Archive for the 'Apple Culture' Category

Apple Computer vs. Adobe Flash

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Apple Culture

On and on and on it goes… What did Flash ever do to Apple? Why is Apple forbidding Flash from playing in its sandbox? Adobe cried foul last week scrapping plans to include a feature in Flash CS5 that would allow apps created in Flash to be compiled for the iPhone, iPod and iPad…  this after Apple added a clause to its Developers Agreement that prevents applications created this way to pass muster for inclusion at the App Store.

Flash content has of course never been available on Apple’s mobile devices. Adobe has publicly stated repeatedly that this fact keeps iPhone users from experiencing the “full web”… claiming that Apple is engaged in a power grab seeking to exclude all outsiders from profiting from the App Store while keeping its content homogenous and under its control.

At first glance this would seem a valid suggestion, but in a rare post at Apple.com, Steve Jobs laid out not one, but six reasons why you’ll never see Flash content on any of Apple’s mobile devices. You can read about it in detail here at the original post, but in summary;

First, Flash is 100% proprietary, completely controlled by Adobe. Although many aspects of the Apple experience is proprietary as well, all aspects that pertain to the internet are “open”, as in open source (free and publicly supported). The future of the web on Apple devices will embrace the trinity of open web standards; HTML 5, CSS and Javascript.

Second, Adobe claims Apple users are missing the “full web” because 75% of video on the web is in the Flash format. What they don’t say is that all that video is also available in the more modern h.264 format, which was developed by Apple and is emerging as the uncontested front-runner for the video compression standard within HTML 5.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance. Flash consistently gets poor security marks (it’s easy to hack), it’s the number one reason a Mac crashes and it’s a proven fact that it runs very slowly on all mobile devices, not just Apple gear. All these problems once seemed curable, but at this point, they’ve lingered for years and years.

Fourth is battery life. Mobile devices need to decode video in hardware, decoding in software uses too much power. Many of the chips in modern mobile devices ship with an inline h.264 decoder. These are an industry standard found in every Blu-ray DVD player and have been adopted by Apple, Google (You Tube), Vimeo, Netflix and on and on. Flash video requires an older generation decoder that initiates from the Flash Player plug-in, which is software. On an iPhone, h.264 video will play for 10 hours on a single charge, video decoded by software kills the battery in about 5 hours… striking difference. Video encoded in h.264 can be played natively on HTML 5 compliant browsers such as Apple’s Safari or Google Chrome without the use of any cumbersome plug-ins. It can be said that getting rid of plug-ins (like Adobe Flash) is one of the major goals of HTML 5.

Fifth is interface. Flash was designed for the desktop era of PC’s using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. Most every existing Flash site is coded to respond to rollovers, the action of hovering the mouse over a target on the screen. This indicates that even if Apples devices supported Flash, every Flash application out there would have to be re-written to support touch… so if you were going to do that, why not just code your project in HTML 5 which is an open standard and not proprietary?

And sixth is a bit more abstract, but certainly something Apple has learned from 3 decades of innovation… which is, “allowing a third party layer of software to come between developers and the platform ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform”. In other words, features that are added to the iPhone/iPod/iPad by Apple, couldn’t be realized by developers using Flash to develop, until Adobe decided to include that functionality in one of their updates.

This last one was the only one I really needed to hear… For me, 20 years of working with software has definitely proven this to be true. Apple and Macintosh have always remained my platform of choice because they’re designed so damn well. They also own innovation, giving me OS features today that my PC brethren won’t see for five years. Add to this the fact that a Mac rarely crashes… ironically, the only apps that ever crash on my Mac are Adobe apps (if I had a dollar for every time Photoshop has crashed I’d be retiring… sho’nuff).

This rock-solid performance is brought to us courtesy of Apple being as proprietary as they are. Comparing a Mac to just about any other platform is all the proof that’s needed. For that reason I’ve never doubted the vision of Steve Jobs, that cat knows what he’s doing… He was the one who started it all and he was the one that came back and saved it… and in-between he developed what would become OSX and founded Pixar Animation. No matter where your loyalties lie, his genius can’t be denied…

Now I’m still using my original iPhone, my iPod is approaching its 6th Birthday and I’m yet to purchase an iPad… but I’m quite sure that these devices will all be part of my digital life for the foreseeable future… and it’s not because I’m an “Apple Fan Boy” as Mike DiMichele would put it… but rather I’m a designer of things, and as such I put a premium on things that are well-designed. If Steve Jobs thinks Adobe Flash’s days are numbered, I’m guessing he’s most likely correct… as he has been with so many other things that have been important to the philosophy of the platform that has fueled my career. Plus, as a designer I never really did enjoy creating web content with Flash… so much tinkering necessary to get things working like you need to see them… when I was turned on to open-standards a number of years ago, I put all those old structural tables as well as the Flash stuff away in a drawer and the only time I open that drawer these days is when a client insists on it.

