Reflecting on Apple

After taking some time to ponder the announcements made at the recent Apple event, and after spending some time reading the various analyses from others, a few things really jump out at me that I think warrant examining closer.First and foremost, the move to a 64-bit architecture and operating system may seem like nothing more than an attempt to be able to say "hey, we've got something no one else has" and capitalize on such a statement from a purely marketing standpoint. If we were discussing another company, I might even be inclined to agree. Here's the problem with such a statement, though: Apple has never used such a tactic before, and always looks at what adopting any technology will bring to the customer experience.Note, if you can't accept that simple understanding behind the way Apple operates, you might want to stop reading now.So, what possibilities could a 64-bit architecture bring to a mobile device? Efficiency and performance are obvious possibilities, as are pure power and capabilities, but in this case I think the move hints at some really interesting possibilities. (It's worth interjecting here that there is an excellent analysis of some of those possibilities with regards to other product lines here, which I noticed courtesy of Gruber at Daring Fireball.) One possibility is the implementation of enhanced/increased multitasking capabilities as a result of increased throughput throughout the system. Another is the potential for refinements in power usage and efficiency (think along the lines of using multiple threads to achieve a process in a shorter time, which lowers the power drain of a system by returning to idle quicker). Honestly, this isn't an area I'm well-versed in, but I can certainly see the potential.Another thought that sticks out to me regarding the performance improvements of the A7 and the move to a 64-bit OS lies in conjunction with the fingerprint sensor. Utilizing any strong encryption scheme requires some overhead, especially when considering that the need for seamless and snappy response are of paramount importance to an end user. This could easily be the groundwork necessary for re-imagining security on a mobile device. Imagine using the Touch ID sensor to access iCloud keychain (when released) data, and instead of having to remember or enter a security code the fingerprint takes care of verification? Or if access to Touch ID by third parties is allowed, and you no longer have to sign in to your banking/financial applications? Running on a system designed to leverage the performance gains of a 64-bit system certainly seems like a precursor to a smooth transition to seamless interaction in such a manner.And then there's the interesting idea that increased security might finally allow the virtualization of debit and credit cards in Passbook. Imagine if the entire Operating System could be run in an encrypted environment, which would only be possible (when considering the necessity of smooth and snappy operation from the customer experience point of view) with the power and performance possibilities a 64-bit system could bring to the table. This could prove to be the way to finally change the way people access financial resources, much like the oft-touted NFC chip promised but couldn't deliver.Naturally this is all speculation, but the key takeaway is this: if you don't understand that Apple only adopts technology when there's a reason behind the decision that's aimed at what it means for customers, then you haven't been paying attention to history. Sure, there are plenty of devices with different feature sets, and you should always choose the device whose features match what you want out of it, but to look at Apple's iPhone business as faltering or running out of steam is to look only at the current picture and not think about the foundation it suddenly created.

Why You Shouldn't Listen To Person X

I've written, to some extent, about this topic already, but it is tough not to come back to it in light of so many people clamoring to have their opinion heard and judged "correct" by the masses. The concept is simple:

[W]e’re beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Anyone, henceforth labeled "Person X," who is a "fan" or "evangelist" of any company or technology will only see the good about their preference, and will view any opposition as negative (feel free to go look up the psychology behind it, as it is quite fascinating. Here's a link to get you started - Why Changing Somebody’s Mind, or Yours, is Hard to Do.). For our purposes, the above statement will serve well as a basis for understanding the rest of this post.</p.

Apple

Apple is a bit of a unique case for this discussion, because it is the only company that controls the hardware and software for their entire product line-up. This is, in no small part, a large reason for both the negative viewpoint and the positive viewpoint possible in any discussion involving the company and its products.

Google

Google is often looked upon as the antithesis to Apple's approach, choosing to work with hardware vendors to bring its operating system to the masses instead of direct control and release of products. Of note is the collaboration between Google and Samsung to provide a curated hardware/software solution that is, perhaps, the closest we've seen to a complete "Google" solution.

Microsoft

Microsoft is an interesting blend of two approaches. Initially, Microsoft only supplied software and worked with vendors to supply hardware. Recently, with the Surface specifically, Microsoft has started working on a simultaneous approach of providing software for those manufacturers who want to build hardware for their operating system, while also pursuing the path of developing their own hardware/software solution. In many ways, Microsoft and Google still share the same approach.

Note: The above summaries are brief and not necessarily completely accurate across all product lines. This is aimed to provide a general starting point for the discussion that follows.</p.

Person X

We all know one (or maybe a few dozen) person that constantly reminds us of how great a particular product is, or of how a particular product can do something "better" than the way implemented in the competing product(s). We tend to smile and focus on something else while they rant, eventually realizing we have to say something to reassure them that their position is understood and valid if we want them to finally move on to another topic. Typically, however, this person really doesn't care about whether their "solution" is actually better for what you are trying to do, they only want to get you to look at their solution as the only one that makes sense.

