Category Archives: Apple

Apple Loyalty Program

So I finally got my hands on a the new Macbook, finally resorting to Craigslist to find someone who had pre-ordered and pay them a small premium. I was going to write a review, and still will, but ended up writing a bunch on the process of buying things from Apple as a loyal customer.

I have done the second-market Craigslist dance with probably 90% of new Apple tablets and phones before, but never for a laptop. I’m sure every ounce of effort has been expended to capitalize on the hype of the announcements and ship as many of these as possible, but this Macbook/Watch roll-out still seems especially rough with the stores having zero inventory or knowledge of if/when they’re getting anything in, and ship dates now slipping into the summer. There’s a deeper issue though: it speaks to a lack of Apple’s knowledge and connection to their customers, even though they have all the data.

A great restaurant will track every time you’ve eaten there, how much you spent, your preferences, and use that to prioritize reservations and tailor service on subsequent visits. Airlines, for their terrible reputation, actually are decent at this too with their loyalty programs. On United I’m a Global Services level flyer and get some really nice perks as a result, with the knowledge that if I don’t fly a certain amount of miles and spend a certain amount of dollars with them in a calendar year I’ll lose those perks (as I did for a few months earlier this year) and so when choosing between two flights to somewhere I’m more likely to pick the United one. (Also I think some of airlines bad rep is undeserved, they are flying human beings miles in the air inside tin cans where the cost of an error is catastrophic, everything is highly regulated, and many service factors are literally dependent on the weather.)

I am an unapologetic, unrepentant Apple customer ever since I could afford it. One of the first things I did when I got my job at CNET in 2005 was upgrade my Mom from the inexpensive Linux box I built for her (all I could afford) to a Mac Mini. I get almost every new version of everything, including usually 4-6 phones a year (myself and family), at least a dozen laptops, iPads, Thunderbolt displays, iMacs, Mac Pros… at this point I’m probably a cumulative $100k customer of Apple, in addition to the millions we spend on Apple hardware at Automattic (everyone gets a new computer when they join, and we refresh them every 18-24 months, and a special W version at after 4 years of tenure). And I’m late to the game! There are Apple customers today who bought their first product decades ago.

However when pre-orders creak open at midnight, or people start queueing, the order of access to the latest and greatest from Apple is by whoever shows up first, or now online it’s essentially random depending on how lucky you are to load and complete the checkout process. In some ways there’s a beautiful equality to that, but for example when I went with Om in London for the 2013 iPhone release, 95% of the line was people just there to buy and flip it, either locally or ship overseas — the very front of the line was Apple lovers, but in the rest of the line I saw people using Android.

There is some sort of rank ordering inside Apple — Karl Lagerfied and Beyonce have Apple Watches already, reviewers from Gruber to Pogue get devices a few weeks early to test — but imagine if there was an Apple Loyalty program for the rest of us? More than almost any other company Apple has been sustained through tough times by the belief and devotion of their best customers. It would be great if you could earn status with monetary (dollars spent) and non-monetary (impact on the world) points that give you priority ordering access, faster Genius bar appointments, maybe even access to events.

Maybe the truth is Apple doesn’t need to do that, I’m going to keep using them because they make the best products, and when things are rough in the early days (like with the new Macbook, a few recent versions of OS X and iOS) I stick it out because I know it’ll get better. To my knowledge no other tech product maker has done a great loyalty program before, though there are hints in Asian players like Xiaomi and OnePlus. Most luxury brands from Hermes to Patek are also bad at this, because they don’t understand technology and data. But how cool would it be if Apple did reward, or even just recognize, their most loyal customers?

Retina 5k Mac

imac-retina-step1-hero-2014 To me one of the most meaningful shifts in computing the past few years has been how the resolution of displays is getting higher and higher, and interfaces are starting to become resolution independent. I feel like when pixels disappear there’s less of a wall between people and the technology, it starts to blend and meld a bit more. It’s something I’ve been personally passionate about since the first retina iPhone, tirelessly beating the drum at Automattic to make everything we do shine on hi-DPI screens, or leading the WordPress 3.8 release that brought in MP6 project to make WordPress’ aesthetics cleaner and vector-based.

