mountain lion

In case you were on Mars yesterday, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, OS X Mountain Lion shipped. There are a number of reviews of varying lengths out there. But if you’re not interested in the long-reads (who has a few hours to tuck away reading about a new OS update), Shawn Blanc has some nice coverage both technical and philosophical.

Notably, Mountain Lion is the first release where iCloud has a real strong presence on the Mac. The Notes and Reminders apps are fantastic, and their inclusion adds value to the iOS versions. iCloud tabs may be one of my favorite features, and it will really show its value when iOS 6 drops this fall. But I don’t have much to add to what has already been said. It appears to be a very stable release out of the gate. There is much smoothing of Lion’s rough edges, and a number of niceties that just make for a more delightful experience, the standard fare from Apple.

ibooks author distribution

Yesterday, Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels and Bartending fame announced a new publication called System Extension.

I’m happy to announce System Extension, the new monthly magazine companion to 512 Pixels. System Extension includes bonus content, an inside look at what I do here on the site, tips, tricks and more.

This initial edition is free to everyone, with future versions being reserved just for members.

His plan for distribution was to ship in the .ibooks format that runs natively in iBooks on the iPad. This first edition is excellent, and it reiterates the great potential of iBooks Author as a content creation tool. If you have an iPad and haven’t checked it out yet, you really should. The experience is more fluid and engaging than nearly all of the magazine content I’ve looked at in Newsstand.

Unfortunately he ran into a problem with Apple’s terms that he outlined on his site today. It boils down to the following restriction:

Can I distribute works created with iBooks Author as part of a product or service that charges a subscription-based fee?

Yes. If the work is provided in a format other than the .ibooks format (such as PDF or ePub), you may distribute such works as part of a subscription-based product or service outside of the iBookstore.

This is a rule many of us came across when iBooks Author was getting its first critical look after launching. But at the time, we hadn’t seen the tool generate any relevant content yet to put things into context. There are two main issues I have with this rule:

Firstly, it seems to be practically unenforceable. If you are the author of the document, you have agreed to the Terms of Service set forth by iBooks Author, but how can a recipient of the file be obligated to terms they’ve never agreed upon? If a free copy of this file were distributed to someone (as allowed by the terms), what prevents that person from selling access to the file directly, or as part of a subscription. I’m not aware of any file format that has ever made an attempt at such a restriction, and I can’t imagine a sound way for Apple to enforce it without limiting .ibooks files to only loading directly from the iBookstore.

Secondly, this rule does little to help Apple. Apple isn’t losing any money from someone who wants to distribute these files independently on a subscription basis. Apple would neither host these files or manage the subscription, and in fact, they don’t even offer a legitimate way to do so. There is no method for processing subscription payments through the iBookstore with .ibooks files as the objects of delivery. Newsstand offers apps for sale with periodical content, but they’re still apps, which require a much higher investment for a content creator to build and maintain. Perhaps Apple would be okay with an app that delivered iBooks content periodically through In-App Subscriptions, but that’s a lot of overhead for someone to manage, just to pass out some files.

As it stands, Stephen might be stuck shipping a lesser product (.pdf versus .ibooks) for a rule that provides little value to anyone. If you still haven’t read the first edition of System Extension, go download it now and take a look. Compare it to your experience with other magazine content on the iPad, and see if you don’t find it favorable.

Maybe it is Apple’s plan to offer hosting for subscriptions to this type of content eventually, but that would seemingly conflict with Newsstand. If they aren’t, they have nothing to gain by enforcing this rule, and very little to lose by eliminating it. How can having great periodical content out there, only available on iPad, hurt their bottom line?

a lot to look forward to

We’re still months out, but I see Apple’s fall announcements shaping up to be substantial. Tim Cook finished off the new iPad announcement with the words “across the year, you’re going to see a lot more of this kind of innovation, we are just getting started.” Since then, we’ve seen a new Retina MacBook Pro as well as some moderate updates across the MacBook line. But Cook seemed to really be driving home that this year has a lot in store.

Almost Certain
We’ll be seeing a new, likely taller iPhone. It is probably going to resemble the ETrade Supply part. A taller screen, redesigned dock connector, Nano-SIM, LTE, and NFC chip are the most commonly rumored features. Keep in mind, this won’t be the only iPhone. Expect Apple to maintain the $0 and $99 subsidized price points that have yielded lots of growth since October. I would imagine the iPhone 4 will be replaced by the 4S, but as to whether the 3GS stays at the bottom or gets replaced by the iPhone 4 is another question. The lower resolution screen and plastic back likely make the 3GS still much cheaper to manufacture. It will be interesting to see where the lineup settles.

The iPod family is traditionally updated in the September timeframe. There are some rumors of a new iPod Nano which looks at least plausible. Notably, by this fall it will be two years since the iPod Touch has had any significant changes. The iPod line in general is a decreasing slice of Apple’s revenues, but the Touch in particular seems like an important device strategically. It’s the lowest price point, no-contract iOS device. It’s a big Christmas device for kids. It’s a device that helps maintain their strong position in the handheld gaming market. I would expect at least another minor update, and we might see some pricing changes, especially if…

Pretty Likely
A 7.85-inch iPad rumor has been trending up and down for the last several months. It seemed highly improbable when Steve Jobs denounced the form factor at an earnings call after some early Android tablet announcements. But keep in mind, Steve Jobs has been known to shut down speculation on possible product ideas in the past, famously, the video iPod. It’s a shrewd business practice to downplay rumored products that are months or years from being introduced in favor of driving sales to products on the market today.