Stay proprietary Apple (not like you need my blessing). All the haters are just jealous. You’re the best company the world has ever known… keep it that way…

If You’re Considering Windows 7, Consider This First…

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Apple Culture

In that 82% of you that visit this site are doing so from a PC, it’s safe to assume that many reading this are also likely considering an upgrade to Windows 7, leaving you potentially ripe for the picking… and by that I mean in need of some sage advise — Being a non-stop Mac user since ’88, I rarely care much about what’s going on in Microsoft’s orbit… but hanging out with the radio crew on a weekly basis has left me with at least a peripheral interest in what’s happening for (and to) the PC crowd… when I look at the shear tediousness that my PC brethren must endure to upgrade… 64-bit? 32-bit? from XP? from Vista? Website Wednesday Night, which is virtually free of any Macintosh discussion (you would guess a lack of problems as I’m amiable enough), has shown me up close and ad nauseum the sorts of problems PC/Windows users have as compared to the Mac crowd… yet they continue to purchase PC’s and stick with Windows… the only thing loonier than that would be… well… there isn’t anything loonier than that… I’ve always viewed the phenomenon as I viewed the lemmings (I also had a functioning Betamax deck for 8 years though, so I’m stubborn about quality gear)…

So just to bone up… I’ve just returned from Mike’s savemybutt.com site where I visited the downloads section to refresh my memory on the plethora of hoops you PC users need to jump through just to keep your machines (semi) functioning; Malwarebyte Spyware/Adware remover, Avast Antivirus, McAfee Stinger, Spybot Search and Destroy, Spyware Blaster, cCleaner, etcetera, etcetera… Sweet Jesus… it’s as if you owned a car where the oil and transmission fluid needed to be changed, radiator flushed, belts replaced, diagnostics run… all on a DAILY basis… Loony, loony, loony…

So let’s get back to the fact that your considering that upgrade to Windows 7. I’ll start by saying that if your PC hardware is relatively new… falling well above what Microsoft has put forth as the minimum system requirements to upgrade… then by all means, stick with your Windows… now is probably not the time to consider a switch… but if you’re driving a 5-year old Dell and still running Windows XP… why not consider a switch to Mac now when the gettins good… it’s true that a Mac will cost you a bit more… but you need some new hardware now anyway and how much is all that PC-related grief worth… you need to assign a monetary amount to the time and frustration your PC costs you over the months and years to keep it running smoothly.

Regarding a comparison of operating systems, Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X 10.6… Microsoft has always been burdened with two fatal flaws that should offer all the proof you need. These haven’t changed in 20+ years and I don’t suspect it will ever be any different;

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    Windows has, for the most part, done nothing but copy the Mac OS since the dawn of the GUI… you have your occasional innovation from Redmond, but most of the time what you get in a new Windows feature is a lack-luster imitation of a feature already present in OSX, just different enough to keep the trademark infringement litigation at bay. My partner Mike D. is fond of noting that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were present at Xerox PARC that fateful day back in the mid-70’s when they were both turned on to the idea of a graphical user interface… but let’s be honest already… Wozniak and Jobs were the ones that figured out how to get it done with power and elegance… Microsoft has been reverse engineering and mimicking ever since. For that reason, “new” features introduced in any given incarnation of Windows… will be features that Mac users have been enjoying for about 3 years already…

