Tag Archives: Apple Store

Still Sneaky After All These Years

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I still retain the capacity to get bummed out by the intrusiveness of software from companies you’d think would be trying to make us happy these days, not make us madder.

My friend Scotty, the Winpatrol watchdog, has been doing a great job of keeping an eye on these things. The culprits either try to change file associations or add a program to the boot sequence, without telling us. Some recent examples:

Windows Live Mail, without me doing anything at all, suddenly tried to wrest control of my emails by grabbing the extension EML from Thunderbird:

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This was unconnected to anything I was doing, or had asked. I didn’t even know I still had Live Mail installed. Shocking. Imagine if I hadn’t been asking Scotty to keep guard? Or that I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing? (OK, don’t answer that one.)

(Just out of interest, launching Outlook Express will do the same thing:)

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Still, I suppose the Microsoft defence is that everyone else is doing it. I installed WordPerfect Office the other day and found that, without asking, it tried to take over handling DOC files without asking first. Luckily, Scotty woofed a warning:

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No wonder users are baffled about what is going on with their computer and end up heading off to the Apple Store for some TLC. Software companies have got to stop doing this kind of thing. (And no, I’m not saying that Apple are any better at this. It’s just they reduce the choices so people feel their computers behave more predictably. This, after all, is what people yearn for.)

Likewise with starting programs. Once again it’s about predictability: If software starts loading without the user being asked first, then a) the computer is going to slow down and b) the user will have a bunch of new icons and activities to figure out. A couple of examples:

Windows Live forces its Family Safety Client to boot without asking:

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as does eFax, the online faxing service:

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These companies need to stop this. They need to stop it now. Consumer confidence is low, but so is user confidence. I am inundated with letters from readers of the columns who talk about their bafflement and sense of alienation from their computer. (Meanwhile, I read love stories from those who switch to Macs.) The point is this: Not that people believe Macs are better computers—although they may well be—but they are simpler to use, more predictable, more understandable, more, well, user-friendly.

What’s user-friendly about changing the settings on someone’s computer without asking them? Would a company try that with someone’s car, fridge, or dishwasher?

Puppy Love, Army Trojans and Perfecting the Phone Call

I make an appearance on the excellent Breakfast Club show on Radio Australia each Friday at about 01:15 GMT and some listeners have asked me post links to the stuff I talk about, so here they are.

Love on the net

Teenage social networking isn’t so bad, according to the MacArthur Foundation. According to the lead researcher on the project, called the Digital Youth Project, “their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, part of a $50 million project on digital and media learning, used several teams of researchers to interview more than 800 young people and their parents and to observe teenagers online for more than 5,000 hours.

The bit I like in the NYT report is the shameless flirting that goes on, cleverly disguised:

First, the girl posted a message saying, “hey … hm. wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment … u sud feel SPECIAL haha.” A day later, the boy replied, “hello there … umm I don’t know what to say, but at least I wrote something …”

U.S. Military Under Attack

Spooked by the rapid spread of a worm called Agent.btz, the U.S. military has banned everything from external hard drives to “floppy disks.”

USBs are a problem: Lenovo this week offered a software package to XP users with a Trojan dropper called Meredrop, found in one of the drivers.

And Telstra earlier this year handed out USB drives at a security conference that were infected with malware.

Could it be China?  The conclusions reached in this year’s US-China Economic and Security Review are far more dramatic than before. In 2007, it says, about 5m computers in the US were the targets of 43,880 incidents of malicious activity — a rise of almost a third on the previous year.

Much of the activity is likely to emanate from groups of hackers, but the lines between private espionage and government-sponsored operations are blurred. Some 250 hacker groups are tolerated, and may even be encouraged, by Beijing to invade computer networks. Individual hackers are also being trained in cyber operations at Chinese military bases.

 

How to Make the Perfect Phone Call

According to the UK Post Office, the perfect phone call should last nine minutes, 36 seconds and contain a mix of chat about family news, current affairs, personal problems and the weather.

