in the New York magazine about Steve Jobs. The submission on digg called it "very 'entertaining' reading", but I found it to be something else. I just can't resist responding to some of the parts of this crappy 8-page article. It starts off with this paragraph:

He saunters out onstage, and the first thing you think is, man, Steve Jobs looks old. The second thing you think is, no, not old: He finally looks his age. Well into his forties, Jobs appeared to have pulled off some kind of unholy Dorian Gray maneuver. But now, at 52, his hair is seriously thinning, his frame frail-seeming, his gait halting and labored. His striking facial features—the aquiline nose, the razor-gash dimples—are speckled with ash-gray stubble. A caricaturist would draw him as a hybrid of Andre Agassi and Salman Rushdie. The senescence on display is jarring, but it’s also fitting. After three decades as Silicon Valley’s regnant enfant terrible, Jobs has suddenly, improbably, morphed into its presiding éminence grise.

Is it me, or is he trying to portray Steve Jobs as in his eighties rather than his fifties? Did the author really perceive Jobs in this light, or is he just trying to get more reads by going against... what's it called... the truth? His gait is "halting and labored"? What?

The rest of the first page is OK, but then it goes downhill from there.

But what if that consensus is wrong? What if Jobs and Apple have peaked? What if, in terms of power and influence, it’s all downhill from here? These suggestions might seem incredible, but half a century of high-tech history indicates otherwise. What that history imparts is that it’s precisely when the mighty seem invincible that their humbling is close at hand. For proof, just ask the folks at Sony. Or ask Bill Gates. Or, for that matter, ask Jobs himself—although his memory, at this moment, may be a bit cloudy on the subject.

Um, yeah. What if the sky turned red tomorrow? What if Steve Jobs turned into a space monkey? What if Microsoft was closed down and the money given back to its shareholders? What if John Heilemann is a hack of a writer?

I don’t imagine he much cared for the story that I eventually produced, not because it was especially harsh toward him—it wasn’t—but because of its pessimistic view of his prospects for rescuing Apple. “Years of gross mismanagement, infighting, and mounting losses have gone a long way toward erasing what was left of the Apple myth,” I opined. “In all probability, Apple is destined to become, at best, a break-even company.”

Hmm, yes. This is one of those guys. One of those guys that predicted Apple was going to go bankrupt or get bought out in the 90s. Hmm.

This view, it should be noted, was far from unique, even among Jobs’s admirers.


Until 2005, that is—when Apple announced that henceforth all of its computers would run on Intel chips. Today, Mac sales are growing three times faster than the PC market as a whole, a spurt that Jobs puts down primarily to Apple’s switch to Intel. That a dispute so petty, so personal, could fester inside of Jobs’s head for nearly 30 years says a great deal about him. But that he finally let it go says something, too.

Bahahaha. That's a good one. The Mac didn't switch over to Intel processors until 2005 because of a thirty year old grudge.

While I might grant the possibility that the initial decision to use the PowerPC in Macs in the early 90s may have been due to Jobs' personality, to completely dismiss the technical reasons and enormous hurdles for switching to a CISC processor at any time in the ensuing decade is completely ridiculous.

That “anyone” included Jobs was clear from one decision: his refusal, at first, to make the iPod compatible with Windows-based PCs. By doing so, Jobs was limiting its potential market to 15 million Mac owners—and blowing off the 500 million–strong PC universe. According to Steven Levy, author of the iPod history The Perfect Thing, some members of the iPod team disagreed. But when they argued the point, Jobs exploded. “I remember that day,” an Apple executive told Levy. “He said, ‘I’m never taking this to the PC!’”

Let's completely forget about the fact that Macintosh users were precisely the ones that Apple was initially trying to target with the iPod; an expensive, luxury MP3 player, but one that was designed well and interacted well with the Mac. And let's completely forget that even in 2002 when Apple brought the iPod to Windows, the experience still half-sucked because you had to use the MusicMatch software, not iTunes. What would have been the point to have Windows functionality from the start? Why should Apple have expended engineering resources on making the iPod work with Windows until they had made sure that the iPod would be accepted in the general marketplace?

The iPod didn't start taking off until 2004, anyway, well after Windows support was introduced.

The iTunes store has now sold over 2.5 billion songs—and directly contributed next to nothing to Apple’s bottom line. But Jobs never intended to make a bundle by retailing music. The purpose of the iTunes store was strictly to sell more iPods. To that end, the DRM on iTunes songs keeps them from being played on any rival music devices, such as Microsoft’s Zune or Sony’s digital Walkman. And tracks downloaded from rival services such as Rhapsody or Sony Connect cannot be played on iPods.

