go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

  • go ahead, mac my day

    MWSF rumour mill has begun

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    I love reading the various Apple rumour sites. I troll through their sites every few days to catch up on the latest chatter. They've got all of the honest-to-goodness Apple news, plus the rumours, guesses, and everything in between.

    The height of the rumour season is, of course, the lead-up to MacWorld San Francisco. And just as Christmas stuff starts appearing in the stores earlier and earlier every year, it seems like the Apple rumours start going up on these websites earlier and earlier every year.

    Currently, the rumours are swirling as to whether Apple will release the first of the MacTels at MWSF. ThinkSecret votes for new iBooks, and adds that they'll get a price drop. AppleInsider says that it'll be the iMac, with Powerbooks to follow, and then 13-inch widescreen iBooks in the spring. Their PB rumours are interesting -- they say that it'll be thinner, and that it will have a built-in iSight. MacRumors says that MWSF will bring us a MacTel mini.

    The consensus seems to be that it will be a more consumer-oriented machine. No-one (yet) has theorised about an updated PowerMac. For that matter, no-one has said that Apple won't release (or at least announce, with a ship date shortly thereafter) a MacTel.

    The iPod/iTunes rumours don't seem to have started in earnest yet. AppleInsider is first into the fray. They're guessing at a second generation of the iPod shuffle.

    I think that these rumours hit pretty much all of the obvious potential hardware updates. But I wonder if the hardware story will be the most interesting thing to come out of MWSF. What about the software? They've had so many new software releases -- the various iTunes updates, the release of Pages and iWork, this new Aperture thing. What new software could they release? Would Apple open up FrontRow and PhotoBooth to officially work on any Mac? What about a new version of the OS (and not just a dot- upgrade)?

    I have no idea, of course. I think that the only thing that we can really say pre-MWSF is that they'll do something interesting. Until then, I'll just read the rumours sites and be amused at the guesses that they make. I think that my favourite part of all of this is the post-mortem after MWSF: where were the rumour sites right? where were they wrong? how did Apple surprise everyone this time?

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the obligatory advertisement

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    To think I haven't posted this yet!

    If you're interested in helping improve Microsoft's Macintosh offerings, why not sign up to participate in usability testing?

  • go ahead, mac my day

    1 million new Mac users?

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    AppleInsider is reporting that there have been over one million converts to the Macintosh platform so far in 2005.

    I'm not entirely convinced that they're all converts. It's assuming that all of the growth is from Windows users switching, which I don't buy. At least some of the growth has to be from multi-computer households, either existing Mac households buying an additional Mac or a Windows household adding a Mac. I'm not going to go so far as to guess what percentage of that 1mil is that, but I think that it's a non-negligible number.

    How much of the growth is due to a previously computer-free household buying their very first computer? Although it's hard for me to imagine a computer-free lifestyle, only about 2/3s of US households have a computer, and just over half have Internet accesss [1]. I wonder if a household that is going to buy its first computer is more likely to buy a Mac or a Windows machine. On one hand, Windows is ubiquituous; on the other, Mac might appear more approachable, especially with the immense popularity of the iPod.

    The reasons behind a switch are two-fold: increased brand awareness due to the immense popularity of the iPod and the perceived safety of the Macintosh operating system. I'm not going to argue whether the perceived safety of the Mac is due to its small market share, and whether that will change when more people move to the Mac.

    I wonder how the upcoming MacTels will affect the switching rate, if at all. Will it be easier for application developers to port their apps to Mac? Will they have more incentive to do it, both with a potential larger market and a potential easier port?

    I also wonder how a large number of switchers affects the expectations that users have of the platform. Will they have an issue switching between the two UI paradigms? Will they be upset that the Mac is now two expansion packs behind for The Sims 2?


    [1] Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2003 (PDF), US Census Bureau, published Oct 2005.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Appleworks and iWork shipping on new Macs?

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    Just in case you noticed, I was on holiday last week. But you didn't notice, I'm too new here. :)

    Just before I went on holiday, I made the plunge and ordered a new Mac mini. I have a Linux server at home (which serves as my media playback device), but it's been annoying me for awhile: the fan is loud, I'm sick of recompiling the kernel, it occasionally will stop recognising my DVD drive so I have to reboot*. I'd been following the reports that the the Mm got an unannounced update to a faster processor, faster hard drive, and better video card. I had been hoping that Apple would actually announce the update, but they didn't. I finally decided to roll the dice and ordered the machine.