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    The complex scenarios facing those with PC’s that are considering an upgrade to Windows 7 poses the question… why should it be this difficult to update my computer to the latest OS? The answer resides in controlling the complete computing experience, from hardware to software… this is what Apple has always done… and for that reason I can expect any Mac I buy to seamlessly upgrade to and efficiently run, three versions of OS X over its lifespan (effectively about 5 years). No prerequisites, no flow charts to consult with, not a fancy hoop to jump through in sight… Microsoft has about as much chance of emulating this aspect of Apple’s dominance as they do opening up a Microsoft Store on Saturn (which also happen to be blatant rip-offs of the Apple Store). The problem obviously is that they have no control whatsoever over the hardware that their operating system will be running on… that fact coupled with a withering economy that’s causing the Dell’s and HP’s of the world to strive towards building ever cheaper (and crappier) hardware… renders the extra ducats a Mac costs more than worth it from jumpstreet, as well as over the long haul…

So wouldn’t it make more sense to save a bit longer and get a computing experience that’s comparatively hassle-free, streamlined and leaves you with nothing to do other than whatever it is you want to be doing with your computer?

Mac 512

It forever causes me to wonder… but at the end of the day I give thanks to the divine life source that my first episode of computer love was with a Macintosh 512k and that I never had any inclination to look back… Steve Jobs has just been declared Fortune’s CEO of the Decade… that should tell you something no? Or how about this (it’s a blueprint for pete’s sake)… At very least, do yourself the great service of visiting an Apple Store and seeing what you’re missing… On top of all this, the next version of OS X (which will arrive in about 13 months from now like clockwork) promises to be simply fantastic… If you’re running XP on a 3+ year old PC… I’m talking to you… and I wouldn’t lead you astray…

The Cult of Mac awaits…

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Back to School Gear.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Apple Culture

It’s odd for me to write on the subject of a “back to school” computer because when I was in school that would have been a thousands of dollars proposition. We got ’em when it was possible, sometimes borrowed one, pooled ’em together from time to time… and in a pinch, headed to the schools computer labs which mostly sucked as 3 years old was the newest machine you’d ever find… but those days are behind us… these days you can go as low as $700 for a competent personal laptop on the PC side of things. That’s what I’m told at least by my PC brethren… I wouldn’t know as I’ve always spent a bit more for a Mac…

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Once all is said and done, it’s a question of price vs. user-experience… what’s more important to you? I would argue that no matter which of these two choices describe you… the answer is still to buy a Mac… and here’s why…

If its the user-experience you choose… a Mac is the hands-down winner… Macs run OS X, the slickest most fluid operating system out there, about to get even leaner and meaner with the release of Snow Leopard next month. Out of the box, a Macintosh includes software to manage your pictures in iPhoto… to import, edit and release your video with iMovie… Core Audio coupled with Garageband is a great start on a digital audio studio… Integrated .ZIP compression, .PDF and .DOC recognition. A world-class browser in Safari, mail client in Apple Mail and contacts database with Address Book… etc, etc… all of which can be sync’d and backed up to the cloud at Apple.com. Macs can open Word, Excel and Powerpoint files, so bust that myth… and any peripheral you want to connect to your machine over time will do so seamlessly… and then that one last big time saver… you won’t get any viruses. You won’t have to spend your time combatting them either… How much is that worth?

Closed MacBook Pro

Which is why I believe that a Mac is the price winner as well… how much is your time worth that you’re spending doing battle with all this invasive crap that’s trying to fight its way into your PC? How many additional dollars will you have to spend to equip your $700 PC with the sort of software functionality a Mac has right out of the box? And how time-consuming will the trial and error be as you fight your way towards a system where everything is working together?

That’s why Macintoshes cost more… and I don’t mind that they do… never have. I’ve always been able to see the difference in what I was getting for my money… appreciative most of the time just for the fact that an Apple Computer exists… and let’s not forget about the Apple Store… don’t believe me? Go to your local Apple Store and test drive all this for yourself… it’s free, what have you got to lose?

Open MacBook Pro

So let’s say I’ve made my point… you’re sold and want to know which Mac to buy… well here’s what I’ll tell you… balance what you can afford with the increased speed, memory and storage a more expensive model offers.

