Macworld: The end of an era

It’s the sad end to a glorious era. Macworld magazine is dead. Over. Kaput.

The next print issue of Macworld will be the last.

But that’s not what is truly sad. Or surprising. The demise of Macworld’s print magazine has been expected for several years. Almost all other technology print publications, including Macworld’s PCWorld sibling, have already vanished. There was no way they could compete with the immediacy, ubiquity and free availability of the web. Macworld has now joined their ranks.

Macworld intends to continue as the macworld.com website. As this is where most Macworld readers were already consuming the content, the transition need not have been a traumatic one. But it is.

This is because, in addition to ceasing print publication, Macworld laid off almost its entire editorial staff. This is not an exaggeration. Dan Frakes, Dan Moren, Dan Miller, Phil Michaels, Serenity Caldwell (correction: Serenity resigned a few days previously; I have heard that she would have otherwise been retained), and Jason Snell (technically, Jason had planned to quit before he could be laid off, but the end result is the same). They are all gone — as are several others that I do not know as well. It is the end of the line for the greatest bunch of people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Only Chris Breen appears to have survived. He must be checking his shirt for bullet holes about now, wondering how he could be the only one left standing after the massacre.

After recovering from the shock of this news, my first question was: How can Macworld continue as a website? Who will be left to write the stories? Who will be left to manage the site? I’ve been told that a skeleton crew, perhaps headed by Chris, will attempt the job. There will be an increased dependence on freelance writers (disclaimer: I have already been approached in this regard). While this will assuredly save Macworld money, they will be losing the critical commitment of a full-time staff.

The focus of and range of topics covered by Macworld will inevitably narrow. But they intend to soldier on.

I wish them well. Truly. Still, in my heart, I feel like the Macworld I have known for three decades has effectively ended. It was the people who made Macworld great. And those people are gone. To be frank, I won’t be surprised if, within a year, the site has either vanished or morphed into something that is no longer recognizable.

Looking back

Macworld holds a special spot in the history of Apple and the Mac. It was the very first Mac-only publication, premiering in January 1984, simultaneously with the Mac itself (I still have a copy of every issue!). It outlasted numerous competitors, including MacUser (whose demise is what led me to become a writer for Macworld). It quickly attained and maintained a position as the #1 most respected and authoritative publication for everything Apple. I’ve been proud to be listed on its masthead.

With the rise of the web years ago, Macworld had to struggle to adjust. I give Jason Snell the lion’s share of the credit for successfully navigating the transition. Before he took over as editor, macworld.com was just a weak extension of the print magazine. Its content was largely limited to web translations of print articles. Even here, you had to wait about a month after an issue appeared on newsstands before those articles showed up on the website. Given the fast pace of the web, this was a recipe for disaster.

Jason turned Macworld around, making the website its focus. Everything appeared first on the web, typically within hours of breaking news. The print magazine became a curated version of what had appeared on the web in the previous weeks. It worked. I believe this probably saved Macworld from going under years ago.

Along the way, Jason assembled what became one of the best teams in tech journalism. That’s why it was heart-breaking to witness the near total collapse that occurred yesterday. I can only hope that the people laid off find other satisfying work very soon.

It is the way of the world today that people move on to the next thing at nearly light-speed. The 24-hour news cycle demands it. So I expect that, for most people, the news of the “demise” of Macworld will soon be barely a memory. Like the people at the end of The Truman Show movie, people will shrug their shoulders and ask “What else is on?” It’s inevitable.

For me, however, the aftershocks of this event will linger for quite some time. Perhaps it’s because I’m closer to the epicenter. Regardless, there’s been a shift in the ground beneath me. It will be long while before it all settles again.

Posted in Media, Technology | 5 Comments

The Apple Watch see-saw

If you tried to stream Apple’s media event yesterday, you know how frustrating it was. Crashes, test screens, Japanese translators speaking in the background, unauthorized access warnings. It was like a cornucopia of everything that could wrong.

Thankfully, by the time Apple got around to announcing its Apple Watch (or Watch, as I will refer to it for this article), the technicians had wrestled the difficulties to the ground and gotten things under control. I was able to watch the event without further interruption.

So just how big a deal is this new wearable product from Apple? At this point, it’s impossible to know. Too much uncertainty remains. The final answer will have to wait till next year, when Apple reveals the full specs (including the cost of those 18K gold models) and people get their hands on the device.

Still, based on what we already know, we can begin to make some educated guesses. As I watched the Watch presentation unfold, my reaction kept shifting, as if I was riding a see-saw. First, I felt the board tip downward, then I was buoyed up and ultimately I was left dangling in the middle. The big question lurking behind it all: Is the Watch worth it?

My first reaction was to the physical styling of the watch — and it was one of mild disappointment. It certainly didn’t get my pulse-pounding (as the sensors on the back of the Watch would confirm, if I was wearing one). The design is a bit too boxy and bulky for my taste. I would have preferred something more like the prototype image seen here or the new Moto 360. Go into a watch store today and you’ll see that all the watches, except the cheapest ones and a few speciality items, have eschewed the “digital” look of the Watch for a more elegant analog appearance. Can the Watch successfully push back against this trend? I believe so, but I’m not sure.