Oof, again with the lock-in argument. Yes, iTunes was used to spur sales of the iPod, but not by locking people in, but by showing how the Apple experience is far better than anything else. The author is also showing a lack of technical understanding here, in that "DRM" and "interoperability" are pretty much mutually exclusive.

More broadly, though, the resentment over the DRM on iTunes is only growing. In certain quarters of the music industry, Apple is coming to be seen less as an enabler than a gatekeeper. And among some consumers, including this one, the fact that iTunes tracks can be copied to only a limited number of computers, and are of sub-CD quality, is a deal killer. Together with myriad other factors, some economic and some technological, these cavils are stirring up a second online music revolution—one portending nothing good for iTunes or the iPod.

The resentment over the "DRM on iTunes" is growing? What crazy ass-world are you living in? The resentment over DRM is growing, not DRM on iTunes. Witness the digg revolt over the AACS processing key. Or the numerous utilities to rip DVDs. Consumers want to be able to use the stuff they bought.

Let's not forget that it was also the labels that forced Apple into adding DRM. The iTunes Music Store would never have existed without DRM. Today is a different story.

By the way, the vast majority of consumers could give a rats ass about the "sub-CD quality" of iTunes downloads. The quality is good enough. And the limitation on transferring to other computers is similarly a non-issue to most other users -- who has more than 5 computers they regularly use? (I've personally run up against the limitation, but only because I've put my password into all of the computers of my family members.)

‘Apple turned the tide,” Shawn Fanning was saying as we consumed a copious lunch at my favorite taqueria in Austin, Texas. This was two years ago, at the South by Southwest music festival, where I’d come to talk to Fanning, the renegade progenitor of Napster, about his next venture, a start-up called Snocap. “What Jobs showed the labels was that people were willing to pay for music, even though they could get it other places for free. It changed the environment from where the industry was hostile to where people saw the opportunity.” Fanning leaned backed and adjusted his Red Sox cap. “But the music business doesn’t want just one or two retailers to control the entire market. And the à la carte, 99-cent model isn’t the only way to go.”

Two years later, Snocap is handling the technology for one of the key players in the online music world: MySpace, the social-networking colossus owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The system the companies have concocted allows bands to sell their music directly from MySpace pages. Unlike with iTunes, the songs are sold at whatever price the bands decide. And they’re delivered in the MP3 format, which has no DRM, letting consumers stick them on any music player, including the iPod.

Fanning knows nothing about digital music post-Napster. Snocap? What the fuck is that? Has anybody ever heard of it?

P.S. Why is iTunes still the biggest source of legally downloadable music if subscription models are "the shit"? It's because consumers want to listen to their music as much as they want, but they don't want to have to continue to pay to do so.

MySpace and Snocap are not alone. Last month, announced it would, at long last, dive into music retailing and open up a download store by the end of the year that will offer DRM-free MP3s. At the outset, the Amazon storefront will be stocked only with tracks from independent labels and one major, EMI. But the widespread expectation is that other majors will soon hop on the bandwagon. Universal, for one, is already experimenting with unprotected files in Europe. And the company is reportedly talking with Google about a deal to sell MP3s.

Any movement this conspicuous would never escape Jobs’s attention. Seeing a parade about to pass him by, he raced out it front of it and promptly declared himself grand marshal—first penning an open letter to the music industry calling for an end to DRM and then, last month, launching a DRM-free service called iTunes Plus, selling unprotected tracks for $1.29 each.

Hoooly crap. You're kidding me, right? Apple and EMI announced their DRM-free venture before Amazon announced theirs. Steve Jobs wrote his open letter a full three months before Amazon announced their DRM-free music downloads that *cough* still have yet to materialize. Jobs may not have pioneered the anti-DRM movement, but he was still prescient by a few months.

But DRM-free is only one cannon shot in a fusillade of digital-music developments. There’s the proliferation of Internet-based subscription services such as Rhapsody, Yahoo Music, and the reincarnated Napster, all of which let users stream millions of songs for a monthly fee. (They can download, too, just not to iPods.) Then there’s the wave of music-discovery Websites, including Pandora (personalized Internet radio), the Hype Machine (music-blog search and listening), and (social networking), which was just purchased by CBS for $280 million.

The "reincarnated Napster". That one with the ridiculously stupid ads of the cat logo doing ridiculously stupid things. Right. That's a threat to the iTunes. (Hint: if your music store doesn't work with the MP3 player that has a 70% market share, you're, by default, a non-starter.)

The ramifications for the iPod are less dire, but still grim. In a world of abundant, unprotected MP3s, in which the leverage from iTunes is diminishing, the iPod is likely to confront a more competitive landscape. “They’ll still be the biggest fish in the pond, but their margins will get squeezed,” says a Silicon Valley pooh-bah who counts Jobs as a friend. “It’s Economics 101: When there are no barriers to entry, prices fall to equilibrium. But that level won’t be interesting to Steve. MP3 players will be like CD players—cheap commodities.”