At the extreme entry level, Apple currently sells one MacBook that doesn’t include the “Pro” designation. This MacBook sells for $999 and includes a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 megs of RAM and a 160GB hard drive… I couldn’t really recommend this computer to anyone other than a grade schooler or for a new computer user that’s truly starting from scratch. From there you move to the MacBook Pros…

Apple currently offers two flavors of 13″ MacBook Pro starting at $1199, three flavors of 15″ starting at $1699 and the sole 17″ offering priced at $2499… Bigger monitors, more cash… more RAM and hard drive space, larger video cache… more money… pretty standard in the electronics biz… the more you pay, the more you get. Click here to compare the six Apple MacBook Pros side by side…

And if budget is simply too strong of an issue but you still want to rustle that Mac… then the refurbished market might be a good place to go… get your search started here in the Apple Store as Apple offers the 1-year warranty as well as free shipping… Other options are here at PowerMax or here at Refurbished MacBook Deals…

And one last thing to put out there… in 2009 it seems odd to recommend a desktop computer in a “back to school” themed post… but for some this might end up making the most sense as you get more bang for your buck on the desktop side… and for those that need to do image manipulation, video or audio work at a more complex level… a desktop could seriously be the way to go… especially if the need for mobility isn’t that great… something to think about at least…

Happy shopping.

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Snow Leopard Innovation.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Apple Culture

The annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, currently being held in San Francisco, was the forum back on June 6, 2005 when Steve Jobs announced that Apple would be transitioning from PowerPC to Intel processors over the coming two years. Today, 4 years later, Apple announced Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which in the absence of support for non-Intel Macs, officially marries OS X to the Intel processor.

Apple replaced its classic 68k operating system (1984-2001) with OS X 10.0 Cheetah in March of 2001… from there was the incremental 10.1 Puma (09/2001), 10.2 Jaguar (08/2002), 10.3 Panther (10/2003), 10.4 Tiger (04/2005) and now the current 10.5 Leopard which debuted in October of 2007 and is currently at version 10.5.7. When asked to compare OS X to Windows, I maintain that this consistency of over-haul updates that average every 16 months, interspersed with significant interim automated updates, is one of the major contributing factors to what makes OS X superior, so brilliantly stable and practically pain-free.

OS X Versions

The problem is though… to the casual user of the personal computer, those that choose to not get involved much with what’s going on behind the scenes, the value of a stable operating system is often overlooked or taken for granted… but in reality, the OS provides the very key to your computer turning on at all… without it, your computer, be it Mac or PC, is just a dumb, lifeless collection of electronic sculpture… As we’ve talked about on the radio, Mac’s and PC’s are for the most part made up of hardware produced by the same vendors; Intel processors, Seagate hard drives, RAM, USB and Firewire circuitry, etc.

Which is why the operating system becomes the all important place to start when deciding what computer is right for you.

Snow Leopard Gold Master

With that I present some of the highlights of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which was officially announced today and will hit the streets this coming September. As described by Bertrand Serlet (Senior VP for OS X) at the WWDC today, a big part of what Snow Leopard represents is a thorough refinement of its predecessor… Apple feels, and correctly so I believe, that the current OS X 10.5 is pretty awesome as it is… so as a response to that they’ve chosen with this release to use a large percentage of their development time completely re-writing the underlying code for 90% of the OS… making it leaner while at the same time preparing the OS X architecture for what they feel is ‘around-the-bend’ technologically.

Some cool new stuff coming with Snow Leopard…

Installation time has been cut almost in half… installing Leopard took about 3 hours if I’m remembering right… so this was a feat… another benefit reaped upon installation is that Snow Leopard needs 6GB less space than its predecessor… evidence of the underlying re-write transitioning to modern, lighter code structures. So right from jump street you get 6 gigs of space back… works for me… that’s the opposite of bloatware my PC-lovin peeps…

Safari

Safari 4, which was released today for Tiger, Leopard, XP and Vista is now arguably the worlds fastest browser… it also lays claim to being among the worlds most compliant browsers with a perfect 100 score on the Acid3 test, the benchmark for compliance… this compared to a score of 21 for IE 8.

64-Bit

Come September, Mac users will enjoy an even bigger browser speed boost running Safari 4 within Snow Leopard as well…  Safari, like all other core system applications of Snow Leopard, will now run natively in 64-bit. Safari on Snow Leopard will also feature compartmentalized crashes, a feature introduced by Google Chrome that prevents a crash within one tab of the browser to affect other tabs.

To round things out, Safari 4 tracks your most visited sites and offers these up in icon view within the browser window… it also indicates those that have updated content since your last visit with a blue star… the browser will also let you view your browsing history in Cover Flow view, which to see it work is truly impressive. You can also search your browsing history using Spotlight which includes all the text within the web pages archived. Amazing.