I understand that form follows function. And, with all the Watch can do, it probably needed to look…pretty much like it does. And that may ultimately be the deciding factor. If you want a device with the capabilities of an Watch, you may have to make a sacrifice in style to get it.

On the other hand, I thought the wide variety of Watch straps, and the ability to easily swap one for another, was a brilliant stroke. It offers the customization and variety that I know people will want from a device that is visible on their wrist all day. It even allows a person to shift from a casual to an elegant strap, for example, depending upon their mood and destination. And the precision way the straps work and attach to the watch is…pure Apple. I found myself smiling as I watched the demonstration video.

When attention shifted to the digital crown, I felt my mood shift downward a bit. I’m going to have to turn a wheel to scroll through a list? This seemed like a step backward to the days of the iPod click-wheels. I also worry whether my aging stubby fingers can successfully manipulate such a tiny tool. Still, as with watch’s overall square shape, I understood that something like the crown was required. As Apple pointed out, the watch display is too small for access to be entirely via touch. But understanding a feature’s necessity is not the same as liking it.

Moving from style to features, my virtual see-saw veered sharply upward.

Assuming it works as demonstrated, the watch’s fitness monitoring features promise to surpass anything else on the market. I can certainly see myself using the Move, Exercise and Stand rings to assist in becoming more active. A definite big plus here.

What I am most looking forward to trying out are the watch’s notification and messaging features. I was especially impressed with the walkie-talkie-like Digital Touch for sending custom doodles and such. I can see all of this transforming the way we do casual communication.

The list just keeps growing from there. The Watch works with the new Pay. It will help find where you parked your car. It will unlock the door to your hotel room. It will track your flight status. And, with third-parties apps still to come, the Watch will be able to handle a countless assortment of other tasks. Eventually, you may find it hard to do without one. At least that’s Apple’s hope and plan. And I can see it becoming reality.

But it was at this point that I felt the see-saw start to drop again — as unanswered questions began to mount.

There are speakers and microphones built into the Watch. Will these be sufficient for even a brief phone conversation? Will it be practical or enjoyable to listen to music from the watch’s tiny speakers? Why even bother to try, when you have an iPhone in your pocket?

Will the light from the watch’s display be a distraction in darkened environments, such as a theater? Will we need an “airplane mode” for the watch?

And these lead to the biggest questions of all: Will the Watch add enough convenience, beyond what you already have with an iPhone, to justify its purchase? In other words, is the Watch worth it?

The  Watch “requires” an iPhone to work. It’s still not clear to me exactly what this means. I assume that some watch features, such as displaying the time, will function even without an iPhone nearby. On the other hand, it seems certain that you’ll need an iPhone for text messaging and phone-calls. The GPS and Wi-Fi from the iPhone will be needed for tracking your activity. I assume there are many more ways the Watch and the iPhone are linked.

In the end, it strikes me that the Watch is more of an iPhone accessory than an independent product.

Will the advantages of the Watch be enough to make it worth owning yet another device that you need to charge every day, sync with your other devices, maintain with current software, and so on. Will you want to add the Watch to the list of devices that you regularly upgrade?

These questions especially jumped out at me as I watched the demo of accessing photos from an Watch. I found myself asking: “When would I want to look at photos on the watch’s tiny display rather than take my iPhone out of my pocket to view them on a much larger screen?” The answer is “Never.” This query quickly spiraled into other directions:

Do I really need a watch to show me a reminder or a map or the weather or whatever else the Watch can do that the iPhone also does? After plunking down hundreds of dollars for an iPhone, will I want to spend an additional minimum of $350 for a watch that, in some sense, offers very little beyond what my iPhone already does?

Maybe. After all, I continued to wear a watch even after I bought an iPhone. So why not an Watch? In the end, there’s need and there’s want. I won’t need an Watch. But I may want one anyway.

[Update: What about Watch 2? This is a concern for all Watch models, but especially the gold one. As I pointed out on Twitter, and others have also mentioned, the gold Watch is likely to be super-expensive, likely in the thousands of dollars. As Watch technology inevitably improves over the years, and new models are released, will you be expected to shell out the same amount of cash for a new gold watch on a likely annual basis, assuming you want to stay up-to-date? Or will Apple offer some special discounted upgrade path?]

For now, I don’t know if I will even want one. I’m in the “wait and see” period — and I expect to remain there for quite some time. The Watch is not a device I intend to pre-order or rush to buy on the day it’s released. Rather, I will monitor events to see what early adopters report and decide from there. I’m guessing that many others are in the same boat. Which way we go will likely determine the success of the Watch.

Posted in Apple Inc, Technology | 3 Comments

Apple hardware: Break’s over

Apple’s hardware division has been pretty much operating on cruise control for more than two years. At least that’s the way it seems to me. While Apple’s software has been steadily and significantly evolving (both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 represent major advances), hardware not so much. Happily, this lag should end next week. With Apple’s September 9 media event, the company finally appears poised to put its foot to the hardware accelerator. But, before we get to that, let’s take a brief look back.