Three minutes of that should be spent catching up with news about family and friends, one minute on personal problems, a minute on work/school, 42 seconds on current affairs and 24 seconds on the weather. Chat about the opposite sex should last 24 seconds. 12 seconds of every call should be set aside for a little quiet contemplation.

One in five people said they spent most time on the phone to their mother. The research, by the Post Office, revealed that the phrase “I’ll get your mother” is common. Only three per cent of people named their father as the person they spent most time on the phone with.

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“Please help!,” she writes. “I took my husband’s iPhone and found a raunchy picture of him attached to an email to a woman in his sent email file. When I approached him about this, he admitted that he took the picture, but says that he never sent it to anyone.

“He claims that he went to the Genius Bar at the local Apple store and they told him it is an iPhone glitch – that photos sometimes automatically attach themselves to an email address and appear in the sent folder, even though no email was ever sent.

“Has anyone ever heard of this happening?,” she asks. “The future of my marriage depends on this answer!” Read more here.

The Slow Death of the iPod

Jupiter Research has come up with figures [BBC] suggesting that only 20% of the tracks found on an iPod will have been bought from iTunes. The conclusion: “Digital music purchasing has not yet fundamentally changed the way in which digital music customers buy music.”

Paul Thurrot reckons that for Apple things are the other way around to what was expected (where the iPod was the razor, iTunes was the blades they made their money off): Apple has to sell more hardware for its business to thrive. He also reckons that Apple has got to come up with something neat to keep the circus rolling: “As iPod moves from gotta-have-it fashion accessory to all-too-common electronics device, it will be interesting to see if Apple can keep the momentum going.”

There are plenty of folk heralding the doom of the iPod. The Observer last week: “Sales are declining at an unprecedented rate. Industry experts talk of a ‘backlash’ and of the iPod ‘wilting away before our eyes’. Most disastrously, Apple’s signature pocket device with white earphones may simply have become too common to be cool.” One of its main sources: Tomi Ahonen, author of Communities Dominate Brands. (Check out these two posts for more discussion of this.)

This kind of talk infuriates fans of the iPod, Apple and Jobs. A piece on Arstechnica’s Infinite Loop points out that given CDs have been around for 20 years, and iTunes for only three, the idea that there are more CD tracks on iPods than from the Apple store isn’t overly surprising. (The article and the comments below, however, convey some intriguing vitriol against iPod-doom merchants specifically, and technology journalists more generally.)

A lot of this, I suspect, is down to the differing experiences across the globe. U.S. cellphones have long been woeful, but online commerce cheap and highly efficient, so it’s not surprising the iPod/iTunes model would work well. Europe is a little trickier: great cellphones, but at least in the case of the UK, overpriced iTunes content is apparently driving users legally dubious music download sites like AllofMP3.com (which overtook Napster.com in traffic about a year ago, according to Alexa). Asia is a different kettle of fish: cheap, small, generic MP3 players are so ubiquitous here, as are cellphones, it’s a tough call. But most people are going to prefer one device to two, so as music on phones gets better and easier, expect to see music shift.

That said, Apple are now so much more visible in Asia because of the iPod and there’s no reason they can’t be a part of that although if the iPod becomes commoditized, it’s hard to imagine Apple keeping pace with the already commoditized cellphone. I guess the final point here is the shift from music as a product to a service: It makes a lot of sense to listen to music on your phone if your collection is somehow fed to you by your cellphone operator. Subscribe to songs and they are on your music phone when and where you need them, and the whole ripping/syncing thing is going to seem pretty antiquated. Think ringtones, a market 12 times the size of iTunes.

Apple, Nano, and the Cost of Silence

It’s been nearly a week since the first stories about problems with the Apple iPod Nano screen started to surface, and, according to The Register, they’re spreading:

More importantly, the post on Apple’s discussion boards discussing the issue has grown from 188 posts to 583 (at last count), and now includes people who have cancelled their orders. Ooooh dear.