Quicktime

When it comes to the new Quicktime X… not only was the code re-written from the ground up, but the appearance and behavior of the Quicktime Player on-screen has changed significantly as well… When invoked, the player opens full screen with the controls fading away after a couple seconds (as DVD Player now works). Quicktime has been finely tuned to eek out every last bit of hardware acceleration performance and can now be tied directly to ColorSync profiles… and as it applies to the web, Quicktime X introduces HTTP streaming coupled with h.264 compression as standards allowing it to work on 93% of the worlds web servers, including Apache obviously…

Quicktime X now also has an embedded simple editor that allows you to view a visual timeline for any movie… set a start and end point, save a trimmed clip and then post that clip to an email or any of a number of online social sites... all without leaving the Quicktime Player… As I consider the ‘delivery’ technology of Quicktime coupled with the editing prowess of Final Cut Studio… I salivate at the possibilities… Windows Media Player? Really?

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Without getting into too much detail… some ultra-cool enhancements for our old friend the Finder… The dock is now more 3d… how Stacks work has been refined and they can now handle a ton of files efficiently, which makes it simple to keep your desktop clean… Finder windows in icon view now allow you to scale the size of the icons in real-time… if you’re looking at the icon of a multi-page .PDF, successive clicks on the icon step through the pages of the document. A click on a movie icon, plays the movie (within the icon)… and for those of you that are fans of Expose (the system utility that allows you to step back from the desktop and see all your open documents and windows), it has now been integrated with the Dock in the most natural, intuitive, amazing way. Wait until you see this…

Grand Central Dispatch

Getting back now to 64-bit software coupled with multi-core processors… the key to increasing a computers speed in 2009 is not upping the clock speed of the processors, as has always been the case… but rather it involves increasing the number of cores. The trick to realizing speed increases is in getting all those cores to work together in the most efficient manner. To address this, with Snow Leopard Apple introduces Grand Central Dispatch, a comprehensive system utility that monitors and manages the flow of computer code to the multi-cores of the Intel processor freeing up resources back to the system in a much more efficient manner. Over the range of applications you may have open at any given time, this change amounts to an even more responsive system, fully taking advantage of the multi-threaded, multi-core architecture.

So we’ve covered a lot of ground… and I could keep writing here deep into the night… but before I sign off this time around I’d like to cover just one more Snow Leopard addition… one that could prove to be the tipping point for those of you who are using PC’s at work but may really want to get a Mac for home… You already have Microsoft Office on the Mac as well as the ability to run Windows natively using Boot Camp or Parallels… now comes the final piece in the puzzle if you ask me…

Exchange

Microsoft Exchange integration has now been built in to the three main Mac communication applications; Mail, iCal and Address Book. Simply enter your email address and the associated password… and you’re set up in all three apps. Connect to the Exchange server at your office and view all your Exchange content, on your Mac, with access to all of the OS X technology… Search your Exchange data with Spotlight, view all .XLS, .DOC, .PPT content using Preview (whether or not you have Microsoft Office installed) and view your Exchange contacts in concert with personal contacts, Exchange calendar events with personal calendar events… again, yet another reason to take the leap and I’m guessing this will entice legions of converts for whom a lack of Microsoft Exchange integration was a deal breaker.

So this post turned out longer than expected… but I get excited when feasting on a new version of OS X… Apple has never failed to impress… and for all of you already using a Mac and running Leopard… one last morsel for you is that the upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard will only be $29 this time around, so that’s awesome… but also know that Snow Leopard will only run on Intel-based Macs… so for those of you without… Leopard is as high as you will go on your current machines… but Apple’s track record shows that they will continue to support Leopard for at least another couple years… plenty of time to save your pennies for that quad-core…

If you’d like to watch the WWDC keynote, do so here… if you’d like to read more about the refinements in Snow Leopard, do that here… and if you like to bone up on the more hard core technology, do that here

All for now… and if there ever was a time… now is the time to consider a Mac running OS X… I can virtually guarantee you’ll never look back… why would you?

My personal countdown to Snow Leopard will now officially commence!

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Nine Inch Nails : Access.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Town Crier IconFirst things first… this post is worth reading whether you’re a fan of Nine Inch Nails or not… Distilled down, this is about technology first and foremost, the latest tools in the hands of artists and innovators. Personally, I’ve been a fan since that cold, dark Halloween night back in ’89 when I listened to Pretty Hate Machine for the first time… and as revolutionary as that album was at the time, it’s amazing how far Trent Reznor and company have come since then.