    It arrived while I was gone. Everything on the box says that it's the old one (1.42-GHz processor, etc), but it is the faster beast. This isn't terribly surprising, given that the reports have been coming out for more than a month that people are receiving these.

    But I am surprised about the software that's pre-installed on the Mm. I knew that it came with iLife. But it also came with both iWork and Appleworks. My new Mm came with two separate Apple-made word-processing applications. How very odd. I wonder what this means for the future of Appleworks. Are other new Macs shipping with both of these packages?


    * I get really cranky about rebooting my Linux machine. The Linux community tells me that Linux is rock-solid, that they never have to reboot. I've had to reboot that bloody server more often than anything else I've ever owned, regardless of OS.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    change in iPod form factor

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    We're now on the fifth generation of the standard iPod. (I consider the mini, nano, and shuffle to be separate entities.) The newest iPod also marks the third change (or is it fourth?) in form factor for the device. If you buy the latest iPod, it comes with an adaptor to snap onto it so that you can use it with some of the existing accessories that rely on the thickness of the device. This includes many of the speaker units that have a built-in iPod dock for you to slot your iPod into. However, as CNET is reporting, not all of the old accessories will work. The 3G and 4G iPods have a little connector near the headphone jack, but the 5G ones don't. Anything that relies on that little connector is suddenly obsolete, including many of the FM transmitters that allow you to play your iPod through your car stereo. Likewise, many of the cases that are currently on the market are built for the screen size and clickwheel size of the 3G and 4G iPods. Aside from the one-size-fits-all iPod sock, I didn't notice any cases in the Apple store that will fit the newest iPod.

    How does this impact the consumer? Right now, consumers with 3G and 4G devices are okay, since the vast majority of iPod accessories work for their iPod. Someone who walks into a store to buy a 5G iPod is going to need careful guidance from the employees to ensure that they purchase accessories that work with their iPod. I wonder how many complaints that the employees are hearing because either (a) people are buying accessories that won't work, (b) people want to upgrade to the newest iPod but will also have to incur the additional expense of replacing their existing accessories, or (c) people are unhappy that the vast majority of accessories in stores only work with the old iPods. In three months, when there are more accessories for the 5G iPod, what happens to someone who walks into an Apple store looking for a case for their old 4G iPod? At what point do the accessory makers give up on trying to keep up with the latest iPod form factor?

    I've already had to have this conversation (multiple times) with my mother. She knows that I have an iPod. What she doesn't know (or, more correctly, doesn't remember) is that it's a 2G iPod, which is now painfully out-of-date (in iPod terms, anyway). A couple of months before any given gift-giving occasion, she calls me and asks what I want. I always point her to my Amazon wishlist, but she doesn't like it. Then she starts saying how she's recently come across all of the cool new iPod accessories, and wouldn't I want one of these or these or these? I try not to sigh audibly as I explain to her that I have an old iPod, and none of these cool things in the store will work with it. 'But it's an iPod! How can it be different?' she always asks. And I never have a good answer for her.

    I wonder how this change in form factor plays out for Apple. They're the current king of the hill in audio players, but that seems like it could be a fickle market. How important are accessories to iPod buyers? (But then, what other media player has any kind of accessories at all, let alone the plethora of accessories that are available to the iPod buyer?) Will consumers get cranky and go buy something else (another media player, or maybe an MP3 CD player) because they find the iPod accessories too confusing?

    Various media outlets have hypothesied about the iPod killer. If such a beast is going to exist, this kind of release is the perfect time to do it. An iPod killer needs to have a nice form factor, an excellent UI, and a reasonable selection of accessories available immediately. As the existing competition has shown, having a good UI and a lower price point isn't compelling enough for many consumers to purchase one of the competitors.