Hardware history

As I noted in a recent column here, it has been almost two years (October 2012) since Apple updated the Mac mini. This delay is hardly the exception. It’s been more like the rule:

• Apple’s most recent stand-alone display is the Thunderbolt display, released three years ago (July 2011).

• The last time Apple TV got even a minor hardware update was over two years ago, back in March 2012.

• The most recent iPod nano and iPod touch models are two years old, last updated in September 2012 (not counting the very minor update to the 16GB touch this year).

• The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display was introduced in June of 2012, over two years ago. Although a 13-inch model was later added, and there have been a few speed bumps along the way, the basic design has not changed over this period of time.

• The situation is about the same for the MacBook Air. Indeed, the opening sentence of Macworld’s review of the 2014 MacBook Airs is: “There’s not much new about Apple’s updated MacBook Air lineup.”

• Moving to Apple’s iconic desktop model, the most recent iMac design (with the almost “invisible” edge) is now two years old (October 2012). Stretching farther back, while Apple added Thunderbolt to the iMac in 2011 and has made other minor improvements from time-to-time, the face of the iMac looks about the same today as it did when the silver-and-black model first shipped in 2007!

• Apple did release a major upgrade to the Mac Pro recently…but that replaced a model that had stagnated for several years prior. Consider this: until the new Mac Pro came out last December, the existing Pro models didn’t even have a Thunderbolt port!

• As for the iPhone, it’s been two years since the iPhone 5 introduced the 4-inch display. Except for Touch ID, not much has changed since.

• The iPads — with last year’s iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina display — are the lone exceptions to Apple’s hardware doldrums. These were notable updates.

Stalled rumors

Even rumors of new Apple hardware have been languishing in recent years.

• Steve Jobs, as quoted in his biography, said: “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.” Perhaps so. But there is still no sign of any forthcoming product based on what Steve figured out.

• Similarly, the rumor mill has been churning for several years with predictions about some sort of Apple “iWatch” or other wearable technology. It looks like Apple will finally deliver on this next week. Even so, the current rumors are that the device won’t ship until 2015.

Revving up

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not the sort to lament that Apple “must” do something about any of this or face certain “doom.” To the contrary, Apple appears to be doing quite well financially and shows every sign of continuing to do so. Its stock is hovering at an all-time high and its quarterly revenue continues to set records.

Still, over the long haul, the technology field is not one that rewards complacency and treading water. To quote Steve Jobs again: “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.”

Apple knows this. And, whatever the reasons behind the slow pace of change these past few years, it looks to be over. As Eddie Cue stated a few months ago: “Later this year, we’ve got the best product pipeline that I’ve seen in my 25 years at Apple.”

Well, “later this year” is here now. And it all begins Tuesday. With the iPhone 6. And, most likely, an iWatch. And possibly more. Additional new products (iPads, Macs?) are expected to arrive in October. Assuming Apple delivers on Eddie Cue’s prediction, the doldrums of the past few years will soon be a distant memory.

You might say Apple’s been on a “break” these past few years. If so, Apple appears ready to heed the advice of President Bartlet: “Break’s over.”

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My iPhone’s vacation photos

I’ve written previously about my decision to use the camera in my iPhone 5S as my only camera when I go on vacations and such. No longer do I additionally take along a separate point-and-shoot camera.

I had a major opportunity to test out how well this worked when Naomi and I went on a two-week road trip up the California and Oregon coast, stopping at Portland, and looping back down on an interior route that took us to Crater Lake and Lassen Volcanic National Parks.

Actually, Naomi insisted that I also take along our old Canon; she wanted to have the zoom lens available. I didn’t use it. But Naomi did. However, in what I swear was an unintended mishap, I broke the camera about midway through the trip. That effectively ended even Naomi’s limited use of the Canon.

With our vacation now over, and the photos reviewed and evaluated, I can say that I was overall very pleased with the results.

On the down side, there were times when I would have preferred a zoom lens and more control over exposure settings. I missed a few shots as a result, especially those of wild animals (elk, seals, etc.) where getting close to the subject was impossible. But this did not happen often.

On the up side, the iPhone proved capable of taking some incredible high-quality photos. At least to my eye. The photos are even more impressive when you consider that my photography skills skew toward the minimal – and most of the shots were taken “on-the-fly.” In assessing these photos, the iPhone (not me) should get most of the positive credit.

To give you a peek how the iPhone did, here is a sampling of ten (10) of my favorite photos from the trip. All were taken with the iPhone without any additional third-party lens. Two of the photos used the iPhone’s Panorama mode. The rest were shot with the iPhone’s standard photo setting.

To see a larger version of any photo, click/tap on its image:

Redwood National Park, California

Beach in Bandon Oregon [taken from our motel window]

Face Rock, Bandon Oregon

Oregon coast [near Coos Bay]

Oregon coast [near Devil’s Punchbowl]

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach Oregon

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park. Oregon

Crater Lake panorama

Mt. Lassen from Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPhone, Technology | Comments Off on My iPhone’s vacation photos