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Most notably, every move they make these days can be considered nothing but extremely “fan friendly”, altruistic even… and as a big fan of both live and recorded music, unprecedented in my experience. NIN has shed any ‘major label’ affiliation, has given music away for free while making other offerings available digitally far below current market pricing… they’ve gone out of there way to keep ticket prices down and out of the hands of brokers… and on their current tour, which starts this Friday (05/08) in West Palm Beach, FL, have instituted a “relaxed” policy regarding cameras and audio recorders that I’ve simply never heard of before…

But that’s not what this post is about… Instead, what I’m interested in here is the recently released nin : access free application for the iPhone, which I’ve been playing around with since it came out mid-April and find totally intriguing… not just as a NIN fan… but for the possibilities it both implies and inspires.

nin : access is really an application in two parts. The first side of things, although cool, isn’t that revolutionary… it merely serves up nin.com to the iPhone in a consolidated interface independent of Safari… which is nice because it’s pre-optimized for the small screen… But what Reznor was really interested in trying to engage were the quarter of a million registered users of the nin.com forums in the context of taking his band on the road this Spring/Summer… this leads us to the second half of the application which is where the innovation really takes flight.

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Apparently the idea was born last Summer when Reznor was backstage before a show fooling around with his iPhone and noticed that fans outside waiting in line were posting photos of the scene to the nin forums… in response he started posting photos from backstage. The awesome interactivity of this experience got him thinking… what would it take to put an interface on this process? The result, less than a year later is nin: access, a mobile window into all things nin: music, photos, videos, message boards and even, thanks to a GPS-enabled feature called Nearby… the fans themselves.

Nearby is “kind of like Twitter within the Nine Inch Nails network,” says Rob Sheridan, Reznor’s long-time collaborator. “You can post a message or a photo by location, and if you’re at a show you can see conversations between other people who are right there.”

Check out this Wired video if you’re interested in a tour of the application from its creators… the first half of the video covers the more garden-variety features of the application… the explanation for the really cool GPS-enabled features start at the 3:20 mark…

What ends up being the coolest aspect of the nin : access approach to me… is that the entity is not trying to control the experience of the masses. They’re more or less simply harnessing existing technologies and API’s… and allowing the legions of dedicated fans to converse, populate, market, influence, etc… It’s Trent Reznor’s vision of where popular music is headed… and I’ll be damned if he’s not on to something… I know he’s making me more of a fan… I’m happy.

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And last, you don’t need an iPhone to check out how this all works… it can be experienced right on the web at access.nin.com… although you will need to download and install the Google Earth plug-in… and your home computer is most likely not GPS-enabled, so you’ll also have to pinpoint your location on the planet to hone in on local conversations… but those two things will just take an extra few minutes and are well worth the result… I’ve tested this on Safari and Firefox within MacOS and all works fine. I’m sure a suitable experience will be had by our PC brethren as well.

Check this out if you have the inclination… GPS-enabling could easily turn out to be a significant part of where social networking is headed. I’d write about some of the ideas I’ve been having… but currently, patents are still pending ;-) Enjoy!

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Apple Culture : Jonathon Ive

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Apple Culture

There has been much discussion recently, including our conversation on the air, pertaining to the future of Apple in light of Steve Jobs apparent health issues. The tidal wave of virtually identical reporting that’s out there focuses almost exclusively on the notion that Steve Jobs is so vast an oracle as to be irreplaceable… that the fate of the company is almost surely tied to Jobs being firmly at the helm.

Now don’t get me wrong… I love Steve Jobs. He’s the man that has orchestrated so many of the tools I hold so dear. He and his company almost never screw up… and when they do, they always seem to make amends. But I started thinking deeper on the notion that what’s inside the company and its culture will best inform Apple’s long term viability.

Patrick Crispen suggested on the air a couple weeks back that “Apple has no Steve Ballmer“… but I would say, upon reflection, that it all depends on how you define Steve Ballmer. Understanding that Apple is an international business and needs to plan and strategize as such… for my money, Apple is primarily a design company… so I thought I’d get off the beaten track a bit and write about someone that many of you may not have heard of… his name is Jonathon Ive and there’s a good chance he has already made his way into your home.