Um, no. MP3 players are already cheap commodities. You can get $20 MP3 players if you'd like. They're just crappy. And the iPod still has a 70% market share.

Rarely has Jobs’s reality-distortion field emanated such potent vibes, obscuring the gaping potholes into which the iPhone could tumble. The first is price: $499 or $599, depending on storage capacity. “Five hundred bucks for a phone?” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently said to an audience of high-school students. “I wouldn’t want my kids carrying it around. Anybody here ever lose a cell phone besides me?”

I seem to be experiencing a sense of déjà vu here... "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame." Ahhh, yes, I remember it now. It was the iPod launch! $399! No this! No that! It's doomed!

But for serious e-mailers—the sort of businesspeople likeliest not to blanch at the iPhone’s price—the absence of a keyboard is hugely problematic. Sky Dayton, whose latest start-up, Helio, sells a rival smart phone called the Ocean, points out that touch-screens on electronic gadgets have a pretty miserable history. Helio considered and rejected using one for the Ocean, Dayton says, because of “the fundamental need for tactile feedback when you’re typing—it’s like, ‘I’ve got thumbs and I want to use them.’ ”

Dayton goes on to enumerate what he sees as the iPhone’s other shortcomings: “No removable battery. No removable memory. No GPS,” he says. “It has a bigger screen, so watching a movie on it will be better—but with no removable battery, you’re not really going to want to do that and make phone calls. So you’ve got the houseboat problem: It’s neither a house nor a boat, it’s both, and it’s not particularly great at either.”

Heehee! Let's ask a guy who heads a company that makes a competitor to the iPhone what he thinks about the iPhone! I wonder what he'll say!

And all these companies have one distinct advantage over Apple, which is that they already understand and are accustomed to coping with the biggest albatross around the neck of the cell-phone business: the carriers. Making matters worse for the iPhone, the carrier Jobs chose to deal with exclusively—for the next five years, no less—is the “new” AT&T, formerly Cingular, which is widely seen as having the slowest network and the worst technology of the major players. (It’s safe to assume the terms of the deal were the most favorable on offer.)

Yup. All these companies who have this frickin' awesome advantage over Apple have totally managed to build a phone that has conjured up as much hype and as much anticipation as the iPhone. Seriously, I mean when was the last time you heard of a phone that fostered persistent rumors of its creation three years before it was finally unveiled?

And by the way? Cingular/the "new" AT&T? Number one carrier in the U.S. Let's go back to where you derided Apple (well, you derided Jobs) for not building the iPod with Windows support from day one, and then you turn right around and criticize him for catering to the most possible users on launch day.

The joint interview was revealing on other levels, too. Whereas Gates came across as entirely at ease, almost avuncular, Jobs was coiled as tight as a spring. Whereas Gates spoke happily about the marks, technological and philanthropic, he would leave on the world, Jobs squirmed at the notion of bequeathal, with its intimations of mortality. “I don’t think about legacy much,” he said. “I just think about being able to get up every day, and go in and hang around these great people, and hopefully create something other people will love as much as we do.”

Forgive me, but doesn't that go contrary to a major point of your article? Gates sounds arrogant that he's so willing to talk about his legacy. Jobs appears modest: he talks about his great experiences with other people, and making other people happy.

Say what? “I think that Google is going to buy Apple,” this person says. “It would be a victory for Apple; they’d get major-league partners, money, and engineers. And it would be a victory for Steve—a huge win that lets him leave the stage.”

The speculation about Google has a ring of plausibility. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is now on the Apple board; engineers at the two companies are collaborating on Google Maps for the iPhone; and then there’s the YouTube deal for Apple TV. But is there any reason to think that in such a merger Jobs wouldn’t wind up as CEO—or, at least, chairman of the board?

"[A] ring of plausibility?" Are you kidding me? God, you're worse than the Apple's-website-is-650-pixels-wide-rather-than-649-pixels-wide-so-PowerBook-G5s-must-be-coming-out-on-Tuesday crowd!

But Jobs has been wrong before. And if the iPhone proves a disappointment, his reputation will take a precipitous tumble: from unerring visionary to just another overreaching mogul. What’s at stake for Jobs, then, isn’t money or power—for no matter how the iPhone fares, he’ll still have both in abundance. What’s at stake is the thing that now must matter to him above all: the ending of his story.

Oh my god! It's not Apple that's dying tomorrow at 3:18 PM, it's Jobs!

Technological Supernova   Rants   Older   Newer   Post a Comment