I’m sitting in front of a Retina 5k iMac right now typing this to you. (It was supposed to arrive on Friday but came a few days early.)

It’s the most gorgeous desktop display I’ve ever seen, breathtaking at first and then like all great work becomes invisible and you forget that there was ever a time when displays weren’t this beautiful. (Until you look at some lesser monitor again.)

I’ve been using 4k displays, the Sharp and the ASUS, with Mac Pros for a few months now, and to be honest they come close, but this takes the cake in every possible way, including the design and aesthetics of the computer/display itself which is laptop-thin at the edges. If you’ve been on the fence, and you’re okay with the tradeoffs an iMac has in general, get one. I can’t wait for them to do a 5k Thunderbolt display (but it sounds like it might be at least a year away).

P. S. If you’re looking for a gift for the iMac that has everything, consider a slipper to keep its feet warm.

What’s Next for Apple

I have no inside information or insight, but historically Apple’s product improvements have strongly broadcasted where they’re going in the future. Here are six things I think are inevitable for Apple to do over the next decade, from most to least obvious: maps, iCloud, payments, TVs, search, and cars.

1. Maps

When the iPhone was first released Steve Jobs called Maps on iPhone the best version of Google Maps on the planet, with emphasis on what Apple’s designers had brought to Google’s raw technology (can’t find that link). Four years later, you can’t imagine such a core piece of the mobile experience reliant on their largest competitor. Hopefully this will also give Apple a chance to fill usability gaps in the maps experience today, like that you can’t click from the “where” field in a calendar appointment straight to maps. (Drives me crazy.) Note that the only “Google” branding in maps today is in the bottom left, they know they’re getting replaced and have done an admirable job on the Safari version of maps on iPhone and iPad.

Google Maps + Navigation on Android is my favorite mobile app of the past 3 years (haven’t used Siri yet) — it’s what Garmin should have built $8 billion in revenue and R&D ago. (Remember the Garmin Nüvifone?) Apple was smart to partner in the beginning, but they can, and should, raise the bar.

2. iCloud

The abstraction of documents, photos, videos, their equivalents in “bought” media (iBooks, music, movies, and TV shows from the iTunes store), the deemphasis of the filesystem with every iteration of OS X, and the rough ideas of things like MobileMe’s dock syncing, points to the combination of services that will ultimately disrupt the “magic folder” providers like Dropbox. I love Dropbox, but it’ll be impossible for them to do the deep OS integration needed to match the direction Apple is heading — never thinking about what is where, ever again, just having everything you’ve ever created or used available in the same place on all your devices.

They know this is best for consumers. My friend Rene told me how when his hard drive crashed last year he contacted Apple support and they gave him a link to re-download the past 4 years of music he’d purchased on iTunes. That’s obviously the right thing to do, even if labels have had to be dragged kicking and screaming toward it. By this time tomorrow it’ll just be part of the experience when he signs into iTunes on a new computer. Update: Apple released iTunes 10.5 a day early with this feature.

3. Payments

Your phone becomes your credit card. Apple doesn’t replace Visa or Mastercard, but they do replace all of those scammy rewards and branded cards that prey on unsophisticated consumers. Google will probably do this first, but it’ll be like Microsoft Surface, brilliant but two sandwiches short of a picnic.

4. TVs

I recently got one of the new Thunderbolt displays and man, a super-sized version of this would be killer in my living room. (The speakers are surprisingly good.) TVs are just so bad, not so much in the hardware which can be beautiful like Samsung’s C9000 but in the mediocre software, un-features like Auto Motion (which makes beautiful films look like they were shot by a Jersey Shore cameraman with a beer in his other hand), and interfaces that just don’t do anything you would expect. Hello — you can detect when a cable is plugged in, don’t make me switch between 15 sources when only one is connected. My TV takes 5-10 seconds longer to turn on than my iPad. “Smart TVs” look like “smart phones” did in 2005 — completely lacking in imagination or joy.