Before I elaborate further, I'm going to reiterate the one piece that you need to remember throughout all of these scenarios/discussion:

[W]e’re beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Personal Notes

Anyone who knows me knows that I prefer the Apple/iOS platform, both for my home computer and for my mobile devices. Most do not realize I also have a Windows PC, a Linux notebook, and work with Linux and Windows workstations and servers at work. I've used a handful of Android devices (specifically the Motorola Atrix, the Samsung Galaxy SII, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, and the HTC One X+), and I have no hands-on experience with Windows Phone 7/8.

When I originally set out to determine which platform worked for me, it was while I worked for a small computer repair shop in Columbus, Georgia. I was a die-hard Windows user, and nothing could convince me to even look at what could be done on any other platform. When my laptop of the time died, I was suckered into purchasing an Apple PowerBook (G4, running OS 9.2). I loved the aesthetic design and attention to detail, so I finally decided to give in. After receiving the laptop I was disappointed, primarily because I could not do anything without fighting the operating system (I was trying to approach it as though it was Windows, which I was used to). After getting frustrated and shelving the unit for six months, I finally decided to give it an open-minded, objective shot.

Fast forward a bit, and the Mac became my preferred platform for everything other than computer gaming. Cell phones were still just phones, and the big feature on a phone of the day was a color screen, I started looking a little closer at Linux as an option for the home, but I never really made any progress. It made more sense to just have my Mac and a Windows PC as a backup/gaming machine.

Fast forward a while later and I picked up a brand new Blackberry on the Nextel network (this was the big silver one with the Java-based OS, I can't remember the model number). I really liked the ability to get email on the go, as I was an IT Manager for a regional institution at that time, and while it worked it was, truly, a horrid experience most of the time. We're going to gloss over this portion, and jump ahead again to 2007.

When the iPhone launched I was instantly interested. Here was a device that was nice and slim (the Blackberry was far too cumbersome not to wear it in a holster), and seemed far more pleasing to use for my needs. Within a month, I bought one.

Since then I have grown to appreciate looking at solutions for their worth, and seeing if a platform or device compliments my workflow, just alters it, or hinders it. For me, the Mac/iOS combination is the best feature set, most seamless experience, and all around most pleasing to use. I like aspects of the other platforms that I've looked at, and I believe the Android OS has come a long way from when it was first introduced. What irritates me is when someone proclaims a device better for something that isn't actually true, or isn't something that matters to me.

Do yourself a favor, evaluate what works for you and make a choice based on that, not on "Person X" trying to sway you with their opinions.

The iPhone 5

Now that I have had some time with the new iPhone, I decided it might be a good idea to try to offer an objective, tempered write-up about a few of the different things I keep hearing in assorted conversations. This is not designed to be a full review, as there are plenty of really detailed write-ups out there already. Instead, this is designed as a piece that reminds us all that everyone's experience with Apple's newest device is not necessarily equal.

Maps in iOS 6

This has to be the one topic that has garnered the most scrutiny and discussion I've seen since the "Antennagate" debacle that was blown way out of proportion. Let me be clear, I have no doubt that a number of users are experiencing the problems they are describing. What I want to remind everyone of is a simple concept, but one that every publication seems to overlook: your experience and my experience will differ, just as your experience is not necessarily the defacto experience everyone will have and neither is mine.

The new maps app in iOS 6 has been absolutely phenomenal for me. I've had more accurate results than what I had with the old maps app in iOS 5. I know that my experience isn't the same as everyone else, but I really would like to know just how many people are having a frustrating experience versus how many are having a phenomenal experience.

As a quick and limited experiment, I took an iPhone 4 that I still have, my Garmin nuvi, and my iPhone 5 and compared basic usage (finding my current location and searching for a couple of places) and had basically the same results across the board. The Garmin and the iPhone 5 pinpointed my location slightly more accurately, and the iPhone 4 returned a couple of additional results that were unrelated to what I was looking for, but overall the result was pretty much the same. I'm not a heavy maps user, but the key takeaway is simple: each users' experience will differ.

Aesthetics and Design

The other point I wanted to emphasize is the one thing that no picture or write-up can truly explain: the iPhone 5 is absolutely gorgeous. The device reminds me of what makes Apple products so appealing to some - the care and detail taken in manufacturing a beautiful, functional, and classy device. For some of us, this is what attracted us to Apple products a long time ago (the only reason I initially bought an Apple laptop was because of how sexy the titanium PowerBook was, and it was from that point forward that I slowly became a complete convert to Apple and OSX).