Ive Photo

Jonathon Ive is a British designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Computer. He is internationally renowned as the principal designer of the iMac, aluminum and titanium PowerBook G4’s, the MacBook, the G4 Cube, the iPod, and most recently, the MacBook Pro and the iPhone.

Ive grew up in Chingford, East London, raised by his father who was a teacher and attended design school at Newcastle Polytechnic before transitioning to the working world with a brief stint at London design agency Tangerine in the early 90’s. In 1992 he moved to the United States to pursue his career at Apple, which began surprisingly during the 12 year period that Jobs was absent from the company. Ive rose to his current position with Apple in 1997 upon Steve Jobs return to the company. Since then he has headed the Industrial Design team at Apple responsible for most of the company’s significant hardware products.

There’s not a whole lot on record pertaining to Jonathon Ive. Like Steve Jobs he’s more of a reluctant celebrity… that coupled with the closed ranks that Apple has always presented to the public leaves just a little peak into how things work within their culture, but there are some things that are known.

iMac swivel

Ive is described as the ‘man behind the curtain’ at Apple. While Jobs provides direction and inspiration, Ive embodies Apple’s sense of design and is responsible for figuring out how to bring those designs to life, in a design sense as well as a manufacturing one. In Jonathon Ive, Steve Jobs has found the person that can meet or exceed his expectations virtually every time.

Ive works with a group of 12 senior designers at Apple, when asked to describe the organization of the Apple design team, Ive said this to the British Design Museum back in June of ’07;

“We have assembled a heavenly design team. By keeping the core team small and investing significantly in tools and process we can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare. Our physical environment reflects and enables that collaborative approach. The large open studio and massive sound system support a number of communal design areas. We have little exclusively personal space. In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work.”

iPod Classic

Most memorable is the last line. To say something like that you can bet that this team of designers has the support of the company that wraps it… development, marketing, sales. Apple clearly understands its products and the role that design plays in that equation. This is why they continue to innovate and are able to keep a designer like Jonathon Ive content, where his design challenges would certainly be more diverse if he worked as a consultant or started his own company.

In the absence of Steve Jobs, I would guess that this culture of high-design would need to be maintained and nurtured as the cradle from which Apple’s uniqueness in the marketplace is born. Whether it takes the actual Steve Jobs to accomplish this remains to be seen… but Jonathon Ive is obviously the foremost contributor to Apple design over the last 15 years or so, his presence at Apple seemingly key to the companies long-term outlook.

Apple Subwoofer

But it’s not only Ive, it’s his environment at Apple and the other folks that make up his relatively small team of a dozen designers or so, many of whom have been at Apple prior to Ive’s arrival in 1992. They rarely attend industry events or awards ceremonies most likely not wanting to risk information getting out that could help competitors close the gap. All top-shelf designers in their own right, it is said that the team works with very little ego, all working towards the common goal that finds itself manifested in the products we use every day.

Original Apple Cinema Display

The team works closely with engineers, marketers and sales teams… but most notably with the Asian manufacturers that will actually build the products… Not content to simply design an object, Ive and his team are innovators in the use of new materials and production processes that end up setting the pace in the industry. “Apple innovates in big ways and small ways, and if they don’t get it right, they innovate again,” says frog design founder Hartmut Esslinger, who designed many of the original Apple computers for Jobs. “It is the only tech company that does this.”

Original Apple iMac

One example of this would be Apple’s pioneering work in injection molding that made the original iMac possible. It involved figuring out how to inject molten plastic or metal through tiny feed lines into irregularly shaped cavities with just enough designed holes to cool the enclosure to a blemish-free perfection in seconds. Part science, part design and a whole lot of trial and error that Ive’s team shepherded from start to finish. Ive has also said he spends most of his operating budget on prototyping tools for their studio. A forefront concern for how things are made is visible in every Apple product we own.

The Steve and Jony Show

It would be interesting to know how things would shake out for Jonathon Ive if Steve Jobs were removed from the equation. Ive has said that he and Jobs usually speak every day, which is saying a lot. The Steve and Jony Show (pun intended) has been responsible for one of the most amazing product runs in manufacturing history… subtracting one of these two stars from the constellation would surely have an effect… but in the meantime, it’s still probably fine to be waiting on the next big thing.

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