But to really imagine the strategic importance of this you need to think beyond a super-sized Thunderbolt display and imagine what replaces iMac, one of Apple’s most beautiful creations. People’s need for a desktop is seriously declining for the first time since pundits started predicted the decline of the PC a decade ago. The post-PC ecosystem is in place now — touch, battery life, mobile-first applications, ubiquity of internet access, flash memory. (In Steve Jobs introduction of the first iPod, two things stand out to me: that terrible font, and the fact one of the main features is 20 minutes of skip protection.) Mobile works and is getting better, and you won’t have what we call a desktop 10 years from now.

Now imagine Apple has a shining 55″ monolith smack dab in the middle of your house. How big of a wifi antenna could they put in there? Could they crush all that lame Cisco teleconference stuff with TV FaceTime? Is there room for a few disk drives that don’t need to worry about skipping plus a SSD to make it fast? If you look at the direction Apple has been heading with Time Capsule locally caching software updates it’s not hard for something similar to work in the other direction, a digital hub that’s your media server for the house, a large-format display, a time capsule, and an Airplay target all in one. Imagine just one power cable coming out of it, and everything else wireless, just like the iMac, and a few killer apps we can’t even imagine yet.

Finally, home theatre needs disruption — this is a land of $200 Monster HDMI cables and similar gouging that functions like a state lottery, an intelligence tax. When I walk through Best Buy, which I try to do once every few months, it feels like it’s technology at its worst, the magic of progress used as smoke and mirrors to confuse and dupe consumers rather than make their lives better. The Apple TV is just another form factor for the unified experience Apple wants to create every time you touch an electronic device.

5. Search

There are hints of this in maps, but just like Craigslist is being killed not by a Craigslist-like clone but rather by a thousand highly focused replacements, so too Google will face its existential crisis not from another webpage with a centered white box, but from the interface and context of search changing completely. Many of Google’s searches aren’t that valuable, and a huge percentage of the ones that are aren’t going to happen at the desktop anymore .The context of your location (which your phone already knows) the “results page” of a fantastic map application and the input of a next-generation search interface, like Siri, completely changes the rules of engagement. Google’s not investing in mobile because they wanted a better phone.

6. Cars

This is the most far-out, but I think most certain. Voice-controlled search through Siri and Apple Maps provide the hands-free framework for a rich interactive experience while driving. Walk down the car stereo aisle in Best Buy and see what $800 gets you, or a $300 GPS from Garmin, vs an iPad or iPhone. The screens feel like a TI-92 calculator. The typography makes my eyes bleed. I find it morally reprehensible how bad these products are because it’s one of the areas of technology where a bad interface is most directly tied to injuries and deaths. Car folks are making their iPhone/iPod integrations better and better, which may be a glass of ice water in hell, but they’ll never make the jump to providing a beautiful marriage of media, search, and navigation that a great in-car experience needs. Right now you can spend 110k on a Tesla Roadster, a car of the future, and for an additional $4,500 (9 iPads!) get this Alpine head unit. (Watch that video and try not to laugh at how bad the interface is.) Retail it only sets you back 1.4 iPads. That’s just sad.

“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” — Alan Kay, 1982. People who make hardware should get their software act together before Apple does for them.

Discussion on Hacker News.

Mac Woes

After a security update my 12″ Powerbook asked me to reboot, after which it decided that it will only boot to a command line. I have no idea how to even start to fix this, I can navigate around it like it’s Linux but there is no indication of what went wrong or how to fix it. I’m going to take it to the Genius bar in hopes they can do something, but all-in-all this is pretty disappointing.