Android tablets have been settling on the 7-inch size for one main reason. It’s the only way they can ship a tablet that is price/value competitive with the iPad. Apple has a stranglehold on components for building portable devices, and they aren’t shipping a 7-inch model right now. Amazon and OEMs building Android tablets can leverage this to ship these smaller tablets at a low starting price point. Given their powerful supply chain relationships, Apple could sell a small tablet at or under the cost of these Android tablets. However, Apple is more likely to target a price close enough to the competition to lure potential buyers, but with enough of a premium to maintain a healthy profit margin. I would expect the smaller iPad to fall between $249 and $299.

It’s true that we saw some new Macs just last month. But the Retina display is clearly coming to the rest of the line over time. We probably won’t be seeing Retina in desktops for a while as the projected display sizes butt up against current Thunderbolt transfer speeds, though there is still a rumored non-Retina iMac update coming soon. Also, there has been some evidence pointing to a 13-inch counterpart to the new Retina MacBook Pro, as well as rumors that they’ll be arriving this fall. The roll-out of Retina displays will likely take a while, so seeing it show up in a model or two at a time doesn’t seem out of the question.

We all want Apple to make an awesome TV, but this rumor has been stale lately. This might just fall under “doubling down” on product secrecy, but if Apple is going to release a physical TV, it’s hard to imagine it being just a flat panel running the current Apple TV software. That isn’t a big enough bet for Apple, and it certainly doesn’t sound like Steve having “finally cracked it”. Pre-Christmas would be a great time to release a TV, but my gut says this one’s not fully-baked yet.

And the rest
Apple has been dismantling complicated things a lot lately. On the Mac, reminders have been pulled out of Calendar into their own app. Notes received similar treatment being pulled from Mail. Just recently on iOS we saw Podcasts get their own app signaling an expected removal from the Music app. This trend is likely to continue in other crowded apps. Is it possible that this is the year for iTunes dismemberment? Probably another longshot, but a guy can hope.

We always major on getting excited about hardware and operating system announcements, but sometimes other software announcements are just as interesting. We haven’t seen a lot of major changes to iWork or iLife lately on the Mac, and there are always some surprises that can come out of left field. Like Ping!

Speaking of Ping, it seems likely to get shut down at or before this fall. It is admittedly not the thriving network Apple had envisioned, and with Apple bringing new integration with Facebook, it’s hard to imagine Ping being with us much longer.

Even half over, it looks like 2012 still has “a lot to look forward to”. Just a few of these things would make for an incredible event this fall. If they both come through, the new iPhone and 7.85-inch iPad are likely to steal the show, but all the little things will still add up. After all, it’s how Apple handles all the little things that makes the company so great.

tweetbot for mac alpha

Today Tapbots announced a public alpha for their much anticipated Tweetbot for Mac. Check it out here.

They’ve been dropping pseudo-subtle hints in screenshots and posts for a number of weeks. As the alpha can’t be made available through the App Store, iCloud features such as their custom timeline syncing aren’t available. That said, as is, the app is already a worthy competitor to the official Twitter client for Mac (formerly Tweetie) which has grown quite stale.

Get it. Got it? Good.

amazon smartphone

Word has been spreading about a possible Amazon smartphone. To which my reaction is, ‘what?’

The Kindle Fire was a pretty obvious move. Amazon has great partnerships and content deals. Content seems to be a driving force in tablet sales, especially in smaller tablets, and they already had built a successful Kindle platform.

Earlier this week in reference to the first iPhone announcement Louie Mantia said:

“A phone, an iPod, an internet communications device.”

We cheered at the first two, but we use our iPhones for the third part most.

With the Fire, Amazon believed they could grab a meaningful chunk of market share by leveraging the content that people want to access on tablets, but that content—the ‘iPod’ part of the iPhone—is a smaller piece of the puzzle on a phone than it is on a tablet. How many books, movies, and tv shows are you consuming on your phone?

The greatest strength behind iOS is the software—the ‘internet communications device’ part of the iPhone. Not only the incredible stuff Apple puts out year after year, but also boatloads of third party apps from developers excitedly working on today’s cutting edge platform. Software gives these new platforms their value, and Apple is way out in the lead.

Amazon has yet to prove it can play this game. By nearly all accounts, the Fire’s software is one of its weakest points. And Amazon hasn’t exactly been trumpeting the success of their own app store. It would be easy for them to release a smartphone to join the throng of Android handsets, but it’s going to go nowhere unless they have positive software differentiation from the other Android phones that are out there. From today’s vantage point, I can’t see that happening.

the iphone and disruption: five years in

John Gruber:

The iPod’s success fooled almost everyone (including me) into thinking that Apple’s entry into the phone market would be similar. The iPod was the world’s best portable media player; the “iPhone”, thus, would likely be the world’s best cell phone.

But that’s not what it was. It was the world’s best portable computer. Best not in the sense of being the most powerful, or the fastest, or the most-efficient to use. The thing couldn’t even do copy-and-paste. It was the best because it was always there, always on, always just a button-push away.

This is the preeminent insight shared by everyone who “gets” the computer industry and how it’s changing. It is exactly what we’ve been trying to articulate over the last five years.

@skoda on @technochocolate on