Seriously, I cannot describe the iPhone in a way that will do it justice. Everything from the look and feel of the device at first glance, to the scrutiny and appreciation of an up-close and personal examination of each and every detail of the phone is a beauty to behold. Remember when the MacBook Pro went to an unibody chassis? Yeah, that type of appreciation for aesthetics in manufacturing simply cannot be described.

Apple versus Samsung/Google versus Nokia/Windows

Without going into any of the legal battles going on, and without biasing any thoughts based on experiences with different devices, I want to emphasize one other key point about the assorted devices now or soon to be available to consumers: everyone prefers a different experience (gee, sounds a lot like the maps concept above, doesn't it?).

My platform of choice is Apple/iOS/OSX. I have a laundry list of reasons for my choice, but the overall idea is simply that I prefer the experience and workflow those devices provide me over any alternatives I have explored. I like a lot of aspects of the Android operating system, and some of the phones out there running the Android OS are pretty nice. I like the concepts shown to us with Windows Phone 8, and if I were looking at going with something other than an iPhone the Nokia Lumia 920 is a very appealing device aesthetically. There are great devices and reasons out there for each platform. Figure out what you need and make the choice based on that, not on the ridiculous notion that you have to compare the specs between devices a, b, c, d, and e and choose based on a number.

In short, we're beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Wireless Carriers and Fair Use

There are still a few industries that do whatever they can to give consumers the short end of the stick, and we allow it because we feel the convenience and enrichment of our lives as a result of their commodities is worth the price. None seem more hell-bent on shafting the consumer, though, than wireless carriers (or, more specifically in this case, AT&T).

The iPhone made a significant impact on what we think of as a smartphone, and with it AT&T became a powerhouse once more during the time of their exclusive contract with Apple to provide the iPhone. This positioned them in a pretty solid place as a result of small conveniences, such as the ability to send and receive data and voice at the same time (a feature that, at least for iPhone users, is still only available through AT&T).

Fast forward to today, though, and the iPhone is available through all of the major carriers (well, except T-Mobile), and so it is much easier to compare the fee structure and services provided by AT&T as opposed to the others. This opens up some interesting points for discussion, as well as creating a new point of discussion that I want to explore at the end of this post.

Fair Use

AT&T is rumored (via Mac Rumors) to be looking at charging users to utilize features of the iPhone that are inherent to the device (something we have already seen with the additional charges for MMS messaging without a specific plan, as well as tethering, which still frustrates me). This takes an older question and makes it even more of a concern for consumers: should a company be allowed to restrict what a person can use a device they purchase, in good faith, for? If so, where should the line be drawn and who has the power to enforce that line?

I think the new Verizon Share Everything (via Verizon) plans are the way a carrier should approach service for the new generation of devices (assuming they do not change the current details of the plans, which basically gives you unlimited access to their network for sending and receiving messages and calls and requires you to purchase data "blocks" to be used in any manner you choose). As of right now, this means that an iPhone user could utilize every function of their device, as it was manufactured and released, for what amounts to an "access fee" to Verizon's network. There are not any additional fees for using the capabilities of the phone with these new plans (i.e., no fees to use the tethering/hotspot feature, and presumably no fees to utilize the FaceTime over 3G feature coming with iOS 6). Yes, you have to allocate a specific amount of data to use, and although I do believe a user should be able to pay a flat fee and gain unlimited access to data (like Sprint currently allows, which makes them a very solid contender in today's market as long as you live in an area where the coverage is solid), I can understand the principle of trying to maintain network uptime and availability by requiring users to determine whether they should use the cellular network or another network by way of charging for blocks of data. I don't have to agree with the principle to accept that there is a somewhat logical, and relatively accurate, line of reasoning behind the decision.

What about the experience?

This is the question that, to me, is even more important with a company like Apple behind the product. Apple has long been known for changing things as a result of how they want the end user's experience to be crafted, and in the realm of the smartphone this has been relatively true as well (for instance, the inability to change the look and feel of the interface, the inability to remove stock applications, etc.). However, what happens when the end user's experience is negatively impacted by the service provider? Should Apple leverage its strength to require wireless carriers to be more consumer friendly?

I think the answer should be yes, especially when a company is trying to squeeze profits from consumers just because they want to use a feature of a device. The drawback, of course, is that this could also swing the other direction just as easily, and be used to the detriment of consumers.

All I can say for certainty, at least for me, is that if AT&T chooses to charge fees for FaceTime usage over their network, I'll finally be talking with my wallet and making the move to a carrier that at least seems to have the interests of the consumer in mind. Hopefully enough people will make the same statement to make an impact.

Evaluating a Switch to Adobe Lightroom 4

I have been a long time user of Apple's Aperture. I originally tried Lightroom and Aperture (the first version of each) and simply found Aperture to be better for my workflow and needs. As both products have matured, I decided it was time to evaluate the two side by side again, and see if that still holds true. There are a couple of things that prompted me to look at Lightroom again, and I'll explain each as we go.