Indeed, the screen-scratching problems don’t seem to be the only ones with the Nano. Some people have been complaining about wholesale screen failures and others about the battery life, which they say doesn’t match the claimed 14 hours, even when you follow Apple’s instructions (backlight off, no skipping songs). Except in the latter, Apple carefully claims “up to 14”, and some have managed more.

What worries me more than anything is Apple’s response. Or rather, its non-response. I had very little joy getting a specific response to my query to them about problems installing iTunes for a piece I wrote in last week’s WSJ.com (subscription only I’m afraid) and it seems they’re adopting the same position with the Nano problem, according to The Register:

So what, we asked Apple, is it going to do about those screens? The reply: “Apple has no comment at this time.” Stores will decide for themselves whether to swap scratched or broken machines.

In the long run this approach can only harm the company. In the case of software, end users can at least clamber to the assistance of flailing fellow users where the company’s own support staff don’t, but what happens in the case of faulty hardware? Inaction and silence merely give free rein to angry customers on Apple’s own discussion boards to lambast the company and persuade uncommitted customers not to buy. Can’t be good for business or Apple’s image.

Why Does Apple Take So Long to Bite?

Apple is again protecting itself, as Wired News reports: E-Tailers Get Apple Nastygrams

Apple is ordering several online iPod accessory vendors to stop using the word “iPod” in their names or URLs. Apple has sent legal notices to accessory vendors everythingipod.co.uk and iPodlife. “I’m very nervous that this whole affair will hurt our business financially,” said Barry Mann, director of everythingipod.

In August, Apple threatened legal action against iPod Essentials, which changed its name to mp3Essentials and handed ownership of the iPodEssentials.co.uk domain name to Apple.

Apple has my sympathy for this, and it makes sense to protect consumers from rubbish products that might to the untutored eye look like an Apple creation. But a couple of things confuse me. First off, why does it take them so long to get around to warning these guys? Everythingipod.com as a domain was first registered in December 2001: It takes Apple lawyers four years to track them down? What were they using? Snow shoes?

The cynic might be forgiven for thinking that Apple waits for these accessory businesses to get successful and then dumps on them. After all, as Wired News points out, Apple has its own Made for iPod program, which requires manufacturers to comply with set standards, use certain manufacturers for some components and pay a percentage of wholesale earnings to Apple.

So, the cynic would argue, there’s no point in crushing these third party web sites until they’re up and running. Wait until they’re successful and then start milking them. After all, these third party vendors and manufacturers are useful since they enhance the product, encourage retailers to give over more space to the whole iPod thing, and keep users interested. I’m sure there’s no truth to such a cynical view but it does leave some questions unanswered.

For instance: You might argue it’s hard for Apple to keep tabs on these third party websites. But I find that hard to believe. One short DNS search throws up literally hundreds of websites registered with ipod somewhere in the name, many of them more than a year old. (Just out of interest, what is planned at www.ipod-dating.com and http://www.ipod-porn.co.uk/?) This is easy stuff to keep an eye on. Either Apple’s lawyers are not doing their job or else there’s something else afoot here.

Update: More On iPods — And Their Batteries

 Seems the guys — the Neistat Brothers — who were complaining about not being to replace their iPod batteries without expensive customer support were wrong, and even the guy who hosted their video isn’t happy.
 
As far as I can work out, the brothers posted a soundfile of an Apple customer support guy saying they may as well replace their iPod since it would be prohibitive to replace the battery. They then went around defacing iPod posters.
 
The bottom line: you can replace the batteries, using either an official Apple battery or a third-party one. Anyway, here’s some more discussion at Slashdot and plasticbag.org on the iPod anniversary and the NYT’s piece I mentioned in the previous posting.
 
(Sorry, don’t usually crowd the links into one posting like this, but it seems to make sense this time.)