    I think that Apple is going to continue to be king of the hill in the media player market for the foreseeable future. But I do think that they need to ensure that they don't alienate their customers, both existing and future. If they get too complacent and take their market share for granted, they could make it easy for a new king to be crowned.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    snapshot from my day

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    A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for the elevator in my manager's building, with my shiny new PowerBook tucked under my arm. Some guy walks up to me and says, 'you have to be pretty special to get one of those around here'. I grinned and said that yes, I am pretty special, but my PowerBook has nothing to do with it. I reminded him that we make best-of-breed Mac software, and someone's gotta be lucky enough to work on it.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the latest and greatest

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    Over the last couple of weeks, Apple has hosted a couple of events to announce their latest and greatest. Here's my rundown, just in case you haven't heard/read/watched enough commentary on this.

    Video iPods: They don't do anything for me, but I didn't expect them to. I'd really been hoping that they would increase the size of the hard drive. I'm disappointed that they dropped firewire support. I'm concerned about the screens; will they scratch as easily as iPod Nano screens reportedly do? I do agree that the slightly larger screen looks nice, but I'm not [currently] interested in watching video content on such a small screen. Maybe it's that I'm not interested in any of the television shows that I could download. If they get The West Wing, though, I'll pay my two bucks per week to get that. I don't own a television, so I have to get my TWW fix elsewhere. I'd be happy to pay for it so that I could watch it at home on my server.

    Updated iMacs: The speed bumps aren't unexpected. I dislike the idea of a built-in iSight because it doesn't seem like it's very customisable. It's good for video chatting (as supported in iChat AV, amongst other applications), but little else. But maybe that's all people are using their webcams for, so maybe it's a good idea.

    FrontRow: Now this is interesting. I have an inelegant solution kludged together so that my server (running Gentoo Linux) is my primary media playback device. I've been considering replacing my server with a Mac Mini, and if this piece of software were available for it, I switch in a heartbeat. It should be possible for folks to completely replace their television with a computer and a nice monitor. Apple seems to be dipping their toes into this area. As a start, this isn't a bad idea -- it's a good way to get both a second television and a reasonably powerful computer. I can see this being pretty popular with students.

    PhotoBooth: Cute little piece of functionality, but nothing earth-shattering. It's a logical extension of having a built-in webcam. I think that Apple should offer this as a free download for any iSight.

    Updated PowerMacs: I think that this is the last gasp of the G5 (at least, from Apple). There's a lot going on in this upgrade: dual-core processors, vastly improved video cards, PCI Express. But why should someone buy this if Apple is months away from moving to the MacTel?

    Updated PowerBooks: And this seems like the last gasp of the G4. I've had the chance to see these, and they look nice. This is an upgrade that I can justify buying pre-MacTel. I'm actually considering one. I'd love to have the extra battery life. The brighter screen looks much better. I've wondered for years why PBs don't have higher screen resolution, so it's good to see that they've finally upgraded to that. Now the PB can run a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. At work, I almost never touch my desktop; I haven't owned a real desktop at home in seven or eight years. I'm seriously considering buying one of these, since my personal PB is pretty old and in need of an upgrade.

    Aperture: Apple says that it's not a competitor to Photoshop, so I'm honestly not sure how this fits into the market -- especially with a $499 price tag. Apple says that it's about workflow, whereas Photoshop is about compositing. There's little known about this now, so I really don't have that many thoughts about it. Adobe has to consider this as a shot across their bow.

    In summary ... If my current iPod died, I might buy one of the video iPods. I might buy one anyway, since my old iPod only (only!) holds 20 GB, and I would like to be able to carry around more of my music collection with me. The new PowerBooks are attractive, but I'm not sure if I can justify the expense. My old PB is perfectly functional, I just am seriously coveting a new machine.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    introduction

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    I'm a user research engineer in the Macintosh Business Unit of Microsoft. This is my seventh day on the job, so don't expect me to know anything interesting just yet.

    I'm a relative newcomer to the Mac. I bought my first Mac (a Powerbook) three years ago. I switched because I could have both gorgeous UI and all of the power of Unix available whenever I want it. I haven't looked back. I'm very pleased that my personal interest in Mac and my professional interest in usability have come together in my new job.

    The intent of this blog is mostly to maintain notes on what I read that's relevant to my job. This might include articles from academic journals, or books, or even comments on news, blogs, and rumour sites. My interests include all things Apple, usability and user research, scenarios and personas, office suites, and object-oriented programming.

    (Oh, and in case you care ... the title of this blog is shamelessly 'borrowed' from the latest MacBU t-shirts.)

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