Contents:

  • Development Path and Updates
  • RAW Processing
  • Organization and Workflow
  • Summary Thoughts

Development Path and Updates

This section is purely speculative, especially given that Apple is known for maintaining rather tight lips about any development path or details for unreleased products. However, there are a couple of things that have me a bit concerned about the future of Aperture, and those concerns fueled my decision to look into Lightroom once more (mostly as a precaution and to have a backup plan, but also to give it an honest shot at impressing me).

First and foremost, I should make certain I mention that I absolutely abhor iPhoto, which means that some of my opinions will be rather biased. I also despise Photoshop, Flash, and the general "software bloat" that I feel Adobe falls prey to, though the same can be said of many companies. With this understanding of the innate bias for or against some aspects of what both companies deliver in mind, let's get to my concerns about development on these two applications.

Apple has made a fairly consistent push toward the concept of easily-accessible, yet powerful, application design. This is most recently obvious with the redesigned experience in Final Cut Pro X as compared to previous versions, but those who know their Apple history will know that this has always been an underlying theme with pretty much every area in which Apple competes (just look at the various refinements and iterations of OSX, for example). While I'm very supportive of this concept, I have concerns about what it may bring for the future of Aperture. Current trends seem to indicate that Aperture and iPhoto are moving more and more toward a convergence of sorts, wherein one or the other could easily become the dominant framework for a new, unified application (and my bet would be that iPhoto would be the framework within which Aperture's feature set would become integrated, not the other way around).

So why is this a concern? Well, quite honestly, I simply have no need of a lot of the features that have been touted as "major features" that have been introduced over time. For instance, I do not care about the Faces feature, and I thoroughly despise the integrated library approach that iPhoto uses (thankfully, Aperture still allows you to set up a folder hierarchy where the images are stored, and referenced by XML files within the Aperture library). Hopefully I'm just overreacting a little based on the lack of any major updates to Aperture in quite a while and am reading too much into the ability to open libraries back and forth between iPhoto and Aperture, but the concern was planted in my mind and caused me to evaluate what tools I should continue to use. It doesn't help the issue at all that Apple maintains such secrecy over the development path intended for Pro Applications, especially when this is something I rely on when I do contractual work.

On the other side of the fence, Adobe has been working pretty hard to show that Lightroom 4 is a response to user's concerns and issues that plagued Lightroom 3. Thus far, Lightroom does not suffer from the same "bloat" that I feel other Adobe applications suffer from, and with Adobe's primary focus being professional application development, we at least have an idea of what path Lightroom will continue to take.

RAW Processing

I'm sure there are a number of detailed breakdowns somewhere on this topic, as I've seen it referenced by a number of other people. Honestly, I don't care about the technical details, but I do care about the appearance of the photos that I edit. In practice, I've seen better quality exports from Lightroom 4 than from Aperture 3. I'm pretty sure this will be addressed if / when Apple updates Aperture, but the difference in what I'm getting from each application today is of far more concern to me than what might be the case in some uncertain time in the future. With RAW processing, Adobe simply has the upper hand at the moment. Given that I'm evaluating the change now, it means this alone has me swayed further toward the Lightroom camp than I might otherwise have been inclined.

Organization and Workflow

This used to be the really major point that made me a devout Aperture fan. I felt more at home with the hierarchical structure allowed within Aperture, where I could set up categories, include albums and other projects with each category, and then if I needed to further isolate something I could use tags. Quite honestly, as I've adopted the use of organizing via tags through other applications, the same organizational structure is pretty easy to recreate in Lightroom. I can create folders and collections that handle my primary workflow, and use tags to isolate / find images I need or want to separate out for publication. Further, the publishing services in Lightroom really streamline my workflow from an export / publish perspective (this could be a post in and of itself, which is not my goal here... if you have specific questions about my workflow let me know and I'll either create specific posts or just respond directly to you!).

Summary Thoughts

All of the original complaints I had about Lightroom have been resolved (and honestly, they could have been resolved in version two and I wouldn't have known). I still like Aperture, a lot. I'm finding myself maintaining two libraries as I evaluate these applications again for my use, and honestly I'm spending more and more time in Lightroom. Once I figured out an easy way to sync photos from Lightroom to an iOS device, I simply haven't gone back into Aperture. I'm torn, because I really do like the simplicity that Aperture offers (and the familiarity with the adjustments) as opposed to figuring out how to achieve the same effects in Lightroom, but at the same time I definitely prefer the final image coming out of Lightroom better than what I'm currently getting from Aperture.

I'll be continuing to run both for a little while, and hopefully the next major revision of Aperture will leapfrog Lightroom and make the decision simply a matter of staying in the Apple camp.